Lauren

 

An endless search for gluten free friendly restaurants often results in dining at some pretty eclectic eateries. Places like Lydia’s Kitchen, for example, might make you feel like part of a modern hippie movement. Her food is organic, amazingly healthy, and 100% gluten free. The quirky atmosphere in her restaurant is just part of the experience.

Last weekend, I sat down for lunch at a cafe inside of a buddhist bookstore in San Rafael. The room was adorned with ornate sculptures, a small stage for enlightened guests, and ceiling high bookshelves. Patrons spoke in hushed tones, and the cafe’s speakers streamed the notes of traditional Indian instruments playing assorted Christmas tunes. At Radiance Cafe, customers order their organic gluten free vegetarian lunch at the counter. A small but well rounded menu features items like warm lentil soup, brown rice with a homemade cashew and vegetable curry, and a spring salad covered in delicious raw dressing. This seemingly sacred yet slightly kitschy space might just serve up the tastiest and healthiest meal you’ve had all week.
 

I can’t tell you how relieved I am to have finally come across a brownie recipe that produces chewy, rich brownies that are perfect in texture and flavor. These brownies look like brownies. That candy-like crust that’s so hard to achieve with gluten free versions? It’s there. So are the crispy edges.

This is a recipe I’ll keep around forever.

Perfect Gluten Free Brownies  (recipe adapted from Epicurious)

Ingredients:

10 TBSP butter (or 8 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp coconut oil)

1 1/4 cup evaporated cane juice

3/4 cup cocoa powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

2 large cold eggs

1/2 cup all purpose gluten free flour mix (I used a blend of brown rice flour, gf oat flour, and tapioca starch)

optional: 1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips or chopped walnuts

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 325 and grease a 8″ square baking pan.

Combine butter, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a sauce pot or heat proof bowl and set inside a wide skillet filled partially with water that’s been brought to a simmer. Stir ingredients now and again until the mixture is completely combined and barely too hot to touch with your finger. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla with wooden spoon. Add eggs one at a time, stirring well between each one. Add gluten free flour mix and stir for about a minute until batter is silky smooth with no lumps. Fold in chocolate chips or chopped walnuts if desired. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.

 

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of family outings to a hole in the wall restaurant in New York City’s little Italy called La Mela. The walls in the place were plastered with polaroids of their well fed customers, and family style tables were covered in brightly colored plastic cloths. At La Mela, a menu was never offered. Instead of choosing an item or two off the menu, the waiter served course after heaping course of homemade italian food until no one could swallow another bite.

I can’t help but look back on the mountainous trays of fresh ravioli, manicotti, zitti, and lasagna and sigh, because sometimes rice flour just doesn’t cut it. I get my hands on gluten free ravioli maybe once a year. The time I tried to craft my own, the kitchen looked like it had been turned upside down and inside out, plus they didn’t taste that good.

It wasn’t until I attended Jeffrey Larsen’s gluten free pasta class this past weekend that I learned of a world of possibilities in gluten free pasta making. The talented chef has been cooking his whole life and his passion for food seemed to only strengthen after discovering his own gluten intolerance. Instead of settling on store bought brown rice and quinoa noodles like the rest of us, Jeffrey has tirelessly experimented with a gluten free pasta dough, and his seems perfect.

Set in a brightly lit studio in Potrero hill, Jeffrey’s classes run about 2 hours. A thorough demonstration of the entire process will ensure that you won’t leave the place wondering how to accomplish his recipe on your own. Jeffery encourages students to snap photos of the process, and let us all try the finished product: fresh ravioli and fettucini that boiled up in just 3 minutes.

Jeffrey has exciting plans for upcoming gluten free courses. He’s got a great recipe for pizza dough, pies, tarts, and potstickers. After trying a slice of his mock rye loaf, I’ll definitely be at his next bread class. Check his schedule for upcoming classes here.

 

Table Cafe is a great little spot tucked away in Larkspur, a town just 10 or 20 minutes north of the Golden Gate bridge. A perfect place for lunch, Table Cafe offers gluten free dosas with a number of tasty fillings along with fresh salads, soups and homemade spritzers. All of their produce is local or organic, and their meats come from sustainable farms like Niman Ranch, Marin Sun Farms, and Prather Ranch. The cafe’s seasonal menu includes more than 10 different dosas, and an enticing lineup of daily specials. We ordered up two dosas, one stuffed with fresh asparagus and gruyere cheese, the other filled with curried cauliflower, pickled veggies, and wilted greens. I’m pleased to say, both were fantastic.

Most of the menu is gluten free, however there are some items that do have wheat (brownies, lamb meatballs). Be sure to have their friendly waitstaff confirm that your order is safe.

1167 Magnolia Avenue, Larkspur, CA

(415) 461-6787

 

Packaged gluten free breads, cookies, and noodles are tasting more and more like the “real thing.” Companies experiment with different combinations of flours, nuts, and seeds trying to mimic wheat flour. But why aren’t more of them exploring traditional recipes that are naturally free of gluten?

Take for example, corn tortillas, dosas, injera or arepas. Each of these bread-like foods are gluten free, yet have a wonderful texture and flavor. A corn tortilla or dosa doesn’t lack character like a piece of packaged gluten free bread does. With the right recipe, some gluten free flours really shine on their own.

Mani Brazilian cheese rolls are a traditional Brazilian snack made from cassava flour (also known as tapioca starch), derived from a root vegetable native to South America. After biting into one of these warm little rolls, you can’t help but have another. They’re crisp on the outside and have a chewy center. No weird aftertaste, not crumbly, just a naturally good recipe that’s been around a long time. Founder Ms. Batista learned the recipe from her aunt and now produces Mani rolls in small batches in San Francisco. Finally, a product that isn’t trying to be something it’s not. Find Bay Area stores that carry them here.

 

Bread SRSLY is a brand new CSA bakery for “foodies with allergies.” Sadie Scheffer went into business after learning of her own gluten intolerance and now delivers bread via bike on Tuesdays in San Francisco and Fridays in the East Bay. Bread SRSLY caters to people that avoid gluten, soy, egg, dairy and nuts. Her breads are made with home dried local herbs and 100% gluten free ingredients, sourced fresh from mills that use clean, uncontaminated equipment. With loaves like whole grain fig & fennel and apricot & cinnamon it’s hard to resist not placing a weekly order. Don’t forget to tack on a wholegrain vegan apple muffin to your delivery (see menu for weekly option).

In addition to bread delivery, Sadie offers awesome gluten free sandwiches on Mondays. Creative combinations like the “steam punk,” a sandwich with ginger shiitake relish, stinging nettle pesto and Point Reyes cheddar (sub avocado for dairy free) on homemade sourdough. Every ingredient can be sourced back to the farm, and the selection changes weekly. Sandwiches are available Mondays at noon at the Yerba Buena Center Steps and at 1pm at the Beach Hut Cafe in Crissy Field, but check her website for weekly menu options and location.

When your bread is delivered, my advice is to eat it with in a couple days or slice and freeze it. Most of you are very familiar with gluten free bread, and her gorgeous handmade loaves are no exception to the rule.

For Tuesday delivery in SF, order by noon on Monday. For Friday delivery in the East Bay, order by noon on Wednesday.

 

Spotting the words “gluten free” while scanning the menu outside of an unfamiliar restaurant is a triumphant moment for any celiac. I had one of these moments last weekend after waiting way too long for a table at Radish. Starved, a couple of friends and I wandered down Valencia Street and discovered that Grub offers gluten free noodles with their mac and cheese. Tucked away in the mission on Valencia in between 18th and 19th this happening little spot is plenty knowledgable about the meaning of gluten, and their friendly wait staff will prove it. Menu highlights include their seared artichoke glazed with balsamic, and served with lemon aioli. The waiter confirmed this dish could easily be made gluten free (omit the bread crumbs).

The gluten free creamy mac n’ cheese was also a winner. As if a big bowl of creamy, cheesy noodles isn’t appetizing enough, Grub offers over a dozen “throw-ins” like shaved fennel, caramelized onions, brocoli, and truffle oil for $1 extra each. You could also go for a real cholesterol booster with lobster on top for an extra $3.  If you’re wondering how seriously they take gluten free diners, I was told by the waiter that yes, indeed everything is kept separate. Just make sure to specify that you want gluten free noodles and no breadcrumbs when you order.

 

758 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110-1735(415) 431-4782