Product Review: Gillian’s Foods Cinnamon Raisin Rolls

I picked up Gillian’s Cinnamon Rolls at Whole Foods, because while I heart the Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free French Rolls, I do sometimes crave variety.  It turns out these are a local star, produced right here in the hub, in Lynn!  You may not know it, but you may already know Gillian’s products, they are the ones that make those awesome gluten-free rolls at Legal Sea Foods.

Trader Joe, when, oh, when will you start to create some different flavors of gluten-free breads?

These are actually quite similar to the Trader Joe’s French Roll in both appearance and texture (they are a little smaller, which is nice, perfect breakfast size).  These rolls have nice plump raisins, which left me wondering how they get them to stay juicy despite being stocked in the freezer. The cinnamon flavor was slightly lacking, but overall this is a great product and well worth a try (or two or three).

This is definitely going to be a regular product in my grocery cart.

Review: Papa Razzi

Papa Razzi has taken over the old Bouchee venue on Newbury Street.  Outside is a generous patio, which made me think of the coming spring and summer with high hopes. Inside, the restaurant is sophisticated and clean, but comfortable and unpretentious.

Mario, the waiter came over immediately with bread.  When I my allergy; he immediately offered to go heat up some gluten-free bread (tasty, but I suspect just heated up g/f pizza crust, but hey, they offer something for us g/f diners).

The service through the meal is excellent.  Mario, was attentive throughout the meal and the courses were well-spaced.  When an obnoxious group of people stopped in front of our table and just stood there talking loudly and gesticulating into our personal space, Mario came right over and moved them along nicely.

The menu is extensive, however they don’t have a lot of creamy dishes on the menu.  We were told that the kitchen is able to prepare alfredo or other cream sauce upon request.

Mario was clearly knowledgeable about food allergies.  Papa Razzi has gluten-free pastas and pizza.  Since everything is made fresh to order, they can modify just about anything on the menu according to your needs.

To start, we ordered the Mozzarella Con Prosciutto.  The dish was simple but tasty, hunks of mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto served with roasted peppers. It came to the table with balsamic vinegar, to balance out the creaminess of the mozzarella, but I found the parsley garnish was the most effective way to balance the flavors.

In addition to an extensive menu, there were also a lot of specials on offer for Valentine’s Day.  I tried the sea bass with gorgonzola polenta and roasted butternut squash.  Husband had fettuccini with pink sauce and lobster meat.

The lobster and pasta dish looked and, according to husband, tasted great.  The sea bass was well cooked with nice big chunks of pepper, though I do think the dish would have been elevated if it had been prepared as originally intended, with breadcrumbs and prosciutto.  Without that topping it was a nice, but plain piece of fish.  The butternut squash was cooked with cinnamon, which was a nice balance with the gorgonzola polenta.  The polenta was nice and smooth and was not overwhelmed by the gorgonzola.  It was a really nice dish.  The portions were generous: I had to box up half the meal to take home!

The drinks list is just as extensive as the menu and just as good.  I had a nice glass of wine with dinner.  Husband had beer.  Afterwards, I had a Limoncello.  Husband had the blueberry lemonade, which was sweet enough that I couldn’t taste the alcohol.

Overall, this was a great night out.  We really enjoyed ourselves and will definitely return.

G/F Friendly: 5 out of 5

Taste and Quality of Food: 4.5 out of 5

Review: Ottolenghi the Cookbook

So a Jew and a Palestinean start a restaurant…oddly, not the start of an inappropriate racial joke, it’s the story behind a popular restaurant in London.  Ottolenghi is one of my favorite restaurants in London and even as a poor graduate student, I would run up to the shop to treat myself to a meringue or tart.

Just looking in the window was drool-worthy: they had a knack for putting out salads, sandwiches and pastries in a way that was effortless, but beautiful.  Ottolenghi’s menu is really diverse and always changing.  They tend to focus on local, seasonal ingredients.  They head to the market and pick whatever looks best.

I was thrilled when I received this book for Christmas from some of our family.   The photos in this book are incredibly appetizing.  The book has a wide range of dishes.  There are a lot of great vegetarian recipes in here.  Vegetables aren’t relegated to side dish status; they are front and center.

While the baked goods section is not gluten-free, a lot of the recipes are naturally gluten-free, including: meringues, macaroons, chocolates and amarettis.  Many other recipes can easily be made gluten-free, since the flour is not always the bulk of the recipe.

The gluten cake is in the back and my g/f version is front and center. Note to those making this dish, double the frosting if you want to frost the sides!

 

Just check out these cakes: I made two versions, one gluten-free, one gluten-y.  Husband and my parents could barely tell the difference between them.  They said there was a very minor textural difference between the two cakes but no difference in taste.  This was probably because, unlike most cakes, flour is not the central ingredient.  Flour was only about ¼ of the total weight of the ingredients.

This is a fantastic cookbook.  I really look forward to trying every recipe in this book.

Product Review: KinniToo’s, a gluten-free Oreo style cookie

KinniToos Chocolate Vanilla Sandwich Cookies are delightful. They are better than Oreo’s and almost as good as my former favorite sandwich cookie, the Trader Joe’s Joe Joe.

Though priced at 6 USD for 8 oz (1/2 lb) of cookie at Shaw’s (I think that is quite steep, even for g/f), the quality of the product almost merits the price tag.

Credit: Kinnikinnick Website

The cookie is made with real cocoa powder and the cocoa flavor is far superior to that sickly sweet, fake chocolate taste of an Oreo.  The cookies are not overly sweet: they have a rich flavor reminiscent of dark chocolate.  The cookies are light, which is hard to achieve with gluten-free cookies, often they come out like little bricks.  The texture is also pleasing.  Typical of gluten-free products, there is a slightly more grainy texture than with old-fashioned, silky, gluten flour, however, it is barely noticeable, particularly when eaten as a sandwich cookie.

The smooth texture helps to smooth out the aforementioned graininess of the cookie.  The vanilla flavor is nice and does not taste artificial.  The cream is just a touch sweeter than the cookie.  The biggest drawback is how little cream is used in the cookies.  It’s like two little U’s of cream: there is even a hole in the middle.  WTF, Kinnikinnick, WTF.

As a result, the whole sandwich cookie is a little drier than an Oreo or a Joe Joe.  If Kinnikinnick just fixes the cream issue, this may actually be on the same level as the Joe Joe.

Recipe: Just in time for V-day, truffles two ways

Making chocolates sounds intimidating, but the hardest part is tempering the chocolate.  Tempering is the process of melting and cooling the chocolate so that is sets up and glossy and smooth.  This recipe skips this step by rolling ganache filling in cocoa powder or powdered sugar.

Because you don’t have to temper the chocolate, these truffles are easy to make and guaranteed to impress.

The better the quality of the chocolate, the better the end result.  Trader Joe’s has a wide range of chocolates at reasonable prices.

I made two recipes because husband likes white chocolate, but I prefer dark chocolate. The recipes are easy enough to make at the same time.

Dark Chocolate and Amaretto truffles:

1 lb. dark chocolate, cut into pieces or use chips

3 Tbs. amaretto liqueur

½ cup heavy cream

½ tsp salt

2 Tbs. unsalted butter

½ cup cocoa powder for dusting, you can also use powdered sugar, this will make the chocolate a little sweeter: a nice balance to the dark chocolate.

Left and middle: cutting and weighing the chocolate. Right: covering the chocolate and cream with saran wrap.

1. On the stove, heat the cream until it boils.  Pour the cream over the chocolate.  Cover tightly with saran wrap and let stand for 5 minutes.

2. Cut the butter into small pieces.

3. Uncover the bowl and whisk the chocolate until smooth.  Add the butter, salt and liqueur.

The chocolate should be smooth, but not too thin.

4. Recover and let stand until firm, at least 2 hours.  Unlike the white chocolate, this probably doesn’t need to be in the refrigerator.

5. Scoop by the teaspoon, roll into a ball, quickly between your hands.  If the chocolate starts to get really sticky, just stick it in the fridge for a few minutes.

6. Roll the chocolate in the cocoa powder or powdered sugar.

Store in layers of wax paper in a cool place.  Should keep for 3 weeks.

White Chocolate Orange truffles:

1 lb. white chocolate, cut into pieces or use chips

an orange

3 Tbs. orange liqueur

½ cup heavy cream

½ tsp salt

1 Tbs. unsalted butter

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, for dusting

1. On the stove, heat the cream until it boils.  Pour the cream over the chocolate.  Cover tightly with saran wrap and let stand for 5 minutes.

2.  Zest the orange.  Cut the butter into small pieces.

Left: zesting the orange. Middle: whisking the chocolates until smooth. Right: adding the liqueur.

3. Uncover the bowl and whisk until smooth.  Add the butter, salt, orange zest and liqueur.

4. Recover and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.

5. Scoop by the teaspoon, roll into a ball, quickly between your hands.  If the chocolate starts to get really sticky, just stick it in the fridge for a few minutes.

6. Roll the chocolate in the cocoa powder.

Store in layers of wax paper in a cool place.  Should keep for 3 weeks.

I heart chocolate!

Restaurant Review: P.F. Chang’s

Soy sauce, the flavor explosion of many Asian cuisines makes me raise my fist in fury.  Why must it be in everything and why must it contain gluten?    I have dined at a number of Chinese restaurants and in almost every case; I have been limited to steamed veggies / chicken and white rice.  It’s beyond bland and I end up drooling, just a little, as husband consumes sesame chicken and fried rice. 

However, if you can get to your local mall, you can eat actually eat Chinese food and I am not talking about that orange chicken place in the food court, but rather P.F. Chang’s.  P.F. Chang’s has had gluten-free menu for longer than I have had Celiac.

P.F. Chang’s is very standard mall establishment.  It seems like they are tapping into the Cheesecake Factory aesthetic with dim lighting mural paintings.  While they don’t use the same chairs, the ones they do use are equally uncomfortable and may cause numb butt after about thirty minutes. 

We ordered a few drinks at the bar, which took about 10 minutes.  The bar was short on staff.  To be fair, we did see one girl be escorted out from the kitchen to a waiting ambulance during this time, so they may have been preoccupied. 

I ordered a Manhattan, which was okay.  The bourbon was not that great and a Manhattan really hinges on nice bourbon.  On the plus side, the proportions were right and the drink was not watered down.  Husband’s pear mojito was also really nice; better than the Manhattan.  The mint was fresh and pear juice was not too sweet.   The tequila was barely noticeable in taste; it’s the kind of drink that sneaks up on you after a while. 

The menu contains a wide range of options.  While the appetizers and desserts are lamentably limited, they do have quite a breadth of main courses.  On various occasions I have tried the Singapore street noodles, the spicy chicken and the lemon chicken.  All are really tasty.  The sauces are flavorful and the food is not overly greasy because everything is pan fried and not tossed in the fry-olator.   The dishes are not amazing, it’s not going to knock your socks off, but it is good, standard Chinese food fare.

As a gluten-free diner, this is a good experience.  The staff is all well-trained.  The gluten-free menu is on the back of the regular menu, so no need to even ask them to bring over another menu.  Gluten-free items are prepped in a separate area of the kitchen and come out on different plates than the gluten-y goodness. 

g/f friendly: 5 out of 5

taste and quality of food: 3 out of 5

Review: Bob’s Red Mill Bread Mix

Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Bread Mix can be found at most grocery stores as well as the Christmas Tree Shops. The overall preparation was pretty simple: the recipe is developed so you don’t even have to proof the yeast.

The only annoying thing about the recipe is separating out egg whites.   If you want egg-ier bread, it is ok to use whole eggs. The egg yolks will give the bread a richer flavor, but make it a bit denser.  The advantage of using egg whites is that the bread comes out a bit lighter and fluffier.

The completed product came out well.  It rose more than expected in the oven.  So make sure you give it plenty of room to rise!  It was pretty flavorful.  The bean flour was well-balanced with other flours, including potato and rice flours.  The result: a nice savory bread that stood up well to cheese and meats.

Cookbook Review: Gluten-Free Baking Classics

Gluten-Free Baking Classics by Annalise Roberts was the first gluten-free cookbook I purchased.  I use it as a jumping off point for many of my recipes.  It’s not the only gluten-free cookbook you will ever need, but it is a great starter.

Pros:

  • Overall, this book is easy to read, the recipes are clear and concise.
  • The recipes are well-researched and tested.
  • Roberts provides some rational for her ratios, which may allow you to make substitutions, as you get more familiar with g/f baking.
  • The recipes produce excellent baked goods: flavorful, moist and pretty light.
  • Roberts keeps the variety of flour mixes to a minimum.
  • Covers a solid range of classics from “rye” and challah bread to Oreo-style sandwich cookies.

Cons:

  • Some classics you would like to see are not covered.  No zucchini bread?  Gasp.
  • I was also miffed by the lack of advice on fruit pies. Roberts says to use different ratios of cornstarch for different fruits, but doesn’t provide clear guidance (i.e. – 2 Tbsp for berries and 3 for peaches.  Roberts simply notes that the amount of starch will vary depending on the fruit).  So now I use Joy of Cooking for the fillings and G/F Classics for the crust.
  • There is guidance on characteristics and brands, which is helpful, but some of it guides you to more expensive brands which don’t necessarily yield a better product.
  • Most of the recipes require you to combine oil and milk, mix them and then discard some, which requires an extra step and dirtying up a few extra utensils.  I am sure she tested this a million times, but given the other books on the subject, I am not sure there wasn’t an easier way to accomplish the same result.

There are only one or two naturally gluten-free recipes (i.e. – macaroons).   It’s not the kind of book that shows you ways to make things naturally gluten-free, but it does provide excellent guidance on replicating gluten-y baked goods.  I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a solid guide to gluten-free baking.