Thursday, February 28, 2013

Filet Mignon with Red Wine Demi Glace


Over the past few years, our diet has gone through something of an evolution. For certain, there are aspects that remain unchanged. Our commitment to authentic, from-scratch recipes is as steadfast as ever, for example. But we eat way more healthy smoothies than we used to, and we eat far less red meat—beef especially—than we once did.

In fact, before Valentine's Day, the last time we'd had beef was around Christmas, a full seven weeks earlier. In other words, Kelli and I each have been averaging about half a pound of beef every two months. Meanwhile, per capita beef consumption among Americans is more than one pound per week, totaling more than 54 pounds of beef consumption per person per year. (We're on track to consume a scant 3 pounds of beef each this year...)

As Valentine's Day drew near and we were deciding what to cook for a special dinner, we settled on something special we don't eat all that often: filet mignon.

Given that we seldom eat beef, and that filet mignon is an expensive cut of meat, we really wanted to get this one right. Usually when we cook beef, we go one of two routes: 1) grill it, or 2) roast it. This time around, we put our faith in another technique we'd seen recently on America's Test Kitchen. We started by roasting the beef on a wire rack in the oven over low heat. This serves two important roles. It allows the whole mass of beef to slowly come up to temperature without overcooking the exterior while the interior is still raw, and it dries off the outside of the beef, so that you can get a nice, good sear during the next step. Once out of the oven, you sear the beef in a heavy skillet to both brown the outside and finish the cooking process.

Meanwhile, we wanted to pair the filet with a rich red wind demi glace. Traditionally, demi glace is made with reduced veal stock, wine, and other ingredients, and is frequently thickened with wheat flour (though a better approach is to thicken by reducing, which also intensifies the flavors). For our red wine demi glace, we built it off a beef broth base. We'd intended to use both tomato paste and a touch of brown sugar as well, but found that our pantry we devoid of tomato paste. Instead, we went with ketchup and omitted the brown sugar (since the ketchup had plenty of sugar for our needs).

The result was one of the best pieces of beef we'd have in a very long time, possibly competing with our personal lists of best pieces of beef of all time, including those we've had at steakhouses.


Filet Mignon with Red Wine Demi Glace
Makes 2–4 servings

Ingredients
1 to 1 1/2 pounds filet mignon
1 1/2 cups GF beef broth
1/2 cup red wine
1 tbsp tamari wheat-free soy sauce
3 tbsp ketchup
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
Extra light olive oil
Salt

Steps
1. Preheat the oven to 250 deg F.
2. Rinse and pat dry the beef. Then roast on a wire rack (like you'd use for cooling baked cookies) over a baking sheet or roasting pan. Cooking time will depend on the weight and shape of your cut of meat. Pull the filet from the oven when the internal temperature of the meat reads 95 to 100 deg F.
3. Meanwhile, make the demi glace: add the beef broth through thyme to a small saucepan, whisk to combine, bring to a boil, and reduce to 25% or less of the initial volume.
4. When the filet is nearly ready to come out of the oven, heat a heavy skillet (such as cast iron) over the stovetop.
5. Add 2 tbsp or so of olive oil and sear the filet, rotating periodically for even browning on all sides. Don't forget to sear the ends! As you rotate the meat, salt each side. (The salt won't stick to the meat earlier, since it'll come out of the oven dry to the touch.) Use the squeeze test or a meat thermometer to determine when the meat is cooked to your preferred level of doneness.
6. Let rest 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Notes
If you can, ask your butcher to cut a filet mignon of uniform thickness, which will facilitate even cooking.

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

Enjoy!

–Pete and Kelli

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lick It Up: The Truth About Envelopes, Stamps, and Gluten


Whether during the holiday season two months ago, or for Valentine's Day two weeks ago, there's a good chance that in recent weeks or months you sent greeting cards and/or letters. And if you did, maybe you sat at your desk or kitchen table, ready to seal them up for mailing and thought, "Should I lick this stamp or envelope flap?"

I have to admit—I have an irrational fear of envelope flaps. Seriously. You know the way people will start with their tongue on one end of the flap and then glide across the length of the flap to moisten the adhesive? I can't help worrying that in doing so I'm going to give my tongue a wicked paper cut. So instead I do a series of small licks, perpendicular to the flap, along the length of the envelope. Crazy, but true. At any rate...

What's the big deal about licking the glue on an envelope flap? (Other than my wacko worry…) Because the possible presence of gluten in the adhesive that seals envelopes and stamps is one of the most persistent myths in the gluten-free community. Blogs abound with warnings about potential hidden sources of gluten, and envelopes and stamps are frequently on those lists. (We may have been guilty of this ourselves in the early days of this blog, though I haven't gone back and searched our posts to confirm…)

Even beyond blogs, the "gluten in adhesives" myth has been present in a variety of reputable sources. Back in 2006, an article in the peer-reviewed journal Nutrition in Clinical Practice—with the Mayo Clinic's Joseph Murray as coauthor—made the warning. More recently, an article in The Nurse Practitioner: The American Journal of Primary Healthcare did the same thing. A quick Internet search will find oodles and oodles of other examples. But is it true?

In a word: no.

Gluten-Free Living magazine debunked this issue a while back, as did Gluten Free Dietitian in an excellent post, but it continues to come up. So I figured I do my usual journalistic thing and do some digging into primary source material to get down to the nuts and bolts of facts.

The adhesive used on the flap of envelopes falls under the category of starch- and dextrin-based adhesives. Such adhesives can be made from a variety of starchy plant materials, including corn, potato, tapioca, sago, and—eek!—wheat. In practice, however, corn and potato are what's actually used, as noted in the Envelope Manufacturers Association Foundation report, "Envelope Adhesives Technical Paper." Its sister organization, the EMA, more specifically notes that envelope adhesive these days is made from corn, and is gluten-free.

As for stamps, the U.S. Postal Service says they're gluten-free, too. Though that's something of a moot point, since nearly 100% of stamp sales today are pressure adhesive stamps that you peel off and stick right on the envelope without moistening via lick.

Does this mean that all envelope adhesives will be gluten-free for all time? Of course not. Some manufacturer could one day switch to making its starch-based adhesives from wheat. But the risk seems incredibly small.

When it comes to envelope flaps and stamps, the conclusion is go ahead and lick it up. No need to go postal over this issue. They're gluten-free, so stop worrying about the gluten status of your snail mail and spend some more time in the kitchen making fabulous gluten-free food.

–Pete

P.S. If you're still concerned, you can always go with the peel-and-stick options, or use another moistener (other than your tongue) for your envelope flap seals.

Image courtesy iprole / SXC.hu

Thursday, February 21, 2013

11 Tips to Reduce Your Gluten-Free Grocery Bill


The United States may be pulling out of the Great Recession (slowly), but let's face it—times are still tough for many Americans. That's especially true for the gluten-free community, where we're nearly constantly told that the gluten-free diet is expensive. It can be, but it doesn't have to be. Here are 11 steps you can take to reduce your gluten-free grocery bill.

1. Focus on naturally gluten-free whole foods.

Naturally gluten-free whole foods including vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, gluten-free grains, eggs, meat, fish, and dairy cost the same whether you're on a gluten-free diet or not. Make them the core of your diet. (They're healthier for you, anyway.)

2. Eat fewer gluten-free specialty foods.

This goes hand-in-hand with #1. Eat fewer gluten-free specialty foods ... the store-bought GF breads, cookies, crackers, cereals, and other foods that carry the infamous GF premium. They're typically more expensive than their glutenous conventional counterparts. Cut your consumption of these foods back, and your bank account will thank you.

3. Make your breads, cookies, and other baked goods from scratch.

If you are craving some gluten-free baked goods, such as breads and cookies, take the time to make them yourself from scratch at home. It's gratifying and time well-spent in the kitchen, plus it'll save you money.

4. Meticulously track your expenses and take the gluten-free tax deduction.

If you're gluten-free for a medically diagnosed reason, and you don't mind some meticulous record-keeping, track your expenses, save your receipts, and take the gluten-free tax deduction (as part of the write-off for eligible medical expenses) when you file your annual tax return.

5. Stock up on staples during sales.

One secret of thrifty shoppers is capturing maximum value from sales. Deriving full benefit usually requires the flexibility to purchase whatever brand happens to be on sale in any given week. As gluten-free consumers, we don't have that luxury. When we find a gluten-free company that we know, love, and most importantly, trust, we remain fiercely loyal, buying that company's product week in and week out. Besides, in our experience, gluten-free products don't go on sale all that often anyway. But staple foods do—butter, rice, olive oil, chicken. And when they do go on sale, stock up. Store the extras in your freezer or pantry, and plan to use them throughout the coming weeks or even months.

6. Plan your meals each week.

And speaking of planning, plan your meals each week. According to a recent NRDC study, Americans throw away roughly 40% of their food (yikes!) each year. That's $165 billion of wasted food annually, or $2,275 per year for an average American family of four. It's shameful (and costly). By planning your meals each week, you'll use what you purchase and end up throwing away less food that doesn't get used and goes bad.

7. Make creative use of leftovers.

Sure, you could just eat leftovers as they are. But by making creative use of leftovers, you'll give meals new life and help those foods stretch your budget that much further. Turn stale bread into breadcrumbs for meatballs or chicken fingers, or make French toast casserole. Pick the leftover bits of meat off a roast chicken and give it new life as chicken soup. Transform leftover steak into delicious beef stroganoff.

8. Make compromises.

If you're like us, you prefer organic produce and ethical animal protein (pastured eggs, grass-fed meats, etc.). Sadly, those foods can be expensive. Conventional produce and meats will almost certainly cost less. And if you're willing to compromise on your ideals for the sake of budget, you can save more than   a few dollars over the course of a year.

9. Eat more veggies and less meat. Maybe.

Once upon a time—just one or two generations ago—meat was expensive. It was a luxury item, and families ate it a handful of times per week at the most. If you wanted to save money on your grocery bill, you switched to a more vegetarian diet, and your wallet thanked you for it. For a variety of reasons, in recent decades the cost of meat has dropped, and American meat consumption has soared in kind. Just consider this: in 1940, U.S. per capita meat consumption was around 100 pounds per year; by 2004, that number peaked at 184 pounds per year, an 84% increase. So, the economics aren't as black and white as they used to be, but there's still a good chance that by shifting away from meat and toward a more vegetarian diet you can save a few dollars.

10. Eat less. Seriously.

Depending on your perspective, this advice may sound either a) ridiculously obvious, or b) obviously ridiculous. But hear me out. Focus on eating nutrient-dense foods, rather than superficially inexpensive junk food with high sugar and fat content and empty calories. You'll get the nutrients your body needs, feel satiated, and not keep going back (and back, and back) for more and more snacks that fill you with yet more empty calories while draining your wallet and ultimately leaving you less satisfied.

11. Skip the restaurants and dine in.

Sure, it's fun to go out to restaurants. But if you want to be kind to your wallet—just as with making GF baked goods from scratch at home—you're better off staying home and cooking in your kitchen. This is largely true no matter what diet you adhere to, but it's especially true if you're on a gluten-free diet, for many restaurants charge a similar premium for gluten-free versions of their dishes.

And so there you have it. Eleven tips to reduce your gluten-free grocery bill. You needn't adhere to all 11 to reap the benefits. Pick a few tips, implement them, and watch what happens to your food costs over time. Eating gluten-free shouldn't break the bank, and with these tips, it doesn't have to.

–Pete

Image courtesy befehr / SXC.hu

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pan de Yuca


Back when we still lived in New York's Hudson Valley, Kelli and I would occasionally take trips into New York City, which was just a train ride—or a 1.5-hour drive—to our south. One such trip was a "date night" to see the band Chicago at the Beacon Theatre.

We started off the evening with dinner at Calle Ocho, a well-reviewed Cuban restaurant on Manhattan's upper west side. After we were seated, one of the restaurant's runners brought over glasses of water and a bread basket. Reflexively, we sent the bread basket back, explaining that we couldn't eat it.

A short time later our server appeared at our table to take our order. He glanced down at the table, and noting something missing, asked, "Where is your bread?"

"We sent it back," I said. "I have celiac and can't eat wheat."

"You know the bread is gluten-free, right? It's made with tapioca."


Our ears perked up. The bread returned to the table, and I'd be lying if I said anything other than that we devoured it. It was amazing. (It turns out that Calle Ocho's was previously named one of New York City's best bread baskets by Serious Eats.)

And what was this incredible and naturally gluten-free bread? Pan de yuca.

It has many variants throughout Latin America, but they all share common elements. The base is tapioca flour (some versions also add a bit of corn meal) and queso fresco or a similar farmer's-style cheese (some people use mozzarella as well). From country to country, it may be known as pan de bono, pan de queso, pao de queijo, and a handful of other names. All translate to one word: delicious.

The bread is best served warm from the oven.


Pan de Yuca
Makes 10 rolls

Ingredients
100 g shredded mozzarella (about 1 cup)
144 g cubed queso fresco (about 1 cup)
120 g tapioca flour (1 cup)
1 tsp GF baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
3 tbsp milk

Steps
1. Preheat the oven to 350 deg F.
2. Put the cheeses in a food processor and pulse until crumbly.
3. Add the tapioca flour, baking powder, salt, and blend to combine, about 30 seconds.
4. Add the egg, and pulse to combine.
5. Add the milk, and mix until a sticky dough forms.
6. Scrape the dough out of the food processor onto your work surface. Use your hands to mold it into a dough ball. The dough will be slightly sticky.
7. Roll the dough into 10 balls and place evenly spaced on an ungreased cookie sheet or baking pan.
8. Place the pan in the freezer for five minutes.
9. Transfer directly to the preheated oven, and bake for 15 minutes.
10. Switch the oven to broil, and leave in just until the tops of the rolls are golden brown.

Notes
1. If you're measuring the cheeses by weight, you don't need to shred and/or cube them. Let the food processor do the work for you!
2. While the bread is best served warm, it's also quite tasty at room temp. Or, you can place it in the microwave for a few seconds to re-warm and return to its just-out-of-the-oven goodness.

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

Enjoy!

–Pete and Kelli

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Store-bought vs. From Scratch: The Cost of Gluten-Free Baked Goods


In recent weeks I've taken a detailed look at how the United States and other countries have implemented various structures—ranging from tax deductions to stipends—to help offset the financial premium often paid for gluten-free foods, including a hypothetical example for the average American family.

As I've said several times, that premium is most prevalent with specialty foods, particularly gluten-free baked goods. And so this week I'm shifting gears only slightly and looking at the gluten-free premium question from a different angle: How does the cost of gluten-free baked goods differ if you buy store-bought versions versus making them yourself from scratch at home?

For a long time our intuition has told us it's cheaper to make food from scratch at home, but would that actually be true? It was time to run some numbers...

Analytical Methods

First I had to decide what foods to compare. Kelli and I sat down and came up with a potential list: sandwich bread, chocolate chip cookies, pizza crust, frozen waffles, bagels, pancakes, brownies, yellow cake, frozen pizza. Ultimately, I decided to focus the analysis on three common items you might frequently purchase as the store: sandwich bread, chocolate chip cookies, and pizza crust.

For store-bought versions of the foods, prices came primarily from the companies themselves (such as Pamela's, Udi's, etc.), which appeared consistent with the prices we've seen for those same products in NY and CO.

For the from scratch versions of the foods, I used the recipes from the 2nd edition of our cookbook Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, including our Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend.

Finally, in order to calculate the cost of ingredients for our recipes, I used a variety of sources. For staple ingredients such as milk, butter, and sugar, values came from nationwide consumer price index averages from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Other ingredient prices came from Walmart, ShopRite, Bob's Red Mill, and a handful of other sources.

Flour Blends

When I ran the numbers on our Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend, we found that it costs an average $2.27 per pound. With the exception of Bob's Red Mill's All-Purpose Gluten-Free Baking Flour, which came in at a very comparable $2.29 per pound, most all-purpose gluten-free flour blends were significantly more expensive. Looking at Pamela's Artisan Flour Blend, King Arthur's gluten-free blend, Better Batter, and Cup 4 Cup, per pound prices ranged from $4.13 to $6.67 per pound, roughly double to triple the cost of our from-scratch flour blend.

Bread, Cookies, and Pizza, Oh My!

The story was much the same when we switched gears from the flour blend to the actual foods.

To make a full-size loaf of our sandwich bread costs $3.32. By comparison, a loaf of gluten-free bread from the likes of Udi's or Rudi's typically costs $5 to $6.

To make a batch of our chocolate chip cookies, which yields 36+ average-size cookies, costs $6.39. By comparison, a box of a scant 9 Pamela's chocolate chunk cookies costs about $4, which means that to purchase a similar quantity of cookies as the yield of our from-scratch recipe would cost you roughly $16, about 150% more for the same quantity.

Finally, to make one of our 12-inch thin crust pizza crusts costs just $1.52. By comparison, a smaller 9-inch Udi's gluten-free pizza crust costs about $2.50. You're paying a dollar more (66% more than the base price of our recipe) to get a smaller pizza crust.

Conclusions

As with any analysis of prices based on averages, there is room for significant variability. Ingredients and store-bought gluten-free foods will cost different in different parts of the country. The quality of ingredients you buy will impact prices as well—Do you purchase high-end chocolate or store brand? Conventional eggs, or cage free, or free range, or pastured eggs?

Then there's the time cost of from-scratch cooking. For some people, the convenience of ready-to-eat store-bought gluten-free foods may be worth the higher price.

But if you're looking to reduce the amount you spend on gluten-free baked goods, the numbers are compelling: get into the kitchen and start baking from scratch!

–Pete

P.S. If anyone's curious about the particulars of the numbers and calculations, I have a detailed Excel spreadsheet, but it's way too much data to include in this blog post.

Image courtesy lynnc / SXC.hu

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

14 Romantic Dessert Recipes for Valentine's Day


Valentine's Day is two short days away. Our personal track record of celebrating the holiday has been pretty spotty. In the first years of our marriage, an annual conference I attended for work spanned the holiday, and so we were always apart for February 14th. In more recent years we've been together. And though we've sometimes gone out to a restaurant, more often we've favored staying in and making a romantic dinner and dessert here at home.

So what makes a dessert romantic? The most important part, no matter what you make, is the company; whom you share the dessert with. But beyond that, a few potential criteria do come to mind—chocolate (ever popular), rich and decadent, beyond the ordinary, and for certain desserts, silky smooth.

Here's a list of 14 romantic dessert recipes that fit the bill:

1. Amaretto Souffle with Chocolate Whipped Cream
2. Chocolate Eclair Cake
3. Caramel Mexican Chocolate Mesquite Brownies
4. Almond Chocolate Brownie Swirl Cake
5. Beignets
6. Almond Choux Florentines
7. Italian Lemon Almond Cake
8. Spiced Cider-Poached Cinnamon Apple Tart
9. New England Pumpkin Pie
10. "Caramel" Peach Angel Food Cake
11. Traditional Angel Food Cake
12. Key Lime Crepes
13. Pumpkin Bourbon Creme Brulee
14. Flan

Happy Valentine's Day!

–Pete

Image courtesy rknds / SXC.hu

Thursday, February 7, 2013

How Do Other Countries Offset the Gluten-Free Premium?

In recent weeks, I've written about the U.S. gluten-free tax deduction, pros and cons of the system, and a hypothetical example of how your average American gluten-free family might fare. But enough about us. Let's talk about them. This week I'm exploring how other countries have adopted different strategies to offset the gluten-free premium paid for specialty food products and the financial burden that sometimes entails.


Canada

Like the United States, Canada offers a gluten-free tax deduction for those diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance and thus on a gluten-free diet for official medical reasons. However, there are some important differences.

In the U.S., the gluten-free premium is lumped in with other eligible out of pocket medical expenses; once those aggregate expenses reach 7.5% of your adjusted gross income, you then become eligible to write off the excess.

Canada, on the other hand, has specific guidelines for the gluten-free tax deduction. As in the U.S. of A., you take the cost of the gluten-free specialty product, subtract the average cost of the conventional glutenous counterpart, and write off the difference. But unlike in the States, there doesn't appear to be a threshold you must reach before you can start taking the deduction. In Canada, eligible foods include the usual suspects—gluten-free bagels, breads, muffins, cereals—but they also include "intermediate items," naturally gluten-free ingredients such as rice flour and spices that someone with celiac disease uses to prepare gluten-free foods.

But things can also get complicated in the land of the maple leaf. For example, if several people consume the gluten-free food, only the costs related to the portion of the food consumed by the person with celiac disease are allowed to be written off for the medical tax credit. I can just imagine the potential headache this would cause for a mixed family, where some members are gluten-free because of celiac disease and some are gluten-free because the family eats all their meals together. Plus, unlike Italy (more on that in a moment), Canada doesn't allow you to write off the extra time it takes to find and prepare gluten-free foods.

Finally, Canada's record-keeping requirements are quite similar to the U.S.—a letter from a medical practitioner that notes both a) a celiac disease diagnosis and b) a gluten-free diet requirement as treatment; plus, keep all your receipts. In true Canadian subtlety and politeness, the Canada Revenue Agency notes that you should keep this supporting documentation not in the event of an audit, but rather "in case we ask to see them at a later date." Makes it sound so civil and non-threatening, doesn't it?


Ireland

In the Republic of Ireland, gluten-free foods fall under what's known as a Drug Payment Scheme. (Makes the national government sound like a dealer, no?) According to the Health Service Executive, a national agency providing healthcare and social services for everyone living in the country, the Payment Scheme sets a maximum monthly out of pocket that an individual or family would pay for prescription drugs, other medicine, and even certain appliances used by that person and his or her family. As of December 31, 2012, that out of pocket limit was 144 Euros, or about $194 under current exchange rates.

The Coeliac Society of Ireland notes that gluten-free foods can be prescribed under this system. Typically, your general practitioner would prescribe specific gluten-free foods from a General Medical Services list. The list includes items such as bread, rolls, bread mixes and flour, pasta, breakfast cereals, pizza bases, and baking powder. You'd then pick up your prescribed gluten-free foods not at the supermarket, but rather at the pharmacy. (You could also buy other GF foods from other sources, though they wouldn't be covered under the prescription plan.)


United Kingdom

Like its neighbor Ireland, the United Kingdom also offers gluten-free foods based on a prescription coverage plan. According to Coeliac UK, a major national nonprofit, your general practitioner would usually be the one to write the prescription, while your pharmacist would be the one to fill it. However, in some parts of the U.K., you can do one-stop-shopping through your pharmacist.

As for what gluten-free foods you can get on prescription, that comes via an approved list determined by the Advisory Committee on Borderline Substances. Man, if you thought gluten-free foods had a stigma in the U.S., how would you like them to be classified as a borderline substance? At any rate, the ACBS advises the U.K.'s Department of Health, and their list can be found in Coeliac UK's online Food and Drink Directory.

Now here's an interesting point: the quantity of GF food you can receive under prescription is largely determined by a recommended number of units per month. For example, 400 g of GF baguettes and 250 g GF pasta would each count as one unit. Your recommended number of allowable units varies by age, sex, and other factors, such as if you're pregnant or breastfeeding.

In Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, the prescription is free. Yes, you read that correctly. In England, some individuals will qualify for free prescriptions, but most will have to pay. Under a typical scenario, you'd pay 7.65 Pounds for each line item on your prescription. If your gluten-free prescription included four line items (e.g. bread, pizza base, pasta, and crackers), you'd pay roughly 30 Pounds. However, England also offers pre-payment certificates (PPC). You pay, in advance, a set fee for either 3 months or 12 months worth of prescriptions, and the PPC covers all of your prescriptions for that period. The 3-month PPC costs 29.10 Pounds and the 12-month PPC costs 104 Pounds, or about $163. That's a great deal. Think about it—you pay a one-time fee of $163, and that covers 100% of your gluten-free food prescription for the year. Not bad.

Finally, to Coeliac UK's credit, they've established a strong position on the prescription plan. They believe that offering gluten-free food under a prescription plan is an essential national health service, but they also believe that gluten-free cake mixes and other similar foods shouldn't be covered under such plans, because they're not in line with healthy eating recommendations. In fact, to that end, less than two weeks ago the Express and Star ran a story about how the NHS prescription plan in Dudley was scaling back both the amount and range of its gluten-free offerings. It was part of an effort to trim some 1.4 million Pounds from the regional commission's budget (last year, they had spent about 200,000 Pounds on foods for celiac patients in their district), but when the commission looked for gluten-free foods to cut from the prescription plan, one of the first food categories to go was gluten-free cakes.

Of course, you'd still be able to buy them yourself out of pocket at the store, and an official for the commission even noted that gluten-free products purchased at retail stores were frequently cheaper than the unsubsidized cost of similar products that were part of a prescription plan.


Italy

And last, but not least, Italy, that supposed Shangri-La of gluten-free eating. Unlike many of its other European and North American counterparts, Italy doesn't go the route of a gluten-free tax deduction or gluten-free prescription food (though gluten-free foods are widely available at pharmacies, rather than markets). Instead, Italy provides a monthly stipend to offset the cost of gluten-free foods for those with celiac disease. The stipend varies by region, but sources I've seen note $184 per month and $200 per month.

(That's potentially up to $2,400 per year the government puts in your pocket to offset the cost of gluten-free foods, a value far exceeding any small tax relief you'd get in the U.S. from spending an equivalent amount of your own money on GF foods, then reducing your taxable income only by that amount which exceeds 7.5% of your AGI.)

Gluten-free foods eligible to be purchased with your stipend are found on a list maintained by the Ministero della Salute (Ministry of Health), and the Ministry has established standards for how a product earns gluten-free designation and inclusion on the list. From what I can gather with the help of Google Translate (my Italian isn't stellar, despite my Sicilian heritage) the stipend and other measures are implemented in conjunction with the regional chapters of the Italian Celiac Association.

In addition to the stipend, you're also awarded extra time off work each month to offset the time it takes to find and prepare your gluten-free food. (Is that really necessary?) Plus, schools, hospitals, and other public facilities must provide gluten-free food options.

Why is Italy so aggressive when it comes to such matters? Simple: the "standards for the protection of persons suffering from celiac disease," a comprehensive set of measures passed in 2005.

Implications

So what does this all mean?

On the one hand, nothing. I simply wanted to offer a detailed and comprehensive look at how countries other than the United States have addressed the issue of providing financial relief associated with the heightened costs incurred via gluten-free specialty foods. On that basic level, this look at Canada, Ireland, the U.K., and Italy is illuminating.

But on the other hand, I have a personal perspective to offer. I question whether giving people extra time off work to find and prepare gluten-free foods is really necessary. I applaud Coeliac UK for taking a stance and saying that certain gluten-free foods shouldn't be subsidized by the government because they're not compatible with a healthy diet.

Most importantly, however, I think that these various approaches have serious implications for how we think about our food, our condition (celiac disease or similar), and our health. When food is assigned to you via a prescription, and when you obtain that food from a pharmacy, it changes your relationship to food. I can't imagine that it doesn't. Food in some sense becomes a drug, an impersonal treatment. Instead of finding health through diet, you end up treating a disease through a healthcare system. While I think each country has taken laudable steps to meet the needs—financial and otherwise—of its medically gluten-free populations, it also partially makes me sad to see food treated in this way. But that's just me.

Given the spectrum of "solutions" and potential implications, what's your take? Are you happy with the U.S. approach? Would you prefer a tactic taken by one of the countries in these examples? Or would some other strategy offer a better resolution? Are you a reader from one of the countries I've highlighted in this blog post? If so, please share your experiences!

–Pete

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Amaretto Soufflé


Soufflé. Mere mention of the word intimidates many cooks. Perhaps that's why preparing one perfectly is one of the penultimate tests on Gordon Ramsay's Master Chef.

Making a soufflé involves preparing a base sauce and combining it with beaten egg whites and your choice of sweet or savory elements, then baking it in the oven and watching as it puffs—sometimes to incredible proportions.

But you needn't shy away from this classic and elegant dish. James Beard once wrote, "The only thing that will make a soufflé fall is if it knows you're afraid of it." So put away your reservations and boldly embrace this recipe.

Plus, with Valentine's Day just over one week away, this recipe would be a great way to dazzle that special someone. That's why we're posting it this week ... so you can use this upcoming weekend to try a test run in advance of the big day and build up your soufflé confidence.


There are myriad sweet and savory soufflé options. We've opted to make Amaretto, fortified with a touch of pure almond extract, the star of the dish. It's complemented by a simple, homemade whipped cream. Together, they're a little bit of heaven with every spoonful.

This version calls for individual ramekins, though souffles can also be larger. Either way, they're a wonder to behold baking in the oven. At first, nothing happens. But then, slowly—but clearly before your very eyes—they begin to climb and rise.

The end result melts in your mouth: moist, fluffy, delicate, divine.


Amaretto Soufflé with Chocolate Whipped Cream
Makes 8 individual soufflés

Ingredients
4 tbsp butter
1/3 cup (42 g) Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups milk
3 tbsp sugar
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup Amaretto Disaronno
1/2 tsp GF pure almond extract
6 egg whites

For the chocolate whipped cream
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp sugar
1 cup heavy cream

Steps
1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat.
2. Whisk in the flour and salt.
3. Stir in the milk over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture boils. Cook for one minute.
4. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar.
5. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Then temper with the milk mixture.
6. Cover and refrigerate to cool for about 15 minutes.
7. Whisk in the Amaretto and almond extract.
8. Preheat the oven to 375 deg F. Grease eight 6-ounce ramekins, sprinkle with sugar, and dump out any excess.
9. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites with a mixer until they form stiff peaks. Then carefully fold into the main mixture.
10. Divide the mixture evenly, spooning it into the prepared ramekins and set them on a large baking sheet, evenly spaced apart.
11. Bake for about 18 minutes, until a knife inserted down the side of a ramekin comes out clean.
12. Meanwhile, prepare the chocolate whipped cream: whisk the cocoa and sugar together, then add the heavy cream and beat with a mixer until soft peaks form.

Notes
All soufflés fall as they cool once removed from the oven. For the best visual effect, serve them almost immediately. But there's nothing wrong with a fallen soufflé. They'll still taste great, and they can even be refrigerated and served later.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, soy-free, vegetarian.

Enjoy!

UPDATE 2/13/13 - This post is part of the Gluten-Free Ratio Rally. Check out host No One Likes Crumbley Cookies for links to a few other souffle recipes!

–Pete