Friday, August 31, 2012

Daiya vs Vegan Gourmet Dairy Free / Vegan Cheeses

I’ve been dairy free for over 20 years now. I had tried DF cheeses in the past and found them terrible. They all suffer from at least one of three problems: 1) they were lactose free not dairy free*, 2) they didn’t melt, 3) their taste and texture when not melted is terrible. (* most alternative cheeses still contain casein (the protein found in milk). I assume this helps them melt as those without it tended not to.)

Vegan Gourmet Dairy Free Cheddar Cheese
A couple years ago, I decided to try an Amy’s Gluten Free Dairy Free Spinach Pizza. The instructions include a couple minutes at the very end under the broiler. The pizza came out great and a light bulb went off in my head. Perhaps that was the secret to getting casein-free non-dairy cheese to melt.

I bought a block of Vegan Gourmet and gave it a shot and . . . it worked beautifully! I did originally slice the cheese but have found it is much better/easier to shred it (by hand or in a food processor). Warning: if the cheese is layered too thickly the bottom will liquefy and not melt properly, you need a thin layer exposed to the broiler.

I also found a hint online to microwave the cheese on high, 30 seconds at a time, until it melts. I recommend cutting it up as small as possible first and mixing/stirring as you go so it doesn’t separate out. This allows you to use the cheese as a topping without having to broil whatever it is on. The downside to this tip is that the cheese re-hardens quite quickly and then doesn’t really re-melt so you have to work super fast.

Daiya Dairy Free Havarti Cheese Shreds
Vegan Gourmet comes in four flavors: Mozzarella, Cheddar, Monterey Jack and Nacho. I really wouldn’t eat it cold or expect it to melt without broiling or constant stirring (it separates out otherwise).

In the last two years, I started to see Daiya Dairy free Cheese shreds showing up in supermarkets and even a handful of restaurants. It claims to melt like cheese but I found that while it melts better than the Vegan Gourmet it still isn’t the same as dairy cheese. It comes pre-shredded which saves a step but, I found it doesn’t microwave well (although Amy’s GF/DF Mac and Cheese uses Daiya and it microwaves up perfectly). It is also extremely sticky, sticking to bowls, plates, utensils anything it comes in contact with while in its melty form.

Daiya comes in three flavors: Cheddar, Mozzarella, and Pepper Jack. It is passable cold but is much better eaten hot/melty. The real advantage it has over Vegan Gourmet is that it is both vegan and soy free.

Daiya Dairy Free Cheese Wedges (cubed)
Daiya also has launched dairy free cheese wedges (Cheddar, Mozzarella, Havarti). These small blocks of cheese are perfect for cubing up for a salad or cheese platter and capture both the taste and texture of cheese. In all the DF cheeses I’ve ever had they are the first to accomplish this! I have not yet tried cooking with these.

In the end, I think Vegan Gourmet is slightly better. As long as you follow the steps above it melts fine. Daiya is a close second however so if you can’t have soy or can’t find Vegan Gourmet it is a ready alternative.

One final thought: actual dairy based cheese is high in protein and calcium while these non-dairy substitutes are not. I use them as a garnish/to add flavor not for their nutritional content (or more accurately lack thereof)!

Dairy Free Recipes using these cheese replacements:

Dairy Free Lasagna (vegan)

Dairy Free Baked Ziti (vegan)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Restaurant Review: Joe’s American Grill (Paramus, NJ, Short Hills, NJ, and locations in CT, FL, MA, NH, and RI)

A friend of mine was recently diagnosed with gluten intolerance. We decided to get together for dinner so I sent him a list of restaurants I still wanted to try and he chose Joe’s American Grill.

Hamburger on Gluten Free / Dairy Free Bun
with Gluten Free Fries at Joe's American Grill
A couple of months ago when I tried Papa Razzi’s gluten free menu (read Review of Papa Razzi here  ), I had started out at Joe’s American Grill. They had believed their new gluten free hamburger buns contained dairy so I decided to go with Papa Razzi instead. [Note: Joe’s and Papa Razzi share the same parent company and at least here in New Jersey are built next door to each other.]

Having eaten at Papa Razzi, I wasn’t surprised by the level of knowledge and care the staff at Joe’s showed us. Our waitress double checked the hamburger bun ingredients and found that while they contain a bit of egg they do not contain any dairy ingredients (she was concerned that they are manufactured in a factory that produces products containing dairy – yes, Joe’s is that careful!).

In addition to gf/df buns for their sandwiches, Joe’s also offers GF pizza crusts (for those who can have dairy), gluten free pasta, and best of all, they offered to pan fry some potatoes for us so we could have gluten free French fries!

As is Joe’s policy, the manager stopped by to discuss our allergies/intolerances with us but it was completely unneeded: our waitress was extremely thorough and knowledgeable and we had full confidence in her.

So how was the burger? The burger was great and the bun was good. It was toasted but did start to come apart towards the end of the burger. The pan fried gluten free fries were out-of-this world.

Joe’s is definitely somewhere I’ll return to and consider when traveling.
Joe's American Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Other recent restaurant reviews:

Gluten Free at Legal Sea Foods

Gluten Free Buns and Gluten Free Fries at Cheeseburger in Paradise

Restaurants serving gluten free fries

Other chain restaurants with gluten free menus

And as always, click here for my full listing of NJ Restaurants offering Gluten Free Dining

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Updates for Gluten Free Fast Food / Chain / Quick Serve List

I'm planning a trip to Maryland / Virginia in September and in preparation I've been scouting out my gluten free dining options.  Along the way I found a number of chain restaurants offering gluten free dining options.  Most of these are chains that we just don't have here in NJ.  After I had found all I could in the area I am heading, I was on a roll and expanded my search to nationwide.  When I'm back from my trip I'll be sure to post some reviews of the restaurants I've tried.  

(I've added all of these to my Gluten Free Chains / Fast Food / Quick Serve Restaurant List already.)


99 Restaurants (CT, MA, ME, NH, NY, RI, VT, only NJ location is closed) – has a number of gluten friendly entrees and gluten free hamburger buns. No gf fries but they do have potato chips instead. Lists eight major allergens (gluten instead of wheat) and MSG on their nutrition page.

Abuelo’s (AR, AZ, FL, IN, KS, KY, MI, MO, OH, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA, WI, no locations in NJ) – this Mexican restaurant chain has an average sized gluten free menu including soft corn tortillas for fajitas and soft tacos.

Austin Grill (DC, MD, VA) – this tex-mex chain has a small gluten free menu. Dairy free may require extra care.

Biaggi’s (CO, IA, IL, IN, NE, MN, MS, NC, NY, OH, UT, WI, no locations in NJ) – has gf spaghetti and penne. Has a number of non-pasta GF entrees as well.

Big Bowl (IL, MN, VA) – has a good sized Asian gluten free menu.

BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse (AZ, CA, CO, FL, IN, KS, KY, LA, NV, OH, OK, OR, TX, WA but none in NJ) – extremely small gf menu but also lists 8 major allergens (+ sulfites and MSG). DF might require extra work here as well.

Bugaboo Creek Steakhouse (CT, DE, MA, MD, ME, NH, NY, PA, RI, no NJ locations) – good sized gluten friendly menu.

Claim Jumper (AZ, CA, IL, NV, OR, TN, WA) – has a gluten free menu but take caution as they butter their grilled items.

Don Pablo’s (15 mostly eastern states + 2 in NJ: Deptford and Moorestown) – has multiple warnings on their site and gf menu about expected cross contamination, shared fryers and untrained staff.

Eddie V’s Prime Seafood & Steak (AZ, CA, TX) – large gluten friendly menu.

Glory Day’s Grill (MD, VA, WV only) – has a gluten free menu and dedicated gluten free friers.

The Greene Turtle (DC, DE, MD, VA) – bar/restaurant with a gluten friendly menu.

The Grill (CA, FL, IL, TX) – this chain has a good sized gluten friendly menu.

Hoss’s Steak and Sea (PA and WV only) – lists gluten friendly items on website.

Mama Fu’s (AR, FL, NC, TX) – gluten free sauce not in all locations yet (check with your local restaurant before going. Has a nice sized GF asian menu.

Mitchell’s Fish Market (CT, FL, IN, KY, MI, PA, OH, WI) – can prepare any of their fresh fish in four different gluten friendly ways (grilled, blackened, in a salad, and steamed with ginger and scallions). Has a good number of other gluten friendly options on their GF menu as well.

Mon Ami Gabi (MD, IL, NV, VA) – fairly large gluten free menu including gluten free french fries at this French Bistro. (Note: dairy free may be a bit of a challenge.)

O’Charley’s (18 states across the mid-west, great lakes and south) – they offer an allergen menu that list six allergens (they combine nuts/peanuts and fish/shellfish) and MSG.

Ocean Prime (AZ, CO, FL, GA, IN, MI, PA, OH, TX) - offers gluten friendly menus.

The Old Spaghetti Factory (AZ, CA, CO, HI, ID, IN, KY, MN, MO, OH, OR, TN, UT, WA none on the east coast) – offers gluten free pasta for $.75 more. Has limited GF menu.

Stir Crazy (FL, GA, IL, IN, MI, MN, MO, NY, OH, WI) – offers two gluten free sauces for make-your-own stir fry with rice or rice noodles but make sure wok is thoroughly cleaned between stir fries. May have other GF options but they aren’t listed online. I’ve eaten at the NY location once but am not overly sensitive.

Ted’s Montana Grill (CO, CT, FL, GA, IL, IN, KY, MA, MT, NC, NY, PA, OH, RI, TN, VA, but not in NJ) – has a gluten friendly menu (order without bread, etc) and gluten free fresh cut fries!

Village Tavern (AL, AZ, CO, FL, GA, NC) – has a good sized gluten free menu with numerous grill items, gf pasta and gluten free pizza (but no df cheese).

White Chocolate Grill (AZ, CO, IL) - They have a good sized GF menu and even have gluten free French fries. I ate at their AZ location years ago and enjoyed it quite a bit.

Wildfire Steaks, Chops, & Seafood (IL, MN, VA) – offers full gluten free menu including gluten free hamburger buns (unknown other allergens), gluten free pizza (no df cheese) and more. Fries are not gluten free.

Wildfish Seafood Grille (AZ, CA, TX) – large gluten friendly menu.

Z’Tejas Southwestern Grill (AZ, CA, TX, UT, WA) – gluten free is listed on the specialty menu.

Quick Serve / Fast Food:

Burger 21 (FL, coming soon to NJ) – uses French Meadow gluten free hamburger buns and lists gluten free French fries and sweet potato fries on their menu.

Costa Vida Fresh Mexican Grill (AZ, CA, CO, ID, MO, NM, TX, UT) – no gluten other than their tortillas.

In-N-Out Burger (AZ, CA, NV, TX, UT) – will serve their burgers ‘protein style’ wrapped in lettuce. Their only fried item is French fries so there’s no cross contamination (and their fries are already gluten free).

Jason’s Deli (28 states but none in NJ) – has a limited GF menu mostly containing soups, baked potatoes, and salads.

Noodles & Company (locations in 23 states, but not in NJ) – the list the eight major allergens but very few items are both gluten free and dairy free.

Rubio’s (AZ, CA, CO, NV, UT) – This fish taco/mexican chain has a chart of the 8 major allergens. DF will require a little special ordering.

zpizza (AZ, CA, CO, DC, GA, HI, MD, MN, MO, NC, NV, NY, OH, SC, TX, VA, WA, no NJ locations) – offers gluten free pizza crust and vegan cheese. Crust is vegan too.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Restaurant Review: A Taste of Asia II (Chatham, NJ)

Paper Shrimp at A Taste of Asia II
in Chatham, NJ
I recently met a friend of mine for dinner at A Taste of Asia II (245 Main Street, Chatham, NJ 07928). I had walked past them a couple of years ago and noted the sign in the window advertising a gluten free menu but never found it online. (As a matter of fact the site doesn’t even acknowledge the menu exists!) But, it does indeed and it provides quite a number of choices.

The first half of the menu contains about a dozen soups, salads and actual appetizers. The other half is 15 different gluten free entrees. Before ordering, I asked our waiter about dairy free and like almost all other Asian cuisine, nothing on the dinner menu had dairy.  I also asked where the fried items were fried. He let us know that they have two fryers, one is dedicated gluten free!

With that we ordered the Paper Shrimp appetizer (pictured at right). Most of the entrees can be made spicy on a five point scale, but the one I ended up deciding on was a minimum of 3 – which was actually perfect for me and mostly mild with a slight kick. I had the Chili Chicken and my friend had the Borneo Orange Chicken. To avoid cooking a couple of nights, before we left I ordered the Curry Chicken Malaysian Style and the Ayam Basil to go (I had only eaten half my dinner and each take out portion served me twice). All four dishes were quite good but the Chili Chicken was by far my favorite.
Chili Chicken at A Taste of Asia II in Chatham, NJ

There weren’t any desserts on the gluten free menu but after perusing their standard dessert menu, I think next time I need to inquire what if anything can be done gf/df. It certainly appears that quite a few desserts are naturally gluten free and probably dairy free as well.

This is definitely somewhere I would go back, especially given all of the options.
Taste of Asia II on Urbanspoon

Other restaurant reviews:

Gluten Free at Bangkok Kitchen

Gluten Free at Pandan Room

Click here for more NJ Gluten Free Restaurants

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Which Gluten Free Hamburger Bun is Best?

Well barbecue season is in full swing again (or so I hear; I live in an apartment). For me the two main hamburger bun competitors in NJ are Udi’s and Canyon Bakehouse.   Kinnikinnick just launched a new soft bread, hot dog bun and hamburger bun. I’ve included them in the comparison below even though they are still hard to find.

Canyon Bakehouse Gluten Free Hamburger Bun
[There are a couple of other competitors that I've excluded: Rudi’s hamburger buns are hard to find and don’t hold their shape well, Ener-G are a little dry, and Schär’s Small White Roll (used as a hamburger bun on the package photo) falls apart completely (although I hear they reformulated so I may need to try them again).]

All three buns (Udi's Canyon Bakehouse and Kinnikinnick) are about the same size (perfect for the average sized burger) and hold up well. All three contain egg and corn.

Canyon Bakehouse’s bun is more of an artisanal hamburger bun. It is flavorful and hearty and a little denser. It is also a bit more expensive and harder to find. (I get mine at Whole Foods.)

Udi's Gluten Free Hamburger Bun
If on the other hand you are looking to recapture the standard 10-12 pack hamburger bun you remember, then Udi’s has it down. Like their gluten free hot dog bun, I don’t recommend letting them defrost naturally, but rather keeping them frozen until needed and then microwaving wrapped in a paper towel on medium for about 30 seconds. They are less expensive and easier to find than the Canyon Bakehouse (I get mine at Fairway but have also seen them at Whole Foods and at Shoprites.)

Kinnikinnick has the texture of a squishy potato bun and it also holds up nicely. The only minor downside (other than finding them) is that they aren’t pre-cut. Sometimes for a bbq, I just take a bun out of the freezer and go, figuring it will defrost by the time I need it (again, microwave is best, but some places preclude that).

Kinnikinnick Gluten Free Hamburger Bun

In the end it is hard to pick the best. Udi’s and Kinnikinnick have the advantage on price and nostalgia. Udi’s has the best availability of the three and Canyon Bakehouse edges them all out in flavor. In the end I think it depends what you are looking for in your bun. I use and enjoy all three.

If you can't find these buns locally they can be purchased online.  Udi's is available from the Gluten Free Mall, here: Udi's Gluten Free Hamburger Buns.  Canyon Bakehouse is available from the Gluten Free Mall, here: Canyon Bakehouse Gluten Free Hamburger Buns.  Kinnikinnick is available directly from Kinnikinnick, here: Kinnikinnick Online Store. [And in case you want to try them: Schär is available from Gluten Free Mall, here: Schar Classic Gluten Free Rolls (Hamburger Buns). Ener-G is available from in a pack of 6 packages (24 total buns), here: Ener-G Foods Brown Rice Hamburger Buns, (Pack of 6). And finally, Rudi's is available from the Gluten Free Mall, here: Rudi's Multigrain Gluten Free Hamburger Buns.]

Other Best of articles:

Best Gluten Free Hot Dog Bun

Best Gluten Free Pasta