Sunday, June 30, 2013

Roadside Wildflowers

Roadside Wildflowers
by Lisa M. Hamel
July 2010
Pinetop, Arizona

For many years, my in-laws have held a family reunion at the family cabin Pinetop-Lakeside over Fourth of July weekend. Among many other things, I love the opportunity it brings me to take pictures of beautiful wildflowers, like what you see above.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Jack In The Box & Online Allergy Charts

My husband is a bit of a Jack In The Box addict, and tonight he asked me if I wanted anything as he left for his oh-so-frequent burger run. French fries sounded lovely, but I knew should double-check Jack's online allergen chart just to be safe (I hadn't checked it since they did away with natural-cut fries).

A few clicks later, I was brought to this site, which contains the allergy chart depicted below. This is by no means the complete chart, but for your viewing pleasure, I highlighted the "wheat" column with a giant red arrow. If it has an X in that lovely burnt-orange column, it is a no-go for anyone on a gluten-free diet.

If you aren't familiar with online allergy charts, most major chain restaurants have them, and they can be very helpful for people with special dietary needs. For example, in about two minutes, I was able to determine that while the fries at Jack In The Box are somewhat safe* since they do not contain wheat, the tacos that I have eaten many times in the past are actually a definite no.

Several years ago, a similar chart from Panda Express taught me something everyone on a gluten-free diet learns sooner or later--wheat-containing soy sauce is one of the worst hidden sources of gluten imaginable. Curse you, Kikkoman!**

Allergen charts can also be helpful in revealing "safe" menu items you may not have considered otherwise. Here is a sampling of the Jack-In-The-Box items considered "wheat-free:"
  • French fries
  • smoothies (mango, strawberry, or strawberry banana; contains milk)
  • Chiquita apple bites with caramel (caramel contains milk)
  • Grilled chicken strips (choose your sauce carefully)
  • Chicken Club, Grilled Chicken, or Southwest Chicken salads (ONLY with grilled chicken--not crispy chicken; ask for no croutons or crunchy toppings)
  • Bacon Ranch, Ranch, Lite Ranch, & Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette dressings (all but the vinaigrette contain milk)
However, please be aware of the possibility of cross-contamination anytime you dine out. French fries are often cooked in the same oil as gluten-containing, battered items like chicken strips, and a seemingly "wheat free" shake may be contaminated by the residual crumbs left on the blender from the Oreo-cookie shake mixed just before. When in doubt, ask the workers how the food is prepared and listen to your body when you try something new.

During my search, I also discovered this site, which provides an item-by-item ingredients list for essentially every item on the Jack In The Box. Check out the screen shot below:

Online ingredient statements like this tend to be much denser and more difficult to navigate. As my illustration shows (thank you again, big red arrow), bold lettering at the end of each ingredient list will indicate which of the major allergens, if any, the product contains. If accompanied by the allergy chart above, ingredient statements can be excellent way to get more information about items your are considering ordering or items you must now eliminate. 

This ingredient statement, for example, taught me that the cheap, 2 for $0.99 tacos taste so disgusting because their meat is padded out with things like "defatted soy grits" and "bleached enriched wheat flour." At the same time, it showed that while all of the burgers are marked as containing wheat in the allergy chart, that is simply because of their buns--the patties are 100% beef with no other ingredients or additives.

If you know in advance you will be eating out, take the time to check out a few restaurants online. If you dine at a restaurant often, do some research, even if that means calling and asking to speak to a manager, owner, or head chef. The better you are about being 100% gluten-free, the better you will feel.

Want more gluten-free dining tips?

Check out my Wining and Dining information page.

*I classify Jack's French fries as "somewhat safe" because they are almost certainly cooked in the same oil as their chicken strips and other gluten-containing items. This is a common source of cross-contamination. Although I tried the French fries tonight, I don't think I would do so again. My abdomen is already feeling a little tight with cramps, and French-fried potatoes just aren't worth the risk.

**If you simply adore soy sauce and/or Asian foods, Pei Wei and P.F. Chang's (which are partner companies) both have excellent gluten-free menus--you can find links to their online menus on my Wining and Dining information page. SAN-J Organic Tamari is labeled gluten-free soy sauce, and La Choy soy sauce does not contain wheat, although it is not labeled gluten-free.


I am linking to Gluten-Free Fridays hosted by Vegetarian Mama. Pop on over and check it out!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Snickerdoodle Chex Mix

Snickerdoodle Chex Mix
like the cookies I remember

FYI: This is not a sponsored a post. I just really liked this recipe and gluten-free Chex cereals in general.

When I was growing up (and eating whatever I wanted) snickerdoodles were always my favorite cookie. I don't know if it was the taste, helping my mom roll them in cinnamon and sugar, or that adorable name, but I always loved them--especially when they were still warm and soft from the oven. 

Now that I am an adult and following a strict gluten-free diet, I can no longer follow my mother's snickerdoodle recipe or buy them at the local bakery--but I can enjoy this Snickerdoodle Chex Mix recipe. I have been eyeing it on the side of my gluten-free Chocolate Chex and gluten-free Cinnamon Chex cereal boxes for years now, and I am so glad I finally tried it! 

It's quick, it's easy, and it's the perfect to conquer those snickerdoodle cravings. Better yet? Nothing but common, everyday ingredients!

Word to the wise: If you use margarine, 20 seconds in the microwave is plenty to melt it.

  • sugar
  • ground cinnamon
  • Cinnamon Chex® cereal
  • Chocolate Chex® cereal
  • popcorn
  • butter or margarine

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Start to finish: 15 minutes

It's as easy as...



But don't forget to let it cool off before you dig in...

Looking for more gluten-free Chex mix recipes? Click here to visit their complete list of gluten-free Chex-mix recipes. There are a few in there that might surprise you. Mashed-potato-stuffed meatloaf squares, anyone?

Here are a few I may try in the future:

What's your favorite Chex mix recipe?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Gluten-Free Spicy Vegetable Soup

Gluten-Free Spicy Vegetable Soup
tasty, hearty, & easy-to-make

This is probably one of my all-time favorite recipes--gluten-free or not. My mom shared it with me roughly ten years ago, and my family never gets sick of it. The list of ingredients is fairly short, but the finished product is filled with a variety of vegetables, just the right amount of spice, and a decent helping of protein. While the process is quite simple, the results are amazing! And the best part of all--it provides a well-balanced dinner while dirtying just one pot. If you ever have to bring a dish to a church potluck, this is a winner.

First, the ingredients: 
  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef or turkey
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup sliced celery
  • 1 diced red or green bell pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large jar (approx. 30 oz.) Chunky Garden Style spaghetti sauce*
  • 1 large can (approx. 10 oz.) diced tomatoes, partially drained
  • 1 bag (16 oz.) frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1/2 to 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes**
*I use Prego Fresh Muschroom or Tomatoes & Garlic. Both are labeled gluten-free.
**You can substitute chili powder, but you will need to increase the amount.

Don't forget--Add at end to taste:
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar (optional--helps cut acidity)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
Now, the instructions:

Cook the ground beef or turkey in a large pot, stirring until browned and broken up. Drain fat if needed. 

Add onion, celery, and bell pepper. Cook until limp. FYI: The celery usually takes the longest.

Add spaghetti sauce, canned tomatoes, frozen vegetables, and crushed red pepper. 

Cover and cook at least 10-15 minutes or until the frozen vegetables are thawed and thoroughly cooked. 

Add sugar, salt, and pepper if needed.

Bon appetit!

This soup pairs wonderfully with my Simple Gluten-Free Cornbread. 
Click below for the recipe.

Time Warp

Since today is my first "official" day of summer--sayonara summer workshops--I decided to kick it off by baking cornbread muffins for breakfast. My son and husband were still asleep, so I had a unique opportunity to do things like the check the expiration dates on my ingredients and other pantry items.

 Here is what I found:
  • Corn meal: Nov. 11 2013 (safe--but close)
  • Soy milk: Mar 18 2013 (oops)
  • All purpose gluten-free baking mix: Mar. 10 2013 (oops)
  • Vanilla extract: Mar. 6 2012 (double oops)
  • Baking powder: Feb. 2007 (yikes!)

This kind of shows you how often I bake, right?

The only item I actually threw out was the soy milk (after taste-testing it--blech). The baking mix will continue to haunt me for another week or two because the guilt is too strong for me to throw it away right now. But would you blame me for continuing to use the baking powder and vanilla extract until they're gone? I haven't had any problems with them yet, and I am too dang cheap to just throw them away.

How do you keep track of expiration dates? 
Do I simply need to bake more often?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Grown-Up Gluten-Free PB & J

Grown-Up Gluten-Free PB & J
making an old favorite new again

If I've learned anything since starting this blog, it's that keeping certain ingredients on hand--Craisins, chopped nuts, coconut, fresh fruits and vegetables--can make gluten-free eating significantly more enjoyable. With just a little creativity and a good dose of gourmet bravery, you can break up your routine and enjoy food again. This sandwich is the perfect example.

My son has requested "peanut butter and jelly" almost every day for the past few weeks, and every once in a while I like to indulge him. At the same time, I like us to share our meals, and I need a little more than jelly and peanut butter to get me excited about lunch. 

Enter the following ingredients to the rescue:

  • gluten-free bread, toasted*
  • peanut butter**
  • your choice of jam or honey
  • fresh banana slices
  • slivered almonds
  • shredded coconut
*My favorites are Glutino's Flaxseed and Grains For Life's Millet & Brown Rice. Gluten-free bread always tastes better toasted.
**JIF is labeled gluten-free

Assemble all ingredients in the order listed above.