May 29, 2010

The NFCA at the National Restaurant Association!

OK, so I'm not a restaurateur, but I am an advocate for celiac awareness and following a gluten free diet. When I heard that the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness was hosting a Gluten Free Showcase Pavilion and holding an educational session at the National Restaurant Association's Show last weekend, I was intrigued as to how restaurants are handling their gluten free guests.

Armed with my notebook and camera, I headed over to McCormick Place ready to get the inside scoop to share with all of you. The educational session lead by Nancy Baker, the Educational Director for the NFCA and was geared towards restaurateurs looking to offer gluten free menus and was titled, "Gluten Free, Easy as ABCDE". With a panel of six experts in the gluten free industry, the NFCA proved how necessary gluten free menus are in restaurants and how to provide them safely and successfully.

Nancy Baker from the NFCA started off the presentation by introducing the foundation and its mission. She explained what celiac disease is and who's eating gluten free. Those would be the people with celiac disease, friends and family of celiacs, people with gluten sensitivities, and explorers wondering if a gluten free diet will make them feel better. Gluten free isn't just a market trend, it's a permanent market shift. With more and more people being diagnosed with celiac disease, they will always be eating gluten free. They will have birthdays, graduations, holiday parties, etc. and will need to have a gluten free destination. Offering one boring gluten free item, poor quality gluten free items, or gluten free meals by omission (a la burger, no bun) will not draw in the gluten free eater and their friends and families. Sorry, but it just won't.

Anne Lee, RD from Schar USA spoke next. I believe she was the "A" in the "ABCDE", but I didn't jot down the specific "A" word. My only guess would be either Awareness or Advocate since she is the leading Registered Dietitian that specializes in gluten free diets. Ms. Lee defined gluten and gave examples of naturally gluten free foods (dairy, fruits and vegetables in their natural state, protein, some grains, fats and oils) and rendered gluten free foods (pasta, breads, crackers, cereal). She stated that 1/8 of a teaspoon of flour causes intestinal damage, that is equivalent to one crouton or a gluten product the size of a pinky nail. Crumbs matter!! She discussed the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumers Protection Act which lists 8 common allergens, wheat among them - but not gluten. USDA regulated products (poultry, vegetables, fruits, and eggs) are not included in the law. She explained that the FDA is in the process of updating the gluten free label to include testing statements for gluten in the product, and to have a "20 ppm" standard on gluten free products.

Doug Radi, Vice President of Marketing for Rudi's Organic Bakery continued the conversation with the "B", "Bringing the Supplies". On the supplying end, his business recently joined the gluten free marketplace with the help of the NFCA's Great Program. He threw out statistics that show gluten free as the fastest growing food segment with over $1.3 Billion in 2009, and with significant growth trends of about 20-30% across retail channels. The gluten free market is a small but captive consumer segment. He explained (and I could totally relate to this statistic) that conventional breads sell 11 times greater than baking mixes/frostings. Being able to grab a loaf a bread from the store is a lot easier and quicker than baking a loaf of bread from a baking mix. Rudi's Organic Bakery is rolling out a line of gluten free breads within the next couple of weeks. I sampled it at the show and it was delicious! Another great option for gluten free sandwich bread. I don't see gluten free listed on their website yet, but they have a Facebook page up and running or if you need their gluten free news quicker, follow them on Twitter. His presentation really struck a chord with me as a gluten free consumer, because in my notes, I have a quote from him that is underlined twice and followed with 3 exclamation marks. That would be, "A lettuce wrapped beef patty is NOT a gluten free hamburger." Do you know how many bunless burgers I've eaten in the past 10 years? Nuff la GF bread!!

Jim McCurley, the Regional Chef for P.F. Chang's China Bistro, followed up the "B" from the buyer's perspective. It took everything I had to restrain myself and not run up to the podium and give him a hug (oh, did I fail to blog about the week I ate at P.F. Chang's twice? And then again a week and a half later? GF Chang's Spicy Chicken, I love you!) He gave a wonderful overview of the commitment P.F. Chang's has to their gluten free diners. P.F. Chang's implements a high level of training their employees, which I can attest to. Every time I've eaten there, my server had all of the answers to my questions immediately and knew their stuff. None of that "let me go ask in the back". There is an on staff dietitian to make sure the menu is safe. Protecting their ingredients is extremely important in their kitchens. They keep the gluten free items separate, have dedicated gluten free work stations, refrigerators, utensils, storage containers, and plates. Gluten free items are stored in red containers and red ramekins are used for table sauces. All gluten free items are served on plates with the P.F. Chang's logo along the edges. Take out items are labeled with gluten free stickers as soon as they are placed in the carry out container. He mentioned that gluten free sales are up 130% since they expanded the menu this past March with the beef items. 1 out of 150 dishes ordered is gluten free. They add items to their gluten free menu because of the outspoken gluten free diners. You gluten free foodies asked for beef items, well you got'em! P.F. Chang's will continue to expand their gluten free menu, so keep on offering your suggestions!

Kay Conley of Savory Moment, Inc. brought us to "C", Cross-Contamination. Savory Moment is a chef prepared frozen meal service. They introduced the gluten free menu due to customer demand, personal satisfaction, and the financial benefit - 3 out of 4 new customers request gluten free meals. Ms. Conley explaining the training process of the staff at her business. Again, using the NFCA's Great Program, they introduced the entire staff to gluten free foods. They went through their kitchen and identified which items contained gluten (soy sauce, stock bases, panko, beer, chipotle in adobo sauce, and BBQ sauce.) They reviewed their recipes to find those that are naturally gluten free and researched how to substitute gluten free items such as wheat free tamari sauce, rice flour, and gluten free pasta. All of the staff tastes the gluten free products so they are able to have confidence in selling them. She spoke of how they have separate utensils, cutting boards, pots, pans, and colanders. They designate a time for baked goods production to prevent airborne gluten particles and they also designate a chef to oversee all gluten free meals. Like P.F. Chang's they also use a different color dish for gluten free items. Everything is clearly marked gluten free in their kitchen. She went on to explain the cleaning procedure and sanitation to prevent cross contamination which can lurk on cooler door handles and even aprons. Her theory and advice for safely providing a gluten free meal/menu is to embrace, educate, and enjoy.

Richard Coppedge of the Culinary Institute of America brought on the "D" with Delicious. As a gluten free baker, cookbook author, and baking instructor/professor, he has fine tuned the art of gluten free baking. He explained that the gluten free diner wants to be part of the crowd, and not always have to stand out by ordering off a special menu. Preparing delicious gluten free items that can be enjoyed by both gluten free diners and non-gluten free diners is important. He talked about how a meal usually begins and ends with gluten, starting with the bread basket and ending the dessert. Using the right gluten flour blend/mixture is essential for a good quality product. He gave tips with working with gluten free flours, such as using carbonated water for yeast breads (only if baking that same day), and increasing the percentage of eggs/egg whites. Even baking times and temperatures need to be adjusted when baking gluten free.

Tom Herndon of the Hipp Kitchen ended the panel discussion with "E", Educate. Tom recently established the Hipp Kitchen, a business that specializes in educating restaurants on providing an excellent dining experience for diners with food allergies. After restaurants can successfully create meals free of gluten, dairy, peanuts, soy, and shellfish he connects them with the "allergenistas"...yep, shout-out to Lisa Cooks Allergen Free! He mentioned that he "stole the word from a women in Chicago doing the same thing." (Afterwards Lisa and I had the opportunity to chat with him and he was happy to finally meet her and said she was an inspiration to him - see, spreading the word DOES make a difference! He was such a nice fella!) In addition to the work he does with restaurants, he also provides allergy free meals for families to enjoy at home.

My favorite part of the talk was how proud the panelists were to introduce gluten free items to the public. Each and every one of the speakers commented on how gluten free customers have expressed their gratitude to them either through a handshake, hug, or even a kiss! The most touching story was told by Robert Coppedge who gave a child his first cookie. A year later he provided a cake recipe to the child's mother and at the age of 3, the boy had his first birthday cake.

The show didn't end there. Afterwards, we headed on over to the Gluten Free Pavilion which featured 32 gluten free vendors! Sadly I don't have any pictures to share, but do gluten free chocolate croissants, cream puffs, eclairs, pizza, or grilled cheese entice you? Check out Lisa Cooks Allergen Free's pictures of the most delicious gluten free food. I had the opportunity to meet Kelly from Celiac Chicks, who also has some great pictures of the event...she also has a wonderful site. She was so sweet!

So gluten free foodies and allergenistas...keep on requesting gluten free meals when eating out. Your voice will be heard!

May 24, 2010

Rice is Nice! Candida Diet Recipe

About a month ago, I decided to put myself on a candida diet. I was feeling tired all the time, achy, having trouble sleeping, headaches, etc. I read the book, The Yeast Connection and Women's Health, and after taking the quiz and scoring crazy high it was decided that "your health problems are most certainly yeast-connected" I put myself on the diet.

There are several different approaches to the candida diet. I checked out several books from my local library and each one different. I chose to use The Candida Directory & Cookbook, because their recipes and menu plans looked to be the most enjoyable. (Some of the books had recipes for boiled tongue and whatnot...sorry, but I'm not a fan!) This candida diet eliminates sugar/artificial sugar, mold foods (cheeses, mushrooms, yeasted breads), fermented foods, alcohol, and caffeine.

I only lasted a couple weeks on the diet, through Phase I. Swirlz cupcakes showed up and just like that I lost all will power. But I felt so incredibly better, lost weight, and was always satisfied with my meals. I know I should start following it again. Soon.

One of my favorite recipes on the diet was "Anni's Garbanzo Rice Fiesta Salad" The recipe can be found here or below:

Anni's Garbanzo Rice Fiesta Salad

1 15-oz can garbanzo beans
2 cups wild rice, cooked
3 scallions, chopped fine
½ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh jalapeño peppers, chopped fine
salt and pepper to taste

juice from 1 large lemon
2 TBSP olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced

Mix beans, rice, scallions, parsley, and peppers. Add salt and pepper to taste. Squeeze lemon juice on top. Combine olive oil with garlic and pour over all.


Recipe excerpted from The Candida Directory & Cookbook (Celestial Arts, 1994)

This post is one of the many great healthy recipes on
Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays (for April 17, 2012) over at Simple Sugar and Gluten Free.

May 17, 2010

Good News for Gluten Free Chicago Loopers!

Earlier this morning I received La Voce, the Caffé Baci newsletter, and was thrilled to see this little tidbit:

What's Cookin'?

Look for the following exciting changes to Baci's menu - COMING SOON!

Gluten Free: we’re pleased to announce our first foray into gluten-free pasta! Look for this healthy new addition soon.

Scones: our esteemed pastry chef has been hard at work developing the “perfect” scone in several varieties.

Gelato: you’ll think you just stepped onto the Via Veneto after tasting our new gelato - made in-house - that rivals any in Italy!

Gluten free pasta AND gelato?! OMG...I WILL eat Italian and dream Italian! I'm a big fan of Caffé Baci (their salads are delicious) and cannot wait until the GF pasta hits! Woo hoo!

Caffé Baci has five locations in downtown Chicago, but don't worry if you don't work downtown during the week. When you're in the city on the weekend visiting the Art Institute or Millennium Park, there are Baci locations right across the street on Michigan Ave.

May 15, 2010

Chicago's Gluten Free Gala Review

Friday night was The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center's Annual Benefit. It was the 10th anniversary of the event, which raises money for celiac disease research, and the night was filled with live and silent auctions, a raffle, and gluten free food, Food, and more FOOD!!

A little background - The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center was found in 2000 by Stefano Guandalini, MD. The center is dedicated to raising awareness and diagnosis rates nationwide and meeting the critical needs of people affected by celiac disease through education, research, and advocacy.

Some of the programs the Celiac Disease Center holds are: The Celiac Disease Care Package Program, which delivers a gift basket of gluten free foods, educational materials about the disease and the diet to newly diagnosed Celiacs across the nation; The Celiac Disease Preceptorship Program, which is the only intense hands-on medical professional celiac disease education in the country; The Celiac Disease Information Hotline, which is available five days a week to answer any questions related to the diet or disease; and Celiac Disease Research Team, who has made great strides in determining the triggers for celiac disease and continues to work on finding innovative therapeutic intervention for the disease.

All of this great work is done entirely by private donations. The event Friday was a big night to obtaining major funding. I was glad to be able to contribute, and excited to dish on all of the wonderful gluten free food!

I was joined by Anne of Gluten Free Musings and Lisa of Lisa Cooks Allergen Free. We all found a ton of new favorite restaurants as well as revisited our old standbys. There were 32 restaurants featuring their gluten free menu items by small portions and by the night's end I was too full to move - and I didn't even try several items! Here were some of my favorite plates of the evening.
Carnivale's Ropa Viega (braised beef served with sweet plantains - to die for!)

Cooper's Hawk Restaurant and Winery's Chicken Saltimboca and White and Dark Chocolate Truffles

Deerfields Bakery's Lemon Button Cookies, Brownie Cookies, and (OMG!!!) Their cakes with the. most. amazing. buttercream frosting!!!

Fogo de Chão's Pao de queso (Cheese Bread)

Foodlife's Beef Barbacoa Tiny Tacos and Mexican Chocolate Cake (spicy!)

Maggiano's Famous Rigatoni D with Marsala Cream, Caramelized Onions, Herbed Chicken, and Roasted Mushrooms (I'm still dreaming about this meal)

Marcello's Pan Pizza (drool...)

Mon Ami Gabi & Café Ba ba Reeba's Gluten Free Chocolate Brownies and Butterscotch Custard Crème

Pinstripes Jambalaya Risotto

Roy's SousVide Pork Tenderloin with Confit Potatoes and Tomato Fennel

Swirlz's Chocolate Twixie Cupcake (my new favorite thing)

Swissôtel's Panna Cotta

Tavern at the Park's Meatballs (suuuuper delicious!)

Wildfire's Chopped Salad and Dinner Rolls (so yummy!)

ZED 451's Stuffed Peppadew Peppers (OMG!!! I think I died for a moment there!)

For the complete list of Restaurants, click on the Participating Restaurants Picture below and happy eating!

May 12, 2010

Two Guys, Polenta, and My Mom

A belated Happy Mother's Day to all you mamas out there. I've been terribly behind on posting due to the bug that's been floating around my office. Starts with a sore throat, grows into a hacking cough that just won't quit, and then sinus pressure sets in. Not fun. I was knocked out for a good half of last week, and while we were originally planning on taking Babs out to Palermo's for her special day, we nixed the idea since I was still under the weather. She's raves about their Goat Cheese Polenta nonstop, so I decided to try my hand on recreating their marvelous dish.

Not too long ago, Two Guys Food Group contacted me offering me a sample of their Jersey Tomato Sauce. What I really liked about this company was that their sauce is all natural and low is sodium and sugar. Jarred tomato sauce that is low in sugar and sodium is hard to come by. CEO Scott Stark says,
"Tomatoes are naturally flavorful on their own way and they do not need extra salt, sugar and other additives to make them taste better. My father is diabetic, and it was important to me to create a delicious, gluten free, low sodium and no sugar added sauce that he can enjoy."
In order for a product to become "Certified Jersey Fresh" 60% of the ingredients must come from New Jersey. Jersey tomatoes are far superior than others because they acquire their wonderous taste and texture from the soil and climatic conditions of central and southern New Jersey. The recipe consists of whole or crushed Jersey tomatoes, imported Italian olive oil, onion, garlic, basil, sea salt, oregano and black pepper. Delicious. It tasted so fresh and incredibly flavorful. The garlic and spices popped right gooood! If that didn't get your taste buds interested, wait until you meet the polenta I paired it with!

One of my all time favorite bloggers is Jenn from The Whole Kitchen. She is simply A-M-A-Z-I-N-G and a super duper awesome friend. She makes everything from scratch, and I mean everything! Roasts her own red peppers, whips up her own corn tortillas, and even makes homemade Nutella. I love her blog to pieces and not too long ago she posted a recipe for Roasted Polenta Wedges. I vowed to one day make them, and they were exactly what I was looking for to replicate the infamous goat cheese polenta from the restaurant.

They turned out wonderfully. Full of flavor from both the fresh Jersey Tomato Sauce and all the bold flavors of rosemary, thyme, and Parmesan cheese. Yum!

The Poor Man's Goat Cheese Polenta

Polenta on Foodista

May 4, 2010

Happy Celiac Awareness Month!

May is Celiac Awareness month and this is a lot to celebrate! When I first was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2000, there were barely any options for breads or cookies. Most restaurants had no idea what "gluten free" was. Since then, awareness of celiac disease and going gluten free have skyrocketed. Millions of gluten free products have graced store shelves; restaurants have gluten free menus; entire stores, bakeries, and cafés are dedicated entirely to being gluten free. Talk about being aware!

This month there are some great events in Chicago that I think are pretty worthwhile. Next Friday, May 14th, is The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center's Annual Benefit, Spring Flours. Each year the University of Chicago hosts a gourmet gluten-free benefit complete with silent and live auctions. So far, every event has sold out and they are expecting it to sell out again this year. The deadline to RSVP is this Friday, May 7th. Click on the flyer below to purchase tickets.

Don't forget to check out the GFB Calendar of Events for more great gluten free things to do in Chicago!

May 1, 2010

The Bagel is BACK!

Last weekend (yes, I am sooo behind on posting!) I attended the Free From Market's Annual Bread Roundup. They "round up" a bunch of gluten free bread and hold a blind taste test. Each bread is identified with an animal and you are given a score sheet to rate each bread. Some of it was nasty (cow, anyone?) and some very good (a few other people agreed that we all liked the cat).

The top three favorites will be announced soon and maybe we'll find a new favorite. Last year's big winner was Udi's, and well...we all know how much we love their breads!

Speaking of Udi's, I found some Udi's Bagels at Free From Market....



Are you kidding me?! Well, I should have expected it, since their bread is so good, but really, Udi's?! How on EARTH do you make such outstanding gluten free products?! They seriously could have been from Great American Bagel or Einstein Bros Bagels. Super soft and chewy with no toasting needed. Not a crumb fell off.

OK, so there was ONE crumb on the plate.

Four bagels to a pack, and I ate most of them right out of the bag, which I was able to leave on the counter all week. I did toast one and it turned out perfect. It didn't get hard or dry out. I was definitely taken back to my pre-gluten free days.

If you have no yet tried Udi's Bagels, I highly recommend you run to your local gluten free shop or order them online ASAP!