Natural Nectar Choco Dreams Rice Sticks didn’t wow me…but, hey…cookies!

Natural Nectar Gluten-Free Choco Dream Rice Sticks
Natural Nectar Gluten-Free Choco Dream Rice Sticks

Product: Natural Nectar Gluten-Free Choco Dreams Rice Sticks – $3.69+

I guess this was Natural Nectar’s throwback to those Pirouettes rolled wafer cookies that you can find, usually, around the holidays, that are filled with a chocolate (or other flavor) cream.  That’s what the image on the box reminded me of, anyway.

I don’t remember where I got these…or when.  I just remember that my roommate spotted them, nudged me, and said that she found straw cookies that I could eat now.  Of course, this made me happy, as I was a huge fan of Pirouettes back when I could eat them.  I mean, the rolled wafer filled with this delicious, sweet creamy center (normally chocolate).  Yeah…it’s all good.

So…I knew then and there that I needed…yes needed to try this version from Natural Nectar.

But…I had (and still have) a plethora of gluten-free cookies looming in my pantry.  I can’t help it!  I’m a cookie monster!!  Don’t judge.  So…even though I was thrilled to have these…there were other products that needed to be devoured…eaten…enjoyed…or thrown away first.

That changed…last night.

Last night, after eating a delicious meal, I went to retrieve dessert.  We had just polished off the last of my homemade gluten-free strawberry pie, so it was on to the next goody.  And that just happened to be Natural Nectar’s Gluten-Free Choco Dreams Rice Sticks.  I was pretty stoked about opening this box.  They just…looked so fantastic on the packaging.

I had to take pictures for the blog though, so once that was done, I opened the tab on the box and removed two individual white packets.  Each packet held two of the little rice stick cookies.  Totally excited, I put the box away and tore open the pouch, ready to see how these compared to the Pirouettes of my pre-gluten-free life.

Well…one bite…

…and I was underwhelmed.  They aren’t bad.  They aren’t even horrible.  They actually taste okay.  It’s just…they weren’t what I expected.

Let me explain.

These rice sticks are definitely filled with a sweet cocoa spread.  That spread is my favorite part.  Unfortunately, the cookie part that wraps up that sweet spread is much thicker than the wafer-thin rolls of the Pirouettes.  In fact, this cookie is overwhelming in comparison to the delicious chocolate that it is wrapped around.  That being said, the rice stick cookie portion does have a great sweet, vanilla flavor that meshes well with the cocoa spread…if you can taste it.  The cookie part is very crunchy…without being crumbly.  That’s good…except I miss that soft, but crispy, thin wrap that the Pirouettes had.  I understand these aren’t the same sort of cookie, but it’s the closest comparison that I have.

These aren’t bad…but if given the choice, I would probably choose a different gluten-free cookie to snack on instead.

Nutritionally speaking (for cookies), these are on the better side of the guilt meter.  One packet of two Natural Nectar Choco Dreams Rice Sticks contains 115 calories and 4 grams of fat.  Not too bad for cookies.  Two cookies at that.  And these aren’t just small little rolls of cookie and cocoa.  These are quite substantial.  With a sugar content of 10 grams, these aren’t too bad for a sweet treat.  A chocolate stuffed sweet treat at that.  I’m sort of impressed by how low that number is.  These are also cholesterol free, which is a nice touch.

Like I said…Natural Nectar gave it a good try with these cookies.  And the Choco Dreams Rice Sticks are decent enough.  They just didn’t wow me like I had hoped.  And they were definitely not the gluten-free throwback to Pirouettes that I had anticipated.  Perhaps I had just gotten my hopes up a little too soon.  If you like a crispy vanilla cookie with a touch of smooth chocolate…these cookies might be for you.  I found them a little unbalanced…but ultimately…tasty enough to continue to nosh on after dinner.

Natural Nectar Gluten-Free Choco Dream Rice Sticks (unwrapped)
Natural Nectar Gluten-Free Choco Dream Rice Sticks (unwrapped)

DR Delish Gluten-Free Animal Cookies addictively, fantastically, amazingly delish

DR Delish Gluten-Free Animal Cookies
DR Delish Gluten-Free Animal Cookies

Product: DR Delish Gluten-Free Animal Cookies – $2.99+

If you live near a Walgreens…dash out there right this instant.

Well, maybe read this first…then, dash out there and pick up a bag of the DR Delish Animal Cookies.  Why?  Because the brand name is not meant to deceive you.  These cookies are absolutely, positively, 100% one of the best tasting gluten-free cookies out on the market.  And they are exclusive to Walgreens.

I actually never would have found these as I do not frequent Walgreens often.  And it never would have occurred to me to look for gluten-free items there.  I blame this new fascination…this new…addiction, if you will…on my mother.  Yes, my MOM!!  And I love her for it.  I love her for every cookie in that little pouch.

You see…these cookies came to me in the mail.  A little surprise gift from my mom.  She had been out at Walgreens and had spotted those on the shelf.  She knew…she just knew…I had to have them.  She was right.  Because I think when I pulled these out of the shipping box, I might have started to cry.  It had been a rough day for me…nothing in the world seemed right.  And then…my mom sends me cookies.  Not just any cookies, mind you.  But ones shaped like animals.  Like the animal crackers I used to devour as a child.  I won’t lie…I devoured them as a teenager and an adult as well.  Until I no longer could.

You often don’t realize how much you miss something until you can no longer have it.  I didn’t realize how much I missed animal crackers until I pulled this bag of DR Delish Gluten-Free Animal Cookies out of a simple USPS box.  I was a mess of emotions that day…and at that moment, the note from my mom and the cookies themselves meant more than anything to me.

As I have established before…I have a stash of gluten-free goodies going in my pantry, which I am attempting to work through in some semblance of order.  This meant, despite the overwhelming spring of emotions brought on by this gift, these cookies would have to wait their turn in the snack queue.

The wait came to an end…today.

Last night, as I was prepping my lunch, snacks, and breakfast for after my gym workout, I realized I needed a new afternoon snack.  The next item up…DR Delish Gluten-Free Animal Cookies.  I retrieved the bag from the pantry and tore it open to dish out the serving size (about 10 cookies…but if you weigh your food like I do…it’s 30 grams).  I resisted the urge to sneak a bite right then and there, playing it as I always do…and reserving that for my afternoon snack time at the office.  I sealed the bag back up and returned it to the shelf.

Lo and behold, my snack time finally rolled around and I was all too excited to be diving into a serving of animal cracker-like snacks.  Just from first-hand glance, these cookies resemble the cookies you’d find under that layer of high fructose corn syrup-y icing.  They had the same feel to them too…minus the icing of course.

What came as the surprise to me, however, was the flavor.  The taste.  How absolutely fantastic and addictive these were.  It’s a good thing I did sort these by serving instead of just hauling the entire pack with me.  They’d be gone in a New York Gluten-Free Minute!  Holy gluten-free cow, Batman…these were amazing.  They sort of reminded me of a sugary cake.  That was the flavor I got.  Less cracker, more cookie-cake-y flavor.  They aren’t as airy as the traditional animal cracker, having a density closer to butter cookies or shortbread, but they have this soft crispness to them.  And the flavor…out of this world.  For real!!  They have this subtle sweetness of vanilla and honey with that hit of buttery goodness that just makes them…the perfect cookie in every way.  And…they are shaped…LIKE ANIMALS!!  Come on!  These taste identical…if not better…to the non-gluten-free versions I used to be able to eat before I had to go gluten-free.

I could eat these every day and be one very, very happy girl.

Nutritionally speaking, a serving of these cookies (the very difficult to stick to 10 cookies or 30 grams) will set you back 130 calories and only 1 gram of fat.  These also only have a small amount of sugar, topping out at 9 grams.  In addition,, you get 2 grams of fiber and 2 grams of protein in each serving.  Not too bad.  What’s even better is, unlike those regular animal crackers, these cookies do not contain high fructose corn syrup.

DR Delish Gluten-Free Animal Cookies…you are a fun, super delish treat.  If I had less self-control…the entire bag in my pantry would be gone right now.  Yeah.  That good.

Katz Gluten Free strips down the common cinnamon roll with their Cinnamon Strip

Katz Gluten Free Cinnamon Strip
Katz Gluten Free Cinnamon Strip

Product: Katz Gluten Free Cinnamon Strip – $7.24

Cake.

Cake for…breakfast.

That’s basically what I’ve been enjoying this week.  I’m not even joking.

And why should I joke about such a thing.  When my roomie ordered the Cinnamon Strip from Katz Gluten Free, she did so without my knowledge.  You see, I gave her carte blanche to place an order for Katz goodies using a Groupon or Gluten Free Saver certificate that I bought…without me knowing what would be arriving.  One of the items she chose was…the Cinnamon Strip.

I had no idea what the Cinnamon Strip was, honestly.  No joke.  When it arrived at my office and I unpacked it…it looked like a loaf of bread.  I took it home that night, put it in the freezer…and there it remained.  But, you see, summer is coming and I need room in my freezer for my ice cream maker.  So, I’m making my way through the items I’ve stored in there.  And this week…I thought something called a Cinnamon Strip might be a delicious idea for breakfast.  I mean, it’s probably a cinnamon-y loaf of some sort, right?

Well…I was kind of right.

I took the Cinnamon Strip out of the freezer the night before and placed it in the fridge to thaw.  The next morning, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with it…but assuming it was a loaf of something, I thought…maybe making it into French toast.  So, the Cinnamon Strip came out of the fridge and I heated up a skillet and cracked an egg and scrambled it up to dip it in.  And then…only then…did I retrieve a cutting board and knife and actually slice into the Cinnamon Strip.

Katz Gluten Free Cinnamon Strip
Katz Gluten Free Cinnamon Strip

On Katz Gluten Free Web site, the Cinnamon Strip is simply described as being a great-tasting and decadent treat with rich layers of cinnamon filling.  I didn’t read this nor look at a picture before deciding to make French toast from it.  Obviously.  Because when I sliced into the Cinnamon Strip…I was not expecting what I got.  In fact…the Cinnamon Strip is less like a cake or a loaf of bread…and more like a cinnamon roll…before you actually slice them into rolls to bake.  Since I already had the egg ready to go, I went ahead and did that day’s up as French toast…topping it off with a small amount of real maple syrup.  It was delicious…but I wanted to eat this in the actual way it was meant to be eaten.

Sliced…warmed…and just rich with cinnamon flavor.

The next day, that’s exactly what I did.  I retrieved the Cinnamon Strip from the fridge and sliced into it again.  This time, I only intended to give it a few seconds (about 20 total) of warming in the microwave.  The first slice went to my roommate.  And as I was warming mine up, she was digging in.  I asked her if she preferred this over my attempt to make it French toast.  She said that it tasted like a cinnamon roll.

Well, we all know I have a deep love and appreciation…and addiction…to cinnamon rolls.  If a gluten-free bakery is doing them…I want them.  Well, this seems to be Katz Gluten Free’s answer to the cinnamon roll.  That’s exactly what it smells like as it warms in the microwave.  If I had some icing handy, I’d have spread it over the top.  But I ran out of icing a little while ago.  I checked.  None was currently lurking in my freezer.  Trust me…I hunted.  That being said..when I settled in to taste this for myself…I couldn’t have agreed more.   Like eating a a slice of cinnamon roll.  It was sweet with a cinnamon and sugar crust on the outside, but soft on the inside, the cinnamon rolled between the dough giving that perfect sweetness to each bite…even the ones without that candied outside crust.

In other words…super yummy!

I admit…this is probably not the healthiest choice for breakfast, but, honestly, it’s like a smaller, lighter cinnamon roll.  So…how bad can that be?  I sliced up my Cinnamon Strip into 10 slices, because the servings per container said 9, and I hate odd numbers when there are two people in my apartment that eat something.   So, these are already slightly less caloric than they would be had I sliced them into 9 servings, as directed.  That being said, normally a slice of Katz Gluten Free Cinnamon Strip would set you back 210 calories and 8 grams of fat.  It is rather high on sugar, containing 17 grams, but it’s no different than eating a cinnamon roll, honestly.  If you’re going sweet treat for breakfast…that sugar will be higher.  Higher than I like…but I wasn’t sure what I was slicing into.  This is probably meant to be a dessert…but for me…it’s a delicious breakfast treat this week.

Katz Gluten Free Cinnamon Strip is made from their gluten-free flour blend (a mix of potato, tapioca, white rice, brown rice, and sorghum flours), sugar, canola oil, water, eggs, confection sugar, orange juice, vanilla sugar, dry yeast, cinnamon, xanthan gum, baking powder and salt.  And what you get is this strip of cinnamon-sugary sweetness that is ideal for dessert, but perfectly works for breakfast as well.  If you are a conneasuier of cinnamon rolls like I am…then you will want to devour this.  It’s hard to keep it to just one slice when something as moist, delicious, and sweet emerges ready to eat.  Toast it, warm it…or eat it straight.  It’s delicious any way you slice it.

Katz Gluten Free just won me over with yet another product.  They are on one sweet, sweet roll!

Katz Gluten-Free Cinnamon Strip (sliced)
Katz Gluten-Free Cinnamon Strip (sliced)

Lemon zings every bite of fantasic Lemon Shortbread from Simply Shari

Simply Shari's Gluten-Free and Fabulous Lemon Shortbread Bite Size Cookies
Simply Shari’s Gluten-Free and Fabulous Lemon Shortbread Bite Size Cookies

Product: Simply Shari’s Gluten-Free and Fabulous Lemon Shortbread Bite Size Cookies – $4.29+

LEMON!!!

Lemon is one of my most favorite flavors in this world.  Honestly.  There is something so refreshing and revitalizing about not just the scent, but that taste of lemon.  And everyone who knows me is quite aware of this fact.

Especially my friend Jenn…who is as much a connoisseur of lemon-flavored lemony things as me.  And she is the person I have to thank for bringing Simply Shari’s Gluten-Free and Fabulous Lemon Shortbread Bite Size Cookies into my life.  For freakin’ real.  She has been one of the most understanding and adapting of my friends when it came to me having to go gluten-free.  I show up at her house at times and she showers me with goodies that she has found while out and about.  AND…she keeps a “gluten-free” section in her pantry for me as well.  Good friends like Jenn are AWESOME and meant to be praised in blogs like this one.

So…awhile back she gifted me with a bag of gluten-free goodness that I asked her to pick up for me since the items were on sale.  And when there is a gluten-free sale, even in another state, I jump at the chance to take advantage of it.  Well, she threw in a couple of extra things she spotted…and one of them was these little bite-size lemon shortbread cookies.

Simply Shari’s was one of those brands I just sort of accidentally happened upon way back when this gluten-free thing was new to me.  I was in Frankfort, Kentucky for the Black Cat Chase 5K…and my roommate and I dropped into the Kroger on our way out.  And one of the Manager’s Specials was on a frozen gluten-free pizza from Simply Shari’s.  We ended up purchasing it…and eating it a few nights later…and loving it.  The Almond Shortbread was next…and we both were enamored with that as well.

So…lemon goodness had to abound from these, right?  I knew it was a sure thing because Jenn had picked up some for herself and told me that they were super yumtastic.  Those weren’t her exact words.  I’m loosely quoting here.

Well, being as it is National Chocolate Chip day…and I don’t have anything chocolate chip in the apartment…I settled on the next best thing for dessert.  Yes…lemon cookies.  Because nothing says celebrating chocolate chips like lemon shortbread.  I never do anything normal or simple.  This is my norm.

So, after a delightful dinner and after scouring all the dishes…my roommate and I were definitely ready for a small bite for dessert.  That’s one thing I love about these cookies from Simply Shari’s.  They are bite-size.  So you aren’t getting this huge cookie that is packed with all these fillers that will make you feel more stuffed than you already are.  Nope.  Not these.

Simply Shari’s Gluten-Free and Fabulous Lemon Shortbread Bite Size Cookies (for being bite size…that’s a mouthful, yes?) are awesome.  No exaggeration there.  One bite and it was hard to keep myself from simply devouring the other two that were held in the palm of my hand.  Honestly.  Lemon at its best.  Shortbread at its most awesome.

Yes…you still have that buttery and crumbly texture that is associated with shortbread.  It’s sweet and savory all at once.  But then…add in that fantastic lemon flavor and you totally turn of the volume on these cookies…all the way up to 11.  They don’t skimp on the lemon flavor, nor do they throw it in your face either.  It’s not subtle but it won’t leave your taste buds feeling assaulted by lemon.  That’s the tricky thing about lemon…you can easily make it too lemony so easily.  Not Simply Shari’s.  And that lemon flavor…it was the perfect match with the buttery taste of the shortbread.  So impressed.

These cookies are made with simple ingredients.  Rice flour, brown rice flour, sweet rice flour, tapioca flour, cornstarch, potato starch, xanthum gum, water, baking soda, modified corn starch, guar gum, baking soda, and, naturally, lemon fruit pieces.  These candied lemon pieces are the star of these cookies, bringing them to life with their stunning lemon flavor.  And these crumbly, delicious shortbread cookies are rather impressive nutritionally too…as far as cookies go.

One serving is three bite size lemon shortbread cookies.  These three cookies will set you back only 120 calories and 6 grams of fat.  Not bad for shortbread.  Not bad at all.  Even better, the sugar content in these cookies is definitely on the low side – only 9 grams.  These gluten-free cookies are also non-GMO, which is always appreciated.

Simply put…Simply Shari’s Gluten-Free and Fabulous Lemon Shortbread Bite Size Cookies are amazing.  I am so glad I have a second pack of these in my pantry as well.  I’m addicted and hooked and loving the lemon and buttery goodness in a simply delicious and simply fabulous bite-size package.  It’s hard to keep that serving down to just three.

BitterSweet Gluten Free Bakery gives Minneapolis a delicious taste of gluten-free living

BitterSweet Gluten Free Bakery, Eagan, Minnesota
BitterSweet Gluten Free Bakery, Eagan, Minnesota

Restaurant: BitterSweet Gluten Free Bakery, Eagan, Minnesota

There are times where I regret waiting so long to get to one of the restaurants or places of interest on my list when I visit a city.  That was certainly the case when it comes to BitterSweet Gluten Free Bakery in Eagan, Minnesota.

Live and learn!

So, let me set the scene.  On Find Me Gluten-Free, Cathy discovered that the Minneapolis area was home to this gluten-free bakery.  And it got rave reviews.  This meant…I had to check it out.  So it was placed on the list with the address to get to while in town.  And…life got busy.  And before I knew it…it was Tuesday morning, the morning of the day I was leaving.  I had gone on a 6.26 mile run that morning.  Cathy had some shops she wanted to check out in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.  Oh, and I had a date with a celebratory banana split after my fantastic race on Sunday morning.  I always celebrate races with banana splits.  But it was still early and I wasn’t quite ready for ice cream.

As we were heading out toward some of the bookstores that Cathy wanted to hit up, we were driving by the Cliff Road exit.  And she remembered…we had the gluten-free bakery to stop into.  I’m glad she remembered.  I would have cried had I not made it in there.  We set the Garmin for the address she had written down and soon we were pulling into this little strip mall.  The bakery was open, and it looked like the door was getting repaired as a large piece of wood covered it.  No matter…they were open and that was what mattered.

We stepped inside and were greeted immediately.  We were asked if they could help us and we mentioned that we were from out of town, that I was a Celiac, and that the very fact that this bakery existed was enough to make me happy.  The man behind the counter said he would give us some time to look around and he’d be back in a moment.

The bake case was filled with amazing looking bread loaves, cookies, bars, and the like.  The counter top had different gluten-free mixes and even some gluten-free hamburger buns (that I am now kicking myself for not purchasing!).  We scoured the case and decided that we would buy one of the half loaves of the Gluten-Free Banana Walnut Bread, a Gluten-Free Lemon Bar (which we would split), and then we each decided we would try one of the various cookies that the bakery made.  We were rejoined by the nice gentleman behind the counter where I placed a gorgeous half loaf of the Gluten-Free Banana Walnut Bread.  I asked about getting one of the amazing looking lemon bars, and then I chose to have the Monster Cookie and Cathy chose the Lemon Zinger Cookie.  He wrapped up the cookies, and placed the lemon bar and half loaf of bread into a bag.  We talked about being from Louisville, Kentucky, and he mentioned having been at the 2011 gluten-free expo in Carmel, Indiana.  He said so much has changed over the years…and that BitterSweet Gluten Free Bakery had been open for nine years now and was still going strong.  This spoke very highly to me of their quality and their products…but I had to judge that for myself.

BitterSweet Gluten Free Bakery's Lemon Zinger Cookie and Monster Cookie
BitterSweet Gluten Free Bakery’s Lemon Zinger Cookie and Monster Cookie

After climbing back into the car, Cathy and I decided we would make our cookies an amuse bouche.  I mean, what better lead-in to a banana split than cookies, right?  So, she grabbed her Gluten-Free Lemon Zinger Cookie ($1.48) and took a bite of it.  Immediately she was elated, saying it reminded her of the Lemon Blossoms my friend Jenn and I make, but in cookie form.  I snagged a piece and she couldn’t have been more spot on.  The Lemon Zinger cookie was refreshing and zippy.  Honestly.  I love lemon flavored stuff anyway…and this was awesome.  The Lemon Zinger is also a dairy free cookie at this bakery.  The other ingredients include white rice flour, sugar, soy shortening, tapioca flour, lemon juice, lemon zest, eggs, aluminum free baking powder, sea salt and xanthan gum.  The icing that was zigzagged over the top was a combination of powdered sugar and lemon juice.  Just really amazing.

The Gluten-Free Monster Cookie ($1.20) intrigued me immediately.  It looked like it had a little bit of everything…and all ingredients that I love.  And I couldn’t have been happier when I took my first bite.  It was sweet, savory, and just amazing and full of flavor.  A party in this cookie monster’s mouth, for sure.  This cookie really does have it all.  It’s a perfect blend of peanut butter, gluten-free oats, brown sugar, sugar, eggs, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, raisins, butter, corn syrup, and baking soda.  So, it was like getting a peanut butter-chocolate chip- oatmeal raisin- butterscotch cookie all in one.  Amazing.  Sweet…without being too sweet.  I gave Cathy a piece of mine and she thought it was mighty tasty herself.  LOVED this cookie.  I sort of want to make some for myself.  Just…yummy.  And as a runner, my love of peanut butter and that salty-sweet combo really was matched with every bite of this cookie.  YUM!

Bittersweet Gluten Free Bakery's Half Loaf of Banana Walnut Bread
Bittersweet Gluten Free Bakery’s Half Loaf of Banana Walnut Bread

The rest of the goods sat in the car all day and then made the long flight home from Minneapolis.  That following morning, being that we had no groceries in the fridge, meant that I’d simply slice up some of the half loaf of Gluten-Free Banana Walnut Bread ($4.25).  First of all…bananas…walnuts…bread.  This was going to have to be good.  When I opened up the bag that the loaf was in, I could smell the mouth-watering aroma of the banana bread…almost as if I had just pulled it out of my oven.  I sliced off two 1/2 inch slices, one for me and one for my roommate.  I threw each one into the microwave to warm it up slightly, then kept it simple with a light schmear of Smart Balance and a drizzle of honey.

A slice of BitterSweet Gluten Free Bakery's Banana Walnut Bread
A slice of BitterSweet Gluten Free Bakery’s Banana Walnut Bread

Bread…perfection.  Honestly.  This bread is super moist, despite being a couple of days old at this point.  We had it this morning for breakfast as well.  Still moist.  And we’re polishing off the loaf tomorrow morning for breakfast.  I just checked…it is still moist.  Soft.  Delicious.  Filled with banana flavor that is only enhanced by the addition of the walnuts.  This bread is awesome.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  Gluten-free bread, when done right, tastes just like any other bread.  Regular bread.  The kind anyone could eat.  If you put this loaf down in front of someone who could eat any type of bread…and had them eat it…they wouldn’t know the difference.  I promise you that.  This is one of my favorite gluten-free breads I have ever eaten.  Just…super yummy!!  Super flavorful.  Super moist.  And super banana-y.  This bread is love.

And, last night for dinner, while it was still fresh…Cathy and I decided that we would give that lemon bar a taste at dessert.  So, after we ate our gluten-free grilled  avocado and vegan cheese sandwiches, I got out the plastic container that held the lemon bar and pulled it open.  And that…was where I realized that the flight and the car ride weren’t too kind to the lemon bar.  The icing came off with the lid.  Whoops.  No matter…I could fix that.

BitterSweet Gluten Free Bakery's Lemon Bar
BitterSweet Gluten Free Bakery’s Lemon Bar

The Gluten-Free Lemon Bar ($3.05) is actually a light, airy lemon cake.  I sliced it in half and placed one piece on a plate.  I then scraped the icing off the lid and began to attempt to reapply it the best I could to the lemon bar itself.  This was…a slight success.  You work with what you have.  I took the first slice out to Cathy and she immediately dove in.  Before I even had icing on mine, she was raving about it.  So, this was happy news to me.  I put my slice on a plate, reapplied the icing to the top and went out to enjoy.

Cathy was so right.  The light cakey base made this unlike the other gluten-free lemon bars that I have had in the past.  I absolutely loved this take on this treat.  The cake  itself was very light, not heavy and dense.  The icing…wow…that icing.  Just like the icing on Cathy’s Lemon Zinger cookie, the frosting was simply a combination of powdered sugar and lemon juice.  As for the light, delicious cake…that was simply eggs, sugar canola oil, white rice flour, potato starch flour, tapioca flour, lemon juice, lemon peel and xanthan gum.  I loved how different this lemon bar was compared to the others I have tried from other gluten-free bakeries.  The ingredients all worked well together well and baked up lemon perfection.  Happiness in every tart lemon bite.

I was so happy with everything that I got from BitterSweet Gluten Free Bakery that it has been decided that next time I’m in the Twin Cities…I immediately head to BitterSweet Gluten Free Bakery and buy items to feast on the entire visit.  This must happen.  This WILL happen.

As for you, BitterSweet Bakery…you are amazing and completely delicious.  Just the four items that my roommate and I purchased and enjoyed were enough to make me want to continue to go back for more…as often as possible…every time I’m in Minnesota.  BitterSweet Gluten Free Bakery…this out-of-towner can’t wait to get back into town to visit you again.

Your food is love.  And I’m head-over-heels for you!

BitterSweet Gluten Free Bakery's Lemon Bar (with reassembled icing of awesome!)
BitterSweet Gluten Free Bakery’s Lemon Bar (with reassembled icing of awesome!)

A salad for me, but mostly pizza and pasta for gluten-free at Pinstripes

Pinstripes, Edina, Minnesota
Pinstripes, Edina, Minnesota

Restaurant: Pinstripes, Edina, Minnesota

So…if you’re anything like me…you’ve never heard of Pinstripes.  That was certainly the case up until my first full day in Minneapolis.  I was bustling around town with my roomie and my aunt, having hit up the race expo that morning for my half marathon the next day.  So, with that one detail (and the major thing we needed to accomplish) taken care of…we were just hitting up interesting places along the way until we needed to head home for a bit and figure out where to grab gluten-free pizza for race night tradition.

While we were trying to decide on where to grab a quick, and semi-light bite for lunch, my aunt, Jan, mentioned a really cool place she and her friend stopped into for drinks one time.  Pinstripes.  And we weren’t far from it at all.

I was totally game for that…and…they were listed on Find Me Gluten Free with one positive 5-star review.  Granted, it’s only one review, but at least it had one on there, yes?  So…we decided that after we stopped by the Apple Store to get some of Jan’s stuff sorted, we would grab something to eat at Pinstripes.

Now…I had no idea what Pinstripes was until I stepped inside.  It looks like a great Italian/American bistro, with wine bottles and decor to match.  However, throughout this amazing set-up, you see a variety of hand painted bowling balls.  Bowling balls?  You betcha.  And here’s why…this bistro not only houses a 40,000 square foot dining and entertainment area, but also features bowling alleys in the back, a year-round outdoor patio and fire pit, as well as party rooms that can accommodate 20-600 people.  A little bit of everything and it still looks and feels upscale and classy.  They term this “sophisticated fun” and let me tell you…they have the setting all right.  It felt welcoming, engaging, fun, and still upscale all at once.  Amazing.

As our menus were being grabbed by our hostess, I asked for a gluten-free one and she was happy to accommodate.  We were shown to a booth where we all settled in, opting to stick with water at lunch as we’d already treated ourselves to coffee that morning.  I eagerly picked up my little slip of a menu and started to gaze down the items listed.

And found myself…sort of underwhelmed.

Pizzas…pastas…and meat-based large plates are what were listed.  I didn’t want pasta when I was going to be having pizza that night, and that fact also negated me getting pizza as well.  As tempting as it was to get dessert for lunch (the gluten-free menu does offer gelato, sorbet, a Frangelico chocolate cake or a limoncello creme brulee, I needed some actual sustenance as it was the day before a half marathon.  The better I ate, the better my body would be the following morning.

When our waitress arrived with our drink orders, Cathy and Jan knew what they wanted and I knew that the regular menu had salads listed.  So, I inquired over the Caprese Salad, which by all intents and purposes should have been gluten-free…and…it was.  Salads just didn’t make it over to the gluten-free menu, I suppose.  With that information, which, the waitress did go back and double check that everything was safe for me to eat before we ordered, we all placed our orders.

Jan and Cathy both decided to order off the small plates menu.  Jan decided on the Italian Meatballs ($11.00), which came wrapped up in a sandwich roll with a side salad as well.  Cathy, having a craving, went with the Fried Calamari, which came with a marinara for dipping ($12.00).  As for me, with pasta and pizza out of the question, I opted for the Caprese Salad ($13.00).  Orders were in and we were left to converse, which we did.  After all, it had been close to a year since the last time I had visited.

After a little while, our food arrived at the table.  Jan’s small plate definitely looked like a full meal, and after a little bit, she opted to forgo the bread the Italian Meatballs were tucked into and eat the protein alone.  She raved about them.  Loved them.  Cathy was really happy with her calamari, loving that they included tentacles and everything.  Creepy…I know.  But she loves it and doesn’t get it very often.

My Caprese Salad was a work of art, I think.  It was a gorgeous presentation that included slices of red and yellow heirloom tomatoes, capped with thick slices of fresh mozzarella cheese, adorned with three fresh leave of basil and all lightly drizzled with a balsamic reduction.  It not only looked light and refreshing…it was light and refreshing.  Just the type of lunch I needed to have.  I sliced through the layers of tomato and cheese and took up a bite…and it all just worked.  The cheese was creamy and melt-in-your-mouth delicious.  The tomato was ripe, juicy and sweet, the perfect counterpart to the mozzarella cheese.  And that balsamic reduction really tied everything together.  And it was a light drizzle so that the salad wasn’t swimming in it.  It was like an accessory to the main dish.  Even better were the bites that included the leaves of basil, which I would pick and choose sparingly.  Amazing.  A salad is a simple thing, but when done right, it can blow any entree out of the water.  This…was salad greatness.

Pinstripes was a fun, upscale, yet family-friendly restaurant that I’d love to try again.  Maybe I’d even do my night-before-the-race gluten-free pizza there.  Because…honestly…all three of us really enjoyed our food.  It was fresh, perfectly seasoned, and and made up to perfection.  The little plates were definitely for big appetites regardless, but we had burned off breakfast by then and still had plenty of time before we hit up the pizza location of choice, which we hadn’t decided on quite yet.  After we ate, we went to peek in at the people bowling in the lanes in the back.  And then went to see the patio and check out the lakefront as well.  It was the perfect afternoon…with a perfect meal to tie us over.

If you happen to be near a Pinstripes, I encourage you to check it out sometime for a lunch or dinner.  They are a little pricey, but the quality of the food reflects the service, the preparation, and the care they put into each plate.  I loved this place.  Locations are sort of regional, though, with one location in Minnesota and three in Illinois.

Totally worth the stop though.  I’d go back again in a heartbeat.

Pinstripes' Caprese Salad
Pinstripes’ Caprese Salad

Simply Shari makes a fabulous gluten-free Almond Shortbread Cookie

Simply Shari's Gluten-Free & Fabulous Almond Shortbread Bite Size Cookies
Simply Shari’s Gluten-Free & Fabulous Almond Shortbread Bite Size Cookies

Product: Simply Shari’s Gluten-Free & Fabulous Almond Shortbread Bite Size Cookies – $4.29+

It has become quite evident as of late that shortbread is totally in.  Totally.  Why?  Because I have been eating a lot of it recently.  Oh, nothing is better than that slight crunch, that buttery flavor, that sweetness that sort of hits on the light side of savory.  Yeah…shortbread is pretty amazing.

Gluten-free shortbread can go either way.  I’ve had some that have impressed, and I have had some that have fallen short of all expectations.  I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I picked up a bag of Simply Shari’s Gluten-Free & Fabulous Almond Shortbread Bite Size Cookies…but it was a risk I was, apparently, willing to take.  I had previously only tried one other product from Simply Shari…a frozen pizza…and I fell in love with it.  I think that was where my confidence in this product came.  That and the fact that I really am a cookie monster…and where there are gluten-free cookies…you will find me.

Simply Shari’s Gluten-Free & Fabulous Almond Shortbread Bite Size Cookies are a simple blend of recognizable and common ingredients: sugar, unsalted butter, rice flour, brown rice flour, sweet rice flour, tapioca flour, cornstarch, potato starch, xanthum gum, water, baking soda, and modified corn starch.  Basic, key ingredients to any shortbread, yes?  Even better…the products that Simply Shari’s produces are all made in a dedicated gluten-free facility.  It definitely takes some of the guess work out of what you are eating…even if it is simply a cookie (or three).

Given that these are almond shortbread cookies, be assured that almonds are a prevalent and important part of the flavor and texture in this flavor of shortbread.  This particular flavor has almond slivers throughout the crumbly, buttery cookies.  And that…honestly…is what sets it apart from other gluten-free shortbread.

Let me first start by saying…this is, hands down, one of the better gluten-free shortbread cookies out on the market.  The almond flavor really meshes well with the buttery, sweet flavor of the shortbread itself.  In fact, these are so reminiscent of homemade shortbread cookies.  Honestly.  The sweetness is just the right amount to make it feel like a dessert.  It definitely cleanses the palate.  And it has that wonderful shortbread crunch, coupled with the taste and smell of almonds…it’s right at shortbread perfection.

And…even better…is that these cookies aren’t loaded down with calories and fat either.  When it comes to other gluten-free treats on the market, these will definitely fit into your diet plan, for sure.  There might be a little guilt, but nothing a good yoga session won’t burn off.

A serving of these cookies is 3 bite-size cookies.  Yep.  Three.  These cookies are about the width of a quarter and stand about a half an inch tall.  So, they are just the right amount of dessert at the right time.  Three cookies will only set you back 120 calories and 6 grams of fat.  That’s not bad for a cookie, as I said before.  Additionally, you will take in only 80 mg sodium, 1 gram of protein, and a scant (for cookies) 7 grams of sugar.  Loving it?  I am.

I’m so very impressed with these cookies that I’m looking forward to opening my next bag of them…which just happens to be the Lemon Shortbread variety.  Lemon + Shortbread…two of my most favorite dessert flavors in one?  With Simply Shari’s…I bet they are beyond simply delicious.

As for Simply Shari’s Gluten-Free & Fabulous Almond Shortbread Bite Size Cookies…delicious doesn’t even begin to cover the amazing flavor, texture, and lightness that are all pulled together in this fine product.  Spectacular snacking and sweet treat potential.  And I’m loving every serving of them.

Gluten-free Chocolate O’s sandwich cookies get the Schär treatment

Schär Gluten-Free Chocolate O's
Schär Gluten-Free Chocolate O’s

Product: Schär Gluten-Free Chocolate O’s – $4.89+

Oreos.

It has been forever since I’ve had an Oreo.  Going gluten-free takes simple pleasures like a simple sandwich cookie and sometimes makes them…untouchable.  But…not with sandwich cookies.  Quite a few brands are actually out on the market.  Some are better than others.  But…that’s to be expected.

Another treat to myself when I was last in Minneapolis, Minnesota was these Gluten-Free Chocolate O’s, Schär’s version of the gluten-free sandwich cookie.  In every sense of the world…an Oreo.  Chocolate cookies with a vanilla cream center sandwiched between them.  I saw the box while at Cub Foods, and again, at the time, had yet to see that in my area.  Since then, they have been incorporated into at least a few of the natural foods stores that I frequent.  But, I’m just a little backed up on my cookie obsession in my gluten-free pantry.  I’m getting there!  So, naturally, since these were not available, at the time, in my region, I purchased them and carried them home with me.

Mmmm…sandwich cookies!

And, after all this time, they were next up in my gluten-free cookie backlog of epic proportions!  So, two days ago, I broke into this box and pulled out a serving of Schär’s Gluten-Free Chocolate O’s.  That, by the way, is 3 cookies.  Yes…THREE cookies.  Don’t get too excited though.  These are definitely not the size nor stuffed portion you would find in Oreo cookies.  These cookies are about the size of, or maybe slightly bigger (very slightly) than a quarter.  Yep.  One bite delight.  But, that’s the good part…they are at least delicious!

The chocolate biscuits that make up the cookie portion of these little bite-size cookies are a rich and have that crisp softness to it.  Sound contradictory?  Well, you won’t break your teeth biting into these, but they aren’t soft either.  They have just the right amount of crispness to them to make them taste like a cookie.  And the center…so delicious.  Not too sweet, but so reminiscent of the Oreo stuffing (just less of it), that it wowed me.  I was in sheer heaven, looking for a glass of almond milk to dunk these in for good measure.  Yes…they are truly amazing.  I loved them.   The chocolate is rich, but balanced by the cream in the middle.  Just delicious bite-sized cookie goodness.

While these cookies are wheat-free and gluten-free, they do contain milk and soy.  So be aware!  The chocolate cookie is simply made from sugar, palm oil, corn flour, cocoa powder, soy flour, milk powder, potato starch.  The filling is a blend of palm oil, milk powder, dextrose, sugar, lactose, soy lecithin, and natural vanilla flavor.

The three cookies in your serving will only set you back 170 calories and 8 grams of fat.  Not too shabby for sandwich cookies, I think.  The sodium is low (135 mg).  As for sugars, for sandwich cookies, 11 grams per serving isn’t bad.  And each serving does offer 3 grams of protein.  Keep in mind…these are sandwich cookies you are eating.  Indulge a little.  You can have broccoli tomorrow.

While these are not at the top of my list for gluten-free sandwich cookies, these were very delicious and I have enjoyed indulging my inner cookie monster with a these dunkable, sweet, bite-size treats.  Would I buy them again…sure.  Would they be the first ones I reached for?  Nope.  But they are definitely worth the money.

Wholesome Cravings Gluten-Free Caramel Apple Protein Snack Cake brings unwholesome taste and unwelcome texture

Wholesome Cravings Gluten-Free Caramel Apple Protein Snack Cake Mix
Wholesome Cravings Gluten-Free Caramel Apple Protein Snack Cake Mix

Product: Wholesome Cravings Gluten-Free Caramel Apple Protein Snack Cake Mix – $4.99+

Thank you, Wholesome Cravings, for teaching me an important lesson when it comes to new products.

What lesson might that be?

No matter what, always try the new product out while at home.  Do NOT think that just because it smells amazing while baking that it will taste good too.

That was my mistake I made when I baked up this Gluten-Free Caramel Apple Protein Cake from Wholesome Cravings this past weekend to use for breakfast on gym mornings this work week.  Streamline.  Make something that can be eaten throughout the week.  Perfect.  And, hello, cake…for breakfast.  Sounds like a dream come true.  And an apple cake at that.  I love apples!

I also loved how easy this cake was to make.  Simply mix together 3 eggs, 1/4 cup of zero calorie sweetener, and 1 cup of unsweetened applesauce, then add the mix to the other ingredients, make sure they are blended well, and pour into a cake pan.  Bake as directed at 330°F.

Simple.  Efficient.  And, I wasn’t lying when I said that this cake smelled fantastic as it baked.

But…scents can apparently be very deceiving.  I know this now.

Wholesome Cravings Gluten-Free Caramel Apple Protein Snack Cake
Wholesome Cravings Gluten-Free Caramel Apple Protein Snack Cake

The following morning, I sliced two pieces of this cake and packed it into a container to take to the office for my roommate and I to enjoy after working out at the gym.  We had a great workout…and when we were done, we were both famished and ready for some food.  We headed over to the office and I went into the kitchen to peel some blood oranges and throw a slice of the cake into the microwave to warm up for our cake-for-breakfast pleasure.  It still smelled amazing.

I took my roomie her slice first, and then went to warm mine up.  As I walked back toward my desk, I stopped by hers and asked what she thought of the cake.  She gave me an unenthusiastic, “Eh, it’s okay…I mean…I’ll eat it.”  That is never a good sign.  I thought perhaps she was exaggerating.  So, I went and settled in at my desk and took my first bite of the cake.

First of all, the texture is rather spongy.  Yep.  Spongy.  I really didn’t like that at all.  It really didn’t sit well on my taste buds.  I mean, food needs to have a pleasing texture, so when it feels like you are gnawing on a sponge, something is definitely wrong.  The flavor…chemically.  The apple tasted fake and the caramel flavor was rather nonexistent.  I was not impressed.  In fact, I messaged my roommate and told her that I would eat this slice because I was hungry, but when I got home, the rest of the cake was going into the garbage.  I didn’t like it at all.  I think I disliked it more than her because I didn’t even want to eat it.  The things exercise induced hunger drive you to.

Totally unimpressed.

Totally disgusted by it too.  It certainly doesn’t make me want to try any of the other cake offerings from Wholesome Cravings.

In case you like fake apple-flavored spongy cakes, though, the nutritional breakdown is this.

A serving is 1/7 of the cake.  Who cuts a cake into 7 pieces?  I made it 8.  The calories per serving once prepared (and done in 8 servings) are 118 calories per slice and only 4 grams of fat.  That’s not bad for a cake, right?  Right.  Too bad it tastes so awful.  Also of note, each slice of cake serves up a healthy dose of protein, in this case, 12 grams.  And you also get 2 grams of fiber.  This cake made of 100% whole grains, contains zero trans fats, has no preservatives or artificial sweeteners, and is 100% all natural.

But none of that can save it from the fact that it is just…bizarre, in flavor and in texture.  I was not a fan.  And I really don’t recommend anyone wasting their money on this product.  I’m more than a little upset that I did…because I feel cheated out of what should have been a delicious breakfast cake.  Perfect, with the protein content, for post workout eats.  But…instead…I got one of the more disgusting gluten-free products I have tried yet.

Disappointed?  You have no idea.

A slice of Wholesome Cravings Gluten-Free Caramel Apple Protein Snack Cake
A slice of Wholesome Cravings Gluten-Free Caramel Apple Protein Snack Cake

Cookies taken from great to super with Annie May’s Sweet Café’s Super Cookies

Annie May's Sweet Café Gluten-Free Super Cookie
Annie May’s Sweet Café Gluten-Free Super Cookie

Product: Annie May’s Sweet Café Gluten-Free Super Cookie – $3.99

I’ve stated it in the past two posts I have done on cookies from Annie May’s Sweet Café in Louisville, Kentucky.  Nothing will ever, ever top their allergen-free chocolate chip cookies.  For real.  They are, by far, the best and most amazing gluten-free cookies that I have ever had the pleasure of sinking my teeth into.  For real.  They don’t get much better than this.  Buttery, smooth, soft, chewy, sweet…perfection.

Could it get any better?

Oh…believe it or not…it can.

How, you might ask?

By making a chocolate dipped cookie sandwich out of them, of course.  I mean, when something is already as amazing as a single allergen-free chocolate chip cookie…take two of them, place some amazing icing between them and dip half of the cookie in dark chocolate.  What emerges is what Annie May’s likes to call their Super Cookies.

Super sinfully satisfying, that’s for damn sure.  Be prepared to share, because these cookies are epic big and epic filling.  But worth every calorie-filled sweet, indulgent bite.

For real.

I have been eying the Super Cookies for a long while now.  Especially after the amazing yumminess of the chocolate chip cookies on their own.  How could two with filling and chocolate be bad?  It can’t.  It can only elevate the already amazing flavor of the cookies.  I can guarantee that.

After a long run this morning, my roomie and I decided to head to Annie May’s for our usual Saturday breakfast.  But, as an added bonus, we picked up one of the Super Cookies after I stared longingly at it the entire time we were there.  Hey…my sweet tooth was acting up.  I can’t help it.  We agreed that we would get one cookie to split between us as dessert tonight, so we got it wrapped up to go and headed out for a day full of grocery shopping and hitting up a few stores in search of some items we have been searching for.

Then, after dinner tonight, I excitedly pulled out the Gluten-Free Super Cookie (this is not vegan) from Annie May’s Sweet Café and carved it in half.  One half went to Cathy…the other half was mine.

One bite.  One sinful bite and I was transported back to the days my sister and I would fill up on The Great American Cookie Company’s Double Doozy cookies.  Except…these were far tastier…far more delicious…far more indulgent…far more…EVERYTHING.  Take what you know about chocolate chip cookie sandwiches and multiply it to the nth degree.  Because that is how amazing the Super Cookies are from Annie May’s Sweet Café.  I wanted to savor each bite.  I tried.  But the sweetness kept luring me in for another bite.  Then another.  And before I knew it…I was left only with crumbs and the lingering taste on my palate.

Yeah…my favorite gluten-free chocolate chip cookie elevated to the next level.  Not a thing wrong in the world with that.  Not one thing.

Just bliss.  Sweet, satisfying, sinful bliss.  Creamy, chocolatey, cookie goodness…bite-for-bite.  Entice your inner cookie monster today.  Head to Annie May’s Sweet Café and get one for yourself.  Super delicious Super Cookies from the super bakery…Annie May’s!

Something this sinfully sweet never tasted so good.