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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ceaser's Stuffed Shells with Cheese (in Marinara Sauce)

This isn't what I was reviewing in the post that got eaten, but... well, I'll come back to that post when it's time comes around again. For now, let's talk shells! I found Ceaser's offering in the freezer section of R Downs. I'd like to tell you more about the company, but their website seems to be under a remodeling project at the time I write this, so... no dice. Anyway, R Downs had several of their pasta offerings in the freezer, and I grabbed the shells for a little variety. Tonight, I sat down to eat them.

The shells themselves aren't that bad at all. They're stuffed with ricotta cheese, accentuated by herbs and spices. I found them a teensy bit dry and rubbery, though I am willing to chalk that up to the vagaries of microwave cooking more than anything else. Now, as for the sauce... well, the sauce reminds me of a joke that Woody Allen tells at the beginning of Annie Hall where two women are complaining about the food they're being served: "it's so bad... and in such small portions!" The marinara sauce isn't horrible; it's a bit too tomatoey and bland for my taste, but given that I found the shells dry, that sauce had an important job, and there just wasn't enough of it to go around. There were three shells in the box, but I'd say there was only enough sauce for 2, and that was using said sauce sparingly. So, a mixed bag in terms of the food.

The nutritional facts, on the other hand, kind of surprised me. For a start, a box of this stuff will run you 370 calories. This surprised me by being a bit low. The fat content, on the other hand? 18g total (27% DV), with 9g saturated fat (a whopping 47% DV). Whoa. Not sure where that's coming from-- the cheese? As for the rest of the stats, you're looking at 65mg cholesterol (22%), 660mg sodium (27%), and 37g carbs (12%). The sodium number is less of a surprise to me, but the rest? Huh. Would not have guessed.

I'll be looking to try more of Ceaser's pasta products in the future. While I was mildly disappointed with some of the aspects of these shells, I think I'd eat them again... but I should probably lay off for a couple weeks. Read on!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Quick Post About the Lack of Posts

Keen observers to ye olde gluten-free critic will note that the past month or so has been somewhat devoid of posts. This is... well, it's both entirely fault, and only partially my fault.


Well, I will admit that my espirit de blog has been waning of late. That much is entirely my fault. However, it did not help that a post I meant to put up last week was entirely eaten by Blogger. Having to re-write something from scratch, I think, is loathed by most writers, and I am no exception. So, I've been procrastinating. Sorry! I will be getting back on the blogging horse (hopefully) this week, and will be endeavoring a more regular posting schedule in the ensuing weeks.

In the meantime, I'd like to invite anyone who has been stopping by to drop a comment in ye olde inboxe. Possible topics could include: things you like about the blog, things you hate about the blog, general felicitations, and/or crude and strange drawings made from MS Paint. You can also send in questions via the formspring, if you're so inclined.

Okay, that's all for now. Let's hope this post doesn't get eaten... Read on!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

O'Dough's Chocolate Chip Banana Cake

When is a cake not a cake? When it's served in a loaf that is wrapped in paper? When it is made up of something that is naturally referred to as bread? Does the presence of chocolate chips automatically tip the balance? These questions and more plagued me as I tested a new type of banana loaf, available from the fine folks at O'Dough's, a canadian company who list the usual suspects of buns, breads, and cakes among their products. I found their Chocolate Chip Banana Cake at R Downs, and resolved to review it. My thought was that, even though it was named "cake," it's banana quality would make it a good breakfast food. Of course, now that I see O'Dough's website, I realize my mistake, as the banana cake is described as a "desert cake." Oops.

So! Now that I've got that figured out, how did it fare as a breakfast option? Not bad. The texture falls somewhere between bread and cake (another reason why this stuff is so confusing), and when presented with butter, it slides a bit too far in the direction of "mushy." Of course, that's more on me than it is the breadcake. However, it has a solid, banana breadcake taste to it. The chocolate chips are of the "small" variety, which is the right call here, as large chips would have been too overwhelming to the loaf as a whole. It toasts up nicely, which, given that it's cake, is kind of a surprise.

In the end, I think that this is a product which is caught up in between worlds, so to speak. If you treat it like banana bread, and thusly as a breakfast food, it does all right, but there are better and more easily-obtainable options out there. However, I don't know who would want to eat it as a cake. It's tasty enough, but not in a "dessert cake" way, despite the presence of the chocolate chips. But if I want cake, I'm going to want cake. This... isn't cake, as much as it would have you believe.

Quick rundown of the nutrition facts before we go, and yes, the fact that it's a cake means that some levels aren't tremendously good. A serving of this cake weighs in at 1.4oz (or 40g). They claim 10 servings per loaf; I wish I had been paying more attention when I was slicing it up to see how many slices I got out of my loat, but... anyway. In your single serving, you get 155 calories, 65 of those from fat. Cake! You've also got 7g of fat (1.5g) of that being saturated. Cholesterol? Yup, 40mg worth. There's also 250mg of sodium per serving, and 22g of carbs (surprise, most of that is sugar, at 11g). And remember, that's just one slice. Given that the folks at O'Dough's brag that "you can't eat just one slice," you'll probably be doubling those numbers. Then again, it's cake. Have it, eat it, or both (if you can), it's cake. Read on!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mariposa Baking Sour Cream Coffee Cake

I'm going to cut right to the chase. Mariposa Baking's Sour Cream Coffee Cake is, quite simply, the best coffee cake I've ever had. Now, a cynic might point out that I have never had any other coffee cakes. Still, that doesn't make it any less true: it's the best coffee cake I've ever had. But first, let's talk about the bakers. Mariposa Baking are a small bakery run out of Oakland, California, and appear to have been around since at least 2004. They strive to create "artisan"- quality products (using mostly organic ingredients), producing small batches of food rather than assembly lining their way through the creation process. They claim that their food was blind taste-tested against comparable wheat products by a panel of culinary experts, and they only finished tinkering with the recipies when the panel couldn't tell the GDF food from the non-GF food (for more about the bakery, I recommend taking a look at their FAQ). They also, apparently, donate 2% of their annual profits to "community & world organizations," though it does not seem to be specified anywhere what that means. But, I'm being nitpicky. Anyway, their food is slowly starting to creep out, and you can find this coffee cake, along with a few different types of brownies, in the freezer of R Downs, who seem to have a knack at getting great GF treats before anyone else in town. You'll note on Mariposa's website that they also offer many other delectable-looking foods; if those bagels ever make it out here, it'll be time for another bagel battle!

However, we're here to talk about coffee cake. Said coffee cake comes in a 4.5" wide, circular bundle of deliciousness. It measures about a couple inches thick, and when you look at it, it's all about layers. The top is layered with cinnamon and small walnut pieces. Then you have a cake layer, then a cinnamon streusel layer, and a final cake layer. Given the thickness involved, I kind of expected the cake layers to be a little dense; I was pleasantly surprised when the cake turned out to be not only relatively light, but moist as well. The cinnamon layers are delicious, and the walnuts provide just enough of a crunchy texture without being difficult to handle. In fact, I'd like to see similarly-sized walnuts sold in bulk in supermarkets!

Is there a downside to this coffee cake? Well, it's not a downside per se, but I would recommend against attempting to eat the entire thing in one sitting, as it's quite rich. Now, this is the point in the review where I would regale you with nutritional information, but there's a snag: the labels I have don't have any nutritional information on them, and Mariposa's website does not include said information in their nutrition section! Whoops! I'd argue that the fact alone that the coffee cake is so very good is an indication that it can't be remotely healthy, but again, that would be cynical of me. I will say that the first two ingredients listed are sour cream, and organic unrefined cane sugar. That's quite a start! Perhaps I will look into this matter a little further. For now, though, I will just recommend that you slice the thing up and enjoy it over several occasions. That way it'll last longer, and with a coffee cake this good, why wouldn't you want to spread the joy as long as possible? Read on!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Whole Foods Gluten-Free Almond Scones

We're back with another breakfast product from the folks over at Whole Foods, and I promise that I absolutely did not choose this one because I realized I had fallen asleep at the blog (so to speak) and had not thrown up a post in more than a week and a half. I swear. That said- Whole Foods Almond Scones! These scones are another example of the selection found in the Whole Foods Gluten-Free freezer section. But when we talk about scones, what're we talking about, really? Well, a simple Google image search is... not that helpful, actually. More than half the scones listed have a roundish, almost biscuit-like appearance, as opposed to their triangularly-wedged cohorts. Wikipedia tells me that both types are correct, kind of. This is good news, as I don't want the gluten-free version of a scone to be markedly different from the "real" version. Looking further, there's also a great deal of savory-ness going on. Really a lot of savory-ness. That's partially because of the jam and clotted cream that have been liberally applied in several of the pictures. I'll admit, I have never tried Whole Foods' scones with jam or clotted cream. No jam, because I'm not a huge jam fan. No clotted cream because, well, that sounds like a good way to get a heart attack; also, I have no idea where one purchases clotted cream. My loss, I guess.

Okay, so, the actual scones. Well, you can get a nice look at their size over to the right, here. You'll notice they're sized fairly decently, but they're not terribly thick. We'll be coming back to that point, later. First, let's talk taste. Despite not being "savory," these scones taste pretty good. Their general flavor is slightly sweet, with the thin almond slices providing an additional nuttiness that is quite pleasing. Texture-wise, the scones are fairly firm, and make for good chewing. I, um, mean that in a good way. Scones really aren't supposed to be terribly complicated (at least in their unjammed, un-clotted-cream form), and these scones are no exception. They strike me as being a bit too big for a snack, but they make for a fairly excellent breakfast.

Is there a downside? Well, I mentioned it earlier, but, yes, there is. They're thin. My memory is somewhat hazy on this, but I don't think they were always quite so thin. Yes, they look thick enough in the middle (actually, I'd say they are thick enough in the middle), but their edges tend to be on the narrow side. Is this important? Only if you like slicing your scones in half! If that's the case, you'lld find these scones somewhat problematic. My hazy memory tells me that this wasn't always the case; they used to be about the perfect thickness for splitting in twain! Somehwere, something in the formula changed, and now you have to be skilled and luck to get the perfect slice. I guess that might not matter if you're not a perfectionist in such matters but... well... I kinda am. So the scones get minus points.

I said before that the scones weren't "savory." What does that mean for their nutrition facts? I'm actually a little surprised. Each scone weighs in at 380 calories, with a cool 200 of those calories derived from fat. Yikes. Then again, two of the first three ingredients listed are butter and cream, so there ya go. Aside from the fat, you're getting 22g total fat, and 12g saturated fat, which is... well, I'd call it "okay." On the plus side, 0g trans fat! Then again, I don't know what does have trans fat in it, these days. Maybe they used to have trans fats, then got rid of them, and the scones collapsed as a result. Hmmm. Anyway, to complete the nutritional round-up, they give you 41g carbs, which actually seems low, 100mg cholesterol, and 240mg sodium. So, even if you're not clotting them up, these scones need to be part of a complete, balanced breakfast.

In the end, I won't complain. Good, gluten-free scones are a rarity on the market nowadays (at least, in my neck of the woods), so despite a few flaws, I'll gladly grab a pack of these every few months to shake things up a bit. Maybe one day I'll break out the clotted cream. Maybe. Read on!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Niman Ranch: Pulled Pork with Barbecue Sauce

Oh, barbecue. Or, as I will be referring to it through the remainder of this post, BBQ. One of the staple American foods. Though its form may vary throughout the country, one thing remains true: it's usually pretty @#*%&$ing amazing. Oh, and there is one other unfortunate truth: commercially, it usually comes with gluten-laden soy sauce. Gah! So, you can imagine how intrigued I was when, while trolling my local Whole Foods for dinner ideas, I spotted a tub of Niman Ranch's BBQ pulled pork, with the "Gluten-Free" tag prominently displayed on the packaging. "Why, hello," I thought. "Wouldn't it be interesting to try you... especially on one of Canyon Bakehouse's fantastic buns?" Dinner plans made!

So, who are these guys? Well, from what I can gather, Niman's food animals have it pretty good. Until, you know, they are killed and turned into BBQ. But before that point, their animals are kept relatively uncaged, fed vegetarian-only feed, and never injected with hormones. Of course, that latter talking point is slightly dispelled by an admission that "Federal Regulations prohibit the use of hormones in pork." One assumes that even if that were not true, Niman would not be going crazy with the stuff. The takeaway? This isn't ordinary meat. Cool!

Preparing the BBQ is pretty easy. It comes in a pouch within a tub. You slit some holes in the pouch, rest the pouch in the tub, and nuke it for 4-5 minutes. You then let it rest, dump it out of the pouch, and you're good to go. Since 4-5 minutes is usually how long it takes me to toast a hamburger bun, the timing worked out splendidly. While it was cooking, I checked out the ingredients a little to see what type of BBQ I was dealing with. The result: tomatoes, brown sugar, vinegar, soy sauce... the closest BBQ-variant seems to be Texan. Suits me fine- I'm not as big of a fan of Kansas City's BBQ, and the Carolina mustard-based sauces can be hit-or-miss. Carolina's other BBQ style, the vinegar sauce, on the other hand... DROOOOOOOOOOOL... Er... anyway. The smell that wafted out of the microwave was very enticing, and I had my sights set on good times. I was not disappointed. I would not call the taste of the BBQ sauce "complicated," but I would call it very tasty. As I inferred, the first two ingredients listed for the sauce are tomato puree and brown sugar. No surprise, they're the two most-prevalent taste elements present. If you're not a fan of tomato/brown sugar BBQ, you won't like this. I am a fan. Case closed. The pork, meanwhile was nice and tender and was pulled enough that there were few large, sandwich-busting chunks present. However, there were the occasional chunks of straight fat in there, and those had to be fished out. I know fat is responsible for a lot of beautiful tastes, but I am not a fan of large globules. Get rid of those, and my list of complaints drops to... well, none.

Of course, there is the nutrition issue. It's BBQ, and no one expects a pulled pork sandwich to be the most healthy of delicacies. That said, I am pleasantly surprised by the nutrition info, here. The serving size is a reasonable 1/4 cup (which seems about how much I put in my sandwich). In that quarter-cup, you're getting 110 calories (40 from fat), which is not tremendous. But you're also getting 4.5g fat (1.5g sat fat, 0g trans fat), which seems reasonable, 30mg cholesterol, which is maybe a bit much, and 210mg sodium, which is... okay. So, kind of a mixed bag, here, is what I'm saying. Still, given the usual bomb o' unhealthiness that makes up a typical American BBQ, these stats are pretty good. So, if you want a quick BBQ dinner, check out Niman's Pulled Pork!

Read on!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ruth's Chia Goodness Apple Almond Cinnamon

Ah, breakfast, that most important meal of the day. Yet, it naturally occurs during the time in the day when my personal mental acuity is at its ebb. And, during the work week, it's something I want to be done with ASAP. Given all that, can you imagine how excited I was to find a breakfast item that promised easy preparation and fantastic nutrition? Well, okay, I wasn't jumping up and down or anything, but I was intrigued, to say the least. Well, let's talk first about the food involved here, or rather, the "superfood." That food is Salvia Hispanica, more commonly known as "Chia." Yes, Chia. As in, Chia Pets. That Chia. Yes, apparently the fuel behind all those Porky Pigs has been cultivated in the Americas for thousands of years (especially by the Aztecs), and according to Ruth's packaging, is "quite possibly the most nutritious seed ever." Really? That seems difficult to quantify. What has been quantified is that chia seeds are high in calcium, protein, fiber, magnesium, and an Omega-3 fatty acid known as ALA. Trustworthy studies on the benefits of eating chia seeds are thin on the ground, unfortunately, so the full effects of this food are unknown. That didn't stop "Dr. Oz" from the Oprah Winfrey show from endorsing these seeds, rather predictably leading to their current surge in popularity.

In their particular application, Ruth's have paired their chia seeds with buckwheat and hemp for more seedy goodness; they've also thrown in almonds, raisins, and dried apples for flavor. I've noted before that I have a weakness for apple cinnamon as a taste concept-- would that weakness lead me to loving this food?

Well, let's first talk about the way this stuff is prepared. According to the directions, it couldn't be any easier! Just mix 2T of seed mix with 1/4 cup of water (hot or cold water, even), stir, and let set for 3-5 minutes. While you wait, the mixture is supposed to "thicken." This particular bit led me to think that the resulting meal would be similar to grits in its consistency. Spoiler alert: not so much! The first time I tried making it, I went with the "cold water" approach. I measured, poured, stirred, and waited. After waiting the requisite five minutes, all I had was a not-entirely-appealing-looking layer of watery sludge in the bottom of my bowl (see the pic). I steeled myself, and took a bite. The flavor wasn't too bad. The seeds all tasted, well, seedy, but the apple-cinnamon almond combination was fairly decent. I also didn't mind the presence of the raisins, as I am normally wont to do. However, when considering the dish's texture, well, there was one rather unrelenting problem: chia seeds, apparently, when they get get, get slimy. So I was eating something whose major mass was cold and slimy. I'm not going to lie to you. It was gross. I got through most of the bowl, but I couldn't quite finish it. Cold, slimy, and watery? Blech. Also: raisins. On the plus side, though, I didn't get as hungry as I'd feared, especially given that 2T seeds + 1/4 cup water = not much food. But I didn't get even the slightest bit peckish for the rest of the morning. Bonus!

I knew, though, that in the interests of fairness, I was going to have to try again, this time with hot water. So, once I had convinced myself I was ready, I did just that. Again I measured the seeds, again I poured the water, again I waited. Again, the stuff failed to "set" in any meaningful way (the picture above, actually, is from the second attempt). Was it a better eating experience? Slightly. Using warm water instead of cold meant that the chia seeds were now warm and slimy rather than cold and slimy. However, they were still slimy. And "slimy" is just not a quality I want in my food. For full disclosure's sake, I decided to make the meal one last time, this time being absolutely sure to get the measurements right. Maybe the reason the stuff failed to set was because there was just too much water in it? Turns out, not so much. The third attempt, with my carefully-controlled measurements, was actually the worst of all in terms of cohesiveness. It went in the trash.

Salvia hispanica may, in fact, be one of the most powerfully nutritious seeds out there, but this is a bad vehicle for it. If you're interested in reaping its benefits, The GF Critic suggests buying the seeds in bulk and using them as addons; perhaps sprinkling them into a smoothie or into some yogurt. Meanwhile, I'll be continuing my search for the perfect breakfast food.

Read on!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Conte's Margherita Pizza with Roasted Garlic and Olive Oil

When I made my previous pizza post, I declared myself to be something of a "traditionalist" as it comes to pizza pie. This is very true! It is also generally true that I tend to prefer my pizzas with meat on them. And yet! I believe I have found the perfect gluten-free frozen pizza, and its face is meatless! Can it truly be so? Well, yes. Conte's foods have been popping up in the freezer sections of Albuquerque's finer groceries for... maybe a year, now? Suffice to say, I've a few things to get cracking on, review-wise! But let's talk pizza.

I'll admit, I didn't know what a Margherita pizza was before I tried Conte's. I mean, it sounds like something one should order on the rocks, rather than from their local Whole Foods. So eating this pizza was both delicious, and educational! More than that, it was long-lasting. Why? Well, it's a big pizza. I don't have pictures to back me up, unfortuately, but unlike other pizzas I have reviewed, these are about a foot in diameter, so either dine with a friend or you're going to have leftovers. The composition of the pizza is somewhat non-surprising: thin crust, thin layer of sauce, thin layer of cheese, but... the sauce! The sauce is lovely. The crust is nicely pliable. The cheese is... cheese. It's hard to screw up cheese. Now, the two ingredients called out especially by the box are garlic and olive oil. The garlic, well, you can tell it's there. It's also delicious. I don't know quite how it is present, I'll admit. There aren't any specs of material in the pizza that say "hey, I'm garlic!" Possibly I am ignorant in the ways of garlic. But... yeah, I just don't know. And the olive oil? I'm sure it does a great job, but its presence is not particularity keen. But these are minor quibbles. The point is, the pizza is great.

Of course, that greatness comes with a price. Conte's defines one of their servings as a quarter of the pizza. And in that quarter toy get... 220 calories, 80 of those from fat, 30 from saturated fat. There's 9g fat (3.5 saturated, 0.5g polyunsaturated, 4g monounsaturated... but no trans fat), and 35mg cholesterol. You're also looking at 550mg sodium and 25g carbs. But hey! 20% of your daily calcium dose is included, as well! Sweet!

In the eyes of this critic, Conte's has delivered a rather fantastic pizza experience. Soon, it will be time to put their other products to the test! Stay tuned...

Read on!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Kinnikinnick S'moreables Graham Style Crackers

There are two types of crackers whose emulation seem to be most sought-after when it comes to the gluten-free market: Ritz, and Graham. Ritz crackers, I think, have been fairly well copped to (at least as far as I can tell), but the graham has been a somewhat more elusive target... until now. Okay, let me back up just a little bit, because talking about Graham crackers (or Graham-style crackers) lets me point out the interesting life of Sylvester Graham, progenitor of said crackers. Seriously, check out that wiki page. Dude carved his entire lifestyle around "curbing lust." Betcha didn't know graham crackers were associated with such things!

Okay, now for the actual review. Kinnikinnick have been around for the while, though their actual in-store presence is somewhat limited, at least in my neck of the woods. I guess that's not entirely surprising, as they are a Canadian company, and I'm in Albuquerque, but... anyway.

So, the crackers. Usually, I am loathe to compare a gluten-free product to it's "real" version, but I think it helps in getting the basics down, here. So if you compare S'moreables to "normal" graham crackers, you'll find that S'moreables are smaller, slightly thicker, and somewhat less crisp than your traditional graham. On the other hand, they taste great, and their thickness gives them an edge when you are trying to spread peanut butter on them. This is not to say they won't break while you're using them (and indeed, not only will they break, but they will NEVER break along the little groove they have at their midpoints), but you can deal with them in a manner befitting a good, solid cracker.

Being short on campfires and suitable campfire equipment, I have not been able to try a S'moreable in the way their name suggests they should be consumed-- that is, in a s'more. Their dimensions might make for tricky s'more-making, but at the same time, consuming the s'mores would be easier... well, unless molten marshmallow started dripping over the sides. Hmmmm. The S'moreables box, you'll note, suggests that you chop each individual cracker in half for optimal s'morage. That's just not going to work.

Aside from being gluten-free, they're also dairy and nut-free, and they're rather remarkably healthy. Each cracker (the nutrition facts actually label them as "cookies," which is odd) runs you 60 calories, 2g fat, 60mg sodium, 9g carbs. Not bad att all!

If you're a recent convert to the gluten-free life who misses their graham crackers, or if you're looking for a good snack/light meal option, OR if you've got a camping session planned in the near future, grab a box of S'moreables! They're worth it.

Read on!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lundberg Creamy Parmesan Risotto

Today I thought I'd take a little departure from the breakfast-and-snack fare of late to review... a risotto. This might seem a little strange-- after all, risotto is a rice dish, and as such, should be gluten-free. But sadly, not all the world's food providers share this Utopian vision, leading gluten-free adherents to perusing the GF menu at certain chain steak restaurants and finding that the pilaf is not recommended. NOT THAT I AM BITTER AT ALL. No, not all dishes that should be gluten-free actually turn out to be gluten-free, so I feel it is my duty to point out those wonderful companies that deliver gluten-free-for-reals food. And that brings me to today's review.

Lundberg Farms are a group that seems to specialize in rice products. Aside from their many varieties of risotto, you can find various forms of raw rice, rice cakes, rice chips, rice pasts... the list goes on. Many of these other rice products have the courtesy of being gluten-free! Good job, guys! Many of their dishes are also "eco farmed," which seems to mean that it is farmed using sustainable practices. I can also tell you that much (if not all?) of Lundberg's rice is grown right here in America! So... U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

Ahem. Sorry.

So, after all that preamble, let's move on to the dish itself. Cooking the risotto is fairly simple. You can do so on the stovetop or in the microwave; FYI, I always choose the latter. It takes the same amount of time (~20 minutes) either way. I can dig that. The microwave version is fairly simple. Assemble the rice, flavoring mix, water, and a little olive oil in your container of choice. The flavoring powder, like all similar powders, seems to prefer "large clumps" as its habitat of choice. Fortunately, you don't have to go too nuts breaking those things apart. Once you've got everything together, cover the whole thing, nuke it for 10 minutes, remove the cover, stir, and nuke it for another 10 minutes. Ta-da! Delicious risotto! Once it's finished cooking, it looks like so:

Once you let it cool, fluff it up a bit, and plate it, you get this:


The consistency tends towards the sticky side, with the rice itself being soft, but not mushy. And the taste! The words "creamy parmesan" are, in fact, completely apt. The texture combines with the "creamy" side of the taste for a melt-in-your mouth goodness, while the "parmesan" is wonderfully present without being overbearing. Add it all up and it's a wonderful, easy-to-make dish!

That said, let's talk nutrition and portions. The Lundberg box advertises their risotto as being "low-fat." And yes, that description seems accurate- they clock in at 1.5g of fat per serving. 0.5g of that is saturated fat. Not too shabby! You're also looking at 140 calories, 5mg cholesterol... and a somewhat unfortunate 490mg sodium. Again, that's per serving. And what is a serving? Well, in their calculations, a serving is 1/2 of a cup, cooked. To be honest, I think most people will find that to be on the small side. I certainly do, but... that could just be me. It's something to keep in mind, though. However, the amount of risotto you do get from one box makes this perfect for singles or couples. Full families may want to do multiple boxes at a time. Just saying.

In the end, if you're looking for a side to go with your dinner, the Gluten-Free Critic heartily endorses this creamy, delectable, risotto. Read on!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Whole Foods Banana Bread

It occurred to me recently, while I was perusing the shelves at Whole Foods, that up to this point, I had neglected to talk about the people who really started it all in terms of getting not only large quantities of gluten-free products on store shelves, but in concentrated areas that made for easier shopping. That company? Whole Foods themselves! Whole Foods have had, for years and years now, a freezer case in their stores dedicated to gluten-free food (mostly breakfast and dessert options). With the vast majority of the offerings coming from their own label! And by that I don't mean their usual "365" brand, but a "Whole Foods Gluten Free Bakehouse" label that produces everything from bread to scones, to muffins, to biscuits, to cupcakes... it's an impressive and extensive list.

But you didn't come to hear me gush about Whole Foods, you came to hear me talk about their gluten free banana bread. Well, here's the short version: it's pretty good! Their take on banana bread comes in a loaf approximately one foot long by four inches wide by four inches tall. That doesn't make for large slices, but that's okay. The density of each slice is high enough that there's going to be a fair amount of banana-related goodness on your plate. And not just banana-related goodness: pecan-related goodness, as well! Yes, the banana bread is infused with pecans, which have to be about the perfect nut to use for such things. The amount of pecans is just right, though most are sprinkled along the top of the loaf, where they can become easily dislodged during preparation. The rest are in the body of the bread, and are enough to find easily, but not too numerous to make the bread difficult to slice. You have to slice it, by the way, so you have full control over the thickness of your meal!

One negative I will point out: the bread tends ever-so-slightly towards the dry side. Then again, that's nothing a little margarine can't solve! (And then again, how many problems CAN'T a little margarine solve? Anyway.) It's not that big of a deal, but I thought I should try and bring a teensy bit of critique to this... critique. Oh, and there's the nutritional information, too. Parsing the info from the Whole Foods website is a bit difficult (they don't provide a nutrition label graphic), but I can tell you that a "serving" holds 220 calories (100 from fat), which is... okay. You'll also get 11g fat (4.5g saturated), and 28g carbs; that last number seems low to me. Rounding out the important stats, we have 55mg cholesterol and 170mg sodium. This is all from a serving size of "About 2oz/57g." I have no idea how much banana bread that is, but they seem to think that each loaf will run you nine servings. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

The bottom line is, if you're a fan of banana bread (and aren't allergic to pecans), head on over to Whole Foods. You'll be glad you did!

Read on!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Udi's Double-Chocolate Muffins

Pop quiz: what's the difference between a muffin and a cupcake? When you think about it, the line between the two foodstuffs comes down to intent; cupcakes are like a special, flashy, dessert sub-set of muffins that you can ice, whereas muffins are the utilitarian "part of a complete breakfast" super-set, which usually take butter and perhaps a jam or jelly. Well, now the folks over at Udi's have come up with a way to confuse the hell out of everyone: double-chocolate muffins. Finding these muffins in my local Whole Foods was, I'll admit, something of a pleasant surprise. While I was composing my last Udi's post, I came across the entry for these and thought "I've never seen these in my store. A week later, and boom! Awesome.

So, the double chocolate part. This basically means that the cupcakesmuffins are chocolate-based, with chocolate chips sprinkled throughout. And this is supposed to be something one eats for breakfast? Well, that's what I did, anyway. My findings? First, if you're familiar with any of Udi's baked goods, you'll find that these muffins are a little denser than their standard fare, but they still retain the basic consistency. For the uninitiated, we're talking about interior surfaces with lots of air bubbles and the like. Once you have heated them (I put mine in the toaster oven, but I do that with everything, so your mileage may vary), you'll find that the chocolate chips make for delicious pockets of liquid chocolate. Make these pools too hot, and you might not be as enthralled.

"Yes that's all well and good," you say, "but what of the taste?" Well, I think here, the muffins have made a concession towards being not-cupcakes. They're certainly chocolatey, don't gt me wrong, but their taste has... a certain edge to it that is difficult to explain. It's just a teensy bit of bitterness that keeps the muffins from being a full-blast chocolate extravaganza. Does it ruin the experience? Well, no, but it is puzzling. The best I can figure is the muffins need something to keep them tethered to the realm of actual breakfast products. And if that "something" turns out to be a slight increase in the rice flour ratio, well so be it.

As for the whole "part of this complete breakfast" business, you'd do well to pair these with something that's on the healthier side. I know that you shouldn't expect too much from something that's already billed as being "double-chocolate," but these things are rocking 350 calories, 15g fat, 80mg cholesterol, 250mg sodium, and 52 total carbs, per muffin. On the plus side: no trans fat!

Bottom line, I think these muffins are... okay. If any of you are absolutely jonesing for a more chocolate-based breakfast (or brunch or what have you), I certainly won't tell you not to go for it. For my money, though, I'm not sure I'd choose these again over the multitude of other breakfast options available to me. Read on!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Signs that the Gluten-Free Life is Spreading

You know that gluten-free food is really starting to permeate the market place when... dispensers start labeling their ketchup as gluten-free. Behold!

I'm not sure if the people at Twister's saw me taking this shot. Even if they did... worth it.
Read on!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Showdown! Ener-G Hamburger Buns vs. Canyon Bakehouse Hamburger Buns

So, I might have had a slightly ulterior motive last time, when I reviewed a product that has been out, likely, for more than a decade. Simply put, I told you that story to tell you this one. Today, I'm pitting the Tapioca Hamburger Buns made by our old friends Ener-G-Foods to the newcomer buns on the block, produced by Canyon Bakehouse. Ener-G we've talked about before, obviously, while Canyon Bakehouse are a much newer entrant to the gluten-free scene. Hailing from Loveland, Colorado, they claim to make their products (mainly variations on bread) "the old-fashioned way," which... would seem to be incompatible with the gluten-free lifestyle. I'll let that slide, though.

In any case! If you read the Tapioca Hot Dog Bun review I linked to above, you'll understand vaguely what I mean when I say that Ener-G's Tapioca Hot Dog Buns and Tapioca Hamburger Buns are-- surprise!-- quite similar. They have the same general taste and texture, which is both good and bad. Good, because it's a fine taste, bad because the hamburger buns, like the hot dog buns, are rather difficult to negotiate once you have placed them on either side of a hamburger. However, the hamburger buns are far easier to prepare, as they can be easily sliced and toasted without anything going horribly wrong.

So, how do the newcomer's buns fare against the standard? Well, there's no easy way to put this, but... it's a rout. I mean, by appearance alone, they're already well ahead, as they actually look like "regular" hamburger buns! They have sesame seeds, for crying out loud. Not a lot, but... sesame seeds! Texture-wise, it's also no comparison. The Canyon Bakehouse buns are soft and pliable in a way that Ener-G's buns can only dream of becoming. They're also whole grain, which gives bonus health points. AND they're either bigger or denser or something, as I of Ener-G's buns clocks in at 55g, while Canyon Bakehouse weigh in at 85g. That's according to the nutrition facts (though speaking of, I should point out that Ener-G have a gram less fat, and slightly fewer calories/sodium).

Anyway, all things considered, there's really no contest going on, here. If you have the option, get Canyon Bakehouse's buns! They are now the buns to beat.

Read on!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ener-G-Foods Tapioca Hot Dog Buns

So, Ener-G-Foods have been around forever. I mean, really. FOREVER. Back when I was but a young'un, I remember traveling to their facilities during a family trip to Seattle. Actually, the only thing I really remember was at the end, they gave me this sort of chocolate sandwich cookie (like a reverse Oreo, only much larger) that was exciting but ultimately not so very good. And therein lies the problem with Ener-G-Foods. Not to get all Cranky Old Man on everyone, but most gluten-free food out today is vastly superior to what I had growing up. I can't emphasize the "vastly" enough. Fortunately, I didn't know any better, really, and most fortunately, I had a kick-ass Mom who was able to work magic with the supplies on-hand. We can all be grateful today that things have come so far from those dark times, and while Ener-G-Foods' line-up has seen some improvements (they were one of the first to bring out gluten-free pretzels, for example), a lot of their stuff is made pretty much the exact same way as it was 20 years ago. And that, finally, brings me around to their Tapioca Hot Dog Buns.

These buns are really the only gluten-free hot dog buns I've seen, ever. They were available from mail order back in the day (as well as now, obviously), and can now be found at your local Whole Foods. They come in packs of four which seems a bit odd, but the eternal numerical battle between hot dogs and their buns is not one which I intend to stray into, here.

There are two ways of preparing these buns (outside of a bun steamer, which I do not have): slit them open and toast them, or wrap them in a wet paper towel and stick them in the microwave for 15-20 seconds. Both are problematic. The consistency of the hot dog buns is such that it is difficult to slice through them enough for the toasting to matter without causing them to split into halves. Thus, you are left with a somewhat glorified hot dog sandwich, which is tricky to eat, especially if you add condiments. If you add condiments, those condiments will soon be added to everything else in the room. The paper towel method works slightly better, giving you a well-steamed bun, though the exterior of the bun gets soggy and a bit flaky. Yes, soggy and flaky at the same time. Problematic!

Once you do manage to prepare them and have placed your hot dog inside them, they're good, but, again, troublesome. The buns do not reduce down in the manner of non-gluten-free hot dog buns, thus, depending on the size of your hot dog, you may have some trouble getting everything in your mouth. (I will not snicker, I will not snicker... I snickered). And the hot dog to bun ratio is crucial. Too little dog, and you will have a lot of not incredibly moist bun to chew through. Too much dog, and you risk everything falling apart spectacularly (see the condiment mention above). As an aside, I discovered that good ol' Whole Foods make a beef hot dog that fits the ratio perfectly, and they even come in packs of four, which is pretty damn perfect.

After all that criticism, I should point out that the buns themselves taste pretty good, so when everything comes into balance, you're in for a good hot dog experience. If something is out of balance, well... you be SOL. The fact that these are the only gluten-free buns out there currently (as far as I know) mean that we are currently without buns for your standard, Oscar Meyer wiener, which is a shame. But who knows, maybe someday someone will up the ante when it comes to gluten-free hot dog buns, and Ener-G-Foods will have to respond. I hope they do so... with relish.

Read on!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Showdown! Glutino Bagels vs. Udi's Bagels

I really truly believe that there is a finite number of words that I could possibly spare towards most food products... even the most wondrous and gluten-free food products! To that end, I thought "hey, if I have multiple items in the same general category, why not pit them against one another in a virtual cage match?" It sounded like a good idea at the time, and it still does. So, in one corner, we have the bagels put out by the fine folks at Glutino's, and in the other corner, Udi's Bakery puts their bagels on the line! WHO WILL PREVAIL?

First, some talk about the competing companies. Glutino, I think I've mentioned before, are one of my favorite gluten-free providers. Almost everything I've had of theirs, I've ended up liking. Udi's, in the other corner, are relative newcomers to the gluten-free market, but they've come on strong in the past year or so with many many good things, which I hope to review in good time.

So. Comparing and contrasting. I can say that both sides, when it comes to bagels, have good bagels. I mean, really good bagels. I can't compare them to "real" bagels, but they're tasty, and either way you go, you're in good hands. That doesn't mean there aren't differences! For one, Glutino's offers the tantalizing possibility of choice. Glutino bagels come in four flavors, plain, sesame, poppy seed, and cinnamon raisin. Udi's, on the other hand, have one flavor and one flavor only, at least at present.

The other big difference is in texture. Glutino's bagels are far denser than Udi's, with a surface that's fairly compact and even. Udi's bagels are lighter. The interior of an Udi's bagel is riddled with leftover air pockets, which, once toasted, become fantastic receptacles for melted butter (or margarine, you know, whatever). In this there is a very important point! Glutino's bagels are actually rather difficult to prepare, or more accurately, to slice. I have a good bread knife and a bagel holder, and I still find myself with some seriously mis-proportioned bagel "halves" most times I attempt. Udi's, on the other hand, those people are smart. Their bagels come mostly pre-sliced. By "mostly" I mean that they are sliced all the way through, with three or four patches that have not yet been cut. Cut those, and you're good to go. Major advantage: Udi's.

In the end, I think I prefer Udi's. Only by a shade, though. The factors? Well, I like the softer texture they have, and the fact that I can get them sliced open without worrying about major lacerations is a HUGE plus. That said, if they all disappeared from the shelves and all I was left with were Glutino bagels, I would not complain! They're both good products, and both get a thumbs-up from me. Udi's just gets a slightly bigger thumb.

Read on!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Annie's Creamy Deluxe Macaroni & Cheese

Oh, man. Where to start with this stuff? Well, let's talk about the name, first. Leaving aside that my title for this entry is kind of a guess, because the box for this product reads "Creamy Deluxe Macaroni Dinner with 100% Real Cheese Gluten Free Rice Pasta & Extra Cheesy Cheddar Sauce," which is... a little more than a mouthful, really. No, let's focus on the word "deluxe." What makes this product "deluxe"? Is it the cheese sauce? That must be it. Yes, the "get" here is that instead of fussing about with milk, butter, or cheese dust once your pasta has boiled, you just stir in their "extra cheesy cheddar sauce." I would point out that this is less of a net gain than they think, because you still have to deal with the most annoying part of mac n' cheese preparation-- the boiling and cooking of the pasta. Boo to that. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

What surprises me the most about this is the fact that Annie's already has a gluten free mac and cheese meal on the market. If you're not familiar with Annie's, their products dominate the shelves at places like Whole Food and Sunflower Market. And why not-- they seem dedicated to providing healthy and good food, after all. Their gluten-free selection isn't very large, but it's generally good times (look for more reviews to come, obviously). This includes their previously-existing mac and cheese. So... the deluxe version must be good times, right?

First problem: the instructions for cooking the stuff are not deluxe. Confession: I've made their mac and cheese twice, now. Why? Because the first time, I followed their instructions to the letter. The first instruction is to boil the pasta with 6 cups of water. 6 cups of water are not enough cups of water to adequately cook pasta! As a result, the macaroni in my first attempt was sticky as hell, and that did not enhance the eating experience. Second time around, I cooked that pasta my way. It turned out better. More... deluxe, if you will.

In both instances, after the pasta was cooked and drained, it was time to add the cheese sauce. Problematically, the cheese sauce, both times I attempted to work with it, had the general thickness and pliability of molasses. It did not want to leave the package, and once in the pot, the macaroni it touched immediately glommed onto it as though it were some form of orange katamari ball. Lots of struggle was involved with getting the sauce evenly distributed amongst the pasta. My guess is that if you cut the sauce with just a little bit of milk, that would help, so if you are itching for some deluxe mac and cheese, keep that in mind.

Eventually, it was time to eat the results of my labor. In Annie's favor, I will say that the end result was cheesy as all get out. With properly cooked pasta, it was even better. However, as I ate, the thickness of the sauce started to work against me. It felt rather like I had a thin layer of plastic coating my mouth, dulling my taste buds and generally being obstreperous. Was this enough to put me off my meal(s) entirely? No, but it did crop up both times I ate the stuff, which is a bit unfortunate, and a major strike against the product. I do not care for plastic-mouth, no matter what I am eating.

Quick detour into nutritional facts: this is macaroni and cheese, so it's loaded with calories (320/serving), sodium (680mg/serving), and carbs (63/serving). Big surprise! However, its fat content is refreshingly low (4g/serving), with no trans-fats to speak of. So, don't go nuts with the stuff but don't hate yourself for eating it, either.

My bottom line here is that this macaroni and cheese experience, when prepared correctly, isn't horrible, but isn't better than the other mac and cheeses already on the market. If it's the only thing you see in the store? Sure, pick it up. But if you see some of the "non-deluxe" offerings, you might gravitate there, instead.

Read on!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Edward and Sons: Let's Do Gluten-Free Ice Cream Cones

I'll admit it- I thought these things were going to taste like cardboard. I mean, they kind of look like cardboard to begin with, thanks to just a slight bit of glossiness to their finish; are "normal" ice cream cones supposed to look like that? Additionally, these cones fall under the same trap I've talked about before-- instead of settling for being just gluten-free, these cones are vegan and kosher. Vegan and kosher? Yup. The cones are the products of... well, this part seems a bit tricky. The umbrella brand here seems to be Edward and Sons trading company, though they seem to either own or associate with other smaller brands (such as the Let's Do... brand who bring us the ice cream cones, and with them, the rather unweildy brand/product combination you see above). But anyway, I'm not here to tell you about corporate hierarchies, I'm here to tell you about ice cream cones.

And whaddaya know, these ice cream cones are good. They're sized just about perfectly for a single scoop of ice cream. They're also durable! I mean, it's not like I was throwing the box of cones down the stairs at any point, but I wasn't handling them with the greatest care ever shown. Still, the cones were all in one piece when I initially opened the box. The cones handle ice cream well. They get a little soggy but no so much that you're left with a sticky melted mess by the time you're ready to finish off a cone's base. They're generally crunchy. Not perfectly so, but generally. Most important of all, they taste good! They have just a hint of sweetness alongside the... the... well, I don't know quite what to call it, the "waffle-ness" of the taste? Something like that? Also on the "good news" side of the ledger: nutritionally speaking, the cones are fairly inert. They have some carbs. Very few carbs, in fact. That's it.

The one thing I don't know at this time is how well the cones do over the passage of time. They come in boxes of 12, and while I would generally be okay with eating a cone of ice cream per day and thus ensuring the last cone eaten was less than a fortnight old, that's just not going to happen. It's possible that they will lose their appeal as time passes. If that happens (and hopefully I remember to check on occasion), you'll be the first to know. On the other hand, if you have an entire party full of people willing to chow down on a gluten-free cone, look no further! In the end, these cones get a definite thumbs up.

Read on!

Monday, June 14, 2010

French Meadow Bakery: Apple Cinnamon Muffins

So, in my previous post, I reviewed French Meadow Bakery's Yellow Cupcakes and found them wanting. Now, I'm reviewing another of their foods: the Apple Cinnamon Muffin. Will it meet a similarly dour review? Fortunately, no! Okay, so about these muffins. They're individually-wrapped, which is a tactic I've not seen before. For this reason (and because their site is STILL DOWN, like wtf, guys), I can't give you much additional info about the muffins themselves, because the wrappers are gone. Bad reviewer! If I find out anything important I'll update this post accordingly.

Anyway! These are good muffins. They're on the smaller side, so I grabbed two, which turned out to be just perfect for breakfast. In contrast to the cupcakes I was talking about earlier, these muffins were fantastically moist. They were a bit on the crumbly side, too, but... news flash: gluten-free food is often a bit crumbly. Not a deal-breaker.

I will admit that I have a softness for "apple-cinnamon" as a taste concept, but I've been burned before by it- blending the two individual tastes is apparently harder than it would seem. These muffins pull the trick off nicely, with small chunks of apple thrown in to boot! Most importantly, they absorbed butter (or margarine, to be specific) well. A muffin that does not take butter well is a questionable muffin. These were not questionable muffins.

The only place I've seen these, as of this writing, was in the bakery section of a single Sunflower Market, though that certainly doesn't mean they can't be found elsewhere. Wherever you may find them, I recommend picking them up!

Read on!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

French Meadow Bakery: Yellow Cupcakes

I have always thought that it would be a sad, sad day indeed when I would be disappointed by a cupcake. I mean... it's a cupcake! It merges the deliciousness of cake with the portability of muffins, and tops it off with frosting, which, hello, it's frosting and frosting is good times. Well, in the correct portions. I think this logical chain speaks for itself, no? Well, bad news, everyone: I have been disappointed by a cupcake, and it is indeed, a sad day. The offending cupcake in question comes from French Meadow Bakery (and full disclosure, the site was down for maintenance when I tried to open it for this review, so link-clicker beware). I'll admit, when I first found these yellow cupcakes in the baker's freezer section of Sunflower Market, I thought the company was new to the GF scene. Nope, turns out they've had frozen, ready-to-back cookies and brownies in the freezers of discerning grocers for some time. I hadn't, however, seen what Sunflower was offering before- cakes, cupcakes, and individually-wrapped muffins. Looking closer, I saw something unique- yellow cake! As most store-offered GF cupcakes will be either chocolate or vanilla, I grabbed the yellow ones for a new experience.
Okay, first... we should take a look at these things. So, behold:

I'll be honest: that's a high frosting-to-cupcake ratio. And that's okay, because these cupcakes are fairly small- maybe about three inches high?- indicating a high snackability. In practice? Well... the first thing that happened with all that frosting is that it melted all over Creation. To be honest, this was expected. You don't heat up a cupcake without the frosting melting all over creation. Still, the amount of frosting made this more annoying than it would otherwise be. Anyway, once I had a properly-heated cupcake, I took my first, tentative bites.

Ehhhhhhh. The cupcake part was okay- not mind-blowing- and a little dry, to boot. The frosting was a huge disappointment. I think they were going for a "vanilla" flavoring, but they got off the train well before reaching the right station, so to speak. The frosting also carried a somewhat thick texture, thick enough that when I was done with my cupcake and needed to clean my plate, the leftover frosting (which was voluminous) didn't really want to wash down the drain too easily. Troubling, indeed! Upon further reflection, this might be a symptom of French Meadow's attempt to widen the market for their cupcakes. You see, these things aren't only gluten-free, but lactose-free and peanut-free. Yes, it's the ol' "we're already doing this without gluten, let's see what else we can leave out" problem. Sometimes, the chefs behind these moves turn out wonderfully tasty food. Sometimes, not so much. File this under the latter category.

So, the tl;dr version is: I didn't like them. They have a few other cake/cupcake selections that I hope to review at some point, in the hopes that maybe these guys are the odd ones out in the product line. I did pick up some muffins, too; look for the review on those, soon.
Read on!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Glutino BBQ Chicken Pizza

I'll admit- I'm something of a traditionalist when it comes to pizza. Well, okay, besides the gluten-free-crust part. Just get me some tomato sauce, mozzarella, and some combination of pepperoni, sausage, and onion, and I'll be happy. Part of the reason for this, I'll acknowledge, is because the types of GF pizza one can pick up in the store are usually limited to cheese and some sort of vegetable-laden abomination. However, when I saw the item I'm reviewing today in the freezer case of a nearby Sunflower Market, my interest was piqued. It didn't hurt that this pizza was coming via Glutino, one of my favorite GF brands. Almost everything I've tried of theirs, I liked. So, if I was going to go off the map, so to speak, with a pizza that wasn't covered in tomato-ey goodness, this seemed like a safe place to start.

I'll admit to being slightly surprised at the size of the pizza itself. This was not a pizza to share. Its radius was roughly that of the burners on my stove. Nevertheless, I pressed on, stuck the frozen pizza disc in my oven for about 15 minutes, and OM NOM NOMMED the output. The results? Pleasantly favorable! The BBQ sauce was what I was most worried about (I'm not a fan of typical BBQ sauce), but what I encountered had a lovely tomato sauce/brown sugar base with a bit more kick to it than I had anticipated. Not an unfortunate amount of kick, though. I'd say about right. According to the ingredient, the cuplrits were cayenne powder and black pepper. Good to know. The other vital part of the pizza, the chicken, acquitted itself well. It reconstituted with a firm, not rubbery (thank God) texture. Good. The cheese? Well, I've yet to see a pizza mess that part of the equation up.

I think I'm safe in saying that Glutino's BBQ Pizza is a success. Their website indicates it is a new product, and only available in the US as of this writing. I found it in a Sunflower Market; I imagine it will be making the rounds of all the usual suspects soon enough. Keep your eyes peeled!

Read on!

Gluten-Free Café Fettucini Alfredo

Another review featuring a relative newcomer to the gluten-free scene, the innovatively-titled Gluten Free Café. So far, their product offerings are limited to four frozen dinner choices, all of which showed up in the freezer at my local Whole Foods (natch) recently. I grabbed a couple of their more promising entrees for the sampling. What Gluten Free Café is lacking in variety, they make up for in, well... earnestness. All of their products are certified by the Gluten Free Certification Organization, which is nice, although I have to admit, I'd never heard of the organization before, and I'm fairly familiar with the ins and outs of gluten-free living. Regardless, I'm glad a company called Gluten Free Café can certify that their products are, in fact, gluten-free. The company also boasts that their food is infused with vitamins, minerals, and "prebiotics," whatever the hell those are. The general theme, anyway, is that their food promotes a healthy lifestyle. Hoooookay.

Anyway, the food.

I first went for the Fettuccine* Alfredo. It takes five minutes total to cook up, which certainly isn't unreasonable. And the results? Um, whoa. The sauce came out creamy (big plus), and the noodles were perfectly cooked (BIG plus). The result was a meal that was pretty damn good, and eaten quickly. I'm a guy who likes his salt, and I didn't feel like I needed to add any to my meal. The alfredo was just cheesy and creamy and... okay, I probably need to expand my vocabulary for things like this. Hmmmm.

If I had to pick one quibble on this, it's that I found the serving size just a tad bit too small. However, given that I probably don't need to stuff my gob with any more fattening Italian cuisine, this might be a plus in disguise. The nutrition breakdown is pretty good, all things considered: 400 calories (a teense high, but it's fettuccine alfredo, so... yeah), 16g Fat, 45mg Cholesterol, 390mg Sodium. I can live with that. In the future, I might attempt to pair it up with a nicely grilled chicken breast, as I can anticipate that being rather good.

Bottom line, the fettuccine alfredo gets the thumbs-up. We'll see how their Asian Noodles fare, later.

*strangely enough, the box calls it "Fettuccini," which does not pass muster with ye ol' spell check. Hmmm.
Read on!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Ian's Breakfast Sandwiches

In my attempt to obtain some semblance of relevancy within the ever-increasing blogosphere, I have decided to post reviews of various gluten-free products, as I encounter them. This is my first attempt. We'll see how it goes. The first entry is something I discovered rather recently, and have come to love. Our tale begins as I was prowling the freezer section of my local Whole Foods. As I did, a bright yellow cube caught my eye. "Why, it must be an Ian's product," I said to myself. Indeed, I was correct. Ian's, if you've never heard of them, has been making quite the name for themselves in the gluten-free food market, by coming up with a variety of allergen-free foods, mainly catering to the kids' set. They're the first company I've seen with gluten-free chicken nuggets, for example (but that's for another review). Anyway, I hadn't seen this box before, so I gave it a closer look.

A gluten-free breakfast sandwich? I'm so there! I'm fairly certain this is the first product of its kind to hit the market-- or at least to do so in Albuquerque. Needless to say, I wasted no time in picking up a box and carting it home, whereupon I tucked into my first sandwich the next morning.

I was very impressed. The sandwich heated up nicely in the microwave after about 1:15 worth of cooking. The resultant sandwich was a little tough to hold due to the heat, but was still easily consumed. The waffles smelled very much like maple syrup, and were appropriately soft and moist. What impressed me the most, however, were the innards of the thing. I'll admit that I was a little skeptical that the egg part was going to work, as microwaved egg is seldom a good thing, in my book. I was wrong! The egg was delicious. Of course, the egg didn't have to do much, as the slice of cheese provided with the sandwich was actually far cheesier than I had anticipated its being. All in all, I was very impressed with the meal. "The only thing that would make this better," I thought, "was if it had sausage in it." Well, guess what I found the next time I visited Whole Foods:

The same thing, only with sausage? Oh, hell yes! It should go without saying that I immediately grabbed a box and took it home with me. Except, I just said it. Um.

Turned out I what I saw didn't exactly conform with my fevered dreams- instead of being egg/cheese/sausage, this version just had egg/sausage. I guess they figured an egg/cheese/sausage combination would be too much for this world. They're probably right. Now, if I really wanted to, I could disassemble a pair of individual sandwiches and construct a mega-sandwich... hmmm, probably a bad idea. But I digress.

The plus-sausage/minus-cheese version of the sandwich, as it turns out, is about as excellent as the plus-cheese/minus-sausage version. I say "about," because, well, the sausage actually didn't bring as much to the table as I had hoped. It's still a worthy addition, but it could've been more. The picture on the box might be a teensy misrepresentation; the sausage isn't quite as prevalent in the finished product as is seen. That's a minor quibble, though. You have to cook the sausage version sliiiiiightly longer (1:20 as opposed to 1:15), but I can certainly live with it.

These products, however, are not without flaw. While much of Ian's product line falls under the aegis of some "Superfit Kid" program, these sandwiches do not. The non-sausage version will provide 335 calories, 14g fat, 100mg Cholesterol, and 495mg Sodium. The latter three values, in terms of Daily Value %? 22%, 37%, and 21%. The sausage version serves up 370 calories, 18g Fat, 120mg Cholesterol, and 710mg Sodium (28%, 40%, and 30%). That's certainly not the most healthy of options, so I wouldn't scarf one of these down everyday. And maybe it's good after all that they didn't go cheese/egg/sausage. Just sayin'.

Bottom line, though? These things are great. Just great. You should be able to pick them up at your local Whole Foods, if you have one. The Ian's website has a handy store locater if you need it. I don't know how accurate it is; it lists every Smith's in Albuquerque, and while the gluten-free offerings at those places are getting better all the time, I have yet to see these there. Anyway- if you can find these things and need something to help start the day out right, I heartily recommend Ian's breakfast sandwiches.

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