Thursday, July 31, 2008

Awesome Gluten-Free Pasta!

Above is a picture of this small-batch wonderfully delicious designer gluten-free pasta (fettuccine), prior to cooking, that I recently had the pleasure of eating. It was fabulous!

My wife and I both agree that it is the best gluten-free pasta we have ever tried. In addition, my wife has since consumed "real" pasta (the standard wheat / semolina type) from a well known Italian restaurant, and she concluded that this gluten-free pasta was better than the "normal" pasta she had at the restaurant. I'd say that is a remarkable achievement for a gluten-free pasta to say the least!

This particular spinach-basil-accent gluten-free pasta is by Kelly Smith [UPDATE: Kelly's business did not survive; her pasta was quite good, but the company is long gone]; I left the remainder of this blog post here just to show what is possible with gluten-free pasta. (mike: April, 2011).

The only down-side is that because Kelly makes it only at certain times, you need to get "in the queue" essentially. In fact, when I told Kelly that I planned to review this pasta, she said:
"You are welcome to mention [the pasta] if you want to. But please mention that right now - pasta is something we do only when we aren't swamped with baking [other items]. We have people who sign up for it - we just let them know when we do a run of it. I never have any leftovers. That's why it took me so long to get a batch to you."
I can understand why there are no leftovers. It certainly is a treat to have a gluten-free pasta this good, and I am willing to wait for a while and get in line or whatever :)

I was quite impressed by the presentation - both dry, and cooked. It looked wonderful. And, even more impressive is how it lived up to its looks and tast fantastic! The *only* thing I noticed that was not exactly like "real" pasta was that you had to perhaps be a bit more careful with watching the cooking time, and you had to be sure to rinse it well after cooking for the best texture. I also found that, as strange as this sounds, the pasta improved with a little "resting period" as it sat on my plate (between my first taste, and the time it took me to take the second picture above, which by the way, is prior to me adding any sauce or pesto, etc).

This product review and evaluation is coming from someone who rarely eats pasta (gluten-free), mainly because I don't need useless carbs in my diet, and because most pasta on the market (dry, commercialized, pre-packaged stuff) isn't good enough to entice me into eating it. I've tried soy pasta, white rice and brown rice pasta, quinoa (not good), and pasta with lupin flour (which Bi-Aglut uses, and is rather decent, but is difficult to find recently). But, none of those main-stream commercial options offer nearly the "real" pasta experience. As such, I save my carbohydrate (self-imposed) quota for my gluten-free desserts instead: cakes, cookies, pies, brownies, smoothies, and so forth. But, Kelly's pasta is good enough to actually make me want gluten-free pasta now!

I don't know all the exact ingredients she uses in her pasta (perhaps that's a trade secret for something so good), but I do know it is clearly gluten-free, and that it is also corn-free (since Kelly is allergic to corn). Regardless of what is in there beyond the basil and spinach components, the fact is that the end result is quite wonderful.

There is perhaps hardly any reason to add a summary paragraph, since my determination is most obvious: this small-batch designer "homemade" type high-quality gluten-free pasta is superb! Now if only Kelly could find a way to expand her business and keep up with demand for pasta in addition to her desserts, breads, pizza crusts, and other wondeful gluten-free diet items.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Costco Gluten-Free Bargains

Costco Gluten-Free Deals

We recently purchased a membership at Costco in order to take advantage of some very nice cost-savings on items we consume regularly, especially fresh produce. We joined only after taking a look around to make sure that the savings would more than offset the price of the membership, and it quickly became obvious that just the yearly savings on gluten-free produce would pay for the membership.

Update (2011-August): I have added a new Costco Gluten-Free Bargains for 2011 (link) blog that extends upon this blog with some more current information and more details on prices for a list of gluten-free products Costco offers currently.  Some of the items features in this blog are still very much available and still a deal, and additional deals and money-saving gluten-free items are available in 2011.

Costco Gluten-Free Products : Kirkland Brand and others.

In addition to great deals on larger quantities of fresh produce, I have been quite impressed to find a few of Costco's own "Kirkland" brand products that are clearly labeled gluten-free. As such, I tried them, and have been quite impressed with the value and quality of the products. A couple of these Kirkland / Costco gluten-free products that we have tried and really like include:
  • Tortilla Strips / Chips - manufactured by Mission for Costco it seems. A 3 pound bag of these gluten-free corn tortilla chips (just corn, lime, water, veg. oil, and salt) is a bargain at just
  • Rotisserie Chicken - Costco's own freshly prepared chicken, and quite nice for those that enjoy a roasted chicken but don't have the time to bake one at home.
In addition, Costco has some well-known name-brand gluten-free products like the Mary's Gone Crackers. I just picked up a 20 ounce box of these gluten-free crackers at Costco for just $6.99.

I like the ability to purchase gluten-free in bulk on occasion, especially when it is products I regularly consume, and when the bulk-packaging also leads to more economical gluten-free foods in general (not all bulk-packaging is a "bargain" - calculate first, then buy). The products mentioned here have passed my calculation-test. When compared to smaller quantity packaging elsewhere, these gluten-free products are quite competitive on a per-ounce or per-pound basis.

Costco Gluten-Free Products : Money-Saving Examples

For example, with the Mary's Gone Crackers. As I mentioned, the 20-ounce box at Costco was $6.99. This compares to the next cheapest place to get them (which is in 12 box cartons, 6.5oz per box; or 78 ounces total - for a price of $36.86 currently). The difference is substantial when you calculate it: Amazon's price is good, but that same 20 ounces of crackers will cost you $9.45 at Amazon's rate compared to Costco's $6.99. So, you save nearly $2.50 per every 20-ounces (i.e., a 26% savings!) over Amazon by purchasing your gluten-free Mary's Gone Crackers at Costco. Plus, though I really like the crackers, it is a bit much to have 12 of those 6.5oz boxes here at once :)

Now those Kirkland / Mission brand gluten-free tortilla strips I really like are also a supreme deal: $3.49 for 3 pounds of chips. They have held up well once opened too, even without preservatives. So, at just over a buck/pound, the tortilla strips are a wonderful bargain for a crunchy gluten-free snack food I can keep around for my weak moments where a fresh carrot or celery-stick just isn't fixing my cravings for munchies.

If your version of a snack includes jerky / pepperoni, I saw some Oberto Classics brand of Beef Pepperoni sticks clearly labeled gluten-free (and no added MSG) on the front of the bag. A 24-ouce (i.e., 1.5 pound) bag was $8.99, which I believe is pretty decent for that type of thing.

If you have a Costco near you, check it out. Their fresh produce section is really nice. And, we've been saving a fortune over the grocery-store prices on things like organic carrots (I buy 10# bags for munching, and for the ever important gluten-free carrot cake) and all sorts of other fruits and veggies including: greens (lettuces, etc), broccoli, apples, mangos, grapes, cherries, peaches, nectarines, watermelon, apricots, bananas, onions, and the list goes on... plus, they have some decent prices on frozen things too (I like keeping a bag of Wyman's wild blueberries in the freezer for smoothies e.g.).

I still go to Whole Foods Market for some items I can't find at Costco, but I can at least knock out some of the "core" items while saving some money thanks to the availability of some great gluten-free bulk items at Costco.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Biodiversity, Honeybees, and my Gluten-Free Diet

If you are one of those people that define a "beautiful lawn" as a homogeneous expanse of green grass without "weeds" and without exception, then you will not appreciate my yard. But, if you enjoy eating fresh fruits and vegetables, you may wish to consider some bee-friendly biodiversity action, especially with commercial honeybee populations in steady and alarming decline. Fact is, those important gluten-free diet elements (vegetables / fruits) overwhelmingly require pollination in order to exist on your table.

I personally find it anything but surprising that honeybees and other bees are disappearing in conjunction with America's obsession over their "perfect" lawns, and our practice of single-crop planting over massive geographic regions. What are the bees to feast on when vast areas are stripped clean of any naturally flowering plants to make room for grass and/or commercial farming of non-flowering grains? I won't even address the issue of pesticides.

I prefer to give the wild bees in my area a chance to eat a balanced diet of pollens, from various flowering plants (both wild and cultivated flowers, fruits, and vegetables), since I need bees to get the fruits and vegetables I want in my gluten-free diet.

My yard is not just Green

Our yard is naturally attractive and encouraging to bees of all kinds. We have many honeybees, bumblebees, wood bees, and a host of other pollinators circulating throughout our yard. The yard is the attraction, the garden is the destination I aim to entice the bees to locate and pollinate.

Our yard region surrounding the garden consists of all sorts of organic wild flowers and flowering "creepers" like clover, thyme, yarrow, flowering vinca-vine, and yes, even some dandelion (which our gold finches and groundhogs truly love!) And, this relationship is working quite well, as our garden is producing a superb amount of vegetables thanks to the constantly busy corridor of bees between our bee-friendly yard and our flowering vegetables.

Honeybees on Wild Creeping Thyme (in our yard)
Wild Thyme Spreads Nicely after started...
...and, Wild Yarrow and Clover abound...
All lead to Wonderful Garden Vegetables...
This year's gluten-free garden is shaping up quite well thus far. We have some drip-hose irrigation for efficient watering during the dry days, and a nice tall (8 foot) deer-proof fence to protect the bounty. The veggie selection this year includes:
  • Celeriac - which I wrote about in this blog entry about gluten-free baking with Celeriac.
  • Tomatoes - a "must" for so many dishes, be it Italian or Indian or American.
  • Various Greens - lettuce, mustard greens, kale, turnip
  • Zucchini - and here is a gluten-free recipe using zucchini, tomato, and pesto in a way I really enjoy.
  • Watermelon - though I don't know if they will mature in time here in Ohio, I sure do love them!
  • Cantaloupe - another delicious sweet treat for us gluten-free folks (well, everyone else too I guess)
  • Peppers - jalapenos, habaneros, and a few less spicy ones.
  • Eggplant - great for a variety of dishes like eggplant Parmesan, Chinese garlic-eggplant, or some varied Mediterranean dishes
  • Cucumbers and Pickles
  • Radishes
  • Basil - an essential component of our various recipes using Pesto
  • Potatoes
  • plus, a few other things I am sure I am forgetting off the top of my head.

In general, most of my favorite foods require those bees for pollination Sure, I even like the honey the bees produce, but that is just an added bonus.

I encourage biodiversity in your own lawn, and chances are you can find some pleasing additions like the flowering creeping-thyme that make for a beautiful lush carpet-like ground-cover that is green for most of the year (it flowers wonderfully for a few weeks as shown above).

Another wonderful thing about the organic non-grass "grass" (like the thyme), is that it requires very little maintenance and mowing, since it tends not to get very tall, and it forms gentle rolling short waves (few inches) of green and/or flowering pink/purple. And, given the price of gasoline, the less lawn mowing the better!

Oh, did I mention how wonderful all that thyme smells as you take a stroll through it... ahhhhh.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Newtree Gluten-Free Chocolate-Mint Bar

"Refresh", indeed! This Newtree brand chocolate was an excellent bar of refreshingly subtle mint coupled with a smooth high-quality dark chocolate, and clearly labeled "gluten-free" (on the back of the package). I love chocolate. I love dark chocolate even more. And, I really enjoy the combination of dark chocolate and mint, be it in a French Mint or a chocolate bar like this.

The bar cost a bit more than I like to spend on chocolate (it is just under 3 ounces, and it cost me nearly 4 bucks!), but I just could not resist when I saw it at World Market the other day. Call it the splurge for the week, or my temporary insanity as my insatiable overwhelming chocolate urges took control of my mind (and wallet) for a moment. :)

One of the interesting additions to this particular chocolate that got my curiosity piqued was the green tea. And, like the label says:

Get your mind and body in mint condition with REFRESH. Rejuvenating mint and green tea extracts make our REFRESH high in antioxidants, offering protection from life's damaging elements. Tea up for health!
Whether I am in mint condition now or not is debatable, but I do admit I thoroughly enjoyed this refreshing gluten-free treat, and it made me feel wonderful throughout the time spent consuming it! I even managed to exercise enough self restraint to make it last two whole days (a rather unusual thing for me when it comes to chocolate).

I tend to oft enjoy the more affordable "Endangered Species" brand chocolate-mint (which, as of this writing, are on sale for $2.50 per 4.5 ounce "bag") that is also gluten-free, though it has a bit more robust mint flavor (not overwhelming by any means, just more noticeable). Their dark chocolate is rather nice too, and I can easily locate the chocolate at our local Target brand store.

So, in conclusion: even with the rather inflated price of the NewTree Gluten-Free Mint-Chocolate Refresh bar, I am sure I will occasionally succumb to my desire to re-experience the fine dark chocolate/mint with tea and antioxidants again. It was quite delightful and recommended to gluten-free, wheat-free, and dairy-free (vegan) chocolate lovers everywhere.

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.