Alisa Fleming ~ This past weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to present at the Gluten-Free Allergen-Free Expo (GFAF) in Chicago. It was a full three days of meeting up with fellow special diet authors and bloggers, chatting with many of you incredible readers, and tasting so much delicious food.
Everything at the event was gluten-free, and much of it, though not all, was dairy-free. In order to report back to all of you, I dutifully sampled every dairy-free item they served (hey, it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it!). Most of the foods were quite good, but there were some that stood out from the pack, capturing not only my taste buds, but those of my picky friends.
Not all of the products below are brand new, but these were still what I like to call the tasty highlights of the 2011 Gluten-Free Allergen-Free Expo (all products below are gluten-free, some were vegan and many were “allergen-free” (free of the top eight allergens and more), too):
AllergyFree Foods Chicken Strips and Nuggets – For the author table, these were the hit of the show. They were so well-loved, that the owner of the company had to come over with full plates of this chicken to satisfy all of the requests. These go above and beyond in quality, and we are hoping their distribution expands quickly.
Enjoy Life Chocolate Crunch Granola – Little bags of this ended up being part of my “snacking” breakfasts. Though it wouldn’t be morning material on a normal day for me, the granola is a bit sweet and chocolaty for my taste buds that early in a day, it is a great sweet treat for the afternoon. Loved it.
Enjoy Life New Crunchy Cookies – If you’ve followed my blog over the years, then you know I’m a soft and chewy cookie loyalist. But something about these little gems is simply amazing. They come in four flavors, all of which I highly enjoyed, but the Chocolate Chip and Vanilla Honey Graham Crispy Cookies were my two favorites. Okay, the Sugar Cookies came in a really, really close third.
AllerEnergy Marshmallows – This was a surprise tasty goody that I hadn’t planned on trialing. I went over to meet the very nice owners and decided to take some of their marshmallow samples back to my exhausted friends (we were going on day 3 at that point) for a little pick me up. We all loved them. The nicely-sized squares had that fresh, homemade marshmallow taste (trust me, it is so different from the manufactured jet-puffs), and gave us a little sugar rush that was definitely needed. I could consume these daily in dairy-free hot chocolate.
San-J Thai Peanut Sauce – I actually missed the San-J table, but they snuck into my dining experience by being one of the lunch sponsors. All of their sauces were served up as dressings, and boy were they delicious! My friend (and co-taster) AndreAnna, told me I had to try the Thai Peanut Sauce (she regularly buys it), and I can honestly say there was no disappointment. The Peanut Dressing was pretty awesome too. Can you tell I like peanuts?
Zema's Ancient Grain Mixes – AndreAnna was elated by these whole grain, “sprouted” mixes that were heads and tales above many of the contenders in nutrition. Not only did she buy some, but I think she was a voluntary rep for the company around the entire show … recommending them left and right! Since I’m not strictly gluten-free myself, they weren’t quite purchase material for me, but I do confess that I probably ate at least ten of the mini SunButter and Jelly Bar Bites they had made, and the other bar recipes were pretty scrumptious too.
Bagel Snaps – AndreAnna bought a bag of the snack mix from El's Kitchen, which included these Snaps. Though I didn’t buy any products at the show, the Bagel Snaps are on my “to find” list. They are so amazingly flavorful, the ingredients are pretty wholesome, and oh that crunch! This definitely isn’t a product people would guess is gluten-free.
Kettle Cuisine Chili – I only tried their chili, but could immediately tell that this brand went above and beyond most premade soups in quality. They are sold in tetra paks in the frozen food section, but taste pretty darn close to fresh. Trust me, that picture below isn't simply a fake "promo" picture; it really looks that good! If I spotted these on sale, I would definitely be tempted to trial all of the dairy-free varieties (of which, there are many).
Kinnikinnick Donuts – I actually sampled these little gems at a show last year, but couldn’t resist sneaking in with that “I’ve never tried these before” look on my face to win over another taste-test. They were as good as I remembered and a delicious treat for those donut cravings, especially if you can’t have dairy and gluten. I sampled the "seasonal" blueberry donut, which is pictured above.
Magner’s Irish Cider – I’m not a big beer or wine drinker, but I get very excited whenever I see cider on tap. It has that nice refreshing balance with flavor … but alas, most brands are a bit too sweet for my current taste buds. However, Magner’s is a beautifully dry cider with a champagne-like effervescence. I wasn’t the only one sipping on this gem well before 5pm. It was hard to resist!
Stashu’s Pizza Crust – Okay, truth be told, since I do eat gluten, I won’t be giving up my homemade pizza crusts to buy gluten-free crusts. But, this was one of the most impressive gluten-free pizza crusts that I have ever eaten. They managed to capture the soft, chewy, and crispy combination that is so hard to do with gluten-free flours. Note that the link takes you to food service, but they do have a deli and pizza place in Iowa and also sell their crusts to consumers in an increasing amount of locations.
NoOodle – This wasn’t so much of a “wow” kind of product in terms of flavor, but I love noodles of all types and was intrigued by these no calorie noodles made of yam flour. They were being served with a tomato sauce that we found a bit too acidic to compliment, but the noodles themselves had some serious potential, and I will be seeking them out.
NoNuttin’ Trail Mix – I love this company. They have a simplicity approach with their sweets and snacks to make them vegan and allergy-friendly. I forgot to go back and sample their bars, but the trail mix I tried really hit the spot, and I spotted many friends going back for seconds. It had a combination of seeds, chocolate, and blueberries … that about sums it up, don’t you think?
Article by Alisa Fleming, founder of GoDairyFree.org, blogger at Alisa Cooks, and author of Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. Alisa is also a freelance writer for several publications, with an emphasis on creating recipes for various types of special diets.