Category Archives: Products

A New Pasta To Enjoy

To cap off 2015, I made the second-best lasagna that I have ever had.

The best was at one of the Wolfgang Puck restaurants in Las Vegas many years ago. It was light and fluffy and I don’t even know what they did.

Last week, Whole Foods had two different brands of fresh gluten-free lasagna noodles, Manini’s and RP’s, so we decided to make a lasagna after our holiday travel madness. Which meant today.

I couldn’t find the recipe I usually use, which is probably a good thing – it usually ends up a watery, floppy mess. So I began researching lasagna recipes. The base is of course the tomato sauce, hence the tomato sauce recipe post yesterday.

Alton Brown did a slow cooker lasagna on Good Eats, and he avoids the water issue in two ways – by not actually using tomato sauce (he places sliced tomatoes in the lasagna instead so it turns into a sauce during baking), and by adding flour and powdered goat’s milk that soaks up the excess water and turns into a besciamella sauce while baking. Which is pretty smart.

The besciamella sauce is traditional in Italy, but ricotta mixtures are more common in the U.S. Which is what I am used to. And I like my tomato sauce too much to try his method. I wanted to try adding powdered goat’s milk, but I couldn’t readily find any, so I tried an experiment – I made a slurry with a few tablespoons of arrowroot powder and added that to the tomato sauce.

That did the trick. The lasagna came out nice and solid with no water. It was really good right out of the oven, and it is always better the second day so I’m looking forward to breakfast tomorrow.

I really like the RP’s lasagna sheets. They are a good size (four filled out my casserole with just enough overlap) and handled nicely. They don’t have any rice in them, but are made from millet, tapioca, sorghum, and amaranth.

The Manini’s lasagna sheets are rice-based and have eggs in them. They are nice and big, but I found them difficult to handle after cooking. So I’m trying these without precooking.

I’ll document the lasagna recipe and post it tomorrow.

EDIT – I initially had the two pasta brands reversed; this has been corrected.

What Is “Real” Sugar?

Don’t drink sugary sodas. Really. They’re not good for you. And some say that diet sodas are even worse.

And there are those who say that the high fructose corn syrup used in most sodas is far worse for you than the old fashioned sodas made with sugar cane or beet sugar.

There are people who swear that sugar cane sweetened sodas taste better than those sweetened with HFCS. And many of those folks swear that Mexican Coke tastes better because it is sweetened with cane sugar. But a study investigating the fructose/sucrose mix of different foods and drinks showed that Mexican Coke has far too much fructose in it to not be at least partly HFCS sweetened.

Despite the corn syrup industry’s concerted efforts to convince you that it’s all the same stuff.

So just drink water. Your body needs it, it’s good for you, and it won’t make you fat.

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Pastas I Have Enjoyed

Noodles are such a fundamental food that every major culture around the world independently invented them on their own, made with a wide variety of grains. But Italy’s homegrown version of noodles – pasta – has become the best known thanks to the huge variety in variations and shapes, and Italy’s historical innovation in dressing noodles with tomato sauces.

Pasta is one of those foods that shouldn’t really require gluten, but always contains it. Traditionally, it is made from a wheat that is naturally low in gluten, but wheat nonetheless. Other than the dough sticking together enough to maintain a shape, there is not much need for structural support in pasta.

Which is a good thing if you can’t eat wheat.

But there is something special about wheat when it comes to noodles, aside from the gluten. There are a lot of different gluten-free pasta/noodles available, and most of them are pretty bad.

Here are three that I like:

Tinkyada was the first good pasta I found. It’s all-rice, keeps together nicely, and has a good texture. Depending on the variety and how it’s used, it might actually pass for real pasta among non-GF people. They make a wide variety of shapes, some available in both white and brown rice varieties, though most are only made with brown rice.

Tinkyada elbow pasta is my favorite for making macaroni and cheese. The spaghetti and linguine noodles are quite nice, too, and I would use them more frequently if they were easier to find. Whole Foods carries most of their products, and I do see a small selection of them in other places from time to time.

Ancient Harvest makes gluten-free quinoa pasta. Well, really, they make corn pasta with some quinoa in it. Which is an important distinction because most corn pastas are quite horrible – they break easily and are prone to being gummy. Ancient Harvest’s “Supergrain” pasta used to avoid this, and it had a nice texture and taste, though it did not taste anything like real pasta. I used it as my go-to gluten-free pasta because it is readily available at our neighborhood Fresh & Easy.

I say “used to” because they appear to have changed their recipe in the last year, and now the noodles are very brittle and don’t have the same texture. Which is too bad. The new formula is not horrible, and it’s still better than other corn pasta products, but I have stopped buying it because of my new discovery…

My new favorite, go-to gluten free pasta is made by Barilla – one of the largest pasta manufacturers in the world! They have a small line of gluten-free pastas, made in a dedicated gluten-free facility. They are made with corn and rice, and they really got the texture and flavor right.

I have only tried the spaghetti, but it works well for sauces and pan frying. I look forward to trying the other shapes. The elbows have a different look than I’m used to, but that’s a pretty minor thing – they have exterior ridges which probably hold on to cheese nicely.

One nice thing is all the Barilla pasta is that it is all available through Amazon, and the spaghetti is available in single box quantities through the new Amazon Pantry program (which I love, and has a surprising amount of gluten-free items).

These are all dried pasta, of course. I haven’t seen any commercially-available fresh gluten-free pasta, though I do find one via Google: RP’s Pasta Gluten-Free Fresh Pasta, which are sold at Whole Foods. I will have to give that a try.

Noodles are a staple pantry item for me, and I’ve tried every gluten-free variety that I have seen. These three are the ones that are good – not just acceptable. But what is your favorite gluten-free pasta?

Gourmand’s Grater

Here’s another crowdfunding campaign – the Gourmand’s Grater on Indiegogo.

The best way to keep unnwanted ingredients out of your diet is to make your own food at home from whole, fresh ingredients. Which is easier said than done, of course.

The Gourmand’s Grater looks like a rotary cheese grater – the kind they use in Italian restaurants to put Parmesan cheese on your pizza. But it’s also a grinder and a mill. Which keeps it from being one of Alton Brown’s dreaded unitaskers.

I generally hate rotary graters. They’re usually made out of thin sheet metal or cheap plastic. And they’re a pain in the butt to clean. And, frankly, they’re unnecessary – you almost certainly have a regular grater in the kitchen somewhere that can do the work just as well – and do plenty more as well.

I’ve been wanting a food mill to make sauces, soup, and purees. But a lot of them are cheap, and the nice ones are expensive. So I’ve never gotten one.

The Gourmand’s Grater looks interesting because it switches from a grater (cheese chocolate) to a grinder (nutmeg, herbs, spices, grains) to a mill. From the pictures on Indiegogo, it looks to be well built. And comes in different colors.

The designer of the Gourmand’s Grater, Annie Kersch, runs a food blog, Gambas And Grits, which has some yummy-looking recipes. It’s not a gluten-free blog, but there are plenty of options there.

The campaign is looking for $40,000, and has 25 days left to go. Reward options for graters start at $65, which is steep for a grater by itself, but not for all three tools. Go check it out.

No No’s

This isn’t the first gluten-free Kickstarter project, but it sure looks yummy: No-No’s M&M’s-like candies. They’re vegan and allergy-friendly (mostly – they do use soy, if that’s an issue for you).

They’re on track to just barely make their goal. It would be nice to see them make it.  You can help support them and get your candy on their Kickstarter page.

Nature’s Hilights Brown Rice Pizza Crust

Traditional pizza crust requires gluten to have the right texture. There are plenty of GF pizza crust recipes that attempt to get it right, but without our least favorite protein, the bread-y chew is impossible.

You can try to approximate the effects, but if you are doomed to end up in the uncanny valley of texture, why bother?

No one eats pizza for the crust. The crust is but a carrier for the good stuff – sauce, cheese, toppings – all of which can be inherently gluten free. So one simply needs the crust to be structurally sound, not be distracting, and taste good.

Nature’s Hilights Brown Rice pizza crust is a nice choice – it’s *not* traditional pizza crust, but it holds up well with toppings, it’s yummy, and  it’s got a nice nutty chewiness to it.

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Chex Gluten Free TV Advertisement!

I’m a little behind on some of my TV. I’m still trying to finish watching the pilot of the SyFy channel series Alphas. I’m feeling sick today, so I put it on the TiVo while working on some spreadsheets and what do I see? A Chex commercial that’s all about the gluten free varieties!

I like at the end they say “Wheat Chex and Multi-Bran Chex are NOT gluten free.”

Ooh – Agave

My biggest pet peeve on nutritional information labels is “natural flavors.” I find it aggravating that a food manufacturer is not obligated to tell consumers what is in a product, but there are a couple loopholes. If the ingredient does not add nutritively to the product, and is derived from a plant, they don’t have to. They just use the “natural flavors” catch-all.

There are different reasons why they want to keep ingredients a secret.

  • They might be considered a trade secret – a secret recipe, for example.
  • They are just one of multiple ingredients that can be used, and the manufacturer wants to be able to change periodically, based on what is cheapest or easiest to obtain.
  • The actual ingredient sounds unappetizing and they’d prefer not have to tell anyone.

“Natural flavors” presumably look better to consumers than “artificial flavors” which are simply chemical concoctions engineered to taste like something.

Of course, if you are allergic to something, it doesn’t matter how “natural” it is. I prefer knowing what is in my food.

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Conte’s Pasta Pizza Shells

I haven’t eaten wheat bread in several years, and I honestly don’t even remember what it tastes like, so most of the time, it doesn’t bother me.

But pizza is a different story. I miss pizza. Sometimes, I miss it badly.

Fortunately, there are a lot of GF options for pizza crust. Some of them are quite yummy. Some others, not so much. I’ve never had a GF pizza crust that tasted like the real thing (no matter how much others claim it’s just-as-good).

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Horizon Milk Boxes

Horizon Dairy is awesome. They make a full range of diary products, and the first question on their FAQ is “Are Horizon organic products okay for people with wheat and gluten allergies?” The answer is yes. All their products are gluten free.

I particularly like their milk boxes. Single-serving, ultra-pasteurized, shelf-stable milk. Sold in cartons of 18, available in a few different flavors.

They don’t need refrigeration (prior to opening), so they’re perfect for travel or keeping at the office. This isn’t great milk – you’re not going to want to use it to make cheese or sauces. But it’s perfect for pouring over your Corn Chex.

Unfortunately, they recently changed their packaging to make it work better with straws – by removing the pull tab over the pour spout. If you use the attached straw to puncture the small foil circle, the milk just dribbles out, so you need a knife to cut a pour spout from the carton. Which makes them less ideal for travel because the fewer tools you have to carry with you, the better.