Rebecca's Gluten Free Blog

Gluten Free in the Upper Midwest

Red Robin March 29, 2010

Red Robin was the first restaurant in the Minneapolis/ St Paul area where I knew I could eat french fries (in a dedicated fryer), and therefore holds a special place in my heart.

each time you go, they’ll print you a new menu, so that it’s always the most recent version available. I’m sure there are salads and specialty drinks (they have a lot of fun ones) that are gluten-free, but I always stick to the burgers!

the burgers are wrapped in lettuce (in my opinion, a little too much lettuce, so I end up taking half of it off), and whatever toppings you choose, just make sure to order it without seasoning. they usually wrap it in paper, so you can hold it and dip into ketchup and such, but I find it easier to just get a fork and knife.

make sure to order the fries without seasoning as well. they have separate fryers for the french fries, and the seasoning is added afterward, and they’re very careful to keep them segregated. I think they also have a separate fryer for seafood, so that people with shellfish or other seafood allergies can eat the rest of their menu items safely. very thoughtful!

the fries are long and a little thick, about the size of a fishstick. and they’re usually super hot when you get them because they’ll make a special batch for you as soon as you order. and did I mention that they give free refills on them when you order a burger?! I always end up eating way too many fries because it’s such a treat for me!

it’s a fun place to bring kids, since they give out free balloons, and have coloring crayons and activity sheet menus for them. and they seem to handle birthday parties pretty well~ I’ve seen quite a few on my visits.

so far I’ve only visited the Shoreview and Apple Valley locations (I’ve yet to go to the Plymouth restaurant), but both restaurants I’ve gone to were wonderfully helpful and extra careful with my special needs. I’d recommend them to anyone!

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Illinois Nut & Candy Co. March 25, 2010

Illinois Nut & Candy Co. isn’t a company in our area, but they were just in the news for an unrelated topic, so I checked out their website. and after investigating, I found that they make plenty of gluten-free, casein-free candies and treats! they label each item as to whether it’s free of gluten, casein, food dye, lactose (pareve), sugar, or whether it’s organic or vegan. they’re a Jewish company, and everything is kosher, which means they do a really good job at preventing cross-contamination.

they obviously carry candies specifically for Jewish holidays, but they also have some Easter candies, including chocolate bunnies! while it’s not too difficult to find GFCF jelly beans, I don’t know of any other GFCF Easter chocolates for children with gluten or casein allergies/ restrictions, so I took note and thought that others might be interested in this.

this is the largest candy website I’ve ever seen (not that I’ve been to that many)~ but their “candy” section has 18 different sections within it, including chewy candies, hard candy, licorice (which can be difficult to find gluten-free as well~ and they have many varieties), mints, etc. they also have “chocolate”, and “confections” sections that are quite extensive as well.

then they have some savory treats, like “nuts & fruit” and “popcorn” sections.

and then a neat section that they have is called “baking supplies” where they have a wide variety of sprinkles (for baking), and a few other things.

not everything on this website is gluten free (or dairy-free), but you can filter by these items by clicking on the “gluten free”, and then looking through the sections~ only those that are GF will show up. if you need further specifications, colored dots are below each item to designate what it contains or is free of from the list I mentioned at the top, since you can only filter by one item at a time.

I usually see annual lists of GF or GFCF mainstream candies pop up around Easter time~ and a good compilation can be found at My Gluten Facts. but the Illinois Nut & Candy Co. is the only company I’ve found that makes chocolates for Easter baskets, among many, many other goodies (and yes, you can order online.) I thought it was the perfect time of year to make this discovery, so I just wanted to share!

post-script: I later found this website for the Chocolate Emporium that has a lot of gluten-free candy (all of it is dairy-free), also available during Passover season and beyond.

 

Some of my favorite gluten free products & brands March 22, 2010

Food is one of my favorite topics, if you haven’t gathered by now. the amount of gluten-free products seems to be growing exponentially as of late. some people call it a “fad diet”, but I think the amount of people who use this purely as a diet is pretty low, since it’s such a huge commitment. in my view, it seems like it’s a mixture of people who’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease or people who suspect they have some kind of problem with gluten, whether celiac or allergic or the cause of various ailments, such as headaches. I’m convinced that the prevalence of the gluten-free foods and restaurant choices is only going to grow over time. after all, in the USA almost 1% of the population has celiac disease, and under 5% have been diagnosed. that leaves up to 95% more yet to find out and start searching for more gluten free foods and restaurants. so far this has already been proving to be true, since it’s already way more prevalent in stores and restaurants than when I was first diagnosed (and most people had never heard of celiacs or gluten back then, even though it was just a few years ago).

that being said, it’s become hard to keep up with all the new products that come out, and if you want a specific product, you may have to go to one store for that and another for a different item, because with so many GF foods, even the larger co-ops or Whole Foods can’t seem to have enough room to stock them all! so although it sometimes seems like a hassle, it’s actually a blessing to have so many options.

the below products are all specifically gluten free, not the mainstream products that happen to be gluten free, which can change ingredients over time. these are all made specifically for celiacs and those on a GF diet. I’ll start with some of my go-to brands.

one of my favorite brands is Kinnikinnick that’s made right next door in Wisconsin. every product is gluten free, and virtually all are dairy/ casein free (a few of the breads have cheese in them). they make different bread products (a surprisingly good yeast-free bread, amongst other loaves of bread, hot dog/ hamburger buns, english muffins, regular muffins, rolls, cinnamon rolls. etc), all of which are found in the freezer section. some of the goodies they make are donuts~ cinnamon sugar, vanilla, chocolate, and my personal favorite: maple! these are also found in the freezer section. they also make Kinnitoos sandwich cookies, both chocolate (similar to Oreos), and vanilla (yum!) and animal crackers, which taste almost like sugar cookies to me. they also produce frozen pizza crusts (which are very light and airy), S’Morables (gluten free graham-like crackers! the first of it’s kind!), and a crispy chicken coating mix for gluten-free fried chicken, along with many, many other products. in fact, I just saw on their website that they now offer panko-style bread crumbs (available in stores in May), a krispy rice cereal (perfect for krispie rice bars, but available only online with no plans to distribute),  graham-style animal crackers, and other new treats. it seems like they’re constantly coming up with new products that aren’t available elsewhere for the GF community. and basically anything I find from this company I’m confident that I’ll enjoy.

another go-to brand, from whom I buy their products with confidence, is Namaste. not only are they gluten and dairy/ casein free, but they’re also potato, soy, corn, tree nut, and peanut free, not to mention certified kosher. they’re easily recognizable as they always come in brown paper bags. I really like the Say Cheez pasta mix, meant to be a GFCF mac & cheese substitute. and while it tastes nothing like mac & cheese to me, I find it strangely addicting. it tastes different from anything else I’ve had~ they use shelled hemp seeds in it as a source of protein (I always like to add new proteins and grains!), and the flavors really grew on me over time, but it may be an acquired taste. it’s worth trying out though. their brownies are the best GF ones that I’ve tasted! I’ve tried a little of their toffee vanilla frosting, which tastes like dulce de leche/caramel, and is hands down the best frosting I’ve ever had!! (besides cakes, it seems like it would be perfect to drip over a cheesecake or on their blondies with a scoop of ice cream!) they also have other frosting mixes and an assortment of cakes. they also have the usual offerings of muffin mixes, pizza crust mixes, a gluten-free flour blend, waffle & pancake mix, etc.

other products that top my list of favorites are French Meadow’s frozen multi-grain bread, which contains amaranth, quinoa, millet, sorghum, and teff~ lots of power grains, and Food For Life Millet Bread (fruit juice sweetened). I’ve recently heard rave reviews of Udi’s brand of gluten-free sandwich bread (which supposedly tastes just like a “normal” white sandwich bread~ so light! I’ve also heard that their cinnamon rolls and pizza crusts are great. I heard of them first a few weeks ago, and by this week I’ve heard about it nonstop~ it’s caught on like wildfire! they’re also a completely dairy-free brand. I will definitely have to try some of their products soon!

I also enjoy La Tortilla Factory’s SONOMA ivory teff wraps~ teff is a great grain to integrate, and these wraps not only taste nice, but are very handy. I store them in my freezer, and when I take one out to use, just leaving it out while you prepare the rest of the wrap, it’s basically unthawed. you can microwave it 10-20 seconds if you want, but that can make it a little slimy-feeling for a few minutes. the counter-thawing method works great.

French Meadow now makes gluten-free flour tortillas! I think it’s the first (and still only) of it’s kind. the tortillas taste great~ the texture is a little tough, almost like a normal flour tortilla that’s a bit stale, because it’s a bit thicker than a wheat flour tortilla. but a few seconds in the microwave makes it nice and flexible. this is another company that’s on the rise to innovate new GF products. and we’re lucky to have them right here in Minneapolis! even their restaurant offers some of their GF goodies (though I’ve been told that they’re officially separate companies now).

Sesmark Rice Thin crackers, which many of my non-celiac friends also enjoy, are very tasty. make sure to get the “gluten free” ones~ the brown rice variety is simply brown rice flour, oil, and salt. and the sesame flavor has those same ingredients plus sesame seeds (and taste way better!). but be very careful to read the ingredients because they also make gluten-containing versions of each. they’re amazingly crisp and tasty for such simple ingredients.

Amy’s Kitchen makes some great frozen meals, my favorites of which are the pizzas and baked ziti. they also do kids meals, complete with a fruit and veggie, which can be fun even for adults! many of their products are dairy-free as well.

Bell & Evans makes some great chicken nuggets and chicken strips!! (just like “normal”!) make sure you grab the gluten free versions.

Dr Praeger’s makes a great fish stick! make sure to grab the gluten-free version though, as they make both.

Thai Kitchen’s Rice Noodle Bowls & Mixes are tasty and convenient. they can be made in their bowl in the microwave, or in 3 minutes on the stove, which is why I refer to them as my “gluten free ramen”.

Tinkyada noodles were my early favorites~ and they have all shapes and sizes, and even some in organic version. don’t overcook or the water can get very starchy (with gluten free noodles in general). my new favorites are DeBole’s (corn) spaghetti noodles, which taste just like a “normal” angel hair pasta, and Bionaturae, which uses a blend of grains to give it a great texture. there are lots of other brands of noodles, made of different grains. it’s good to test different kinds and see what you enjoy.

Bob’s Red Mill is my standard brand for gluten free flours and starches, they’ve made great efforts to keep their gluten free grains separated in dedicated GF buildings, and test for gluten regularly. Bob’s Red Mill pancake mix is one of my favorite products for making (not pancakes), but corn dogs! it makes a great batter! although it’s a little thick to make onion rings or something more delicate. their cornbread mix is pretty convenient to make. Ener-g brand also makes quite a few starches that I can’t find elsewhere.

San-J Gluten Free Tamari sauce is my go-to instead of soy sauce, it’s just a bit thicker so you don’t need to use as much. I prefer it over soy sauce anyway.

Bone Suckin’ Sauce (BBQ) sauce bills itself as gluten free. I’ve yet to try it, but have included it anyway, since the people I know who’ve tried it have loved it.

some of my favorite cereals include Erewohn’s Rice Twice, Health Valley’s Corn Crunch’ Ems and Rice Crunch ‘Ems, which aren’t as sweet as Chex (most of which now show on the box that they’re gluten free now!). another popular one, which kids love but it gets a little sweet for me (but still tasty), is Envirokidz Gorilla Munch. Envirokidz makes a lot of fun cereal varieties for kids.

for snacks, I love Glutino’s Pretzel sticks, Envirokidz Lemur Bars (which are the chocolate and peanut butter flavor), Lara Bars (pecan pie is my fav). I also keep plain nuts, usually raw, on hand (Trader Joes has a huge assortment, including their “just a handful” packets, which are easy to carry around, in case of a food emergency.

Betty Crocker’s gluten free chocolate chip cookie mix is a nice, inexpensive option, and easy to make for a party or gathering. they have other gluten free mixes as well. Cherrybrook Kitchen’s Gluten Free Dreams’ chocolate chip cookie mix is egg free, so if you like to snack on cookie dough, this is a good one for you. their frosting mixes seem to be quite popular as well, but I haven’t tried them. I also love French Meadow’s frozen chocolate chip cookie dough, which rarely makes it to the oven before I eat it. as far as pre-made cookies go, besides the Kinnikinnick’s Kinnitoos that I mentioned above, Pamela’s cookies (which come in many varieties) are quite popular, though I haven’t tried them much myself.

Ice Creams~ mmm! many mainstream brands are gluten free, but my favorite is actually a vegan & gluten free brand: Good Karma Rice Divine. friends without dietary restrictions agree that it’s delicious. it’s light, but still rich and creamy, and they have some great flavors. the plain vanilla tastes a bit like sugar cookie dough, so the chocolate chip tastes more like chocolate chip cookie dough. the mint swirl is fabulous. and my other fav is the carrot cake (still gluten free!) it’s so good!! there are several other varieties as well, but these are my favorites.

while I haven’t tried the gluten-free / sorghum beers that are so prominent in America (Redbridge and Bard’s Tale are the most common), I have tried Germany’s Schnitzerbrau, which was very good. in fact, a friend of mine with a normal diet seemed to prefer my Schnitzerbrau to his own German beer at times. I’m trying to get Gasthof’s in North Minneapolis to carry their brand, or at least find a local liquor store that can import it. (so give Gasthof’s a call to request if you wish to help in the cause! it would be fun to actually get to participate at their Oktoberfest!)

there are tons of other foods that I enjoy, and everyone’s favorites are different, so don’t be afraid to try new things. this may seem like a bit too much information for those first starting on the gluten free diet, but I’m hoping to steer you towards some good products to start out. but for those of you who’ve been gluten free for awhile, hopefully some of these products will be new to you, so you can try them and see what you think.

the vast amount of new products is another reason why gluten free sampling fairs are nice~ Fresh & Natural and Lakewinds have them periodically. HyVee in Rochester recently had a big gluten free celebration, coinciding with their recently revised list of their brands’ gluten free foods (which is VERY extensive!!). also, Corborn’s Delivers has open houses from time to time with samplings of all their food, including some gluten free items.

and although I have a ton of processed and packaged foods on this list, I still prefer to cook my own food and have more control over it. every once in awhile there are reports that a “gluten free” product contained gluten after all, which is rare, but is always dis-heartening. and I like to view my change in diet as a way to explore new foods and things I never would’ve tried before, and to use my celiac diagnosis as a way to improve my diet overall, instead of always seeking GF substitutes for the processed foods that I’m replacing. it’s a fresh start! so I’d encourage you to be adventuresome in nutritional eating, as well as finding the processed comfort foods we all need every now and then 🙂

 

Twin City Grill March 18, 2010

I recently visited the Twin City Grill in the Mall of America for the first time. it’s part of the Lettuce Entertain You group of restaurants, which also owns Wildfire, Maggianos, Big Bowl, and Tucchi Benucch.

we made reservations ahead of time, since it’s at the MOA, and was on a weekend. promptly after being seated, a manager came over and told us a handful of items that were gluten-free. and then we asked about a few more that she didn’t name, and those dishes were also ok, with a few adjustments. (I was disappointed that the ribs weren’t gluten-free though. I used to get my baby back ribs at Chili’s, who recently changed their recipes, and aren’t GF anymore, so I’m still on the search for more ribs we can eat!!)

anyway, the manager was great, but then our waitress seemed really put out. she seemed to be annoyed when I was ordering and making the usual comments to make sure they knew to use clean pans, and to ask if she’s flagging my order for allergies so the chefs definitely knew, etc. and then it just got worse from there. and the bill was such a mess I can’t even tell you.

but other than the poor service on the part of our waitress, the food was pretty good~ the chopped salad without noodles or bleu cheese was very tasty~ it had a dressing similar to Biaggi’s house dressing (always a favorite of mine). the walleye (which we had plain and broiled, with asparagus) was decent, but not that large of a portion~ and despite being listed as a $12 meal, they charged us $15, plus a few dollars extra for the asparagus, which we were led to believe was included. (this was only one of many bill discrepancies, mind you). not to mention that $15 for a small, plain walleye fillet seems like a bit much!

I’m hoping that our bad experience with the service was just a fluke, and that it’s usually a nicer place to go, because the food was decent, and it’s in a convenient location. however, I’m guessing we probably won’t be back anytime soon, so I can’t balance out other experiences there for my post today. (I welcome any positive comments about the place).

so please don’t let the poor service we received stop you from trying it out~ they still cooked the food well, they were knowledgeable, and there were no contamination issues. I think that with a different waiter or waitress, we could’ve had a much better experience.

and if you’re at the Mall of America and you need a place to eat, it’s nice to have some options. I believe Tucchi Benucch also has gluten-free options, though no gluten-free noodles, which is a bit disappointing for a celiac-friendly Italian restaurant. I’ve also heard that the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant has gluten-free options, as does the Napa Valley Grill and Crave, which has a new location at the MOA. I’ve yet to try out any of these other restaurants, particularly since my celiac diagnosis. but if you’re at the MOA and need a place to eat, these are a few of the sit-down restaurant options available to the gluten-free crowd.

 

Bittersweet Bakery March 16, 2010

Bittersweet Bakery is my favorite gluten free bakery in the Minneapolis/ St Paul metro! it’s a completely gluten-free, dedicated bakery, with many of their items marked as dairy-free as well. and they’re the most reasonably priced gluten free bakeries that I’ve come across~ the portions are normal sizes, and the prices aren’t much more than their gluten-containing counterparts available elsewhere, which is impressive to do while baking gluten-free!

it’s located in Eagan, between I-35E and hwy 77 on Cliff Road, so it’s a straight shot from and not too far south of the Mall of America. (if you’re not from the area, and make the trip, you could make an afternoon of it by visiting the bakery, and then heading further south on hwy 77 to the Red Robin in Apple Valley (eventually on the left in the same lot as the movie theater).

I absolutely love their cakes/ cupcakes~ they usually keep their chocolate cupcakes on hand in the freezer, so if you want the white ones or any other flavor, you have to order them ahead, for at least a half dozen. most of the cakes/ cupcakes (including the white and chocolate) are dairy-free as well, as are their white and chocolate frostings. and for cakes, they have a ton of sizes and shapes available. sometimes people will even have a small gluten-free side cake made for their wedding~ they’re very flexible. and if you need a cake in a pinch, I think they sometimes keep little square chocolate cakes with white frosting on hand.

they also have a wide variety of cookies and muffins (the chocolate cherry is unbelievable). they also have various bars (if you want the pumpkin bar with dairy-free frosting, again you need to call ahead. and of course they make a few different breads (Crumb Deli uses one of Bittersweet’s breads for their GF sandwiches).

they make their own pizza crusts, which are used in various restaurants across the metro. unlike Cooqi’s pizza crusts, Bittersweet’s do contain dairy. one of the unique things they do (for the gluten-free world) is going one step further and making take-n-bake pizzas! I’m pretty sure they offer both cheese and pepperoni, and perhaps more.

if you want to order their products, but find that Eagan is too far to drive, many of the co-ops around town sell their muffins, cookies, pizza crusts, and breads. and now there’s a huge selection of their products at Coborn’s Delivers (the local grocery store that makes deliveries) for the Twin Cities and St Cloud metro areas.

I just ordered Bittersweet’s banana bread from Coborn’s and was amazed at how good it tasted. I have a really good gluten-free banana bread recipe of my own, so I never bothered to try Bittersweet’s before. but it was so light and airy! I immediately ordered more 🙂

that’s how I feel about most of their products~ very light and airy (and moist!), and I would contend that it would be difficult for a “normal” person to figure out that it’s gluten-free unless they were told.

 

New Hope Cinema Grill March 13, 2010

the New Hope Cinema Grill offers gluten-free pizzas! it’s a great place for everyone’s entertainment~ couples, families, or even kids’ birthday parties. it can also be rented out for various events; and at times they offer live performances, such as comedians. it’s a rare thing to find a theater that offers dinner & a movie.

it’s a movie theater with six screens that show slightly older movies, and they serve entire dinners during the movie. everyone’s seated and orders their entire meal from apps to dessert, and then they bring the food as it’s ready.

there are special weeknight deals on Tuesdays ($2 Tuesdays~ discounted admission and concession items) and Wednesdays (pizza night~ though I’m not sure if pizza night specials would be available with the gluten-free pizzas).

they’re currently re-vamping their menu, so it would be a good time to go and show your interest in gluten-free products and foods, if you think this is something that you would enjoy. I don’t think many people are aware of their gluten-free pizzas yet, so they haven’t seen much demand, other than for groups of kids that have rented out the theater for special showings. but if they do see higher demand for it, they may expand to get GF buns and such.

and of course, there are other items that can be altered to be gluten-free, such as salads without croutons, plain burgers, etc. their menu is on their website.

I haven’t actually been there yet myself~ I actually just found out about them. but it looked so unique and fun, that I called them up to get some more info to share with everyone right away! I can’t wait to go!

 

Amore Victoria March 11, 2010

Amore Victoria is located in Uptown (Minneapolis), and is a sister restaurant to Victoria’s Ristorante in Rochester. and like Victorias, they, too, accommodate for celiacs and the gluten-free crowd.

they usually carry 2 types of pasta, a normal spaghetti-like long pasta and a bow-tie pasta to choose from, and these can be made with most of the dishes and sauces. they do have a rather high surcharge for the gluten-free pasta though. a few years ago I believe I paid an extra $4 on an $8 meal, so I thought that was quite sizable (maybe I should’ve ordered a more expensive dish so it blended in better!).  I’m not sure what the charge is now, but I’ve heard comments that it’s still fairly high. but it’s still nice to have options, and that most of the dishes are available to us.

the last time I went, however, they were out of both kinds of the gluten-free noodles, so you may want to call ahead to be sure that they have them in stock if that’s what you plan to order. there were still salads and breakfast items available at lunchtime that I could have had. but I decided to get a risotto. I’m not even sure a risotto was on the lunch menu, but they just made me one with whatever I wanted in it, so that was really nice. it was very tasty, and since there were no special noodles involved, I didn’t even have to pay a surcharge!

it’s also in a nice location~ there aren’t a whole lot of gluten-free restaurant options in the Uptown area. so if you’re in the area and need somewhere to go, this could be a good option. they’ll work with you to find something you’ll enjoy. and as with most Italian restaurants, it can either be a simple, inexpensive meal, or a multi-course, extravagant meal. your choice.