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.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Recipe collection: Homemade Salad Dressings

One of the first and most frustrating gluten-free searches we had at the beginning was for salad dressing that was both tasty and willing to declare gluten-free.  Eventually, Hidden Valley Ranch came on-board and started labeling many of their products, but by then I had discovered just how easy salad dressing is to make, and how much tastier it can be when fresh.

The Vinaigrette

I was first introduced to these by a host family in France, who would whip up a little balsamic vinaigrette every night for the salad course.  Since then, I've learned that you can build an enormous range of flavors from the basic combination of acid and oil that is a vinaigrette.  These are best made right before you use them.  If you use a lightweight vegetable oil they may keep in the refrigerator for a day or two, but many oils will thicken up when cold and create an unpleasant texture.  If you are adding dried herbs, make them before you start the rest of the meal prep so that they have a little time to activate the flavor of the herbs. 

You can make vinaigrettes in a cup and whisk with a fork right before serving, but I like to keep a few clean jars (nutella or jam size) around.  Just toss the ingredients in and give it a good shake to mix. 

Classic Balsamic Vinaigrette:

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
pinch of sea salt
pinch of fresh-ground pepper
drop of dijon mustard

(increase amounts as needed for multiple people)

This is the classic recipe my host family used, and works well on salads with strong flavors (bitter greens, spicy peppers or meats, sharp cheeses).  If I want to add some variety I will include 1/4 teaspoon basil or rosemary to the mix.

Apple Cider Vinaigrette:
Apple cider vinaigrette with rosemary

1/4 cup-1/3 cup apple cider vinager (to taste)
1/3 cup olive oil
pinch each of salt, pepper, sugar (or a few drops of honey)

(increase amounts as needed for multiple people)

This goes well with a combination of strong, fruity flavors, such as field greens with granny smith apples, dried cranberries, and sharp cheddar cheese.  It is even more delicious with some dried rosemary, but let it steep a few minutes before serving to bring the flavor out.

Red/White Wine Vinaigrette

1/3 cup wine vinager
1/3 cup lightly flavored salad oil (light olive oil, canola, etc.)
pinch of salt and pepper

(increase amounts as needed for multiple people)

This makes a lightly flavored base that will work well with added flavorings like fresh or dried herbs, fruit juice, etc.

Avocado Vinaigrette

1/3 cup mashed very ripe avocado
1/3 cup white wine vinegar or rice vinegar
pinch of salt

(increase amounts as needed for multiple people)

Spice it up some chopped cilantro, and a few drops of lime juice (a little goes a long way!)  Does not store well, but makes a delicious, creamy, nutritious dressing for taco salad or something with grilled peppers and tomatoes.

Bacon Vinaigrette

1/3 cup balsamic or red wine vinegar
1/3 cup bacon drippings, still warm (or 2 tablespoons drippings with salad oil to make up the rest of the 1/3 cup, plus some bacon crumbles)
pinch of fresh-ground pepper

Eat this on a salad of fresh spinach, gouda cheese, bacon crumbles, candied nuts, and sliced strawberries, and you will never put up with an overpriced restaurant salad again.  If you don't have the candied nuts, try adding a few drops of maple syrup to the vinaigrette. Your arteries might not thank me, but your tastebuds will!

Essentially, you mix some form of vinegar half and half with an oil or fat, add a few spices, and mix well to emulsify.  It should be easy to come up with your own combinations!


Most of these are easy to make, and have the added bonus of surviving up to three days in the fridge for future salads and/or chip and veggie dip.  The base is very simple:  mix 2 parts sour cream to 1 part mayonnaise, add spices, then thin with milk until you have the consistency you like.

Blue Cheese Dressing

1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup blue cheese crumbles (or chopped Roquefort)
milk as needed to thin.

One of the recipes that will have you swearing off store-bought forever.  It doesn't have to sit; you can toss it together right before you eat.  Blue cheeses go really well with sweet, so salads with chopped apples, pears, and berries will all love this dressing.  It also makes a great dip for pizza, chips, pretzels, etc.

Creamy Dill Dressing

1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill (or 2-3 tablespoons dried, but let dressing sit for at least 20 minutes to develop flavor)
milk as needed to thin

Also excellent for a veggie dip

Homemade Ranch

1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dried dill
1/4 tsp dried chives
1/2 tsp dried parsley
pinch salt, pepper
milk or buttermilk to thin as needed

This one does have a time limit; after more than 12 hours or so the garlic gets really potent, and by the second day it is overwhelming.  You want to make it about 20-30 minutes before eating to let the flavors blend, and finish the batch the same day.  Luckily, ranch goes with everything!


 Thousand Island Dressing

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4-1/3 cup tomato ketchup (to taste)
1/4 cup sweet pickle relish
salt, pepper to taste
milk to thin, as needed

French Dressing

1/2 cup olive or salad oil
1/3 cup ketchup
1/4 cup white wine vinegar or rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1-2 teaspoon sugar, or more to taste

To make this Russian dressing, substitute mayonnaise for the olive oil, and add 1 teaspoon horseradish, a dash of hot sauce, and a dash of Worcestershire sauce.  

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Gluten-Free Norway: A Chocolate Tour

 If you're in Norway long enough, you may eventually need some chocolate.  Maybe as a quick energy boost while hiking.  Maybe as a comfort food when the days start shrinking.  Maybe as a quick and easy dessert when you've used up both your pans in your tiny kitchenette. 

In Trondheim, at least, there seem to be two companies that completely dominate the chocolate and candy market:  Freia and Nidar. Freia also corners the market on baking chocolate, chocolate sauce, chocolate, cream, and fruit sauces, etc. in the local grocery stores.  Unfortunately, nearly every single one of their products carries a "kan inneholde spor av gluten" warning (may contain traces of gluten).  The one exception is a set of heart-shaped milk chocolate pieces, which I have only seen in one store (the Meny in Solsiden).  There are also a few specialty gourmet chocolate bars (usually dark) offered in most allergen-free sections of stores, and some fancy/expensive items with the regular chocolate/candy selection.  If you can tolerate trace amounts of gluten, then your go-to for milk chocolate should be Kinder, which is a deliciously creamy milk truffle dipped in high-quality milk chocolate.

If you want something that is both free from trace gluten, widely available, and inexpensive, though, your options become limited.  Nidar is pretty much the go-to, because they offer a detailed allergen chart of their products:
  •  Visit their allergen information page here
  • Click on the link to "Allergentabell" on the right hand side of their website to open it in a spreadsheet program such as Excel or Librecalc.
  • The product name is on the left.  Each allergen is marked as "Resept," if the allergen is a primary ingredient (such as nuts in a peanut butter bar), or "Spor" if traces of the allergen may be present, even if not part of the regular ingredients. 
A few warnings:
  • Nidar maintains a separate English-language site, also with an allergen table, but the table on their English site is dated 2012, and may have out-of-date information.  The Norwegian-language site's table is from 2015.
  • It is worth running the allergen information page through Google Translate for additional information.  For instance, they mention that their marzipan contains glucose syrup made from wheat.  So while it is technically gluten-free, those who are otherwise wheat-sensitive may still react.  
Now that the technical information is out of the way, let's get to the chocolate itself!  After months of very little chocolate, I have taken the Nidar allergy list to the store and bought one of everything they had that was chocolate and not marked as having any trace of gluten.

Or licorice.  There is a Norwegian obsession with licorice (including in the first brand of toothpaste I tried when we arrived) and that's just not going to happen.  If you're the sort that actually likes it, you're on your own.  Ditto with the salt candy. 

The Chocolates

#1 Nidar Smørbukk Bar
Score: 4 stars (out of 5)

  One of the GIANT chocolate bars found in most grocery stores, this one is simply chocolate covered caramel.  The Smørbukk caramels are also sold as individually wrapped, unchocolated bites, and are one of the best sweets you can find here.  So the deliciousness doesn't suffer much from being coated in somewhat indifferent chocolate.  Overall, reminiscent of "Rollo" candies from the U.S.

#4 Nidar Cuba
Score: 4 stars (out of 5)

 This chocolate seems to be an outlier in that it uses a lot of natural ingredients (sugar instead of glucose syrup, powdered milk, palm and shea oils, chocolate, almonds, soy lecithin, salt).  As a result, it is less intensely sweet than most of the chocolates I've tried. It is an almond and chocolate truffle coated with milk chocolate.  Very classic, decent chocolate, and in a small bar for when you don't want a yard of chocolate.  

#3 Nidar Stratos Melky
Score: 3.75 stars (out of 5)

This is Nidar's answer to the fantastically delicious Kinder milk bars, (which unfortunately may contain traces of gluten). The milk truffle center helps offset the poor-quality chocolate, and makes this a perfectly edible little snack.  Not Kinder, but I would buy them again.  


#4 Nidar Troika
Score: 3.5 stars (out of 5)

From the Russian word for a group of three, this bar has three layers: marzipan, chocolate truffle, and raspberry jelly.  It is coated in dark chocolate.  It is one of Nidar's tastier options, with a little more going on than just so many of their other options.  Note that Nidar's marzipan uses glucose syrup made from wheat, and so while gluten-free, may not be safe for people with other wheat sensitivity.

 #5 Nidar Gullbrød
Score: 3 stars (out of 5)

This isn't as overwhelmingly sweet as some of the other sweets I've tried.  It is essentially chocolate-covered marzipan.  So it is mellow, filling, and just sweet enough to fill an energy craving.  In fact, it might make excellent hiking food.  Note that Nidar marzipan contains glucose syrup (what we call "corn syrup") made from wheat.  While it is technically gluten-free, those with other wheat sensitivities should avoid).

 #6  Nidar Stratos
Score: 2.5 stars (out of 5)

I didn't understand the chocolate air-bubbles when Hershey did it, and I don't understand doing it with relatively cheap, waxy chocolate either. For "foamed" chocolate to work, it really needs to very high quality, and this just isn't it.  On the plus side, it's a GIANT SLAB of chocolate (I didn't add something for scale, but the bar is about 8 inches long) and breaks into little bite-size pieces.  This might be good to keep in the cupboard when you just want a bit of chocolate in passing.

#7 Nidar Hobby
Score 2.5 stars (out of 5)

 This was a strange one.  There is a layer of marshmallow-like "foam, and a layer of some kind of jelly.  I couldn't identify the flavor of the jelly, but it was vaguely reminiscent of fake cherry syrup, with a strong sugar-alcohol flavor and a small amount of crystallized crunch.  On their website, it says the jelly flavor is banana, to which I raise a puzzled eyebrow.  Apparently this is really popular among kids here. 


 #8 Nidar Kremtopper

Score: 2 stars (out of 5)

 These looked promising, coming in a fancy-ish box that might even pass as a hostess gift if you are invited to someone's home for dinner.  But their reality is more like the dollar-store cherry cordials you get at home; really, really sweet, but not much else.  The chocolate part is particularly cheap and waxy, and the vanilla cream has a texture like a Junior Mint.  On the plus side, if you packed them hiking, they probably wouldn't get crushed in your pack.

The takeaway from this exploration for me is that we are thoroughly spoiled by high-quality milk chocolate in the U.S.  It really isn't one of the Norwegian specialty foods.  The best chocolates I've found here are imported, and if you really want a chocolate treat your best bet is to grab a Snickers.  They have a surprisingly wide market here, unlike any other candy we're used to seeing in the U.S.

More to come!