Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Foto: Chicken Fried Rice


Marin is quite the little eater. We're proud of the wide variety of foods she eats - from pad thai to tacos, sushi to meatballs, she enjoys it all. The trouble, we've found, is consistency. What she loves and devours one day, she'll have no interest in another. There's never a question, though, with chicken fried rice. She's always in the mood for it (and so, seemingly, are we!). It's a home run. What's more, rice, vegetables, chicken and egg make it a delicious and well-rounded one wok wonder.


Chicken Fried Rice
Makes 3-4 servings

Ingredients
4 tbsp extra light olive oil, divided
1 tbsp grated ginger
2 garlic cloves, grated
1 large chicken breast, "julienned" (cut into small, thin strips)
1 large carrot, shredded
2 eggs
3 cups cooled cooked rice
5 tbsp tamari wheat-free soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
5 scallions, chopped

Steps
1. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a hot wok or large skillet.
2. Add the ginger and garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3. Add the chicken and cook for 1 minute.
4. Add the carrots, and cook until the chicken is done and the carrots are soft.
5. Move the chicken and carrots to the perimeter, add the eggs to the center, and stir fry until the eggs reach a soft scramble.
6. Move the eggs to the perimeter, add the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil to the center, and heat for 1 minute.
7. Add the rice and stir fry for a few minutes, until warm and separated.
8. Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, and scallions, toss all ingredients together, and stir fry for an additional few minutes until the flavors have melded.

Enjoy!

* If you don't have a microplane grater for the ginger and garlic, you can also simply mince those ingredients.

This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, refined-sugar-free, corn-free


Happy Friday!

- Pete

P.S. In the interest of bloggerly love, we've also posted this recipe over at Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free's Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays post.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Coco-not?

Coconut flour is becoming increasingly common in gluten-free baking. (Just ask Kelly over at The Spunky Coconut, or the folks over at Gluten-Free Bistro, who use coconut flour in their GF Bistro Flour Blend...) The coconut lovin' is thanks to the coconut's status as a hypoallergenic food - in places such as the United States and the United Kingdom, coconut allergies are rare.

In recent weeks, however, I've received a cluster of emails and blog comments inquiring about whether or not coconuts are considered part of the tree nut family of allergens. It's a legitimate question, because at first blush the answer isn't clear. There's a legal side to the answer, a medical side to the answer, and an anecdotal side to the answer.

A small handful of people have referenced a friend (or a friend of a friend) who has both a tree nut allergy and a coconut allergy, and cited that example as evidence for their inclusion together. While I don't doubt for one second the reality of their food allergies, there's also a danger of potentially misleading information when anecdotal stories spread like wildfire through the blogosphere. What is true for one person, suddenly becomes potentially true for all. That's not necessarily justified.

So let's get to the bottom of this (or at least try to).

First, a botanical lesson - a coconut is part of the palm family, and isn't closely related to what we would traditionally consider the tree nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, etc.). A coconut, in fact, isn't a genuine nut at all. It has characteristics of nuts, seeds and fruits, and is technically classified as a drupe (aka a stone fruit, a group which includes peaches, plums and cherries).

The question, then, becomes one of cross-reactivity. Do coconuts "activate" the same sensitivities or allergies in people as tree nuts?

Complicating what should be a simple answer is this: historically, the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), one of the foremost authorities on food allergies in the United States, has NOT considered coconut to be part of the tree nut allergies. However, the FDA - via the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act - has said that coconut IS part of the tree nut allergies, and as a result, requires any foods containing coconut to also include a tree nut allergy warning.

At this point, the answer looks about as clear as a nice tall glass of coconut milk...

So, I dove into the peer-reviewed medical literature, and here is what I found:

A 1999 article in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology noted potential cross-reactivity between walnuts and coconuts, but found that these instances were so infrequent that the authors concluded: "Coconut allergy in patients with tree nut allergy is rare... there is no general indication to advise patients with tree nut allergy to avoid coconut."

More recently, a 2004 article in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology looked at cross-reactivity between coconut and hazelnut in patients with coconut anaphylaxis (as the authors noted, this extreme sensitivity to coconut is extremely rare). They did find a degree of cross-reactivity between coconut and hazelnut, and noted a potential for other cross-reactants in the tree nut family. Their conclusion was to specifically suggest further investigation of tree nut allergies for patients with coconut hypersensitivity, but stopped short of actually lumping coconut together with tree nuts.

Finally, a study published just last year (2010) in Pediatric Allergy and Immunology looked at whether children with an allergy to tree nuts were at increased risk of having an allergy to coconut. Their bottom line: "Children with sensitization or allergy to...tree nuts were not more likely to be sensitized or allergic to coconut."

Peer reviewed studies such as these seem to suggest that coconuts should not be included in the tree nut family of allergens. For the time being, this leaves us stuck between a coconut and a hard place - the medical evidence on one hand, and the FDA's FALCPA (and its legal requirements) on the other.

If you're a blogger who - like us - posts recipes, then we perhaps ought to apply the same FDA standards to ourselves that we expect of companies and their ingredients labels. If a recipe contains coconut, we shouldn't declare it to be tree-nut-free. (There's nothing wrong, though, with specifying which nut - coconut - it contains, so people can decide for themselves whether or not they want to make the recipe based on their own sensitivities...)

And please, this goes without saying, but I must anyway - I'm not a doctor. I'm a journalist who does his research, and a guy who knows a fair bit about food allergies and nutrition through time spent "in the trenches." If there's any question as to your own food sensitivities, consult a licensed medical professional.

- Pete

Photo courtesy Andrzej Gdula / Stock.Xchng

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Versus: Brownies


If one food - and one word - summed up store-bought box-mix convenience foods, it would be this: brownies. Whether you like 'em cakey or fudgy, chocolatey or chewy, there's no denying that sometimes, a simple brownie square is all it takes to satisfy your craving for sweets. Recently, a number of companies have gotten into the gluten-free brownie game, which meant it was time for us to cook up a Versus post and declare a winner.

The competitors are:
King Arthur Flour's gluten-free brownie mix,
Gluten-Free Pantry's chocolate truffle brownie mix,
Betty Crocker's gluten-free brownie mix, and
Pamela's chocolate brownie mix

* Stonewall Kitchen also recently came out with a gluten-free chocolate brownie baking mix, but it wasn't included in this head to head (to head to head) face-off.


The Methodology

In order to ensure consistent apples-to-apples comparisons of the brownies, we set some basic parameters:

1) Every batch of brownies was baked in an 8x8" square baking pan.

2) Some box mixes provided instructions for using oil or butter. We used butter across the board for consistency.

3) Every batch of brownies was allowed to rest for at least 15 minutes before being sliced and removed from the pan.

4) Every brownie was photographed with three pieces, including at least one edge piece and one center piece.

5) In addition to Kelli and me, we had two additional taste testers - both gluten eaters - who tasted the brownies blind, for impartial feedback.

The Criteria

The brownies were similarly evaluated across a common set of criteria:

1) Price

2) Ease of preparation (after all, we're making brownies, not puff pastry...)

3) Nutrition (very loosely speaking... at the end of the day, it's dessert)

4) Taste and Texture (one of the most important criteria, including the "fudge factor" - how cakey or fudgy or chewy is the brownie...)


The Predictions

I'll be honest, based on our experience with other products from some of these companies in the past, and based on our reading of their ingredients and methods, Kelli and I had some pretty strong predictions for how things would shake out in today's Versus post. We figured Pamela's would come out at or near the top, King Arthur and Betty Crocker would have a cage match for the middle positions, and Gluten-Free Pantry would come in last. Boy were we surprised (and wrong)!

Price

On the average, these suckers are expensive. Prices for a single box of brownie mix ranged from about $4 on the low end (Gluten-Free Pantry) to about $7 on the high end (King Arthur). Stonewall Kitchen's brownie mix, not included in this review, is priced at a staggering $10 per box. (That thing better have edible flecks of gold in it...)

Nutrition

Rather than give a specific critique of the nutrition of each brownie mix, I think it's more valuable to paint the big picture by simply looking at their ingredients:

King Arthur = sugar, specialty flour blend (tapioca starch, rice flour), cocoa processed with alkali, leavening, natural vanilla flavor, salt

Gluten-Free Pantry = sugar, chocolate chips (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla extract), cocoa powder processed with alkali, white rice flour, potato starch, corn starch, xanthan gum, salt

Betty Crocker = sugar, semi-sweet chocolate chips (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla extract), cocoa powder processed with alkali, white rice flour, potato starch, corn starch, xanthan gum, salt

Pamela's =  molasses and honey, brown rice flour, natural process cocoa powder, white rice flour, organic chocolate chunks (organic natural evaporated cane sugar, organic cocoa paste, organic cocoa butter, non-gmo soy lecithin, organic vanilla), tapioca starch, sweet rice flour, potato starch, natural flavor, sea salt, xanthan gum, baking soda

Some things to note:

1) The only one that seems to really hint at striving for healthy ingredients is Pamela's, with their use of some natural sweeteners (molasses and honey) and brown rice flour. Everyone else is using more refined starches and flours (and Pamela's does, too).

2) With the exception of Pamela's, everyone is using alkalized (also known as Dutch process) cocoa, whose natural acidity has been neutralized. This isn't necessarily good or bad. It just is, and affects both flavor of the cocoa and how it reacts (or doesn't) with leavening agents.

3) No one is using crazy unfamiliar ingredients. For the most part, all of the ingredients labels are surprisingly legible and familiar. A good thing.

4) Everyone's recipes all call for adding butter, eggs, and sometimes, water, to the mix, to prepare the brownie batter.

5) Suspiciously, if you look carefully, you'll notice that Gluten-Free Pantry and Betty Crocker use the EXACT same ingredients in their recipe formulations, right down to the very last one, and in the same order. Coincidence? Their recipes do have slightly different nutritional breakdowns, suggesting the ratio of ingredients in their respective mixes may differ, and Betty Crocker calls for just 4 tbsp butter while GF Pantry calls for 7 tbsp.

Ease of Preparation

None of the mixes were difficult to work with. Any troubles came after baking, when trying to remove them from the pan. Pamela's was one the edge of gooey, and difficult to remove in tact. Both GF Pantry and Betty Crocker required a bit of "chiseling" along the edges to separate the brownie from the pan. Of the two, GF Pantry was the worse offender in this regard. Also - and we couldn't believe this when we read it - the instructions on the GF Pantry box said that, for best results, "freeze 1 hour before cutting," followed by "may be frozen." What? Seriously!? a) I've never heard of such a thing, and b) what if you wanted a warm brownie? We ignored their suggestion and let the brownies cool at room temp in the pan for 15+ minutes like everyone else.


Taste and Texture

And at last, what you've been waiting for...the breakdown of taste and texture. First, an across-the-board compliment: our two gluten eating taste testers both agreed that none of the brownies inherently tasted gluten-free. They were indiscernible from gluten brownies. Bravo!

King Arthur = chewy. strong chocolate flavor. looked like a good brownie. quickly emerged as a favorite among our four tasters.

Gluten-Free Pantry = surprised us with its excellent taste and texture. chewy. almost had a hint of nuttiness or cinnamon in the flavor profile, as if made with Mexican chocolate. quite good.

Betty Crocker = as sweet as the previous two, but not as chocolatey. the taste was not as rich. slightly bland. good chewiness, though the driest of the four. one taster thought it was too tough. one taster detected a "soapy" aftertaste. nonetheless, still good.

Pamela's = the softest of the bunch. a very different flavor profile than the other three (totally different brownie ballpark). something "off" with the texture. tasted "mealy" in the mouth. 4 out of 4 tasters quickly judged it their least favorite.

3 out of 4 tasters judged King Arthur's their favorite brownie in this category.

1 out of 4 tasters judged Gluten-Free Pantry his or her favorite brownie in this category.

In practice, GF Pantry and Betty Crocker were a close 2 and 3 (they are made from the same ingredients, with GF Pantry using more butter, so this doesn't surprise...).

I hate to say this but, tasted against the other three (and faced with a sudden surplus of brownies from our Versus bake-off), Pamela's went in the garbage. We didn't deem it worth saving.


The Winner

On the measure of taste and texture alone, King Arthur emerged as our clear winner. It's a delicious, well-executed brownie. If you combine taste and price, Gluten-Free Pantry was the unexpected king of the brownie pile. You'll save roughly $3 per box compared to King Arthur, and only take one step down in the taste and texture department.

So there you have it... Now get baking!

- Pete

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Foto: Turkey Quinoa Meatloaf

Turkey Quinoa Meatloaf
Yesterday and today have been unseasonably warm in our neck of the woods, with temperatures in the 50s. While it wistfully reminds many New Yorkers of a coming spring, I for one am glad that winter isn't over yet. (There's still skiing and ice climbing to be done!) Tomorrow temps dip once again as Old Man Winter returns (thank goodness).

Apart from the outdoor adventure aspect, the continuing season of cold and snow also still has us in a winter frame of mind with the foods we eat. Few things say "winter" (not to mention "comfort food") like a nice meatloaf.

Today's meatloaf, however, is unlike any we've made before. It contains no bread crumbs - gluten-free or otherwise - instead opting to use cooked quinoa. It may sound a little unconventional, and maybe it is, but it really works. The result is a flavorful, moist and tender meatloaf that has garnered rave reviews from family and friends. (It's also pretty healthy to boot, thanks to lean turkey and protein-rich quinoa...)

Turkey Quinoa Meatloaf
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients
1/4 cup quinoa
1/2 cup GF chicken stock
1 small onion, diced small
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground turkey
1 egg
1 1/2 tbsp ketchup
10 dashes GF hot sauce (e.g. Frank's)
2 tbsp GF Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 tbsp light brown sugar
2 tsp GF Worcestershire sauce

Steps
1. Combine the quinoa and chicken stock in a pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for about 12 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa is clear. Stir and turn out into a large bowl and let cool.
2. Meanwhile, prep the onion and garlic, and preheat your oven to 350 deg F.
3. Combine the cooked quinoa and all ingredients through and including the ground black pepper in a large bowl and "knead" with your hands until well-mixed.
4. Form the mixture into a loaf on a large pan.
5. Whisk together the brown sugar and 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce to make a glaze, and brush the meatloaf to evenly coat.
6. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the internal temperature measures 150+ deg F in the center with a meat thermometer (planning for 10 degrees of carryover).
7. Remove from the oven and let rest 10 minutes before slicing.

Enjoy!

This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, tree nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free.

- Pete

P.S. In the interest of bloggerly love, we've also posted this recipe over at Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free's Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays post.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pay It Forward

The Hudson River and Bear Mountain Bridge from Anthony's Nose
On a recent weekend, we took the girls snowshoeing in the Hudson Highlands. It's a relatively modest, but surprisingly rugged, stretch of mountains that cross the Hudson River north of New York City and south of Poughkeepsie. For this particular trip, we set our sights on Anthony's Nose, a prominent peak that serves as one half of the southern gateway to the fjord section of the river. From a bald, rocky overlook, you can peer down to the Hudson and the Bear Mountain Bridge far below.

As we prepared to leave from our car at the trailhead, a father and son did the same. They walked off in one direction. We went another. More than an hour later, our two groups crossed paths on the summit ridge of Anthony's Nose. We stopped and chatted for a bit, telling them how we'd recently moved back to NY from CO, and asking for any good local hiking recommendations. Then we wished one another well, and continued on our respective ways.

Later that afternoon, as we returned to our car, I noticed a suspiciously rectangular piece of paper under one of the windshield wipers. Darn, I though. A parking ticket. I was baffled. We were parked in a legal parking area where many hikers leave their vehicles. Upon closer inspection, however, I discovered it wasn't a parking ticket at all. It was a clear plastic sleeve, inside of which was a topographic map with hiking trails noted for Harriman and Bear Mountain state parks just across the river, along with a handwritten note. It said, simply, "This was the only map we had in the car, but it'll get you off to a good start. Welcome back to the east!" They hadn't even left their first names.

It was an unexpected act of kindness and thoughtfulness that put us in a happy mood for the rest of the day. Ever since, I've been thinking of ways - and looking for opportunities - to pay it forward.

Gluten-free, vegan sugar cookies with frosting
This past weekend, we had a chance to do just that. Kelli's sister, Karen, drove up from NJ with her two girls to visit. While the kids all played, Karen told us how on Monday, Valentine's Day, she was bringing snack to First Friends, a community program where children and their parents get to know one another before the kids head off to kindergarten. The only challenge was that one child had egg and dairy allergies, and one of the moms was allergic to nuts.

We had already planned on making Valentine's sugar cookies with frosting (for our daughters to decorate), so we called an audible, and first made a batch of gluten-free, vegan (dairy-free, egg-free), nut-free sugar cookies with frosting that Karen could take to First Friends. Like the father-son hikers that left the map for us, there'd be no in-person direct exchange. We'd simply pass along the cookies - and the good karma - content to know that our gesture would hopefully be well-received and appreciated, even though we would have no way of actually knowing, and any direct thanks would never work its way back to us. We were paying it forward. (And it felt good!)

We began with the recipe for Frosted Sugar Cookies on page 184 of our cookbook, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, then omitted the almond extract, subbed Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks for the butter, and replaced the egg with a water and ground flax meal slurry. The result was a cookie set at the edges, but soft and chewy in the center. The Earth Balance and flax gave it a slightly different flavor profile, but it was still good and in the same ballpark as "regular" sugar cookies. Here's how we made them:

Vegan Frosted Sugar Cookies

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 pound (2 sticks) Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks
1 tbsp ground flax meal whisked in 3 tbsp warm water
1 tsp GF vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1 tbsp xanthan gum
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar

Steps
1. Preheat your oven to 375 deg F.
2. Cream together the sugar and "butter" in a mixer until light and fluffy.
3. Add the flax slurry and vanilla and mix.
4. Stir in the flour, xanthan gum, baking soda and cream of tartar.
5. Scoop rounded balls of dough about 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet, then gently press with the palm of your hand to flatten slightly.
6. Bake for 7-8 minutes, or until the edges are just beginning to show the first hint of browning (larger cookies will take longer). Let cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
7. Frost the cookies!

Note: For a quick and easy frosting recipe, cream together 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, 2 1/2 tablespoons Earth Balance, 1 1/2 tbsp dairy-free milk (e.g. soy), and 3/4 teaspoon GF vanilla extract until smooth. Use more or less dairy-free milk to achieve the desired consistency, and add natural food coloring for colors other than white.

This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, peanut-free, tree nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, vegan.

- Pete

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Restaurant Review: La Cocina de Luz, Telluride, CO


Earlier this morning I happened to peek at the National Weather Service forecast for Telluride, Colorado. Skiers, rejoice! After a short dry spell, snow is back in the forecast, starting tomorrow, and continuing for something like the next five days. If you head to this secluded but gorgeous spot in southwestern Colorado's San Juan Mountains, and you get the craving for Mexican, make haste to La Cocina de Luz, "The Kitchen of Light."

Located on Telluride's main drag, Colorado Avenue, it's open year-round and perennially popular with tourists and locals alike, always a good sign. Plus, this counter service operation has relatively affordable prices ($10-$19 per entree), a rare find in a town where many restaurants' prices are as steep as the slopes of the surrounding mountains.


The establishment is gluten-free savvy, and serves up the usual Mexican-American fare - tacos, tostadas, enchiladas, you know the drill. They make a from-scratch margarita (ours were quite stiff!), and more recently, have started serving New Planet gluten-free beer (as diligently reported by Kate at Think Outside the Breadbox).


On our visit we both ordered tacos - spicy pork for Kelli and chicken for me. The photos don't nearly do the food justice. Served with a side of Spanish rice, each plate featured three soft corn tortillas, loaded up with meat, shredded lettuce, and other fixin's. Delicious. Simple food. Fresh ingredients. Casual atmosphere. Totally satisfying Mexican.

When in Telluride, if your south-of-the-border-hunger strikes and you need a gluten-free Mexican fix, this is the place to go.

- Pete

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Foto: Mango Chicken


Valentine's Day is just around the corner (Monday!). In honor of the occasion, we wanted to post a romantic recipe in today's Friday Foto. At first, we weren't sure which recipe to use from our upcoming roster.

What makes a recipe romantic? Must it have a nice steak? Something red or pink? Involve wine? Maybe. Is it a special meal prepared for that special someone? Sometimes.

But for us, the most romantic meals we make are often the ones we cook together in the kitchen. They're tag-team efforts. Our romantic partnership of two people becoming one unit is embodied in the food on our plates.

From that perspective, this mango chicken recipe is as romantic as it gets. Kelli prepared the mango sauce while I grilled the chicken. The mostones were a true team effort. Kelli got the rice going while I caramelized some onions.

When it was finally time to sit at the dinner table to enjoy the meal, we could look across that table into each other's eyes and say, without words, "We made this." It doesn't get much more romantic than that.


Mango Chicken
Serves 2+

Ingredients
1 mango, peeled and pitted
1/2 jalapeno pepper
1 shallot
1 garlic clove
2 tbsp cilantro
2 tbsp olive oil
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp (pinch) chipotle chili powder
A dash each of salt and pepper
2 large chicken breasts

Steps
1. Add all ingredients except the chicken to a food processor and pulse to form a smooth sauce/marinade.
2. Reserve 1/2 cup of the mango sauce.
3. Preheat your grill to medium-high.
4. Use the remainder of the mango marinade to marinate the chicken and baste/brush while grilling.
5. When the chicken is done grilling, allow it to rest for a few minutes, then slice.
6. Plate the sliced chicken, and top it with some of the reserved mango sauce.

This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, peanut-free, tree nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, corn-free, soy-free, refined-sugar-free

* To prepare the dish as photographed, pair it with some mostones, caramelized onions, and jasmine rice.

- Pete

P.S. Update: 2/15/11 - In the interest of bloggerly love, we've also posted this recipe over at Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free's Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays weekly post...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

You Can Take Your Gluten, And Shovel It


It's been a snowy winter to remember here in New York (and throughout much of the country!). One snowstorm after another has dropped feet upon feet of the white stuff. I, for one, am loving it. I can't get enough snow.

Most of my coworkers, family and friends in New York, on the other hand, have been less than enthused. They're tired of driving in it. They're tired of shoveling it. They're simply tired of it. Period.

Not me. Although I walk to work, each morning of a snowstorm I go out early and shovel around the car, so that Kelli and the girls can get out if they need to. When I come home from work, I shovel the back deck behind our house, partly to maintain access to the grill for cooking, but also because - this may sound crazy - I like shoveling snow. It's weird, I know. But true.

All winter long, I've been shoveling that snow into one giant pile. After the most recent snowfall, it was upwards of six feet tall, and probably 8 or more feet in diameter. A lot of folks would simply see it as a big old pile of snow, or as the byproduct of a lot of unpleasant manual labor. I saw it as a golden opportunity.

I took my metal avalanche shovel (the plastic snow shovel I'd been using wasn't strong enough to handle the densely compacted snow) and hollowed the mound of snow into a kind of igloo. Then it was time for fun, fun, fun. Marin loved it! (There's a connection to gluten here...hang with me...)


Sometimes, I think it's easy - especially when first diagnosed with a condition that warrants a gluten-free diet - to see going gluten-free as the unpleasant mound of snow. It's a negative, a liability. That's a shame, because going gluten-free is actually a super fun igloo.

Now keep in mind, I'm not talking about going gluten-free being some kind of silver lining, or a "glass is half full" situation, or a case of making lemonade from lemons. All of those metaphors assume a negative starting point, one from which you try to find the positive. I reject that idea. Being sick, with diminished quality of life, pre-gluten-free was the negative. Going gluten-free is inherently a positive thing. If pre-gluten-free was a dirty mound of snow, then going gluten-free is a gorgeous snowy igloo of fun. Know what I'm saying?

In fact, going gluten-free was just the entrance to the igloo, and inside, I found all sorts of cool things I wouldn't have if I had never looked at that mound of snow and decided to tunnel into it.


For example:

1. In abandoning gluten and the gluten-containing grains (wheat, barley, rye), I discovered an entirely new (to me) set of alternative gluten-free grains that have brought wonderful diversity to my cooking and baking...quinoa, millet, sorghum, amaranth.

2. The necessity of scrutinizing ingredients labels carefully has made me much more aware of what I'm putting in my body (and what I don't want to be putting into my body). As a result, I've purged high fructose corn syrup, refined processed foods, preservatives, artificial colors, and other "objectionables" from my diet.

3. Going gluten-free pushed us even more toward from-scratch cooking. This helped us to better preserve the food traditions of our families, passed down through generations, and also deepened our understanding of techniques and ingredients, and why they're used in certain recipes and how they function.

4. Us being gluten-free brought out a new aspect of the love of family and friends, who graciously and quite willingly adjusted their own cooking to accommodate our family's dietary restrictions.

5. Lastly, going gluten-free connected us to you, the amazing network that is the gluten-free community.

Of course, my list of 5 things is just the tip of the iceberg (or is it the tip of the igloo?). What wonderful and amazing discovery did you make in going gluten-free? Leave a comment and tell us about the gluten-free igloo you found hiding in your own gluten-ous pile of snow.

- Pete

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Restaurant Review: Soul Dog Cafe, Poughkeepsie, NY

Soul Dog Cafe
Ever since we moved to Poughkeepsie in New York's Hudson Valley nearly four months ago, we've noticed a trend. Every time we meet someone and tell them that we're gluten-free, they invariably ask, "Have you been to Soul Dog?" It apparently was the place to go in town for gluten-free eats. After hearing it mentioned enough times, we decided it was time to check it out for ourselves.

Founded in 2004, Soul Dog Cafe is now in its 7th year. Nearly everything on the menu, including many specialty items (such as bread, hot dog buns, cookies, etc.), is gluten-free. This is not a restaurant with a gluten-free menu. It's a gluten-free restaurant that has a very small number of gluten items as well. (For once, the tables are turned! Insert maniacal laugh here...)

The restaurant bakes all the gluten-free goods itself in-house, and has egg-free and corn-free versions of its bread available upon request. The menu gravitates toward American comfort food meets fast food, all gluten-free: hot dogs (including a veggie option), burgers, chili (including a vegan quinoa chili), sausage, grilled cheese, sloppy joes, fish and chips, fries, pizza, mac and cheese, and salads (and more...).


A small but cozy space
The family-friendly space is small, cozy and casual. There are just 10 or 12 tables, a combination of 2- and 4-tops. You order at the counter, take your seat, and the food comes out in paper-lined baskets when it's ready. We visited for lunch on a Saturday, and while the place never packed completely full with every table taken, a steady stream of Poughkeepsie's food allergy community came in and out, many of whom knew co-founder Jenny Teague, who was running the restaurant that day.

For our part, we ordered the fish and chips (for me), a hamburger with full fixin's and a side of standard seasoned fries (for Kelli), and a grilled cheese (for Marin). I'll admit, it was quite the pleasurable novelty to order all of these foods and to a) have them be gluten-free, and b) have gluten-free be the default option. (That said, we still specified "gluten-free" when ordering each one, just to make sure they knew what we needed... Old habits die hard.)


Fish and Chips
The fish and chips featured three generous pieces of fish, accompanied by an even more generous side of seasoned fries. The batter was tasty and slightly crunchy, a little salty, a little peppery. The fish was cooked perfectly - piping hot, moist, flaked easily. My one complaint was that the fish was a little bit greasy as prepared (but fish and chips so often are...). The fries, for their part, were seasoned with salt, pepper, dried herbs, and copious amounts of garlic powder. They were good, but after several bites, the flavor began to get overwhelming.

Hamburger
Kelli's hamburger had some pros and cons as well. The burger patty itself was unremarkable. A frozen beef patty, cooked well-done throughout. However, the fixings were fresh and flavorful. The fries were identical to mine. It all came served on two pieces of in-house gluten-free sandwich bread. The flavor of the bread was bland, and in fact leaned a bit toward the corny side of taste. (More on that in a bit.) The texture of the bread, on the other hand, was exceptional. Kelli's word while actually eating the lunch was "amazing." On the basis of texture, the sandwich bread at Soul Dog rivaled the best gluten-free bread we've had. No joking.


Grilled Cheese
Finally, there was Marin's grilled cheese. Not much to be said about it. It is what it is. Except that it did give us a better chance to evaluate the bread, which is made from Soul Dog's all-purpose gluten-free baking blend. It is made up of chickpea flour, cornstarch, tapioca starch, sugar, xanthan gum, salt, and cream of tartar. The chickpea and cornstarch really come through. Many of the baked goods had a distinct corn tinge to their flavor.

To finish off lunch, we splurged on a house-made cupcake. Overall, it was pretty good. A moist crumb, though a little crumbly, and again, a corny element to the flavor. Even so, it was satisfying.

In the end, Soul Dog was a very different kind of gluten-free restaurant dining experience than we've had elsewhere. While we had some critiques here and there, the positives far outweighed the negatives. It's not the kind of food we eat regularly (after lunch, my biggest craving was for a glass of water and a wedge of iceberg lettuce to cleanse the palate), but when the craving strikes, we'd happily head back for more.

And for those of you who aren't local to Poughkeepsie, you can still sample some of Soul Dog's offerings. They've spun off a sister company, Food For All Gluten-Free Solutions, which sells some its baked goods, such as the all-purpose flour blend and breads at area markets as well as via direct order online.

- Pete

P.S. The winner from last week's Wild Alice Bars giveaway is Joe D. Congratulations!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday Foto: Sesame Soy Ribs


The Superbowl is just two days away, on February 6. I have to admit - when Kelli, the girls, and I sit down to watch the Big Game, it will be the first football game I've seen all season. Even so, I'm excited. Not so much for the game itself. Certainly not for the halftime show. And not for the commercials that seem to get less and less spectacular each year. No, I'm excited for the food. The Superbowl is just one more reason to whip up a tasty and indulgent spread of food.

On our menu this year is Chicago-style deep dish pizza, chips and guacamole, sangria, and sesame soy boneless chicken tenders. "But wait, aren't those ribs?" you must be thinking. Yes they are. We made the ribs last week, but we knew from the first bite that the recipe would be perfect for Superbowl chicken tenders.

Sesame Soy Ribs (or Boneless Chicken Tenders)

Ingredients
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp grated garlic
1/4 c tamari wheat-free soy sauce
3/4 c water
2 tbsp cornstarch
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp honey
1 lb country-style pork ribs or boneless chicken tenders
Sesame seeds (optional)

Steps
1. Whisk together all ingredients through and including the honey to make a marinade.
2. Reserve 1/2 of the marinade, and use the remainder to marinate the pork or chicken.
3. Grill the meat until done, basting/brushing periodically with the marinade. (I recommend medium-high heat for good grill marks and caramelization of the sugars in the marinade.)
4. Meanwhile, while the meat is grilling, make a glaze by adding the reserved marinade to a small pot and heat over the stove, until the marinade thickens and the cornstarch clears.
5. Toss the grilled meat in the glaze to coat.
6. Optional: sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Enjoy!

This is recipe is: gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, peanut-free, tree nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free

* To make the recipe corn-free, substitute another thickener for the cornstarch, such as arrowroot flour, tapioca starch, or potato starch. To make the recipe refined-sugar-free, omit the brown sugar and use additional honey or another natural sweetener, such as agave nectar, palm sugar, or coconut sugar.

- Pete

P.S. Update: 2/8/11 - In the interest of bloggerly love, we've also posted this recipe over at Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free's Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays weekly post... 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Happy Anniversary?

Marin at 2 years
Today is a milestone day (sort of) here at No Gluten, No Problem. It's our 350th blog post! 4+ years since my diagnosis and our switch to the gluten-free lifestyle. 2.5+ years since we started blogging. 2+ years since Marin joined our lives. And 6+ months since Charlotte did the same. (That doesn't even begin to hit all the highs - and lows - of the journey...)

But between the 350th blog post and my recent post about commitment, it has me thinking a bit about anniversaries, and specifically, the coming - and going - of a gluten-free anniversary. Earlier this month I passed the 4-year mark, and you know what? I didn't even realize it. In fact, neither Kelli nor I could remember exactly when it was. When I talked to her earlier this morning about today's topic, her response was, "Some time in January..."

Do you remember a defining moment when you went gluten-free? Do you divide your life into before-gluten-free and after? And if so, do you revisit that moment, once per year, each time it comes back up on the calendar, like an anniversary?

I completely missed my gluten-free anniversary this year (though that's a heck of a lot better than missing my wedding anniversary, or one of my daughter's birthdays...). It's a telling oversight.

Charlotte at 6 months
It says something when a gluten-free anniversary comes and goes without much fanfare (or in my case, none at all). It says we've moved past it... Moved on... Embraced the new gluten-free lifestyle... It says we're not looking back too much (at least, not looking back in an unhealthy kind of way). We're present in the moment, living - and loving - the gluten-free lifestyle. Gone are remnant feelings of loss or sorrow. Gone is the frustration and the confusion. Gone is the lamentation over foods we used to eat but no longer do (in part because we do eat those foods once again!).

We are living a new life, and a great life. You might say, Well isn't that a reason to celebrate once per year? To rejoice in the gluten-free switch? Maybe. But I also might say back to you, I do that every day. I don't need to pause on one single day each year to reflect on the change to gluten-free. I live that change every day. Each day of my gluten-free life - complete with good health and vitality and delicious food - is a recurring celebration of my gluten-free anniversary.

This is the way it should be, I think. Our romantic relationships are the same way. Don't wait for an anniversary, or Valentine's Day (coming in less than two weeks, any lovebirds out there!), to tell or show that special someone how much you love them. Do it every day.

So, come to think of it, I do remember when my gluten-free anniversary is. It was yesterday, and today, and tomorrow.

- Pete

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Product Review: Wild Alice Bars


Recently, a package arrived unannounced in the mail from the folks over at Wild Alice Bars, maker of gluten-free vegan energy bars. They found my name through the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and sent along some gratis samples for review. Right off the bat, I was apprehensive (on Wild Alice's behalf). I've eaten a lot of energy bars in my day - either related to endurance racing or mountaineering - and I know that, while there are some that I do like (quite a bit), there are also lots that I don't like (by a long shot).

The story behind Wild Alice Bars is a fairly common one to gluten-free foods: girl (or guy) gets diagnosed with a food sensitivity; said girl or guy starts making a food to meet her or his own food restrictions and to meet an unfilled demand in the marketplace of gluten-free foods; small business (hopefully to become big business) is born.

In this case, Alice (a real person) was diagnosed with food sensitivities in 2007. A member of the Mazamas Mountaineering Club in Oregon, she started experimenting with making her own energy bars, and sharing them with club members. Soon, Wild Alice Bars was born, making gluten-free vegan energy bars in a dedicated commercial kitchen.


The bars come in two flavors: cranberry walnut and apricot cashew. Both are built on the same formula of ingredients: DRIED FRUIT, agave syrup, quinoa flakes, NUTS, brown rice flour, canola oil, apple juice concentrate, garbanzo bean flour, pea protein, guar gum. Substitute dried cranberries and walnuts in the place of "dried fruit" and "nuts" for the Cranberry Walnut, and dried apricots and cashews for the Apricot Cashew.

Nutritionally, they pack a lot of goodness in there - fruit, nuts, brown rice, quinoa, bean. Each relatively small bar packs more than 230 calories, including plenty of healthy fats, some protein, and some carbs.

On the issue of cost, they're fairly expensive. You can buy a box of 8 (or a combo box with 4 of each flavor) directly from Wild Alice Bars for $16 plus $5 shipping and handling. That's $21 for 8 bars, or more than $2.60 per bar. If you eat these bars with any kind of regularity, it'd be a quick way to break the bank. (That said, if you're looking for a portable on-the-go snack that's gluten-free and vegan, and don't want to make your own, these would certainly be one way to go...)

And lastly, there's flavor (taste and texture). Alas, these bars don't measure up for me. There's a subtle sweetness, which I like, but there's also some funky flavors (presumably from the bean flour and pea protein), plus a certain grittiness or graininess in the texture (ditto). But most of all, these things simply make me thirsty. I couldn't imagine chomping down a whole bar without a 16-ounce glass of water at the ready.

Let me say that the Wild Alice Bars, for better or worse, fall squarely into the category of energy bars I tend not to like (when evaluated on the basis of taste and texture). They remind me of Larabars to a degree, and I don't like them either. It's nothing personal. I want to like Larabars, and I want to like Wild Alice Bars. I like their ingredients and their nutrition. But at the end of the day, I also have to enjoy eating them, and for this guy's taste buds, they just don't make the cut. It's something to keep in mind, however... if you're the type of person that likes Larabars, you'll likely also find friendly flavors in Wild Alice Bars.

The bottom line for me? I like them on an intellectual level, but when it comes to actually eating them, I'll take a pass.

Giveaway! You don't have to take my word for it. Try them out for yourself! Wild Alice sent us more bars than we needed for the review, so we're passing them along to you. Send me an email, and include "Wild Alice Bars" in the subject line. Entries will run through midnight Sunday, and we'll announce the winner at the beginning of next week. The winner will receive 2 bars of each flavor (4 bars total). Good luck!

- Pete