Thursday, October 22, 2009

New Gluten Free Bakery!

I wanted to send out a quick update for my readers in the Capital District:

A new gluten free bakery is opening up in Scotia!

It's called Laurie's Gluten Free Goodness, and it's located at 5 South Ten Broeck Street, Scotia NY. (That area is my old stomping ground -- if you're not familiar with the area, it's right off Mohawk Ave, between Route 50 and Sacandaga Road).

There's not a ton of information online yet, but it's opening this weekend.

Hours are:
Monday - Saturday 9 - 5
Sunday 9 - 1

We're going to try to stop by this weekend! :) If you stop by, please share your thoughts!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Crash Course in Gluten Free

We've been gluten free for over a year now, and have been blessed with supportive family and friends who have taken it upon themselves to familiarize themselves with gluten free foods. In the past year we've met more and more people who are already familiar with the phrase "gluten free" as the celiac disease becomes more widely recognized and the gluten free diet has gone mainstream. Still, the majority of people we meet for the first time still have questions about what, exactly, it means to be gluten free. They're the same questions that we had when we started out, and I hope to at least start to answer some of those questions with this blog post.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and derivatives of these grains. (Oats are often included on the list of foods to avoid because of a high risk of cross-contamination with wheat). People with celiac disease or other gluten intolerances cannot properly digest gluten, causing potentially severe health problems. (In face, in the case of celiac sufferers, ingesting gluten causes an autoimmune response, where their bodies are actually attacking their intestines). The symptoms are similar to Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

So, what does it mean to be gluten free? Well, first off -- avoiding all foods that contain gluten. No wheat, rye, barley, or regular oats. What exactly does this mean?
  • Well, first, let's cut out all the obvious "traditional" foods: bread, pizza, pasta, cakes, cookies, pies, beer, anything with malt vinegar.
  • Next, let's start reading ingredient labels. Canned soups, broths, and stocks, soy sauces, marinades, salad dressings, cereals, and any other processed food product has to be looked at very carefully for gluten-containing ingredients. Imitation crab, for example, almost always contains wheat.
  • Not only do you have to read main ingredient labels, but sometimes innocuous-sounding ingredients like "natural flavors," "artificial flavors," and "caramel color" can contain gluten, so when in doubt it's best to contact the company regarding their labelling policy.
  • Finally, cross-contamination. Potatoes are gluten free -- french fries cooked in a fryer with chicken tenders and mozzarella sticks are contaminated with gluten. A salad where the croutons have been "picked out" is contaminated by gluten. A slice of gluten free bread toasted in a communal toaster may be contaminated by gluten. Since as little as a crumb can potentially set off a bad reaction in a celiac person, it's best to be on the paranoid side.

Now that I've scared you, you're wondering -- what exactly can you eat if you're gluten free? The answer is simple: A lot of things. But, it does require some research and creativity. (If you do decide to start dabbling in the kitchen? Invest in a stand mixer. It's been my best friend in the kitchen and just may be the best $300 I've ever spent -- and our deep fryer comes in second).

First of all -- many foods are naturally gluten free. Fresh fruit and veggies (frozen veggies with no sauce), meats and seafood, potatoes, rice, and nuts are all naturally gluten free, as are most cheeses. But, when you're new to the gluten free community the first question on your mind is "Rice and potatoes are great, but can I ever eat traditional carbs again?" The answer is a resounding yes! Not only are rice and potatoes gluten free but many other non-traditional grains that are delicious and healthy: sorghum, millet, flax, quinoa, amaranth, and the list goes on.

There are several solutions for gluten free breads, pastas, pizzas, and desserts. Since this is an introductory post, the only thing I'll say about gluten free cooking is that it's possible, healthier and sometimes even downright easy to make some of these options for yourself. But, when we were brand new to gluten free, we preferred to find options that were pre-made to ease us into the transition. Pre-made foods tend to be expensive, not as healthy, and often not that good -- but there are quite a few good options out there. For example, Bionaturae gluten free pasta. Bar none, the best gluten free pasta we've tried.

As you do research you'll find a lot of mainstream gluten free goods as well - General Mills and Kraft are very good about product labelling and will not "hide" gluten in their ingredients (no worrying about natural flavors). Furthermore General Mills has become aware of the gluten free community and is making several of their items gluten free -- such as Chex cereals and introducing Betty Crocker gluten free mixes.

Overall? Gluten free doesn't mean you'll never eat pizza again. Or cakes or cookies. It means, however, that you can start experimenting with new things that you may not have tried before -- but you'll certainly be able to eat modified versions of favorite foods. In fact, it's very easy to make your own gluten free pizza (or get it at at Uno's if you'd prefer), enjoy your pizza with a beer, eat a sandwich on freshly baked gluten free bread, or even enjoy gluten free apple cider doughnuts.

Have any questions? Leave a comment on this post. I'd love to write a follow-up to this entry.

New Discovery: Wolff's Biergarten

This weekend, we made a new discovery right in our own backyard!

Wolff's Biergarten, on Broadway Avenue in Albany, from the name obviously has several beers on their menu, but did you know that their menu includes Green's gluten free beer? It's a darker, Belgian beer made with buckwheat, rice and millet. This is one beer that we haven't seen at Oliver's, and it's actually the first time we've tried it -- I'll have to confess that I'm not a sophisticated dark beer drinker, but it tasted pretty good to me. It certainly went well with the peanuts they have on each table!

The Biergarten posts their menu online -- we didn't eat there, or ask the staff if any dishes were safe, so I'd call/ask before planning a meal there. Still, it's nice to know there's another place to grab a gluten free beer! It's a very casual place, with wooden picnic tables and benches.

One note: If you do decide to check out the Biergarten, hit the ATM first. They're a cash-only joint, and while they do have an ATM there, I certainly don't like spending money on ATM fees. ;-)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Betty Crocker Cake Mixes

OK, so when Betty Crocker cake mixes first started appearing on the shelves of our local grocery stores, I immediately scooped up a box of the yellow cake mix to try. We excitedly made cupcakes with homemade buttercream frosting, and our mouths watered as we smelled them baking in the oven. When we finally bit into one, we were... well, pleased, but a little underwhelmed.

Now, don't get me wrong. They were good. But, we'd built them up so much in our heads that we were expecting this fantastic experience, and as always if you build something up that much you're often disappointed. It's kind of like New Year's Eve: you're always so excited to go out and feel like you have to have a good time, that even when you do have a good time you feel like it should have been more.

Overall -- they were tasty, if a little gritty, but got dried out way too quickly.

Still, I had another box left over and a blog post that looked interesting:

She uses the following recipe to doctor the cake mix:

New and Improved Gluten-Free Cupcakes Recipe
1 package Betty Crocker Gluten Free Yellow Cake Mix

1 3.4 oz package Jello vanilla instant pudding

1/3 cup granulated sugar

4 large eggs plus one egg white room temperature

1/2 cup canola oil

3/4 cup orange juice (no pulp)

1 Tablespoon good vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Mix the wet ingredients in a medium sized bowl. In a large bowl sift together the dry ingredients, add the wet ingredients and beat on medium speed until completely combined

Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners. Fill 2/3 of the way full.

Bake for about 23-25 minutes, until the cupcakes are golden and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

We tried it and... YUM!

I have to say that I prefer my buttercream frosting recipe of:

- 1 cup butter

- 1 cup shortening

- 8 cups confectioner's sugar

- 2 tsp vanilla extract

- 1/2 tsp salt

However, these cupcakes not only smelled and tasted AMAZING, they stayed pretty fresh and moist for the better part of a week (after that they were all gone). We used french vanilla instant pudding, and the overall flavor was very strong vanilla -- I think I might halve the vanilla extract next time -- but mouth-wateringly delicious. I have to give credit where credit is due. :-)

All I can say is, these are easy and definitely on the list for the next party we go to - they're definitely good enough to give to gluten-eating people without them noticing a difference!

Winner: Betty Crocker Fruit Snacks

Congratulations, Doreen! I will contact you via e-mail shortly. :-)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Did you know: Betty Crocker Fruit Snacks are gluten free?

I recently became aware that Betty Crocker Fruit Snacks (including Fruit Roll-Ups and Fruit by the Foot) are not only gluten free but now labelled as such. Now, they're not a snack that's high on my radar, but I remember them very fondly from my childhood. When MyBlogSpark asked if I'd like to review them as a gluten-free snack for kids, I happily agreed.

Full disclosure: My husband and I don't have kids, unless you count the puggle, but we sometimes consider ourselves 20-something kids. ;-) Case in point: MyBlogSpark sent a package containing Betty Crocker fruit snacks as well as toys like a yo-yo, frisbee and pick up sticks. Well, I don't want to throw anyone under the bus here, but that poor yo-yo was broken about five minutes after the box was opened! LOL.

Anyway, the real highlight here were the fruit snacks. We were sent one variety pack with Fruit Roll Ups, Fruit by the Foot and Gushers, and another box of "Create a Bug" fruit snacks.

The Fruit Roll Ups were very similar to how I remembered them - only, when I was a kid (OK, maybe in high school) they had these cut-out shapes in the roll-up part. These were solid, which was different, but tasty. And while there was more fat content than I would have thought, you can't go wrong with a 50 calorie snack where pear concentrate is the first ingredient.

We weren't as thrilled with the "Create a bug" snacks. They weren't bad, and my husband will certainly eat them, but we'll leave those ones for the kids. (Maybe it's my arachnophobia talking).

All said -- I love the fact that these fruit snacks are gluten free. NOT ONLY are they labelled gluten free, but this past weekend I was in the Halloween candy aisle at Walmart (Just looking...) and saw that they had fun-sized fruit snacks to give out as Halloween treats. Now, I don't know about you, but I think this is just awesome! Knowing all the trials that my husband and I go through to find "normal" snacks that we trust to be gluten free, this is great for kids with allergies or sensitivities. I love the idea of more celiac-friendly treats that kids can enjoy for Halloween!

Anyway. Now for the giveaway part: MyBlogSpark and Betty Crocker are providing a free "Simple Joys" package that includes two boxes of fruit snacks and some low-tech toys (a yo-yo, frisbee and retro pick-up-sticks game) to ONE lucky reader of this blog!

To enter the contest, all you have to do is leave a comment on this post. (I approve all comments, so don't worry if it doesn't show up immediately). Please include some means of contacting you - e-mail address preferably - and optionally tell me what some of YOUR simple pleasures are.

The deadline is October 8th. Good luck to everyone!!!