Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Holy Grail - Gluten Free Chicago Stuffed Pizza

That's what the hubby calls gluten free Chicago Stuffed Pizza. Since going gluten free I have tried time and time again to produce something close to our favorite glutened versions:

  1. Patxi's (Palo Alto, California) - who would have thunk? Great sauce, crust (whole wheat to boot - who knew it was poison?) and toppings - not as heavy as its Chicago counterparts. Oh how we miss Patxi's - we used to go there all the time but alas, when you walk in the first thing you see is a huge mound of flour so it's off limits to us now that we know better.
  2. Giordanos - best overall combination of crust, sauce and toppings. pure heaven.
  3. Edwardos - similar to Giordanos - a near 2nd
  4. Lou Malnati's - not stuffed but has the best sauce overall
  5. Zachary's (East Bay/SF Bay Area) - great unusually chunky sauce
  6. Piero's - also very good stuffed pizza
  7. Gino's East - tasty but not as much of a fan of their corn meal crust
What is Chicago Stuffed Pizza? Well, it's in a deep dish pan but is more like a pie - you start with a base crust, then add the cheese & "toppings", followed by a thin crust on top, then cover with rich tomato sauce. My mouth waters as I type these words...

In Search of the Holy Grail
When we first found out we could no longer eat gluten,  I googled and googled for gluten free pizza, then gluten free Chicago pizza. The only thing I could find was Lou Malnati's Crustless pizza so I promptly ordered a 3 pack which was delivered, packed in dry ice, several days later. The verdict? Too meaty. Instead of a crust they put the pizza on a huge slab of sausage. Creative, but really not a pizza, And our favorite part of Lou Malnatis- the sauce? Well, there was hardly any on it. But during that same purchase I also decided to buy one of their pizza pans - so I could try to create what did not seem to exist - the holy grail, gluten free Chicago Stuffed Pizza.

Finding the right crust recipe
I've made a lot of pizza dough the past 3 years - from recipes I've found online, recipes in cookbooks, dough mixes, and I've yet to find the perfect dough - something with a little breadiness but still crisps up nicely and has some flavor. I have yet to settle on a winner yet but here are the ones I've tried so far in order of preference:
1. Bob's Red Mill Pizza Crust mix: this one surprised me as most Bob's mixes are disgusting - the only reason this one works for me is because it is void of that nasty bean flour that you find in their cookie and bread mixes. The hubby and I are huge chocolate chip cookie fans and I had to throw out the whole batch of the Bob's chocolate chip cookies because they were simply inedible. But I digress...

2. Chewy Gluten Free Pizza Dough - this was the first recipe I tried and it took me months to try it because I was searching all over the SF Bay Area for Guar Gum. I finally ordered some directly from Bob's Red Mill. I now know I can substitute Xanthan Gum too although the GF Girl & the Chef's new cookbook uses both in many recipes so I'm kind of puzzled again. This one makes a good thin crust too if you're able to roll it out thin enough. 

3. Pizza crust recipe from The Gluten Free Gourmet bakes bread - very tasty but just too bready - I may try this one again now that I know how to roll out the dough (see below). BTW, the French bread recipe in that cookbook rocks - my all time favorite with a few minor changes. I'll write about that one someday.

4. The recipe I can no longer find - I will need to do some more Googling - I actually found one a few months ago on a blog that was actually quite tasty- it included gluten free beer, but that tang was a bit too strange for the hubby - but I'd make it again. I'll update this post once I find it.

5. The mysterious pizza crust recipe you can't find in the new Gluten Free Girl & the Chef Cookbook. I had read about this recipe on their blog and was so excited when I saw the image of a perfect thin crust pizza on the cover- but look in the index or recipe list for the word "pizza" and you're out of luck. Talk about frustrating. Here I am with an infant, working, cooking all our meals from scratch and I am wasting my time flipping page by page through this cookbook. But I did find it - it's the cracker recipe. If you look on the left margin there is a brief mention that it makes a good pizza crust. But it called for corn flour which I did not have, and Guar Gum which I had run out of. So I ordered cases of them from Amazon- I sure wasn't going to waste another 2 months searching for Guar Gum (Ok, I did check out a few local groceries before I gave up and went to Amazon). The verdict? It was OK. I don't think I rolled it out quite thin enough so I want to try the recipe again now that I've figured out the rolling part of the puzzle (read below). BTW this cookbook has the best pancake recipe ever- "Seasonal Berry Pancakes". I had to buy a case of Teff flour from Amazon for that one but oh was it worth it. I make these all the time and it's one of the Giggler's favorite snacks. I use frozen cherries we harvested last spring and tangerine juice from our Christmas harvest. In fact I'm making them tomorrow. Yum!!

6. At least 4 or 5 others which I have put out of my mind - they just didn't cut it. BTW, if I had a worst gluten free site I would put the Culinary Institute of America gluten free cookbook's pizza dough recipe. In addition to the crust being disgustingly rich and sweet, the author directed me to use a piping bag to pipe the crust into a big spiral. What a mess that was. No, I can't think about that anymore. Let's move on.

Rolling out the Dough
I am assuming most of you have dabbled with gluten free dough so I don't need to mention it but I will anyway - what a mess. Sticky, gummy - how many interseting evenings I've had with mishaps with trying to roll out the dough. Directly w/ a rolling pin? Good luck with that. How about parchment paper? Not really. Tortilla press? Maybe for a personal size. But I've finally got a method that works - lightly oil your hands with olive oil and pat around the ball of dough. Now put it on a silicon baking mat. Gently put a 2nd silicone baking mat on top of the first. Now roll out gently with a rolling pin. Why did it take me 3 years to figure that one out?

Finding the right sauce (August 2015 update)
When I first wrote this post in 2011, my favorite sauce was Muir Glen Organic Pizza Sauce which I used to buy regularly at Whole Foods for both thin crust and stuffed pizzas. Unfortunately, my local Whole Foods no longer carries it. However, Classico has started making an amazing pizza sauce which I can buy at my regular grocery stores! It's delicious.  I prefer the traditional sauce to the fire roasted but they are both good.
The Stuffing
For Chicago Stuffed Pizza purists, true stuffed pizza means Spinach and Mushrooms or Spinach and Sausage fillings. I usually do a pure spinach or spinach & (chicken) sausage. The secret to a good spinach filling is to cook down the spinach first - either in the microwave or on the stove. Then let it cool a little so you can grab it in your clean hands and squeeze out the water. Chop it up into fairly small chunks - maybe 1"x1". Then put in a bowl and add some garlic, parmesean and plenty of mozzarella. Then crumble in some sausage if you'd like. BTW for my latest attempt I decided to use 2 big bunches of kale I had from our organic farm CSA which held up very nicely although made the dish more of a kale pie than a stuffed pizza, but sure was yummy. Next time I'll stick to one bunch of kale or spinach, and double the mozzarella.

Assembling the Pizza
Here are the steps I've found work best...

  1. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees F. I tried using a pizza stone which is essential for thin crust pizzas but really N/A for stuffed. So feel free to leave out your pizza stone.
  2. Take a rolled out piece of dough and drape over your oiled deep dish pizza pan. With oiled fingers, carefully press the crust into the side of the pan.
  3. Pre-bake the crust in the oven for 10 minutes
  4. Add toppings - they should be just above the rim of the pan, with the mound slightly higher in the center
  5. Take a rolled out piece of dough and gently drape it over the top. Gently press down on top of the toppings. With your fingers or a knife remove the excess dough and press the edges into the outer crust. If you do too good a job at sealing the crust you may want to add a few air vents. You will want this layer of crust to be slightly concave to prevent the sauce you will add later from spilling over the edges.
  6. Reduce heat in the oven down to 400 degrees F. Bake the pizza for another 20 minutes
  7. Pour/spread sauce over the top layer of crust
  8. Bake for another 10-15 minutes
  9. Remove the pizza from the oven and let it cool say 5-10 minutes
  10. With a spatula, carefully slide the pizza out of the deep dish pan onto a big cutting board.
  11. Cut with a chef's knife and enjoy!
Photos of the Kale & Sausage stuffed pizza - used Muir Glen pizza sauce and the Bob's Red Mill pizza crust mix. The verdict from the hubby: good crust consistency, needs lots more cheese and still a long way from the holy grail... but still good!

We are off to Chicago soon and after much googling have found one restaurant who claims to have gluten free stuffed pizza -Chicago's Pizza - so watch this space for a review!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A pause before breakfast... Rudi's Gluten Free Cinnamon Raisin Bread

When I first went gluten free over 3 years ago, I really missed a good piece of bread. First I bought some of the brown rice breads at Trader Joe and Whole Foods but to be blunt, they were disgusting. Dense, crumbly, no taste, no softness. Then I tried Kinnikinnick sandwich bread, hamburger rolls and pizza crusts which were much better but almost too soft,  kind like Wonder Bread for the gluten free community. So I started baking which enlightened me to the fact that there is such a thing as great tasting gluten free bread. But breadmaking takes time (even when I use my Zohirushi bread machine) and although I always try to have a few pieces in the freezer I always end up with a few weeks here and there without bread in the house. Enter Rudi's. No, not Udi's - who is also a fine bread and excellent pizza crust maker, but Rudi's. I first had Rudi's multi-grain bread at Erik's Deli as they have recently started offering gluten free sandwiches. It was very tasty. So when our local Sprouts market had their gluten free sale and I saw Rudi's Cinnamon Raisin bread in the freezer, I just had to try it. Boy am I glad I did. This stuff is the real deal - after my first piece, toasted with some peanut butter on top, for the first time since going gluten free I could not recall what a glutenous piece of cinnamon raisin bread tasted like - it was that good! So I've found a new staple for my freezer. Thanks Rudi's!

What's your favorite commercial gluten free bread and why?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fresh Choice -no longer my choice

Fresh Choice was an early favorite of mine when I first went gluten free although it's always been a love-hate relationship. In case you are not familiar this long time bay area chain, Fresh Choice is an all-you-can-eat salad, soup, potato, bread fruit, etc buffet - with most emphasis on the salad bar. Prior to having to eat gluten free I used to prefer Sweet Tomato's (same chain as Soup Plantation) due to their pizza and breads but after going gluten free I switched to Fresh Choice because Fresh Choice actually listed allergens for each dish - that and I could no longer eat the pizza or bread from Sweet Tomatoes. The labels were so helpful- but also frustrating because we started to get used to disappointment when something that was labeled gluten free had been contaminated by something sitting along it's perimeter. After filling out numerous surveys and even a chat with corporate we started to see some of the gluten free foods rearranged such that they were on the back row such that it would be difficult for neighboring dishes to contaminate it so we had high hopes that Fresh Choice would remain an option for us.

But last night I was glutened at the Sunnyvale Fresh Choice (the original store #1, no less) - fortunately I did not notice an actual reaction but I learned after just one bite of the chicken breast I had plucked from the gluten free chicken spot that the chicken was in the wrong spot -and it was teriyaki - with gluten in the soy sauce. Fortunately I had just nibbled on a very small piece I had broken up for  The Giggler but it was very traumatic - less for me and more because I had just given the Giggler some - and we wanted to wait until she was old enough such that blood screening tests could more accurately detect if gluten is an issue for her.

I know - as a member of the celiacbayarea group always says "eating out is risky" but what pushed me over the edge was the Fresh Choice manager's non-chelant reaction when we realized I had been glutened. What was her reaction? "Oh, you must have taken it from the wrong spot". Uh, NO.... people who have food sensitivities are very careful and in addition to reading the ingredients twice just to make sure, know I took the chicken from the gluten free spot. But both varieties looked nearly identical - including the parsley garnish, and they were not labeled. When the hubby and I suggested they make them look different and label them, the manager's response continued to be "you took it from the wrong spot".

So, farewell to Fresh Choice. I guess if I want a salad I'll stick to the BJ's Brewhouse Santa Fe salad, Spinach Salad from Amici's or make my own at home.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Eating out - it doesn't have to be scary!

When I first found out I could no longer eat gluten, finding a safe place to eat out was so difficult. As an introvert, the thought of having to speak with a server, manager, gasp- even the chef to see if they understood what gluten is let alone make sure they practice safe food prep practices was terrifying. So those first months we mainly frequented places who had actual gluten free menus, like PF Changs and Outback Steakhouse. Every so often I would need to go somewhere for a business meal or out with friends where there was no such menu so I would carefully research it - first on local boards to see if anyone else had tried going there, then I'd look at the restaurant web site. Finally, if I thought I'd actually try to go there, I would call them during late afternoon when they would not be busy and ask to speak with the manager. I'd quiz them on various things like whether they had gluten free offerings, and if so, would ask "does it have soy sauce?". Most would have no idea that many soy sauces have wheat so that would be my first trick question. I'd then ask about whether they use shared food prep areas. If I finally felt confident that they knew what they were talking about, I would get a detailed list of what I could order, such that when I arrived I could order from that list, refer my server to whomever I spoke with on the phone, and sometimes ask the chef to come out and confirm with me. I still need to follow this drill on occasion but thankfully there are now far more restaurants out there who understand what cooking gluten free means, and gluten free menus are popping up all over the place.

Here is my current list of favorites. Over time the list to the left will change and I will create new posts as I try new places. I hope you find this helpful when you are looking for somewhere safe to eat.

BJ's Brewhouse
One thing I find quite funny is most of the food I would order out prior to going gluten free was actually one of the few gluten free things on the menu. It is as if my body was steering me toward safe food all along. Case in point: BJ's Brewhouse. What did I order before going gluten free? The Santa Fe Salad without tortilla strips(with blackened salmon & Cajun shrimp - the hubby and I would split this), or the BBQ chicken salad without fried onions. And what do you know? BJ's gluten free menu lists both salads as safe IF you order them the very way I did. Amazing huh! Of course, BJ's has also added PIZZA which is just delicious - far better than their original pizza we tried once pre-gluten free days. So now when we go it's always tough to decide whether to get the salad, the pizza or both (and bring a box for take out or go mid-afternoon so we can call the meal a "Linner". I also always order (and previously did too) their Berry Burst (hard) Cider-  in the "taste" size (I think it's 6oz). My only complaint with BJ's is parking at their Cupertino location - we never go during an evening - our best bet is a weekend mid-afternoon stop. The servers are very kind and  each time we go the manager comes over to review our order and let us know they are preparing it in their gluten free area. Finally, the Cupertino location we frequent is very comfortable. We love sitting in one of their comfy booths - in fact, before we had a custom booth built for our kitchen we used to go to BJ's specifically so we could go sit in one of their booths and read. Of course, now that "The Giggler" (our daughter) comes along, no more reading for us. Oh, and if someone from BJ's is reading this, can you please please please please please offer a gluten free pizookie??? That is the one thing we do miss about BJ's prior to going gluten free!

Thai Pepper
I fell in love with Thai food when I moved to the bay area over 20 years ago. I've been making red and green curry's for years using the Thai Kitchen curry pastes and knew those recipes did not include any gluten, but it took awhile before I had "the talk" with my favorite Thai restaurant "Thai Basil" in Sunnyvale. However, something had changed there- the food did not seem as delicious as it was before I went gluten free. So instead I continued to make my own Thai food at home. Then, work threw us a baby shower and a fellow celiac co-worker recommended Thai Pepper. If you tell them you cannot have wheat or soy sauce (since most soy sauce contains wheat) they will go over your order with the chef and make sure it is gluten free. Since then we have ordered tons of take out and have also been there for dinner, always receiving absolutely delicious food.  I can't even go into what my favorite dishes are because we have ordered most of the menu and it's all good. The hubby's favorite dish is chicken larb made spicy. I think my favorite is either the summer rolls with peanut sauce or the Massaman Peanut Curry Chicken. Try this place - you will not be disappointed. The only other Thai restaurant I have liked as much (possibly more...) is Typhoon! in Portland Oregon. Oh, that was some good stuff! If it were local it would be on this list for sure!