BiAglut Maccheroncini best packaged gluten-free pasta around

BiAglut Maccheroncini (Gluten-Free Elbow Pasta)
BiAglut Maccheroncini (Gluten-Free Elbow Pasta)

Product: BiAglut Maccheroncini (Elbows) – $5.45+

I’m declaring it now.  Right there in my subject line for this post.  After all years of searching for the best pre-packaged gluten-free pasta, I think I may have finally found the crème de la crème.  I didn’t think many things can live up to the standard that RP’s fresh gluten-free pasta set…and then I find it…just waiting to be discovered in my pantry.

Fresh pasta is always best, but it’s not always the most practical.

When it isn’t practical, BiAglut should be.  Trust me, I have tried mostly every gluten-free pasta out there.  Rice noodles, corn noodles, tofu noodles, quinoa noodles…I’ve had them all.  Some do better than others.  Some brands I prefer over others.  Some are just easier and more cost efficient in the end.  That being said, I think I would pay a pretty penny to have more noodles from BiAglut.

BiAglut  is an Italian brand of gluten-free products that have been produced in Italy for more than 45 years by the Italian affiliate of H. J. Heinz Company.  The company’s main focus is on individuals with Celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or those who follow a gluten-free diet.  By keeping to this focus group, the brand offers a variety of gluten-free products to the market, including pasta, breads, bread substitutes, flours, cookies, crackers, snacks, and desserts.

But the main item that BiAglut is known for is…their pasta.

I was at a gluten-free expo awhile back and BiAglut was one of the companies there.  It was a very small expo with very few vendors.  But the people who were at the BiAglut table had me try some of their pasta and I loved it.  Great texture.  Great flavor.  It was cold…but…well…you can’t have everything.  After a little discussion, my roommate and I decided to go ahead and buy a bag of their noodles.  They had very few options left (yes…it was going fast), so I snagged the very last bag of BiAglut Maccheroncini (elbows).

And then…it joined the plethora of other noodles in my pantry.  And it sat…as I worked my way through the rest of them.

But, then we had another dreaded office potluck.  I say that because, with the exception of one or two other people in the office, nothing brought in is something I can eat.  Granted, being a gluten-free vegetarian does limit my diet, but it is nice when someone puts for the effort to make something that I can also eat so I’m not stuck with just two things on my plate (the two items I bring, mind you).

With that in mind, I signed up to bring two dishes…some crock pot caramelized apples and a vegan pumpkin macaroni and cheese.

I checked my pantry list and the next pasta noodle to have it’s day in the spotlight was the BiAglut Maccheroncini.  I was kind of sad to be using this pasta on my office because I knew full well that since I was the person bringing it in…hardly anyone would touch it.  It’s…weird.  It’s…*GASP*…GLUTEN-FREE!  I swear to God, no one in that office quite understands what that means and just won’t even try the food I bring in…which is why I hate to bring things in.  I can cook for myself at home and it will save me money, time, and food that won’t go to waste because only 2-5 people are eating it.

BiAglut Maccheroncini (cooked and drained)
BiAglut Maccheroncini (cooked and drained)

That being said, I sucked it up and went ahead and made the items I signed up for.  Early that morning, I stood in the kitchen boiling a pot of water to pour the BiAglut Maccheroncini in and allow it to cook most of the way.  It only took about 6 minutes to get to where I needed them to be.  I mean…it was fast.  Most gluten-free pasta noodles have to be boiled for around 12-16 minutes, if not longer, to get that perfect consistency.  Not these.  They were done so fast I had time to spare.

After I drained the noodles, I put them back into the big pot and poured my vegan pumpkin cheese sauce over the top of it.  With a spatula, I stirred it all together, delighted in the fact that the noodles were holding together.  They weren’t turning to mush.  They weren’t falling apart in the sauce or with the movement of the spatula.  I was already impressed.  Then, the mixture was poured into the baking pan and into the oven it went for about 45 minutes.

When it emerged…the noodles were still perfect.  They already survived boiling and baking.  I was very surprised.  I’m just not used to my gluten-free pastas being so sturdy.  Well, before I could serve this to myself and the brave few who just might have a little taste at the office, I had to make sure it was good.  I plucked a noodle from the casserole dish and…oh yeah…it was good.  The noodle was a perfect al dente.  Perfect.  It cooked up beautifully in the sauce and didn’t fall apart in the baking process.

The true test was going to be lunch.  So, about 10 minutes before lunch was to be served, I got to the kitchen and pulled my mac and cheese out of the fridge.  I brought a splash of almond milk to add to the pasta for when I reheated it, and poured it over the top.  Then, into the microwave it went.  As I reheated it a few minutes at a time, I would stir it around to make sure it heated evenly.  And the noodles held together.  They didn’t crumble as I stirred them.  They didn’t shred.  They held.  And I was so elated.

The moment of truth came – the office luncheon began.  My roommate, myself, and the office vegan I knew would be eating the macaroni and cheese.  Others seemed a bit hesitant.  Some took just a smidge.  Most didn’t even give it another look because…I made it…therefore it’s gluten-free and must be disgusting.  Ignorant fools!

As I sat down to dig in…I was hoping I’d be as impressed with the BiAglut Maccheroncini as I had been this entire time leading up to the first actual bite.  One bite and it was all the confirmation I needed.  Through boiling, baking, and nuking, the BiAglut Maccheroncini not only held its shape, but it still tasted great.  It didn’t mush up or disintegrate under pressure.  It is pure, honest, gluten-free pasta perfection.

BiAglut Maccheroncini is made from cornstarch, potato flour, lupin flour and lupin proteins.  No eggs.  No dairy.  And what comes of this is the best packaged pasta I have had to date.  Gluten-free pasta is so tricky, but BiAglut held up to everything I could put it through and still tasted great in the end.  And, on a personal note, it worked very well in my vegan and gluten-free pumpkin mac and cheese.  Tasted great.

Best texture.  Best quality.  Best all-around when it comes to dry pasta.  BiAglut is amazing.  Now I wish I had purchased more of their products at the time.  Guess I’m going to have to get online and place an order.

If you can find BiAglut…I encourage you to try it.  It is heads and tails above the competition.  It’s happiness in pasta form.

Gluten-Free Vegan Pumpkin Mac & Cheese made with BiAglut Maccheroncini
Gluten-Free Vegan Pumpkin Mac & Cheese made with BiAglut Maccheroncini

The Gluten-Free Oven bakes up best treat ever with Vanilla Creme Filled Fingers (Twinkies)

The Gluten-Free Oven Vanilla Creme Filled Fingers
The Gluten-Free Oven Vanilla Creme Filled Fingers

Product: The Gluten-Free Oven Vanilla Creme Filled Fingers – $2.50

It was love at first sight when I spotted these little delicious creme-filled cake treats at the Gluten-Free Living Now Expo in Carmel, Indiana.  This is no joke.  And, with the recent news of the Hostess shut-down…these little treats that have been sitting in my freezer meant the world to me.  Just as much as they did back on the day I bought them at the expo.

The Gluten-Free Oven was one of the vendors that were attending the Gluten-Free Living Now Expo in Indiana.  I had never heard of them, but one product on their table caught my eye.  One product that I had not seen anywhere before and I had been…wanting, desiring, needing (to make Minion (from Despicable Me) cupcakes, of course).  Twinkies.  Okay…not real Twinkies…but a version of them.  A fabulous gluten-free version of them.  While I was never big on Twinkies when I was growing up and could eat these things…for some reason (must be those cupcakes)…I just had to have these.  I needed them.  I wasn’t leaving the expo without them.

So…I purchased one little package of the Vanilla Creme Filled Fingers from the vendor and went on my merry way.  Upon arriving home after the expo that day, they went into my freezer (along with a bunch of other goodies I purchased) for safe keeping.

Then…Hostess went belly-up.  And the real Twinkie was now going away.  There were mad-dashes to the stores to buy up favorite Hostess products.  My roomie (who can have gluten in her diet) got caught up in the madness and ended up purchasing one little packet of Twinkies for herself.  She was going to indulge that day…but decided that she’d save them for Thanksgiving evening…and we’d celebrate getting through the festivities, putting up and decorating the tree, and planning Black Friday Shopping Insanity by breaking out our Twinkies and Gluten-Free Vanilla Creme Fingers and having a sweet treat.

That was the plan.  And although we were ready for the treat upon arriving home from the meal (where I had the green beans I brought, some spiced fruit I brought, and a little potato that my friend Amanda pulled aside before she added butter and whole milk to them for mashing), we decided to wait.  We had to.  I forgot to pull my Vanilla Creme Filled Fingers out of the freezer before leaving.  I was a bit hurried as normal, having run a 5 mile race, showered, and prepared my dishes I was supplying for the meal…and getting to the location in enough time to help out if needed…or at least just socialize before food comas set in.  So…the treat had to wait.  No matter…my roommate and I had a Christmas tree to put up and decorate.  I placed the Gluten-Free Oven Vanilla Creme Filled Fingers on the counter top to thaw, then went to help deck the halls to the sound of Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

The tree was up in record time this year and the lights and garland didn’t give us as much as a fight.  We grabbed our ornaments and just starting hanging the bits and bobs from the branches.  Soon…it was up.  I checked on my Gluten-Free Vanilla Creme Filled Fingers…and they were at room temperature now and ready to eat.  YAY!

The Gluten-Free Oven Vanilla Creme Filled Finger
The Gluten-Free Oven Vanilla Creme Filled Finger

So…time to indulge.  Cathy grabbed her packet of Hostess Twinkies and I eased into my Gluten-Free Oven packet.  We both snatched out one cake-y treat to begin with…figuring we’d save the other one for later in the weekend.  I had to take pictures of mine…and sliced mine in half to get a look at the creme (which matched the cake middle so it is hard to see).  After the photos for the blog were taken, I snatched up one of the halves and took a long, lingering bite, savoring the taste, texture and moment.

The Gluten-Free Oven hit these out of the park.  I can say that for certain because I gave a little piece to my roommate to do a side-by-side comparison and she said she couldn’t even tell the difference.  The Gluten-Free Oven Vanilla Creme Filled Fingers were a little heavier, she said, but aside from that, they tasted exactly the same.

I count that as a win.

Here’s what else I can say.  The Gluten-Free Oven Vanilla Creme Filled Fingers are just like the Twinkies I sort of remember back when I could eat such things.  The cake on the outside was moist and spongy.  The creme in the middle was soft and creamy and just…sweet.  It was the perfect compliment when put together.  Hostess knew what they were doing when they invented the Twinkie.  Well…The Gluten-Free Oven just brought them to the gluten-free community.  And, with any luck, The Gluten-Free Oven won’t go the way of Hostess and will continue to provide these to the gluten-free community for a long time.

I fell in love with these.  And…for the record…the other Vanilla Creme Filled Finger (and the other Twinkie for my roommate) got eaten immediately afterwards.  No saving them for another day.  They were G-O-N-E.  Yep.  They really are that amazing.  I wish I had bought more than the one pack of them.  Honestly.  I’m considering ordering them online.  Yes…they DO ship.

The Gluten-Free Oven is based out of Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania…so it would be a bit of a haul to go and actually pick something up.  The best I can hope for, currently, is that I see them at another gluten-free expo soon, or just suck it up and order their products online.  Honestly, I would order a case of those Gluten-Free Vanilla Creme Filled Fingers.  It’s best if I don’t…but I would.  And should I ever decide to give those Minion cupcakes a gluten-free whirl…I just might be contacting them to send me a case.

If you don’t remember Twinkies…never had a Twinkie…or miss Twinkies due to your gluten intolerance or Celiac disease…then I encourage you to look up The Gluten-Free Oven because they can make your dreams come true…with a little pack of two of the best packaged treats I have eaten in a long time.

Happiness really can be baked…in a Gluten-Free Oven.

The Gluten-Free Oven Vanilla Creme Filled Finger (halved)
The Gluten-Free Oven Vanilla Creme Filled Finger (halved)

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

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

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

Fast food, shmast food.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You know…it would figure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AllerEnergy Gluten-Free Soft Pretzel Nuggets win with this pretzel lover

AllerEnergy Gluten-Free Soft Pretzel Nuggets
AllerEnergy Gluten-Free Soft Pretzel Nuggets

Product: AllerEnergy Gluten-Free Soft Pretzel Nuggets – $5.00

So…I was raised in New York.  And if there is one thing New Yorkers love (aside from bagels) it’s soft pretzels.  I indulged in them all the time growing up.  And then this wonderful nirvana called Auntie Anne’s Pretzels began turning up at every mall on the planet…and my life was complete.  I remember making an Auntie Anne’s Pretzel my dinner every night I worked at the CD store at the mall.  True story.

And then…the gluten-free thing hit.  And suddenly, pretzels, the snack variety and the soft variety fell off my radar.  And yes…I was sad.  One of my most favorite treats to eat and there was nothing for me.

Okay…so I found an overpriced box of gluten-free soft pretzels in the freezer section of my local natural food store.  But, there were only 4 pretzels in it and the price really was outrageous.  So, as tempted as I was to cave in and purchase that, the insane price tag kept me from actually doing it.  But the crave was there.

Then, last year, I attended the Celiac Awareness Tour when it rolled into Indianapolis.  One of the vendors there was AllerEnergy.  I had never heard of AllerEngery before, but I was lured to their booth by the smell and sight of gluten-free soft pretzels.

A little bit about AllerEnergy first. This company provides a variety of products that contain carbs and protein for an energy boost that lasts, as well as providing minerals and vitamins that promote good health and well-being.  I was told that AllerEnergy is perfect for athletes with food allergies (hey…it’s like they knew all about me!).  Their products are constructed of the right balance of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to provide food allergic people with high-impact nourishment.  The company worked with an industry leading food science organization and began to produce products that were composed of food allergy safe ingredients that would help sustain energy.  They provide a full supply of carbohydrates without using any wheat, oats, or other grain specific allergens.  These carbs basically are the result of a combination of rice, millet, quinoa, and flax seed.

All that being said…here I was standing in front of the table at the expo and wondering if I was really being handed a warm, gluten-free piece of a soft pretzel.  I wasn’t dreaming.  It happened.  One bite…and I was sold.  The texture was perfect. Very soft and chewy.  Not dense at all.  I needed these in my life.  The booth was selling the full pretzels or the pretzel nuggets.  I opted for the bite-size pretzel nuggets and that’s what I left the expo with.

AllerEnergy Gluten-Free Soft Pretzel Nuggets (sprayed with water and dusted with the salt that was included)
AllerEnergy Gluten-Free Soft Pretzel Nuggets (sprayed with water and dusted with the salt that was included)

Upon arriving home, I stuck them in the freezer as indicated…and then never got around to actually making them.  So sad.  Maybe I just wanted to savor them. But, I got over that this weekend.  I needed something easy for lunch for my roommate and I, so upon inspection of the pantry and the fridge and freezer, I finally pulled these out.  I was almost sad to actually be cooking them up…but excited too.  I was already anticipating the taste of them again once I scattered them on a cookie sheet, gave them a spray of water and dusted them with some salt.

Into the oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.  And what emerged was my heaven.  Seriously.  I had never been so eager to sit down to my lunch.  I divvied the pretzel nuggets out between my roommate and I and settled in on the couch.  I lifted one nugget and took a bite.  I instantly flashed back to why I loved soft pretzels so much…and why I went home with these.  They are that perfect density for a soft pretzel.  Browned on the outside, and soft on the inside.  The salt gave it the extra kick to keep it from being bland.  I was just so excited to be eating these, but also wanting to savor each bite.  It was not an easy culinary line to tread.

If you are at an expo or know of a place that carries products by AllerEnergy…get the pretzels.  Trust me.  The full-size or the nuggets.  Either one.  Why?  Because they are so amazing.  If you didn’t tell someone they were gluten-free…they wouldn’t know.  Honestly.

As for the nutritional value of these…they are actually rather healthy.  The entire bag of pretzel nuggets would set you back 495 calories and 5 grams of fat, while providing you with 5 grams of protein.  Trust me…these were fantastic.  My roommate and I just couldn’t get enough of them.  And then, sadly…they were gone.

Now…I need to find them again and buy more.  You can purchase AllerEnergy products on their Web site, but I don’t see the Soft Pretzel Nuggets as one of the options…yet.

If you have food allergies and have been craving a soft pretzel…devour one from AllerEnergy.  You won’t even know it’s gluten-free…and good for you.

AllerEnergy Gluten-Free Soft Pretzel Nuggets (baked and ready to devour...er...I mean eat)
AllerEnergy Gluten-Free Soft Pretzel Nuggets (baked and ready to devour…er…I mean eat)

Monical’s gluten-free pizza a solid, but unimpressive slice of gluten-freedom

Monical's Pizza, Fishers, Indiana
Monical’s Pizza, Fishers, Indiana

Restaurant: Monical’s Pizza, Fishers, Indiana

Okay…granted, Monical’s Pizza is actually a chain.  A very small chain consisting of over 60 restaurants that are mainly in the Wisconsin/Illinois/Indiana region.  But…I had never heard of them and they aren’t in my area.  Thus…this chain will be getting a blog.

This past weekend, I was up in Indianapolis to attend the Gluten-Free Living Now Expo.  It was a great event with lots of vendors, samples, information, and way too much gluten-free goodness for my wallet to handle.  I showed up hungry and took bits and bites here and there.  But when all was said and done, and I had covered much every inch of the expo space…I was now ready for lunch.

The original plan had been to go to Uno’s and try their gluten-free pizza.  However, aside from already being in Carmel, Indiana, and the other place we wanted to go was where we were, driving South for pizza just seemed…ridiculous.  Only because we’d have to drive North again to hit up our ice cream place (aka: the other place).  So, after some searching on Find Me Gluten-Free, my roommate found a place called Monical’s Pizza.  And…the gluten-free option on their menu is a simple 10″ pizza.

We drove from the expo to the Monical’s Pizza in Fishers, Indiana and were promptly seated with fun activity place mats and the menu.  Obviously as I am completely gluten-free…pizza was on our mind.  My roommate and I had gone back and forth on what we wanted on the pizza.  Originally we thought onions and mushrooms.  But upon sitting down, she said the Margherita Pizza sounded good.  I told her just to pick one, as I just wanted gluten-free pizza.  So, when our waitress returned with the water we ordered as our drink, Cathy took the initiative and ordered Monical’s Gluten-Free Margherita Pizza.

With our order in, we sat around and talked.  I actually did some of the activities on the menu.  And a little bit later…our pizza was arriving.  I did love that it actually took some time to arrive.  When I order, I don’t want my food to immediately show up on my table.  I don’t want to even think about my food being prepared ahead of time.  I want my food made when I order it and fresh when it hits my table.

The thin-crust gluten-free pizza arrived and it looked really amazing.  The Margerhita Pizza was a nice version of a white pizza here.  The crust was brushed with olive oil and then topped with mozzarella cheese, tomato slices, minced garlic, and Parmesan.   It is actually one of my favorite pizzas out there.  While this one looked really good, and for the most part tasted very good…I found the gluten-free crust to be a huge disappointment.

Call my a cynic if you will, but since the inception of this blog as a gluten-free blog…pizza has been one of my passions.  And while at first the simple, pre-packaged, not made at the pizzeria crusts wowed me, they don’t anymore.  I have had one too many amazing gluten-free pizza crusts.  Some, like those at the Mellow Mushroom, exceed every pizza crust I have ever had while eating out.  Why?  Because it feels, tastes, and looks like a real pizza.  None of this cracker-thin-crust stuff.

But, at Monical’s Pizza, the thin crust is the standard.  It wasn’t bad.  The crust didn’t lose its crispness.  Nor was it tasteless or grow soggy with the toppings.  In fact…the crust wasn’t bad.  Not at all.  It just wasn’t something that blew me away.  And trust me…when it comes to gluten-free pizza, the crust needs to shine.  It is what sets it apart.  It is the very foundation of the gluten-free pizza.  A meh crust will yield a meh pizza which in turn yields a meh response from the gluten-free customer.

Monical’s delivers a solid, good gluten-free crust.  It reminded me a lot of Puccini’s Smiling Teeth.  Which is…good.  Just not great.  I love that the option is there…and I am very glad I can go into someplace like this and have the staff take proper care with my food preparation so as I won’t become ill from eating there…but…I love being able to rave about my food.

The toppings on this pizza were executed perfectly.  Honestly.  The cheese, tomato, garlic, olive oil combination is one of my all-time favorites and I found their toppings to be really good.  But the gluten-free crust needs some work.  Again, it wasn’t that it was bad, it’s just that I have had better.  Much better.

Would I go back to Monical’s for pizza?  Sure.  I mean, the gluten-free option is there and the pizza was good.  Honestly.  I just have grown to expect more from gluten-free pizza.  This is what happens when you start to get spoiled by restaurants who really know how to safely prepare a gluten-free crust in-house.  I’ve had many slices of gluten-free pizza and this one…was rather forgettable when all was said and done, and the pizza completely consumed.

All-in-all…a very good pizza…a lack-luster crust.  But…let’s not bite the hand that feeds us, right?  I appreciate the gluten-free option and wish more places would take the care and time to offer such things on their menus.

Monical's Pizza Gluten-Free Margherita Pizza
Monical’s Pizza Gluten-Free Margherita Pizza

Gluten-Free Living Now Expo in Indianapolis, Indiana…and a GIVEAWAY!

Gluten-Free Living Now Expo
Gluten-Free Living Now Expo

This weekend, October 13-14, 2012, the Gluten-Free Living Now Expo is going in in Carmel, Indiana.  And I couldn’t be more excited about it.  Gluten-Free expos are a great way to not only listen to speakers, gather information, sample products, meet a variety of vendors and find out about their products, and just meet others in the gluten-free community.  I live for these things and jump at the chance to attend them whenever possible.

Needless to say, I am heading up to Indianapolis this weekend specifically to attend this expo and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

The expo itself is being held at The Fountains, located at 502 E. Carmel Drive, Carmel, IN 46032.  On Saturday, the expo runs from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.  Come back on Sunday and enjoy the expo from 9 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

The expo is expecting over 70 vendors to be there, promoting their products, services, and the like.  This is a great way to find out about what companies are doing for the gluten-free community, what products are out, what local businesses are doing gluten-free (and where to find them!), and more.

Admission to the Gluten-Free Living Now Expo is only $5.00 for adults.  Children 10 and under are free of charge.  And what does this admission price get you?  A lot.   With your paid admission, you will be able to attend all lectures that are being given.  In addition, your admission fee gets you access to every vendor in attendance and whatever samples they are giving out.  Last year…the samples were awesome.  This is not to be missed.

Also going on are awesome cooking demonstrations and workshops.  According to the Gluten-Free Living Now Expo page, Pamela Giusto-Sorrells, of Pamela’s Products (one of my favorite product lines on the shelves these days!) will be making gluten-free bread in the microwave and showing those in attendance how easy it.  Gluten-free bread is something we in the gluten-free community continue to search for because we want the best tasting.  And Pamela has it.  She will show you how easy it is to make and share other recipes for sweet to savory breads.  This is not to be missed.

But she’s not the only one there for the workshops and demonstrations.  Check out the others being hosted by nutrition consultants, local restaurants/bakeries, Mrs. USA 2011, and Miss Indiana 2012, among others.  These are going to be some great workshops and demonstrations to see…so make time to sit in for them.

Some great lecture series will be going on as well regarding gluten-free living and Celiac Disease.  The featured speaker this year is Alassio Fasano, M.D., professor and director at the Center for Celiac Research, as well as the director of the Mucosal Biology Research Center.  Other speakers will be in attendance and these lecture series will definitely give some further insight into Celiac Disease and how to live a gluten-free lifestyle.  If you have questions, I guarantee you these speakers have answers.

So…if you happen to be in the vicinity this weekend…stop in at The Fountains in Carmel, Indiana and check out the Gluten-Free Living Now Expo.  With so much to check out, see and do, you will probably spend the entire day there.  And who can blame you?

Rudi's Gluten-Free Bakery
Rudi’s Gluten-Free Bakery

Now, dear readers…the giveaway…

My dear friends at Rudi’s Gluten-Free Bakery have put together a little giveaway prize package that you will have the opportunity to win!

This prize pack includes:

  • Samples of Rudi’s Gluten-Free Bakery’s new tasty Gluten-Free Tortillas
  • A Rudi’s Gluten-Free T-shirt and magnet
  • A tortilla warmer
  • A cookbook filled with delicious gluten-free recipes

All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is tell me in the comments below whether or not you have ever attended a gluten-free expo.  If you have…what did you enjoy most about it.

The winner will be selected at random.  Don’t miss out on this fantastic opportunity.

And check back after this weekend for a full report on the Gluten-Free Living Now Expo as I intend to share my experience here.