Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gluten-Free Organic Beef Jerky from Jerky Direct

Beef Jerky is something I do not eat often these days for two reasons: 1) many commercial brands use soy sauce that contain wheat (and thus gluten), and 2) after spending over 7 years of my life as a vegetarian back in the late 1990's, I just do not eat that much meat even now (I really struggle with the fact that eating meat implies killing animals).

But, that aside, I do appreciate good beef jerky on occasion if I can find a gluten-free jerky that I like. I recently came across some Gluten-Free Organic Beef Jerky from Jerky Direct (in particular their "Sweet n' Spicey" variety) that I was quite pleased with. You will see the somewhat prominent label of "Gluten-Free" that is requirement #1 for me to even try such a product:





I found this jerky rather enjoyable. The flavor, a combination of sweet and spicy just like the label indicates, was nice; not overpowering, not too sweet, not too spicy, but just right in my opinion. The jerky texture was also just right, meaty, but tender too (some types of jerky I have tried are either too soft, or too dried out).

Like most jerky, the core flavorings involve soy-sauce, but in the Jerky Direct product, that is wheat-free soy sauce (aka, Tamari); also some salt, paprika, apple vinegar, and presumably some peppers. Everything came together just right in this beef jerky variety. I now need to try some of their other flavors (they have quite a few on their website).


By comparison, I also on occasion have eaten the Whole Foods Organic Beef Jerky (their 365 Organic brand) - especially their "peppered" variety - which is gluten-free, and though it is good, I think I prefer the Jerky Direct Sweet and Spicy Beef Jerky.

Either way, I still will not be eating much jerky, gluten-free or not, but when I do, I have some delicious options to choose from. The things I like most about jerky as a snack is that it is: 1) high protein; 2) stores well and stays fresh (unopened) for a couple year; 3) is highly portable and can be packed in a small area; and 4) low carb diet food is a nice offset to usual high-carb snack foods.

Bottom line: if you are a meat-eater and want a great tasting high-protein portable low-carb snack that fits your gluten-free diet, this may be a nice fit.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Famous Gluten-Free / Celiac - Sarah Vowell


My wife and I quickly met Sarah Vowell, of NPR (National Public Radio) fame, last year when she was in Cleveland doing a book-release tour; November 16th, 2008 to be exact (this demonstrates how far behind I am in my pile of blog topics). Miss Vowell, like many of the readers of the Gluten-Free Blog, suffers from Celiac Sprue and must avoid all gluten. She is an accomplished author, commentator, humorist, journalist, and perhaps what many of the younger crowd will know her as: the voice of Violet in the animated film The Incredibles.

Now, I happened to know that she was one of the more famous Celiac Disease sufferers before we went to her book tour event, and we prepared accordingly. My wife and I took a copy of our book, Gluten-Free & Wheat Free Gourmet Desserts, with us to the event in hopes of having a chance to give it to Miss Vowell - from one gluten-free author to another as it would be. And, we were able to do just that when there was a book-signing period after her reading presentation and Q&A with the audience.

We got in line, and waited our turn to meet her, and then we presented her with a copy of our book, and asked her to sign a copy of her own book "The Partly Cloudy Patriot" in such a way she smiled immediately: "to her gluten-free fans" was our request :)


We were surprised when she took a quick aside from signing books
and spent a moment to leaf through our cookbook and comment on how good some of the desserts looked, and asked us what our own favorites were, and she then proceeded to ask about whether we had any good recipes that featured pumpkin (given the time of the year then, this inquiry was timely and fitting with the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and the like - though, I am up for pumpkin *any* time of year).

Since there were other people still in line behind us waiting to get their own Sarah Vowell book copies signed, we tried not to take up too much time, but just enough to quickly exchange a few thoughts with the most famous gluten-free person we have met in person (or, at least as far as we know).

Sarah Vowell contact information (e.g., direct email, phone number, address) was rather difficult to come by (or, impossible as it was), so the only way to meet her was to be sure we crossed paths at one of her book tours. And, because of this, needless to say, I have no way to know whether Sarah Vowell, or her sister / relatives (who also have Celiac Disease), were able to find time to bake any of the desserts, and to hear what she thought of them if they had baked any. And, I didn't have any way to forward her a link to some nice gluten-free recipes featuring pumpkin, as I have featured on this Blog before. Oh well. I can just hope she and her family have gotten use out of the book and enjoyed it, as I enjoyed her book.

I can only imagine how difficult it must be to always find "Safe" (gluten-free) and desirable foods when traveling all over the country doing research for her various books and holding public appearance events everywhere. Most of us only have to locate a few local restaurants or suppliers for our times of eating away from home, but can you imagine always having to scout-out good gluten-free / wheat-free diet places in areas of the country completey unknown to you? I know from some prior vacations, this is a challenge, and my vacations are certainly infrequent compared to the travel of a famed author and journalist.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama Optimism & Gluten-Free Book Sales Trend?

Call it coincidence, but no sooner did Barack Obama become President than sales of our Gluten-Free Cook Book suddenly surged. Since yesterday (inauguration day for President Obama), sales jumped to roughly 4 times (yes, FOUR TIMES) their average daily volume for the past few months!

I find that to be an encouraging sign for the economy, since our product, and our small business, is perhaps somewhat representative of what other small businesses and products / services sales will experience. I am certain there is no general correlation between Barack Obama and Gluten-Free / Wheat-Free, therefore I can only chalk the sales increase up to some post-election optimism. If that is not it, well, it surely is an interesting coincidence.

We watched sales of our recipe book slow down considerably during what I call the "financial meltdown" of banks, Wall Street, and the housing market the past couple months. That experience is in line with what many other small businesses experienced, regardless of their products or services, from what I gathered by talking to various business owners. Gluten-Free items may have a bit of an advantage in this market regardless, since people on a wheat-free and/or gluten-free / Celiac-safe diet need to consume items that are safe regardless of the economy. And, perhaps the cook book sales are up because people have discovered that they can save money by baking their own cakes, cookies, and other dessert recipes at home (vs. buying pre-made). I do not know for sure, but it is all intersting.

Well, here's hoping whatever optimism is behind our sales increase is a lasting optimism, and that the economy starts picking up for everyone! I am not going to kid myself and think that this recession or financial-crisis is "over" by any means, but the quickest way to lessen its impact is to remain optimistic. That's it for my quick observation of the day in Gluten-Free Blog land :)

On another note, I have some new Kettle Cuisine frozen gluten-free soups here that look fantastic. I plan to post pictures and review(s) as soon as I have time to cook them up and evaluate them. They already have my interest in a big way, given that they have some exciting varieties and focus on being a healthier approach to pre-made soups and use fresh vegetables and ingredients without artificial ingredients or nasty things. My first target will likely be the Chicken Soup with Rice Noodles variety... mmmm... sounds perfect for this sub-freezing Cleveland winter!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Gluten-Free Recipe : Polenta Vegetable Lasagna


Looking for a simple way to create a gluten-free lasagna in a hurry? How about using pre-made polenta instead of lasagna noodles? My daughter created this gluten-free lasagna recipe while home for the holidays, and I found it quite enjoyable and delicious.

The recipe reminded me of "normal" (noodle / pasta based) lasagna quite a bit, since it still makes use of those all important lasagna components: cheese and tomato sauce / pasta sauce. But, it was also slightly different thanks to the flavor variation and texture differences from the polenta.

Layers of cheese, polenta, tomato/pasta-sauce, and vegetables come together in a baked lasagna that is simple and easy to prepare, and the number of servings can easily be scaled up as needed by choosing a larger pan and just more of the same ingredients.

The ingredients are somewhat free-form and you can vary them as you see fit in order to meet your tastes. For example, you can certainly use different vegetables if you do not have zucchini available or prefer eggplant instead, etc. This dish is all about simplicity and quick variations, so experiment with the concept and have some fun creating your own gluten-free polenta lasagna.

Here is a link to the recipe on our gluten-free recipe library site:
Gluten-Free Vegetable Polenta Lasagna Recipe

And, though you can certainly make you own polenta from scratch for use in this recipe, we purchased a pre-made gluten-free polenta "roll" (a plastic-enclosed cylinder / tube / roll shape package about 8" long and 3" round). We found a brand at the grocery store that was clearly labeled "gluten free", and chose a basil/garlic variety (there were a few flavors available in gluten-free options). This made preparation VERY simple, as it just was a matter of slicing the polenta roll into thin circles that would be layered into the lasagna dish recipe.

The end result is quite delicious and will remind you of traditional lasagna while also offering a unique variation on the common pasta dish.

Sorry it has been slow here on the Gluten-Free Blog, but I am still finding it hard to sit at a computer for any length of time since being in a car accident. I can deal with the back pain, but my neck really does not like something about being in a sitting position for more than an hour at a time or so. Hopefully this clears up soon! But, I am adapting, and trying to break up my work into 1/2hr-1hr slices, taking frequent breaks, in hopes of minimizing the pain. I have a HUGE backlog of product reviews, recipes, and more to get posted... here's hoping for some impressive productivity bursts in the coming weeks and months!