Cluck Cluck! TJ's Gluten Free Stuffing Review

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This is a super delayed post. Like, so delayed I wrote the original version a month or two after Thanksgiving 2016 and the original opening told people that although the post was delayed, the could go screw. Imagine my delight then that I find this right before Thanksgiving 2017 - right as I’ve been reminding myself to stop at a Trader Joe’s For another box. Thank you past Kerry for taking care of Future Kerry!**

 

Since our family went gluten free for holidays, we haven't attempted to make any stuffing. We weren't huge on it for Thanksgiving anyway, but last year I was really jonesing some (this is where my mother would pop in and say "Kerry you never CRAVE anything I just don't believe that" -  just want you to know my life and everyday struggles) and luckily we had a box of Trader Joe's Gluten Free Stuffing downstairs. 

I'll be honest - I wasn't expecting much. Something about pre-packaged bread  (gluten or no) in a box ready to use tends to lower expectations. But this was a huge freaking win! I could eat it all the time. Everything came together so well, just by following the basic instructions.

 

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What resulted after a quick mix and bake was one of the most amazing, homemade-knockoff sides I've ever made from a box! With such a simple mix, I ended up with a (Food Word Trigger Warning) moist mix that had some amazing crispy pieces - the best part to me - after a few minutes under the broiler. The gluten free bread "croutons" in the mix wasn't noticeable versus gluten full bread in a typical stuffing; maybe because gluten bread is typically stale for this recipe so the xantham gum I usually note immediately wasn't noticeable in a baked mix? For whatever reason, the bread was perfect, the seasoning was noticeable without being overwhelming, and I really appreciated not having to do any extra sautéing or prep for additonal ingredients to end up with, as the Great British Bake Off would say, "a showstopper."

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Once again, Trader Joe's swoops in with the win - thanks for redeeming another foodie event.

 

Are you a fan of traditional US Thanksgiving and leftovers? Any gluten free faves?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

** - 

June and Jazz (JK, just Bagels)

Well, theoretically there could be jazz too, that's totally up to you. Nothing better than some jazz on the way to work in the morning when you're in bumper-to-bumper traffic and pumping your A/C to max. Speaking of A/C: it's June! How did that happen? I feel like I blinked and we showed up here, and as Beyoncé would say, "I ain't sorry" about it. I am sorry though that I haven't posted in so long. Let's remedy that.

Bagels! Although some might focus on a summer bod, I say summer is time to enjoy life, and bagels are definitely a part of life. Especially now that there are delicious gluten free bagel options. Today we kick it off with Sweet Note's "Plain...but extraordinary" gluten free bagels. I was a little nervous at first when I saw these bad boys in the freezer aisle since they're not as large as the regulation gluten-filled bagels I'vet experienced, but after reading all sorts of rave reviews online I couldn't pass them up. My dad immediately went for a breakfast sandwich, and while it was a great vehicle for his egg-and-cheese needs, he said they would be even better with cream cheese. He described them as very dense and heavy - which in my world is just what a bagel should be - with a distinct texture that doesn't really match that of gluten bagels but isn't at all bad. I think the best way to get these going is to slice in half, microwave for a little while (30 seconds or so) then toast them, to give them a chance to perk up and toast properly instead of trying to stick them right in the toaster.

Sweet Note has a range of flavors, from always available plain, cinnamon and everything to seasonal favorites like French toast and tomato basil and online exclusives like poppy, salt and something called "Unicorn Rainbow." They seem to have an ample assortment of "Ugly Bagels" you can order online based on their three main types, and there's a big note on their site about new availability at CVS, not sure of the assortment there. Their products are all gluten, soy, dairy, nut and egg free, plus they're vegan (if that matters to you, if it does Yes I hear you announcing it from here!!).

Really excited to find some great gluten free bagels! If only they were a bit cheaper...

Any favorite Sweet Note flavors I need to try? What do you out on your bagels?

I Still Love You, TJ: Brownie Crisp Review

Oh, Trader Joe's. I should be sad that after ages of insanely delicious gluten free food, you've finally let me down with a product. I mean, the white sandwich bread, hard shell tortillas, waffle mix, and cornbread mix are all game changers. It feels like I've gushed in every post I've written about my boy TJ at an almost embarrassing level. But instead of feeling disappointed in Trader Joe's because of their lackluster Brownie Crisps, I almost feel relieved.

I saw a tweet raving about these gluten free brownies, so as soon as I saw them in the house I was Ready. To. Go. From the moment I opened the bag though I started to realize this wasn't going to be as exciting as I expected. The brownies are indeed "crispy," but in a way that they look more dehydrated than anything else, and their crispy-ness results in a bunch of broken down pieces as they jostle around in the bag.

My ideal brownies are served hot and just barely cooked, where you end up with a fudgy gooey mess full of pieces of chocolate; so I probably wasn't the ideal tester for this crispy prepackaged version. Even so, these definitely let me down since they had very little true chocolate flavor, broke apart into billions of crumbs in your hands on the way to your mouth, and had that xantham gum feeling (where your teeth almost feel like they're sticking together) that I've documented my hatred for in the past. 

Trader Joe's, thank you for reminding me that no one is perfect. Next time I need some brownies though I'm going straight for the at-home gluten free brownie recipe I have on deck.
 

Sauce Review: Pellicano's

A post is coming soon on homemade tomato sauce - the easiest, simplest, most delicious version you can make and pretend you're Italian with - but for all of those days you want something you can stick in a microwave or on the stove for a few minutes, there's Pellicano and their Olive Oil and Romano Cheese sauce. 

Growing up, most of the (jarred) tomato sauces we used tasted just fine, but they were so acidic my stomach of steel always hurt later on, even with a big glass of milk. Once I discovered the magic of homemade sauce, I started to seek out the more basic prepared sauces - I don't need sauce with mushrooms (which I hate anyway) or a ton of preservatives. 

Almost every time we've used the Pellicano sauce I haven't looked at the jar before dinner; but the sauce is noticeably better to the whole table before anyone mentions the brand. This is a simple sauce, with all the promises of organic, simple and fresh produce everyone seeks out today, but unlike some of its competitors, it does everything right. There's this natural sweetness that I'm super into, even though the Olive Oil and Romano Cheese is advertised as having no added sugar. That's a real testament to the quality of the tomatoes, and helps me focus on what matters most in my pasta world: making it rain cheese on my plate.

All of the basic elements of sauce I'm looking for are here - sweetness with a tiny bit of tang, a slight enough cheese flavor to appreciate the addition but not enough to keep you from adding more, and an inoffensive texture. Unless I'm using a very basic pasta sauce or, preferably, making sauce at home, I'm not one for big chunks of tomato. I'm the same with salsa - give me the joy that is pureed tomatoes as a restaurant-style salsa; don't make me poke around the chunks of tomatoes and peppers for dat good good! Yuck. Pellicano has a great texture that can then be amped up if you want - say, if you want to throw in some ground beef for lazy-wannabe-meatballs or just saute some broccoli or zucchini to add for a pasta stir fry. Pellicano's not trying to be more than a sauce vessel for the (gluten free) carbs and cheese on their way to your face, but their sauce is straight up delicious on its own.

#MakeItRain

#MakeItRain

We found Pellicano at Wegman's, where it's clearly marked gluten free (to the left in the image), but a quick online search shows it's available in a bunch of places. Their website also advertises a whole bunch of products, from a "thick, rich, red" Traditional sauce to a Vodka Cream, as well as "Texas Brand" food products. I'm not sure how many of these other items are gluten free though so let me know if you find or use any of their other products!

Trader Joe's Brown Rice Pasta

Yassss! We're finally getting sun again! I can't tell you what a huge difference sunlight makes - just a few minutes at the beginning of the day when you get up and when you leave your office/school/where ever you spend your day makes such a difference. People are suddenly kinder and have loads more patience than they did a month ago. Knowing that we're at the tailend of the dreary, freezing months and only a week and a half from Daylight Savings leaves people visibly happier, a huge weight off our collective shoulders.

When the world goes from this...

When the world goes from this...

With that in mind, let's talk about the food that will go with all those fresh garden veggies headed our way! Or at least the ones we're picking up at winter farmers markets or grocery stores near home.

...to this!

...to this!

As I've found out over the past few months, I am a huge fan of Trader Joe's - specifically, their gluten free products (I've always been a fan of their samples and cheap wine bins!). Even thinking of just their pancake mix, sandwich bread, and taco shells, they seem to have a gluten free product for whatever you're in the mood for. Today we're venturing into their pasta world, but in a less direct way than you're likely expecting. Instead of going the real Italian pasta dinner route, we treated TJ's Gluten Free Organic Brown Rice Penne like, well, brown rice. 

We started off with small pieces of chicken breast seared in a little olive oil on the stove, then added in green beans, zucchini, and finally a whole can of tomatoes (San Marzano or any related brand is perf). Once the pasta was ready, we served our high-in-protein-and-veggies-low-in-hating-yourself-after-eating stew of sorts over the penne, which was cooked just like any regular pasta.

I would definitely recommend serving this brown rice penne as a fun brown rice side instead of a standalone pasta. Between local gluten free pasta and versions as simple and accessible as Barilla's gluten free pasta, there isn't really a need to settle for a pasta that doesn't taste like it's gluten-full cousin if you don't have to. On it's own the brown rice penne is chewy and flavorful - ever so slightly gummy but not in a way that turns you off at all. I treated this as a brown rice that had a cool shape, and as that it was a delicious side for my dinner. As a standalone pasta though it didn't have the traditional bite or flavor that I was expecting, and was a little too dumpy for what I was expecting - there was nothing wrong with it, but not a true pasta in my book (although I'm Irish so...).

If you're looking for an additional carb to complement stewed veggies or maybe even as a mac and cheese though, this could fit the bill. I think that's where we're headed next - mac and cheese world. This guy seems like he can manage a big hit of cheese and some time in the oven. I'll let you know how that goes!

Nine Veggie Tortilla Strips (You Won't Even Realize You're Healthy - Swear)

Last week I mentioned my newest obsession- winter farmers markets. What's better than some fresh seasonal veggies, local honey, cheese, vino and other treats in a warm sunny place during a freezing cold winter? Pretty much nothing, other than Beyonce. My mom came along this week to check out a market I've already been too, and she was definitely impressed! There's something so soothing about a huge greenhouse full of beautiful flowers and samples. The food trucks outside didn't hurt either! 

Just don't google the ingredients.

Just don't google the ingredients.

 

My mom and I split up, as I sampled dairy-free ice cream made from a coconut base and some iced chai made from all sorts of healthy things I'd never heard of before. When we met later on, I wasn't sure her purchase - Number 9 Nine Veggie Tortilla Strips. I haven't seen many successful veggie-packed products (V8 will never get me going, thanks) and wasn't expecting much out of these, but my mom swore the samples won her over, and bought three bags (two Veggie, one Ancient Grain) at three bucks a pop.

Fast forward to home, where I'm getting ready to go out to dinner but definitely could use a little something to tide me over. My dad had just opened the Nine Veggie and some very mild salsa we had in the fridge, so I gave them a go, and holy moly are they good. Like regular tortilla chips but WAY more delicious in ways I never thought tortilla chips could be.

The Nine Veggie have a good orange tint, and up to the second you bite into them they have the look and smell and very very slight taste of a blue Dorito. But don't let looks deceive you (and, weirdly enough, that makes them even more appealing for me)! Once you start chewing you realize that on their own they are savory and salty, with the best aspects of vegetables that you would't notice in the chips unless you reminded yourself what they're made of. For instance, there's the warmth you taste from a pan full of roasted carrots, combined with the sweetness of butternut squash and sweet potato and the almost-like-there's-already-salsa taste of tomato. Combined with just the right amount of salt per bite, these guys pack a major punch. 

I'm eating them plain right now to describe them to you (god am I helpful!), but these really bring up any salsa you have, or as strips would be an excellent vehicle for guacamole. Number 9 also sells salsa, which like their chips all contain at least nine vegetables. I'd definitely check these out too since they clearly have some kind of a brain trust going if they can make veggie tortilla chips this addictive.

Once I've popped open the Ancient Grain I'll let you know if you should obsess over those too, since they're both certified Gluten Free. From their site it looks like you can find these primarily in New England and New York, but keep an eye out and beg them to expand so you can continue to scarf down salty foods while pretending you're a healthy person!

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Pancake & Waffle Mix

Happy Valentines Day! Well, belated but the thought's still there. Here's hoping you had a wonderful day with others or appreciating the fact that you're the most hilarious, intelligent, fabulous person you know. With pancakes. If there was nothing else, there should have been pancakes.

If there weren't; get off your lazy bum and grab a box of Trader Joe's Gluten Free Buttermilk Pancakes & Waffles Mix, we're making 'em now!

Although I am the type of person that goes all in with their pancakes - butter and syrup are both musts (hey, why not if we're already carb-loading?!) - I definitely would recommend one or the other here for people that aren't big on toppings, since you'll want a little something to brighten up the typically-pancake-like-flavor. Which is to say, pancakes are made to embellish! They are your blank food canvas to make as exciting as you'd like, so go wild!

The pancakes come out looking just like gluten-full pancakes - thick and golden, with those perfect batter waves throughout and soft layered edges. Taste-wise they're pretty much on par as well: dense, not too doughy, and with a good balance that compliments anything you add in - think berries or chocolate chips - or on top. 

My biggest qualm with these guys was the way they were layered. I was able to use my fork to cut off pieces - a must in my pancake world - but once I broke off a piece it almost immediately separated into a top and bottom section. I don't think the pancakes themselves were too thick, but something in their little pancake hearts (ha! Pun intended) decided to quit once a section was cut off. Every. Single. Time. This was not an issue in terms of taste, but it was a little bit annoying, especially when tinier pieces kept breaking off resulting in a few pancake-crumble-syrup-roadblocks on my plate. Again, not a major issue, but a different experience to be aware of, especially since the syrup and butter hadn't permeated the top layer, forcing me to keep adding little pours of syrup here and there to give the bottom layer some love.


All in all, I left with a nice full stomach and a little sugar high that encouraged my Gilmore Girls-watching binge, so a big thanks (as always) to Trader Joe's for being an enabler! Have you tried Trader Joe's mix? Any other favorite gluten free pancake mixes or recipes?

Fresh Gluten Free Pasta: Valicenti

RMamma mia indeed! When we started hitting Minnesota-temperature weather in New England this weekend, I racked my brain for something to make this weekend a twenty tiny little bit less sucky. Luckily, I had stopped at a farmers market (indoor obviously I'm  not a total psycho) the weekend before and picked up something amazing. Back to that in a second though - let's talk about farmers markets. 

One of my best friends from college works out in Western Mass helping to support farmers markets, and mentioned to me this week that very few people know about all of the winter produce and other local goodies you can grab at winter farmers markets. I felt super proud of myself for attending one that very week, but I only found it by searching local events in Facebook. Now I have plans to hit up new farmers markets for the next few weekends! And really, how can you not: a warm, sunny place (I was in a greenhouse) full of samples - wine, cheese, jam, veggies, rubs, syrups, coffee - and cheerful vendors who actually want to talk to you about what they're growing or making. 

Even bigger-picture than that, in these frigid New England winters it's next to impossible to chat up a stranger, unless you're asking the cashier at the grocery store about their day as they ring you up or trying to snag the last two seats at the bar as the couple currently occupying the spot is preparing to leave. There's not the same stop-and-chat mentality that exists when the world warms up and so do, apparently, everyone's personalities. So the opportunity to share a short friendly conversation and feel like a real person instead of a snowman waiting for May is an understated treat.

On to the food! One of the vendors I was super excited by was Valicenti Pasta Farm. Their website seems to be down right now so I'm linking to their Facebook page, but click on that link in the future because I've seen their site and really liked it! 

 

Founded by Michelle and David Valicenti in 2008, Valicenti Pasta Farms creates fresh pasta and sauce that they sell in their shop in Hollis, New Hampshire and at local farmers markets. When I popped by their stand, Michelle was working, with huge coolers behind her and a chalkboard of fresh pastas and sauces in front. At first I just glanced for fun, thinking how great these would be if only I'd found them pre-Celiac diagnosis. Then I noticed the gluten free section. With fresh pasta and ravioli that is prepared separately on its own equipment, the Valicentis are making dreams come true for Celiacs and those who have gluten intolerance. 

I asked about the Casarecci, and Michelle pulled out a container with pasta that looked like green beans! These bad boys are made with spinach and upon closer inspection are almost shaped like long figure eights. Since my dad prefers plain foods, I figured this was a safe bet to start trying out the Valicenti products, and Michelle patiently and kindly chatted with me as I thought all of this out loud.

 

We had this pasta with a tomato sauce we had at home, ground hamburger and cheese - just the basics to feel out the pasta (although of course I had a few pieces plain!). This is chewy, dense, almost sweet pasta, with beautiful flavor that understands your hunger and cooks up in only 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Even though it was perfect with a red sauce, we decided it could also go well with a simple butter, or olive oil and garlic, or light cream sauce with lots of veggies. Really this is the best kind of pasta because it works with absolutely everything, since it's so delicious on its own. 

In addition to the gluten free pasta options, there was also a selected variety of gluten free ravioli. I'll be ordering some of these for myself in the future, but they're a little too exciting for my dad so we'll stick with the more standard pasta varieties for him. Some of the ravioli offerings include Brown Butter and Sage-Roasted Sweet Potato, Pasture Raised Braised Beef, Slow Barbecue Lamb with Carmelized Sweet Potato, and Brussels Sprouts with Guanciale and Grana. Gluten free offerings are a limited selection of these that appear to switch depending on farmers market, so go in with an open mind and prepare to be surprised!

 

Valicenti also offers a pairing sheet to take with you, matching ravioli with a series of quick 1-4 line sauce summaries, so you can cook like the best of 'em! Next time I'll be buying both pasta and rav, and I'm thinking I'll throw in their own sauce in the near future. A huge thank you to Valicenti Pasta Farms for identifying a need in the gluten free community and filling it with your delectable fresh pastas! We are totally in your delicious debt.

Against the Grain's Pepperoni Pizza

 We unknowingly hit the gluten free food jackpot preparing for this weekend's snowstorm when we picked up a new frozen pizza!  My dad's coworker whose wife has Celiac said Against the Grain was the best prepared gluten-free pizza around, so much so that he liked eating it with her as much as he likes gluten-full pizza. And who can ignore that kind of endorsement! We heard it was at Whole Foods so expected to only find it at high-end supermarkets. Imagine our surprise when my sister and I found a whole array of Against the Grain options while carb-loading at the nearest grocery store after the gym!

 

Our store had all three varieties of Against the Grain's pizza: Three Cheese, Pesto, and Pepperoni. We grabbed a Pepperoni and my dad opted to add red pepper slices to make things a little more exciting. 

Even before it was ready, we could tell it was a promising 'zza: it had a nice thick crust out of the box, not the normal thin crust of gluten free pizzas we're used to, and it had that beautiful smell of a fresh crusty pizza while heating up in the oven.  I've mentioned before that our oven tends to cook things a few minutes earlier than expected, which held true here; we took the pizza out when the cheese was bubbly about 2 minutes earlier than recommended.

Just the look of this pizza was exciting! So we took a few pictures, sliced it up and dug in. 

Dee-lish. Seriously, this is really good pizza. The crust itself was the best part - it was flaky and chewy like pastry dough, with a delicious cheesy taste. Most of the time when there's a thick crust on a pizza it's not a good sign, since it doesn't usually have much of a taste and you need to dip it in some marinara to enjoy it at all. Not so here. Although the crust is dense, it is wicked (as we say in New England) flavorful and tasty on it's own. The cheese was stringy and gooey, and although the sauce portion was relatively light you don't really notice until you're writing a post about it later. I think that's a good sign that the whole pizza worked well together though - usually you only notice one aspect of your food if it's really good or really bad, but if the food itself is delicious you shouldn't have to think too much about the individual aspects. Food philosophy! I'm going to have to think through that a bit more though, at the moment it's just a defense of why it's okay there isn't much sauce so I'm not sure it applies as a rule to other food experiences. More on that another day.

What a success! The whole family agreed that this was a real win, and at around $11 for a pizza it's a great deal. Although we could all eat it for dinner, it's good to know that if the rest of the family wanted to order a (comparatively) cheap pizza one night, we throw an Against the Grain pizza in the oven on the way to the takeout and all eat together when we're back. There were Against the Grain pizza shells in the gluten-free frozen section as well, which will be fun to play with on nights everyone wants to make their own pizza. 

Any favorite Against the Grain products or other gluten free pizza brands we should try?


Trader Joe's White Sandwich Bread

Success! Finally. I feel like there should be trumpets going off or something. After a long few months of various gluten-free bread purchases and a failed homemade gluten-free bread experience, I'm psyched that my dad has finally found a favorite gluten-free sandwich bread.

Trader Joe's White Sandwich Bread has really delivered, according to my dad. Although the bread is on the smaller end, like pretty much all gluten-free varieties we've found, we've been able to keep it in a drawer instead of a freezer, and my dad can't get over the taste. The ability to make a sandwich (or maybe two) for lunch without pulling a few slices out of the freezer to defrost overnight or toast a few hours before taking them to work is a huge benefit. And for someone who's always liked plain white sandwich bread more than the whole-wheat options, finding a simple and delicious brand for easy lunches takes away a lot of the stress of the last few months and planning what to eat in advance.

It looks great too! With some nice density it's chewy, and even with the classic little air bubbles of gluten-free bread it looks like the gluten-full bread we're used to. I can't get over how many new avenues it opens up - now toast with jelly for breakfast, bread as a side with pasta or soup, or even a little PB&J snack are all options again! I wonder how it would work as a crumb topping for haddock..definitely something I'll be trying out since we're constantly going back to TJ's to restock! 

Lots of credit to Trader Joe's for making their own insanely good bread option for Celiacs! Although our closest store doesn't have a gluten-free section, I've been continually impressed by the gluten-free options we've found throughout the store over the last few months.

What's your favorite gluten-free sandwich bread? Any other favorites at Trader Joe's I should stock up on?

Cornbread Review: Trader Joe's Mix

 

What a week! After a busy (and cold! -8°! But more on that in another post) week in Southern Minnesota, I was so happy to sleep in my own warm bed and start cooking again. My first day home we went with chili (a post in the Cooking section tomorrow) and Trader Joe's "Baker Josef's" Gluten Free Cornbread Mix for a comforting and homey dinner.

This had nothing to do with the mix itself but I just liked the way it looked when the wet ingredients were added. Yes I'm a weirdo.

This had nothing to do with the mix itself but I just liked the way it looked when the wet ingredients were added. Yes I'm a weirdo.

Other than the milk, egg and oil, the only thing that's really required of you here is elbow grease. You'll start off by whisking together everything except the mix itself, then slowly pouring in the mix and whisking that in. You're supposed to mix that together for 2-3 minutes which involved just enough arm strength for me to regret not using our new KitchenAid stand mixer. But now I'm strong! And I have one less bowl to clean. Okay I'm still completely weak and will never be able to do a single pull-up. But still one less bowl to clean.

 

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While mixing everything together, I was annoyed to find little lumps. As previously noted, ever since gym class in elementary school where I would be told I could stop if I'd just do one pull-up and could still barely dangle from the bar, I am not upper-body strong, but that didn't stop my irritation that those little clumps wouldn't go away. Upon closer inspection though I realized they were pieces of corn! And any other small pieces were cornmeal, which is normal for cornbread. So all was forgiven.

After letting these stand in a greased pan for ten minutes, the mix baked for about 18 minutes (less than the recommended 20-25) when the top looked golden and a toothpick came out clean.

On to the fun part:eating! Overall grade of this cornbread would be a solid A. The texture was spot on, with the expected rich cornbread flavor with minimal xantham gum (my biggest gluten-free enemy!) problems (where it makes your teeth feel like they're sticking together as you chew) and a beautiful texture. Beautiful probably seems a bit over-the-top here, but I loved that this cornbread tore apart as I'd expect, and was chewy and dense and would bounce right back when you stuck your finger in a piece like gluten-full cornbread would.

Normally we'd only have cornbread at restaurants, so there was something especially fun about fresh out of the oven cornbread pans everyone slicing their own piece instead of eating what came with their meals. I'm usually more of a chips-and-chili gal myself, but with this particular recipe I'd call it a huge hit. We didn't even think of adding butter at the table to this cornbread, which seems like an indicator of good cornbread. All in all I'd call this a huge success! Definitely going back for this easy and quick mix again.

 

 

Any other gluten free cornbread faves? Have you tried Trader Joe's gluten free cornbread mix?

 

 

Candy Review: Unreal Peanut Butter Cups

Uh oh. Are you getting a little midafternoon hangry? Trying to make it through work - or pretty much anything - at this point in the day is near-impossible. Like who created this weird midday? I guess that's why Happy Hour was made. Right in that awkward in-between time when you're tired and hungry and just ready to move on to dinnertime.


Instead of going full "Monster," I'm hitting up my chocolate stash. Usually for chocolate and peanut butter I go for the classics - Reese's cups - but from reading up on them it seems that there are a few types that aren't gluten free (unwrapped minis and seasonal shapes, according to Hershey's website). So instead when I was picking up my latte at the latte-love-of-my-life *Peet's Coffee and Tea* I picked up Unreal Peanut Butter Cups in dark chocolate.


First of all, these bad boys have really clean and attractive packaging. Silver wrapper, real-looking picture, and a nice big clear Gluten Free badge. I brought some with a coffee to my dad at work, who was a big fan. Reese's are definitely a crowd-pleaser, but there's something a little extra refined about dark chocolate with a coffee or glass of milk that makes you feel like you're enjoying a real treat. These are a bit more expensive than your normal peanut butter cup, but after reading the packaging and Unreal's website it seems well worth it - eating sustainably-sourced food without the preservatives and junk we're used to. I'm looking forward to trying other gluten-free Unreal snacks, and moving past this funky time of day to dinner!
Any thoughts on Unreal? What are your favorite gluten free midday treats?

Chip and Salsa Review: Trader Joe's and Frontera

When you need a little salty snack just before dinner or just after ice cream - seriously, there is nothing I crave more after ice cream than a salty crispy chip - there is nothing like chips and salsa. But sometimes you want something a little more exciting than white corn tortilla chips and red salsa.

 

For those days I'm a huge fan of Trader Joe's Organic Stone Ground Blue Corn Tortilla Chips (whew, that's a mouthful) with some Frontera Tomatillo salsa. I already went on my Frontera rant the other day - this Mexican restaurant makes O'Hare tolerable - and I think I've mentioned my love for TJ's in the past. But the two together are a match made in heaven.

 

The tortilla chips look and are way healthier than normal chips - full of sprouted amaranth (oh you're asking me what it is? Wikipedia says it's "a cosmopolitan genus of annual or short-lived perennial plants" so THERE), quinoa and chia seeds. Normally reading a list of ingredients like that would be a bit of a turn-off for someone who runs from super healthy foods, but these chips are salty and thick with a nice blue color so you feel like you're eating something fancy and exciting. 

 

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Alone or with normal salsa these chips are fine, but not earth-shattering. The Frontera tomatillo salsa has a beautiful bright green color with little pieces of tomatillo. Normally I'm not a fan of chunks (ugh that word is worse to me than "moist") in salsa, but the tomatillo bits are totally inoffensive and have a sweet taste with some heat behind them. The chips and salsa together here result in a substantial snack with solid, lightly salted chips that are complemented by the tang and zip of the salsa. You start eating them for the sweet and salty factor, and all of a sudden you're hunting down water because there's more heat in there than you expected. Probably about 2 fire emoji's worth. 


One of the best parts about this particular gluten free match is that you won't walk away with that bloated feeling I usually have after gorging on chips and salsa midday. The chips have very little sodium and only enough salt for a good taste, and with all those other healthy ingredients you'll fulfill a craving and without feeling like you ate something unhealthy.


What's your favorite gluten free snack when you're craving something salty? Any other outside-the-box chip and salsa combos I should check out?

Wrap Review: Toufayan

I feel like I need some really slick rap lines here. If only someone dropped a beat! And if only I could rap...

But today is not the day I create never-ending internet embarrassment for my nonexistent kids and grandchildren to tease me about. Maybe next week. Instead, here's some rap for you to enjoy while I rhapsodize about wraps.

so I'm really excited to review these wraps. A lot of what I've seen lately are wraps made with brown rice and other products that are probably pretty good but a bit intimidating as starters for a family that's just trying to make gluten free a bit more in line with the food they're used to. We bought Toufayan's Original Gluten Free wraps as our intro to this part of the Celiac-friendly world.

Sadly though these wraps have need sitting in the drawer untested for a few days. To prove to my dad that they're good, I ordered my wrap at work on one today (luckily for me they had the same brand!). It's with carving turkey, cranberry sauce, cheddar cheese and some veggies with a side salad. 

This wrap tasted like a typical tortilla, which was just what I was hoping for. It was a tiny bit smaller and less pliable than what I'm used to, almost like a flour tortilla that's been out of the bag for an hour, but not like it was stale in any way. I'm used to wraps that are rolled and then folded on the ends, but that wasn't really possible here, which was fine since there weren't really little things that could fall out of the roll. 

The biggest win here was that it didn't taste out of place. No funky flavors or surprising textures, just a normal wrap like I'd have any other day. Thanks for making this a normal experience, Toufayan!

 

What are your thoughts on Toufayan and their other wrap flavors? And what other gluten free wrap brands am I missing out on?

Breadcrumb Review: 4C

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I never thought I would find gluten-free products that are better than the gluten-full alternative. Well, except when I first made that Betty Crocker cookie mix that were so good I could pretend they were homemade. But 4C's gluten-free breadcrumbs might just outdo that. Seriously. Breadcrumbs.

We're not big on frying in our house, since hot oil is not fun and a house that smells like fried food is not super appealing the next day when the scent is still wafting around. My dad has always been a fan of chicken parm though, and he'll usually lightly fry them in a bit of olive oil in a saute pan then bake it in the oven the rest of the way. Our gluten-full version was delicious - well breaded with a bit of a crisp on tender chicken.

Using gluten-free 4C crumbs instead of the regular g-full version made this chicken restaurant quality. The consistency of the gluten-free crumbs made the chicken full-on crispy, as if we had deep fried it but skipped all the greasy parts. The chicken itself remained full of flavor and moist (what a word I know), while the crust was salty, with minimal flake and optimal dryness (no sogginess between the chicken and breading). This meal was just begging for inappropriate amounts of cheese, and alongside some gluten free Barilla pasta and Pellicano's Olive Oil and Romano sauce this was the perfect restaurant-at-home dinner.

 

Any other gluten free breadcrumb brands I should try, or recommendations for other gluten free items to add to my shopping cart?

Dough Review: Pillsbury Thin Crust Pizza Dough

Hmm. This is definitely one I'm going to need some feedback on and suggestions for. 

Im wondering if there's something better to use this for, like thin crust homemade pizza or pretzels to have with gluten free beer. But as a big-pig-in-a-blanket dough, I wasn't super impressed with this gluten free dough.

 

There was the familiar and pretty distracting scent of pigs in a blanket as they cooked, and the dough seemed pretty normal to use (except for having to grease it up to use, but a pair of gloves helped avoid making us slippery messes). Even as very thin layers wrapped around hot dogs though, this alternative came out a little too hard on the outside while staying a bit doughy where the pay toughest the hot dog. This crisp layer had a normal taste, but you definitely can't bite into them unless you're interested in fake teeth. Even cutting through with a knife was a little difficult, producing a loud bang as the knife finally broke through the hot dog and the piece jumped a little bit from finally breaking free.

What are your thoughts? Did we wrap this too thickly, or do you use it for something else? At about $6 this would be a pretty expensive pretzel but it might be worth it with Auntie Anne's out of the picture for Celiacs. Any other dough you'd recommend for these hot dog alternatives?

 

Gluten-Free Stir Fry Sauces

The latest how-to-avoid-gluten-but-live-normally problem for our beloved Celiacs surrounds a savory dish we all love: stir fry. A lot of restaurants say they have gluten-free options, but going to the restaurant after calling and checking has resulted in: "You can have chicken with one of these two vegetables". And that's not fair! Who doesn't want to pick their own Asian-style sauce over their steak (okay vegetarians I know you don't) with inappropriate amounts of rice to have after wayyy to many apps and soups? Well, to help avoid that nightmare I'm here to show you how to make stir fry your way at home.

I'll have a whole separate post in the next few days in our Cooking section outlining how to make your own stir fry, but I thought I'd start off today telling you about the gluten free products I use. Pre-Celiac family, I originally made stir fry with hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, and teriyaki. I'm not super big on soy sauce but we always had it around.

Now in our post-gluten world, I had to rethink my sauces. Hoisin and oyster sauce still come in gluten-free versions, but teriyaki and soy are a bit trickier. One of soy sauce's primary ingredients is wheat, so it took a little doing to find g-free soy sauce. The bigger issue was really that most teriyaki contains soy, and we really couldn't find any on our first attempt. Instead, we came home from Wegmans with their gluten-free stir fry sauce.

Our new roster

Our new roster

When I was playing around with these ingredients the first time, I found that the premade stir fry sauce was a little off what I wanted to taste. It was a little too sweet and too thin, like a marinade, and lacked the flavors I wanted. So I toyed around with the hoisin and oyster, which alone without the teriyaki would have been pretty boring flavors. Together they made a delicious combination, although very different from the gluten-packed stir fries of my past.

Any suggestions on stir fry components I'm missing? Have you found a great g-free teriyaki brand?