United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, NY (March 20, 2016)

Me after finishing the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon - New York, New York

Me after finishing the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, New York

Race: United Airlines NYC Half Marathon

Place: New York, New York

Date: March 20, 2016

Time: 1:43:53

When I go into a race without any expectations or goals…I seem to do better than anticipated.  While I had a semi-goal of being able to do my first half marathon distance after injury (for a year) in sub-2 hours, I wasn’t going to be too hard on myself if it didn’t happen.

Especially since the weather changed drastically the week of the race.

The weekend before the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon…the weather was gorgeous.  Not just in Louisville (where I ran my first official race back…the Rodes City Run 10K), but up in New York too.  I was hoping it would hold.  I do better in nicer temperatures.  But as the week went on…the gorgeous weather started to go away.

NOOOOOO!!

For much of the week, the forecast was calling for rain…cold…wind.  Then snow…cold…wind.  And then, on Friday night, it changed to just really flippin cold and really flippin’ windy.

UGH!!  Now I was in a crisis. I had my outfit planned out for weeks…but the 30 degree temps and the strong winds (and the wind chill it would bring), meant I needed to reevaluate my wardrobe.  With much reluctance, the running skirt went back into the closet and a pair of my (albeit bright) compression tights came out.  Any of you who regularly read my running blog know…I…HATE…PANTS.  So this frustrated me.  I also packed a big turtleneck lined top and a windbreaker…and at the last minute, just before walking out the door early Saturday…I tossed in a long sleeve shirt…just in case, because I never ran in a windbreaker and I was nervous it would annoy me or just not work out…in which case, I’d rather brace against the cold in layers than anything.

So, Saturday morning was an early morning for me.  I was up at 2 am to do all my physical therapy exercises.  The stretches, the dynamic stuff outside, the plyometrics.  I knew once I touched down in NYC…I was on the move…and these stretches were more important than anything else.

I admit, a little voice in my head said, “Go on…go do an easy mile or two for a shakeout before getting on the plane.”  But, as tempting as it was, I quieted that voice.  I knew I’d be on the go both at the airports and once I touched down in the city, the shakeout wasn’t important, and I didn’t need to do it.  I’d be doing ample time on my feet just moving about NYC.

See what I have learned??!!

So, we (my roommate and I) walked out the door right at 5 am (giving us time to get a light breakfast in our stomachs and (SO VERY MUCH NEEDED) coffee into our system.  We got to the Louisville airport in record time…parked…had to take a roundabout way to the Southwest Airlines counter due to renovations that are going on, and which I hope they finish up before Derby, or that airport is going to be a mess.  Security was quick, although I ended up being randomly chosen for the hand swab, and my laptop (as always) had to be examined more closely…but it was quick, painless, and we were off and heading to our gate (which was behind a bunch of renovation boards).  Like I said, the airport was sort of a mess.

Deciding that we weren’t ready to settle in yet, we took a little walk, as usual, through the airport crowds, and Cathy and I grabbed a Cool Lime Refresher at Starbucks (and she got a breakfast sammie as well) and we went back to the gate.  I downed one of the new LUNA Bars (the Dark Chocolate Mocha Almond, which has only 5 grams of sugar and tasted like an amazing caffe mocha) and then…it was time to board.  We were at the end of the A group…so it worked out perfectly.

Our flight had a small layover at Chicago Midway before we went on to NYC.  So, we took the time to stretch our legs and walk the terminal. I was really craving something sweet, so we went on the “Great Fruit Cup Hunt of Midway,” finding that everywhere that normally had fruit cups were sold out.  With 5 minutes to boarding, we finally found something at one of the food court restaurants.  It was a large fruit cup with honeydew melon, pineapple, grapes and strawberries in it.  I carried it onto our flight into Laguardia Airport and ate it while still sitting on the runway.

The flight into Laguardia was uneventful, save for the funny flight crew.  The lead flight

Me with the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon logo - New York, New York

Me with the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon logo – New York, New York

attendant was in her 50s and just…SO funny.  Love that.  It also helps calm my nerves when the flight crew is loosey-goosey like that.  I was drinking my water to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate and we landed in Laguardia early.  Taxied to the jetway…disembarked…and went to baggage claim.  My bag was the 2nd one off the belt.  Cathy’s wasn’t too far behind.  With bags in hand, we called the hired car company and they had a car out to fetch us in about 5 or so minutes.  Luggage went into the trunk and we were now on our way into Manhattan…staying at a different hotel this time (which was totally our fault because we originally had the race pegged for the weekend before this one and it wasn’t until about a month before that I realized the date of the race was for the week after…in my defense, it ran a week earlier last year!)…but the traffic situation wasn’t bad and our driver was really aggressive once he got into the city blocks, LOL!  We were dropped off at the door of The Distrikt Hotel on W 40th Street and went to check in.

We were much earlier than anticipated, so our room wasn’t ready yet.  We did go ahead and leave our bags and went to go buy a Metrocard and take the subway to get to the United Airlines NYC Half Experience (the expo), which was taking place at the Metropolitan Pavilion. We headed into the Expo, which was a madhouse!  Seriously…at some points, I felt like salmon swimming upstream.  I had the registration sheet with me so I went over to where my numbers were to pick up my bib.  From there, it was through the store and over to get my official bag with my t-shirt and stuff in it.  I haven’t really looked through what else was in there.  I made one circuit of the expo before returning to the official store.  There was a great t-shirt in there, pink and purple, that I had my eye on.  But, to no surprise, my size was gone.  Disappointing for sure.  Ah well.  Except, Cathy and I realized almost all official merchandise for women had nothing left in small.  Now I remember why I order things online ahead of this.  She did manage to find me an official finisher’s t-shirt and I grabbed a Sparkly Soul headband that had the event name on it.  Purchases made.  Back into the expo.

I actually thought there would be more vendors there and more to see and lots more places to shop.  But, for the best, there wasn’t. I walked through the line of charities…I got in line to have my picture taken in front of the logo…Cathy made a couple signs (which never got used due to the 21 mph gusts of wind on race morning)…and we settled in for a moment at a table where I could charge my phone and we could catch our breath.

Me and my awesome friend Ellen at the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon Experience

Me and my awesome friend Ellen at the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon Experience

My friend, Ellen, who got in on lottery this year (I deferred last year so had automatic entry…except I had to repay the $127 registration fee), turned up to meet up with me, and brought me a nice salad to boot.  YAY for friends.  YAY for food!  We discussed what we were planning on wearing, food, and…all the crazy shit (hehehe…get it Ellen?) that runners rely on and need to have happen prior to a run.  It was fun.  I even did a Snapchat video for her giving a running tip.  She calls me her inspiration…but I think she’s mine.  She needed to get back to the charity event she was attending, and I needed to get back to the hotel to get into the room.  The travel capris I was wearing weren’t very warm against the already chilly wind of NYC.  So, we returned to the hotel, got our room, gathered our bags, and went upstairs.  We flopped for a moment before changing into jeans and heading back out…this time just to explore.  We didn’t want to stop in for dinner until at least 5 p.m.  So, we had a couple of hours to just explore.  That’s what we did, too.

With no plan, we just wandered through some of the area, stopping into shops that drew our attention.  We went and got our chocolate from Teuscher (I got a mini champagne, dark mocha, and dark salted caramel…and Cathy got a limoncello, almond, and chocolate orange truffle), which is a requirement, and ducked into the Hard Rock Café for a shotglass and a pin.  Back out and seeing the city until we decided to hike over to our pre-race dinner spot of choice, Don Antonio by Starita on W 50th Street.  They have a fantastic gluten-free pizza menu, and while they have a couple of GF and Vegan options, I stuck with the one I knew I loved and wouldn’t give me too much.  The Marinara Pizza Senza Glutine.  OMG…this is my 2nd favorite gluten-free pizza crust in the world (the first being Annie May’s Sweet Café).  I love when there is a real and actual crust on a gluten-free pizza, and not just a cracker crust.  We devoured dinner and then hiked back to the hotel to cycle through showers, giving me time to foam roll, and to eat some chocolate.  HA!  It was an early to bed night…and by 9 pm…we were turning out the lights.

I set the alarm on my phone for the first one to wake me up at 4 a.m.  It went off and I got up to use the bathroom, take my medicine, and then crawled back into bed for another 50 minutes.  The second alarm was the 5 a.m. one, and I got up and started to get changed into my running gear for the race.  Cathy was up at 5:15 to get dressed and ready.  And while I felt good all day prior to this morning, I felt tired, but in good shape for the actual race.  I was not happy that I had to wear pants to run a half marathon, but the windchill was a factor and I under-dressed once before for a full and have been nervous about doing that again ever since (hypothermia is NOT fun, my friends).  I decided to wear a long sleeve tech shirt under my warmer top with the big turtleneck top, figuring it would be good against the wind, without me trying to get used to running in a windbreaker on the fly.  I got my number pinned on, threw on the hoodie I was going to leave behind, filled up my water bottles and we were off.

We took the subway to Columbus Circle and disembarked, climbing the stairs and being

Me at then entrance of Central Park, Times Square behind me, on the morning of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon - New York, New York

Me at then entrance of Central Park, Times Square behind me, on the morning of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, New York

greeted with some of the coldest wind.  I don’t know how the dude in front of us was handling being in short running shorts, because I would have been dying.  I think he was.  But…to each their own, right?!  We walked over to the checkpoint at Central Park where Cathy had to go her own way and I had to show my bib number and enter.  We took a picture of me with Times Square behind me and then I went in.  I walked with a bunch of runners who were just talking about some of the most random stuff.  One was talking about Scott Jurek on Instagram and it was kind of amusing to me.  We went through the medal detectors and then continued on the path to the corrals.  There was a line of port-o-potties without lines and many of the people I was walking with went to take advantage of them…and I kept on trekking.  I made my way to the line of corrals, working my way up to the one for 10000-10999.  I did a few of my dynamic warm-up moves from physical therapy, but the air temperature was enough to make me not want to do it anymore.  I did one set of each, then hunkered down and shivered for a good half hour more.  It was really, really cold.  When the corrals opened for the start of the wheelchair race, I stepped inside and did a few static stretches just to loosen up.  From the onslaught of the cold wind, my hip was already not loving me.  It began to ache during the easy walk from security to the corals.  Seriously, my body and cold weather never got along, but it really doesn’t get along with it these days.

The wheelchair racers, hand crank racers, and elite women were all sent off by 7:15 a.m.  It was awesome standing in the corral and being able to see each group take off.  When the elite women took up, I cheered loudly for Molly Huddle, who is from Elmira, NY…my hometown area.  She’s amazing.  She’s fast.  She set a new course record that morning and it came down to an eighth of a second…it was THAT close.  The elite men went off with Wave 1 at 7:30 a.m..  Then my wave…Wave 2…were shuffled forward for our 7:45 a.m. start.  It was really exciting.  When the airhorn blew to send us off, I began the walk toward the official start, and started my Garmin as I crossed.  The first step already had my hip screaming at me.  I struggled through the final mile of a 10K the weekend prior…and I just started a half marathon.  I really just made a point go focus on my form and my breathing, and just finding a comfortable pace to run at.  As I said, I had no goals or expectations…just to have fun and to finish what I start.  Well…I started.  I now had to finish.

Me running through the 10K mark of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon - New York, New York

Me running through the 10K mark of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, New York

The 6 miles through Central Park are beautiful and quiet.  There were pockets of spectators out there, but mostly it was runners, our feet, and our breathing.  Being the start of the race, I would catch snatches of conversations people were having as they ran the race with friends or running partners.  It keeps me amused.  Some people were tucked into their earbuds, their music propelling them forward.  There was a couple running together, and on the back of his shirt was a sign that said “Baby on Board” and an arrow pointing to his wife who was running right next to him.  The people inside the park were loud and awesome and the little loop we do outside the park to turn around and head back in…was packed, crowded and loud.  I love a good crowd.  The hills of Central Park are respectable, but my hill repeats have been more intense than those, so while they slowed me down slightly, they didn’t have me huffing and puffing.  I’m learning to love to hate to love those hill repeat sessions more and more.  I didn’t check my pace on my watch at any point, but I hit the 5K mark and felt like I was coming along well for someone who was fighting hip pain twinges since the start.  With the hills now behind us, the runners exit Central Park onto 7th Avenue.  Cathy said she’d be outside the park to see me there, so I got to the left per her instructions and headed up 7th Avenue.  She was tucked into the pocket of the turn, but I heard her shouting and screaming and I gave a wave at her as I ran past.  It lifted my spirits, for sure.  And it was on to run down 7th Avenue and into Times Square.

I think Times Square was my favorite part of this race.  The crowd was intense.  There was so much noise.  All the screens were lit up.  The Kids Mile was running through there.  There was so much energy there…that it just pulsed through you.  I loved every stretch of this portion of the race.  And it is the part I remember the most.  I love a good crowd.

And with the extreme winds we were getting, it was a great way to start off the last stretch of the race.  This portion is pretty flat, save for just after the 20K mark.  So, it was nice to easily pick up the pace a little here.  Miles 8-12 really just have you fighting the windtunnels that are 42nd Street.  Here you make a U-Turn and head down the West Side Highway.  Wind.  Lots of wind.  Thankfully there was music blasting at various stages throughout this stretch of the run.  The crowds were sparse, but there were some spectators out there to cheer.  But without the bands, this might have been a tough slog through these 4 miles.  However, as the miles tick down, One World Trade Center/Freedom Tower keep getting closer and closer.  It’s gorgeous.  I can’t tell you how long I just kept my eyes on that building, minding each time I drew up my right leg, making sure I wasn’t overcompensating due to the hip pain.  This was…uplifting.

Mile 12 takes runners through the Battery Park Underpass.  This…was fun.  Seriously.  You are underground for a long while.  Runners scream and shout and let out whoops as they run through the dark, spooky tunnel. I loved it.  I even left my sunglasses on.  Just powered on through.  Running through tunnels is fun.  For some reason, I always smile more in them.  The 20K mark was just as we were let out to run up a hill.

Me coming out of the Battery Park Underpass at the 20K mark of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon - New York, New York

Me coming out of the Battery Park Underpass at the 20K mark of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, New York

This is where Cathy was situated to see me before I hit the finish line.  LOVED this little uplift right at the end.  I waived and smiled as she shouted, “YOU REALLY ARE ALMOST THERE!”  And so, I burst up the hill and got hit by one hell of a headwind.  NYC has this way of always being super windy when I run there.  So…I battled the headwind and just ran…ran…ran…rounding a corner…passing up a pace group….rounding another turn and seeing that finish line.  As I ran this race rather conservatively, I still had some go in the tank and so…I powered up, powered through, and crossed that finish line.

I stopped my Garmin…and the tears just started going.  I didn’t know my official time.  I didn’t check the Garmin.  I competed and finished my first half marathon since my hip labrum tear over a year ago.  And I could still move.  No limping.  Just a small ache.  I had done what I thought I wouldn’t be able to do…and it turns out I did it well.

We were filtered through the finisher’s area where we had medals hung around our necks and mylar sheets wrapped around us to keep us warm.  We were given these nice bags filled with snacks, Gatorade and water, and then shuttled out toward Battery Park.  At the exit, Cathy was waiting.  I hurried over and got a hug and she said, “YOU KILLED IT!!  Do you want to know your time?”  Of course I did.  She told me…and I started crying.  Not only was it better than I anticipated, it was better than I could have dreamed of doing, given the circumstances.

Our bodies find ways of surprising us.  And I think not having a specific goal or pace I wanted to hit helped.

So, the official results of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon are that I finished in 1:43:53.  I was 3318/20,149 finishers overall.  I was 786/10,556 female finishers.  And I was 132/1706 finishers in my division.  I, honestly, couldn’t have run this any better.  Since the cold weather made me sore from just shivering at the start, I just took this race one step at a time…one mile at a time.  And I LOVED it.  I loved this race.  It was…probably….one of my favorite half marathons I have ever run.  Even in the cold…and the wind…and the suck…it was just…fun.  And I had fun running it.  It was a struggle at times…but I finished it and I felt good at the end.

Afterwards, we hopped the subway back to the hotel where I showered and changed.

Cathy, Me and Marisa after a great evening of celebration at Red Rooster Harlem.

Cathy, Me and Marisa after a great evening of celebration at Red Rooster Harlem.

Cathy and I went to Empire Coffee & Tea House where I got a Pumpkin Spice Latte (dairy free…made with almond milk…and YUMMY!).  Then we ended up hiking around NYC the rest of the day with Cathy and my friend Marisa, who I have known since high school.  We stopped in at bakeries (I bought 3 cookies from By The Way (BTW) Bakery) and a tea shop (where I had the Energitea…an amazing green blend).  We settled in for a bit at the hotel before getting ready to head to dinner at Red Rooster Harlem.  You might recall, Red Rooster is where I celebrated my NYC Marathon finish…so I wanted to go back for this.  And it was amazing.  Once again, the chef created a dish to fit my dietary needs…and I was SO impressed.  I even had dessert.  And fun.  We sat and talked over mint tea and listened to the live jazz music in the bar before calling it a night and making the trek back from Harlem to Midtown.  We said goodbye to Marisa and settled in for the night.

Overall…I’m already ready to come back to NYC…even if I don’t have a race.  There is always so much to see and do.  But…this time…for me…the highlight was getting through the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon…after having to defer it last year.  It was just the boost I needed.

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Product Review: So Delicious Dairy Free Mac & Cheese Pizza Flavor

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So Delicious Diary Free Mac & Cheese Pizza Flavor

Product: So Delicious Dairy Free Mac & Cheese Pizza Flavor – $2.99+

 

It was in a recent issue of Gluten Free & More that Erica Dermer (aka: Celiac & The Beast) brought to my attention the fact that So Delicious Dairy Free was coming out with a new product.  Two (yes…TWO) versions of a boxed mac & cheese.

Gluten free and dairy free…perfect for this girl.  I figured it would take an eternity to find in Louisville, but…a couple of weeks ago, it was out on the shelves of the local Whole Foods.  So both flavors (Pizza and Cheddar) came home with me.  And this week was an ideal week to try one of them as my endless quest to clear out the pantry continues (I know…if I’d stop buying things it would be so much easier!).

I know, I had a vegan mac and cheese on Monday…but who says comfort food can only happen once a week, right?  Besides…this was a different mac and cheese. This one came in a box.  HAHA!  And since today was my (allergen-free) Soft Pretzel Wednesday lunch tradition, and I bought an amazing (allergen-free) Confetti Cupcake from my local bakery, Annie May’s Sweet Café, I figured, why not go for broke?  Have some mac & cheese!  Thanks to the (not-so-expensive) splurge at Whole Foods…this was possible.

Nothing could be easier to make.  Simply bring a pot of water to a boil and pour the noodles in.  Allow them to cook for about 8-9 minutes.  Drain.  Once drained, return noodles to the pot and add in 1/2 cup of unsweetened coconut milk (I used unsweetened cashew milk) and 2 tablespoons of a dairy-free buttery spread (I used Earth Balance).  Add in the packet of powder-like-cheesy-stuff and stir until mixed well.  Serve.

So, my roommate opted to have the Pizza Flavored Mac & Cheese from So Delicious first before the Cheddar.  I think she’s having a hankering for pizza.  Well, she said it’s because I made “regular” mac & cheese on Monday.  Whatever.  Regardless, we started off with the odd-flavored one!  (That’s odd as in…not a normal flavor you would find).  I served it with a slice of vegan garlic bread (from Annie May’s Sweet Café)…and dinner was super-easy, super-quick, and hopefully super-yum!

As far as boxed mac & cheese goes, this ranks up there.  I thought the gluten free noodles were amazing.  They didn’t get gummy or fall apart.  They held up to draining and constant mixing when everything was added in.  That really was a high point for me, since so often these boxed gluten-free pastas just fall apart.  So…YAY!  As for the flavor…it…kind of tastes like pizza.  There is a hint of tomato flavor in the sauce, for sure.  And the sauce is darker than the orange boxed powder stuff that people are used to eating.  It didn’t punch me in the tastebuds and make me think I was eating pizza instead of pasta.  Like I said, it had more of a rich tomato flavor than anything.  What I did love most, however, was that it didn’t have a weird tangy fake cheese flavor to it.  No plastic residue.  Nothing that can be such a turn off (for me, anyway) when it comes to vegan cheese products.  The sauce was creamy and cheesy (without the cheese!)…and for that I am happy.  I think I liked it best when I was scooping it up with my garlic bread though.  More powerful flavors there than on its own. That being said, I wasn’t disappointed in the least, and will probably end up keeping a box of the So Delicious Dairy Free Mac & Cheese in my pantry for nights where I need something quick and easy…and delicious.

All that being said, let’s talk about what goes into the So Delicious Dairy Free Mac & Cheese Pizza Flavor.  This product is made up of organic gluten free pasta (organic white rice flour, organic green lentil flour, organic corn flour), algal protein, veggie blend (carrot, tomato), sea salt, natural flavor, coconut oil powder (maltodextrin, organic coconut oil, rice starch, natural flavor), guar gum, pizza seasoning (spices, garlic, salt, onion), mustard (seed), annatto, and lactic acid.  This product us Kosher Parve, Certified Gluten Free, and Certified Vegan.

As for nutrition, a serving of the So Delicious Dairy Free Mac & Cheese Pizza Flavor is 2.5 ounces (71 grams…or about 1 cup prepared) and there are about 2.5 servings per box.  My roommate and I just split it in half.  An actual serving (as packaged, not prepared), will give you 260 calories, 2 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 500 mg sodium, 50 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 2 grams sugars, and 10 grams of protein!  LOOK at that protein!!  It is definitely filling.

No worries…I still ate the cupcake afterwards!

Anyway…while the So Delicious Dairy Free Mac & Cheese Pizza Flavor was a nice way to have a stress-free night of cooking, I still felt that it was lacking somewhat in flavor.  That being said, the texture, taste, and creaminess were right up to par…especially for a powder-base.  I was impressed and surprised that I liked it that much.  And that’s a good thing, for sure.  But, I sure was glad I picked up that garlic bread today…

Bottom line…it was good.  Not outstanding.  But good.  And different.  I have yet to find another gluten free and/or vegan pizza mac and cheese on the market.

 

 

Product Review: Bountiful Pantry Risotto with Garden Vegetables

Bountiful Pantry Risotto with Garden Vegetables

Bountiful Pantry Risotto with Garden Vegetables

Product: Bountiful Pantry Risotto with Garden Vegetables – $8.50

Risotto is one of those dishes that you love to hate.  Not so much in the dining and devouring part…but the making of said dish.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a risotto fanatic as much as the next person, however…I much prefer the unorthodox way of cooking it…in a dutch oven…in the oven.  Baked.

Stovetop…just never seems to want to work out fright for me.

That being said, back in my April (Spring) 2015 Cuisine Cube, I received a package of risotto from Bountiful Pantry’s gluten free selection.  I was pretty stoked.  Gotta love risotto.  I couldn’t wait to find a night to cook it up.

And then…I just never got around to it.  With everything that was going on with my hip injury, recovery, broken leg, travel, more travel, more recovery, the holidays…it’s been pretty non-stop since I received this box in the mail.  Thankfully, it was good through April of 2016…so it wasn’t a waste.

Before I get into the product itself…here’s a little bit about Cuisine Cube.  Cuisine Cube is a subscription service that delivers 5-6 gluten-free, full-size products to your door for as little as $34.99/month. Inside the cube, you will discover full-size products (not sample sizes) that are made by local and smaller, artisan companies, rather than those that you can find at the average grocery store.  It has introduced me to so many new and delightful products.  Each box contains a breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, and dessert product…and then, sometimes, an extra bonus item.  Who doesn’t love a little something extra, right?   Keep in mind, however, that Cuisine Cube has gone through some changes as of May.  No longer do they strictly only offer gluten-free cubes.  In addition to their gluten-free option, they now also offer Artisan and Vegan cubes as well.  The Artisan cube means that you have no food allergies and foods that contain common food allergens will be included.  The Vegan cubes contain products that are dairy and animal free.  And, they still have the Gluten Free cubes, which will have products that contain no gluten or wheat.  So, if you’re really interested in being introduced to the smaller, lesser-known, artisan companies, give Cuisine Cube a try!  It’s like…Christmas…or your birthday…every month!  Who doesn’t love that?!  I did love it and I hope I’m able to resubscribe soon.

The dinner feature in the April (Spring) 2015 Cuisine Cube was the Bountiful Pantry Risotto with Garden Vegetables.  Bountiful Pantry is best known for their healthy, easy-to-prepare, and delicious mixes ranging from appetizers, to soups, to salads, to dips, to stews, to chilies, to chowders, and various sides, among other things.  Inspiration for their mixes stem from their home on the island of Nantucket, where the often cool, damp weather would inspire the desire for an inviting pot of soup.  By starting with family favorites and classic New England favorites, Bountiful Pantry has created delicious and satisfying recipes that are easy to share.  Since the creators follow a healthy, low-sodium diet, focusing on taste, they are seeking and finding new ways to pack flavor into their mixes using a variety of vegetables, herbs, and spices.  They use the finest all-natural ingredients, including vegetables picked and dried at their peak of freshness.  There are no preservatives, added salt of MSG in their mixes, and they are gluten free as well.  Even better, meals can be prepared in as little as 30 minutes.  Gotta love that.

Well, this weekend seemed like the ideal time to cook up a risotto because Sundays I’m usually batch cooking anyway.  And as I’m working on clearing out my pantry, this was a logical choice.  And I was pretty excited about it too.  Because…risotto!!  The only thing I wasn’t excited about was cooking it.  But, no worries, it’s super easy.  I first heated up 5 cups of vegetable broth.  Then, I melted 4 tablespoons of vegan butter (Earth Balance) in a pan.  Once it was melted, I added chopped onion and let it soften to the point of translucency.  I took 1 cup of the broth and put it in a bowl with the dried vegetables and let it soak.  Then, in went the rice to the skillet with the butter and onion.  I gave it a stir to coat it all.  And then…the long and tedious task of adding 1/2 cup broth and stirring began.  Each time more broth went in, the rice would begin to plump up more and more.  And when the broth was gone…and my rice was still a little crunchy…in went water until I got that perfect rice consistency.  Then, the vegan parmesan cheese and 1/2 cup of white wine went in.  More stirring…and then…dinner was served.

With a glass of the white wine I used in the risotto.  Just sayin’.

The Bountiful Pantry Risotto with Garden Vegetables was amazing.  Creamy and rich.  The vegan parmesan really enriched the flavor and texture, bringing it to that perfect risotto consistency.  The Arborio rice took a little longer to cook, but once it got to the proper texture…it was a fantastic dish to devour indeed.  There is, naturally, an option to serve this as a side dish, but my roommate and I chose it for our dinner, so we took 4 servings of it instead of 8…having leftovers for lunch later this week.  And I can’t be more excited about having it again.  I loved how perfectly this cooked up, and despite having to add a bit of water, it got to that perfect rich and creamy consistency and the flavor…was spot on.  The vegetables softened up and the seasonings perfectly added to the taste, no added salt or anything.  Perfection.  And all in a bag, ready to go.

So, what all is in the Bountiful Pantry Risotto with Garden Vegetables?  Nine ingredients.  Yes…just nine.  They are: Arborio rice, peas, carrot, corn, onion, tarragon, chervil, parsley, and chives.  This mix is gluten-free, non-GMO, no MSG, and no added salt or preservatives.  This product is certified by the Celiac Sprue Association.

As for nutritional information for the Bountiful Pantry Risotto with Garden Vegetables…this isn’t bad.  Even when you add in the butter, onion, cheese, veggie broth and wine, it is reasonable for risotto.  A serving of the dry mix is 1/4 cup (51 grams) and there are 8 servings per package.  In each serving, you will be consuming 170 calories, 0.5 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 10 mg sodium, 40 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 1 gram sugars, and 4 grams protein.  Not bad at all.

If you love decadent, rich, creamy and and flavorful risotto…why do it all from scratch yourself?  Bountiful Pantry helps make it a little easier with their package of Risotto with Garden Vegetables.  Big flavor.  Big eats.  It was amazing from the first bite to the last.  My roommate and I probably could have eaten the entire pan if I hadn’t set the rest of it aside for lunches.  It’s that good.

So, head over to Bountiful Pantry‘s Web site and place an order for one of their numerous mixes.  But, if nothing else, try the risotto.

Bountiful Pantry's Risotto with Garden Vegetables

Bountiful Pantry’s Risotto with Garden Vegetables

 

 

 

 

Restaurant Review: Kalapawai Café, Kailua, Hawaii

Kalapawai Cafe, Kailua, Hawaii

Kalapawai Cafe, Kailua, Hawaii

Restaurant: Kalapawai Café, Kailua, Hawaii

Normally humidity and heat don’t get to me.  I thrive in warmer temperatures, to be completely honest.  But the sun, heat, and humidity that were brought to Hawaii by the hurricanes and tropical storms is a new level of humid.  And it’s a level that, being so close to the equator, I am not used to yet.

I was melting.  Literally.  Melting at Pearl Harbor yesterday afternoon.  But, myself and my traveling compatriots all survived and had quite the experience at Pearl Harbor.  Totally…unforgettable.  It was the one place I was making a requirement…and the other two also felt the same way.  Despite the intense sun, the humidity, and the heat…it was all worth it.

All that being said, afterwards we headed toward Kailua, which was home to the restaurant we would be having dinner in that evening.  The little restaurant is Kalapawai Café, this quaint little café and market.  We were early, as they don’t start serving dinner until 5 p.m.  So, while waiting, we scoped out a bit of Kailua.  We went to Walgreens so Jenn could pick up more Ibuprofen (sunburns suck!).  We dropped by this little bookstore called Book Ends.  It was in disarray, but it killed a bit of time.  And as we were heading out, it was time for dinner.  Talk about timing, eh?

We were greeted at the door as we entered and were able to ogle the dessert case, where I spotted macarons immediately.  Jenn noted the Flourless Chocolate Cake as well.  Mmmm…dessert.  But, our hostess guided us to a nice cool spot (we must have looked hot!) right under the air conditioning and got us situated with menus.  Our waitress soon followed, bringing us glasses of water and asking us if we wanted anything besides water.  We were all trying to rehydrate after Pearl Harbor, so we just stuck with the H2O.  She went over the specials and over what the Auction Price Fish of the Day, Auction Price Fresh Fish for the risotto was, and what the Auction Price Fresh Fish for the Greek Salad was.  She gave us a moment to peruse the menu.

Upon her return a few minutes later, we were pretty much set.  We mentioned that I was a Celiac vegetarian and she said…”Okay…so no wheat no meat…” She asked if I did dairy…I said I can…but I don’t always handle it well.  So she recommended the meal I had been eyeing in the first place due to the fact that it was labeled gluten-free AND contained no meat.  She said she’d just have the chef leave off the cheese.  Perfect.  Jenn and Cathy put in their orders too…and we cooled off, chilled, and got to watch the kitchen work.  I love open kitchens.  Hearing the expediter call off the orders was awesome.  Seeing the small line of chefs preparing at their different stations…yep…I love this stuff.

And soon…it was our order being made and being delivered.

Oddly enough, I had pegged what Jenn was going to order.  I know my friends!  Jenn ordered the Crab & Artichoke Dip ($12.00), which contained huge chunks (I mean HUGE) of blue crab, chopped artichoke (which didn’t overwhelm), fresh mozzerella, provolone, parmesan, red bell pepper, sweet onion, and served with toasted crostini.  Her meal looked cheesy good.   And it was delicious according to her.  Especially since they used great care to put chunks of crab meat into the dish itself…instead of skimping on the prize protein.  That was a huge plus.  The plate got polished.  She said she’d offer me some, but basically everything about the dish offended me.  LOL!

Kalapwai Cafe's House-made Okinawan Sweet Potato & Goat Cheese Ravioli w/ asparagus, roasted grape tomato & lemon-thyme brown butter sauce

Kalapwai Café’s House-made Okinawan Sweet Potato & Goat Cheese Ravioli w/ asparagus, roasted grape tomato & lemon-thyme brown butter sauce

Cathy had gone back and forth on what she wanted, opting between the ravioli and the shepherd’s pie.  In the end, she ordered the House-made Okinawan Sweet Potato & Goat Cheese Ravioli ($15.00), served with asparagus, roasted grape tomato, and a lemon-thyme brown butter sauce.  She said the pasta was okay (duh!), but the star of the plate was that sweet potato and goat cheese.  The star of any ravoili should be the filling.  That’s the entire point.  The pasta…it should definitely be homemade and good…but it it simply a way to hold the delicious filling inside.  She devoured her meal.  In fact, for the first time, she was the first one done eating.

Kalapawai Café's House-made gluten free potato gnocchi w/ grilled asparagus, roasted mushroom & tomato, ver’jus & sauce romesco

Kalapawai Café’s House-made gluten free potato gnocchi w/ grilled asparagus, roasted mushroom & tomato, ver’jus & sauce romesco

As for me, I ordered the House-made Gluten Free Potato Gnocchi ($16.00), served with grilled asparagus, roasted mushroom and tomato, ver’jus and a sauce romesco.  It normally would come with Manchego cheese, but they left it off my dish since dairy and I are broken up.  These “gnocchi” were toasted potato puffs.  Sort of like…a naked tater tot.  And to be honest…that’s exactly what they tasted like.  This dish was like eating breakfast for dinner.  The gnocchi had this great toasted outside, think…perfect hashbrowns, and then were soft like the inside of a tater tot, on the inside.  The vegetables were grilled and cooked to perfection, pairing nicely with the breakfast-like gnocchi on my plate.  And the sauces gave a nice hit and addition of flavor to be sure.  I loved it…because breakfast is one of my favorite things in life.  It wasn’t what I was expecting.  Definitely less pasta more potato.  And I was okay with that.  It just wasn’t what my palate had been expecting.  It was a nice surprise.

Afterwards we were asked if we’d like to see a dessert menu.  As we never turn down looking at least, we perused and finally opted on splitting the macaron plate (it came with 3) ($5.00).  Normally this was an assortment of vanilla, lemon, and lime ginger, but they were out of vanilla, and I wasn’t too sure on the lime ginger…so we went with three of the lemon macarons.  They were retrieved from the case and…oh…oh yes…they were worth it.  Little pillows of lemony flavor.  Like…big lemon flavor too.  None of this fake stuff or lack of flavor.  It was like a lemon bar and lemon chifon cake.  It was just…yummy.  And we were happy that we went that way with the dessert in the end.

I was actually quite impressed with the service and the food that came  out of Kalapawai Café.  I would return there to eat in a heartbeat.  I loved the dish I was served, even if it wasn’t what I expected.  And having macarons on the dessert menu always wins, because they are a light option that still feels like a treat.

What a way to end the first night in O’ahu.

Kalapawai Café's Lemon Macarons

Kalapawai Café’s Lemon Macarons

Product Review: Daiya Cheezy Mac (Deluxe Cheddar, Deluxe Alfredo, White Cheddar Style Veggie)

Product Review: Daiya Cheezy Mac (Deluxe Cheddar, Deluxe Alfredo, Deluxe White Cheddar Style Veggies) – $4.99+/each

There is just something that is so uplifting about finding a newly released product rather quickly in your regular grocery store.  That was exactly how I felt when I stumbled across the new line of Daiya Cheezy Mac, which I didn’t even know existed.  So…surprise, surprise!

Usually I keep very up-to-date on any forthcoming gluten-free and dairy-free products, and Daiya is always my go-to when it comes to anything involving cheese!  I have been a fan of Daiya vegan cheese products since I first had to go dairy-free.  While I find that most of their products have that “Daiya” flavor…it doesn’t really change the fact that it is delicious vegan cheesy goodness.  Gotta love it.

So, yes…imagine the happy dance of joy that occurred when I was walking the natural food aisles at my local Kroger and…as I turn around from the vegan milks…there on a shelf right at eye-level are three different varieties of the Daiya Cheezy Mac products.  OH. MY. GOD.  There were only 1 box left of each on the shelf.  And they were all coming home with me.

I’ve been cutting out a lot of processed foods, but there is always a time and a place for easy-to-prepare products, especially on those weeks where you’ve planned out breakfast, snacks, and dinners…but forget about the ever-important lunch meal.  Which is exactly what happened this past week.  But, thankfully these beautiful boxes were sitting on a shelf in my pantry and definitely saved three days of lunches this past week (the other days brought allergen-free soft pretzels from the local gluten-free bakery, Annie May’s Sweet Cafe, and I cooked up a gluten-free vegan pasta with fresh veggies from the garden).  Guess it was a week of pasta lunches…and I’m way okay with that.

So…let’s start with the first one that we tried right out of the gate…

Daiya Deluxe White Cheddar Style Veggie Cheezy Mac

Daiya Deluxe White Cheddar Style Veggie Cheezy Mac

Daiya Deluxe White Cheddar Style Veggie Cheezy MacDaiya Deluxe White Cheddar Style Veggie Cheezy Mac

This was the smartest pic of the day when we devoured this for lunch of Tuesday.  There was a serious lack of veggies happening that day, with our local professional soccer team playing that night.  The morning was filled with some gym-time and leftover couscous cakes and dairy-free yogurt.  That at least had some fruit in it.  But dinner, for me, was simply a protein bar (Luna Protein Mint Chocolate Chip if you were wondering…) so the veggies were a nice touch and perfect on this day.  This box comes complete with a package of gluten-free brown rice pasta and dehydrated veggies (think peas, carrots, and red bell pepper) and a pouch of dairy-free “cheeze” sauce (not powder), which is white cheddar flavored in this particular version.  As the noodles are boiled for 7-8 minutes to reach that perfect al dente, the veggies re-hydrate, adding not only a touch of color but some depth of flavor too.  Noodles are drained and then put back into the pot and the cheeze sauce is then poured over top and mixed in.  LOVE!!  I LOVED THIS!  I was so happy with the first bite I took of this pasta.  It was creamy and dreamy and fluffy and awesome.  And just…REALLY FREAKIN’ GOOD!  How’s that.  The veggies are a very nice touch and one that doesn’t leave semi-hard veggies into perfectly cooked pasta.  It all came together.  And the sauce being in a pouch and being a sauce, not a powder, meant it was silky and creamy and not lumpy and gunky.  I really enjoyed this!  I shouldn’t have been surprised…but I was.

Ingredients for the Daiya Deluxe White Cheddar Style Veggie Cheezy Mac are: Brown rice pasta (whole grain brown rice, rice bran, water), filtered water, dried vegetable blend (pea, carrot, red bell pepper), tapioca starch, non-GMO expeller pressed: canola and/or safflower oil, coconut oil, sea salt, vegan natural flavors, pea protein isolate, potato protein, tricalcium phosphate, evaporated cane sugar, lactic acid (vegan, for flavor), xanthan gum, yeast extract, titanium dioxide (naturally occurring mineral), onion, vitamin B12.  It is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, certified vegan, and also kosher.

As for nutritional information for the Daiya Deluxe White Cheddar Style Veggie Cheezy Mac…my roommate and I split these to make a bigger meal, but the serving size is 1/3 of the package with 3 (obviously) servings per box.  One serving will provide 290 calories, 9 grams fat, 3.5 grams saturated fat (from the coconut oil), 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 590 mg sodium, 48 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 1 gram sugars, and 6 grams protein.  How about that??!!

Daiya Deluxe Cheddar Style Cheezy Mac

Daiya Deluxe Cheddar Style Cheezy Mac

Daiya Deluxe Cheddar Style Cheezy Mac

So then, along came Thursday.  And when I went to the pantry on Wednesday night to prepare the pasta for Thursday’s lunch, I asked my roomie if she wanted alfredo or cheddar.  She went with the classic cheddar.  And so, out that box came.  Same basic cooking instructions as the other box.  Which makes it really easy to plan on preparation timing.  HA!  Into the boiling water went the noodles (no veggies this time).  Once they were done, they were drained and sauced accordingly.  And this one…this one really wins the day.  When I first started making the (highly processed) Velveeta Mac & Cheese meals at home, I loved how the sauce would just taste on the noodles, coating all of them in this great ooey-gooey-ness.  And THAT was what Daiya did here.  Daiya brought me the flavors of my adolescent years…in a version that I safely can devour and gorge myself on.  Which, I could easily do.  The rich, velvety cheeze sauce is a perfect cheddar flavor, coating each noodle in its creamy goodness.  I was in heaven while I devoured this one at my desk that day.  Seriously…beyond anything that I expected!  I would marry this product.

The ingredients in the Daiya Deluxe Cheddar Style Cheezy Mac are: Brown rice pasta (whole grain brown rice, rice bran, water), filtered water, tapioca starch, non-GMO expeller pressed: canola and/or safflower oil, coconut oil, sea salt, vegan natural flavors, pea protein isolate, potato protein, tricalcium phosphate, evaporated cane sugar, lactic acid (vegan, for flavor), xanthan gum, yeast extract, titanium dioxide (naturally occurring mineral), annatto (color), onion, vitamin B12.  This product is also gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, certified vegan, and kosher.

As for nutrition, a serving of the Daiya Deluxe Cheddar Style Cheezy Mac is 1/3 of the package and the package is meant to serve 3.  A serving of the Daiya Deluxe Cheddar Cheezy Mac will provide you with 300 calories, 9 grams fat, 3.5 grams saturated fat (again…coconut oil), 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 580 mg sodium, 48 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 0 grams sugars, and 5 grams protein.  It is filling and delicious and amazing and I love, love, love it.

Diaya Deluxe Alfredo Style Cheezy Mac

Diaya Deluxe Alfredo Style Cheezy Mac

Daiya Deluxe Alfredo Style Cheezy Mac

My roommate didn’t grow up eating anything with alfredo sauce…so moving in with me has been an adventure.  I’ve made this usually dairy-heavy sauce out of cauliflower and now have dished it up using Daiya’s version of this amazing sauce.  While this one turned out to be her least favorite, I think this was my second favorite (cheddar being the best!).  Same easy prep…same simple directions, but this time…that awesome those cooked noodles were drenched in the comforting white sauce that is alfredo.  Yes…alfredo can be just as delicious without all the cream and dairy and Daiya proves it.  I loved the little touch of black pepper, which brought a depth of flavor to each bite.  The creamy sauce clung to the noodles, making each bite feel so sinful, but in honesty, it wasn’t.  And that is what makes this the ultimate comfort food of all time.  And, yes, this does have that cheesy, creaminess that is associated with alfredo for sure.  You won’t even miss the real thing.  This was true love.  True, true love.

The ingredients that go into the Daiya Deluxe Alfredo Style Cheezy Mac are: Brown rice pasta (whole grain brown rice, rice bran, water), filtered water, tapioca starch, non-GMO expeller pressed: canola and/or safflower oil, coconut oil, vegan natural flavors, sea salt, pea protein, potato protein, tricalcium phosphate, evaporated cane sugar, lactic acid (vegan, for flavor), xanthan gum, titanium dioxide (naturally occurring mineral), yeast extract, spices, onion, garlic, vitamin B12.  As before, this product is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, certified vegan, and kosher!

As for the nutritional information for the Daiya Deluxe Alfredo Style Cheezy Mac…a serving size is 1/3 of the package with (again, obviously) 3 servings per package.  If you stick to that serving (my roomie and I just split it in half), you will be taking in 290 calories, 9 grams fat, 3.5 grams saturated fat (hello, coconut oil), 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 600 mg sodium, 48 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 0 grams sugars, and 5 grams of protein.  A creamy and dreamy product.

I believe in Daiya.  I really do.  They are experts and proving dairy-free and gluten-free alternatives to the grocery store aisles.  Seriously…these boxes were some of the best investments I ever made.  I loved the flavors and the creaminess that each different variety provided.  And they really did all taste different…and while I certainly have my favorites, all three were a fantastic way to enjoy one of life’s best comfort foods, without destroying my stomach in the process.  Daiya is proof that there is a God that loves the dairy-free (and gluten-free) people.  And even if you aren’t required to eat this way, I highly recommend trying out these products regardless.  My roomie is very much in love with these products and she doesn’t have to eat this way.  She just does because I do.

Daiya…our love affair continues.  Thank you!!

Product Review: Biatalia Gluten Free Couscous di Mais

Biatalia Gluten Free Couscous di Mais

Biatalia Gluten Free Couscous di Mais

Product: Biatalia Gluten Free Couscous di Mais – $5.00+

Here’s the story…of a lovely lady…who used to always cook with couscous.  Then she was diagnosed…as a Celiac…and couscous had to vamoose.

Here’s the story…of this thing called Cuisine Cube…who was packaging up gluten-free products.  And in May, the box included couscous…and there was much rejoicing in the land.

*cough*

Sorry…I couldn’t resist.  My last name is Brady…so the Brady Bunch theme has pretty much been a big portion of my life.  And, for just over a year, I can honestly say that Cuisine Cube was a big portion of my life.  I hated to have to give up my monthly subscription, but I had medical bills from this torn hip labrum eating into my budget big-time.  But that’s not to say that I don’t miss it.  I am in the process of using up the final few things that I have from past cubes…and part of me hopes to jump back into the subscription again soon.

So, first let me recap for you what Cuisine Cube is all about, shall I?  Cuisine Cube is a subscription service that delivers 5-6 gluten-free, full-size products to your door for as little as $34.99/month. Inside the cube, you will discover full-size products (not sample sizes) that are made by local and smaller, artisan companies, rather than those that you can find at the average grocery store.  It has introduced me to so many new and delightful products.  Each box contains a breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, and dessert product…and then, sometimes, an extra bonus item.  Who doesn’t love a little something extra, right?   Keep in mind, however, that Cuisine Cube has gone through some changes as of May.  No longer do they strictly only offer gluten-free cubes.  In addition to their gluten-free option, they now also offer Artisan and Vegan cubes as well.  The Artisan cube means that you have no food allergies and foods that contain common food allergens will be included.  The Vegan cubes contain products that are dairy and animal free.  And, they still have the Gluten Free cubes, which will have products that contain no gluten or wheat.  So, if you’re really interested in being introduced to the smaller, lesser-known, artisan companies, give Cuisine Cube a try!  It’s like…Christmas…or your birthday…every month!  Who doesn’t love that?!

So, as my sing-songy typed up intro to this blog explained…one of the May (Is For Mom) 2015 Cuisine Cube included an 18 ounce box of Biatalia Gluten Free Couscous.  I was thrilled…because I used to use couscous all the time in recipes.  And now, it wasn’t off limits.  Here, right in my clutches, was an amazing box of gluten-free couscous.  And I totally get that it took me until the end of August to actually get around to using it, but…wow…was it ever worth the wait.

First of all, the Biatalia Gluten Free Couscous is simple and easy to prepare.  Pour one cup of boiling water over one cup of the uncooked couscous.  Add a pinch of sea salt and cover, allowing it to sit for about 5 minutes.  After the water is absorbed, gently separate the grains with a fork and spoon, add olive oil, and top with your favorite condiments.  Which…is normally what I would do.  But I went a little CRAZY this last week.

A couple of weeks ago, my roomie picked up some lamb chops at the local farmer’s market for me to cook up.  Hey…I have dreams of appearing on Master Chef…so she said I needs to learn to cook all the proteins, even if I don’t eat them.  She volunteers for that.  So, with the recipe on hand for Honey Balsamic Lamb Chops ready to go, I pulled up a recipe online from Giada De Laurentiis’ couscous cakes…which involved cooking up the Biatalia Gluten Free Couscous Cakes.  I just took 2 cups of the cooked couscous (which was made from 1 cup dry), mixing it with fresh basil, 2 eggs, ground coriander, lemon zest, salt, black pepper, and gluten-free all-purpose flour.  Place 1/4 cup of olive oil into a pan and pat the mix into little 1/4 cup cakes (it will make 8) and fry them up, draining them on a paper towel.

Of course, with the leftover couscous, I had to try it out.  Untouched.  And…OH MY GOD…this is really the first gluten-free couscous (I tried 2 others) that really has that real couscous texture.  I would have questioned the authenticity of the gluten-free status of this product, but it’s right there in print.  Amazing.  And, let me tell you, when I combined it with the listed ingredients from Giada’s recipe and made the couscous cakes…the flavor was only elevated.  The taste and texture of the Biatalia Gluten Free Couscous was phenomenal.  I mean, I was beyond surprised.  In fact, I had to double-check the box just to make sure it truly was gluten-free.  To say I am blown away is an understatement.  This wowed me in every way possible.  It paired great with her honey balsamic lamb chops and my honey balsamic portobello mushroom cap.  Seriously.  So yum!

Let’s discuss the ingredients of Biatalia Gluten Free Couscous.  This amazing couscous is made from organic corn flour and water.  That’s it.  Yep.  It’s that easy.  Clean eating at its best.

As for the nutritional information, one serving is 1/4 cup of the couscous (about 40 grams). This serving will provide you with 140 calories less than 1 gram of fat, less than 1 gram of saturated fat, 30 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of sodium, about 0.5 grams of sugar, 3 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber.  Isn’t that fantastic?

So, without a little help from Cuisine Cube I never would have known about Biatalia Gluten Free Couscous.  Made from 100% corn, the taste and texture are amazing and honestly…spot on.  You would never guess that this was a gluten-free version of one of my favorite grains to cook with.  And now, it is back in my life again. You can order Biatalia Gluten Free Couscous from online shops such as The Shop Agora.  Trust me, this one is not to be missed!

Honey Balsamic Glazed Portobello Mushroom Cap with Couscous Cakes made from Biatalia Gluten Free Couscous di Mais

Honey Balsamic Glazed Portobello Mushroom Cap with Couscous Cakes made from Biatalia Gluten Free Couscous di Mais

Product Review: GeeFree Gluten Free Puff Pastry Sheets

GeeFree Gluten Free Puff Pastry Sheets

GeeFree Gluten Free Puff Pastry Sheets

Product: GeeFree Gluten Free Puff Pastry Sheets – $8.49+

HOLD. THE. GLUTEN. FREE. PHONE.

Reread that product name…

Go ahead.

YES!!  Gluten Free Puff Pastry Sheets.

FINALLY!!

Bless you GeeFree.  Bless you for bringing these into the gluten-free world.  Thank you for putting these out on the market.  Why?  Because I’ve looked at the very complicated and confusing instructions on how to make gluten-free puff pastry at home and it was not something I thought I was capable of producing.  Not well.  Not at all.  And I love to bake and cook.  So…THANK YOU!!

It was at Expo West in 2014 that the GeeFree Gluten Free Puff Pastry Sheets were introduced.  I saw the pictures on the various Twitter feeds and Instagrams that I follow of people who were fortunate enough to attend.  And I was excited.  SO excited.  And then…let down at the fact that I have never…ever…seen this brand carried anywhere in my area.  I looked though.  And it took a trip to Columbus, Ohio…and the natural food store Raisin Rack, before I found these…three weekends ago.  Believe it or not…it took over a year.  I bet you’re wondering if the wait was worth it.

GeeFree Gluten Free began when Susan Hougui, a veteran of the food industry for over a decade, was visiting with friends while traveling overseas.  The family needed to avoid gluten and Susan was served the most delicious puff pastries.  Intrigued, as she had never seen anything like it, she tried them and found them to be crispy, yet tender, treats.  Excited with this discovery, she called her friend and master baker, Steve Leyva, to help her recreate and perfect the treats that Hougui had been served…and that she knew would be a sensational hit.  The first three products to be released in the savory line from GeeFree were Spanakopita, Franks in Blankets, and Chicken Pot Pie.  And now…PUFF PASTRY!!

Puff Pastry…for sweet or savory.  For desserts or dinner.  PUFF PASTRY!!  GLUTEN FREE PUFF PASTRY!!

Thank you…GeeFree Gluten Free.  Thank you!

So…since I now had the GeeFree Gluten Free Puff Pastry Sheets in my clutches…and my freezer…I knew immediately the first thing I wanted to make with them.  Way back…back before I went gluten-free, I made these amazing Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts, with the aid of a recipe from The Barefoot Contessa, and fell in love with them.  This was just before I had to go gluten-free…and so…when it happened, this new favorite recipe was now forever gone.  I attempted it a couple of years ago, in 2013, with the Pillsbury Gluten Free Pie & Pastry Dough.  It wasn’t the same at all.  So…when a recipe that actually calls for puff pastry now can have real (gluten-free) puff pastry, I, naturally, have to make it.  So I did.

GeeFree Gluten Free Puff Pastry Sheet

GeeFree Gluten Free Puff Pastry Sheet

I put the pastry sheets into the fridge the night before I was going to make this dish, allowing them to thaw from frozen.  When I got home from work, I began to work on caramelizing onions for the recipe, slicing tomatoes, giving my homegrown basil a julienne, and then went to snag the pastry sheets from my fridge to prep them.  My counter top got a liberal sprinkling of gluten-free flour, as did my rolling pin, and I rolled out the sheet to be thinner before cutting 6 inch circles from it.  I used a paring knife to score a ¼-inch-wide border around each pastry circle.  Then, the center circle was scored with the tines of a fork and given a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, not leaving the border of that second circle.  The caramelized onions were placed on top, along with crumbled goat cheese, a slice of tomato, olive oil, basil, salt and pepper.  I sliced shards of Parmesan to put over the top and went to bake these tarts, praying that this all worked out just as I remembered.

The bad…the puff pastry didn’t puff up around the edge that was not scored.  So, if you are looking for that flaky, layered, soft crust that puff pastry produces when it puffs in the oven…this didn’t happen.  The puff pastry remained completely flat…like a pizza crust.

The good…it tasted phenomenal.  And even though I baked it at a higher temperature (per the recipe I was using, as opposed to the box directions), it didn’t burn (like the Pillsbury pastry dough did), and it did have that light texture you expect from a puff pastry…just without the lift.  And that’s fine.  It got to this gorgeous golden color.  And it worked as a great base for the tart I was making.  So, it wasn’t like the one I used to be able to eat…it sure tasted like it.  Looks aren’t everything.  And this didn’t look bad, it just didn’t get puffy.  The flavor, buttery, crispy, soft, amazing…yeah…it was worth the wait for over a year to actually try this stuff.  And I think next time I’m going to try it in one of their suggestions online…like a fruit tart…or a vegan version of a pot pie.  Hmmm…that might be what I do actually.  YUM!!

Let’s discuss what goes into the making of the GeeFree Gluten Free Puff Pastry Sheets.  These pastry sheets are made from potato starch, butter (sweet cream, natural flavorings), water, canola oil, eggs, sugar, baking powder, salt, xanthan gum, flaxseed meal, whey protein concentrate, inulin (chickory root), guar gum, baking soda, citric acid, and annatto.

Each package contains two 9×7 frozen puff pastry sheets.  This box is meant to serve 6 people.  A serving size is 1.5 ounces of a pastry sheet.  This serving will provide you with 150 calories, 9 grams fat, 4.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 25 grams cholesterol, 250 mg sodium, 18 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 1 gram sugars, and 0 grams of protein.  Not extremely filling…but definitely full of delicious flavor and texture.

I am impressed with the innovation of gluten free puff pastry sheets that can be bought at the store in the freezer section instead of having to go through the quite labor-intensive way of making it from scratch.  GeeFree Gluten Free took all the hard work out of the task and simplified it into puff pastry sheets that are there for your convenience.  I am one happy little baker and chef right now.  Oh yes…so very happy.  If you can find the GeeFree products, get the Gluten Free Puff Pastry and create some puff pastry goodness.  Just…amazing that it has happened.

Gluten Free Tomato & Goat Cheese Tart made with GeeFree Gluten Free Puff Pastry Sheets

Gluten Free Tomato & Goat Cheese Tart made with GeeFree Gluten Free Puff Pastry Sheets