Friday, December 31, 2010

Friday Foto: Allergen-Free Cupcakes

A cross-section of our vanilla gluten-free, dairy-free cupcake

It's no secret that, when it comes to gluten-free, gluten is often not the only dietary restriction a person faces. We know this, and you've been telling us (we often get emails about suggestions for substitutions or modifications to our recipes). For our forthcoming Artisanal Gluten-Free Cupcakes cookbook, we've gone to great lengths to develop and test various versions of our cakes to meet the needs of the refined sugar-free, dairy-free, egg-free and vegan communities. An appendix in the book will contain detailed recipe modifications with ingredient substitutions. But we also thought it would be useful for your gluten-free baking in general to have the following "standard" substitutions on-hand.

Refined Sugar-Free Baking
For each cup of granulated sugar called for in a recipe, replace it with 2/3 cup light agave nectar and decrease the liquid ingredients by 1/4 cup, OR replace it with 1 1/4 cups brown rice syrup and decrease the liquid ingredients by 1/4 cup.

Egg-Free Baking
We like using a combination of ground flax meal in water as a replacement for eggs. The typical ratio of water to flax is 3:1, but we prefer 4:1. Use a fork to whisk 1 tbsp ground flax meal in 4 tbsp water for each egg being replaced. Whole eggs and egg whites get replaced equally - 4 whole eggs, 2 whole eggs and 2 egg whites, and 4 egg whites would all be replaced by 4 tbsp (1/4 cup) ground flax meal in 16 tbsp (1 cup) water.

Dairy-Free Baking
This is a straightforward substitution. Sub dairy-free milk (i.e. soy or almond) 1:1 for cow's milk, and sub non-hydrogenated vegan shortening (i.e. Earth Balance vegan buttery sticks) 1:1 for butter. For buttermilk cakes, you can make a faux buttermilk by making an acidified dairy-free milk. Whisk 1 tbsp distilled white vinegar in 1 cup dairy-free milk. The acid from the vinegar "curdles" the proteins in the dairy-free milk, giving you a kind of dairy-free buttermilk.

Vegan Baking
Simply combine the substitutions for egg-free and dairy-free baking.

Happy New Year!

- Pete

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Restaurant Review: El Bracero, Poughkeepsie, NY

I normally don't return home from having dinner at a restaurant and immediately sit down at the computer to type a review for No Gluten, No Problem. Tonight's meal, however, was so utterly disappointing that I'm making an exception. Writing this review is an act of catharsis; a way to emotionally deal with a meal for which we had enormously high hopes, but which ended up leaving us bitterly crestfallen.

As we get acquainted with our new home in the Hudson Valley, we've been occasionally heading out for dinner to sample the area's many ethnic restaurants in search of the foods we like to eat. Tonight, our focus was Mexican. When I did an Internet search for "mexican restaurant Poughkeepsie," almost all of the restaurants - a dozen or more - showed up on a map on the same 1.5-mile stretch of Main Street in the center of the city. I immediately took to calling it Poughkeepsie's Mexican Mile.

While most of the restaurants were actually on Main Street, one was about a block or two off the main drag at one end of the Mexican Mile. Called Mole Mole, it came highly recommended by some of my coworkers at Vassar College. But as I read online reviews of Mole Mole, another restaurant kept getting mentioned as even better: El Bracero. It seemed that El Bracero had earned a reputation for offering Poughkeepsie's best authentic Mexican food (4.5 out of 5 stars on Yelp) - and as you might expect, they offered that food at a hole in the wall neighborhood joint with affordable prices. And so to El Bracero we went.

If you want to avoid all the dirty details of this review, here's the take home lesson: If El Bracero represents Poughkeepsie's best Mexican food, you might be better off going to Taco Bell, or not going out for Mexican at all. Seriously.

As we perused the menu, we noticed a lot wheat flour tortillas (and fried dishes involving wheat flour tortillas), so we had some serious concerns about gluten cross-contamination. I haven't gotten sick...yet (but I'm still within my brief magic window where the food wouldn't have made its way through my system enough to initiate a reaction). We'll see how I fare as the evening wears on...

Kelli ordered Bracero's standard steak fajitas. For myself, given Bracero's Oaxacan roots, I went with a mole chicken. Her fajitas were awful. The steak was cooked beyond well-done, and tasted either re-heated or microwaved. The peppers for the fajita were cut very wide, rather than in narrower strips that would have been more convenient for filling corn tortilla fajitas. The onions were under-caramelized, rather than being sweet, soft and well-sauteed.

My mole chicken came with an average mole sauce. Nothing special at all. The chicken, like the steak, tasted reheated. Both Kelli's and my dinner came with a side of bland white rice, rather than a flavorful Mexican rice as I've come to expect.

The only redeeming quality to the meal was our glasses of sangria. While we've had better, they were still quite good, and certainly better than many sangrias we've had at other restaurants. At $4 per glass (or $15 for a pitcher), the price was right. My only regret was that I didn't gulp down several sangrias before my meal so as to deaden my taste buds (and perhaps lower my expectations).

People keep telling us what great restaurants there are in Poughkeepsie, thanks to the influence of the nearby Culinary Institute of America. At the moment, we're convinced that all of the CIA graduates are getting the heck out of Dodge. If there are diamonds in the rough, waiting to be found - and you know about them - please comment on this post and let us know! Because thus far, we've had a lot of average to below-average meals at local restaurants (with some rare exceptions coming soon in blog posts). Otherwise, Poughkeepsie's dining scene - especially for the gluten-free community - is looking about as bland and unpalatable as our meal tonight at Bracero.

Still hungry (and pulling some cupcakes out of the freezer)... Pete

Friday, December 24, 2010

Friday Foto: Artisanal Gluten-Free Cupcakes

Santa arrived about 12 hours early in the Bronski household this year, and he brought us a fabulous present...a completed cookbook manuscript, which we finished and submitted to our publisher just a little while ago! This was a monumental weight off our shoulders, just in time to properly celebrate the holiday.

The photo above is a working cover, not yet finalized, of Artisanal Gluten-Free Cupcakes. The book's official scheduled publication date is June 2011, but we're working hand-in-hand with our publisher to see that it comes out earlier, hopefully sometime during spring. For now, it's available for pre-ordering at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go hang out with my ladies, visit family for Christmas, and do a whole lot of nothing for the weekend. Have a happy holiday!

- Pete

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Choosing Chocolate: Part 2

Yesterday we talked about types of chocolate used in baking. Today we look at three widely-available brands and their gluten-free status.

Ghirardelli

Historically, Ghirardelli - which dates to 1852 - has been 100% gluten-free. That changed in June 2008, when the company added the "crisp" flavor to its line of Luxe Milk chocolate squares. The toasted rice used in the crisps contains barley malt. According to customer service, those Milk Chocolate Luxe with Crisps are produced on the same line as the baking bars and squares. In order to reduce cross-contamination risks, the lines are cleaned when changing from one product to the next, and the first two batches of any product are disposed of and not packaged. I would be willing to bet that the chocolate bars and squares remain safely gluten-free, and that the potential for cross-contamination - and especially cross-contamination to a level meaningful to someone with Celiac or gluten-intolerance - is minimal.

If you have concerns, Ghirardelli's baking chips and powdered cocoa are produced on dedicated lines free of any gluten ingredients. (For what it's worth, we use Ghirardelli regularly in our baking, love it, and have never had a problem getting sick. We tend to use their baking chips, not necessarily because they're produced on a dedicated line, but rather because the chips are often less expensive per pound than an equal quantity of the baking bars, and you're getting the exact same chocolate either way.)

Nestle

Nestle's baking chips, bars and cocoa are sold under its Toll House brand. Nestle's policy is to be very transparent about their ingredients for the sake of consumers with food allergies and other concerns. Consequently, they list potential gluten cross-contaminants (such as barley) in addition to wheat (which is the only gluten ingredient required to be listed under current U.S. food labeling laws). Nestle does maintain an internal gluten-free products list. By the company's own standards, only those products that are free of gluten ingredients AND which are not produced on a shared line or in a shared facility with potential for cross-contamination are listed.

That said, many of their products not strictly listed on that gluten-free list are likely also gluten-free. For example, the entire line of baking chips should be gluten-free, with the exception of the butterscotch chips, which are NOT gluten-free. Similarly, the semi-sweet baking bars should be gluten-free, though they are produced on a shared line with wheat products. Whether or not this constitutes an acceptable cross-contamination risk is up to the individual. Your best bet if considering a Nestle baking product is to review the actual ingredients label, and look for allergen and advisory labeling. Then make your decision.

Baker's

Finally, there is Baker's, which has been around since the 1700s, and which today is a division of Kraft Foods. To my knowledge, Baker's doesn't have a product in its line that contains gluten, and as such, all of their baking bars should be gluten-free. Frustratingly, however, their customer service department has been unresponsive to my inquiries, so I've been unable to confirm gluten-free status and company policies and protocols for handling ingredients. So I'm afraid I can't give you as insightful an answer for this company, but I can say that, anecdotally, we've used Baker's chocolate without issue in the past.

Happy baking this holiday season!

- Pete

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Choosing Chocolate: Part 1

During this holiday season, I'd be willing to bet that you're doing more baking than you normally might throughout the rest of the year. I know we certainly do. Especially since we've been developing and testing oodles of cupcake recipes. But how do you know which baking chocolate to choose, and which brands are gluten-free? Here is a quick primer on types of chocolate used in baking, and a look at three prominent, widely available brands and their gluten-free status:

Quality baking chocolate should be naturally gluten-free and made from only a handful of ingredients - unsweetened cocoa (also listed as cacao or cocoa solids), cocoa butter (the fat portion of chocolate), and sugar. It sometimes also includes milk solids and/or milk fat, flavoring (such as vanilla), and an emulsifier (such as soy lecithin). That's it.

Chocolate gets classified along a spectrum of increasing bitterness and intensity of flavor. The major factor in determining its classification is the balance of cocoa and sugar.

On one end of the spectrum you have milk chocolate, which is typically not used in baking. It contains higher levels of milk fats and solids, and lower percentages of cocoa. This makes it better for eating.

On the other end of the spectrum is unsweetened chocolate (sold in bar form and as unsweetened cocoa powder). It contains no sugar, and is nothing but 100% cocoa. It unsuitable for eating, and is used only in baking. We use only natural unsweetened cocoa powder, which is naturally acidic and an important reactant with leavening agents such as baking soda. Cocoa powder is also sold in a second form – Dutch-processed or alkalized cocoa powder. In this form, the cocoa powder has been treated with an alkali to neutralize the chocolate’s natural acidity. If used in leavened chocolate cakes, the baking soda must have another reactant, or you must use baking powder.

In between you'll find semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolate, which we use frequently in our baking. Bittersweet chocolate has less sugar than semi-sweet, and typically contains 60-85% cacao, resulting in a rich, intense (and more bitter) chocolate flavor. Semi-sweet chocolate has more sugar than bittersweet, and typically contains 40-62% cacao. (In the United States, both types of chocolate must contain at least 35% total cacao.)

Finally, there is also white chocolate, which contains cocoa butter, but no cocoa solids. This gives it a rich, buttery consistency, but without the cocoa solids, it contains no real chocolate flavor.

Coming tomorrow: a look at the gluten-free status of the baking chocolates from Ghirardelli, Nestle, and Baker's. Until then!

- Pete

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Foto: Vinegar Slaw

This past Sunday, we celebrated Marin's 2nd birthday. With around 15 people in attendance, we wanted to serve something that worked well for a larger group. We opted to go with pulled pork, served with a side of vinegar slaw. It has bright, clean flavors - the red pepper adds a great pop of color, and the addition of golden raisins adds some unexpected subtle sweetness.

Ingredients
1 head green cabbage, sliced very thin
1 red pepper, sliced very thin
4 scallions
1 carrot, shredded
1/2 cup golden raisins
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup olive oil
1 tsp dry mustard
1 cup apple cider vinegar

Steps
1. Combine the first five ingredients (through and including the raisins) in a bowl.
2. In a small saucepan, mix the other ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and stir until all the sugar dissolves.
3. Pour the vinaigrette over the slaw and toss.

Note: While not strictly necessary, we recommend refrigerating the slaw and serving it cold.

Enjoy!

- Pete

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Foto: White Bean Chicken Soup

White Bean Chicken Soup with Udi's Toast

With the cold snap of weather that's settled over the Northeast, hot soups have remained a staple of our diet lately. (My run yesterday morning tipped the mercury at 15 degrees Fahrenheit, and my walk to work this morning weighed in at 9 degrees.) Building off the success of our Turkey Soup recipe from last week's Friday Foto, we went with a white bean and chicken soup for this week. It's more or less a one pot wonder, and is mostly vegetable based, with some chicken thrown in to boost the protein and flavor content. Here's how we made it:

White Bean Chicken Soup

Ingredients
1 lb Cannellini beans, dried
Olive oil
2 yellow onions, sliced
1 tsp dried thyme (not rubbed)
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 quart GF chicken broth
1 cup water
2 chicken breasts
Salt and pepper, to taste

Steps
1. Soak the beans in water overnight. Strain just before beginning the soup.
2. Heat approximately 2 tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions and herbs, and saute until soft.
3. Add the beans, chicken broth, water, and chicken breasts. Simmer uncovered for 1.5 hours.
4. Remove the chicken and shred it. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Return the chicken to the soup.
5. Simmer for 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Enjoy!

- Pete

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Foto: Turkey Soup

Normally, we're pretty good at estimating the amount of food to cook for a given number of guests. But this year for Thanksgiving, we were WAY off and made too much. A week later, we're still eating leftovers.

Maybe you're in a similar boat. Maybe you hosted and went overboard on the food. Or maybe you were the guest at someone else's house, and they sent you home with a goodie bag of leftovers. Either way, it brings me to today's Friday Foto and recipe: turkey soup.

It's a great way to give new life to leftover roasted turkey. Flavorful. And different enough from what you probably ate on Thanksgiving that you won't feel like you're eating the same leftovers, again, for the umpteenth time.

Here's how to make it:

Turkey Soup

Ingredients
1 carrot, sliced
1 celery stalk, sliced
1 small onion, diced
olive oil
1 cup dark turkey meat, chopped
2 turkey wings, on bone with skin
1/2 cup gravy
4 cups turkey stock (from boiled bones/carcass)
1 cup Tinkyada gluten-free pasta noodles

Steps
1. In a medium saucepan (4 quart size), saute the vegetables in about 1 tbsp of olive oil, just to sweat.
2. Add the dark turkey meat, wings, gravy, and soup stock, and simmer, uncovered, for 40 minutes.
3. Remove the wings, pull the meat and add back to the soup, and discard the bones and skin.
4. Add the noodles, turn the stove heat to low, cover, and cook for 20 more minutes.

Enjoy! (And ideally, serve with slices of freshly baked gluten-free bread...)

Notes
1. This recipe assumes you're working with an already-roasted turkey with cooked meat.
2. Because we used a well-brined turkey, the gravy - and the resulting soup - was naturally salty. However, you can always add salt to taste when making your own.
3. This recipe would also work with white turkey meat, and you can substitute GF store-bought soup stock if you didn't make any from your turkey carcass.
4. Lastly, this recipe would easily translate for use with a roasted chicken.

- Pete

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Product Review: Triumph Dining's Essential Gluten-Free Restaurant Guide, 5th Edition

The kind folks over at Triumph Dining recently sent me a copy of the 5th edition of their annual Essential Gluten-Free Restaurant Guide to review. The timing was appropriate, since it was almost exactly one year ago, on December 8, 2009, that I reviewed the 3rd edition of their annual Essential Gluten-Free Grocery Guide. As with that review, there were some things I liked, and some that I didn't.

Let's start with some of the obvious positives: This edition of the guide includes more than 6,500 restaurants, including over 120 chain/franchise restaurants. What's more, Triumph updates the information on every entry, every year. That's a monumental undertaking, and one to their great credit, given how fast things change and the need to stay current in the gluten-free world.

In terms of evaluating this edition of the guide, I gave it a thorough critique in two primary categories: content, and organization. In doing so, I focused on two areas of the country where I know restaurants pretty well - Colorado and New York. For each state, Triumph lists restaurants under sub-headings for some of the major metropolitan areas, and then lists everything else in the state under a catch-all "all other cities." For example, Colorado has entries for Boulder, Colorado Springs, Denver, Fort Collins, and all other. New York has entries for Manhattan, Rochester, and all other.

Organization

Admittedly, the task of deciding how to organize so much information in a way that's straightforward for the user is a difficult thing. Do you list by restaurant name? City? Region? Triumph, as I noted, chose to go the route of major metropolitan areas, plus a catch-all for the rest of the state. In the context of a printed book, I suppose that's as good as any other format. Even so, I caught some red flags. New York is a prime example.

New York lists just two major metro areas: Manhattan and...Rochester? What about other areas much more populated (with both people and gluten-free restaurants) than comparatively tiny Rochester? Consider this: There are roughly 75 entries for Manhattan, and 16 for Rochester. I went through the "all other cities" category, and found more than 35 entries for the Hudson Valley, about another 35 for Westchester, and more than 45 entries for Long Island. Wouldn't it make sense to break out these regions into their own sub-headings? In addition, Brooklyn restaurants were listed under "all other." Why not fold Brooklyn, Manhattan and the other boroughs into one, single, sensible "New York City" sub-heading?

This "problem" could easily be fixed in a future edition of the guide, and I hope the folks at Triumph do so. The exact same information, presented with an improved organization, would do great things for the book's value and ease of use.

Alas, I fear the bigger problem - from an organization stand-point - is that this type of information (a nationwide guide of gluten-free restaurants) is better suited to the electronic format than it is to print. Imagine being able to instantly sort entries by restaurant name, state, city, or region. To search by zip code, and confine your search to a given radius. To search by type of cuisine (American, Japanese, Mexican, etc.). This type of functionality would, again, make the same information, presented in a different format with better organization, that much more powerful.

Content

In terms of content, I also have concerns. As I went through the listings for Colorado and New York, I asked myself two things: Are my favorite gluten-free restaurants listed? And for towns I know well, does the guide list restaurants I'm not already familiar with?

In the cases of both Colorado and New York, I found numerous omissions. For example, Cathryn's Tuscan Grill in Cold Spring, NY is absent. The listings for Ithaca, NY include just two restaurants, while I'm personally aware of at least eight. The situation is much the same in Colorado. Boulder's entry, while pretty good, is missing BeauJo's (gluten-free pizza), Hapa (gluten-free sushi), Turley's (gluten-free diner), and Restaurant 4580 (gluten-free New American). In Colorado's "all other cities" category, Larkburger (gluten-free burger and fries) is a glaring oversight.

Granted, Triumph has a near impossible task before it...to comprehensively list gluten-free restaurant options across the United States. But to see so many omissions of restaurants I know (and love) is disappointing. On the other hand, to look at the bright side, those of us in the gluten-free community can see these omissions as signs that there are many more gluten-free restaurants out there than we might think or know about. And that's good news.

And for what it's worth, I did make some new discoveries in Triumph's guide. For example, I learned that Massapequa, NY - one town over from my hometown of Farmingdale, where my mother still lives - has both a gluten-free bakery and a pizzeria. Who knew? (I certainly didn't, but Triumph did...)

Conclusion

In the end, I suppose the two questions you'll most want to know the answers to are these: Would I use this guide? And is it worth the $24.95 price tag for you to buy it?

For areas with which I'm already familiar, no, I wouldn't use the guide. Once you get dialed into a gluten-free dining scene, you're dialed in. The guide's not really going to help you there. But for unfamiliar locales, such as when you're traveling, the guide is a great resource for finding safe places to eat. (I can definitely see us using it to explore our new town and surrounding communities here in the Hudson Valley...) Improved organization of the print guide, with more accessible information, would make it even better.

As for whether you should buy it, my conclusion is that, yes you should. It's a no brainer. The $24.95 price tag is basically the cost of one entree at your average white tablecloth restaurant. If you only find one restaurant to visit in the entire guide, and have a wonderful dining experience there, then it has basically paid for itself in value to you.

- Pete