Product Review: Trader Joe’s Mini Chicken Tacos

Trader Joe's No Gluten Ingredients Used LabelI love these Trader Joe’s Mini Chicken Tacos. One thing I don’t exactly like is their way of designating them “No Gluten Ingredients Used.” To the paranoid side of me, this means that they don’t think there’s any gluten in there, but they aren’t testing and maybe don’t really know. Is that paranoid? I should call them and find out what they really mean.

OK so let’s talk about the tacos. One thing that becomes very obvious the minute you open the package is that these babies don’t really look much like what’s on the box. The box makes it look like there’s cheese and chunks of chicken, and that the tacos were stuffed and then maybe baked by the Trader Joe’s Gluten Free elves. So here’s what the box looks like. See those hearty chunks of chicken and identifiable pieces of grated cheese?

Trader Joe's Mini Chicken Tacos

Here’s the real thing, waiting to go into the toaster oven.

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Mini Tacos

You can pull these babies open and what it really looks like is chicken and cheese stuff in there with some tomatillo salsa. Here are the ingredients:

Filling: chicken leg and breast meat, green chilies, crushed tomatillos (tomatillo, citric acid), contains 2% or less of: gelatin, modified corn starch, onions, green chili puree (green chili and citric acid), jalapenos (jalapeno peppers, salt, acetic acid, calcium chloride), chicken base (salt, maltodextrin, detrose, modified corn starch, sugar, yeast extract, dehydrated onion, corn oil, spice extractives including turmeric, natural smoke flavoring, citric acid), vinegar, salt, flavoring, water, cilantro flavor (dextrose, modified corn starch, extractives of cilantro), dehydrated bell pepper & cilantro flakes, guar gum.
Tortilla: corn flour (corn masa flour, trace of lime), water, modified potato starch.
Fried in vegetable oil (canola and/or soybean)

The ingredients confirm what my eyes see. It’s basically chicken with tomatillo salsa. Each serving contains 250 mg of sodium, which is pretty good for Trader Joe’s. Once again this is a product where we can’t really fool ourselves: It’s processed. On the plus side, they’re really fast and they’re delicious! You have to dress them up, though. We eat them with plenty of salsa and either sour cream or yogurt.

Trader Joe's Mini Tacos

As I said at the beginning, I love these tacos. Sienna really likes them too. They are something like having awesome nachos and are fun to eat. For me, I can overlook the maltodextrin, modified corn starch, processed foodie kind of thing going on for flavor like this.

This review was done to be part of What’s for Dinner? Wednesday, hosted by Linda at Gluten-free Homemaker.

We want to know: Seems like this isn’t a great item for people who are eating gluten-free to be healthy. For someone who is gluten-free and wants to eat something delicious that’s easy to make, these Trader Joe’s Mini Chicken Tacos hit the spot. How do you feel about processed foods? How about that curious “No Gluten Ingredients Used” label? Let us know in the comments.

Times we have visited: 4 (we feel confident about our score.)
Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same

Gluten-Free Recipe: Pesto Shrimp and Portobello on Polenta

I made this recently when we didn’t know what to have for dinner. I was really impressed with myself for making a meal on the spot with what we had on hand, because normally I can’t do that. This is a great dish that is naturally gluten-free and very satisfying.

Hold the presses! Later note: It turns out that I must have had this combo fresh in my mind after reading a nearly identical Pesto Shrimp on Polenta Portobellos recipe over at http://www.thewholegang.org.

There are four parts to the recipe: pesto, shrimp, portobello mushroom, and polenta. I’m going to let everyone out there on the Internet figure out how much to make.

I cheated because the pesto was already made. We like to make pesto and then freeze it so we always have some around. Pesto freezes really well.

The Pesto

2 1/2 cups fresh basil
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cups pine  nuts
10 cloves of garlic
2/3 cup nutritional yeast flakes (or Parmesan cheese)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper (or to taste)

To make the pesto, put all of the ingredients in a food processor and then blend until it’s the consistency you want.

The Shrimp

1/4 lb per serving. More cheating here: We get the Trader Joe’s cooked shrimp. To prepare it, you thaw it out. You’re SUPPOSED to thaw it out by putting it in the fridge. I never think that far ahead and always end up putting the shrimp in a bowl of cold water and then changing the water every couple of minutes until the shrimp are thawed.

The Polenta

Follow the directions on the package – or – here is a simple recipe:

1 cup polenta
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Pour polenta into boiling water. Stir frequently for thirty minutes. Stir in butter. Spoon into a casserole dish. Let sit 10 minutes to firm up.

The Portobello and the Gluten-Free End

OK so here’s the timing of it. Start the shrimp thawing. Start the polenta. Thaw the pesto (or make it super-fast – you have a half hour.) The idea is to have the shrimp and pesto thawed by the time you put the polenta in the casserole dish.

Once the polenta is in the casserole dish, saute the portobello mushrooms (one per person, cut up into pieces) in 1/2 Tablespoon olive oil until browned. While the portobellos are cooking, throw the pesto and shrimp into a different pan and fry them up. Hopefully the portobello mushrooms and shrimp are ready at the same time.

Cut up and lay out some slabs of polenta. Then throw some of your shrimp and portobellos on the polenta.

and BAM!

Portobello Pesto Shrimp on Polenta

Gluten-Free Pesto Shrimp Dish

You are ready to eat!

More gluten-free recipes on Gluten Free Portland dot Org.

Hopefully we’re not too late for What’s for Dinner? Wednesday, hosted by Linda at Gluten-free Homemaker.

Product Review: Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Organic Brown Rice Pasta

What we have here is even larger than what is in the title. Let’s all say it together:

Trader Joe’s Sodium Free, Wheat Free, Cholesterol Free, Gluten Free, Organic Brown Rice Penne Pasta

That is quite the mouthful. On the plus side, here are the ingredients: Brown rice, Water. That’s pretty awesome. So we’re guessing that the magic of making brown rice pasta is really in the processing?

Gluten Free Penne Brown Rice Pasta

I wish that there was a lot more to say about these noodles. Like gluten-free brown rice noodles made by other manufacturers, you have to be careful not to overcook them. What we do is watch and test them a lot when the timer says they should be done. Then when they are just on the cusp of al dente, we pour them into a colander and use cold water to stop the cooking process. The Trader Joe’s Gluten Free noodles end up being a little slimy, so the rinsing and draining process helps with that, too. Then, since we don’t like our pasta cold, we put the drained pasta in a non-stick pan and heat them back up, stirring constantly.

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Penne Pasta

And here they are, gluten-free and steaming hot. Sienna made an awesome marinara sauce for these and added some mushrooms, spices, and Trader Joe’s ground buffalo burger in there.

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Brown Rice Pasta

The Trader Joe’s gluten-free pasta compared well to other brands we have tried, such as the Tinkyada brand gluten-free rice pasta. It’s definitely not as good as “real” pasta made with wheat, and I think we both like the gluten-free quinoa pasta better than any kind of rice pasta we’ve tried yet, but we really liked this pasta.

We want to know: Do you have a favorite gluten-free pasta? For some reason we were surprised that the gluten-free Trader Joe’s pasta compared well to the more expensive brands. Did you notice any difference? Let us know in the comments.

Times we have visited: once (but we feel confident about our score.)
Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: We think more expensive

Product Review: Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Rice Pasta and Cheddar

Yes you read that right: Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Mac ‘n’ Cheese.

Of course, they call it Gluten Free Rice Pasta & Cheddar. I’m probably not the best person to be reviewing Macaroni and Cheese, because I’ve really always been more of a Ramen guy. When it comes to Ramen, I like it packaged, cheap and unhealthy. For a fact, the sort of Ramen I like is nothing like what you’ll get at a Japanese restaurant. It’s too bad I don’t know of anybody making gluten free Ramen. As a matter of fact, I just did a Google search on gluten free Ramen noodles and came up with a lot of people suggesting rice noodles, which we all know is just not going to be the same. Do I sound bitter?

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Rice Pasta & Cheddar

Luckily we’re not talking about Ramen today, we’re talking about Macaroni and Cheese. My doctor happens to love Mac ‘n’ Cheese (hey Dr. B.!). As you would expect, the Trader Joe’s gluten free Rice Pasta and Cheddar box contains a bunch of noodles and a cheese packet. The cheese packet actually says “GLUTEN FREE CHEESE” on it. This is a little strange, but reassuring. Here are the ingredients: rice pasta (rice flour), cheddar cheese (cultured pasteurized milk, salt, enzymes), whey, buttermilk, butter, salt, natural flavor, sodium phosphate, and annatto extract (color). If you’re wondering what annatto is, it’s a South American tree extract commonly used in lipstick and also to color (you guessed it) cheddar cheese.

The box makes two and a half servings. Trader Joe’s counts one cup as a serving. A serving is 280 calories. So the whole box would be 700 calories. Like a lot of the Trader Joe’s gluten free products I’ve reviewed, the Mac ‘n’ Cheese has a lot of salt. Weighing in at 390 mg in a serving. So the box has almost a half teaspoon of salt!

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Mac 'n' Cheese

To me there’s this fascination with super-processed comfort foods like Mac ‘n’ Cheese or Ramen. It was all I could do to keep myself from sticking a finger in the powder to taste it. As you might expect, the instructions are easy to follow and it’s a quick meal to cook. I have this memory of watching someone make Mac ‘n’ Cheese and seeing them add butter, but the butter is already in there! I want to know how they make powdered butter.

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Mac 'n' Cheese

And here is the finished product. Mine ended up too soggy, but I’m sure that’s my fault. It is rich and wow is it salty. I actually think it’s too salty, but like I said, I’m not really a Mac ‘n’ Cheese guy. Other people might like it that salty. Also, we both agreed that the noodles are a little strange. They kind of crumble in a strange way when you chew them. I like my Mac ‘n’ Cheese with some applesauce. Luckily we had some around.

I didn’t really like this product and I’m thinking its main audience is going to be gluten free people who really love the regular sort of boxed Mac ‘n’ Cheese mix.

Here are links to some of my other gluten free Trader Joe’s reviews.
Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Pancake and Waffle Mix
Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Banana Waffles
Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Pancakes
Trader Joe’s Pancake and Waffle Mix A’La the Shasta MountInn Bed & Breakfast

We want to know: I’d love to hear from some real Mac ‘n’ Cheese fans to see if Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Rice Pasta and Cheddar compares well to the real thing. Do you have a favorite Trader Joe’s product? Let us know in the comments.

Times we have visited: once (but we feel confident about our score.)
Overall rating: 2 out of 5 stars (too salty)
Price compared to “regular”: Same

Product Review: Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Banana Waffles

In the interest of full disclosure I think it’s only fair that I admit that I’m not really all that crazy about waffles. If good waffles are put in front of me I will eat them, but I don’t really seek them out. I think this might be the result of eating too many bad quality waffles over the years. It seems to me that a bad quality waffle is much worse than a bad quality pancake. They have more of a problem with uncooked batter and also lose their crispness too easily.

This is totally a side note, but one of my favorite Simpson’s moments is when Homer makes waffles. He mixes up the batter (his recipe includes a whole package of caramels,) pours it onto an iron with the batter overflowing. Then he runs a finger around the sides of the iron and eats all the batter that has overflowed. (“Mmmmm… Waffle runoff”) When the waffles are done (they’re all burnt, of course) he wraps one around an entire stick of butter and puts it on a toothpick. I love that scene.

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Banana Waffles

So getting back to waffles in general and Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Banana Waffles specifically, as with their frozen gluten-free pancakes, they get points for making a great gluten free product, but they lose points for lots of packaging. Each box has eight waffles and the box is big enough that the waffles kind of flop around in it. They also lose points (as with the frozen pancakes) for having a lot of salt. A serving is two waffles and two waffles have 440 mg of salt in them.

Trader Joe's Frozen Gluten Free Waffles

On the plus side, they’re fast and easy. Also, I think they taste exactly like regular frozen waffles, so if you’re a frozen waffle fan, you’ll like the Trader Joe’s Frozen Gluten Free Banana Waffles. As a butter and maple syrup delivery system, they get the job done and they’re better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

I’m actually amazed at how many gluten-free products Trader Joe’s has. Here’s a link to the current Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Product List (pdf.) We’ve reviewed a few. Click here for our Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Pancake and Waffle Mix review. Click here for our Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Frozen Pancakes review. We’ll have to do more because there are a bunch of other gluten free products that we eat that I just realized we’ve never reviewed.

We want to know: Is there a good place to get gluten free waffles in Portland? Do you have a favorite Trader Joe’s product? Let us know in the comments.

Times we have visited: several (So we feel confident about our score.)
Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same

Lodging Review: Shasta MountInn Bed & Breakfast

We’d like to say that we found the Shasta MountInn Bed & Breakfast by doing a search on Gluten Free Bed and Breakfast places. Instead, we were just looking for a place to spend a night in Mount Shasta, California, on our way back up from Los Angeles. The last time we’d been to Mount Shasta was a disaster, because it was a Sunday morning and we couldn’t find anything that: A) Was open, and B) Looked like a place we would want to eat. They have a health food store there, but the selection is basically deli food.

Fortunately, we found the Shasta MountInn Retreat and Spa just through a web search. It has a five star rating on all the hotel review websites and we weren’t able to find anything but rave reviews. So we called them up and while making arrangements to spend the night, mentioned that I was gluten free. The person we were talking to, Dave, said that he had just been to Trader Joe’s and he could make me some gluten free pancakes. (!!!!) I’m sure that we just got lucky and if you want to book a stay at the Shasta MountInn, you should let them know ahead of time if you have any special dietary requests.

Shasta MountInn Bed and Breakfast - Gluten Free!

The house is a Victorian which has been modified to be a B&B. So for example all the rooms have their own bathroom. There is a relaxation room on the top floor with books and movies. They have a sauna, a hot tub, and also offer massages.

Room at the Shasta MountInn B&B

Here’s one of the rooms at the Shasta MountInn. This one has kind of an unusual bathroom layout in that the shower is behind one door and the bathroom is behind the other. The beds are all Swedish Tempur-Pedic® and have a top layer which is that strange “Memory Foam” which makes them very comfortable. For pillows they also have memory foam pillows, but also plenty of conventional ones too. Our room also had two separate heaters.

(I had never slept on one of these Tempur-Pedic beds with the memory foam so it was very interesting. Since the foam molds itself to your shape, you end up feeling kind of like you’ve burrowed into the bed.)

Here’s the view from the room we stayed in.

View of Mount Shasta, California

When our host Dave mentioned that he could make me some Trader Joe’s Gluten Free pancakes, I was thinking that he had the pre-made, packaged kind. Instead it turned out that he was making them using the Gluten Free Pancake and Waffle Mix that I reviewed here. It also turns out that he makes a much better pancake than I do, which is really saying something, because I’m a pancake pro. They were also served with home fried potatoes. Did I get a picture, you ask? Why yes I did.

Gluten Free Pancakes

When the subject came up, Dave seemed to be aware of different food allergies, and it seemed like he would be able to accommodate a wide variety of diets given enough notice.

We want to know: Have any Bed and Breakfast recommendations for weekend trips around Portland Oregon? Do you find that most places are at least gluten free friendly? Let us know in the comments!

Times we have visited: 1 (So your experience may vary.)
Overall rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same

Shasta MountInn Retreat and Spa
www.shastamountinn.com
203 Birch St., Mt. Shasta, California 96067
(530) 926-1810 / (530) 926-6600

Product Review: Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Pancake and Waffle Mix

I think I’ve talked about pancakes before on this site. I don’t want to bore anybody but I love pancakes. They seem to add an order to my world. Pancakes are a great solution to an age-old problem: “What am I going to eat this morning?” Certainly there are other solutions to this problem, but none fits quite as well in extraordinary circumstances as pancakes. One thing that is also clear is that just because you’re on a gluten-free diet, it doesn’t mean you have to give up your pancakes.

Gluten Free Pancake and Waffle Mix

Here’s the package and about everything you need to make some pancakes. I’ve made these twice now. Inside this purple bag is a plactic bag with the mix in it. The mix is not only gluten-free, but is also free of peanuts, tree nuts, milk & dairy, soy, and corn. So these are pretty seriously allergen free. Ingredients: sweet brown rice flour, tapioca flour, arrowroot flour, rice milk powder, cream of tartar, xanthan gum, baking soda, sea salt, ground vanilla bean .

Gluten Free Mixing It Up

Today’s photos are going to feature cumquats. That’s because I ran out of lemons and oranges. The mix is really easy to use. You just throw the wet ingredients into a mixing bowl, stir them up, and then add in the contents of the bag and mix well. You have to add more or less water depending on how thick you want the pancakes to be. Once you get the hang of pancake batter, you’ll know the right consistency. I like my batter thin enough to pour.

Gluten Free Pancakes on the Griddle

The griddle temperature is important. You can test the heat by flicking some drops of water on the griddle. If the drops don’t sizzle, then it’s too cold. If the drops jump around and sizzle, it’s too hot. You cook pancakes on the first side until you have a good amount of bubbles coming up to the top, and then you flip them. Your first pancake will almost never turn out right. As the chef, it is your duty to eat this pancake and thus not cause suffering to others.

Warming the Plate

You might think that it’s time to throw some pancakes on a plate and either eat them or give them to your guest, but don’t forget to stop and heat up the plate first. To do so, run the plate under hot water for a while and then dry.

Wonderful Gluten Free Pancakes

Ah here they are. What can I say? The pancakes are good. For flavor and texture, I think I like the packaged kind better (see my packaged gluten free pancake review.) These end up being more economical and are fun to make (if you’re into cooking things.) If I had to complain about something it would be that the pancakes end up tasting very much like they’re made from refined flours. They would be more entertaining and hearty if they had some more texture and flavor.

Orange Butter

If you’re going to take the trouble to warm your plates, you should also bump it up a notch by making some orange butter beforehand. Here’s my recipe for Orange Butter at the bottom of the other pancake review.

We want to know: Which pancakes do you think are better? Have any suggestions on how to make the pancakes more flavorful? Let us know!

Times we have made them: 2 (So we feel pretty good about our rating.)
Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: At $2.99, it’s very reasonable.

New Links Area – Gluten-Free Store Guides

Just a quick note here to mention that we’ve added links on the side of our pages to online gluten-free product lists for Trader Joes, Whole Foods Market, and New Seasons.

Gluten-Free Resources
Whole Foods Market Bakery – Bakery Section on Whole Foods Website.
New Seasons (PDF) New Seasons has tours and information for Gluten-Free shoppers. Check their website for more information.
Trader Joe’s (PDF) Some of these are kind of gee-wiz. Like, wow! Gluten-free steak. Imagine that. Still a nice resource.

Product Review: Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Pancakes

Ah pancakes. When we first moved to Portland, I fell in love with pancakes. I had never really liked pancakes much, except for the silver dollar kind you could get at fancy restaurants. For about two months I was looking for work, and every couple of mornings I would get up and make pancakes for breakfast. For me, it became the thing to do when you don’t know what else to do: make pancakes.

Imagine my excitement after being sentenced to a world without wheat pancakes to find that Trader Joe’s had some gluten free ones.

Trader Joe's Homestyle Gluten Free Pancakes

While Trader Joe’s earns some points with my gluten-free self for making such a product available, they lose some points with my environmentally conscious self for packaging these pancakes in four individual plastic wrappers and a cardboard box. The box is sealed on the ends with round, clear plastic stickers, which kind of pushes it even further. I mean, when I’m opening a box of pancakes, the last thing I want to do is feel like I’m breaking the seal on a royal decree or something. The other thing they lose points for is 430 mg of salt per serving! That’s the kind of amounts I’m used to seeing in canned soups.

They do taste like pancakes, which is a good thing, and cook up well. They are light and fluffy like a good pancake should be, but they do suffer a bit from the dreaded gluten-free spongy texture.

Pancakes and Bacon with orange butter

On the plus side, however, these pancakes do what they are supposed to do: deliver butter, jam, and/or maple syrup in a no-nonsense fashion. Here’s a bonus recipe for those of you who made it this far.

ORANGE BUTTER

1/2 cup butter or trans fat free margarine
1 Tbsp orange juice concentrate
Grated zest of one lemon
Grated zest of one orange
1/2 tsp Triple Sec or your favorite orange brandy (optional)

Put all ingredients in a dish and mash them up until mixed. You may need to soften the butter first. If you need to use the orange butter soon, put in the freezer to re-solidify. Otherwise return to the refrigerator. This stuff is not sweet, so you and your celiac friends will probably want some maple syrup to go with.

Enjoy!