Katz Gluten-Free English Muffins toast up breakfast perfection

Katz Gluten-Free English Muffins
Katz Gluten-Free English Muffins

Product: Katz Gluten-Free English Muffins – $4.99

How many times can I sing the praises of Katz Gluten-Free?  I mean, honestly?  They are, far and away, the pinnacle of gluten-free companies when it comes to the products that they provide.  I have yet to dislike anything.  True, some things are better than others, but I have never out-and-out disliked any of their products.

And this tradition holds true for their Gluten-Free English Muffins.

My roomie surprised me with an order from Katz Gluten-Free awhile back.  It had quite a few items in it that were apart from my normal order.  One such item were the newly introduced gluten-free English Muffins.  I was so excited to have these.  And, as with most things I get that are gluten-free…despite my enthusiasm over having them, they sit and wait while I work through other products first.  And that was the case with these.  My freezer saw more of them than I did.

That is…until this morning.

Katz Gluten-Free English Muffin (thawed and still whole)
Katz Gluten-Free English Muffin (thawed and still whole)

Sure, there were plenty of things I could have made for breakfast on a Sunday.  Waffles for one thing…as Sunday usually grants me enough time in the morning to put into that sort of a task.  But, we had some plans to go see Lincoln in the theaters and that meant, with a couple errands to run first, we needed something easier for breakfast.  Well…my freezer is often a good place to start when I need a go-to breakfast item.  And there, right in the front of my very, very full freezer, were two sleeves of Katz Gluten-Free English Muffins.  I grabbed the older one, already knowing that English Muffins were a simple, easy breakfast regardless.  And I had plenty of options to top them off with.  Even better.

As I hadn’t planned for this ahead of time, I couldn’t let these thaw out overnight in a plastic bag as I normally would.  But that is why there is a defrost button on the microwave, my friends.  Though it is not my favorite way to go about thawing out bread products, it does work in a pinch.  So, I removed two English muffins from the bag and set to thawing them out via the microwave.  Once that was accomplished, I preheated the oven to 425 degrees and put some aluminum foil down on a baking sheet to prep for toasting these up.  I don’t own a toaster anymore (got rid of mine when I had to go gluten-free due to cross-contamination) and I have no room, currently, for a toaster oven.  The oven is my only method for making anything toasted these days.  It’s not simple…but it works.

I sliced each English Muffin in half and placed it on the baking sheet.  Once the oven light clicked off, into the oven the pan went for about 7-10 minutes.  This allowed the English Muffins to get a nice golden brown without being overly done.  While they were busy toasting, I was getting out some toppings.  I figured half could have some cream cheese on it and the other half would be topped with a small schmear of Smart Balance spread and some organic strawberry jam.  It doesn’t get much better than that when it comes to English Muffins, let me tell you!

Katz Gluten-Free English Muffin (halved and toasted)
Katz Gluten-Free English Muffin (halved and toasted)

With the toppings ready, I removed the English Muffins from the oven and was quite pleased that they didn’t get too overly done.  They were a fantastic golden color all the way around and toasted beautifully.  I applied my selected toppings carefully to each half, giving one of each to my roommate and I.  I carried hers out there and went to go grab my breakfast for the morning.  As I settled in, she was already noshing away on her English Muffins and singing their accolades.

Now, let me reiterate that I grew up in New York.  Bagels and English Muffins were two of my favorite breakfast carbs to down growing up.  Honestly.  Nothing beats a good breakfast bread topped with cream cheese or jam.  It’s one of my most favorite things in the world.  I just hated to give it up when I had to go gluten-free.

But now…now my love for carby goodness at breakfast is back.  Because with one bite, my mind was flashing back to the amazing English Muffins I ate up until I had to stop.  Katz Gluten-Free perfected these.  Honestly.  Just like English Muffins I used to eat.  Sure…even the ones made by Thomas and other store-brands.  These reminded me exactly of those in taste and texture.  And it was enough to really make my breakfast mean a lot to me this morning.  Honestly.  I was beyond impressed.

Katz Gluten-Free English Muffins don’t have all the rivets and divets of the ones in the store or bakery, but don’t count them out on account of that.  The butter and cream cheese still soaked in to each bite.  Even without the traditional nooks and crannies of an English Muffin, these impressed me because they tasted, felt, and toasted up just like “normal” English Muffins would.  I could have cried from joy.

These English Muffins are completely free of soy, eggs, dairy, nuts and gluten.  They are made from a gluten-free flour blend of rice and potato flour, water, potato starch, quinoa, tapioca starch, canola oil, sugar, dry yeast, baking powder, guar gum, salt, and corn flour.  These ingredients truly are the magic behind the taste and texture that these English Muffins provide.  As a gluten-free consumer, I couldn’t be happier with these.  Even more…the nutrition facts are fast better than the previous gluten-free English Muffins I found in the store and refused to buy due to how high in calories they were for only half the muffin.

Katz Gluten-Free English Muffins are only 130 calories for the entire English Muffin.  Not half.  Love that.  They contain 3.5 grams of fat per English Muffin and 2 grams of protein.  I’m liking these nutritional stats much better already.  And if that didn’t sell you on them, trust me when I say that these are the most amazing gluten-free English Muffins I have had to date.  Because while I have refused to buy others on the market due to nutrition stats, I have sampled them at Gluten-Free Tasting Fairs and Gluten-Free Expos.  NONE of them have come close to tasting like Katz Gluten-Free variety.  In case you were wondering…four English Muffins come in a package.

I’m sold.  I also think I need to make more room in my freezer and order much more of these.  English Muffins are back in my life.  Which means…my vegetarian/gluten-free egg muffins can make their way back into my breakfast line-up after being absent for so long.

I don’t know if I’ll stop smiling over these any time soon.  Go to Katz Gluten-Free’s Web site…and order some for yourself.  You will not be disappointed.  That I can promise.

Katz Gluten-Free English Muffin (toasted and half topped with Smart Balance spread and organic strawberry jam and the other half topped with plain cream cheese)
Katz Gluten-Free English Muffin (toasted and half topped with Smart Balance spread and organic strawberry jam and the other half topped with plain cream cheese)

Gillian’s Foods brings outstanding gluten-free French rolls to the table

Gillian's Foods Gluten-Free French Rolls
Gillian’s Foods Gluten-Free French Rolls

Product: Gillian’s Foods Gluten-Free French Rolls – $3.49+

First of all, let me give a shout-out and a HUGE thank you to my friend, Kathy Lubbers, because she is the person responsible for introducing the awesomeness of Gillian’s Foods to me.  No joke.  When I was in Hershey, Pennsylvania, we got together for dinner and she told me she had some small gifts for me.  One of said gifts was a sack of Gillian’s French Rolls.  I had heard of Gillian’s, but have never seen them in the wild before.  As in…no one in this area actually carries them.

But…in Pennsylvania, it’s a different story.  She picked up some for me from the Annville Natural Market and told me to try them out.  I wouldn’t hurt her feelings if I didn’t like them.

So, these little rolls made their way back home with me.  And, as I wasn’t sure when I would get to them…they got tucked away in my freezer.  And then…along came the holidays.  And with holiday insanity comes the burden of being the food allergic girl coming to dinner.  I navigated the Thanksgiving meal quite well by providing two of the main components…a fruit and a vegetable.  The starch component was compliments of Amanda, the hostess, who pulled out some potato for me before adding milk and butter.

And so, the holiday season of rushing and insanity began.  And with it…and the shorter days…I often find myself behind schedule.  Be it for breakfast, for dinner, or for just a simple errand.  This time of year…nothing is simple.

But…rolls.  Those can be simple.

This morning, after a very hectic Sunday and a five mile run in the dark and cold, I came home to change and get ready for work.  One thing was on my mind – food, of course.  I was hungry.  And since my roommate had been ill the day before, I wasn’t too sure what her stomach could handle.  In the freezer, I spotted the bag of Gillian’s Foods French Rolls.

Gillian's Gluten-Free French Roll
Gillian’s Gluten-Free French Roll

BINGO!  Simple and not too much preparation needed.  I pulled out two rolls (the serving size is half a roll…but this was breakfast!) and put them in a plastic bag to thaw.  They did that up until the moment my roommate’s alarm clock went off.  The directions on the bag say to microwave to warm up.  Now…that’s what I’m doing tomorrow, because these rolls are breakfast again tomorrow.  But…I decided I wanted to treat them like an English muffin.  So, I cut each one in half and put it on a baking sheet.  Into the oven it went to toast while I got out the peanut butter and a banana.

It took about 10 minutes to get a nice golden color on these.  I removed them from the oven, gave each one a little schmear of peanut butter and then topped each one off with slices of banana.  A good, healthy, protein and potassium packed breakfast, if you ask me.  But…of course I had to leave some of mine plain.  Because I needed to see what these rolls tasted like without being gussied up with condiments and delicious fruit.

Well, let me tell you…I am in love with Gillian’s Foods French Rolls.  Honestly.  And I can’t wait to see what they taste like when microwaved, like the bag says to do.  But, toasting them in the oven as a nice touch, I think.  It gave the outside a little bit of a crunch, while the inside remained soft and full of yumminess.  Yes…these rolls are definitely full of yumminess.  Trust me.

The French Rolls are Gillian’s Foods most popular rolls that they make.  Made from a combination of white rice flour, tapioca flour, water, soy flour, guar gum, egg whites, yeast, salt and sugar, these don’t get much more straight forward.  Notice how you can recognize every ingredient.  No strange chemicals or preservatives are added, which is why these are best stored in the freezer.  Even better, unlike a lot of gluten-free bread out there, these do not crumble in your hands or fall apart.  They are quite substantial, great texture, not too heavy.  They are…in other words…perfection in roll form.  And I’ve been searching for the perfect roll.  I even tried to make some and it was an epic fail.  Gillian’s makes it easy…and super delicious.

Even my roommate devoured these up.  And after having been sick to her stomach, these didn’t bother her at all.  She was the first to get a bite of one this morning and she absolutely loved the taste and texture as well.  And she can have, and does have, regular bread quite often.  We were both very highly impressed.

These would be great to build a sandwich with…use as hamburger buns…or even just warm up and serve on the side with a delicious gluten-free meal.  Honestly, they are quite delicious on their own.  Which is more than I can say for some gluten-free breads out there.

Now…to seek out a local store that might carry these and these products.  Because if the rest of the products are as good as these rolls…well, I’m eager to try all I can.

Thank you Kathy, thank you, Annville Natural Market, and thank you Gillian’s…for giving this gluten-free girl a French Roll to rave about.

Gillian's Gluten-Free French Roll (halved and toasted)
Gillian’s Gluten-Free French Roll (halved and toasted)

Gluten Free You And Me mixes up a light, delicious Gluten Free French White Bread

Gluten Free You And Me Gluten Free French White Bread Mix
Gluten Free You And Me Gluten Free French White Bread Mix

Product: Gluten Free You And Me Gluten Free French White Bread Mix – $6.00

You know…it would figure.

I’ve been searching for the ultimate bread mix to bake up and continue to bake up because I make a lot of meals that just taste good with a small slice of bread, toasted in the oven with a spritz of olive oil and seasoning.  And I’ve tried a lot of the name brands.  Some I have fallen in love with.  Some…I’ve been rather indifferent on.  I haven’t hated any of them…but I don’t like a dense loaf of bread.  I don’t want my bread to be heavy.  It’s accompanying my meal, not becoming my meal.

Awhile back, while I was visiting my friend Jenn in Columbus, Ohio, she happened to make mention of a gluten-free event going on at a local gluten-free bakery/café of sorts.  As we were already going to be out and about that day in town, we decided to stop by that morning and check it out.  Although there were only a few things at this little event, one vendor in the front room really caught my attention.

Gluten Free You And Me is the company and they are based out of Dublin, Ohio.  They had a few samples out, including cookies and their French White Bread, made from a mix that they were selling.  Cathy tried a cookie and loved it.  But Jenn and I…we were all about the bread.  One taste and I about melted.  It was light.  It was fluffy.  And it tasted…like fresh-baked, full-barrel, French bread.  I knew then…I had to have it in my life.

So, for a small fee of $6.00, a tub of the mix was mine.  I was excited and couldn’t wait to bake this up myself.

A loaf of Gluten-Free French White Bread (from Gluten Free You And Me Mix) fresh from the oven
A loaf of Gluten-Free French White Bread (from Gluten Free You And Me Mix) fresh from the oven

But…other products in my expansive gluten-free pantry had to be used up first.  However, this past weekend…it was time to see if I could do up the French White Bread as well as they had for the event.  I could only hope.

Making the bread couldn’t be easier.  Using a mixer, you put the dry mix into a bowl, add 1-1/2 cups of water, 1 tsp red wine vinegar (I didn’t have red wine vinegar, so I went out on a limb and used apple cider vinegar), 2 tablespoons of canola oil…and mix until the dough forms and is sticky.  Then, you pour it into a 4 x 8 bread loaf pan (spray it with some cooking spray) and pat it down to evenly form a loaf shape. Score it across the tip with a knife and let it rise for about 35 minutes.  Once it has risen within 1/2 inch of the top of the pan, you bake it in a 400 degree oven for around 40 minutes.  Remove it from the pan and let it cool on a rack for 1 hour.  Then…it is yours to enjoy.

Let me tell you, the  most difficult part of this entire process was waiting for it to cool.  I normally just want to slice right into the bread and give it a try…but I patiently (or as patiently as I could) waited the correct time before slicing into it.

Well, it was definitely as good as I remembered it.  Figures.  Because this is a little harder to get my hands on than, say, one of the major gluten-free bread mixes at the grocery store.  But…definitely worth ordering online (yes…they do ship) if I can’t get out to where their products are sold in the Columbus area.

The Gluten Free You And Me French White Bread Mix bakes up a beautiful loaf of bread.  The crust turned a perfect shade of gold and inside was a light, fluffy bread just begging for a schmear of butter.  Yeah…this bread is damn near gluten-free bread perfection.  The taste is exquisite.  If you didn’t tell people it was gluten-free…they wouldn’t have a clue.  At all.  It tastes, dead-up, like the bread I used to be able to eat.  And that, my friends, is nothing short of awesome.  And I loved that I didn’t have to haul out my bread maker for this loaf.  It was all done by hand, by the oven, and it baked to perfection.  Happiness is a delicious loaf of gluten-free bread.  It doesn’t get much better than this one.

I encourage you to visit the Web site for Gluten Free You And Me and take a look at the small, but amazing products that this company has to offer.  They can ship some of their items, so check that out, especially if you are not in or around the Columbus, Ohio area.  Their products are pretty hard to beat.  Let me tell you…I’m still dreaming of this bread and thankful I have the other half of the loaf chilling in the freezer for future use.  Well worth the purchase…trust me.

A loaf of bread made with Gluten Free You And Me Gluten Free French White Bread Mix and baked in the oven
A loaf of bread made with Gluten Free You And Me Gluten Free French White Bread Mix and baked in the oven

A different sort of vegetarian burger in Earth Fare’s Mushroom Rice Burger (gluten-free)

Earth Fare Natural Mushroom Rice Burger
Earth Fare Natural Mushroom Rice Burger

Product: Earth Fare Natural Mushroom Rice Burger – $3.99+

I have fallen into a veggie burger rut.  That sounds strange…I know.  But it’s true.

The marketplace for gluten-free veggie burgers is booming.  And I’m happy about that, because as a gluten-free vegetarian, sometimes I just want to have a good veggie burger.  And many of the ones I have tried have been awesome.  Some have been better than others.  Despite being one of the more pricier ones, I absolutely can not step away from Amy’s Kitchen Sonoma Burger.  It’s delicious.  And one of the more sane ones when it comes to nutrition.

You might recall my run-in with the epically off-the-chain deliciousness of Sunshine Burgers…but the calories and fat content in them totally derailed my moment of joy.

It’s hard to find decent gluten-free, vegetarian food that isn’t laden with high calories and a lot of fat.

But, one day while shopping at my area’s newest grocery store, Earth Fare (I call it Earth Joy because it makes me happy!), I stumbled across their house brand of veggie burgers in the freezer section.  As I was on my last Amy’s patty, I figured…why not try something else?  And with a quick glance at the nutrition information, I felt so much better about this selection than any of the ones that have come before it.  Now, I just had to hope it tasted as good as it sounded.

Earth Fare Natural Mushroom Rice Burger
Earth Fare Natural Mushroom Rice Burger

The veggie burger I chose this time around is Earth Fare’s Mushroom Rice Burger.  And when I removed it from the freezer last night to cook up for dinner, what I loved seeing was the bits of rice that are actually part of the burger.  You can also see the various vegetables that are incorporated into the patty itself.  Love that.  In fact, the Mushroom Rice Burger is composed of portobello and button mushrooms, onions, carrots, red and green peppers, black olives, potatoes, and garlic.  Organic brown rice is added to that flavorful mixture, and they are seasoned with wheat-free organic tamari, sea salt, garlic, and some herbs.

A single burger is the serving size, but for once, the nutrition facts on the back of the box didn’t send me throwing it back in the freezer.  One patty is only 90 calories (I think this is the first gluten-free veggie burger I’ve had that is under 110 calories) and contains only 1.5 grams of fat (THIS IS A FIRST!).  It is a lean burger that is low fat, gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO, and free of saturated fat.  The sodium level is very low (290 mg).  And one patty contains a whopping 8 grams of protein.  Love that.

Last night, because I had some red onion, local bibb lettuce, and some tomato on hand, I decided it was time for another veggie burger.  So, I busted out the Earth Fare Mushroom Rice Burger to cook up and give a try.  I put it in my skillet to cook and heat through.  This was actually very easy to do.  I just made sure that it wasn’t cold anywhere in the middle, and flipped it a couple of times until it was nice and golden on the outside and warm throughout.

As I am out of my gluten-free hamburger buns, I have been opting to sandwich my burgers in…gluten-free bread.  I happened to only have one slice left of my Glutino Genius bread, so I did sort of an open-face burger thing in lieu of getting more gluten-free bread or some gluten-free buns.  I threw a slice of Veggie Slices Provolone Flavor cheese over it to melt down.  Then, I plated it with the fresh vegetables and sat down to enjoy.

My first order of business was to get a piece of the burger itself, with no veg or bread.  Why?  Because I really wanted to see how it tasted, unmarred by the flavors that accompanied it.  One bite…and I fell in love.  This veggie burger is packed with amazing flavor.  All organic.  All delicious.  I haven’t been this impressed by a veggie burger in a long time (especially one that is at least a little more nutritious for me to eat!).  Gluten-free veggie burgers are becoming a little more common, but these…these not only have the best nutritional stats of any that I have tried, but they were moist and rich with flavor.  All of the vegetables, the rice, the seasonings…they all mingled and mixed to form this perfect bite of a burger.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I hoovered it.  Just completely devoured it.

Yes…it is that good.

I have noticed that Earth Fare markets are opening up throughout the country.  If you have one nearby, I encourage you to go inside and try some of what they have to offer.  It’s a great little healthy supermarket.  And I have fallen in love with their selection (especially for someone like me!) and their products.  Their very own brand of veggie burgers has now become my absolute favorite.  Now…how’s that for amazing?!

Earth Fare Natural Mushroom Rice Burger, topped with melted non-dairy provolone cheese, bibb lettuce, and tomato
Earth Fare Natural Mushroom Rice Burger, topped with melted non-dairy provolone cheese, bibb lettuce, and tomato

Local Pennsylvania chain, Isaac’s Famous Grilled Sandwiches offers smorgasbord of gluten-free options

Isaac's Famous Grilled Sandwiches, Ephrata, Pennsylvania
Isaac’s Famous Grilled Sandwiches, Ephrata, Pennsylvania

Restaurant: Isaac’s Famous Grilled Sandwiches, Ephrata, Pennsylvania

I have to once again break my vow to not blog about chains.  And why?  Because I recently visited a chain restaurant that is only found in Pennsylvania.  Much like California’s own In-N-Out Burger, this little sandwich shop is only available regionally.  Therefore, I will not be able to find anything like it where I live in Indiana.

Welcome to Isaac’s Famous Grilled Sandwiches.  This chain began on August 25, 1983, when two friends attending college, Phil Wenger and Isaac Williams, met.  After graduating and going in two separate directions (Phil taking a job in sales for a flower wholesaler and Isaac working as a chef in a local restaurant), the two friends began to brainstorm the idea of a deli/restaurant.  Isaac provided the knowledge of cooking and his flair for decorating, and created an eclectic interior and a working menu.  Phil provided the experience of running a business and his desire to create something that would give back to the community.  And with that…Isaac’s Restaurant and Deli was born in the heart of Pennsylvania.  Now with 20 restaurants in 6 counties of Pennsylvania, this local chain is providing a delicious menu with a variety of choices in soups, salads, and sandwiches.

So, how did this out-of-towner stumble upon this little chain?  The Internet, of course.  My roommate was researching possible places to eat after I ran in the Hershey Half Marathon while we were out and about in other areas of Pennsylvania.  She came across Isaac’s on Find Me Gluten Free, and it had really great ratings.  It also had gluten-free flatbread!  Now there was something new and worth checking out, yes?

So, after a very successful run that morning in Hershey, Pennsylvania, my roommate, my friend Jenn, and myself headed out of town toward Ephrata, Pennsylvania.  We wanted to stop by the grave of Major Richard D. Winters, best known from Band of Brothers.  After the drive out there and the visit to the cemetery, we found that we were ready for lunch.  There was actually an Isaac’s in Ephrata.  Even better…it wasn’t that far away either.  BONUS!

We made our way to the Cloister Shopping Center and pulled in to park.  The actual center itself looked a bit sketchy.  In fact, Isaac’s was located next to an open (WOW!) Blockbuster Video.  I wasn’t feeling too confident about the situation.  But, at this point, we were committed.  We stepped up to the door, which thankfully had a large-scale version of their menu up.  I double-checked the gluten-free option and it was listed…so we stepped inside.  As we came in near the Blockbuster Video, we had to walk down a very long hallway in order to get to the restaurant itself.  We stepped inside and went to the hostess station in order to be seated.

A table was just clearing up where the three of us could sit, so we were told it would only be a minute.  Looks had to be deceiving, because Isaac’s was quite busy.  Every table was taken.  I glanced around in awe, as it didn’t look like much from the outside.  Inside, it was very much like the old diners you are used to seeing in movies.  There are crazy decorations and colors throughout the interior.  And right next to the hostess stand…the dessert case.  The three of us too a moment to ogle the pies and cakes inside…but then were told the table was clean and ready for us to be seated.

We followed the hostess to the booth and got situated.  She said our waitress would be right with us and left us to peruse the menu.  There were a lot of options to choose from.  So much sounded really good.  I was having a hard time deciding and I knew both Jenn and Cathy were also eying a few options as well.  Our waitress came to our table to get our drink order, and we all stuck with water.  She returned and gave us a little more time with the menu.  When we were all set…a different waitress came over.  Our waitress just got assigned a large party and they wanted to get our order in first.  We appreciated that…and so we began to put in our order.

Jenn decided to create her own sandwich.  She put salami and provolone on a pretzel roll ($6.99).  It came with a side of ranch dressing.  And she kept the chips as her side item.  Cathy opted to do the half soup-half sandwich combo.  She went with a half Mockingbird Sandwich (thinly sliced grilled ham and provolone cheese, topped with tomatoes and onions with mayo on hearty multigrain bread) with a cup of Isaac’s Famous Pepperjack and Tomato Soup.  She had that with a side of the Utz Potato Chips ($7.39).  As for me, I alerted them that I am a Celiac and was interested in trying the Gluten-Free Larkspur, which consisted of muenster and cheddar cheeses, fresh tomatoes, spinach and sprouts all wrapped up in a gluten-free flatbread and served with ranch dressing, which I was assured was also gluten-free.  I ordered the dressing on the side and opted for the baby carrots as my side ($8.04).

I will point out that there is an up-charge for the gluten-free option on the menu.  The gluten-free flatbread carries an additional $0.75 charge.  Not a problem.  After all, most restaurants charge a lot more.

Our orders went in and we had a good amount of time to sit around and chat.  I mostly talked about how interested I was in this gluten-free flatbread.  After our wait, our meals were brought out to us.

Let me tell you, the sandwich I got was nothing like what I expected.  But…it looked fantastic.  The gluten-free flatbread was grilled to a beautiful golden color.  Inside it was stuffed with spinach, sprouts, and tomatoes.  The cheeses were there…but not in overabundance.  I appreciated that.  And, as I asked, the ranch dressing came in a cup on the side.  I was dying to try this out.  Pausing only long enough to take a picture for my blog, I picked up the knife and sliced into the sandwich.  I took that little wedge, dipped it in the ranch dressing and took a bite.

I died and went to sandwich heaven.  The gluten-free flatbread was definitely the star of the show.  In fact, what it reminded me of the fried bread that Taco Bell Chalupas were made in.  They had a nice crisp outside but were great and soft when you chewed them.  I found it to be the perfect compliment to my vegetables inside.  And I honestly appreciated that the cheese wasn’t filling the sandwich.  It complimented it instead.  I gave a piece of the bread to both Cathy and Jenn and even they liked it.  I savored every bite, not wanting the sandwich experience to come to an end.  But with each bite…my sandwich grew smaller and smaller.

Here’s what I have to say…while it looked like an absolute dive on the outside, inside, Isaac’s is a quirky, fun little soup/sandwich/salad deli establishment.  I had a great dining experience there.  The waitress wrote in big letters on the order that mine was gluten-free.  And the receipt also made mention that it was gluten-free and yes…it was an allergy.  These are the little things that someone like me appreciates while eating out.  It just puts your mind a little more at ease.

I never knew how much I missed flatbread until I could have it again.  And this was a great place to start as far as finding one that had lots of flavor, no strange texture, and was just awesome with every bite.  I didn’t even need the dressing…the bread provided a lot of the necessary flavor for a sandwich filled with fresh vegetables.  This was love in flatbread sandwich form.  And I was one happy gluten-free customer.

If I find myself back up in southeastern Pennsylvania again, I will actively seek out Isaac’s as a safe place for me to eat.  Looks can be deceiving as I have come to find out quite often.  And in this case…this little dive of a place in a strip mall provided me one of my favorite gluten-free sandwiches to date.  The care of the staff at the restaurant and the variety of gluten-free options on the menu was awesome.  Totally worth a repeat visit sometime!

Isaac's Gluten-Free Larkspur Sandwich
Isaac’s Gluten-Free Larkspur Sandwich

Piazza Sorrento a slice of gluten-free Italian heaven in Hershey, Pennsylvania

Piazza Sorrento, Hershey, Pennsylvania
Piazza Sorrento, Hershey, Pennsylvania

Restaurant: Piazza Sorrento, Hershey, Pennsylvania

Traveling is one of the hardest things for me to do and find a place that I can trust to serve me food that won’t make me sick.  Honestly.  It can be quite nerve-wracking.  Put on top of that the added pressure of having a half marathon the next day and the last thing you want to do is eat something that might send your GI track into an unhappy rage.

Well, that was the situation this past weekend.  I was heading to Hershey, Pennsylvania to run in the Hershey Half Marathon on Sunday morning.  My journey began by going to my friend Jenn’s in Ohio, and then she, my roommmate, and I all headed up to Pennsylvania the following morning.  Now, Jenn loves me lots and has a gluten-free pantry shelf of stuff we can eat when I am in town.  Good friends are awesome!  But, here we are on the road!  However, because she loves me, she got on Find Me Gluten Free and found a little Italian place in Hershey, Pennsylvania with what looked like an extensive gluten-free menu.

As I have found that my best races so far have been after I have eaten gluten-free pizza, finding a gluten-free Italian place that has not only gluten-free pizza, but pasta, starters, subs, salads, entrees, and yes…desserts…right where I was going to be running a long, big race was probably one of the happiest finds ever.  To top it off, a friend of mine didn’t live far from the resort where we were staying, and she just happened to know the owners of this amazing restaurant.  So…we all had plans to meet up and go and enjoy a fantastic, safe (for me), Italian meal.

Let me tell you…with my lunch-on-the-go consisting of Chobani yogurt and a KIND bar, I was ready for some real food.

The place that we selected to eat was Piazza Sorrento, located on Briarcrest Square in Hershey.  From what we had discovered online, this was a independently run local restaurant, where the owners and staff dedicate themselves to providing the Hershey area with the finest service, food, and wine at a fair and competative price.  While striving to keep the history of the dish and region that it stems from intact, they provide regional and classic Italian cuisine using only premium ingredients.  Part of that process is by sourcing local ingredients from the local commerce of the Hershey area.  I loved that.

What I also loved was the extensive gluten-free menu that came up on their Web site.

After arriving in Hershey and heading over to Hershey Park to pick up my race packet and walk around the little expo that was attached, Jenn, Cathy and myself headed over to Hershey World to see what was going on, what prices were for things we were interested in doing, and to do some preliminary shopping in the gift shop.  That took a little bit of time, so when we finished up, we hopped back into the car, checked into our resort, and just sort of relaxed while waiting on Kathy (yes…another one, different spelling) to arrive so she could direct us to the restaurant the four of us would be dining in.  She arrived early…and we were okay with that because we were hungry!  Heading out, we met up in the garage of the resort, and she offered to drive to show us the sights of the area.  A sort of grand tour if you will.  But first…food.

We arrived just a little before 5 p.m. at Piazza Sorrento and headed inside.  We were greeted by a very friendly hostess who asked if we wanted to dine in the restaurant or the pizza shop.  We weren’t aware there was a difference, but we decided on the restaurant in the end.  It took only a moment for them to ready a booth for the four of us, and we asked for one gluten-free menu for me.  She happily complied, and went and took us to our seat, letting us know that our server, Lydia, would be with us shortly.

Lydia did arrive rather promptly to the table to see what we would like to have to drink.  As I was running, I was all about the water.  And it seemed everyone else at the table felt that way too.  So, water it was.  She came back and went over the specials on the menu, noting that since I had a gluten-free menu, to mention what specials were gluten-free…and this included soups.  I loved how knowledgeable she was.  It really put me at ease.  And the fact that I didn’t have to give my, “I’m a Celiac…” speech was a nice change of pace.  She went to ready the bread basket and asked me if I would like a gluten-free roll.  I was so shocked that it took me a moment to answer.  But I answered correctly.  “Yes, please.”

Piazza Sorrento's Gluten-Free Roll
Piazza Sorrento’s Gluten-Free Roll

She returned with the bread basket and two plates of herbs for dipping.  The one she set down in front of me was the gluten-free one.  All we had to do was add the oil.  My roll wasn’t out yet, but my dinner guests waited until it was delivered to the table before they dug into the regular bread basked.

This roll looked fantastic.  The plate that it was sitting on came with a tag, marking it as one of Piazza Sorrento’s Gluten-Free Options.  I love that they have a labeling system.  With oil poured onto my herbs, I reached down and tore a hunk of my gluten-free roll off.  A little steam rose from it and it smelled amazing.  Fresh.  Delicious.  I took my first bite without the oil and herbs.  I wanted to savor the roll and enjoy it on its own first.  Really just draw my opinion from the bare bread itself.  It was…fantastic.  Very light.  Very soft.  Warm.  Fresh.  I wanted to devour it and ask for another one.  But, I behaved.

And soon, Lydia was at our table preparing to take our orders.  Cathy wanted to get one of their House Specialties, so she asked Lydia if she had to recommend one item on the menu…what would it be.  Lydia said she couldn’t limit it to one, but she could tell her some of her favorites and house favorites.  Which she proceeded to do and then, left Cathy to ponder for the time it took the rest of us to order our meal.

Jenn went with the small order of Crab and Tortellini ($16.00).  Kathy opted for the Chicken Piccata ($18.00).  Cathy finally decided on the Pappardelle Bolognese ($17.00).  As for me…I needed pizza to fuel my run.  So after going back and forth between a couple of the vegetarian, gluten-free options (because…yes…there were lots of options), I settled on the Gluten-Free Old World Pizza ($9.00).  Lydia went to put our orders in and we had plenty of time to talk about Hershey, the park, the race, and just get caught up on what was going on with whom and why and it was the perfect little get together.  Great setting too.

Piazza Sorrento's Gluten-Free Old World Pizza
Piazza Sorrento’s Gluten-Free Old World Pizza

When food arrived at the table it looked absolutely delicious.  My pizza was once again marked with one of the slips of paper declaring it to be a Piazza Sorrento Gluten-Free Choice.  Food labeling makes me feel at ease.  This was the smallest little touch…and yet, it meant the world to me.  With our food in front of us, we all just dove right in.  Sort of.  I had to take pictures and both my phone and my camera were acting up.  But…I got it sorted and photographed and then wasted no further time before lifting my first slice of pizza and taking a bite.

The Gluten-Free Old World Pizza from Piazza Sorrento is the classic Old World Style pizza.  It is the crust, with a layer of provolone cheese, then topped with tomato sauce and finished off with a sprinkling of Romano cheese and some oregano.  I had never tried an Old World-style pizza before and this was one of the House Specialties on the menu…so I figured why not try something I haven’t been able to get anywhere else.  I’m glad I did.

The crust on the pizza was a thin crust pizza, probably of a rice flour base.  It cooked up crispy…with a little softness to it.  So…just right for me.  I love a thin crust pizza anyway…always have.  Gluten-free pizza crusts are usually quite thin, so this transition has been easy for me.  The hard part is finding one that is really fantastic on its own.  Piazza Sorrento has a really delicious one.  The Gluten-Free Pizzas only come in the 10 inch size, which is pretty normal of any establishment that serves gluten-free pizza.  I knew there would be leftovers…meaning my friends and I would have pizza for dinner the following evening…as our resort suite had a fridge and a microwave.  SCORE!  But I am digressing…

Let’s return to the star of the table at the moment…the food.  My friends all really enjoyed their meals.  And I happily downed two slices of my Gluten-Free Old World Pizza.  The provolone cheese on the bottom was melted to perfection.  The sauce over it was packed with flavor.  Not bitter at all.  The tomato flavor really shined.  And the light dusting of Romano and oregano really just topped it off.  I probably could have eaten more, but I didn’t want to stuff myself to the max in case…there was room for dessert.

And with us…there normally is.  Especially when there are gluten-free options available.

Lydia brought out the dessert tray and went over the what each item was and explained which ones were available as gluten-free.  Both Jenn and Kathy opted for the tiramisu (one of the gluten-free options) ($7.00).  Cathy went with her favorite Italian dessert…cannoli ($3.50).  As for me…I went with the Gluten-Free Ricotta Cake ($8.00).  It just looked…really yummy.

The Ricotta Cake is basically a very light sponge cake that was drizzled with white vermouth and topped off with Ricotta cheese and fresh fruit.  It is one of the favorites among customers…and now I know why.  When dessert arrived…I couldn’t wait to dig in.  I picked up my fork and slid it easily through the cake.  It was like a hot knife going through butter.  So creamy.  So soft.  So moist.  I was already anticipating my first bite.  And when I took it…I think I melted.  Seriously.  This had to be the best cake I had ever bitten into.  I had to share a bite with my friends.  I honestly did.  Because it was that amazing.  Had Piazza Sorrento been open on Sunday, I probably would have stopped in just for cake.  In fact, my friend Jenn had mentioned doing just that because even she fell in love with it at the one bite she had.  We both said that it tasted like cannoli in cake form.  Honestly…super good.  Just melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

After dining there, I tried to e-mail the restaurant to see about getting the recipe…but the e-mail kept bouncing back to me.  I finally settled on messaging them on Facebook…but have yet to receive a response.

There is nothing bad I can say about Piazza Sorrento.  Honestly it has been one of the best dining experiences I have had, coupled with one of the best meals I have ever eaten.  I didn’t need to worry about if the food was going to react poorly with me, especially before such a big race day.  I felt confident in the competence of Lydia and the rest of the staff there.  And the food was great…and I didn’t get sick at all.

Whoever said that gluten-free was boring and lacked variety and choices hasn’t been through Hershey, Pennsylvania and tried out Piazza Sorrento.  I encourage you, whole-heartedly, that if you happen to be in the land of chocolate…or within driving distance, to check out Piazza Sorrento and see for yourself.  The gluten-free menu will blow you away, the service and safety the staff take will astound you.  But it will be the taste of the food that will make you wish that you had this place in your own hometown.  I envy the people who live here…because this has joined the ranks of one of my favorite places to eat.  But when you live in Indiana…it means returning won’t happen too often.

Oh…I also encourage you, should you go to eat at Piazza Sorrento, to try the delicious Gluten-Free Ricotta Cake.  It’s worth saving room for…or finding room for.  Trust me.

Piazza Sorrento's Gluten-Free Ricotta Cake
Piazza Sorrento’s Gluten-Free Ricotta Cake

Sinfully delicious and moist gluten-free Banana Nut Bread from Sinfully Gluten Free

Sinfully Gluten Free Banana Nut Bread
Sinfully Gluten Free Banana Nut Bread

Product: Sinfully Gluten Free Banana Nut Bread – $4.50

Oh, my dearly beloved Sinfully Gluten Free in Dayton, Ohio.  I wish…oh, how I wish that you weren’t only in Dayton, Ohio.  I love everything that I have eaten by your amazing little shop so far.  Whether it’s in your café or some of your baked goodies to take home with me, nothing has disappointed me yet.  That’s amazing and totally saying something about the quality of your food.

Well, the small loaf of Banana Nut Bread from Sinfully Gluten Free is no exception to this streak of awesomeness.

In fact, the best part about this was how long I have been desperately wanting some gluten-free banana bread.  I tried to make my own a long time ago…and I totally disliked it.  Every bite of it.  In fact, I ended up throwing it away.  I don’t like wasting food…but this was just not good.  So, when I spotted these little mini loaves at Sinfully Gluten Free the last time I was in town, one of them was going home with me for sure.

Or so I thought.  It was accidentally left behind at my friend Jenn’s home.  But she saved the day by throwing it into the freezer and telling me that we could take it with us on our trek to Hershey, Pennsylvania for noms in the car should we need.

Well, after a super-early breakfast of my homemade gluten-free carrot cake pancakes…we were pretty hungry around 10 a.m.  Eating breakfast early usually means I get hungry a couple hours later.  Well, we were totally prepared though with this loaf of bread.  All I had to do was split it three ways.  Not the easiest thing to do when I don’t have a knife, but I just worked with what I had.  My hands.

Immediately, upon unwrapping it from the plastic bag that contained it, I could smell it.  So delicious.  My mouth was already watering in anticipation.  And then…as I pulled it out, I could already tell how moist it was too.  Splitting it into three sections was easy because of how moist it was, despite having spent a couple weeks in the freezer.  I mean…it was moist without being wet.  It was that perfect banana bread consistency.

And the flavor was top-of-the-line.  The banana wasn’t overpowering and the nuts were a nice compliment that added some great texture to the bread.  Walnuts pair so well with banana bread and that’s exactly the type that was used in this bread.  They weren’t hard either.  Nor was it overly salty or seasoned.  The simple ingredients really got to shine here.  And every ingredient was something that I recognized.  That is something I love about products like this that are baked fresh at these bakeries.

Sinfully Gluten Free, you have, for the third time, left me in awe of your products.  The Banana Nut Bread is now one of my favorite things I have picked up there.  I’d buy it again…in a heartbeat.

Sinfully Gluten Free Banana Nut Bread
Sinfully Gluten Free Banana Nut Bread

Bob’s Red Mill bakes up too-good-to-share Gluten-Free Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free Cinnamon Raisin Bread Mix
Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Cinnamon Raisin Bread Mix

Product: Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Cinnamon Raisin Bread Mix – $5.79+

I have a confession to make.

Originally, I didn’t pull out the Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Cinnamon Raisin Bread Mix for me.  Nope.  You see, I have an amazing podiatrist who has gotten me back on my feet and running better than I did prior to the injury that put me on crutches for three weeks.  And after setting two new PR (that’s personal records for the non-running lingo peeps) in my last two races, I wanted to bake them something as a thank you.  I have quite a few of these Bob’s Red Mill Cinnamon Raisin Bread Mix bags in my pantry (thank you Big Lots!), so I thought…why not?

Prep work was easy because I do my bread baking in a bread machine.  Yes…this takes awhile, but it takes all the ‘let it rise after kneading it’ hassle out of the equation.  Following the simple instructions on the bag, I simply took room temperature water, two eggs, and 1/4 cup of canola oil and placed it into the pan of my bread maker.  Then…the mix was added.  Finally, the yeast packet that came with the bread mix was added.  Now, my bread maker is not specifically designed for gluten-free bread making, but it is a dedicated gluten-free bread maker.  So…I set it for the basic setting on a medium crust, hit start and let it run for the 3 hours it takes.

And at first, I was less than excited about the little glob of dough that was being worked by the machine.  In fact, I let it run while I settled in on the couch and watched “Thunderball” (the James Bond film…mmm…Sean Connery!).  I even wandered into the kitchen to air pop some popcorn at some point and was still set on just baking this up for my podiatrist and his staff.

But then, the baking part kicked in around the end of the movie.  Suddenly, my entire apartment smelled like fresh-baked cinnamon raisin bread.  It was making my mouth water.  And despite having just snacked on popcorn…there was nothing more that I was craving than taking a slice of that and trying it.  After the movie, I only had a few more minutes left on the bake cycle, and the aroma was making both myself and my roommate really want to dive into the bread.  We were going to try it regardless…just a slice split between us. Then I was going to cut it up and package it up for my podiatrist with a couple of icing options.

But after the bread machine beeped to alert me that the cycle was done and my bread was ready, I eagerly took the pan out of the machine, overturned it to let the bread easily slide out onto my cooling rack, and then…let it sit and cool.  That only lasted 10 minutes.  I had to try it.  Onto the cutting board it went.

It was still probably too early to slice into it…but I needed to try it.  It smelled so fantastic.  So, my bread knife glided through the still fresh bread loaf and sliced off the end piece.  I saw the rise of fresh steam as the slice fell away and I let it sit for a moment to cool.  But that was just long enough for me to snap a picture.  Then…out came the margarine.  I sliced the one slice of bread in half and gave a little spread of the Smart Balance spread over each slice.  I handed one to my roommate and I took the other.

One bite…and the first words out of my mouth were…

“I don’t want to share this!  I want to keep this here for us!”

She totally agreed.

Good.  We were on the same page.

So, aside from making my entire apartment smell like a bakery (and a delicious, gluten-free bakery at that), how was the bread?

Well, the loaf is not going anywhere if that indicates anything.  Most gluten-free breads (even those made from mixes), have the tendency to be very heavy and very dense.  Not Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Cinnamon Raisin Bread.  Nope.  This was light and soft.  The inside was moist without being heavy.  And the Smart Balance spread that I spread across the sliced part melted right into the bread like a cinnamon-raisin sponge of awesomeness™ just begging to be devoured in seconds.  I savored it as much as I could, but the half of a slice that I had was disappearing quickly.  The crust on this bread baked to a perfect golden brown and has this amazing flakiness to it.  The inside is moist and soft.  And the raisins aren’t just an afterthought.  Raisins explode from every bite of this bread.  They aren’t just randomly scattered.  There are plenty to go around and plenty to fill up the bread.  No need to even add extra.  In addition, the cinnamon flavor is there without overpowering and taking away from the bread.  It adds a sweetness to the bread that really compliments the raisins.

So, apologies to my podiatrist’s office, but this bread is staying here with me.  In fact, it’s my post-workout snack this morning after hitting up the gym.  I’m taking some of my vegan vanilla cream cheese icing in because I think this bread could easily make me no longer miss cinnamon rolls if I dress it up like one.  I can’t wait to give this bread a little warming at the office and spread it with some vanilla icing love.  Epic breakfast at the office.  I hope the aroma of the bread makes others inquire as to what I’m eating.  My office is so anti-gluten-free anything that I love being able to make something and get them to try it (few often do) and fall in love with it.

Gluten-free baking and cooking doesn’t get the respect that it deserves.  Too many people go into it with a closed mind.

Well, if they were able to try the Gluten-Free Cinnamon Raisin Bread that the Bob’s Red Mill mix created, I bet their minds and mouths would both be open…and ready for more.

I know mine is.

The trick is getting through my workout before devouring my slice for breakfast.

If cinnamon raisin is your thing, if you miss cinnamon rolls, or if you just want to give gluten-free bread making (by hand or by machine…there are instructions for both on the bag of the mix) a try, I encourage you to give Bob’s Red Mill mixes a try.  I haven’t been disappointed yet.  It’s another one of those, “No way this is gluten-free!” moments…which I love.


A loaf of bread made with Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Cinnamon Raisin Bread Mix and baked in a bread machine
A loaf of bread made with Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Cinnamon Raisin Bread Mix and baked in a bread machine