living gluten-free: dining at senza

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Dining out gluten-free can be a pain.  Since being diagnosed with Celiac about a year ago we’ve established a pretty good base of good restaurants with gluten-free options in the neighborhood, places where I could eat and not worry about anything being contaminated or accidentally prepared with gluten.  And I can almost always relax at those placed and generally enjoy eating out.  But there’s still the bread basket I can’t eat, the fact that I have to say “no, I can’t” when someone offers that I try their delicious dish (which is inevitably pasta or breaded or dredged in flour or marinated in soy sauce or the bacon crumbles on the top are fried in a deep fryer that also fries breaded items…).  I can’t try any of the fancy locally brewed beers and I worry about ordering cocktails.  In the end, it’s not so bad that I have to stick to wine and whatever gluten-free meat/veggie option there it, but mostly I just don’t like being the annoying person at the table.

So, as part of our birthday celebration this year, I booked a table at Senza, a restaurant I’ve heard about from many people whenever the fact that I have Celiac comes up (and it always comes up 😉 ).  The restaurant is entirely gluten-free but it doesn’t advertise itself as such.  Instead, the experience at Senza centers around Executive Chef Noah Sandoval’s unique take on new American cuisine, focusing on fresh, local ingredients and a blend of modern and classic techniques.”  He just happens to not use gluten in anything.

It was a truly wonderful experience and a really great birthday present for me.  I started the evening with an amazing cocktail that included a combination of tequila, mole and rosemary.  Since there were two of us, we opted for the four course menu and decided to taste a bit of what each other ordered.  I wouldn’t be able to describe each course in detail, but can say that the experience overall was so delicious and so much fun.  The service was absolutely incredible and each course brought out to us was fun, creative and deliciously complex in flavor and texture.  And for those that are wondering – there was bread served – and it was really good – a small loaf for the two of use to share, sliced and grilled just for a moment to warm it.  But the best part of the whole experience – even if you take out the delicious food – was the fact that I didn’t feel different and I didn’t have to ask for anything special.  I just sat – and drank & ate & enjoyed a fancy dinner out without a worry in my mind.

If you’re in the Chicago area, gluten-free or not, Senza is a restaurant worth trying.


coconut macaroons & a care package


February is a big birthday month in our family.  I was fortunate enough to celebrate with my brother in person.  My sister, away at college, got a care package.  Last year for her birthday we made my grandma’s coconut cake, but this year I needed something both portable & gluten-free (because even though she’s not, I am, and I needed to taste them before I sent them).  Enter macaroons.  Sweet, light, coconut-y goodness.

I_0183Happy Birthday, sweet girl.  You’re the best.

coconut macaroons
yield: 24 macroons

4 egg whites (from large eggs)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
3 cups sweetened coconut flakes

1.  Preheat oven to 325°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (I used two silpats).

2.  In the bowl of standing mixer or with a hand-mixer, beat egg whites, vanilla, and salt on high speed until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form, another 3 minutes. Gently fold the coconut flakes into the egg white mixture. (If you want a more dense, less meringue-like macaroon, you can skip beating the whites altogether. Just whisk the egg whites, vanilla, salt, and sugar until frothy, then fold in the coconut.)

3. Uing a small dough scoop (or just a large spoon), form mounds of batter and drop onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until the macaroons are just turning golden. Remove to a wire rack and cool copletely.

source: thekitchn

also in the package?  Some clothes of hers I borrowed (thank you) and a new scarf (because every college girl needs some lululemon)

macaroons, elsewhere: lime in the coconut macaroons from bon appetit

brownies, blues & a birthday


I’ve been slow to tackle gluten-free baked goods.  The lemon & coconut bars were the first gluten-free baked good to come out of my kitchen, but I can’t really take responsibility for making them.  I simply watched them be made, took pictures of them and then ate too many over the next few days.  But then last week when my brother announced he was coming to visit, the weekend before his birthday, along with his lovely girlfriend, baked goods were in order.  (And so were tacos, but we’ll save that for another post).


Fortunately, one of my awesome co-workers had brought these brownies into work a week before.  So, I knew they were good.  And since the boy loves chocolate (we’ve been through this before), these were the perfect pick.  I toyed with the idea of mixing in some soft of peanut butter swirl but opted against it because I was worried about texture.


In the end, it didn’t matter.  The brownies were amazing on their own, and (per the birthday boy) slathered with a big scoop of crunchy peanut butter.  All in all, the brownies, the blues and the pre-birthday weekend was a success.

Happy birthday, Joe.  Come visit again soon (and please bring Kate).

this birthday, last year:  chocolate peanut butter cake (not gluten-free)

gluten-free brownies
yield: 9-12 brownies

recipe notes:  I followed the directions exactly as they are written in David’s post.  The part about the batter pulling away from the sides of the bowl in step 4 is important.  I set my timer when beating to one minute and didn’t see the sides pulling away.  After beating another 30 seconds, it started to.  Mine crumbled a tiny bit, but only the ones from the very edge of the pan that got a little more done that the middle ones (which is probably because I baked them in a small toaster oven).  Otherwise, the texture was spot on – fudgy and delicious.

6 tablespoons (85g) butter, salted or unsalted (see headnote)
8 ounces (225g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup (150g) sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder, natural or Dutch process
3 tablespoons (30g) corn starch

1. Line the inside of an 8-inch (23 cm) square pan with foil so that it goes up the sides to the rim. Lightly grease the foil with butter or non-stick cooking spray. Preheat the oven to 350º (180ºC).

2. Melt the butter and chocolate (and salt, if using) in a medium saucepan over very low heat on the stove top, stirring constantly until smooth.

3. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar, then the eggs, one at a time.

4. Sift together the cocoa powder and corn starch in a small bowl then stir them into the chocolate mixture. Beat the batter vigorously for at least one minute, until the batter is no longer grainy and nearly smooth. It will pull away from the sides of the pan a bit.

5. Add the nuts, if using, then scrape the batter into the prepared pan.

6. Bake for thirty minutes, or until the brownies feel just set in the center. Do not overbake. Remove from oven and let cool completely before removing from the pan and slicing.

storing: The brownies can be stored at room temperature up to 4 days and in the freezer up to 1 month.

source:  David Lebovitz

– Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies
Salted Caramel Brownies

Cherry Hand Pies

It’s no secret that my favorite part about birthdays is planning a delicious menu with an extra special dessert for the birthday person.  Knowing that my dad prefers pie to cake and spotting an abundance of delicious cherries at our local farmer’s market I decided it was finally time to try these Cherry Hand Pies I bookmarked in the beginning of the summer.  Made with frozen puff pastry and just a few simple ingredients these little pies were quick to make.

And while I love to make labor-intensive and elaborate birthday cakes, sometimes, especially in the summer, simpler is better.  We enjoyed them with a side of vanilla ice cream, would be lovely adorned with a dollop of homemade whipped cream but are delicious enough to enjoy on their own.  And even though they aren’t conducive to birthday candles (and who would want 58 candles on their birthday cake, anyway?) these were a perfect birthday treat.  Sometimes birthdays are sweeter with pie and I’ve come to think sometimes pies are sweeter without forks.  And because they’re individual and portable the left-over pies make an extra-special breakfast-on-the-go and I don’t know of any roommate who wouldn’t enjoy that.

Cherry Hand Pies

Yield: 9 Individual Hand Pies


1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted*, or about 12 ounces frozen pitted cherries, unthawed
2/3 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 14-ounce package puff pastry, thawed in refrigerator
Flour (for dusting)
1 large egg white
1 1/2 teaspoons raw sugar


Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.  Stir cornstarch and 1 1/2 tablespoons cold water together in a small bowl until the cornstarch is dissolved.  Combine fresh cherries, dried cherries, sugar and vanilla in a saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until cherry juices are released, about 5 minutes.  Add cornstarch & water mixture.  Bring to a boil, stirring often.  Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Roll out thawed pasty on a floured surface into a 18×15″ rectangle.  (A pastry mat is great for this step).  Using a pizza knife or pastry cutter, cut dough into nine 6×5″ rectangles.  Whisk egg white and 1 tablespoon water together in a small bowl.

Working with 1 rectangle at a time, place on a floured work surface and brush edges with egg wash. Scoop 3 tablespoons cherry mixture onto one side; fold dough over filling so that short ends meet, forming a 5×3″ packet. Crimp edges with a fork to seal. Using a sharp knife, cut a few slits in top of pie to vent. Place on prepared baking sheet; repeat with remaining dough and filling until you have nine pies.

Brush tops with egg wash, then sprinkle with raw sugar. Chill for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375°. Bake pastries until tops and bottoms are golden brown, 30-40 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes on baking sheet. Transfer to wire racks; let cool completely.  Serve with ice cream, whipped cream or pack into a basket to enjoy on a picnic.  DO AHEAD (I love this part of bon appetit recipes) Can be made 1 day ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

Source: Adapted, barely, from Bon Appetit Magazine July 2011