Monday, November 30, 2009

Recipe: Chicken and Brown Rice Soup

Happy week-after-Thanksgiving! We hope you had a wonderful and gluten-free holiday...no matter where or how you celebrated. One thing I love about Thanksgiving (and other similar holidays) is the tradition - the ritual of it all, the familiar and annually-recurring foods, the coming together of family and friends. Sure, some of the minutae change from year to year. But in the grand scheme of things, there's a wonderful constancy to Thanksgiving (especially set against the backdrop of an otherwise ever-changing world).

Of course, one of the huge constants - aside from the holiday itself - is the leftovers. I, for one, have been eating turkey at least once a day every day since Thanksgiving. The end is in sight, but it's still distant. While I haven't yet lost my craving for re-warmed turkey with gravy, there will come a time (likely, very soon) when I'll want to use the leftover turkey in a more creative way that repurposes the remaining tasty meat. Which brings me to today's blog post and recipe: chicken and brown rice soup.

Kelli originally conceived this recipe weeks ago as an alternative or variation to the Chicken Noodle Soup recipe in our cookbook (page 69). But you could also take the following recipe and use turkey in lieu of chicken. More on that in a moment, after the recipe:

5 chicken legs
2 cups GF chicken stock
1/2 onion, diced/chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, diced/chopped
water
1/3 cup brown rice
salt and pepper

1. Place the chicken legs, onion, pepper, and chicken stock in a saucepan. Add enough water to cover.
2. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat, and simmer uncovered for about two hours.
3. Remove the pot from the heat, and remove the chicken legs from the broth and set aside until they're cool enough to handle.
4. Pick the meat off the legs, discarding any skin, fat or bone. Shred the meat, and return it to the broth in the pot.
5. Add the brown rice to the pot, and simmer for an additional hour, until the rice is tender.
6. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

While our original cookbook recipe uses an entire quartered chicken to make the soup, here in this cookbook variation we've used just the legs (which were on sale at our grocer and dirt cheap). To compensate for the lack of a whole chicken carcass, which would impart much of the flavor to the soup, we've "fortified" the broth with the two cups of GF chicken stock.

Now, as for using turkey leftovers... If you have leftover carved meat (white, dark or both) you can substitute it for the chicken legs as well as decrease the initial cooking time, since you don't need to cook raw meat from scratch. However, the flavor of the broth will be more mild without the benefit of the bones and fat that would otherwise simmer for two hours. On the other hand, if you still have your whole turkey carcass, you could put that to good use (and scale up the quantities of other ingredients accordingly) to make a large pot of turkey soup with bolder flavor. Either way, you'll have a tasty way to use up some of the leftover turkey sitting in your fridge!

- Pete

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Recipe: Cornbread Stuffing

Thanksgiving is just a day away, and here at the Bronski household, we're gearing up to host the holiday for some of our "Colorado family" (friends and neighbors who live here but whose family is elsewhere...). Our bird is bought, the brine is ready, and we're very much looking forward to having a full spread on the table come dinner time tomorrow afternoon. In the spirit of the holiday, we wanted to share our recipe for cornbread stuffing (it comes straight from our cookbook, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking). And so without further ado, here it is:

1 pound GF pork sausage, caseless, or with casings removed
8 tbsp (1 stick) salted butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 tbsp chopped fresh sage
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 9x9 pan of GF cornbread, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups GF chicken broth

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 2-quart baking dish.
2. Cook the sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat until browned. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
3. Melt the butter in the same skillet. Add the onion and saute until translucent. Return the sausage to the skillet, and add the sage, salt and pepper. Stir to mix.
4. Combine the sausage mixture and cornbread in the prepared baking dish and toss to mix. Pour the broth over the stuffing.
5. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the stuffing is heated through completely and the top is crispy.

Have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

- Pete

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Flour Power: Making Sense of Measuring

Questions have come up in recent weeks about how to appropriately measure out a quantity of flour in gluten-free baking. It seems like a trivial question, but the answer turns out to be a little more involved than you might suspect. The answer is important, though, because especially in baking, recipes are a lot like formulas... precise measurements matter.

At the professional level, flour quantities are almost always referred to by weight - either in ounces or grams. That's because weight is the most reliable and consistent measure. Why do we care about reliability and consistency? Simple. Because we want to be sure that when a recipe calls for a given quantity of flour, we're using exactly the amount intended (and not more or less). We also want to be sure that we're using the same quantity of flour from one time to the next for a given recipe. (As reliable as weight is, it can have some variability due to changes in humidity...from day to day, season to season, or region to region...necessitating subtle recipe modifications - usually in the quantities/ratios of flour and liquid ingredients.)

Compared to professional cookbooks, consumer cookbooks (like ours) typically use cup measures. Why? From our perspective, every kitchen will have a set of cup measures, but not every kitchen will have a scale accurate to the ounce or gram. But when measuring flour using cups, there's a lot more room for variability (and unintended error or deviation from the recipe). Allow me to demonstrate by example:

I compared four cup measures of our Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend.

For the first cup measure, I weighed one cup of sifted flour. (To properly measure a sifted cup of flour, place your measuring cup over a plate or other surface that will allow you to recapture sifted flour that doesn't fall into the cup. Using a sifter, sift the flour over the cup. Use a knife or other straight edge to level the cup. Voila! One cup of sifted flour.) Sifted flour is nice for measuring because the act of sifting evenly aerates the flour every time. My result: 1 cup sifted flour = 4 oz.

Next, I measured one cup of spooned flour. Here, I used a spoon to transfer flour from our master batch into a measuring cup. I also did this same method, but tapped the side of the measuring cup as I went along to settle the flour and remove any large air spaces. The result: 1 cup spooned flour = 4.5-4.75 oz. The one cup of flour is slightly heavier (meaning, more flour is packed into that cup) because it didn't have the even aeration of sifting.

Next, I measured one cup of scooped flour. Here, I used the measuring cup itself to scoop through the master flour batch and then level off a cup measure. The act of scooping through the flour serves to further compress the flour into the measuring cup. Predictably, the result is even heavier: 1 cup scooped flour = 5-5.25 oz.

Lastly, I measured one cup of densely packed flour. Here, I used the back of a spoon to tightly pack flour into a one cup measure. Of course, this returned the heaviest result: 1 cup packed flour = 5.75 oz.

That's an incredible amount of variability from sifted flour (4 ounces) to densely packed flour (5.75 ounces), all of which account for one cup of measured flour. In fact, the densely packed flour represents a 44% increase in weight! I'd call that a statistically significant difference, and one that would greatly impact whatever you're baking. A dough or batter would be drier. Yield would decrease. Breads would become denser and rise less. These are not good things.

In our cookbook, we advocate using the spooned flour method of measuring cups. It's generally reliable, and is both easy to do and expedient. However, it's not without its own pitfalls. For one, the density of the spooned flour will generally be influenced by the density of your master batch of flour. For another, if - like us - you mix up a large master batch of flour because you do a lot of baking, the flour near the bottom of the batch is going to be denser/heavier because it's been compressed by the weight of the flour sitting on top of it. Hence, as you work your way down through your flour, the same spooned cup measure may become gradually heavier...and that will impact your baking. You can account for this by using slightly less flour, or slightly more liquid. (You'll likely do this anyway with the coming of winter, when the air is drier and recipes need slightly more moisture content to achieve the same result that you would during more humid months.)

Or, you could sift your flour. It's one extra step to do when baking, but the small "hassle" may well be worth it for the reliability of the method. You'll have consistently measured cups of flour that hit the low end of the weight spectrum every time. As a result, your recipes will turn out as you'd expect them to, and that's more than worth it in my book.

- Pete

Monday, November 23, 2009

Don't Rock the (Gravy) Boat

In recent weeks, the gluten-free world has again been abuzz with the news that a mainstream company has reformulated one of its products to be GF. This time, the company is Butterball, and the news comes out just in time for Thanksgiving. Butterball is converting all of its gravy concentrate packets to be gluten-free. Hooray! (Or so people thought...)

Alas, there's a catch (isn't there always one?). There's also, it turns out, a bit of irony. For the time being, the GF gravy concentrate (made with rice starch instead of wheat starch) is available only on select specialty turkey products. It doesn't, for example, come with Butterball's frozen whole turkeys, which seems like the most obvious pairing. It does, however, come with the pre-stuffed turkey, which is NOT gluten-free. And therein lies the sad irony. Further, even for those turkey products that are featuring the GF gravy, old gravy packets may still be in circulation, so you should still check ingredients labels carefully.

Kelli and I did our Thanksgiving shopping yesterday, and taking a quick peek at the gravy packets attached to many brands of turkey, it still remains true that the vast majority are not gluten-free. But take a step back with me for a second and look at the big picture. Why do we care? Even before I was gluten-free, Kelli and I discarded those gravy concentrate packets in favor of making our own gravy from scratch. You don't have to be reliant on some packet of just-add-water-and-boil gravy powder to have an easily GF Thanksgiving.

Here's the thing: making gravy from scratch is delicious AND easy! Your primary ingredient is the pan drippings from the roasted turkey. And if you're going through the trouble of roasting a beautiful bird, why would you let those pan drippings go to waste in favor of some processed packet of powder meant to simulate what you've already got sitting in the bottom of your roasting pan already?

All you need are the pan drippings, a thickener, water, salt and pepper. That's it. Some people like to transfer the pan drippings to a small pot and skim off some of the fat. We usually just move the roasting pan to our stovetop burners and make the gravy there (one less pot to wash after the holiday) before transferring it to a gravy boat.

In our cookbook, we use our Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend as the thickener. Another popular option is to use cornstarch. If you have a corn allergy, you can also use potato flour or arrowroot flour as a thickener. If using our flour blend or cornstarch, dissolve 2 tablespoons into 1/3 cups cold water. (If using potato or arrowroot flour, use slightly less per 1/3 cup water.) Add the floured water to the drippings and heat until thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Note that there is some wiggle room in this recipe. If you have lots of pan drippings, you can scale up the water according to the ratio. Likewise, if you want more gravy with weaker flavor, use more water. If you want thicker gravy with stronger flavor, use less water. That partly comes down to preference, and how much pan drippings you're working with. But the fundamental formula remains unchanged, and can be applied nomatter what.

While some people are giving thanks for Butterball's gluten-free gravy packets, I'm personally giving thanks that I've never been reliant on those gravy packets in the first place. You don't have to be, either. This Thanksgiving, enjoy an easily gluten-free meal...complete with turkey, mashed potatoes, AND a gravy you've made yourself from scratch.

- Pete

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cookbook Giveaway Winner

We had an overwhelming response to our Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking cookbook giveaway! Dozens of NGNP readers from 13 states tossed their name into the hat. Thanks to everyone who entered. Using our trusty random number generator, we chose the winner. And that person is... Amanda in Hawaii. Congratulations, Amanda!

To everyone else, we'll do one more cookbook giveaway in December, so stay tuned for that!

- Pete

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Foto: Lemon-Tarragon Dressing

This simple salad dressing has a bright, sharp flavor, and is great paired with hearty lettuces, such as green leaf (pictured) or Romaine. In addition to being superb over salad, lemon and tarragon is a classic combo that also pairs well with chicken or fish. Here's how to make our version:

Juice of one lemon
1/3 c olive oil
1/2 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp tarragon leaves
1/4-1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp sugar
Dash of salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients, mix/shake well, and serve.


We used dried tarragon leaves, like you might find in the spice section of the supermarket. However, you can also use fresh tarragon leaves. Rub them between your fingers to slightly bruise the leaves before adding them to the dressing. This will release more of their flavorful essential oils.

- Pete

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Product Review: New Planet Beer

There's a new entrant to the gluten-free beer market: New Planet Beer. Based in Boulder, Colorado, the company is brand spankin' new, and founded by Pedro Gonzalez, who has Celiac, and his wife, Seneca Murley. New Planet eventually plans to offer a suite of GF beers in different styles, but for now, just one has made it to market: Tread Lightly Ale. The company describes it as an American-style Pilsner.

I spoke with Pedro several weeks ago, and in his words, the beer is still in a "prototype" phase. Although the beer has officially launched and is publicly available (in a geographically limited region confined to the immediate Denver-Boulder area), he's continuing to tweak the recipe to develop a beer he's more satisfied with. I was planning to hold off on writing a review until Pedro had settled on a finished product, but New Planet has emerged in the media a bit lately, and so I opted to write a review now in the event that people are wondering what this beer tastes like. (I'll also post updates to this review in the future as needed...)

New Planet's Tread Lightly Ale is made from a base of sorghum and corn. It's a bit on the sweet side. I initially struggled to more specifically describe the flavor profile until my buddy, Andrew, nailed it on the head - New Planet tastes like New Grist without the undesirable NG aftertaste. There is room for improvement, as Pedro readily acknowledged, and I look forward to a future iteration of this beer to see what he's done with it. In the meantime, New Planet is still a welcome addition to the still-small pantheon of gluten-free beers.

(On final word of note: New Planet is contract brewed at Twisted Pine in Boulder. Twisted Pine brews many traditional barley-based beers, so I'll be checking in with Pedro to learn about what they're doing to minimize the potential for cross-contamination. More to come...)

UPDATE: December 17, 2009


I recently met up with New Planet founder Pedro Gonzalez to chat about his beer and to taste the finalized version of the debut brew. Firstly and most importantly, let's cut right to the chase...the beer itself.

The New Planet Tread Lightly Ale has a beautiful golden color. It's flavor is slightly sweet. If you're a beer drinker who likes your brew bitter, Tread Lightly will probably not top your list. On the other hand, if you're not hunting for the most bitter beers you can find (hence, more of an American-style beer drinker), then there's lots to love about New Planet's signature ale. My one complaint is that the beer doesn't hold its head of foam very well. That's a relatively minor thing in the grand scheme, but dedicated, die-hard beer drinkers care about that kind of stuff. Never the less, New Planet is an excellent beer and welcome addition to the GF beer family, especially since the Tread Lightly Ale is noticeably different from competitors such as RedBridge and Bard's. Such variety is much needed for us GF beer drinkers!

For now, New Planet remains available in a relatively limited area in the Denver-Boulder corridor in Colorado. However, there's good news for beer drinkers outside this region. Due to high demand, New Planet is ramping up production. Currently, they're brewing 7 barrel batches (1 barrel = 2 kegs = 31 gallons) every two weeks. Over the next several months, that production will eventually scale up to 30 barrel batches, and distribution of the beer will expand in kind.

Finally, on the subject of contract brewing and cross-contamination concerns. First, it's important to note that brewing is inherently a sanitary process. Brewing good beer depends on meticulous cleaning and sanitation (wouldn't want a rogue strain of yeast or bacteria fouling a batch!). This in and of itself means good things. Pedro also says that he's instituted some new protocols at his contract brewer to further reduce the risk, though he's reluctant to offer more detail for fear of giving away a competitive advantage to other current and would-be GF beer brewers. Fair enough. In the same breath, Pedro is also very aware of the importance of transparency within the GF community (and remember...this guy is one of us!). He's very open to ways that he can give customers more confidence in his beer while retaining the competitive advantage that's so important to his growing company. Lastly, and most commendably, Pedro hires a local laboratory to test for gluten in EVERY batch of beer, using the 20ppm Codex standard. He keeps all those records on file, and so if you ever have a question, you can look at the date code on your bottle of beer, contact Pedro, and he can pinpoint the exact test results. That's some good stuff right there.

And so, when it's all said done, I'm still singing the praises of New Planet. Bottoms up.

- Pete

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Small Town GF Guide: Steamboat Springs, CO


Steamboat Springs is one of our favorite mountain towns in Colorado. A quaint downtown. A laid back, relaxed atmosphere. Great skiing. Tons of outdoor recreation opportunities in the nearby national forest. And an impressive array of gluten-free eats for the community's relative small size. Here's the 411:

Supermarkets

Safeway (www.safeway.com) - has only a very limited selection of GF specialty foods

City Market (www.citymarket.com) - has a better selection

Bamboo Market (www.bamboomkt.com) - has the best selection of specialty GF foods in town

Healthy Solutions (www.healthysolutions.org) - also has a wide selection of GF specialty products

Restaurants
Restaurants within Steamboat or the immediate vicinity:

Mahogany Ridge Bar & Grill (exploresteamboat.com) - upscale pub food, known for its "dipping menu" (pair delicious entrees with a wide selection of signature sauces), great food in a great atmosphere, has dedicated GF menu (read our review here)

BeauJo's Pizza (www.beaujos.com/) - Colorado-style pizza, excellent GF menu (read our review here)

Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant (www.riograndemexican.com) - can accomodate GF needs, talk with your server

Cafe Diva (www.cafediva.com) - on the mountain at the base of the resort, can accomodate special dietary needs

Big House Burgers Bottlecap Bar (www.bighouseburgers.com) - offers burgers on a GF bun

Rex's American Grill & Bar (www.rexsgrill.com) - offers GF pizza

Mazzola's Majestic Italian Diner (www.mazzolas.com) - offers GF pizza

* Big House, Rex's, and Mazzola's are all run by the local, family-owned Steamboat Restaurant Group, so there's good sharing of GF information (and food) across the three restaurants.

- Pete

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cookbook Giveaway

With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, we thought it was high time that we gave away a signed copy of our new cookbook, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking. (The book has all sorts of yummy recipes useful for the feast - a brined turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry relish, sausage and corn bread stuffing, and much more...) As with the last giveaway, we'll accept email entries and then use a random number generator to pick the winner.

Please email me at pete@peterbronski.com and put "AGFC Giveaway" in the subject line (also include your mailing address in the body of the email). Entries will be accepted until midnight Friday, at the end of this week. We'll announce the winner and mail a copy of our cookbook on Saturday, so that it will arrive in time for Thanksgiving. Good luck!

- Pete

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Small Town GF Guide: Ithaca, NY


Taughannock Falls outside Ithaca, NY

[Note: This is the first in what I anticipate will be an irregularly recurring series I'm calling the Small Town GF Guide. Sometimes, I write enough about a place, or I research a place enough, or have experienced it enough, to reach a critical mass of information about gluten-free living there. If I feel like I've reached that point with a particular place, I'll post a new guide, which will include local markets for shopping, and local restaurants with GF options. If we've reviewed any of the places, I'll link to those reviews as well.

In the case of Ithaca, NY, both Kelli and I attended Cornell University, and Kelli's from Ithaca originally. It's a place we know well, love, and travel to often. Probably owing to those factors, over the last two years I've received a surprising number of inquiries from folks asking about GF options - mostly prospective students of Cornell and Ithaca College, students at those institutions, or parents traveling to visit their children at those institutions. I thought I'd make the info more readily accessible here on the blog, rather than always emailing someone individually, and hence here we are with the inaugural Small Town GF Guide for Ithaca, NY!]

Supermarkets
The following local supermarkets offer extensive gluten-free sections (or a wide array of GF choices in general):

Wegmans (www.wegmans.com)

GreenStar Cooperative Market (www.greenstar.coop)

Ludgate Farms (www.ludgatefarms.com)

Wegmans is by far the largest, and a great place for one-stop grocery shopping (it’s enormous and has great stuff).

Restaurants
Restaurants within Ithaca or the immediate vicinity:

Waffle Frolic (www.wafflefrolicking.com) - waffles, fried chicken, and more! (Read our review.)

Taste of Thai (www.tasteofthaiithaca.com) – most dishes can be prepared gluten-free

Just A Taste (www.just-a-taste.com) – a Spanish tapas place, they don’t have a specific GF menu, but should easily be able to accommodate you

Pangea (www.pangearestaurant.com) – can accommodate special dietary needs and requests CLOSED

The Heights (www.heightscafe.com) – can accommodate special dietary needs and requests, The Heights catered the rehearsal dinner for our wedding

Moosewood Café (www.moosewoodrestaurant.com) – Ithaca’s world-famous vegetarian restaurant, can easily do GF

New Delhi Diamond’s (www.newdelhidiamonds.com) – Indian

Le Garden Bakery (www.legardenbakery.com) – GF bakery located in nearby Lansing, NY

Restaurants a little farther afield outside of Ithaca:

The Stonecat Café in Hector (www.stonecatcafe.com) - has a GF menu

The Outback Steakhouse in Horseheads/Elmira (www.outback.com) - has a GF menu

Red Newt Bistro (www.rednewt.com) - always has GF items on the menu, ask the server for specifics

Ithaca also has a truly fabulous farmer’s market. In general, the town is a progressive, environmentally-conscious, liberal community with an impressive array of diverse restaurants (especially for the community’s relatively small size). Beyond the list above, I’m sure you’ll find other options if you poke around.

- Pete

Small Town GF Guide last updated Nov 10, 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Foto: The Pizzaholic

Sicilian Pizza

Alright, so maybe Kelli's right. Maybe I am a little bit obsessed with pizza. But only a little bit. After all, this is my second pizza post in as many months. On the other hand, this is only the third pizza post in the last seven months. That's hardly overkill, is it? Then again, when I start using rationale like "Really, honey, it's not for me. It's for the blog. Think of the blog!" It might be time to admit I have a problem...

I first conceived of these new pizza recipes as part of what I'm calling "cookbook variations." In short, they are new recipes that build off of recipes you can find in our cookbook, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, and which modify or amend those recipes in some way to create something new and tasty. Pages 117 and 118 of the cookbook include recipes for a Chicago-style deep dish pizza dough and for a New York-style thin crust pizza dough.

One of the things I love about pizza is just how versatile it is. Sure, the base elements are the same: crust, sauce, toppings. But the execution of those elements offer nearly limitless variety. You can have your pizza New York style, or Chicago style, or California style, or Neapolitan style, or Greek style, or Sicilian style, etc. You can put the sauce on the cheese, or the cheese on the sauce. You can have a tomato-based sauce, or a white sauce, or a garlic sauce, or a Thai peanut sauce, or a barbeque sauce, or no sauce at all. You're catching my drift.

In that spirit of variety, I developed today's recipe(s) with two goals in mind: a new crust texture, and a new method of production. Allow me to elaborate. For the texture: The deep dish in our cookbook is a hearty dough, and the thin crust in our cookbook is a very thin pizza that achieves an almost cracker-like quality. I wanted to create a pizza dough that hit a happy middle ground, one that was light and airy and chewy. For the technique: We normally recommend rolling out pizza dough (and other types of gluten-free dough) between sheets of plastic wrap. Kelli makes this look easy. Maybe it is easy. But I'm not good at it. The plastic wrap folds, sticks to itself, and causes me no end of frustration. I get through it, but not without trying to make sure I don't drop an F bomb in front of impressionable baby Marin when my frustration peaks. And so I set out to create a pizza without using plastic wrap.

Sicilian Pizza, up close and personal

The result, I must say, impressed both Kelli and me. I always pride myself on being a brutally honest straight shooter - if I love something, I'll praise it; if I dislike something, I'm not afraid to break a few eggs; and if something is mediocre, I'll say that, too. Take it from me when I say that this pizza crust is da bomb (not to be confused with the aformentioned F bomb). Over the course of this past week, I've made the dough into both a Sicilian pizza (thicker crust) and a Neapolitan pizza (thinner crust). Last night at dinner, Kelli proclaimed it the best GF pizza crust she's ever had - better than any restaurants, better than any box mixes or store-bought par-baked crusts, and for her preferences, better even than our own cookbook (now you know I'm being honest. I'm not just saying this pizza is better than the "competitors." I'm saying it's better than...ourselves). At one point during the meal, Kelli looked up at me and said, "Why didn't you come up with this eight months ago?"

Well, I came up with it earlier this week, and here is how to make it:

Start with the recipe for thin crust pizza dough on page 118 of the cookbook. Make the dough exactly as the recipe calls for, with one important exception: instead of using 2 cups of the Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend (the GF flour blend used throughout the book), use only 1 1/3 cups flour instead. Form the dough into a ball, drizzle about one tablespoon of olive oil in the mixing bowl, and roll the dough ball to evenly coat it. Set the dough in a warm location, covering the bowl with a kitchen towel (I like to place it right on the stovetop while my oven is preheating to 400 degrees with a pizza stone inside. the residual heat coming up from the oven is perfect). Let the dough rise for twenty minutes or so. This is the perfect time to prepare your sauce and toppings.


When the twenty minutes is up, drizzle about one tablespoon of olive oil onto a thirteen inch pizza pan, and use your fingers to spread the oil and evenly coat the pan. Then use your hands to press the dough into the pan, creating a small lip around the edge of the crust. (If you have trouble with the dough sticking to your hands, you can put just a touch of olive oil on your hands, too.)


Place the pizza pan in the oven directly on the pizza stone, and bake for 10 minutes. (If you're making a Sicilian pie, use the same quantity of dough, but instead of a 13-inch pizza pan, use an 8-inch round cake pan, and bake for 13 minutes.) If any air bubbles begin to form in the dough, you can always dock the dough with a fork.


Remove the par-baked pizza crust from the pizza pan (or cake pan), and transfer it to a wooden pizza paddle. (a large cutting board or plate would also work)


Add your sauce. Lately, I've been making a pizza sauce that begins with one 14.5-ounce can of diced tomatoes, no salt added. I'll use a handheld immersion blender to puree the tomato in a saucepot. To that I'll add salt, ground black pepper, dried oregano, dried basil, and garlic powder to taste (about 1/2 tsp to 1 tbsp, depending on the spice). I'll also add a small quantity of olive oil, as well as cornstarch dissolved in a few tablespoons of water, and then heat the sauce on the stovetop to thicken it just slightly.


Add your toppings (in this case, shredded mozzarella cheese). Then transfer the pizza back into the 400-degree oven directly on the pizza stone (no pizza pan) for another 13 minutes for the Neapolitan, or until the toppings are done to your liking for the Sicilian.


The finished product has a light, airy crust with a good chew. The olive oil helps the crust to brown nicely.

Close-up of the underside of the crust

We hope you enjoy this cookbook variation(s) on our pizza! Have a great weekend.

- Pete

Winners Announced!

Just over one week ago we wrote a review of Two Moms in the Raw products. Two Moms graciously offered to send complimentary product samples to two lucky NGNP readers. We opened up the "contest" to you, and you responded. Today, we happily get to announce the winners! Your emails were each assigned a number corresponding to the order in which they were received. We then used a random number generator to select the two winners.

And so, without further ado, the winners are... Jenifer S. and Kirsten B. Please email me (pete@peterbronski.com) your mailing addresses and we'll have the tasty goods sent your way!

Thanks to all who submitted their names into the proverbial hat. Stay tuned for future giveaways!

- Pete

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Product Review: Nature's Path Organic Sunrise Cereals


Today's product review is an appropriate follow-up to this week's two-part post on nutrient deficiency in the gluten-free diet. As I talked about in part 1 and part 2, it's important to draw a distinction between highly refined and processed gluten-free foods, versus those made from whole grains. It's similarly important to differentiate between foods heavily reliant upon corn and rice (the go-to GF grains, it seems), and those foods that incorporate a broader variety of gluten-free grains. As you know, whole grains and grain diversity are both the preference from a nutrition standpoint.

Cereals are a great case in point. Many times - though not always - they're made with refined grains rather than the preferred whole grains. Even more often, they eschew grain diversity in favor of often just one - usually corn (corn flakes, corn puffs) or rice (rice puffs, crisped rice). It's like a tiny agricultural monoculture sitting in your bowl each morning for breakfast.

There are bright lights in the cereal world, however. One company we're a fan of us is Nature's Path Organic. Back in August 2009 we did a review of much of their product line. They've always done a nice job using organic ingredients and whole grains. Now, with a new line of Sunrise cereals that just came out, we can also celebrate grain diversity!

Crunchy Vanilla Sunrise

The new Sunrise cereals come in two flavors: Crunchy Vanilla, and Crunchy Maple. Both are made with almost exclusively organic ingredients, and both use the same cereal base, which consists of: whole grain corn meal, evaporated cane juice, brown rice flour, yellow corn flour, inulin (a plant fiber), quinoa puffs, flax seeds, buckwheat flour, quinoa, sea salt, amaranth, molasses, and tocopherols (for Vitamin E). What immediately jumps out at me is the variety. There are six - count 'em, six! - grains, quasi-grains, and seeds in there (corn, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, flax, and amaranth). That's good news.

The Crunchy Vanilla Sunrise also has the addition of natural vanilla flavor. It's quite tasty; a little sweet without being too much so. There's nice textural diversity to complement the grain diversity (a nice reminder that you're eating lots of good stuff in there...).

Crunchy Maple Sunrise

The Crunchy Maple Sunrise lacks the vanilla flavor, and instead uses organic maple syrup and natural maple flavor. The maple flavor clearly comes through, without being overpowering. For me, there's a subtle aftertaste that I don't pick up with the Crunchy Vanilla Sunrise. I haven't quite been able to put my finger on exactly what it is I'm tasting.

The bottom line, though, is that both of these new cereals are winners.

- Pete

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I'm deficient, You're deficient, We're all deficient? (Part 2)

In yesterday's Part 1 about nutrient deficiencies in the gluten-free population, I posed four critiques and questions that I promised to answer in today's part 2. Without further ado, here we go...

Critique #1 questioned the small sample size of the research. I can't do anything about that, and there's not much to be said about it, so let's move on.

Next, I think it's easiest to address critique #3: How did nutrient deficiencies in the GF population compare to Americans as a whole? To answer that question, I pulled data regarding nationwide averages from the USDA's Community Nutrition Mapping Project. If I amend yesterday's table that showed the percent of the GF population who are deficient in given nutrients, and add to it a column for the national averages, this is what you find:


NutrientGF DeficiencyNationwide Deficiency
fiber74%92%
calcium82%69%
thiamin59%19%
riboflavin25%11%
B635%26%
folate85%40%
B1229%20%
iron41%11%

These numbers change the perspective a bit, I think. It's not simply that the GF population is nutrient deficient. When you compare us to the national averages, it gets slightly more complex. In some cases, such as folate, riboflavin, thiamin, and iron, we're two or more times as deficient (as a group) than the nation. However, in other cases, such as B12, B6, and calcium, we still have greater rates of deficiencies, but we're also in the same ballpark as the national averages. And in one case - fiber - we're actually LESS deficient than the national average. Interesting.

Which brings me to critiques #2 and #4: are there differentiations within the GF community (processed GF foods, whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies and meat and fish), and is the GF diet to blame or are other factors (i.e. nutrient malabsorption) to blame?

First, it's important to note that if you're an undiagnosed Celiac, or if you're a newly diagnosed Celiac whose villi haven't had a chance to heal in the small intestine, then nutrient malabsorption is undoubtedly a factor to consider. Even those who have been on a gluten-free diet for prolonged periods of time may have persistent nutrient malabsorption problems, especially with fats, certain vitamins, and calcium (whose absorption rate is impacted by the vitamins).

Second, it's also important to note that for many Celiacs (as well as for some with gluten intolerance), the gluten restriction is also coincident with lactose intolerance, casein intolerance, or both. This leads to a natural shift away from dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt, all which can be good sources of calcium. Unless you diet is rich in non-dairy sources of calcium, and unless you take a multivitamin supplement, it wouldn't be surprising to find that you're calcium deficient. (And as you may know, bone density loss and osteoporosis are both secondary health concerns for those with Celiac.)

That's as much as I'll say about contributing factors other than the GF diet itself. As for the GF diet, this is where the rubber really meets the road, as they say. I was curious whether the GF diet was indeed nutrient deficient when compared to a "standard" gluten diet. The primary distinction between gluten and gluten-free diets is of course the gluten. And so that's where I focused my attention - by comparing a baseline wheat flour (all-purpose enriched unbleached wheat flour [W]) with a range of gluten-free substitutes (cornstarch [C], brown rice flour [BRF], potato flour [PF], tapioca/cassava [T/C], arrowroot flour [AF], sorghum [S], cooked quinoa [Q], cooked amaranth grain [AG] and cooked millet [M] ). Once again, I pulled my data from the USDA's National Nutrient Database. (A couple words of note. In the following table, I've rounded decimals for space. Also, the USDA database does not include sorghum flour, so I've used plain sorghum. Ditto for the quinoa. Tapioca starch isn't listed either, so I've included both raw cassava and tapioca pearls. In all cases, the values are for one cup of the given food. Because I couldn't compare equivalent starches/flours across the board, it's not a perfect comparison, but it gives a very good general sense of things...)


NutrientWCBRFPFT/CAFSQAGM
fiber3.41.27.39.41.4/3.74.412.15.25.22.3
calcium1931710430/335154311165
thiamin0.9800.70.370.01/0.1800.460.20.040.18
riboflavin0.6200.130.080/0.100.270.20.050.14
B60.0601.161.230.01/0.180.0100.230.280.19
folate229025406/5690785433
B1200000/000000
iron5.80.63.132.212.4/0.560.428.452.765.171.10

Whew. That's a lot of numbers. What does it all mean? Well, first take a look at the first row, which lists the values for fiber. Remember how fiber was the one nutritional component measured in the study where the GF population was less deficient than the national average? Suddenly that doesn't seem too surprising. With only a few exceptions, the broad suite of gluten-free grains contain more fiber than the wheat baseline.

Secondly, take a look at the second row, which lists the values for calcium. Again, with only a few rare exceptions, the broad suite of gluten-free grains contain higher levels of calcium than the wheat baseline. Now hold on a minute. The GF population is more calcium deficient than the national average, not less. What gives? The data here tell me that the calcium deficiency is not due to the gluten-free diet. I'd be willing to wager that our higher prevalence of calcium deficiency is due to two factors: an avoidance of dairy products due to lactose/casein intolerance, and calcium malabsorption. Never the less, it's not the fault of the gluten-free diet.

Thirdly, take a look at the rows for B6 and B12. You'll immediately see that B12 has zeroes across the board. That's because B12 isn't available via plants. It comes primarily from meat, poultry, dairy, etc. Then there's B6. As you can see, wheat is pretty poor source of it. The ancient grains - quinoa, amaranth, and millet - are comparatively much better. But best of all are the brown rice flour and potato flour. It just so happens that brown rice and potatoes are decent sources of B vitamins. So again, the gluten-free diet itself doesn't seem to be to blame here.

Lastly for my analysis, I think it's very useful to recall my differentiation beteween various types of GF diets. First, there's the GF analog of the standard American diet, comprised primarily of heavily processed foods. The GF components of those foods are typically corn, rice, tapioca, and to a lesser degree, potato. You'll find those all in columns 2-5. As you can see, cornstarch and tapioca especially are poor sources of nutrition. They offer very little. Is it any surprise, then, that a diet heavily dependent upon these starches would be nutrient deficient? Brown rice flour and potato flour aren't as bad. They're actually pretty decent in their nutrition (especially when compared to cornstarch and tapioca!)?

Then, what if we consider my second grouping, which includes a GF diet that incorporates more whole grains and the "ancient" alternative grains (sorghum, quinoa, millet, amaranth)? Then the nutritional picture starts to look even better. As a group they're more nutrient dense than the first group. Plus, many of the ancient grains offer the complete set of amino acids. That's a big added bonus.

The most striking to me, though, is that the gluten-free alternatives to wheat aren't necessarily all that different from the wheat flour baseline. In some cases, they're actually preferred from a nutrition standpoint.

But even more important to recognize is that none of these grains - from wheat right down to the ancient grains - are great sources of the nutrients which the research study focused on. You shouldn't be making these starches - whether you eat gluten or not - as the basis of your nutrition. Sure, they can be a good source of carbs. But when it comes to rounding out the nutrient intake, look elsewhere.

And that brings me to the third of my three groupings: the GF set who eat a high percentage of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as whole meats, fish, etc. They're going to be the best off nutritionally. If you look at the government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you'll find that the best dietary sources of various nutrients have nothing to do with wheat or cornstarch or, for the most part, any of the other grains I profiled. Here's a sampling of the best dietary sources of different nutrients:

iron - soy, beef, beans, lentils, spinach, chickpeas, tomato, some seafood

calcium - tofu, salmon, molasses, spinach, soy, beans, kale, yogurt, milk, cheese

fiber - beans, peas, lentils, soy, fruits and vegetables (including banana, orange), sweet potato, whole grains, nuts and seeds

B6/B12 - meat, chicken, eggs, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, bananas, potatoes, milk, cheese, nuts, fish, brown rice

You know what I notice? That entire list is naturally gluten-free. The million dollar take home message is thus: if more gluten-free people ate a diet well-rounded with whole GF grains, including the ancient grains, and rooted that diet in fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole meats and fish, it would go a very long way toward battling nutrient deficiency in the GF diet. Keep that in mind the next time you're at the grocery store, or planning a meal.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I'm deficient, You're deficient, We're all deficient? (Part 1)

I was recently reading a press release from Nature's Path Organic about two of their new cereals (that product review is forthcoming...). The press release made a familiar argument: the cereals "provide gluten avoiders with whole grains... unlike many gluten-free cereals which forfeit nutritional benefits..." The implication is that many gluten-free cereals (and other gluten-free processed foods, by extension) are more highly processed in order to improve taste and texture. But they do so by sacrificing nutritional quality.

There is some truth to this logic. Foods made from whole grains are inherently healthier than heavily processed foods, and I'll use our good old enemy - wheat - to demonstrate. I compared whole grain wheat flour (less processed) with white, unenriched wheat flour (more processed) across a range of nutrient measures. Not surprisingly, the wheat underwent a profound loss in nutrient quality when it was processed (I've omitted the units of measure for clarity):


NutrientWhole GrainWhite Unenriched
fiber14.63.4
calcium4119
thiamin0.5360.150
riboflavin0.2580.050
B60.4090.055
folate5332
B1200
iron4.661.46

These values come from the USDA's National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, and the important thing is to notice the marked decline in nutritive value. We might reasonably conclude the same kind of trend with gluten-free whole grains foods versus those that have been highly processed. (Side note: this is just one reason why I'm wary of some of the new gluten-free foods on the market, such as Expandex, a modified tapioca starch.)

This specific example reminded me of a report earlier this summer announcing that people on a gluten-free diet are quite often nutrient deficient. Heavily processed GF foods were partly to blame. The report came from research conducted at the Celiac Disease Center of Beth Isreal Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. The announcement came at the annual Digestive Disease Week conference, and caused quite a stir in the GF community. I haven't been to find officially published results of the study, but one of the attendees at the conference thankfully posted some of the findings.

The study looked at a three-day period in the diets of 109 men and women from the Boston area, all of whom were diagnosed Celiacs, and all of whom were reportedly on a GF diet for at least 5 years. At first blush, the results seemed pretty profound (I've rounded to the nearest whole percentage point):


NutrientPercent Deficient
fiber74%
calcium82%
thiamin59%
riboflavin25%
B635%
folate85%
B1229%
iron41%

But almost immediately, several thoughts and questions popped up in my mind. 1) 109 people seems an awfully small sample pool. This blog alone has many more readers than that. If each one of us kept a detailed dietary journal for three days, we've have a more robust pool of data than the researchers.

2) As far as I know, the researchers didn't make distinctions within the GF population. However, I think that's a mistake. Personally, I'd break out the pool into three categories: a) folks on a GF analog of the standard American diet, with a high percentage of heavily processed foods; b) folks on a GF diet that incorporates more whole grains, including alternative and "ancient" grains becoming popular within GF circles today; and c) folks on a GF diet heavy in fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as whole meats and fish. In practice, we're all - to greater and lesser degrees - some combination of those three types. But I think you'd see a measureable difference in nutrient deficiency between them.

3) How did the nutrient deficiencies of the GF population compare to the average American? Were we more nutrient deficient? The same? Perhaps even less? The results on their own seemed out of context without comparison to some baseline.

4) Was the nutrient deficiency an actual result of the gluten-free diet, or was there another contributing factor? Was it the standard American diet that was to blame, and not the gluten-free aspect of the diet? Was it not the diet, but rather the person? Said another way, was it a case perhaps of nutrient malabsorption, because of damaged villi in the small intestine? In such an instance, you might eat all the right things, but those nutrients would just pass on by without being absorbed into the body.

I set out to find answers to those questions. Coming tomorrow...what I found.

- Pete