Tater tot Mexican Casserole


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We love Nachos in our house, but it’s always good to try new recipes.  I came across this recipe and thought, huh, I wonder how this would taste with tater tots instead of tortilla chips?

I used Mrs. Dash taco seasoning in this dish-it is gluten free and not too spicy. It is also salt-free.  Ortega also makes gluten free taco seasoning mix.  I used OreIda tater tots; they are also gluten free.  On with the recipe.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1 packet taco seasoning mix
3/4 cup water
4 cups frozen tater tots or enough to cover the top of the pie plate
water for taco mix*
1/4 cup dairy free milk of choice
1 egg
2 cups dairy free shredded Mexican blend cheese (or any cheddar blend)

Instructions

Grease a 9 or 10 inch pie plate with cooking spray.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large skillet over medium heat, brown ground beef in oil until starting to brown. Add onion and pepper.  Cook until beef is no longer pink, and onion and pepper start to soften.  Drain fat.

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*Add taco seasoning mix and amount of water called for on the package.  The amount may vary depending on the mix you use.   Follow package directions for cooking the meat and taco mix together.  Cool for 2 minutes.

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In a large bowl, whisk together egg and milk;  add cheese and stir until combined.  Add in beef mixture and mix until combined.  Turn into greased pie plate.

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Top with tater tots and bake for 37 to 39 minutes, or until filling is set and tots are golden brown.

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Let cool 10 minutes.  Serve with toppings such as sour cream and salsa.

Tips:

  • Be sure to read labels when choosing taco seasoning mix.  They are not all gluten free
  • Brown your beef by flattening it out in the pan, and browning one side.  Turn over and brown on the other side.  Then break up beef to complete browning.
  • You can omit the red pepper if you like, but it gives a nice sweet taste.
  • Check your tater tots label to make sure they are gluten free.  Some companies add wheat
  • I did not measure the tots-I just used enough to cover the top of the pie plate.
  • You can omit the taco seasoning.  Here is a recipe to make your own.
  • I used Go Veggie Monterey Jack blend.  You could use a Daiya cheddar block and shred it yourself.

We really enjoyed this and will be adding it to the meal rotation.  It gets the hubby seal of approval!

 

 

Review of Enjoy Life Foods Proburst Bites, Soft Baked Minis and Baking Chocolate Snack Packs


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I received free samples of the products I am reviewing here from Enjoy life foods. This in no way influences my honest opinion of their products. 

I have been singing the praises of Enjoy life foods products since I began writing my blog almost two years ago.  Their soft baked cookies were one of the first products I fell in love with when I went gluten free.  When I began baking gluten and dairy free treats, I came to rely on their delicious dairy-free chocolate chips.

I would like to share some information with you regarding Enjoy Life Products:

  • ALL of their products are certified gluten-free and are free from the top 8 most common allergens (wheat, dairy, egg, soy, peanut, tree nut, fish, and shellfish).
  • ALL of their products are verified Non-GMO, certified Kosher and Halal, and made with no artificial ingredients.
  • Their Baking Chocolate Snack Packs are single-serve pouches of their Baking Chocolate – perfect as a topping or on-the-go chocolate fix. They are also certified vegan and paleo-friendly.
  • Their ProBurst Bites™ are packed with 6-7g of plant-based protein per serving and are certified vegan.

Today I will be reviewing their Proburst Bites, which are a relatively new product, their Soft Baked Mini Snickerdoodles, and their Baking Chocolate snack packs.

 

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Sunseed Butter Proburst Bites

These bites are relatively new to the Enjoy Life family of products.  I have been wanting to try these.  Most protein bites I have found have either nuts or dairy in them, which precludes me from trying them.  I am so glad the Enjoy Life added these to their lineup. They are tasty indeed.  They have a nice, smooth, nutty taste (from sunflower seed butter) and are not too sweet, with a hint of chocolate.  They would be great for traveling when you need a snack on the road that is gluten and allergen free.

Soft Baked Minis Snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles are one of my favorites.  I love Enjoy Life snickerdoodles, and I am glad to see them available in minis.  Again, a great travel snack.  They are just as good as their bigger cousins; soft, sweet and bursting with cinnamon.  Delicious.

Baking Chocolate Snack Packs

What would I do without Enjoy Life dairy free chocolate chips when I make my pumpkin bread and chocolate cake with ganache?  Now I can just eat the chips out of the bag, not that I haven’t done that before!  They make the best chocolate ganache you have ever tasted and will satisfy your chocolate craving.  You will never know these are dairy free!

If you are looking for a chocolate or dessert fix, look no further my friends.   Enjoy life foods products are delicious, free from most allergens, and are reliable.  What more could you possibly ask for?

Gluten free Cornbread sausage stuffing


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I have written before about this stuffing in other posts, but I have not actually done a dedicated post about it.  This recipe is a bit involved, but it is easy.  It just has a lot of steps.  It’s easier if you make the cornbread the day before.

Stuffing, or dressing, depending on where you are from, is an essential part of Thanksgiving.  It is also an essential part of a good old fashioned chicken dinner.

The original stuffing recipe is for a full pan of cornbread.  I usually only use half of the pan, as it is only my hubby and me.  You will have leftover cornbread to snack on.  If you are making this for a crowd, go ahead and use the full pan.  You will need 3 cups of broth if you do.

I have done a how-to video, which you can watch below.

How to make gluten free sausage cornbread stuffing

Here is my version for half of the original recipe:

Cornbread Ingredients:

1 cup gluten free Bisquick
1 cup fine ground cornmeal
1/3 cup sugar
½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil

Instructions for making cornbread

Mix together dry ingredients in a large bowl

 

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mixing dry ingredients for cornbread

 

Mix together wet ingredients in a large measuring cup

 

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mixing wet ingredients for cornbread

 

Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix completely, making sure that all dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.

 

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incorporating wet ingredients into the dry ingredients

 

Pour batter into a greased 8×8 baking pan, and bake at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let cool, then cut into squares (this will make it easier to cube later)

 

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batter into the pan, ready for baking

 

 

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after baking

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cut 5 pieces of cornbread into cubes and put in a single layer on a non-stick foil-lined or parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake for about 10-15 minutes, or until dried out.  Make sure not to burn it! It’s ok if it’s browned.

 

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toasted cornbread

 

 

Ingredients for stuffing

6 oz ground sausage
one small onion, chopped
one small granny smith apple, peeled and chopped
2 cups chicken broth (use 3 cups if making a full pan)
one egg ( you can leave this out)
1 teaspoon ground sage
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon celery seed

Instructions for making stuffing

Put your bread cubes in a large mixing bowl

In a large skillet, brown sausage in one tablespoon vegetable oil until no longer pink.  Remove from pan and set aside.  In the same skillet, heat an additional tablespoon of vegetable oil.

 

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sausage, onion and apples after sauteing

 

 

Saute onion until soft.  Add in the apples and saute until apples are soft.  Add spices and pour over bread cubes.  Mix to combine.

Mix together chicken broth and egg, and pour slowly over bread cubes, allowing chicken broth to be absorbed.  This may take a few minutes.  Mix until bread softens and starts to hold together

 

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mixing the cornbread

 

Turn into a greased casserole dish and dot with dairy free spread.  Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes, stirring once to ensure entire casserole is hot.

 

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ready for the oven

 

Tips:

  • You can use your favorite cornbread recipe in this stuffing, but you don’t want it to be too moist.
  • You can leave out the egg-I forgot it and it turned out just fine.
  • I left out the celery as I don’t care for it.  Celery seed will give the same flavor.
  • I left out the carrot.
  • You can make the cornbread the day before.  You can even toast it the day before. Store in a ziplock bag in your pantry.

Don’t be without your favorite stuffing ever again!

Why you probably don’t need Vitamin D supplements


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Are you taking vitamin D supplements?  Have you been tested and found to be deficient in vitamin D?  You might be surprised to find out that not only is testing possibly unnecessary but taking Vitamin D might cause more harm than good.

Any supplement can cause harm.  Even a Flintstone’s vitamin.

A recent post on the Care2com website addresses the possible harm of Vitamin D supplements.

too many people are unnecessarily getting tested for vitamin D deficiency, and millions of people are taking vitamin D supplements in the belief that the vitamin can help with health issues like depression, fatigue, muscle weakness or even heart disease and cancer. 

But researchers don’t have full consensus that vitamin D can prevent or treat any of these conditions. On the other hand, there is evidence to show that taking too much vitamin D can be harmful.

I was tested by a rheumatologist a few years back and told that I was “deficient”.  But lab findings are not necessarily correct.  In fact, normal levels of Vitamin D are now being reported as a deficiency.

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is an essential fat-soluble nutrient required by the body for the absorption of calcium and phosphorous, and therefore to build a strong skeleton. The vitamin acts something like a bodyguard, charged with delivering calcium safely to bones and teeth. 

We do not make our own; our bodies produce vitamin D naturally when they are exposed to sunlight. That’s why it’s sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin.”

It’s also found in certain foods, such as fatty fish, cheese, mushrooms, beef liver and egg yolks. Some foods, including milk, cereal, and yogurt, may be fortified with vitamin D.

Why are so many people getting testing for Vitamin D deficiency?

In 2000, several studies published in medical journals linked vitamin D levels that are lower, but still considered normal, to multiple sclerosis and mental illness, and also to the risk of cancer

Then, in 2007, a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine stated that vitamin D levels of 21 to 29 nanograms per milliliter of blood, now considered normal, were linked to an increased risk of cancer, autoimmune disease, diabetes, schizophrenia, depression, poor lung capacity and wheezing. 

But over the next few years several research papers decried the exaggerated importance of the vitamin.

In 2016, the New England Journal of Medicine stated:

“The claim that large proportions of North American and other populations are deficient in vitamin D is based on misinterpretation and misapplication of the Institute of Medicine reference values for nutrients — misunderstandings that can adversely affect patient care.” Researchers determined that we are both overscreening for vitamin D deficiency, and unnecessarily treating people who are perfectly healthy.

Nevertheless the belief in the powers of the vitamin has become so popular that increasing numbers of people are asking to be tested for “Vitamin D deficiency,” making it the third-most ordered blood test in the U.S.

In a recent study of 800,000 patients carried out by the Maine Medical Center, around 20 percent had had at least one such test over a three-year period. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of these tests among people on Medicare increased 83-fold from 2000 to 2010. Among people with other health insurance, the testing rates went up 2.5-fold between 2009 and 2014.

“A lot of clinicians are acting like there is a pandemic of vitamin D deficiency,” said Dr. JoAnn E. Manson, a preventive medicine researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, who helped write an Institute of Medicine report on vitamin D. “That gives them justification to screen everyone and get everyone well above what the Institute of Medicine recommends.”

And once they’ve had those tests, there’s another problem, as reported by Gina Kolata writing in The New York Times:

“Labs performing these tests are reporting perfectly normal levels of vitamin D – 20 to 30 nanogram per milliliter of blood – as ‘insufficient.’ As a consequence, millions of healthy people think they have a deficiency.”

Taking too much Vitamin D can be dangerous

To remedy their “deficiency”, these people may be taking supplements that are so high, they can be harmful. Vitamin D toxicity is caused by megadoses of vitamin D supplements, not by diet or sunshine: Your body regulates the amount of this vitamin that you need, and even fortified foods contain only small levels of vitamin D.

The chief consequence of these megadoses is a buildup of calcium in your blood, which can cause poor appetite, nausea and vomiting. It can also result in weakness, frequent urination and kidney problems.

So how can you get more Vitamin D withouth supplements?  Get out into the sunshine. Eat Vitamin D rich foods such as salmon and eggs.  Yes, eggs are good for you, contrary to popular belief.

When you get a routine blood test, do yourself a favor and look up what is considered a normal range.  Ranges can differ by the lab, and by the doctor.  Older doctors may not be up on the latest medical information and studies.

As I always say pertaining to gluten intolerance, be your own advocate.  No one knows your body better than you do.  Think for yourself.  You will be a happier, healthier you.

#TBT retro recipe for crockpot chicken


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I still use this recipe at least once a month.  It will give you the most mouth watering, tender and tasty chicken you have ever eaten.

When I was a little girl, every year on my birthday, my mother would ask me, “what do you want for your birthday dinner?”  And every year I would answer, “chicken and rice”.  To this day, chicken and rice is my favorite meal by far.  It brings back warm memories of childhood and reminds me of more carefree days.

In my book, chicken is one of the most difficult things to nail.  A smaller version of the Thanksgiving turkey, the breast meat often dries out before the dark meat is done.  Nothing is worse than dry poultry.  It conjures up that image from the movie Christmas Vacation when Chevy Chase sticks his knife into the beautifully brown turkey only to be greeted by a blast of dry air and desiccated meat.   This has happened to all of us at least once.

Or you think your golden bird is done and remove it from the oven too soon only to find it is still pink.   So you cut it up and nuke it.   Nothing like overcooked, rubbery chicken!

I usually avoid cooking a whole chicken for this reason, and stick to chicken parts-particularly thigh meat.  They are easy to cook and alway turn out moist.  But sometimes a whole chicken is the only thing that will do, especially if you are expecting people over for dinner or want extra meat for salad or soup.

How to solve the dilemma of the dried out chicken?  Read on McDuff!!

During my usual of browsing the internet, looking for new recipes and methods, I came across a great crockpot recipe for whole chicken.  Crockpot recipes can be overcomplicated and time-consuming, as you often have to do pre-cooking of meats and vegetables.  Not this one.   It couldn’t be any easier.

  • Start with a 4-6 pound chicken.  Anything smaller will dry out, even in the crockpot
  • slice one onion and spread out on the bottom of the crockpot-this will prevent the chicken from sticking
  • you can use a crockpot liner if you wish (I do for easy cleanup)
  • take your chicken out of the package-DO NOT RINSE IT!  This will spread bacteria!
  • Drain chicken of all blood and pat dry
  • season as you wish-I used thyme, sage, Mrs. Dash original blend and salt and pepper to taste
  • No need for butter, oil or broth
  • place chicken BREAST SIDE DOWN in the crockpot (this is the secret)
  • turn crockpot to high for one hour
  • after one hour turn to low and cook for an additional 3-4 hours or until drumsticks are loose and chicken falls off the bone

That’s it!  You will have to check the chicken for doneness since it is upside down-this might require you to remove it.  Or you can cook breast side up, but the breast meat will be much moister if you cook it upside down.  The chicken cooks in its own juices.   Depending on the size you will have to modify the cooking time.  Chicken cooks more quickly in a crockpot than a beef stew would.   My six pounder barely fit in the crockpot but a smaller chicken would be easier to check for doneness.

The only drawback is that the skin will not crisp.  You can either remove it (still tastes good so this is up to you) or crisp it under the broiler if you wish.   You will never taste a moister,  more flavorful chicken.

Don’t forget the gravy!

Why you should never put your children on a gluten free diet*


 

 

stop and thinkIt’s not easy being a parent.  We all want what’s best for our children.  Which is why I feel it is important to address what seems to be a growing trend.  Parents are increasingly putting their small children on gluten-free diets, because they think it is healthier.  Let me explain why this can be dangerous.

Some children are diagnosed with food allergies or celiac disease, and this is the only time you should be cutting any food group out of a growing child’s diet.  Ignorance is no excuse here.  Here are three reasons why you shouldn’t put your child on a gluten-free diet unless your doctor tells you to.   You can read more about these reasons here.

  • Whole grains that contain gluten have lots of crucial nutrients — including B vitamins, antioxidants, iron, selenium, and magnesium. They have fiber, too, which is important for good digestion. While it’s possible to get these nutrients and fiber without eating gluten, it takes some work.

  • It can be too low in calories for growing children. Kids need healthy calories to grow, and when you cut out foods made with wheat or that otherwise contain gluten, it can be harder to get those calories.

  • It can be high in arsenic. A staple of a gluten-free diet is rice — and many rice products are high in arsenic. The rice plant is particularly good at pulling arsenic out of the soil, and there is a fair amount of it left from prior pesticide use. Arsenic in large amounts can be lethal, but even smaller amounts can lead over time to not only cancer and other health problems, but to learning problems when infants and children are exposed. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Food and Drug Administration have been cautioning parents about limiting rice and rice products in their children’s diet.

If you suspect your child has problems with gluten, get them tested for celiac.  You might also want to have them tested for milk allergies or dairy intolerance.

Gluten free is not healthy and it is really hard to maintain.  Why would you want to deprive your child unless you absolutely had to?  It is not an easy lifestyle for anyone.

If you are unsure, always consult your doctor before putting yourself, or your child on any restrictive diet.

 

Can celiac disease be caused by a virus?


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I came across an article yesterday on CBS news about the connection between celiac disease and the reovirus.  I thought you all might be interested in knowing more about it.

Here are some excerpts:

The researchers found that, among mice that were genetically engineered predisposed to celiac disease, those that were infected with a virus called reovirus were more likely to have an immune response against gluten than mice not infected with a reovirus. This immune response is similar to what’s seen in people with the condition.

Although human infections with reoviruses are common, the viruses don’t cause symptoms in people. But the study also found that patients with celiac disease did have higher levels of antibodies against reovirus, compared to people without the condition.

The findings suggest that reovirus infection may leave a “permanent mark” on the immune system that sets the body up for developing celiac disease, the researchers said.

The study also tied in gluten intolerance:

The researchers also found people with celiac disease who had high levels of reovirus antibodies also had increased expression of a gene that encodes a protein called IRF1. In the mouse studies, the researchers saw that IRF1 played a role in developing gluten intolerance after reovirus infection.

However, the researchers noted that only one particular strain of reovirus, called T1L, triggered the immune responses seen in the study. It’s not clear if other types of reovirus have the same effect, they said. The other strain they tested, called T3D, is genetically different from T1L, and did not trigger the immune response.

In addition, other factors besides reovirus infection, such as a person’s genes and their overall health, would likely play a role in whether the virus triggers celiac disease, the researchers said.

 

The study showed that T1L acted in two ways: It suppressed the formation of certain types of “regulatory” immune cells that usually allow the body to know that it shouldn’t attack certain substances. And it also promoted an inflammatory response to gluten.

The researchers noted that although their study showed that reovirus infection led to an immune reaction against gluten, this reaction alone wouldn’t damage to the small intestine. There are more steps that need to occur before the body experiences damage to the small intestine, and the study did not look at these steps.

This is a very interesting development in the understanding of celiac disease, gluten intolerance and how both conditions are developed.  It seems that it is a combination of genes,  and overall health that also plays a role.  I believe that Celiac disease is inherited. I also wonder what part the constant tummy aches of my childhood plays.  Perhaps I had this virus as a child and it caused my gluten intolerance.  I will be waiting to see if there is a way to find out in future research.

Crockpot Sausage ragout


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There’s nothing better than low and slow cooked pasta sauce.  I remember my mother making her sauce with sausage and meatballs.  I also remember the mess all over her kitchen.  That won’t happen when you use a crockpot to simmer your sauce.

I was going to make this bolognese sauce, but it has a lot of ingredients, including milk.  I wasn’t sure that dairy-free milk would work in a reduction with tomatoes, so I decided to whip up my own recipe, using sausage instead of ground beef.

This recipe makes about six servings.

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb ground sausage
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1 cup red wine or broth
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon Mrs. Dash original seasoning
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon baking soda*

Instructions:

Line a 6-quart crockpot.  Remove sausage from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before cooking to allow to come to room temperature.  This will aid in the browning process.

Pat sausage dry with paper towels.  Heat a large stainless steel skillet over medium-high heat.  Add a half tablespoon olive oil and heat until shimmering.   Place ground sausage in the pan and allow to brown, about five minutes. Do NOT disturb the meat.  When you see a brown crust starting to form, flip the meat over to the other side and let brown an additional 3-4 minutes.  Begin breaking up sausage and cook until no longer pink.  It’s very important to thoroughly cook the meat here.  The crockpot won’t get hot enough to cook it through.  Remove sausage to the crockpot.

Reduce heat to medium. Add the additional half tablespoon olive oil to the pan and cook onions until soft.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant.  Add wine or broth to pan, and let reduce by half, scraping up any browned bits from skillet.  Pour remaining wine or broth and any browned bits into crockpot.

Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and seasonings on top of meat and onions.  Stir to incorporate.

Set crockpot on high and cook for 20 minutes.  Reduce setting to low and continue to cook for additional 5-6 hours, stirring occasionally.

*If sauce is too acidic, add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda in the last hour or so of simmering.  The sauce might bubble a little-that’s ok.

Serve over your favorite gluten free pasta.

You can’t overcook this sauce.  The longer it simmers, the better it gets.  And of course, it gets even better after a couple of days.

My husband raved about this sauce.  You will too!

Surprising gluten free foods


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We all miss our favorite foods since going gluten and dairy free.  But did you know that some of those foods that you thought you might never eat again are available in gluten and dairy free versions?

Since the explosion of the gluten free craze partnered with the internet, you can get just about anything in a gluten and/or dairy-free version.

This list is not going to include the usual products.  Listed below are gluten free foods that really surprised me with their availability.  I have not tried all of these products.  I have tried those with an asterisk.  I also have to admit that I placed an order while writing this post……

Gluten free Pennsylvania dutch pretzels*

If you are missing out on the office pretzel day, you need not miss out any longer.  These were pretty good.  You can microwave them which means you can bring them to work with you.

Gluten free puff pastry

These do contain dairy, but it’s pretty great that you can get these.

Gluten and dairy free ice cream cones

These would be great with dairy free ice cream

Gluten and dairy free frozen apple pie

This would be a great time saver on Thanksgiving.  There is a pumpkin version too.

Whoopie pies

Who would have thought?

Chinese dumplings*

Ordering from the link above there is no minimum.  If you order from feel good foods, there is a 6 box minimum.  Believe me, these are worth every penny.  See my review here.

Gluten free french fried onions*

It took a lot of searching to find these.  They are exactly like Durkee french fried onions.

There you have it.  Have you found surprising gluten free foods?  Please share!

 

Hit and miss with Ian’s gluten free


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It’s great when you can find a company that you can rely on for consistent gluten free products.  There are a few out there, like King Arthur, that deliver the goods.  Then there is Ian’s gluten free.  All of their products are free of most common allergens.

I have tried several of their frozen and packaged products, and I would like to share my reviews with you, so that you can make informed choices.   Of course,  my tastes are subjective.

Ian’s fish sticks

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It’s hard to replicate breading in a gluten free version.  If you grew up with Mrs. Pauls or Gorton’s fish sticks, you will be sadly disappointed.  These taste like cardboard.   There’s no getting around it.

Chicken Nuggets

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You’d do better with Tyson gluten free nuggets.  Again, these taste like cardboard.

French Bread pizza

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These are no threat to Stouffer’s.  The crust gets really tough if you microwave these.  The cheese is gooey and has a weird texture.  Pizza is one of the things that’s almost impossible to replicate.  I have struggled with this for months and have pretty much given up on ever eating a decent slice of pizza again.

Panko bread crumbs

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These were pretty good, with a nice spice blend.  They were crunchy, but did not adhere well to my chicken cutlets.  I would still recommend these.

Croutons

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I was really amazed to see gluten free croutons at my local store.  I think the whole kale thing is a gimmick, but having said that, these are absolutely delicious.  They really nailed it.  They are crunchy, but not hard as a rock.  I am really impressed with these.

So there you have it.  You should try these Ian’s products and share your reviews here.