Archive | February, 2012

Gluten Free Sandwich…from a Deli!

13 Feb

I have a hard time trusting non-gluten free restaurants, specifically pizza and sandwich places, that try and serve gluten free foods.  The risk of cross-contamination is so great that the uncertainty drives me nuts.  Not only is there an excessive amount of gluten ingredients floating around but also, I can’t watch the kitchen staff handle my order.  Honestly, it feels like a sick form of gambling, a Celiac version of Russian roulette, if you will.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the effort that restaurants are making to provide food to GF customers, but I feel that they are targeting the gluten intolerant as opposed to Celiacs, which can be confusing and dangerous for consumers.

Despite my hesitations, I recently dined at a sandwich shop that offered gluten free bread.  Luckily, the sandwiches at this establishment are assembled within view of the customers so I had the opportunity to watch how they handled making a gluten free sandwich amongst a sea of gluten sandwiches!

As a UC Berkeley Bear, it is much to my dismay that my fabulous experience at the sandwich shop happened at Stanford University’s CoHo Cafe.  Here is what I observed:

First, when I ordered the sandwich, I told the cashier that my reaction to gluten is severe and that my sandwich “could not come into contact with any utensils or products that have been touching wheat.”  Similarly to how I sometimes describe a Celiac as being “functionally allergic to gluten,” I did not use the phrase “cross-contamination” so as to avoid confusion over jargon.

You should always remind waitstaff and/or chefs at restaurants offering GF products about cross-contamination.  Some places start offering GF products before they do the necessary research about safe kitchen practices.

After placing my order I watched as the person constructing the sandwiches read my order.  She promptly removed her gloves and took a few knives and a cutting board to a sink to wash them with soap and water. Next, she put on a new pair of gloves and grabbed a package of Udi’s bread from a cabinet.  Interestingly, these were the largest slices of Udi’s bread I have ever seen, they must have been special ordered.

The woman toasted the bread in a designated panini press.  While they were toasting, she went into a back room and brought out a small assortment of condiments that had never been used on wheat products.  She assembled the sandwich on the clean cutting board and cut it in half with the newly washed knife.

It was so great to watch such efficient and proper protocol!  I think Subway could learn a lot from this tiny sandwich shop!  Check out this youtube video of a gluten free customer at Subway checking for cross-contamination.  I also think that college campuses should try to catch up with Stanford’s quality service (I am cringing while typing this).  I had  a meal plan at UC Berkeley for a year and the sandwich station in the dining hall was 100% off limits for me.  Not only was there an unreliable supply of gluten free bread but the staff was simply unaware about cross-contamination and how to avoid it. You know someone has fantastic service when a Bear is willing to compliment the actions of anyone or anything even remotely related to Stanford, let alone a Cafe on their campus.

My sandwich was delicious.  Since my diagnosis with Celiac Disease, I have been craving a deli-made sandwich.  I don’t know why, but there is something special about a sandwich made by a deli…for some reason my sandwiches at home simply aren’t the same.

It is important that restaurants offering GF meals are aware about cross contamination!  Next time you dine out, try talking to your server or the chef about how the food is prepared. California Pizza Kitchen had trouble with cross contamination when they tried to offer  a GF pizza crust. How did they figure out there was a problem?  A pro-active Celiac spoke up.  Now, CPK is working with GIG to develop safe kitchen protocol for their GF products.

Cross-contamination is a serious issue.  You do not have to be an expert, you simply need to advocate for yourself, in order to help a restaurant improve their GF service.

-CC

So You Want To Take A Cooking Class…

2 Feb

Cooking at home makes being gluten free so much easier.  Dining at restaurants is stressful, uncomfortable, not to mention, kind of dangerous!  Don’t get me wrong, I love going out to eat, but I have to admit that it is oftentimes a somewhat draining experience.  Having the option of dining in provides a nice sense of security.  There is only one problem….you don’t know how to cook.

Being diagnosed with Celiacs or gluten intolerance requires that you change many, many aspects of your life.  I know for me, learning how to cook was a necessity.  My culinary knowledge was limited to spaghetti and Mac N’ Cheese before I was diagnosed with Celiacs. Without those two dishes, my culinary chops were null.

Knowing how to cook has many benefits for someone who cannot eat gluten.  For one thing, you can host dinner parties (instead of trying to find a safe restaurant to go out with your friends or family).  Stressed about attending someone else’s dinner party? Afraid there won’t be anything you can eat?  Well, fear not, because if you know how to cook, you can bring a side dish to share at the party. In addition to these social benefits, knwoing how to prepare GF dishes at home will help you minimize the costs of the gluten free diet.  Let’s be honest, substitution foods, both at grocery stores and offered at restaurants, are really expensive.  A package of my favorite gluten free spaghetti costs around $6 while a typical pack of gluten spaghetti (I won’t call it “normal spaghetti”) costs only ~$1.20.  Developing skills in the kitchen will expand your food options, allowing you to use less expensive, naturally gluten free foods!  For example, learning how to cook with quinoa or make delicious rice dishes are ways to cut down on costs.

So, I think every Celiac should have the skills to cook GF at home…now the question is, where do we get those skills?

You can find a few gluten free specialty cooking classes in big cities but they are few and far between.  Most gluten free cooking classes that I have heard about only teach you how to make substitution foods (GF bread, cookies, cakes etc.) but never cover the basics of cooking.  How does a Celiac learn the ABC’s of cooking?  Are there any cooking classes out there that are naturally gluten free? Honestly, probably not. Chefs love flour.  The French, the Italians, the English…everyone loves flour!  The use of flour is prominent in all types of cooking, not simply baking.  Dredging meats in flour before pan-searing is very common.  Developing a roux for a sauce or soup, creating a batter or breading for a dish is also a popular culinary trick.

Here is what I did: I found a local cooking series in Berkeley at a place called Kitchen On Fire.  The class is a 12 week course that covers the fundamentals of cooking.  Although the class was not gluten free there were some steps that I took that helped make the class enjoyable, educational and safe.  For one thing, I did not attend the baking classes.  Being in a room full of dry flour is very dangerous for a Celiac.  Check out this post about air-borne flour.  Other than the two baking classes, I was able to attend and participate in every other class.  The class was comprised of a short lecture followed by cooking.  We were set up at cooking stations that fit 4 people. I took the class with a friend which made insisting on a gluten free cooking station much easier. We would tell the other people at our stations that we did not eat gluten and that we could not share ingredients, knives, or cooking supplies with them and also let them know we couldn’t taste their creations.  The people at our table knew not to dip tasting spoons into our dishes.  Everything went fairly smoothly.   On days where we worked with batters, dredging or frying, I used GF flour and worked at a table away from my classmates.

The class was a great learning experience.  I was grateful for the opportunity to learn to cook and found the class mostly enjoyable.  Of course, it was stressful at times.  I had to exercise constant vigilance, keeping a close eye on what I was cooking while simultaneously keeping an eye on what everyone else was doing.  Did someone throw bread onto the shared grilled?  Did anyone use the shared fryer yet with breaded foods?  Taking a class not meant to be gluten free was exhausting yet rewarding.

Here are some GF cooking classes that I have heard about, but have not taken:

Spork Foodsteaches mostly vegan cooking but specifies when a class will be gluten free

Sur La Table: offers GF cooking classes from time to time so keep an eye out for a class at your local Sur La Table.

Hipp Kitchen: Bay Area company that offers GF cooking classes in addition to nutrition advice and consultations.

Check in with local GF bakeries, GF restaurants or GF support groups to find out more information about available cooking classes in your area.

-CC

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