Tag Archives: gluten-free

GF Matzo: Better Than the Real Deal

Saying something “tastes better than matzo” is not normally the strongest compliment. After all, matzo is somewhat dry and tasteless. But when a gluten-free product tastes better than the real deal, it’s cause for celebration.

New this year, Yehuda Gluten-Free Matzo-Style Squares have a lighter, more tender taste that traditional matzo. With a hint of salt, they taste similar to a thin, flaky flatbread or cracker. We opened a box so we could taste the product, and since then my kids have been begging for more. Seriously. And it’s not even Passover yet.

During the eight-day holiday of Passover, we do not eat grains that can ferment and become leavened. Interestingly, those grains are wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt — the same glulten-containing grains that people with celiac disease must not eat. However, in another twist, matzo must be made from one of those five grains, though the flour must come into contact with water for less than 18 minutes so it doesn’t rise.

For the past few years, we’ve bought gluten-free oat matzo. It was expensive ($25 to $35 a box) and tasted only slightly better than the actual box.

The new Gluten-Free Matzo-Style Squares aren’t halachically (according to Jewish law) a replacement for matzo at the seder, since they are made from potato starch and tapioca starch, instead of wheat or oats. That’s why they are called “matzo style” instead of just “matzo.” But they taste better than gluten-free oat matzo and, at $5 to $7 a box, they are priced better too.

If you would like to buy gluten-free oat matzo that meets seder requirements, try Lakewood Matzoh or Gluten-Free Oat Matzos. Last year, Gluten-Free Oat Matzos had problems with cross-contamination at the factory, resulting in 80 ppm of gluten. This year, they say they’ve tested the oat matzo repeatedly and it was less than 5ppm. (A gluten-free product should be under 20ppm, under proposed FDA guidelines.)

I can’t find a link to buy the Gluten-Free Matzo-Style Squares online, but I bought them at a Chicago-area Jewel-Osco that carries kosher food. Happy Passover!

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A Softie for Soft Pretzels

gluten-free soft pretzel

Kim & Scott's gluten-free soft pretzel

I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, a city where the soft pretzel is a source of civic pride. In Philadelphia, soft pretzels are sold by street vendors. In the rest of the country, pretzels are sold in shopping malls. In Philadelphia, soft pretzels are the shape of a fat figure 8 smushed in at the sides; in the rest of the country, they’re shaped like tidy bows. In Philadelphia, they come in one flavor — plain — and the customer squirts on yellow mustard from a plastic bottle. Elsewhere, pretzels are an abomination in flavors like asiago cheese and cinnamon sugar.

As you might sense, I have strong feelings about soft pretzels. When I go back to Philly, I often try to sneak one. I hold the warm pretzel in a brown paper sleeve and discreetly pull off pieces and put them in my mouth, so my daughter won’t see. That’s because she has celiac and can’t eat Philly pretzels, since they’re not gluten-free.

I was happy to introduce her to a new option: gluten-free soft pretzels from Kim & Scott’s Gourmet Pretzels. The Chicago-based company is allergy-aware; they bake all their products in a nut-free facility. Now they’ve added gluten-free pretzels too, made with an ancient-grain gluten-free flour mix. While they are not Philly-style soft pretzels, they’re as close as my daughter is going to get for now. She loved them. Her gluten-eating sister liked them but wasn’t as enthusiastic.

The gluten-free pretzels are available in Kim and Scott’s Cafe Twist in Chicago, plus they are sold frozen in area Whole Foods and other stores. While the pretzels are made in a facility that processes wheat, they say they take precautions to avoid cross-contamination.

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Noshin’ on hamantaschen

hamantaschen, gluten-free

Gluten-free, dairy-free hamantaschen

Name a Jewish holiday, and there’s usually a special food associated with it. That’s certainly the case with Purim, which is coming up this weekend. I made gluten-free, dairy-free hamantaschen – triangular, jelly-filled cookies — using the recipe I posted last year.

I found the recipe so easy to work with last year, but a bit more difficult to cut out the circles this year. It helped when I chilled the dough in the freezer then liberally sprinkled rice flour on the wax paper when I was rolling out the dough. Go figure. There is so much that goes into baking — the smallest changes in ingredients, temperature, etc., end up making a big difference.

My kids love shaping the hamantaschen and doing a “magic” trick: taking the circles of dough and turning them into triangular cookies. They also love thinking of crazy fillings to put in the hamantaschen. This year we tried marshmallows, white chocolate chips, Nutella and mint M&Ms, along with apricot and raspberry jam. I actually like the traditional prune and poppy seed fillings, but I did not have the ingredients on hand.

Check out this cute, short video of my older daughter shaping hamantaschen, and turning circles into triangles. Yes, she really does say to “gently, carefully, tenderly” fold up the dough!

The full recipe is posted here.

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Kasha Varnishkes, Gluten-Free

kasha-star

Kasha varnishkes: a satisfying Eastern European dish

Kasha varnishkes is a traditional Russian-Jewish dish of roasted buckwheat groats (kasha) tossed with bowtie noodles. Apparently, my grandfather hated kasha, as he had too many memories of eating it growing up. But we love it. To me, this earthy, satisfying dish typifies Old Country cooking. Despite its name, buckwheat is not related to wheat. Rather, it’s a nutritious, gluten-free whole grain from the rhubarb and sorrel family.

Until now, I had to make kasha varnishkes with gluten-free fusilli pasta, as there was no gluten-free bowtie or farfalle pasta available. I was thrilled when Le Veneziane, a superb corn pasta from Italy, recently released gluten-free farfalle.

I wish we had gluten-free farfalle pasta a few years ago, since some of my daughter’s preschool and kindergarten projects used bowtie pasta. Don’t get me started, though, on schools’ unnecessary use of food in the classroom.

Kasha varnishkes can be served as a side-dish for brisket or it can stand alone as a vegetarian entree.

Click for Gluten-Free Kasha Varnishkes recipe

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Gluten-Free Thin Mint Cookies

gluten-free thin mints

Gluten-Free Thin Mint Cookies

This year was my younger daughter’s first year in Daisies, the first-grade Girl Scouts group. She sold 48 boxes of Girl Scout cookies with enthusiastic endorsements: “They freeze well.” “They make good gifts.” “Thin Mints are the most popular.” But, because she has celiac disease and is gluten-free, she has never, ever tasted a Girl Scout cookie, nor will she.

I didn’t want her to be left out of the Girl Scout cookie feeding frenzy. So this year, I developed my own recipe for gluten-free Thin Mints, with a tender gluten-free chocolate cookie enrobed in a minty chocolate coating. It’s just the right combo of chocolate and mint, gluten-free of course.

Although it is expensive, use peppermint oil rather than mint extract, because mint extract often contains both spearmint and peppermint oils. You don’t want the spearmint taste in these cookies, just the peppermint. This recipe is a good chance to use teff flour (which I love for its high protein and fiber content), as teff works well with the chocolate flavors and the slightly dry biscuit base.

This recipe is a bit tricky, in that the batter is very soft, making it hard to form the cookies. Keep the batter chilled so it’s easier to cut out perfectly round circles. Also, chilling the cookies on the tray before baking helps them to keep their shape and reduce spread.

Enjoy!

Click for Gluten-Free Thin Mints recipe

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Chinese Corn Egg-Drop Soup

Chinese Corn Egg-Drop Soup, gluten-free

Chinese Corn Egg-Drop Soup

For celiacs, Chinese restaurants are big caution zones, since soy sauce is brewed with wheat. Also, most egg noodles, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, imitation crab and mock meat substitutes (like mock duck) contain gluten.

Some accommodating Chinese restaurants will prepare entrees without soy sauce, or they may agree to cook with gluten-free soy sauce that you bring in. But cross-contamination is still an issue, so make sure to ask the staff to prepare your food in a clean pan with clean utensils. Dining cards from Triumph Dining, written in Chinese (and other languages) and tailored to specific cuisines, provide an extra measure of safety.

Luckily, some gluten-free soy sauce substitutes are available. San-J wheat-free tamari, certified gluten-free, is the choice in our house. La Choy soy sauce is also gluten-free, though it does contain more processed ingredients.

In our old neighborhood, we were fortunate to find a Chinese restaurant that prepared food without soy sauce for us. We’d routinely order cashew chicken (cooked with a little chicken broth and salt) and corn egg-drop soup.

When we moved, I wanted to make gluten-free corn egg-drop soup that we could enjoy at home. I was surprised at how easy it was. Cream-style corn (which is non-dairy, despite the “cream” in its name) gives the soup body, and whole kernels of corn add to the texture. Silky threads of egg stream through the soup like ribbons. The result: a velvety egg drop soup, enhanced by sweet nuggets of corn, just like in our favorite Chinese restaurant.

Click for Chinese Corn Egg Drop Soup recipe

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Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies

Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies

Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies

These easy-to-make gluten-free peanut butter cookies are sealed with a kiss – Hershey’s Kisses placed on the cookies while they are still warm from the oven.

The bonus: The cookies are naturally gluten free, with no flour at all, making them good crowd-pleasers. Plus, the peanut butter packs a protein punch, which we’re always looking for in our house. Thank you to my friend Rebecca who provided the flourless peanut butter cookie recipe. I just added a kiss.

Peanut butter jars can easily become contaminated by bread crumbs spread on a sandwich knife. We always have two jars of peanut butter and two jars of jelly in our house, marked in permanent marker: GF ONLY and NOT GF. My mother has a squeeze bottle of jelly, so crumbs don’t get in the jar.

I’m a crunchy, natural peanut butter fan. True, natural peanut butter is a pain. The oil separates, so you need to plunge your knife into the jar to mix it up, inevitably resulting in an overflowing mess.

Still, one look at the ingredients and you’ll be convinced to go natural. Most peanut butters contain sugar and hydrogenated vegetable oil. Even mainstream natural brands like Skippy Natural and Jiff Natural contain added sugar, palm oil and salt.

By contrast, Trader Joe’s organic crunchy unsalted peanut butter has one ingredient: peanuts. And the Whole Foods 365 Everyday PB has two ingredients: peanuts and salt (though, curiously, their 365 Organic brand has added palm oil).

While you’re at it, check your jam or jelly. Most contain high-fructose corn syrup. Who needs that? Buy a brand that contains simply fruit or is sweetened with other fruit juices.

Click for Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies recipe

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News and Notes

I wanted to share some good gluten-free experiences we’ve had recently, with a Harry & David gluten-free gift box, King Arthur gluten-free cake mix, and four restaurants in Chicago: Hub 51, Wilde, Lula Cafe and Nano Sushi.

Harry & David Gluten-Free Goodies

Harry & David Gluten-Free Hat Box
Harry & David Gluten-Free Hat Box

– The good folks at MB Limited, who help us out with our computers, sent us a Harry & David Gluten-Free Hat Box. It’s always exciting to open a Harry & David gift tower, so it was fun to unwrap the two hat boxes. Imagine our delight when we discovered that the hat boxes were filled with gluten-free brownies and cookies.

The brownies were some of the most scrumptious brownies I’ve ever had — gluten-free or regular. I looked at the ingredients and was surprised to see that they used black bean powder instead of flour. I was also surprised to see the high amount of fat, but let’s not go there (on the positive side, they had high protein). The gluten-free brownies — two fudge brownies, two walnut brownies and two chocolate chunk brownies — were rich and thick and chocolate.

The gluten-free cookie assortment included two macaroons, two chocolate chip cookies, two peanut butter cookies and two mint chocolate cookies. They were quite good, but the brownies were definitely our favorite. I sent Harry & David an email, asking if their gluten-free goodies were made in a dedicated gluten-free area etc., but I did not hear back.

UPDATE 10/29/11: I just found out that Harry & David has discontinued their gluten-free brownies and cookies. Unfortunately, there’s no explanation from them. I’m sad, those brownies were really delicious.

King Arthur gluten-free birthday cake

gluten-free birthday cake
Birthday cake made with King Arthur gluten-free chocolate cake mix

– Speaking of rich desserts, it was recently my older daughter’s birthday. Although she does not have celiac and usually orders a bakery cake, she requested that I bake her cake this year. I told her it would have to be a gluten-free cake, as I don’t bake with regular flour any more since flour can remain airborne for a few hours and settle on kitchen appliances and counters.

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Filed under celiac, restaurants

Navigating holiday parties, gluten-free

pomegranate bark2

Gluten-free pomegranate bark, perfect to bring to a holiday party.

When you’re on a gluten-free diet, the holidays can seem like a minefield of tempting foods with unknown ingredients. A few easy strategies, as well as a few great gluten-free recipes, can make holiday get-togethers much easier.

When going to a holiday party or other event:

    – Understand that you will need to find your holiday cheer in the good company and conversation, not necessarily in the food.

    – Eat before you leave home, so you’re not overly hungry at the party. This will reduce the temptation to eat something that is not safe.

    – Bring your own dish or dessert to share (like the gluten-free lemon bars below), so you are assured there will be something you can eat.

    – Bring a gluten-free granola bar or nut bar (Larabars and Kind bars are tasty and filling), so you can sneak away and have a quick snack if there’s nothing safe for you to eat.

    – Be an early bird. Food left on a buffet table easily can become contaminated when guests use the wrong serving spoon, dip their pita in otherwise gluten-free hummus, or break bread over the salad. If you are at the party early, you can go into the kitchen and reserve untouched portions for yourself. You’ll also be able to read package labels.

    – Let your host know in advance that you cannot eat anything made with wheat, rye, barley and oats. Tell the host that she doesn’t need to make special foods, you would just like to determine which foods will be safe for you to eat. If you can find out the menu, focus on two or three dishes that seem likely to be gluten-free and ask about the ingredients in those specific dishes. If the party will have a buffet, ask the host to put aside uncontaminated portions for you in advance.

    – When in doubt, leave it out. Don’t eat food unless you are certain it is gluten-free.

For easy desserts to bring to holiday get-togethers, check out these Gluten Free Nosh recipes:

Cheers!

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Gluten-Free Potato Latkes

Gluten-Free Potato Latkes

Gluten-Free Potato Latkes

Happy Hanukkah!

Sorry that I’ve been neglecting this blog, but things have been busy and it seems there’s always something to do. In the past few months, we sold our condo (thankfully!), moved into a new (well, a rehabbed 100-year-old) house in Chicago, transitioned to a new neighborhood after 20 years in the old ‘hood, and changed our daughters to a new school.

Things are settling down now, and we are enjoying Hanukkah in our new home. And while Hanukkah may mean candles, dreidels and gifts to the kids, it means potato latkes to me.

Many homemade and store-bought latkes contain flour or matza meal. However, since the amount of flour is small, it’s pretty easy to adapt latkes to be gluten-free. If you’re looking to buy latkes, Kineret frozen potato latkes do not contain gluten.

This year, my family concurred that my latkes were the best ever. I used three russet potatoes and one sweet potato, which added a golden orange color and hint of sweetness. After I grated the potatoes, I let them sit in a colander to drain extra liquid. And I used potato starch instead of flour. Don’t listen to people who claim you have to hand-grate the potatoes; a food processor works just fine.

Even if your arteries harden at the sight of a thick layer of oil in a frying pan, don’t be stingy with the oil. To make the latkes brown and crisp, you need a generous layer of oil covering the bottom of the pan. Keep the pan hot to prevent the latkes from absorbing too much oil, but not so hot that you set off the smoke alarm.

Enjoy the remaining days of Hanukkah!

Click for Gluten-Free Potato Latkes recipe

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