Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Gluten Free Goodies from the Raisin Rack - Ravioli, Sub Buns, and Challah

Even though I'm a happily happy gluten-free girl, there are a few gluteneous items that I really do miss. I like to think of these as holy grail gluten-free items, things that exist as lovely dinner fantasies in my mind, but I doubt really exist. 

Well, until now. Thanks to the Raisin Rack and their insanely fantastic array of products, I recently had some of those foods I've spent so very many years missing. And if this is a dream, I don't wanna wake up. 

Conte's Cheese Ravioli 

Growing up, I remember my mom taking us to museums, enrolling us in music lessons, and making sure we knew basics of environmentalism and sustainability. With that busy of a day (plus her day job), cooking generally went by the wayside. But for a non-food allergy family like ours, easy dinners were never hard to come by. One of her favorite last-minute dinner standbys was frozen peas and frozen ravioli. There's something about that insanely easy freezer dinner that always said home to me. 

But ravioli are one of those too hard too make, too unlikely to find gluten-free goods, the kind you just kind of have to give up on in favor of a healthy, happy digestive system. But oh ravioli...

All nostalgia aside, who doesn't love ravioli? Those puffy cheese filled clouds float along beautifully in a hearty tomato sauce, sure, but I'll always prefer them aside a nice crunchy pea. However you like to dress up (or down) your ravioli, know that Conte's Gluten Free Pasta comes as close to gluten-free perfection as rice and potato flour can muster. Perfect texture, perfect chewy tenderness, perfect everything. 

Conte's makes all sorts of amazing pasta shapes -fusilli, spaghetti, elbows - and various stuffed pastas - raviolis, stuffed shells, and even pierogies. 

Kathy's Creations Sub Buns

I have yet to actually get myself out to Kathy's Creations bakery, but this sub bun might just convince me to make that hour plus drive. They look like bread. They feel like bread. And oh my goodness, they taste like bread. Not just bread - fresh bread. These buns don't have to be toasted to taste amazing, just ripping into one straight from the package was pure bread perfection. 

Allow me to repeat myself: without being toasted, this bread tastes just like bread. 

I can't tell you the last time I had a sub sandwich and the truth is, it probably wasn't all that memorable. But this one - piled high juicy, tender with oven roasted eggplant and sweet peppers, sprinkled with roasted garlic, smeared with cream cheese, and topped with ripped parsley - this is a sandwich I won't soon be forgetting. Served up with a side of grapes and a banana, this healthy, hearty alternative to anything Subway or Quizno's could mass produce and send down the line in crinkly paper wrapping. 

Kosher Naturals' Challah Muffin

I always assumed taste memory was like bike riding memory. Once you ate something, once it became a part of your sense memory, you couldn't possibly forget the way it tasted, right? Well, not right, as I found upon trying to explain the superiority of challah to all other breads to my gluten eating, non-Jewish boyfriend. While I knew in my heart that there is truly nothing like a chunk of it ripped straight from the round or a thick slice of it battered in egg washed and grilled to french toast greatness, the ability to explain just why this is so eluded me. It had been that long since my last challah crumb. 

Like the food itself, I thought the memory of challah was lost to me. 

But funny thing about sense memory, it doesn't go away, it just hides really, really well.  While my eyes didn't quite believe that puffy little ball of dough would taste anything like the bread passed out on Saturday mornings at Hebrew School, it took only one bite of Kosher Naturals' Challah Muffin for me to be absolutely sure this is challah. Moist, thick, slightly sweetened by brown sugar or honey, this was challah. And thank goodness they come 4 to a box - 3 for me and 1 to share. Well...maybe. 

Checking out their website, I discovered Kosher Naturals offers their muffins in 4 flavors - original and toasted onion  (both of which are kosher), as well as blueberry and chocolate chip. Chocolate chip challah? Yum.

Admit it, there are times you kind of love being gluten-free. Times when you eat a great meal and don't have a stomach ache. Times when people marvel at your dedication to your life and your health. Times when you discover some of your favorite foods really might be in reach and that having celiac doesn't really bar you from social or traditional activities. Thanks to great products like these, you can live those times breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Gluten Free PSA #9 - Raisin Rack: If You Haven't Been, GO

New York City was recently named the most gluten-free friendly city in the country. I admit, such a declaration left me a little heartbroken. 

I miss New York. I miss every person, every cab, every jewelry stand. I miss the 200 year old buildings and the great glass structures that sweep up to the sky. I miss the museums, the bridges, and the food. Dear god, I miss the food. Among its amazing gluten-filled establishments, NYC is home to S'mac, Slice, and the Rissottoria - just a few of the many restaurants that aren't just GF friendly, but GF focused. Even if the City weren't home to the Columbia Celiac Disease Center, New York would still top the list of ultimate places to lead your gluten-free life. 

That said, I wonder if those who bestowed such an honor on New York have ever been to Canton, Ohio. 

With it's quaint, country architecture and it's throngs of local businesses referencing the steel and rubber industries that once thrived in this part of the country, Canton is very much your typical town in the heartland. Flat and family oriented, it's is one of those places that are postcard perfect examples of Ohio - for further proof, look only to the fact that Canton is the home of The Football Hall of Fame. And while it may not have prada knock offs or punk rock roots, Canton, Ohio happens to have something New York City does not: gluten free heaven...otherwise known as The Raisin Rack

Sure it may look like any other health food specialty store, but as the shelves and shelves of vitamins and other familiar organic products give way to the designated gluten-free section, something absolutely magical happens, and you realize you're standing in the shadow of gluten-free greatness. Home to 3,500 gluten-free products, the Raisin Rack really is the place for gluten-free shopping. Need further proof? Ohioans don't just love the Raisin Rack, in fact, this gluten-free oasis regularly gets consumership from Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and even California! Take that, New York. 

But what really makes - and keeps - this place special is a lovely lady named Denise. A nurse diagnosed with Celiac Disease roughly eight years ago, Denise doesn't just work at the Raisin
Rack, she doesn't just order, personally test and approve all of the products sold, or keep a watchful eye on what sells and what doesn't (if it doesn't sell well in 3 months, the product is tossed, to make room for something better suited to the celiac communities' tastes and taste buds), she also regularly holds office hours at the store Monday thru Friday, personally counseling the newly diagnosed on their celiac lifestyle and helping them with their first (of many, I'm sure) gluten free shopping trips at the Raisin Rack. 

Denise came to meet me armed with a packet celiac disease information ranging from a basic blue print of the condition and it's statistics in the general population to coupons for the store, to a free copy of a new, beautiful gluten free magazine called Delight. Did I mention that Denise is also the founder of the Canton-Alliance Celiac Support Group (they meet the first Saturday of the month)? Unlike the ones in the Cleveland/Akron area,  Denise's group is
associated with the Gluten Intolerance Group, which is a great organization I happened to be somewhatfamiliar with, as they did a lot of the work in organizing such fantastic gluten-free information in New York City. 

While it may not have The Met, Central Park, or CBGBs, Canton, Ohio may just be on it's way to becoming a destination onto itself. (For those culture starved celiacs looking for a little art to go along with the gluten free NY style bagels or angel food cake the Raisin Rack offers, be sure to check out the Canton Cultural Center for the Arts and its ABSOLUTELY ASTONISHING exhibit of Itchiku Kubota's Kimono's as Art. It's breath taking, really.) 

If weren't enough, let's not forget all of the celiac friendly events the Raisin Rack regularly hosts. Still upcoming events in March alone include workshops on celiac disease held at 1pm on Saturday the 21st and 28th on the topics of shopping and label reading, and dinning out at celiac-friendly restaurants, respectively. (Preregistration is required, please call 1-330-996-1515.) In addition, March 28th will also be home to an exciting gluten free donut hole sampling. I mean, gluten-free donut holes, do I really need to say more?

Easily accessible from the highway, home to approximately 30 gluten-free friendly restaurants (just ask Denise, she's got a list in her head!), and with perhaps the greatest gluten-free grocery store this side of the Atlantic (that, by the way, offers rewards points when you shop, resulting in gift certificates for you) that carries fresh breads, pies, and cookies from Kathy's Creation's Bakery in Alliance, Ohio AND has a number of KOSHER gluten-free selections (yes, they actually carry many Shabati Gourmet products throughout their in six over-stuffed freezer cases), it is fairly safe to say that if New York City is the number one city for gluten-free living, Canton, Ohio ranks as a pretty close runner up. 

We also don't have to tote our groceries back home by riding packed, smelly subways, which is always a plus. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lopez Bar and Grill

Dearest gluten-free friends, sometimes life gets busy. My to-do list was filled with projects I felt I could safely push off 'till spring and, idling in my free time I baked, I slept, I lazily did laundry, and I aimlessly sipped coffee at Caribou, reading up on how to use Flash Animation. Sleeping when I liked, writing when I liked, catching up on the entire cannon of Desperate Housewives, I'm not going to lie, it was a mighty nice existence. 

Thing is though, I happened to gaze at the day and month time stamp on my computer and was shocked to discovered that time has in fact slipped into mid-March! Suddenly, "recently graduating from college this past May", doesn't seem all that recent and it's high time I get myself back into high gear. 

With that in mind, I present to you (a rather quick review of) a way for us gluten-freers to get dinner fast: take out. 

Or, okay, eat there if you've got the time - but either way, Lopez Bar and Grill (on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights) provides a mighty nice dinner for the gluten-free and gluten eating among you. A menu of Southwestern delights made from fresh ingredients, from what I gathered from the menu and my waiter, there were few places for gluten to hide on my plate. 

I enjoyed the fajitas  - which basically meant a lovely plate of grilled zucchini, yellow squash, asparagus, tomatoes, onions, and red and green peppers accompanied by corn tortillas - very happily and was thankful for such a plain, yet delicious, meal. (It came with a side of re-fried beans that I can't say I ate - due both to not knowing how they were prepared, and because I could smell the hot spice from a full foot away. A true horror for my acid reflux-y stomach, though a god-send for some, I know.)

I got the impression that the Lopez staff were more than willing to accommodate their customers and convey their food concerns to the kitchen. It was also nice to get a plate of Southwestern food that wasn't piled high with questionable sour cream or guacamole (delicious as they are when you're safe in the knowledge that the one you're about to enjoy is gluten free, but treacherous when they appear on your plate without an ingredient list to accompany them). 

On the whole, Lopez is a nice alternative to cooking at home, or another dinner at Cafe Tandoor, Tommy'sSun Luck Garden, or Maggiano's -- all of which are great food allergy friendly dining establishments, but variety is the spice of life, right? Of course it is, and at Lopez you can have it, mild, medium, or super hot. 

Lopez Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Lime Tea Cookies & Local Spring Celiac Events

First things first, it's the beginning of March, and so it's the perfect time to remind you all of the gluten free happenings in our corner of Northeastern Ohio. Grab a pen and your datebook and make sure to mark these down...

* The Greater Cleveland Celiac Association is holding its monthly meeting March 15th at the Parma Community Hospital. 
* The Loretta Paganini School of Cooking will be holding a class on gluten free pasta making on April 13th. Register early. 
* The Akron Children's Hospital is hosting a Celiac Disease Conference and Vendors Fair on Sunday, April 26th from 11am - 6pm. Please click here for more information. 

A final bit of old business, I got a bunch of emails from people inquiring when - oh - when would they be able to find those delicious Whole O's from Nature's Path in their grocery stores. Well, I'm happy to announce I saw the nutty, crunchy cereal lining the shelves of my local Whole Foods a few days ago. That's right Whole O's are now available in a store near you! 

And now that that's settled....Oooh is it sunny outside. While I've heard nothing but snowy moans and freezing groans from my New Yorker friends, I'm oh so happy to report that spring is slowly but surely being sprung here on the icy tundra of Ohio. 

Promises of 50 degree weekend weather (!) and the extra sunlight this weekend's springing the clock forward is sure to bring is putting everyone in a good mood. And you know what else puts people in a good mood? Cookies. 

Okay, I know. After my February sugar rush, I promised a month of healthier eating. And I swear, I've been making lighter, veggie filled dishes that I can't wait to share. Pasta primaveras, homemade pizzas piled high with eggplant, mushrooms, and spinach, and even a great grilled vegetable fajita meal at Lopez bar and grill on Cedar road, all have been taste tested, picture perfected, and ready to go, but for now...I can't help but celebrate the joy of spring finally springing with a great, light lime infused cookie. 

Call it an early St. Patrick's day confection, something to serve along side a green cocktail, make it the perfect dessert for a light green salad lunch. Any way you justify 'em, these cookies are perfect for this time of year. With hints of green lime zest emerging from the snowy white cookie, these pastries are also a lovely symbol of March and it's triumph over winter weather. 

These treats,  neither overtly sweet nor excessively cakey, pair perfectly with a nice mug of hot tea and are sure to help ease you into the lighter fare that marks the summer months. **

Spring fruits and vegetables are showing up in numbers - and at discounted prices! - in grocery stores and farmers markets are weeks away from opening their doors. I for one am eagerly awaiting the return of peaches, fresh picked strawberries, and nectarines. What about you, any favorite springtime food or seasonal recipe your just itching to use that extra hour of sunlight to explore? Take some time, chew on your answer... and chew on a lime sugar cookie, too, while you're at it! 

** If you're not yet ready to let go of winter weather desserts, I invite you to review my month of February dessert indulgence: 

Lime Tea Cookies
Based on Gluten Free Girl's  December 2008 sugar cookie recipe, but adapted and given a lime twist. 

2 cups GF flour blend (like Whole Foods Gluten Free Flour mix) 
1/2 cup sweet rice flour (I used Mochiko)
1 teaspoon xanthum gum
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt 
8 Tablespoons of Earth Balance vegan butter spread (butter would be perfectly fine, too)
1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup sugar, divided 
2 eggs
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
the juice of 1 large lime
the zest of 2 limes 

Combine dry ingredients - the flours, xanthum gum, baking powder, and salt - in a medium sized bowl. Whisk together briefly until fully incorporated. 

In a large bowl (trust me on this) cream the butter and sugar with a mixer on medium speed until they're just combined. Add in the eggs, vanilla, lime juice, and lime zest and beat again a few minutes more. 

Add the dry ingredients into the the liquid one cup at a time, blending well in between each cup. The dough, in addition to smelling AMAZING, will be quite thick. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate - Shauna says overnight, I waited 6 hours. ...What can I say, I wanted my lime cookies. 

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Roll out the dough as thick or thin as you desire (hint though, thin is better) and using the top of a water glass, imprint circles in the dough. (Of course you cookie cutters if you have them, I however, have water glasses.) Dip each side of the cookie in your remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and place on a cookie sheet and bake for 8 - 12 minutes.  Let cool an additional 10 minutes. 

Optional Icings...

For me, these cookies, while great tea cookies, didn't have the citrus burst I was hoping for. So I created two icings, one a lemon-lime simple syrup, the other a lime frosting, to give these cookies an extra special kick. The frosting was great, but if your looking for the ultimate lime sugar cookie, the syrup will yield sparkling sweet and sour perfection. 

1 part Earth Balance butter (say 2 Tablespoons) with 2 parts powdered sugar (say 4 Tablespoons) and the juice of 1 -2 limes (depending on how great your butter and sugar parts are ) and mix together until combined. Spread over cookies and let them settle in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. (Of course, you eat them right away, but a bit of resting really does them a world of good).  Note: this frosting would make for an awesome filler for lime sandwich cookies. 

Simple Citrus Syrup 
Combine 1/4 cup of water and 1/4 cup of sugar in a small pot and stir until sugar disolves over medium-high heat. As the mixture begins to thicken and comes to a boil, add the juice of 1 to 2 limes and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Spoon as much or as little of the syrup over the cookies and allow them to set in the fridge. 
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