The Gluten-free Grammys
There have been a lot of gluten-free experiments in my kitchen this past year, some of which have produced winning meals that became part of the regular playlist. So in anticipation of the upcoming awards, I decided to take a break from National Heart Awareness month to host my own Gluten-free Grammy award ceremony and pay tribute to the greatest hits of the year. And the winners are…
Best GF breakfast cereal (c0ld): tie between Barbara’s Bakery Puffins (original flavor) and Nature’s Path Organic Mesa Sunrise
The pickings are still slim in the gluten-free cereal world, where our choices are pretty much limited to puffed rice cereals with no nutritional value and puffed corn cereals with no nutritional value. Gluten-free cereals tend to have a measly 1g of fiber per serving, and to add insult to injury they’re not even fortified with many of the vitamins and minerals that conventional cereals are enriched and fortified with, rendering them little more than bowls of puffed starch.
Thankfully, there are at least 2 exceptions to the rule. I chose two winners for this category because Puffins, while they are wheat-free, are not technically gluten-free. (They contain oat flour, which may not be tolerated by some people with celiac disease–especially if the oats used have been heavily cross-contaminated with wheat during processing.) Still, most gluten-avoiders I know tolerate Puffins just fine, and that’s lucky for them: it’s one of the few wheat-free cereals that has any sort of fiber whatsoever (a solid 5g per 3/4 cup serving) and it’s quite low in added sugar (5g–or 1.25 teaspoons–per serving.) Their yummy taste and fun, puffy texture take me back to my childhood breakfast table where Post’s Corn Bran cereal was a perennial favorite. Note that the honey rice and peanut butter flavors have much less fiber than the original. And the cinnamon flavor is overly crunchy in my opinion–it never softens in milk.
Nature’s Path Mesa Sunrise is fully gluten-free, and unlike the standard corn flake it resembles, it actually has a respectable amount of fiber (3g per 3/4 cup serving). It’s low in added sugar (only 4g–or 1tsp–per serving), it’s really tasty, and as a bonus, it contains beneficial omega-3 fatty acids from the flax seeds. The cherry on top? It’s organic, meaning no GMO-corn is used, and it is sold in eco-friendlier bags that contain much less packaging material than standard boxed cereals.
Best GF store-bought bread: Kinnikinnick Many Wonder Multigrain Rice Bread
I will preface this by saying that GF breads as a category are awful. Sold in the freezer section, they are dense, low-fiber, high-calorie, high-fat bread-shaped logs that tend only to be passable when fresh out of the toaster. This makes them very bad delivery systems for that PB&J you wanted to pack for lunch, since by the time they make it to lunchtime, they’re dense and oddly-textured again. We won’t even mention the fact that these awful GF breads cost 2x-5x more than a standard loaf of whole wheat. Hrrrmph. Needless to say, bread does not feature prominently in the diets of most people I know who have celiac disease.
Still, every once in awhile, the need for a breadlike carrier calls. Lunches need to be packed; burgers need a makeshift bun; eggs need toast. And therefore, we need something passable to meet the need. Kinnikinnick’s Many Wonder Multigrain Rice bread is the one store-bought (frozen) bread I’ve found that actually tastes quite good when toasted and has a texture that more closely resembles normal bread. It also has a reasonable amount of calories per slice (90), a very good amount of fiber per slice (3g), and it is fortified with the same vitamins and minerals as enriched wheat flour is–which is VERY rare in GF baked goods. (This last point is important for two reasons: one, because most GF breads are made primarily of starch, which has no vitamin and mineral content; and two, because enriched/fortified breads and cereals make up an important source of B-vitamins and iron in the diets of most Americans–and especially children. GF-kids who eat GF-versions of typical ‘kid’ foods may be at risk for deficiencies in these important nutrients if they’re not supplied elsewhere in the diet.)
Best GF pancake mix: Pamela’s Products Baking & Pancake Mix
This is another GF product that isn’t just passable for being GF, but it’s as good as–if not better than– many of the wheat-containing products out there. It produces a delicious pancake (I spike mine with frozen blueberries) and excellent waffles that have nice, fluffy textures and no off-flavors. The mix also works well as a stand-in for all-purpose wheat flour in many recipes, including the one for pumpkin corn muffins below. As with most GF products, it’s certainly pricier than its non-GF peers, but what’s better than eating real pancakes with the rest of your family on a weekend morning? To compensate for the relative lack of fiber in the mix, go ahead and top your pancakes with heaps of fresh berries or other sliced fruit to serve.
Best GF frozen waffles: Van’s Wheat-Free Flax
They taste totally normal as far as frozen waffles go, and calorie-wise, 2 waffles only have 30 more calories (210 vs 180) than 2 Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Whole Wheat waffles. Unfortunately, they have less fiber (a measly 1g per 2-waffle serving, vs. 3g in the Kellogg’s product), which is pretty typical among the GF waffle set due to the heavy use of starches rather than whole grains. However, they’re a good source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids owing to the flax meal and their sweetness comes from natural juices rather than refined sugar or corn syrup. BYOF (bring your own fiber) by topping them with fresh berries or other sliced fruit and you’ve made them into a better breakfast choice already. Try the buckwheat variety, too. They’re good.
Best GF pizza crust: Bob’s Red Mill GF Pizza Crust Mix
Once upon a time, when my intestines cooperated with all manner of proteins, I would make a weekly homemade pizza from a ball of fresh, whole-wheat pizza dough that I bought for $1.50 at the local Whole Foods. It was one of my easy, crowd-pleasing dinners; the dough was all ready to go, and all I’d have to do was chop up a ton of vegetables, shred some cheese and bake.
Since then, I’ve tried all manner of GF pizza crusts, with only one, basic criterion: it has to produce a pizza that will be acceptable to serve to my husband, who is a pizza aficionado who vowed to love me through sickness and health, but not to suffer through god-awful pizza-like experiments that taste like cardboard and glue.
I’ve tried cardboard (Glutino Frozen Pizza Crusts–they baked up so crunchy that I almost broke a tooth) and I’ve tried glue (Gillian’s Wheat, Gluten and Dairy free Pizza Dough–sold in a ball in the freezer section and defrosted before use. It somehow combined with the liquid in my tomato sauce in such a way that to form an adhesive bond with my baking pan which took 24 hours of soaking to remove. Disaster.) And so despite my reluctance to buy a mix that I’d have to add yeast to and wait to rise, I decided it might be my only chance to reclaim weekly pizza night. (OK, given the effort involved, it’s more like monthly now.)
There were two such mixes I tried that produced delicious pizza crusts that were fluffy and bready– like focaccia or a Sicilian-style pizza pie: The Gluten-Free Pantry’s French Bread and Pizza Mix, and Bob’s Red Mill GF Pizza Crust Mix. So how did Bob’s edge out its competitor? The GF Pantry product is made of pure starch (white rice flour, potato starch and corn starch, essentially) and therefore contains no fiber and almost no protein. To make matters worse, the recipe required me to add 1/3 cup of oil (which adds 65g of fat to what should be a very low fat product), which seemed excessive to me.
The Bob’s product, on the other hand, contained (whole grain) brown rice flour, whole grain millet flour and whole grain sorghum flour in addition to some potato and tapioca starches. This adds a very respectable amount of fiber (4g) and protein (3g) per slice, assuming the whole mix makes 8 slices, which I can attest that it most certainly did. The mix requires you to add the same amount of eggs as the GF pantry product, but only 2 TBSP of oil (27g of fat, divided by 8 slices…much more reasonable). I will warn you that this dough can be tricky to work with when it comes to spreading it out in your pan. It’s sticky, but coating your hands in some GF flour may help you coerce it evenly into all corners of your baking sheet. Be patient and have faith… it will bake up to be a bready, airy and chewy crust that is sturdy enough to hold an ambitious volume of toppings.
Best GF muffins: Karina’s Kitchen Pumpkin Corn Muffins
I spent a lot of time experimenting with GF muffin recipes this past Fall, and came up with a surprising number of good results. But this recipe from the Karina’s Kitchen blog was a hands-down winner. Its texture is a cross between cornbread and a conventional cakey muffin, making it an excellent crossover muffin for a breakfast/brunch treat or a dinnertime chili/soup accoutrement. Wheat-eaters to whom I served it had no idea it was gluten-free; it was not just ‘good for gluten-free,’ but it was plain old good, period. It’s fast to make–less than 10 minutes to mix the ingredients and get them into the oven–and it freezes, defrosts, re-freezes and defrosts again like a breeze. (Trust me; I tested this out and the muffins were no worse for the wear.)
If you attempt to make this recipe at home, I’d recommend using half of the oil she calls for (1/4 cup instead of 1/2 cup), substituting 1/4 cup of applesauce instead. The end product will still be exceptionally moist, very freezable, and will have a significantly lower amount of fat. If you have some pepitas (pumpkin seeds) at home, they make a nice garnish to sprinkle atop the muffins before they bake.
Best GF pasta: Eden Foods 100% Buckwheat Soba Noodles
Gluten-free pasta is tough. While I do use Asian rice noodles, they’re made from white rice flour and water, and hence deliver starch-turned-sugar quickly and directly into the veins without any other nutritional value. I’ll use those in small quantities once in awhile, but they can’t be my go-to noodle.
I quite like some of the Ancient Harvest Quinoa pastas, made from a blend of corn and quinoa flours. The smaller pastas hold together well and serve as perfectly acceptable pasta-stand-ins when doused in my homemade pesto. But longer pastas are always a problem. Case in point: The De Boles brand of natural pasta makes a whole grain spaghetti that completely breaks apart while cooking… so don’t waste your money.
I chose Eden Foods’ 100% Buckwheat Soba Noodles because they are a naturally-gluten free noodle that is thick and chewy and holds together perfectly when cooked properly to the recommended al dente texture. Soba noodles are traditional Japanese noodles that are delicious in their own right; not GF imposters trying to knock off the Italian standard. They have 3g of fiber and 6g of protein per serving (that’s really good). While the buckwheat flavor may or may not fit in with your expectations of what a steaming plate of pasta with red sauce and parmesan cheese should taste like, perhaps it’s a good opportunity to learn some new ways to prepare and eat pasta…no? Try searching the eden foods website with the keyword “soba” for ideas.
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