Gluten free chinese food, part I

The food: homemade gluten-free shrimp and lobster sauce

The story:

It’s difficult to find decent gluten-free food in restaurants for my son Michael, who has celiac disease, and it’s more difficult still when we’re away from home, in a strange city. So I was delighted to take him recently to a Florida branch of P.F. Chang’s, where a full page of the menu lists gluten-free selections, even if it is a chain and the food is Americanized Chinese.

Michael quite enjoyed the chicken in lettuce wraps appetizer, as well as the lemon chicken and shrimp with lobster sauce – so much so that when we returned to Canada (where P.F. Chang’s has not yet expanded – get on that, will you, P.F. Chang’s owners?) I pledged to try to recreate some of the dishes for him at home.

First up was shrimp with lobster sauce, a dish I associate with my childhood AKA my Cantonese chow mein eating days. Here’s the recipe I used, adapted from one I found on, by Rhonda Parkinson. It was a little fiddly to make re: the number of steps required and the number of small bowls of ingredients that had to be assembled, but it turned out well, as can be seen in the photo above, and it tasted good to Michael and me both.

Gluten-Free Shrimp with Lobster Sauce

For sauce:
1/8 – 1/4 lb. ground pork
2 t. wheat-free soy sauce or tamari
1 t. cornstarch
3 T. canned black beans, drained (save the rest for another use)
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 T. wheat-free soy sauce or tamari
1 T. sherry or Madeira
1 t. sugar
3/4 cup chicken broth
1 T. cornstarch
2 T. water
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 t. salt
2 T. oil for stir-frying

The shrimp:

1 lb. frozen large shrimp, thawed and shelled
1 T. sherry, rice wine or Madeira
1/4 t. salt
1 t. cornstarch
3 T. oil for stir-frying
2 t. minced ginger
1 green onion, chopped
1 c. frozen peas or steamed broccoli florets


1. In a bowl, marinate the shrimp in the sherry, salt and cornstarch for 15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, make sauce: mix ground pork in bowl with 2 t. tamari, pepper and cornstarch.
3. Mash black beans with fork (or in mini-food processor type chopper). Mix with minced garlic. Set aside.
3. In a small bowl, mix 1 T. tamari, 1 T. sherry, sugar, and chicken broth. Set aside. In a separate small bowl, stir 1 T. cornstarch into 2 T. cold water. Set aside.
4. In yet another small bowl, lightly beat eggs with salt.
5. Heat wok or large skillet over medium-high to high heat, add 2 T. oil, when hot, stir-fry bean-garlic mixture until aromatic. Add ground pork, stir-fry until it changes colour. Remove to another bowl and clean out the wok.
6. Add sauce to pan, bring to a boil, give cornstarch mixture a stir and add it to sauce. Stir quickly to thicken sauce, add pork mixture back into pan and combine all. Set aside but keep warm. Clean out pan.
7. Heat the pan over medium-high to high heat. Add the 3 T. oil. When the oil is hot, add the ginger and green onion. Stir-fry until aromatic (about 30 seconds). Add the shrimp and stir-fry until they turn pink.
8. Stir in frozen peas or steamed broccoli, push the shrimp up to the sides of the pan and add the sauce in the middle. Bring to a boil and then mix in with the shrimp. Serve hot over steamed white or brown rice.

Makes 3-4 servings.

Sides take center stage

The food: Side dish dinners

Side dishes for dinner at home

The story:

When I read holiday dinner menus – in magazines, newspaper articles or in cookbooks – the photos and recipes that usually start me salivating are for the side dishes.

I love me some roast turkey with gravy – when I was a teenager, I requested my family’s traditional four starch (bread stuffing, potato stuffing, baked sweet potatoes AND steamed rice) roast turkey feast as my birthday meal, in August! – but I’m also happy, especially on non-holiday occasions, to fill my plate with a variety of side dishes and call it a meal. The mix of vegetable preparations feels and tastes rich and flavorful, even when there’s no meat or poultry on the plate.

Pictured above is a side dish dinner E and I cooked up recently. At the time, I was reading for review A Year in Lucy’s Kitchen, by Lucy Waverman, and decided to test out two recipes from it, one for asparagus with watercress dressing (see the recipe on Lucy Waverman’s website here) and the other for roasted Maple Syrup Sweet Potatoes.

To round out the meal, E made a dish of leeks and chestnuts from a recipe in New York magazine (recipe here) to which he added bacon, just because.

The foods in combination on the plate made a pleasingly colourful and tasty still life that felt healthy, the bacon notwithstanding. The standout was the watercress dressing – a mixture of olive oil, orange and lemon juice, mayo, mustard and watercress that, as I wrote in my review of the book was liquid gold. I look forward to making it again – for Christmas dinner, perhaps, with deconstructed Beef Wellington.

The side dishes for dinner concept appears to be a running theme with me – I already blogged about this kind of eating in London here and while at an Italian restaurant in South Beach recently, I found myself drawn to a selection of vegetali for lunch (pictured below) that included brussel sprouts, fennel, beets, more asparagus and a delicate caponatina made with eggplant, peppers and onions.

Which reminds me: post-holidays, I’ll have to make some caponata of my own.

Vegetali at Sardinia Enoteca in South Beach

Foodie Book Reviews

I recently reviewed two food-related books for the Globe and Mail newspaper’s Saturday books section.

One was Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession by food blogger turned memoirist Julie Powell, of Julie and Julia fame. You can read my review of it here.

The other was A Year in Lucy’s Kitchen: Seasonal Recipes and Memorable Meals by Lucy Waverman. My review of it can be read here.

I was inspired by one, and none too keen on the other. Read the reviews and find out which.

To Market, to market

The food: breakfast sandwich

The story:

Acting on a hot foodie tip from my sister, I recently went to the Saturday morning green farmers’ market at Wychwood Barns, the former Toronto Transit Commission streetcar repair and storage facility turned into an art and community space near St. Clair and Bathurst in Toronto.

I threaded my way through the narrow aisles of the market building, among an arty crowd made up mainly of midtown hipsters (if that’s not an oxymoron), many with young children, and scooped up some organic, locally grown vegetables – the bags of small whole carrots of various hues especially called to me.

Next I had to try something my sister had steered me to, a scrambled egg, bacon and old cheddar sandwich on toasted (grilled?) unbleached sourdough bread from Fred’s Bakery, pictured above, which costs a slightly pricey $7 but is made to order at a tiny kitchen stand operated by Chez Vous catering and is more delicious than you’d expect such a simple combination of ingredients to be. My bet is on the grilled (fried in butter?) bread as the elevating element.

I also really like Nuala’s Fiery Irish Gold, a sweet and spicy apricot-based marmalade type condiment that is sold at Nuala’s baking booth (her brownies are quite good too) near the Chez Vous kitchen window. It would go well with old cheddar or brie, particularly on an oatie cracker; would brighten up cooked poultry or fish; and would even enhance a grilled scrambled egg, bacon and cheddar sandwich if you tried to make one at home.