Product Review: Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto

Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto Pasta Meal

Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto Pasta Meal

Product: Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto – $3.29+

You know…it was because I was told that the liveGfree Gluten Free Tortillas at Aldi wouldn’t fall apart and crumble on me (which was false…they did…and I was sad) that I ended up back at my Aldi to grab some gluten-free goods.  Just the tortillas…that was the plan.

But you know how quickly plans fall apart when gluten free products/food are involved.

While standing in line with one item, I spotted the infamous liveGfree box colors on some discounted sale items.  There were three different types of pastas sitting there…discounted…looking for a happy pantry to belong to.  I thought about just skipping that.  I’m trying to move things out, not bring more in, but they were discounted to $1.99…so I grabbed one of each flavor.

With this being an odd week with half days and holidays…my usual meal planning is thrown a bit off.  When I’m not going to be here, batch cooking that much just doesn’t make sense.  So, I pick and choose and then fill in.  So, when my roommate said to just throw together a pasta or something for a lunch on Monday, that’s exactly what I decided to do.

I knew we had these boxes of Aldi lifeGfree Gluten Free Pasta Meals in my pantry, so I gave her the choice of flavors…(all of which will be reviewed here…so watch this space)…and she decided to start with the Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto Pasta Meal.

Cooking this up is super easy.  Simply throw 1-1/4 cup water into a pan and bring it to a boil.  Once there, pour the noodles and seasoning mix into the water.  Cook, uncovered, over medium heat for about 7-9 minutes.  Stir it occasionally, and continue to cook until the water is completely absorbed.  That’s it.  It’s ready to eat.

Well, here is the downside.  A box contains only 1-1/2 servings.  Yes…one and a half servings.  I don’t know where the logic is with that, but after I had this cooked up and split it between my roommate and I…there was hardly anything in our lunch bowls.  So, I reached into my freezer and pulled out the Beyond Meat Gluten Free and Vegan Italian Meatballs, cooking up some of those to add to the dish to bulk it up and make it bigger than just a side dish.  So, please be aware…1-1/2 servings per container.  If there is more than 1-1/2 of you eating…plan accordingly.

Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pasta Meal  (cooked) with Beyond Meat Vegan and Gluten Free Italian Meatballs

Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pasta Meal (cooked) with Beyond Meat Vegan and Gluten Free Italian Meatballs

At lunch today, I retrieved the Pyrex containers with the pasta and “meatballs” in it and popped each one in the microwave to heat.  Once heated all the way through…lunch was ready to go.  I do love a no-hassle, fuss-free, easy lunch to prepare at work when the kitchen can get quite chaotic with everyone fighting for counter space and the microwave.

I settled in at  my desk, gave it a sprinkle of red pepper flakes (because I like it hot, LOL!) and dug in.

First of all, I was very impressed with the way the pasta held up, not just in the cooking process, but also in the reheating. It didn’t fall apart or get gummy.  So, that’s a huge plus.  I loved the seasoning that was cooked down over the noodles.  A blend of basil and spinach, mixed with a touch of garlic and Parmesan.  So, yeah…not exactly dairy-free, eh?  I didn’t notice that when I bought it…but…it was all I had for lunch.  I’m not allergic to dairy…just highly intolerant to lactose.  So, I just hoped for the best.  Very full of flavor…which surprised me.  I never expect much from boxed pasta meals, but this one was actually very delicious.  I am, however, quite happy that I opted to include the vegan meatballs to bulk it out.  It also added to the depth of flavor of the dish.  For a pasta meal that I spent under $2 to purchase…this was the happy surprise of the week.  Didn’t see that one coming.

Let’s discuss the ingredients that go into Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto Pasta Meal, shall we?  This boxed meal is made from gluten free pasta (corn flour, rice flour), process cheese food in powder [cheese blend (pasteurized milk, salt, cheese cultures, enzymes), whey powder, salt, sodium citrate, disodium phosphate], cream powder (cream, milk), natural flavor, potato starch, parmigano reggiano cheese (milk, salt, rennet), dehydrated spinach, dehydrated basil, salt, garlic powder, and turmeric powder.  This pasta meal is gluten free and wheat free.

Now that we know what goes into Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto Pasta Meal, let’s look at the nutrition ingredients.  A serving size of this product is 2/3 cup (or 3/4 cup prepared), and there are 1.5 servings fer container.  One serving will provide you with 250 calories, 6 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 570 mg sodium, 42 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram dietary fiber, 4 grams sugars, and 8 grams protein.  If you were to eat the entire box yourself, you would only be consuming 375 calories in total.  Which, really isn’t too bad.  I just think that Aldi should either round it down to 1 serving or up to 2 servings, because this half serving really annoyed me, if you couldn’t tell.

I wasn’t expecting much from this Aldi meal, but, once again, Aldi surprised me.  I should have trusted them a little more.  If you can get your hands on the Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Pasta Meal’s…it’s a cheap and delicious way to have something on hand for when you don’t really have time or energy to cook something else up.

Check your local Aldi…and pick some up.

Product Review: Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes

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Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes

Product: Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes – $3.99+

Sometimes, I don’t remember why I pick things out to try…they just sort of intrigue me at the time when I am at the grocery store.  It happens.  And while I have been steering mostly clear of packaged and processed foods, sometimes you just have to give in and try something that calls to you.

And that is apparently what happened when I snagged a box of Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes.  Let me tell you…the box makes these things look amazing.  Like little broccoli hashbrowns.  Or…broccoli and potato latkes.

I love potato pancakes (latkes)…and I love broccoli.  So this was basically Dr. Praeger’s brilliantly meshing the two of them together.  BRILLIANT!!

Dr. Praeger’s is a multi-generation, family-owned food company founded by two heart surgeons.  The company is committed to encouraging a more sensible and healthier way of eating.  Everything created by Dr. Praeger’s begins with their no-compromise recipes that help support an active lifestyle.  Every ingredient that goes into each and every Dr. Praeger’s product is pronounceable and recognizable.  You know how I love that!

As I stated above, I LOVE Broccoli!  Like…LOVE IT!  Always have.  Always will.

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So, imagine my elation when I spotted this little box in the freeze section of one of the many grocery stores I frequent.  I don’t know why I felt the need to snatch it up and try it…but it was like…meant to be.  Because it was BROCCOLI…and…

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…POTATO!

I’m Irish.  Potatoes and I are BFFs.  Like…for real BFFs.  I eat at least…at least two potatoes a week, but usually more.  No joke.

The box of Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes describes these little treats as a savory blend of broccoli, potatoes and onions.  There are six (6) cakes in each box, making it easy to decide whether you want to eat these as a snack, a side, or as a meal.

For me…MEAL!

Oh yes…meal time.

It was actually a Friday afternoon where these were pulled out of my freezer.  I had a half day at the office and was going to head into Louisville to get my grocery shopping done early so that I could go pick blueberries Saturday afternoon instead of running around and grocery shopping then.  So, I wanted something that was easy to make, not too big (as I was cooking up Gluten Free & Vegan BLT Sammies…with a side of guac and blue tortilla chips.  So, an easy, fast, and filling lunch was what I was looking to make for my roommate and I before we hit the numerous grocery stores.  Because otherwise we are a bit like this with any samples at said grocery/natural food stores.

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The Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes are really easy to prepare.  Each round cake is individually wrapped, so, again, you can pick how many you make.  The serving size is two (2) cakes, but as this was lunch, I made up all 6, so each of us could have three (3) each.  The preferred method for cooking these is the one I used…preheating the oven to 450°F and putting the cakes on an ungreased baking pan.  The cakes go into the oven for about 5-7 minutes until browned.  Then, you carefully flip them over, cook for another 4-6 minutes, until heated through and browned.  You can also cook these in a skillet or in the microwave, but the oven baked these up to perfection.

They honestly looked like little broccoli hashbrowns.  Which is fine.  Because hashbrowns are one of life’s best foods to ever be invented, created, and consumed.  They smelled fantastic.  And I ended up topping them off with a drizzle of a vegan lemon cream sauce that I had made earlier that week for another dish.  Lunch was served…and it took less than 20 minutes.  LOVE it.

First of all, the oven technique really does cook up the Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes to a crispy perfection, all without the use of butter or oil.  And as I’m trying to cut back on some of that…that was a big thing with me.  I was afraid they would be mushy and soft, but they totally crisped up on the outside, getting that gorgeous golden color and crunchy texture.  The inside…warm…soft…and perfect.  You get a lot of broccoli flavor in each bite, but you get potato and onion and whatever spices are blended into the mix.  It was delicious.  I was beyond surprised.  I had one without the sauce, and it was fantastic.  They have the same consistency as a latke or potato pancake…but the flavor is more complex with the addition of the broccoli.  I loved these.  So simple…yet so delicious!

So, let’s take a look at the ingredients that go into the Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes.  These amazing cakes of green goodness are made from broccoli, potatoes, onion, expeller pressed canola oil, oat bran, potato flakes, egg whites, arrowroot powder, sea salt, garlic, and black pepper.  The Broccoli Cakes are gluten-free, kosher, and non-GMO.

As far as nutrition goes, with ingredients like that, you will love the nutritional info in the Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes.  A serving size is two (2) of the cakes and their are 3 servings (or 6 individually wrapped cakes) per box.  This serving will provide you with 130 calories, 6 grams fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 250 mg sodium, 16 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 2 grams sugars, and 4 grams protein.  Believe it or not, these are quite filling…because the sampling snack monsters were kept at bay.

Dr. Praeger’s as a remarkable line of gluten-free and vegetarian offerings in their product line-up.  Not everything they make is gluten-free and vegetarian though, so read the boxes.  They label everything, so you will know just by looking at the box.  I have never had a Dr. Praeger’s product that I haven’t loved…and I think lots of that is that they really do strive to use real ingredients and real foods in each and every one of their products.  If you haven’t tried the Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes yet…go to wherever Dr. Praeger’s items are sold near you…and grab a box.  Trust me…you will not be disappointed.

Restaurant Review: Hops & Fire: Craft Tap House

Hops & Fire: Craft Tap House, Greenwood, Indiana

Hops & Fire: Craft Tap House, Greenwood, Indiana

Restaurant: Hops & Fire: Craft Tap House, Greenwood, Indiana

Normally, whenever I venture up to Indianapolis for an event, race, or whatnot, my one requirement is a stop at Cheeseburger in Paradise…because I can get a gluten-free veggie burger with gluten-free fries (or sweet potato fries)…and the burger custom made (no cheese; no sour cream) to fit my dietary needs.  This is awesome, as any frozen burger patty, or even homemade burger, tend to be a bit mushy and end up slipping out of any sort of gluten-free bread used as a bun (be it an actual gluten-free bun or just some gluten-free bread).  Cheeseburger in Paradise doesn’t have that problem…and it’s nice to be able to safely eat a veggie burger (so many use breadcrumbs as binder) out at a restaurant AND not have to eat it with a fork and knife (meaning…they have a gluten-free bun and I can pick it up).

Needless to say, I ran two half marathons, two weeks apart up in Indianapolis.  After the first one (OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon), I did hit up Cheeseburger in Paradise.  But two weeks later, I wasn’t ready to revisit Paradise.  I just had it.  My craving had been satisfied.

That being said, when I returned to the Indianapolis to run the Geist Half Marathon, I wanted to try something different.  Step out of the comfort zone…try something new.

I had been hearing some buzz around a place located in Greenwood, Indiana, by a bunch of my friends up in that area.  It was a craft beer tap house called Hops & Fire.  And what was pointed out more than once was that when you step inside to be seated, the hostess will ask if you require any special menus.  In addition to their regular menu, they have extensive vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free menus.  I told her I was a gluten-free vegetarian and she grabbed both of those menus and a regular one for Cathy and told me that the menus don’t often cross over each other, but anything on either menu can be made gluten-free, vegan, or vegetarian.  She took us to our table and we were seated.

Our waiter was totally adorable and came over to introduce himself.  His name was Kyle and he asked how we were doing.  Cathy pointed at me and said, “Well, she just ran a half marathon…”  He raised his eyebrows and said, “So I’m guessing you want water.”  HA!  He was so right.  Cathy had thought about trying one of their craft selections, but in the end started with the water.

Two menus and having so many options was a bit overwhelming to me.  The only thing I knew I wanted to try was Gluten Free 3-Cheese Garlic Bread.  I bought Lactaid specifically for this meal.  No joke.  We went ahead and mentioned that we wanted that as an appetizer and Kyle said he’d put that in while we finished making our decisions on what to eat, as it was the appetizer that took the longest to prepare.  While he was gone, I started to narrow down my choices, getting it down to three options.  After a little back and forth and pros and cons, I went for the one that didn’t contain cheese…as I was certain I was about to consume more cheese than my body was going to like momentarily.

Kyle returned to take our order, and as usual, as I’m the complicated one, I ordered first.  I went with the Gluten Free California Wrap…keeping the House Chips as a side.  Cathy went with the Stout Pork Belly BLT, which was served with a side of their Parmesan House Chips.  Orders were in…after Kyle had to go and figure out how to combine two menus to make a dish.  Poor guy!

Hops & Fire Gluten Free 3-Cheese Garlic Bread

Hops & Fire Gluten Free 3-Cheese Garlic Bread

Only a few moments late, a large plate was being carried to our table and put in front of us.  Clearly, when I saw the fact that I could get Gluten Free 3-Cheese Garlic Bread…I didn’t read the description.  This plate and appetizer was HUGE.  Definitely enough for 4-8 people.  Hops & Fire Gluten Free 3-Cheese Garlic Bread ($9.00), is a full gluten-free baguette, which is drenched in roasted garlic and salted butter, served with a gooey, melted blanket of shallots and chives, which are smothered in Provolone, Mozzarella, and Romano cheeses.  This is then baked so that the top of the cheese gets golden and everything is melty and ooey-gooey.  It comes with a side of marinara.  I took my Lactaid and hoped for the best (sometimes it helps; other times, it doesn’t).  I grabbed the slice on the end and pulled it away, the cheese stretching and making me…so happy.  I cut it up, dipped a piece into the marinara…and immediately lost my mind.  If you go to Hops & Fire, this is their signature appetizer and it is not to be missed.  The gluten-free baguette was crispy on the outside and that perfect toasty, but still soft on the inside.  The cheese was melted to perfection.  The garlic was superb.  Yeah…this made me SO happy.  And, for the record, the Lactaid worked…this time.  Thank goodness!  This was A LOT of food, so Cathy and I said we’d eat half of it and get a box and take the rest of it home.  That’s what we did as our food arrived.  We boxed it up…and it was lunch the next day.

Hops & Fire Stout Pork Belly BLT with a side of Parmesan House Chips

Hops & Fire Stout Pork Belly BLT with a side of Parmesan House Chips

So, let’s start with Cathy’s lunch, shall we?  My om-nom-nomnivore (haha) friend loves to eat pig in any form she can.  This is no joke.  She loves her pork products.  So it was no surprise to me that she chose the Hops & Fire Stout Pork Belly BLT ($12.00) off of their Brewed Baskets selections on the regular menu.  It came with a decent serving of their Parmesan House Chips on the side.  This sandwich is not your typical BLT.  Hops & Fire serves up a stout beer and kosher salt-brined local pork belly, which is seared, roasted, sliced thin, and pan fried, then topped with baby bibb lettuce, beefsteak tomatoes, and homemade apricot onion jam…served on their grilled garlic shallot bread.  Here’s the thing…they do NOT skimp on the pork belly bacon in this BLT.  Not one bit.  You’ll see by the photo I’m putting up here for those of you who are not a gluten-free vegetarian like me.  I mean…it was BACON. FOR. DAYS.  She had more bacon than Parmesan House Chips.  And that’s not a bad thing, as the protein is, honestly, what you are shelling out money for.  She said the garlic shallot bread was amazing (we Celiacs will never know…).  She said it could have used a slight bit more mayo…but it was awesome.  And yes…she devoured it all and the chips.  Carnivores.  Oy!

Hops & Fire Gluten Free California Wrap with a mountain of House Chips

Hops & Fire Gluten Free California Wrap with a side of House Chips

As for me…I went ahead and combined an offering on the Vegetarian Menu and asked that it be made gluten-free.  I opted for the Gluten Free California Wrap ($12.00)…mostly because it didn’t have cheese and avocado always wins.  The California Wrap is a gluten-free tortilla that is stuffed and rolled up around fresh sliced avocado, beefsteak tomato, bibb lettuce, pickled onions, and a roasted garlic aioli. OH MY GLUTEN FREE GODS!!  This was a simple, basic, wrap, but it tasted amazing to me.  Maybe it was because I had just pounded out 13.1 miles and was living off of watermelon and water at that point, but this wrap was great.  Gluten-free tortillas are nothing to write home about, and I’m pretty certain this was the standard gluten-free teff tortilla.  But it just serves as a way for me to pick up and devour the veggie-licious produce that was stuffed and rolled up inside.  The aioli, by the way, was delicious.  The avocado was ripe and sweet.  The tomatoes…so good.  I loved every bite of this wrap.  It came with a mountain…no…a landslide of their House Chips, which I couldn’t even finish.  Where Cathy had a decent side of hers, the chips serving was bigger than my wrap…so…I ate what I wanted and left the rest.

Hops & Fire Gluten Free and Vegan Ice Cream Sundae

Hops & Fire Gluten Free and Vegan Ice Cream Sundae

We were full, but we couldn’t end our experience there.  Kyle tempted us with a dessert menu, pointing out that those marked with a gf were gluten free and also the codes for vegan and vegetarian as well.  We were very tempted to get one of the Desserts For Two (yeah…we so wanted the Gluten Free and Vegan S’mores Cast Iron Cake), but in the end, decided we were too full for that and went with splitting a single serving of the Vegan Ice Cream Sundae ($5.00).  This was a small bowl (thank goodness) that had a scoop of vegan ice cream, drizzled lightly with hot fudge.  It was perfect and a great way to end the meal.  It was amazing.  The ice cream was not as creamy as regular ice cream, but it was cold and melty and amazing.  And the hot fudge…that’s always a welcome addition to anything ice cream-ish.

Kyle brought us our check once we had polished it off and we paid in cash and got our things together to go.  We talked about the food for a bit of the drive home…and how amazing and good it was.  I was beyond happy with the service and the attention paid to each dish that was ordered, making sure that it fit my dietary needs…nothing that made me take pause and question whether it was safe for me to eat or not.

I’m already planning my return to Hops & Fire.  So, if you happen to be in the Indianapolis area, or traveling through, do make the trip to Greenwood and check out this amazing and delicious place.  You have a specialty diet…they have you covered.  And I love it.

Next time…gluten-free onion rings.  It’s happening!

Restaurant Review: Toasted, Orlando, Florida

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Toasted, Orlando, Florida

Restaurant: Toasted, Orlando, Florida

Sometimes I find food places to try in the most peculiar and unexpected places.  As I was prepping to head out to Orlando, I was sitting on my couch at home, scrolling through my Instagram feed…when I spotted an amazing looking photo on #NationalGrilledCheeseDay from someone that I follow on there.

And it just happened to be in Orlando.

And it also just happened to feature grilled cheese and…FRIES.

Fries.  I rarely get to eat fries when I go out to eat.  And it’s potato.  And potato is one of my favorite things in life.  So, naturally, I had to check them out.

The place was called Toasted.  And I suddenly needed to know more…like…was there more than just gluten free fries that I could eat there?  Like…did they have…vegan cheese??!!  Was it possible??!!

I went to Toasted’s Web site..and lo and behold…they had a regular menu, a vegan menu, and a gluten free menu…and they were all interchangeable.  They even have a gluten-free vegan burger if I wanted to do burger rather than sandwich.  And as tempting as a burger was…GRILLED CHEESE!  Hello!!

I was handed the gluten free menu first and was looking it over…and when I asked about vegan options, I was handed that menu as well.  And the first thing that caught my eye was a sandwich that involved all the spicy goodness that I love.  Sriracha, jalapeno, and then…random tomatoes.  Mmmm.  That was easy.

So, my traveling brigade and I decided to get our orders in because we had been on the go pretty much all day (since downing bagels from Erin McKenna’s at Disney Springs around 10 am.

Jenn ordered the Truffle Melt ($6.25), which is a sammie made from Havarti, truffle oil, arugula, and fresh ground pepper.  Mmmm…cheese-y goodness.  She got the Truffle Fries ($2.50) as her side.

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The As Gouda As It Gets with Rosemary Truffle Fries from Toasted, Orlando, Florida

Cathy ordered the As Gouda As It Gets ($6.75), which is a sammie made with Smoked Gouda, pulled chicken, roasted red peppers, and garlic spinach.  She also got the Truffle Fries ($2.50) as her side.

As for me…as I said…I saw some spicy goodness listed on the vegan menu.  So, I ordered the Vegan Fireball ($5.75) done Gluten Free (+1.25).  This was gluten free bread with Housemade Vegan Cheese with jalapeno, sriracha, and tomato.  And I went for broke and ordered the Vegan Truffle Cheese Fries ($3.50)…which was a happy accident, as I really just wanted the Truffle Fries.  Oh well.

We were given one of the signs, which contained a code from their Periodic Table of Cheese.  We had Gr (Gruyere).  It was a short weight…long enough to listen to a woman having a loud conversation on her cell phone and discuss how excited we were about dinner.  Maybe about 10 minutes later, our food arrived.  This was when I realized I had somehow got the Vegan Truffle Cheese Fries.  Like I said…happy accident.  I was ready to dive in.  I needed to slice my sandwich in half and it made for a gooey (yes…GOOEY VEGAN CHEESE!) sandwich mess.  And I loved it.  Usually vegan cheese doesn’t melt to the point of epic gooeyness.  This one…this one did!  God bless amazing housemade vegan cheese.

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The Gluten Free Vegan Fireball Sandwich with Vegan Truffle Cheese Fries from Toasted, Orlando, Florida

One bite…and I no longer want Tom + Chee or….well…that’s really the only place I’ve been able to have a gluten free and vegan grilled cheese.  And they don’t get gooey runny vegan cheese in theirs.  THIS WAS LIFE CHANGING!!  I loved that it was spicy, without being too spicy.  It had a nice balance with the warm, melty, messy cheese (YAY!), the jalapeno slices, the cooling tomato, and just the right hit of sriracha.  SO good.  I was seriously dredging the crusts of the bread through the cheese puddle on my plate.  And the fries…oh…those were good.  I was sort of disappointed at first because I’m such a huge fan of ketchup, but the vegan cheese was delicious with the truffle and rosemary flavors.  The only downside…was when the cheese got a bit cool.  Nevertheless, despite saying I wouldn’t be able to eat them all…I did.  Happily.

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Look at the GOOEY vegan cheese in the Gluten Free Vegan Fireball from Toasted, Orlando, Florida

Cathy loved the fries…and thought they were amazing.  She liked her sandwich, but despite being a fan of Gouda, she felt the sandwich needed a stronger cheese to pair with the boldness of the garlic spinach.  But she LOVED it. She also stole some of my Vegan Truffle Cheese Fries and thought the vegan cheese was awesome.  Nice smokey flavor.

Jenn gives two thumbs up to her sandwich and fries.  Wouldn’t change a thing.  We all just hoovered and loved every moment of our culinary sandwich and fries.

Yeah…Toasted is just that good.  It’s simple, easy, but crafted and amazing grilled cheese sandwiches.  If you aren’t into sandwiches (and if not…what is wrong with you) they have burger options (also available gluten-free and vegan), salads, amazing side dishes, and even a kids menu.

If you are going through Orlando, Florida…not doing the whole Disney thing where you pretty much just stay on Disney property and don’t leave until you are forced to go to the airport…check out Toasted!  They have two locations in Orlando – Winter Park and Lake Nona.

Seriously, I’d go back to eat here in a heartbeat.  When you give me one of my favorite comfort foods and do it up beyond my expectations…you have my full and undivided attention.  Toasted…thank you!  I am one happy gluten-free, dairy-free girl!

Product Review: Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpea & Sweet Potato Picadillo)

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Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpeas & Sweet Potato Picadillo)

Product: Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpea & Sweet Potato Picadillo) – $4.99+

I love discovering products I might have not seen, might be new, or just may not have noticed in the past when I go grocery shopping.  Such is the tale of me and a line of frozen entrees by the company Buen Sabor.

Whole Foods.  Freezer section.  At least, that was the beginning of this tale for me.  Grocery shopping on a budget isn’t easy…but sometimes you just have to make exceptions to the budget rule.  Especially when you have events to be at every Tuesday evening (running event) by 6 p.m.  I don’t like to turn up late, because then I feel like I need to try to catch up to everyone, and with the current day-to-day status of the injured hip…I just don’t like to take risks.

Taking risks with food that fits into my kind of restrictive diet…that is sometimes worth splurging on and taking a risk.

So, yes…Buen Sabor.

Buen Sabor was created by Sarah, who grew up on an organic farm in Maine.  With the help of her mother, she used to cure, can, freeze, and dehydrate almost everything they ate.  The family freezer became an invaluable asset to a busy family that wanted to enjoy humble foods that tasted great.  When Sarah became a new mom in 2008, she delved into the quest to solve the “busy persons” food dilemma once again.  And, with all that she learned growing up on the farm, she harnessed that knowledge and started Buen Sabor.  The team at Buen Sabor is passionate about offering simple, crave-worthy foods that…yes…come from the freezer.

In fact, Buen Sabor actually wants you to become a “freezer believer.”  One thing freezer meals have going for it is convenience.  But another thing is…given the right ingredients…they can actually be a clean eat.  Buen Sabor is deeply committed to creating the best possible (and super convenient) food.  All of the sauces are made from scratch, their vegetables are picked and cooked at the height of their freshness, and the proteins are cooked just right and then frozen immediately to preserve the dishes most naturally.  Don’t knock delicious frozen meals…simply put, freezing food is nature’s pause button…it is, literally, the most natural preservative there is.  Frozen foods are nutritious, have real nutritional value, are convenient, and naturally preserves foods.

Buen Sabor aims to build a business that creates as many happy customers possible, who are able to spend more time doing the things they love.  They want their products to exceed all expectations as far as quality, focusing on freshness, flavor, and nutritional value.

But do they achieve this?

Well, I picked up one of their vegan and gluten-free meals at Whole Foods that afternoon, to keep in my freezer for those rushed, hurried, “I need to go run hill repeats” Tuesday nights.  Leave work, rush home, eat, change, out the door to drive over the river to meet with a group who simply…runs up a hill…jogs down…repeats it for some set amount of time.  It means Tuesdays are rather stressful and rushed.  So I grabbed the Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpea & Sweet Potato Picadillo) for me and my roomie opted for one of the meaty dishes…the Arroz Con Queso Y Trocitos De Chorizo (Savory Chorizo-Seasoned Rice With Cheese).

Super easy to warm up.  I made Cathy’s first, simply by cutting a slit into the plastic on top of the tray and warming it up for 5 minutes.  It sits for 1 minute and then…ready to eat.  It doesn’t LOOK amazing like it does on the box…but it smelled good.  And when Cathy ate it, she said it was good…for a frozen meal.

Okay…

So, needless to say, I wasn’t feeling too optimistic about the Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpea & Sweet Potato Picadillo).  Just like with the meaty one, the vegan one also had the plastic film sliced through to allow everything to steam.  Into the microwave for about 4-5 minutes.  I let it go for 5, because I have an old microwave.  Peel back the film and stir, letting it stand for one minute.

And…much like Cathy’s…upon taking it out of the microwave and pulling back the plastic, the meal really doesn’t look appetizing.  It looks…like a frozen microwave meal.  The picture on the box is GORGEOUS…but this is just sort of…one tone…one note…brownish.  LOL!  Over rice.  That being said, once I stirred it up, it looked…slightly more appetizing.

Looks aside, I decided it was time to test the frozen meal waters myself.  And, you know what?  I was actually really surprised.  I mean, packed with flavors.  Just loaded with a hint of spice, fresh vegetables, and rice that ended up cooking to perfection.  I was expecting something bland, perhaps tasting as unappetizing as it looked.  But I was blown away by the flavors.  The chickpeas and potato reheated gorgeously.  Nothing got mushy  And I love that quinoa is included for a bit more of a protein boost.  Picadillo translates into “little (savory-yummy) chopped things.  And the aim of Buen Sabor with the Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpea & Sweet Potato Picadillo) was to deliver “a delightful dance of flavors with roots in the Caribbean and Spain.”  I might have devoured mine long before Cathy (who had a headstart on hers) finished hers.  A little spicy, but I have an iron stomach for the most part, and I knew this wouldn’t bother me while running hard up some hills in a local park.  SO tasty.  So good.  And really good for you too!  I loved the spice and the bit of heat that each bite brought.  And I love that brown rice is used instead of white.  YES!!  This company is speaking my language.  None of the vegetables were mushy or soft.  Everything had great texture and heated through perfectly.  All-in-all…a dinner win!  A convenient, easy dinner win.

Speaking of being really good for you, let’s take a look at the ingredients that Buen Sabor puts into the Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpeas & Sweet Potato Picadillo)!  One thing that Buen Sabor prides itself on is that they don’t add any hormones, antibiotics or preservatives to their food.  Their products are 100% natural.  Pure and simple goodness.  The Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpeas & Sweet Potato Picadillo) is made from brown rice, onions, quinoa, chickpeas, water, sweet potato, tomatoes, red peppers, poblano chili peppers, olive oil, spice, sea salt, garlic, corn starch, and smoked sweet paprika.  All real ingredients.  Nothing fake. Nothing that has me questioning my dietary choices.  I love that.  This particular meal is gluten-free, vegan, contains no added sugar, and has no trans fat.

Now, let’s discuss nutrition, shall we?  A serving of the Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpeas & Sweet Potato Picadillo) is 1 cup (159 grams) and there are 2 servings per container.  Except, if you’re making it an actual meal…you’ll eat the entire thing like I did.  No worries, nothing bad or outrageous with these stats.  For one (1) serving, however, you will be taking in 160 calories, 5 grams fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 570 mg sodium, 25 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams dietary fiber, 3 grams sugar, and 5 grams protein.  LOVE IT.  Even after running 8 miles of hill repeats, I still felt full.  And the heat didn’t bother my system at all.  Good food to fuel a tough run that day.

Check your local natural foods stores for the Buen Sabor products.  Honestly, you won’t regret it.  Freezer section.  Good stuff.  Very good stuff.  I think I might have to pick up a few more…at least until this group stops meeting…which, sadly, happens in a couple of weeks.  But, it’s always good to have a quick meal on hand…because you never know when time might get away from you or something might come up!  Buen Sabor…has your back!

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

 

 

 

 

Product Review: Ian’s Natural Foods Gluten Free Onion Rings

Ian's Natural Foods Gluten Free Onion Rings

Ian’s Natural Foods Gluten Free Onion Rings

Product: Ian’s Natural Foods Gluten Free Onion Rings – $5.99+

If there is a food indulgence that I miss the most…it’s being able to eat onion rings.  I mean, there are few things as amazing as biting into a savory, salty, fried ring of vegetable goodness.  Sure, it’s not healthy, but it’s been ages since I’ve had good onion rings.

I have, on occasion, made a batter, thick-sliced an onion, poured oil into a pan and made my own…but that’s a lot of hassle.  And I always make way too many and my roommate and I eat them all and then feel like we just ate the entire State Fair afterwards.  Needless to say, I haven’t made gluten-free onion rings in a very, very long while.

Then, while out at Raisin Rack this past Halloween weekend, I was filling up a basket with gluten-free treats, when my roommate comes skipping over and drops a sack of something into the basket.  Lo and behold…it was gluten-free onion rings.

The gluten-free angels sang and a heavenly light shown down from the fluorescent lights of the natural food store.

Ian’s Natural Products is the creator of the Gluten Free Onion Rings.  I was a bit hesitant, however, as things have been pretty hit and miss with Ian’s Natural Products gluten-free (basically allergen-free) selection.  I love the French Bread Pizza…but disliked the French Toast Sticks.  Go figure.  But, I’m never to turn my nose up at trying a product I haven’t had before.

Especially when it’s onion rings.

And especially when there is an option to bake them instead of frying them (there is a frying option too…but…I went the healthier, more hassle-free, less clean-up route).

Ian’s Natural Foods was created in 2001, when the founder wanted to be sure his son, Ian, received natural and nutritious foods – ones that didn’t contain artificial ingredients, clors, preservatives, and other unacceptable and unhealthy ingredients.  Frustrated with the lack of options, he took matters into his own hands and decided to do something about it…for everyone.

The primary focus of Ian’s Natural Foods was to provide tasty, all-natural and organic foods, which expanded to gluten-free foods for kids.  It began with kid favorites, like chicken nuggets and patties.  Then…grew from there.

Today, Ian’s is part of the Elevation Brands’ family and has grown into a national brand with 35 products sold throughout the United States and Canada.  This brand makes it easy for families to manage food allergies by providing a wide variety of allergy-friendly meal solutions, all of which are made with simple, honest ingredients and no preservatives, no artificial ingredients, no trans fat, and no added hormones or antibiotics.  Everything you need to know is summed up in the motto of Ian’s Natural Foods: “Trust made simple.”

So, it was Sunday afternoon and after a morning spent swimming and wrapping up a few errands, my roommate and I returned home and needed a small bite to eat to tide us over until our dinner that evening with the downstairs neighbors.  I have been trying to clear a few things out of the pantry, fridge and freezer, and after she mentioned tater tots (we didn’t have any), I reminded her we had the Ian’s Natural Foods Gluten Free Onion Rings in the freezer.  That made her happy…and so I set out to prepare them.

I got out a baking sheet and poured the contents of the bag onto the pan and spread out the onion rings so that they weren’t crowded and all were in a single layer.  Then, I put them into an oven (which I preheated to 450°F).  I then baked the onion rings for 10 minutes before flipping them over and letting them back another 5 minutes to get them nice and crispy.  And then…I served them up.

The Ian’s Natural Foods Gluten Free Onion Rings are the answer for anyone one who has been craving a gluten-free take on a classic diner food…the onion ring.  The onions are sweet and delicious, and coated with their special homemade batter, which comes out perfectly crispy…yes…even when baked.  I loved the flavor.  It had this sweet yet savory flavor to them.  The cornflake crumbs bring this amazing flavor, and give the onion rings a great crunchy texture and they even golden up slightly in the oven.  These are a perfect, simple, hassle-free product that will satisfy your onion ring craving.  You don’t even have to be gluten-free to appreciate these.  My roommate has had great onion rings (she doesn’t have to eat gluten free) and she said these were fantastic…especially since they are a frozen product.

Let’s talk ingredients.  Ian’s Natural Foods stands by their promise of using real ingredients.  The Gluten Free Onion Rings are made from onions, coated with batter (water, yellow corn flour, corn starch, sea salt, gralic powder, baking powder) and breaded with cornflake crumbs (milled corn, sugar, salt).  These are cooked in non-GMO expeller pressed canola oil.  The Ian’s Natural Foods Gluten Free Onion Rings contain no wheat or gluten, no milk or casein, no eggs, no nuts, no soy, no preservatives, no artificial flavors, and no artificial colors.

As for nutritional information, the Ian’s Natural Foods Gluten Free Onion Rings make for a good side or snack, especially if you opt to bake them in the oven instead  of deep fry or pan fry them.  A serving size of the Gluten Free Onion Rings is 5 rings (70 grams) and there are 4 servings per bag.  This serving will give you 130 calories, 6 grams of fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 115 mg sodium, 18 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 2 grams sugar, and 2 grams protein.  They won’t fill you up, but you will love every single bite of these.

I think Ian’s Natural Foods has won my heart back again with their Gluten Free Onion Rings.  What a great product that definitely helps with any of those longing cravings that strike for this delicious treat.  Bake it up and help yourself.  You’ve earned it.

Restaurant Review: Tucker & Bevvy Breakfast, Honolulu, Hawaii

Tucker & Bevvy Brealfast, Honolulu, Hawaii

Tucker & Bevvy Brealfast, Honolulu, Hawaii

Restaurant: Tucker & Bevvy Breakfast, Honolulu, Hawaii

Hangry.

That was all there was to it.  We were all hangry.  Our flight out of Kauai to island hop over to O’ahu was the earliest one available.  We were up at 4 a.m.  Some of us sooner.  Some of us without getting much sleep.  But between the three of us, we were all just picking at everything.

And the added unseasonable humidity wasn’t helping matters.  For me…I was doing okay…but my traveling companions don’t take to the humidity well.  So, lack of coffee and food was setting in.  But…we made the short hike over to Hee Hing Plaza and climbed the stairs to the second floor.  We stepped inside, happy to be in some air conditioning and took a table near the middle of the dining area.  A nice waitress came over with glasses of water and menus and explained to us the three new specials that Tucker & Bevvy Breakfast was now offering.  After that, she let us ponder what we wanted and returned soon after when we looked ready to order.

Jenn had one question about the pancakes, and when she was given an answer as to what size they were, she ordered up.  One single Ricotta Pancake ($4.00) with a side of bacon ($4.00).  Cathy went with the House Omelette (bacon, potato, cherry tomato, spinach & parmesan) with Sourdough Toast ($11.50).  As for me, I wanted one of the new specials for the menu:

The Smashed Avocado Toast ($9.50) on Gluten Free Toast with a Side of Fresh Fruit ($6.00).

Order in, and we continued to sit there and attempt to wake up.  This usually meant that Cathy rambled on about something while Jenn and I pretended to listen or just simply blinked at her.  It was one of those mornings.  We watched as plates were brought out to fellow diners…all of the food looking amazing.  I was ready to get something other than a protein bar in my tummy, that was for sure.

After a bit of a wait…out came some food.  Happiness is food arriving at your table when you are hot, tired, and hungry.  Jenn’s pancake was fluffy and looked and smelled amazing.  The Web site says they serve 100% maple syrup…but she tasted it and shunned it.  Not pure maple.

Tucker & Bevvy Breakfast's House Omelette with Sourdough Toast

Tucker & Bevvy Breakfast’s House Omelette with Sourdough Toast

Cathy’s omelet was packed with vegetables.  In fact, the entire top layer was vegetables.  Inside the egg was the bacon and potatoes.  It looked amazing.  And, she does love her sourdough toast when we’re out to eat.  She’s always stuck with the gluten-free stuff in our apartment due to the kitchen needing to be completely gluten-free (save for her own boxed snacks and cereals).  She devoured it.

And my Smashed Avocado Toast was fantastic.  I knew this was what I wanted the moment I saw it on the board at the restaurant.  It is no secret that avocado and I are BFFs and when smashed over toast…I’m in a happy place.  This version of Avocado Toast was made with lemon juice, an Egyptian spice blend, and toasted pistachios on top.  The pistachios were a nice touch, and one I never would have thought of.  But…lo and behold…it totally changed my idea of Avocado Toast.  This was amazing.  It was love at first bite…all the way down to the last bite.  Because, yes…I ate it ALL!  ALL of it.  Completely all of it.  And the big bowl of fresh fruit as well.  The fruit was fresh and ripe and sweet…and I didn’t need it, but damn, it tasted good.  Bananas, strawberries, blueberries and grapes.  That’s the good breakfast life.

We all pretty much ate what was put in front of us.  Cathy ate most  of hers.  She almost had all the eggs gone and left two of the slices of bread.

In the end, we were happy with the fact that we now had delicious food in our stomachs.  It was an unexpected breakfast stop, but well worth it.  I am forever dressing up my avocado toast with toasted pistachios.  I mean…HELLO!  Mind blown.  Culinary eyes opened.  Heck yeah…LOVE.

So, while Tucker & Bevvy was a spur-of-the-moment choice so the three of us didn’t claw each other’s eyes out…our hanger pains were tamed by the delicious breakfast foods at Tucker & Bevvy.  Seriously, I’d go back for that toast in a heartbeat.  Breakfast is love…and this was true love.

Gluten Free Avocado Toast with a Side of Fresh Fruit

Gluten Free Avocado Toast with a Side of Fresh Fruit

Restaurant Review: Caffe Coco, Kapaa, Hawaii

Caffe Coco, Kapaa, Hawaii

Caffe Coco, Kapaa, Hawaii

Restaurant: Caffe Coco, Kapaa, Hawaii

Today was one of the best days I have had in Hawaii.  Oddly enough, it also falls on the day that I was supposed to run the Kauai Marathon.  And given the circumstances, that would be a huge bummer.  And it was.  It really, really was.  But, to take my mind off of the situation, Cathy had a plan to drive up to the North Side of Kauai and spent the afternoon at Hanalei Beach.

Happiness is me and a beach.  And thanks to my ankle, doing fun beach-y things aren’t easy for me.  So, while my roommate gets to paddle around in the surf…I’ve been strolling the beach a little…carefully and slowly…wishing that the currents and waves were a little easier for me to swim around in, but the injury is a little too new at the moment.  Sometimes standing on the beach is a struggle.  But that was the day.  We packed up just before the heavy rains hit and went and grabbed some shaved ice from JoJo’s Shave Ice while waiting for it to lighten up.  When it became evident that it wasn’t happening, we decided to go driving to a scenic place to wait it out because dinner was to be up on the North Side.  When that looked like it wasn’t going to happen, we opted to drive back down to Kapaa before roads were flooded and figure out dinner somewhere down here.

One place we had been eyeing last night before deciding on pizza was this great place called Caffe Coco.  Caffe Coco is a quaint cottage cafe with an outdoor garden setting on the island of Kauai.  This adorable little restaurant strives to serve Island grown produce, fresh Island fish, organic chicken, and whatever else that will help support local farmers.  LOVE that.  This restaurant specializes in vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free.  Making it ideal for me.  BUT…that being said, they do serve a few dishes that offer a seafood or chicken option.  A little something for everyone!

We all finally decided that we were a little hungry after assessing sunburns (Jenn and I got nailed today!) and putting some aloe after sun gel on it.  Hoping that helps ease the sting and cuts down on the redness.  So…we headed out for the short drive down to Caffe Coco, being greeted upon entering and being shown to seats out in their cute garden setting.  We immediately loved the quirky, free, hippy-ish setting, the glass that coated the ground and the rustic setting.  It was a very happy place for me.  We had glasses of water poured while we browsed the menu.  And soon, our waitress came over and asked if we had any questions regarding the menu, but by that point, we had it all pretty figured out.

Caffe Coco Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Caffe Coco Jamaican Jerk Chicken

So, orders went in.  Jenn decided on the Organic Pasta Shrimp Fresca ($28.00) which is organic pasta and shrimp tossed with local tomatoes, basil, white wine, Parmesan, balsamic reduction and served with a green salad and garlic toast.  Cathy got the Jamaican Jerk Organic Chicken ($28.00), served with purple sweet potatoes, coconut creamed kale, pineapple salsa and server with a green salad.

As for me…I went with two of the Starters listed on the menu.  The first was a cup of the Thai Curried Pumpkin Soup ($5.00) and the Vietnamese Summer Rolls ($10.00) with organic greens and a peanut sauce.  And after seeing it come out, I also decided to add their Hibiscus Iced Tea ($4.00) to my meal as well.

We could see the kitchen from where we were sitting and could hear the fuss with the chefs.  Turns out a 20 person wedding party was set to arrive and they were working on getting out food to clear everything down to be prepared for the wedding orders.  It was a little chaotic, but everything came out to the waiting tables, and all of it looked great.  And soon…ours came out as well.

Everything looked and smelled amazing.  Jenn’s shrimp and pasta looked amazing…and she said the sauce with the garlic toast was phenomenal.  Not to mention, they didn’t skimp on the shrimp, but served her up a perfect number and all a great size.  No small shrimp here.  No way.  Cathy fell in love with her meal at first bite, but LOVED the creamy sauce that everything was set in.  That was her favorite part for sure.  But it looked amazing.  And colorful to say the least.  She said it was spicy without being overly spicy and ‘tasty.”  She was in a happy place for sure.

As for mine.  HOLY COW!!  LOVE.  Just pure love.  I loved everything about each dish.  The soup had this rich depth of flavor.  I loved the floating pepitas that were resting on top and the various onions and creaminess that came with each bite.  Just…YUM!!  I ended up saving most of this to the last bite.  The Vietnamese Summer Rolls were delicious.  Packed with greens laying in this delicious peanut butter and sriracha sauce.  You brought me a bowl of peanut butter…I’m now a very happy girl.  It paired well with the organic greens and veggies that were stuffed into each roll.  And I devoured every last bite…and every last bit of that sauce.  This was amazing, delicious food.  Happy place…discovered.

We were given a dessert list to look at, being told that the pudding was vegan and gluten free…and the brownie and chocolate chip cookie were gluten-free as well.  They were out of their homemade ice cream at the moment.  We considered it for a brief moment, but decided we were ready to call it a day and we would return to the resort for the Macadamia Nut Hershey’s Kisses we had stashed there.

OH…yeah!!  That soup was one of the best things I have ever eaten.  I was beyond happy and satisfied…and we all left there content and full…without being too full.  Love is definitely finding a great place to eat that honestly has a little something for anyone and everyone.  And I felt completely comfortable eating there.  Even moreso when the check arrived and my order was circled with a note that read: “**Celiac & Dairy Allergy**”.  Oh yeah…that was so nice to see.  It means they take their customer’s dietary needs to heart.

Everything was delicious and we all left happy plates and walked out comfortably full.  Feeling good about our meal choice and loving the food we ate.  This was one of the best places on the Island of Kauai.  It might seem pricey, but the food is worth the stop and the price.  You will not be disappointed.  I was beyond impressed with service and food.

I’d go back again in a heartbeat.  Hell, I’d go back tomorrow!

Caffe Coco's Thai Pumpkin Curry Soup and Vietnamese Summer Rolls with Organic Greens and Peanut Sauce

Caffe Coco’s Thai Pumpkin Curry Soup and Vietnamese Summer Rolls with Organic Greens and Peanut Sauce

Product Review: Biatalia Gluten Free Couscous di Mais

Biatalia Gluten Free Couscous di Mais

Biatalia Gluten Free Couscous di Mais

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

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

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

*cough*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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