Thursday, March 31, 2011

The "Chef" Who Claims to Gluten GF Diners


The internet was on fire yesterday with blog posts, message boards, Twitter and Facebook users angry with one man named Damian Cardone, who (on his now-removed Facebook page) claimed to be a chef feeding high-gluten pasta to gluten-free diners when they requested gluten-free meals. The above photo is a screenshot I took of the most damaging post before his page was removed. I didn't take screenshots of any other pages, but other sources online do have some posted.

You can click on the photo above to see a larger image of what he said. I won't type it all out here - you can Google "Damian Cardone" and find the text typed in numerous places, as well as more screenshots. You can also type #DamianCardone into twitter and see more. I also covered the last names and faces of others involved in the post to protect their privacy, and covered the expletive part of his post.

Cardone claimed to be a chef not only at a restaurant in Glenwood Springs, CO, but also in several other restaurants in the country. He also described himself as a chef for private hire, and listed a few big names as examples he had worked for. To my knowledge, most of these claims haven't been confirmed.

I, like many of you, have been angered by Cardone's story. As a former newspaper reporter, the journalist in me wanted to track him, and former employers, down and get the full story. I actually started to, easily finding some contact information for various individuals, but then I told myself to calm down. I was too emotionally vested in such a story to even begin to be objective. Leave the news reporting and phone calls to those who are active in it right now. No doubt this story will continue for a while, both with facts and misinformation, and may continue on to bigger news sources.

So I gave it a day and am now calm and ready to give you my take on it. I seriously debated on whether I should do this because it's already covered thoroughly on other blogs, but I ultimately decided that if one more person can be helped to understand where we as gluten-free individuals are coming from, then it's worth it.

When I first saw the above page (through a link provided, at the time, by many blogs, message board posts and twitter feed), I was shocked. Speechless. I had no idea what to say, what to think, about someone deliberately poisoning others when they are employed in a free country to serve a fellow lover of food. It's unthinkable. (Yes, poison. Gluten is like poison to someone with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.)

After I had time to process it, I was angered. Seething. I'm sure my blood was boiling. I thought back to the many times I have gone out to eat with my family and we have been fearful of cross-contamination even though we've alerted the restaurant ahead of time and spoken to multiple employees about our needs. We trust them to get it right for us and are putting our very health in their hands. And we are paying them to do it correctly.

Most of the time we've had good experiences. Many restaurants now not only offer gluten-free menu options, but they are also dedicating a separate area of the kitchen, as well as necessary tools and equipment, to gluten-free food in an effort to prevent cross-contamination. We haven't always been so lucky, though.

My husband was diagnosed with celiac through both blood tests and biopsy. Our daughters went gluten-free after tests showed they were reacting to gluten and that they had genes disposing them to gluten problems. I also went gluten-free after tests showed I was reacting to gluten. My daughters and I didn't get the biopsy because knowing we were reacting to it was enough given my husband's prior celiac diagnosis. It's easier for us this way, too. There's no chance of cross-contamination in our home.

I can tell you I react pretty severely to accidental glutening. Being glutened accidentally by small amounts will make me sick for days. I can't imagine if I had eaten a meal intentionally served with high gluten. I would have been sick for weeks.

The Glenwood Springs restaurant where Cardone worked until March 15, according to the owner in news reports such as this one, has been inundated with calls regarding this mess from what I gather from reading other's posts. I won't call them, and I hope you don't, either. They are not to blame if they had no knowledge of what Cardone claims to be doing.

In fact, the owner, according to this report, claims he was not a chef but a server. That doesn't explain, though, why Cardone had photos posted on his Facebook page in a commercial kitchen dressed as someone cooking the food, not serving it to tables. Perhaps it was another restaurant? I saw the photos myself and many other sites online have posted the photos, including the first mentioned news report, which also states they spoke to the head chef at the restaurant who said Cardone wouldn't have touched the plates because he (the head chef) personally prepared special request items.

I'm not sure, based on these two reports and the other photos I saw and claims by Cardone himself, whether Cardone was a server who didn't have a chance to touch gluten-free plates. I hope whatever is the truth will come out eventually, and the best thing for all involved is to simply tell the truth from the beginning. (Added 1:15 p.m.: This news report also verifies above that the owner states Cardone was not a chef at his restaurant. So the question remains, since he has been confirmed as a former chef at least one other restaurant according to this report, whether Cardone was talking about doing this at a previous restaurant or restaurants?)

Part of me wants to hope that Cardone was joking about his intentional glutening of gluten-free diners. If he was, then at best it was a very sick joke and was irresponsible and reckless. It could have given others in the food industry ideas on how to "use people as experimental research test subjects," to use Cardone's own words.

If he was serious and really did serve gluten to gluten-free diners, then it was at the least assault, in my opinion.

Cardone made many ridiculous claims about his unbelief in gluten intolerance, including it just being in "disturbed little heads." He felt that because wheat had been around for thousands of years as a staple, it couldn't be a problem. Guess what, Damian? Celiac disease was first identified in the FIRST century, A.D. Check out this article from the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center if you don't believe me.

Also, our ancestors weren't eating processed foods every day. They weren't eating food that had gluten added to it with every bite they took. They weren't eating food that was engineered to contain more gluten to make it taste better.

He also insinuates that he doesn't believe it because people walk out of there fine. Well, Damian, most people aren't going to have a reaction until they have left your restaurant. My stomach may start burning about 30 minutes into it (which could be attributed to something else in my mind so I'm not going to say anything yet), but I'm not going to be feeling more severe effects until at least three hours later. Also, if I'm eating in a restaurant that doesn't make good gluten-free claims, I'm going to know that I took a risk eating there and chalk it up to cross-contamination. I may or may not call to discuss it (I've done that before and the staff didn't seem to care), and I probably won't ever return.

If you are reading this, Damian Cardone, I hope you also read this open letter to you that I read yesterday. It is very, very good and states what I wanted to yesterday but was too angry to type out.

And for you, fellow gluten-free individuals, this has brought about some great discussions, has it not? For that, we can be thankful to Damian Cardone. Perhaps his fiasco will bring more awareness to other chefs and restaurants who haven't been so kind to us in our requests. And will help those restaurants who are get all the recognition they deserve.

Let this also be a good reminder to us all on how important it is that we give restaurants advance notice of our needs. Stop by with some printed information if you feel it might help (I've done this), call again before you head over there to remind them of your needs. Remind your server, and speak with the manager if necessary. Don't be a burden - you can express your needs calmly. You should feel reassured that they know what you need, that you haven't failed to provide them with that information and that they have listened to you.

Now that I've calmed down, I wish no ill will to Damian Cardone and hope you don't, either. Certainly, if he really did do what he claims and it is proven, then appropriate legal consequences will come about (as they should) and he will, hopefully, learn his lesson and be truly, truly sorry.

He will no doubt be very well educated in the gluten-free lifestyle by the time it's all said and done, and hopefully will feel more compassion for those who have dietary restrictions based on medical need. He is feeling extremely overwhelmed, I'm sure, by this point, with what's next for him. I doubt a future career in food holds much promise for him, so I hope he finds one that suits him and he is able to live a happy life with his family - with a new attitude. He will probably be much more cautious, as we all should, about what is posted for the world to see.

The gluten-free community united on this, and we are also uniting in the effort to get the FDA to finally do something about gluten-free labeling (see my last brief post for a link you can click to visit the 1in133 site). Let's continue to unite for good causes. Big things can be done.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Please help out!

The FDA has been dragging their feet far too long on this issue. Please join the cause to put a stop to this, and support the great people behind this effort!

1in133.org - Support Gluten-Free Food Labeling

Thank you for your support, and to those who have put this effort together!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Product of the week


Sometimes on really busy days when you are low on groceries and you forgot to plan what you're cooking for dinner, a box of instant mac and cheese served with some quick veggies is a great solution. It may not the be healthiest, but the kids sure like it. Last night was one of those nights for us. This gets served around our house about once a month or so, and this Annie's gluten-free version is way better than the Kraft version and certainly just as acceptable. It's also the best gluten-free instant macaroni and cheese I have found, with the exception of Amy's frozen gluten-free macaroni and cheese. I fix it with two tablespoons of butter as well, which the box instructions don't call for.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rich Roll Cookies


Happy Saint Patrick's Day, everyone!

How do you celebrate this special day? Growing up, it was a given that we would wear green. If we didn't, my mother would be sure to pinch us. She also made green milk (gross!) and green food.

I don't fix green milk, but I do make green pancakes for breakfast. I also like to make green clover cookies. I'm excited to share the recipe with you - because wouldn't you know that I got my luck with this recipe for St. Patrick's Day. It's almost the same recipe (adapted again) as the Classic Christmas cookies, which I am going back to edit this version into it. They are adapted from the Rich Roll Cookies recipe in the Joy of Cooking, 1975 edition, and as I state in the Christmas cookies post, they are excellent for any occasion. This particular ver are exactly how I remember them being before going gluten-free. I top them with a milk glaze recipe, also adapted from Joy of Cooking.

I also like to make "spotted dog" Irish soda bread, which I shared with you yesterday. And, more importantly, I like to read a little of the history behind this day with my children. There are several books out there, but I like the one you see pictured above, Patrick Patron Saint of Ireland by Tomie dePaola.

I don't know a whole lot about my Irish ancestors, but the older I get the more I want to explore the history behind all of my family and the countries and cultures that have influenced who I am today. That includes visiting those countries one day, as well. Until then, we'll have to read what we can and have fun in the kitchen.

And today as we celebrate, let's also remember Japan in our prayers.

Projected prep time: 25 minutes, plus chilling 3 hours; Projected bake time: 6-10 minutes
About 30 cookies (double recipe for more)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup organic sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. pure almond extract
1 1/4 cup Pamela's bread mix and flour blend (not the baking mix)
1/8 tsp. salt (optional)

Cream together butter and sugar, then beat in egg and pure almond extract.

Sift together flour blend and salt, then mix into butter mixture until all is incorporated and a smooth dough is formed. Shape into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about three hours.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Take a small amount of dough at a time and roll onto the sheet, then cut into desired shape and remove excess dough. This is how I eventually found success. Trying to transfer this dough is too difficult if you want to keep the exact shape.


Bake (top rack if gas oven) at 350 degrees for 6-10 minutes depending on type of sheet you use. The edges should be getting brown, and the bottom should be brown. These cookies will burn very quickly once they are done, so watch them.

Let stand on sheet for a few minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool.


When completely cooled, top with frosting of choice or milk glaze (my preference).

Milk glaze
Total time: 5 minutes
(This will cover about two dozen cookies, so you'll need to make more if you have a lot of cookies)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp. milk (warm will dissolve sugar faster)
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla
1/2 tsp. pure almond extract
Coloring if desired

Blend ingredients together and spread glaze over cookies or cake pieces



Transfer to wax or parchment paper lined sheets until glaze is set.


Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"Spotted Dog" Irish Soda Bread


All these years I've thought I was making traditional Irish soda bread - only to discover earlier this week that it was actually "Spotted Dog" soda bread I was making. Apparently if you add raisins, fruits, seeds, etc. to the bread, it's no longer considered traditional soda bread.

So, I set out to make a gluten-free version of traditional Irish soda bread yesterday, only to bake up a tasty - yet crumbly and slightly doughy - soda bread. I stuck to the basics without even adding egg, only changing the flours but it flopped. Of course, I have to admit that even if I re-created a traditional version to be gluten-free, it still wouldn't be truly traditional, would it? I seriously doubt our Irish ancestors (my grandmother is half Irish) used gluten-free flours to make their bread. I'm sure it was wheat. So maybe I won't try so hard to re-create traditional Irish soda bread if it can't truly be done gluten-free anyway.

After the flop yesterday, I decided I'd just try to adapt the recipe I've used all these years. I tried last year and it was a flop, but now that I'm figuring out how to bake according to weight with the flours, I thought I'd try again with a greater variety of flours. It turned out really well. It had very much the same taste as I remember the gluten version having, but the texture was even better although maybe just a tad more crumbly. We deemed it a keeper, though. (And it's much less crumbly when completely cool!)

It's adapted from the Irish Soda Bread recipe in Cooking Down East by Marjorie Standish, a cookbook that you've seen mentioned here before. I always opt to omit the caraway seeds, though. You'll need a scale for this recipe.

Projected prep time: 15 minutes; Projected bake time: 50 minutes
56 grams potato starch
56 grams tapioca starch
154 grams brown rice flour
29 grams sweet rice flour
77 grams white rice flour
29 grams amaranth flour
48 grams teff flour
1/4 cup organic sugar
1 tsp. sea salt or kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup butter (I use salted for this recipe)
1 1/2 cups raisins
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
1 egg

Sift the dry ingredients together then cut the butter into it with pastry blender until crumbly. Stir in raisins.


Mix buttermilk together with egg and stir into flour mixture, mixing together by hand until all is moistened.

Place dough in well-greased Dutch oven or casserole dish.


Smooth out the top a little with the back of a wet spoon, and cut a large cross in the top about 1/2-inch deep.


If you are using a Dutch oven, cover with the lid. If you are using a casserole dish or cake pan, cover with a cake pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes.



Remove lid and slice through cross again if needed, then bake for another 10 minutes.


Enjoy, and have a Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Shrimp Casserole


I still vividly remember the first time this casserole hit my mouth - I remember everything about that first bite. I was 9 years old. We had moved from Louisiana to Illinois about a year before and I'd been missing my Cajun food, or more specifically, my MaMaw's cooking.

My cousins and I used to tell our grandmother that she needed to open her own restaurant. She was the best cook for miles and miles around - and everyone in the community knew it. We talked about the name she'd give it - my favorite was "MaMaw's Cajun Cafe." I loved to sit in the kitchen with MaMaw while she cooked. She'd ask me to taste test all of her cooking when I was there. She claimed that smelling all the cooking made her unable to accurately tell if it needed something else - and I can attest to the validity of this fact now that I cook so much as well. I would tell her if it needed more salt, pepper, garlic, whatever. I loved doing this, and still do. And I now ask my daughters to taste test for me when I'm cooking.

My MaMaw is still a great cook, and I have been so touched by her enthusiasm to want to make gluten-free food for us when we visit her now. I've been blessed to come from an entire line of good cooks. My other grandmother was also an excellent cook and I loved her recipes. I have been given several of her cookbooks, which I use often and adapt the recipes to fit our needs. Both of my parents are great cooks, as are all of my aunts. I'm a pretty lucky girl!

When MaMaw made this casserole for us in Illinois, it was the first time I'd ever tried it. It was a new dish for me - I'd been used to her crawfish bisque, etouffee, jambalaya and so much more. (She is an excellent baker, as well.) Shrimp casserole? Oh. My. Yum. That first bite was amazing. The garlic, onions and mushrooms combined with shrimp and rice in a perfect, creamy bite? *Sigh* The shrimp was curled just right, had the right color pink. The crispy, baked top of the casserole with such tender morsels beneath it? I couldn't get enough. The one thing I don't remember about eating the casserole that day was how many servings I had. I know it was a lot.


Of course shrimp casserole was one of the recipes I had to convert free of gluten. The problem was figuring out the perfect ingredients to replace condensed cream of mushroom soup and condensed cheddar cheese soup.

It's a great casserole to make ahead and freeze for later. It also makes a great dip (without the rice) as I explain below. Just because it's a casserole, though, doesn't mean it's an everyday-plain meal. It's company-special and many friends can attest to that fact. They'll want the recipe, too.

The downside of this recipe post is lack of a great photo to do the casserole justice. When I was making this recently, the lighting was terrible. I was already later than anticipated getting dinner on the table due to distractions from children, and had no time to garnish the top and put it on a pretty plate. Also, it was dark outside and the lighting inside isn't so great for food photography. Next time I make it, I plan to correct this and post a photo worthy of the recipe. I hope you'll try it anyway!

Projected prep time: 45 minutes; Projected bake time: 30-40 minutes
1/4 c. unsalted butter
4 green onions, chopped
1 bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced (I use a garlic press)
1 medium white onion, diced
1 c. diced fresh mushrooms
1 c. shredded Colby-Jack cheese
3/4 c. milk
1 oz. cream cheese
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (may want more as needed)
Black pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp. salt, then more to taste if needed
Watkins Cream Soup & Gravy base mix (or 1 1/2 c. prepared of another cream soup base )
2 lbs. cleaned shrimp, cocktail to medium size
3 c. cooked rice
2 slices Udi's bread (heel end is fine)

Saute onions and bell pepper in a skillet with the butter over a low-medium heat until the onions are wilted.


While these are cooking, dice your mushrooms and prepare your cream soup base. I like to use the Watkins Cream soup & gravy base and prepare it the thickest gravy base recipe provided on the container, but I half the recipe. You want about 1 1/2 cups of prepared, thick (basically like condensed) cream soup. If you don't have the Watkins mix, you can use another cream soup base recipe. The Watkins cream, chicken and beef soup/gravy bases are gluten-free. Other flavors are not.


Stir the diced mushrooms into the cream soup and set aside.

Now prepare your cheese "soup." Combine milk, cream cheese and shredded Colby-Jack in a saucepan.


Heat, stirring often, until the cheeses are melted and everything is incorporated. Set aside.


When the onions and bell pepper are finished cooking, add the minced garlic and cook for two or three minutes.

Add the mushroom soup, cheese mixture, shrimp, salt and peppers into the pan with the onion mixture and heat thoroughly on low heat for about 15 minutes. I usually use pre-cooked, frozen (and then thawed before use) cocktail shrimp or medium shrimp for this. I prefer to buy them that way unless I get them fresh or I trust they've been frozen from fresh.


While this is cooking, cube or tear your bread into small pieces and microwave on high for a little while. I usually stick them in there for about 30 seconds, stir a little and put in for a few seconds longer. The goal is to get them tough and a little dried out.


Continuing on with the casserole, when the shrimp mixture has finished cooking, stir in the rice and season again to taste if needed. Stir in the bread crumbs.

*Note: After the shrimp is thoroughly cooked and the mixture has been properly seasoned, if you stop there it makes an excellent hot dip. Mmmmm!


Pour into a greased 13x9 casserole pan, or two smaller ones if you plan on eating one now and want one for later. You can freeze it at this point before baking it.


Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.


If you want to dress it up more, you can garnish each serving with a strip of pimento, a sprig of parsley and a cooked shrimp.


If you want to save time in making this, you can chop the veggies beforehand and make the soups ahead of time as well, refrigerating all until ready to use.


Enjoy!

Easy copy recipe format for your personal use:

Gluten-Free Shrimp Casserole

This is my grandmother's shrimp casserole recipe, converted to be gluten-free. Source: Mama Me Gluten Free
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 30-40 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Yield: 8-10 servings
Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • green onions, chopped
  • bell pepper, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, mined or pressed
  • medium white onion, diced
  • 1 cup fresh mushrooms, diced
  • 1 cup Colby-Jack cheese, shredded
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 oz.cream cheese
  • 1/8 tsp.cayenne pepper
  • to taste, Black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp.salt
  • 1 1/2 prepared cups Cream soup & gravy base mix (I use Watkins)
  • 2 pounds shrimp, cleaned
  • 3 cups rice, cooked
  • 2 slices Udi's bread (heel is fine)
Cooking Directions
  1. Saute onions and bell pepper in a skillet with the butter over a low-medium heat until the onions are wilted.
  2. While these are cooking, dice your mushrooms and prepare your cream soup base. I like to use the Watkins Cream soup & gravy base and prepare it the thickest gravy base recipe provided on the container, but I half the recipe. You want about 1 1/2 cups of prepared, thick (basically like condensed) cream soup. If you don't have the Watkins mix, you can use another cream soup base recipe. The Watkins cream, chicken and beef soup/gravy bases are gluten-free. Other flavors are not.
  3. Stir the diced mushrooms into the cream soup and set aside.
  4. Now prepare your cheese "soup." Combine milk, cream cheese and shredded Colby-Jack in a saucepan.
  5. Heat, stirring often, until the cheeses are melted and everything is incorporated. Set aside.
  6. When the onions and bell pepper are finished cooking, add the minced garlic and cook for two or three minutes.
  7. Add the mushroom soup, cheese mixture, shrimp, salt and peppers into the pan with the onion mixture and heat thoroughly on low heat for about 15 minutes. I usually use pre-cooked, frozen (and then thawed before use) cocktail shrimp or medium shrimp for this. I prefer to buy them that way unless I get them fresh or I trust they've been frozen from fresh.
  8. While this is cooking, cube or tear your bread into small pieces and microwave on high for a little while. I usually stick them in there for about 30 seconds, stir a little and put in for a few seconds longer. The goal is to get them tough and a little dried out.
  9. *Note: After the shrimp is thoroughly cooked and the mixture has been properly seasoned, if you stop there it makes an excellent hot dip. Mmmmm!
  10. Continuing on with the casserole, when the shrimp mixture has finished cooking, stir in the rice and season again to taste if needed. Stir in the bread crumbs.
  11. Pour into a greased 13x9 casserole pan, or two smaller ones if you plan on eating one now and want one for later. You can freeze it at this point before baking it.
  12. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.
  13. If you want to save time in making this, you can chop the veggies beforehand and make the soups ahead of time as well, refrigerating all until ready to use.

Prayers for Japan

The news out of Japan yesterday was so sobering, and continues to be so. My prayers are with all those affected by this devastation, and those working to help.

The first way you can help is praying if you are one who believes in prayer. Secondly, there are many organizations you can donate to that are helping with this cause.

We really like to give to World Vision to help out in disasters like these. They are already established in so many countries, and are one of the first on the ground to provide aid in situations like these. Here is the direct link to World Vision's donation section for the quake and tsunami in Japan: http://donate.worldvision.org/OA_HTML/xxwv2ibeCCtpItmDspRte.jsp?funnel=&item=2200736&go=item&section=10324&

The American Red Cross is also, of course, actively seeking donations and is already providing help to this area. To donate through the American Red Cross, you can text 90999 to give a $10 donation or you can visit this direct link to give another amount online: http://american.redcross.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ntld_main&s_src=RSG000000000&s_subsrc=RCO_FrontPagePanel

Please consider donating to a reputable organization providing help, and please pray for all those affected and those helping.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Product of the week


I was introduced to the Perfect Foods Bars a few weeks ago by a girl who works at our local health food store. Can I tell you I'm hooked?

These things are incredible. The peanut butter flavor is my favorite - and I'm one of those people who really can't stand peanut butter unless it's sweetened and coated with chocolate. But this is good. There is an incredible amount of protein in the peanut butter flavor.

There are a few other flavors, including a carob for chocolate lovers. I can't vouch for the carob, however, as I hate carob. I have very bad memories of carob from health food stores being forced upon me as a chocolate substitute when I was a child. Why would anyone want to substitute chocolate? Especially knowing the health benefits of quality chocolate? Me? No thanks. If I can't have the real deal, I don't care to have a substitute, thank you very much. The Easter Bunny even brought me carob. I hate it. So the carob may very well be delicious, but as these bars are fairly on the expensive side, I won't be spending my money to try one. Because did I mention that I hate carob?

The downside of these bars, other than the price, is the fact that they need to be kept cool. I'm sure putting them in your pack for a day of hiking won't harm them, but they are supposed to be stored in the refrigerator, which makes it difficult to keep them in your desk for when hunger strikes.

Other than that, they are wonderful. I love them. And I wish I hadn't eaten my last one!

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