French Meadow Bakery & Cafe a fantastic spot to grab a bite to eat in Minneapolis

French Meadow Bakery & Cafe, Minneapolis, Minnesota
French Meadow Bakery & Cafe, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Restaurant: French Meadow Bakery & Cafe, Minneapolis, Minnesota

You’ve probably seen some of their goods in your grocers freezer.  I know I have.  They have quite a great selection of gluten-free frozen goodies that I have yet to try yet…although I have actually had one of their products.  Back in October 2011, just as I was starting to get the hang of this gluten-free stuff…I bought a box of 4 of their Gluten-Free Yellow Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting.  I was lukewarm on the review…being that I dislike frosting and that it had been frozen prior to consumption.

Of course, I had forgotten all of that up until a moment ago when I began this blog.

Here’s how we wound up here.  I was gearing up for a trip to Minnesota and Cathy, the infamous roomie, had said she really wanted to go back to The Bad Waitress to eat while we were there.  However, as she was scouting through recent reviews, it turns out The Bad Waitress had been cited for health concerns…so we nixed that immediately.  This meant searching a little bit for somewhere new to eat.

Enter the savior of the moment, my aunt Jan, who had been messaging me back and forth on Facebook leading up to my trip.  She said some colleagues at the hospital (she’s a surgical nurse) she works in mentioned a great place called French Meadow Bakery & Cafe.  She must have been talking about my impending visit and the fact that I am a gluten-free vegetarian, because they mentioned to her the plethora of gluten-free options available…not to mention the gobs of vegetarian offerings.  She mentioned this in the message.  I looked it up.  I sent the link to Cathy.  We approved.  And Jan said we would definitely go there one day while I was in town.

That day just happened to be Monday.  Jan had the day off from work.  The cold weather had given way to a beautiful, sunny 78 degree day.  And we were out and about in Minneapolis, doing a bit of shopping and whatever else we felt like.  Our only plan…be outside and soak up the sun and gorgeous weather.  With that agenda in mind, we did a lot of our indoor stuff (like hitting bookstores and the like) that morning.  And when lunchtime rolled around, we headed into Minneapolis and down to Lyndale Avenue South, hoping to grab a bite to eat at the French Meadow Bakery & Cafe.  We arrived, parking around the corner on the street to the brilliant yellow building.  A short walk later and we were entering the premises…greeted by towering black boards that held the menu, written in chalk.  It was fantastic and…overwhelming…but awesome.

We gawked for a long moment at the boards, figuring out what we wanted to eat for lunch.  Although there are still breakfast items as well…including a gluten-free waffle which was…SO tempting.  We got it sorted just in time, because we were up next to order.  Jan went first, ordering the California Wrap with a side of the Mixed Greens ($9.50).  Cathy went for the Incredible Grilled Cheese Sandwich with a side of the Chips and Salsa ($7.50).  Actually, I was expecting her to be a bit more adventurous than that when we ate here.  That’s so…typical.  As for me, I opted for the Roasted Vegetable Sandwich on Gluten-Free Multigrain Bread with a side of the Mixed Greens ($9.00).  I was given the option, I feel I should mention, of either gluten-free white, multigrain, or cinnamon raisin bread.  I HAD A CHOICE!!  That made me so stupidly happy.

We were given our table placard, a big card of Edith Piaf, and we went to seek out some dining outside on the side patio.  We spotted a table in the sun, but this made Cathy frown.  So while Cathy and I made a run to the bathroom, Jan shifted us to a table with an umbrella and put Cathy out of the sunlight.  She and I were shaded but still able to soak in the vitamin D.  A happy medium.

We were able to sit around and talk while waiting on food.  While I had been inside, I snagged a little chipotle hot sauce to add to my sandwich.  I mean…we all know I like thing spicy…and with my race run…I could now spice things up as much as I liked or dared.  WOOT!

A few moments later and our plates were being delivered.  Everything looked fantastic.  All of our sandwiches were loaded with ingredients (all fresh and organic, mind you!) and busting at the crusts.  I eagerly snapped a picture of my Roasted Vegetable Sandwich with my mixed greens, then sliced that sandwich in half, added some hot sauce and took a bite.

The Roasted Vegetable Sandwich is just what it sounds like.  Roasted vegetables.  But what all do you get?  Let me fill you in.  This sandwich is packed full of goodness.  Starting with beautifully roasted portabella mushrooms, roasted garlic, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, organic spinach, and then topped off with some chevre goat cheese.  Oh yeah…it smelled divine.  But even better was the taste.

This has got to be one of the best sandwiches I have ever eaten.  Honestly.  The roasted vegetables only elevate the flavor, and the portabella mushrooms were done to perfection.  They weren’t soggy and wet and making my bread to sponge up the fluid and fall apart.  On the contrary, all of these vegetables meshed so well with the caramelized onion and the strong flavor of (my favorite) goat cheese.  I was in sandwich heaven.  And it took every bit of willpower in me not to just devour it on contact.  I savored.  I even ate the salad of mixed greens, which were lightly dressed in some sort of vinaigrette.  Very tasty and the perfect accent to my sandwich, honestly.

This was certainly one of my favorite places in Minneapolis that I have eaten so far.  The food was awesome.  All of us were so happy with our orders and ate what we wanted.  If we hadn’t been so stuffed, I probably would have opted for one of their gluten-free dessert options.  Maybe next time.  What am I saying?  DEFINITELY next time.

With lunch polished off, the three of us continued our day out by taking the light rail down to Nicolette Mall and walking some of our food off.  The flavor of that sandwich still resonates with me.  I hope to get back to French Meadow Bakery & Cafe the next time I hit up the Twin Cities.  It is certainly worth the visit and the trip.  The food and service is out of this world.  And you can tell they do take great pride in their variety and numerous options for different dietary needs.  I know that I totally appreciate it.

Dear French Meadow Bakery…I LOVE YOU.  I promise to come back soon.  Promise!

French Meadow Bakery & Cafe's Gluten-Free Roasted Vegetable Sandwich with Mixed Greens
French Meadow Bakery & Cafe’s Gluten-Free Roasted Vegetable Sandwich with Mixed Greens

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

San-J finds balance between sweet and spicy with gluten-free Sweet & Tangy Sauce

San-J Gluten-Free Sweet & Tangy Sauce
San-J Gluten-Free Sweet & Tangy Sauce

Product: San-J Gluten-Free Sweet & Tangy Sauce – $3.49+

When it comes to sauces that I can trust, I often turn to San-J.  San-J has an entire line of gluten-free sauces with an Asian flair.  And, since it is nearly impossible for me to eat any sort of Asian food outside of the stuff I prepare…it’s nice to know there is a variety of sauces and marinades out there than can help enhance my own homemade dishes.

Well, awhile back I picked up the San-J Gluten-Free Sweet & Tangy Sauce at the grocery store.  I think I had some gluten-free and vegan nuggets in my freezer that I had hoped to use it with.  And then…as it sat in my pantry, I ate the nuggets with bar-b-que sauce instead.  D’oh!  And then…as the expiration date grew closer and closer, my gluten-free and vegan chickenless nuggets were no longer being carried by my grocery store.  So, I was out of luck.  And now…I needed a new plan.  I needed to come up with something to use this sauce with.

And I was drawing a blank.

Until…it occurred to me.

TOFU.

HA HA!  Yes.  I’ve become well versed in the various ways of properly making tofu.  Whether it’s marinading it to grill it, stir-fry it, or just playing around with it…I have been quite successful in incorporating tofu into various dishes.  So…tonight…I was determined to use this sauce.  I don’t like things to expire without at least having been tried.

That being said, this past weekend I made sure we stopped in at Whole Foods for some Twin Oaks Tofu…because it’s the best…so that I could make something with this sauce.  I decided that it would be best to go ahead and do it up tonight.  It’s a Sunday night, which means I had time to mess around with dinner and not feel so rushed, as I often do on weeknights.  So…I decided to make Crispy Tofu Nuggets and serve it with the San-J Sweet & Tangy Sauce as a dipping sauce.

Perfect.

San-J’s Gluten-Free Sweet & Tangy Sauce is a throwback to a Polynesian sauce.  It is a blend of honey, fruit juice, gluten-free Tamari, and some spices, which give it that sweet yet spicy flavor that is just awesome.  It looks like a thin bar-b-que sauce.  And…back when I used to eat meat, the Polynesian sauce was my sauce of choice at Chick-Fil-A when it came to a dipping sauce.  So, it only makes sense that this would be a good pairing for crispy tofu nuggets.  It even tastes like a sweeter bar-b-que sauce.  It was really tasty.  Now I’m trying to come up with other dishes to use it on.  Perhaps I will have some ideas come to me this week as I play around with some homemade veggie burger varieties.

What I loved about this sauce was that it wasn’t too much spice or too much sweet.  It’s the right level of both.  So that it doesn’t detract from whatever you use to dip into it.  San-J is so good about this when it comes to their sauces.  They make the sauce work for the ingredient.  The ingredient still gets to shine and is not outdone by the sauce.  It’s a nice quality of their sauces.  This one, in particular, really stands out.

San-J’s Gluten-Free Sweet & Tangy Sauce serves up 50 calories per 2 tablespoon serving.  This sauce is fat free!  In addition, the Sweet & Tangy Sauce has only 320 mg sodium and 11 grams of sugar.  Given that much of this comes from the ingredients itself…and is not added in…I’m impressed.  Not a bad showing for a sauce.  Especially a sauce of this nature.

So, if regular bar-b-que sauce has you longing for something more, or perhaps you have a dish that needs a great marinade or dipping sauce…I highly recommend the San-J Gluten-Free Sweet & Tangy Sauce.  It is full of flavor and really tastes amazing.  I can’t wait to pair it with something else and use it all over again.  Perhaps some spring rolls should be next on the menu…

Crisp Tofu Nuggets with San-J Gluten-Free Sweet & Tangy Sauce
Crisp Tofu Nuggets with San-J Gluten-Free Sweet & Tangy Sauce

No passport needed to have a safe and delicious meal at Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant

Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant - New Albany, Indiana
Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant – New Albany, Indiana

Restaurant: Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant – New Albany, Indiana

Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant is definitely one of the little gems tucked away here in New Albany, Indiana.  I can say that for sure now that I have spent some time there and had one of the most amazing dining experiences to date.  And this all happened…by dumb luck and pure chance.

Allow me to explain…

You see, March 13th is my roommate’s birthday.  As part of her birthday gift, I told her to pick a restaurant she always wanted to try out…not to worry about if I could eat anything there or not…because I could bring a protein bar and then eat something at home.  So many times we don’t get to restaurants where she wants to eat because of my dietary restrictions.  I’m done with that.  I will forever have a back-up plan.  It’s not fair…but apparently, it doesn’t really bother her because even with those set rules laid out…she contacted a few places to find out if there were items on the menu that I could eat as well.  Part of me thinks she doesn’t want to be seen with someone munching on a protein bar while she eats dinner.  No need for embarrassment…that’s just how it works at times.  If anything, I would be the one making the “scene” if you will, and I’m not ashamed.  No one else should be either.

Her original choice was a gastropub here in New Albany called The New Albany Exchange.  She had looked at the menu online and spotted a couple of salads that might work for me.  She was eying their fish and chips, of course.  I got on their Facebook page and sent a message to them about what a gluten-free vegetarian might eat.  This was two days before I was actually set to dine there.  And not a word was ever heard back.  The day before we were to dine there, my roommate sent an e-mail inquiring about food options for me…and never heard back.  Then, just before we left the office for the day on Friday, the dinner day, she called and no one answered.  Needless to say…she was the one who nixed eating there.  I told her we could still go…as part of the roommate birthday agreement she was to choose somewhere she wanted to eat.  She simply shrugged and said she would look at other options.

Her next choice was the Bank Street Brewhouse.  But upon browsing the menu, she said nothing really excited her.

And then, after a quick Trip Adviser search…she came across Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant.  It was getting amazing ratings on trip adviser and after a glance at the menu, she figured there would be options for me.  Plus, she took it as a good sign that the restaurant has a nicely laid out and beautiful Web site, as well as a menu that, upon first glance, had her mouth watering.

Decision made.  Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant for dinner it was…

After I went for my training run that day, I changed back into proper dining attire, jeans and my concert t-shirt from the Bon Jovi show the night before (LOL!), and we took a short stroll from the gym to Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant, located on the corner of Market Street and Bank Street in New Albany.  When I first moved here, this was Jimmy’s Music Store…which has moved to a different location up the way.  A few restaurants have been in and out…but when Habana Blues opened in 2010…it had some staying power.

And yes…this restaurant has been here since 2010 and I didn’t visit there to eat until now.  I am so ashamed.

Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant is a New Albany’s only restaurant to offer Cuban food.  Yes…Cuban food.  I love seeing something different on these streets in this area.  This upscale Cuban cuisine is authentically prepared and presented in tapas style, that is small plates, or a variety of appetizer dishes.  You can either get for yourself or share among the table.  Tapas can be prepared warm or cold, and the menu at Habana Blues offers both types.  The entire point of tapas is to encourage more talk and socializing at the table so that the diner isn’t as focused on the food…but more the company.  What a great concept.

We entered the brightly colored restaurant and were seated immediately by the hostess.  She placed menus and a drink menu down for each of us to peruse while we waited on our server.  I was expecting a dark-haired, olive complexioned waitress…but we got the blond-haired, blue-eyed Wes…who was simply AMAZING!  He had this cute little country twang in his voice and his eyes lit up when he spoke about the food and options.  We went ahead and told him that I was a gluten-free vegetarian.  He pointed out some vegetarian courses that are highly regarded there and said he would go ahead and check on the gluten-free part of each one.

He was gone for a good while, and I could hear him consulting with others over the entire menu.  And when he returned, he had options for me written down and began to present them…along with any changes that could be made to the dish to make it safe for me to eat.  Fantastic.  He left for a few more minutes to give me some time to think about it…and after a little bit of discussion, my roommate and I came to a decision on the food we wanted to eat that night.

Habana Blues' Guacamole con Chicharritas
Habana Blues’ Guacamole con Chicharritas

First up…we had heard such fantastic things about their Guacamole con Chicharritas ($8.25), that we decided we would split that.  Yes…it is exactly what it sounds like.  Guacamole.  But instead of the Mexican version where you eat the blend of avocados, tomatoes, cilantro, jalapeños, lime juice and red onion with tortilla chips, Habana Blues serves their guacamole with house prepared plaintain chips.  And yes…they are gluten-free.

There is just something so amazing about a fresh guacamole.  When the avocado is ripe and sweet and blends so well with the mild tomatoes, the bite of onion, the spice of the peppers and cilantro…and the acidity from the lime juice…when executed just right…magic happens.  This was a happy plate for me.  The plantain chips were vibrant and crunchy and looked amazing standing out next to the bright, fresh, green color of the guacamole.  It reminded me a lot of the guacamole that I make at home.  In fact, all the ingredients are the same, save I use serrano peppers in mine, as a preference of my roommate.  But this…this was lively and fresh and not too spicy.  Perfect for a started.  The plantain chips added a nice hint of sweetness to each bite.  They were sliced thin and fried to perfection.  I love a good crunch with my chip and this definitely provided it.  Honestly…this selection didn’t last long at all.

Cathy had her two plates she wanted to try ready to order.  Her final decision was that this time while we dined here, she would try the Chimichurri Steak ($8.50), which is a grilled skirt steak that is served with a chimichurri sauce (she has been intrigued by what chimichurri was since we started watching a lot of cooking shows and a lot of chefs make it) and a side of sweet potato fries, which come with a smoked honey butter to dip them into.  She ordered her steak medium, and it came out perfectly cooked.  She enjoyed every bite of it, raving about the spiciness of the chimichurri and the delicious flavor of the smoked honey butter for the sweet potato fries.

Her other plate choice was the Queso Fundido ($5.75), which is a bowl of melted Spanish Tetilla cheese, topped off with crispy chorizo and served with bread.  She loves cheese.  She loves bread.  It was no surprise when she loved this.  The nature of the cheese made it one that paired well with the bread.  By the end of the meal, it was no longer stretchy and gooey, but she could cut it up and place it over the grilled slices of bread and still enjoy every bite.  Which she did.

The birthday girl was pleased.

Habana Blues' Champinoes al Ajillo (no bread)
Habana Blues’ Champinoes al Ajillo (no bread)

But enough about the carnivore in the group…what about my options?

My first plate of choice was the highly recommended Champinoes al Ajillo ($6.50).  Normally this dish would be served with bread, but they said they would just leave that off.  No big deal.  Awesome.  The Championoes al Ajillo are cremini mushrooms that are sauteed in olive oil with garlic, red pepper flakes, and some lemon juice.  This came out in a little bowl for me…and it looked awesome.  I can see how this would be a great topper for bread…but in my mind I was already creating a pasta dish around it (using gluten-free pasta of course).  The mushrooms were sauteed to perfection.  The olive oil bath they were sitting in had just the right amount of heat from the red pepper.  And the garlic…wow…the garlic was awesome.  I gave a squirt of the provided lemon to the top of the dish and…bam.  It was delicious.  I didn’t even miss the bread.  On its own, this dish was a definite stand out!

The other vegetarian and gluten-free dish that I opted for was the first one Wes recommended, the Pincho de Vegetales ($7.50), also known as vegetable skewers.  No adjustments had to be made to this dish.  I got what any other patron of the restaurant would have received had they ordered this.  It’s a simple skewer that is packed full of grilled yellow squash, bell peppers, red onions, zucchini, and cremini mushrooms that have all been basted with mojo sauce.  On the side, these are served with this super, fantastic chili mayonnaise.  OH. MY. GOD.  This was amazing.  Each bite was a different burst of flavor.  The vegetables were done to perfection.  They were grilled just perfectly.  And that chili mayonnaise was killer.  I mean…it just livened up each bite of those vegetables.  I told my roommate not to judge me as I scooped out the last of the mayo onto my fork and ate it without any vegetables, as I had clearly already devoured those.

Habana Blues' Pincho de Vegetales
Habana Blues’ Pincho de Vegetales

We were full.  Oh…small plates for sure…but we were full.  However, we both felt that as we were out for a special occasion, that being Cathy’s birthday, we should have dessert.  We took a peek at the menu and her eyes immediately fixed on the Churros con Chocolate ($4.75), or Spanish donuts served with a chocolate ganache.  Come on.  It involved the words donuts and chocolate.  Of course she was going to be there.

In most cases, the flan is a safe choice for me, but I inquired with Wes regarding the status of gluten-free options.  He said he believed that the flan would be safe for me, however, he was going to double check with the chef.  He came back a few moments later and said that the chef indeed indicated the flan was gluten-free.  Had it not been, they offer some ice creams I would have been more than happy trying.

But with the chef’s assurance, I waffled between the two varieties of flan offered, vanilla and coconut, finally choosing to order the Flan de Vanilla ($4.99), which is a traditional Cuban vanilla custard.  I had the flan at a Mexican restaurant in Indianapolis after I ran a half marathon…and it was okay.  Not heavenly.  But okay.  So, I was a bit nervous about this one.  And when it came out, sadly, it was adorned with a cookie, which should have been left out.  I pointed that out to Wes, and he quickly removed the plate from in front of me, apologizing and saying he had told them to leave the cookie off…and took it away.  After a small wait, a new plate arrived in front of me with a fresh flan, no whipped cream (thank goodness!), no cookie, only a tiny drizzle of strawberry syrup, and adorned with a blue (yes, a blue!) cherry.  Soon after, Cathy’s churros arrived and we were diving into dessert deliciousness.

The first thing I did was eat that blue cherry.  It intrigued me.  And it…tasted blue.  It didn’t taste like a normal cherry would.  It just tasted…blue.  There is no better description for it.  Trust me.  As for the flan itself…rich, creamy, and melt-in-your-mouth good.  Oh. My. God.  I should have taken a lactase before diving into a custard…something that I noted after I was well through most of it.  But…this…was so amazing and good I didn’t even stop then to take one.  I mean…it just slid down my throat.  The vanilla flavor was amazing and perfect.  Not overkill.  It didn’t take away from the creamy texture or the richness of the dessert.  I felt every spoonful was pure heaven.  This…was the perfect way to wrap up the meal.

As for Cathy’s churros…she enjoyed them to the fullest.  And, shocked me by having chocolate ganache left over.  I would have devoured that in a heartbeat.  Silly, roomie.  Wasting chocolate.

We were both so impressed with not just the service and attention to my dietary restrictions that Habana Blues gave us…but the food was out-of-this-world.  I can’t stop raving about it.  I’m already making plans to go back and eat again.  Maybe try a few other suggestions that were recommended for a gluten-free vegetarian.  Maybe get the same meal again, sans the dessert.  Or…keep the dessert.  Or…try one of the ice creams.  Order a take-out of their Paella de Vegetales to take home and split with the roommate on a busy night when cooking just doesn’t seem feasible.  Oh…I have plans alright.  I have plans to return.  And it will be in the very near future.  Maybe next week.

If you are in the New Albany, Indiana region…or even in Louisville, Kentucky, as they have a branch open on Hurstbourne Lane, give some Cuban tapas a try.  Stop in at Habana Blues.  Feel welcome.  Talk.  Enjoy.  Dine.  Feast.  Make your palate happy.  And…don’t spend a fortune doing it.  At this restaurant, the food is spectacular and the prices are affordable.  And that…is a winning combination!

Habana Blues' Flan de Vanilla
Habana Blues’ Flan de Vanilla

Gluten-Free in Disney World a walk in the park

Gluten-Free Dining at Disney World
Gluten-Free Dining at Disney World

For the first time in my life…I was excited to be heading to Disney.  Yes…I’m in my thirties.  No…I’ve never been to a Disney park.  No Disneyland.  No Disney World.  My family could never afford to go when I was growing up…so that was one thing many of my friends had done that I hadn’t yet achieved.  It was certainly on my bucket list, and from what I had been told…I’d enjoy it more now that I was older anyway.

That being the case…the perfect opportunity to go there arose with the Disney Princess Half Marathon.  Originally, I was going to run this one in 2012, but I didn’t have the money for it.  So, the moment registration opened for the 2013 Disney Princess Half Marathon, you better believe I was registered and ready to run.  The way I figured it…if I went ahead and registered, I couldn’t talk myself out of it due to financial reasons.  No looking back.  I signed up the minute registration was opened…and I was locked in.

Disney World.

Trust me…I do not travel without doing some research as to what I might be able to eat.  Thankfully, Disney World is pretty much the #1 go-to vacation spot if you have food allergies…especially Celiac or gluten intolerance.  Trust me.  I was expecting to have to eat many a Go Picnic meal while on vacation, but I only had to break into one of the little packs I brought…and that was at the Atlanta airport on the way home.  That definitely speaks very highly of the park and of Disney.

So…here I go with yet another combination blog about my amazing dining experiences while at Disney World.  I wanted to be particularly safe in my food choices being that I was there to run a half marathon and being glutenized while on vacation sucks enough…but being glutenized before running 13.1 miles sucks even more.

Safety was key…and I never felt as if I were in any danger of becoming sick at any dining establishment where my roommate and I chose to dine.

I suppose the best place to start…is at the beginning of the trip…

Sanaa - Animal Kingdom Lodge
Sanaa – Animal Kingdom Lodge

Restaurant: Sanaa – The Animal Kingdom Lodge

What better way to experience Animal Kingdom, our first park of choice, than by eating at the Animal Kingdom Lodge that night for dinner.  What really added to the ambiance of this particular dining attraction was that you could literally gaze out of the window and see exotic animals roaming around the Sunset Savanna as you eat.  The cuisine is African-inspired with Indian flavored.  Mmmm…I totally dig Indian food.

My roommate and I arrived about 15 minutes ahead of our reservation.  As we checked in, the hostess said that she saw that there was one person in the party with a gluten allergy.  I nodded and said that it was me.  She handed us our little pager thingy and we took a seat to wait for our table.  Despite arriving early, we were taken back as soon as something opened up…which was just before our reservation time anyway.

I loved the dimly lit quarters in which diners were seated.  All around were decorations from Africa, really adding to the

Hazelnut Rooibos Tea
Hazelnut Rooibos Tea

amazing feel of the restaurant itself.  And, once seated, our waiter came over to the table to get our drink order and talk about some specials.  I went ahead and ordered a hot tea to go with my dinner, settling on the Hazelnut Rooibos tea ($6.29) with some water.

As he was going over some of the favorites on the menu, he noted that I had the gluten-free menu in front of me and said that a chef would be out to talk to me specifically about the menu, but that if anything on the regular menu looked like it had gluten in it…it was not on mine.  Just as he was starting to go over the gluten-free bread option should I want to do the Indian-style bread service, which means I get poppadoms instead of the traditional bread, the chef, Jake, came out to speak to me about the menu.

Chef Jake really did a lot to put my mind to ease.  Not only did he promise to watch my ticket carefully as it was prepared, he also went over the poppadoms that I could use for the Indian-style bread service, should I choose to do that.  He went over which sauces/chutneys would be okay with that (they were listed on the menu) and said that I could put my mind to ease…as they would take good care of me.  I thanked him for his time and he returned to the kitchen, leaving us once again in the capable hands of our server, Chris.

With a little bit of time to decide on what we wanted, my roommate and I placed our orders.  Cathy decided on the Chicken Tandoori Pilaf ($17.99).  As for me…the Sanaa Vegetarian Sampler ($14.99) sounded awesome.  I was able to choose two of the five vegetarian dishes and have them served with basmati rice.  I was able to choose between Paneer Tikka; Stewed Lentils; Spicy Peas, Chickpeas, and Potatoes; Mixed Seasonal Greens and Tomatoes; Vindaloo-style Vegetables.  I knew for certain I wanted the Vindaloo-style Vegetables, so the difficult part was deciding what the other choice would be.  After a little back and forth, I chose the Stewed Lentils as my second option.

Chris went to put in the order and I left my fate in the hands of Chef Jake and his knowledgeable kitchen staff.

Sanaa's Vegetarian Sampler - Stewed Lentils, Basmati Rice, Vindaloo-style Vegetables
Sanaa’s Vegetarian Sampler – Stewed Lentils, Basmati Rice, Vindaloo-style Vegetables

Food arrived at our table and I couldn’t wait to try it out.  It looked fantastic.  Three bowls were placed before me.  The middle one held the basmati rice, the one on the left had my tewed lentils, and the one on the right had the vindaloo-style vegetables.  It smelled fantastic and I couldn’t wait to dig in.

The basmati rice was perfect with each of these dishes…for one thing.  And the rice was cooked to perfection and lightly flavored, so as not to take away from the dishes that accompanied it.  I started with the Vindaloo-style Vegetables.  This dish included a blend of okra, tomatoes, green beans, cauliflower and onion.  It wasn’t packed with flavor…as I was expecting a bit of a spice to accompany it.  But, that being said, it wasn’t lacking either.  I thought this was going to be the highlight of my sampler…but it was slightly too mild for me and definitely not as full of flavor as I anticipated.  That being said, it did taste good.  I just was familiar with my last vegetarian vindaloo experience where I had a lot of heat in each bite.  This wasn’t at all bad…it just wasn’t as fantastic as I had built it up in my mind.

The stewed lentils, however, are another story.  These golden lentils were not only packed with protein (me and my protein!), but also seasoned to perfection.  They were creamy and had a hint of spice to them that I enjoyed.  I dished some rice into them and it was a perfect combination when mixed together.  I loved the texture and taste of these lentils.  Nothing grainy…nothing too bland.  Perfection.  These thrilled me.

Despite being full, Chris talked my roommate and I into dessert.  As we were both rather full, we decided to split something.  And the dessert menu at Sanaa was not lacking as far as gluten-free options went.  As we were splitting, Cathy and I chose to try our waiter’s suggestion, the Banana Kulfi Sundae ($5.49), which he described as a banana split without the banana.  Well, I was totally sold!

Sanaa's Banana Kulfi Sundae
Sanaa’s Banana Kulfi Sundae

The dessert was brilliant.  A cube of banana flavored kulfi (which is sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk that is flavored) is served with a wedge of dried pineapple, warm chocolate sauce, strawberries, a dollop of whipped cream, and spiced cashews.  Kulfi is a bit denser than ice cream and actually takes longer to melt.  Pretty awesome.  And the dessert…was fantastic.  Amazingly tasty.  I especially loved the strawberries that came on the side.  I tried to mix as many of the components together for a bite and it was magical.  I suggest to anyone dining at Sanaa they save room for dessert and give the Banana Kulfi Sundae a try.  Trust me…it was worth the extra money and indulgence.

Sanaa was certainly a good way to kick off my week at Disney World.  I was put to total ease from the moment I checked in and never felt like I needed to second guess any of the food placed in front of me.  Total win.

Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant - Downtown Disney
Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant – Downtown Disney

Restaurant: Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant – Downtown Disney

Well, by now, you know how it is when a pub is in the vicinity with my roommate and I.  We definitely love our pub grub.  She definitely always has more of a selection because being gluten-free at a pub is definitely not easy and being a vegetarian on top of it…even more difficult.  But, I still love the atmosphere of Irish pubs and we chose this one specifically because of how it was rated with gluten-free fare.  Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant is located in the bustling, busy, crowded Downtown Disney.

Let me preface this by saying that of all the places I ate at Disney World…this one was my least favorite.  There were options on the menu for me…many dishes being labeled as having a gluten-free version of it (and yes…this included the fish and chips).  So, that was very calming for me as far as menu choices went.  The thing was…beyond a salad, there wasn’t too much for a vegetarian to have…aside from the Raglan Risotto…which I almost settled on.  The server said I could also enjoy the Portobello Beauty Sandwich without the bread.  But…with all that being said…I decided to stick with something I could pretty much guarantee wouldn’t make me sick.

Let it be known, Cathy cannot enter a pub without getting the Fish and Chips ($19.00) which she always gets with a drink, and since they had Magners ($7.00 – and it’s gluten-free) on tap…she was definitely one happy girl.

I decided to stick with water for my beverage and finally settled on one of the salads on the menu that was vegetarian and gluten-free.  My choice…the Vroom Salad ($12.00) with a helping of some gluten-free carbs…a side of their fries (or chips as they say in Ireland) ($5.00), which would be prepared gluten-free for me.

Dinner arrived at our table.  My roommate loved how her fish and chips were served traditionally…wrapped in paper and poured out onto her plate.  She loved the tartar sauce that came with it.  She did enjoy the fish, but the chips lacked.

As for me…the Vroom Salad intrigued me right away.  The Vroom Salad is made up of gluten-free quinoa grains with cider vinegar marinated

Raglan Road's Vroom Salad with a side of Chips
Raglan Road’s Vroom Salad with a side of Chips

beans, sweet and sour carrots, watercress, and served with a honey mustard dressing.  It was presented in the center of a plate in a pile, which I totally destroyed with my fork to scatter things about the plate and mix with the dressing.

As far as a salad goes…this one was actually one of the better offerings I have had at a pub.  The addition of the quinoa was a fantastic protein-packed addition to the usual greens and vegetables that I get stuck with at such establishments.  The flavors from the beans and carrots only heightened the flavor of the salad.  I felt they were a little heavy-handed with the watercress, but it added a nice green throughout the salad, once I mixed it up.  The watercress was the most unwieldy part of this salad.  It was the best part of this meal.

That being said…my roommate and I were more than disappointed with the chips.  These fries were mostly soggy and lacking that firm crunch I love on the outside of fries.  I don’t get to eat fries out much, so I was looking forward to these.  And they were a huge disappointment in the end.  I ate more of them than I intended, but as I was paying for them…it seemed like I had to put some effort into it.

Would I go back to Raglan Road on a follow-up visit?  Not likely.  Which is too bad…because I do love pubs.

No dessert…instead my roommate and I hit up Downtown Disney Babycakes NYC bakery for a gluten-free cookie sandwich.  My favorite thing I ate all night.  But I’ll get to Downtown Disney’s brach of Babcakes NYC soon enough…

Sunshine Seasons - Epcot
Sunshine Seasons – Epcot

Restaurant: Sunset Seasons – Epcot

With all the food options available at Epcot…there was very little around the park that I could actually eat.  Today was the day before the race and I needed to be very sure about the food I consumed.  One bit of cross contamination could be disastrous for me and my race that I paid so much to run and trained hard for in the cold weather of Indiana.

My roommate already knew what she was going to consume at the park – Lamb Schwarma Platter ($12.99) from Tangierine Cafe in Morocco.  That plate of food came complete with her protein of choice (lamb) as well as a side of hummus, tabouleh and a Tangierine couscous salad with fresh Moroccan bread.  We had met up with our friend Indy, who was also running in the race, and she ventured over to Japan for some sushi.  This only left me to find food.  And while I hoped for some gluten-free vegetarian sushi, I was informed that only the Tariyaki Salmon was gluten-free in Japan.  No good.  I left feeling down.  Looked like it was back to the original plan for me that day…grabbing something at Sunshine Seasons in the food court at Epcot.

I was told they were famous for their soups…but it was hot outside and I wasn’t feeling soup.  I checked out some of the grab-and-go options…including the sushi…but not gluten-free.  Of course.  *sigh*  With no other options, it looked like I was having yet another salad.  We spoke to the person at the salad bar to find out if the Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese Salad ($7.89) was gluten-free.  She wasn’t certain, so she went to check with the chef.  He said that as long as there was no cracker served with it…it would be okay for me.

I wasn’t feeling it…but I was hungry.  So…that’s what I ordered.

Sunshine Season's Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese Salad
Sunshine Season’s Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese Salad

The salad was rather small, comparatively speaking.  It was basically roasted red and yellow beets, served over lightly dressed spring greens.  Generous heaps of goat cheese were served with it.  And, on top, cinnamon-roasted pecans to add a bit of texture and flavor.  The entire salad was dressed with a mild honey-sherry dressing.

It was…okay.  I liked the nuts and goat cheese the best.  The beets were, actually, a good choice for the day before the race.  But there was nothing really great about this meal.  Grab-and-go is not my favorite thing as it is…and food courts are…not always the best option as a go-to for me.  But…I had to eat.  While all the flavors worked together…this just wasn’t what I really wanted that day, so it paled in comparison to anything else I could have sought out.  The problem was…this was all there was.  So, while the salad was good…it wasn’t amazing.  And I probably wouldn’t order it again even if it were the only option once again.

Meh.

Damn you Epcot and your lack of gluten-free, vegetarian ethnic food throughout your showcases.

Riverside Mill Food Court
Riverside Mill Food Court

Restaurant: Riverside Mill Food Court – Port Orleans Riverside

This…was not a planned food stop on this trip.  Not at all.  But…here’s the thing.  I am an athlete through and through and I have my traditions and my superstitious.  And here is the thing…before every big or long race I run…I love to have gluten-free pizza.  And if pizza is not available, gluten-free pasta will do in a pinch.  But it’s that gluten-free pizza that seems to power me through the following morning.  And after spending the day at Epcot and only consuming a small salad…I needed something that would give me some energy for the early morning race (the race kicks off at 5:30 a.m.).

Panic mode.  None of the restaurants that have gluten-free pizza were in range of the resort.  My roomie and I were staying at Port Orleans Riverside.  And we had made it back over that way when I said I needed to have my gluten-free pizza/pasta tradition.  Honestly…this isn’t something I take lightly.  But with nothing close…I wasn’t sure how to accomplish this.

My roommate went to speak to the concierge on duty.  His name was Will and he was fantastic.  He said he knew how difficult it was to be a Celiac and said he would see what he could do to help.  He picked up the phone and called down to the food court in the resort to see if there was something they could help me with.  He was told to send us down and have us ask to see as chef.  We thanked him for his help and meandered that way.

Chef Will (from Columbus, Ohio) came out to see us and we explained that I was running in the half marathon the next morning and have a tradition of either gluten-free pizza or pasta prior to the race.  He said he could prepare either one of them for me.  So, my roommate and I each decided to get one of the gluten-free pizzas.  She could have actually gotten anything from the food court, but I think she was just trying to keep it simple.  Chef Will went to go prepare two gluten-free cheese pizzas for us (individual size) and I was forever grateful and already feeling better about the run in the morning.  He went over to the kitchen at Boatwright’s Dining Hall to actually cook the pizzas.  Then, after they were ready, he walked them out himself.

Riverside Mills Food Court Gluten-Free Cheese Pizza
Riverside Mills Food Court Gluten-Free Cheese Pizza

Pre-race, individual size, gluten-free cheese pizza ($8.99) made specifically because I had a dietary need…from the Riverside Mill Food Court.  I was impressed.

The pizza was…not one of the better ones I’ve had.  The usual rice cracker crust with pasta sauce and some cheese…warmed through and put onto plates.  Nothing special.  Nothing fantastic.  Nothing that made it stand out from some of the other places I have dined on gluten-free pizza.  But at the moment…nothing could have tasted better.  I appreciate the effort that Port Orleans Riverside put forth for me, specifically the help that both Will and Chef Wes gave to me to help me get the food I needed the night before my reason for being in town.

Huge sigh of relief.  Mediocre pizza…but man…that night…it tasted oh, so good!

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano - Hollywood Studios
Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano – Hollywood Studios

Restaurant: Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano – Hollywood Studios

Of all the places I ate at Disney World…this one, ironically, was my favorite.  Really.  I say ironically because it is, after all, an Italian restaurant and for the most part…Italian food is a no-go for the gluten-free diet.

Unless places can accommodate patrons.

And this place was rated high on how they can deal with food allergies…specifically gluten-free dining.

We arrived a little early for our reservation, but they didn’t mind.  A short wait and we were still seated ahead of our reservation time.  Loved that.  Our server, Elizabeth S., came to the table and noted the tag marked “ALLERGY.”  She inquired as to what the allergy was and I told her gluten.  She said the chef would be out to speak to me about my options.

A few moments later, Chef Michael was coming to the table to talk about the menu.  He said that the pastas could be made gluten-free…and he

Mama Melrose's Gluten-Free Dinner Rolls
Mama Melrose’s Gluten-Free Dinner Rolls

also had gluten-free flatbreads and dinner rolls.  And, should there be room for dessert…a gluten-free flourless cake.  He asked if I knew what I wanted and I explained that since I was a vegetarian as well, I was really looking at the Spaghetti Marinara ($14.99).  He said that he could even throw in some vegetables for me if I would like.  I’ve never met a vegetable I didn’t like…so I told him I was totally game for that and he could have some fun with it.  He asked if I was interested in the gluten-free dinner rolls, and I had run 13.1 miles that day…so of course I was.

That being decided he returned to the kitchen and Elizabeth returned to the table.  Cathy opted for the Spaghetti with Meatballs and a Four Cheese Sauce ($18.99), which came with complimentary bread.

This would also be a great time to mention that my gluten-free dinner rolls…were also complimentary.  No charge.  Not at all.  And I was given 3 in my basket when they came out to the table…warm and ready to eat.  I broke one open and took a bite.  Delicious.  It tasted like what I remember a honey wheat bread to taste like.  But…it was completely gluten-free…warm…amazing…soft…and just plain YUMMY!

Mama Melrose's Gluten-Free Spaghetti Marinara with Chef Michael's Vegetable Selection
Mama Melrose’s Gluten-Free Spaghetti Marinara with Chef Michael’s Vegetable Selection

Entrees arrived at the table and I was taken aback by just how much food was in that bowl.  Lots of pasta.  Lots and lots of pasta.  And my favorite part was the plethora of vegetables that Chef Michael added to my dish.  I found carrots, broccoli, peppers, spinach, and mushrooms.  It was so much fun seeking out those little morsels and mixing them with the rice noodles and the delicious marinara.  I fell in love with this meal.  So much.  And, sadly, there was a lot of it.  I couldn’t finish it.  But I at least did the chef justice by eating every last vegetable I could find in that bowl.  It was a treasure hunt and I enjoyed every single bite of it.

As I had two dinner rolls remaining, I chose to take those with me to have as lunch while out and about in the parks the following day.  We were heading back to Epcot and I knew there was little for me to eat there…so now I had something that could quell any hunger pains before dinner that night.

Now…if you will recall…I mentioned that this was my favorite place I dined while in Disney World.  And, for me, that meant…I wanted more.  I was so intrigued by this gluten-free flatbread that I asked if, perhaps, on our last day there…if we could go back for dinner.  We had a big breakfast planned that morning but nothing else, and I figured we’d want something to eat before heading back to the resort to finish packing and turn in for the night.

The problem was…there was no reservations available for us.  We checked with the concierge at Port Orleans Riverside the night before…but nothing.  We checked again the following morning…still nothing.  So, it seemed we were out of luck.  On a whim, however, we decided to at least hop down to Hollywood Studios that evening to see if they might be taking walk ins.  That…was a negative.  However, the hostess did tell us to check back around 6:30 p.m. if we wanted to wait that long (it was just over an hour wait), because some people never turn up for their reservation, opting to go to the Fantasmic! show instead.

I was starving by this point, mind you, and the thought of waiting that long was daunting.  However, hopping the bus back to Port Orleans Riverside to dine on Go Picnic meals on our last night in Disney World was less than exciting.  Our other option was Sanaa, but online reservations would have us at 6:50.  Might as well wait until 6:30 here at Mama Melrose’s and see if something opened up.  If not…we’d figure something out…

Luck was with us that night.  We turned back up at 6:30 p.m. as instructed.  The hostess radioed back to see if they could take a party of two…and they could.  It meant a 20 minute wait, but I had already come this far to eat here again, I wasn’t going to stop now.  I think our wait was actually less than 20 minutes…but well worth it.  We were seated, and the allergy tag was stuck on the table once again.  Our waitress tonight was Rose.  She said that we might have to wait a little on the chef tonight, as a party of 14 was seated near us and they had kids with multiple food allergies.

The wait was well worth it.  Chef Michael came to our table and welcomed us back, already setting a basket of gluten-free dinner rolls down.  He remembered us!!  Two nights ago he made me a fantastic Spaghetti Marinara.  And we told him that we had returned tonight, since he intrigued us by gluten-free flatbread and flourless chocolate cake.

Cathy and I chose to split the Wild Mushroom Flatbread ($12.99).  He said he would get right to work on that and would keep in mind the

Mama Melrose's Gluten-Free Wild Mushroom Flatbread
Mama Melrose’s Gluten-Free Wild Mushroom Flatbread

flourless chocolate cake.  YAY!  Rose came over to record the order to put it into the system and let us sit and enjoy our hot dinner rolls.  Chef Michael returned with some olive oil and spices to dip our rolls in, as well as some fresh butter to spread over it should we choose.  We did both.  And both were delicious choices.  We actually devoured all of the rolls before the flatbread came to the table.

The Wild Mushroom Flatbread is sort of like a pizza.  This one is a gluten-free flatbread crust that is topped with roasted cremini and button mushrooms, a garlic-shallot spread, and then finished off with the most amazing balsamic reduction.  This was complete love at first bite.  The balsamic reduction was the best touch for this, but all of the components worked together.  And the gluten-free flatbread was beyond fantastic.  Finally…a “pizza” I could really enjoy on this trip.  Amazing.  We had no trouble splitting this and polishing it off.

Mama Melrose's Gluten-Free Brownie à la Mode
Mama Melrose’s Gluten-Free Brownie à la Mode

As for that flourless chocolate cake though…the chef searched high and low…and couldn’t find one.  But here is where the magic of Disney happens.  Because he had promised it…he instead sent out a gluten-free brownie topped with ice cream and chocolate sauce…free of charge.  The brownie was crisp on the outside, soft and warm on the inside.  And the cold ice cream sitting on top of it only enhanced the already amazing chocolate flavor of the brownie.  Right here is proof enough that gluten-free doesn’t mean tasteless or hard or dense.  This brownie was hot, rich, and packed with fudgy chocolate flavor.  It was a truly decadent and sinful treat.  But it was our last night there…and I was ready to indulge.

A very nice tip was left for our waitress and lots of praise and thanks were shared with the hostess to pass on to Chef Michael.

And I would dine here over and over again…and next time I’m at Disney…I will do just that.

La Hacienda de San Angel - Epcot
La Hacienda de San Angel – Epcot

Restaurant: La Hacienda de San Angel – Epcot

Epcot…oh, Epcot.  Returning to the land of very little food for me.  But this was different.  This was dinner.  And the one place that my roomie researched when it came to gluten-free options was this beautiful Mexican restaurant in the World Showcase of Epcot.  The restaurant – La Hacienda de San Angel.

Now…I love authentic Mexican food.  I don’t eat much of it anymore because there are just too many factors that go into the food that could lead to cross contamination.  But the reviews about this place were a huge help and brought a sense of comfort with the service and the food that would be served.

In fact, it was stated online that La Hacienda de San Angel makes their own gluten-free corn tortillas in house!  This was exciting news.  My roommate took the time to print off the vegetarian menu from the Internet prior to leaving, so I had an idea of what I was going to get from that.  The Enchaladas de Vegetales actually sounded very appetizing to me as that day I was suffering a little from the banana split I had for dessert the night before (too much dairy!).  So, with an off stomach…Mexican food was sounding very daunting…but I wanted to give this a go.

We showed up early to the restaurant.  Actually, we thought we were right on time, given that there was a huge line that we went to stand in just to reach the hostess outside of the restaurant.  But, after a few minutes of standing there, the entire line cleared up.  So we were now a good 40 minutes early for our reservation.  The hostess looked up our reservation and sent us through the doors to the restaurant to have a seat and wait.  I actually anticipated waiting the entire time, but we were actually shown to our seats soon after that.

Our waiter let us slide into our booth and then he settled a napkin on each of our laps.  Ooooh….fancy.  I suddenly felt under-dressed now.  This happens every time I get a napkin placed on my lap.  But, you know…they didn’t seem to care about my jeans and t-shirt at all.  So, that fleeting moment of fashionista critic passed in a blink.  We were handed menus and asked what we would like to drink.  I once again stuck to water.

And here…was where a wave of panic settled in.  I started to peruse the menu…and save for the Ensalada de la Hacienda…there wasn’t much for me to eat.  Upon the return of our server, we were asked if we knew what we wanted to eat.  I explained that I was a gluten-free vegetarian and he said that they could easily whip up their Tacos de Vegetales (Vegetable Tacos) for me on corn tortillas.  I decided that would be much preferable to yet another salad and gave a nod of approval and said that sounded fantastic.

While we waited on our food, our server brought out the house made (and gluten-free) corn tortilla chips with two different types of salsa.  One red.  One green.  The red one was robust in tomato flavor and had a nice kick to it.  But, surprisingly, it was the salsa verde that I fell in love with.  I normally go for that heat kick, but the sweet salsa verde blended so well with the corn tortilla chips.  I couldn’t stop dipping into it.  But I knew I had tacos on the way, so I kept my pre-meal chip snack to a bare minimum.

Cathy ordered the Tacos de Camarones ($23.95).  These were basically flour tortilla tacos that were filled with fried shrimp, cabbage, lime, salsa verde, and a chipotle-lime aioli.  It was the chipotle-lime aioli that caught her eye.  In fact…she said that the description reminded her a lot of the shrimp tempura tacos that she gets at our local eatery, Dragon King’s Daughter (locations in New Albany, Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky).  And when they arrived, they actually sort of resembled that too, save for the addition of the cabbage.

My Tacos de Vegetales ($19.95) were a similar story.  I was so impressed with these…and that was at first glance when they set them down in

La Hacienda de San Angel's Tacos de Vegetales on corn tortillas (gluten-free)
La Hacienda de San Angel’s Tacos de Vegetales on corn tortillas (gluten-free)

front of me.  These corn tortillas were stuffed full of grilled vegetables, cabbage, roasted corn, black beans, and topped with a little queso fresco.  My tacos were also topped off with a bit of the chipotle-lime aioli as well and…yeah…it was magic.  A Mexican fiesta in my mouth for sure.  The depth of flavor in these simple tacos was astounding.  The black beans were awesome and added a nice protein aspect as well as a richness that the tacos really needed.  The cabbage gave it some crunch.  And the roasted corn and grilled veggies were delicious.  The corn was the star of the tacos though.  Roasted to perfection and full of flavor.  I devoured all three of the tacos on my plate.

La Hacienda de San Angel's sides of Mexican Rice and Refried Black Beans
La Hacienda de San Angel’s sides of Mexican Rice and Refried Black Beans

Our meals were served with sides of refried black beans and Mexican rice.  The rice was fantastically seasoned and spiced.  It had a bit of a kick to it, which I enjoyed and appreciated.  But the star of the sides that came with our food was definitely the refried black beans.  They were rich and full of this depth of flavor that was astounding.  I wanted to eat the entire bowl, but the tacos were very filling, so I had a couple of spoonfuls of both the rice and beans and left it at that.

Dessert was offered, but we chose not to indulge tonight as our meal was quite filling on its own.  We left completely full and quite happy with the value of the meal and the quality of the food we experienced.  I loved how the staff didn’t even bat an eyelash when I said I was a gluten-free vegetarian, immediately having a dish that they could offer me.  I enjoyed how they assured me everything was gluten-free and safe for me to eat.  And I enjoyed every…filling…bite.

I would have gone back to this restaurant in a heartbeat as well…but they were booked solid the night we were there and not accepting walk-ins at all…so I bid it adios and was thankful for the dining experience.

1900 Park Fare - Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
1900 Park Fare – Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

Restaurant: 1900 Park Fare – Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

Let it be said that you should never travel to Disney World and not attend one of the character breakfasts.  For real.  My roommate did all the planning on this one, deciding on a breakfast at 1900 Park Fare, located inside the Grand Floridian Resort.  Now, this resort is rather grand on its own…outside and inside.

But the Supercalifragilistic Breakfast was our character breakfast of choice.  This is basically a festive, all-you-care-to-eat breakfast buffet, with Disney character guests that make appearances while you eat.  We actually arrived earlier than anticipated because our Disney bus driver dropped us off at the resort instead of having us get off at one of the parks to catch a bus to the resort.  Awesome.  We appreciated that, but it left us with a bunch of extra time.

So, after wandering around the lobby we noticed a line forming at 1900 Park Fare and decided that we could at least check in with the hostess and maybe get seated earlier instead of with the 8:30 a.m. wave.  They were happy to accommodate and noticed that there was a food allergy listed on the reservation.  They handed me two tickets for the breakfast, both marked “ALLERGY.”  When they opened the doors to seat us, we handed over these tickets and were shown to our table.  I was informed by the woman who seated us that a chef would come over to talk to me.  While Cathy could have gone and loaded up her plate with breakfast goodies, she opted to wait for me to see the chef.

The chef did arrive a little bit later and asked me to walk with him.  What he did was take me through the buffet line, pointing out what foods I could safely eat.  They were good about keeping things were there would be no cross-contamination.  The fruit was okay, the scrambled eggs were safe, the potatoes were safe…etc.  And then he said the words that made me the happiest gluten-free girl in Disney that morning.  That he could make me gluten-free waffles.  Gluten-free Mickey Mouse waffles.  Just.  For.  Me.

THRILLED!  I said that waffles sounded amazing and he said he would get to work on them and bring them to my table…but to go ahead and get anything else from the buffet that he pointed out to me.  So, with that said, I joined Cathy at the table and said he was making me some waffles, but we could hit up the buffet now.

From 1900 Park Fare's Supercalifragilistic Character Breakfast Buffet (Fresh fruit, hash browns, eggs, and strawberry soup)
From 1900 Park Fare’s Supercalifragilistic Character Breakfast Buffet (Fresh fruit, hash browns, eggs, and strawberry soup)

In the line of the buffet, I went ahead and got a bunch of different fruits…honeydew melon, cantaloupe, watermelon, strawberries, grapes…yummy.  In addition, I ladled a little of the strawberry soup into a bowl to try.  I decided to give the hash brown potatoes and some of the scrambled eggs a try as they were deemed safe for my consumption.  And I was hungry.

As I settled back into my seat and started eating some of the sweet fruit, the chef appeared at my side with a plate of four gluten-free Mickey Mouse waffles.  I thanked him and couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I moved one over to my plate, sliced off an ear, and gave it a dip in the real maple syrup he brought out with it.

1900 Park Fare's Gluten-Free Mickey Mouse Waffles
1900 Park Fare’s Gluten-Free Mickey Mouse Waffles

Waffles never tasted so good.  They were sweet and light and fluffy and SHAPED LIKE MICKEY MOUSE!  I mean…come on!!  It doesn’t get much better than that.  And honestly, I’ve eaten quite a few gluten-free waffles at places, as well as made my own, and had the frozen kinds…and none come close to equaling these.  Perfection.  The fact that they weren’t heavy made it a synch to eat all four of them.  And I still went back for more fruit, more eggs, and a few more hash browns.  WORTH IT.

And, to top it off…our Disney character guests arrived and made their way around the dining room to greet the guests.  At the Supercalifragilistic Breakfast, we had the honor of meeting Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, and The Mad Hatter.  And all of them were so much fun to talk to, get pictures with, and interact with.  I don’t care if I’m in my thirties…I loved every moment of this breakfast and meeting the characters.  You’re never too old for Disney characters.  Mary Poppins sure was charming and I had been wanting to meet her all weekend.  So this was AWESOME!

The Supercalifragilistic Breakfast is $21.95 per person and includes the buffet and a non-alcoholic beverage.  The food was really delicious.  The company was awesome.  And the care was above and beyond expectations.  I am already wanting to go back and do another character breakfast!

Babycakes NYC - Downtown Disney
Babycakes NYC – Downtown Disney

Restaurant: Babycakes NYC – Downtown Disney

The one place that I was anticipating indulging in as often as possible was Babycakes NYC in Downtown Disney.  The most difficult part, at least the first night we were there seeking it out…was locating the place.  For the record, it is located in the same building as Pollo Campero and Bodie’s…right next to LEGO Land.  So…now you won’t have to log onto the Web site and look it up.  You’re welcome.

Cathy and I were seeking this out at night to have breakfast ready in the room, that way we could get an early start and not have to wait for 9 a.m. to roll around to get breakfast…and then eat…and then head out for the day.  This way…we were set and could head out after a quick bite in our room.  This was a fantastic arrangement, by the way.  And the baked goods were just as good the following morning.

I own a Babycakes NYC cookbook and the vegan & gluten-free foods sounded fantastic.  I haven’t made it up to New York City yet…but the fact that they have a branch at Disney World was enough for me to tell Cathy that we were eating there every single morning that it was feasible.  And, with the exception of two days…we did exactly that.

Being that we were seeking out breakfast…we stuck to the case with the doughnuts and loaves.  We each would pick a doughnut and a loaf to enjoy the following morning.  And there was quite a selection to choose from too.  All of these were both vegan and gluten-free…meaning I had nothing to worry about when it came to my breakfasts.  The most difficult part was choosing what I wanted to eat.

So…it went like this:

Babycakes NYC Gluten-Free Doughnuts and Loaves (Top Right: Day 1; Top Left: Day 2; Bottom Right: Day 3; Bottom Left: Day 4)
Babycakes NYC Gluten-Free Doughnuts and Loaves (Top Right: Day 1; Top Left: Day 2; Bottom Right: Day 3; Bottom Left: Day 4)

Trip #1: Cinnamon Sugar Doughnut ($3.49) and a Blueberry Toastie (Loaf) ($3.49)
Trip #2: Vanilla Glazed Doughnut ($3.49) and a Pumpkin Chip Loaf ($3.49)
Trip #3: Chocolate Dipped Doughnut ($3.49) and a Pumpkin Loaf ($3.49)
Trip #4: Jam Twist Doughnut ($3.49) and Banana Loaf ($3.49)

And that was just breakfast.  In addition…Cathy had a few other options as well that I didn’t get for me, but we sampled each other’s choices.  Cathy fell in love with the Lemon Poppyseed Loaf ($3.49), the Chocolate Cookie Crunch Doughnut ($3.49), and her favorite…the Cornbread Loaf ($3.49).

Okay…my most favorite of the doughnuts was the Cinnamon Sugar Doughnut…but cinnamon sugar has always been one of my favorite doughnuts to eat (blueberry being my favorite!).  But here was the thing…they were so moist, so light and so very delicious.  No one would be able to tell that these were vegan and gluten-free just by eating them.  I was in sugar-rush heaven.  I’m not big on glazed or dipped doughnuts, but these weren’t too bad.  I find glazes and dips to be heavy…and these were…but the doughnuts were light and fluffy and flavorful…and when all is said and done…they worked well together.  Everything just worked.

And the loafs…OH. MY. GOD.  My favorite had to be the Pumpkin Chip Loaf…but they were all very good.  They were sweet enough to satisfy that food craving and filling without being too much…even with the doughnuts.  I found each one full of flavor.  And my roommate will forever rave about that corn bread loaf.  It was her favorite thing…and she only was able to get it one night…so thankfully she took a chance on that when she did.  I also really liked the Blueberry Toastie…which had tons of fruity flavor and sweetness with the glaze and all.  And of course, pumpkin and banana bread…you can’t go wrong with either of them.  So moist.  Bite-for-bite…even after sitting overnight in a box on the table in the hotel room…these were still moist and tasted like they were fresh from the bakery.  Yeah…beyond impressed.

But we also sampled some other choices from Babycakes NYC as well.  For dessert one night, we split one of their Chocolate Chip Cookie Sandwiches ($3.49), which was fantastic.  The chocolate chip cookies are thin, and crunchy, and sweet.  Honestly…gluten-free cookie perfection.  Normally I’m a chewy cookie kind of girl…but these were wafer-thin and had that perfect crumbly, sweet texture that works with chocolate chip cookies.  And the frosting was vegan and made with cane sugar.  It was moist and very sweet…so I was glad Cathy and I were splitting the cookie sandwich.  I actually forgot to take a picture of that…but it was delicious.

Babycakes NYC Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie
Babycakes NYC Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie

So, on our last night there…we picked up our breakfast doughnuts and loaves…and they had a special on their gluten-free chocolate chip cookies ($1.00).  So, we got two of them…one for each of us…because they were each discounted by $0.50…and when you’re on vacation and stocking up on sweets…that’s a good deal.  We saved these for our last walk around our resort, and happily chewed away at the crunchy, buttery-flavored, amazing cookies.  Yeah…heaven in cookie form.  It was the right amount of sweetness and really hit the spot.  It was the best way to wrap up our stay at Disney World…enjoying a vegan and gluten-free treat from the place we visited the most – Babycakes NYC.

~*~*~

And there it is…my dining experiences at Disney World.  Nothing catastrophic happened.  I had my favorite food moments and my favorite food places…and I had meals that amazed me…meals that made me want to go back…meals that made me happy…and only a couple of disappointments.  Not bad for this gluten-free vegetarian traveler.  I am so thankful that Disney World is trained, prepared, and helpful to people with dietary restrictions.  It took a load off my mind…and helped me focus on enjoying myself…and of course…preparing for the half marathon I was there to run.

Which…went so well, despite being high humidity (yes…at 5:30 a.m.)…leading to me shaving 2 minutes off my personal record and setting a new record for myself.  I enjoyed the race…I enjoyed Disney World…and I enjoyed eating there and feeling confident in the fact that they truly were looking out for me in those kitchens.

Talk about taking a load off.

Not enough peanut-y flavor in San-J Thai Peanut Sauce to suit my taste

San-J Gluten-Free Thai Peanut Sauce
San-J Gluten-Free Thai Peanut Sauce

Product: San-J Gluten-Free Thai Peanut Sauce – $3.49+

So…as some of you are quite aware…I’m heading out of town in a couple of days.  Yep.  Got a half marathon that is waiting for me to run it.  And, this week is quite a short one…meaning I am doing everything within my power to use up the fresh, local produce I get from my local CSA.  Some of it will be fine while I’m gone for a week, but other stuff…such as my veggies…not likely.

This means…it’s time to break out the wok?

I rock the wok.  For real!  I mean…I haven’t met a veggie yet that I couldn’t throw into a delicious stir-fry and add either rice or rice noodles and some sort of sauce for seasoning and make a fantastic, filling meal out of it.  That’s the name of the game this week as I prep to head out of town.

Veggies…meet wok.  Wok…meet veggies.  Let’s get some dinner made.  This is normally what I refer to as “Make-It-Up-As-I-Go-And-Use-Whatever-You-Can” Pad Thai Stir-Fry.”  Catchy, yes?

The great thing about a good old-fashioned stir-fry is that my roomie and I can feast off it it for at least three days.  Especially with the volume of veggies I was throwing into this wok.  Fresh snow peas (every bit of the 10 ounces from my bin), yellow onion, baby carrots (chopped into matchsticks), baby bok choy…oh yes…all of it went in.  And then…rice noodles.  Delicious rice noodles were added.

But something was missing in my Pad Thai.  Oh…yes…SAUCE!

It just so happened that I had purchased a bottle of San-J’s Gluten-Free Thai Peanut Sauce while out at my grocery store one day.  I get grand ideas about making things with sauces…and then it never comes to fruition.  This one…a pad thai.  What was I currently doing with my wok?  Making a pad thai.  Hmmm…perfect.

So, I gave the bottle a good shake, cracked the seal and poured a liberal amount into the wok to season the veggies and the noodles as they finished up.  It smelled absolutely crazy-fantastic.  Which is a good thing.  Now, I had said aloud to the roomie while we were out grocery shopping that we needed some peanuts for the pad thai, but I didn’t add it to the list and it totally slipped my mind while we hit up all 5 of our usual grocery store haunts (Hey…when you have food allergies…you make an entire day out of it…and for us, it’s either Saturday or Sunday).  So, no crunch factor for the dish…but plenty of wholesome veggie goodness with light, thin rice noodles to give it some body.

With the contents of the wok ready to be consumed, I dished us each up a bowl, leaving the rest to sit until I was done eating.  Then, I would concern myself with dishing it out into servings for the next two days.  Food always comes first.  We settled in for dinner with a bowl of my vegetable pad thai and some chopsticks.

I couldn’t wait to take my first bite.  It smelled amazing.  And…in the end…it disappointed me a little as far as the taste went.  It was good.  Oh yes…it was good.  But I found that the Thai Peanut Sauce was lacking…a lot of peanut flavor.  Maybe, if I had been thinking, throwing some peanut butter into the mix might have helped enhance it…but on its own, it was more…steak sauce than peanut sauce.  It didn’t take away from the fact that when put into a wok with fresh veggies and rice noodles…it does kick up the flavor more than a notch.  It wasn’t bad.  I just expected more of a nutty flavor to it…and was a bit surprised by the sweetness factor in this one.

It isn’t spicy…which is good for some, but I like a little heat to my ethnic dishes.  But, that isn’t a huge issue for me.  I know how to add spice if necessary.  For this dish…not really necessary.  But I do wish the sauce itself brought a little more heat and nuttiness to the dish.  In the end…not blown away, but not completely disappointed either.  I definitely intend to play around with the remnants of the bottle in my fridge to see what I can draw out of it…perhaps discover a secret gem to getting that Thai peanut flavor I seek.

I love a lot of things about San-J.  Their sauces are gluten-free and amazing.  And they always label their bottles so that the words GLUTEN-FREE scream at you.  I love that.  And I love that they bring so many options to the ethnic sauce selection at grocery stores…because when you are gluten-free…those sauces can be so tricky.  It’s good to have a brand name you can trust.  For me…that’s San-J.  Even if this one lacked a wow factor, you’ll see San-J constantly in my pantry and fridge.  It’s a matter of taste…but more importantly…a matter of trust.

Vegetable Pad Thai made with San-J Gluten-Free Thai Peanut Sauce
Vegetable Pad Thai made with San-J Gluten-Free Thai Peanut Sauce

Waldon Farms dresses up salads right with Thousand Island dressing

Walden Farms Calorie Free Thousand Island Dressing
Walden Farms Calorie Free Thousand Island Dressing

Product: Walden Farms Calorie Free Thousand Island Dressing – $4.99+

How good can a product be when it has the bold claim that it has no calories, fat, carbs, gluten, or sugars of any kind?  Well…if it’s a product made by Walden Farms…then, as far as I am concerned…it’s going to be good.

Of course, nothing ever compares to the real thing, but as far as these things go, Walden Farms has hit the flavor right on the head.  A while back, I gave their Honey Dijon salad dressing a try…and absolutely loved it.  It was not as creamy as regular dressing, but the flavor is totally there.

And that was how it was with Walden Farms Calorie Free Thousand Island Dressing.  Honestly.  While it doesn’t contain all the bits that you usually see in Thousand Island dressing, it tastes just like the dressing I used to pour all over my salads.  I found that while it wasn’t as thick as regular salad dressing, it didn’t need to be.  What it lacks in body it makes up for in its simple, rich flavor of regular Thousand Island dressing.  It was very impressive.

And the best part is…you don’t need to drown your salad in it.  The two tablespoon serving size is perfect for the salad.  Give it a toss and every bit will get covered with a bit of the dressing.  And that is only a good thing.  I even let my roomie, who is a Thousand Island dressing freak try it out…and she said it was awesome…and that she missed Thousand Island dressing (the brand she used to get had high fructose corn syrup in it…so we had to move her to something else).

Salads can be healthy again…and you can still have an awesome creamy dressing…that is so allergen friendly and quite delicious too.  If you can find Walden Farms products, I encourage you to give it a try.  Honestly…the two dressings I have tried have been super delicious and very good.  And…guilt free.

Better yet, the dressing is made with natural ingredients, flavors and spices.

What’s not to love about that?

Recipe: Spicy Buffalo Cauliflower

I love spicy food.  Love it.  I love that little bit of heat that accompanies each bite…and when done right…doesn’t mask the flavor of the food.  Yum!

Well, this past weekend, my friend Robert shared a recipe on my Facebook wall that he thought I might enjoy.  It was for Spicy Buffalo Cauliflower.  And let me tell you…it looked awesome.  Seriously!  It just so happened that my CSA bin that week had an amazing head of cauliflower in it…and everything else on the list I had in my pantry.  Perfect!

And after the winter weather that came through last night, something warm, spicy, and different just sounded appetizing tonight for dinner.  So, upon returning home from work…I went to work on my head of cauliflower and preparing this simple, yet really delicious dish.  You just need about 25 minutes and dinner is served.

Recipe: Spicy Buffalo Cauliflower

Spicy Buffalo Cauliflower (with a Vegan Ranch Dip)
Spicy Buffalo Cauliflower (with a Vegan Ranch Dip)

Servings: 2-4
Time: Prep 5 minutes; Cook 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 head cauliflower

For the batter:

  • Dash of hot sauce (I used Sriracha)
  • 1/2 cup white rice flour
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Pinch salt

For the buffalo sauce:

  • 1/4 cup hot sauce (I used Sriracha)
  • 1/4 cup oil, canola oil works best
  • Pinch salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Mix together the batter ingredients in a small bowl.

Dip the cauliflower in the batter until coated evenly then place on greased baking sheet.  Bake for about 15 minutes or until the batter hardens.

Mix together sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

Once the cauliflower are done baking, brush them with the hot sauce mixture and bake again for a few more minutes, until cauliflower is crispy.

Remove from oven. You may want to add a bit more buffalo sauce to taste.

Enjoy!

~*~*~

Oh…this was crazy, stupid good.  I mean…so delicious.  I was highly impressed.  Honestly.  I love cauliflower regardless, but this just took it to the next level.  This is the second cauliflower recipe that Robert has shared with me, and both times I have been super impressed.  I can’t wait to make this again.

Oh, and it’s a super easy recipe too, so that is a bonus.  I whipped up a Vegan Ranch Dip to serve with mine, which consisted of:

  • a few spoonfuls of Trader Joe’s vegan mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of dried parsley flakes
  • 3 tablespoons of almond milk to thin it out

I just mixed it all together in a bowl and viola…instant buffalo cauliflower dip!

Honestly…if you are looking for a fun and exciting way to serve up veggies…this is the recipe to try!

Calorie free Honey Dijon salad dressing from Walden Farms surprisingly didn’t suck

Walden Farms Calorie Free Honey Dijon Salad Dressing
Walden Farms Calorie Free Honey Dijon Salad Dressing

Product: Walden Farms Calorie Free Honey Dijon Salad Dressing – $4.99+

You know…I wouldn’t have bought into the idea of the Walden Farms products had it not been for Rocco DiSpirito.  There.  I blame it on a chef.  The fact is, he often uses the Walden Farms Calorie Free items in his Now Eat This and Now Eat This Diet Cookbooks.  And all the time prior to this I had thought…um…no calories, no fat, no carbs, no gluten, no sugars…WHAT is this stuff and how is it even good for you?

And then…one day…I was shopping at my local grocery store and ran across a bottle of the Walden Farms Calorie Free Honey Dijon Salad Dressing.  It was greatly marked down in price, so I figured…what the heck…I’d try it.  If it turned out to be disgusting, I wasn’t out too much.  Besides, my current gluten-free strawberry vinaigrette was running low, so I needed a salad dressing anyway.  This…would be something a bit different than my usual choice of a low-fat vinaigrette.

The truth of the matter is…a salad is a naturally healthy choice, but so often (and I used to be really guilty of this) it’s topped with a high calorie and high fat salad dressing.  No…seriously…I used to have a little salad with my dressing.  My vegetables would be swimming in pools of creamy dressing goodness.  And…eventually, I started to use less…and less…and less.

And soon I found myself being one of those people who actually pull out the tablespoon to measure out the required serving size and I would keep to that.  I would just give my salad a good toss and coat what I could.  And that…is how I have been for a couple of years now.  So being a mindful dressing user, I also often ask for it on the side…and when I am at at home…I still measure it out.  It is so easy to overdo something as amazing as a good dressing.

Last night, when I measured out two tablespoons of Walden Farms Honey Dijon Salad Dressing…I was pretty certain I was ruining a really good salad.  It smelled like honey dijon…so that was a plus, at least.  But…I wasn’t quite certain what something with no calories, fat, or anything else might taste like.  I was trusting Rocco DiSpririto with my salad and hoping for the best.  As I settled in with my salad, I stabbed a few leaves of lettuce with my fork and took my first, very tentative bite.

And…found myself to be impressed instead of disgusted by the flavor.  Seriously.  This dressing is packed with flavor.  And it was good flavor.  Definitely not what I was anticipating or expecting…but it was a happy moment or realization.  Okay…so it’s not as creamy as most honey dijon dressings are.  It almost tastes like a vinaigrette without being as watery as a vinaigrette.  The thing is…I get that honey dijon mustard flavor in each bite.  No horrible aftertaste or anything.  A huge relief, for sure!  And now…I hope to try other products and see if they are as good, if not better.

I’m not saying that this is the best dressing around.  I never would have purchased it if it weren’t for the manager’s special sale on the product.  But now I’m glad I gave in and tried it.  Honest flavor.  And just really, really good.  Yeah…I’m quite happy with this dressing.  If you are looking for a healthy alternative to heavy dressings that are laden with fat and calories, give Walden Farms a try.  I can’t speak for all of them, but this one was surprisingly tasty.

Recipe: Magic Beans (Green Beans)

It happens without fail…every time.  When I am attending a big get-together and asked to supply a dish…it’s a vegetable.  I can count on it.  I can place money on that bet and win every time.  Perhaps, in this group of people, it’s because I’m the only vegetarian…so it just makes sense.  Regardless…sometimes getting a bit creative with a vegetable can be a task.  Anyone can bring those steam-in-the-bag veggies and just give them a quick nuke in the microwave…but that’s not my style.  Not anymore.

So, it came as no surprise to me on Thanksgiving that I was asked to supply the vegetable dish for the meal with my roomie’s family.  At first, I thought of doing my famous confetti corn dish, but I had received 24 ounces of green beans in my CSA bin (along with a plethora of Thanksgiving veggies and fruits…that I probably could have cooked all the side dishes had I been allowed), so I changed my mind.  But…how to dress up green beans and make them…interesting?

Well, for that I turned my attention to a Top Chef.  No joke.  I found a recipe on the Internet from Stephanie Izard (Season 4 winner of Top Chef, and the first female winner).  The recipe was for her restaurants green beans, known as Girl and the Goat Magic Beans.  It sounded…really good.  And I only had to make a few minor adjustments to make it fit into my diet.  Like…I didn’t use fish sauce, I just used more tamari sauce instead.  That sort of thing.

The recipe was super-easy to prep for and really easy to prepare.  Better yet…it was enjoyed by all at the table.  These really are magic beans.  Delicious green beans everyone will love.  And the recipe…is below.

Girl and the Goat Magic Beans (Green Beans) – adapted from Stephanie Izard’s recipe

Girl and the Goat Magic Beans (Green Beans)
Girl and the Goat Magic Beans (Green Beans)


Servings: 8-10
Time: Prep 15 minutes; Cook 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 24 ounces green beans, stems trimmed
  • 4 fluid ounces olive oil
  • 1 shallot, sliced in small rings
  • 4 ounces lemon juice
  • 5 ounces fish sauce (I replaced with San-J Gluten-Free Low Sodium Tamari Sauce)
  • 2.5 ounces soy sauce (I used San-J Gluten-Free Low Sodium Tamari Sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 3/4 teaspoon Sriracha
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup mayonnaise (I use Trader Joe’s Reduced Fat Vegan Mayonnaise)
  • cashews (I used walnuts…but your favorite nut will do…or leave out if you have a nut allergy)

Directions:

Make the green bean dressing (yields 2 cups):

Combine lemon juice, fish sauce, soy, Dijon and sriracha.  Transfer to blender, add garlic and emulsify with oil.

Make the aioli:

In a bowl, combine 1/3 cup of the green bean dressing (above) with 1 cup mayonnaise.  Whisk together.  Set aside.

Make the green beans:

Wash and trim the stems off the green beans.

In a large frying pan, heat a small amount of oil.  Add the green beans and some sliced shallots for flavor.

Add enough vinaigrette to coat the green beans.  Cover and allow to steam.

Add a handful or two of cashews (or nut of your choice) for flavor.  Season with salt.

Transfer to a serving dish and drizzle with aioli.

Serve hot.

~*~*~

Stephanie Izard has said that her restaurant gets compliments for its vegetable dishes all the time.  That being said…there is a reason for that.  These were some of the best green beans I have ever eaten.  The dressing and aioli really stepped up the flavor.  And, the addition of the walnuts added a necessary texture to them.  I would make these again in a heartbeat.  Normally not a huge fan of green beans, these were fantastic.

There is a reason Stephanie won Top Chef all those years ago.  With recipes like this…she’s winning over fans of her food even now.  Even little home chef’s like me.

Want to dress up your green beans differently, I highly encourage you to give this recipe a shot.  I wasn’t disappointed.  My roomie’s family wasn’t disappointed.  I promise…you won’t be either.