Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Eating Gluten Free at Paparazzi

I had heard many things about the gluten-free menu at Paparazzi (Insert Lady Gaga joke here). I've been there before and was never really wowed by their regular menu, and I always found it a bit overpriced. My husband and I decided to give Paparazzi (the Framingham location) a try for lunch one day, and we were pleasantly surprised by the offerings.

First, Paparazzi brings a basket of breadsticks out to every table. My heart broke a little when I saw them, but the server also brought out some freshly toasted gluten-free bread, slathered in butter and topped with fresh herbs. The bread was incredible! The herbs and the butter really made it. The one problem was our server.. she was very nice, but she was either rushed or uneducated. I asked if the gluten-free bread brought out could be used on their burger. She looked at me quizzically and said "You know, I've never run into that before." And then ran off. I assumed it was to go ask her manager or the chef... no. She didn't. She just ran off. I had to specifically wave her down and have her ask the chef, which she did. And yes, the burger can be served on the bread.

Paparazzi also does any of their pasta sauces in gluten-free penne. I ordered the Bolognese, because I am a sucker for a good Bolognese. At first, I thought they had mixed up my order, because the pasta did not taste gluten free. But I was assured that it was, and I didn't get sick, so it must've been. The pasta quality was very good, and the sauce had a good level of flavors. The pancetta, veal, and onions really came through in each bite, with big chunks of mushroom for texture. I did find it a bit on the salty side, but it was still a good pasta dish.

We didn't do dessert because we were in a rush, but I'll have to do it next time. I'm also intrigued by the burger on that excellent bun. It's hard to justify dinner there when it's so expensive, but for lunch, it seems like it's a pretty good deal.

Click here to view information about Paparazzi's Framingham location.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Gluten Free Menu at Zaftig's -- Going to a Jewish Deli and No Bagels?!

Before the celiac diagnosis, Zaftig's was always one of my favorite restaurants. When I was in college, my friends and I would take the C line out to Coolidge Corner, and wait 2 hours for brunch at Zaftig's in Brookline. It was always well worth the wait -- Jewish deli food has always been comfort food to me, and their brunch options are out of this world. The banana stuffed French toast... drooool.

After my husband and I bought our house in Natick a few years ago, Zaftig's fortuitously opened up a location near our home. Since it opened, we've probably eaten there dozens of times, and we never get sick of it. Their sandwiches are amazing, their latkes (especially the loaded latkes stack -- layered with chili, bacon and cheese, or smoked salmon and creme fraiche) are to die for, and their griddled banana bread with date butter is a sinfully delicious heart attack on a plate. I always ordered my gross-out sandwiches, like beef tongue, with the kickass potato salad and half sour pickle. But when I was diagnosed and could no longer eat gluten, the first thought I had was "No more smoked fish plates at Zaftig's!!" and I wanted to cry.

But Zaftig's once again comforted me, when I called and found out that they offer a dedicated gluten-free menu that takes cross contamination into consideration. The menu is obviously limited -- they don't yet offer gluten free bread and bagels, so the smoked fish plates are only available with just the fish. Not so alluring. But my beloved potato salad is gluten free, as is my favorite entree -- the stuffed cabbages with a tomato cranberry sauce. It normally comes with a slice of challah bread, but I substitute some potato salad instead, and I am thrilled.

Zaftig's can also do most of its omelets gluten-free, as well as its scrambles and breakfast sides. Sadly, the roast beef and roast turkey are both not gluten free, nor is Zaftig's amazing brisket. I'm guessing something with the rub or the vinegars they use probably include gluten. Sad. Doubly sad is that the latkes are contaminated with gluten. On the plus side, the celiac disease is limiting me from eating things like banana bread fried in butter and deep fried potato pancakes smothered in cheese, so at the very least, it's forcing me to eat healthier. The celiac is achieving what my mom's tried to do my entire life. Admittedly, I miss items like the latkes and Zaftig's bagels with cream cheese and their housemade gravlax. I didn't think I'd miss bagels so much, but I do.

But I can still get my stuffed cabbages with potato salad, and it's much better to focus on the delicious things I CAN have, rather than the delicious bad-for-you things that I can't have. I am grateful to Zaftig's for taking celiac sufferers into consideration, and making an easy to follow dedicated menu for us. Now how about some gluten-free bagels so I can still enjoy the gravlax...?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Going Gluten Free at Sel de la Terre

This past weekend, my husband and I decided to check out Sel de la Terre, one of our favorite places to eat. We love the one on the Waterfront and on Boylston St. in Boston, but there is one in Natick too, so we decided to see what they could do for me and my celiac disease.

First off, despite the fact that this place is in the Natick Collection, this is not your typical mall eatery. Entrees are 25+ and it's definitely more high-end than what you might find at say, California Pizza Kitchen. Our server fully understood gluten and celiac disease, thankfully, and guided me through the menu. There were obvious things I couldn't have, like flatbreads, but he also warned me about the short ribs being dusted in flour. It was nice to know that he was on top of things and that I didn't have to worry about whether or not he knew his stuff well enough for me to trust him.

We ordered the moules (or mussels) in a white wine, capers, and tomato broth. The crostini came on the side as to avoid cross contamination, which I appreciated. The portion was very small, but the mussels were perfectly cooked and the broth was good enough to drink. Which I did.

For entrees, my husband got the pan seared bass on red quinoa salad with braised endive and orange fennel reduction. The bass, however, was dusted in flour, so I couldn't try it. But I ordered the bunless burger, with FRIES!! Sel de la Terre is well-known in the city for its fresh rosemary pomme frites, often deemed the best fries in the city. The server assured me that the fries were completely gluten free, and not contaminated by any gluten sources in the frying oil. I could have kissed him! I miss fries so much, and these are some of my favorite. The burger, smeared with sweet caramelized onions and a hunk of what I think was Gruyere, was perfectly cooked and the quality of the meat was fantastic.

They even had gluten free dessert options! There was the seasonal and always reliable sorbet selection (this night's was pear, guava, and Concord grape), and creme brulee, but they also offered a poached pear with a star anise sabayon. I wasn't feeling the sabayon, so I went boring and had the sorbet, which was delicious. My husband had the apple cran polenta crumble, which smelled amazing. He said it was delicious, and essentially licked the plate clean.

Sel de la Terre didn't exactly blow my expectations away (after all, at those prices, they'd better be able to accommodate someone with celiac disease), but I was still pleased with the meal overall. Though the appetizer portion was small (especially for a $13 plate), it was tasty, and the staff took extra care to make me feel safe. It was an expensive meal, but I'm happy to pay a little more for peace of mind when I go out to eat.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Gluten Free Mac 'n Cheese -- First attempt

Who doesn't love a good mac 'n cheese? There's something so comforting and warm about it, and I love how you can customize it to your tastes. Last week, we had an eight lb ham that we needed to use up, so I decided to chop some up and make mac 'n cheese with some ham and spinach. I figured I could use brown rice pasta, and safe cheese, but I didn't think about the cheese sauce.

The problem is that I start all of my cheese sauces with a bechamel -- start a roux with butter and flour, then add milk and whisk until creamy. Obviously, the flour was an issue, so I went to my pantry to see what kind of gluten-free flours I had. I found potato flour, so I figured, why not? It should work, right?

Nope. Miserable failure. The potato flour clumped up and didn't dissolve when I added the milk, so it looked like baby formula mixed with mashed potatoes. Gross. I had to ditch the whole shebang.

I instead skipped the flour, and whisked butter and milk together. Then I added American cheese, goat cheese, salt/pepper, garlic powder, and waited until it got hot. I mixed some corn starch with water, then dumped it in, brought it to a boil, and then took it off the heat. It cooled to just the right texture, and I poured it over the cooked noodles with some ham that had been sauteed with spinach. I threw some shredded cheddar on top, and then popped it in the oven for half an hour. The brown rice pasta held up well, surprisingly, and it ended up being a decent -- though not stellar -- mac 'n cheese.

Lesson to be learned? Potato flour CANNOT be used to make a roux. I may try tapioca flour next time, or corn flour, and see how that works instead. According to the interwebs, arrowroot flour works well as a rue. I've also used brown rice flour to make a roux for turkey gravy, though I don't know how it would work with milk.

Other fun ideas for mac 'n cheese:
  • Ditch half of the milk/cream and add pureed steamed/roasted cauliflower instead. It adds a really nice nuttiness to the dish, and helps work in vegetables. 
  • Use a half cup of Greek yogurt to replace some of the cream.
  • Puree some butternut squash as a replacement for some of the cream.
  • Bacon. Bacon bacon bacon. BACON.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Surviving Super Bowl Sunday -- For Party Hosts with Celiac Guests

This post isn't so much for celiacs, but for people hosting parties today. For some of us, the best part of the Super Bowl is the copious amounts of food that will be served, from takeout to homemade. Here's a guide to help hosts without gluten issues understand what their guests with celiac can and cannot eat.
  • Baked goods -- Obviously, this is the big one for us. We can't have anything with flour, or that's even been dusted with flour. Most people understand this. But what about when you're cooking, and are in a rush, and decide to reuse a cookie sheet for something that will be celiac safe? That's the kind of cross contamination that makes a celiac really sick. 
  • Wings/BBQ -- My formerly favorite part of watching Super Bowls was ordering a ridiculous amount of wings and chowing down. Unfortunately, if they're from any wing takeout place, they aren't gluten-free, even if they don't dust the wings in flour. They fry them in the same oil as the battered chicken, and that's enough to make us sick. Same goes for BBQ -- it's not the preparation, but the BBQ sauce. Most restaurants use vinegars made from gluten (such as malt vinegar) for the marinade/sauce, so this is not gluten free.
  • Chips and salsa -- Seems pretty clear cut, right? No flour in any of this. Except.. still not gluten free, depending on the brand. Tostitos chips are gluten free, but NOT the ones that are "Hint of..." flavored. And Tostitos salsa is not gluten free. Many companies will process their chips and salsa on the same equipment that processes items with gluten, and this is enough to sicken us. For someone with just a sensitivity to gluten, these items are probably fine. 
  • Potato chips and snacks -- Many potato chips are safe (Utz brand, for example, and regular Lays), but many are not. Miss Vickie's are not gluten free, nor are a bunch of Lays flavors. Doritos are also not gluten free -- they are processed on the same equipment as some gluten items. For those of us who are so sensitive that even the slightest contamination will make us sick, here's a list of Frito Lays products that are positively gluten free and those that are not made with gluten products, but processed on the same equipment.
  • Pizza -- Obvious. Gluten-free pizza is the only kind of pizza we can eat, and if you are making a frozen one, make sure it's a clean cookie sheet.
  • Chinese takeout -- Another common takeout food for the Super Bowl (I used to work in a Chinese restaurant, and Super Bowl Sunday was always nuts), Chinese food, especially the bastardized American version, is chock full of gluten. Everything is battered and fried, or fried in the same oil. Soy sauce is made from wheat, so anything with soy sauce is off limits -- that means pretty much everything.
Please understand that most celiac sufferers will show up with their own food. I, personally, do not plan to put anyone out or inconvenience a host by making them accommodate my food issues. But when I host parties, it is important to me that I accommodate all food allergies (I had a dedicated food allergy plan, including separate desserts, for guests with allergies at my wedding) and take this task very seriously. If there are any others out there like me, I hope this helps!

Also.. GO PATS!

Feelin' Like a Tourist: Legal Seafoods with Celiac Disease

For years, I've raised an eyebrow at people who go to Legal Seafoods. Honestly, I found it stale and boring, and the type of place that only tourists go to. I also never understood the buzz surrounding their "award-winning chowder." I ordered it once, and it's one of the few things I've ever sent back to a kitchen. It was cold and runny, and the potatoes were mealy.. absolutely inedible. The chowder paled in comparison to the chowder at my old place of employment, Great Bay. The chowder at GB absolutely knocked it out of the park and is still the best chowder i've ever had.

After they introduced Legal C Bar in Dedham, however, I saw the changes going on at the company. They were evolving as a restaurant with new menus and decor, and I started to warm up to the company. Once I learned about their attitude towards food allergies, I warmed up even more. Legal Seafoods is one of the few restaurants where my little nephew can eat. He's got severe food allergies (dairy, eggs, nuts, mustard), and they take his allergies in stride and are prepared when we call ahead. The staff is trained about allergies, and I've heard they even scrub the dishwashers in the bar to prevent any cross contamination.

They also have a great dedicated gluten-free menu. The meal began with hot gluten free bread (!!) with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and poppy seeds on top. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the bread -- the texture was a bit rougher than their usual rolls, and they weren't crusty, but they were a little closer to cornbread in texture, though less crumbly. But the bread was moist and warm, and I was thrilled to have the rolls. Nothing makes me sadder than watching my husband eat his chock full o' gluten warm crusty rolls at a restaurant while I sip my water.

I was skeptical when I saw calamari on the menu, but it's battered with brown rice and cornmeal. I was still skeptical, as calamari is obviously fried, and I asked if the calamari was fried in the same oil as everything else. The server assured me that the calamari was actually pan fried to prevent cross contamination. I ordered it Rhode Island style, with hot peppers (is there any other way?), and was relatively pleased with the product. The pan frying vs. deep frying meant a chewier product, unfortunately. But I understand that I can't have it all! The flavor was great, though it would have benefited from a marinara dipping sauce.

I had a mild panic attack when I found a French fry in our calamari. I know that the fries at Legal are NOT gluten free, and I wasn't sure if that was because of the frying oil or because the fries were actually dusted with flour -- some places actually do that to boost crispiness. Our server let us know that the fries were not treated with flour, but she also double checked with our chef to make sure that I was still safe. I felt VERY taken care of, and every dish was delivered by the manager because of my allergy. The server also told me that though it isn't on the menu, Legal will pan fry French fries for its customers with celiac disease. Woohoo!

For entrees, I tried Anna's baked scrod, with jasmine rice and sauteed spinach. The scrod was perfectly baked, though I found the gluten free crumb to be a bit flavorless. A dash of salt and lemon juice helped a lot. The portion was plentiful, but it just wasn't my favorite.

My husband's entree was much more successful -- he got a mixed grille of seafood. Scallops, shrimp, mahi mahi, swordfish, and tuna, all cooked on the wood grille, with a side of broccoli and brown rice. I LOVED the shrimp and the scallops.. I stole two shrimp from him. They were perfectly cooked with just the right seasoning. I even enjoyed the swordfish -- I normally don't go for swordfish. Once you've seen prep cooks "deworming" a swordfish, your desire for swordfish changes. Next time I go to Legal (and there WILL be a next time), I am ordering the wood grilled shrimp.

The sad thing about Legal's gluten free menu is that all of the interesting sides are only on the regular menu. Broccoli and cheese, mashed potatoes, jalapeno cheddar polenta, seaweed salad, onion strings -- all of these things are contaminated with gluten. And honestly, I think this is easily avoided. Do the onion strings like the calamari, with brown rice flour and cornmeal. Use freshly grated cheese on your items instead of bagged shredded/grated cheese, and the broccoli, mashed potatoes, and polenta will be celiac safe. Use gluten-free vinegars and soy sauces in the seaweed salad. I hope someone at Legal will read this and take these ideas into consideration!

Our dessert was this decadent Belgian chocolate mousse parfait, both gluten free and sugar free. The rich chocolate mousse was light and fluffy, layered with an unsweetened whipped cream. It was pure dessert heaven. This was easily the best gluten free dessert that I've had since my diagnosis, and it gave my taste buds hope for dessert in the future.

Overall, this was a great experience. My gluten free needs were not only met, but they were understood by the entire staff. That's the biggest frustration for me, when I go out and eat. It's hard to explain celiac disease to people and get them to understand that I'm not on a gluten-free diet as a choice, but because I will become gravely ill if even the teensiest bit of gluten finds its way into my food. The food was good, and it wasn't even an expensive evening -- I believe our bill was $80. I will definitely be returning to Legal when I want some gluten free seafood. I am dying to try their crispy fried haddock. I miss fish and chips so much!

Check out Legal's gluten free and regular menus here.

Next up: The failed (but salvaged) gluten free mac 'n cheese experiment.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Panera -- Being Gluten Free Where the Name Literally Means Bread

For my husband and I, our go to "I don't feel like cooking tonight so let's just pick something up" place is Panera Bread. Their bread is great, their sandwiches filling, and their baked goods delicious. After getting my celiac diagnosis, I just assumed I, and by extension, my husband, would never be able to enjoy Panera again.

That's one of the hardest things about celiac disease. It's not the giving up of food, but for my husband to also have to give up stuff. I certainly don't make him give things up, but he just doesn't want to go to Panera by himself. And he's not going to make a big box of regular pasta for himself if I can't eat any. I feel guilty a lot, despite his assurances that he hasn't really had to give up anything. While he hasn't, WE as a unit have. We no longer have the same "share a pizza" night. We don't get to go to our favorite Italian place with handmade pasta and enjoy the fresh-baked bread together.

But after some research, I discovered that Panera is not only good about celiac disease, they go above and beyond to make sure there's no contamination. For example, a lot of people assume that because the bread is baked on-premises, there must be flour floating about. Obviously, if this were the case, it would not be safe to eat there. But Panera gets their bread dough delivered every morning -- it's already made, so there's no flour being tossed around. Also, if you tell them you have a food allergy, they actually have a command on their computers that says "change gloves." It shows up on the receipt you get, which I appreciate. I watched the guy making my salad check the receipt and toss out his gloves for a fresh pair. You can also ask them to open a new bag of ingredients, in case you're worried that a gluten-contaminated glove reached into the container of lettuce.

Many of their soups are gluten-free, such as my favorite -- the low-fat black bean soup. Obviously, you can't have any of the sandwiches, but they will do them for you as a salad or a lettuce wrap instead. I for one can't stand lettuce wraps (just eat a damn salad instead of wrapping it in lettuce and getting your germy hands all over it), so I always get the salads. My personal favorite is the Chopped Chicken Cobb -- I order it with feta instead of gorgonzola (Panera warns that their gorgonzola, like much of the stinky blue cheese family, could be cultivated with gluten). With the pick 2, I get a small soup and a half salad, and I am very happy.

Obviously, there are never guarantees unless you've made it yourself. There's always human error. But as someone who enjoys food as much as I do, I don't think it's worth living in fear. People are going to do the best they can. But the convenience of being able to pick up a salad at Panera outweighs the tiny risk that I might get some gluten contamination. Yes, it could happen at Panera -- but it could happen at any restaurant that also touts itself as gluten-free. And even cooking at home, I might absentmindedly contaminate what I make. No one is infallible, so I will continue to test my options in and out of my home. That includes Panera Bread, or as my husband calls it, "Bread Bread."

Check out the full list of gluten-free menu items from Panera.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Gluten-Free Ham Glaze

I am a pork lover. I love any iteration of pork, but especially bacon and ham. I refuse to accept that ham can only be eaten around Christmas, so I asked my husband to pick up a good 10 lbs-er when at the grocery store. He picked up a gluten-free brand, but neither of us thought about the glaze that would go on the ham. After a little research, I found out that most glaze packets are made with wheat. Boo-urns. The best part of a ham is the crackly glaze, and my mother's pineapple topping just didn't do that crackly thing.

So I started experimenting. Ham went into the oven at 275, tightly covered with tin foil, at about 15 mins per pound. And here's the glaze that I used:

1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tbsp yellow or Dijon mustard
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

I took the ham out and uncovered it about half an hour before it was ready. I whisked it all together and spooned it over the ham, then popped it back in at 300 without the tin foil.

The result? A wonderfully crackly and perfectly savory-sweet glaze to go with the ham. I plan to use this versatile glaze the next time I broil up some salmon or some pork chops, too.

Obviously, we didn't just eat ham. We had some brown rice, and I fine chopped some fresh Brussels sprouts to pair with the sweet and salty ham. I cooked them down in EVOO and salt, with some grated garlic, then deglazed the pan with some apple cider vinegar. It paired really nicely with the ham glaze!