Monday, June 30, 2008

Gluten-Free Papadums

Delicious Gluten-Free Papadums

If you have not yet tried a Papadum, perhaps it is time to check out these wonderful gluten-free snacks - a crispy and crunchy Indian style snack typically made from bean flours (like lentils, chick peas, gram beans, or fava beans). Not all papadums are gluten-free though, especially due to seasonings, spices, and flavorings that may be added to a particular recipe.

These Baji's brand Papadums (pictured above) were available at Whole Foods Market recently in the snacks and chips aisle. They vary a bit from traditional larger round/flat cracker or flatbread types, but are plenty crispy and delicious. Each little papadum chip is about 2 inches in diameter. After checking the company's website, I found that only *some* of their papadums are gluten-free, so be warned. These Tangy Cilantro ones were gluten-free, as are their Mango Chutney and Traditional Tandoori ones (warning: their Creamy Yogurt Dill variety contains wheat in the flavoring).

I first discovered Papadums when I was in the United Kingdom (UK) last year. The gluten-free ones I found there were a few inches in diameter, and more flat and crunchy, and definitely more of what you would call a traditional Indian Papadum. These Baji's brand gluten-free snacks are crunchy and crispy, just not quite as hard or coarse as what I had in the UK. But, I enjoy both interpretations of what a papadum should be.

I prefer the papadums that have a bit of added spice, like this variety. Chili, Cilantro, Garlic, Coriander, Turmeric, Green Bell Pepper, Onion: all these wonderful flavors come together for a slight "zip" and a lot of flavor. I could have done without the small bit of Sour Cream Powder, which of course turns an otherwise dairy-free snack into one with traces of dairy, though the addition makes the flavor somewhat like a sour-cream-and-onion type accent, but with a bit more robust combination of complementary flavors.

So, the bottom line is that I definitely recommend this product. I welcome anything new, flavorful, crunchy, and easy-to-serve into my snack repertoire. What I should really learn to do next is make my own gluten-free papadums at home, though I would need to first aquire some of the bean flours most commonly used, and make sure they are certified gluten-free. I could always perhaps just grind some lentil beans into flour. One more thing to add to my every-expanding "to-do" list.

Continue to read this Gluten-Free Blog for all sorts of gluten-free recipes, product-reviews, and related information. In addition, visit my Gluten-Free Recipes Site where many of the recipes I have featured on this blog are available.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Trader Joe's Gluten-Free Brownie Mix

Even though we bake nearly all our own Gluten-Free Desserts and publish a book on the subject, that doesn't mean we don't try new gluten-free dessert products when we find one. This week we came across this new Gluten-Free Brownie Mix at Trader Joe's and decided to bake it up to see what it was like.

The nice thing about this mix is how quickly you can create the brownies - simply add 1 Egg, 1/2Cup Vegetable Oil, and 1/4Cup water to the mixx and bake it. We also added some optional ingredients of our choosing - Walnuts and Chocolate Baking Chips. Then you bake it for 1/2 hour.

The Brownie mix itself simply contains the following ingredients: organic evaporated cane juice (sugar), sweet brown rice flour (which I have never seen before actually - anywhere), cocoa, tapioca flour, arrowroot flour, sea salt, and xanthan gum. The mix is wheat-free, gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and corn-free; all of which will make this a widely acceptable option.

Product Review / Opinion

The results: not too bad. As you can see from the ingredients, the recipe has absolutely no leavening agent. So, this is a dense, moist brownie. It's not really chewy per se, but definitely moist; and the texture is just OK for me, though at least I can report that it is not powdery or gritty, since the sweet brown rice flour and cocoa are fine-ground. It was definitely sweet, and quite rich (with a deep, dark chocolate color to match).

Bottom line is that the brownie tasted fine, and for something that can be thrown together very quickly for when you don't have time to bake your own gluten-free desserts from scratch, it is certainly acceptable. I have a feeling many kids would like it without question, though I didn't have any nearby to test it on. The mix was relatively affordable too - I believe the price was $2.99. So, if you have a Trader Joe's store nearby, it might be worth grabbing a brownie-mix bag for the pantry as a quick-bake gluten-free dessert option.

Continue to read this Gluten-Free Blog for all sorts of gluten-free recipes, product-reviews, and related information. In addition, visit my Gluten-Free Recipes Site where many of the recipes I have featured on this blog are available.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Gluten-Free Chia Seeds : SuperFood Status

Chia Seeds : Gluten-Free Superfood

Chia Seeds (hydrated)
If I hadn't entitled this blog posting "Gluten-Free Chia Seeds" would you have been able to guess what ingredient was lurking in the above pictured drink? Perhaps they remind you a bit of pearl tapioca? There are some similarities in texture, though tapioca can not even come close to the awesome nutrition Chia Seeds offer to those of us on a gluten-free diet.

The initial picture above shows Chia seeds (aka, Salvia Hispanica seeds) I have in my morning coffee (before adding some gluten-free soymilk; the post-soymilk picture is next). These offer an incredible burst of fiber and healthful Omega-3 Fatty Acids, with a fair dose of protein as well. They are a perfect diet food, and a great gluten-free baking ingredient too since they add nearly zero flavor to a recipe while introducing a "binding capacity"! I'll discuss their nutrition breakdown in more detail below...

And, this is how they arrive, when ordered online from Nuts Online Chia Seeds web page (they have the best price I could find, and I am quite pleased with their fast shipping and nice packaging).

Here's a summary from what Wikipedia says, and I can't say it much better. I'll give specifics about the product above immediately after this quote:
Chia seeds are typically small ovals with a diameter of about one millimeter. They are mottle-colored with brown, gray, black and white. Chia seeds typically contain 20% protein, 34% oil, 25% dietary fiber (mostly soluble with high molecular weight), and significant levels of antioxidants (chlorogenic and caffeic acids, myricetin, quercetin, and kaempferol flavonols). The oil from chia seeds contains a very high concentration of omega-3 fatty acid — approximately 64%. Chia seeds contain no gluten and trace levels of sodium. There are no known toxic components of chia.
Wow! Doesn't that just sound like a near-perfect food?

Now, here's the nutrition data for a one ounce serving of these lovely seeds. You'll notice they are incredibly low in calories, and even though a high percentage of calories is from "fat", it's *good* fat (Omega 3's). Notice there are NEARLY ZERO NET CARBS (of 12g carbs, only 1g is not fiber!) Amazing stuff!

Chia Seed Nutritional Values
Chia Seed Nutritional Values
In addition to "just the numbers", the gluten-free Chia Seeds offer other potential health benefits. I have heard some people claim they have used Chia Seeds as part of a very successful weight-loss strategy (makes sense, given the facts above). Also, there is some discussion about how the Chia Seeds may also slow absorption of other carbohydrates, thus being a good thing for diabetics and people watching their blood-sugar. Certainly an easy thing to try out and see what happens.

In short: these things are amazing in recipes!! They offer not just nutrition, but an amazing moisture-holding and binding ability. And, it does not take very much of the product to really make a difference in a recipe. They can add much-desired "bounce" or sponginess to recipes like breads and pancakes and the like, as such recipes should have.

In Drinks:

Not that it is much of a "recipe", but I'll start with the simplest gluten-free treat that I like using Chia Seeds in: coffee! (or Tea) I simply add a tablespoon or two of the Chia Seed to my (large - 16oz+) glass of hot coffee, and let them soak for a few minutes before adding soy milk or whatever else. The seeds expand like pearl tapioca, and get that "fish egg" type of feel. I find them enjoyable, and much like tapioca drinks called "boba" or "bubble tea", but unlike pure-carbohydrate tapioca, these Chia Seeds add significant nutrition to a drink.

In Other Recipes:
You will want to start out by pre-hydrating the seeds. Simply place them in a bowl and add water (cold or hot) and allow them to soak for a while (15 minutes perhaps). This pre-soak yields nice results for baking recipes where liquids are used. Vary the liquid-to-chia proportion as needed to create a thicker/thinner "gel" of sorts to add to your recipes where liquids are typically added.

I have made some of the most incredible pancakes ever, by altering my existing pancake formula(s) to include pre-hydrated chia seed. I am rather certain these pancakes could rival any "real" ones. I still need to experiment more with bread and dessert recipes (especially cakes!), though my initial trials are quite promising. I will post variation-instructions on my book-sales site once I get the proportions nailed down, for anyone else that wants to try Chia in such recipes. If you can't wait - just experiment; I don't think it'll be too tough to add a bit of Chia to a recipe and get decent results.

Note: I recommend drinking plenty of fluid with these. The dietary fiber concentration is so incredibly high, the demand for complementary fluids is going to be rather high too. This should be easy enough to achieve, especially if using them in coffee or tea, and should be part of any diet plan with proper hydration.

Continue to read this Gluten-Free Blog for all sorts of gluten-free recipes, product-reviews, and related information. In addition, visit my Gluten-Free Recipes Site where many of the recipes I have featured on this blog are available.

Monday, June 02, 2008

New Zealand Pears - Wonderful!

This has to be one of the best pear varieties I have ever tried. As you can see in the picture, it is of New Zealand origin, and appears to be called an Enza "Taylors Gold". I found a few of these on sale recently at Whole Foods Market ($1.99/pound), and a worker there helped me choose the perfectly ripe ones from the pile.

One thing I can always appreciate while living with a gluten-free diet is fruit. I love fruits in general - perhaps because so many are sweet, which satisfies most sugar and carbohydrate cravings.

This particular pear was nothing short of wonderful. It was so sweet, juicy, smooth textured (non-grainy), and had a perfectly pleasing flavor. I couldn't ask for any more from a pear... its mouth-watering succulence was the stuff of legends. :)

Well, you get the idea. I found these pears to be awesome. If you have a chance to try one, look for a pear that is already slightly soft to the touch, and that should be one which is ready to eat immediately. I generally try to buy more locally-sourced (or at least regionally-sourced) items, but I'm glad I gave in and tried these wonderful New Zealand pears.

Though, one thing I still find amazing/frustrating is how they can get pears from somewhere as far away as New Zealand, to the USA, and sell them for $2.00/pound (after paying the grower, shipper, middlemen, and retailer) when I can't even ship a book overseas for less than about $5.00/pound (not even counting the book price in there), and my product can't spoil like fruit or veggies! But, that's another story it seems - chalk it up to volume discounts for shipping tons of produce at once I guess.