This part of my life began when my very sick partner was diagnosed with Celiac. Even the slightest exposure to gluten can make him very ill for several days, so I have pursued gluten-free options with thorough aggression. In the U.S. a recent surge of gluten awareness means we have more choices than ever, but it still means hunting and analyzing and tracking down parent companies. After several years now of doing so, I want to share my tricks and tips with others who are still struggling.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Recipe Box: How to Build a Perfect Soup (Block Method)

I think that many people just learning to cook think a soup is a mysterious high art, or a ridiculously complicated all-day project.  It can be, but it doesn't have to be.  There are a few basic building blocks which, when made in the right order, can give you perfect results every time. 
Setting up each block ahead of time in bowls will make the process really fast and simple, and minimize any problems. 

Try to use the soup pot for the entire cooking process.  All the flavor on the bottom of the pan after cooking meats and vegetables goes to waste if you use a separate pan.  Alternately, you can add water to the frying pan after cooking each step, cook off the nice caramelized bits into the water (deglazing), then use it as your water for the soup.

I use parboiled (instant/10-minute) rice, or cold pre-cooked rice, because I have thrown away too many pots of soup already in my lifetime.  If the soup thickens too much when cooking the rice, it will spend an hour as grit, then go directly to mush.  If you're using raw rice, set it to cooking before you start the soup, and add it last (block 7).  

Block 1:  Protein

This is essentially meat or soy.  It does not include shellfish, as these cook so quickly they should be almost the last thing in the pot. 

Fry up your protein to golden brown in oil, and set the cooked meat and juices aside in a bowl.  If there are a lot of fat drippings (as in bacon or hamburger) reserve a few tablespoons and discard or store the rest.  

Block 2: Root Vegetables you want fully cooked

Potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, celery root, etc. These take longer to cook, but have enough starch to crisp up nicely.  Have these cut into small bite-size pieces or thin slices for fast cooking. 

Fry in a little oil or drippings over medium heat in the same pan you used for the meat (uncleaned) until golden (2-3 minutes) then add 1/4 cup of water to the pan and cover for five minutes.  Check to see if the vegetables are fork-tender.  If not, continue cooking until they are.  Set aside in a bowl.

Block 3: Other sturdy vegetables you want browned but not soft

This can include broccoli, zucchini, green beans, peppers, garlic onions, and anything else you want to get a little "fried" flavor before they go into the soup. Do not include delicate vegetables such as leafy greens or mushrooms, as they will over-cook.  Don't fry leeks, as they will turn really bitter when browned. 

Brown these on medium-high heat in a little pre-heated oil or drippings (2-3 minutes) using the same pan as you have been. Don't over-cook, or they'll be mushy by the time they get out.  Set them aside in a bowl. 

Block 4: Liquid

Generally this is water flavored with meat and/or vegetables.  You can spend all day creating homemade stock from scratch, but this is the one area where prepared versions are worth the time/taste tradeoff.  This means canned or boxed broth or stock, bullion, or soup base.  In the U.S., I use the "better than boullion" paste, because one jar lasts a long time, takes up a small amount of space, and ends up costing less than buying liquid broth.  They are good about declaring gluten-containing ingredients, but note that they do not declare gluten-free because they do not test.

If you've used a pan other than your soup pot for cooking blocks 1-3, add the liquid to this pan and cook off any drippings or cooked-on bits from the bottom before transferring to the soup pot.  That's good flavor you don't want to lose!  Otherwise, add liquid to the soup pot and bring to a simmer.

Block 5: Rice or Noodles

Blocks 1-4 all go into the soup pot once it starts to simmer.  Add additional liquid if it looks too thick.  Add parboiled or COLD cooked rice, or noodles at this point.  (hot cooked rice should go in block 7)You are about 10 minutes from the soup being finished!

Block 6: Delicates and Shellfish

5 minutes from the end of cooking time for your rice or noodles, add your delicates.  This includes spinach, chives, or other tender greens, shrimp or other shellfish or delicate fish, mushrooms, leeks, and fresh herbs.

Block 7: Thickeners

Noodles and parboiled rice may take a few minutes longer to cook than in pure water, so test to make sure they are done before beginning this block.

If you are adding starch to thicken the broth into a stew (corn and potato starches work well), mix the starch in cold water to make a slurry first, then pour that into the soup while stirring.  This prevents clumping.  Keep the soup cooking and stir regularly until it reaches the consistency you want.  If it doesn't thicken in 2-3 minutes, add more starch. 

Add any freshly-cooked rice or noodles at this point.  You can also put the rice directly into the serving bowl and pour the soup over, for a nice presentation. 

For a cream soup, remove the soup from heat and let it rest five minutes before adding dairy, as it can curdle if it continues to cook. My favorite method is to just dump a small container of sour cream (about 1 cup) into a two-day batch of soup, and stir until it is evenly distributed.  This adds a light tang and a lovely smooth cream texture.  You can use heavy cream if you don't want the flavor of sour cream, or whole milk if you want a lighter texture.   Adjust quantities to taste. 

For a cheese soup, try a mix of cream cheese for texture and a smaller amount of finely shredded strong flavored cheese (asiago, cheddar, etc.) for flavor.  This can help prevent the cheese from getting stringy or granulated from lack of fat. Stir into the soup until it smooths out. 

Block 8: Garnish

Garnish doesn't re-heat well, so add it to individual bowls on serving.  This includes tortilla strips, bread cubes, crackers, fresh herbs or vegetables, shreds of cheese, and dollops of sour cream. 


Creamy Chicken and Chorizo Chowder
(Mix up the vegetables according to what's seasonal!)

Block 1
1 whole chicken breast, sliced into bite-size strips
1 pound package chorizo sausage, cut into bite-size chunks

Block 2:
2-3 medium-size yellow or red potatoes, sliced thin
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

Block 3:
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 zucchini, cut into bite-size chunks
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced thin

Block 4:
8-10 cups chicken broth or stock

Block 5:
2 packets parboiled (instant) rice or 2 cups cold pre-cooked rice.
1-2 leeks, white and light green part sliced

Block 6:
1/2 lb fresh spinach (medium-size bag) or 2-3 cups chopped fresh kale, stems and large veins removed
handful of white mushrooms, sliced

Block 7:
1 and 1/2 cups sour cream (adjust to taste)

Block 8:
Optional dollop of sour cream and minced chives


(set rice to cook if you are not using instant)

1.  Fry meat, preferably in soup pot, until chicken is cooked through. Remove to bowl with drippings
2.  In the same pot without cleaning, fry up potatoes until starting to brown.  Add 1/4 cup water, cover, and cook for 5 minutes.  If they are not tender, cook up to an additonal five minutes, stirring, until they start to break apart. Remove to bowl.
3.  Add a little oil to the pot and fry Block 3 veggies on medium-high heat until starting to brown, stirring constantly.  Remove to bowl.
4. Pour chicken broth/stock into pot and bring to simmer over medium heat, scraping the bottom to stir up anything that has stuck from steps 1-3.
5.  Add rice and all ingredients prepped so far (steps 1-3)
6.  Bring back to simmer, add spinach and mushrooms.
7. When rice and spinach are both cooked, remove the pot from heat and let sit for 3-5 minutes.
8.  Add sour cream and stir until evenly distributed and creamy.
9. Serve with garnish in individual bowls.  Reheat leftovers in the microwave or stovetop.  Freezable.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Gluten-free in Norway: Cheeses

Cheese is not the religious fervor that it is in France, but it is still pretty important to the Norwegian culture.  (See what I did there?)

I've sampled a good selection of cheeses found in the chain supermarkets in Trondheim for you, and review them here.  There are a couple of traditional cheeses I did not sample, primarily because caraway seed is a popular ingredient, and I'm not a fan.


This brown cheese is one of those national traditions that don't always translate well.  Whey, milk, and cream from either goats or a mix of goats and cows are boiled until all the water evaporates and the sugars caramelize.  If I had to describe the taste to an American, I would say to take a sweet, melt-in-you-mouth dulce de leche caramel sauce, and mix it with shelf-stable canned spray cheese. I'm still not sure how I feel about it, but am told by a very reliable source to eat it as part of a strawberry sandwich with butter. 


This classic swiss-style cheese is nutty, creamy, and delicious, and we use it as our all-purpose cheese for sandwiches, salads, crackers, and snacking.  



This is a much milder gouda-style cheese, if you don't want the strong swiss flavor.  Most shredded cheese you'll buy will be a combination of Norvegia and Jarlsberg. 

Grana Padano

In Europe, you can't call it Parmigiano-Reggiano, or even Parmesan, unless it is made in specific areas of Italy.  Grana Padano is a similar-tasting cheese that goes beautifully with a dollop of lingonberry jam on a piece of whole-grain gluten-free cracker.  It has become my favorite snack. 



A sweet, beautifully creamy spreadable goat cheese that is better than anything I have ever found in the U.S.  


Really stretching the definition of "cheese," but this is apparently a phenomenon for Norwegian youth, and I'm told that care packages sent to students always includes a tube.  There are other flavors of course, including ham, shrimp, and jalapeno, but the bacon flavored is the original and the most in demand.  It definitely tastes like bacon.  It's a bit too salty for me, but I can see a teenager sitting with a textbook and just eating it straight from the tube. 


 Of course, being so close to the rest of Europe, you can get excellent Roquefort, Camembert, Brie, and other imported cheeses.  Labeling laws are strong across Europe, so check for allergens (not always, but usually in bold font) on the label.  

 What do you eat all this delicious cheese with? These are our favorite gluten-free crackers:

The Wasa crackers are fairly hard, but whole-grain with lots of fiber.  They make great open-face sandwiches with lunchmeat and spreadable cheese, and are even fairly tasty with Nutella.

The Salti crackers are made by Schar, and are very close to Ritz in flavor except for being a little saltier.  They are really too salty for me, but we don't eat a lot of salt so most folks will find them perfectly tasty. 

If you can find it, Odin brand Potetbrød (shown below) is sold by the box and labeled "glutenfritt."  They are crispy sheets of potato cracker, and taste a lot like Pringles with less salt and more toasty flavor.  They're too fragile to spread on, but paired with some Jarlsberg and fresh fruit, they make a perfect lunch or snack. 


Monday, October 12, 2015

Norway Recipe Box: Pork Chops with Lingonberry Sauce and Pan-Seared Vegetables

This is part of my Norway recipe series, developed while living in Trondheim for four months.  These gluten-free recipes include items I was able to easily find locally and cook without access to an oven or microwave, and using no more than two stove burners.  This means they can be prepared in the typical kitchenette unit found in less expensive Norwegian apartments and hotels. Click Here for the full series

Pork Chops with Lingonberry Sauce and Pan-Seared Vegetables

This is a one-pan recipe, which reduces cleanup considerably.  Pork is a relatively inexpensive meat in Norway, compared to the very expensive beef.  If it is in season and suits your tastebuds, this same recipe could easily use lambchops. z

I switched to shallots instead of onions, as the flavor is similar.  They're smaller, so I don't have a half-onion sitting in the mini-fridge overpowering the entire apartment every time I open the door.  I store them in the cupboard, in a paper or net bag saved from previous purchases. 

Ingredients for two people (Norwegian word in bold):

2 pork chops (svinekoteletter)
1 jar lingonberry jam (tyttebærsyltetøy)
1 small bunch broccoli (brokkoli)
1 red pepper (paprika)
1 shallot (sjalottløk)
1 clove garlic (hvitløk)
2 sliced mushrooms (sopp)
1/2 lemon (sitron)

The vegetables are all optional and you should satisfy both your own tastebuds and seasonal availability.  The same pan-searing technique works for asparagus, green peppers, cauliflower, very thin-sliced potatoes, carrots, or any other sturdy vegetable. 

By the way, if you want a really tasty snack, add a dab of lingonberry jam to a slice of hard cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, and eat it alone or on a gluten-free whole-grain cracker such as Wasa.

Equipment:  frying pan with lid, spatula, aluminium foil, extra plate, prep bowl.


Let the pork chops sit out to reach room temperature as you chop veggies; it will allow them to cook more evenly.  Make sure you open a window, turn on any available vent fan, and/or turn off the smoke detector as possible/needed. 

  • Slice the lemon in half; the other half can go back in the fridge for other recipes.
  • Mince the garlic
  • Slice the other vegetables
  • Pile everything in a prep bowl
  • Heat oil in the frying pan on high heat (judgement call:  I had one underperforming unit where I had to cook meat on the highest setting,  and one over-performing unit where I had to cook it on the medium setting to prevent burning.  The oil should thin out like water but not smoke or spatter dramatically).
  • Add the pork chops
  • cook for three minutes, flip, then cook an additional three minutes
  • remove from heat and put chops on plate covered with foil to rest.  They will continue to cook and absorb their juices back in.
  • add more oil to pan as needed and place back on heat
  • Add vegetables and stir
  • Place the lemon half cut-side down on the bottom of the pan
  • Cover and let cook for five minutes
  • Uncover and stir
  • Cook an additional five minutes uncovered or until broccoli is tender, stirring occasionally
  •  Plate chops and vegetables, then add a spoonful of lingonberry jam to each chop.   


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Norway Recipe Box: Fiskeboller Pasta with Zucchini and Potatoes

This is part of my Norway recipe series, developed while living in Trondheim for four months.  These gluten-free recipes include items I was able to easily find locally and cook without access to an oven or microwave, and using no more than two stove burners.  This means they can be prepared in the typical kitchenette unit found in less expensive Norwegian apartments and hotels. Click Here for the full series

Fiskeboller Pasta with Zucchini and Potatoes

Fiskeboller are a very traditional Norwegian fish dumpling.  Normally I don't like fish.  Once a year or so I will try something fishy just to remind myself of that.  Because these are mixed with dumpling material and light spices, the flavor is mild enough to be good for that once a year test.  In flavor, fiskeboller are a lot like scallops.  They also come pre-cooked. 

Finding gluten-free fiskeboller was surprisingly easy.  Potato and tapioca starches are much less expensive here than wheat flour, so at least half of the packages I checked had no gluten ingredients.  The ones I used were in the refrigerated section of the supermarket.  There are also canned fiskeboller, which are much more common and more strongly flavored.

The very mild flavor means that you don't want to throw in anything to overpower them, like peppers.  I stuck to potatoes and a white sauce (very traditional) but added some color with zucchini, and mixed it up with some gluten-free rotini pasta and shaved jarlsberg cheese.

Equipment:  12 inch frying pan with lid, pot, colander, whisk, spatula

(serves 4.  Reserve half the pasta and cheese to cook the next day if intending leftovers.  Norwegian word for each ingredient in bold).

 1 500 gram package fiskeboller, drained of juices
 1 large fresh zucchini, chopped
3-4 small yellow or red potatoes, sliced thin (potet)
1/2 large onion or 2 small, sliced thin (løk)
2 cloves garlic, minced, divided (hvitløk)
2-3 white mushrooms, sliced (sopp)
 2-3 tablespoons potato flour (potetmel) or corn starch (maisstivelse)
1 package gluten-free rotini (or substitute extra potatoes)
2 cups milk (melk)
Olive oil for cooking (
oliven olje)
chopped slices of Jarlsberg cheese to garnish 

Set pot of water to boil for the pasta, and heat frying pan to medium.

Add oil to the frying pan and heat until it runs freely.  
Add onion and half the garlic to the oil and stir until fragrant
Add potatoes and stir-fry until starting to brown.  
Add 1/4 cup water and cover; turn heat down if necessary to medium-low.
Cook covered for five minutes.
Remove lid, add zucchini and more oil if needed, stirring until starting to brown.  If there is a lot of water left, turn up the heat a little.
Replace lid and cook another 5 minutes or until potatoes are tender. 
Add mushrooms, stir-fry until they darken, then remove all vegetables from pan.    

Start the pasta cooking (only as much as you need for this meal; cook it fresh for leftovers) 

Add the remaining garlic and some oil if needed.  Cook until fragrant.

Turn the heat down to medium-low. 
Mix potato flour or corn starch into cold milk, then pour into pan with the garlic
Use the spatula to stir, scraping the bottom of the pan to pick up cooked-on residue. 
As it starts to clump, use the whisk to smooth out the sauce.  Add more milk if it needs to thin. 
When it is evenly thick and bubbling, add vegetables back into the sauce, along with the fiskeboller.  
Let simmer over low heat until the pasta finishes cooking and the fiskeboller is warmed through, stirring occasionally.  

Drain the pasta. Place cooked pasta in a large bowl, top with the mix, and garnish with chopped slices of Jarlsberg. 

Reheat leftover sauce in a lidded pot or frying pan on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until everything is hot.  Cook up fresh pasta and chop fresh Jarlsberg to serve with the leftovers. 

Gluten-Free in Trondheim, Norway (Part 5: Recipes)

While these will also be available on my Recipes page, they are developed in Trondheim, Norway using ingredients I could easily find there, as well as the tiny no-oven kitchenettes I found in rental studios.  Generally these are for two people, with occasional leftovers. Hopefully this will be a handy index to get started cooking in Norway. 

Fiskeboller Pasta with Zucchini and Potatoes 

Pork Chops with Lingonberry Jam and Pan-Seared Vegetables

Gluten-Free in Trondheim, Norway (Part 4: Daily Grocery Shopping)

See my Gluten-Free Travel page for the whole series.  

Part 4: Daily Grocery Shopping

Maybe you'll get into a really swanky place with a full-size fridge, but the majority of places we looked at have a mini-fridge with two shelves, a tiny crisper drawer, and a little shelf space for a freezer.  For two people, there is room for about two days worth of food, maximum.  That's okay though, because fruits and vegetables here don't seem to store as well as in the U.S., and you should plan to use what you buy quickly.  U.S. habits of weekly shopping go out the window. 

The exception is Sunday, when only convenience stores are really open (7-11, some mini-Bunnpris).  These might have milk, but not many other gluten-free items.

The good news is that the vast majority of Norwegians, especially younger folks, speak excellent English and are happy to switch to English if you ask. 

Things you won't easily find here, that you might be used to finding in a grocery store in the U.S.:
  • Trash bags (you buy shopping bags for one kroner at the store, and re-use them for trash and recycling)
  • Vanilla extract (you can use vanilla sugar (vaniljesukker) in the same amount as extract)
  • Sudafed (prescription-only) or oral decongestants like Dayquil.  Norwegians either tough it out, or use nasal sprays to treat symptoms.
Grocery stores usually carry a small selection of cleaning supplies and hygiene items, but you will need to visit a specialty store for some things:
  • OTC meds, mouthwash, vitamins, first-aid supplies:  Visit an apotek (drugstore)
  • Cleaning utensils such as brooms and mops, kitchen utensils, etc:  find a hardware store, such as Jernia or Clas Ohlson
  • Alcohol:  some light beer is available in grocery stores, but all alcohol over 4.75% is only sold in the state-run Vinmonopolet shops, which are not plentiful and have odd hours.

As I mentioned in the last post, these are the grocery stores in Trondheim with excellent gluten-free selections:
  •     Bunnpris
  •     Rema 1000
  •     Kiwi (best produce prices)
  •     Meny (has the best overall selection)
 Look for the closest one using Google Maps; preferably within walking distance.

These stores usually have a full set of shelves of gluten-free items all clustered together.  You still need to read labels though, as they might stick some other special dietary items (like vegetarian) in the same area that are not gluten-free. 


By law, products with less than 100ppm gluten can be labeled Svært lavt gluteninnhold, or "very low gluten."  These might be suitable for people with light reactivity.  Products with less than 20ppm can be labeled gluten-free:


These are all different ways to say gluten-free, depending on the origin of the product (Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, etc.).  In addition, there may be a little picture of an ear of wheat with a circle and cross through it:
Allergen labeling in Norway is fantastic.  If a label has bold-font items, they are potential allergens, and we have found that we can generally trust them to disclose gluten ingredients.  Look for variants on these words:
  • Wheat:  hvete  (don't confuse with hvite, which is "white" or hvitelok, which is "garlic")
    • variants:  hvetemel (wheat flour), hvetestivelse (wheat starch, may be low or no gluten but cause those with wheat allergy to react), durumhvete (duram wheat), Kamut (species of wheat), Enkorn (species of wheat), hvetekli (wheat bran)
  • Barley: bygg
    • variants: byggmel (barley flour), byggmalt (barley malt)
  • Rye: rug
    • variants: rugmel (rye flour)
  • Triticale:  tritikale, a rye/wheat hybrid found in northern Europe and Scandinavia. 
  • Spelt (same as English)
  •  Farro:  emmer 
  • Oats: havre (only an issue if you are high sensitivity or cross-sensitive) 
In addition, there may be a "may contain" warning after the ingredients list.  It will read "kan inneholde <gluten, etc.>" or mention "traces of" (spor av).  "Ikke" negates whatever is after it, so "Ikke inneholde" would mean "does not contain."

We have not yet had an issue with packaged plain raw meat or vegetables having gluten cross-contamination, but tend to wash them off before cooking to be safe. 

At first, your daily trips may involve a lot of time staring at package labels.  After a few trips, you'll have a few favorite brands you buy, and the trip will get faster.  Remember to ask for the number of bags you'll need at the checkout.  They'll cost 1 kroner each, but are nice and sturdy, so they can be re-used either for future trips or trash can liners. 

Next: Recipes

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Gluten-Free in Trondheim, Norway (Part 3: Your First Day)

See my Gluten-Free Travel page for the whole series.  

Part 3: Your first day in Trondheim

Unless you're very young and spry, you will probably be too jetlagged to do much your first day (or even your second).  Your goals should include decontaminating the space (if you have your own kitchen), and your first trip to the grocery store.

Decontaminating the Space
There isn't much you can do to keep a shared kitchen clean, so you will have to pre-clean before each meal prep.  This includes washing down the counters and stove, and then thoroughly scrubbing all pots, pans, dishes, cutting boards, and utensils you will use to make and eat that meal. 

If you have your own kitchen, use one of the two washcloths you brought for a full washdown of every surface, item, shelf and cupboard provided in the kitchen unit, as well as eating surfaces such as tables or trays.  Then you have a fully safe space you don't have to worry about.  That washcloth should be thoroughly hand or machine washed before using again, which is why you brought two!

While you're decontaminating, make a note of anything you need to pick up.  There might be ten espresso cups and no water glasses, for instance.  Or plastic forks but no spoons. 

First Shopping Trip

Grocery stores in Trondheim with excellent gluten-free selections:

    Rema 1000
    Meny (has the best selection)
Look for the closest one using Google Maps; preferably within walking distance. If you plan to use public transit and have a smartphone, look for options on the AtB website for digital ticketing. 

These stores usually have a full set of shelves of gluten-free items all clustered together.  You still need to read labels though, as they might stick some other special dietary items (like vegetarian) in the same area that are not gluten-free. 



These are all different ways to say gluten-free in Norwegian.  In addition, there may be a little picture of an ear of wheat with a circle and cross through it:

For the first day, don't get fancy.  Plan to do a little shopping every day instead of once a week.  Scandanavia is the home of Schar, one of the largest gluten-free manufacturers in the world.  So you will find shelf-stable bread, cookies, and crackers from Schar, all of which are mighty tasty.  For the first day, I would reccomend the following:

1.  Fresh whole fruit (always gluten-free of course, and easy to recognize)
2.  gluten-free mueseli or corn flakes (a cereal full of fruit, nuts, seeds, and rice or corn puffs)
3.  milk (Tine is the most common brand in Norway and we have not yet had a problem with their milk)
4.  Gluten-free bread or crackers
5.  Babybel or Jarlsberg cheese

If you have other dietary restrictions, you'll need to take it a step further and maybe buy some fresh veggies and vegetable oil for your first meals.  We're pretty dairy-heavy, and I realize that intolerance to lactose and casein are pretty common. 

Lactose-free products are labeled "laktosfrit" (with variations on the ending similar to the gluten-free list above). 

If you still have energy at this point, you could spend some time getting to know your neighborhood, working out bus routes, and looking for car rentals if necessary. 

Next: Daily Grocery Shopping