Monday, July 28, 2008

Gluten Free Dining Cards

Triumph Dining is offering free gluten free dining cards for the month of August. These dining cards can be carried in your wallet and are useful when communicating with servers who aren't familiar with celiac disease or gluten free dietary needs. (If only we'd had one of these during our recent visit to the Melting Pot!) Furthermore, if they have 15,000 people sign up for these dining cards they will donate $10,000 to support a national celiac disease awareness campaign. That's a lot of good stuff!

Full disclosure: in order to receive your free dining card, you have to either send in a self-addressed, stamped envelope or else order the dining card online and place a $0.70 charge on your credit card.

To find out more about their free dining cards or order one for yourself, click here.

Review: The Melting Pot

Sunday was my mother in law's birthday, and we traditionally celebrate by going out to eat. This year she chose The Melting Pot, a fondue restaurant that just opened up last week in Crossgates Mall (where the old Hooters used to be). My MIL was quite diligent about discussing the menu and our special dietary restrictions with the staff at the Melting Pot - we were very impressed by the awareness of the chef she talked to, discussing the use of a separate burner for my husband's food, the particular menu items that were safe and those to avoid, the fact that they'd give extra veggies for the cheese fondue in lieu of bread, even asking for the name of the diner with a gluten free diet. We were looking forward to an enjoyable, gluten free evening.

Unfortunately, when we got to the restaurant, we were not impressed by our waitress. Now, I have to clear the air here. I waitressed all throughout college. It's a great job for a student, and ever since my waitressing days I really feel for servers in restaurants. I feel that 20% is the minimum tip unless the service is completely terrible, I go out of my way to be nice, especially when they are quite obviously new at the job, and while I do now make special demands (of course, due to the gluten free diet) it's not like I'm a starts-with-a-B-and-rhymes-with-witch here. That said, I have to say that - even keeping in mind the fact that she was very obviously new and nervous - our waitress was by far the worst server I have ever had. She consistently forgot items every single time she came to the table, consistently forgot to double check with the kitchen regarding whether certain menu items contained gluten, and took a minimum of half an hour to bring drinks, food, whatever to the table. I was not impressed.

Anyway. We started with a cheese fondue course - they made a gluten free cheddar cheese fondue for Vince, and the other fondue was a spinach artichoke. Something was off with the cheddar cheese fondue, and unfortunately while we eventually found out the spinach artichoke fondue was gluten free, it took 45 minutes to get that information to us and my husband ended up saying the heck with it and not trying that fondue. It came with bread, green apples, and an assortment of veggies. I had baked a loaf of gluten free Italian bread that afternoon and snuck some in my purse, so Vince at least did get some bread with his cheddar cheese fondue.

The next course was the salad. We had our choice of salads, and while I don't remember what his parents ordered, I know that Vince ordered the house salad and I had a California Salad that was very good.

For our third course, Vince's parents shared their Big Night Out dinner that included a selection of different meats - filet mignon medallions, jerk seasoned sirloin, vanilla rum chicken, marinated pork tenderloin, zesty peppered shrimp, butternut squash ravioli, and fresh vegetables. Vince had their seafood trio, which included white shrimp, scallops and fish filet, and I ordered their land and sea entree, which featured Balsamic-marinated sirloin, marinated chicken breast and white shrimp. Our entrees also included veggies. We had a boullion-based broth, and Vince's fondue pot was straight up canola oil (which, truth be told, I preferred to the seasoned oil).

Finally, we chose dessert. My in-laws chose the Banana Foster chocolate fondue that came with the Big Night Out entree, and we also chose a Special Event fondue with white chocolate and amaretto. The chocolate fondue came with plates of goodies: strawberries and banana slices, cheesecake, pound cake, rice krispie treats, oreo-and-graham-cracker covered marshmallows, etc, all topped with cinnamon. Unfortunately most of the fruit on the plates was cross-contaminated with gluten, and after a half hour wait - and eight dollars - our waitress brought over a pathetically small plate consisting of two strawberries and three or four small slices of banana for Vince on a separate place. Fortunately, he's not a huge fan of white chocolate - and can't eat the other chocolate - so it wasn't a big deal to him.

Overall, the food was tasty, but tried a little too hard for my taste. I grew up with fondue meaning canola oil, sterno, and meat and veggies so that part was very nice, but I also grew up with chocolate fondue meaning chocolate and fruit, none of the cakes and other desserts that are just too sweet for my taste. Cheesecake is decadent and fattening enough without drowning it in chocolate! Also - though I partially blame our waitress for this - we got to the restaurant at 5 PM and left at 9 PM. We expected to be there 2-3 hours, but that was kind of ridiculous - the poor puggle had her paws crossed by the time we got home!

My take on the Melting Pot - it's a great idea and, despite the issues with their service, it was an interesting experience and the food is quite good. However, it's extremely expensive, we felt nickeled and dimed the entire evening (seriously - eight dollars for two strawberries and a fifth of a banana? Not to mention charging for dipping sauces that they bring automatically), and plan to spend several hours at the restaurant. I'd probably recommend waiting a while before going and letting them sort out the issues with their service. However, we're glad that we went to celebrate MIL's birthday, but the next time we do fondue will be at home.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Review: DeBoles Gluten Free Pasta

Last weekend while my hubby and I ran our usual errands, we stopped by Walmart to pick up some groceries. Now, I know that a lot of my green and socially-conscious friends will condemn me for saying this, but hey -- I've found Walmart to be one of the more progressive national chains when it comes to gluten free food. Most people already know this, but their Great Value brand is not only extremely cheap, but all of their gluten free products are labelled. It was a godsend in those first few weeks, when I could pick up a bag of gummy bears for my then-fiance without having to worry about hidden sources of gluten.

Anyway, I've been pleasantly surprised to find various items in Walmart like soy flour as well, but I was absolutely floored this past weekend walking through the pasta aisle where I saw boxes of DeBoles gluten free rice pasta! Not only does Walmart carry gluten free pasta, but it was incredibly cheap at $1.57 a box!
(I'll take a minute here to clarify something for my readers who may not follow a gluten free diet. We'd been accustomed to purchasing our gluten free goodies from organic and natural food stores or else the natural food sections of our local supermarkets. And let me tell you, there's no such thing as cheap pasta in those places, it usually runs at least $3 a box -- it's still comparitively a pretty cheap meal, but you can imagine how much the average grocery bill can increase that way).

Anyway, Vince and I had never tried DeBoles gluten free pasta before, and we looked at each other, shrugged, and tossed a package of penne in the cart. What could we lose? If nothing else, we'd get a blog entry out of the deal. I'll admit to being slightly more excited than he was, and almost as soon as we were home and the groceries were unpacked it was time to make dinner.

I cooked the Deboles gluten free pasta according to the directions on the package and was encouraged by the fact that it looked like normal, wheat pasta. I paired it with some doctored Classico four cheese tomato sauce and a "Caesar" salad. It was absolutely amazing. It had the smell, taste, and consistency of regular wheat pasta. We'll definitely be stocking DeBole's pasta in our cupboards from now on, though next time I plan to make some nice gluten free Italian bread to go with it. :)

The final verdict: Phoebe gladly scarfed down our leftovers and quite literally(!) licked her plate clean. She rated DeBoles' gluten free rice penne four paws out of five.

I'm thrilled that Walmart stocks the spaghetti and penne pastas, but DeBole's website lists several other varieties including angel hair and rotini pasta. I would love to see those on the shelves at Walmart as well!

Oh, and the quotes RE: "Caesar" salad? Pre-GF, my husband loved Caesar salad but was never a fan of croutons. I can take or leave croutons myself, and while I avoid the word "diet" like it's a plague, I'm never averse to cutting calories that I'll never miss. Since just lettuce, dressing and cheese by itself would be boring, I usually add sliced cucumber to give the salad a little crunch, and grape tomatoes if they're on hand. Toss with caesar dressing and top with grated parmesan cheese, and voila! "Caesar" salad. :) If you're looking for a decent gluten free caesar salad dressing, I highly recommend Marzetti's Light Caesar Vinniagrette. Yum!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Smokey Bones' Gluten Free Menu

Vince and I went to Smokey Bones this evening for the first time since going gluten free. We've gone occasionally in the past, usually when I decide to throw caution to the wind and eat horrible for a meal.

I had heard they had a gluten free menu though nothing was posted on their website. However, I called before we left the apartment and verified that they did indeed have a gluten free menu. We got there a little after 7:30 and got seated within ten minutes. While watching Joba pitch, we dined on delicious hand pulled pork, tender baby back ribs, mashed potatoes and their amazing cinnamon apples.

Here's the gluten free menu we received tonight:

Guests often contact us regarding what is safe for them to eat at Smokey Bones in regards to Gluten Sensitivies (or Celiac Disease/Celiac Sprue). Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.

Smokey Bones has devised this list of menu items for our guests with gluten sensitivities. The items have been reviewed by an independent registered dietician and determined generally to be suitable for consumption by the Gluten intolerant, based upon the 2000 American Dietetic Association guidelines and menu samples provided by Smokey Bones.

While Smokey Bones has made an effort to provide complete and current gluten content information, changes in recipes, and the handcrafted nature of our menu items mean that variations in the ingredient profile of a particular menu item may occur from time to time. Therefore, we make no guarantees regarding the gluten content of any of these items.

Menu items should be ordered with recommended sides only with NO BREAD.

The Menu Items:

  • House Green Salad, crisp salad greens, with grape tomatoes, red onion and peppercorn ranch dressing (NO CROUTONS)

  • Chicken Caesar Salad (NO CROUTONS)

  • Baby Back Ribs (full or half rack)

  • Hand Pulled Pork

  • Smoked Beef Brisket

  • Sliced Smoked Turkey Breast

  • BBQ 1/2 Chicken

  • 10 oz USDA Choice Top Sirloin

  • NY Strip Steak

RECOMMENDED SIDES: cole slaw, broccoli, apples, mashed potatoes WITHOUT gravy, loaded mashed potatoes, baked potato, loaded baked potato.

Please share this information with your restaurant team and any guests who inquire.

Should you have any questions, contact Ann Connor, XXX-XXX-XXXX.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Review: Bell & Evans Gluten Free Breaded Chicken Breast Tenders

Vince and I, though newly wed, have lived together for a few years now. Having had the time to get to know one another and settle into our weekly rituals, one of our Sunday morning (or, I'll admit, sometimes early afternoon) rituals involves the Sunday paper. We bring it in the house, and of course the first thing Vince grabs is the Sports section and the Best Buy ad, while I go right for the comics (gotta love Dilbert), the coupon circulars, and the Price Chopper ad. Well, imagine my surprise a couple of Sundays ago when I saw a new featured item, Bell & Evans Gluten Free chicken. Of course, my curiosity was piqued, and Vince and I made a point to add it to our weekly shopping list.

Now, we haven't shared quality chicken tenders since his celiac diagnosis. We have purchased Ian's products in the natural food section of our grocery store - while the fish sticks are decent, the "chicken" tenders leave a lot to be desired. Keeping that in mind along with the fact that, hey, we both work full time and we're in the process of house hunting, well, quick and easy dinners are A-OK in my book! So, Thursday afternoon comes and we head to Price Chopper, shopping list in hand. We located the new Bell & Evans frozen chicken in the meat case, and despite the relatively steep price of almost $6 per box we picked up a box of their breaded chicken tenders as well as a box of their chicken nuggets for our usually well-stocked freezer.

Monday evening rolled around and I, being the slacker that I am, couldn't bring myself to row in the muggy heat. We hadn't planned anything for dinner but were very sick of burgers after the BBQ-filled holiday weekend, so we eyed the chicken tenders. According to the boxed instructions you can either pan-fry the tenders or bake them in the oven - I chose to go the somewhat healthier route and bake them. The box came with five decent-sized chicken tenders - I'd say they're about the same size as you'd get if you ordered them at a diner. It might not have been enough had we been absolutely famished or had we not had a ton of BBQ leftovers to use up, but paired with green salad, gluten free macaroni salad (Vince's specialty, using Tinkyada pasta), and corn on the cob it was just the right amount. I've also recently learned that Jack Daniel's Honey Smokehouse BBQ sauce is also gluten free (yay!), so we heated some of that up to dip the tenders.

I baked the tenders for 20 minutes, and it might have been a shade too long or else I should have greased my cookie sheet because they were just starting to get dark on the bottom. Still, they tasted done to perfection. The chicken was real chicken, not the fake-tasting stuff that Ian's uses in their chicken nuggets. It cut easily and was moist, tender and juicy. The breading has just the right amount of crispiness, and you couldn't tell it's gluten free at all from the color, flavor or texture. We devoured them, and immediately decided to add them to the short list of frozen convenience foods we keep permanently stocked in our freezer. We also decided that next time we'll have to try pan-frying them (or maybe experimenting with the deep fryer) to get the taste and texture of chicken tenders from a restaurant.

All in all - I would highly recommend Bell & Evan's Gluten Free Breaded Chicken Breast Tenders, and I look forward to trying the Bell & Evan's Gluten Free Chicken Nuggets in our freezer. According to their package and website, Bell & Evan's makes several other gluten free products, including gluten free breaded chicken patties, gluten free breaded chicken breasts, gluten free Italian Style breaded chicken patties, and gluten free parmesan breaded chicken breasts. I hope that Price Chopper realizes what a great find this is and starts carrying more chicken products from Bell & Evans!

If you get a moment - pick some Bell & Evan's gluten free chicken up at Price Chopper - you won't be disappointed, whether you follow a gluten free diet or not - and let them know not only how much you enjoy this product but also how great it is that local grocery stores are expanding their gluten free selection!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Albany Gluten Free Resources - Part 1

After writing my last post, a review of Outback Steakhouse's gluten free menu and their new addition of gluten free bread served before the meal, I realized that what would have been really helpful to my husband and I when we started researching gluten free foods and restaurants was a listing of resources in the Capital District for gluten-free foods. Now we're still relatively new to the whole gluten free lifestyle (it's hard to believe it's already been six months!) so I'm sure we don't know everything that's out there. Also, there are several bloggers who cover the Saratoga area quite nicely (Nunzio's and K.D.'s Fish Fry are totally on my list of places to try this summer). I'm going to focus closer to where we live in Albany.

So here goes, in alphabetical order:


Grocery Stores
I'll post more if I think of them later - and if I've missed something please feel free to post a comment!

Review: Outback Steakhouse

Before my husband’s diagnosis as a celiac, we enjoyed dining out on a regular basis. Every couple of months we’d have dinner at Outback Steakhouse – neither of us are big red meat eaters, but Vince loved their chicken and pasta dishes, and if I have a glass of Ecco Domani pinot grigio, their famous pumpernickel bread and their blue cheese chopped salad, I’m in heaven. The entrĂ©e was typically an afterthought, and usually brought home as leftovers for the next day (or, if I am to be completely honest, sometimes the puggle).

Well, after our gluten-free lifestyle change, we understandably started to stay in a lot more. There were two reasons for this – on a practical note, our monthly food budget used to include a lot of Kraft Mac and Cheese and the occasional Hamburger Helper. Switching to Tinkyada pasta and tapioca bread, well, let’s just say that our entertainment budget took a hit during our adjustment period. However, the second reason was the fact that we just didn’t have that many places to go in the beginning.

Now, keep in mind that since his diagnosis with celiac, we’ve found a lot of restaurants that accommodate our needs in the area. It seems that chain restaurants are adding (or at least publicizing) gluten free menus every week, which is really helpful. We’ve even ventured out to restaurants that don’t have dedicated gluten free menus, and have had – mostly – pleasant experiences with servers and cooks who are happy to answer any questions we might have and help us make informed choices about our meals.

Still, at the very beginning we only knew of three restaurants with gluten-free menus: PF Chang’s, Outback Steakhouse, and Carabba’s Italian Grill. Vince isn’t a huge fan of Chinese food, and when we ventured to Carabba’s it seemed more an exercise in cruelty than anything else – he had a very nice meal of chicken marsala when we went, but it was hard to look at all the plates full of pasta passing by that he could no longer have. Of the three options at the time, that left Outback Steakhouse (and the local sushi joint that serves – gasp – gluten free light soy sauce!).

Well, we’d gone to Outback once since going gluten free, and my husband had been satisfied with his meal overall. We hadn’t been back in a few months – busy with the wedding, etc. – and decided to go on a dinner-and-movie date. We asked the hostess for a gluten free menu, and a few minutes later our server came with bread.

Now, let me tell you, bread is a hotly contested subject between my spouse and I. Excluding a brief pre-wedding stint in Weight Watchers, the general rule of thumb pre-diagnosis was, we’d both do a lot of damage to the bread basket. Post-diagnosis, I usually prefer to request that the server not bring bread in the first place. Let’s face it, if I’m ordering a calorie-dense dinner out, I probably don’t need the extra calories from bread and butter anyway, and I really don’t like the idea of eating bread in front of my celiac hubby – I know if our roles are reversed it would torture me! He, of course, usually tells me I’m too silly and that I should just order the darn bread. I rarely succumb.

However, during this date night at Outback, we didn’t even have to start our usual bread debate. The server, bread in hand, exclaimed, “I didn’t see your gluten free menu! We have some freshly baked gluten free bread, would you like me to bring some out?” He got an emphatic “yes,” Vince and I both tucked into our individual loaves (what, don't look at me like that, the server had already left the non gluten free loaf on the table, and besides, rowing burns calories) like we hadn’t seen food in a year, and that server got a very generous tip! I tried a piece of Vince’s gluten free bread and I have to tell you – it was really, really good. It was super hot, you could tell that it was freshly baked, and it was very moist and fluffy.

The gluten free bread before our dinner really made our evening – and made such an impression on us that we went to Outback again two weeks later! (What, we’re newlyweds, that’s pretty excessive for us!). If you're from Outback and are reading this, thank you, thank you, thank you - and if you're from another chain restaurant, well, now you have something to live up to. ;-)