Monday, October 3, 2011

Come on Betty! You're such a tease!

I'll never forget the day my husband and I came across the Gluten Free Asian Fried Rice Chicken Helper by Hamburger Helper. We were making homemade sushi and egg drop soup and my husband decided he wanted pork fried rice as well. I sighed knowing I had no desire, not to mention no day old rice, to make the homemade version and that meant he would probably stop at the Chinese place on the way home to pick some up. But instead a lightbulb lit up over his head, he grabbed my hand and led me to the Hamburger Helper aisle in the grocery store. He grabbed the Gluten Free Chicken Helper and said, "We'll make this!" Still bummed that I wouldn't be eating fried rice, he made me look a bit closer at the box. "It's gluten-free!" I squealed (yes, squealed). He was soooooo excited. Finally a quick and easy, and quite nostalgic, meal he could make AND share with me. For a couple that eats little processed food and cooks every meal, this was AWESOME.

Fast forward to today. I come home from my women's business group and discover that my husband is making the GF Asian Helper for dinner (he stocked up at the last buy-one-get-one-free sale at Harris Teeter). We're sitting on the sofa watching Monday Night Football and enjoying our delicious Helper when I mention that Hamburger Helper makes three gluten free flavors, though I don't know what they are. "Google them," he says. So I do. And what do I find?! Three blog posts about how those very same three flavors (Beef Fried Rice, Chicken Fried Rice and Cheesy Hashbrowns) will NO LONGER BE GLUTEN FREE!! What?!! This can't be true. This product was only introduced to the market a year ago, how could they be pulling it already? I delved into the blog posts, comments and reviews. The gluten free community seemed to like the product while the wheat-eaters did not. They complained about hard/mushy rice and the smell.  Let me tell you wheat-eaters something just to get it off my chest. Rice does NOT contain gluten. You simply cooked it incorrectly. My husband (a wheat-eater)  makes both regular and gluten free Hamburger Helper products for himself and it comes out perfectly every time. As for the smell, it did not disagree with us. But alas, this is not why they are pulling the GF versions off the shelves. In fact, they are not changing the ingredients or recipes at all. General Mills is changing the manufacturing plants where Helper is made and can no longer guarantee that there won't be any cross contamination. This does not make sense to me. Granted, I am not a multi-million dollar corporation owner, but why would a company who's made such a huge impact in the gluten-free community switch manufacturers when it requires them to pull back some of their amazing and popular products? I mean, their reason for creating gluten-free products goes all the way to the top! What's next, the Gluten Free Bisquick? Betty Crocker's delicious, tastes like the real thing brownies? I can only help that Betty will find a way to bring back the GF Helpers soon.

I've been gluten free for over 8 years now and things have progressed so much. I can eat bread and cupcakes and pasta at restaurants. I can buy chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and soft pretzels. I can eat Chex and Rice Krispies and oatmeal. And once upon a time I could buy Gluten-free Hamburger Helper.....

Until Better News,

Eat (not Hamburger Helper), Drink and Be Gluten Free

P.S. At the time of this post there were still Gluten Free Helpers on the shelves of my local grocery stores. The boxes may be mixed as they make the transition so make sure to READ LABELS if you try to stock up before it's gone.

More blog posts about the Helper change:

Gluten Free Frenzy

Gluten Free Homemaker

Gluten Free Works

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Even the Good Get Glutened

Last night I had a little celebration to go to for my trainer and friend Maleia Tumulo of Urban Fitness who is off to compete in the Xterra Nationals in Utah!! I knew it would be a fairly large group of people at dinner, so I called the restaurant (k38 Baja Grill) ahead of time to discuss my needs. When I got to the restaurant, I comfortably ordered the grilled veggie fajitas with corn tortillas and began to nibble on some chips and salsa. Actually, quite a few chips and salsa. It had taken the restaurant 45 minutes to seat us even though the girl organizing the dinner had called ahead to give them a head count! After I'd eaten two fajitas I started to dig in to the vegetables sans accoutrements when I suddenly had an alarming bite of food. I tasted....SOY SAUCE. I said it out loud and several of the girls at my table dug into their veggies and exclaimed, "Soy sauce? At a Mexican restaurant?". My lovely dinner and mood were instantly killed and replaced with the dread of wondering how badly this mistake was going to make me feel this week. Stomach ache? Sinus Pain? Breakouts? Brain fog? Huge puffy eyes? When I asked my waitress if there was soy sauce in the vegetables she said yes and that she was sorry. "I guess you don't want a box for those then?" she asked. Uh, no. I sat there shocked and stressed for a moment when my friend asked why I was being so nice about it and insisted I ask for the manager, especially since I had called ahead. (So much for calling ahead in order to NOT make a scene and be a pain in the butt.)

Although the manager did his best to rectify the situation, (he seemed to be the only one seriously knowledgeable about the menu) the damage was already done. He offered to take care of my meal and send me home with another order of veggie fajitas sans gluten and disappeared into the kitchen....BUT NOT BEFORE TELLING ME THAT THE CHIPS WERE NOT GLUTEN FREE EITHER!! (Seriously? I practically ate half a basket! Did that employee I'd talked to before dinner not know anything?!) Apparently they are made with both corn and WHEAT flour. I think my husband put it best when he said, " Who makes wheat corn chips?"

The manager returned with my takeout, continued to reiterate how sorry he was, and told me next time (I can't even eat the chips and salsa, why would there be a next time?) to ask for him immediately in order to avoid confusion. He seemed genuine, but everyone at the table was upset that he seemed to be making it out to be my fault.

Lesson learned? I broke a cardinal rule in allergy friendly dining in order to not stand out at my table of friends (who were not only understanding but supportive AND insisted I say something). Even though I had called ahead I should've checked again. Always check, double check and check again with the waitress, chef, manager, (whoever) and make sure they understand and know what they are talking about. If you are still uncomfortable, leave (or if you're with your friends for a special occasion, order a cocktail and eat later....just don't drink too much on an empty stomach ;)

Until next time my gluten free friends.....

Eat, Drink and Be Gluten Free

K-38 Baja Grill on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Allergy Free Gourmet Bakes

Shabtai Gourmet is a Gluten Free Bakery line specializing in Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Lactose Free, Casein Free, Soy Free and Peanut Free Cakes and Cookies. YES!! FREE OF ALL THOSE THINGS!!  So if you're a skeptic like me you're thinking "how in the world could this stuff be good, when it has nothing in it?". Oh but it is my friends, it is. My first experience with Shabtai Gourmet products was at my Gluten-Free Friends group where I tried the Black & White cookie, a cookie so good it won top honors in my Who Stole the Gluten-Free Cookie from the Cookie Jar review. But there were still so many other delicious snacks to try and when my shipment came I thought, how in the world am I going to be able to eat all this. I must admit, it took some time (I haven't updated my blog since February!), sharing and dinner parties to get through the five different items I had stuffed in my freezer (much to my husband's dismay). Hopefully it was worth the wait.

First up the Raspberry Roll. When I first looked at it I thought, this is not something I would like the regular glutenous version of... but looks are deceiving. I served it to guests after dinner WITHOUT telling them that it was gluten free. My one friend, a man with an unbelievably big sweet tooth who mercilessly teases me about my gluten free-ness, devoured it in seconds exclaiming how delicious the combination of yellow cake, raspberry jam and coconut was. "Did you make this?" he asked with raised eyebrows. "Of course.....not. I don't bake, don't be ridiculous." I replied. When I told him it was gluten-free he demanded to see the box and when I showed it to him, he was shocked.  So I tried a slice and it was crazy good! I couldn't believe I liked it. But what did your mama always teach you? Never judge a book by it's cover.

Next up were the Ring Tings. A completely decadent version of the classic Ding Dong and equally delicious. My husband looked at it precariously when I first served it to him, then asked me every night afterwards if I'd thawed some out for dessert. They disappeared quickly as did their swiss roll, think Little Debbie, counterparts and mostly by his hand (much to MY dismay).

Then I tried the chocolate chip cookies. I hate to be a downer, but these definitely were not my favorite gluten-free, dairy-free chocolate chip cookies. There was far too much spice to them with an overwhelming cinnamon flavor, teeny tiny chocolate chips and a texture that just didn't do it for me.

But have no fear for I have saved the best for last:  The Florentine Lace Cookies. I CANNOT believe someone actually makes a gluten-free dairy-free version of this wonderful cookie and was just beside myself to once again eat them. They were AMAZING and hard to put down (remember gluten-free dairy-free does NOT mean calorie free my friends).
Again there was a little more cinnamon then I'd actually prefer but overall
a dang good cookie.

I, and I'm sure you, am so grateful for a company like this that creates delicious allergen free products. Check them out in the freezer section of your local health food store or co-op.

Until Next Time,

Eat Shabtai Gourmet, Drink and Be Gluten-Free

Disclosure: Although Shabtai Gourmet provided these treats at no cost to me, this product review was posted at my discretion and without bias. This review reflects my honest opinion.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Pizza, Pizza!

Some friends had invited us over for dinner one Friday night and we were really looking forward to it. They asked if we could bring a salad and some wine. But as we pulled up to their house at 6:00 on the dot we noticed something strange.... a Domino's Pizza car was pulling out of the drive way. "Oh no," my husband said, "Now don't get upset". But I was upset, my friends know I'm gluten-free. There must be some kind of explanation. "Maybe that's why they asked you to bring a salad," he smirked. "Ha ha," I retorted. We entered cautiously, me with an exaggerated smile plastered on my face, and immediately my friend said "Look what we got you!!". It was a beautiful and delicious looking gluten-free pizza from Mellow Mushroom. Guess we shouldn't have been so quick to judge.

If you live in the Wilmington, NC area you are no doubt super excited, ecstatic and just plain beside yourself now that there are TWO, I repeat TWO,  pizza parlors in our tiny little town that serve gluten-free pizza.  But how do they taste?  Well, my first experience with take out gluten-free pizza was indeed Mellow Mushroom and it was DElicous. My friend had ordered a white pizza with grilled chicken and sun dried tomatoes. The gluten-free crust reminded me of a rich whole wheat crust that I used to order from a gourmet pizza place in Vegas and I loved it! I felt like I was eating a real pizza.

My second experience with a gluten-free take-out pizza was at Incredible Pizza at 1952 Eastwood Road. I specify the location because we seem to have a million Incredible Pizza's here, only two of which are actually related to each other. Incredible not only offers a gluten-free pizza but also has dairy-free options. But BEWARE: the dairy-free cheese there is not good. I could barely get past the look of it, much less the smell, but I did it for you guys.  And even after disguising it with oregano and some red pepper flakes it was still tough to get down. All you dairy-free-ers out there, you just remember I took one for the team when I put that pizza in my mouth.  As for the gluten-free crust, this version tastes more like the real thing. In fact this thinner, crisper version (unlike the softer, whole wheaty flavor of Mellow Mushroom's crust) is quite good. At this time the gluten-free pizza is offered in a personal size only.  Another cool thing about Incredible is that all their pizzas are available to take and bake.

Incredible Gourmet Pizza on Urbanspoon

Now if you live elsewhere, there a quite a few Pizza chains jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon including Godfather's Pizza (one of my favorite's in Vegas) and Uno Chicago Grill. Check out this review on Godfather's gluten-free pizza. There is also a fabulous gluten-free pizza available at Jules Thin Crust Pizza in Doylestown,  PA.  For a list of gluten-free pizza restaurants around the nation check out this page for more information, it was really helpful to me when I was visiting the flam in Jersey.

Until next time,

Eat Pizza, Drink and Be Gluten-Free

Mellow Mushroom on Urbanspoon