Go Picnic Black Bean Dip & Plantain Chips another winning on-the-go meal

Go Picnic Black Bean Dip & Crispy Plantain Chips
Go Picnic Black Bean Dip & Crispy Plantain Chips

Product: Go Picnic Black Bean Dip and Crispy Plantain Chips – $5.99+

Fast food, shmast food.

Being a gluten-free vegetarian means a stop-off at any regional fast food joint is just not an option.  I mean, I got sick for 5 days after eating Chik-Fil-A’s supposedly gluten-free waffle fries this past summer.  Let me tell you, I have yet to go back.

So, when someone like me – someone who is constantly on the go and on the road – needs something to eat…what then?  Well…thanks to Go Picnic my options just got a little more exciting and much healthier than any fast food stop would have been.

Now, I’ve blogged about Go Picnic before.  I am a HUGE fan of the gluten-free Hummus + Crackers meal, which is usually my on-the-road poison.  However, when I attended the Gluten-Free Expo in Indianapolis, Indiana a month or so back, I dropped by the Go Picnic booth and raved to them about how much I appreciated their gluten-free boxes (especially the ones that are also vegetarian/vegan).  It just so happened that they had some of their brand new on-the-go meals at the expo…and if I bought them that day, I’d be saving some money, for sure.

So, my roomie and I made a decision to purchase six meals.  She got two of the Sunbutter + Crackers plus the Turkey Pepperoni + Cheese boxes.  As for me, I went with two of my favorite…the Hummus + Crackers and one of the brand new offerings…the Black Bean Dip & Plantain Chips box.  I was pretty stoked about that one as it was new, vegan, and gluten-free.  And it just sounded…different and interesting.

Well, the perfect opportunity to break out the Go Picnic meals came this past weekend as my roomie and I were venturing out to Ohio to visit our friend Jenn.  Our plan…to see The Monkees on Saturday night and then on Sunday morning…I was off to the races.  Literally.  I was running in the Hot Chocolate 15K in Columbus.  So, we left work at noon on Friday and went to run a few local errands before settling in for the 4 hour car trip up to Columbus, Ohio.  With the errands out of the way…it was lunch time.  And for me, lunch was the Go Picnic Black Bean Dip & Plantain Chips on-the-go meal.

After opening the box, I settled on starting with the star of the actual box…the Go Picnic Garden Black Bean Dip with the Sweet Perry Orchards Crispy Roasted Plantain Chips.  I thought, at first, that this was an interesting combination and wasn’t quite sure how it would work in the end.  However, the combination was actually quite delicious.  What I loved was how the sweetness of the dried and roasted plantains made into chips complimented the rich, sweetness of the black bean dip.  The Go Picnic Garden Black Bean Dip is amazing.  A creamy, somewhat sweet and spicy blend of black beans, green chilies, jalapeno peppers, spices, garlic, and onion made for a fantastic base to dip the chips in.  And Sweet Perry Orchards Crispy Roasted Plantain Chips made a fantastic alternative to crackers or corn chips.  Honestly.  They provided a hint of sweetness as well.  They were crispy, crunchy, and just the perfect compliment to the rich dip.  I was so happy with this flavor combination.  The Go Picnic Garden Black Bean Dip is only 40 calories of this box’s total 360 calories and provides 2 grams of protein.  Let’s hear it for the protein magic of beans!  And the Sweet Perry Orchards Crispy Roasted Plantain Chips also only contain 70 calories in the provided 0.5 ounce bag.  It also only sets you back 3 grams in fat.  They are also very low in sodium (50 mg).

My next taste from the box that I chose to devour was the Sweet Perry Orchards Ginger Zip Fruit and Nut Mix.  This was a surprisingly delicious mix of peanuts coated in ginger, dried cranberries, and banana chips.  The ginger was the part that concerned me, as often it can be a little too strong and too much.  Thankfully, pairing it with lightly salted peanut, banana chips, and the tart sweetness of the dried cranberries, the blend worked.  It worked fantastically, actually.  I was digging down into the little 0.75 ounce bag that came in the Go Picnic box in hopes of finding more of the mix in there.  But, alas, when I said devour…that’s what I did.  This one surprised me and it was a nice surprise.  The ginger was just enough to add a bit of heat to a few of the bites, but it didn’t overwhelm the mix.  It was nicely balanced.  And the little snack bag you receive in the box is only 90 calories of the entire 360 in the box itself.  And the rest of the nutrition information is nice as well.  The little pack provides 5 grams of fat and 2 grams of protein.  Not bad for a fruit and nut mix.  Not bad at all.  Oh, and the sugar content on this one isn’t bad either.  Most “trail mixes” are laden with sugar.  Thanks to the ginger, this one only has 10 grams of sugar.  Other trail mixes would be at least twice that per serving.

My next choice to eat from the box was the Sweet Perry Orchards Power Play Tasty Seed Blend.  Now, one of my favorite parts of the Go Picnic Hummus + Crackers box is the packet of dry-roasted edamame.  Well, this is a different twist on that pack.  Sweet Perry Orchards Power Play Tasty Seed Blend is a mix of dry roasted edamame, pumpkin seeds, and watermelon kernels.  Sound weird?  It’s not.  In fact, what this little 0.75 ounce pack provides is a heap of protein and healthy fats.  Yep.  While salt is added, it’s not overdone either.  The seeds really stand up for themselves and pack a bunch of flavor in each bite.  The blend is interesting and different.  I mean, who can say they’ve really enjoyed a watermelon kernel before?  Well…truth is…I did.  And the pumpkin seeds and edamame were also fantastic.  Sweet Perry Orchards Power Play Tasty Seed Blend provides 110 calories of the entire 360 calories in the box and 5 grams of fat.  This blend also provides 8 grams of protein.  That’s awesome.  As for the sodium…which can be a real sticking point, this bag only has 70 mg of sodium in it.  Yep.  It really is a healthy choice.

And finally…dessert.  Because that’s what we look forward to at the end of a meal.  Even lunch on-the-go.  The Go Picnic Black Bean Dip & Plantain Chips box comes with dessert of dark chocolate.  Oh yes…almost like it was made for me.  Dark, delicious chocolate.  The little piece is Professor Zim Zams Extraordinary Sweets Dark Chocolate with Orange.  It’s a little circle of orange-flavored dark chocolate goodness.  Now, sometimes the orange and chocolate combination works for me.  Sometimes…it doesn’t.  In this case, the bittersweet dark chocolate meshes so well with the tart orange.  It’s a seamless marriage of flavor to be honest.  And it was a decadent enough bite to satisfy that need for dessert or something sweet to cleanse the palate.  Professor Zim Zams Extraordinary Sweets Dark Chocolate with Orange is only 0.35 ounces of rich chocolate flavor…but it’s just enough.  This little disk of sweetness provides the Go Picnic box with the remaining 50 calories.  It contributes 4 grams of fat into the serving and 2 grams of protein.  And it is good to the last little bite.  Because…I admit…I savored the chocolate.  I love a good, sweet ending.

In the end, Go Picnic provided a hearty on-the-go meal in a little box that really satisfied every taste.  Sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.  It meant that I felt satisfied at the end of the box.  And with only 360 calories, it’s a nutritious meal that you can take with you on the road, on a hike, on a picnic, or just for something easy on a busy day at the office.  This little box also provided me with 13 complete grams of protein at the end of it, which is fantastic as I am a gluten-free, vegetarian athlete (distance runner!) so making sure I get enough protein in my diet can be a huge challenge.  This satisfied.

I haven’t been able to find this actual box listed yet on Go Picnic’s Web site.  But it is one of the new offerings from the company.  I say…give it a bit of time and it will be there.  As for me…I hope to find this one in the stores soon because I loved every bite of it.  If you can find it…pick it up and try it.  I promise…you’ll be as hooked as me.  Go Picnic…you won me and my taste buds over again with simple flavors and nutritious snacks.

Go Picnic Black Bean Dip & Crispy Plantain Chips
Go Picnic Black Bean Dip & Crispy Plantain Chips

Wildly enthusiastic over Wild Garden Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus

Wild Garden Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus
Wild Garden Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus

Product: Wild Garden Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus – $3.49+

Mmmmm…one of life’s greatest treats is the healthy, delicious, creamy treat of really good hummus.  Honestly.  What’s better to top off a cracker or dip fresh vegetables in?  It’s a far healthier choice than fat-laden creamy dips.  And what’s even better is when you find one that really has a great flavor to it and a creamy texture to match.

That’s what Wild Garden does best when it comes to their hummus.  While I’ve often had the Traditional variety (in those handy Go Picnic meals), this was the first time I’ve ever had the Sun-Dried Tomato variety of hummus.  Needless to say…I wasn’t disappointed at all.

The Wild Garden Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus has an orange-red hue to it…not the standard tan that you normally associate with hummus.  Its ingredients are all-natural with no preservatives  and no trans-fats.  The varieties (they have six of them) are all vegan and gluten-free.  This particular variety is made simply with a blend of chickpeas, sesame paste, sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, sea salt, natural spices, and citric acid.  Anything on there you don’t recognize?  I know what each and every one of those ingredients are.  Love that.

The Sun-Dried Tomato hummus has a nice, rich tomato flavor to it.  It doesn’t take away from the fact that it is a hummus, but the change in the flavor is a welcome one.

A tetra deli pack of Wild Garden Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus
A tetra deli pack of Wild Garden Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus

I actually used a pack of the Wild Garden Sun-Dried Tomato as a base for my gluten-free pizza tonight.  With the other flavors I was adding, I felt it would work better than a tomato sauce.  While I could have done a white pizza, I totally thought hummus would provide not only a good base for the ingredients, but also a nice protein hit.

I absolutely love how it worked with my caramelized onion, roasted red peppers, slices of tomato, and goat cheese.  The flavors just blended perfectly together.  That was another great thing about Wild Garden Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus – it didn’t detract from the other parts of the pizza.  It complimented without overpowering.  And that…is a great thing.

This dip is crazy-good.  Very creamy and rich.  And Wild Garden makes this specific flavor in little on-the-go pouches that means you can take them with you anywhere.  I happened to pick up a box of these while out at my natural food store awhile back and I’m finally finding some ways to use them.  Of course…my gluten-free crackers and veggies are always available as well.

I’m quite happy with Wild Garden and the products that it puts out.  Their hummus is killer.  Seriously.  I could eat it all and not feel bad about it.  The little on-the-go pouches have only 63 calories and 3 grams of fat.  The best part…the whopping 6 grams of protein that each pouch provides.  As an athlete who is a vegetarian…protein is very, very important to my diet and I seek out ways to get the amount I need.  This is a fantastic, not to mention, tasty option!

If you love hummus, I encourage you to try the varieties offered by Wild Garden.  Check your local grocery store or natural foods store.  Even my non-hummus-loving roommate can’t get enough.  I’d definitely call that a win!

My take on a Mediterranean Pizza  (using Wild Garden Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus as a base)
My take on a Mediterranean Pizza (using Wild Garden Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus as a base)

Rolling out the spice with Guy Fieri’s 7 Pepper Salsa

Guy Fieri 7 Pepper Salsa
Guy Fieri 7 Pepper Salsa

Product: Guy Fieri 7 Pepper Salsa – $5.99+

When the jar says, “Burn Baby Burn” on it…I’m expecting this salsa to pack some heat.  Heat and spice.  That’s what I love about a good salsa.  And with one by television chef Guy Fieri, I figured this one would be “off the chain” as he would say.

And…for the most part…it was.

Guy Fieri’s 7 Pepper Salsa is a blend of seven different peppers ranging in level of heat.  These include red bell peppers, yellow bell peppers, guajillo chile peppers, habenero peppers, chile de arbol peppers, chilaca peppers, and black pepper.  Add to that the cooling and mild flavors of tomatoes, onions, lime, garlic, cilantro, and some seasoning, and what you have…is a jar of 7 Pepper Salsa.

Please note…a few of the peppers used are sweet…not spicy.  Too much spice is not nice.  You want heat, not burn.  I don’t know about you, but despite being a spicy food lover, I still want to be able to taste the food.  I want more than the spices on my palate.  Everything has to mix and blend.  No sense burning off my tastebuds with the first bite.  How can I enjoy food then?

So…here is the run down on Guy Fieri’s 7 Pepper Salsa:

Is it spicy?  Yeah.  A little.  I think Guy is definitely trying to cater to your average Joe Schmoe here as far as the promised heat.  It seems rather tame.  No burning going on.  No disco inferno in my mouth.  A little mild heat is what I got. No breathing fire.  None of that madness.  Needless to say…I was a bit disappointed by the heat level or lack thereof.

In the lineup of Guy’s salsas, this one is supposed to be the hottest.  But I feel that Guy played it safe here with the heat level.  So, if you heat freaks out there are looking for something to set your mouth aflame…look elsewhere.  This is not the salsa for you.  It has the potential to be so much hotter without being stupid hot…but this falls just short of that.  Sadly enough.

As for the rest of it…the salsa itself is thick and chunky.  I like that in a salsa.  I don’t want something that is runny and will fall off the tortilla chip or dribble out of my taco.  The various chunks are definitely full of the fragmented chile peppers.  Don’t let the inclusion of habanero peppers scare you away.  This didn’t singe, scorch, or burn the roof off my mouth.  There was no real level of heat that made me rush to grab something to tame it.  Nope.  This was more of a medium heat variety to me.  The flavor is amazing…rich, chunky, and packed with that meaty salsa flavor and texture that I want.  But the heat fizzled in the end.

So, while the spice level was a bit of a let-down, let me say this…for a salsa, this is exactly the texture I would be looking for.  I don’t mind a milder spice when it comes to these thicker salsas.  And I give props to Food Network pawn, Guy Fieri, for bringing his love of spice, salsa, and sauces to the general public.  I would totally buy this again.  It made a great topper for my Gluten-Free and Vegan Tostada pizza tonight.  And now I’m ready to try it out with some tortilla chips as well.

If it’s heat you seek…the burn promised with this salsa will not satisfy you.  But if you are searching for a medium-spice, chunky salsa with huge flavor…this will definitely satisfy.

Guy Fieri 7 Pepper Salsa atop a gluten-free & vegan Tostada Pizza
Guy Fieri 7 Pepper Salsa atop a gluten-free & vegan Tostada Pizza

Wild about Wild Garden Traditional Hummus

Wild Garden Traditional Hummus
Wild Garden Traditional Hummus

Product: Wild Garden Traditional Hummus – $3.49+

This is one of the best inventions I have ever come across when it comes to simple, on-the-go food stuffs.  Hummus-To-Go squeeze packs from Wild Garden.  I spotted these at my local natural food store on a shelf and knew I had to try them.  So, I bought them.  And, then despite the plethora of gluten-free crackers in my pantry and closet…they have just sat there.

Rest assured though…I know this is a good product.  You know those amazing Go Picnic meals?  Well, the hummus and cracker variety of Go Picnic includes a Hummus-To-Go pack by Wild Garden.  And I devour my Go Picnic meals on a regular basis as I am usually on the go and this is far cheaper and less of a hassle for me to eat on the road than trying to find somewhere that can cater to my dietary needs.

So, while I have used the Wild Garden Hummus packs before…this was the first time I have used it in a way that is not the traditional way to eat hummus.

You see…I have gluten-free pizza crusts.  Are you following me yet?  Well…these gluten-free pizza crusts were sitting in my pantry and nearing their expiration date.  So, tonight after a morning of hard cardio at the gym, a day at the office, and then an evening 5 mile run, I was starving.  I also had received a beautiful pizza stone for my birthday last month from my dearest friend Judi, and I was ready to test it out.  So, after sprinkling it with some corn meal and setting it in the oven to heat up…I got busy on the pizza.

Not just any pizza though.  A take on my mom’s famous Tostada Pizza that I grew up eating.  Of course, in the years that have passed since I lived at home, I have not only become a vegetarian, but I also had to begin eating gluten-free.  So…this meant a few changes had to be made to the original recipe.  Instead of ground meat and taco seasoning, I opted for Trader Joe’s vegan and gluten-free soy chorizo.  This eliminated the meat portion of the dish and I didn’t need to invest in taco seasoning either.  The other change I made was that instead of refried beans (not all are gluten-free!), I used Wild Garden Traditional Hummus instead.  The rest of the recipe remained the same as how my mom made it.

So…while the pizza stone heated and seasoned in the oven, I took a gluten-free pizza crust (Rustic Crust, if you are curious) and spread one packet of the Wild Garden Traditional Hummus across the top of it.  Then, I topped it with some of the Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo and some green chilies.  Once the stone was warm, the pizza crust was place don top of it and cooked for about 8 minutes.  The edges were turning a beautiful golden color when I removed it.  The next thing I did was add some chopped onion, some tomato, and my vegan cheddar shreds to the top.  The stone went back into the oven for 2 minutes.  Once more out of the oven to finish it off with some organic spring mix lettuce that I chopped up.  One more minute in the oven and…viola!  A fantastic Tostada Pizza…vegan and gluten-free style!

Of course…the entire point of this blog was not to give a recipe, but share my thoughts on the Wild Garden Traditional Hummus.  Well…what can I say?  It worked beautifully in place of the refried beans.  Honestly.  It was the right creamy texture…but definitely a lot healthier and a lot tastier, in my opinion.  It served as the perfect base for the pizza (the sauce, if you will).  Paired with the rest of the ingredients, it all just meshed really well.  I was quite pleased with it as I wasn’t sure how baking it on a pizza crust was going to work out.

A tetra deli pack of Wild Garden Traditional Hummus
A tetra deli pack of Wild Garden Traditional Hummus

Wild Garden Traditional Hummus is simply made from chickpeas, sesame paste, water, sea salt, natural spices, and citric acid.   It is naturally gluten-free, vegan, kosher, and low carb.  This brand of hummus has no GMO’s, no preservatives, no hydrogenated oils, and no trans fatty acids.  In addition, they are shelf-stable until opened and so good for you.  Rich and creamy with a mild flavor, these hummus varieties won’t take away from the food you are pairing with them.

I found the texture and taste to be preferable to the refried beans in the original recipe.  It paired well with the spicy hit from the soy chorizo and green chilies.  And the vegetables were a shoe-in for paring with hummus.  Not only are Wild Garden Hummus varieties great for dipping foods or topping off crackers…but it looks like they make a fantastic base for a pizza as well.

If you are wild about hummus and want to taste one that is packed with flavor and loaded without all the preservatives and additives, Wild Garden Hummus is for you.  I found the Traditional to be a fantastic, mild, creamy flavor that left me feeling satisfied and raving over the taste.  Wild Garden offers six flavors of their hummus, although not are all available in the to-go packs.

Whether eating at home, needing a snack, or on-the-go…pack some Wild Garden Traditional Hummus.  Pack in the protein, the nutrients, and the goodness of hummus done right.

And eat it in whatever way you can dream up…imagine…or crave.

Gluten-Free and Vegan Tostada Pizza (using Wild Garden Traditional Hummus as a base)
Gluten-Free and Vegan Tostada Pizza (using Wild Garden Traditional Hummus as a base)