Monday, June 30, 2014

Loving Garlic Scapes! (with Recipes)

One of my summer joys is my weekly trip to the farm to pick up my CSA share. While some CSA’s have designated items for each shareholder, I fell fortunate that my CSA allows us to select the items we want to take home each.

I discovered garlic scapes a few years at the CSA, and look forward to them every year – they are one of the items I always select, if I have an option to. Other “must bring home” items include lettuce and scallions. Seriously, it’s impossible to have too much!

So, what is a garlic scape? It’s the flowering stem of a garlic plant. While the garlic grows underground, the scapes shoot up through the soil, giving us greens that can be harvested in late spring/early summer (whereas the garlic bulbs will be much later in the season). Not surprisingly, they taste garlicky! But not too garlicky. Like most greens, they can be eaten raw or cooked.

One of my favorite uses for garlic scapes is to make pesto:

Garlic Scape Pesto

About 15 garlic scapes, ends trimmed
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 ½ tablespoons shelled hemp seeds
½ to ¾ cup olive oil

Place all the scapes, salt, lemon juice, hemp seeds, and ½ cup of olive in a food processor. Blend on low speed until everything is chopped and well mixed. Add up to ¼ cup more oil, until desired consistency is reached. (Add even more oil if you are using this as a pasta sauce or dipping sauce.)

The shelled hemp seeds replace pine nuts (usually found in traditional pesto) giving it a slightly nutty taste and some protein.

Now, what to do with the garlic scape pesto? How about making a chicken salad?

Garlic Scape Pesto Chicken Salad

2 grilled chicken breasts, diced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
½ cup Garlic Scape Pesto (see above)

Mix all of the ingredients together and refrigerate.

And here are some more ideas on how to use that yummy Garlic Scape Pesto:
  • Use it as a pasta sauce
  • Top off a pizza (instead of tomato sauce)
  • Use it as a dipping sauce for gluten-free bread
  • Use it as a sandwich spread
Or just use your imagination! If you have an idea for how to use garlic scapes, please share!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Is the Gluten-Free Trend a Problem When Eating Out With Food Allergies?

Last week I ate at one of my favorite restaurants. The restaurant will remain nameless because despite the story I am about to tell, I still rate it highly. I went there for gluten-free pizza. I know from prior experience that they prepare the gluten-free pizzas in a separate pan and that they have appropriate controls in the kitchen.

And so I ordered my favorite pizza and told the server that I have a gluten allergy. (I was dining alone and hence there was no need to explain my son’s food allergies.) I was sipping my glass of wine and checking my email when a manager approached my table. The conversation went something like this:

Manager: You ordered a gluten-free pizza. I need to ask, do you have celiac disease?

Me: (Antennas going up…) Why are you asking?

Manager: We just like to know.

Me: (Now thinking that they won’t take proper precautions…) I will get very sick if I eat gluten.

Manager: Okay. The gluten-free pizza is a good thing to order, you should be fine. But I have to tell you that we can’t actually guarantee anything.

For a minute I considered getting up and leaving. If it had been my first visit there, I would have. Instead, I proceeded to ask the detailed questions about the special pan, etc., and I got satisfactory answers.

Me: (Now feeling like I had to advocate for everyone.) You really shouldn’t ask people that question about how severe their allergy is.

Manager: Really? Why not?

Me: It makes people nervous, and if you really are doing everything properly in the kitchen you should be making them feel comfortable.

Manager: Yes, we just don’t want to get sued.

Me: You shouldn’t have a problem with that if your staff is trained properly.

I was at a restaurant that is known for it’s gluten-free food. My son and I have eaten there successfully numerous times and always felt very comfortable. I stayed, ate my pizza, took some back to the hotel, and had no problems at all.

And so I am left wondering if the “gluten-free trend” (meaning people choosing to eat gluten-free without medical issues) is causing confusion in the restaurant community. It’s too easy to lump people into two groups – celiacs and non-celiacs; there are many non-celiacs with medical reasons to avoid gluten. If I am highly gluten-intolerant (and I am) I want the same care taken in preparing my meal as if I had celiac disease.

What do you think?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Granola

I’ve been a fan of Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free oatmeal for years and I was very happy to see that Bob’s Red Mill is now offering gluten-free granola. Yay! Let’s keep expanding those gluten-free options!

Disclosure: Bob’s Red Mill sent me samples of their gluten-free granola to review.

The Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free granolas come in two flavors – honey oat and apple blueberry.Both are gluten-free, wheat-free, and dairy-free. They are processed in a facility processes tree nuts and soy. I decided to try the apple blueberry granola first. Doesn’t that sound good?

What I noticed first was that there are no blueberries in the granola. The ingredients do include dried apples, but the apples are not visible in the cereal. Fruit juices provide the flavor. Incidentally, the honey oat version contains some honey but brown sugar is a more prominent ingredient.

Both varieties contain a nice nutrition profile with 4/5 grams of fiber, 4/5 grams of protein, just 15/11 grams of sugar, and 200/210 calories (for the apple blueberry and honey oat respectively).

For my taste test I used hemp milk and added some wild blueberries (because blueberry granola should actually have some blueberries in it, don’t you think?).

Overall, I found the granola to be quite good, but I do prefer to make my own. Have I mentioned that The Allergy-Free Pantry: Make Your Own Staples, Snacks, and More Without Wheat, Gluten, Dairy, Eggs, Soy or Nuts includes some recipes to make your own granola?

Monday, June 9, 2014

My ALDI Shopping Experience

I knew very little about ALDI prior to attending BlogHer Food in May, where ALDI was a major sponsor of the conference. While at the event, my exposure to ALDI was limited to the bottle of wine I received when I checked into the hotel and an evening event called the Sensory Tasting Experience – a wine and food-tasting session that opened my eyes to the way tastes can be combined.

I was told that the bottle of wine cost a mere $4.50. I can’t recall ever being able to buy a full-size bottle of wine for less than five dollars, but this one rivaled much more expensive wines. So, I was thrilled when I received a $25 gift certificate to ALDI (thinking that I’d stock up on those wines) but I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find a store near me. (I’m still waiting for a Whole Foods to open close enough to make regular trips.) Much to my delight I discovered a store just a few miles down the road. (So that’s what opened where Borders used to be…)

And since I did indeed have an ALDI store near me and some good friends didn’t, I ended up with three gift certificates to spend – gold mine!

My impression of ALDI just after the event was that it was similar to a Trader Joe’s – all private label, catering to high-end, health-focused clientele. What I found when I visited the store was a bit of a surprise.

The first thing I noticed when I entered the store was the lack of traditional grocery store shelves. Most items are stacked in boxes on the floor, or on less structured shelves. It reminded me of the warehouse store style – without the bulk packages. There are no price labels on the packages but some items have signs with prices. There are no bags; the cashier places the items in a cart after ringing them up, as the warehouse stores do.

The first products I encountered were the gluten-free products – a line that I had learned they were test-marketing. I bought every one on these that were suitable for my family’s food allergies including:


What I couldn’t bring home were the gluten-free baking mixes. Even though the packaged cookies were made without wheat, dairy, eggs, soy, or nuts, the baking mixes included dairy in the mix. However, I did find some great Mexican products and chips.

The only non-dairy milk I found (oddly placed in the refrigerated section) was almond milk (okay in my house).

Due to my lack of familiarity with the ALDI branded products, I spent a lot of time reading labels. What I found were extremely well labeled products – no guessing as to what the ingredients were. I also found that the product ingredients were mostly “clean” and healthy. So I filled up my cart.

The refrigerated section, produce section, and meat section were sparse – this is not the place to go to find lots of veggies – but I did pick up a couple meat products to try.

I headed off to the register thinking that I probably spent about $100. The total bill came to $38. In shock, I handed over one of my three $25 certificates and gave the cashier a credit card. I was informed that they don’t take credit cards – just debit cards and food stamps. Yes, they also take cash.

So I decided to buy a few more things to bring the bill up to $50, guessing that a couple more boxes of gluten-free cookies should do it. I’ve never had difficulty spending $50 at a grocery store before but at ALDI it was surprisingly hard because the food was priced so low. I added another package of cookies ($2.49, compare to $4.49), an almond beverage ($1.69, compare to $3.59), gluten-free penne ($1.29, compare to $3.39), gluten-free spaghetti ($1.89, compare to $3.99), and a large package of chicken breasts ($5.85) to my cart. Whew!

What I didn’t find was wine (and they have no plans to stock it in that store). Despite the fact that my plan was to try the gluten-free baking mixes and stock up on the wine (neither of which I was able to do), I came home with four grocery bags full of food for $50. What’s more impressive is that everything we have tried so far has been excellent!

Nevertheless, I am still baffled by my ALDI shopping experience. ALDI appears to be offering low cost, healthy packaged foods without sacrificing quality. In fact, the nutrition facts on the ALDI gluten-free snickerdoodles are nearly identical to the nutrition facts on the label on a very popular allergen-free brand of cookies with the ALDI LiveGfree cookies having slightly more fat (but the same calories). The ingredients labels of the two products are nearly identical (with the ALDI brand using sorghum rather than rice flour).

ALDI appears to be keeping costs down with their no frills approach, low overhead, and private label packaged foods. Check out their "ALDI truths" here. I particularly like truth #10: Impressively high quality at impossibly low prices. However, I do wonder who their customers are.

Have you shopped at an ALDI market? What did you think? Can they change the way we think about grocery shopping?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Blackberry Chocolate Sauce – An Ice Cream Topping Treat

It’s officially fruit season!! I love being able to go to the farm and pick fresh berries, and I love it when I can find local, organic fruit at the grocery store. This is also the time of year when fruit – especially berries – can be very affordable.

For The Allergy-Free PantryI created basic sauces and toppings, including Caramel Sauce and Chocolate Syrup. This Blackberry Chocolate Sauce is not as thick, but perfect for an ice cream topping or cake filling!

Blackberry Chocolate Sauce

6 ounces blackberries
2 tablespoons Wholesome Sweeteners Natural Cane Sugar
2 tablespoons Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Light Corn Syrup
2 tablespoons chocolate hemp milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup chocolate chips

Combine the blackberries, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium non-reactive saucepan. Let it sit for 15 minutes. Heat on low for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the berries are softened and have changed to a deep magenta color. Add the chocolate hemp milk and vanilla. Increase the heat to medium. Remove the pan from the heat when the mixture reaches a low boil. Stir in the chocolate chips and stir vigorously until combined. Chunks of blackberry should be evident in the sauce. Let it cool completely and then transfer to a covered jar and refrigerate for up to one week.

The taste of the sugar really comes through in sauces making it the perfect time to break out the “good” sugar.

Disclosure: Wholesome Sweeteners provided me with complementary samples of their products to try.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Three Myths About Gluten-Free Flours

I have been baking gluten-free for more than a decade. During that time I have tried just about every off-the-shelf gluten-free flour blend out there and experimented with dozens of variations of my own flour blends, and I am here to tell you that it’s not only possible to bake gluten-free, but the results can be fabulous!

If you think baking with gluten-free flours is hard and the results are always poor, think again. I am about to debunk the top three myths about gluten-free flours.

1. Gluten-free flours taste bad – False!

Unlike traditional bakers who use only wheat flour, gluten-free bakers have dozens of flours they can choose to use. (Yes, flour made from seeds, beans, and gluten-free grains is still called flour.) Wheat flour tastes like wheat. Flours made from buckwheat, millet, sorghum, etc., taste like buckwheat, millet, sorghum, etc. You get the idea – the taste of the flour profile changes based on the individual flours used to make a blend. A standard rice and starch blend will have a neutral taste, but if that’s all you’ve ever tried, you are missing out!

2. Gluten-free flours are hard to use – False!

Wheat recipes (especially those for bread) often have extra steps to allow the gluten in the wheat to develop. Since you are baking without gluten there is no need for those steps. Likewise, there is no need for a long rise cycle. Instead of using active dry yeast (which requires a longer proofing time), fast-acting (or rapid rise) yeast can be used for making gluten-free breads. This means less steps and less time to bake!

Another reason some bakers think gluten-free baking is hard is because they try to replace flours cup for cup… which brings me to the next myth.

3. You can replace wheat flour in a recipe with a gluten-free flour blend, cup for cup – False (or nearly always false)!

This is a question of volume versus weight, and the correct answer is to measure flour by weight. Why? Wheat flours weigh between 120 and 124 grams per cup, whereas gluten-free flour blends usually weigh much more. A typical gluten-free blend might weigh 160 grams per cup – that’s 33% more than wheat flour. Inspect the nutrition labels of gluten-free flour blends and you will see that they often list a serving size as 1/3 cup rather than the 1/2 cup serving sizes you typically see on wheat flour. Is the idea starting to gel?

The most common mistake I see with failed gluten-free baking projects is that too much flour was used. Some bakers will say, “It worked, I just needed to add more liquid.” Sound familiar? The better answer would be to use less flour; if a recipe calls for 1 cup of wheat flour, measure 124 grams of whatever gluten-free flour blend you are using.

In the rare case that your gluten-free flour blend measures between 120 and 124 grams per cup, go ahead and use it cup for cup. Otherwise, I recommend measuring by weight, regardless of what the package says!

Note that if you are using flours made from coconut or nuts, they will behave differently than gluten-free flours made from grains and seeds and are best used with a recipe that was designed for those flours.

What’s your experience with gluten-free flour blends?