Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Do it yourself

Jackie Mallorca, our food editor, lives in a charming San Francisco apartment with a lovely view of the Bay and a very small kitchen. Still, she loves good food, is a consummate cook, and turns out great meals in her very small space, including her own pasta!

Jackie and I share a few things, including apartment life and small kitchens. But there is a huge difference in our use of said kitchens. Hers is well used; mine gathers dust as much as I can let it and still stay alive. So I thought I would share this video of her making gluten-free pasta on a local San Francisco television show, which you can view by going to this link from Jackie’s website. Notably, this is a segment that features a gluten-free cook on a “regular” television show. While I suppose we are getting to the point where the unusual has become commonplace, it still amazes old timers like Jackie and me.

Frankly the process of making pasta is a lot easier than you might think. Actually I know this from my many hours sitting in my mother-in-law’s also very small kitchen while she made gluten-containing-pasta-to-die for on Sunday mornings. Her marinara sauce was pretty much the same as Jackie’s (in her Gluten-Free Italian cookbook).

To make meat sauce, she first made meatballs (including raisins which I highly recommend), then browned them in the bottom of the pot in some rendered pork fat. In addition to the meatballs, she usually browned sweet Italian sausage and, if she had it, a small piece of pork, which added sweetness to the sauce. Then she removed the meat, added a bit of onion, the tomatoes and seasoning and cooked the sauce for an hour or so. When the hour was up, she put the meat back in the pot and cooked it for another hour or so, tasting as she went along.

The bottom line is that you can eat Italian more easily on the gluten-free diet than you might think, not only dishes you make in your own kitchen but also in Italian restaurants. I’ve found that smaller Italian restaurants are very invested in serving good food and creating memorable food experiences and have had some of my best gluten-free meals in Italian restaurants. Sometimes you can even bring your own GF pasta, although I tend to think that’s a bit risky.

When my mother-in-law made fresh pasta, she usually served it with a topping of a little ricotta lightly thinned with a bit of sauce and then poured the sauce over all. Let’s just say it was my favorite meal in a previous life. She also made home-made manicotti and my daughter, who inherited her grandmother’s cooking gene, told me she would try to make manicotti using GF flour. If she ever does it (she has 3 young children) I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Meanwhile, enjoy the video and don’t be afraid to try it yourself!


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Party Pleasing Dessert

My husband picked up a call on Sunday morning that resulted in an invitation for our family to watch football games at a friend’s house. He accepted enthusiastically and hung up.

Listening in, I figured out what was going on and when he hung up, I refrained from asking him if he was raised in a barn. He committed the cardinal sin of bad manners… he didn’t ask what we could bring. Even if you KNOW the host is a control freak who likes to do everything, you still ask the question!

His blasé response was that he was damned either way…either I was going to be miffed when told I was bringing a salad or game snacks or I was going to be miffed at his lack of manners. Ahhh, marriage is funny.

I sent a text to the host and told him we would bring beer (hubby’s job) and a dessert (my job).

As luck would have it, I had a box of gluten-free chocolate cake mix and a can of vanilla frosting, but knowing our host, I assumed that at least four families were invited. How does one box of cake mix cover that many people for dessert?

Dust off those mini-muffin baking pans! As one mom said, she hadn’t used her mini-muffin pans since one of her teen age daughters was in the second grade and she was assigned mini-corn muffins for the Thanksgiving feast!

My one box of cake mix yielded 48 mini-chocolate cupcakes. I had every intention of thinning out the packaged frosting and using a piping bag to squirt out decorative dollops of frosting, but at the last minute I slapped it on with a cheese knife.

They weren’t pretty and it actually would have been easier with a piping bag. But, no one judged the lame frosting! Adults and kids alike thought the cupcakes were a great bite sized dessert and all 48 disappeared in a flash.

When my celiac ate his in one bite and went back for another, someone asked if they were gluten free. Even today there is still surprise that a gluten-free cake could taste just like a wheat based cake.

Here is a Superbowl party idea…two boxes of gluten-free cake mix would yield close to 100 mini-cupcakes! With a touch of food coloring in the frosting, the Indianapolis team colors of blue and white would be easy to make. The New Orleans team colors of black and gold would be tricky, but maybe a baker out there could give us a food coloring tip.

Do yourself a favor though, learn to pipe those little flowers of frosting because it’s faster and then the cupcakes will look as good as they taste!

Kendall Egan

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Catered by Costco

Life in the ‘burbs often involves Costco. Those of us living here use the phrase “catered by Costco” when prepping for team dinners, BUNCO or book group nights or throwing a big party.

Recently, my family’s gluten-free dinner was catered by Costco! I was pleasantly surprised to see many prepared foods with a label indicating that the product was gluten-free or had no ingredients containing gluten. I picked up two rotisserie chickens, carrot and potato soufflés and a salad. Dinner was ready upon re-heating the soufflés and tossing the salad.

Those were not the only entrées available, pulled pork or chicken meatballs could have been on the table for supper! Plus, there’s always a huge selection of gluten-free snack foods like hummus, guacamole, tzatziki and loads of cheese. Over the month of December, I sustained myself on this incredible block of French goat milk cheese, this delicious cinnamon/ sugar pecan and craisin mix and these addictive peppery pistachios.

Of course, there is gluten-free junk food available too. I bought this monster bag of popped BBQ flavor chips that do not contain gluten. So many varieties of BBQ chips do have wheat on the label, but this brand of popped chips specifically said “no gluten.”

As I did my kid drop offs and pickups yesterday, I told my celiac to try the BBQ chips to see what he thought. Well, he accidentally ate the other junk food chips I had purchased for lunch boxes, the individually packaged baked BBQ chips that very much contain wheat and say so right on the label.

Poor guy was so sheepish when I held up the right bag and asked him what he thought…he told me he ate the other ones and then asked me if they had wheat. So, we now have reinforced the “double-check” rule about labels. He has to take a look at the label before eating just to double check because there are four other people in our household who are able to eat wheat so our pantry is a mixed bag.

In the meantime, I’ll be back at Costco soon if I want a night off from preparing a gluten-free dinner or if I have another month where I need some “gluten-free-get-through-the-day-reward-myself” French goat milk cheese.

Kendall Egan

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gluten-Free Shopping Habits

I have thought a lot about my shopping habits for gluten-free food since they have changed dramatically over the past twelve years.

Twelve years ago, pretty much all of my gluten-free food was purchased online and shipped to me from specialty grocers or directly from the vendor.

Today, I am able to find gluten-free foods at stores such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods and Mrs. Green’s, but I am also able to find gluten-free foods at Stop and Shop. There are products carried or produced at local bakeries and local specialty stores as well. I still have a couple of products I order online, but I mostly purchase product from store shelves these days.

If product is widely available on store shelves, what happens to entrepreneurs trying to get a new product off the ground by using online ordering? People still shop online for lots of things readily available in stores, will that remain true for gluten-free food?

I was just curious about the shopping habits of others, where do you buy most of your gluten-free flour, mixes, baked goods and other products? Please comment!
Kendall Egan

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The future of Redbridge Gluten-Free Beer

There was a ripple of news on social networking sites yesterday about the future of Anheuser -Busch's gluten-free Redbridge beer. On Twitter there were tweets that said the company was planning to discontinue the beer next month.

But a company spokesman late yesterday told Gluten-Free Living the beer giant has no plans to discontinue Redbridge in the near or distant future. He was perplexed about the rumor and said he had no idea where it might have come from.

Just recently, Gluten-Free Living was told that the beer was selling extremely well, so we were not sure what to make of rumors of Redbridge's demise. Until we officially hear otherwise, we are going to count on the continued availability of a product that is appreciated by a significant segment of the adult gluten-free community.


In other news about gluten-free offerings from a well known national chain, Starbucks is now selling"lucy's" gluten-free cookies at select locations. The Virginian-Pilot reported that Starbucks this week began stocking the Norfolk company's cookies in 6,000 of Starbucks' 11,000 locations nationwide. The newspaper said Starbucks is waiting to see how successful they are before saying anything about further availability.

The pre-packaged cookies are part of Starbucks lineup of "on-the-go" snacks. Chocolate chip, sugar and cinnamon flavors are available at $1.50 for four or $5.95 for 16. In addition to being gluten-free, the cookies do not contain milk, butter, eggs, casein, peanuts or tree nuts. They are also cholesterol and trans fat free. Several stores, including Whole Foods, also sell them.

In addition to "lucy's" cookies, Starbucks this week added a variety of gluten-free snacks, including Food Should Taste Good chips, Two Moms in the Raw granola, several fruit snacks, and nuts.

The company discontinued it's pastry-case gluten-free Orange Valencia cake almost as fast as Conan is being squeezed off the Tonight show at NBC.

We'll have to wait to see if the gluten-free cookies get a longer run, more like Jay Leno.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Breakfast for Dinner

Last night I tried really hard to convince everyone to do some sort of take out. First I suggested Thai food, but we have PF Chang’s gift cards that we want to use this weekend so that got voted down. Then I suggested pizza, because our local pizzeria, Piazza Pizza, started selling gluten-free pizzas, but we just had pizza on Saturday at Opus in New York City so there were no takers on pizza.

So I fished around the fridge and decided that all I could offer was some sort of breakfast for dinner, but I wasn’t in the mood for pancakes. I shouted out the choices—scrambled eggs and toast or crepes. Crepes won by a landslide.

Actually, it was a fun and easy dinner. Crepes require very little flour and so any recipe generally adapts well to a gluten-free flour. The batter mixed up perfectly and I used a regular non-stick skillet with a brush of oil. Once you get the hang of swirling the batter into the hot pan, it’s a cinch. If I had been really smart about it, I would have had two skillets going at once!

I stood at the stove and made the crepes and everybody picked their own fillings. We had strawberry preserves, Nutella, bananas, powdered sugar, butter and shredded mozzarella cheese. If I had actually planned the dinner I would have had some shaved ham or more fruit offerings to make it a bit healthier. Powdered sugar and butter aren’t exactly great muscle builders.

The only reason I am writing about this is that I have finally found another dinner that FOUR FOR FOUR of my kids were enthusiastic about eating. Not one of them said, “looks gross” or “smells disgusting” or “can I have something else.” They really are nice people, but nightly dinners are drudgery and it makes me understand why some animals eat their young.

So crepes will go into the rotation along with the two other dinners…tacos and homemade mac n’ cheese…that when I can’t stand any more complaining about the lovely chicken, fish, beef or pork entrées I prepare…I will succumb to one of those three kid pleasers.

Kendall Egan

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Are Burger King fries gluten free?

Our latest issue has a pretty extensive story about French fries, so I was interested to see there is new information out today regarding the fries at Burger King.
In fact, the fast food chain today released it's "Gluten Sensitive List," a compilation of all the items on the Burger King menu that do not contain wheat, barley, oats or rye based on suppliers' ingredients lists. Mostly it is the things you would expect - burgers without the bun, other meats, dipping sauces, condiments, beverages, and fruit. And it lists the French fries.
But I am still not sure I would feel safe telling my daughter, who has celiac disease, that the fries are OK for her.
Burger King seems to have been very self-protective in making this list. First, it noticeably avoids calling it a gluten-free list. I guess I can understand that given what happened to McDonald's when it had a gluten-free list. (Think lawsuits.)
Second, the list comes with a disclaimer that says "actual gluten content may vary depending on the supplier, product handling and each restaurant's food preparation practices." The disclaimer notes that only 100 percent fruit juice, honey, milk and fruit and vegetables that are not coated with wax or resin that might contain gluten are gluten free. (The use of wheat to coat fruits and vegetables has come up previously in the gluten-free community. We have no evidence that it happens. Look for more info on this topic in an upcoming blog.)
These disclaimers may mainly be a way for Burger King to protect itself, but they don't give me a lot of confidence in the list, especially when it comes to the French fries. I would feel safer if the company said its policy was to use dedicated fryers for its French fries. In the case of Burger King this is particularly important because the restaurant also sells breaded, fried onion rings. In the past I have found onion rings mixed in with my fries. Consequently, ever since my daughter was little we have avoided ordering the fries there.
I know that even when a company has a policy of separating the French fries from the gluten-containing breaded products it doesn't always happen in all individual restaurants. But it seems the place where fast food restaurants have to start if they want to make the claim their French fries are safe for the "gluten sensitive."
French fries can be vexing for anyone on the gluten-free diet. They should be gluten free considering they are just fried potatoes, but we all know it's not that simple. At McDonald's, wheat is used as a starting ingredient in the par fry oil and even though it is so highly processed that the fries have tested below detectable levels of gluten, the company no longer says they are gluten free. And in many restaurants use of the same oil for the fries and breaded products renders them unsafe for those who are gluten free. (Our latest issue includes a list of restaurants where you can be sure the fries are safe because they do not contain gluten and are prepared separately from breaded items.)
One of the things I do like about the new Burger King gluten-sensitive menu is the inclusion of Fresh Apple Fries. These are apples cut up to look like French fries. They come in a fry-like cardboard sleeve with a side of low-fat caramel dip in a foil packet that looks like ketchup. Not only are they gluten sensitive, they are not fried and they are healthy.
In the end that's the kind of gluten-sensitive food we should all be looking for especially if we are trying to keep those 2010 resolutions to eat more wisely.