When I first started a gluten-free diet eight years ago, virtually no one had heard of gluten or knew what it was. (It’s wheat, rye, barley and any oats that are processed on the same machinery as the others.) I was stuck with meats, vegetables, salads, and fruits. Entire aisles of the grocery store no longer existed for me – no crackers, cookies, chips, pastries, or breads. These days, so many choices exist in all of those categories. Some are exceptional; some I have thrown out after trying one bite.
To save you the time and expense of throwing out the bad attempts at GF food, I made this list.
Pasta: Le Veneziene, which comes from Italy, of course. There are plenty of bad rice and quinoa attempts, and until I found Le Veneziene I used Mrs. Beardsley’s three-color rice fusili. If you’re allergic to corn, stick with the second best by Mrs. Beardsley. If you can eat corn and want pasta that doesn’t make you think you’re eating anything but great Italian pasta, order Le Veneziene online.
Bread: Udi’s whole grain bread. Find it in the freezer section of the best grocery stores. I buy mine at Vicente Foods market in Brentwood or at any Whole Foods market. They have white and millet options, but I prefer the whole grain. It toasts up beautifully and is great for sandwiches.
Pizza: I lived without pizza for four years before GF products became available. What a relief! There are several almost-edible ones in the freezer sections of most grocery stores these days, but there are also some really terrible, toss-in-the-garbage ones, too. Conte’s margarita pizza got tossed. Amy’s is OK, and Venice Pizza by California Food Company is darn good. It comes in three flavors – basil/pesto/ cheese, mushroom and their new one that just came out is a margarita pizza that is lactose free as well.
But only one pizza is like eating REAL pizza: Fresh Brothers. Get ready to drool and smack – it is THAT good. I get their GF Bar-B-Q chicken pizza. Unbelievably fantastic! So is their Farmers’ Market salad, which makes two salads for me.
Sorry, but looks like you have to live in the L.A. area to get to one of their nine locations from Thousand Oaks to Glendale to Santa Monica to Torrance. Or have them deliver. I often call them on my drive home and it’s there shortly after I arrive.
Pastries: Pamela’s “small bites” ginger snaps and chocolate chip cookies were my favorite years ago before they were eclipsed by newer products. (I threw away many of the large-sized Pamela’s cookies and won’t consider them anymore.) When Tate’s came out with their perfect GF chocolate chip cookie, all others vanished from my world. Tate’s Ginger Zinger is also a surprising cookie — big chunks of real ginger that burst onto your taste buds. Their double chocolate GF cookie doesn’t suit me, but you might like it.
The Sensitive Baker in Culver City makes great cookies, cakes, brownies, bagels – you name it. When I want to make my own sweets, I get the King Arthur brownie mix at Whole Foods. Or the King Arthur brown sugar cookie mix and add walnuts and chocolate chips.
Then there’s XO Baking Company. I tried their cornbread, which was very good, but then I ordered the oatmeal cookie mix and haven’t switched since. It’s unbelievably perfect in smell, texture and taste. Too bad, you have to order online at this point and wait while it comes from Troy, NY. (Just looked it up. It’s west of Boston.) Again, I add walnuts and chocolate chips.
Crackers: Don’t fall for the first GF cracker that was made and has been around for years, Mary’s Gone Crackers. They’re dry and tasteless. Crackers have improved greatly in these past years. My favorites are Blue Diamond Nut Thins, which come in a variety of nut flavors. I’ve tried many, but my absolute favorite is Pecan. Salty and satisfying, I use it to scoop out egg salad for an afternoon snack.
If I’m going to eat something salty, like white fish salad from the Vicente Foods deli, I’ll use the sturdy, milder-flavored Artisan Flax Seeds Nut Thins to balance out the strong flavor of the fish. Both are great crackers that I carry with me on every trip – plane, train, boat, or car. (Sounded so good I had to just eat some with white fish right now.)
Somewhere between a cracker and a melba-toast-like bread is Cracklebred from Spain. Perfect texture; not very much taste, but what there is seems mildly sweet and pure. I think of it as the perfect super-low-calorie delivery system for sandwich foods when I don’t have or want GF bread. I order it online from Amazon in a case of 12 boxes. http://www.amazon.com/Natural-Nectar-Cracklebred-Original-3-5-Ounce/dp/B002EE5GMM The packaging holds up and when you open each box, it’s still fresh, even if used over several months. There are three flavors but I like the original best.
Seasoned Coating Mix: I used to make fried chicken on special occasions, especially ones that involved my great pal Wilt Chamberlain, but fried chicken went out the window when I went gluten-free. Now I can fry tasty chicken and red snapper with Hodgson Mill’s Seasoned Coating Mix. I know, I know they changed the name to Pacific Rock fish, but I still tell the man behind the counter that I want some Red Snapper, and because he’s in protest over the name change, he calls it that, too. This is another product I order by the case, six boxes that I share with others and use every time I cook up some snapper. Delish!
Tortillas: You would think that corn tortillas would be gluten-free, right? But when you go gluten-free, you’ve got to start reading the ingredients list, and many corn tortillas contain wheat flour. Mission white corn tortillas are by far the best of the gluten-free tortillas I’ve found. Heat a tortilla on both sides over the flame of a gas stove, scramble up some eggs and onions, and you’ve got a great taco!
Cold Cereal: All of the Chex cereals except Wheat Chex went gluten-free early in the game, which was about the only cereal I could find for years. Now Rice Krispies has a GF version and Nature’s Path has several cereals I enjoy.
Chips: Look for corn chips or potato chips that have only salt and oil in the ingredient list. My tried and true favorite chip, however is neither of those, but a rice chip made by the Lundberg family. They’re satisfying and not oily like other chips. I’ve tried many of their flavors, some of which overpowered me. I liked the Santa Fe flavor, then the Fiesta lime taste. These days I stick with the simple Sea Salt variety.
Of course the best gluten-free diet is the way I started – fresh foods, plain and simple without the packages I’ve shown you here. I don’t eat these products every day or even every week, but when I feel like having something like this, at least there’s now a GF alternative. You have to keep in mind that eating cookies is still eating cookies whether there’s gluten in them or not, so don’t eat the whole batch just because they’re gluten-free.
Lynda Huey, M.S., founder of CompletePT and Huey’s Athletic Network, is a former athlete and coach whose own injuries led her into the water to find fitness and healing. She was educated at San Jose State University where she starred on the track and field team during its golden years. Lynda is the author of four books on water exercise and water rehabilitation.