Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Let's talk about gluten-free fritters!

For someone who used to avoid going to the grocery store at all costs, it still amazes me that I can entertain myself at even a regular grocery store - if I have the time for it.  You've probably noticed all the gluten-free signs popping up at even the basic grocery stores, not to mention Whole Foods, Sprouts, Trader Joe's and Earthfare.  And you've probably also noticed that there are products with those tags that are not gluten-free and many more items that are gluten-free with no such tag.

The only way to find something new when at the store is to be looking for it, to pay attention and lots of it, so that you don't miss anything exciting!  This brings me to the how I found gluten-free apple fritters when I had no idea they existed.  While I love many Katz products, all of which are gluten-free, I have honestly been cutting way back on processed carbs like bread, waffles, bagels, pizza and pasta.  So while perusing the freezer at Sprouts, actually looking for the amazing small gluten-free apple pie from Katz, I spotted their apple fritters.  I also found their mini pies which I decided to try as well.  For some reason, the mini pies weren't for me....they're nothing like the small pies from the same line.

*Image courtesy of Katz Gluten-Free

The apple fritters are shockingly delicious.  One might even say they're magically delicious!  Amazing, unbelievable, scrumptious, incredible - these things are the absolute "bomb"...lol!  For best results, you need to heat them minimally - it's very important not to overheat them - in the microwave.  If you get it right, you'll think you just dumped the fritters out of the gluten-free fryer!  If you like ice cream, adding a dollop of vanilla to the fritters take this treat to a whole other level!



Friday, June 8, 2018

REVIEW: Jersey Mike's

This post is very late in coming, but my Jersey Mike's was one of the last in the area to roll out their gluten-free bread.  After I heard about some locations testing it, I started calling locations near me each month.... and each month they informed me that still didn't have the bread.  I got tired of asking so when I remembered months after I'd given up to check again, I delightedly found out they had the gluten-free bread.  That day I had a gluten-free Philly cheese steak sandwich and have been enjoying them regularly ever since.

The staff seems well trained on preparation for gluten-free customers which is not always the case.  The bread is from Udi's and it's very good!  In fact, it's so good that I didn't think I'd gotten a gluten-free sandwich the first time around.  It's soft and really not very gluten-free tasting at all!  While I enjoy amazing gluten-free items at home, I find many restaurants serve sub par items which is why I rarely heat pizza or pasta out anymore.  If it's not amazing, I'm not going to overpay for it when dining out, period. 

Jersey Mike's offers two sizes of gluten-free sandwiches, but the regular is large enough for two meals for me.  With the disappointing gluten-free bun at Chick-Fil-A and the now discontinued "not good at all" sandwich at Starbuck's, its so nice that Jersey Mike's got it right! 




Monday, June 4, 2018

Summertime gluten-free highs and lows

It should be noted that for summer functions, I've had both great and horrible experiences over the years. For a Scientific Atlanta event many moons ago, I contacted the caterer who literally scoffed at me when I inquired about what, if anything, was gluten-free.  I think his reply went something like this - "uh...of course the hamburgers, hot dogs a BBQ pork are gluten-free...you can't have the bread, buns or cookies" In fairness to this extremely ignorant person, he did have to ask me what gluten-free meant, before he could answer.  Anyway, after pressing him for more info (well over half the hot dogs available at that time contained wheat), he finally said he'd "look into" the menu ingredients and get back to me.  What I didn't expect was for him to call me back and tell me that the hamburger patties, hotdogs AND BBQ meat - sans the sauce - did in fact contain gluten.  For some reason that I really can't remember now, we went to the event and I had a soda and some chips and nothing else.  We left fairly quickly and went out to eat.

As mentioned above, I've also had amazing experiences at corporate functions in the summer.  At an outing at Six Flags, in what seems forever ago, they rolled out the red theme park carpet for me.  I'd been informed ahead of time to ask for a certain person when I was ready to eat lunch (lunch was served in a certain time frame for the group we went with).  Thinking we should try to eat on the earlier side of the allotted time, we asked for the "contact" and she quickly got to the business of getting my meal delivered to the pavilion where the group was eating.

To my great surprise, a tray loaded down with food was set before me on the picnic table.  There were TWO fried turkey legs (yes, cooked in dedicated fryer), French fries and salad - all meant for just me.  I was impressed, to say the least!  My husband ate one of the turkey legs and half the fries, in addition to his very soggy BBQ sandwich which he was not the least bit impressed with.  What was really hysterical to me was the fact that several co-workers came up to our table to say hello - and then asked where we found the turkey legs...lol!  It was probably the only event I've been to where I know for sure my food was hands down better than what the rest of the crowd was served.  To end the lovely meal on a high note, the ice cream treats offered as dessert included some gluten-free options.  What a simply glorious day at Six Flags Over GA!

It's been ages since we went to a large corporate event during the summer, but my guess is some of them are great and others are not.  Just as is the case at any not specifically gluten-free event.  If you need to attend one, you need to ask the right questions, educate the ignorant folks you might encounter, and do the best you can.  That's all you can do in the "still far behind when it comes to gluten-free knowledge" USA.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Stellar Gluten-Free Bakery - Sarasota's gluten-free gem!

Stellar Gluten-Free Bakery in Sarasota is churning out amazing gluten-free breads and goodies which live up to their name - to say the least!  Previously, the bakery was on the beach just over the bridge and was called Island Gluten-Free Bakery.  Below is some background for this amazing place in the Sunshine State.

We have been baking gluten free since 2006-three years prior to the boom of 2009. Our bakery began inside a small ice cream parlor which was owned by my sister Kim and her partner Vickie. Mrs. Stella Peters came into the bakery and requested we make something for her. The BIG catch was that she couldn't have gluten! After researching flours, gums, and starches we came up with our own proprietary flour mixes, which we are still using today.

Until the boom of 2009 we were the only gluten free bakery in Florida and one of three in the USA. Likewise we were the first to add whole grains to gluten free baking mixes and breads. Not only did we recognize the need for more nutrition in products that were made with white rice flour and tapioca starch, we also found it to add exceptional flavor and amazing texture. Although we have more competition than when we began we are still the best. Please read our testimonials from folks all around the world! 

We bake fresh, from scratch, daily. Approximately 80 percent of our products are also dairy free and the majority can be made vegan. We highly recommend placing an order especially if you are driving from far away as we do run out of product at times.


Karen, Kim, Vickie

My favorite breads from this amazing place include cinnamon raisin, French baguette and dinner rolls.  My favorite treats include key lime pie, carrot cake, apple pie, strawberry rhubarb pie, waffles and chocolate dream pie (not actual name - ask for the heavenly chocolate whip cream pie!) .  My husband is partial to the cinnamon rolls, but I'm not into traditional rolled cinnamon buns - if you are, you will enjoy them too.  I prefer the decadent cinnamon coffee cake from this place! 


Review: Shore on St. Armand's Circle

During a visit to Clearwater, FL, we took a day trip to pick up lots of stuff from the best gluten-free bakery in Florida - Stellar Gluten-Free Bakery!  You can read about it here if you missed it ;)

A quick Google search led me to a place on St. Armand's Circle - Shore - which interestingly sells clothes downstairs and gourmet fare upstairs.  The main draw of this place for me, besides the lovely open air bistro, was the gluten-free crab cake.  They serve one as an appetizer and it was so amazing (no filler!) that I would order two with a side and salad as my meal, if we go back.

Like many places in the U.S., Shore has many gluten-free options and the staff seemed well informed on the issue.  In fact, the server we had told us I could not have an appetizer we were considering due to the chips being fried in a shared fryer.  Score for the gluten-free service at Shore!  We enjoy a delicious salad and the crab cake app and waited on our entrees.  Mine came out with fingerling potatoes that looked almost black...they weren't burnt...but it looked as if they'd been fried.  But how could that be?  I've never heard of glutenous fingerling potatoes in my dozen gluten-free years.

Instead of diving into my meal, I obviously had to wait to catch a server to inquire about the potatoes and sure enough - they were FRIED - yes, in a regular gluten laden fryer!  My plate goes back to kitchen and I insist my husband eat his meal while it was hot.  The server did offer to keep it warm for him, but he was HUNGRY so that wouldn't help.  By the time my meal reappeared with risotto in place of fried potatoes, my husband was almost finished with his meal.

All the food was amazing and the lemon risotto was some of the best I've had in years!  Even so, not being able to eat together kind of ruined the experienced a bit.  The manager brought over a seriously delicious gluten-free chocolate dessert, which we expected would happen if they had any sense.  Because it's hard to find a gluten-free crab cake worth eating (one full of gf crackers and not much crab is of no interest to me), we would try Shore again.  But, next time, I'll be asking a LOT more questions before placing my order.  And...I'll be asking EVERY single restaurant that serves fingerling potatoes if they are fried...oh yes, I will!

TIP:  If you love shopping, but can't break the bank for a trinket, walk away from the main circle of St. Armand's....there are deals to be had!!


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Best gluten-free crepes in Alpharetta

OK - the title of this post might be a bit misleading because I haven't had any gluten-free crepes in Alpharetta or North Fulton County.  There was a place over in Cobb that had the best gluten-free crepes I've had in the area, but it's now closed.

When a friend told me about Au Pan Crepe, and invited me to have lunch there, I was excited.  Since I was headed to FL to visit family, a few days after returning to town, we hit up this cute crepe cafe for a late lunch.  The really cool thing about the place is that ALL the savory crepes are made with a buckwheat flour mixture - and therefore the crepes themselves are gluten-free.  The sweet crepes are made with wheat flour so if you want a sweet treat, you have to order it be made with the gluten-free flour.

The first buckwheat crepes I ever had were a quite tough and the second version was extremely delicious.  I had each of those crepes in Montreal.  Therefore, I realize you can find a tasty crepe made from buckwheat flour and you can find one that reminds you of shoe leather.  Thankfully, the version served at Au Pan Crepe are really good and they reheat really well!  I had a basic ham and cheese crepe and it was served with a salad (or soup which was also gluten-free).  It was so large that I took half of it home to enjoy the following day.

Now that I know the crepes are this place are so good, I will definitely go back to try a sweet version - made with the savory batter, of course.  I think they will also be tasty and I'm looking forward to reporting back on those in the near future!

Bon App├ętit!

*Proscutto crepe image courtesy of Au Pan Crepe 

UPDATE:  We tried the sweet crepes which must be ordered gluten-free (otherwise, the are made with wheat flour). The Crepes Suzette with fresh whipped cream was absolutely wonderful!  Will definitely be back for more sweet and savory crepes at this darling place!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Valentine's Day - worst day to dine out gluten-free

I'll never forgot my first gluten-free Valentine's Day.  It was 2006 and, back then, dining out was NOT easy - even at chains with gluten-free menus.  After exhaustive research that spanned the three weeks between my dx and Valentine's Day, I finally chose a place in Buford, GA to eat at on the big night.  The place has since closed so I'm not naming it here.  Since we could not make reservations, we arrived when they opened at 5pm.  I think we were seated in just under two hours, at which time we were both hungry enough to eat the table cloth.  No apps were safe for me so my husband wouldn't order anything for himself.  We did end up having a lovely meal, but that was my first meal out since going gluten-free and it didn't make me feel like doing it again anytime soon.

That night taught me to take emergency snacks when going out to eat.  Many years passed before I didn't feel the need for that safety net.  Everyone has their own faves for purse snacks and mine included nuts, dried fruit or crackers (to use with sans gluten cheese plate).

After skipping dining out on February 14th for several years, we finally went out again (to another place that has since closed) and had another bad experience.  This time around we had reservations, but since the place was jammed packed and fairly chaotic (they had clearly taken more reservations than they could handle), we agreed to sit in the bar area instead of the main dining room.  Our meal took a while to come out, but everything was really good.

The bad part was that the server informed me (after our order was put in) that I could not have the goat cheese on my salad...the exact salad I'd had many times without issue.  That's because there was NO gluten in the cheese.  Someone was confused in thinking gluten-free and dairy free were related...it set a bad tone for the rest of the night and my husband suggested that I might mark the place off my list of safe places.  I didn't do that, but I did inform the restaurant that they might do a little retraining of the staff.  It should be said that this place was known for gluten-free service - one of the few such places in the area back then.
We've had a couple of other negative experiences on Valentine's day so a few years ago, we decided to celebrate the holiday early.  We're not the only people doing this, of course, but the difference in the atmosphere at restaurants on Valentine's day and the day (or so) before it is like night and day.  The staff is much more relaxed which lends itself to a diner with allergies being more relaxed as well.

Have a sweet gluten-free Valentine's Day - however you choose to celebrate!

Friday, January 26, 2018

Review: Chick-Fil-A's gluten-free bun

The one fast food chain I frequented (at least, when traveling) before my celiac dx was Chick-Fil-A.  Loved the fried chicken sandwich....simply loved it!  So when I had to start ordering grilled chicken tenders when making a pit stop on the way to FL, it was disappointing.  The tenders were good enough, and the fries (made in dedicated fryer) were yummy so it was fine.

Eventually, someone made an unfortunate decision to change the grilled tenders by putting them in some horrible marinade.  It is so bad, in fact, that I thought I got a bad batch...thought I was going to get sick after eating one nasty tasting tender.  It didn't occur to me that the product was supposed to taste that way...seriously, it was gross!  The second time I ordered the tenders (after the unfortunate experience) I realized the tenders must have been changed (for the worse!) and I confirmed this with the restaurant.  Thus began my quest to find suitable quick, safe food when traveling.  No more Chick-Fil-A for me since all I could get was the grilled chicken sandwich, sans the bun, and that didn't seem fair since I was paying for a sandwich.  I can be cheap in the most silly ways...lol!

Fast forward a few years (to 2017) when Chick-Fil-A introduces a gluten-free bun!  I was so excited by this development that I realized I was going to have to try it before taking a trip that would lead me there for a pit stop.  After reading reviews of the bun, I braced myself for the bread to have a sweet flavor - something I'm not looking for a in bun unless cinnamon and sugar are involved.

The gluten-free bun was a total miss for me.  Didn't like the flavor, texture or the overtly sweetness of it.  I'm glad the company introduced a bun, and I'm sure that many people enjoy it.  I'm just not one of them.  I'd much rather be able to order fried chicken tenders that are gluten-free.  Oh well, at least we have Bantam+Biddy in the ATL ;)  

Monday, January 22, 2018

Gluten-free in 2018

It's hard to believe that it's been 12 years since I started following the gluten-free diet due to my celiac diagnosis.  Within that first year (2006), three in my family, including me, were gluten-free so at least holidays with them have been a breeze.  Back then we didn't have all the wonderful things now available at your local grocery store - or at Whole Foods, Sprouts and Earthfare. My first pizza crust, pasta, cookies and cake mix experiments had me thinking I would not be enjoying any of those things ever again!  Talk about gross....no wonder people generally think all gluten-free food is horrid.  For many years, much of it was exactly that.

I remember reading a grocery report that stated by the end of 2010, gluten-free items would disappear from store shelves and the gluten-free craze would be over.  Isn't that a hoot?  That particular paper was partially funded by the wheat industry, by the way.  Almost a decade later, the gluten-free label has been slapped on the most ridiculous things like canned pineapple, coconut milk and sea salt.  And there are more cookies, crackers, cake mixes and pasta brands than the gluten-free market should be able to support.  Yet, almost weekly I come across something new...it's a bit overwhelming even to me.

From talking to people who are gluten-free for various health reasons, which are not related to a celiac or gluten intolerance diagnosis, it seems that the gluten-free market is going to continue to thrive much longer than anyone anticipated.  All indications are that there will likely be people that continue to order gluten-free buns, etc. just for the heck of it - who would not know if they ate food containing gluten.  That's really not a problem unless you can't get a bun because one of those people took the last one.

The biggest concern I have (the same one as hoards of gluten-free folks) is that eventually many trend diet followers will fall off the gluten-free bandwagon, so to speak. When that happens, some of the larger food companies will discontinue some items on their gluten-free roster.  Business is business and if they didn't do that, it would not make sense.  What we'll be left with in terms of product selection, quality ingredients and of course, wonderful taste are the unknowns in that scenario.  Let's hope there are enough great tasting, quality replacement foods left after the gluten-free frenzy dust settles down.  

Friday, January 19, 2018

REVIEW: Pampas Steakhouse in Johns Creek

Obviously, most steakhouses are fairly gluten-free friendly.  Sauces and some side dishes might contain gluten, etc., but it's relatively simple to get a safe gluten-free meal at a steakhouse - if you order steak and baked potato, for instance.  However, I'm not a huge fan of steak anymore, and neither is my husband so we rarely eat at steakhouses.

Enter Pampas Steakhouse in Johns Creek, GA.  One of my gluten-free friends told me about this place as she went with in-laws for a birthday celebration.  After hearing about the Truffled Potatoes Au Gratin - yes they're gluten-free(!) - I went about planning a b-day celebration of my own - or rather, for my husband - at Pampas.

The online menu denotes which items are gluten-free, except for in the dessert section.  Thankfully, the sweet treat we wanted, bananas foster, is indeed gluten-free.  Several other options are as well. With most of the meats and several seafood dishes being gluten-free as prepared, the Chef at Pampas is happy to accommodate other requests, when possible.  Therefore, I inquired about having a crab cake appetizer and, to my delight, was told that was doable!

The atmosphere at Pampas is quite lovely with warm, inviting decor.  We sat in a comfortable booth and our well informed server knew it was my husband's birthday (noted on reservation) and that I was getting a gluten-free crab cake.  We ordered salad and the (non gf) lobster bisque as starters.  My husband enjoyed the bisque and we both enjoyed the salad.  However, the star of the show for me was the amazing almost all crab meat crab cake.  The presentation was lovely and the taste was even better!  As there was no breading, or filler of any kind besides minced veggies, it was a refreshingly light crab cake.  I've had similar crab cakes before, but this was the best version without breading that I've had out in over a decade!

My husband said his Center Cut Filet, with au poivre sauce, was wonderful and we were both impressed with the side dishes we chose.  Those are meant to be shared and even then, we took some of each one home!  The basil fried corn seemed very fresh, as if it had just been shucked off the cob, and was delicious.  The Truffled Au Gratin Potatoes were the main reason I wanted to go to Pampas and were more dreamy than I could have imagined!  The only issue I have with it is that when I make my own version of the dish at home, it will never compare to the amazing option at Pampas!

The icing on the cake, so to speak, during our amazing meal didn't involve cake at all.  We ordered a dish my husband makes a wonderful version of - meaning we're super picky about it - Bananas Foster.  Once again, this dish, which is prepared table side as it always should be, didn't disappoint.  Like most versions of this decadent treat, eating just half the generous portion will put you in a sugar coma, but it was well worth it!  I actually had a quarter of it (they nicely split the dish for us) and my husband enjoyed the rest.

It's honestly worth going to Pampas Steakhouse for the sides and desserts for me, but for most people, it's about the steak.  Aside from my husband's lovely filet, I'm happy to report that friends (who've had other steaks there) have been quite impressed with the quality of meats offered at Pampas!

Other notes worth mentioning: valet parking is available and we saw no children during our visit.  To my knowledge, there is no rule about kids, but we appreciated the "adult atmosphere" we enjoyed during our fabulous visit to Pampas!


Monday, January 15, 2018

Impressive meal at Evergreen Conference Center

For the most part, I've had good luck getting safe, and even tasty, gluten-free meals at office holiday functions. It's still annoying to have to research who you need to speak to re: getting a safe meal, and  disheartening to find out you're the only person attending with this request - seriously?

Anyway, when the lovely snowstorm hit Atlanta recently, we assumed the holiday party that was set for the same weekend would be cancelled. It was not. After confirming the roads were clear, no black ice that day/night), we decided to attend the party as planned. The person in charge of planning the event at Evergreen Conference Center Stone Mountain knew I needed a gluten-free meal. I was informed ahead of time that I was not to eat anything off the buffet line. Fine with me - no line, no problem!

Once we decided we were ready to eat, I informed one of the ballroom staffers that I was ready for my meal. Shortly thereafter, a hot plate of food was delivered to me, as well as a cold salad. The salad was fine, nothing special and the dressing of oil and vinegar uninspired, but it was in fact, gluten-free. The "hot plate" however was very impressive. Three of the buffet entrees were included (salmon, chicken and steak) as well as mashed white and sweet potatoes and roasted winter veggies. Once I finished my meal (or rather gave what I could not finish to my husband), the staff quickly showed up with a velvety slice of flourless chocolate cake.  I could only get two bites of it down (I was stuffed already), but it really was quite lovely!

Overall, the experience was very positive and we were glad we decided to attend the party in spite of the frigid weather. Well, it wasn't quite as frigid as it's been here of late, but for mid-December, it was quite cold to these Florida born party guests...lol!           

Let's talk about gluten-free fritters!

For someone who used to avoid going to the grocery store at all costs, it still amazes me that I can entertain myself at even a regular gro...