Tuesday, June 29, 2010

GF in the news.

If you're in the Philadelphia viewing area and aren't busy this Friday night, tune into WHYY/tv12 for the show Friday Arts. This week's Art of Food segment focuses on The Greenwood Kitchen, a local GF bakery. The show airs at 8:30pm on July 2 but will be repeated several times; check the WHYY website for more schedule info.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Odds and ends.

Just a few quick notes from today's Delaware Celiac Group meeting.

Two standouts from the sumptuous smorgasbord of snacks we sampled:

* The much buzzed-about Snyder's of Hanover GF pretzel sticks - hands down, these are the best GF pretzels I've tried. They're satisfyingly solid and crunchy and they taste just like normal pretzels, which is the highest praise I can offer. They're dairy-free, low fat, and have been certified by GIG. Definitely give these a try if you see them at your supermarket or Whole Foods (if you're lucky enough to live someplace - i.e., not Delaware - that has one).

* Best cupcake ever! Cupcake Heaven kindly donated a tray to the group, and they were indeed heavenly. Honestly, you'd never guess these were gluten free. The bakery is not dedicated GF but we were told they understand cross-contamination issues and thoroughly clean between batches. GF cupcakes are available by special order or may be bought frozen. Absolutely mouthwatering and highly recommended.

In other news, well-deserved congratulations to my friends at Fresh Thymes Café, recently dubbed Best of Delaware 2010 for healthy fare! Fresh Thymes is a cozy breakfast/lunch spot in Wilmington where the food is fresh, local, organic, super tasty, and very GF-friendly (including bread and treats from Amaranth and Sweet Christine's bakeries).

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sem aloo.

So last night for dinner I took my first test drive with The Indian Vegan Kitchen: More Than 150 Quick and Healthy Homestyle Recipes, which I posted about here. I wanted something fast and easy using what I had on hand, and the recipe for sem aloo (green beans and potatoes) fit the bill. The only ingredients: fresh green beans, one Yukon Gold potato, some spices, and a tiny bit of oil and water, plus I threw in some onion for good measure. (Sorry, but it's probably not cool to reprint a copyrighted recipe! You'll have to check out the book for specifics.) There's no sauce involved, just a nice blend of spices on the veggies as they simmer. Either some of my spices are stale or I'm accustomed to more pungent flavors than the recipe calls for, so I wound up adding more salt to help bring out the spices. But I did really enjoy the dish and I'm sure I'll make it again soon. Served on a bed of basmati rice, this was indeed a quick and filling GF summer supper.

In other news: California Tortilla has recently added gluten to their list of allergen info! Previously they only gave information about wheat content. CalTort can be found on Main Street in Newark DE, among other locations primarily in MD and VA. Now if only they could redo their amazing chicken tortilla soup to be GF!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Shore thing.

view of the Wildwood boardwalk from Morey's Pier ferris wheel
I blame the heat wave we're currently suffering through for sapping my ability to think, hence this long-delayed post! My oh-so-relaxing trip to the beach seems like ages ago already. I'm happy to report, however, that it was actually very easy to find meals, and I barely touched the huge bag of snacks I'd packed. My stomach was vaguely cooperative, and I can now say I survived my first celiac vacation.

Some of the snacks I brought, for reference: organic carrot sticks, tortilla chips and mini-packs of guacamole, Flamous falafel chips, Potato Flyers, Glutino chocolate peanut butter organic bars, a box of Imagine organic potato leek soup, Thai Kitchen's Bangkok Curry instant rice noodle soup, Dr. McDougall's instant Pad Thai and tortilla soup cups, and a bag of homemade squash muffins. (Naturally, after all that preparation, I didn't need any of it!)

Finding great gluten-free food so easily was the best surprise of the trip. Our first stop was at Lucky Bones Backwater Grille on Rt. 109 (the main road into town) in beautiful Cape May. A gluten-free menu is in the works, I was told, and the server and chef were incredibly helpful. I ordered a delicious filet tip sandwich with grilled peppers, mushrooms, and caramelized onions, served with the best herb polenta I've ever had (in lieu of fries - the fryer isn't safe) and a nice, tangy cole slaw. To my overwhelming shock, they had gluten-free hamburger buns on hand so I ate my first real sandwich in months! Not only that, the bun, from Against the Grain, was really good - great flavor and texture. The meal was nothing short of miraculous and I definitely recommend Lucky Bones for GF dining in the Cape May or Wildwood area.

Also, check out their brunch menu! We weren't there on a Sunday so I'll just have to go back and investigate (darn).

My next recommendation: La Piazza Cucina at 4600 Pacific in Wildwood. This dimly-lit, old school Italian restaurant is like stepping back in time to the golden days of Wildwood; I kept half-expecting Uncle Junior to sit down next to me. La Piazza offers one type of gluten-free pasta per day. I selected penne with clams in a spicy marinara sauce, my long-lost favorite Italian meal. The pasta was so perfectly al dente, I briefly wondered if there'd been some mistake - I'm used to the soggy mushiness of brown rice pasta. But no, this was Sam Mills Pasta d'Oro, made from corn, and the texture and flavor were outstanding and almost unrecognizably gluten-free. In the interest of disclosure, I will admit my stomach was not happy after this meal, but since I still have frequent trouble even with being GF and DF, I have no idea whether it was the pasta, the corn, the clams, the garlic, the red pepper, the preparation, or something else. Verdict: be cautious, but this was one fabulous dinner and I am very excited about discovering Pasta d'Oro.

My final review: Maui's Dog House at 8th and New Jersey in Wildwood. Junk food fans, rejoice. It's a hot dog stand with picnic bench seating out front under a tent - definitely not fancy digs, and they're open for lunch only. The harried proprietress overheard me inquiring about the deep-fryer situation, and yelled over, to our great amusement, "Gluten-free?" But yes, to my happiness, nothing goes in the fryer except fries. They serve a bajillion kinds of heart-stopping loaded hot dogs, burgers, and chicken sandwiches. The hot dogs are made of beef, pork, and veal, and since I don't eat pork or veal anyway, it wasn't an issue for me. But the hamburger-sans-bun (two patties for $4.50) was juicy and flavorful. It's such a treat to be able to order fries, so of course I had to indulge. The portions are enormous ($3 for regular, $3.50 for more Old Bay than I could handle) and served in doggie bowls. Somehow our lunch wound up costing more than our Lucky Bones dinner did.

Anyway, thank you, New Jersey, for some much needed oceanfront relaxation and for being more gluten-aware than I'd expected. Thanks also to Gluten Free Philly for the super helpful compendium of GF-friendly eateries, which provided a starting point to tackle the challenge of GF vacation dining.

p.s. This Sunday 6/27 is the first and last meeting of the summer for the Celiac and Gluten Intolerant Group of New Castle County, Delaware. The event will be held at Christiana Hospital and features guest speaker Michael of the aforementioned Gluten Free Philly blog. Check out the Gluten Free Delaware website for more details and to rsvp.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Of stir-fry and Indian food.

(Why yes, I am addicted to redecorating my blog!)

Tonight, inspired by my friend Natalie's cooking, I made an awesome stir-fry with tofu, French green beans, locally-grown asparagus, baby bok choy, and onion. I hate mushy tofu, so I always use extra firm and then press it for as long as patience allows - just put the tofu on a dish and pile a few plates or something heavy on top of it; drain off the water as it squeezes out. I sprinkled the tofu with some wheat-free soy sauce and then sauteed it in a bit of canola and sesame oil. Once it's nice and golden-crispy, I added my chopped veggies, minced garlic, a little cilantro, and a few splashes more soy sauce. Light, yummy, and easy!

I'm also very excited about a new cookbook I recently purchased: The Indian Vegan Kitchen: More Than 150 Quick and Healthy Homestyle Recipes by Madhu Gadia. While I'm not vegan, this cookbook is a fantastic resource for anyone who loves Indian food but can't handle all the ghee (clarified butter) and cream you tend to find in restaurant dishes. It's not strictly a GF cookbook either, but the vast majority of recipes are GF and are labeled as such (obviously, they are all dairy-free and egg-free). Indian cuisine is a great match for GF people, since many dishes are made with chickpea flour (besan) or don't call for flour or wheat at all.

I have yet to test out any of the recipes personally, but they seem straightforward and totally tantalizing. My mouth is already watering for the Chickpea-Potato Snack (Chana-Aloo Chaat), Curried Potato (Aloo Tamatar) Soup, Quick Chickpea Curry, Lemon Rice Noodles (Neembu Savai), and Coconut-Mango Rice. (Is there a better dessert than mango sticky rice? Doubtful.) There are even a few gluten-free bread recipes - sorghum, millet-potato, and corn roti - for motivated cooks, of which I do not number myself, no matter how much I still pine for Indian bread. (On a sidenote, for a quick Indian food fix without having to cook, Trader Joe's frozen Chana Masala is GF and delicious, although it does contain ghee. It's great by itself or with rice.)

On Monday I'm off to the beach with my GF snacks in tow. I'll post the après-vacation gluten-free report when I return. Wish me luck!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Delaweekend update.

I'm very pleased to report a semi-new GF-friendly restaurant option in the Wilmington, Delaware area. In the olden days Before Gluten, I meant to try out Big Fish Grill on the Riverfront, which opened sometime last fall, but I'd forgotten all about it. I won't make that mistake again. Not only do they offer a GF menu, there's also vegan, garlic-free, shellfish-free, dairy-free, and egg-free - how incredibly comprehensive is that? I ordered fresh grilled grouper with smashed potatoes and spinach, all of which I enjoyed. (Does grouper always taste like chicken?) I forgot to ask if any of the fish is local or sustainably caught, but I'll get on that next time. For now I'm delighted with their dietary inclusiveness. There's another Big Fish Grill (the original location) in Rehoboth Beach. (Photo from Big Fish Grill's Facebook page)

Another good choice in the Newark area: Cheeseburger in Paradise, a tropical island-themed chain restaurant. (For PA people, there are also locations in Exton and Oxford Valley.) There are several entrées, salads, and many burgers (sans bun) to choose from; beef, turkey, and veggie burgers are all GF. Today I indulged in the West Indies Burger, which is served with goat cheese, spring mix, and some manner of coconut-mango topping with banana jerk chutney dipping sauce and (ooh la la) french fries.

New product alert: Dr. McDougall's Asian Entrée Pad Thai instant noodle cup (not currently listed on the website). There are several other varieties in the Asian Entrée line but as far as I know, Pad Thai is the only one that's gluten-free. I found this in the organic section of my local Giant Food. (Extra bonus: "The cup you are holding is made from paper sourced exclusively from certified sustainably managed forests.") At 200 calories and 2g fat per serving, this is going with me on vacation next week for sure. Let's just hope it tastes good too.

I also discovered a new (to me) instant-favorite snack: Wholly Guacamole snack packs! They're gluten-free, made with actual food, and are 100 calories per pouch, so they are perfect for satisfying a guacamole craving without going overboard. I recommend dipping in with Green Mountain Gringo tortilla strips, which are GF-certified and all natural.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Nile Spice: a rant.

Dear Readers, I am royally, celiacly miffed right now. I'll back up: in a little over a week, I'm going to the beach for a few days with my boyfriend. This will be my first gluten-free vacation, so naturally I am very anxious about what to eat and getting sick away from home. We rented a condo that has a mini-kitchen so I could bring my own food and do some light cooking. But I don't know exactly what accoutrements will be there and of course I can't pack up my entire kitchen, so I've been trying to come up with easy and portable things to bring with me. (Suggestions welcome!)

One idea I had was to order a case of my beloved Nile Spice Potato Leek soup, which comes in instant cups - just add boiling water and voilà. This has been one of my favorite snacks for ages. Well, reading the ingredient list more closely, not only does it contain dairy but it also contains those horribly pesky "natural flavors," which could mean almost anything. They could be derived from wheat or barley. I had a vague recollection of being given the runaround via email several months ago regarding this same matter, so I called the customer service line. I was told they do not test their products or ingredients for gluten and can't tell me where these "natural flavors" came from. My comments would be passed along, which is just the corporate way of saying... well, you know.

It boggles the mind that a purportedly all-natural food company would be so uncooperative when it comes to food allergies and dietary restrictions. They're basically sticking their head in the sand and saying, "No, I don't want your celiac money." Nile Spice is a part of the Hain Celestial Group, maker of many well-respected gluten-free brands and products, but I am blown away by their refusal to provide this crucial information to consumers. Mostly I'm just mad that I can't eat my favorite soup! Even if I did take the gamble, I hate supporting this kind of business practice. Well, back to the drawing board.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

When GF is a little too good for my own good.

My mom (who is also gluten-free!) and I were recently reminiscing about trips to France, and of course the memories included FOOD. I'd need a straitjacket to keep me away from French bread and fromage, despite the pain of le pain, but one thing I don't have to pine for is crèpes! I will always lovingly remember the crèpes sold by Parisian street vendors but the GF version is super tasty as well, thanks to the geniuses at Pamela's Products.

Pamela's Baking & Pancake Mix is, to my knowledge, generally regarded as one of the best ready-made GF flour mixes on the market. Their recipe for crèpes is incredibly simple and cooks up very quickly. Since I generally cook for one, I halved the recipe, yielding 4 crèpes. They are a little more gummy and fragile than their wheaty counterparts, but the taste resemblance is so close that I think anyone would enjoy them. I stuffed one with sliced strawberries, one with organic wild berry preserves, and sprinkled the third with a packet of Sugar in the Raw. (The fourth didn't last long enough to make it to the plate!) Absolutely delicious and a nice treat for brunch when you've got the energy.

In other baking experiment news, I bought a box of the famous Betty Crocker Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix a few months ago at Target (!) and was waiting for an opportunity to test it out. I had to make them with a stick of butter, since I didn't have any baking-friendly dairy-free substitute on hand. Not the best news for my stomach, but how could anything taste bad if it's got a stick of butter in it? The dough is crumbly and very stiff to work, but once the butter softens up, it gets more like regular cookie dough. I lined my baking sheets with parchment paper (I did not throw out my kitchen implements after my diagnosis, as many people do) and the cookies turned out beautifully.

I have to confess, I think they look better than they taste. The mix is so gritty, even if the cookies themselves are a perfect combination of crispy and chewy. I brought them to a get-together on Saturday night so I'd have something safe to nibble, and I gave everyone fair warning that these were not normal cookies. But to my surprise, non-GF people actually liked them - a LOT. Like most GF substitutes, once you get over your initial shock and comparison to wheat, these cookies really grew on me (literally. Hello, calories) and I like them better now than I did at first. All the same, I won't be making these often. I don't know how they'd turn out without butter, although now I belatedly see no butter instructions on the website (it would be nice if they'd printed it on the box!), and I really don't need the temptation since I'm constantly trying to lose a few pounds. (When I got diagnosed I thought, "Well, at least I'll lose weight." Yeah right. There's too much good food out there!) But thank you anyway, Ms. Crocker!