Thanksgiving: The (upside) run-down

Yes this looks almost the same as last year, but why mess with what works?

 

Whenever you cook a giant meal, somethings got to give, and depending on what that something is, you either have a giant success, or a giant mess. Before I tell you what this year’s “something” was, I will say, this year was a giant success.

 

Worth every OCD-inducing minute.

 

Here are some things I learned this Thanksgiving:

 

When you have an old oven, you must be prepared to sit there and watch as your oven thermometer goes up and down with no rhyme or reason, or concordance with the actual temperature-dial.  This oven assumes you have nothing better to do.

 

Even if you cook several things beforehand, there will be an hour when you are absolutely nuts, when you can’t stand people coming into the kitchen, and when you are a bit of a terror. It’s the price of a good cook.

 

Gravy – good, from scratch gravy – is a bitch. For those who like to have a complex savory-yet-sweet flavor, it is a long road. Also, gravy never comes out the same every year. You may find yourself putting odd things into it, but it really doesn’t matter – it’s your secret.

 

Getting baked.

 

No matter how many pies you make, they will be gone very quickly – if not that night, the next morning. (We are all animals when it comes to homemade pie. Especially pecan. Damn.

 

And finally, some things that are completely wrong come out completely right. Case in point: this year, I cooked the turkey upside-down. I shall explain: My turkey came in a bag that was hard to see through (spices and such) and when I shoved it in the oven at 9 am I must have missed the fact that it was in fact, face-down (breast-down? whatever). I didn’t notice it was thus until, whilst carving, I wondered why there was no breast meat on my turkey.

 

Ha.

 

BUT – as it turns out, this works. Cooking the turkey upside down ensures that the dark meat is done and that the breast meat is very moist – perfectly so. All the juices go to the bottom of the bag and hang out in the white meat. My fellow diners suggested that I should make this mistake next year. Who knew?

 

This year, I am thankful that my mistakes turned out to be blessings, and I had people I love to share them with – even if those people drove me crazy, I am thankful that it’s always a good day.

 

Coming up: a pie you need to make.

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Why We Still Need to Read Labels, An Update!

So After contacting Promax last night, and leaving a message on Twitter about this issue, they wrote me back with this:

” While barley/barley malt  contain  gluten, barley malt extract does not.  Gluten is found in the protein portion of a wheat product.  Barley malt extract contains no protein.  Further more, we have tested this bar several times for gluten and it falls well below not only the FDA proposed limit of 20ppm but also the GFCO’s (Gluten Free Certifying Organization) standard of 10 ppm.  Part of the agreement with the GFCO is that  the bars and the manufacturing facility be audited for the presence of gluten regularly.  We have always tested well below the standards above. “

Ok…But then I read articles like this one, which state:

” Why the confusion over barley malt extract?
It is very tricky to test for barley contamination in food. One of the assays (sandwich omega-gliadin ELISA) severely underestimates gluten contamination from barley; the other (sandwich R5 ELISA) overestimates gluten contamination from barley by a factor of 2. And when it comes to testing for gluten in a hydrolyzed product (a product that has been partially broken down), such as barley malt extract, the test that usually overestimates barley contamination may now underestimate it. It really is a confusing situation! Fortunately, there is an assay available for testing hydrolyzed ingredients. It is called the competitive R5 ELISA.

How much gluten does barley malt extract contain?
When 3 barley malt extracts were tested for gluten using the competitive R5 ELISA, they contained approximately 320, 960, and 1300 parts per million (ppm) gluten. Taking into account the fact that the R5 ELISA may overestimate barley contamination by a factor of 2, the extracts more likely contained approximately 160, 480, and 650 ppm gluten.

Obviously, when barley malt extract is an ingredient in a food product, such as breakfast cereals, waffles, and pancakes, the ppm gluten content of the final food product will be far less than the ppm gluten content of the extract. In one study that assessed the gluten content from barley in two breakfast cereals containing barley malt extract, one product contained 795 ppm gluten; the other 171 ppm gluten. “

And then I see advice from medical sources, like this:

 “In the FDA’s proposed rule for labeling of food as gluten free, malt ingredients are included among those ingredients that can not be included in labeled gluten-free foods. It doesn’t matter if the final food product contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten.”

So I suppose I can see why this Promax’s party line on the issue, however all research I’ve done says that barley malt/barley malt extract still has gluten, although it may not be in high amounts. Even the FDA is having a problem with this!

And I’ve found that the smallest amount of things – like oat bran, for instance – can make me sick. For people with Celiacs, the only way to live is by eliminating all possible sources of gluten, even those which are declared “safe” despite their name; we know that sometimes what our bodies tell us is ahead of the current information. I’ve also read that less than 1/8 tsp of an ingredient can kick off your symptoms, and I have no idea how that corresponds with the 20ppm standard. And since other companies have chosen to remove barley malt extract because of the Celiac issue, it seems like there is in fact a problem for some consumers.

So again, I shall be returning them.

I don’t blame the Promax company, and I don’t think they’re trying to “fool” people into eating traces of wheat. However I do think it’s difficult that there are all these extracts and flavorings out there that are mysterious in origin or content, and it’s nearly impossible to cut them out of your diet. So I guess that means you have to be proactive when you can!

Every Celiac for Herself? Why we still need to read labels.

Don’t get fooled by the familiar packaging!

Sometimes it’s very easy to not read the whole label. Sometimes it’s long, you’re in a rush, and you’re so grateful to find something with “certified GF” image on it that you skim over the ingredients.

Here’s the sticky: we still have to read labels. Even though the FDA is trying to help us out, they aren’t really our friend. Their requirements don’t require an absence of gluten, only for products to be below a certain level of gluten-contamination. This means that if you see a GF label on a product that you know has a gluten ingredient listed, you shouldn’t trust it. Trust yourself and your own knowledge, because you’re the one putting your health (and your digestive system) at risk.

Why am I writing this now, you may wonder? I’ve been eating Promax protein bars for breakfast every morning at work, and I dig them; they have 20g protein and actually keep my full till lunch. I buy them in boxes from Amazon, so they’re cheaper, and today a couple boxes arrived at my house, one of them the nutty butter crisp variety. Upon examination, I looked past the GF label and saw that barley malt was listed in the ingredients list.

For a moment, I thought I might be mistaken, perhaps barley was not always gluten? Alas, I was right, though with barley I seemed to have stumbled into a bit of a controversy. There have been other products with this ingredient labeled GF, and consumers made a (deserved) fuss. Vans (the waffle folks), for one, decided to remove the ingredient completely. Removing barley malt was the step Chex took before labeling their cereals GF.

Apparently barley malt can sneak under the FDA radar, though any web search or Celiac site will set you straight that people with gluten intolerance should not eat any barley or malt-type flavorings. This only adds to my upset – one would think that a health and fitness company would be a little more vigilant in their ingredient use.

I will still be eating these bars, but only the varieties I know are safe. And I hope that in the future, the FDA will get its act together and make sure that foods labeled GF are actually gluten-free.

So the moral is: Sometimes we don’t get labels, so we have to trust. But when there is one, always read it!

UPDATE: Read more here!

Life Update and a Product Review: Enjoy Life Crunchy Cookies

Oh, I am a bit behind here. It seems that, in life, you are either behind in work/things that need to be done, or behind in everything else. I think this falls into the “everything else” category. My apologies. As some of you may know, I finished grad school in May and since I started working full-time (real-job time!) I haven’t had much time to write.

Also, in an effort to um, er, downsize, I have enacted a moratorium on baked goods, excepting those on Thanksgiving and Christmas (upon which there will be baked goods. I’m very excited to show you them). I did manage to sneak some pumpkin bread in there but I figure, if it’s made in the bread machine it can’t be all bad. And pumpkin is oh so good for you.

And since I didn’t technically bake these cookies I’m about to review, they don’t count – yep, I’m pretty sure they don’t. Plus, they were sent to me gratis, and therefore can’t be wasted.

So for the stats: these cookies come in four varieties: double chocolate, chocolate chip, vanilla honey graham, and sugar shortbread. They are indeed lightly crispy, and quite large for the typical boxed-cookies, which makes me happy, at about 100-120 calories a pop for two.They are free of all the allergens, as Enjoy Life products are.

(Tip: if you like your cookies less-crispy, open the box and come back in a few days; they will soften up a little)

These make a lovely snack, dessert, coffee-partner. I just tried the sugar version yesterday and even though the chocolate ones are very good, I think the big sugar crystals on these won me over. (Very bad tasty with Nutella.)

However, with the holidays coming up, I am confident that these cookies would be a great ingredient in recipes that call for a cookie crust/cookie crumbs, etc.  Their texture is very well suited for grinding, and firm enough to stand up in baking.

Another related tangent that I need to share: my grandma makes the best rum balls. Ever. In all creation. Every year she makes a whole batch of them and then they sit out in a big tin on the counter, getting better each day, as rum balls do. Since her house is about 10 feet from mine, I used to furtively sneak into the kitchen – when people were conveniently elsewhere – and shove a couple in my pocket for good measure.

If you aren’t familiar, they are basically crushed Nilla wafers, rum, powdered sugar, and walnuts. They are German, as am I. Many recipes call for cocoa powder, but I think they’re better without it. No need for baking, which keeps the alcohol…intact. They are amazing little spicy balls of cookie dough, and of course off-limits to me now.

As yet I haven’t tried to recreate them gluten-free, but this year I really want to. And I think I might have to try it with the vanilla honey graham version here.

Has anyone tried to make some sort of unbaked cookie with gf cookie crumbs? Let me know!

One week till Thanksgiving!

Spotted: Gluten-Free Goodies at The Coffee Bean

314677_10100521913353283_3205146_57482142_1760422078_nLook, no fog!

Today was a very warm day in Sonoma county; so warm, in fact, that it was over 80 degrees in San Francisco. This, my friends, is rare.

But do you know what is also rare? Finding a gluten-free baked good at your regular coffee joint. How does this hot weather relate to this rarity, you ask? Business called me to the city today, and around 11am I was walking down Fillmore – which, if you didn’t know, has basically every coffee chain within a one-block perimeter. And as my boyfriend led us into Noah’s Bagels to pick up a toasty number for himself (lucky bastard), I fond myself sitting at a back-table, feeling rather glum; I was tired and a bit cranky, or in other words, feeling the need for some bagel love. Sadly, there is no gluten-free bagel love to be found at Noah’s.

imageBut there is hope: As we walked out of the cafe, I instinctively ducked into the adjacent coffee place, The Coffee Bean, to admire their case of pastries. And what did I find? In the upper left-hand corner, a gluten-free cinnamon bun. (!)

Now, wheat-eating folks cannot know the joy of this find. Too often are the gluten-free forced to look longingly at treats while we drink our coffee a la nothing. Even though we shouldn’t be eating those muffins and scones all the time (I favored the maple variety at Starbucks myself) sometimes you just need a freakin slice of coffee cake.

Anyway, a small victory, but it made my morning, so I’d just like to say thank you to The Coffee Bean, and thank you to whoever made the decision to stock those buns.

Of course, in a pinch, you can always tote one of these!

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Gluten-Free Date-Meringue Bars

19 It has been interesting around here lately, but some things are certain; the seasons will change, you will get that back-to-school cold (even when you are no longer going back to school), and you will get the urge to bake. And if you’re like me, that cold-thing will make you scour the cabinets for ingredients instead of making a trip to the store. 

It began with a bag of bulk-medjool dates. They have haunted my cupboard for longer than I care to admit, so I googled “date bars” and discovered this little gem of a recipe on food.com. Using online recipes is always a risk when there aren’t photos or many directions to go with it, especially when it’s on one of those huge submission-based sites. This recipe had only one review, but the person gave it five-stars so I figured I’d give it a go. The nice thing about these bare-bones recipes is that you can work easily with them once you’ve gotten familiar with your basic ingredients.

So the moral is, for every chocolate-coffee cookie flop (yep, that happened) you get lucky with a bar like this. I think I knew it would be fabulous when I caught a whiff of the dates in the saucepan; who knew dates were such chameleons? The result is a bar with the taste of pecan pie, the crunch of walnuts, and the fluffiness of a meringue topping.

In short, it tastes like Fall.

~ Gluten-Free Date-Meringue Bars ~

There’s something about the richness of the filling with the lightness of the meringue that is a match made in dessert-heaven.

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Ingredients

For bottom layer:

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter substitute
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tbsp molasses (optional, but adds nutrition and deep flavor)
  • 1 1/4 cups GF flour (whatever mixture you like best; I happened to have about  1/4c sorghum, 1/2c tapioca, and the rest brown rice flour.)

For date filling:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup dates, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • handful of raisins

For meringue:

  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar (optional, but helpful if your whites ever happen to collapse of if you’re using a hand-mixer)

1 Beat together butter and granulated sugar, add egg yolks, vanilla, and molasses. Mix in flour and blend until batter comes together; it will look much like a shortbread dough.

3

Press into a greased 8 x 8 pan. Keep in fridge until filling is ready. 

6

Add water, chopped dates, raisins, and brown sugar into medium saucepan, cook over medium heat until bubbly and thickened (about 10 minutes).

 7 Once mixture starts to bubble about halfway in, add chopped walnuts. Mush up the dates a bit with your spoon; watch as your dried-out dates turn into sweet, gooey deliciousness.

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Pour filling over bottom layer; spread evenly.

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For meringue: beat egg whites  and 1/4 tsp cream of tartar until frothy, slowly add brown sugar one tsp at a time. Once all sugar is added and you’re at soft peaks, add 1/4 tsp cream of tartar and crank up the speed!

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Beat to stiff peak stage, or when the meringue stand up on top of the whisk, and spread over filling.

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  [Image this peak flipping up and curling]

15

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. If meringue begins to brown too much, cover with aluminum foil partway through.

Let cool on a wire rack until meringue is cooled and starts to pull away from the pan; serve warm!

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Notes:

  • If you view the original recipe, you’ll see I added a few things to it, which you can just as easily take away if they;re not your thing. The molasses, however, is seriously delicious. Pecans could be substituted for the walnuts.
  • If you only have dates, increase amount to 1 1/2 cups and cut out raisins and walnuts.
  • Recipe calls for a 9 x 7 inch pan, but really who has that on hand? 8×8 is much more accessible, in my opinion.

 

Overall, not bad for a scrounged-up recipe, I must say.

A Tasty Thursday!

I have the habit of repeating food; once I find something I like I tend to eat it over and over until I get sick of it. Apparently doctors say this isn’t a good habit to have, since you may restrict your nutrients, but like many people I have my food-moods.

Example: for the past few months I have been on a salad kick, and before that I hadn’t made a salad at home in quite awhile. This particular salad was made without lettuce, since bagged lettuce usually has “taste” and I’m too lazy to wash my own lettuce – it always goes bad, what can I say? Instead I used cucumbers, carrots, green onions, and sometimes a bell pepper, dressed with a mixture of Bragg’s aminos, olive oil, and apple cider vinegar. (If you haven’t tired Bragg’s yet, do! It’s a great GF alternative to soy sauce and makes a great seasoning.)

But recently I’ve eaten some tasty things, and I thought I’d share some of my new favorites!

Trader Joe’s Hummus Salad Dressing

The past couple dressings I’ve tried have been complete losses, so color me happy to find this fantastic hummus dressing! It’s like the better version of thick hummus because it can go on salads and still work as a dip, with less chance of me eating the whole container in one sitting.

Amy’s Gluten-Free Lasagna

I was always a fan of Amy’s Dairy-Free Lasagna, but how happy am I they have a GF version now?! I stumbled upon this on a rare trip to Safeway (normally they have a very poor selection of GF foods), and I discovered they carry a large selection of Amy’s meals that are a little cheaper than my usual store. Who knew? And hey, it’s pretty good, and only 290 calories. Win.

Yoplait Go-Gurt

I know what you’re probably shaking your head at this, because Yoplait’s prime advertising directive (very “Borg” of them) is to encourage moms to put this in their kid’s lunch. But seriously folks, freeze them. It is the only way to ever get store-bought yogurt to turn into something resembling frozen yogurt from an ice-cream shop. Putting a whole 6 oz container in the freezer gives you a dairy rock; freezing a Go-Gurt tube makes for creamy, tasty frozen yogurt. Plus, it’s cheap and comes in kooky flavors.

Fresh Summer Fruit

The view inside my fruit cup

Ok, so this isn’t a “new” find, but this is the time for fruit. And this morning I had just about the best fruit cup I’ve ever had with actual fruit in it – you know, other than melon and half a strawberry. Plus my yard is on blackberry overload – no complaints here!

Salmon and Jicama Salad with Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette

Usually my school/work has rather limited food options, but their summer grill menu is quite lovely, and made outside to boot.  Fresh grilled salmon with almonds and honey-mustard? Good. Jicama? Good. Dressing? Good. Overall, Fantastic.

So, in the words of one of my Facebook friends, “Knock off this whole, ‘Make me jealous with food’ business.” Sorry folks, but sometimes I feel obligated to show how a gluten-free diet is anything but dull!

I’m getting excited…

… Because blackberry season is upon us!

One of the perks of living in the “country” part of Sonoma county is that the five acres I live on is more or less covered with blackberry bushes. And let me tell you, they are not easy to get rid of; they basically devour everything in their path.

Throughout the years my family has tried to mow them, trim them, poison them, and salt them, but the bushes just won’t quit. And quite frankly, I’m grateful for their insistence, because I love me a blackberry pie something fierce.

Towards the end of July they ripen so quickly  that I can hardly get to most of them before they begin to melt in the summer sun – and of course the best ones always seem out of reach. But rest assured, there will be pie. And other blackberry goodness.

I. Can’t. Wait. 

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Hey Rudi’s: Thanks for Featuring Me!

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It’s awesome to see my review posted on the product’s Facebook page!

On another note: It’s going to be HOT today in Sonoma County. Thank your stars that popsicles and frozen yogurt are gluten-free!

Can you be lazy and gluten-free? Sure – you have a savings account, right?

image Sometime in life, you find yourself adding up the money you spend on certain items (note: I exclude shoes from this calculation). And it is at these times when you realize that you can waste away substantial funds on something that you don’t really pay attention to, namely: Food.

Add special dietary restrictions to that equations, and you’re screwed. I often think of how lucky I am to be living in Sonoma County, surrounded by healthy and natural food shopping options – these thoughts oddly enough usually occur whenever I’m forced to enter a Safeway.

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Sorry, no cheapy Lean-Cuisine for you, my friend.

 

But even if you have a local Whole Foods you can still lose; you’ll get what you want, but oh, will you pay for it.

My personal, culinary Achilles-Heel? (Yes, that does sound rather disgusting.) Amy’s Kitchen’s meals. Tasty, gluten-free, little meals that zap up in 6 minutes and taste like actual food. They’re even made a few miles from where I live. I’ve gotten into the habit of eating their dinners for dinner most weeknights, and I love that they’re healthy and relatively low-calorie. Really they are the only low-calorie gluten-free meals you can buy in the supermarket. My favorites? imageimage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For an extra splurge, they even make gluten-free, dairy-free pizza! (about $8).

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[Author’s Note: Amy’s people, if you are reading this, feel free to send me coupons, free meals, etc :D]

Sadly, the meals hardly ever go on sale (when they did a few months ago, I went a bit crazy) and compared to the other options in the frozen-food aisle, they are priced more like food from the prepared foods section, or even from a restaurant.

Recently I’ve been a bit strapped for cash – blame it on the holidays and the last couple weeks before financial aid checks go out – and so I’ve been cooking at home more. Which means lots of rice, vegetable, potatoes, beans, soup, and more time spent in the kitchen. And, let’s face it, less variety; complicated recipes become much more complicated, and often expensive, when you make them GF. And people, I like to be lazy. I like to have portions measured out. I like to add a cup of veggies to a dish and call it a day.

I also like to not overdraw my checking account.

There are then two choices: pay for quick, easy, and different food; or be cheap and eat the staples. And count calories yourself.

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You can definitely live the life of a lazy-cook while on a gluten-free diet, but in the end, it’ll cost you a bit more.

P.S. And why, when you Google “gluten-free” does a photo of a toasted bagel come up? That’s just cruel!

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