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

Product Review: Neat – A Healthy Replacement For Meat Italian Mix

Neat - A Healthy Replacement for Meat Italian Mix
Neat – A Healthy Replacement for Meat Italian Mix

 Product: Neat – A Healthy Replacement for Meat Italian Mix – $4.99+

I am so glad that Neat exists in the world.  I really, really am.  Because, it is sometimes hard to find a good protein base when you are not only a vegetarian (or perhaps a vegan), but also gluten-free.  Trust me…the struggle is real…FOR REAL!!  Most of the vegetarian/vegan faux-meat products out on the market have some sort of vital wheat gluten or glutenous substance inside (for texture purposes, I’ve been told).  I don’t need faux-meat in my life, but sometimes it’s nice to step away from the mushrooms and whatever else I get creative with and use something that is already prepared.

And that…brings me to Neat – A Healthy Replacement for Meat.  Ever since I became a subscriber to Delight Gluten Free magazine I noticed ads for this vegan meat replacement called Neat.  I was beyond intrigued and immediately went on the hunt in my local natural food stores.  Sadly, but not surprisingly, no one in my area carried this product.  At least not yet.  I said I’d get online and see if I could order it, but, naturally, I forgot to do that.  Story of my life.  But after a pouch of the Mexican Mix turned up on my Cuisine Cube, I started finding it on the shelves of my local Kroger stores, my natural food stores.  I was getting Neat where I could purchase it when I suddenly decided to make something spontaneous for dinner.

YAY!

So, what exactly is Neat?  Neat is a meat replacement that is derived from nuts and other non-GMO natural ingredients.  It is a product that was created by a mother of two children who decided that they were going to become vegetarians.  At first she would puree beans into sauces to help her girls get the protein they wanted, but after awhile, everyone got tired of it.  And that was when she got into the kitchen, experimented, and created what is now marketed at Neat.

Neat comes in this shelf-stable pouch in a powdered form.  All you do to prepare it is pour the pouch into a bowl, add two eggs (or a vegan egg replacer), plus two tablespoons of water.  Stir all the ingredients together and throw it into a skillet over medium heat.  Or…if you happen to have the Italian Mix and want to make meatballs…well…you just change it up a little.

I wanted meatballs to make vegan meatball subs and some vegan spaghetti and meatballs for lunch the following day at the office.  SO…I took the mix from the pouch and poured it into a bowl, adding 1 egg, about 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast (although now I think I should have gone for the full 1/3 cup (which was the amount of Parmesan cheese the recipe said to add), and 1 tablespoon of water and gave it a mix.  Then, with clean hands, I ended up rolling 12 meatballs (you normally would do 8 larger meatballs, but I had multiple meals planned for these…this way my roommate and I each got 3 in each dish I prepared).  Then, into an oven at 350°F for about 18 minutes, turning them over once.  That simple.

Near the end of their cooking time, I began warming up some marinara sauce on the stove.  And when these meatballs came out of the oven, into the sauce they went.  I gave the sauce a stir and just coated the meatballs the best I could.  I was using an open jar of sauce, so I had a little less than I wanted, but I figured the entire point of the meatball sub was the meatball itself.  So…with any luck, I didn’t screw those up.  Into the gluten-free hotdog buns they went (no one around here seems to carry the Schär Gluten Free Sub Rolls anymore).  I topped them with a bit of the sauce, then some Daiya mozzarella style shreds then placed them back in the oven under the broiler for about a minute to get the vegan cheese as gooey as I could manage.

Then…dinner was served.

Given that this was my first attempt at the “neatballs,” I was quite happy with them.  As I said, I should have done a perfect swap for the Parmesan cheese with the nutritional yeast, but I didn’t want to overkill it.  My oven is old, so I set it a little higher in temp, and baked these for the full 18 minutes, instead of maybe just 15…so they were slightly dry, but the texture was very meaty and very dense, like a meatball should be.  I thought these were amazing in both the subs and the pasta I cooked up for the following work day.  While I might have overcooked them slightly, it didn’t make me dislike what emerged from the oven and saucepan.  I loved biting into a vegetarian meatball sub and having it feel like I was actually eating a sub.  That was a nice treat.  I loved forming these meatballs to cook, because it’s like making it yourself instead of pulling them from the freezer (for the record, I know of only 2 kinds of vegan/gluten-free meatballs…Franklin Farms (which I can’t find anymore) and Beyond Meat (which I haven’t found here) which are both kept in the fridge/freezer.  So, this was a bit more rustic and a bit more like you were putting in the work yourself to make the protein base for your meal.  It was messy, but quite fun and quite satisfying.

Let’s first delve into the nitty-gritty ingredients and nutrition of Neat – A Healthy Replacement For Meat Italian Mix.  The Italian Mix version of Neat is made from pecans, garbanzo beans, organic whole grain gluten free oats, garlic, onion, sea salt, and spices.  So, where this is meat-free and dairy-free, and also gluten-free…it is NOT nut-free.  So, if you have a nut allergy…this product is not for you.

As for nutrition, a serving of Neat Italian Mix is 40 grams and each pouch contains 4 servings.  This serving will give you 190 calories, and 15 grams of fat (healthy fat as it is coming from beans and nuts), 1.5 grams saturated fat, 218 mg sodium, 12 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 1 gram sugars, and 4 grams protein.  These meatballs will fill you up.  Seriously.  I really appreciate when a faux protein is made with filling, real foods that won’t leave me feeling hungry an hour or so later.  Trust me, that isn’t a problem with Neat.

I am so in love with the two mixes I have picked up from Neat – A Healthy Replacement to Meat.  I still have the Breakfast Mix and the Original Mix to try so I’ll be picking those up soon.  They also make an Egg Replacer as well, which I’d love to try.  So far, there isn’t anything bad I can say about Neat.  So, if you haven’t tried it and you, perhaps, have been missing your spaghetti and meatballs or meatball subs…you gotta try this!!  Order online if you can’t find it in your stores.  Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Spaghetti & Neatballs and Neatball Sub made with Neat - A Healthy Replacement for Meat Italian Mix
Spaghetti & Neatballs and Neatball Sub made with Neat – A Healthy Replacement for Meat Italian Mix

Product Review: Kite Hill Ricotta

Kite Hill Ricotta
Kite Hill Ricotta

Product: Kite Hill Ricotta – $9.99+

Color me charmed.  For real.  A couple of weeks ago, I took a chance and tried a new product I discovered (exclusively) at my local Whole Foods.  In fact, all of the products from this particular brand are only available at Whole Foods…currently.  They are a little pricey, but as I’ve been discovering…they are totally worth it.

Kite Hill was started due to a vision for a plant-based food that would have all the qualities we love in the best artisan dairy cheeses.  Using simple ingredients and using traditional methods, Kite Hill has created artisan cheeses, yogurts, and cream cheeses that can all be incorporated into entrées and desserts.  Created by a dedicated team with deep culinary, cheese-making, and scientific expertise, including Tal Ronnen, Monte Casino, Jean Prevot, Pat Brown, and Matthew Sade, Kite Hill has stepped up to the challenge  to create a non-dairy cheese that met their high standards for quality.  So often, vegan cheese tastes fake or plastic-like.  After years of recipe testing and countless trials and errors to develop the perfect nut milk, cultures, and enzymes needed to create a worthy product, Kite Hill emerged on the market place.

Kite Hill Ricotta
Kite Hill Ricotta

You will recall that I have already given a raving review for the Kite Hill Plain Cream Cheese Style Spread.  Well, I had pasta on my mind this past week.  Really.  And I had gluten free lasagna noodles in my pantry.  And ramekin dishes in my cupboard.  See where this is headed?  Yep…individual mini lasagnas…all made possible by the introduction of Kite Hill’s Ricotta – which is completely soy free, vegan, gluten free and dairy free.

Let me tell you, I was beyond blown away by this product.  It surprised me.  It really, really did.  The Kite Hill Ricotta is light and fluffy right off the bat.  It looked just like real ricotta…the stuff I am incapable of consuming anymore.  Damn lactose intolerance.  But let me say this, if Kite Hill continues to produce their version of ricotta cheese, then I will never miss it again.  I know that tofu can be substituted in pasta dishes for ricotta…as can Tofutti’s Better Than Ricotta…and I have actually used both in successful recipes.  But…it wasn’t the same.  The texture was different.  The flavor was different.

Not with Kite Hill.  My roommate and I both tried some of the Kite Hill Ricotta on its own before I blended it with some herbs for the actual meal.  Oh.  My.  God.  I probably could have eaten the entire tub on my own, with just a spoon.  There is that much amazing flavor in this cheese.  The texture is light, but with a bit of heft to it.  So, it mimics that of real ricotta.  Oh…this was already looking good for my mini lasagnas.  I just had to keep myself from eating all the cheese out of the container and to use it, instead, in the actual recipe.

No easy task.

But I did end up blending it with my herbs and some Daiya Mozzerella Shreds to complete the cheesy filling of the lasagna, which would also include sautéed onion and kale with some garlic.  YUMMY!!  The noodles were cooked, cooled, and put into the dishes.  The ricotta & cheese filling was added, and layered with the vegetables…and of course an amazing sauce from Rao to top it all off.  Into the oven for 40 minutes and…viola…we’re in business!  The mini-lasagnas came out of the oven bubbling hot with cheese and sauce and a whole lot of goodness.  I eased them out of the ramekins and dinner was served.

Oh. My. God.  This was the best ricotta cheese substitute I have tried yet.  Not only was this flavorful, mimicing both ricotta and/or mascarpone cheese, but it didn’t make the dish heavy at all.  The ricotta has a slight tanginess to it, making it a nice addition not just to pastas, but also to desserts.  This product is ridiculously tasty.  I want to make ricotta pancakes now.  And I think I might just do that…maybe tomorrow.  We’ll see.  I have some left over to do just that.  And I have all these fresh local blueberries to use as well.  Oh yes…I sense an epic gluten-free and dairy free pancake breakfast.  It’s the best ricotta substitute I have ever stumbled upon.  It’s made from almond milk, so if you have a nut allergy, it’s not for you, but it’s nice to have a soy-free alternative.

So, now let’s talk about the ingredients.  Nothing beats real, wholesome ingredients.  What’s even better, the Kite Hill Ricotta only has 5 ingredients in it.  Yep.  Just five!  These include: almond milk (water, almonds), salt, enzyme, tartaric acid, and cultures.  This product, as mentioned before, is gluten-free, soy free, dairy free and vegan.  It also contains no cholesterol, no saturated fat, and no trans fats!

And with that in mind, this is the best time to discuss Kite Hill Roctta nutritional facts, yes?  A serving of the Kite Hill Ricotta is 1 ounce (28 grams…or about 2 tablespoons).  This serving will provide you with 70 calories, 6 grams of fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 90 mg sodium, 2 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams dietary fiber, 0 grams sugars, and 3 grams of protein.  Are you loving it?  I’m loving it!

Seriously, you won’t find anything better than Kite Hill Ricotta.  It’s so versatile.  Pastas, pizza toppings, desserts, or even in hot chocolate, this will do it all.  And the taste, oh my God, the taste is fantastic.  I am hooked.  I’ll pay the price to have a good tasting, good quality product.  And Kite Hill totally makes it worth it.  If you live near a Whole Foods, I encourage you and highly recommend that you check out the Kite Hill lineup of vegan artisan cheese.

Mini Vegan Kale Lasagna (made with Kite Hill Ricotta)
Mini Vegan Kale Lasagna (made with Kite Hill Ricotta)

Recipe: Gluten Free Penne with Kale in a White Wine Sauce

I’m getting back into the swing of using up everything that comes in my CSA bin before the next one arrives.  Sometimes, it’s hard…but this past week, I have literally used up every bit of produce that came to me last Friday in my green bin of happiness.  Ah, I love Friday because it is BIN DAY!

So, after using up the cucumber (I made a childhood favorite…cucumbers in vinegar), zucchini, squash, blueberries, apples, green beans, broccoli, watermelon, and onion, all that remained was the kale.  And, I do love cooking with kale.  Usually I make kale chips or use it in a breakfast egg scramble of sorts.  But I wanted to get a little more creative than that this time around.  So…with just enough white wine remaining in the bottle in the fridge, I set out to master…pasta and kale…with white wine.

The premise of the recipe was skimmed over while reading through the Funny Love blog.  And from there, I tweaked it to fit my dietary needs.  What emerged was a healthy, delicious, and runner-friendly (non-runner friendly too!) meal this evening that both my roommate and I sat down and devoured while watching Friends on Netflix.  Life…can be good and delicious all at once.

Recipe: Gluten Free Penne with Kale and a White Wine Sauce

Gluten Free Penne with Kale in a White Wine Sauce
Gluten Free Penne with Kale in a White Wine Sauce

Servings: 4-6
Time: Prep 10 minutes; Cook 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 8-12 ounces Gluten Free Penne (I used Aldi’s liveGfree brand)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt
  • Crushed red pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 4 cups kale
  • Parmesan cheese, for serving
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup pasta water (reserve right before you drain the pasta)

Directions:

Cook the pasta per the package instructions.

While the pasta is cooking, pull out a pan I used the one I was using to make the sauce) and add about an inch or two of water with about a teaspoon of salt.  Place pan on stove and bring water to a boil.

Cut the kale into large strips and remove the stems.

Put the kale into the boiling water for about a minute.  Drain the kale and set it aside.

In the same pan, prepare the sauce.  Add a drizzle of olive oil, the red pepper flakes, and the minced garlic and cook over medium heat, for about 2-3 minutes, until the garlic is soft and golden.  Do not burn the garlic.  It will make everything bitter.
Stir in the wine.  Allow the wine to come up to a boil and reduce for about a minute.  Then, add some of the starchy pasta water, if you’d like a bit more liquid in the dish.  Stir in the drained pasta, the kale, and some Parmesan cheese (as much as you’d like).  Season with salt, more cheese, red pepper, or pasta water as you deem necessary.

Serve.

~*~*~

This turned out to be a light dish, despite having the pasta integrated into the rest of it.  I found it a great way to use of a bottle of white wine from the fridge so that it didn’t go wasted.  And…I love finding new ways to enjoy kale!  Packed with nutrients, light, delicious…yeah…it’s a perfect meal.  And one I might consider the night before a long run…should this hip ever improve enough to get me back out onto the roads.

Product Review: Van’s Gluten Free Rotini and Red Sauce

Van's Gluten Free Rotini & Red Sauce
Van’s Gluten Free Rotini & Red Sauce

 Product: Van’s Gluten Free Rotini and Red Sauce – $3.99+

It’s been one of those weeks.  Seriously.  I’m recovering (slowly) from my awful, awful, painful Boston Marathon.  To top it all off, my produce bin didn’t arrive as scheduled on Friday.  So, all weekend I was left scrambling with ideas as to what to make for dinner and how little grocery shopping I could get away with in trying to manage exactly that.  The answer…I still had to hit up the produce at the grocery store, and my CSA bin was redelivered to me on Monday evening.  But for that weekend…I was not in a good spot.

Thankfully, I have a pantry full of things that have been just dying for me to pick them off the shelf and try.  And when push comes to shove, Saturday was going to be all about some pasta.  I have a few gluten-free pastas (just the noodles and then some dishes like this) in my pantry for just such occasions…because pasta is easy and a very common go-to for me. Because I LOVE pasta.

I listed off some options to the roomie, and ultimately Cathy made the final say.  “Let’s try that last Van’s thing.”

And so it came to pass that “the last Van’s thing” was going to make its way from pantry shelf to full-on meal in my kitchen.  Moving on up!

You see, awhile back I had picked up three boxes of the Van’s Gluten Free Whole Grain Pasta Sides, which I had discovered at Walmart, of all places, way ahead of anywhere else in the area carrying them.  I snagged one of each flavor and happily stocked my pantry with them.  I have already had the Creamy Herb and Garlic Pasta and the Ultimate Cheddar Penne as well.  So…this time it was Rotini & Red Sauce’s turn to shine.

Van’s Gluten Free choices have never disappointed me.  Not once.  Not ever.  They are my waffle of choice, above all others, even the new Gluten-Free Eggo’s.  That’s a huge thing!!  But Van’s puts a lot of love and care into their packaged foods.  And Van’s does believe that nutritious is delicious and that’s why they make their gluten-free pastas with whole grain brown rice, delivering more than a full serving of nutrient dense whole grains.  You can always add in some vegetables or chicken (if you eat meat…which I don’t…) in order to bulk up the pasta sides and make these more of an entrée.  But as my roommate and I take something that serves three and split it between the two of us…it’s the perfect amount in the end.

Cooking up the Van’s Gluten Free Rotini and Red Sauce takes all but 10 minutes.  Seriously.  Just boil 6 cups of water in a medium saucepan.  Add the pasta and allow it to return to a boil.  Let it cook for 7-8 minutes.  The noodles will become al dente.  Do not overcook.  Gluten-free noodles are an awful thing overcooked.  Drain the noodles and give them a rinse.  Then, add the marinara sauce to the saucepan, heating on low.  Stir often.  Put the pasta back into the pan with the marinara and heat through.  Enjoy.

I served this up with a gluten-free dinner roll that I baked up a few weeks ago.  It made a perfect, perfect, perfect dinner.  The rotini (which is actually red) cooked up really perfectly.  It wasn’t mushy and didn’t crumble apart when I stabbed at it with my fork.  The pasta sauce was rich and flavorful.  I sort of wish there was a little more sauce when all was said and done, but there was the perfect amount to lightly coat the noodles and serve them up.  This was a filling entree, and would serve at least 4 people as a side dish to a bigger main dish.  I enjoyed this one, but it was my least favorite of the three pasta sides that Van’s created.  Not that it wasn’t good.  It was. But it was something I easily could have made with things I have at home in the same amount of time.  It was nothing special.  But it was quite tasty.  If more sauce had been present, I would have used my dinner roll to mop it up.  But…the sauce was just enough…no extra.  Still…a solid, delicious pasta dish.

Van’s is very proud of the ingredients they put into their products.  Seriously.  They state this on the box.  And the ingredients that go into Van’s Gluten Free Rotini & Red Sauce are simple.  These ingredients include gluten free penne pasta (brown rice flour, red lentil flour, beet powder, tomato powder), marinara sauce (tomatoes, water, tomato paste, olive oil, onions, sugar, basil, garlic, salt, citric acid, and black pepper).  It is gluten-free, kosher, contains no artificial colors or flavors, has a full serving of whole grains, is egg-free, and is dairy-free.

As far as nutrition goes, a serving of Van’s Gluten Free Rotini & Red Sauce is about 1 cup prepared.  This box contains about 2.5 servings.  This will dish up 250 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, 160 mg sodium, 52 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 3 grams sugar, and 12 grams of protein.  This side dish is cholesterol free.

So, while this was a simple and basic meal, it was easy to make and served up a fantastic dish for my roommate and I to share.  Of the three, however, this would probably be the one I wouldn’t pick up again.  Not that it wasn’t good…it just wasn’t as memorable as the others.

Van's Gluten Free Rotini & Red Sauce (prepared)
Van’s Gluten Free Rotini & Red Sauce (prepared)

Restaurant Review: Upper Crust Pizzeria, Boston, Massachusetts

Upper Crust Pizzeria, Boston, Massachusetts
Upper Crust Pizzeria, Boston, Massachusetts

Restaurant: Upper Crust Pizzeria, Boston, Massachusetts

So…I was in Boston…for The Boston Marathon.  And you know what it means when I’m gearing up for a race.  The traditional night-before-the-race gluten-free pizza.  It is a must.  Sure, I can do gluten-free pasta, but pizza seems to be my mojo.  My magical little race-day helper.  And so, this tradition has gone unchanged whenever possible.

I consulted with a good friend of mine, Julie, before heading to Boston, looking for restaurant recommendations, especially for pizza.  She sent me so many different options, I was elated to see how many options were available in Boston.  If you are a Celiac or gluten-free and planning on a trip to Boston, trust me…it is so easy to find something to eat there.  It’s wonderful.  Never before have I had so many options in one place.

With her high recommendation, and the praise of my high school friend, Lydia, it was decided that we would be noshing on Sunday night (Monday is marathon day in Boston!) at a place called Upper Crust Pizzeria.  They have several locations throughout the Boston area, but as we were spending the day hiking the Freedom Trail, we decided that we’d wind our way out toward Beacon Hill and land there right around dinner time.

We actually ended up getting there sooner, rather than later, so we ducked into some candy shops and walked around the Beacon Hill area until around 5 p.m.  That was when we made our way back to the little establishment and stepped inside.

It wasn’t what I was expecting.  This was one tiny little establishment, indeed.  In fact, the kitchen was on the far right as you enter, with one long community table in the middle of the restaurant.  That was it.  We lucked out in that people finished up eating by the time we ordered, so we had a place to settle in and eat.  Because there was no way the pizza would make it back to the hotel and still be hot.

Cathy and I had scouted the menu prior to leaving for Boston and already knew what we were going to get.  This left my friends Heather and Jenn to either have pizza by the slice or split a pizza.  As Heather wanted pepperoni and Jenn does just cheese, they ended up getting two slices each.

Their slices were ginormous!!  Seriously!!  Holy cow.  It made me more than a little concerned over how big the gluten-free pizza slices were going to be and whether Cathy and I could eat it on our own.

But, our 14-inch gluten-free pizza arrived a short time after their slices…and it looked fantastic.  We ordered one of the custom pies that is a “local favorite.”  It’s called Charles Street ($19.00 – the gluten-free crust is a $2 upcharge), and we had it made on the gluten-free dough.  It comes topped with portabella mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, and fresh garlic.  For the sake of my stomach, we asked them to go light on the cheese on this pizza.  And it looked absolutely fantastic when it arrived at the table.  We paused long enough in our hunger to snap a picture before diving in, each peeling off a slice.  The pizza is their “small” size…and it’s actually quite big…but it was perfect for 2-3 people to share.  And since we hadn’t eaten much that day, it was perfect for Cathy and I to split without any help.

The Charles Street pizza at Upper Crust Pizzeria is AMAZING!  A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!  Totally and honestly.  I ate a bite on its own and immediately was all “Mmmmmm.”  Like in “Mmmmmmarathon” and “Mmmmmmore please” and “Mmmmmmgoooooood!”  But then, I doctored it up with some dried herbs and a little bit of red pepper flakes.  My stomach fears no spice, not even before a marathon.  The crust of the pizza was thin, but not a cracker crust.  You could definitely tell it was white rice flour based, but it wasn’t a distracting overlying taste.  In fact, the crust was one of my favorite things about this pizza.  I love a good crust, but I also love to indulge in more pizza…so a thin crust is a nice thing in my book.  Cathy tried a bit of Jenn’s pizza and said the gluten-free crust was even better than the original.  Score!!  I loved the earthiness that flavored this particular pizza.  The Charles Street had this great balance of savory with a hint of sweetness from the sundried tomatoes.  It was amazing.  I devoured every slice.  For the first time ever, I think Cathy finished her pizza just as I was polishing off mine.

I can’t say enough good things about this pizza.  At first I was a little uncertain, due to the venue more than anything.  I mean, one table…and no room when we arrived for us to sit and enjoy…it was a little intimidating and off-putting…but a spot cleared up and we settled in after ordering, and all of us were happy with our pizza.  I would go back and eat here the next time I was in Boston, even if there wasn’t a marathon involved.  Really fantastic.  There were a few other signature pizzas that they make that sound absolutely amazing, so I’m definitely eager to return and give them a taste.

If you’re in Boston…and you want a great gluten-free pizza…find one of the locations for Upper Crust Pizzeria (or go to the original one, like I did, in Beacon Hill) and order up a slice of heaven in pizza form.  I know I’ll be back.  Oh yes, I will be back!

Upper Crust Pizzeria's Gluten Free Charles Street Pizza
Upper Crust Pizzeria’s Gluten Free Charles Street Pizza

Product Review: Tastefully Simple Gluten Free Pizza Crust & Sauce Mix

Tastefully Simple Gluten Free Pizza Crust & Sauce Mix
Tastefully Simple Gluten Free Pizza Crust & Sauce Mix

Product Review: Tastefully Simple Gluten Free Pizza Crust & Sauce Mix – $10.99

I know some pretty amazing people.  I really do.  One of such people is a friend of mine from high school.  Awhile back, she contacted me and said that Tastefully Simple was releasing some gluten-free products that she would love for me to try.  My friend, Rebecca Fifield, just happens to be a Tastefully Simple Consultant.  So, she sent them to my.  And then Tastefully Simple released more products…and I bought them and some of the ones that had originally just been sent to me.  And I loved every one of them that had tried.

I think what I love most about what Tastefully Simple is doing with their gluten-free mixes is that they are making it so easy to make bread or pizza or cake cookies or pancakes.  They take all that fancy flour mixing and make it so you have it in one easy place, and only need to add 2 ingredients to it.  I love it.  LOVE it.

And now, thanks to both Rebecca and my own trial-by-fire with the gluten-free products that Tastefully Simple offers (they’ve added cookies and pancakes since I last looked!)…I’m obsessed.  Because, as much as I love baking and cooking and being in my teeny-tiny kitchen…I love simplicity too.  Because baking can be stressful…gluten-free baking can be catastrophic if anything is off.

That’s the glory of Tastefully Simple.  They take that guess work off.

So, with me heading out of town on Friday evening, the main goal this week is to use up all the fresh produce that would otherwise go bad in my absence.  So, with fresh basil and some tomatoes and onions lurking about, I remembered that I had a Tastefully Simple Gluten Free Pizza Crust & Sauce Mix in my pantry.  So…pizza it would be.  AND…it would last for three days between my roommate and I.  Added bonus.  No more cooking the rest of the week.  YAY!

Tastefully Simple Gluten Free Pizza Crust & Sauce Mix (prepared)
Tastefully Simple Gluten Free Pizza Crust & Sauce Mix (prepared)

Preparing the Tastefully Simple Gluten Free Pizza Crust & Sauce Mix is super easy!!  For real.  That’s why there is the word “simple” in the brand.  HA!  To prepare the crust, simply combine the crust mix with 1 cup of water and 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  The dough will be sticky.  Cover it losely with plastic wrap and let it stand for 10 minutes at room temperature.  Using lightly oiled hands to prevent sticking, spread the dough out on a pizza stone or a 12-inch greased pizza pan.  Bake it for 10 minutes in a 400°F oven.

While it’s baking…mix up the sauce.  It’s a breeze.  Simply combine the sauce mix with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and tomato sauce.  Spread it over the warm crust you have now baked for 10 minutes.  Add your favorite toppings (in my case…tomato, onion, basil and Daiya vegan mozzarella cheese shreds) and place back in the oven to cook for another 17-20 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.  Slice into 6 pieces and devour.

Tastefully Simple Gluten-Free Pizza Crust & Sauce (baked)
Tastefully Simple Gluten-Free Pizza Crust & Sauce (baked)

The quality, however, always comes in the taste test.  And they totally nailed it.  The dough wasn’t too sticky when I went to press it out on the pizza stone.  And, it cooked up to this amazing crispy, golden brown.  The sauce and toppings didn’t make it soggy.  It held up to slicing and being moved onto plates.  And I loved the flavor.  It had this amazing crusty quality that just made it work.  It was the perfect base for my toppings of choice.  And it was one of my favorite crusts I have made at home.  It was easy, and it didn’t take too long to bake up either.  Perfect way to enjoy my dinner tonight.  Tastefully Simple is not only making gluten-free delicious, but easy too!

So, let’s take a look at what Tastefully Simple puts into their Gluten Free Pizza Crust & Sauce Mix, shall we?  This pizza crust mix is made from rice flour, tapioca flour, sugar, baker’s yeast, potato starch, cassava flour, salt, less than 2% hydrogenated palm kernel oil, soy lecithin, baking powder and, xanthan gum.  The sauce mix is made from maltodextrin, dehydrated garlic, garlic powder, salt, dehydrated onion, spices, roasted dehydrated garlic, sugar, Romano cheese, less than 2% of natural flavors, toasted sesame oil, citric acid, whey, cheddar cheese, hydrolyzed soy protein, disodium phosphate, and silicon dioxide (anticaking).

As far as the nutritional information for the Tastefully Simple Gluten Free Pizza Crust & Sauce Mix goes, this isn’t bad for pizza.  Really.  A serving size is 1/6 of the package.  This serving will dish up 200 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, no cholesterol, 810 mg sodium (it’s a little high, yes), 43 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 1 gram fiber, and 4 grams of protein.

If you love pizza and want that “from scratch” appeal with a golden, crispy crunch, without it being the frozen cracker-crusts that the gluten-free community are otherwise delegated to having…then give Tastefully Simple’s Gluten Free Pizza Crust & Sauce Mix a try.  Hop on over to my friend, Rebecca Fifield‘s, page and place an order.  Not only will you be amazed with how easy this is to make, the taste, texture, and everything else will win you over.  I promise you that.

A slice of gluten-free pizza made with Tastefully Simple Gluten Free Pizza Crust & Sauce Mix
A slice of pizza made with Tastefully Simple Gluten Free Pizza Crust & Sauce Mix