All contents 2010-present, The Gluten Free Critic

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.

Read on!