Saturday, February 28, 2009

Gluten-free Bread Made in Carson City, Nevada!

I don't exactly think of Carson City, Nevada as a gluten-free mecca. While my relatives there are very supportive of my diet and have made wonderful meals for me, when I travel back to Carson City to visit I always wonder what exactly I'm going to end up eating when I go out on the town. Well, no more! I found out by accident that Carson City has some of the best wheat-free, gluten-free bread I've ever tasted.
The City Cafe Bakery at 701 S. Carson Street is the producer of this fine GF product. They make a whole host of gluten-free treats, including sandwiches, scones, and muffins. They bake the bread on-site, and they sell it by the loaf. Loaves come sliced, frozen, and unlabeled. My stepmother Penny helped me vet the bread, and she said that she tasted corn flour. I called to get the list of ingredients, and corn starch is definitely in there. The bread also contains eggs and milk.

Penny noted that the bread is much lighter than most GF breads. In fact, I think it's the lightest, softest bread that I've had since going on the gluten-free diet. It has a very good texture, and it is more flexible than most breads I've tried. It is similar to Angeline's "Just Right White Rice Bread" that I reviewed in my post "Loaves for the Starving," although it is not quite as sweet (which I think is a plus).

The only quibbles I have are:

- They only sell the loaves frozen.
- The bread has a bit of a starchy aftertaste.
- The slices are a bit on the small side.
- The bakery ran out of their GF scones and muffins so I couldn't try any.
- It was difficult to get the list of ingredients, but they finally did call me back.

Overall, this is a very good bread! I'm relieved that it's available for my enjoyment for whole loaves or for sandwiches in the cafe whenever I go to Carson City.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Specialty Flours for Gluten-free Baking

Last month I wrote a post about basic gluten-free flours: their properties, their uses, their virtues, and their downsides. Here is the promised extension to that original post, which hopes to shed some light on some other more specialized GF grains.

Amaranth flour (also known as Inca wheat or quihuicha): This flour behaves quite a bit like sorghum flour, and has a lot of flavor. It is a grain high in protein and very nutritious. A dough made with amaranth is very delicate, wet, and tricky to handle. I only use a small portion of this flour in my all-purpose mixes for the flavor it adds.

Buckwheat flour: a close relation to rhubarb, this grain is in no way related to the wheat family. It is a very dark flour with a strong, distinctive and pleasant nutty flavor. The flour has a very fine grit, and can be used in making whole-grain products. It does not behave well on its own, producing very dry and brittle product unless it is mixed with other flours. I usually recommend subbing 1/4-1/3 of your flour mix for buckwheat flour if you want to take advantage of its flavor and texture in your recipe.

Corn flour: This is simply a finer grind of corn meal. Bob's Red Mill has a very good corn flour with a fine texture. This flour still retains a little bit of a hard kernel to it, however. It is a very dry-textured flour and can be cut with a lot of high-starch flours. I avoid using corn in my all-purpose GF mixes because of its texture and because it is an allergen for many people with gluten sensitivity.

Masa harina: This is a corn flour used primarily in Mexican cooking for making corn tortillas, tamales, and sopes. It differs from corn meal in that it has been nixtamalized, or processed with lime, which makes it easier to work with and digest. I have not yet experimented with using this kind of corn flour as a substitute for corn meal, so if anyone has input let me know!

Quinoa: This plant is related to spinach. The flour made from its seeds is very high in protein. The flour is fairly versatile, is not gritty, and has a neutral flavor. The flour seems to behave a lot like corn flour, though it is not quite as hard and dry as corn to work with.

Teff (or tef): This flour is traditionally made into injera, a bread of Ethiopia. The bread has a very spongy, springy texture and holds together very well. It has a medium-brown color and a distinctive flavor that is not universally appealing, but if you like sourdough bread, you will probably like injera.

What are your favorite flours? What experiences do you have in using the flours listed here? Please share your thoughts on gluten-free baking!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Quick Dinner Options

For participation in my first "What's for Dinner? Wednesday," I am going to just give one basic quick-and-dirty idea for an easy dinner: soup and a sandwich. Throw in a salad, too, if you feel like it!

Tonight I had a grilled-cheese sandwich with Manchego cheese (purchased at New Seasons) made with Angeline's Just Right White Rice Bread (see my bread review here). I always butter the bread and grill the sandwich open-faced on a cast-iron skillet. This bread gets nice and golden brown when cooked this way. I served this lovely yet simple sandwich with Progresso New England Clam Chowder soup. I have read many a soup label at the store, and Progresso is one of the very few brands that thickens its chowder with corn starch rather than wheat flour. The only down side to this soup for me is that it contains MSG.

Was this a healthy meal? No. Was it quick and delicious? Yes.

Here is an idea for a dairy-free alternative: make a BLT on Ener G Tapioca bread. Serve with Amy's split-pea soup. This meal feels like a luxurious feast if it has been months or years since you have had a BLT. Sandwiches are a rare commodity for the gluten-free!

Thanks to the Gluten-Free Homemaker for hosting this What's for Dinner? Wednesday blog carnival!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tinkyada White Rice Pasta Review

Now with a new addendum!

Whenever I go to a grocery store in another town, I always try to peruse their gluten-free options to see if they have any products I haven't seen in Portland. Last weekend I was excited to find a gluten-free pasta I hadn't seen before called Tinkyada White Rice Pasta.
I have been looking for a white rice pasta since I went to Italy last spring. They have excellent gluten-free pastas there, and all of them are made from white rice flour. I haven't been able to find one like the Italian version in Portland. Imagine my surprise when I found a white rice pasta in Carson City, Nevada! The Raley's supermarket there has an excellent health food section.

The ingredients listed on the pasta are: stone ground white rice and water. The cooking instructions should be taken with a grain of salt: the package tells you to cook it for 16-17 minutes! I know GF pasta takes a bit longer to cook, but I didn't boil it for nearly that long and it came out fully cooked - if you consider "al dente" to be fully cooked. They claim that the pasta can stand a lot of over-cooking, but I wasn't foolhardy enough to find out. I did rinse the pasta as instructed and found that to be a good idea, as it had a fairly starchy coating.

The pasta is a solid white color before and after cooking. It does not have the disturbing translucent look that asian rice pastas can sometimes get, but it also doesn't pass for a semolina pasta. The texture is good: the noodles are not at all brittle like some corn pastas, and it doesn't have the gooey or gritty feel of some brown rice pastas.

All in all, the Tinkyada White Rice Pasta was a great find. This brand seems to be easily available online, but I'll be keeping my eyes peeled to find it in stores here in Portland. Please let me know if you've seen it around!

For recommendations on other pastas, read my post The Best and Worst of Gluten-free Pasta.


The fine folks at Tinkyada have informed me about where to find their products in Portland:
Whole Foods in the Pearl District, 1210 NW Couch
Food Front 2375, NW Thurman
New Season's Sellwood, 1214 SE Tacoma St.

Incidentally, I timed my pasta cooking last night and realized that I did indeed cook it for 17 minutes (15 for al dente). Once again, the fine folks of Tinkyada come through with their accurate information!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Savory Baked Polenta

Now what you have all been waiting for: the recipe for the polenta that I served with the braised rabbit in my previous post. Unlike rabbit, polenta is completely vegan. At its simplest, it's made from just corn meal and water. This recipe uses vegetable stock and onions to give it a savory, hearty flavor. This dish can be served as a main course and topped with a tomato sauce, a white sauce, or cheese. Here I have it as a side dish, and it is tasty enough to be served plain.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan heat:

3 cups vegetable stock

In a large skillet, heat on medium low:

2-4 Tbsp olive oil

Chop into small pieces, then add to the heated oil:

1/2 onion

Sautee the onions for about five minutes, then add the vegetable stock to the skillet.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together until smooth:

2 cups warm water 1 1/2 cup yellow corn meal
Slowly add the corn mixture to the stock-and-onion liquid on the stove, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Simmer for 10 minutes, then put the skillet in the oven. (If your skillet is not ovenproof, you may transfer the polenta into a large, shallow, lightly buttered or oiled baking dish.) Bake for 20 minutes, or until the polenta becomes golden-brown on top. Take the dish out of the oven and allow to cool for at least 5-10 minutes, or until the polenta gels together and cools enough to cut into formed slices. Serve and enjoy!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Braised Rabbit

A friend of mine who is a dedicated gourmand recently commented that it seems like I truly enjoy being gluten-free. It's true; I look upon it as a culinary challenge, and my restriction has brought me to many a recipe that I would not have found if I could just eat a sandwich every night. I actually feel like my options have expanded and that I've become a better cook since I've started this diet. That I am capable of easily digesting everything I now cook helps to reinforce my gluten-free ways.

My aforementioned friend has introduced me to some new recipes and techniques for making dishes that are traditionally gluten-free. The project we worked on most recently was braised rabbit - an animal that I had only eaten once and had never cooked. Rabbit is not readily available in most butcher shops, but you should ask about special orders at a specialty butcher shop. Or, substitute chicken, lamb, or another meat.

Braising is a technique that produces a very tender meat. The idea is to simmer your choice in a liquid over low heat for a few hours. The liquid and seasonings you use can vary widely and don't have to be done the same way twice. With this type of recipe I rarely measure the ingredients, but instead use my eye and instinct for my measure. The following is a general re-construction of how we prepared our amazing meal.

First, chop into small pieces:

1/3 onion
1 small leek

Heat in a small pot:

1-2 cups vegetable stock (most people use chicken stock)

Heat on medium-high in a 4-quart stock pot:

1/4 cup olive oil

Sear in the olive oil:

2 rabbit hindquarters

When you turn over the pieces to sear the other side, throw in the onion and leek to let the vegetables brown a little. When the meat is nicely browned on both sides, add to the pot:

1-2 cups stock
3/4 bottle of dry white wine
1-2 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill
1-2 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage
Pepper to taste

Bring the liquid to a simmer. Turn the heat down and let the liquid stay at a low simmer for 2-3 hours, covered, making sure the liquid always tops the meat. If the level of the liquid gets too low you can add more wine, stock, or water. Turn the meat at least once during the course of cooking. When you have about 30 minutes left to go, add:

salt to taste
more herbs and spices to taste

When the rabbit is done pull it out of the liquid, salt it, and let it rest for a few minutes before serving. We served ours with sauteed greens and baked polenta. I realized after we made the whole meal that the only dairy we used was a little bit of goat cheese in the greens, which could have easily been omitted for a gluten-free, dairy-free meal.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Things to Eat When You Can't Eat Anything

How many people can say they are on a diet that allows guacamole, fried potatoes, and ice cream? Those are three foods that I love that I didn't have to give up when I went gluten-free. Today a friend of mine told me that she has been tested for food sensitivities and will have to go on a gluten-free, vegan, sugarcane-free diet. She was struggling to comprehend exactly what she would be eating. I can sympathize with her plight because I have tried all of those diets myself and found it difficult to manage - and I didn't even try them all at the same time. I assured her that if she started to feel better she would be more than happy to keep the diet up. When I realized I would be on the gluten-free diet permanently I found the most helpful thing to do was to think of all the different things that I love that I can still eat and that are naturally gluten-free. Here I am dedicating to my friend a list of 30 foods that are traditionally gluten-free and vegan, and contain no cane sugar:

baba ganoush
butternut squash soup
coconut sorbet
corn chips
fresh-squeezed orange juice
fried plantains
fruits of any kind
gallo pinto - a stir-fried beans and rice dish from Costa Rica
garbanzo beans (among others)
green tea
olive oil
peanut butter
potato chips
potato vodka
miso soup
rice noodles
saag paneer
salad rolls
sun-dried tomatoes
sauteed vegetables
tostadas and sopes
Photo by Traci French

You might be surprised by some of the things on this list. For instance, I have found at least two brands of coconut sorbet that don't contain cane sugar, and are almost completely allergen-free: Purely Decadent and Luna and Larry's both sweeten their sorbets with agave juice.

I'm still surprised by the combinations of allergies and sensitivities that I encounter in my gluten-free friends. Your list might be different than this one - perhaps you are allergic to soy or corn but not meat - but the concept is more important than the actual items. If you are just starting out on a new food-restricted diet, make a list of your own favorite food that you will still be able to indulge in to help you gain assurance that you can do it and feel better for it.