Restaurant Review: Verde, Kapa’a, Hawaii

Verde, Kapa'a, Hawaii

Verde, Kapa’a, Hawaii

 Restaurant: Verde, Kapa’a, Hawaii

So..day one in Hawaii was a big success.  I was originally coming to enjoy the challenge of the Kauai Marathon, but things change and so do circumstances.  With all that being said, the trip was, naturally, still on.  The marathon would just be running without me this year.  But, who says that has to stop the adventure, right?

Nothing really stops me.  Things just slow me down is all.

After the longest flight ever (in retrospect, I’ve been on longer flights, but this one seemed particularly long due to the very annoying family traveling behind us who DID NOT SHUT UP the entire time and who do not have indoor voices or control over their children either!), we found ourselves in the humid, sunny atmosphere of the island of Kauai!  HELLO GORGEOUS HAWAII!

After getting our rental car…returning our rental car…getting a different rental car…getting to the resort…not having a room…so going for coffee and a drive and some shopping…we got checked in…and settled and changed.  We went to the beach (major props to Jenn and Cathy for helping me get out to those waves!)…we came back to the resort…and we were ready for some real food.  Seriously, I had lived my day on 2 navel oranges, a Quest protein bar, and coffee…so real food was necessary…stat.

But Cathy was prepared with our dinner plans that evening.  And, we were going to be enjoying a little Mexican flavor here on the Island of Kauai.  I am a huge lover of Mexican food, and she found a great place located just up the street from our resort, located in the Kapa’a Shopping Center.  The restaurant of choice – Verde.  And it was hopping Friday night.

Never one to take a Celiac anywhere unknown, Cathy did some serious research before we headed to Hawaii…finding a lot of different and varied places to enjoy meals while we are visiting.  Verde came with great reviews and a menu that boasts gluten free and vegetarian options.  With the Friday night packing the little restaurant, we waited outside for about 10 minutes until a table opened up that could seat three of us comfortably inside.  During the wait, the staff brought us water and menus so we could have an idea of what we might want to eat when we get seated.

Of course, me being me, had already scoped out the menu and knew what I would be eating that night.  When one of the Verde staff took us inside to our table (and even carried my water for me!), they asked if we had any questions and when we didn’t, we just let them know that I was a vegetarian Celiac.  With that not even being a problem…we placed our orders.

Jenn and Cathy both got the Garlic Shrimp Tacos ($13.95) (really…I think that they are just going to eat the same stuff everywhere we go, LOL!), which was cornmeal-crusted shrimp, local greens, cabbage, guacamole, pico de gallo, flour tortillas, and a roasted garlic-chipotle aioli.  Jenn got hers with the guac and pico de gallo on the side (which…is totally Jenn), whereas Cathy kept her taco as a comprised dish.

I opted for the Vegan Tacos ($10.95).  These intrigued me from the start.  They are corn tortillas that are stuffed (and I mean stuffed) with green beans, spinach, broccoli sautéed in chipotle, and topped with pico de gallo.  I had never had green beans in a taco before.  Like I said…I was intrigued.

While we were waiting, a bowl of tortilla chips and fresh salsa were delivered to the table.  I didn’t partake at first, because I never trust tortilla chips.  Shared friers are very real and very scary to me.  But Cathy flagged down one of the staff and asked if they were safe for me.  He assured me they keep everything separate as his wife is Celiac and they make sure they take every precaution.  YAY!  It is so rare that I get to have a few of the chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant.  This sort of was an exciting moment for me.

The homemade corn chips were fried to perfection, completely crispy and not overly salty.  I loved the nice balance that each crispy bright brought.  And the red salsa that was served with it was mild and full of flavor.  A nice way to whet the appetite before the main event.

And the tacos were not a disappointment.

Verde's Garlic Shrimp Tacos

Verde’s Garlic Shrimp Tacos

Cathy and Jenn had these delicious looking bread shrimp tacos, greens, pico, guac and a heavenly aoili that topped it all off.  They both raved about it…especially the aioli.  I asked Cathy if they beat out my vegan shrimp tacos that I made (because I love to put her on the spot like that) and she stammered and stuttered and finally said they were two different things.  HAHA!  I told her it was okay if they were.  But, both of them devoured their tacos with gusto and raved about.  Cathy pretty much did that with every bite…so I say these definitely win out over my vegan version I sometimes do at home.  HA!

Cathy also got a glass of the Hapa Limonada Verde ($4.00), a signature drink that Verde prepares that is a blend of Agua Fresca 4 Citrus Green Tea, Pink Lemonade, Lime, and Agave Syrup.  Jenn and I each tried it…and wow…super delicious.  The agave syrup as the sweetener was a nice touch for sure.  Jenn and Cathy drank the rest of it up.  I was sticking to water…which I didn’t get enough of that day (evident in the leg cramps that hit me that night!).

Verde's Hapa Limonada Verde

Verde’s Hapa Limonada Verde

As for me…the vegan tacos were amazing.  With a lightly fried corn tortilla holding a mound of fresh vegetables, cooked to perfection, I was in love at first bite.  The green beans were the main base, and they had great texture and great flavor.  The broccoli, however, was the true star, cooked in chipotle spices.  The pico and the spinach were a nice addition, but the main veggies were definitely the main event.  I devoured…seriously…devoured my two tacos, with the packed veggies that fell out getting eaten with a fork.  No veggie left behind.  It was a great meal and just what this weary and sore traveler needed, for sure.

We polished off the remaining tortilla chips and paid for our meal.  We left content, full, and really pleased to have actual food in our bellies.  The servings weren’t ridiculous, they were perfect.  The food was cooked to order, safe for me to eat, and really, really delicious.  I was so happy when I left Verde that evening to return to the resort and shower off and relax for a bit before turning in.  My body is getting adjusted still to the time change.  I think I made it to 8 pm before turning in.

What a great way to kick off the food experience of Hawaii.  If any plans fall through while in Kauai…I’d go back there in a heartbeat.

Verde's Vegan Tacos

Verde’s Vegan Tacos

Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest – Indianapolis, Indiana – August 23, 2014

GF Jules and me at the Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest in Indianapolis, Indiana!

GF Jules and me at the Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest in Indianapolis, Indiana!

This past Saturday, I had the honor of being able to attend the Gluten Free Food Allergy Fest up in Indianapolis, Indiana.  I love going to gluten-free expos and events and Indianapolis seems to always have one at some point during any calendar year.  This year was no exception, and I was thrilled to read about the new location for this year’s event – the Indian State Fairgrounds.  With all the vendors and exhibitors I saw listed, I knew this year’s event was going to be HUGE! I was not let down at all.One of the magazines I currently subscribe to, Gluten Free & More (formerly Living Without), was putting on the Living Without Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest in various cities this year as a way to show those with food allergies and/or sensitivities that we can live life without deprivation and missing out on delicious food.  It was a coming together of the magazine, as well as over a hundred of their favorite exhibitors to celebrate living well.  And it was open to anyone who wanted to stop in.

Tickets went on sale and, as a subscriber, I received a free entry, and then received a discount code for another ticket…so I had Cathy taken care of as well.  So, on Saturday morning, we ate a light breakfast before climbing into the car and hauling up to Indianapolis.  We timed it perfectly because we burned through our breakfast just as we got up there, about 30 minutes after it officially opened.

And…there was already a line waiting to get in.

Oh…that made me happy, indeed.

It was a hot summer day already and standing outside in the blazing sun didn’t sound like too much fun…but it wasn’t going to be a long wait.  Just about 5 minutes, at the most.  And while standing in line, I got to listen to people who have done expos like this before (like me) describe the events and how things work to the first timers.  I even got to geek out over favorite products and the like for a few moments.  I love making gluten-free friends!

Before we knew it, we were inside the doors, in the air conditioning, and getting the tickets scanned.  We were given blue wristbands to wear (for re-entry purposes and to show we paid!).  Cathy and I put them on and headed into the expo proper.  We were greeted at the door by people passing out reusable shopping bags from Glutino (a personal favorite!).  Perfect for all the samples and products you are bound to pick up and buy.

Trust me, you don’t walk out of these events empty-handed.

Cathy and I decided that we were going to be systematic about our approach to each table/vendor/aisle.  We’d start on one side and then work our way up, then come back down the other side.  This was a good plan in theory, and we decided to start in the middle aisle to avoid the congestion of the end aisles.  We soon found out…no matter what…it was just hopping and congested.  People were surrounding tables, getting free samples, trying products, trying local baked goods, and the like.  So, we ditched our original systematic plan for the…let’s just see what there is and wriggle into open areas when we can.

We’re pros.  HA!

That being said, we began our Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest at the Glutino/Udi’s/Earth Balance booth, which was giving out samples of Udi’s Gluten-Free Salted Caramel Cashew Cookies as well as Glutino’s Gluten-Free Multigrain English Muffins, schmeared with Earth Balance Creamy Coconut and Peanut Spread.  It was all crazy, crazy delicious.  I actually have the Glutino English Muffins in my freezer, I just haven’t tried them yet. Now…I know buying them wasn’t a mistake at all.  They were delicious.  And that Earth Balance Creamy Coconut and Peanut Spread…out-of-this-world good!

And from there…it only got better.  We made a point to stop by each vendor’s table and talk to them about their products, if we had tried them.  If we hadn’t…we would ask all about them.  I made a point of raving to the Pamela’s Product people about the Figgies & Jammies.  Because they are awesome and worthy of praise.  I talked to the Hodgson Mills representative and when I mentioned being a food blogger he said to reach out to the Hodgson Mills team anytime.  I was told the same thing by various other vendors as well.  And one local vendor who was selling the most amazing bar-b-que sauce and seasoning (which we purchased) said to tag her on Facebook when I use their products so they can read my blog.  I was having a great time.

I think, though, the best moment had to come at the Freedom Foods table.  Because, as many of you are aware, Freedom Foods only makes my favorite gluten-free cereal, Tropic-O’s.  NOM NOM!  I can’t find this cereal here anymore, since my Whole Foods stopped carrying it, so my parents ship it to me from Birmingham, Alabama.  We have a system down.  But, recently, they put out a gluten-free, dairy-free, and not-free version of Nutella…which I fell in love with.  My local Kroger is the only place that had it…and I bought the last jar of it a few weeks ago.  It has never been restocked.  So…I stocked up on some Quinoa Pancake Mix, lots of “Smudge” (that’s the Nutella stuff!), and a few other products to try, all the time raving about how much I love their products and how they honestly care about what ingredients go into all of their stuff.  It didn’t hurt that the guy at the table had a New Zealand/Australian accent.  HELLO!  I actually ended up going back to the table before leaving that day and buying 4 more jars of Smudge.  I hadn’t opened the one I had at home for fear I would never find it again.  Now…it’s on!

I was able to sample some of the best gluten-free Snickerdoodles I have ever eaten.  And this pasta that was made from lentils that tasted exactly like regular pasta…but I couldn’t afford the hefty price tag on it.  Unfortunately.  It was nice to sample it, however.  At the very back of the building, for those over 21, was the gluten-free cider/beer tasting area.  There was so much food and samples…so I was glad we ate light.  And Cathy and I have a system down…where we split a sample so we aren’t filling up on our own.  It always works at these events.

However, I have to say the greatest moment ever was when I finally got to meet GF Jules in person. GF Jules (formerly Jules Gluten Free) was one of the first Celiac/Gluten-Free bloggers/recipe makers/amazing people I started to follow on social media after my diagnosis.  While I have been to events where she has been present, I have never been able to actually meet her.  That changed.  We discovered that we were food allergy soul sisters, both of us being vegetarian Celiacs who also can’t handle dairy.  Go figure.  She was so nice and just so easy to talk with.  I picked up one of her cookbooks, which she signed, and she was kind enough to take a picture with me.  I might have geeked out a little bit.  Or a lot.  You know how it goes…

And soon, after a couple hours of tasting, testing, buying, talking, and exploring, our time at the expo drew to a close.  We were going to meet our friend, Greg, for lunch that day, so we bid adieu to the fantastic event and made our way out to the car.

This event was probably the best one I have attended so far.  Great people, great vendors, great information all around.  And I came home with samples and products to try in the very near future.  Can’t argue with that, right?  Right!

I hope they return next year.  I’m already making plans to attend.  If one of these events happens near you…I definitely encourage you to go!

Product Review: Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Southwest Veggie Stuffed Sandwiches

Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Southwest Veggie Stuffed Sandwiches

Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Southwest Veggie Stuffed Sandwiches

Product: Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Southwest Veggie Stuffed Sandwiches – $2.69

For those of you, who, like me, were diagnosed with Celiac later than life…raise your hand if you remember the simplicity, the ease, and the not-really-so-tasty-but-you-thought-it-was days of yore when you could pull something called a Hot Pocket out of the freezer, slide it into a little heat envelope thingy, and nuke the hell out of it…the filling oozing out of the edges and baking to that microwave safe, dish.

Mmmmm…

Yeah…those were the days.

There was, honestly, a time when those were my lunch.  Every.  Single.  Day.

Sometimes dinner.

Those were the days I lived out of my freezer.

Like…I sort of am now because I hit a low point in my life and went on a buying spree of things I didn’t really need…but at the time, apparently had to have…in my freezer…which I had emptied out of processed foods and is now packed full of them once again.  This is what happens when a runner sprains her ankle.  She falls off that wagon.

That being said…simplicity and ease shouldn’t be eliminated completely.  And while I don’t like dining on processed foods, they do play their part.

As I mentioned, Aldi put out a test line of gluten-free products, branded as liveGfree, and spanning everything from cookies to crackers to snack bars to frozen meals to ready-made frozen pancakes (2 flavors even!) to…things like baking mixes.  Yes…Aldi has jumped on the bandwagon and has offered those of us who must eat gluten-free a more affordable option than what we get at all the grocery stores and natural food stores where we have to shop.

I won’t lie…I pretty much snagged one of everything when I went into Aldi.  Thankfully, I took a stroll around the store and found more items in the freezer section.  YAY!!  Jackpot.  Because in among them were the liveGfree Gluten Free Southwest Veggie Stuffed Sandwiches.  Yeah…happiness can be achieved with stuffed sandwiches…because they really don’t exist in the gluten-free world.  Well, Glutenfreeda makes a version of them, but none of theirs are also vegetarian.  BOOO!  So the fact that Aldi’s liveGfree brand has a vegetarian option…hell yeah…that was coming home with me.  This was meeting my freezer.

And, as I was going running with my friend Natalie yesterday…I needed a simple dinner to heat up so I could change, slather on some sunscreen, and head through the mess of Louisville traffic to her apartment.  We wanted to do something out-of-the-box instead of our normal Monday run.  And it meant some ice cream at the end of it (I had Fudgesicle sorbet!).  So, I really had nothing already prepared…so I opened up my freezer and spotted the liveGfree Gluten Free Southwest Veggie Stuffed Sandwiches.

Perfect.

I got out some plates, pulled the stuffed sandwiches out of the box, slid them into the sleeve, put them in the microwave for just over 2 minutes…and gave them their quick nuking.

Dinner was served…conveniently speedily.

But was it any good?  Well, I served up Cathy first and she was delicately nipping at the sandwich while mine was heating.  I asked her how it was.  She did the high-pitched, “It’s…okeedokey.”  That means…eh….not so good.  So, I asked her to elaborate.  She found the crust to be dry and the filling to be spicy.  She’s a spice wimp.  I can’t remember (because it has literally been ages) if Hot Pocket’s crusts were dry to the taste…so I can’t really compare as far as that is concerned.  When mine finished up it’s cookery in the microwave, I dumped it onto my plate, cut it in half, took a picture, and then took a bite.

Yes…the crust was definitely dry.  In fact…it was distractingly dry.  I felt that the stuffing was lacking.  I loved the spice and I loved the brown rice and black bean combination, but it was seriously lacking.  I felt it wasn’t truly “stuffed,” if you know what I mean.  And while rice and beans are great fillers…and filling…these are Soutwest Veggie sandwiches.  And I found the veggies to be really lacking on the inside.  It was mostly rice and beans.   Bummer.  Actually, so far…of all the items I’ve tried from the liveGfree brand, this is the one I am least likely to purchase again.

So, let’s talk ingredients.  The crust and filling of the liveGfree Gluten Free Southwest Veggie Stuffed Sandwich is made from gluten-free millet flour, water, gluten substitute (rice flour, corn starch, maltodextrin, pea fiber, guar gum), brown rice, salsa (diced tomatoes, tomato puree, salt, diced jalapeno peppers, diced Anaheim peppers, dehydrated onions, spices, dehydrated garlic and citric acid), water, black beans, roasted corn, green chilies, pepper jack cheese with jalapeno peppers, sugar, honey, soybean oil, xanthan gum, dry yeast, deli seasoning, baking powder, baking soda, salt pasteurized dried egg yolks, low moistere part skim mozzarella cheese, southwest style seasonings (spices, red chili pepper, paprika, salt, garlic powder, citric acid, modified food starch (NOOOO!), and cornmeal.  As for the topical ingredients, these include BBQ seasoning, fructose, paprika and paprika extract, tomato powder, natural smoke flavor, and spice.  These are gluten-free, nut-free, and wheat-free.

Nutritionally speaking, a serving size is one of the two included stuffed sandwiches.  This stuffed sandwich will provide you with 270 calories and 6 grams of fat. You will also be taking in 2 grams of saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 440 mg sodium, and 8 grams of sugar.  Not impressed.  And, you will also be taking in 5 grams of filling fiber and 7 grams of protein.  These, surprisingly, were filling…but they just weren’t all that good.  LOVED the spice…but it just lacked…flavor.

While I know some of my gluten-free friends have raved about these, I wasn’t as high on them, nor as impressed.  I don’t think I’ll spend my money on these again in the near future.  I was underwhlemed and a bit disappointed, since these had really gotten me pretty excited when I saw them in the freezer at my local Aldi.  A bit of a letdown…but…I am glad I at least tried it.

Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Southwest Veggie Stuffed Sandwich (not so stuffed...as you can see)

Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Southwest Veggie Stuffed Sandwich (not so stuffed…as you can see)

Restaurant Review: Alma Cocina, Atlanta, Georgia

Alma Cocina, Atlanta, Georgia

Alma Cocina, Atlanta, Georgia

Restaurant: Alma Cocina, Atlanta, Georgia

So, here I was in Atlanta, Georgia…having completed a marathon earlier that morning.  I spent the afternoon doing the tourist thing…scoping out the CNN Studios and just walking around and enjoying the city.  Trust me…after a marathon, it’s best to keep moving.  That being said…another important thing to do after running is to begin proper recovery.  And part of that is nutrition.

A big part of that is nutrition, actually.

Prior to the race, my roomie and I had thought that we’d simply return to Max’s Coal Oven Pizzeria for dinner.  Then we ate there…and were not impressed.  At all.  So, this meant new plans had to be made.  And, after watching some Food Network and seeing guacamole…I was craving.  Mexican.  Mmmm…guacamole.  Yum yum!  So, I got onto my Find Me Gluten Free app and discovered that not far from the hotel was a nice Mexican joint called Alma Cocina.  I pulled up the Web site, glanced at the gluten-free menu and thought…this might be a great place to try.  I passed the laptop to my roommate so she could take a gander, and she agreed that Mexican sounded good.  So, we made 6 p.m. reservations…and called it a night.

I marathoned.  I did the tourist thing.  I walked…a lot.  I discovered that I was hungry…and still had an hour to go before dinner reservations.  Cathy decided that we should start ambling that way because she wouldn’t feel bad walking in at 5:30 p.m.  I liked her logic, so that’s what we did…killing off a bit of spare time by wandering around the block and checking out the Dragon*Con hotels.  Because…why not?  Around 5:30 p.m., we strolled into Alma Cocina for dinner.

We were greeted immediately upon entering.  I told them that we had reservations at 6, but we were here early.  They said it wasn’t a problem, and took us right to the table.  We were seated and they went to check off our reservation, returning a moment later with some menus, including the gluten-free menu for me.  AH!  They read the reservation.  YAY!  I was feeling good about this already.

Alma Cocina's Gluten-Free Menu

Alma Cocina’s Gluten-Free Menu

As we looked over the menu, our server came over to get our drink orders.  I was recovering…so water for me.  Cathy did the same…because she’s a copy-cat.  Just kidding.  But…she did also get water.  When he returned, I inquired as to how big the sides were.  He said they were relatively big…so I pondered for a moment, but we went ahead and ordered the Gluten-Free Guacamole ($6.00) as a starter.

After leaving to put in the order, our server returned and asked me if the gluten-free was a food allergy or just a dietary choice.  I told him I was a Celiac and he nodded and said, “Okay…so cross-contamination is not okay.”  He hurried off.  I might have arched an eyebrow at Cathy.  They really do pay attention.

Alma Cocina's Gluten-Free Guacamole (served with chayote...not chips)

Alma Cocina’s Gluten-Free Guacamole (served with chayote…not chips)

Our appetizer of gluten-free guacamole came out a few minutes later.  It was this little bowl of gorgeous, creamy…yet chunky, mashed avocado with all the right seasonings and additions.  But…no chips.  The server said that to prevent cross-contamination, the tortilla chips were replaced with chayote.  I was intrigued!  He then asked if we were ready to order…and at this point we were.

Cathy went ahead and ordered the Fried Avocado Tacos ($14.00), which consisted of crispy queso cotija, poblano pesto (which she says I need to make!), roasted tomato…and yes…fried avocado.

I went for the sides…because the only other option on the gluten-free menu for me would have been the Vegetarian Platter and that just sounded like too much.  So, I opted for ordering the Mexican Chopped Salad ($4.00), which was a mix of jicama, chayote, red onion, ancho chile powder, and cilantro.  I also ordered the Black Beans and Poblano Chili Rice ($4.00) which came with pico de gallo.  Orders in…we were left to our appetizer.

The guacamole was amazing!!  Seriously.  It had red onion, serrano pepper, red onion, lime, cilantro…everything that I make mine with at home.  And it tasted fantastic.  Cathy told the waiter when he came back to see how it was that was amazing…almost as good as mine.  Hee!  But…what really made this a standout, believe it or not, was the chayote.  No lie!  The sweetness of the chayote (which, in case you haven’t googled it yet…is an edible plant that is pear shaped with a thin, green, wrinkly skin and white flesh.  It is sort of like a squash…but sweet.  And it can be eaten raw, cooked, mashed, baked, boiled, fried, etc.) was just what the guacamole was needing.  Now, at home I eat my guacamole with tortilla chips.  If I can find chayote in one of the numerous stores I shop in…that won’t happen ever again.  This is above and beyond tortilla chips.  This plant was made for guacamole!  Between the two of us, Cathy and I made short work of the guacamole.  In fact, we were just polishing it off when our entrees arrived.

Now, the chef got a little creative with my Mexican Chopped Salad.  Seemed they were out of it, so he went ahead and pretty much sliced up all the components and made a version of the salad for me.  It looked delicious and fresh as it was settled down in front of me.  And I was beyond intrigued by my green rice and super-delicious looking black beans.  Oh yeah…I was one happy marathoner.

We were left to enjoy our dinner and Cathy dove into her tacos…declaring them one of the best things she has ever eaten.  And praised that poblano pesto to the roof.

I started with the Mexican Chopped Salad.  It was an amazing array of textures and flavors.  I loved the jicama and how it tasted when mixed with the chayote.  The red onion brought a bit of bite to what, otherwise, would have been way too sweet.  As it was…I got about 3/4 of the way through before calling it quits.  It was delicious…but with the chayote with the guacamole…I needed some spice and some heat.

I turned my attention to the Black Beans and Pobalno Chili Rice.  Oh my gluten-free gods…this was delicious.  It is so simple.  So basic.  And yet…the flavors were awesome.  I loved to scoop up some of the beans and rice together.  I loved the little bit of heat that the beans had with them.  I loved the sweet, with a hint of heat, rice…and how it was green.  Pablano chili rice…for the total win.  I was enamored with this side.  I sort of wished I had ordered two of them.  But, I was getting full fast.  Rice and beans will definitely get that tummy full.  Carbs, fiber, and protein, baby!  But it was what I needed.  And I polished that plate clean.

And I was full.  The waiter came to take away the dishes and asked if we were interested in dessert.  We passed because both of us were now quite full.

Wow…what an amazing restaurant.  The atmosphere.  The service.  The overall experience…I would go back in a heartbeat to Alma Cocina.  I felt like they were very mindful of my food allergies and took great care when it came to preparing and serving my food.  LOVED every moment of our time there.

Alma Cocina's Side Orders of Mexican Chopped Salad (left) and Black Beans and Poblano Chili Rice (right)

Alma Cocina’s Side Orders of Mexican Chopped Salad (left) and Black Beans and Poblano Chili Rice (right)

What I Ate in California – Part 2

I dedicate this entry to, honestly, the best meal I have ever consumed in my life.  No joke.  Sorry mom…but it’s true.  Never before have I been treated to such an exciting and taste-defying tasting menu, all of it done by the chef’s whim.  And yes…all of it done to suit any food allergies at the table.  For me…being a gluten-free vegetarian.  For my friend Tawn…no shrimp.

What am I talking about?

Disneyland.

Napa Rose.

Chef’s Table.

OMGTHEFOODWASAWESOME!

Okay…now that I got that out of my system…kind of…let me explain…

You see, Disneyland has a lot of nice treasures inside its gates.  And, after running the Disneyland Half Marathon, Indy wanted to treat all of us, plus her hubby and her dad, to a nice meal out…which would be our Christmas and Birthday gifts.  She chose Napa Rose at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa as the scene of this adventure.  After a long day, the four ladies got all dressed up and met up with Evan (Indy’s hubby) for a ride over to the restaurant.  Her dad was staying there so he’d meet us there.

A few drinks in the lounge and two Joey Fatone (from *NSYNC) sightings later, we were making our way to the Dessert Counter and being seated, napkins placed on our laps, and about to be treated to one of the finest, most epic, amazing meals of our lives…complete with wine tasting.  All of this…completely at the whim of the chef.

So…let’s get started:

Amuse-Bouche: Plum with Grape Relish and Gluten-Free Flatbread

Amuse-Bouche: Plum with Grape Relish and Vegan & Gluten-Free Flatbread

Amuse-Bouche: Plum with Grape Relish and Vegan & Gluten-Free Flatbread

The rest of the counter was treated to a Panna Cotta with Great Relish…but not this girl.  The chef kept is simple, elegant, and instead of the panna cotta, served me up an amazing warm Plum with Grape Relish on top.  The plum was sweet, pairing beautifully with the slightly sour tones of the chopped grapes.  It was the perfect way to wake up the palate and prepare it for the rest of what was to come that night.

In addition, while the rest of the counter got to share this large basket of various breads, a basket of vegan and gluten-free flatbread was delivered to me.  This bread had a fresh herbiness to it.  It was crispy, yet still soft.  And when it was fresh and warm…there was nothing like it in the world.  It was a nice change from the gluten-free rolls I am so used to getting.  It’s not everyday this girl gets to indulge in flatbread.  And indulge I did.  Because I just couldn’t stop eating it!!

First Course: Cauliflower Tower

Cauliflower Tower

Cauliflower Tower

What…you may ask…is a Cauliflower Tower.  Simply what it sounds like.  Cauliflower…in a tower.  But…it is really so much more than that.  In fact, while the base of this dish was, in fact, a cauliflower mash, it was blended with couscous, raisins, pistachios, and was drizzled with a blood orange sauce.  I love cauliflower, so using it as a base for this meal was sheer brilliance.  The couscous gave it a bit more body.  Toss in the sweet raisins with the salty nature and crunch of the pistachios and you have a meal made in heaven.  Seriously.  Angels eat this when they picnic on the clouds.  I swear.  The blood orange sauce just sealed the deal.  It gave this savory dish a little zing.  It was fantastic.  Down to the very last bite.  If this was any indication of what was left to come, I was all in.  I didn’t record the type of wine any of my meals were paired with…but I loved them.  All of them.

Second Course: Grilled Peach Salad with Green Beans and a Peach Yogurt Sauce

Grilled Peach Salad with Green Beans and a Peach Yogurt Sauce

Grilled Peach Salad with Green Beans and a Peach Yogurt Sauce

 The usual version of this dish is served with roasted duck.  But, being that I was the sole vegetarian at the table, the chef made one with duck, which Indy received, and made mine without it.  But this made me want to grill peaches ALL the time.  ALL the peaches.  And then consume ALL the peaches with ALL the food that I could think would pair well with them.  I will say this…I never would have paired peaches with green beans.  But…this worked.  This worked remarkably well.  The peaches had this rich sweetness to them, the green beans were cooked perfectly, so they had that crispiness to them.  And that yogurt sauce just tied everything together.  This was fantastic.  I could have eaten plate after plate of this and been one happy girl.  But more goodness was still ahead.

Third Course: Heirloom Tomatoes with Golden Tomato Essence with Fava Beans and Parmesan

Heirloom Tomatoes with Golden Tomato Essence with Fava Beans and Parmesan

Heirloom Tomatoes with Golden Tomato Essence with Fava Beans and Parmesan

 I do believe either Tawn or Cathy made the Silence of the Lambs reference when I was served this beautiful, rainbow dish.  I mean, the colors on this dish just popped.  The sweet tomato essence was what really made this dish so savory.  The beautiful heirloom tomatoes were ripe, gorgeous, juicy and the flavors danced across my taste buds with the first bite.  The fava beans added a little body…and some texture.  And to top it all off…shaved Parmesan cheese, which gave the dish that big of salty seasoning that just brought it all together in the end.  Rich, succulent…and fantastic.  Each dish was topping the last…

Fourth Course: Chef’s Creation – Vegetarian Mushroom and Tomato Plate

Chef's Creation - Vegetarian Mushroom and Tomato Plate

Chef’s Creation – Vegetarian Mushroom and Tomato Plate

 Be jealous.  Because the chef made this one specifically for me.  His gluten-free, vegetarian diner.  What exactly was it?  Savory goodness, that’s what it was.  Honestly…this was fantastic.  From the first bite he reigned me in with perfectly cooked mushrooms, beautifully seasoned and topped with gorgeous heirloom tomatoes and greens.  I wanted to hoover this dish so much, but I sat there like the lady I am and ate it like the sophisticated foodie I see on television and dream about becoming.  No…really.  I savored this dish.  Every bite of it.  And I never wanted it to end.  But…my fork fell onto the last slice and soon it too was gone.

Dessert: Meyer Lemon Crème Brûlée with Blueberries and Mint

Meyer Lemon Crème Brûlée with Blueberries and Mint

Meyer Lemon Crème Brûlée with Blueberries and Mint

 Without even knowing anything about me save for my food allergies and preferences, the chef sent out the most perfect dessert for me.  It involved lemon and blueberries…and that pairing is, by far, one of my absolute favorites.  So, without even knowing it…the chef capped off the perfect evening with the perfect dessert.  His Meyer Lemon Crème Brûlée with Blueberries and Mint was a stunning plate to start with.  The crust on the crème brûlée was brilliant.  And that lemon flavor was just enough without overpowering the entire dessert.  Toss in the blueberries (one of my favorite berries) and the hint of mint and I was in a delicious, tasty food coma.  Seriously.  I dug right into this dessert and savored it as long as I could.  I even ate the drizzle of chocolate letters around the plate wishing me an early happy birthday.  Yes…I enjoyed it…for real…down to the very last bit.  But, I’m a dessert girl…and this was one hell of a dessert.

My hat is off to Indy, for this fantastic food experience.  If I were to choose my last meal on Earth…it would be this.  I would want to be at Napa Rose…at the Chef’s Counter…once again receiving the dishes of his choosing for me.  I loved being surprised and not knowing what to expect when my plate was carried out and placed in front of me.  The company was the best I could ever be with at this venue.  The food was outstanding.  I’ve been spoiled.  No other meal has come close to equaling this one…and I am starting to wonder if one ever will.

My food hat is off to the chef of Napa Rose…the food that is served there…the wine it is paired with (SO GOOD!)…and the good friends I shared the experience with.  If any of you find yourself at Disneyland…do try to experience this for yourself.  It isn’t cheap…I can tell you that…but the food and the experience is worth every dollar you put towards this meal.  I promise.

Recipe: Gluten-Free and Vegan Shrimp Tacos with Mango Salsa and Sriracha Sour Cream

So, last night I set out to work some culinary magic with some items in my refrigerator and my freezer.  What came out of the plethora of ingredients I had on hand was one of the most amazing taco dinners I have ever created.  I made mine gluten-free and vegan to fit my dietary needs, but if you happen to like real shrimp…use it.  If you can eat regular sour cream…use it.  The great thing about recipes is…they are made to be modified.

By popular demand, here is the recipe for my Gluten-Free and Vegan Shrimp Tacos with a Mango Salsa and Sriracha Sour Cream.

Recipe: Gluten-Free and Vegan Shrimp Tacos with Mango Salsa and Vegan Sriracha Sour Cream

 

Gluten-Free and Vegan Shrimp Tacos with a Mango Salsa and Sriracha Sour Cream

Gluten-Free and Vegan Shrimp Tacos with a Mango Salsa and Sriracha Sour Cream


Servings: 2 (2 tacos each)

 

Ingredients for Avocado, Tomato and Mango Salsa:

Avocado, Tomato and Mango Salsa

Avocado, Tomato and Mango Salsa

  • 1 mango – peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1 avocado – peeled, pitted, and diced
  • 4 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1 serrano pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

In a medium bowl, combine the mango, avocado, tomatoes, serrano, cilantro, and garlic.

Stir in the salt, lime juice, red onion, and olive oil.

To blend the flavors, refrigerate for about 30 minutes before serving.

Note: You will have left-overs…so enjoy with some gluten-free corn tortilla chips or save for the next day.

While the salsa is chilling in the fridge…prepare the rest of the tacos…

Ingredients:

4 Rudi’s Gluten-Free Fiesta Tortillas
1 box of Sophie’s Kitchen Gluten-Free Breaded Vegan Shrimp (or you can use real shrimp if not a vegetarian/vegan, just make/use a gluten-free breading)
2 leaves of Romaine lettuce, chopped
1/4 cup vegan sour cream (I used Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream – or use real sour cream)
1 tablespoon Sriracha

Directions:

Preheat the oven and cook the shrimp according to the instructions on the box.  If using Sophie’s Kitchen Gluten-Free Breaded Vegan Shrimp, it takes about 10-15 minutes.

Mix together the vegan sour cream (or real sour cream, if using) with the Sriracha to make the Sriracha sour cream.

Warm the Rudi’s Gluten-Free Fiesta Tortillas in the microwave for about 20 seconds.

Remove and place on plates.

Placed chopped lettuce on each of the tortillas.

Scoop about 1/4 cup of the Avocado, Tomato and Mango Salsa over the lettuce.

Top the salsa with the cooked shrimp.

Top each taco with the Sriracha Sour Cream.

Fold tortillas around filling and ENJOY!

~*~*~

I’m already considering making this again tonight, because I still have a good chunk of the salsa remaining and…it was really, really, REALLY good.  The combination of the sweet salsa with the savory vegan shrimp (don’t mock…they are awesome) and the hint of heat from the vegan Sriracha sour cream all just worked together.  My roommate (who doesn’t have to do gluten-free or vegan…in fact…loves real shrimp) fell in love with this dinner and said it was one of the best dinners I ever made.

I encourage you to give it a try!

Recipe: Avocado, Tomato and Mango Salsa

By now, it’s no secret that one of the few fruits that I do not like (trust me…there aren’t many) are mangoes.  Yep.  Mangoes.  I have never been a fan of that particular fruit.  Give me papaya any day of the week…or any other fruit for that matter.  But mangoes…there is just something about them that I just don’t like…flavor-wise.

So…while I was away in Minnesota visiting my grandpa and running a half marathon, my CSA bin order automatically went through.  In this particular order that I was not around to modify (come on, I was visiting family, not sitting on my computer!), I soon realized that I would now be the proud (I guess?) owner of two fresh mangoes when my bin arrived on Friday.

Just…great!  (Yes…that is sarcasm).  So…what does someone who doesn’t like mangoes do with mangoes now that she has them and refuses to let anything go to waste?

Who knows?  But I get on Pinterest and do some hunting for ideas.  And one that I found, and that looked and sounded delicious…was a recipe for a mango salsa that also included other vegetables such as avocado and tomato.  It could work.  Maybe.  So…I picked up the rest of the ingredients that I needed on the way home tonight and made this salsa to accompany the vegan and gluten-free shrimp tacos I was making for dinner.

I was really, really, really surprised by how much I liked this!  Sweet, slightly spicy, and refreshing.  The recipe, taken from Allrecipes.com, is as follows:

Recipe: Avocado, Tomato and Mango Salsa

Avocado, Tomato and Mango Salsa

Avocado, Tomato and Mango Salsa

Servings: 6
Time: Prep 15 minutes; Chill 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 mango – peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1 avocado – peeled, pitted, and diced
  • 4 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1 serrano pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

In a medium bowl, combine the mango, avocado, tomatoes, serrano, cilantro, and garlic.

Stir in the salt, lime juice, red onion, and olive oil.

To blend the flavors, refrigerate for about 30 minutes before serving.

~*~*~

Yes…it really is that easy to make.  The prep work is what takes up all the time.  And it’s just a bunch of dicing and chipping to be honest.  What emerges from the fridge is this amazing salsa that is refreshing and layered with flavors.  Sweet from the tomatoes and mango, a bit of spice from the cilantro, onion, and serrano chili, all just mixed together and creating this deliciously balanced condiment.

I put mine on my gluten-free and vegan shrimp (yes, vegan shrimp) tacos…and that worked out beautifully.  It was one of my favorite dinners I have ever put together.  But, go ahead and pair this with tortilla chips or anything in need of a delicious salsa.

Trust me…you’ll love this.