Friday, January 29, 2010
This year was no different, but when all was said and done (and the almond cake was eaten) I had some leftover almond paste that I didn't need for the recipe. Not wanting it to go to waste, I set about concocting a gluten-free almond cookie recipe that would allow me to use the remaining almond paste.
Shortly after baking the inaugural batch, I went out for a day of backcountry skiing with two friends - Andrew and Josh - near Vail Pass. I was just out for the day, but they were staying the night at Jay's Cabin, one of the three huts that make up the Shrine Mountain Inn. Before heading up onto Shrine Ridge to ski, we stopped at Jay's Cabin so Andrew and Josh could drop off their overnight gear (no sense lugging that heavy stuff up the mountain to ski...). As we sat on the deck, overlooking the Gore Range north of Vail Pass, I pulled out a zip-top bag of my fresh almond cookies and passed it around. Upon taking a bite, Josh declared: "These are gluten-free? They taste just like my wife's grandmother's recipe!" Success.
Here's how to make them:
1/2 cup salted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup Artisan GF Flour Blend
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
6-8 oz GF almond paste
1 tsp GF vanilla extract
1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Using a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar.
3. Beat in the egg, almond paste, and vanilla extract.
4. Add the xanthan gum, and then gradually mix in the flour until well blended.
5. Use a 1.5-inch cookie scoop to place dough balls about 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.
6. If using 6 oz almond paste, bake for about 9 minutes. If using 8 oz almond paste, bake for 11-12 minutes.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Right off the bat, the sport owater drinks are labeled gluten-free, and a quick glance at the ingredients label confirms this: water, cane sugar, natural flavors, and electrolytes. That's it. There's no high fructose corn syrup, and no artificial dyes to impart color. All the beverages - no matter the flavor - are clear.
For the most part, the lack of artificial dyes is a good thing. Who needs them? Other than giving us a neon visual cue as to what flavor we're drinking (and maybe some psychological placebo-effect experience of flavor), they don't do anything for you in terms of sports performance. In fact, some people experience headaches from the artificial dyes! The one possible snafu I can think of would come in a scenario such as this: when I'm racing in Xterra, I carry two bottles on my mountain bike...one with water, and one with a sports drink. If both beverages are clear, I could foresee times when a racer might grab for a bottle expecting one thing, and get another. But for me, I always rack my sports drink bottle in the forward bottle cage and my water bottle in the rear bottle cage, so the chance of a slip-up is pretty minimal.
Now, in terms of flavor, I had a mixed opinion with regard to the four flavors owater sent me. The lemon-lime and the strawberry-pomegranate rocked. The black rasberry and blueberry, while still good, had a bit too much berry flavor for me. All four flavors lacked the syrupy sweetness of drinks like Gatorage that use HFCS. The sport owater drinks had a nice, subtle sweetness that I can only describe as "clean" as it went down the hatch. This was a good thing.
In order to do my full due diligence, I felt it important to test the sport owater drinks under "field conditions." It's one thing to sip a drink after I've been sitting at my computer for three hours. It's quite another to reach for a sports drink in the midst of a race, when your thirsty, maybe dehydrated with a raging case of cottonmouth, and possibly even nauseous from pushing yourself to the limit. I find that under those kind of conditions, the exact same drink can taste quite different (and often times, something that tastes too sweet at home tastes just right under intense physical exertion...). So, I bundled up in a sweatsuit and went out for a good, hard run. Immediately upon returning home (very sweaty and quite thirsty) I resampled the sport owater drinks. The short answer: I liked them even better.
Nutritionally, sport owater contains 35 calories and 9g sugar per 8oz serving. Compare this to 50 calories and 14g sugar for an equal-sized serving of Gatorade. At first glance, I wasn't convinced that this difference mattered much. For endurance racing, you need to keep calories and easily-accessible forms of energy (certain sugars) going into your system to fuel your body. From this perspective, it would seem to tip the scales in favor of Gatorade (purely from a nutrition standpoint). But as I thought more about it, I realized a few things: 1) The main source of my race nutrition (as opposed to hydration) comes from energy gels like GU (and other sources of nutrition), NOT from my sports drink. 2) The main focus for my sports drink, on the other hand, is two-fold: hydration, and to replace electrolytes and salts lost during the race. And 3) During longer races, less sugar in your sports drink is probably a good thing from a tooth enamel perspective, since you don't want to repeatedly coat your teeth in sugars that will eat away and ultimately cause cavities.
And so, when it's all said and done, my personal opinion is that the sport owater drinks are a great option for gluten-free athletes, whether you're working out for personal fitness, recreation, or competition and racing. Drink up.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Monday, January 25, 2010
First, reviews have been coming in from far and wide, and much to our great relief, they've been overwhelmingly positive. There's always a moment of uncertainty when an author releases a new book. You hope: Will people like my writing? I now know that this feeling is only compounded in the world of cookbooks. People are going to eat what you right, there's much more at stake than just the writing, and they're going to love it or leave it. The reviews and feedback have come everywhere from publications (Publishers Weekly, Denver Magazine, Long Island Pulse), to other gluten-free bloggers, to Celiac and gluten intolerance support groups, to NGNP readers. You can read what everyone's saying over on our companion website. (The most recent additions are at the bottom of the page...)
Second, we're delighted to announce that the cookbook is already in its second printing, which shipped on January 22, 2010 (and should reach booksellers everywhere over the coming weeks...). We've used the second printing as an opportunity to tweak and update the cookbook here and there. The first edition contained a tiny handfull of typos (a misspelled name here, an incorrect page reference there). Those have all been fixed. We've also made three notable changes to five recipes the book:
1) Two recipes, we've discovered, contained errors - the Bread, and the Brownies. (Those of you who wrote me about how dense the bread was were right... I was originally inclined to chalk it up to regional climate variation, differences in flour measurements, etc. But enough comments came in that we revisited the recipe and discovered that it contained too much flour!).
2) Several months after the book came out, I developed a new and improved version of my pizza dough. True to our "brutally honest - take no prisoners" form of gluten-free blogging, we declared it better even than our own recipe in the cookbook. Well, if you're buying our cookbook, you should have our best recipes. So...the new printing contains updated recipes for Thin Crust and Deep Dish pizza dough.
3) Lastly, we (gasp!) omitted one recipe from the cookbook that was meant to be included: Mediterranean Lasagna.
Now, if you end up getting your hands on the new version of the cookbook, this is all largely irrelevant. BUT, if you own the first edition, you can print out PDFs of the five recipes in question by visiting this dedicated page of our companion website, which hopefully will make incorporating those updates into your edition of the book a piece of gluten-free cake.
And one final word of note: We've been in the media lately (hooray!). Two weeks ago, Kelli and I appeared on Colorado & Company on NBC in Denver where we did a gluten-free cooking demo segment (crepes with Irish whiskey brown sugar sauce) while chatting about the cookbook, gluten-free living, etc. The segment aired live but also broadcast again today. That same week, I was also in the radio studio doing an interview with The Splendid Table. From what I understand, the segment is due to go into national syndication starting January 29, though I don't know on what station and at what time it might broadcast in your area. (Splendid Table episodes are also available to download as a podcast from the website.) Finally, Easy Eats, "the magazine for gluten-free living," did a review of gluten-free blogs for the Winter 2009 issue. They reviewed more than 75 GF blogs, and we were one of four blogs to receive a "gold" rating, the highest rank. Many thanks to you, our NGNP readers, for inspiring us to make this blog the best it can be. Know that we're as committed as ever to live up to our gold standard...
Friday, January 22, 2010
The recipe has two parts: one batch of the gnocchi from our cookbook (page 108), and the sauce. Here's how to make the sauce and assemble the dish:
4 tbsp butter
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup crushed or chopped pine nuts
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, rough diced
1/4-1/2 cup reserved pasta water (from the gnocchi)
1. Brown the butter in a large skillet or saute pan.
2. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
3. Add the pine nuts and roasted red pepper, and saute for about 5 minutes until the flavors have melded.
4. Add the pasta water and stir.
5. Add the gnocchi and toss to coat.
(Use more pasta water to thin the sauce and make it go farther. Use less pasta water for a more intensely flavored sauce.)
Thursday, January 21, 2010
- Eat more non-processed foods.
- Eat an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruit.
- Eat a serving of beans or legumes and nuts daily.
- Eat fish twice a week, especially wild salmon.
- Pay attention to your calcium and vitamin D intake to maintain healthy bones.
- Choose lean poultry and meats as well as low-fat dairy products.
- Balance the food that you eat with daily physical activity.
Have any guesses? At first blush, it more or less looks like a general guide to living and eating healthfully, right? It's all a lot of common sense "healthy diet" advice. Maybe the calcium and vitamin D line stands out...only a little. Maybe the brochure is for post-menopausal women battling osteoporosis?
How about if I reveal one bullet point that I omitted from the above list:
- Consult with your doctor before starting a gluten-free diet if you have not received a diagnosis of celiac disease.
Okay, now what do you think about the brochure? It's title is "Living a Gluten-Free Life!" And it's distributed in King Soopers and City Market grocery stores. The brochure includes sections on reading ingredients lists, as well as which store-brand foods are gluten-free. I share it with you for two reasons:
First, by leading with the bullet point list above, I wanted to emphasize how much a good gluten-free diet simply resembles a healthy diet and lifestyle. Eat less processed food. Eat more veggies, fruit, beans, nuts, fish, lean meats. Exercise. Consult your doc. Too often, when it comes to Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance, the emphasis is on the "disease" part, or the "intolerance" part. But this bullet point list reminds us of the "health" side of this equation. That's worth being reminded of from time to time.
Second, it reinforces the fact that supermarkets are increasingly embracing gluten-free consumers. Sure, we have resources such as Triumph's gluten-free grocery store guides to help us navigate the supermarket aisles, and a growing suite of iPhone apps to the same effect. But supermarkets are getting in on the act, too. The King Soopers / City Market brochure is just one example.
Whole Foods is another. Their website has a great page about gluten-free living, with sections on understanding celiac disease and WFM's gluten-free bakehouse. (Plus, each WFM location maintains a list of GF foods sold in that store...)
Then there's ShopRite. Produced in cooperation with the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, ShopRite's slick publication is titled "Living With Celiac Disease: A Guide to Managing a Gluten-Free Diet." It contains information about Celiac Disease (including prevalence, mode of action, symptoms, and treatment), steps to living with CD, keeping a GF kitchen, tips for cooking, recipes and meal ideas, and a list of manufacturers sold in ShopRite stores that offer GF foods.
If you've been eating gluten-free for a while, chances are these brochures won't say much you don't already know. But if you're newly diagnosed, and walk into your supermarket with wide eyes and a lump in the back of your throat, these resources are wonderful. They're succinct, accurate, and effective. They're helping to raise awareness, not just among consumers, but also among supermarket workers...whether a department manager, stockperson, deli counter worker, whoever. And the ShopRite brochure especially I see as a great resource to give to friends who aren't gluten-free but who might have me over for dinner. When they need quick easy answers about what's the deal with Celiac, what can I eat, and how can they cook for me, these brochures are a great thing to have on hand.
It hasn't always been this way. Those who've been gluten-free for many more years than me can attest to how little awareness there once was, and how few products were available in supermarkets. No matter how difficult it may feel at times to be GF, in this case it really is true that "back in the day" they had it a whole lot rougher than we do now. And so the next time I'm at the supermarket, I'll do my usual supermarket shuffle past the processed foods and towards the fresh fruits and veggies, but I'll do it with a little extra spring in my step. Call it my supermarket shuffle "Dance of Joy" in recognition that it's a great time to be gluten-free.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Brewpubs like Backcountry, I find, are generally difficult to eat in if you're gluten-free. Or at the very least, your menu options are likely to be more limited than they might otherwise be. That's due to a number of reasons. For one, brewpubs typically have a shared deep fryer that cross contaminates what would otherwise be a gluten-free food (like a french fry). For another, the brewpub understandably wants to showcase its brews in its food (such as adding a certain beer to a BBQ sauce, thus rendering the sauce gluten-ous, or making a side dish like rice with a red ale, to the same effect).
Of course, eating safely in such places can be done (usually), even if your menu choices are heavily restricted. On this particular night, despite the fact that I've eaten there before ordering off the standard menu, I asked if - by chance - they had a gluten-free menu. (Who knows, sometimes restaurants get up to speed and surprise me!) Indeed, to my surprise the host replied "yes." He returned to our seats at the bar a few moments later with the GF menu. And that's when the disappointment set in.
The "gluten-free menu" was a very rudimentary menu printed out as a text document on 8.5x11 computer paper. In fact, it was technically a "gluten menu," since it listed those menu items that contained gluten, rather than those that didn't. The list was only 7 or 8 items long, which I knew wasn't correct. It should have been twice that long or more...easily. In comparing the gluten menu to the standard menu, I immediately noticed many obvious omissions (such as a fish dish served with wheat flour tortillas). The specialty menu also didn't acknowledge cross-contamination concerns with the deep fryer (such as french fries that would have been prepared in the same oil as multiple gluten-containing appetizers). Worst of all was the real kicker: the final line of the specialty gluten(free) menu read, and I quote word for word, "And anything else with gluten that I can't think of right now."
A statement like that is nothing short of deplorable. Either make the commitment to develop an accurate, updated GF menu for guests, or don't. This wishy washy middle ground is a dangerous thing. Sure, experienced GF diners will know what questions to ask and where the danger zones are in restaurant dining. But for a GF newbie venturing out to eat for perhaps the first time, a GF menu like that at the Backcountry Brewery instills a false and misplaced sense of confidence, and obviously contains egregious errors and misinformation to the detriment of the GF diner.
As for the food itself, I've always rated it as mediocre, and am often disappointed despite hopeful expectations.
If you're in Colorado's Summit County (or thereabouts) and are looking for tasty, safe gluten-free eats, you have other options: Mi Casa in Breckenridge nearby, Beau Jo's in Idaho Springs to the east, and Larkburger in Edwards to the west, to name but three options.
The final verdict: After a day spent in the real backcountry, I'll pass on Backcountry and satisfy my hunger elsewhere.
Monday, January 18, 2010
Friday, January 15, 2010
During one of the days, we made a stop at Phoenix's Pueblo Grande Museum and Archeological Park, the site of Hohokam ruins and an excellent interpretive center. As we strolled the grounds under a scorching sun (scorching for November in Arizona... not by Phoenix-in-the-summer standards) our guide pointed out the Velvet Mesquite (Prosopis velutina), the most common mesquite in the American Southwest. The green pods (see the above photo) eventually dry, turn light tan, and fall to the ground. It's then, I learned, that you can harvest them to make a mesquite flour or meal, once a highly common ingredient in the cuisine of the Native American tribes that lived in this area.
Mesquite flour, it turns out, has a number of healthy properties. It's a good source of calcium, manganese, iron, zinc, potassium, and the amino acid, lysine. It's also high in fiber, relatively high in antioxidants, and low in fat. It also has a low glycemic index, and has such a beneficial impact on blood sugar levels that it's recommended for diabetics. (In fact, a recent rise in diabetes among certain Southwestern tribes has been specifically linked to the decreased role of mesquite in their diet...) Lastly, and best of all for NGNP readers, is that mesquite flour is gluten-free.
Mesuite flour is rarely used exclusively. Most often it's blended with other flours in baking. Its flavor is often described as some combination of fruity, caramel, coffee, cinnamon, chocolate, and coconut.
The use of such native ingredients was once on the decline, but thankfully, there's been a resurgence in the Southwest. In fact, mesquite flour is available at retail from companies such as Casa de Fruta, Shiloh Farms, and others, and you can also find it on Amazon and the Gluten Free Mall. However, all the locals I spoke to in Phoenix recommend getting your mesquite flour from Native Seeds / SEARCH in Tucson. SEARCH stands for Southwestern Endangered Aridland Resource ClearingHouse, and it's a non-profit that "conserves, distributes, and documents" the agricultural seeds of the American Southwest and Northwestern Mexico. (Unfortunately, at this point almost all commercially available mesquite flour is sourced from South America, including that of SEARCH.)
Even so, it's inspiring to see native ingredients being used in the contemporary cooking of Arizonans. Reportedly, Kai Restaurant at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass on the Pima reservation is serving a mesquite scone. And I'm sure many other examples abound.
Of course, mesquite is just one plant. Bruce Leadbetter, a guide for 360 Adventures, says that 3,400 plants are native to the Sonoran Desert, and of those, some 550 are edible! But I like to think of that one plant - mesquite - as a starting point. I plan to pick up some mesquite flour, and to experiment using it in my gluten-free baking and cooking. I might add a little to one of my conventional recipes. But I'm even more excited to use mesquite in a true Southwestern dish...broadening my culinary horizons, while remaining happily gluten-free.
Have any of you used mesquite flour in your GF baking? If so, leave a comment and do tell!
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
At present Bora Bora offers seven flavors (falling under one of three categories: energy, superfood, or antioxidant), with three more flavors in the works. The flavors range from exotic (Brazil Nut Almond, Mango Macadamia) to the domestic (Blueberry Flax, Sesame Cranberry). All of the official flavor names work in some kind of Bora Bora reference (Tribal, Volcanic, Tropical, Tiki) which feels a bit contrived to me. Just tell me the flavor... I don't need the extra flair of the sexy name.
Over the last two months, Kelli and I have had a chance to taste test the seven current flavors under a variety of circumstances - as a snack in the house, as a snack on the go, as trail food during a winter ascent of an 11,000-foot peak here in Colorado. Here's our assessment:
Kelli was lukewarm toward the bars. For her, the flavors didn't meld as one would hope. I'm a bit more positive. In general, I like the bars. Even more so, I want to like these bars, because of all the goodness that goes into them. In a sense, what Two Moms in the Raw does for "loose granola," Bora Bora does for nutrition bars.
My chief critique is also Kelli's, and that's that these bars make me damned thirsty. That, in turn, I attribute to the use of whole nuts, such as whole almonds. I think that sliced or slivered almonds, mixed with the other ingredients, would be kinder to moisture gods. I find these bars infinitely more enjoyable with a glass of water on-hand to wet my whistle between bites.
Another word of note is that the Cinnamon Oatmeal flavor, as the name implies, uses oats (a possible gluten cross-contamination concern). The Bora Bora website makes no mention of GF oats, and this was an immediate red flag for me. I'm very glad to report that the folks at Bora Bora were able to rapidly address my concerns in detail. The short story is that Bora Bora tests its oats at the University of Nebraska's Food Allergy Research and Resource Program, and those oats came in under 10ppm, exceeding the Codex 20ppm standard for gluten-free certification by a factor of two. Further, Bora Bora is actively working to source a certified gluten-free oat in order to instill heightened consumer confidence within the gluten-free community. Good enough for me.
The bottom line is that there's a lot to like about these bars from Bora Bora...especially when I'm well-hydrated, or have a glass of water at the ready.
Bora Bora's care package also included a tiki ceramic coffee mug and an organic cotton t-shirt (size XL). Consistent with our policy of only accepting product samples for review here on NGNP, we're passing those extra gifts along to you as a giveaway. If you're interested in entering, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and include "Bora Bora giveaway" in the subject line. Submit your entry by midnight Friday, and we'll announce the winner and ship the prize beginning of next week!
Friday, January 8, 2010
There are a variety of ways to cook spaghetti squash. This is our preferred method:
1. Preheat an oven or toaster oven to 375 degrees.
2. Cut the raw spaghetti squash in half lengthwise (from north pole to south pole, not around the equator, if you get what I mean...) and scoop out the seeds as you would with any squash. Please, when you're doing this, BE CAREFUL. Raw spaghetti squash is firm and tough and can be difficult to cut. Also, squash are round (or oval) and knives are sharp. This can be dangerous combo.
3. Lightly coat the bottom of a baking pan with olive oil, and place the squash halves face down (cut side down) in the pan.
4. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the squash becomes tender and you can easily pierce the exterior "skin" with a knife.
5. Scoop the flesh from the skin with a large spoon, and use a fork (or two) to tease apart the strands of squash. This step is a bit like making pulled pork.
Once you have your naked spaghetti squash, it's up to you to dress it how you like it. I like to toss it in a tomato marinara sauce that I've doctored up with some red wine and a splash of balsamic vinegar. But of course, your imagination is the limit in this department!
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
1. Start with 4-6 slices of fresh, whole-grain GF yeast bread. Toast them in a toaster oven just until they are light to medium golden.
2. Break the toast into pieces, add it all to a food processor, and pulse until you have coarse breadcrumbs.
3. Spread the breadcrumbs into a relatively thin layer across the bottom of a baking pan/sheet. Then sprinkle the breadcrumbs with a light coating of salt, garlic powder, dried basil, and dried oregano. (Don't overdo it... you can always add more spice later if the breadcrumbs are too bland initially.)
4. Place the baking pan/sheet back in the toaster oven and toast a second time. The goal is to dry out the bread and make it just slightly crispy. You don't want the breadcrumbs to darken or harden too much, or to taste burned.
5. At this point, you have two options. For a coarser breadcrumb, simply toss the breadcrumbs as-is to separate any clumps that have stuck together, and you're ready to go. For a finer breadcrumb, return the breadcrumbs to the food processor and pulse for a second round, resulting in a finer crumb. (If pulsing a second time, make sure your food processor is completely dry, with no residual moisture from the first round of pulsing.)
Voila! Delicious and easy Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs that are great for meatballs, chicken cutlets, eggplant, you name it!
Sunday, January 3, 2010
Today's FF (or should I say the FF that should have posted two days ago, when it was actually Friday...) is of a Rosemary Focaccia. The recipe is in the same spirit as the flatbread, with a few differences that make for a delicious and quite different bread. Here's how to make it:
1 cup warm water
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups Artisan GF Flour Blend
1 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp salt
1 large egg
3 tbsp olive oil
dried basil and oregano
1. Dissolve the sugar in the warm water, add the yeast, stir, and set aside until the yeast is nice and foamy.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, xanthan gum, salt, rosemary).
3. Mix the egg and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil together, and add it to the yeast.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until thoroughly combined. (You can use a stand mixer for this, though I just used a fork and some elbow grease.)
5. Butter a 9x9 pan and evenly spread the dough into the pan.
6. Brush the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over the top of the dough, and sprinkle the surface with a dash of crushed sea salt, as well as dried basil and dried oregano.
7. Cover with plastic wrap, set in a warm location, and let rise for 20 minutes, or until the dough roughly doubles in size. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
8. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the bread pulls away from the sides of the pan.
9. Cool the bread in the pan, then slice and serve. Or, once cool, remove it whole from the pan before slicing to serve.