Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Recipe: Chicken Korma v 1.0


When it comes to Indian cuisine, we're suckers for a good chicken tikka masala. As often as we return to that familiar, favorite stand-by, we also do enjoy branching out. Today's recipe for chicken korma—with an almond-and-cashews-based sauce—is a good case in point.

At the recommendation of a co-worker, we headed to the town of Fishkill, New York to Tanjore Cuisine of India. In addition to two orders of tikka masala—one mild for the girls and one medium for us—we also placed an order for chicken korma. In short, it was delish: a smooth, creamy sauce of cashews and almonds; perfectly moist chicken; rich flavors. We knew we'd have to develop a version of our own.

Today's recipe is the first iteration of that process. I'm calling it version 1.0, because I anticipate there being a future, updated-and-improved version. Not that this version is inferior in any way, but we're going to continue to tweak it in search of a very particular flavor profile. But in the meantime, there's no reason why we—and you—can't enjoy the recipe as is.

Chicken Korma
Makes 6 servings

Ingredients
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken, cubed
Salt
1/4 cup cashews
1/4 cup blanched almonds
1/2 cup boiling water
1 onion, sliced
3 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp garam masala
3/4 cup diced tomato (fresh, canned, or frozen)
1 cup GF chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream

Steps
1. Lightly salt the chicken and cook over medium-high heat until it is cooked through. Add a tbsp of olive oil to the pan if necessary.
2. Meanwhile, soak the nuts in the boiling water for 15 minutes. Then, puree the nuts and hot water together in a food processor or blender until smooth.
3. When the chicken is done, remove from the pan. Add the 3 tbsp olive oil and onions to the pan and cook over medium heat until the onions are very soft, about 10 minutes.
4. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook until fragrant.
5. Add the spices, and cook for one minute.
6. Add cream, tomato, chicken stock, pureed nuts and water. Bring to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Then use an immersion blender to puree the sauce until smooth.
7. Add the chicken back in, and simmer an additional 10 to 20 minutes, until you reach the desired consistency and flavor intensity.
8. Serve over Basmati rice.

Notes
If desired, garnish with chopped/crushed cashews.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, egg-free, peanut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, corn-free, soy-free, refined-sugar-free.

Nutrition Info
Per serving (does not include Basmati rice): 400 calories, 28g fat, 8g carbs, 30g protein, 105mg sodium, 2g dietary fiber, 0g sugars, plus at least 60% RDA niacin, at least 30% RDA vitamin B-6, phosphorous, and selenium, and at least 10% RDA vitamins A and E, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium, riboflavin, and zinc.

Enjoy!

- Pete

Recipe nutrition info approximate, calculated using SparkRecipes.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Product Review: My Bready


In any given week, there's a good chance you'll find a partial loaf of Udi's or Rudi's gluten-free multigrain bread in our freezer. Truth be told, though, we do a lot of from-scratch bread baking as well ... yeast sandwich breads, baguettes, bagels. But every time we post a bread recipe, we inevitably receive emails that ask, "Would this work in my bread machine?" or "Have you made gluten-free bread in a bread machine?"

So, when the makers of the My Bready gluten-free bread machine contacted us about trying out one of their machines for one month, we couldn't help but accept the offer. Buckle up tight, because we have no shortage of reaction to this puppy.

Price

At a whopping $320 retail ($350 if you want the machine plus a sample pack of 3 bread mixes), the My Bready is expensive. Really expensive. It costs a full $100 more than highly rated high-end bread machines such as those from Zojirushi, and more than double what you might expect to pay for an average bread machine. The My Bready is priced liked a Lamborghini (too bad it doesn't also have the same sleek lines and nice body styling...).

Product design

The My Bready comes in a single color, which—as best as I can tell—is "manila folder" or "sand." Where's the clean white, or sleek black, or brushed metal so popular in kitchens these days?

This thing is BIG. At 28 pounds, it weighs double to triple what the best-selling bread machines on Amazon do. Also, the folks at My Bready claim it fits easily on a kitchen counter, and that it's the same size or smaller than a microwave oven (including just 1/3 as deep—front to back—as a microwave). We beg to differ. We have a large microwave oven. The Bready is at least as wide, nearly as deep, and significantly taller. In fact it's so tall that it didn't fit on our kitchen counter (it hit the cupboards above), which is why we snapped photos of it on a side table in our dining room.

Proprietary technology

The Bready is unlike other bread machines you've probably seen. You don't dump ingredients into a baking pan. There are no paddles that do the mixing. Instead, the Bready uses its own proprietary bag system—you buy a package from the company, which has the dry ingredients sealed inside. You add water and other wet ingredients. The machine scans/reads an RFID chip on the bag so it knows how long to bake, etc. Then you attach the bag in a prescribed sequence of steps to rollers inside the machine. Then the Bready goes to work. It breaks the seal between the dry and liquid ingredients, mixes them, kneads them, transfers them to a baking pan, and bakes them.

First, let's get this out of the way: the "kneading" step is nothing but marketing mumbo jumbo. By definition, gluten-free breads don't have gluten, and therefore do not require kneading. Once you're done mixing the ingredients fully together, you're ready to let it rise and bake. Any additional and prolonged kneading is doing just one thing ... delaying the time between now and when I get to eat a slice of freshly baked bread later.

Secondly, you're REQUIRED to use Bready's proprietary mixes that are pre-bagged. If you don't like their flavors; if you have an additional dietary intolerance or allergy to another ingredient in their mix; if you want to use someone else's bread machine recipe, you can't. You're up a creek without a paddle. And Bready's mixes aren't cheap. They start at around $7.50 per mix plus shipping. You already paid through the nose for the machine itself. Now they want you all aboard the gravy train of their proprietary mixes. This is one of the most egregious cases of a gluten-free food/product costing more than it should that I've seen. It borders on shameful.

Gluten-free claims

Another of Bready's marketing selling points is that this machine—specially designed for gluten-free breads, they say—enables confidently gluten-free breads since each gluten-free mix is pre-sealed in the proprietary bags, so cross-contamination is never an issue. I hate to further rain on the Bready parade, but come on.

First, the Bready ONLY sells gluten-free mixes, so there's no chance of anything else with gluten ever being used in the machine. Secondly, the gluten-free claim is hardly Bready's alone. Take this advice: Go out, buy any other quality bread machine brand new for half the cost, with a better design and one third the weight, and only use gluten-free ingredients in it. Bada bing, bada boom. Gluten-free bread. And you can use any recipe you want.


How it works

I described a bit above how the Bready works. But let me say here that the machine introduces lots of opportunity for operator error. For example, each pre-sealed bag is labeled on one side, which is supposed to face the baker. But are you the baker, or is the machine the baker? We ran into numerous such problems. We had problems with the machine failing to re-set (it even tried to continue baking a previous loaf after we'd unplugged it from the wall outlet, let it sit for half an hour, and turned it back on!). At one point, Kelli had to force her way into the machine and cut open the bag with a pair of scissors, because the bread was rising in the sealed bag instead of having been transferred to the baking pan, and was threatening to explode dough all over the inside of the machine!

Without going on and on about the particulars (which in retrospect are actually a bit funny...what a comedy of errors working with this machine was), let me just say that Kelli had to watch an accompanying "how to operate the Bready" DVD three times, and had four different conversations on the telephone with customer service and tech support to resolve problems. Oy vey!

The breads

And so finally, what did we think of the breads themselves? We attempted to make four, which the company sent with the machine:
  • Heavenly White (standard white bread)
  • Cherish My Chocolate (chocolate cake loaf)
  • That's Amore (pizza crust)
  • Nearly, Dearly Rye (a gluten-free mock rye bread)
The Heavenly White never got made. It was a casualty of the machine, and customer service never sent the replacement they said they would.

The Cherish My Chocolate cake loaf was dense, like a hybrid between a heavy bread and a cake. It was slightly burned on top, but the overall flavor was good.

The That's Amore pizza crust was fine, but the process seemed like overkill. You use the Bready machine to make and rise the dough, then take the proprietary plastic bag, snip the edge to make a faux pastry bag, then pipe the pizza dough into a pizza pan to bake in the oven.

Finally, the Nearly, Dearly Rye was quite delicious. It was perhaps the only saving grace of our Bready experience.

Conclusion

The My Bready may get billing as a powerful gluten-free bread machine, but in our opinion, it's half-baked at best. Move on. I've seen other Bready reviews on other gluten-free blogs and websites, and some people have raved about this machine. Honestly, I have no idea how they can come to such a positive conclusion. This is a more profoundly negative review than we typically write, even if we're critical of a company or product. But it's the brutal, honest truth. Nothing less, nothing more. Save your money and spend it elsewhere.

–Pete

Monday, February 27, 2012

Race Report: 2012 Febapple Frozen 50k

At the conclusion of the opening 1-mile mini-loop before setting out on the first 10-mile lap.
Well, the 2012 ultramarathon trail racing season is officially underway for me! On Saturday I ran in the Febapple Frozen Fifty, part of the New Jersey Trail Series. As luck would have it, Mother Nature pulled a cruel last minute switch on all of us. Temperatures—as they'd been for much of the winter—were unseasonably warm all week, with highs in the mid to upper 50s. Then on Friday, one day before the race, a nasty weather system blew through, dropping lots of cold rain. The temps also dropped, resulting in lows in the low 30s and highs in the 40s on race day. Plus, there were 20 to 30mph winds with gusts to 50mph. Lovely.

The race offered four different distances: 10 mile, 21 mile, 50k, and 50 mile. I registered for the 50k race, which involved 31 miles and about 3,300' of vertical gain. As I noted in an earlier blog post, the race was to be an early season test of my fitness, to see where I stand and what I need to do to prep for the other major races I'm running this year. After all, I went into the Febapple Frozen Fifty with just 5 weeks of training under my belt, after taking the winter off to work on book projects. If I ran well, I also hoped to potentially use the race as a qualifier for other races later this year.

Training had been going well, and so as race day approached, I set additional goals for myself. I hoped to (a) run sub-12-minute miles, and (b) finish in under 6 hours. I don't want to give away my hand too early in this blog post, but the race went better than expected.

I came in to race day with a radically different approach to my hydration and gluten-free nutrition. My nutrition was extremely pared down. Instead of the usual smorgasbord I bring to ultras, I focused on a limited number of foods: GU energy gels, orange segments, and chocolate. That's it. Plus a bag of all-natural potato chips for after the race, when I'd need—and crave—savory, salty foods.

On the hydration side, I've abandoned the Camelbak pack I've worn for the last two years. While it kept water at the ready for sipping throughout a race, it was difficult to clean if using a flavored sports beverage, and more importantly, it delayed aid station transitions. I'd have to take the pack off, remove the bladder, hand it to a volunteer to refill, put the bladder away, put the pack back on. You get the idea.

Instead, I've switched over to using an Amphipod Full-Tilt AirStretch Velocity, and I'm in love with it. It's a waist belt that holds a 20-ounce low-profile bottle in a horizontal position against the lumbar region of your lower back. Biomechanically, it makes a lot of sense to put the water weight there. I also bought a second bottle. This way, when I come into an aid station, I hand Kelli an empty bottle, she hands me a full bottle, I grab a quick bite to eat, and I'm off.

This shift worked beautifully. At the Febapple Frozen Fifty my aid station transitions were all under 1 minute 30 seconds. Compare that to an average 3 to 5 minutes at ultras in previous years. When you start to add up that time difference across 5 or 6 or even 10 aid stations, those minutes saved add up to a sizeable chunk of time.

The last major change I made this season was what I put in the bottle. In the past I've hydrated with water, and gotten my carbs and electrolytes through sports gels and natural foods. I'm now using First Endurance's Electrolyte Fuel System in my bottles. It's an isotonic powdered sports drink—gluten-free, no artificial colors or flavors—that offers about 150 calories of carbs per 20-ounce bottle of fluids. But what really sets it apart for me is the high electrolyte content, significantly more than any competitor I've seen. The product is specially formulated for ultra-distance athletes for whom electrolyte replenishment is crucial.
Coming in to the main aid station.
For those of us in the 50k race, the event started with a 1-mile mini-loop. Halfway through the loop, the course took us through a grassy meadow with frozen puddles of standing water from the rain. There's nothing like soaking your shoes and socks with ice cold water within the first mile of a 31-mile trail run.

Then it was time for us to complete three laps of a 10-mile course. The course was configured like a figure eight, with a four-mile loop and a six-mile loop, with the main aid station and the start/finish line of the race at the nexus of the eight. This made "crewing" the race much easier for Kelli and the girls. They could stay in one place, and I'd come through every four and six miles for the duration of the race.

The course itself was a combination of dirt-and-gravel roads, double-wide trails, and singletrack. Thanks to the recent rain, there were some muddy sections (that got much worse with each successive lap). There were also some technical rocky sections, and plenty of rolling terrain with good footing where you could open up your stride and push the pace.

After the first 10-mile loop, my legs were feeling surprisingly good. Each time I came in to the aid station, I'd give Kelli an estimate for how long it'd take me to run the next 4- or 6-mile section. So far, I'd been surprisingly accurate, maintaining almost 10-minute miles, well under my 12-minute mile goal.

Still, I remained very self-aware to not go out too hard and push the pace too much. I didn't want to blow up part way into the race. Keep in mind: my longest training run of the year so far had been 15 miles, and now I was racing in a 31-mile event. I was constantly reminding myself to run conservatively.

It turned out to be fairly easy to run my own race. Normally, the competitive side of me can't help but "check in" with how I'm doing against other runners. But in this case, that wasn't easily done. We had four distances all using the same 10-mile loop. The 50-mile and 50k racers started at 7:00am. The 10-mile and 21-mile racers started at 9:00am. With all of us running the same trails, it was near impossible to tell who was in what race.

So...I rationed thus: if a runner was passing me, I assumed they were in a different race distance. And if I was passing a runner, I assumed they were in my race. I knew at the time that wasn't the case. But it was helpful for motivation!
Immediately after the race with the girls.
True to form, I applied my "shifting gears" approach to ultramarathon trail running. I ran the flats and the downhills, I jogged the easy uphills, and I power-hiked the steep uphills. The power-hiking sections offered a great opportunity to take some swigs from the bottle and to keep the fluids and nutrition going in. (In all I'd drink more than 85 ounces of fluid over the course of the race...)

By the end of the second 10-mile loop, at mile 21, I was still feeling strong. My legs were starting to feel the distance, however, and I anticipated dropping off the pace I'd been keeping. That was fine; no big deal. Even so, I was still on track to maintain sub-12-minute miles and finish in under 6 hours.

At mile 25—with 6 miles to go—I gave Kelli my last pace prediction of the day, and then I was off onto the trails for the last time. It was the only time that day my prediction would be wrong.

I don't know if it was a second wind, or successful race nutrition and hydration, or what, but the next miles came surprisingly easy for me. As I ran into a satellite aid station halfway through the 6-mile loop, I glanced at my watch and saw that I was still close to maintaining 10-minute miles. With just 3 miles left to go to the finish line, and only one major climb en route, I was encouraged.

I locked in a steady, strong pace. Not fast, but I was moving.

By then, on my third lap, the trails and the terrain were familiar. I knew I was close to the finish. And then it came into sight. I crossed the finish line and Kelli and the girls were...nowhere to be seen. I'd come in 15 minutes earlier than they expected! I found them at our car in the trailhead parking lot, where the girls were getting their jackets on to come cheer for me at the finish line!
Celebrating with a gluten-free Bard's beer.
I finished the race in 5 hours 18 minutes 35 seconds. That equates to 10:17 miles. My performance was good for 14th place out of 60 finishers. I had shattered my goals for this race. Plus, there was more encouraging news.

For one, I was less than five minutes outside of a Top Ten finish. It amazes me that after more than 5 hours of continuous running, less than five minutes separated my 14th place finish from a Top Ten result. In retrospect, I think that—if I had known—surely I could have shaved five more minutes off my time.

For another, after the race I felt good. Really good. Good enough that I immediately cracked open a bottle of Bard's Beer to celebrate the result.

Today, two days after the race, my legs are barely sore. My quads feel a bit tired, but that's it. I've recovered amazingly well, especially in contrast to ultras from 2010 and 2011.

Looking ahead to the next race, which is two months away (The North Face Bear Mountain Endurance Challenge 50-miler the first weekend in May), I'm feeling strong, motivated, and encouraged. My training has been paying off, my body feels good, and if the Febapple Frozen Fifty is any indication, I'm very much headed in the right direction. The 2012 gluten-free ultramarathon race season is full speed ahead.

–Pete

Friday, February 24, 2012

Product Review: Melt Organic Buttery Spread


If you've been around this blog or our cookbooks at all, you know that we tend to use real butter in our recipes. We're into "old school," authentic ingredients. But from time to time, we've experimented with using dairy-free alternatives, such as Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks. We know that some of you are dairy-free, and we want to provide alternatives in our recipes. On top of that, we're always interested in potentially healthier ingredient alternatives that maintain the taste and texture and spirit of our foods while possibly improving the nutrition.

So when Melt Organic contacted us offering to send gratis samples of their 13-ounce tubs of Buttery Spread, we accepted out of curiosity. The story behind Melt is tied to founder Cygnia Rapp, who notes that digestive disorders caused her to give up certain foods, including butter.

Melt spends a lot of marketing real estate touting the nutritional profile of their spread. Here's how one tablespoon of Melt compares to one tablespoon of salted butter from our fridge:

CategoryMeltSalted Butter
Calories80100
Saturated Fat3.5g7g
Cholesterol0g30g
Sodium85mg90mg

As you can see, Melt has slightly less calories, half the saturated fat, and notably less cholesterol than butter. But it has basically identical amounts of sodium compared to salted butter. So far, mostly so good.

On the plus side, Melt was nicely "spreadable" straight out of the refrigerator. (In fact, Kelli enjoyed some last night spread onto a slice of freshly baked gluten-free baguette.) As the name implies, it melts well over hot and warm foods. Also as you'd expect based on the nutritional profile, it has a pleasant saltiness. The flavor profile is quite good, though at times it can be a little too coconut-y.

But then on to the negative:

A cornerstone of Melt's hook is what the company calls its Perfect Blend, a blend of five oils: organic virgin coconut oil, organic flaxseed oil, organic palm fruit oil, organic canola oil, and organic hi-oleic sunflower oil.

A closer look at the ingredients label, however, reveals a startling fact: Melt contains butter! This is NOT a dairy-free buttery spread.

Here's the full ingredients label, with bold added for emphasis:

Organic oil blend (organic virgin coconut oil, organic palm fruit oil, organic canola oil, organic hi-oleic sunflower oil, organic flaxseed oil), water, organic unsalted butter, sea salt, organic butter flavor, non-GMO sunflower lecithin, tocopherols, annatto-turmeric. CONTAINS MILK AND TREE NUT.

In my opinion, Melt's entire product positioning is misleading at best, and dangerous for consumers with dairy allergies and other dairy-related dietary restrictions at worst. The fact that they tout it as a "buttery" spread; the fact that they tout their "Perfect Blend" of five vegetable oils without mention of the inclusion of real butter; the fact that founder Cygnia Rapp's story notes that digestive disorders caused her to give up butter. It all adds up to a product you'd expect would be dairy-free. Except that it isn't. In this case, it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck. But it's not a duck.

Why Melt would a) formulate their product this way, and then b) market it in such a way, is beyond me. They have a potentially great product on their hands, but they've excluded from their potential customer base two important groups of people who would otherwise be drawn to this product: vegans and the dairy-free crowd.

At the end of the day, if you're not dairy-free and are looking for a potentially healthier alternative to butter, or you're looking to decrease your butter intake while still enjoying many of its qualities, Melt is worth a look. But I'm afraid Melt has largely missed the mark. The product is good, but it's mismatched to its audience. What a shame...

–Pete

Logo courtesy Melt Organic Buttery Spread.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Two Sides of Sorghum Syrup


If you've been paying attention to the gluten-free beer world lately, you know there's a new entrant to the marketplace: Dogfish Head. The craft brewer has a loyal following among "traditional" beer aficionados for its innovative brews. With its Tweason'ale—which first hit store shelves in January 2012—it's hoping to expand that following to the gluten-free community as well. (Why does this blog post have a Bard's logo, then? Read on to find out...)

Like many other gluten-free beers—including Redbridge, New Planet, New Grist, St. Peter's, and a growing list of others—it is brewed from a sorghum syrup base. But did you know that not all sorghum syrup is created equal?

The overwhelming majority of sorghum syrup is made by pressing the stalks of sweet sorghum plants, and boiling the "sap" to make a molasses-like sorghum syrup. (Here's just one example of a journal article that describes the process.) On a certain fundamental level, that's good enough for brewing beer. At the end of the day, you really only need four ingredients to brew beer—water, hops, yeast, and a fermentable sugar for the yeast to feast on. Sorghum syrup provides that sugar. 'Nuff said.

If, on the other hand, you want to drink (or brew) a gluten-free beer that's more authentic, that's closer to the origins of "real" beer, then it's worthwhile to delve a little deeper. By a stricter definition of brewing, beer is a beverage made from malted cereal grains (usually barley) that are fermented with water, hops, and yeast. This is where things get sticky (pardon the syrup pun) with gluten-free brewing.

"Malt" usually inspires fear in the hearts of the gluten-free community. That's because, as a noun, malt refers specifically to malted barley (aka, malt, barley malt), which contains—eek!—gluten.

But "malt" can also be a verb, as in "to malt." It's a process. In this context, it refers to the controlled germination, kilning, and roasting of a cereal grain in order to develop a desirable balance of starches and enzymes for beer brewing. Take a closer look at the Bard's label up top. Notice the subtext? It says "the original sorghum malt beer." How can a gluten-free beer brewed from sorghum be a malt beer? Because we're not talking about malt as a noun. We're talking about malt as a verb ... as in "malted sorghum." (For a behind the scenes look at malting, check out our blog post from 2010, "Malt of the Matter," about malting our own millet for gluten-free beer brewing.)

To my knowledge, Bard's is the only gluten-free brewer that eschews "regular" sorghum syrup in favor of using true malted sorghum. This is a notable difference. It makes a difference in their brewing, and it makes a difference in their beer. It can make a difference in your beer, too, since Bard's sorghum syrup is now available through Midwest Supplies Homebrewing.

What is the difference, exactly? There are two answers, one based on process, the other based on taste. If you're looking to brew (or drink beer) with "more authentic" ingredients, then the malted sorghum of Bard's is an undeniable choice.

As for taste, we got our hands on some Bard's sorghum syrup and some "regular" sorghum syrup, and tasted them side-by-side raw (before being used for gluten-free beer brewing). Both sorghum syrups had a base flavor reminiscent of brown rice syrup. But that's where the similarities ended. The "regular" syrup had slightly lighter color, with prominent notes of honey. The Bard's syrup, on the other hand, was slightly darker, with prominent notes of molasses.

So, the next time you pop the top on a nice cold bottle of sorghum-based gluten-free beer, remember that not all sorghum is created equal. Sorghum syrups can be made in very different ways, yielding very different flavors. Enjoy your beer with a greater appreciation for and understanding of the nuances of this ubiquitous ingredient that gives us gluten-free beer drinkers a growing number of options.

- Pete

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Versus: Chocolate Chip Cookies


It's that time again... We're long overdue for a Versus post, where we pick a gluten-free food category and have companies face off head-to-head for ultimate bragging rights. When I looked back through the blog to see when we did our last Versus face off, I couldn't believe the coincidental timing. We did it exactly one year ago tomorrow! Back then it was baking mixes for brownies. Today it's chocolate chip cookie baking mixes.

There are no shortage of gluten-free chocolate chip cookie mixes on the market, including Pamela's, Cherrybrook Kitchen, Arrowhead Mills, and Jules Gluten Free. For today's post, however, we're focusing on three:
We evaluated each cookie based on taste, texture, and how accurately the recipe created the cookie shown on the product packaging. Here's how they fared:


King Arthur Flour

The King Arthur gluten-free cookie mix is a "cookie base," meaning it creates a basic brown sugar cookie, which you supplement with what they call "add ins," such as chocolate chips. This is important to note, so you don't buy the mix (which includes a chocolate chip cookie photo on the box) and get home to the unwelcome surprise that there are no chocolate chips inside that box.

The mix includes the following ingredients: specialty flour blend (tapioca starch, rice flour), sugar, brown sugar, whole grain brown rice flour, cornstarch, molasses, salt, vanilla, leavening.

To make the recipe, you add the following: 1 stick butter, 1 egg, 2 tbsp water, chocolate chips.

The cookies had excellent taste, and a uniformly chewy texture throughout. However, the cookies did have a tendency to get a bit lacy and spread out during baking. The King Arthur instructions said to flatten the cookies to half an inch before baking. We tried a second batch leaving them as taller balls, but still had the spreading problem. Refrigerating the dough would be a next step to rectify the problem.


Betty Crocker

The mix includes the following ingredients: rice flour, chocolate chips, brown sugar, sugar, potato starch, potato flour, leavening, xantham gum, salt.

To make the recipe, you add the following: 1 stick butter, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 egg.

As the only mix in this review with xanthan gum, the Betty Crocker cookies maintained the best shape and spread the least. They were delightfully chewy in the middle, and developed a lightly crispy edge. The finished product looked the most like the picture you see on the box.


Gluten Free Pantry

The mix includes the following ingredients: white rice flour, chocolate chips, brown sugar, sugar, potato starch, potato flour, leavening, salt.

To make the recipe, you add the following: 5 tbsp butter, 2 eggs, 2 tsp vanilla.

It's interesting to note that the ingredients in the Gluten Free Pantry mix are identical to those in the Betty Crocker mix, except that the Gluten Free Pantry mix omits the xanthan gum. The recipe also calls for slightly less butter and an additional egg. The difference in the finished product was striking. The Gluten Free Pantry cookies spread the most - they became incredibly thin and lacy. (The packaging recommends chilling the dough for 2 hours to yield thicker cookies.) As you might expect based on similarity of ingredients, they tasted nearly identical to Betty Crocker, although the textures were quite different.

Conclusion

And so which gluten-free chocolate chip cookie mix emerged victorious? I'm afraid the judges (Kelli and me) issued a split decision. She declared Betty Crocker victorious, for its good flavor, chewy center, and slightly crispy edges. I declared King Arthur victorious, for its equally good flavor and uniformly chewy texture.

What about you? Have you tried any of these mixes? Do you use another chocolate chip cookie mix not included in this Versus? Tell us what it is and what you like (or dislike) about it!

- Pete

Monday, February 20, 2012

Recipe: Lentil Soup


Though it seems like we've yet to truly experience a winter here in the Hudson Valley, there have been some cold nights as of late (if you count the 20s and 30s as cold nights...). What better way to combat the cold than with a nice, hot soup? Today's recipe is just that—a rich, flavorful soup built on a base of red lentils. In some respects, it's a soup counterpoint to our recipe for Red Lentil Dal, which we coincidentally posted just less than one year ago (by a matter of weeks!).

If Punxsatawney Phil is right (and seriously, when has he ever been wrong?), we have a few more weeks of winter in store. Keep this delicious recipe in your back pocket for that night when the cold is creeping in the windows and under the front door, and you want to wrap up under a blanket and warm yourself from the inside out.

Lentil Dal
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients
1 tbsp butter + 1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup sliced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
4 cups GF chicken broth
1 cup dried red lentils, rinsed
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp salt

Steps
1. Heat the butter and olive oil in a saucepan.
2. Saute the onions about 10 minutes, until soft and translucent.
3. Add the garlic and ginger, and saute one more minute.
4. Add the spices and mix.
5. Add the lentils and broth, bring to boil, and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.
6. Puree with an immersion blender until smooth, then simmer 10 more minutes.

Notes
Depending on the amount of sodium in your broth, dial the additional salt in the recipe up or down to taste.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, corn-free, soy-free, refined-sugar-free.

To make this recipe vegetarian, use GF vegetable broth in place of the chicken broth.

To make this recipe dairy/lactose/casein-free, omit the butter, and replace it with an additional tbsp of olive oil.

Nutrition Info
Per serving: 149 calories, 7g fat, 15g carbohydrates, 7g protein, 113mg sodium, 5g dietary fiber, 0g sugars, plus at least 20% RDA folate and at least 10% RDA iron, manganese, and phosphorous.

Enjoy!

- Pete

Recipe nutrition info calculated using SparkRecipes.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Recipe: Asian Meatballs


Happy Friday! After blogging all week about what we've been up to lately, we thought it was high time we got back to our roots with a good ol' gluten-free recipe. Kelli recently whipped up these delicious Asian meatballs. They start with our "standard" meatball base—lean ground turkey, GF bread crumbs, and egg—and swap out traditional Italian seasonings for Asian-inspired flavors. The result is dee-licious!

Asian Meatballs
Makes 18 meatballs

Ingredients
3 scallions
1 garlic clove
2 tsp fresh ginger root
10 oz ground turkey
3/4 cup fine GF cracker crumbs
1 egg
1 tbsp tamari wheat-free soy sauce (or GF soy sauce)
1 tsp sesame oil
Extra light olive oil

Steps
1. Preheat the oven to 350 deg F.
2. Mince the scallions, garlic, and ginger in a food processor.
3. Transfer to a medium bowl, and add the ground turkey, cracker crumbs, egg, tamari, and sesame oil. Mix well.
4. Form into 18 equally-sized meatballs.
5. Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the meatballs, turning occasionally to brown on all sides.
5. Transfer the meatballs to a baking tray and bake in the oven for 15 minutes, or until done.
6. Serve over rice and drizzle lightly with your favorite GF Asian sauce/marinade.

Notes
If you don't have crackers to make crumbs, you could substitute any plain, unseasoned GF bread crumb.

Degrees of Free-dom 
This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy/lactose/casein-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, corn-free, refined-sugar-free.

Nutrition Info
Per serving (6 meatballs): 330 calories, 16g fat, 22g carbohydrates, 26g protein, 627mg sodium, 2g dietary fiber, 2g sugars, plus at least 10% RDA of calcium, folate, iron, manganese, niacin, riboflavin, selenium, and thiamin.

Enjoy!

- Pete

Recipe nutrition info calculated using SparkRecipes.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

2012 Race Schedule

Trail runners at the Bimbler's Bluff 50K ultramarathon in CT in 2011. Photo by Kelli.
While I've been ramping up my training and streamlining my gluten-free diet for the sake of personal health and fitness, there's another important reason behind the push: I have big plans for this year's endurance racing season. As many of you know, I'm a trail runner who focuses on ultramarathon distance races.

For a variety of reasons (mostly unfortunate timing and some plain old bad luck), last year was a difficult one for me with races. My first ultra of the season was to be The North Face Bear Mountain Endurance Challenge, a grueling 50 miler. But in the week and a half leading up to the race, I ended up with an antibiotic resistant staph infection that required hospitalization and many IV drugs, and literally one week later, came down with tick-borne ehrlichiosis which had me in the hospital for a second time. I spent race day laying in a hospital bed, hooked up to more IV drugs, looking out the window at the very mountains where the race was being held. Major bummer.

I was so weak following those illnesses that I withdrew from a trail marathon in Kenya (!) for which I was on assignment for a magazine one month later. Another major bummer.

As part of my recovery and resumed training, I ran in the Minnewaska Summer Solstice, a 14k or so trail run race in NY's Shawangunk Mountains. The race went well, all things considered, but it was humbling to essentially have to rebuild my strength and endurance from square one.

Then came the big focus of my season: the Virgil Crest 50 mile ultramarathon. I run the race as a fundraiser for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. The chips just weren't falling my way last year, and one week before that race I came down with a serious illness that 6 or 7 different doctors failed to diagnose definitively. No need to rehash details. It wasn't pretty, and anyone who wants to revisit it can read the blog post here.

Again, all things considered, the race went well. It was probably the toughest finish of my life, but I did finish. That was the end of September. At the end of October I ran my last race of the season - the Bimbler's Bluff 50k trail race in Connecticut. Everything went wrong for me in that race, and I ended up with my first race DNF ever. Blech.

I took some time off from training and racing to let my body and my mind fully recover, then switched gears and have been focusing on book projects for the last few months.

Now I'm looking ahead to the 2012 race season, and I have big plans.

A few themes come immediately to the forefront:
  • Staying healthy - Last year, too many races were "sabotaged" by illness. Not this year.
  • Finishing unfinished business - I missed out on races I planned to run in, or didn't race up to my potential, or in one case didn't even finish a race. This year, I'm running the races, and I'm going to race them to my potential.
  • Kicking some gluten-free booty - I don't just want to finish. I don't just want to race. I want to race well. As in, I want to improve on past performances and be competitive, not just against myself and the clock, but also against my fellow trail runners.
So what does all this mean in practice? I'm looking at 5 major races for this year—three 50k trail races, and two 50-mile trail races. (A handful of shorter 15-20 mile races may get thrown in the mix, too, but they're not the focus...) Together, my Big Five races total nearly 200 miles of trail running racing with 22,000-24,000 feet of elevation gain. Those races are:

Febapple Frozen Fifty
This 50k trail ultra is part of the NJ Trail Series and takes place in late February. (As of this writing, the race is only 9 days away!) It's earlier in the season than I might otherwise like, but it works for my schedule. If I run well, I'm hoping to use the race as a qualifier for other races that have minimum standards. But primarily I'm using the Febapple Frozen Fifty as an early season gauge for my fitness, so I know what I need to do to prep for the first truly big race of the season.

The North Face Bear Mountain Endurance Challenge
This 50 miler with 7,000 vertical feet of elevation gain and lots of rocky, technical, singletrack trail has a reputation as one of the toughest of the entire North Face endurance racing series. It takes place in the Hudson Highlands at the beginning of May, about halfway between New York City and where we currently live in the Hudson Valley. The race consistently draws many of the top trail ultra runners from the mid-Atlantic and New England regions. Though I think the Virgil Crest ultra is a tougher overall course (50 miles with 10,000 vertical feet of gain), the North Face race will likely be the most challenging, thanks to its combination of a tough course with a highly competitive field of racers. My goal is to finish in the top 25%.

Finger Lakes Fifties
This 50k trail race in Finger Lakes National Forest between Cayuga and Seneca lakes takes place at the end of June, and is part of the Western New York Ultra Series. It's relatively mellow in terms of elevation gain, and I'm hoping to be competitive and run a fast time.

Virgil Crest Ultra
This 50 mile race at the end of September is the Big Daddy of my endurance racing each year. It also serves as the focal point of my annual Gluten-Free Ultramarathon Challenge, which raises money for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. (More to come on the 3rd annual Challenge, which is going to be bigger and better, next week!) After a top ten finish in 2010, I had a tough go of it last year. This year my hope is to regain a top ten finish and get my time under 11 hours. Under 10 hours would be a dream. Stay tuned.

Bimbler's Bluff
This 50k trail race in southern Connecticut at the end of October was my first DNF ever last year. This year I'm going back to finish what I started.

And so there you have it. The races are spaced apart on the calendar by one, two, or three months, giving me plenty of time to recover, resume training, then focus on the next race.

The other endurance racing news this year is that I'm tweaking my gluten-free training and racing nutrition. More on that over the coming weeks and months, as I share insights into what changes I'm making and why.

In the meantime, stay active!

- Pete

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Gluten-free, Streamlined


In The Gluten-Free Edge Melissa and I talk about "food as fuel," and about nutrient dense, whole, gluten-free foods as "high octane" fuel. Of course, you have lots of options for what kind of fuel you're putting into your body. It can be high octane, or it can be the kind of low-quality junk fuel that fouls up  your engine pistons and valves, muddies up your exhaust, and otherwise reduces engine performance.

As I noted in yesterday's blog post about regaining balance, for a little while there I'd drifted way too heavily toward the latter, putting all sorts of gluten-free crap into my body. The result was predictable and undesirable. And so over the course of the last four weeks, and continuing ahead, I've been working to reverse that trend. Doing so started with streamlining my gluten-free diet.

Mind you, I'm not on a diet. But I have adjusted what I eat and when I eat it. I'm not interested in losing the weight I'd gained through severe calorie restriction. I've been training hard in advance of the imminent ultra racing season. In the course of four weeks I've gone from not training at all to logging 35 miles on trails per week, and this week I'm on track to hit 40 miles. The mileage will only continue to go up. And that doesn't count the one to two yoga workouts I'm also doing each week. Your body can't do that without the calories and carbs and fats it needs for energy, and without the protein and other nutrients it needs to rebuild recovering muscles and maintain immune system strength.

Instead, I'm making smart choices about the gluten-free foods I put into my body. In other words, I've switched to high octane fuel. Many of the changes I've made are reminiscent of a blog post from just over one year ago about making resilient New Year's resolutions. Here's are 10 things I've done this time around to align my diet with my weight loss and training goals, and the anticipation of a big year of endurance racing:

1. I'm drinking mostly water throughout the day, avoiding the added empty calories that come with drinking fruit juice or other flavored beverages when ultimately I'm simply thirsty and need to maintain hydration. The one exception is after a workout, when I'll often immediately swig a glass of juice to get some needed sugars into my system.

2. I've scaled back on the alcohol consumption drastically, though I still enjoy a glass of wine, a mixed drink, or a bottle of cider or gluten-free beer a handful of nights each week.

3. As a family, we've balanced our consumption of high glycemic index Jasmine rice (a former staple of our diet, and still a part of it) with more Basmati and whole grain brown rice.

4. I'm eating 5 to 6 times per day, instead of having three large meals spaced out by many hours. A typical day includes a recovery smoothie following an early morning workout, breakfast, a mid-morning snack, lunch, a mid-afternoon snack, and dinner. In addition, I've tried to entirely eliminate snacking after 9:00pm. 8:00pm is even better.

5. Nutrient dense whole foods. As much as possible, I'm working to eat gluten-free foods that are naturally rich in nutrients important to athletes, such as iron, calcium, potassium, sodium (to a degree), protein, appropriate carbohydrates, and healthy fats.

6. I'm remaining aware of portion sizes. When I love the food in front of me, I tend to take a second or even third helping at times, eating until I'm uncomfortably full, simply because I enjoyed the meal, and not because I'm still hungry and need more. Now, I fill my plate with slightly less food, and stop eating when I'm no longer hungry and comfortable.

7. Fresh fruits and vegetables take center stage, including at meals as well as for snacks, when they might be paired with nuts, peanut butter, or hummus.

8. Gluten-free baked goods made primarily from corn and rice have been all but eliminated. Almost no cookies, cake, or other "goodies" (allowing for an occasional indulgence now and then). Just about the only cereals I eat these days are the Nature's Path Organic Crunchy Vanilla Sunrise and Crunchy Maple Sunrise flavors. They have some organic whole grain corn and brown rice, but I love that they also have buckwheat, quinoa, flax, amaranth, and molasses. Really good stuff.

9. Fiber! I make sure there's plenty of it naturally in my diet.

10. Sugar. I've worked to drastically reduce the amount of added refined sugar I get in my diet. For example, I've swapped yogurt with fruit on the bottom (lots of added sugar) for plain Greek yogurt to which I add a dollop of natural fruit preserve.

What does all this mean? Am I left feeling deprived with the foods I eat and don't eat? Not in the least. I eat like a king. (Or at least, a gluten-free king in training for some big endurance trail running races...)

Here are some examples of meals I've enjoyed in the past few weeks:
  • Sushi
  • Chicken tikka masala and chicken korma
  • Garlic shrimp over spaghetti marinara (whole grain brown rice GF noodles)
  • Pad Thai
  • Steak with grilled onions
  • Black bean corn tacos with grilled vegetables
  • Pizza (from scratch crust)
  • P.F. Chang's China Bistro
  • Salad
  • Scrambled omelets (with eggs, peppers, onions, bacon)
  • Pancakes with pure maple syrup
  • Salads
  • Herbed grilled chicken with Swiss chard
  • Asian meatballs
  • Lentil soup
  • Ham sandwich on multigrain GF bread
  • Sweet potato fries
  • Roasted Brussels sprouts and seasoned potatoes
  • Grilled asparagus
  • Berries, oranges, apples
  • Almonds, cashews, pecans, peanut butter
  • Nut milk
  • Kefir
  • Plain Greek yogurt with natural fruit preserve
  • Recovery smoothies
As you can see, my diet has been incredibly varied. I think if you gave that list of meals and foods to someone and asked, "Is the person who ate all this on a diet?" You'd say, "No." That's because as I said above, I'm not on a diet. I've simply streamlined the food choices I make in favor of high octane gluten-free fuel. The changes are more subtle. They're behind the scenes. But they're effective. The weight is coming off, and my athletic performance is coming back rapidly.

You can streamline your gluten-free diet, too. Maybe pick one or two or three items from my list of ten changes above, and work to incorporate them into your own life. Sooner than you think, they become second nature. And the better you feel and look as a result of those changes, the more you're motivated to keep it going.

To get you started, try this recipe for my current go-to smoothie. I can't get enough of it.

Pete's Power Recovery Smoothie
Makes 1 large smoothie

Ingredients
1 ripe banana
1 cup (a hearty handful) of spinach leaves
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup almond milk (or a 50/50 blend of almond milk and kefir)

Steps
Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth.

This recipe is: gluten-free, refined-sugar-free, nut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, lacto-ovo vegetarian.

Note: If made with all almond milk, this recipe is also dairy/casein/lactose-free and vegan. Either way, it's packed with natural fruit sugars, fiber, calcium, iron, and protein.

- Pete

Photo courtesy Stock.xchng / Kiril Havezov

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Regaining Balance


Today's photo is another blast from the past, this time from August 2007, eight months after we went gluten-free. We were in Colorado's Ten Mile mountain range, doing a loop ridge traverse of Father Dyer Peak, Crystal Peak, and Peak 10 (summit elevations of 13,600 to 13,850 feet or so). I thought this photo of me "surfing" a rock horn high on the ridge was a good not-so-subtle metaphor for today's blog post theme: balance.

Over the course of December 2011 and January 2012, my life basically didn't have any balance. I scratched the surface in yesterday's post, but I wanted to delve deeper today, because my recent experience is such a good example of how a lack of balance can negatively impact your health, and how regaining an active gluten-free lifestyle can restore that health.

The tipping point was The Gluten-Free Edge. The mental (and physical) energy and time it required to finish researching, writing, and revising the manuscript left precious little time for anything else. For my coauthor, Melissa, and me it had become our "precious" (Lord of the Rings reference, for any Tolkien fans!), an all-consuming thing. As we hammered away on chapter after chapter, we were painfully and acutely aware of a terrible irony: here we were writing about how a proper gluten-free diet can be part of a formula for peak athletic performance and a healthy active lifestyle, and we had—temporarily, at least—abandoned the very principles about which we were writing.

I was spending much less time with family, and virtually none at all with friends. I ceased all training and exercise. I was desperately sleep-deprived. I was snacking on gluten-free junk food at all hours of the day and night. My alcohol consumption had drastically increased (I have a touch of Hemingway in me, in the sense that a glass of wine or libation helps lubricate the writing gears from time to time...). You can see where this is going. It was a perfect storm for letting yourself go: not getting enough sleep, increased consumption of empty calories at the wrong times of day, and severely decreased physical activity.

By the time we left for the Caribbean, I tipped the scales at 166 pounds. That's officially the heaviest I've been. Ever. To put that number into perspective, my off-season weight usually hovers around 155 pounds. My in-season endurance racing weight is closer to 150 pounds. I'm only 5'6". Compared to 150 pounds, 166 pounds is a noticeable difference on my frame. It's a 10% increase. That's a lot. Pants didn't fit. I was using a larger notch (or two) on my belts. It wasn't pretty, and I wasn't happy about it.

And so, the last month—in between a trip to the hospital and family bouts with stomach bugs—has been about regaining balance. It has been about spending time with Kelli and the girls. About resuming my training in advance of a big ultra season ahead (more on that in another blog post later this week). About streamlining my gluten-free diet (more on that in tomorrow's blog post). About living the gluten-free edge Melissa and I write about in our eponymous forthcoming book.

I've been patient with the process, and now it's starting to pay good dividends. In 4 weeks I've logged nearly 110 miles of trail running training. I'm getting 7 hours of sleep per night instead of less than 4. And I've lost 8 pounds so far, down to 158 from 166—that's 2 pounds per week, right on target for a healthy rate of weight loss.

And of course, I'm—and we're—blogging again, which feels good. Very good.

- Pete

Monday, February 13, 2012

Back in the Saddle


Today's photos are a blast from the past. They're circa April 2005, nearly six years ago, when I was on assignment for a men's magazine, on a ranch in south-central Colorado, learning how to ride bulls in a rodeo. (That's me in the photo below getting bucked off.) It seemed apropos to share the photos, since the theme of today's blog post is "back in the saddle."

It's been nearly eight weeks (yikes!) since we've done a blog post. This is the longest hiatus we've ever taken. But starting today, we're back in the saddle again (can you hear the Aerosmith song playing in your head?).

As for where we've been this last long while...


The last two months have been some of the busiest in recent memory, maybe ever. Ironically, though we've been wholly absent from the gluten-free blogging world, gluten-free projects have occupied much of our time.

For one, Kelli and I were putting the finishing touches on Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking's "revised and expanded second edition." It comes out later this spring, and is available for pre-order on Amazon. It's basically Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking on steroids. New cover. Old recipes have been updated (including all baking recipes re-worked to include gram measurements for the flour). New recipes added to the mix, including tortellini and cannoli. And completely re-photographed (with more than 50 new pictures throughout the book).

By far, the biggest commitment of my time was working on another book, The Gluten-Free Edge: A Nutrition and Training Guide for Peak Athletic Performance and an Active Gluten-Free Life, which I coauthored with Melissa of Gluten Free for Good. It also comes out later this spring and is available for pre-order on Amazon. If you're gluten intolerant and an athlete, if you're an athlete curious about voluntarily going gluten-free, or if you're gluten-free and interested in living an active lifestyle, this book is a must-read. The Gluten-Free Edge takes the latest in gluten-free nutrition and sports medicine research and brings them together under one roof. We also interview and profile dozens of gluten-free athletes, whose stories illustrate the power of the gluten-free diet. They come from all backgrounds - men and women, many ages, amateur and pro, from a wide range of sports...basketball, baseball, football, lacrosse, soccer, triathlon, mountain biking, Xterra, running, swimming, cycling, yoga, pilates, skiing, mountaineering, and the list goes on. At the end of the book we include more than 50 nutrient-dense, whole foods gluten-free recipes to fuel your activity. And we're thrilled and honored that Amy Yoder Begley—gluten-free celiac, US Olympian, and 6-time national champion distance runner—is writing the foreword.

In the final six weeks leading up to our deadline for The Gluten-Free Edge, it was all-consuming. All other aspects of life stopped...I stopped training (more on that tomorrow!), I stopped sleeping, I stopped spending time with family. I was basically sleeping 4 hours per night—typically going to be at 3:30am or so each night—and then waking 7:30am the next morning to go to my day job, then come home and write all night again. I'd emerge from the home office twice...once for 15 minutes to have dinner with the family, and again to put the girls to bed. That's it.

By early January, I was beyond spent. Melissa and I submitted the manuscript to our publisher on a Friday afternoon, and by Saturday morning, Kelli, the girls, and I were on a plane to the Caribbean for some much-needed R&R.

Eight days later, life resumed and I was again in the thick of it, this time spending two more weeks revising and tweaking the manuscript of The Gluten-Free Edge. 

Just as I thought we would get back to blogging, life conspired to keep us away for a bit longer. Marin fell and cut her forehead open just above her eye, requiring a trip to the hospital. Then Charlotte got sick. Then the rest of us got sick from her. And so here we are, two months later, finally able to write a long overdue blog post.

Many thanks to those of you who wrote to ask if everything is okay. We sincerely appreciate your concern! In the coming days and weeks, our blog posts will help to further get you up to date with what we've been up to, and where life has taken us. For now, let us just say that it's good to be back in the saddle again.

- Pete