My favorite Tasty Bite thus far has to be the Channa Masala

Tasty Bite Channa Masala
Tasty Bite Channa Masala

Product: Tasty Bite Channa Masala – $3.29+

It’s simple.  It’s fast.  And, wow…is it ever full of flavor and epically delicious.  This is no exaggeration.  And the most surprising part is this isn’t made from scratch.  It comes from this little microwavable pouch.  A simple 90 second zap and something to serve it with (I love pouring this over jasmine rice) and dinner is ready in less than five minutes.

LESS THAN FIVE MINUTES!

Is it possible that something tasty can come from a little microwavable pouch?

You bet your Indian-food loving self something can…and it does.  So far I have been highly impressed with the line of Indian meals from Tasty Bite, but none have really wowed me as much as the Channa Masala.  And the surprising part is just how simple this dish really is.

The night before, to save on time, I cooked up some jasmine rice on the stove top and stored it in the fridge for the following evening.  Monday is my evening fun run with my running group, so dinner has to be fast…not too heavy…but substantial enough to see me through at least three miles of road.  So, it’s usually grilled cheese or something equally as easy…and since I have a pantry shelf of Tasty Bite meals…these make a quick, easy, and perfect meal for such busy days.

Channa Masala is a slightly spicy Indian dish that uses chickpeas as the main component.  Tasty Bite does just that with their version.  In addition, they add simple, natural ingredients to the mix.  Not one item listed on the pouch is something I am unfamiliar with.  In fact…I’ll list the ingredients here: onions, water, chickpeas, tomatoes, sunflower oil, coriander, salt, spices, chilies, bay leaf, and turmeric.  Vegetables, beans, a little oil, and some spices.  Like I said…all natural ingredients.  All ingredients are vegan, vegetarian, kosher, gluten-free…and yes…non-GMO!  Here is something I can totally get behind.

So with all that being said, let me dive right in.  The Channa Masala was LOVE at first taste.  Honestly.  One bite and I was hooked.  There is a bit of a warm spice…that heat you get when you eat really good Indian food.  Not overpowering or overwhelming.  Let’s just say my roomie is a heat wimp and this is also one of her favorites so far.  It’s just enough to make the bite interesting.  Honestly.  The chickpeas heat up to perfection and the sauce has that perfect blend of spices and flavor from the vegetables.  It went so well over the rice and the entire meal was just amazing.  I had to keep myself from hoovering the entire bowl and pace myself, let the flavor linger on my tongue, enjoying every bite.  It may not be much to look at, but wow…the flavor, texture, and just outright sheer awesomeness of the meal itself is enough to make you rush out to the store and buy up every pouch on the shelf.

Nutritionally speaking, this is a very healthy meal, for a prepackaged meal.  One serving is half of the Channa Masala inside the pouch.  This serving dishes up a 180 calories and 8 grams of fat.  One serving only has 400 mg of sodium, which isn’t bad for packaged food on the shelf of a grocery store, honestly.  It is also cholesterol free.  Thanks to the chickpeas, this serving provides a filling 6 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein as well.  Like I said…it’s filling without being heavy…making it the perfect quick meal to turn to on busy days.

As you can tell, I am absolutely LOVING the variety, the flavors, the versatility, and the natural goodness of the Tasty Bite meals that I have had the honor of trying.  Channa Masala, however, has quickly worked its way up to the top of my list.  I am in love with this one…and already am pondering different ways to dish it up next time.  Perhaps in tacos.  Mmmmm…fusion!

Take my word…these affordable, healthy, and amazingly quick meals are one of the most fantastic products on your grocery store’s shelves.  Purchase them.  Enjoy them.  Quick doesn’t mean it has to be bad for you.  Tasty Bite puts out some of the best packaged food out there.  I can attest to that.  And with them catering to so many varieties of special diets…it means there is something for everyone.

Gold star, Tasty Bite.  Gold star!!

Tasty Bite Channa Masala over jasmine rice
Tasty Bite Channa Masala over jasmine rice

Indian inspired Spinach Dal another Tasty Bite on a busy day

Tasty Bite Spinach Dal
Tasty Bite Spinach Dal

Product: Tasty Bite Spinach Dal – $3.29+

I lead a very busy life.  No, really…I do.  There are some weeks that I just never really find a moment to relax.  Between my training sessions, my gym time, my yoga, my JOB, life can sometimes spin wildly out of control and just keep me too busy for my own liking.  Honestly.  I sometimes have to eat breakfast standing up in the kitchen, I can be that busy.

Monday is one of my busiest and most hectic days.  Not only does it mean the start of the work week, but it also brings in my fun run.  Every Monday night and I hate missing it.  This, however, does require bolting home from work, changing into my running gear, and shoveling some sort of dinner down my throat.  I have to be particular though…because in less than 30 minutes after that, I’ll be out running.  Not hard…but still.  Nothing worse than something not sitting right in your stomach before a run (eggs, anyone?).

Normally, a gluten-free (and vegan) grilled cheese sandwich is my go-to option on Monday night.  But…I have a lot of “easy meals” in my pantry and I’m attempting to sort through all that craziness.  After all…can’t change up the eating habits until the old stuff is out.

One of the best choices in my pantry, however, is a heap of Indian-inspired meals that are ready in 90 seconds.  No…really!  These little pouches of deliciousness are made by Tasty Bite and I have found them in regular grocery stores and natural food stores.  This past Monday morning, I cooked up two servings of jasmine rice, because that’s easy to reheat in minutes when I get in from work.  I figured I could grab one of the Tasty Bite pouches from the pantry and serve up a filling, but not going to kill my stomach when I run, sort of meal.

My flavor of choice – Spinach Dal.

For those of you unfamiliar with Indian food, Dal is simply lentils.  And I am a huge fan of lentils!!  The Tasty Bite Spinach Dal is a blend of spinach, yellow lentils, and spices.  Nothing hot.  A lot of people just assume Indian food is going to be hot.  I wouldn’t want to eat something spicy before a run either.  The Spinach Dal is the perfect balance of mild Indian spices with delicious lentils and spinach, cooked down, and served over the rice I made that morning.

And it only takes 90 seconds.  Told you…it’s an easy, go-to, and VERY tasty meal.

I actually prefer spice, but the milder choices make for great Monday Run Day meals, I’ve found.  The combination of the carbs from the rice and the protein from the lentils is that perfect balance I need to fuel my body for what is always my second run of the day.  The spinach was soft and spiced to perfection.  The lentils added a nice hit of texture and flavor…and a bit of meatiness to this vegetarian meal.  I found the spices to mesh perfectly with the ingredients.

Speaking of ingredients…what all went into this?  You’d be surprised at the short list of natural ingredients.  This is why I love having these on hand.  The Tasty Bite Spinach Dal meal contains simply water, spinach, lentils, tomatoes, onions, sunflower oil, salt, cornstarch, ginger, garlic, sugar, chilies, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, pepper, and spices.  I recognize every ingredient on that list.  Every single one.  And while there are more than the 6-7 ingredients I prefer to see, most of them are spices and I’m okay with that.  The less salt and sugar used, the better.

Nutritionally speaking, this is a healthy choice for a meal as well.  One pouch contains two 100 calorie servings.  Each of these servings also deliver 5 grams of fat to your daily intake.  For being a packaged meal, the fact that it only contains 480 mg sodium per serving is awesome.  In addition, you get a healthy dose of 3 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein.  While sugar is listed on the ingredient list…only 2 grams are found in each serving.  The Tasty Bite Spinach Dal is also vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and kosher!  Awesome!

Healthy.  Tasty.  Delicious.  You really can’t go wrong with these.  If you love Indian food as much as I do…and need something easy to prepare for dinner one night…look no further than Tasty Bite.  And, if you aren’t afraid of cooked spinach and lentils…than the Spinach Dal makes for one of the best choices they have.  Very delicious!  Very…well…tasty!

Tasty Bite Spinach Dal over jasmine rice
Tasty Bite Spinach Dal over jasmine rice

Recipe: Curried Sweet Potatoes with Kale and Chickpeas

I admit…I’m a sucker for interesting and different cookbooks.  Really, I am.  I just can’t help myself when I see them.  Thankfully, for the most part, I don’t always purchase said cookbooks.  I just simply borrow them from my library and page through them until something catches my eye.

Of course, being a gluten-free vegetarian, this sometimes means I am only hitting up the sides or vegetable sections of said cookbooks…but at least it’s fun to look at some recipes and imagine how I could redo them without the use of meat.  I rarely actually put these re-imaginings into action…but it’s the thought that counts.

But then…sometimes I run across a cookbook that was just meant for me.  That was the case on my last visit to the local library, where on the shelf of new books to the library, I spotted one called Wild About Greens: 125 Delectable Vegan Recipes for Kale, Collards, Arugula, Bok Choy. and Other Leafy Veggies Everyone Loves by Nava Atlas.  I get a lot of fresh greens in my CSA bin and a cookbook dedicated specifically to utilizing them in a variety of vegan recipes just totally made my day.  There were few pictures in this book…which makes it difficult to judge a recipe, but one of them that did have a picture was for Curried Sweet Potatoes with Chard and Chickpeas.  And, wow, did it ever look fantastic?!

I just had to make it…and since I had fresh kale in my CSA bin, I changed out the chard for that…and we were golden.  I had everything else on hand except the sweet potatoes, but as my roommate had been craving baked sweet potatoes, we picked up a bunch of them while out grocery shopping earlier that week.

Recipe: Curried Sweet Potatoes with Kale and Chickpeas

Curried Sweet Potatoes with Kale and Chickpeas
Curried Sweet Potatoes with Kale and Chickpeas

Servings: 4-6
Time: Prep 15 minutes; Cook 40 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 large sweet potatoes or 4 medium garnet yams, peeled and cut into large dice
  • One 16- to 20-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • One 16-ounce can diced tomatoes (try a flavorful variety such as fire-roasted)
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons good-quality curry powder, or more, to taste
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger, more or less to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin, or more, to taste
  • 8 to 12 ounces kale (or chard, or any other leafy green on hand)
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro or parsley, or more or less to taste
  • 1/4 cup raisins, optional (but highly recommended)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions:

 

Heat the oil in a large skillet or a stir-fry pan.  Add the garlic and sauté over low heat until golden.

Add the sweet potato dice and  cup and a half or so of water; bring to a simmer and cook until just tender, adding just enough additional water if needed, as they cook, to keep the mixture moist.

Stir in the chickpeas, tomatoes, scallions, curry powder, ginger, and cumin and bring the mixture to a simmer again; cook over low heat for 10 minutes or so, until the sweet potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, strip or cut the kale leaves away from the stems.  Slice the stems thinly, and cut the leaves into strips.

Add the kale to the skillet, in batches if necessary, and cover.  Cook briefly, just until the kale wilts, then stir in.  Cook over low heat for 5 minutes, or until the kale is tender but not overdone.  Stir in the cilantro and optional raisins.  Season with salt and pepper, then serve.

~*~*~

Oh…yes!!  This was really, really, really good.  The flavors just worked well together.  I loved how the sweet potatoes and the kale meshed with the variety of spices and seasonings that went into this dish.  It was fantastic.  And it made enough for a couple days between my roommate and I.  I agree with the book…add the raisins.  I did…and it just added a nice bit of texture and burst of sweetness.  I would make this again in a heartbeat.

Delicious.  Nutritious.  Packed with flavor and all things good for you.  Yep…can’t ask for a better supper than that.  YUM!

The Good Bean bakes up amazing Sea Salt chickpea snack

The Good Bean Sea Salt Roasted Chickpea Snacks
The Good Bean Sea Salt Roasted Chickpea Snacks

Product: The Good Bean Sea Salt Roasted Chickpea Snacks – $2.99+

I’m on a mission.  A mission that was set forth by my sports nutritionist.

Yes…I have a sports nutritionist.

Why?  Because I’m preparing to run my first marathon and I want to make sure I am doing everything right.  From following a good training plan to making sure I am fueling my body to the best of my abilities.  This is important to me.  So, as I work through some of the stuff that is in my pantry…as I am cheap and won’t throw it away…I am already looking for new things to replace some of these snack items with.

I found a winner at World Market a couple weeks ago.  I broke them out on Friday as my snack at work and I fell in love at the first bite.

The product: The Good Bean Sea Salt Roasted Chickpea Snacks.

Yes…roasted chickpeas.

And yes…I am quite aware that I could easily make these myself, but my life is pretty busy and hectic as it is.  Maybe when things settle down in a couple months I’ll work more toward making a lot of my own food items.  But…this is pretty much as healthy as it gets when it comes to a snack.  Let’s start with the nitty-gritty and work into my opinion on these.

These are…what the bag says they are…roasted chickpeas.  I love chickpeas and I have my mom to thank for that (Thanks, Mom!).  However, I had never tried them roasted (but have pinned many recipes for this very snack on Pinterest to try…one day).  I chose to start with a trial on the original.  The very first snack by The Good Bean – roasted chickpeas flavored simply with…sea salt.  This concept was inspired by street vendors in Indian cities, who roast chickpeas in salt, resulting in hard little beans that give off this nutty, crispy, buttery texture of awesomesauce.  Yes…that is an accurate description.  Building off this concept, the people at The Good Bean roast their chickpeas in salt, bringing out the natural deliciousness of the chickpea itself.  Let’s face it…chickpeas are awesome.  They are a powerhouse of nutrition and just taste really good.  They taste even more badass when they are roasted.  Trust me.

So, let’s talk numbers.  No one likes numbers…but these…these are impressive.  The Good Bean Sea Salt Roasted Chickpea Snacks will only set you back 140 calories for a serving of 1/4 cup (which is the serving size).  This will also serve you up only 2 grams of fat (the healthy kind you get from beans!), 6 grams of fiber, 7 grams of protein, and only 260 mg of sodium.  Nice.  These chickpeas are low fat, nut-free, gluten-free, cholesterol-free, contain nothing over-engineered, nothing artificial, and are just SO good for your body, your heart, your waistline, and for giving you energy.  Nutritional powerhouses…that’s what these are.

But what about taste, right?  You gotta go off of taste!

Mark my words…these are totally AWESOME!!  Crunchy, tasty, with just the right about of salt to excite the taste buds.  Oh yeah…these are full of yumminess.  I loved the buttery texture and how, instead of having a mushy bean, you get this crunchy snack.  It’s like eating potato chips that are good for you.  Honestly.  I was so impressed by these.  In fact, I bought two of the other flavors today while grocery shopping.  That’s how yum-tastic these are.  As I move towards cleaner eating, these are more of the snacks I’ll be turning to.  Thankfully…these are delicious!!

So, if you’re looking to break your potato chip habit, I totally recommend The Good Bean’s roasted chickpea snacks.  Start with the basics…Sea Salt was the ideal place to start with me.  But if you want to be bold…try one of the other three flavors available.  I promise…you’ll love every crunchy bite of them.

The Good Bean Sea Salt Roasted Chickpea Snacks
The Good Bean Sea Salt Roasted Chickpea Snacks

Cofresh adds a bit of Indian heat to any dish with this spicy Tandoori Marinade

Cofresh Tandoori Marinade
Cofresh Tandoori Marinade

Product: Cofresh Tandoori Marinade – $2.50+

Oh, the things you find at Big Lots when you walk the aisles.  It never ceases to amaze me what kind of gluten-free goodness lurks in their food aisles.  Especially when you hit up some of the specialty aisles…where things comes from across the ocean.

That was what happened when I happened across Cofresh Tandoori Marinade.  It was any other browsing session through Big Lots to kill off some time.  And naturally, I find something that catches my eye.

Being that I love, love, love, love Indian food…I figured this gluten-free marinade (it’s even labeled!) would come in handy…at some point.  You know.  Like when I feel the need to make something and give it some Indian twist.  So, I purchased this imported sauce and took it home with me.  And then, as is normally the case, it sat in my pantry for a good long while.

Until today.

Because today I decided to flex my CSA Bin muscle.  I have lots of produce left from last week and a new bin on its way tomorrow…so I wanted to use whatever I could this evening with dinner.  Over the weekend, I also picked up some Twin Oaks Original Tofu at Whole Foods, so I figured…at least I could do some Tandoori Tofu.  But how to step it up?  And how to use some of that produce in my crisper drawer?  Hmmm…

And then…it came to me.  It’s what my roommate now calls Triple T!

What is Triple T, you might ask?  Well, it’s Tandoori Tofu Tortilla Wrap.  And I added some of the Bibb lettuce and baby spinach in my crisper drawer, as well as chopped up some shallots to add a bit of texture.  All I needed to do was get that tandoori tofu working.  And that was easy!!

This morning, I cut exactly 6 ounces of tofu (2 servings) from the block and then sliced it up into bite-sized cubes.  I tossed them into a plastic baggy with about 4 tablespoons of Cofresh Tandoori Marinade.  I gave the bag a shake, and then let it rest in the fridge all day while I was at work.  When I returned home tonight, I simply heated up a nonstick pan on the stove, dumped my marinaded tofu into it, and cooked it through.

Then…I warmed one of Rudi’s Gluten-Free Spinach Tortillas up in the microwave, added a touch more of the marinade to it, then layered on the fresh Bibb lettuce and baby spinach.  On top of that when my warmed tandoori tofu, then a sprinkling of raw shallot, for texture.  And when it was done…the Triple T was what we were having for dinner.  I took my roomie her plate then went to get mine.

First of all…this was one healthy and amazingly flavorful dinner.  The Cofresh Tandoori Marinade is labeled as being at a medium heat, but it does have some kick to it.  And, you all know I am a spice girl, so I was loving that gentle burn.  It worked so well on the tofu as the tofu really absorbed that rich flavor of the marinade.  So delicious.  And with the added crunch of the shallot and the fresh greens underneath, this was a hearty, satisfying, and spicy meal that sort of fused Mexican with Indian.  And it was a match made in heaven.

Cofresh Tandoori Marinade also wins as far as nutrition as well.  A serving size is 2 tablespoons, of which only sets you back 20 calories.  That’s amazing for a sauce.  This sauce is also fat free, gluten-free, vegetarian, and also vegan.  The sodium is a bit higher than I like, topping off at 520 mg, but it just means there is no need to season further.  And, honestly, you don’t need to.

I absolutely loved this marinade.  The tandoori flavor had the right amount of heat, kick, and spice to keep each bite interesting to my palate.  And I loved how it worked with my fresh, local produce.  Looking for a new way to spice up your meal, I highly recommend Cofresh Tandoori Marinade.

Tandoori Tofu Tortilla Wrap (made with Cofresh Tandoori Marinade)
Tandoori Tofu Tortilla Wrap (made with Cofresh Tandoori Marinade)

Easy Madras Lentils another Tasty Bite of simple Indian cuisine

Tasty Bite Madras Lentils
Tasty Bite Madras Lentils

Product: Tasty Bite Madras Lentils – $3.29+

It seems like it has been ages since I reached into my pantry for a Tasty Bite.

Does that sound weird to you?

It shouldn’t.  You see, there is this amazing company called Tasty Bite, who specialize in these little pouches of deliciousness.  I am not exaggerating.  I have bought many a pouch of ethnic-style cuisine.  Why?  Because there are some days that I don’t have time to cook up lentils or beans for a homemade curry, Indian dish, or even something with a bit of Asian flair.  I wish I did always have that time, but I work full-time and I run…a lot.  And all of that does cut into the hours of my day.  And when standing in front of a stove and cooking dinner means that it might be 7 p.m. before I sit down to eat…I’d rather reach for something I know will be good.  And it’s simple and takes only about 90 seconds to prepare.

This past Monday was my traditional fun run night.  This means I book it home from work, eat something, and then drive into Louisville to hit up my running store, and hopefully traffic doesn’t make me late.  Because I run with a group of people there and I hate missing my run.

This means…easy dinner.  Nothing that will upset my tummy.  And it has to taste good.

As I’ve had amazing luck with the Tasty Bite meals…I just happened to have one in easy reach in my pantry.  That morning, I cooked up some jasmine rice that I could easily reheat for a couple of minutes before warming up my Tasty Bite meal.

On today’s menu…Tasty Bite Madras Lentils.

Madras Lentils is a classic combination of lentils, red beans, and classic Indian spices, all in a creamy tomato sauce.  The ingredients of this pouch are so simple and recognizable.  Water, tomatoes, lentils, red beans, onions, cream, salt, butter, sunflower oil, chilies, and cumin.  That’s all.  Everything in this pouch is pronounceable and probably something you’d rind in your pantry, on your spice rack, and in your fridge.  You have to love that.  I know I do.

So, I gave my rice a quick nuke in the microwave, splitting it between a bowl for myself and my roommate.  Then, I tore a small opening in the bag for Tasty Bite Madras Lentils, placed it in the microwave for 90 seconds, and let it heat all the way through.  That’s all it took.  In this pouch emerged a steaming bag of creamy lentil goodness.  It smelled fantastic.

I split the bag (it serves 2) between my roommate and I and handed her a bowl.  We settled in to eat…and were both blown away.

If you like spicy Indian food, the Madras Lentils are probably not going to be your first choice.  However, for those days you want to give your palate a break from the heat and bring flavor to the forefront…I highly, highly recommend the simplicity, yet delicious flavors of Tasty Bite Madras Lentils.

I admit, sometimes Indian food isn’t the prettiest cuisine to look at.  But use your other senses and you will be amazed.  For a pouch of food with simple ingredients and flavors, this really does hit the mark on taste.  The sauce is creamy, yet smooth.  You can see the lentils and tomatoes, two main ingredients that should easily stand out.  And yeah…while there is a small hint of spice, it’s not a hot spice.  Rather, it warms you on the inside and leaves you just wanting to go and take another bite only to experience it again.

I am a huge fan of Tasty Bite.  I have yet to have one of their little pouches of easy-to-make cuisine that I haven’t liked.  The simplicity of the preparation, ingredients, and the flavor really make these meals worth every cent.  If you can find them…buy them.  Try them all.  Just…make sure the ones you pick up are gluten-free.

The Madras Lentils is not only gluten-free, but also vegetarian and certified kosher.  One serving (half of the pouch) is only 150 calories and will provide you with only 6 grams of fat.  The sodium content is at 510 mg, which is a little high, but this is processed food, so I’ve come to expect that.  It’s actually on the lower end when you compare it to other pre-packaged items along the same line.  And, best yet, a serving packs a protein punch of 7 grams.  NICE!

Delicious.  Nutritious.  And easy to make.  In no time you’ll be sitting down to a classic Indian meal.  And all it took was a little microwave time.  You gotta love that.

And you gotta love Tasty Bite.  I know I do.

Tasty Bite Madras Lentils over jasmine rice
Tasty Bite Madras Lentils over jasmine rice

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.

Recipe: Vegetable Curry

Sometimes a recipe just catches your attention.  That’s exactly what happened to me one day when I was at my local library.  On the shelf holding the new books there was one called Simply…Gluten-Free Quick Meals by Carol Kicinski.  I picked it up and flipped through it, and immediately some recipes began catching my attention.  So, I checked it out.

It just so happened that one of the recipes in there was for a vegetable curry (Curry in a Hurry).  I had everything required for the recipe except the can of coconut milk, the butternut squash, a potato, and the frozen peas.  But those were affordable enough to add to that week’s grocery list, so I went ahead and made plans to have this recipe for dinner this week.

And last night…I made it up and I was so happy with the results.  This is a hearty, delicious, vegan curry that anyone can enjoy.  You can adjust it to your level of spiciness (I kept mine mid-range, as my roomie is a heat wimp and I love it spicy).  It’s full of flavor and will fill you up without filling out out with calories.

Recipe: Vegetable Curry

Vegetable Curry (served over jasmine rice)
Vegetable Curry (served over jasmine rice)

Servings: 6
Time: Prep 10 minutes; Cook 25 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cups butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed (I bought mine pre-cut!)
  • 1 large Idaho potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 medium yellow or white onion, thinly sliced (I used shallots)
  • 1 cauliflower head, cut into florets
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons gluten-free mild or hot Indian curry paste (I used Thai Kitchen)
  • 14.5 ounce can unsweetened coconut milk, shaken well (I used light coconut milk)
  • 15 ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup frozen peas

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven with a lid over medium-high heat.

Add the butternut squash and potato cubes and sauté just until they start to brown a little, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the onion, cauliflower, and curry paste, starting with a little and continuing to add until you reach the desired heat level.  Cook, stirring constantly for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the paste is combined and the onion is just starting to soften.

Add the coconut milk and stir to combine.  Cover the pot, lower the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.

Add the chickpeas and frozen peas to heat through, 1 to 2 minutes.

Serve.

~*~*~

I served my curry over steamed jasmine rice.  It was so delicious.  With it being fall and the winter months approaching, this made for a nice, warm, hearty meal that is packed with fresh ingredients and lots of nutritional value.  It’s a fantastic and different way to use those winter vegetables that are in season and everywhere at the grocery store right now.

And this is really easy to prepare.  I definitely recommend buying the squash pre-cut, as it takes out a lot of the hassle.  No shame in it, my friends.  Trust me!  If anything…I would just recommend a little pinch of salt.  Other than that…this made for a delicious, filling dinner under 300 calories per serving.  And I loved every bite of it.  I also can’t wait to make it again!

Tasty Bite Chunky Chickpeas look a mess, but taste amazing

Tasty Bite Chunky Chickpeas
Tasty Bite Chunky Chickpeas

Product: Tasty Bite Chunky Chickpeas – $3.29+

This is definitely one of those cases where looks can be deceiving.  For real.

It was the evening of my Fun Run over in Louisville, which meant that I had to book it home from work, eat something, change, and get over to the running store that hosts the run before everyone took off without me.  The run usually begins around 6:10 p.m.  And that day at work, a meeting I was in ran over and it was closer to 5 p.m. when I walked in the door of my apartment.

That’s when Tasty Bite meals come in handy.  I was already planning on eating one, as they are super fast, super simple, and super yummy.  The previous evening, I steamed up some jasmine rice to act as a base.  All I had to do was reheat that, then heat up the Tasty Bite entree of my choice.  The one that was in the pantry was the Chunky Chickpeas.

The packaging of this particular entree shows golden chickpeas that have been bathed in aromatic spices.  They looked super delicious.  So, after giving the rice a quick warm and dividing it into two bowls (one for me; one for my roommate), I followed package instructions and tore about a 2 inch slit into the little envelope, stood it up in my microwave, and ran it for 90 seconds.

Yes…these meals only take 90 seconds to heat and then enjoy!  Gotta love that.

When the pouch was done warming, I pulled it out of the microwave, opened it further and began to pour the contents over the first bed of rice.  What came out was a grey, chunky mess.  Seriously.  It didn’t look appetizing at all.  What happened to my golden chickpeas?  These looked like chickpeas that had a round of mud wrestling and lost…badly.  I emptied the other half into the other bowl and almost turned up my nose.

Granted, the aroma that wafted from the meal itself was fantastic.  But the grey color was a little off-putting.  I checked the packaging again…yep…golden.  So what was this?  Ah well.  I didn’t have time to come up with reasons in my head.  I had a run to get to, and before that…a meal to consume.

“This doesn’t look very appetizing,” I said to my roommate as I carried out her bowl and handed it to her.  “But maybe it tastes better than it looks.”

She gazed down into the bowl.  “Ewww.”

I went to retrieve the other bowl, gave it a big stir to mix the rice in more, and found that it made the entree look better.  As I was walking back out to the couch, my roommate was in the process of devouring the entree.  This…was a good sign.

And as I dug in, I knew for certain that the reason for her hasty bites wasn’t because we were running late to my run.  Nope.  It was because this entree tasted absolutely amazing.  The chickpeas warmed and softened to perfection.  And the spices.  Oh. My. God.  The spices were pure Indian through and through.  The Chunky Chickpeas entree is actually chickpeas that are added to water, onions, sunflower oil, garlic, ginger, coriander, salt, cumin and other spices that really turn up the notch of flavor.  These don’t have a lot of extra sauce or juice on them, so they do make a good topping for a salad, or in a tortilla or something.  But, I enjoyed them over my rice…despite kind of resembling wet dog food.

Honestly…looks are deceiving.  What every bite of the Tasty Bite Chunky Chickpeas did was deliver a spoonful of layered flavors.  This meal isn’t spicy at all, but it doesn’t have to be.  The spices that the chickpeas are marinaded in are the stand-out of this meal.  Honestly, look past the appearance and put your faith in your taste buds.  What you’ll discover is one tasty bite (see what I did there?) after another.

And the nutrition on these is fantastic.  A serving is half of the pouch (4 ounces), which only sets you back 210 calories and 7 grams of fat.  The sodium content on these is fantastically low.  And this particular entree packs a 9 gram protein punch with each serving.  Gotta love that.  And I did…and still do.  The Chunky Chickpeas entree is also vegetarian, vegan, kosher, and gluten-free.

Indian food that is easy to prepare, easy on the stomach, and easily delicious is available…and it’s available at local grocery stores.  Just look for Tasty Bite.  And yes…even despite the appearance, I totally recommend the Tasty Bite Chunky Chickpeas entree.  Because underneath all that grey is one flavor-packed entree that is worth raving about and getting others to try.

Tasty Bite Chunky Chickpeas with jasmine rice
Tasty Bite Chunky Chickpeas with jasmine rice

Bengal Lentils are another good gluten-free and vegetarian Tasty Bite meal

Tasty Bite Bengal Lentils
Tasty Bite Bengal Lentils

Product: Tasty Bite Bengal Lentils – $3.29+

This review is being written while I sit down and eat a bowl of Tasty Bite’s Bengal Lentils.  Yep.  It doesn’t get much fresher than this for a review.  Because everything I am tasting I can put down right here…right now.

Needless to say…I’m once again rather impressed by Tasty Bite and their prepackaged Indian meals of goodness.  While there have been others that have come before this one that I have liked better…this one isn’t bad.

In fact, if there were one thing I would nitpick at…it would be the lentils.  Despite heating them for the correct amount of time, they come across as undercooked and crunchy.  Which, doesn’t really take away from the dish, but it certainly bears making note of here.  Everything else was a flavor-packed home run.

The Bengal Lentils are whole lentils that have been cooked in a light gravy consisting of aromatic herbs and spices.  These include garlic, salt, ginger, chilies, coriander, and turmeric.  The sauce is a flavorful blend of the lentils, tomatoes, onions, chickpeas and a sunflower oil.  The result…a delicious hit of Indian flavor in each bite.

I cooked mine up and served over some steamed jasmine rice.  I tend to do that with the Tasty Bite meals as it makes them more filling and more of a meal.  Especially since I am splitting the serving (each bag comes with two in it) with my roommate.  Besides, I love rice with my Indian meals.

Tasty Bite offers a wide variety of these packaged meals that you heat up in the microwave for about 90 seconds.  So easy.  And very handy to have on busy evenings or nights where you just don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  I often keep a few of these in my pantry for just such occasions.

The Bengal Lentils have a nice, spicy bite to them without the heat being overpowering or too much.  The flavors shine through with each bite.  Again, I found the whole lentils to be a bit tough…but that is the only negative thing about this meal.  The spices are right on par, blending together to make not only a perfect sauce, but the perfect flavors for an Indian meal.  For something that is packaged, the nutrition information is rather good.

One serving is half of the package, and only sets you back 160 calories.  With it comes a healthy helping of 7 grams of protein, 6 grams of fat, and only 480 mg of sodium, which is awesome for packaged food items.  The Bengal Lentils are gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, and kosher.  And…yes…they are quite pleasing to the palate…despite the taste of the al dente lentils.

Tasty Bite yet again offers up a meal that is of restaurant-quality flavor.  I wasn’t quite as blown away by the Bengal Lentils as some of the previous varieties I have tried, but still…ate every bite and savored the authentic Indian flavor that accompanied it.  And for the price…that’s hard to beat.

Tasty Bite Bengal Lentils over jasmine rice
Tasty Bite Bengal Lentils over jasmine rice