Product Review

A Super-Comfy Giveaway from Albion!

jade_crew2Win this super comfy top from Albion Fit!

I’m not the biggest fan of giveaways here in my dusty baking world – I call in and giveaway enough products for Easy Eats.

But when Albion Fit asked me if I wanted to test out their women’s workout clothing, I was totally in.

I practically live in comfy clothes. I’m either at a computer all day, walking Mitra, sitting in meditation, stretching my way through yoga or on my feet in someone’s kitchen. None of these things require that I even wear jeans, which is pretty awesome. It also means that I burn through fitness clothing, and am constantly looking for affordable clothes with a bit of color and cut that can get me from work to home while still looking relatively cute on the subway.

Enter this gorgeous blue top that I adore.

I tested it at my yoga for chronic pain workshop, and loved how the extra-long torso came down over my hips and didn’t fly anywhere when inverted or twisted.

But the ultimate test came when I wore it to a 10-hour cooking shoot at a huge loft space downtown. Because while working out is obviously the more healthful situation to be wearing fitness gear in, working in a kitchen is a much longer, smellier, steamier experience.

Here’s what I loved particularly about this product:

  • It’s incredibly thin and soft, which helps when you like to layer up on the subway and then need something light under your apron at work without showing any bare skin.
  • The color is really vibrant and didn’t fade at all in the first wash.
  • I ended up going out for drinks with friends after the shoot – sweatpants, frizzy headbanded-hair and all, and the color and cut made me still look relatively cute (when sitting on a bar stool under dim lighting). (I ended up accidentally doing this a second time after a yoga workshop… oops…)
  • The extra-long length can be pulled comfortably down over my hips or sort of scrunched up higher. Either way, it felt comfortable but not clingy.
  • It’s not expensive – $28 for an incredibly comfy, bright top.

So Albion Fit is awesome in offering one of my lovely dusty readers a brand spankin new Jade Go Long Crew (with thumbholes)!

To enter, like Albion on Facebook and pin an  image of an item you’d love on your Pinterest page!

Leave a comment below telling us you’ve done this with a link to your pin!

And to cap it off, they’re offering a $15 discount
when you spend $50 or more! Just use code dustybaker15
(valid until 4/25, when the giveaway ends at 6pm EST)

Make sure your email address is linked to your comment so I can find you.

Thanks! Good luck!

Advertisements

Saved by Pamela’s Gluten-Free Oatmeal Cookie Mix

Gluten-Free Oatmeal Cookies: Cranberry Walnut, Chocolate Chunk and Chocolate Walnut

Gluten-Free Oatmeal Cookies: Cranberry Walnut, Chocolate Chunk and Chocolate Walnut

Some days I can counter major crankiness with a bit of hippie love: playing fetch with Mitra (check out this little Vimeo from yesterday), reminding myself of my “just enough” theory, going to a yoga class, hugging a tree (I warned you this is hippie love) or simply remembering that there is only one life we get and so we should just enjoy the silly crap of it all.

Other days I just need a cookie. Yesterday was such a day.

Now I’ve been a poo-pooher of gluten-free baking mixes because I do not believe that an all-purpose gluten-free baking flour exists. Take four of these so called “cup-for-cup” blends and make the same recipe with them and you’ll get four very different outcomes. But I’m often sent mixes for Easy Eats and in my ever-evolving study of them have grown an appreciation for what they offer: something sweet and warm from your oven, very quickly. This is obviously huge if you’re not inherently a baker or if you’re new to gluten-free baking. And for those of us who have our own go-to blends and bins of flours, starches and gums, they offer a quick fix. when you need a cookie!!

Still, that doesn’t mean I’m a fan of just any baking mixes. But the list of ones I admire is growing. And soon I’ll start reporting on them more regularly, hopefully one day culminating in my feature in Easy Eats on battling… well, you’ll have to wait for that.

2013-03-05 13.48.33

Look at that stellar cookie texture!

One line that I truly love and respect is Pamela’s Products. I’d used Pamela’s flour in my Taste Test spread and then featured her in an interview on the Easy Eats blog. They then sent me a sampler of her new baking mixes before the holidays and I was honestly shocked when the biscuit mix turned out really great biscuits. I used some of her flour blend in a cake I made, and again was surprised that it was exactly as I’d expected it to be for that recipe, meaning indiscernible from wheat flour.

I’m in Connecticut today, working in my family office, which in itself is a buggery; I’m not a fan of numbers and taxes and credit statements and all, and so when a really frustrating phone call with a credit card company made me miss my yoga class, it sent me into a downward spiral. I’d had a rough night sleep. My knees and back were really cranky. I’m still catching up after a really hard couple of weeks (months) and some days keeping it together takes more energy than others. So when my calculator just stopped working I walked away. Just walked away.

Ok, just from my desk.

I needed that darned cookie.

My twitter feed with said "I NEED A COOKIE!". And James Taylor. I often need James Taylor.

My twitter feed with said “I NEED A COOKIE!”. And James Taylor. I often need James Taylor. And this proves that the craving and the cookies were only 57 minutes apart. Around. My calculator’s broken so I can’t quite do the math.

Luckily I’ve been toting Pamela’s Oatmeal Cookie mix around so that when I’m here I have a quick solution for something sweet or when an unexpected visitor drops by. And after a quick trip to the market for butter (what house does not have real butter, I ask ya?!?!) and some dairy-free chocolate chunks (Enjoy Life is often on sale here, and that makes me happy) I had these babies in the oven in, like, ten minutes. Seriously.

I was, again, skeptical that they would work; the batter seemed a tad dry and it took a lot of beating to soften the butter up enough. I divided the batter into thirds and added chocolate chunks, then chocolate chunks and toasted walnuts, then cranberries and walnuts. 14 minutes in the oven and…

TADA!

TADA!

They’re delicious. I added tons of cranberries, chocolate chunks and walnuts that I toasted up fast. I wanted to see if they could hold up. And I purposely sprayed the sheets instead of using parchment, because I didn’t want to buy a whole roll of parchment for 12 cookies and the bag gave both options. They held up. Totally.

I highly recommend this cookie mix. I literally eye-balled ingredients and they were darned tasty.

Head to Pamela’s Products for this and her entire line of mixes. And to banter back with me on days such as this head over to Twitter, where I’m often venting / retracting / reventing.

Ooh, and these images are obviously not prettily altered and watermarked and all that… but just writing a blog post feels awesome today, too. So, thank you, bloggerreaders.

“The Dusty Review” on Bromography – Discoveries of New York Foodies

Bromography.com!

I’m incredibly excited to join the team at Bromography.com, a New York City based food website that develops recipes, reviews restaurants and attends the big food events that unite we urban dwellers and our obsession with food.

My column, The Dusty Review, takes on markets, restaurants, cafes and coffee shops from the allergy-friendly perspective.  I mostly concentrated on the service and the communication with the wait-staff, reporting on how presenting my food allergies is received and the options on the menu for those of us with allergies or those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.

My second review came out for Bisous, ciao Macarons, a delicious bakery in the Lower East Side.  This review is paving the way for my review of an incredible book, Mad About Macarons, and interview with author Jill Collana.

I also reviewed the adorable cafe, Fatta Cuckoo, also in the Lower East Side.

Please check out Bromography.com and get the scoop from New York City’s obsessive foodies!

bisous chio, Macarons

Fatta Cuckoo

The Platine Bleue Hen Egg Series

Platine Bleue Hen Eggs

I’m out of town, rehearsing a show in the gorgeous Hamptons, and staying with my director in her… well, let’s just say the house I’m staying in is quite, perfect, in my opinion.  Her and her partner grow almost all of their own vegetables, they live on the bay (so I see water outside my window!) and they COOK for me!! As my boyfriend and roommate don’t really cook (cough), this is a luxury.  Fresh salads of garden spinach, asparagus, vegetable soups… all that AND I’m staying in a en suite attic that Louisa May Alcott would have found much inspiration in.

That said, I don’t quite have a kitchen or my equipment to do much cooking in at the moment, other than the one day a week I run home for a visit.  So there hasn’t been much posting since I’ve started here.

But one of the things I love about doing shows outside of New York City is exploring new areas… and new areas of FOOD!  So browsing through the local health supermarket the other day I found a container of Pete and Gerry’s Platine Bleue Hen Eggs and immediately rushed back to show them off.

Eggs of various blue tones

From Pete and Gerry’s: The indigenous Mapuche people of South America have produced blue eggs since the mid-sixteenth century. Their Araucana chickens developed fully feathered faces as insulation against Patagonia’s frigid winters.

Our cage-free Ameraucana hens are derived from these chickens and now considered a distinct breed. They have slate-colored legs and colorful plumage. Their beautiful, pastel blue eggs have deep yellow yolks and very rich flavor.

Pastel blue inside of the eggs

The eggs vary in tone – some are striking on the outside, some a pale slate color.  The inside of all eggs is a smooth, vibrant pastel blue, which reflects light in quite a magical way.  None of the pictures in this post are altered – this is how the morning light hit them.

To fully experience the allegedly deep and rich yolks, I cooked one over low heat in an ungreased skillet and then boiled the rest, making sure to only let them simmer and sit in hot water until just cooked, then ran them under cold water to stop the process and help the egg pull from the shell.

Incredibly vibrant egg yolk

The word in the hen house spoke truly – look at that yolk!!  So powerful even the “white” around it had no choice but to take some in!  These eggs seem to have a bit more protein than normal hen eggs, and I would challenge anyone to a duel were they to suggest separating these eggs and only eating the whites.The boiled eggs produced the same incredible colors – the yolk practically dousing sunshine.  They also took up a great deal more room of the actual egg – I imagine they would make a stunning frittata or quiche.

Breakfast of Platine Bleue Hen Eggs

But how do these beauties taste?  The yolk, my housemate Jess and I noticed, was so creamy and soft, almost buttery in flavor and quite indulgent.  The white was crisp and clean – the perfect canvas to showcase the yolk.

Dusty conclusion?  Don’t try to show up the simple delicacy of these Platine Bleue eggs by doing too much to them.  Yes, they probably make a killer creme brulee.  But cooked simply and perfectly, seasoned with a tiny bit of sea salt and a side of fresh veggies – there is little more I’d ask for in a breakfast.

A perfect, Dusty breakfast

Pinisi Cafe & Bakery, NYC – Gluten-Free Bakery Review Part Two

Gluten-free Red Velvet Cupcakes at Panisi Bakery

Why, oh why, is there no gluten-free red velvet cupcake to be had in this city?  I mean, one I can buy.  I mean, one that actually tastes like red velvet, with that delicious undercurrent of cocoa and bright red sheen?

Back to that in a moment.

A while back I toured a lovely group of people around NYC’s East Village and Lower East Side, stuffing our faces with gluten-free and (sometimes) vegan sweets from bakeries that have popped up to offer us glutinos the joy of a freshly baked pastry.  I’ll soon be reviving this tour and writing a solo article about our “best of” treats at the varying establishments, but am too excited not to share my findings.  This is part two, the second after my review of TuLu’s Bakery only a few blocks away.

The group consisted of 7 palates of a wide variety.  I was the only solely gluten-and-dairy-free eater, which meant both that I had to trust my cohorts’ opinions when faced with dairy-full foods I couldn’t partake in, and that we had some interesting differences in opinion as to our preferences.  Sometimes I’d be the only one who liked a certain pastry – my tastebuds have changed to appreciate certain flavors in a different way.  My two sisters (Maggie and Jess) and cousin Amanda are generally allergy-free, but have had some experience with my allergy-restricted food habits and experiments, so they were able to give solid opinions as to what tasted “normal” and what was lacking to their unrestricted palates.  My dear friend Erin brought her sister Allison, who is a chef/caterer in CT.  Both brought incredible insights and expert opinions to the mix.  Finally, Jessica’s friend Ken offered a big, hungry man’s opinion.

Pinisi Cafe & Bakery

  • 128 East 4th Street, btwn 1st and 2nd Ave.
  • Phone: 212-614-9079
  • PinisiBakeryNYC.com
  • Hours: 7am-11pm daily
  • Average pastry $3
  • Family feel
  • Baking done on premise
  • Catering

Pinisi Bakery is my favorite amongst the gluten-free bakeries that polka-dot the East Village.  Shamefully this is not due to the fact that their pastries are the best, though their rosemary brownie was quite exceptional.  And until this crawl I had never been there, so it’s not for a sentimental attachment to an old neighborhood favorite.

My love for Pinisi comes from what they are, and what they don’t attempt to be.

Tucked away on 4th street between 1st and 2nd avenues, with a busily-painted window and flanked by two grey, non-descript other buildings, this isn’t a pastel-pink, cupcake-laden joint like TuLu’s or Babycakes.  This is the grandmother, the abuela or avo or however you say grandmother in Italian, of bakeries.

The walls are painted a melancholy yellow, the brown wooden counter just fits your coffee or pastry in a manner that suggests it’s somewhat unimpressed that you’re there.  The back of the room is dark and mysterious, just like the basement rec-rooms of my tios in Long Island, where espresso machines and bottle of cognac don’t get enough sleep.

But, my friends, the pastry case.  The PASTRY case.   You can tell these people know how to bake, or as my friends put it:

  • Maggie: I like the feel of this place.
  • Erin: Yeah, it’s got an old-world feeling to it. It’s not trying to be chic or modern. This is very like ‘we’re an awesome bakery’.
  • Maggie: ‘Yay, come in!’

Pinisi is not strictly gluten-free.  In fact, they only have a few GF offerings and a recent post-crawl drop-in (after my cupcake decorating class as Butterlane) left me with only one option – the flourless chocolate cake.  My heart was set on that rosemary brownie, so I left treat-less.  But that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy looking.

European classics like rich creamy cheesecakes and Italian cookies sit alongside cupcakes and fruit tarts.  Each one looks like something a really talented relative would make with a recipe passed down through generations of migrating cultures.

I am in love with Pinisi because this is what I want my future to hold: a hodgepodge of classics that those of us with food sensitivities can enjoy alongside the rest of them.  A friendly staff who insists upon knowing your name and insists upon you calling them by theirs.  A place that sticks around long after trends have come and gone.

What my group did sample that day were the three gluten-free options: the epic rosemary brownie, the cocoa-less but stunning red-velvet cupcake, and the classic flourless chocolate cake.

Rosemary Brownie $3

  • Made with rice flour
  • Ridiculously dense
  • Very rich

This was the clear winner in our group, the intense mix of both sweet and savory, and compared with our vegan brownie experience at TuLu’s Allison was happy to note that “this one is definitely a brownie”.  The amount of rosemary we seemed to notice actually was determined more by the palate of the foodie than the brownie itself; those of us used to processed foods and sweets were a little less wowed by the rosemary factor than those who pick up every stupid subtlety in their food (um, me).  We all enjoyed the flaky top crust, especially in contrast with the creaminess of the brownie that was rich and dense.  It did have that grainy aftertaste, in thanks to the abundance of rice flour no doubt, but it didn’t bother anyone and actually contributed instead to the enjoyment of the classic texture.

Vegan Red Velvet Cupcake $3

  • Red beet flour which is what gives it its color
  • Tofu based frosting

We were all pretty wowed with the vibrant color of this cupcake, which we were informed was achieved with beat flour instead of food coloring.  So our hats off to the baker for that.  And we were blown away by the fluffy, creamy tofu-based frosting that got as close as possible to mimicking marshmallow.  The cake didn’t crumble the way some had at TuLu’s, so we were impressed as we cut into this little red baby.

But, sadly, that’s where our excitement ended.

Now, red velvet is a hard puppy to make to begin with.  A level of balance with cocoa has to be achieved in a cake that’s not too dense, and doesn’t taste sweet like a classic chocolate.  So there is recognition of the difficulty in this.  But the cupcake failed to impress, leaving no cocoa impression whatsoever and being far too dense.

I wouldn’t stop you from ordering a dozen simply for the frosting , though.

Oh, and this unfulfilled desire for the perfect gluten-free red velvet cupcake resulted in my making The Little Red Velvet Riding Hood Cupcake, which is the best cake recipe I’ve ever made and a killer version of this classic.  It satisfied all the unrequited cocoa love we’d be missing from the crawl!

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Flourless Chocolate Cake: $5

Hmm, there is not too much to report on this classic.  Really, we said very little on it.  We all agreed it was rather delicious, obviously densely packed with chocolate and some pretty little shavings on top, and easy to make gluten-free since the point is it’s flourless. But no one in our group seemed particularly wowed, and as I couldn’t try it because of the dairy-factor I don’t even have my two-cents to throw into the pot.

Conclusions:

  • Love the ambiance
  • Would buy GF cookies here by the pound during the holidays for friends
  • Rosemary brownie was the clear winner
  • Recommend buying the tofu frosting by the gallon
  • Buy a whole flourless chocolate cake to spruce up and share.  Ooh, strawberries!

Fluffy Vegan Frosting


“I’m the most delicious gluten-and-dairy-free Red Velvet cupcake you’ll ever eat.  And now that I’m topped with light and fluffy vegan frosting, that’s so spreadable and pipeable, you’ll never wanna stop making me.  Kisses.”

– Cupake

I swear the cupcake insisted that I write that – I was completely at its mercy.  Maybe because I ate several of his fellows before changing frosting tips to see if I could pipe letters, which I did with ease.

The cake in this cupcake is truly divine – both moist but light, full of cocoa flavor but not too chocolatey.  Several friends who have no gluten or dairy problems could not tell that they are both, one even suggesting I match it up with a gluten-full cake and blind taste test some people for the fun of it.

Please try it, and tell me what you think.  I dubbed it Little Red Velvet Riding Hood Cupcake.  But if you just wanna call it Mmmmm, that’s okay too.  Recently I’ve been calling it “Oh my Dog!”, while it’s still in my mouth.

Now, the only reason I’m reposing this cupcake is because of the frosting issue.  The first I tried was lovely – a sweet vegan “cream cheese” frosting – but it came out more like a glaze, and no amount of whipping or refrigerating gave it a stiff enough consistency for me to pipe or even pile high.

So I tried a Vegan Fluffy Buttercream Frosting recipe from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero and BOY-OH was I happy!  Insanely easy and amazingly fluffy, the frosting stayed stiff enough to pipe with several different tips long after I had colored it and bagged it.  Because it’s made with vegan butter and shortening – which are obviously both vegetable-oil based – it whipped easily at any temperature and functioned well.

And the taste!  Like a classic butter-cream it tastes primarily like sugar and vanilla.  But unlike butter-cream it didn’t taste overpoweringly so.  The shortening gave it enough body so that the sugar content was slightly lower.  Don’t get me wrong – this is very sweet.  As someone who struggles with hypoglycemia, I did a decent job at staying away (after one cupcake of course!)  But it’s not going to overwhelm your taste buds nor distract from the cupcake you put it on.  And because of the light and fluffy consistency, it particularly matched the classy cake underneath it and would do as well with a rich chocolate – ooh, or banana!

Vegan Fluffy Buttercream Frosting

The recipe is from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero.  Click on the title above for their recipe.

This frosting is fluffy and easy to work with

This frosting is fluffy and easy to work with

Having fun with frosting

TuLu’s Bakery, NYC – Gluten-Free Bakery Review Part One

Mini-cupcakes at TuLu's Bakery, Photo Maggie Raposo

A while back I toured a lovely group of people around NYC’s East Village and Lower East Side, stuffing our faces with gluten-free and (sometimes) vegan sweets from bakeries that have popped up to offer us glutinos the joy of a freshly baked pastry.  I’ll soon be reviving this tour and writing a solo article about our “best of” treats at the varying establishments, but am too excited not to share my findings.

So consider this the first of a 3-part review of the east side’s tastiest allergy-friendly establishments.

The group consisted of 7 palates of a wide variety.  I was the only solely gluten-and-dairy-free eater, which meant both that I had to trust my cohorts’ opinions when faced with dairy-full foods I couldn’t partake in, and that we had some interesting differences in opinion as to our preferences.  Sometimes I’d be the only one who liked a certain pastry – my tastebuds have changed to appreciate certain flavors in a different way.  My two sisters (Maggie and Jess) and cousin Amanda are generally allergy-free, but have had some experience with my allergy-restricted food habits and experiments, so they were able to give solid opinions as to what tasted “normal” and what was lacking to their unrestricted palates.  My dear friend Erin brought her sister Allison, who is a chef/caterer in CT.  Both brought incredible insights and expert opinions to the mix.  Finally, Jessica’s friend Ken offered a big, hungry man’s opinion.

Photo Maggie Raposo

TuLu’s Gluten-Free Bakery

  • 338 East 11th Street
  • Between 1st and 2nd Avenues
  • Open Mon-Thu 10:30am-10pm; Fri-Sat 10:30am-10:30pm; Sun 10:30am-9pm
  • Pastries average around $3
  • Full-sizes cakes made to order starting at $40
  • Menu
  • Adorable storefront

Our sweet explorations started at TuLu’s bakery, where upon first bite my younger sister exclaimed “this is inspiring me to go gluten-free again”.

We had decided to pick out a few staples at each location – both a basic vanilla and chocolate cupcake and some sort of chocolate cake / brownie – as well as a seasonal specialty or more unique pastry.

TuLu’s sits in the heart of the East Village, and the tiny storefront suggests grabbing an order to go rather than lingering on one of the few stools available.  The entire menu is gluten-free, and vegan options are very clearly labeled for those with dairy allergies as well.

Our favorite: Dairy-Free Pumpkin Bread

Overall, the dairy-free pumpkin bread was the clear winner, with a delicious balance of spice that didn’t overpower the flavor of the pumpkin, and was agreed to be something not peggable as gluten-or-dairy-free.  Surprisingly moist and not too sweet, the lack of graininess that often accompanies gluten-free pastries was absent in this almost chewy cake that we gobbled with glee.

The snickerdoodle that made us sad

 

The snickerdoodle cookie didn’t fare so well to our palettes, being far too sweet with a decidedly flat taste that lacked any complexity and highlighted the grainy texture we were so happy to avoid prior.  As my gal Erin concluded succinctly: “there’s no doodle in the snicker”.

Vegan Agave Brownie

 

The vegan agave-sweetened brownie fared only slightly better.  In fact I, as the only glutino, was the only one who particularly liked this extremely dense treat that everyone else thought had a funny flavor and tasted more like a cake than a brownie.  The lack of eggs and additional starch included to replace them resulted in a bit of a crumbly texture.  But as someone who rarely eats chocolate or sweet treats, I was a fan, stopping in for seconds a few weeks later when I passed by.

Vegan chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosing (and sprinkles!)

Now, as the cupcake craze continues to terrorize the bakery trend in NYC (terrorize, really, Jacqueline?  Yes, eaters, the trend is almost terrifying), we knew some major sampling was gonna be happening.

Sadly for vegans out there, this vegan chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosting didn’t quite satisfy, crumbling so completely that we had to scoop it up with forks.  No one was really impressed by the cake (though they preferred it to the brownie), but all were delighted by the light and fluffy soy-based frosting.

Chocolate cupcake with peanut-butter frosting

The peanut-butter buttercream frosting on the dairy-full chocolate cupcake was a huge it, too.  Light and whipped to perfection, (I was told) it had an incredible peanut-butter flavor that balanced well with the chocolate in the cupcake.  The group was a bit split as to if the cake actually had enough chocolate flavor in it, but with the intensity of the frosting, the cake wasn’t holding a candle to taking center stage as well (mixing metaphors, yes.  It’s Sunday morning).

Vanilla cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting

The winner of the TuLu’s cupcake challenge was the classic vanilla with vanilla cream-cheese frosting (with dairy, obviously).  Because of the eggs, the structure was solid and it didn’t crumble as the vegan options had.  While the amount of vanilla in the cake was questioned (some wanted a stronger flavor), the moistness of the cake balanced with a rich but light frosting forgave the tiny bit of graininess that was only noticeable because the group knew of the gluten-free contents.

Conclusions

  • Favorite pastry: Dairy-free pumpkin bread
  • Second up: peanut-butter frosting
  • Thumbs down: snickerdoodle
  • Frosting: group equally split on loving the buttercream, soy-based and cream-cheese.  They were all big hits.

 

The winner - dairy-free pumpkin bread

Thanks go to the group of friends, as well as Maggie Raposo, for taking the pics.
 

Last Gluten-Free Noodle Standing!

A while back New York Magazine did an article called “Last Noodle Standing“, where three chefs and one really Italian guy compared the city’s best dried pasta and voted on their favorites.  Not being able to indulge in what they said were some stellar noodles, I devised my own challenge: “Last Gluten-Free Noodle Standing”!

I hosted a few friends over to taste-test five pastas that contained no gluten whatsoever.  We followed the same protocol as the NYMag article: each pasta was boiled in salted water according to package directions and then tasted on its own with nothing on it, and then again with some sort of sauce.  Whereas the NYMag guys just used oils and cheese as their sauce, we kicked it up a notch and had some heartier coverings.  We rated each category – flavor, texture and sauce absorption – on a 30 point scale, for a total of 90 points.

To up the fun, my guests were not given the types of grains the pastas were made out of, and only after we totaled everything up did they discover the source of what they liked and didn’t like.  And unlike NYMag we’re admittedly not the city’s top pasta chefs.  But along with yours truly – the can’t-eat-much-normal-food gal – my judges are peeps who know how to eat on a budget, and quality pastas are at the top of anyone’s recession-spending list.

Note: gluten-free pastas tend to overcook easily, becoming very mushy, so I tended to cook all on the lower end of the time-range, checking often.

The Pastas

The Winner: 76.25 pointsTNK912L
Tinkyada Pasta Joy
Brown Rice Spirals
$3.79/16oz
tinkyada.com

Sauce: Variety of olive oils, salt and pepper, fresh Parmesan cheese and fresh basil.

Boasts that it can stand “over-cooking”.  All-rice company in many varieties of pastas.  Cooks in 15 minutes.  210 calories and 4 grams of protein per serving.

This pasta won in both the FLAVOR and TEXTURE departments.  Made only of brown rice, it was “just what (one) would expect from a well-seasoned pasta” and tasted close to its wheat-counterpart.  Two of us considered it a lovely al-dente, while the other two thought it was slightly softer than a wheat al-dente but not at all grainy, as expected, or unpleasant.  It absorbed the flavors of the sauces rather well.  One of us wondered how it would do with a cream sauce.

fusilli

Second Place: 73.5 points
Andean Dream Quinoa/Rice Fusilli
$3.50/8oz at Whole Foods
andeandream.com

Sauce: Bergamot olive oil from O&Co and Hazelnut olive oil from La Tourangelle.

Uses organic quinoa grown in the Bolivian Andes, and organic brown.  The quinoa is fairly traded and employs 280 families in the Andean Valley.  Cooks in 13-15 minutes.  207 calories and 6 grams of protein per serving.

This was a pasta I had never tried before and was very pleased with.  It was a little bland on its own, but the closest to how a wheat-pasta would taste on its own.  The noodles didn’t clump after cooking, and 3 out of 4 judges thought it had a consistent al-dente texture (though some noodles fell apart – we’re not sure if this was pre- or post-cooking though). "The pasta created a nice blank canvas for the flavors" and "let the flavors shine".  We first used Bergamot oil with salt, pepper and sometimes cheese, and were floored by how well it took in the flavor.  Then the hazelnut oil brought it to another dimension.  This pasta REALLY takes on flavor well, winning in the SAUCE category.

Glutino Spagetti

Third Place: 65.75 points
Glutino Brown Rice Spaghetti
$3.00/10oz at Whole Foods
glutino.com

Sauce: Broccoli Rab cooked with olive oil and lots of garlic.

Company focused on bringing tasty alternatives specifically to those with gluten intolerance.  Cooks in 7-10 minutes.  200 calories and 5 grams of protein per serving.

Alone, we thought this pasta was a bit grainy and bland, though not bad, with a slightly sweet or citrusy aftertaste.  It clumped a LOT from cooking.  3 of us thought it was grainy, being too soft on the outside and harder on the inside, but the 4th thought it was a perfect spaghetti al-dente.  It didn’t capture the delicate flavors of the oils and vegetables at all and needed a lot of moisture.  It would probably do better with being put directly into a tomato-based sauce right after cooking.

Ancient Harvest Rotellea

Fourth Place: 52.75 points
Ancient Harvest Quinoa/Corn Rotelle
$2.69/8oz at my local store
quinoa.net

Sauce: Beef meat and green pepper sauce for the men and fresh tomato and red pepper sauce for the ladies.

First company to bring quinoa to the U.S.  Fairly traded and from sustainable sources. Cooks in 6-9 minutes.  205 calories and 4 grams of protein per serving.

This pasta had a nice flavor on its own, thanks to the corn/quinoa combination.  But the corn made it distinctively grainy and inconsistent in cooking – some noodles were perfectly soft while others were hard inside.  This is the one pasta that was also cooked to its fullest cooking time, and I pointed out that normally when I use this pasta I have to intentionally over-cook it to negate the inconsistency, therefore making it normally on the mushier side.  Though some of us thought it stood up to the heavier sauces well, it didn’t take on the flavors of the sauces or let its own flavor come through, and the texture was a distraction.  While I’m not a fan of this pasta, I do give props to the company for producing phenomenal quinoa on its own – both varieties are delicious.De Boles

Fifth Place: 46.25 points
DeBoles Rice/Quinoa/Amaranth Penne
$2.99/8oz at my local store
deboles.com

Sauce: sauteed summer squash, onions and garlic in olive oil.

Multi-grain powerhouse combo of quinoa and amaranth. Cooks in 5-minutes.  200 calories and 5 grams of protein per serving.

I was most excited to try this brand and we were all extremely disappointed.  On its own it was “bland, but also tasted more like trees.  The type of taste people fear when they hear ‘healthy’”, and had a “crunchy, almost woodsy taste, but not in a bad way”.  The noodles so fell apart while cooking, it was hard to find whole pieces of penne.  They shredded on our forks, and it was impossible to pick up with any sauce or vegetables.  The only “saving grace” was adding the squash and sauce, when the pasta “got out of the way” and lost the “natural food aura”.

Lavender Tea Cookies

I’m playing around with different gluten-free mixes and wanted to check out another from 1-2-3 Gluten Free (I reviewed their Pan Bar Mix).  So I’m testing their “Roll-out & Cut Sugar Cookies”, which are free of gluten, wheat, dairy, caseins, peanuts, tree-nuts, corn, egg and soy!  The mix does contain sugar, so be careful if you’re diabetic, hypoglycemic, or generally avoid white sugar.  Other than that, it’s a basic mix of rice flour, tapioca flour, potato starch and the necessary xantham gum and baking powder.

To make it extra special for my gluten-dairy-free-British colleague Dale I added adding some delicate dried lavender to make a tea-tasty cookie.

I had attempted to bake the cookies two different ways – first by rolling and cutting out as the mix suggests, then by rolling the dough with my hands into a ball and pressing flat, crisscrossing with a fork (with the intention to see if this may make a suitable snickerdoodle dough).  But my dough was too dry to roll out, and crumbled on my pastry board.  So I rolled about 1 tablespoon of dough with my hands and flattened it a tiny bit, placing 12 cookies about 2 inches apart on a thin baking sheet.

The result: Well, these cookies are very sweet to me.  But I like my pastries just-sweet, so this is probably good news for other bakers out there.  They do taste remarkably close to regular sugar cookies, even despite the lack of butter.  Mine are much thicker than what this recipe is intended for (rolling them thin and cutting them can make 40-100 cookies, my batch yielded 36), but the texture is great – soft and slightly crumbly.  The essence of lavender is perfect (I’d say 1/4 cup or less…).  Overall, I’m a little disappointed I couldn’t roll them out, but think it’s a great standard cookie mix.  And they’d make a great snickerdoodle by adding 2 teaspoons of cinnamon to the mix and rolling in cinnamon before baking.

Ingredients:

  • 1 box 1-2-3 Gluten Free Sugar Cookie Mix
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 egg and 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup dried edible lavender (you can get this at most bulk food / tea stores.  Any lavender you’d use for tea is appropriate for baking)

Directions:

  1. In a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, cream shortening until smooth, about 3 minutes
  2. Add 1/2 cup of the flour mixture and blend thoroughly.
  3. Add egg and egg yolk, and beat until incorporated
  4. Add the rest of the flour mixture and beat until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until you can make a solid dough-ball.
  5. Add the lavender and mix quickly until evenly dispersed (I tasted a bit of my mix to make sure I had the light flavor and scent I desired)
  6. Divide dough into two balls, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour until firm
  7. When dough is ready, preheat oven to 375 degrees F
  8. Using 1 tablespoon portions, roll dough into a ball and flatten slightly.  Place on baking tray 2 inches apart and bake for about 13 minutes (I discovered that putting them in the middle of the oven made the bottoms brown but not the tops, so I moved the second round to the top third of the oven)
  9. Let cool slightly and transfer to wire rack

1-2-3 Gluten-Free Baking Mixes

Occasionally, very occasionally, I indulge myself in a boxed mix of something gluten-free.  One night during a run of a play in Cincinnati I was CRAVING something sweet and stuck in the theatre all day without so much as applesauce to appease the pangs.  Later that night during my 11pm run to the grocery store, a box of 1-2-3 Gluten Free “Pan Bars” just happened to end up in my cart… oops!

The next morning, before another two-show day, I whipped the mix together with a few eggs and oil, and the 3/4 a cup of pumpkin that the box recommended.  Not to succumb completely to a packaged product, I spiced it up à la Dusty Baker with some cinnamon and freshly grated ginger.  Spread into a 9×11 pan, popped into the oven for a half hour, cooled for another half, sliced and covered and it was on its way to hungry actors and stage crew.

Now a good amount of actors are foodies – I’ve never met such a quantity of people through a profession who share my obsession with Saveur magazine and who sympathize with my insane desire to own my own chickens enough to send me email links to urban  “hen houses” (I WILL have my own eggs from the happy hens who live on my roof in my future apartment in New York City… that I will own…near my Dusty Bakery).

So I decided to see if there would be any adverse reaction to NOT telling people that they were gluten-free.  I set the pan out, headed to my little dressing room and waited.  Voices inquired about what they were, cursed me for bringing in another baked goods (actors are obviously always watching their waistline – which is why most things I bring in are relatively healthy anyway!), and then hailed them for their deliciousness!

And when I tried them, I wholeheartedly agreed!  They were moist, light and fluffy.   And one particular friend, who had said he wasn’t interested in any way in trying something gluten-free, declared them delicious and stuck to his opinion after I unveiled my bit of trickery. Score for the gluten-free-ers!

I was also thrilled to tell the group that the boxed flour was delightfully simple – which is why I gave in and bought it to begin with (most boxed mixes have WAY too much stuff in them for me).

Ingredients in the mix:

Sugar
Rice Flour
Tapioca Flour
Potato Starch
Aluminum-free, corn-free baking powder
Salt
Xanthan Gum

So the only things I would have changed if making this from scratch myself was the white sugar and the potato starch (I would have experimented with tapioca starch or arrowroot to exclude any trace of nightshade vegetable).  And the ingredients are free from gluten, wheat, dairy, casein, peanut, tree nut, corn, egg and soy!  The recipe could easily be made with applesauce, carrot or zucchini instead of pumpkin, and chickpeas instead of eggs to make egg-free (there’s a recipe for this on the inside of the box).

So, needless to say, I am VERY supportive of this brand from my one experience.  The blend doesn’t contain too much sugar or additives, and produces a light and fluffy cake.  I was extra excited to learn that this company hails out of Cleveland – only a few hours from where I’m typing right now!

Thanks, Kimberlee, for this wonderful product!

Visit 1-2-3 Gluten Free

%d bloggers like this: