Thursday, January 29, 2009

Easy Thai Desserts from Thai Cookery School: Gluten Free, Milk Free, Egg Free

I did not know anything about traditional Thai desserts until I went to Thai Cookery School in Krabi, Thailand this past December. Apparently, there are only two traditional Thai desserts that we were taught. Both of them of consist of fresh fruit, coconut milk, and sugar. Simple and full of flavor. These desserts, Bananas in Coconut Milk & Sticky Rice with Mangoes, are cooked on the stove top and take less than 15 minutes to make. Personally, I thought my favorite would be the mango sticky rice since it has two of my favorite ingredients side-by-side. It was delicious, sweet, and somehow light. But when I tasted the bananas in coconut milk, I just melted with sweet warmth. It is like a dessert soup; a treat that is tropical, yet light and warm enough to give comfort on a cold wintry night. These recipes are from the cookbook given to me in the class, "Art of Thai Cooking". These recipes serve 1-2 people depending; scale up as needed. Enjoy!

Bananas In Coconut Milk
1 ripe banana, sliced
3/4 cup coconut milk
1 - 1 1/2 tblspn sugar
3/4 tsp salt

- In a small saucepan, heat the coconut milk, sugar, and salt over medium heat until it comes to a gentle boil, about 5 minutes.
- Add in the banana slices until the bananas are cooked and very tender, about 2-3 minutes.

Sticky Rice with Mangoes
1/2 cup cooked sticky/sweet rice (also known as glutinous rice, it is gluten free, either white or brown)
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 tblspns sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 fresh mango, sliced


- In a small/medium sauce pan,
heat the coconut milk, sugar, and salt over medium heat until it comes to a gentle boil, about 5 minutes.
- Add in the cooked sticky rice, mix together. Turn off heat and let stand for 10 minutes.
- Stir one more time and serve on plate with the sliced mangoes.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Time to Pretend . . . Hiring a Personal Chef that can handle Gluten Free & Casein Free

This is the scene outside my front door. The city of Cincinnati has declared a level 3 snow emergency; no cars on the roads unless you are emergency personnel. This winter wonderland consists of 6" snow with 1-2" ice layer in the middle, topped with another 4" snow on top. I'm glad to be inside where it's warm with electricity (I'm keeping my fingers crossed no trees fall on the lines), and I have my computer on-line and my kitties are being cute and affectionate. The past few days I have gotten buried by my Culinary studies assignment and have not had the chance to blog. Ending my Personal Chef Principles class, I have come to realize this will be my primary focus of my starting my business.

I want to hear from all of you - What would look for in a hiring a Personal Chef? Let's pretend money was no object; and you know exactly what a Personal Chef does because you looked at my business web site and it says,
"The Sensitive Epicure,
Personal Chef & Chemist Service,
is a unique service providing gluten free, mostly milk free & yeast free meals that are customized and prepared for you in your home. Take a look at the benefits:

Eat Safe... a safe gluten free meal made by a trained Chemist & Chef who has Celiac & milk allergy and understands dietary restrictions.

Save Time… you have no planning, shopping, cooking or cleaning up. It’s all done by your Personal Chef which means extra time in your schedule.

Eat Healthy… the freshest and best ingredients are always used without preservatives—a great value.

Have Dinner at Home…back to the basics. Your family can enjoy a meal with quality time at the dinner table—priceless.

Additional Services That I provide:

  • Grocery shopping / Consultation for your dietary needs
  • Dinner parties /Catered events
  • Cooking Classes
  • Restaurant & Catering Consulting for meeting food allergy/intolerance needs
  • Recipe & Food Development"
Now I want you to "interview me" as if you were considering hiring me as a Personal Chef.
  • What is important to you?
  • What questions would you ask me?
  • What questions would you want me to ask you?
  • How do you think a Personal Chef could improve your life?
  • Do you have kids? If so, how do their dietary needs/habits differ from you?
  • What are your major concerns with hiring a Personal Chef?
  • What are your hopes in hiring a Personal Chef?
Please post your comments. They are very important to me. Thanks!

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Exotic Fruit brought to you by Southeast Asia

One of the reasons I believe Asians are not as overweight as Westerners/Americans is because they don't eat sweet baked goods on a regular basis. I witnessed this first hand recently on a two week trip to Singapore and Thailand. If they do feel the need to eat sweet, it is usually fruit - beautiful, colorful, exotic, and luscious. Never would you see any locals eating any processed prepackaged foods, especially of the confectionery variety.

My first day in Singapore, we had a food tour with the first stop at
Singapore's most famous Hawker centre, Maxwell Food Centre (made famous to the USA by Anthony Bourdain). The heat was thick, wet, and oppressive; 90 degrees and 90% humidity in late November. I just wanted to cool down. Our tour guide was getting us the famous dishes - chicken rice and carrot cake (which is really a radish omelet & one of my faves to blog about later). She recommended getting a fruit shake that were a real treat here. So I ventured walking from stall to stall. Some of the fruit of foreign in to me; I have never seen more perfect fruit in all my life. There were a handful of stalls that just did fruit/shakes with shakes for conditions. I started talking to this one hawker that I liked (picture above) and asked him for his recommendation. "You will have soursop and guava. It will cool you down." It did, and for only $2. This fruitshake was the most flavorful and lightest shake I have ever had.

While in Thailand, I did see a little of the junky baked goods. Mostly marketed towards the western tourists did I see doughnuts and fried dough wrapped bananas sold side-by-side with bananas and perfectly carved mangoes and pineapples. This picture says it all on Phranang beach in Krabi, Thailand. The Thai diet is 90%+ gluten free and milk free. Thai food is such a complex flavor profile - savory, sweet, sour, and spicy. I love it. They utilize everything they have local to them. The fruit there is like candy.

Back to Singapore and the beautiful fruit stands in Chinatown. Half of the fruit was common such as the oranges, bananas, mangoes, pineapple, melons, plums, kiwis . . . Then were was the exotic fruit - dragonfruit (my fave), jackfruit, mangosteens, durian (stinky!), soursop, lycees, guava, passionfruit, papaya, pomello, and many more I have no clue what they are. They were all so delicious (except the Durian, which is an acquired taste). This time of the year I find challenging living in the Midwest without any good seasonal fruit that is local. I can just look at these pictures and remind myself that there is always fresh fruit with no gluten, no milk, no excuses, and no guilt.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Chocolate + Water = Chocolate Mousse . . . A little Molecular Gastronomy

I figure I am a Chemist, so it's time to research the hot area of molecular gastronomy that has been on fire over the past few years. I utilize my chemistry a lot with my recipe develop already to get the flavor and texture I want. Cooking is a series of chemical and physical transformations.

While researching two main figures in molecular gastronomy,
Herve This & Heston Blumenthal, I heard about making a chocolate mousse from just chocolate and water. Brilliant! Of course, chocolate is a solidified fat/oil phase with emulsifiers such as lecithin in it already! So it is possible to make chocolate mousse with no eggs, no milk, no cream, no added sugar. Brilliant! I've made lots of emulsions before. An emulsion is a stabilized mixture of two immiscible liquids where a surfactant/emulsifier stabilizes the phases. Many emulsions are oil/water emulsions, with dietary fats being one common type of oil encountered in everyday life. Examples of emulsions include butter and margarine, milk and cream, and vinaigrettes.

So I decided to try different methods, and see what it tastes like and how the texture turns out. I figured that the chocolate (oil phase) would be the continuous phase and the water would be the internal droplet phase. There are two major considerations for texture - the droplet size and the crystallization of the chocolate upon cooling.

My empirical results were as follows . . . okay, I'm sounding too much of a Chemist. It works! Awesome, rich, clean chocolate mousse using just chocolate and water. I tried 2 different methods and ended with different textures, depending on how quick it is chilled:

Herve This’ Chocolate Chantilly

200 ml or grams water
225 grams quality bittersweet chocolate (a scant 8 oz), chopped coarsely or chips

Place the water and chocolate into a small heavy saucepan over medium heat to melt. Stir the chocolate in the pan until completely melted.

Have ready two bowls, one that will sit inside the other. Into the bigger bowl, put some ice and a little water, and place the smaller bowl (preferably metal) on top of the ice bath. Pour the melted chocolate into the smaller bowl and whisk over ice - the mixture will gradually thicken and take on the appearance of whipped cream, at which point it is ready to serve. Portion it into cups. Mine were not thick enough, so I tried 2 different way to chill it - a slow chill and a fast chill.

For a lighter & softer mousse, put in fridge for at least 2 hours. For a more dense mousse, almost a pots de creme texture - place covered in freezer for 15-30 minutes, then move into fridge to set for 1-2 hours.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

P.S. I have a follow up posting to this with more in-depth research & development. Click HERE!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Why I love Maggiano's

I tend to shy away from chain restaurants, especially because of my extreme sensitivity to gluten. I also want to support the local independent businesses. There are exceptions, though. I live in central Cincinnati, so going out to the mall is an event; I think it's just more of the mindset going from an urban setting to a suburban setting. Today I had to run some errands at Kenwood Town Centre and my sweet husband offered to join me and suggest we do lunch at Maggiano's. I was so excited!

Maggiano's has been such an incredible supporter to the local Cincinnati Support Group; they hold two events there per year for us. What's even more amazing is the every staff member there actually looks forward to hosting these semi-annual congregation of difficult eaters. Wow.
The also carry a local gluten free baker's items - Shelly Ritchie from Moondance Desserts. Even though they are a huge chain, they do care about the community and even buy-in local made foods to support these local businesses such as Moondance. (Which by the way, all of her desserts are deliciously decedent.)

By the time we made it to Maggiano's, it was more like a late lunch on a cold Saturday. We were promptly seated with our lunch menus. On the menu, under 'pasta selections' you could opt for gluten free pasta. No, this wasn't a separate menu, just stated as a matter-of-fact on the regular menu. I asked our waitress if the meatballs were GF, she said "no, they have bread crumbs. I'll send out our Chef to talk to you." The chef greeted me at the table a couple of minutes later and said, "you're my favorite customer in here today." I said "you're my favorite restaurant today." I asked him about the meatballs, and he offered to make some from scratch for me with no breadcrumbs. I told him I was more in the mood for the chicken pesto linguine anyway, with the delicious, yellow corn pasta. He said that was too easy. I asked him about calamari, and he offered to pan fry it in cornstarch. What an awesome offer. Since it was lunch, I just opted for one pasta dish only with no apps.

When my dish came out, it was beautiful and large enough to feed two people. The linguine had been substituted with yellow corn eliche which held all the tasty pesto better in the surface area within the spirals. The texture was a perfect al dente; the chicken was shredded, tender and the white; and the pesto was tasty, even though I found it to be on the mild side. The pesto had spinach in it to punch up the green color and tone down the harsh garlic and intense basil. It was good. I took half of it home for breakfast tomorrow. Then, the waitress presented us with a smart plate of four stacked strips of Shelly Ritchie's gluten free brownies with whipped cream and fresh mint leaves, saying "compliments of the kitchen." Jackpot! I love this place. When we were leaving, they all said, "please come back and visit us." Yes I will, hopefully for some calamari.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Friday, January 23, 2009

Shepherd’s Pie: Gluten Free Lacto-Vegetarian with Milk Free/Vegan Option

Being an Irish girl, my favorite comfort food is Shepherd's Pie. It is the perfect dish for a cold wintry night. I am very picky about Shepherd's Pie. The only restaurant I found that serves an honestly good Shepherd's Pie is at Matt Murphy's Pub in Brookline, Massachusetts (including surveying restaurants in the UK). Last year I was faced with a culinary challenge on top of the whole gluten free thing; one of our guests was a lacto-ovo-vegetarian. No lamb? I wanted to make sure that I was not "cheating" him by giving him an anemic version of what most cooks/chefs would do. He deserved something comparable that was meaty and savory as well as being a complete protein. This recipe I developed hit the spot so much so that all the guests had to help themselves to a portion of it in addition to the lamb version.

Working on a recent assignment for my Personal Chef Principles on recipe development, I pulled this one out. Then one of my girlfriends was looking for a recipe and this one fit the bill. This one's for you, Brinda and Chef Lapasky!


Stew Ingredients:
1 container of Firm Tofu
½ cup Potato Starch
Salt & Pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable Oil
3 large Portabella Mushrooms
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
3 carrots, peeled & chopped
¼ tsp ground Cayenne Pepper
1 tbspn Maple Syrup
1 bottle Redbridge GF Beer
2 Bay Leaves
1 cup Button Mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
½ cup peas

Whipped Potatoes Ingredients:
2 lbs potatoes
½ stick butter / smart balance / milk-free margarine
½ cup milk / rice milk / soy milk
Salt & white pepper to taste
Parsley, for garnish



1. Turn on broiler. Cut up tofu into 1/2” cubes and place on cookie sheet. Broil until golden (3-5 minutes); flip, & repeat.

2. Season the potato starch with salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Toss the portabellas with starch mixture in bowl, until evenly coated.

3. Warm a large, 12”, skillet and add oil over medium-high heat. Brown the portabellas & flour mixture in the skillet, until the coating is browned on both sides. Remove from heat.

4. Place portabellas into a slow cooker or a large (3-4qt) sauce pan; put on low heat.

5. Cook onions in the skillet on medium heat until transparent; remove and add onions to meat.

6. Add the carrots, beer, mushrooms, and rosemary to the portabellas and onions and stir until thoroughly mixed on low heat. Also add in the cayenne, maple syrup, and bay leaves.

7. Cook covered with occasional stirring for at least 2 hours.

8. 30 minutes before removing stew from heat, add in the peas. Start working on the potatoes . . .


1. Peel potatoes and cut into 1” cubes. Boil with salt until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain potatoes well.

2. Place potatoes into a large mixing bowl and add in butter by small pats, while potatoes are still hot.

3. Using a hand-mixer beat the potatoes on low until smooth. Add in any remaining butter, salt, and white pepper to taste. Increase mixer speed to medium speed, and beat until smoother. Slowly all milk with low mixing speed; increase mixing speed to make fluffy. Add more milk if needed to make creamier.


1. Turn on broiler.

2. Using oven-safe casserole dish (individual soufflé dishes or 1 large dish), place stew to fill dish half full, and smooth out making sure it is evenly distributed.

3. Place potatoes on top and carefully spread out to cover the top of the stew.

4. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

5. Place under broiler for about 5 minutes, until potatoes are lightly browned.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Ultimate PB&J Cookie - of course Gluten Free & Milk Free

This is my latest "prototype" of my PB&J cookie - a touch of buckwheat, peanut nut butter + ground peanuts, substantial, extra PB on top with Strawberry jam.

So, I've been working on perfecting the peanut butter and jelly cookie. The purpose of this is to submit the recipe for the Pillsbury Bake-off. Why not? Technically, I'm still an amateur cook, so I can enroll in the competition. I think it's time that Pillsbury gives props to a unapologetic gluten free recipe in the baked goods category. Gluten free is hitting the mainstream and it must be embraced. First it has to kick butt, regardless of what it does or does not have in it.

It has been so long since I have had a "normal" peanut butter cookie, that I forget what are the attributes of the perfect peanut butter cookie. I have make successful prototypes - soft, firm, dark, peanut-nutty, sugary, smooth, chunky . . .

What are the characteristics of your ultimate peanut butter cookie? Texture? Flavor? Appearance? What kind of jelly - Concord grape or strawberry, or something else?

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Welcome my new blog - The Sensitive Epicure!

The Sensitive Epicure is all about good food, while having dietary restrictions.

The most annoying question/response I get when I tell them that I cannot eat gluten for any milk products is, "OMG, you poor thing. What CAN you eat?" Uh . . . . plenty! Or another one of my favorites (NOT) is "How can you not eat bread? If I couldn't eat bread, I'd kill myself!" Okay, I'm not even going to go there - a comment like that is just uncalled for.

So, about me. I am currently a Culinary Student at The Midwest Culinary Institute in the Personal Chef Program. I just started classes in November 2008. I was limited in what I could take my first term due to a trip of a lifetime to a friend's wedding in Singapore (foodie capitol of the world) and the after party in Krabi, Thailand (paradise) - I shall blog about this trip in future postings. So, my first cooking class while in school, was in Thailand! It was awesome - I learned some much that I will blog about.

I am a hard core Chemist and Foodie. My first time around in university, I focused on studying Physical Organic Chemistry. I studied quantum mechanics for fun, reading Enrico Fermi's hand-written notes from his University of Chicago class when I needed a pick-me-up; or if I wanted to get "literary" I would read any of Richard Feynman's books. I enjoyed organic chemistry because I was using my dexterous technique and chemistry knowledge to create new molecules - it was both art and science. After getting my BS and the 1st sequence of graduate level of organic chemistry, I found myself working in the industry, for corporate America. I worked at a food & flavor company, making beverages and new foods; then spent 14 years working at the largest consumer company in the US. I worked on some great things: the long-wearing 2-step lipstick (my invention!), nail polish, making new pharmaceutical compounds, then laundry detergent.

I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease & Dermatitis Herpetiformis in March, 2003. Since then, I have realized over time that I have more important things to work on rather than doing another cost savings on the laundry detergent line-up. Just this past October 2008, I left my corporate job as a Chemist to pursue my culinary dreams. I know I can develop some delicious foods, without being so institutional about it. I'm a Chemist - I know what gluten is, what casein is, etc; and most importantly I understand all that stuff and how to use it to make the best food out there.

My approach to GF/MF recipe development is to deconstruct a typical gluten-filled food and rebuild it with an optimization of GF ingredients and reinterpret it into something spectacular – like my Buskens style iced cookies (incredible iced cookies local to only Cincy). My kitchen success has come from understanding the physical properties of food ingredients and utilizing chemistry between these ingredients without using anything “unnatural” such as xanthan gum or bean flours in baked goods.

I will post more . . . . please stay tuned for more!

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure