Monthly Archives: March 2010

P.F. Chang’s Improves Gluten-Free Menu

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When I was diagnosed with celiac disease, there were not that many places that had gluten-free menus. P.F. Chang’s was one place that did have one and for a long time, if I wanted to eat Chinese food out, it was my only option. We were never restaurant chain people are we still aren’t. However, all the gluten-free meals I’ve had at P.F. Chang’s were excellent and absolutely gluten-free.

With my favorite Chinese place being just around the corner, we don’t really go to P.F. Chang’s anymore, but it’s great that the chain recently responded to customer requests for more gluten-free options. According to this press release, the expanded gluten-free menu (click on Gluten-Free on this page to see full menu) rolled out this week. The new menu includes gluten-free fried rice and several other exciting entree items!

One of the best things that P.F. Chang’s does, that no other chain does to my knowledge, is serve the gluten-free meals on a special plate. It’s a different color than the “normal” plates and the P.F. Chang’s logo is on it. Therefore, it makes it easier to tell a gluten version of a dish from a gluten-free version. Gluten-free soy sauce looks exactly the same as gluten sauce when it’s out of the bottle, after all. Once the meals are prepared, it would be fairly hard to look at the dishes and determine which of them is the gluten-free meal.

The Chicken Lettuce Wraps are not a new menu item, but they are out of this world delicious. I’ve had people (who can eat gluten) tell me they can’t tell the difference between the gluten and gluten-free version of this dish. The only ingredient change is the soy sauce and that is true of many of the gluten-free dishes offered by P.F. Chang’s. Chocolate lovers might want to save room for the decadent GF Flourless Chocolate Dome. It’s one of the richest chocolate treats served in our area and glutenoids enjoy it  as much as we do.

One word of caution about some of the locations of this chain that we have encountered in the Atlanta area. During extremely busy times the servers we’ve had seemed a bit overwhelmed when trying to accommodate gluten-free patrons.  For example, the soy sauce that is always on the tables there is not gluten-free. Someone new to the restaurant that must eat gluten-free might or might not know this. Servers don’t always remember to tell the gluten-free guests not to use the table soy sauce. Upon request, gluten-free soy sauce can be brought out and it’s not in the same type of container as the table soy sauce that contains gluten.

This problem is not unique to P.F. Chang’s or chains in general, of course. Personally, we don’t like to eat out during peak busy times at any restaurant. The busier a place is, the more of a chance someone has to mess up my meal. We even plan vacations around not having to dine out on Saturday nights if we can help it. If we eat out on Friday night when traveling, we’ll go out super early in order to avoid my meal being messed up.

Thanks to P.F. Chang’s for listening to their customers and kicking their gluten-free menu up quite a notch! There are many locations of the chain listed in our Gluten-Free Restaurant Guide.

Healthy Sweet Potato Fries

IMG_0167Sweet potatoes are one of the healthiest things we can eat. The mighty sweet potato is by far the healthiest potato in existence. They are loaded with protein, fiber, calcium and potassium – among other things. During the holidays we always had candied yams that my Grandmother made. The dish was syrupy, buttery and decadent. When you pulled the leftovers out of the fridge you could see the butter congealed. Over twenty years ago, I spent Christmas with my now husband’s family and we had sweet potato casserole. It was so delicious that I didn’t mind not having my traditional sweet potato dish of candied yams at all. To this day I’ve not made the casserole myself, but get to enjoy it when my sister-in-law makes it during the holidays.

Because my husband would eat sweet potatoes every day if I made them, I’ve been trying to figure out ways to enjoy them that won’t aid in clogging our arteries. Every time we dine out and my husband finds sweet potato fries on the menu he has to have them. Since they are usually cooked in a gluten fryer, I’m never able to order them even though I’d like to be able to. Lately, we’ve been eating baked sweet potatoes at home, but I don’t like them without butter – just like I don’t like other types of potatoes without butter.

Finally, I made homemade sweet potato (baked) fries and I can’t believe what I’ve been missing. As always, I went to Recipe Zaar to search for a recipe. Many versions of sweet potato fries came up in the search, but I settled on this one. As usual, I modified it to suit my tastes. Though the instructions don’t call for peeling the potatoes, I removed the skin quickly with a vegetable peeler. Since I’m not a huge fan of the flavor of chili powder except in chili, I used smoked sweet paprika instead. Obviously, those two flavors are nothing alike, but the fries were absolutely fantastic so we’ll be using the paprika again and again. My paprika came from Fairway Market in NYC, but I noticed a version of the spice at Whole Foods recently. It was in the international aisle there. Paprika is easy to find but smoked sweet paprika is not available at many of the stores in our area.

Before deciding to make these yourself, keep in mind that since they are not fried, they are not crispy like fried French fries are. If you can get past that, then you might be surprised by how great these baked fries are. Kim over at Celiac-Disease.com has more great ideas on how to use this oh-so-tasty potato.

The new frozen Alexia Spicy Sweet Potato fries with chipotle seasoning are gluten-free. When I called to confirm this item was gluten-free, the customer service person at Alexia Foods said that all their potato products were presently gluten-free. She also made a comment that was rather odd. She mentioned that we might start to see less products marked gluten-free going forward because making that claim can be problematic. Companies are going to start being more cautious about stating products are gluten-free.

While I certainly appreciate companies being careful about correctly labeling their products, they should have been doing this all along. Just like there are trendy gluten-free dieters out there, there seem to be some manufacturers that got ahead of themselves as well. All of the Alexia potato products I’ve had were indeed gluten-free, but their new sweet potato fries are not labeled gluten-free (which is why I recently passed on them at the store). Even so, the ingredients do not list any gluten ingredients and the customer service person said it is company policy to list ALL forms of gluten and not hide them in spices, flavors or anything else. Also in the FAQ section on the Alexia Foods website, it states that all their potato products are gluten-free. Then why not just put gluten-free on the package of the new Spicy Sweet Potatoes? This is almost as confusing as the Whole Foods 365 gluten-free mix cancellation fiasco. I know your head is probably swimming with the labeling mess, but at least there’s the Grocery Guide to give you a head start on sorting out gluten-containing from gluten-free potatoes.

General Mills Seems to be Listening

images_03-02General Mills rolled out their gluten-free website, Live Gluten Freely, a couple of months ago. At that time, there were 200 products on the gluten-free list including, but not limited to, the gluten-free Betty Crocker mixes, some Progresso soups and Larabars. The company recently added several items to the gluten-free list, bringing the total to over 250 products!

The fact that Betty Crocker introduced gluten-free baking mixes might be the most exciting news since the introduction of gluten-free Chex cereals. However, the fact that 20 different flavors of Betty Crocker frostings are now labeled gluten-free is pretty great news for people that are not interested in making frosting from scratch. There are both “Rich & Creamy” and “Whipped” frosting versions available. Before I was diagnosed with celiac disease, I never made homemade frosting or baked much. When I found out that most canned frostings contained gluten in the form of wheat, I had a hard time believing it. Wheat in frosting?

So far, I’ve seen at least 10 flavors of the gluten-free labeled frostings on store shelves in my area. The Coconut Pecan version is much tastier than I expected it to be. Actually, since I had no choice for several years but to make my own frosting, I not only got used to making frostings, I actually enjoy it now. Nothing from a can is going to compete with homemade frostings, of course. Still, it’s nice to know that there are so many safe choices for ready-made frostings these days. From lemon to chocolate to strawberry to cream cheese – they’re all available gluten-free now!

Other additions to the General Mills line up are Valley Fresh Steamers from Green Giant and over 20 new flavors of Yoplait yogurt. That brings the total number of gluten-free yogurts to over 100. Remember when it was hard to get an answer about what yogurts were gluten-free? Unless it’s frozen and chocolate flavored, I don’t really care for yogurt, but I think I’m going to try something like “Key Lime Pie” or “Strawberry Shortcake” yogurt from Yoplait just for the heck of it. Oh the times they certainly are changing – indeed!

Some broths and soups were added to the Progresso gluten-free list, including “Chicken Rice with Vegetables” and “New England Clam Chowder”. There is no added MSG in the newly formulated soups and every type I’ve tried has been wonderful! The only item that is no longer on the General Mills gluten-free list is Strawberry Chex, which were discontinued due to poor sales. Some people in our area reported finding that cereal flavor but I never found it at any grocery or big box store. Personally, I think it hurts sales from mainstream consumers when companies splash “‘gluten-free” on the front of the box as was done with the Chex cereals. I know people that will not buy the cereal now, due to that term being in bold on the front of the box. Unfortunately, the misconception that gluten-free equals taste free is alive and well and probably will be for a while.

Gluten-free Turtle Brownies

Gluten-free Turtle Brownies

Don’t forget about the gluten-free recipe page on the Live Gluten Freely website. They are always adding new recipes to use with their gluten-free Betty Crocker mixes and Chex cereals! Try this gluten-free turtle brownie recipe (made with the Betty Crocker Brownie Mix) for a truly decadent treat!

Special thanks to all the readers who left a comment on Kay’s post about the Live gluten Freely website, to encourage General Mills’ efforts to cater to our market!

Gluten-free Lasagna Recipe Roundup

IMG_0188Before I was living gluten-free I never made lasagna at home, ever. Once I started the gluten-free diet, I always yearned to order lasagna at Italian restaurants. When the gluten-free dinner club in our area had a gluten-free lasagna event, almost fifty people showed up – a record for the group at the time. Sugo hosted that dinner and it was a magical night, no doubt. Gluten-free lasagna is not on the Sugo menu but it was really amazing when they made it as a special for the group!

Even though it’s fairly difficult to find a place to dine out that offers gluten-free lasagna, making it at home is easier than you think. I use a basic recipe as a reference and sub Tinkyada pasta for the noodles. Most of the time I use ground turkey (no sausage) omit the eggs and dried spices, use both ricotta and cottage cheeses and use sauce from a jar that I doctor up a bit with the Italian Blend from Alchemy Spice. To save time, I boil water and pour it over dry uncooked noodles and soak them for 15 minutes. The noodles will finish cooking in the oven. Instead of following the baking instructions in the recipe (that I use more as a reference), I bake the lasagna at 350 for about an hour, covering with foil when the cheese starts to turn golden brown. Baking the dish for 30-45 minutes would not ensure the noodles would cook thoroughly, but you could always cook them ahead of time, of course.

Gluten-free lasagna recipes are plentiful on the web and it was hard to narrow the options down to list here.

At our house garlic bread goes with lasagna – always. Luckily, we usually have baguettes from Everybody Eats in the freezer. This is our favorite bread to make garlic bread with. It’s crusty on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Doesn’t sound like gluten-free bread, right? It’s not only gluten-free, it’s also amazingly delicious! People don’t usually believe the bread is as good as everyone says it is until they try it for themselves. It’s simply different – in a great way – than a lot of other gluten-free baguettes out there. In fact, it’s good enough to impress discriminating glutenoids!

The best gluten-free lasagna noodles that I’m aware are available in the U.S. are Tinkyada, though I’ve not looked for other versions in a while. Tinkyada is sold in many health food stores, some mainstream grocery stores and online at  places like Amazon.com and The Gluten-Free Trading CompanyThe Grocery Guide also lists lots of brands that sell gluten-free pasta and noodles. Since the meat, sauce and cheese flavors overtake the actual taste of the pasta, gluten-free lasagna is one of the best things to serve a gluten eating crowd. Unless you tell people the dish is gluten-free, no one will be able to tell the difference between “normal” lasagna and a gluten-free version.

Check out Sarah’s post for even more tasty gluten-free lasagna recipes!

Celiac Disease Insights from Shelley Case – Part 3

Gluten-Free7smRecently, Shelley Case took the time to explain a lot of what was discussed at a very important celiac conference in Chicago. Shelley attended and spoke at the event last fall. If you missed the first installments on the topic, you can read about problems with the blood tests here and an update on biopsy issues here.

Enzyme supplement therapy was discussed and it seems to be a somewhat promising treatment for celiac. Presently, there is no substantial evidence that one could use such a treatment and order a large pepperoni pizza from Dominos. It might end up being more of a cross contamination protection type therapy instead of a magic celiac pill. The same can be said of some other drugs being tested to treat the condition. Many people are hoping for a much more impressive treatment – one that will allow them to consume a “normal” diet again.

The detoxification of wheat was a topic at the conference. Just as wheat was modified to be different than the wheat of our ancestors, some scientists believe that it might be possible for wheat to be redesigned to the point that it would be considered gluten-free. The problem with this idea is that the properties of gluten, what makes it so great in baked goods, would likely also not be present in modified wheat. By the time gluten-free wheat becomes available (if it ever does), food manufacturers will have perfected baking with gluten-free grains. Many smaller companies have unlocked the secret to baking exceptional tasting foods without gluten so it’s only a matter of time before the bug guns in the food manufacturing game do the same.

When gluten should be introduced to infants at risk of developing celiac disease is being studied, but the results of the long term study won’t be ready for quite a while. In the meantime, here is what is believed about the issue presently (that was discussed at the conference).

  • Breastfeeding is likely to reduce the risk of celiac disease and/or to delay its onset and influence the presenting symptoms.
  • Introduction of gluten during breastfeeding reduces the risk of celiac disease and/or significantly delays its onset.
  • Celiac disease children who were not breast-fed at the time of gluten introduction during infancy seem to be more likely to develop typical gastrointestinal symptoms.
  • Early (less than 3 months of age) introducing gluten increases the risk of celiac disease.
  • Introduction of “large amounts” of gluten increases the risk of celiac disease.

Shelley reports that “a large multicenter trial in the US is currently being planned aimed at understanding the role of infant nutrition and environmental factors on the development of celiac disease in at risk infants ( those with a family history of celiac disease)”. For more information on this topic, check out the Canadian Celiac Association’s views here.

One of the most exciting things Shelley mentioned is that non celiac gluten sensitivity is finally being looked at by celiac experts. For years many people in the medical community didn’t believe that such a condition even existed. Finally, there is a discussion about it and doctors are looking into how it differs from celiac disease. It is not presently believed that non celiac gluten sensitivity left untreated will result in the same complications of celiac disease, including but not limit to certain cancers. However, the investigation on the issue is just beginning in earnest. Who knows what researchers will find out about the non celiac condition.

It seems clear that strides are being made in the medical community regarding testing, diagnosing and treating celiac disease. They are probably not changing fast enough for a lot of us, but change is slow in any industry. If the general mindset about celiac disease in the medical community changes substantially in the next ten years, it will be a great accomplishment. I routinely hear stories of patients being told quite recently that celiac is extremely rare and affects about 1 in 5000 people. The condition actually affects almost 1 in 100 people so there is a lot of work to be done to re-train untold numbers of misinformed doctors on the realities of celiac disease.

Special thanks to Shelley Case for taking the time to share this most interesting information with me so I could share it with our readers. Shelley’s newest book edition is now available for those in need of learning the many intricacies of the gluten-free diet.