Yesterday morning was Brandan’s turn to visit the farmer’s market and pick out his “ingredient” for his turn in the kitchen. This time of year, the markets overflow with fresh vegetables and fruits – you can turn your head left and right and see onions, garlic, tomatoes, eggplant, peaches, zucchini, peppers, watermelon, berries – just about anything you could want. As we walk in, I ask Brandan if any of these things sound good to him. He mutters “not yet”, and then asks “Can we buy a raw onion so I can just eat it?” Struggling with my own “blech” factor (I’m okay with raw onion in small amounts, but to eat one whole, like an apple, seems bizarre to me), I tell him he can get one if he’d like. Then he spots the stand – an older gentleman is selling Gulf seafood.
We talk with the gentleman for a few minutes. Brandan has already gazed at his menu and has set his heart on soft shell crabs, although he’s never eaten one. I ask about the safety of the seafood from the Gulf (because isn’t this everyone’s question, lately?), and he assures me that he receives seafood from unaffected areas. However, the future of this is somewhat uncertain. I ask him how many crabs he has available. He has six. They’re frozen – not my first choice, but there was zero chance of talking Brandan out of this one. I purchase them all.
In an effort to then remind Brandan that we need a rounded meal, we head towards another booth, where a farmer has a staggering array of fruits and vegetables. He has both fresh white and fresh bi-color corn available, so we buy a few ears. We also pick up a huge orange-fleshed watermelon. Arms loaded (I also had my CSA share bag, plus a pork shoulder roast and about 12 pounds of beef short ribs – they were on special at Truth Hill Farms for $1.99/lb - I only did not take all that they had because a couple standing next to me wanted some), we stagger to the car and head home.
The gentleman selling the crabs told us that his favorite way to prepare them is to batter them and fry them for sandwiches. I ask Brandan if he would prefer to fry them or grill them – the only two ways I knew off the top of my head to prepare soft shell crabs. Brandan wishes to fry them. So then comes the question – how? Do we want to make them all gluten-free, or not gluten-free? My husband suggests that we fry one gluten-free first, and we prepare the rest using regular flour. This will be the first time I’ve allowed regular flour in my house since going gluten-free. Brandan thinks this is fine, and I agree.
I understand that there are a lot of different ways those with gluten intolerance handle their kitchens. Some are totally gluten-free. Some aren’t. For those that are not, there are even varying degrees of gluten-free, and most will say that there are some practices that occur in their kitchens to limit cross-contamination issues. My kitchen until yesterday only allowed packaged gluten-containing foods – breads, granola bars, cereals, an occasional frozen pizza, etc. If anything was to be cooked that contained gluten, there are a few pots, pans, and utensils in a designated drawer – the “gluten” cooking items. If someone was cooking with gluten and made a crumb-y mess, the area was always thoroughly cleaned before I’d go anywhere near it with food I was consuming. With the reintroduction of a small amount of flour into our kitchen, I knew the cleaning and cross-contamination potential would have to be addressed.
Brandan and I talked about the importance of thoroughly washing his hands, not flinging the flour around in the air and everywhere on the counters, and why we had to be sure that we followed the cooking in a certain order – the gluten-free crab had to be cooked first. With a few reminders along the way, we managed through it. I ensured that my freshly fried crab went covered, in the microwave, just so it could stay safely away from any potential airborne flour. And afterwards, the kitchen was cleaned top to bottom – the cabinets wiped, counters cleaned, and every appliance wiped down thoroughly. Even knobs were cleaned.
Sounds like a lot of work just to fry a bit of crab? Perhaps, on a normal day. But after some long conversations with myself (and my husband), I want to be sure the “Kids in the Kitchen” times are about the kids. They’re not about my issues – and while I will always explain, if needed, that whatever they dream up might either a) not be enjoyed by me, because I can’t eat the gluten or dairy (and I explain where that ingredient lurks, so they gain understanding), so they can be prepared, and not disappointed, when I can’t share in the enjoyment of their food, or b) opt to make a modified version for everyone, or a modified version for me. I don’t wish to encourage or discourage either way - because these special times with the kids in the kitchen are about teaching them that cooking can be fun, and showing them how to prepare food for themselves. My goal here is to arm them with some knowledge and confidence to cook, so that when they are on their own, they realize that there is a better, cheaper, and healthier way than the drive-thru or frozen, packaged, prepared meals. As they don’t live at our house 24/7, and they don’t suffer from the same issues I do, I don’t focus on gluten-free living with them. (They get their healthy, mostly gluten-free meals when it’s Mom’s turn in the kitchen!)
Anyway, on to the meal. We served the crabs with the fresh corn (none for me, as I’m realizing that corn gives me issues as well. Sigh.) and fried rice. Yes, a bit of an awkward combination perhaps, but it tasted good, and it was Brandan’s choice, after all! He happily gobbled up the crab, and laid claim on all of the leftovers of the fried rice, insisting he was going to take it to his grandfather to show how good it was – “better than Papa’s,” he exclaimed. He had plans to tell Papa how he made it. I might have been beaming, just a little.
Fried Soft-Shell Crabs
1-2 quarts canola oil
6 soft shell crabs, cleaned
2 c gluten-free flour blend (I used a high-protein flour blend from a Living Without recipe, but you could use any gluten-free flour mix)
1/4 t cayenne powder
3/4 t fine sea salt
Lemons, for serving
Preheat the oil to 375 degrees in a large, heavy dutch oven. Meanwhile, mix together the flours, cayenne and the salt. Dredge each crab, one at a time, in the flour, and drop in the hot oil. Fry for 3 minutes or until golden brown and the crab is cooked through. Remove and allow to drain on paper towels. Season with additional salt if needed, and serve with lemons. Serves 4-6.
Meatless Fried Rice
3 T olive oil or peanut oil
4 eggs, scrambled
2 T chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 c cooked, cooled leftover rice (freshly steamed rice will not work – it will only turn into a sticky, gluey mess)
1 c peas (if frozen, thaw first)
2-3 T gluten-free soy sauce (I use San-J wheat-free tamari)
2 t sesame oil
Sriracha, for serving (I use Huy Fong)
Heat about 1 tablespoon of the oil in a wok or a large skillet until shimmering. Add the eggs and scramble quickly, until almost set. Remove and wipe pan clean. Add additional oil to pan and saute onion for 1 minute. Add garlic and saute for an additional 30 seconds. Add the rice and stir, and spread out into a single layer. Turn heat to high and allow rice to fry, undisturbed, for a minute or until you really hear the grains sizzle. Stir and spread out again, and allow to fry undisturbed for a minute. Add peas and stir, and add soy sauce and sesame oil. Stir and allow to fry, undisturbed, one more time. Add eggs and stir, and then taste to see if additional soy sauce is needed. Serve, drizzled with Sriracha if desired. Serves 6.
Note: This is not a hard-and-fast recipe. I rarely measure, and I often add additional vegetables to my fried rice, such as carrots, green onions, ginger, or even asparagus, bell peppers, or zucchini. The possibilities are endless – it’s a great way to eat up leftover bits!