Monday, September 12, 2011

Thank You ShopRite!

When I left NY 6 years ago I was under the impression that Shoprite was gone, perhaps out of business of just pushed out by larger chains.  When I moved back I ended up accompanying my father to the Shoprite in Hudson, NY, and I'm glad I did!
Their gluten free section offers more variety, at lower prices, than the other big chains in the area.  Furthermore, Shoprite stores in the area (beginning with Niskayuna) are going to have a full-time dietician on staff to offer workshops and help make recommendations for people with Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance!
They now have a list of all GF products available at the store on their website,, and are looking for community feedback regarding products and brands.  Speak up, and soon you may not have to hunt down your favorites anymore!

And The Winner Is....

I've decided to compile a list of some of my favorite GF products for everyone.  I know that people who are not GF have the luxury of store brand versus name brand and such, but people with dietary restrictions tend to be just that...restricted.  Feel free to add some of your faves as well;

Best (Budget Friendly) Cereal:
They come in a variety of flavors now, such as cinnamon, chocolate and strawberry, as well as the originals.  You don't have to look hard to find them, and they won't break the bank.  Many other GF cereals have the consistency of dog kibble, but Chex is a good, simple cereal.
For those who have a milk allergy:  My favorite is cinnamon Chex with vanilla soy or almond milk

Best Pasta:
This pasta is made in a dedicated GF facility, and comes in every shape/size you can think of, including the elusive GF lasagna sheet.  Due to the use of whole gran brown rice and rice bran, the texture is much better than corn pasta, and it is both high in protein and fiber.  I often sub in Tinkyada when I'm making Italian food for a large group, and no one has noticed!
This brand can be found in most major grocery stores with a GF section, but in the Capital District I've found that ShopRite has the lowest price

Best Seasoned Bread Crumbs:
The price can seen a bit high (usually $6.00 for a small tub), but these bread crumbs have both a great texture and great seasoning.  I use them when I don't think I'll have the time to doctor my own crumbs, or when I need something with a more fine grit.  They do their best work when being used for breading and frying.  They are also milk and casein free.
You can find these at Hannaford as well as local health food stores.

Best Unseasoned Bread Crumbs:
Kelloggs Corn Flake Crumbs
These crumbs made my GF life a lot easier when they hit the market, because until that point I had actually been crushing up my own corn cereal to use as crumbs!  They have a much larger grit than the aforementioned Gillians, which helps them to stand up as a stuffing in stuffed mushrooms, or to bread and fry meats and veggies.  They are a blank canvas, so they need some help from your spice rack.  I typically add the following dried herbs:  basil, oregano, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, cracked black pepper.  I also add finely grated parm or romano cheese, which works as a binding agent and keeps the crumbs together.
Recently my local Hannaford stopped carrying these crumbs, but I know they are still available at all other local grocery store chains.

Best Bagels:
After nearly nine years I had given up on bagels.  I had tried ordering them online, making them myself, shelling out incredible money at major health food stores...and had never found anything close to what I remember a bagel to be.  Then I found Udi's.  The outside is that perfect mixture of chewy and crunchy when toasted, and the inside is some of the best GF bread product I've found. bagels.  This company also makes hot dog rolls which are fabulous, and some wonderful wholegrain breads.
They can be found at some Hannafords, as well as:
"It's Only Natural", Albany NY
Wholefoods, exit 11a on Mass Pike
Deans, Albany NY

Best Bread:
Everyone has certain things they are looking for in bread, and what's wonderful about being a modern celiac is that we have lots of choices.  Udi's makes a great whole grain bread, while Rudi's makes a good sandwich bread.  Saratoga Gluten Free Bakery makes some amazing breads, although I have not gotten to sample them all because they sell out so fast!  The chef of the Chocolate Mill Cafe in Glens Falls makes an excellent bread for his GF sandwiches, while the Whistling Tea Kettle in Ballston Spa uses Schar.  Everything that I've mentioned is a fine GF product, but again feel free to list other suggestions.

Best GF Flour
Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Flour
Open any cookbook or magazine with GF recipes and you'll find pages of formulas for blending your own flour.  I do this when I have the time and space, but for a long time I just wanted an off-the-shelf flour that would do the job.  Enter Bob's Red Mill.  This flour has a slightly nutty taste, but once cooked it doesn't overpower the other flavors of your dishes.  Use it to make a roux and your guests will never know they are eating GF gravy at Thanksgiving (my husband did this last year).  Substitute it into your favorite family recipes and add up to a teaspoon of xanthan gum.  There are other brands out there, but Bob's is it for me.
You can find this product at Hannaford, Shoprite, Price Chopper, and even Ocean State Job Lot

Best Baking Mixes:
Gluten Free Pantry
Sometimes I don't want to make everything from scratch, laboring over multiple flours and stirring a very specific number of times, and waiting nervously for the timer to buzz.  Sometimes, a girl just wants a brownie.  Gluten Free Pantry is a line of mixes I've used for years, and they just get better and better.  I always make a batch of brownies for potlucks at work, so that I know there will be something delicious that I can eat.  The chocolate chip cookies are wonderful, although I'd recommend rolling the dough into a log and putting it in the fridge for an hour before baking off the cookies.
These can be found almost anywhere that gluten free products are sold.

A dairy-free friend of mine introduced me to this brand when she made a delicious vanilla cake with raspberry jam filling.  I had tried some of the packaged cookies by Pamela's, and wasn't terribly impressed...but the cake mixes are wonderful.  Soft, spongy, moist, able to stand up to fruit and icing and anything else you may throw it's way, these cakes are really delightful.
I believe you can find these mixes at Hannaford, I know that Shoprite and local health food stores also carry them.

Best Crackers:
These round crackers have a great texture, and I often use them during lunches for peanut butter, hummus, or other spreads.  The wholegrain option is a bit heavy on the fennel seeds in my opinion, but the plain and cheddar varieties are great.  Hannaford now has a storebrand version of this cracker in their Nature's Place section.

These are just a few of my favorite things.  I'm sure I'll end up posting a second (and possibly third) list.  In the meantime, I am going to start getting out there and exploring what GF dining and shopping options we have locally.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Gluten Free Friendship

Nine years ago I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, and I was lost.  Back then your average big-box store didn't have a designated gluten free aisle, and the products that were available were incredibly expensive.  I purchased a ton of gluten free cookbooks, but found myself put off by the cost of the ingredients and the lack of success I was having.  Where was a girl to turn?  Ricecakes.  I ate lots and lots of plain ricecakes...slathered with hummus or peanutbutter, or standing in as a sad open-face sandwich substitute.  My family and friends did their best to accomodate me during meals, often creating a dinner for me and a dinner for everyone else.  Needless to say it was time consuming and frustrating.  For quite a while I did not join people in dining out, as it seemed impossible to find a restaurant willing to deal with my game of fifty questions. 
"Can you ask the chef if there is a roux in the soup?"
"Is all of the meat dredged in flour before being cooked?  If so will chef cook it without?"
"Is it possible to get the french onion soup without the crouton?.... Yes I still want the cheese!"
"Are your french fries cooked in a designated gluten free fryer?  You don't know what I mean?  Okay, I'll have a croutons."
Fast-forward nearly a decade and here I am.  I recently moved back to the Capital District in Upstate New York, after living for five years in Florida, and I have managed to carve a niche for myself.  I can safely navigate the restaurant scene, I know who has the least expensive GF products, and I can even bake a mean cupcake that nobody knows is gluten free.  I have made myself a regular at a handful of restaurants, and am no longer seen as a pest.  Sure, sometimes people still make the assumption that a burger with no bun means I'm on the Atkins Diet and therefore want no fries, but for the most part people don't even seem surprised by my requests anymore.
Often I'm contacted by friends now, who know someone who just found out they can't have gluten.  I usually bombard them with way too much information about the cost of rice pasta versus corn, and where to get the best piece of chocolate cake when you don't feel like baking.  That's what friends are for, right?
Recently, it dawned on me...everyone needs a gluten free friend!  If only there had been someone for me to turn to, all those years ago.  Some seasoned celiac who had blazed a path so that I might take some solace in an otherwise sad and confusing time.  So, whether you or a loved one suffers from Celiac Disease or Gluten Intolerance, I am here to answer as many questions as possible.  My goal for this blog is to create a guide for fellow members of the gluten-freed in the Capital District.  I will be visiting local restaurants and stores and finding you the best options for your restrictions.  I'll post recipes, ideas, and perhaps a few questions of my own.  Please let me know, in the meantime, if you have GF questions. 
I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.....