Product Review: Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers

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Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burger

Product: Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burger – $6.99+

There is just something so amazing and comforting about a good veggie burger.  The problem that I find, thank you Celiac Disease, is that most veggie burgers on the market use some sort of vital wheat gluten or gluten-containing binder to give them their “meaty” texture.  It sort of takes all the veggie burger eating fun out of it for the gluten-free.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many gluten-free veggie burger options in the freezer sections these days.  I’ve pretty much tried them all.  And they’re a wide range of amazing perfection to…eh…it’s alright.

And just when I think I have pretty much sampled them all, my roommate finds a new one to try.  The Brand…Luna Burger.

Not familiar with Luna Burger?  Neither was I at the time.  But there it was (only one gluten-free variety among the various Luna Burger line), in the freezer section of Columbus, Ohio’s very own natural food store, Raisin Rack.  I. LOVE. RAISIN. RACK.  It’s required shopping whenever I go to Columbus.  No joke.  It really is.  Grocery budgets are planned around the Raisin Rack visit.

Anyway, I digress.  So, here was this small, unassuming box containing two (2) veggie burger patties…by Luna Burger.  Luna Burger is actually based out of Columbus, Ohio.  This company makes artisan veggie burgers with Ohio-grown ingredients.  How amazing is that?  The only gluten-free option they have is the BBQ Burger, but their vegan line-up includes Classic, Garden Thyme, Farmhouse Chili, Peanut-Cilantro, and Kickstart Sausage Patties.  I wish I could try all of them, but, alas…the BBQ Luna Burger is it for me.  Luna Burgers are available at many of Central Ohio farmers’ markets, as well as stores and restaurants throughout Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania.  They can also be ordered for delivery through Green B.E.A.N. Delivery (which I have and use) in certain markets.  And, yes…these can also be ordered online.

This past week, since returning from New York City, it’s been a live out of the pantry/fridge/freezer week.  Use up some things and not spend money on more groceries.  HA!  I am on a very tight budget these days thanks to a raise in rent..and those constant medical bills.  BLARF!  So, yesterday, I was digging around for something to have for dinner and I remembered that I had a box of the Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers in my freezer.  I had just picked up some Allergen Free Sandwich Buns from my local allergen-free bakery (Annie May’s Sweet Cafe), and had some greens, tomatoes and onions that needed some using up.  I also had some Alexia Fries in my freezer too…so it turned into a burger and fries night.

I love burger and fries night.  Not going to lie.  The problem is finding a decent gluten-free veggie burger that doesn’t squish out of the bun or crumble with the first bite.  It is nearly impossible.  Not only that, I don’t want something that is flavorless or tastes like cardboard…or worse.   Been there, experienced that.  I want something that makes me feel like I’m eating a real burger.  I was hoping that the Luna Burgers would live up to my own high gluten-free veggie burger expectations!

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My amazing veggie burger & fries night made possible by Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers

So, I popped the fries into the oven for the 16 minutes it would take to cook them.  Then, I got out my skillet and turned on medium heat.  Opening up the box, I found two thick (yes…THICK) four ounce (4 oz) patties ready to hit the heat.  I placed each one on the skillet and began to slowly cook it per the instructions on the box.  When I flipped the fries and set the sandwich buns on the baking sheet to toast lightly, I flipped the burgers too.  A few pieces flaked off, but for the most part, the Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers held their own in the cooking process.  I was actually impressed.  No trying to piece burgers back together.  That was a nice change of pace for sure.  When the fries were done, I began to layer up the sandwich buns to build a huge…hefty…but amazing veggie burger.  Bun…mustard…greens…Luna Burger patty…tomato, onion, avocado…more mustard…and the other half of the sandwich bun.  Oh…I was already trying to figure out how I was going to get my mouth around the entire thing.  It was a beautiful thing for sure.

But the big test always comes with that first bite.  And this burger delivered.  I was really impressed with how the Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers cooked.  But I was even more impressed with how they held up when being handled and eaten.  Honestly, most gluten-free veggie burgers crumble and fall apart with each bite.  They squish out of the bun and lack that “meaty” texture that you want…even with a veggie burger.  The opposite was the case with the Luna Burger BBQ Veggie Burger.  I loved the texture.  It was soft, but got that nice crust on each side, giving it this great burger texture.  It didn’t fall out of my bun or crumble when I picked it up and took large bites.  I was beyond impressed with the myriad of flavors that came in this burger as well.  I don’t know if I got that smokey BBQ flavor that, but I did get a little bit of heat and sweetness.  And it definitely made for an amazing and interesting (in a good way) flavor profile.  Totally hoping somewhere around here carries these, because I would LOVE to have them in my freezer again.  Delicious!!

Let’s discuss the ingredients that go into the Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers.  These burgers are made from brown rice, black beans, onion, brown rice flour, carrots, tomatoes, peaches, sunflower seeds, kale, molasses, garlic, jalapeno peppers, apple cider vinegar, salt, ground mustard, and black pepper.  This burger is gluten-free, wheat-free, corn-free, dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soy-free, and contains no extra oils.

As far as nutrition goes, Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers live up to their healthy packaging.  A serving size is 1 burger (114 grams) and there are two (2) burgers per box.  A serving will provide you with 170 calories, 2.5 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 310 mg sodium, 31 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 3 grams sugars, and 7 grams of protein.  This is a filling, healthy, completely vegan product that makes you feel good about eating it.  I mean, Luna Burger uses locally sourced fruits, grains, vegetables, and herbs.  LOVE it.

The Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers definitely rank up there in gluten-free veggie burger options.  Not my #1 choice, but definitely close.  Perfect texture, flavor, and so satisfying.  You can’t go wrong.   Need to treat yourself to some comfort food…turn to Luna Burger for your veggie burger needs.

But remember…only the BBQ variety is gluten-free and vegan!

Product Review: Feel Good Foods Gluten Free Vegetable Fried Brown Rice

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Feel Good Foods Gluten Free Vegetable Fried Brown Rice
Product: Feel Good Foods Gluten Free Vegetable Fried Brown Rice – $6.99+

Once again, I have Raisin Rack in Columbus, Ohio, to thank for introducing me to some amazing gluten-free goodness.  It was on one of my numerous trips to Columbus to visit my friend Jenn that we made our (now) official stop in at the natural food store.  The budget was small this time thanks to holiday (and doctor) bills, but I was able to stock up on a few things of interest.

One of said items was from Feel Good Foods, makers of gluten free eggrolls and dumplings.  Apparently, they now make actual microwaveable meals.  I didn’t know this, and I keep really up-to-date on the new products out there, especially from companies and brands that I love.  I spotted the one vegetarian option (the fried rice mentioned above) and picked out the General Tso’s Chicken for my roommate…and it was game on.  Purchased.  It made the budget cut for sure.

Feel Good Foods has the slogan: Don’t worry. Eat happy.  And, with the promise of having no added MSG, no preservatives, and no artificial flavors, I was already feeling good about my purchase.  Creators, Tryg and Vanessa met at a restaurant where he was the chef and she was working.  When he discovered that she couldn’t have the staff-created meals, he began creating gluten-free versions of the dish.  They created Feel Good Foods gluten-free frozen foods after they opened a gluten-free restaurant and were told that they needed to put their food out on the market.  Their foods are non-GMO, all-natural and completely gluten-free.  You see…Vanessa is a Celiac…so they take food allergies really seriously.

Well, these meals were in our freezer for a few weeks, because I figured they would be a perfect “need a quick dinner” meal for busy nights…something we’ve finally been having more of these days.  Because…running.  Well, Tuesday nights are my hill repeat nights, and this happens in Louisville…at 6 pm.  So, after working until 4:30, I literally have time to come home, throw on some running clothes, warm something up, down it, and get over the river to the event.  The past couple of weeks, due to weather, I’ve hit the treadmill due to cancellations and/or…me not wanting to be out in the elements.  But…yesterday…despite some apprehension (got some niggling pain in the hips), I decided I was going to go and at least attempt to tackle the hills.

So, this meant the frozen meals have to come out.  And so…without any further adieu…out came the Feel Good Foods Gluten Free Vegetable Fried Brown Rice (and my roommate’s General Tso’s Chicken, too!) for a quick heat and eat.

The Feel Good Foods Vegetable Fried Brown Rice is super easy to prepare.  Simply open the box and remove the little bowl.  Cut a 1-inch slit into the plastic overwrap.  Place in the microwave and cook on high for about 3-4 minutes.  Let it sit for one (1) minute.  Then remove the overwrap, stir, and devour.  Simple…

…and delicious.  In fact, it turns out that this particular fried rice dish is one of Chef Tryg’s favorites.  Feel Good Foods Vegetable Fried Brown Rice highlights the amazing flavors of the leeks and ginger.  Also…I love that brown rice is used instead of rice, not just for flavor, but health reasons too.  Let’s face it, brown rice is better.  Any…freakin’…day!  As for this meal, in general…it definitely is a frozen dinner, but leaps and bounds above your average frozen meal.  Made with real ingredients and seasoned to perfection.  I didn’t have to add a thing to this (not even Yum Yum Sauce).  And I devoured it.  I think my favorite thing that was in there were the waterchesnuts.  Nice texture.  The entire meal had a variety of flavors and textures going.  The vegetables were steamed to perfection, the brown rice wasn’t dry…and, as I said, seasoning was spot on.  Plus, this was a nice way to fuel up before taking on 6 miles of hills.  It was gone in record time.

So, let’s discuss what goes into the Feel Good Foods Vegetable Fried Brown Rice, shall we.  This meal is made from brown rice (water, rice, expeller-pressed canola oil), leeks, carrots, green peas, gluten-free soy sauce (water, soybeans, salt), expeller-pressed canola oil, ginger, eggs (whole eggs, citric acid, water), waterchesnuts, garlic, scallions, sesame oil, salt, and spices.

As far as nutrition goes, I was impressed with the nutritional facts that came with the Feel Good Foods Gluten Free Vegetable Fried Brown Rice.  A serving size is 1 package (255 grams), and there is one (1) serving per container.  One serving will provide you with 350 calories, 18 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 45 mg cholesterol, 490 mg sodium, 40 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 5 grams sugars, and 7 grams protein.  It is gluten-free, vegetarian, and made using minimally processed, non-artificial ingredients.

Thanks to Tryg and Vanessa, someone like me, who usually has to bypass the Chinese Food, can start to enjoy it again.  While I am not big on consuming frozen dishes, these sure did come in handy for a busy weeknight.  Quick and easy to prepare…and just as quick and easy to eat.  You’ll love the flavor.  For the record, my roommate truly enjoyed her General Tso’s Chicken, saying it wasn’t too spicy or anything.  So…there is that.

I know Whole Foods carries Feel Good Foods products…so next time I’m there, I might have to contemplate picking up another box of this…for another busy night in my future.  I encourage you to do the same.

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

 

 

 

 

Hawaiian Hau’oli

Aloha!

So, last week, for a wonderful week, I was fortunate enough to spend some time on the two of the Hawaiian islands.  The original purpose – to run the Kauai Marathon.

But then…I fractured my ankle.

Trying to start a new trend in footwear, perhaps? This is Bootsie, my new friend for the next 6-8 weeks. MEH!
Trying to start a new trend in footwear, perhaps? This is Bootsie, my new friend for the next 6-8 weeks. MEH!

Yep.  Fractured my freakin’ ankle three days before leaving for Hawaii.  SUCK!!  I tried to put a positive spin on things…I really did.  At least I was still going to Hawaii.  Yeah…it didn’t really work for me then either…but I was trying.  To help make this painful adjustment, I started a Twitter account for Bootsie (the boot I’m forced to wear for 6-8 weeks) to document traveling adventures.  I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason…so there better be a damn good reason for this.  That’s all I’m saying.

The first leg of the trip was flying out to San Diego.  This gave us pretty much a full day to adjust to a bit of the time change (West Coast = 3 hours behind EST; Hawaii = 6 hours behind EST) and break up what was already a long ass flight to the islands.  We’d depart San Diego before it was bright and early to get to Kauai by mid-morning.  It was a plan.  The ankle just meant we had to depart from the hotel sooner because I wasn’t moving anywhere very fast.  So…my traveling companions, Cathy & Jenn, were both very helpful and very, very patient with me.  And, I didn’t complain much.  I mean, complaining won’t change the situation.  I just apologized…a lot…for being slow.

The first order of business after getting to San Diego and checking into the hotel to drop off luggage was…lunch.  Not having prepared for lunch, I ate a protein bar, while my fellow travelers ate tacos from a local taco stand.  SO cool.  But after that, I required my morning cup of coffee…so we sought out and found a great local establishment called…

Lestat’s Coffee House, San Diego, California

Lestat’s is one of those places that is open 24/7, 365 days of the year.  YES…it is always open!  Holiday?  No worries…they’re open!  Lestat’s Coffee House has a few signature drinks on their menu…and as it was pretty toasty in San Diego, I wasn’t feeling the hot coffee that day.  Neither were my traveling friends.  So, they each got coffee freezes (think blended drinks!) while I opted for one of Lestat’s Signature Drinks done up all refreshing and cold.  Jenn got the Winter Raspberry Freeze ($5.25), which is a ice blended raspberry mocha.  I took one little sip.  WINNING!  Cathy had me pick for her, and I choose the Arctic Squirrel Freeze ($5.25) for her, which is an ice blended hazelnut mocha (similar to the Hazelnut Turtle drink she loves at our local cafe…just…blended and cold).  As for me…I went with the Iced Arctic Joey ($4.55)…which is coconut, almond and chocolate.  I had mine made with coconut milk as well (+$1.00).  In essence, it was a liquid almond joy.  And it was delicious.  There were bits of coconut floating in it.  I think I was just starting to get in the Aloha spirit by getting something with coconut.  Needless to say…smooth, creamy, delicious.  Nothing overwhelmed the drink, and it wasn’t heavy.  It was pure liquid gold.  And refreshing.  And tasty.  And in the end, coffee should always be tasty.  I was beyond happy with this decision.

Lestat's Coffee House Iced Almond Joey with Coconut Milk
Lestat’s Coffee House Iced Almond Joey with Coconut Milk

Upon arriving in Hawaii…after the rental car debacle…wherein we learned…convertible is fun…but not when you have a fractured ankle.  We got it sorted…and switched out the fun and stylish convertible for…a Ford Fusion.  Yeah…definitely not the way we had envisioned traveling, but it gave us more leg room and some more storage space for our big-ass luggage.  LOL!  After checking into Pono Kai Resort in Kauai…coffee was needed.

It’s always coffee with me.  LOL!

So, we scoped out and fell in love with a local café called Ha Coffee Bar.  And we went back every day we were on the island of Kauai…save for Sunday, because they are closed.

Ha Coffee Bar, Lihue, Hawaii

It was love at first “Aloha” when it came to Ha Coffee Bar.  I have nothing but warm fuzzies when I think back to every stop at Ha Coffee Bar, each morning, first thing, while on Kauai.  It was a bit of a drive from the resort, but always worth it.  I tried three different things on the three days we were there that they were open.  And, not once, was I ever disappointed in my choice.  Ha Coffee Bar is a café that is built to resemble an old-school bar.  No joke.  Their iced drinks are even mixed in martini shakers.  LOVE.  This set-up allows them to showcase and sell products and items, such as pour-overs, that might not typically be served at a café.  Ha Coffee Bar primarily serves espresso coffee, cold brewed coffee, pour-over and French press coffee.  The variety in the types of coffee they serve allows for different origins and price points, which also helps minimize waste as they don’t have coffee sitting and going stale…high quality coffee and flexibility that allows customers to explore different blends, flavor profiles and methods of making coffee.  Coffee love.  And boy…did I LOVE this.  On the first day there, I stayed pretty basic.  I got a Salted Caramel French Pressed Cafe Au Lait with Almond Milk.  I loved that they added the flavor to the steamed milk itself, and then gave me the pitcher of leftover almond milk in case I needed more of it in the drink.  But it was perfect the way they gave it to me.  And the French pressed coffee…OMG…so good.  Jenn got a simple Iced Hazelnut Latte and Cathy got an Iced Peppermint Mocha.  So, on the next morning, I noticed they had signature drinks hanging up near the register…so I decided to give one of those a try.  I had it narrowed down to two…but opted for their drink the Bee Sting.  The Bee Sting is simply Espresso, Coconut Milk, Honey and Cinnamon.  I got it iced…as the humidity was killer that morning.  Cathy got their take on an Iced Black & White Mocha (Zebra).  And it was, absolutely, hands down, my favorite coffee drink of the trip.  I wish I could have had it again.  I would have gotten it again.  The coconut milk gave it this rich flavor, the honey sweetened it, the cinnamon lent a hint of spice…and espresso…got me moving for sure.  Simple…yet SO good.  SO very good.  In fact, on our last day there, this is the drink that Jenn opted to get after trying mine.  With Ha closed on Sunday, we had to go elsewhere, but on our last day on Kauai…we were there in the morning and I was getting another signature drink…Liquid Sunshine, which was cold brew coffee, coconut syrup, and coconut milk.  DELICIOUS!!  Not Bee Sting delicious…but delicious.  I was quite happy with it.  Not something I can get here…anywhere…so that was most of the draw for this drink in particular.  The last morning there, Cathy got the Iced Hazelnut Mocha and a Pineapple Cream Cheese Scone to enjoy for breakfast.  I still say it today…back in Louisville, Kentucky…that I miss Ha Coffee Bar.  It made that much of an impression.

Ha Coffee's Salted Caramel Cafe Au Lait with Almond Milk, Iced Bee Sting, and Iced Liquid Sunshine
Ha Coffee’s Salted Caramel Cafe Au Lait with Almond Milk, Iced Bee Sting, and Iced Liquid Sunshine

 

Skinny Mike’s Hawaiian Ice Cream, Lihue, Hawaii

I have KONG Radio to thank for the discovery of Skinny Mike’s.  As we were driving the island of Kauai on Saturday, just enjoying beaches and the like…an advertisement for Skinny Mike’s Hawaiian Ice Cream came on.  And it advertised ice cream, sorbets, and vegan ice cream.  They had my attention, and the attention of both Jenn and Cathy too.  I looked them up…and took note of where it was located.  And we vowed to go there and check them out.  At least once, yes?

And so, Saturday evening, after splitting a gluten-free pizza at a local chain…we headed over to Harbor Mall, where Skinny Mike’s is located.  We parked and marched up the stairs to the little shop.  Online I had taken a peak at the flavors, and sort of had my heart set on the Pineapple Cream.  However…they didn’t have that flavor.  So…I was left to look over the offered flavors while Jenn & Cathy made their choices.  We each got regular scoops ($3.49) of our flavor choices.  Cathy went with the Mint Chocolate Chip as it is one of her favorites…anywhere.  Jenn won with their signature flavor…a local classic…Macadamia Nut.  Hers was so good, we went back the last night there and each got a scoop of the Macademia Nut.  That’s how good that was.  For my first trip there, without the Pineapple flavor being available…I went with the suggestion of Coconut Cream.  The Coconut Cream ice cream was the perfect level of coconut flavor.  No bits of raw coconut…just the flavor infused in a creamy scoop of ice cream goodness.  It was delicious.  Smooth.  And melted fast.  Ah…coconut based things…I didn’t mind though.  Not one bit.  I eat frozen desserts rather quickly regardless.  LOL!  We were so impressed with the ice cream there that, as I said, we all went back to get the signature Macadamia Nut flavor on our last night on Kauai.  Worth it.  That was some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had.  Just…delicious.  I miss it.  I want some more of the Macadamia Nut flavor…it’s a craving that hits now.  Now that I know it exists…but can’t get it anywhere else…but there.

Skinny Mike's Hawaiian Ice Cream's Coconut Cream and Macadamia Nut Ice Cream
Skinny Mike’s Hawaiian Ice Cream’s Coconut Cream and Macadamia Nut Ice Cream

 

Java Kai, Kapaa, Hawaii

What happens when  your favorite Hawaiian coffee stop on Kauai is closed on Sunday?  You have to find a new place to get that caffeine hit.  And this was what we were left to do on Sunday morning.  Sunday.  When I should have been running a marathon.  When, instead, I was hobbling around Kapaa in search of coffee.  The stop at the little food truck-like coffee place was…not going to work for everyone.  No one was really happy with the menu options…so…we backtracked to a spot that Jenn spotted and had looked up online.  It wasn’t far from the resort.  It was a worthwhile stop in the end.  And, in the end, we all ended up with a bit of breakfast with our coffee as well.  How?  Because this place had some gluten-free options on the menu and in the bakery case.  SCORE!  This meant we could have something a little more substantial at the start of the day, instead of the meager protein bars or yogurts back at the resort.  It would mean eating better now and not making poor choices later.  And so…Jenn got one of the bars from the bakery case…the Aloha Bar ($3.75), I think.  For her caffeinated goodness that morning, she got the Iced Macanut Latte ($4.50).  Cathy went for the Breakfast Burrito ($10.50), which includes eggs, roasted potatoes, caramelized onions, and cheddar cheese, which she got with the mango-chipotle salsa.  For her drink, she got the Iced Hazelnut Mocha ($4.70).  She at hers there at the café as she was the driver.  As for me…they had gluten-free English muffins.  HELLO!  So I ended up getting the Gluten Free English Muffin with Cream Cheese ($3.95), which they kindly toasted for me…looks like in a pan…no cross-contamination.  And for the drink, I got the Iced Macanut Latte ($4.50) with Almond Milk (+$0.75).  Jenn and I had ours to go and I happily noshed away on a Glutino English Muffin with a light spread of cream cheese.  The Macanut Latte…macadamia nut flavor…espresso…nutty goodness.  And it was just the perfect drink that morning.  It was supposed to be marathon morning…and I needed a distraction.  This food, while simple and basic…was just what I needed.  The drive along the coast helped too!

Java Kai's Gluten Free English Muffin (with Cream Cheese) and Macanut Latte with Almond Milk
Java Kai’s Gluten Free English Muffin (with Cream Cheese) and Macanut Latte with Almond Milk

 

Hanalei Bay, Hanalei, Hawaii

We visited a lot of beaches while visiting Hawaii.  I mean, that’s part of the point when you visit an island, right?  But, I think, above all others, my favorite one we stopped at, and spent the most time at, was Hanalei Bay.  This beach is stunning.  A beautiful 2-mile long crescent of white sand, nestled beneath a breathtaking range of mountains.  The water was relatively calm that day, with some small waves crashing against the shore.  Despite my new friend…Bootsie…being on, we were determined to get away and enjoy the day.  Anything to keep my mind off the fact that I should have been running.  Hanalei Bay is a great beach for walking and body surfing.  Calm waves, lifeguards, and a great coast line.  I managed a few solo ventures along the waterline of the beach, just needing to at least move a little…minus the boot.  I took it off for beach time.  Strange tan lines were not on the agenda.  I was very careful of where I stepped and the movement of the sand…and would pause if a wave came up and rolled over my legs…because that undertow could be a bit strong and throw me off balance.  It was here that I realized my surf lessons the following day were not going to happen, as much as I wanted to give it a try.  It was just not going to be physically possible for me to get up on a surf board.  I was brokenhearted over this…but shrugged it off as no big deal.  These were the cards I was dealt.  Suck it up, cupcake…you’re in Hawaii!

Me and Bootsie at Hanalei Bay
Me and Bootsie at Hanalei Bay

After some walking and some laying on the beach…we got dressed and headed off for the next venture.  Which tunred out to be a good thing.  Heavy rains started soon after we had changed…and soon, Jenn and I realized just how sunburned we had gotten.  I don’t think Jenn slapped on any sunscreen.  I had…but the burn was in those places where clothes met skin or that strings were located.  I was trying to avoid strange tan lines…and yet…that is what I ended up with in the end.

That being said…for a moment, I forgot about the ankle…and the boot…and I just enjoyed the perfect afternoon at the perfect beach.

JoJo’s Shave Ice, Hanalei, Hawaii

I have my good friend Harry Cooke to thank for the journey, while in Hanalei, to JoJo’s Shave Ice.  He had mentioned it to me in a message on Facebook…and we were right there!!  And with the rain pouring down now, it gave us a good excuse to not sit in a car and try to avoid the flooding roads.  It gave us some time to hope the rain would pass and we could do more exploring.  The rain didn’t pass.  It was with us the rest of the time on the North Shore.  However, after a bit of a short (hobbling, for me) spring from the rental car to the little storefront that the Hanalei JoJo’s Shave Ice operates out of…we knew we were in for a treat.  The original JoJo’s began in Waimea in 1992, the same year that Hurricane Iniki landed on Kauai.  That store is stil there today and still has the original JoJo’s sign.  The goal of JoJo’s…to offer the ultimate in Shave Ice on Kauai…which is a true Hawaiian treat.  When they expanded into Hanalei, they took the JoJo’s traditions and secret recipes along…and introduced the smaller “junior size,” which closely matches the normal serving size of other shave ice venues throughout Hawaii.  JoJo’s doesn’t use commercially made syrups.  They, instead, carefully make up their own syrups, with a lot less sugar and more flavor than the commercially used ones by other shave ice businesses.  And…no corn syrups either.  They also have upgraded all their locations with the best ice machines on Kauai, making for an unmatched, fluffy shave.  LOVE.  The three of us each got the Junior Sizes ($4.50).  And they let you choose up to 4-5 flavors.  I don’t remember what Jenn got…but it had cherry…and perhaps lime?  I can’t recall.  Cathy got Root Beer, Lemon and Grape Shave Ice.  And I opted for two of my favorite flavors…Watermelon and Strawberry Shave Ice.  Of course, now looking back, I wish I opted for something more…local…like mango or something.  Next time.  But the shave ice at JoJo’s was huge…filling…and amazingly packed with flavor.  I can see why it’s been open for 23 years.

30 ounces of Watermelon and Strawberry flavored goodness from JoJo's Shave Ice
30 ounces of Watermelon and Strawberry flavored goodness from JoJo’s Shave Ice

 

Kalaheo Coffee Company & Café, Kalaheo, Hawaii

I know that technically Kalaheo Coffee Company & Café should have gotten a full review, as it was our place to catch a bite for lunch…on Monday afternoon.  However, it was a hot day…and the humidity was really doing a number on me.  And while there were a few options for a gluten-free vegetarian on the menu, what sounded really, really good was the Spinach and Kauai Greens Salad ($10.95).  And the reason that this didn’t warrant a Restaurant Review post was…it was a salad I could have made at home.  Honestly.  But this was what I wanted.  The Spinach and Kauai Greens Salad is a blend of fresh grown Kailani Farm greens, served with crisp spinach and topped off with strawberries and candied pecans.  I kept the feta cheese and held the side of warm flat bread for obvious reasons.  It came with a simple balsamic vinaigrette.  And it was delicious.  Light, but filling.  And cooling.  And just flat-out what I was really wanting that miserably humid day.  But…it was a salad I could make…and therefore…it garners a mention here…but the restaurant itself is cozy and has a lot of great, fresh-made, delicious sandwiches, salads, soups, etc, to choose from.  And I loved sitting in there, listening to runners who had run the day before discuss the marathon and half marathon…looking at the different food items coming out of the kitchen to each table.  Beautiful setting, beautiful food…and tasty too.  For the record, Cathy got the Hot Pastrami Sandwich, which contained grilled onions, mushrooms, and melted Swiss cheese on toasted bread.  She got it with the much raved about Garlic Cilantro Fries…which after seeing her and Jenn devour…made me really wish I could have had those.  Not safe though…not for me.  Darn it.

Kalaheo Coffee Company & Café's Spinach & Kauai Greens Salad
Kalaheo Coffee Company & Café’s Spinach & Kauai Greens Salad

 

USS Arizona Memorial – Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii

This was one ONE place that I had to visit while in Hawaii, and the main and primary reason we even island hopped over to O’ahu instead of just hanging tight on the beautiful island of Kauai.  Honolulu is definitely a hopping city and much more urban…think LA and NYC.  But this…this stop was…important.  To all three of us.  The USS Arizona Memorial is the number one visitor destination in Hawaii, drawing millions of people from all over the world to see where World War II began for the United States on December 7, 1941.  Visitors are free to explore the grounds of the Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center, which was recently expanded from the original 3 acres to 17 acres, and is now operated by the National Park Service.  Admission and parking is free to all visitors.  Over 2000 tickets are given out free per day on a first come, first serve basis.  We had to check our bags before entering the historic site, so Jenn and I did that while Cathy went to get the tickets she reserved online for us.  We were set for the final shuttle out, at 2:45 pm.  It was the hottest day in Honolulu…and with all the metal and concrete, we were literally melting out in the sun while walking around the ground.  We ducked into the museum, but it was even hotter in there.  Bottles of water were purchased and Cathy and I downed ours before we were put on an earlier shuttle, the 2:30 pm, to head out to the memorial.  A US Navy boat taxied us out to the USS Arizona Memorial, which is built over the remains of the sunken battleship, the final resting place of the 1,177 crewmen killed on December 7, 1941, when their ship was bombed by the Japanese Naval Forces.  The memorial itself was relatively quiet upon disembarking and walking over to it.  You can still see the oil leaking out of the actual ship that is buried beneath the waters of Pearl Harbor.  It is moving and touching.  And the memorial is beautiful and humbling.  And I am so glad that we went.

USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor
USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

 

Dole Plantation, Wahiawa, Hawaii

Two words…

DOLE WHIP.

DOLE FREAKIN’ WHIP!!  That was the primary reason to venture out to the Dole Plantation in Wahaiwa.  It was a bit of a journey…a long drive, but well worth it.  The Dole Plantation originally operated as a fruit stand beginning in 1950, before opening up to the public as “Hawaii’s ‘Pineapple Experience'” in 1989.  Another one of O’ahu’s most popular visitor attractions, the Dole Plantation provides activities for the entire family, including the Pineapple Express ($8.25/adult), the Plantation Garden Tour ($5.00/adult), and the Pineapple Garden Maze ($6.00/adult).  None of which we did…due to the cost that was associated with each one and the warm, humid weather that made us want to stick to the air conditioning.  What we did do, however, was shop at the HUGE gift shop, which carries a wide variety of Dole Plantation Gifts, local favorites, foods, and refreshments…including DOLE WHIP!!  You can even purchase a fresh pineapple to take home.  I wish I had.  The pineapple in Hawaii is freakin’ incredible.  I did some shopping, buying a few minor things like Dole Pineapple hard candy and a magnet.  Easy to transport and all.  And then, we went over to The Plantation Grille to purchase a bowl each of the world famous Dole Whip ($5.25).  It was a large serving, which I loved, and devoured enthusiastically.  Better than Disney, which is one of the few places Dole Whip is available.  This was…amazing and I wish I had gone back for seconds.  Dole Whip, by the way, is vegan and gluten free.  LOVE!!  It’s just pure frozen treat love.

Dole Whip from The Dole Plantation's Plantation Grille
Dole Whip from The Dole Plantation’s Plantation Grille

 

Panalu’u Beach Park and the Random Pineapple Roadside Stand, Hauula, Hawaii

Welcome to two of the most random stops we made on our trek around the North Shore of O’ahu.  Panalu’u Beach Park is located on O’ahu’s windward coast and has this strip of narrow, sandy beach.  The nearshore ocean bottom is shallow and has a reef, so swimming conditions here are poor.  This was a clam day at this particular beach when we pulled over to check it out.  Cathy went wading…and the water looked so refreshing (another humid and hot day!), that I took off Bootsie and kicked off my flip-flop to go wading in the surf myself.  My friend Jenn snapped my favorite picture of me on this entire trip here…with the gorgeous blue water and the white sand on the beach.  As I said on my Instagram…”Make only memories…Leave only footprints…Kill only time…”

Me on Punalu'u Beach Park (THIS IS MY FAVORITE PICTURE!)
Me on Punalu’u Beach Park (THIS IS MY FAVORITE PICTURE!)

From there, we went hunting for a shrimp place, Romey’s Kahuku Prawns and Shrimp, that the lady at Enterprise told Cathy about after we first arrived in Honolulu, when she mentioned we would be heading up to the North Shore.  Along the way, I had been hunting for mangos and we found a stand that advertised them.  We pulled into this dodgy little roadside stand, only to learn that they were out of mangos.  The weather had ended the season early.  I was bummed.  BUT…we did purchase a fresh pineapple there, so we purchased one for $5.00, and watched as this little old lady had it peeled and sliced in less that 2 minutes…bagged…and ready for us to take away.  We wasted no time, after climbing into the car, trying it out.  So fresh…so juicy…so amazing.  Hands down, the best pineapple I have eaten in my life.  Anywhere.  And I’ve had a lot of pineapple.  We did find Romy’s…and Jenn and Cathy split a plate of the Garlic and Butter Shrimp.  They ate that and I ate a good 2/3 (if not more) of the pineapple.  They helped a little after they were done with their fresh seafood.

Best.  Pineapple.  Purchase.  EVER!

BEST PINEAPPLE EVER from a random roadside stand along the North Shore of O'ahu! They peeled and chopped it right there!
BEST PINEAPPLE EVER from a random roadside stand along the North Shore of O’ahu! They peeled and chopped it right there!

 

Chief’s Luau, Waimanalo, Hawaii

Okay, again, this would generally get a blog of its own, despite not being a restaurant.  I couldn’t go to Hawaii and not do a luau, even if it is one that is so tourist-y…it’s funny.  We chose Chief’s Luau ($82.00+) due to the fact that it is the best ranked luau on O’auh AND that it had an allergen menu on their Web site.  And, yeah, it’s tourist-y, but I actually had a lot of fun at the luau.  I finally got a lei (made of shells as we had the cheapest package), had my picture taken with Chief…learned how to hula dance, watched Cathy throw a spear (rather poorly), watched Cathy make a coconut leaf headband (which she left behind), listened to great music, enjoyed the history of the dances that are native to Hawaii…and just…kicked back, laughed, and enjoyed my final night in Hawaii…with a Mai Tai and everything.  Aside from the free drink…the luau package also included dinner…and as a gluten-free vegetarian, this left only a few things for me to pick from.  Cathy was there for the meat…the pork…cooked in the ground with banana leaves…but for someone like me…I got the food that was catered in.  And that’s fine…but because it was catered, I didn’t review it.  I was left with the Seasonal Fruit Salad (more pineapple!), the Poi (GROSS…it looked like Barney’s (the purple dinosaur) snot…kind of gelatinous and goopy and YUCK.  I didn’t want to try it, but peer pressure had me at least take a taste.  NEVER AGAIN!), the Steamed White Rice and (my personal favorite) the Sweet Potatoes.  My first plate of food was not really full, and as this was all you can eat, I ventured back for more of the DELICIOUS sweet potatoes and the fruit.  Because…fruit and sweet potatoes are actually two of my favorite foods in life.  For real.  The Mai Tai’s were delicious…and I had a great time at the luau.  If you are in O’ahu and want to go to a luau…go to Chief’s.  They are #1 for a reason!

Seasonal Fruit Salad, Poi (GROSS!), White Steamed Rice, and Sweet Potatoes - my gluten free and vegetarian dinner at Chief's Luau
Seasonal Fruit Salad, Poi (GROSS!), White Steamed Rice, and Sweet Potatoes – my gluten free and vegetarian dinner at Chief’s Luau

 

Barista, Portland, Oregon

The flight we took back to the mainland went through Portland, where we disembarked and stayed an entire day, so we could explore.  Cathy and Jenn had Voodoo Doughnuts for breakfast.  We hit up the food pods for lunch, we did a gastropub for dinner.  But after the stop for doughnuts, it was vital that we got caffeine.  And I chose Barista, out of all the different coffee shops in Portland.  I chose wisely…of this I am certain.  Being a former barista, myself, I not only liked the name, I liked everything I read about them.  Barista was established by coffee legend, Billy Wilson, who now has four (4) Barista cafés open in the Portland area.  Let me tell you, this cofee delivers!!  Barista is one of the first multi-roaster shops in the Portland area, showcasing Heart, Coava, and another roaster on bar for espresso or drip.  Barista is known for serving exceptional coffees from the world’s finest roasters, prepared by the most skilled baristas in the Portland area.  No joke.  Jenn skipped out on this amazing experience, but both Cathy and I partook of the opportunity to try the coffee at the Downtown Barista location.  Cathy ordered the Semi-Sweet Valrohna Mocha ($4.50).  I went for the Bittersweet Valrohna Mocha ($4.50) with Almond Milk (+$0.75).  It was delicious.  Strong…but smooth.  There was this perfect balance of chocolate and espresso that just…melted together.  The milk softened up the bite of the espresso itself, cutting through the dark chocolate.  OH MY GOD…one of the best coffees I have ever had.  If you are in Portland and love coffee…you are missing out if you don’t swing by one of the Barista locations.  For real.  I loved every sip.  Even better…finally a coffeeshop that gives me an 8 ounce cup of coffee for a small!!  THANK YOU!

Barista's Bittersweet Valrohna Mocha with Almond Milk
Barista’s Bittersweet Valrohna Mocha with Almond Milk

And that was it.  It was Portland to Vegas to Louisville from there.  And my 10 day vacation came to an end.  Back in Louisville, it’s hard for me to ignore Bootsie.  It’s a depressing reminder of everything I’ve had to cancel for the upcoming weeks leading into November.  I tried not to fuss much over it on the trip.  And, I ate whatever I wanted…whenever I wanted…as long as it fit into my dietary restrictions.  And despite limited mobility and really lack of much movement at all…while continuing to stuff my face with local eats…I lost 3 pounds.  I’ve put it back on since coming home though…so no worries.  LOL!

It was a beautiful trip to paradise…and I’m already dreaming about my return.  Next time…to actually run the Kauai Marathon!!

Restaurant Review: Bandar, San Diego, California

Bandar, San Diego, California
Bandar, San Diego, California

Restaurant: Bandar, San Diego, California

It’s not every day that I get to travel somewhere new and exciting.  But this current week, I’m off on an adventure.  Albeit (see an upcoming post), not the adventure that I was expecting, but you make the most of the cards that are dealt to you.  You can’t change the circumstances, but you can change the attitude, right?

You betcha!

So, for one day only, I was knee-deep in the surroundings, hills, and the beautiful bay of San Diego.  While my traveling buddies (Cathy (aka: the roomie) and Jenn) went to a local taco stand for lunch, I made my lunch out of a protein bar that I brought with me.  I hadn’t planned on lunch, and when I can’t check out places online, I get a bit cautious.  I like to read reviews and look at menus and be confident in my choice to eat somewhere.  When you have food allergies, you just learn not to take risks.  It was all good.  My bar was filling and got me through to dinner time.  Because Cathy had made reservations at a place called Bandar in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego.

Bandar is a Persian restaurant of all things.  Now, I’ve had a lot of different cuisines in my life, but my taste buds had never had a go at Persian cuisine.  Bandar’s owner, Behrooz Farahani, graduated with a degree in architecture and originally owned his own architectural firm.  When he visited San Diego in 1986, he decided to move his family (a wife and twin daughters) there to provide them with a better life.  Behrooz and his wife, Shokooh, purchased the historical buidling in the Gaslamp Quarter…and soon Bandar emerged, becoming an overnight phenomenon.  This husband and wife team raised Persian dining to new heights, using authentic marinades for signature dishes involving beef, lamp, chicken, and fish.  Using only the finest ingredients, Farahani insists on personally choosing each cut of meat that is served in his restaurants.

The restaurant, Bandar, is best known for its use of healthy ingredients and bold, complex flavors, bringing the flavors of saffron, limes, and other Persian spices to the forefront of each dish, highlighting the amazing flavor that comes in such a healthy and exotic cuisine.

It had been a long, long day.  I was sore from making the hikes through airports to get to my flights.  And then hauling around San Diego.  But, it was all culminating with the final outing of the evening…dinner.  And Cathy chose Bandar as our place to eat as it had great reviews on Find Me Gluten Free…and mostly everything (save the bread) is gluten-free in the restaurant (although I think the desserts are also an exception, but we were too full to even consider dessert).  Therefore, this made it a great place to check out.

We were there a little earlier than the reservation and for most of the meal, we were the only ones in there.  Considering it was prime dinner time, I was a bit surprised by this.  But, what do you do?  You get seated early (we all decided we could eat…although I’ve realized that traveling still does a number on my appetite and most times I’m not exactly hungry, but I know I need to eat something.  The hostess seated us near the back at a gorgeous table and left us with menus.  Water was poured and we settled in for a moment.  Flat bread and butter were brought out…and to be sure we asked (because the menu misleadingly says that all food there is gluten-free) about what I could have…and the bread was a no-go.  From what I was told…it was good.

The first thing we noticed was the price of the food.  Holy hummus, foodies…it was pricey.  And with Hawaii on the horizon, we weren’t looking for an expensive meal, for sure.  I mean, the cheapest (and pretty much only) vegetarian entree on there (Eggplant Stew) was around $26.  I wasn’t sure how big the entree portions were either, and, as I said, I wasn’t all that hungry to begin with.  A combination of fatigue and the heat, I believe, are to blame for that.  My internal clock was three hours ahead, so in my mind, it was bedtime, not dinner time.

While we decided on what to do for dinner, Cathy placed an order for the Hummus Classic ($10.00) that we could split.  With that order in, we continued discussing whether or not to split some appetizers or just let me get an appetizer size plate and Cathy and Jenn split an entree.  This actually went on for longer than it should have, but mostly because we were all just tired, and probably hungrier than we realized.  BUT…with that being said…our Hummus Classic arrived, without anything to dip in it, so I guess that was meant for that flat bread.  Cathy asked our waitress if we could have some tomatoes or something so that I could have some too…and she very quickly said she would bring out some cucumbers for me.  YAY!  Cathy and Jenn each scooped up a little.  This was actually Jenn’s first time (she is a bean-hater, BTW) trying hummus and she did not like it at all.  To dry and beany she said.  Cathy, however, did like it, and when I got my cucumbers and was able to try it…it was actually really good.  Smooth, seasoned with paprika and just…yummy.  It had that bit of olive oil to finish and it made for a flavorful touch.  It was a nice little appetizer to help get us more focused.  And while we enjoyed the hummus and Jenn enjoyed some flat bread, we finally decided on dinner.  YAY!

Bandar's Albalu Polo (Black Cherry Rice and Chicken Kebab)
Bandar’s Albalu Polo (Black Cherry Rice and Chicken Kebab)

Jenn and Cathy, in the end, decided to split the Albalu Polo (Black Cherry Rice with Chicken Kebab) entree ($26.00).  This is exactly what the dish sounds like…chunks of grilled chicken tenderloin served up with rice and black cherries.  The waitress asked if they liked sweet things because it was a sweet dish.  The two poultry-loving sweet-toothers were okay with that.

As for me, I went with the Dolmeh (Stuffed Grape Leaves) starter ($12.00).  I have had horrible grape leaves at a local place in Louisville, Kentucky (oddly enough called The Grape Leaf) and then had some fantastic ones at a Mediterranean chain called Taziki’s.  So, this is like my go-to food.  This version of Dolmehs were large grape leaves stuffed with split peas, tarragon, basil, parsley, cilantro, chives, rosemary and basmati rice.  When I ordered it, she said it was like a meal…so that was a good sign.

The food actually took a little bit of time to get to us.  That was fine, because everything at Bandar is cooked to order.  Although, it did get to the point that Jenn and I were joking about having to go find a chicken, kill it, pluck it, debone it, etc.  But, lo and behold…as a few more people were coming in, our food arrived.  I am very glad that Cathy and Jenn opted to split the entree they got because that platter was HUGE.  It easily could have fed 3-4 people.  Honestly.  And the waitress said that she has seen diners finish it on their own.  How that is even possible, I’ll never know.  They let me try the black cherry rice, and it was really tasty.  But I had my own food to dive into, so I left them to their chicken platter of DOOOOOM, while I settled in to feast on my own meal.

The starter size Dolmehs at Bandar come with four (4) very stuffed grape leaves, each one resting on a fresh slice of tomato.  That was a nice touch.  After photos for the blog, I carried over the first Dolmeh to my plate and settled in with fork and knife to give it a taste.  I sliced through the cooked grape leaf, seeing the seasoned basmati rice, split peas, and herbs poke out and fall onto my plate and the tomato.  The rice was perfectly cooked and seasoned.  The flavors were awesome.  My first bite and I got the fresh herbs immediately in the rice, the spices, and even the peas.  It was a great texture, the rice soft, but not mushy, the peas the same…and that grape leaf…it was cooked to perfection.  Pairing it with a slice of tomato brought a nice added touch and I ate it, whether it was a garnish or not.  I love tomatoes…I could eat a full one as a snack.  Needless to say…it was worth the wait…and the indecision…and the price.

And, in case you were wondering, Cathy and Jenn loved their Albalu Polo dish too.  Not only was the rice cooked to perfection and paired beautifully with sweet black cherries (I never would have imagined that combination to work), they said the chicken was moist, tender, and tasty.  But they hardly made a dent in the actual entree dish itself.  But, they did what they could. In the end, Cathy said she could always eat the leftovers for breakfast (which I didn’t believe for a moment, and lo and behold, I was right), so they boxed it up and we left with full and happy tummies.

So, in the end, expensive, but damn, you really do get what you pay for.  Honestly, I was not expecting that much food.  So, honestly, when you look at it in perspective, Bandar is giving you your money’s worth on their expensive entrees.  I was relieved I didn’t attempt the Eggplant Stew on my own after seeing the Thanksgiving Day platter of food that Jenn and Cathy attempted (and failed) to make a dent in.

Bandar was an interesting experience and got Jenn to at least try something new.  I’m still working on getting her to try avocado.  She says it scares her…but I’ll work on it.  That being said, Persian food is very interesting, delightful, and delicious.  And I was beyond happy with the food I was able to eat at Bandar.  They brought out a tray of cakes to offer us dessert, but we were done and ready to head back to the hotel, cycle through the shower, and get ready for a 3 am wakeup call to get to the airport and continue on our way to Hawaii the next day.

And by the time we were leaving, there were a few more people inside eating.  I guess the Gaslamp Quarter (home of SO MANY restaurants) isn’t quite as busy on a Thursday night.  But that worked in our favor, as we never felt rushed, and our food was given extreme focus and care.  It showed.  It was everything I hoped for…and a little more.  I’d be more than tempted to go back should I ever find myself back in San Diego.

Bandar's Dolmeh starter
Bandar’s Dolmeh starter

Product Review: Eden Foods Caribbean Rice and Black Beans

Eden Foods Organic Caribbean Rice and Black Beans
Eden Foods Organic Caribbean Rice and Black Beans

Product: Eden Foods Caribbean Rice and Black Beans – $2.50+

Sometimes life gets a little crazy.  Sometimes life gets a lot crazy.  And sometimes, life just gets too busy to really plan ahead efficiently.  That has been my life as of late.  With the tedious and long hours spent doing my physical therapy stretches, and being in enough pain that it hurts to stand for long periods of time (sitting down isn’t always better), sometimes simple and hands off is what you need.

Thank goodness while out at Earth Fare one day, I snagged a can of Eden Foods cans of rice and beans.  It was on sale, as I recall, and I figured it was never a bad thing to have some sort of canned meal or side on hand…just in case.

Last week, it sure was a lifesaver when it came to lunch one day.  My weeks have been stressful and I’ve been battling my own little injured runner demons.  Sometimes, motivation to really do anything is lacking.  Sometimes, when I get home from work, all I want to do is collapse and not move for awhile.  But, usually, I have lunches and snacks to prepare for the following day, and then dinner for that evening to get going on top of it all.

I reached a breaking point last week and I was so happy to find this can of rice and beans in my pantry.  Like…seriously happy.  Who knew a canned good could bring so much relief and joy?

Eden Foods Caribbean Rice and Black Beans is a really simple food to prepare.  Simply, open the can, and heat.  I used the stove top method, which involved putting it into a saucepan and warming it through.  I stirred it throughout the cooking period, and then dished it up into two (one for me and one for my roommate) Pyrex containers for the following day.  While it was warming, I was working on dinner.  It was the best feeling ever to accomplish two things at once without any additional stress or steps.

The next day, I small reheat in the microwave was all that was needed.  Lunch…was served.

The Eden Foods Caribbean Rice and Black Beans was decent enough.  While I appreciate the BPA-free can and the low sodium, this dish was actually under-seasoned.  I had my roommate take a taste before I packed it up for lunch and she said it needed a hit of salt.  She’s a sodium-scardy-cat, so this was quite the surprise to hear.  I took a pinch of salt from my dish and added it, giving it another stir.  And she was happy enough with that.  It still was bland on it’s own, however, we both concluded that this would be the ultimate vegetarian burrito/taco filler.  In fact, I sort of want to buy another can and have taco night.  There wasn’t much heat in the spices, despite including cayenne pepper in the seasonings that go into this particular blend of rice and beans.  But, this meant that we could season and add as much spice/heat as we wanted individually.  I left it as it was, as I didn’t have my bottle of Cholula with me that day, nor any bereber or red pepper flakes.  So, yeah, on its own it was more than a little disappointing.  If it had been part of Taco Tuesday or something…it would be amazing.  While I was expecting a little more heat, it was very mild on the palate.  Not great, but not bad either.  I’d purchase it again for tacos…but not to have on its own.

Let’s talk about what goes into the Eden Foods Caribbean Rice and Black Beans, shall we?  This product is made up of water, organic Lundberg short grain brown rice, organic black turtle beans, organic onion flakes, organic paprika, organic garlic powder, sea salt, organic cumin powder, organic cayenne powder, and organic cinnamon powder.  This product is gluten free, kosher, and cholesterol free.

Nutritionally speaking, however, you’ll love the facts on the Eden Foods Caribbean Rice and Black Beans.  One serving is 1/2 cup and there are 3.5 servings in a can.  A serving will provide you with 120 calories, 1 gram fat, 100 mg sodium, 230 mg potassium, 23 grams carbohydrates, less than 1 gram sugars, 4 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein.  It is filling and healthy for you.  It will definitely do your body good.  I just wish it had a bit more…flavor to it.

JUST THINK TACOS!

Anyway, while not wowed by the product, as stated, I would probably purchase another can of the Eden Foods Caribbean Rice and Black Beans for other purposes, aside from being eaten straight as my roommate and I did.  Decent food, that will keep for awhile, at a good price…sometimes that’s good enough.

If you do try these out…check the seasoning and spice levels.  You might want to add to it.

Recipe: Charleston Ice Cream

This might surprise you if you are unfamiliar with Carolina Gold Rice and/or Chef Sean Brock (owner of Husk in Charleston, SC and Nashville, TN)…but this isn’t really ice cream.  Not at all.  It’s a rice dish.

*SHOCK! GASP! DISBELIEF!*

But ever since I watched Sean Brock make this dish on Mind of a Chef, and really go in depth into how amazing Carolina Gold Rice really is…I not only wanted to try the rice, but I wanted to make this recipe as well.  Back in January, I went to Charleston, SC to run the Charleston Marathon, and while I was there, I hit up the market and purchased (for a hefty price…but worth it!) a sack of Carolina Gold Rice.  The actual phrase “ice cream” in this particular recipe refers more to the preparation, which involves a boil-and-strain initial cooking of the rice, and then the process of oven drying it to give it a better texture.  each grain is a distinct bit of food…no clumping.  As the rice dries and the butter is added, the rice simply becomes the star.  And that’s why it makes a simple, but perfect meal all on its own.

Since I had a bit of time yesterday, and since I wasn’t screamingly hungry, I went ahead and decided to use some of the field greens I got in my CSA bin as the topper for this dish and prepare it for dinner, using some of the Carolina Gold Rice I brought back from Charleston, SC.  It takes a little bit of time and patience, but the end result…is amazing, simple, and delicious.  A little elegant touch of the South right in your own home.  Trust me, you’ll rethink the way you prepare rice in the future.

Recipe: Charleston Ice Cream

Charleston Ice Cream
Charleston Ice Cream

Servings: 4
Time: Prep 5 minutes; Cook 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup Carolina gold rice
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
  • Baby lettuces (or some julienned greens) (for serving)

 

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

In a heavy stockpot, bring the water, salt, pepper, and bay leaf to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium, add the rice, stir once, and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the rice is al dente, about 15 minutes. Drain the rice.

Spread the rice onto a sheet tray.

Dry the rice in the oven, mixing occasionally. After 10 minutes, spread the butter evenly over the rice. Continue stirring every few minutes. The rice should be dry in about 15 minutes, and the grains should separate.

Serve by plating the Rice in a bowl and garnishing with the baby lettuces.

~*~*~

This recipe is super easy and really simple to prepare.  I was most concerned about the flavor being bland, but I promise, it’s not.  The simple addition of salt and white pepper to cook the rice in, not to mention the bay leaf, brings in a huge amount of flavor.  And don’t skip the greens.  They are refreshing and add a great texture and flavor to the finished dish.  It’s an unconventional way of cooking rice, yes.  But, damn…it’s amazing!

I am definitely hooked on Charleston Ice Cream.  And…will want to keep Carolina Gold Rice in my pantry forever from now on.  If you don’t have Carolina Gold Rice, any long grain rice will substitute for it.  But, if at all possible, order some in, get your hands on some, and try it.  You’ll be amazed.

Product Review: Grandpa’s Gourmet Gluten Free Citrus Herb Chicken Encrusting

Grandpa's Gourmet Gluten Free Citrus Herb Chicken Encrusting
Grandpa’s Gourmet Gluten Free Citrus Herb Chicken Encrusting

Product: Grandpa’s Gourmet Gluten Free Citrus Herb Chicken Encrusting – $5.00+

Okay…I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking…what is the gluten-free vegetarian doing with a breadcrumb coating that is meant for making fried chicken?

Well…it all starts with Cuisine Cube.

I signed up for Cuisine Cube back in May 2014…and for a year have been receiving a monthly subscription box of full-size products from artisan and smaller gluten-free companies.  I love it.  You can subscribe for as little as $29.99/month.  While you might be uncertain about the quality of the service, let me tell you…you will receive products you may never have heard of and are definitely not readily available stores.  You will receive 5-6 products (full-size) each month, each one representing a time when you’d eat: breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, dessert.  And…sometimes…a bonus!  For me, some some products get used faster than others…and some sort of linger in my pantry until I can figure out something to do with them.

That was the case when, in my July 2014 Cuisine Cube, I received a 6 ounce package of Grandpa’s Gourmet Gluten Free Citrus Herb Chicken Encrusting.  Upon first opening the box, I thought…”I’m a vegetarian…what am I going to do with this?”  But, as most of you are well aware, I do love to coat some of my fresh vegetables in different breading (some made out of re-purposed items, and some…from actual gluten-free breadcrumbs) and bake them up in the oven to serve for dinner.  And, after almost a year of procrastinating on this product, I thought it was time to move the last of the 2014 products out.

That honor…went to Grandpa’s Gourmet Gluten Free Citrus Herb Chicken Encrusting.  Grandpa’s Gourmet was founded by a couple – he is a Celiac and she can’t have sugar, making meal planning quite a task.  One night, while she was preparing her grandfather’s old recipe for oven fried chicken, her husband gave into the craving and devoured all the fried chicken he could get his hands on.  He, of course, braced for the inevitable reaction – which never came.  Could it be…they had stumbled upon a recipe that would mean – “One Meal for Everyone!”?

Grandpa’s Gourmet calls their line of products “Encrustings” because they are breading taken to the next level.  Typical store-bought breading (or breadcrumbs) you get are genetically modified, unnatural wheat-based products that contain high amounts of sodium, sugar and preservatives.  Even most gluten-free breadings are loaded with fat because they are nut based or have a gritty texture as they are rice based.  But that’s what sets Grandpa’s Gourmet Gluten Free Encrustings apart.  Not only are their products all natural and healthy…but they taste great.  These encrustings have a non-GMO corn base, instead of rice or potato, giving it a fantastic texture.  They are sweetened with natural fruit juice…no artificial flavorings here.  And then, they fold in their own custom blend of spices and seasonings that smell amazing as they cook.

Roasted Broccoli over a Wild Rice Blend using Grandpa's Gourmet Gluten Free Citrus Herb Chicken Encrusting
Roasted Broccoli over a Wild Rice Blend using Grandpa’s Gourmet Gluten Free Citrus Herb Chicken Encrusting

I don’t eat chicken…nor do I cook meat…but I do a lot with vegetables.  Had I thought about it before, the Grandpa’s Gourmet even suggests putting it on vegetables on the front of their pouch.  It says, “Also great on: pork, fish, pasta, and vegetables.”  VEGETABLES!  DUH!  So, last night and tonight, it was all about the Grandpa’s Gourmet Gluten Free Citrus Herb Chicken Encrusting.

Last night, I roasted up some broccoli that I coated with some olive oil and the encrusting mix.  I did the same tonight with green beans, which I toasted up in the oven to get them nice and crispy and good.  Let me tell you, Grandpa’s Gourmet Gluten Free Citrus Herb Chicken Encrusting is phenomenal.  While I liked it well enough on the oven roasted broccoli, it really shined tonight when I put it on the green beans and toasted those up for dinner.  WOW.  This breading is anything but bland.  In fact, it is a fantastic seasoning that would work well even in scrambled eggs.  Honestly…I am beyond impressed with this amazing product.  And to think, I never would have thought about this product otherwise.  It is versatile and amazing.

Let’s take a look at the ingredients that go into a pouch of Grandpas Gourmet Gluten Free Citrus Herb Chicken Encrusting.  This breading is made from organic corn meal (organic corn meal, organic grape and/or pear juice concentrate, sea salt), cashews, almonds, spices, salt, and orange peel.  This encrusting is gluten free, dairy free, soy free, MSG free, and non-GMO.

As far as nutrition goes, I am totally impressed with how this all adds up.  A serving of Grandpa’s Gourmet Gluten Free Citrus Herb Chicken Encrusting is 1/4 cup.  There are about 6 servings per container.  One serving will provide 120 calories and 6 grams of fat.  This serving will also dish up 0 mg cholesterol, 220 mg sodium, 14 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugars, 2 grams fiber, and 3 grams of protein.

Honestly, I never would have given Grandpa’s Gourmet Gluten Free Citrus Herb Chicken Encrusting a second glance, but thanks to Cuisine Cube, I now have a product I can actively seek out (and order) and indulge in and include in so many dishes.  This is one versatile breading…so even if you’re like me and don’t eat meat…you can still enjoy this product.  I am definitely in love.  Enough that I even ate the breading that flaked off my green beans tonight.  A nice salty-sweet treat at the end of a meal.  Definitely a new favorite.

Crispy Green Beans made with Grandpa's Gourmet Gluten Free Citrus Herb Chicken Encrusting
Crispy Green Beans made with Grandpa’s Gourmet Gluten Free Citrus Herb Chicken Encrusting

Product Review: Jaali Bean Cumin and Pea Lentil & Brown Rice Kit

Jaali Bean Cumin and Pea Lentil & Brown Rice Kit
Jaali Bean Cumin and Pea Lentil & Brown Rice Kit

Product: Jaali Bean Cumin and Pea Lentil & Brown Rice Kit – $4.99+

It was the start of a new year.  Yes.  January 2015.  And what happens at the start of a brand new year?  New Year’s Resolutions!  WOOO!!  I am proud to say that I don’t make resolutions, because I don’t like to make promises I can’t keep.  I do, however, try to make each year a good one and try to improve on some things.

Like…eating better.

Well, my New Year 2015 (January) Cuisine Cube, took a lot of the work out of that by providing a box of 6 healthy choices for food/snacks.  YAY!  So, as you all are pretty much aware, Cuisine Cube is a delivery subscription service that brings smaller, lesser-known, artisan products from the gluten-free food world to your door.  Yes, some of them I have heard of…but most I haven’t.  And that’s the beauty of this service.  Without it, I’d have no idea that some of these products or companies even existed.  And, subscriptions start for as low as $29.99/month.  It’s a great deal and a great service.  If you haven’t tried it or have been meaning to give it a try…do it.  You’ll end up loving it as much as I do.

So, January was all about healthy products it seemed.  And the product that was packed inside for the Lunch option was this great little Indian spiced meal kit from Jaali Bean.  It was the Jaali Bean Cumin and Pea Lentil & Brown Rice Kit.  It sounded beyond delicious as I am a huge…and I mean HUGE…lover of Indian food.  Around here, I can find a plethora of the Tasty Bite Indian meals, but this was the first time I ever heard of Jaali Bean.  Already, I was intrigued.

Jaali Bean was created by Brian and Molina Junkins, a husband and wife team who shared a passion for food, family, and healthy living.  They also had a passion for helping people discover the amazing flavors and tastes that are incorporated in Indian cuisine.  They challenge everyone to toss aside their preconceived notions about preparing Indian cuisine at home, because they make it all happen within minutes with these great little kits they put together.  It is super easy and the are just loaded with all-natural ingredients and all the spices that make you fall in love with Indian food.

They really do make it easy.  The Jaali Bean Cumin and Pea Lentil & Brown Rice Kit comes with two packages attached.  Inside is the brown rice and lentil mixture.  In the smaller pouch…the spices.  Simply set a pot on medium-high heat and heat up 1 tablespoon of oil.  Put the spice packet in and stir for about 40-50 seconds.  You’ll know when it’s done when you get that amazing aroma out of the spices.  Do not burn them.  Add 2-1/4 cup water and bring to a boil.  Once the water is boiling, turn the heat down to low, cover the pot, and let it cook for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, remove the pot from the heat and give it a stir.  Let it sit for an additional 5 minutes.  All the extra liquid will get absorbed.  Trust me.  It works.  You are left with a fantastic pot of moist and creamy looking rice that smells as amazing as it looks.

But the true test is always with the taste.

And, let me tell you…Jaali Bean Cumin and Pea Lentil & Rice Kit cooks up an amazing taste of India.  Better than Tasty Bite…and as close to authentic restaurant quality as possible at home.  Amazing.  I grew up eating Indian food, thanks to my neighbors up the way, who were from India.  The cuisine has always resonated with me.  And I know what is good and what isn’t.  Jaali Bean is delicious.  Seriously…delicious.  The rice cooks up rich and creamy, seasoned to perfection.  It’s mild in flavor, so add a kick of your own heat if, like me, you like things a little spicier.  I think my only complaint was that there wasn’t enough peas for my liking.  How’s that for a complaint, eh?  Seriously, perfectly seasoned and it cooks up beautifully.  Nothing else I have had packaged has come close to tasting this close to the real deal.  I am beyond impressed.

So…let’s discuss what all goes into the Jaali Bean Cumin and Pea Lentil & Brown Rice Kit, shall we?  This kit is a combination of par boiled long grain brown rice, orange masoor lentils, peas, spices (which include cumin, mustard seeds, coriander, dried red chili powder, and amchur powder), salt, cane sugar, tomato granules, and nutritional yeast.  It is gluten-free, cholesterol free, vegan, and non-GMO.

As for the nutrition information in regards to Jaali Bean Cumin and Pea Lentil & Brown Rice Kit…I was very impressed.  A serving is 1 cup and there are 4 servings per package.  Each serving will provide 160 calories, 2 grams of fat, 380 mg sodium, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 4 grams fiber, and 6 grams of protein.  Healthy, filling, and delicious.  You can’t go wrong.

Honestly, I’ve never seen Jaali Bean products around here, so without my subscription to Cuisine Cube, I might still be in the dark.  With that being said…these products are now on my radar and I know how to get my hands on them via the Internet, if I can’t find any here.  And that, my friends, is a very good thing.  I’ll definitely keep these on hand for a quick and easy go-to meal.

On a side note, this product wraps up my January 2015 cube.  The only product I didn’t get to blog on was the Budi Bar, because somehow I missed the note on freezing it and it got all fuzzy and moldy.  I was sad when I had to throw it away.  But…perhaps I’ll run across them somewhere around here.  Or, I’ll just order one online.  We’ll see.

Jaali Bean Cumin and Pea Lentil & Brown Rice Kit (prepared)
Jaali Bean Cumin and Pea Lentil & Brown Rice Kit (prepared)

Product Review: Hodgson Mill Lemon Pepper Quinoa & Brown Rice

Hodgson Mill Lemon Pepper Quinoa & Brown Rice
Hodgson Mill Lemon Pepper Quinoa & Brown Rice

Product: Hodgson Mill Lemon Pepper Quinoa & Brown Rice – $2.49+

There are quite a few brands and companies out there that I entrust my gluten-free lifestyle to.  These are the ones that I can find on a regular basis…the few, the proud, the ones carried in most, if not every, grocery store or department store with a food section.  One such brand is Hodgson Mill…who has brought quite a few different products to the gluten-free folks that make up a good percentage of the population these days, whether for medical or dietary reasons.

We all have to have these go-to brands that we can hit up in a pinch.  So, when I find new products by such brands, I don’t really hesitate to purchase them.  They go into my shopping basket (if the budget allows) and then into my pantry.  That’s the circle of my gluten-free foodie life.

While at Raisin Rack in Columbus, Ohio, awhile back, I stumbled across a couple of packets of Hodgson Mill products that I hadn’t seen around my area.  These were for their new Quinoa & Brown Rice sides, which come in five flavors: Lemon Pepper, Garlic & Herb, Italian, Mediterranean, and Spicy.  I normally would have immediately lunged for the Spicy version, but as this is something I’d be sharing with my roommate (who is a self-professed spice wimp), I opted for something else.  As she is a connoisseur of all things lemony…the Hodgson Mill Lemon Pepper Quinoa & Brown Rice Side seemed like a win to me.

And so…it came home…and sat in my pantry.  Until tonight.  Because of having no CSA bin delivery for the past two (going on three) weeks, I’ve been trying to make due mostly with what I have in the fridge, freezer, and pantry.  As these next couple nights are going to include me packing for my upcoming trip to NYC, for my roomie’s birthday, some Broadway shows, and the NYC Half Marathon, I needed foods that wouldn’t demand too much of my time, but still be healthy and filling.

Instead of reheating some of the risotto I made last weekend, I decided to save that for tomorrow and plucked the package of Hodgson Mill Lemon Pepper Quinoa and Brown Rice out of the pantry.  Instead of serving it as a side, we’d simply split the entire package and have it as a meal.  We do that a lot with sides.  I mean…why not?  If it has the nutritional value to double as a meal for two people…might as well go for it.

So, after a long, frustrating, and tiring day at the office…I came home and immediately put 1-3/4 cup of water onto the stove to bring to a boil.  I emptied the contents of the Hodgson Mill Lemon Pepper Quinoa & Brown Rice packet into the boiling water, covered it, and lowered the heat to allow it to simmer and continue to cook…which took about 15 more minutes.  Once the water was absorbed, it was done.  I took the pan off the heat and let it sit, covered, for another 5 minutes before fluffing it with a fork.  While all this was cooking, I was able to put together everything I needed for lunches and snacks for both my roomie and I, which freed up some additional time for me later on.  Love that.  When the five minutes ticked past, I fluffed the mixture with a fork and served it up between the two of us.  We settled in for dinner.

I want to say, this mix cooks up to the perfect texture.  The quinoa and brown rice are a perfect match for each other, making a filling, and satisfying dish (whether a meal or as a side).  However, that being said, the seasoning was definitely lacking.  In fact, my roomie and I actually had to add some salt (which we never do) and even gave it a hit of berbere.  Because, hey, why not?  But, once we had everything properly seasoned, this was really delicious.  I think Hodgson Mill took extra precaution not to overwhelm the mix with the lemon and pepper flavor, but that’s really what I want when I purchase something that boasts a lemon pepper flavor.  So, while the taste was a little bland, this was a really great dish.  Easy to prepare…just season it when all is said and done.

As far as ingredients go, the Hodgson Mill Lemon Pepper Quinoa & Brown Rice side is made from organic whole grain prewashed quinoa, whole grain parboiled long grain brown rice, organic garlic, organic onion, organic herbs, organic carrot, organic black pepper, organic bell pepper, organic tomato, organic red pepper, organic spices, organic orange peel, organic lemon peel, and citric acid (contains mustard).  This blend is gluten-free, cholesterol free, low in sodium, all natural, and kosher.

Nutrition-wise…this isn’t a bad choice to serve as a side or as a main dish.  There are 3.5 servings per pouch, with one serving being 1/4 cup.  This serving will provide you with 140 calories and 1.5 grams of fat.  This serving will also give you 45 mg sodium and less than 1 gram of sugar.  You gotta love that.  One serving will also give you 2 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein.  God bless quinoa!

If you are looking for a healthy side or a hearty dinner without breaking the bank and without having to spend a long time in the kitchen, Hodgson Mill has you covered.  Just make sure you check the seasoning when you finish cooking these up.  You’ll also get a nice protein kick from the quinoa…and the brown rice is a great addition to add a bit of bulk and body to the dish.  Lacking the lemon…that’s my only complaint.  Otherwise…a nice product!