Thursday, May 24, 2012

Spaghetti with Chicken and Cherry Tomatoes

I'm sorry I've been away for so long. In the fall I took a double header trip to India and Connecticut, moved, worked two jobs, and then went back to school. Last week I finished a jam-packed semester of 16 units, since I'm trying to finish my degree in Creative Writing as quickly as possible. It was a great semester that went by really fast, but I'm glad summer is here, and with that the time and energy to cook.

While I was in school I experimented with the recipes of others, and one of my favorites was Turkey Stuffed Peppers from If you haven't tried it I highly recommend it--it's a bit labor intensive, but you can make extra for leftovers or lunch, and it's delicious.

Last night I made dinner for my parents, which I haven't done in quite a while, and the results were far beyond what I expected. I haven't cooked a real meal in weeks, so it was wonderful to put on music, relax, and let the flavors flow. As some of you may know by now I am no longer gluten and dairy free, but I will tag my posts accordingly and will keep dietary limitations in mind.

I'm still a very firm believer that just because there are certain things you can't eat doesn't mean you can't include flavor. The most infuriating thing I was told by my friends at restaurants was "But you can eat a salad." Maybe I don't want a salad!

This recipe is gluten and dairy-free friendly. If you're not gluten free you can use regular pasta, and if you are I recommend quinoa pasta, since it contains protein, is easy to cook, and tastes the same as glutenous pasta. 

Spaghetti with Chicken and Cherry Tomatoes



1 pound of Spaghetti (a box)
1 pound Chicken Thighs, cut into 1 inch pieces

For the Chicken Marinade:
Fresh Thyme, Chopped
Fresh Rosemary, Chopped
4 Garlic Cloves, minced
Zest of 1 Lemon
Juice of 1 Lemon
Olive Oil

For the Sauce:
Olive Oil
5 Garlic Cloves, minced
Fresh Basil, chopped
2 cups Cherry Tomatoes, cut into quarters
Fresh Parsley, Chopped
Grated Parmesan Cheese


Cut the chicken into 1 inch pieces and place in a bowl. Pour on enough olive oil to lightly coat and toss. Zest and juice the lemon, or add more if you have a real hankering for lemon. Don't be afraid to add a lot of flavor to the chicken since it only complements the rest of the dish.  Chop the thyme and rosemary and mix with the chicken. Feel free to eyeball this to your liking--I like to add enough so that each piece of chicken will get some good flavor. Add the garlic, salt (preferably course), and a lot of fresh cracked black pepper. Mix the ingredients and the chicken well so that it's fully covered. Let sit for 30 minutes or refrigerate and let it marinate overnight. 

Chop the basil (about 7-10 leaves) and place in a separate bowl. Mix in the garlic cloves and cherry tomatoes. I prefer to quarter the tomatoes so that they're easier to eat and don't explode when you bite down on them, but keep them whole if you prefer. I add enough olive oil so that it does not cover the mixture in the bowl. If you feel unsure, add about 2 tablespoons and mix the ingredients together. You can always add more before you serve.

If you need to, grate the Parmesan cheese and chop the parsley. You can garnish each dish after you put the pasta in separate bowls, or put the Parmesan and parsley in their own bowls and place them on the table. I suggest this for picky eaters, dairy-free guests, or people who may want extra.

Boil the water for the pasta and warm a skillet to cook the chicken. I cooked the chicken in a cast iron skillet (since my parents have one), but use whatever skillet you like. While the pasta water is getting warm, add some olive oil. Once it starts boiling, add a solid pinch of salt before you put in the pasta. Let the pasta cook until it's about al dente, then drain. 

Meanwhile, get your skillet hot (about medium high heat), and then add enough olive oil to coat the pan. Depending on how big your skillet is, either cook the chicken in batches or all at once. Try to get as much of the liquid and herbs in the bowl into the pan as possible. You want all that juicy goodness. The chicken should take about as long to cook as the pasta, but double check your pieces to make sure they're done. Once they're cooked, take a spoonful or two of the pasta water to deglaze the pan so that you can include all the little bits from the bottom in your sauce. 

How to put the sauce on your pasta is up to you. One option is to put the pasta back into the pot in which you boiled it, then add all the chicken from the skillet. Toss in the cherry tomato sauce, and stir it all together so that the pasta can get warm and soak up all the liquid. If you think it needs more olive oil, this would be the time to drizzle some more on.

Another option is to pour the pasta in your serving bowl and then scrape the chicken from the skillet on top, then pour on the cherry tomato mixture. I did that, but there was a lot of leftover olive oil in the bottom of the bowl, and the pasta could have used it. 

If you're just serving yourself, check for taste and then add salt and pepper if you desire, and then the Parmesan and parsley. Otherwise, have all four on the table (and some crushed red chili pepper for people who need the heat) so guests can serve themselves. This dish serves about four to six.

You can also use this as a base recipe and add more vegetables of your choosing, such as broccoli, snap peas, asparagus, etc. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Grilled Ham and Cheese

Grilled Ham and Cheese is a classic I tend to forget about. Usually Southern California enjoys summer through the end of October, but right now we have a cold snap (that means 60 degrees and some rain). So the other night I experimented further on a Curried Butternut Squash Soup recipe I'm working on, and Serrano and I had that for dinner with these sandwiches. I didn't grow up eating soup and sandwiches, but it's a timeless classic one should never outgrow.

Grilled cheese is pretty basic to make, although some people differ on what ingredients they like. I hate American cheese, so I never put it in my sandwiches. With ham, Swiss Cheese is good, but I also love Pepper Jack or Colby Jack. It's really up to you--what you like, and what you have in your refrigerator. Same goes with the ham. I like it for some extra protein, but it's also good with turkey, chicken, or no meat. 

As for cooking it, there's the fattening way and the healthy way. Since I don't have a toaster oven, the healthy way isn't really an option at this point. But if you do, just place your preferred cheese on some gluten free bread (I still prefer Udi's, but Rudi's is good too), place the bread on some aluminum foil, and bake it in the toaster oven. When the cheese is melted, put them together to make a sandwich. My Mom does this for breakfast too, sans meat, but she only toasts one piece of bread with some cheese. We call it Cheesy Bread--it's great for a snack. 

The fattening way is to pan fry the sandwich in butter. If you'd rather use margarine, go ahead. I'm not a huge fan of the taste, but food is a personal thing. I like to melt butter in a pan, cook the sandwich on one side for a bit, take it off, melt some more butter, and then cook the sandwich on the other side. It's not the healthiest thing ever, but if you're really craving comfort food it's quite yummy. I like to smear on some Dijon mustard right before I eat it. To add some greens, you could squeeze in some arugula or mixed greens, or have a salad with it.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Back For More

My Dear Readers,

I'm sorry I've been gone for so long. This year I had the challenge of realizing my limitations all over again, only this time it wasn't just problems with digesting, but also with cooking. In February my boyfriend Serrano and I moved in together in Costa Mesa. We started hanging out with his best friend (also our neighbor), who would be a perfect contestant for Master Chef. After watching simple things he did to make a basic meal so much better, I realized I'm not a cook.

When I started this blog, I thought I was better at creating recipes and coming up with new ideas than I really am. I realized I'm great at following instructions, and when I have a recipe down I'll play with flavors and spices to make it a bit better. But honestly, that's pretty much the extent of my cooking creativity. To make matters worse, I have a serious problem figuring out what I want to eat most of the time.

Another issue I was faced with were finances. Simply eating gluten free can get expensive, but experimenting with gluten free products can get exorbitant. Suddenly I wasn't sure what to write about, what to focus on. Then I started to work through some emotional problems, and found that my digestive system was slowly improving.

I started eating gluten again and watched what happened. The best part was that I no longer doubled over from the abdominal pain that felt like I had eaten broken glass. I did experience gas, but after a point I was in such dire financial straits I couldn't afford to eat gluten free anyway. I realized that dairy doesn't give me anywhere near the same problems it used to. Sometimes I can get gas from it, but I try to limit my intake.

Unfortunately, the gas from the gluten wasn't going away, and it was starting to become a problem. Serrano's brother Poblano came to visit, and he suggested I keep blogging, but just write about healthy living. This seemed like a pretty obvious concept, but the idea didn't hit me until he suggested it. Part of me was embarrassed about having such low funds and not being a creative genius in the kitchen, but I also knew that I can't be the only one in this position. Not all of us are chefs. We're surviving through a bad economy and trying our best to fuel ourselves while gluten intolerance and Celiac disease are on the rise.

I'm not embarrassed anymore. I have limited funds but a healthy appetite. I never know what to make for dinner. I would rather eat healthy than have junk food. I want to feel good inside again.

If you can relate or have similar problems, let's explore this together. Email me if you have questions or want help coming up with dinner ideas. I'm looking forward to sharing ideas, cooking tips, and experiences with you. Let's start this journey again.


Kajora Lovely

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Gooey Marshmallow Brownies

It's very rewarding to experiment with gluten free flours and find the right combination that can yield a perfect dessert. But sometimes it's also nice to throw something together real quick that still comes out delicious. That's how these brownies are--simple but good. They're also perfect for adults and children alike, so whether you're having friends over for dinner or want a dessert for gluten and dairy free children, this is an easy go-to that everyone will be happy with.

This doesn't have a real recipe, and all you need are a box of gluten free brownie mix and a bag of mini marshmallows (which are gluten and dairy free). I used Betty Crocker's gluten free brownie mix, since all you have to add are two eggs and a melted half stick of margarine (my favorite is still Earth Balance). Stir, put in a greased baking pan, and let cook. For the size of my dish, I cooked them for 23 minutes--3 minutes under the medium amount the box says to bake.

Then take the pan out of the oven and turn on the broiler. While that heats up, sprinkle mini marshmallows over the top of the brownies. It's up to you how many you want--you can see that I put on a fair amount so that there were small gaps between them. Then place the pan in the broiler for 20-30 seconds, but keep a close eye on them. I roasted these for about 24 seconds.

If you like your brownies a bit more done, I suggest cooking them a couple minutes longer in the oven. But just keep in mind that they cook more in the broiler and just by being in the hot baking dish.

Cutting them up is a bit messy, but you can scrape the sides of the knife and give the sticky parts to someone to enjoy. They were hot, gooey, and delicious. Between the four of us, we cleaned off the dish. But as you can see, with a large dish like this one, the brownies were very thin. If you want less marshmallow taste in ratio the chocolate, then I suggest an 8" by 8" or 9" by 9" pan.


Friday, April 1, 2011


If you've had your ear to the gluten-free ground lately, you've probably heard the bad rap gluten-free eating has been getting. If you haven't, you can get a pretty good idea from this blog post from Gluten Free Goddess Karina Allrich.

I understand how this diet can be seen as a fad.

I also understand the outrage from the gluten free community, especially at the idea of intentionally being fed gluten by a contemptuous chef.

It seems to me that the skeptics haven't heard any stories. And the stories are what forced each one of us to find a better way to live. Perhaps we have been too polite.

My mother never wanted me to describe myself as a sickly person, but at a certain point I realized that the evidence kept pointing toward that conclusion. When I was two years old, my parents noticed splotches on my skin and took me to the doctor, who informed them that I have vitiligo. It's an auto-immune disease that kills the melanin in my skin cells and will eventually make me albino. The spots have progressed my entire life, and now my eyelashes and hair are turning white. No one knows what causes this disease or even how to effectively cure it, but I have grown to accept it.

I went to school sick very often in my early years. After a certain point it seemed normal to have only jell-o and saltine crackers in my lunch bag, because they were all I could keep down. I would typically have a bad run of mostly vomiting followed by a few weeks of a fairly normal stomach, just to be followed by more vomiting.

I clearly remember a particular morning when I was nine years old. I was recovering from a bad two weeks of constant vomiting, but my stomach was clearly recovering. You have no idea how excited I was to eat something other than jell-o or saltine crackers. So what did I do? I had a big bowl of Wheaties. A few hours later I was running out of my classroom into the bathroom, spewing out my entire breakfast. A teacher in the next room heard me, shouted that she would call my dad to come get me, but didn't come rushing in. This was ordinary.

I remember my parents taking me to one of our favorite restaurants when I was nine, where I ate a cookie for dessert. Afterward I dropped my head straight onto my mom's lap, feeling my stomach begin to churn. I still clearly remember thinking, "What's wrong with me? I'm so tired of being sick." As you can guess, a grueling and painful few weeks were ahead of me.

When I went away to college, I realized I had spent so much of my younger years vomiting that I actually knew exactly when I was going to puke. If I'd had too much to drink, I would literally wait in line for the bathroom until it was my turn, pull my hair back with one hand, and vomit on queue.

In high school my weak immune system became most apparent. That was when the sympathy of my friends began to dry up and turn into questions like "you're sick again? What's wrong with you?" As much fun as it was for me to be reminded of the fact that I averaged more colds and skin problems per year than anyone else I knew, I was exhausted of being sick. I was more aware of keeping my throat covered, ordering drinks with no ice, not being outside with my hair wet, not going out in the cold with bare feet, chewing on Pepto Bismol caplets to keep my stomach at bay, and the detrimental effect cold temperatures have on my immune system than any other teenager I knew.

As I got older, I learned to ignore it or just not say anything. I never told anyone about the sharp stabbing pain that would hit me in the stomach a couple times a month. I remember this most from my high school years, but it still happens to me to this day if I eat gluten. It feels as though I have been punched in the intestines by a huge ball of barbed wire, and I can't move, breathe, or stop wincing until the pain subsides. This type of pain usually hits me about 10-12 hours after I've eaten gluten.

After years of brushing my constant illnesses under the rug and ignoring the pain my body went through on a regular basis, something changed. The pain became much more intense. I couldn't tell what triggered it, and I didn't know how to handle it. I began to lose weight because I ate so little, and I resorted to the usual crackers and yogurt that had become my trustworthy standbys. No luck. Regular food seemed to hurt me, so I ate only bread, pancakes, or fiber rich crackers.

Then I began to hit a breaking point most gluten free people glaze over with polite words. But I'll spell it out for you. I had diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and constipation all in one week, often in the same day. It seems unbelievable, but I now know that you can be constipated, have diarrhea, gas, and an added bonus of extreme pain in your stomach--all at the same time. I wouldn't wish that pain and agony on anyone, even the skeptics. It can be brutal.

I had so much gas that being in public began to be embarrassing. I could feel it in my stomach, on my sides, even pressing on my heart. At one point I was so worried I asked my doctor for an EKG, and she told me it was just gas. The surface of my belly became incredibly sensitive, and if my boyfriend accidentally touched my stomach, I would cry out from the pain.

There aren't enough words to describe the amount of pain my digestive system has given me. I know the exact location of my intestines, how the walls of my stomach begin to prickle at the slightest hint of gluten, exactly how much gas my body can produce from even the smallest amounts of dairy.

If you have read my blog post The Battle of the Bellyache, you know that my woes did not end immediately after going gluten and casein free. But they sure have improved a hell of a lot. I can now breathe the same air as someone with a cold and not get sick. I don't have to worry about being at work while handling nausea, constipation, and diarrhea. I have found a way to be well again, and for the first time in my life, I don't see myself as a sickly person.

I'm not the only one with a story such as this one. Many are much worse. But we each found a way to be healthy and enjoy our lives fully, even if it meant sacrificing the foods we loved. Because now we're not in and out of the doctor's office, waiting yet again in urgent care, rushing to the emergency room, calling out from work, or going home sick.

Give us some credit for figuring out how to be healthy.

You have no idea how difficult it has already been.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Now That's A Best Friend

My best friend Lemmon and I have been friends since our first week of high school, and even though we often hung out with different groups of people, we always stayed close. We walked together when we graduated, and she was excited for me when I left for New York, and I took the train from Union Station in LA to visit her in Santa Barbara. After she graduated college, we lived only five minutes from each other and did so much together that I joked with everyone that she was my wife.

Four years ago, she fell in love with an MIT grad student and a year later moved to Boston to be with him, and after he graduated they moved to Atlanta. The best part is that she and I never lost touch, and we both feel out of balance if we go more than five days without calling each other. She just came back to California for Christmas and New Year's, and fortunately we were able to spend a fair amount of time together.

The day after she arrived, I drove us up to LA to have lunch with a couple we're both friends with. I decided to revisit Pizza Fusion, a restaurant where I had dinner a childhood friend last summer. They make their own gluten free pizza crusts and brownies, and have nondairy cheese. Lemmon had mentioned something about being willing to try gluten free pizza, so I looked at the menu, looked at her, and asked, "Would you want to split a large gluten free pizza?" Without hesitating, she said, "Sure, dude." We asked the server if we could sample the two different nondairy cheeses, and he willingly brought out two small bowls for us to taste. She started eating the soy cheese and commented on how much she liked it. When we ordered our drinks, she asked what gluten free hard ciders there were, and ordered the one he recommended. Part of me was a little blown away. Yes, this girl had stood by me when others wouldn't, but in some ways that's an easier part of being a best friend than being happy to eat gluten and dairy free.

My other friends are hot and cold with my dietary restrictions. When I threw my friend Curry a baby shower, I made a dish with quinoa pasta and didn't tell anyone until after they started eating. She-and everyone else-loved it, and her stepmother ate the leftovers straight out of the bowl. Curry's husband even bought me a six pack of New Grist Sorghum & Rice Beer so that I could try it. But after the shower we decided to go out and eat, and another friend who was also pregnant dictated where we ate because of her cravings. I studied the Creperie's menu and realized there was nothing on it I could eat, and it was clear she couldn't have cared less.

I realized that there are the friends who will accommodate you, and the ones who will eat the things that don't taste too strange with you. Then there are the friends who don't care and want you to simply take care of yourself so that they don't have to worry about it. I didn't expect there to be friends who would experiment with you.

Lemmon voluntarily ate and drank the same way I do, and she was happy for the new experience. A part of me had wondered if the time and distance between us had changed our friendship, but I realized it hadn't. She's still the same loyal and supportive friend I have always known. That day I sat across the table from her and thought, Now that's a best friend.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hello 2011

Happy New Year.


I don't think I've ever looked forward to starting a new year as much as I have recently. 2010 was one of the more eventful years of my life, and I truly hope that 2011 does not follow suit.

I brought in 2010 in a very placid way, but soon after it became quite eventful. Despite the fact that I kept eating gluten and dairy free, my stomach and health problems didn't end. I went to urgent care several times and spent many days eating only chicken broth and dry gluten free toast--while trying to write a blog that focused on food with flavor. Before long, I realized that food with flavor brought me quite a deal of unnecessary pain.

What was more frustrating was that my doctors couldn't tell what was wrong with me. After more visits to my regular doctor, a gastroenterologist, and urgent care, I was finally diagnosed with upper gastro intestinal irritable bowel syndrome. About a month later, my stomach calmed down and has since given me few problems, so long as I stay gluten and dairy free and restrict acidic foods.

In addition to constant pain that was incredibly frustrating, I changed my mind about my career every few months. What's interesting is that when I was eighteen, I (like many other bright-eyed teenagers) thought my life plan was easy and clear--I would get my B.A. in Middle East Studies at Fordham University and move to Cairo as soon as I graduated. Little did I know that life had other plans for me, and I dropped out after my sophomore year and came home. I changed my mind several times after that, probably equal to the amount of times I changed my mind this year alone. This year I was going to finish up my units at community college to transfer to UCI (which I did get in to) to get a degree in English, but then I dropped the one class I needed to transfer. Smart, right? Then I was going to get my A.A. in culinary studies but decided against it. I put my career/school path on pause to deal with health issues, and when those were resolved I entertained the idea of getting a degree in textile design. I love to draw flowers, and I was thinking of making my own fabric, or at least getting a degree in art so that I could sell my artwork. Then I started an internship at a Public Relations company.

I also changed jobs, which added more fodder for considering my future career path. I'm pretty sure what I want to do now...although my loved ones can probably count the amount of times I've said that on both hands. At least.

As with any year, there were sad and happy times. In May my mother's cousin dropped dead of a heart attack, which came as a shock to all of us. He was a jovial cowboy who taught me how to rope in Wyoming five years ago and even said he wanted me on his rodeo team (which I did, of course, consider for a bit). In July my best friend gave birth to a healthy boy, and another close friend of mine discovered she was pregnant, and her daughter is due any day now. If that's not the circle of life, I don't know what is.

My family has been hit by bad health this year, but we're doing the best we can to take it in stride and see the positive in each situation. We've learned that when you are sick, it's important to look more closely at the things that are wrong or unsettling in your life and change them. A friend of ours quoted the Vedas (a sacred text in Hinduism), saying that illness is a blessing that leads you to your true nature. We've found that this can be true if you have the strength to face the problems in your life.

If I've learned nothing else this year, it's this: listen to your body. Figure out what it does and doesn't need. I was plagued with health issues for most of my life because I ignored the factors that were making me sick. But once I started paying close attention to my symptoms and the foods that were causing them, I realized I would need an unordinary diet to be healthy. It might sound difficult, but this is one of the facts of life: the easy path isn't necessarily the one we're supposed to follow. What's better for each of us is what matters.

So, dear reader, I wish you a happy and healthy new year. May you find the foods that keep you fulfilled and happy, and may you think of your health woes as a distant memory.