Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mi Pueblo - Good Mexican Food Near University Circle

It has been 17 long days since I've reported on a gluten free place for Clevelanders. To be fair, some of those days included multiple trips out of state (restaurant reviews included), some included unwritten about trips to already reviewed favorites like Cafe Tandoor and Pearl of the Orient, and some included the prep for and the actual day of Thanksgiving. So, I deserve a little eensy-teensy break on this, right? 

Yeah, I didn't think so either. 

So, in order to get back into your good graces, gluten free Clevelanders, I bring you dinner from the delicious and surprisingly fun Mi Pueblo. 

From beans to rice to corn tortillas and tacos, Mexican cuisine offers a wide array of naturally gluten free food. It's kind of freeing to open a menu and labor over it in a positive way - deciding what to get rather than trying to find the least offensive offering. Despite my usual good luck with Mexican food, I called ahead see if they could accommodate my gluten free
 needs, as it is always best to do. I was assured corn tortillas would find their way on my plate and, though still a little leery of the language barrier, off to dinner I went. 

Before we continue, let me just take a moment to re-point out that Mi Pueblo is not a gluten free establishment. Cross contamination can and probably is an issue here so you will need to have a conversation with your server and place your order according to your comfort level. 

It didn't take long for me to settle on the quesadillas. Normally made with flour tortillas, I thought it would be a nice treat to get something I usually couldn't. While I sat back and munched on the corn tortilla chips, we were unexpectedly served a small cup of soup - chicken for my brother and father, vegetable for me . (I must say, my soup looked suspiciously like theirs so I didn't dare try it, guessing it would be chicken broth. The family gave it positive reviews, though.) Not bad for about seven dollars a dinner, not bad at all. 

My cheese filled corn tortillas arrived with a side of Spanish rice, refried beans, ...and Mariachi musical accompaniment. Yes, really! Two elderly gentleman (perhaps, Senior Seniors? ba-dump!) played their way through the restaurant, strumming out intricate melodies on their guitars and serenading the diners in Spanish. It was quite an experience. 

The food was good, ooey, gooey, cheesy, and just what I wanted. It would've been nice if there were vegetables somewhere on my plate, but I suppose I could've ordered a side (the prices are definitely right for adding on sides, or appetizers, or desserts, or some of their famous margaritas...) 

All in all, I have no complaints about my dinner at Mi Pueblo. It was great to get out, to get away from some of my Thanksgiving leftovers, to have someone else cook for a change, and to experience more of Cleveland! 

Mi Pueblo on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bangin' Cranberry Cornbread - November's Adopt a Gluten Free Blogger

Have you recovered from Thanksgiving yet? Cooked and baked out? Well, I certainly hope you've saved up some energy and some room for dessert because it is for you,  Gluten Free Clevelanders, that I send out this reminder... the NEOCSG's 8th annual Holiday Cookie Exchange is this Sunday - November 30th - at the Independence Public Library from 2 -4 pm. Bring 2 dozen cookies, a container, and a recipe to share. Imagine! A room full of cookies you can eat. Please go to their website for more information or RSVP send an email to 

But, on to the food. 

From days of planning, shopping, and prep work to post a Thanksgiving food coma, I must admit I've been in a world-of-food overload. I made sweet dishes, I made savory dishes. I made side dishes and I made main courses. I even made a dessert (and what a dessert!), and, phew, to be honest I'm still a little warn out. So, too tired to tell you about my recipes - though garlic mashed sweet potatoes and pumpkin meringue pie are in your future, and sitting pretty in my fridge - I give you my contribution to this month's "Adopt a Gluten Free Blogger". 

Started and run by Sea over at Book of Yum, the Adopt a Gluten Free Blogger event encourages us gluten free bloggers to make a fellow bloggers' recipe and review it. This month's theme was Thanksgiving food. A lofty challenge that, making someone else's food for your holiday meal, so when I chose, I chose carefully. 

And I chose well

I'd been eyeing Maureen's Skillet Cornbread recipe since it appeared on her site earlier this month. Thing is, I Maureen's recipe scared me a little. I'd never used millet flour before. And. though I bought it months ago, my xanthum gum has remained strikingly untouched. Plus, I didn't have a cast iron skillet. Sure Maureen made it look easy, but would her delicious and moist cornbread turn out as good in my lowly glass pan? 

Feeling adventurous - after all, I was already throwing caution to the wind with my glass dish here -  I added cranberries to the mix for a seasonal twist. 

Home from college for the holiday, my brother never misses a chance to tease me about my gluten free food or to remind me how glad he is that he isn't a celiac. Brothers. Anyway, his days of making fun of gluten free eating are done - or at least momentarily curbed - because he had barely swallowed his bite of fresh-from-the-oven gluten free cornbread before declaring, "this cornbread is bangin'!"

Oh, bangin' it was. So much so, the entire pan disappeared in two days, and there are already plans for making a second batch tomorrow. Easy, delicious, and gluten free this cornbread is worth making even if you're a little baked-out. Thanks for the awesome recipe Maureen! 

Bangin' Cranberry Cornbread
with teeny-tiny adaptions made from Maureen's Skillet Cornbread

1 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of xanthan gum
1/2 cup of millet flour
1/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon of sugar
1 cup + 2 Tablespoon of cornmeal
1 cup of milk
1 egg
1/2 cup of reduced fat sour cream (I used Horizon's Organic)
1/4 cup of canola oil
2/3rds cup of cranberries 

Additional sugar for pan bottom (1 - 2 Tablespoons)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 8 or 9 inch glass dish with canola oil spray (or other GF cooking spray).  Mix all ingredients except cranberries into a batter. Fold cranberries into the mix. Sprinkle sugar into bottom of pan (enough to coat) before pouring in the batter. 

Bake 25 - 35 minutes, or until a knife stuck into the bread's center comes out clean and the top turns a golden brown. Due to the sour cream, the bread is a little wetter in the middle requiring the up to 35 minutes of baking. Be sure to check at 25 minutes to determine your additional baking time. 

(Note: this cornbread tastes amazing warm, but cold, the cranberries become more than a little tart. Also, if you use fresh cranberries, the juices will bleed a little and you may find purple spots in your cornbread. Be assured this is yummy cranberry juice goodness and not anything gross, like mold.) 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Gluten Free PSA #6: Take Care of Your Thyroid

The thyroid gland. As one of the body's largest glands, this little butterfly shaped guy sits in your throat, carefully controlling your metabolic rate, making invaluable proteins, and determining how sensitive your body should be to other hormones. 

And wouldn't you know it, researchers in Sweden have recently discovered that individuals with celiac disease are at a three to four times increased risk for developing thyroid disease -- and vice versa, those with thyroid problems are at the same risk for developing celiac disease. This includes all thyroid problems: hypothyroid, hyperthyroid, and autoimmune thyroiditis (Hashimoto's disease). 

This study was written up in the October, 2008 edition of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. To read the full article, please click here. And take care to take care of your thyroids! 

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Homemade Pizza...With A Little Help From Whole Foods Pizza Crust Mix

November conjures up a great many images in the mind. In early November, autumn is in full bloom, while in the later part of the month, the frost of winter creeps in with the season's first snow. One might imagine cornucopias filled with gourds, apples, and other fall fruits or pilgrims shaking hands with scantily clad natives. Perhaps the multicolored plumage of turkeys and uncomfortably early Santa Clauses posing for pictures in mall displays spring to mind. I could go on and on about what November usually brings, but this November is different. This year, November tis the season for pizza. 

On all of my recent trips, there's been pizza. All over the gluten-free blogosphere, thanks to the latest Daring Bakers' challenge, there's been pizza. And every time I talk to my gluten eating friends, there seemed to be pizza. A girl can only think about, read about, and travel for pizza for so long before the overwhelming craving leads to some kind of action. And I'm the action oriented type. 

But, if you're going to be determined about something, it may as well be pizza. 

Trouble is, thanks in part to the chill of November, I've also feeling a bit lazy. Pizza has always been a convince food, at least that's how I think of it. So spending time to make a perfect dough - mixing different flours, letting it rise, rolling it out - then, after baking, ending up with only mixed "it'll do" results? No thank you. That, I was not in the mood for.  

Enter Whole Foods 365 Organic Gluten Free Pizza Crust Mix. With 2 eggs, an egg white, cider vinegar, warm water, olive oil, and a packet of included yeast, the guess work is taken out of pizza dough, leaving me with a surprisingly fast and relatively easy end product. Add to that pizza sauce from a can, low fat pre-shredded mozzarella cheese, and Trader Joe's frozen, precut sweet pepper mix and pizza is almost a convince food again. Almost. From start to finish the pizza making process still took over an hour and a half. 

The box makes 2 12.5 inch pizzas. Or, if you're like me and pizza pan-less, it makes 3 incredibly thick crust 8.5 inch pizzas, as made in a pie pan.  On the whole, I'd make this pizza crust again. Unlike the thin, foldable pizza crust I'm accustomed to, this thick, bready crust was more like a Chicago-style pizza crossed with a loaf of crusty french bread. "Chicago style pizza on steroids", my boyfriend mused (he ate his whole pizza in one sitting, mind you). But, if you're not a fan of dough an inch and a half thick, I'm sure following the directions - and using a pizza pan - would result in a much more manageable crust. 

While I doubt homemade pizza will take the place of mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie at my Thanksgiving table (though, never say never!), I think I rather like this new November tradition. Besides, I'm not sure if the pizza bug is out of me yet. And with so many variations to try, I can't help but hope it doesn't leave any time soon. 

As I go off to lick the crumbs from my plate, I leave you with a final question: Any favorite pizza crusts, sauces, toppings? Any suggestions for pizza goodness? Tried and true recipes? Strange but delicious combinations? Dig in, dish it out, and share in the pizza goodness. 

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Silvio's Organic Pizza - Ann Arbor, Michigan

As long as I'm being unfaithful, I might as well come clean. I had pizza in Ann Arbor, too. 

In a land of Domino's, Pizza Huts, and Cottage Inns, Silvio's Organic Pizza offers it's clientele a "slice of health". As their name suggests, Silvio's sauce and toppings are all organic.

And what toppings! The Silvio's menu boats 35 different kinds of pizza. Who even knew there were so many things to put on a pizza? From your average margarita pizza, to asparagus and cream cheese sauce, to a vegan offering, to pesto seafood, to pumpkin, to...frankly, the choices can make your head spin. If you've poured over the 35 options and still can't find what you're looking for, Silvio's offers you the chance to "create your own masterpiece". 

The coolest part? They delivered. That's right, I got steaming hot gluten free pizza - in a pizza box - delivered to my (well, my boyfriend's) front door. Since leaving New York, where it's commonplace for overburdened bike messengers to peddle bags of take-out at any hour of the day or night, delivery has become something of a novelty for me. After all, here in the great American Midwest, pizza is pretty much the only thing anyone is willing to drive to your door. So it was really exciting to get dinner that I didn't have to cook from the comfort of my own home. 

Being the creature of habit that I am, I couldn't resist the eggplant pizza. I had an inkling that something funny might be going on when I saw that gluten free pizzas were only offered in 6" size, but I figured pizza was pizza and ordered anyway. When my pizza arrived, I couldn't help but laugh: my roasted eggplant, mozzarella cheese, and sun dried tomatoes were sitting atop a Glutino crust! I'd recognize that taste anywhere. Towards the end of senior year, when I was so busy working on my thesis I barely had time to breathe, I lived on those crusts, smothered in garlic humus and baked within an inch of their life. 

I was miffed for a moment - after all, why was I paying $8.59 for something I could've  - and had! - made myself? But as I ate my pizza, my pizza that I didn't have to make, my pizza that came from the same place that satisfied my gluten eating guy, my pizza that had really great toppings on it, I realized the deal wasn't so bad after all. And while I think using the Glutino crusts are a little silly, I'm glad Silvio's makes itself available to the gluten free community. How could I complain about a thing like that?

Clevelanders, Ann Arbor is only a hop, skip, and a 3 and a half hour jump away. It's one tank of gas, max. If you find yourself wanting to take a day trip somewhere, consider the destination possibilities of that quaint Michigan town and its gluten free pizza goodness. 

On a completely unrelated note...Nick over at Peanut Butter Boy is celebrating Peanut Butter Lovers Month in a big way. He's asking you to submit your favorite peanut butter recipe and will be showcasing his favorites at the end of the month. Why not use it as an opportunity to do some peanut butter food science-ing of your own? I offered up those oh-so yummy peanut butter pumpkin cookies, what are you going to send

Silvio's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Zucchini Cranberry Walnut Muffins

The season is changing. 

Two nights ago, we had our first real snow of the season. Here, snow only counts if it sticks to the ground; until then, it's merely a driving disturbance. We Clevelanders are a tough bunch when it comes to weather. We have to be. Our weather - with its snow on Tuesday, then warm enough for the beach on Friday - keeps us on our toes. A guessing game of how many layers one can wear without toppling over. 

That is, until winter comes. 

Winter in Cleveland is a sure thing. Snow from now through March, and probably April. But it's a good thing. The city is resting, hibernating, it needs it's sleep. I'm resting, too, and hopefully the billowy white blanket of the winter months will cover us both, keeping us warm as we plot a successful rejuvenation come spring. Until then, it's mostly indoors for me. But that's not bad; there's plenty to do. 

The effects of seasonal changes aren't limited to weather, though . Have you noticed the grocery stores are turning away from orange harvest displays as they put their focus on warm-you-to-the-bone items fit for any icy winter evening? The holiday season is practically upon us, and it's only November 18th.  

As the season change draws closer, are there any winter foods your taste buds ache for? Any fall or summer time ingredients you'll be sad to see go? 

The Japanese believe in serving food that pairs in harmony with nature and I humbly agree. Winter foods those thick soups, crusty breads, and stuffing mixes are weather perfect - warming and hearty - but pose a certain danger for my celiac stomach.

Ah well, I guess I'll just have to mess around in my kitchen and create my own winter treats. Darn. 

Zucchini Cranberry Walnut Muffins

Blending a summer squash and a fruit that embodies winter months, I present to you the perfect end of autumn treat. At less than 200 calories a muffin, these puppies will fill you up without weighing you down.

A note about nutrition. The muffins contain vitamin A, folate, manganese, potassium (the zucchini), vitamin C, dietary fiber, antioxidants, a panel of micro nutrients, promote kidney health (the cranberries), protein, and omega 3s. And if the cancer-fighting, cholesterol lowering power of cranberry-walnut anything isn't enough for you, note the low cholesterol and fat content. For these muffins, I replaced most of the egg with egg whites and most of the oil with cinnamon applesauce. That's right, a baked good my recently fat-insoluble tummy can actually stand. Oh, it's worth saying again: they're less than 200 calories. Beat that, Starbucks. 

Oh and have I mentioned? They're. Delicious. 

When I told my boyfriend I was going to bring him zucchini cranberry walnut muffins, he was excited. When I went on to explain their positive health benefits, he claimed they suddenly seemed a lot less appetizing. (Who's he kidding? I'll be lucky to have one muffin left by the end of the week.) But for picky eaters - and loved ones who love to pick on you - you might want to keep the knowledge of health benefits to yourself. Simply smile as you watch them devour these amazing muffins, knowing you've provided them with a nutritious snack, whether they like it or not. 

Recipe adapted and re-angled from Deb's Zucchini Bread over at Smitten Kitchen
makes 12 large muffins

1 egg
4 Tablespoons of liquid egg whites
1/2 cup of white sugar
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1 and 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla 
2 Tablespoons of vegetable or canola oil
scant 1/2 cup of cinnamon applesauce
1 cup of grated zucchini 

1 and 1/2 cups GF flour blend 
1 and 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice (or nutmeg, if you're not the pumpkin pie spice fiend that I am)
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 - 3/4 cup of chopped or halved fresh cranberries**
a muffin tin lined with muffin liners

**dried cranberries can always be used, but unlike the real thing, certain brands of dried cranberries can harbor artificial flavorings, colorings, and added sugars. make sure to read the label to pick the best possible product.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg and egg whites. Mix in the sugars, applesauce, and oil followed by the zucchini and vanilla. Set aside. 

In another bowl, combine the remainder of your ingredients - the flour, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the walnuts and cranberries, too. 

Add the dry flour blend into the egg mixture and combine until throughly mixed. Evenly distribute the batter amongst the muffin liners and bake for 20 - 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. 

Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy! 

Monday, November 17, 2008

Spinach Ricotta Roll-ups in Pumpkin Sauce with a side of Gluten-Free News

I've watched newly famous actors on late night television marvel at their notoriety. There I was, putting filling up my pick up with unleaded 87 when this woman who'd been eyeing me for the past five minutes got this crazed look in her eye as she recognized me. She let out a big wail as she rushed me, asking for my autograph and if I'd father her next child. That stuff doesn't happen to me, I mean, I'm a regular Joe. And then Jay or Conan reminds them regular Joe's don't make multimillion dollar deals and star in movies with Jessica Alba. The star then laughs humbly, agreeing, but dazed...

My point is, you rarely get to determine if your a success, rather you know based on the opinions and actions of others. 

And while I've far from reached my celiac education and gluten free outreach goals, I'm glowingly proud say: Gluten Free In Cleveland was mentioned in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ohio's largest newspaper. The article was about celiac disease and, while I was only listed as a resource in the side menu, it's still pretty exciting to be counted as a valid source of information. Even without me, the fact that the Plain Dealer ran an article about celiac disease is pretty darn exciting. You can read about it here, and a special thanks to the reader who emailed me to let me know that such an article had come out and that I was mentioned. 

News item number 2 comes from the North East Ohio Celiac Support Group. Get your aprons and oven mitts ready for their 8th annual Holiday Cookie Exchange, November 30th from 2 - 4 pm in the Independence Public Library. Bring 2 dozen cookies per person attending and multiple copies of your recipe, too. For more information check out their website, and get baking! 

Also, and I know its seriously last minute, but the Mustard Seed Market is having a Gluten-Free Baking & Cooking Class tonight (Monday the 17th) at 6:30. It's $15 and registration is required so call 1-440-519-3663 to register, and call quickly!

And finally, I bring you the latest of my pumpkin crazed kitchen experiments: Spinach Ricotta Roll-Ups in Pumpkin Sauce. A mouthful I know. But lately, due to a new strange but true digestive system issue, my delicate little celiac system isn't tolerating lots of other foods, mainly fats. Now if spending my autumn elbow deep in canned pumpkin has taught me anything, nothing heartys up a meal like my favorite fall squash. As heavy as the name sounds, these little roll ups were surprisingly light. 

(Low Fat) Spinach Ricotta Roll-Ups in Pumpkin Sauce

1 cup low fat ricotta cheese 
1 egg
2 -3 cloves chopped garlic 
several handfuls of fresh spinach
1 box gluten-free lasagna noodles

3/4 cup vegetable stock
1 Tablespoon of cornstarch
1/2 cup skim milk
1/3rd cup canned pumpkin
1/2 tablespoon of butter 
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
salt & pepper to taste
1 tablespoon pumpkin butter (optional, I happened to have it)

1 medium sized casserole dish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

In a large pot, cook the noodles within a minute of being done. Rinse with cold water, drain, set aside. 

Meanwhile, cook the spinach and garlic down in a large pan until the leaves are wilted and the garlic browns. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste. In a  food processor, blend the spinach, ricotta cheese, and the egg until just smooth. Over beating will cause the mixture to become runny. 

In a medium sauce pot, combine milk, cornstarch, vegetable broth, and butter. Simmer for 3 - 5 minutes. Stir in pumpkin until it dissolves into the sauce. Add pumpkin butter, nutmeg, salt and pepper to desired sweet or saltiness. 

To assemble the roll ups, wash hands thoroughly and get ready for a bit of a mess. Cut a lasagna noodle in half and, on a separate plate, spread the spinach-ricotta mixture over the noodle. Roll up the noodle and carefully place it in the pan. Repeat, repeat, and repeat until the noodles are gone or you've run out of room. 

Smoother the roll-ups in the pumpkin sauce and bake for 35 - 40 minutes. Serve with shredded Parmesan cheese and an adventurous attitude. 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mr. Miceli - Long Island, New York

I've been cheating on Cleveland.

To be fair, the relationship has been strained for years. We've even gone through a trial separation.

While Cleveland will always be home, New York will always by my love - even if my latest visit there reminded me of the pleasures of the great American Midwest, with it's cars and lack of trash on the street. But oh, New York. Seeing the skyline makes my heart ache, and as I gazed at the art deco geometrics of the George Washington Bridge sweep across the Hudson River and into the clear blue sky, I longed to be a part of the city again. 

I could fill volumes on celiac eating in New York. It's successes - the quaint gluten free speciality restaurants - as well as it's drawbacks - the language barriers for one, and the fast pacedness of some suspect places that makes you hope they took you're gluten free request seriously, and then there are the prices. Yes, being gluten free in New York City is a story unto itself. But it's a story for another day. Right now, it's all about my new find, Mr. Miceli in Rockville Centre, Long Island. 

Of all the wonders of finding a great pizza place in the middle of a busy town, the thing that surprised me the most was that Mr. Miceli is a regular, no frills, pizza joint. From it's basic table and chairs, to ordering at the counter, to the tongue in cheek paintings on the wall that depict scenes from classic movies with a pizza twist, it doesn't strike you as a place that would cater to a celiac population. 

Originally, they didn't. It wasn't until the owner found out he had a wheat allergy that Mr. Miceli became an equal opportunity eatery. And while I wouldn't wish such an abdominal restriction on anybody, I'm sure glad I was able to get such a great meal there. 

They have gluten free pasta - good, white rice, tastes pretty darn similar to the real thing gluten free pasta - and can make any of their pasta dishes with it. The pizza takes 35 minutes to make, and honestly we were too hungry to wait. But having an 8 hour car trip to look forward to the next day, we easily justified getting a pizza for lunch on the road (and oh, it was such a welcome alternative to Perkins' potatoes or whatever it is I try to scrape together as food on the highway). 

My huge plate of angel hair pasta arrived full of chopped garlic, fresh broccoli florets, and enough just olive oil to coat the noodles without making my dish needlessly greasy. (Picture not included, as though my camera made it to New York, my memory card sat lonely at home. Had I been able to, I would've snapped a picture of the kind and helpful people working there, too). The pasta was...pretty great. And enough for two meals. 

But, the pizza. Real gluten free New York pizza. Yum. My parents are native New Yorkers and so New York Pizza has always been a big deal in my house (note the capital letters to punctuate the importance). Midwestern pizza, with it's thick bready crust, is simply a paunchy, bloated imitation of it's far superior thin crusted cousin. 

I stowed away a few pieces of Mr. Miceli's pizza in my freezer for a rainy day, and I'm sorry to say it will probably be some time until I go back again. But your fate doesn't have to be mine. If you get a chance, if you're in Long Island, or if you're willing to travel a bit for good gluten-free food (and service!), make sure you stop by Mr. Miceli; I know I will the next time I'm in town. 

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mea Culpa!

Blame it on daylight savings time, my trip to this past weekend, or generally bad planning, but have to admit, I've failed you, Gluten Free Cleveland Community. Last night, the Whole Foods on Ceder Road hosted a gluten free tour of their store. I meant to post it - really still thought I had the time to do so - but clearly I was wrong. Try as I might, November is practically flashing before my eyes. Is it really the 13th? And where did the leaves on the trees go?

In any event, if you're dying for a gluten free shopping experience, worry not. Mustard Seed Market be having a gluten free diet discussion and store tour this Saturday, November 15th from 10am -12 noon at their Solon store. There's no charge, but to register call 1-400-519-3663. 

I will try to be better on the uptake folks - and I'm sure if you call the University Heights Whole Foods, the people in charge of the event will happily give you a run down of what went on.  But for proof that I both practice what I preach and that I'm frighteningly behind on what week or month it is, note the picture above: my contribution to keeping kids safe on halloween.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Maggiano's Little Italy

I'd been hearing good things about Maggiano's Little Italy for months. 

These days, more and more chain restaurants are making an effort to connect customers with their gluten-free fair. From Carrabba's to Qdoba, national chains are making an allergy-friendly splash in a big way, providing on line and in person annotated gluten free menus. 

These menus isolate the already gluten free offerings - steak, fish, chicken, without a glutenous sauce, or a salad without croutons and the like. And though such a service is great, as it ensures the waitstaff and kitchen takes us celiacs seriously rather than brushing us off as finicky customers, few and far between is chain restaurant goes out of it's way to provide gluten free option. 

Maggiano's Little Italy offers gluten free pasta. Now that's celiac service.
After some careful deliberations between the options, I settled on the Chicken Pesto Linguine - though I substituted broccoli for the chicken, and gluten free penne for linguine - and a salad with gluten free salad dressing. 

The truly cool and exceptional thing about Maggiano's is that the sous chef - Chef Chuck - took the time to talk to me. He arrived holding a special, bright yellow, gluten free ordering pad and retook my order, assuring me of a gluten-free meal; something he could assure me of, as he'd be making my dinner personally. It's great to eat out pretty much fear-free. 

And another note about the pasta dinners. They're huge. I mean huge. After eating my fill, I had enough left overs for two, yes two, dinners afterwards. I'm pretty sure one "serving" is a full box of pasta. And I'm only talking about the half order here. 

Yes, Maggiano's provides excellent food allergy friendly dining (I've heard they're just as accommodating with any food allergy you can throw at them), but I can't give it an absolutely glowing review. In the end, Maggiano's is a chain restaurant, and as such serves chain restaurant food. My pesto was good, not great, not bad, but just kind of average. Blandish. Food that's not offending, but nothing to write home about either. 

That said, I'll be dining at Maggiano's again. It's nice to go somewhere that my family likes and with plenty of options, I'm sure to find something more enticing than bland pesto. I like having nearly the whole menu open to me, and its great to have "safe Italian food" in your gluten free restaurant roster. All in all, Maggiano's is no five star restaurant, but they do offer five star service. 

Maggiano's Little Italy on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 7, 2008

Eat'n Park

Hope is a fragile thing. 

Call me cynical, but hope always comes with a healthy does of skepticism and superstition, if not full on fear. The fear of our hopes being dashed surrounds us; we grow up with it, being told nonsense like if you say your birthday wish out loud, it won't come true - as if there's some kind of malevolent cosmic eavesdropper just waiting for you to mess up. 

But such superstition is understandable, given how much it hurts when things don't work out. There's been a lot of that these days. But then there are some days....

November 4th was no ordinary Tuesday. In a month when we're accustomed to freezing temperatures and snow days, us Clevelanders enjoyed a balmy, sunny, 68 degrees. In a time when gas prices have reached into the $2.50s, I happily filled up my tank for only $1.99 / gallon. And in a country whose citizens has been divided, subjugated, and lied to the people rose up with a resounding "yes we can", a call to arms for action and change. 

Yes, on November 4th, I saw a lot of things I really wasn't sure I'd ever see, despite how much I wished I would. Maybe that's part of the reason I didn't even carry my camera with my that day, superstition. As if any attempt to document the day might've landed me in the cross-hairs of that malevolent eavesdropper in the sky. In any event, it's a real shame I didn't have my camera, for I came across something truly remarkable, something I really never thought I'd see: a menu at a normal - everyday, white-bread type, near fast food joint - restaurant with a gluten free menu printed on the back cover of every menu handed out to every patron.  Seriously. And where does such a place exist? Eat'n Park

No, really.  Eat'n Park. Imagine my surprise when I flipped to the back cover to read "For our celiac customers...." and in addition to a brief description of the grains that endanger celiacs and an invitation to ask your server that your meal be prepared gluten free was a listing of 15 or so options. 

I happily enjoyed two poached eggs, a baked potato, and a fruit cup, but there were far more interesting options on their celiac menu - omelets, fish fillets, burgers, fajita salads, and the like. I'm not saying that Eat'n Park is great food, but sometimes good food will do. And good safe food? You can't go wrong. As any roadtrippin' Midwestern/Mid-Atlantic state-ers know, Eat'n Park practically lines the highways from the far boarder of Pennsylvania straight through Indiana - and isn't it nice to know you can stop in at any one of them and get a celiac safe meal? 

I sure think it is. And if Eat'n Park can offer a gluten free meal, maybe change really has come. Now, if only they could gluten-free-ize those famous smiley face cookies...

Eat 'n Park on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 3, 2008

Gluten Free PSA #5: Vote With Your Gut

Unless you've fallen in to a Halloween candy induced sugar coma, you're probably more than aware that tomorrow is election day here in the states. More than ever, every vote counts, and here in Ohio that's especially true. 

I want to take a gluten-free moment to remind you to remind you to keep your celiac disease in mind when you go to the polls. Celiac disease is considered a pre-condition. Should you need to change from your current health insurance provider, your celiac disease could up your premiums or bar you from coverage at all!  

And I hate to be the barer of bad or scary news, but as any well educated celiac knows, our condition predisposes us to all kinds of secondary conditions from anemias to cancer. The bottom line is celiac disease is and autoimmune condition. And patients with autoimmune diseases need their doctors. And doctors need to get paid. So, us celiacs? We need health insurance. 

Under a Barack Obama presidency, people with preexisting conditions will not be denied health insurance. For more information, I'd like to invite you to check out Mike's Gluten-Free-Blog where there's a very through post on the matter. 

So voters, when you go to the polls tomorrow, remember to vote with your gut...and vote for a president who's willing to protect it. 

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Halloween Treats to Trick Your Sweet Tooth

Professor Plum. In the Kitchen. With the Candy Corn. 

Alright, I admit it,  it was me. I got glutened. 

Special, seasonal, comfort foods are a gluten minefield made more enticing by their limited time availability. There must be some kind of magical holiday hypnosis that makes sticky, starchy, sugary food that you would otherwise recognize as a future stomach ache seem oh so desirable. This sugar haze extends from now straight on to Easter, so be on your best behavior, my celiac friends, and stay close. There's safety in numbers. 

My story gluten story is a silly one. I knew Candy Corn could be safe, though I wasn't sure which brands posed a danger. But when a bag of Brach's autumn mix found it's way into my house, complete with my personal favorite, sugar pumpkins, I couldn't...or rather didn't...resist popping one - and just the one! - into my mouth. Within an hour, my stomach began to churn and all together too late, I googled Brach's to find that none of their products are gluten free. Sometimes we need to be reminded just how delicate our celiac stomachs are, I guess, and that's a lesson only to be learned the hard way. 

With this in mind, I bring you two October inspired recipes of yummy treats that I should've eaten instead of the blasted candy corn. Both recipes are based on the surprisingly delicious combination of pumpkin and chocolate and oddly enough, both taste better after being refrigerated for a day. 

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins

These pretty little muffins have been enjoyed  - and requested to be made again - by friends and family alike. I'd love to claim the recipe as my own, but it came from Smitten Kitchen. I just added the chocolate chips (though to be fair, chocolate chips are obviously the best part of any recipe). 

Simply substitute the 1 and 1/2 cup of regular flour with your favorite gluten free blend. Additionally, I used only 1 cup of sugar and 1/3rd cup of canola oil. The recipe for these delicious muffins can be found here. They freeze extremely well and actually taste their best reheated. 

Peanut Butter Pumpkin Cookies

After reading about oh so easy to make, naturally gluten free peanut butter cookies on the always fabulous Hey, That Tastes Good!, I knew I had to make my own. And while Jill's looked great, I had plans to dress them up a bit, and make them a real fall cookie. 

These dense cookies are actually packed full of protein and you even get your vitamin A from the pumpkin. Not a bad days work for a cookie. 

1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1/2 cup pumpkin
2/3rd cup white sugar
1/3rd cup brown sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the peanut butter, pumpkin, sugars, pumpkin pie spice, and egg. Once mixed, gently fold in the chocolate chips. Roll into balls and place cookies on a greased cookie sheet, spread apart slightly as the cookies will widen out while baking. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, or until the edges start to brown, or for 13 - 15 minutes for a chewier cookie. The recipe makes approximately 20 cookies. 

These balls of peanut butter pumpkin goodness tasted best after being refrigerated overnight, though they're perfectly yummy straight from the oven. 

Warning! If you expect to eat these cookies, do not offer them to loved ones. My mom quickly became addicted and my boyfriend ate 6 in one sitting. If you are good enough to share, I suggest you create a secret cookie hiding place on the sly. I won't tell if you don't. 
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