Restaurant Review: Pho Ba Luu – Louisville, KY

IMG_3876Restaurant: Pho Ba Luu – Louisville, Kentucky

Brace yourselves, friends…

I’m finally getting back to restaurant reviews.  I have been so busy as of late that I’ve been skipping these important reviews both locally and when I travel.  And that is stopping…as of now.

I made a promise to be better about updating my blog, and, by God, I’m going to stick to it.

So…I have the pleasure of being friends with some amazing people who just happen to be foodies!  And…they seem to be as excited about trying different places around town as I am.  And that…means LOTS of fun trying out new places with good people who aren’t afraid to be honest and outgoing.

Being a foodie is fun.

While I have my favorite places here in Louisville, some great new places have moved in and opened up.  And one of those places is Pho Ba Luu, in Butchertown.  Pho Ba Luu, as my can probably guess, serves Saigon Street Food.  Think the obvious pho…in addition to rice bowls, banh mi sandwiches, as well as rice bowls.

As I tend to do when I am going to new restaurants, I contacted them to find out if I, being a Celiac and vegetarian, could eat anything there.  Jessica Mach e-mailed me back and let me know exactly what was safe for me.  All the pho bowls, by the way, are gluten free.  Just don’t get the hoisin sauce.  The spring rolls are also safe…and they offer gluten-free soy sauce as well.  The staff was INCREDIBLY knowledgeable too after we visited and placed our order.  So…bit shout-out for those, who like me, have food allergies and intolerances and need a little extra care at restaurants.IMG_3875

So…four foodies drove into Butchertown specifically for some Vietnamese food.  And, let me tell you, there were some high standards to be met.  Paul is actually part Vietnamese and his wife, Melissa and he actually have had street food in Vietnam.  They actually ordered first.  Paul got the Chicken Pho ($10) and Chicken Spring Rolls ($5) for his dinner.  Melissa ordered the Chicken Pho ($10…because it doesn’t change…LOL!) and the Shrimp Spring Rolls ($5).  They each also ordered the Iced Vietnamese Coffee ($5), which I want to try next time because it looked AMAZING!  It’s happening.

Cathy (that’s the roomie, in case you are new to the blog or have forgotten during my hiatus on reviews) decided to go all meaty and gluten-y since she doesn’t get that at home.  She ordered the Beef Pho ($11) with the Seafood & Pork Crispy Rolls ($6).  I may get asked…maybe not…but in case…the Seafood & Pork Crispy Rolls were crispy rolls stuffed with shrimp, pork, crabmeat, onion and vegetables and is served with a fish sauce.  So that’s for all of you non-vegetarian/vegan gluten eaters out there!  She’s got your back!

As for me…I ordered the Vegetarian Pho ($10) with the Vegetarian Spring Rolls ($5).  The spring rolls are normally served with a Plum Sauce, but as I noted gluten-free at the order, they brought me gluten free soy sauce instead.

Let me say this…the four of us are already discussing going back next Friday to celebrate Tet (the Vietnamese New Year) this coming week.  Not. Even. Joking.

Because when it comes to good food…I don’t make those kinds of jokes.

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Pho Ba Luu Vegetarian Spring Rolls

So…here’s the run-down from what I was devouring last night.  I’ll start with the spring rolls.  The Vegetarian Spring Rolls are basic fried tofu with sauteed vegetables and glass noodles wrapped in rice paper.  They looked fantastic.  They tasted phenomenal.  The gluten-free soy sauce was the perfect touch.  I love spring rolls as it is…these were some of the best I have had.  And that’s no exaggeration.  They are simple…but they bring the flavor and the textures just all worked.

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Pho Ba Luu Vegetarian Pho

But, of course , the star of the Vietnamese Food scene last night…was the Pho!!  First of all…the bowls are pretty big and we all had another meal’s worth left over after dining last night.  No joke.  Hey…it meant we had lunch today.  So…be aware that there is a LOT of volume in these bowls.  The Vegetarian Pho has sauteed tofu and vegetables in a vegetable broth.  You get a little baggie of all the add-in goodies…like bean sprouts, jalapenos, and the like.  I poured them all in.  I added a good helping of Sriracha.  And once I was done with my Spring Rolls…in went the remaining gluten-free soy sauce.

FLAVOR!!  That’s all I can say.  The broth had amazing flavor as it was.  The tofu and vegeatlbes…they brought extra goodness to the party.  The carrots still had some crisp to them. The tofu was savory and soft and just…done to perfection.  The add-ins brought a little more spice…a little more texture…a little more yumminess to an already yummy situation.  I was in love and I managed to not splash myself with anything as I ate the noodles with chopsticks and slurped up that broth with the spoon.

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Pho Ba Luu Beef Pho

This gluten-free vegetarian loved every bit of the meal last night.  And I think my partners in street food would agree.  Cathy loved the Beef Pho and her Crispy Spring Rolls. While she does like spring rolls, she LOVED the crispy rolls.  I think she will never NOT get those.  The beef finished up cooking in the hot broth when it was delivered to the table and after she sorted out the jalapenos to both Paul and I from her bag of goodies…she was all in.  And loving in!

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Pho Ba Luu Chicken Pho and Shrimp Spring Rolls

And my Chicken Pho eaters…they were quite content with their bowls too.  They seriously raved about the flavor and I believe they even said it came very close to the street food they had in Vietnam.  So…there it is.  OH…and Melissa highly recommends the Iced Vietnamese Coffee.  She got two of them last night if that tells you anything!!  The Chicken Spring Rolls & Shrimp Spring Rolls disappeared as quickly as my Vegetarian ones.

Any way you slice it…we loved everything we ate here.

Pho sho!

Yeah…I went there.  I can’t help myself sometimes!!

So…anytime I get to eat a big bowl of pho without having any reaction to it because everyone who works there made sure my food was safe and perfect…gets many return visits from me.  I can’t wait to go back.

And…for the record…they have a Gluten Free Apple Pie ($6)…that we were all too full to try…but we may have to get it next time and split it among us.  Because…dessert is very important to me.

Special shout-out again to Jessica Mach for answering my e-mails when I inquired and helping me navigate the menu without any trouble at all.

If you are in the Louisville area or are coming to Louisville, Kentucky, and love or want to try Vietnamese food…I can’t speak highly enough of Pho Ba Luu.  People with food allergies…welcome…and taken care of.  I call that winning!

See you next week!

sailormooneats

Recovering…like a boss!

If there is one thing I might have taken for granted or just not done properly in the past…it’s taken recovery time.  No runner likes time off.  I have yet to meet one who actually does proper recovery after hard efforts or distance races.

Guess what?

I actually did this time.

Some of it might have been forced.  After all…thanks to the petri dish of germs that is Disney (especially on Marathon Weekend), I came down with the Disney Flu.  Yay.  And no, this doesn’t come with fun Mickey Ears and character experiences.  It comes with a big dose of Theraflu and sleep.

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I mean…it has been non-stop since I returned from the freezer that was Orlando over Marathon weekend.  Coughing.  The coughing is the killer.  I am finally able to breathe again.  Thank you for calming down sinuses.  Remember…a co-worker gave me a sinus-only cold before I even left for Dopey.  Run all the races.  Go to all the parks.  Is it any wonder I ended up like this?

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Has my recovery been a bit forced?  Perhaps.  But here’s the thing…

I set a goal this year.  A goal of having an injury-free 2018.  So when my running coach tells me to rest…dammit…I’m resting.  When my mileage is lower than I like it to be…well…so be it.  Trust the process, right?  I have a few other big goals I’m hoping to reach in the next year or two…so I have to learn to believe in myself…and the method that will help me get there more efficiently than…past attempts.

I admit to, in the past, rushing back into activities.  I bounce back quickly.  I do.  But I also break down too.  We all do.  We just don’t always like to admit to it.

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Here’s the thing…we might feel good…but we put our bodies through a lot and push it to the limit, not just in races…but in training too.  Maybe moreso in training…and we’re LESS likely to take recovery/rest days during training.  I don’t care what distance you raced…if you raced…RECOVER!!  Like…actually recover!!  Would I have taken time off if I hadn’t caught the Disney Crud?  Yep.  I actually would have.  Like I said, I have big goals this year and to achieve them, I need to respect my body and learn a little patience.

I mean…granted, I hurt for about 3 days following the Dopey Challenge…but I also pushed through most of the 48.6 (and more) miles that I covered over the course of the weekend.  And that’s just running.  I still had parks to visit in between.  Because, as much as I’d love to lay low…I pay for those Disney tickets and they aren’t cheap.  By God, I was going to get my money’s worth.  Park hopping…princess hunting…fast passing rides…all of it.  I was doing it.  And…I did it.  All.

But it doesn’t have to be The Dopey Challenge to make taking down time a priority.  Any race…any distance…anywhere where you push yourself more or further…do yourself a favor.  Take some time off.  Depending on the race distance…it could be a week…it could be two…it could be more.  Don’t think you HAVE to get to the gym the day after a half marathon or hop on a spin bike or even go for a “recovery run.”  Let’s face it…whether you back of the speed or not…a 6 mile run is generally a 6 mile run…”recovery” or not.  I listened to a podcast recently from a running coach who said that there was absolutely no such thing as a recovery run.  You’re still putting in an effort and working the same muscles that your regular runs do.  And most people don’t actually run these that much slower.  Your entire body needs to heal up to get stronger…don’t rush the process.  You might feel good immediately after the event…but you’ve still put that body through a lot.  You might feel good a week after…and you still might need more down time, depending on the distance that you ran.

Remember…there is no such thing as over-training…just under recovery.

RECOVERY…is super important.  I have been fortunate enough that my recovery time has fallen when it’s gotten stupid cold outside, with the addition of some ice and snow on the ground.  Bonus.  I’m always cold…so I hate running in the cold.  And I especially hate winter weather running.

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In addition, let me be the first to remind you that you should NEVER stop eating properly or regularly despite recovery time.  Your body needs all those nutrition benefits, especially as you recover from a hard effort.  With the Disney Flu…I have still maintained my regular food times.  I mean, I do live on a schedule.  What I have done is simply change what I have been eating.  Mostly because I can’t taste flavors right now…and just eating food for texture isn’t working for me.  So, soup and chili have been my go-tos.  But I am making sure I am hitting all my nutrition needs every day.  And yes…I’m eating well and I’m definitely eating enough calories each day.  Eat well, eat enough, eat healthy.  So many people focus on weight and get really crazy with their nutrition.  When you’re training, you need to eat.  And you need to eat well.  When you’re recovering…you also need to eat…and yes…you need to eat well.  Now is not the time to cut down on your nutrition.  I promise…you aren’t going to get fat.

As I stated, for the past two weeks…all I’ve really wanted it soup.  That being said…I love that soup has so many different varieties out there because it keeps it interesting.  I’ve been serving mine up with different gluten-free crackers.  And sometimes I add avocado or something to bulk it up.  I mean…who doesn’t love tomato soup with a grilled (vegan) cheese sandwich?  I know my body needs certain things to stay in good shape even when I’m not working out as much.  NEVER skimp on nutrition when you are training or recovering.

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So…I’m on the mend.  I took time off from work to sleep and recovery both before I left for Disney (initial sinus bleh) and then basically all the rest of the week after I got back from Disney.  Sleep and rest and proper nutrition have definitely helped me bounce back from not just the races…but the sickness too.  My muscles don’t ache anymore (also…thank you Roll Recovery!) because I’ve let them heal and get stronger.  I’ve been using my new Roll Recovery R8 and R3…as well as my foam roller.  And stretching.  Never underestimate the power of stretching.  I even went to 2 of my spin classes this past week.  I took it easy.  I didn’t push as hard as I normally would.  And I still felt like it kicked my ass.  I’m not mad.  I’m taking my time.

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That being said…if you thought I was a germophobe before…you should see me now…

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Remember, friends…living your best life is all about balance.  Find time to rest…recovery…find balance…eat well…play…laugh…and yes…return to that activity you love…once your body is stronger from the respect and rest you allowed it.

I took 2 weeks off…and I still feel I fatigue easily.  I’m easing back into with with longer walks and short run segments.  And I still feel like I’m a badass.  I’m a very smart…totally recovered…less injury-prone badass!!

YAY!

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Recipe: BBQ Bean Chili

It’s winter.  Officially.  Although, at times, it doesn’t quite feel like winter.  Regardless, it’s the end of January, and I’m craving my warming and hearty (yet healthy) soups and stews and chilies.  I won’t lie, with recent talk at the office of the Annual Chili Cook-off (I won last year!), my mind has been on creating a new chili to cook up for the big competition.

This past weekend, while doing some recipe testing with cauliflower…I decided to do something completely different and make some chili…from scratch.

This meant on Saturday afternoon, I had dry heirloom beans soaking in water on my counter top.  When I do something…I do it right.  Now…if you don’t have the time, patience, or a clue as to how to work with dry beans…no worries, this recipe will work with canned beans as well.  Just use 2 cans of tri-blend beans and you will get similar results.

That being said…I wanted something smokey…with that true homestyle flair.  So…instead of tomato sauce…this chili got the bbq sauce treatment.  And I have some local, amazing bbq sauce on hand…lots of it in fact…so I got a little chefy and a little creative.  And the result…left the people who tried it raving.

SO…I figured I would just go ahead and share the recipe with you!

Recipe: BBQ Bean Chili


Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 sweet onion, diced
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 (4 0z) can mild chiles
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup dry beans, soaked overnight (I used Epicurean Specialty Heirloom Bean Blend – which contains beans, peas & lentils)
  • 1 cup bbq sauce (I used Masters Hand with Integrity [Medium])


Directions:

Prep the beans.  Place beans on a sheet pan or clean towel.  Remove and discard any shriveled or broken beans and any stones or debris.  Rinse thoroughly in cold water.

Soak overnight. Rinse and place in a large pot, covered with fresh water.  Bring water to a boil for 3 minutes, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 60-90 minutes, until beans are tender.  Reserve a cup of the cooking water.

Line a large pot with 1/4 cup water over medium heat.

Add onions, garlic, and chiles.  Sauté until soft.

Add in chili powder, oregano, cumin and cayenne; stir for 2 minutes.

Mix in the cooked beans, 1/2 cup of the reserved bean cooking liquid and the bbq sauce.  Bring to a boil, stir, reduce heat and simmer until theflavors blend and the chili thickens.  About 20-30 minutes.  I found I needed to a the rest of the bean water to get it to the texture I like…but vegetable broth would also work.

Garnish with a sliced avocado!

(Of course, you can garnish this however you like…sour cream, cilantro, grated cheese…but I love me a good, ripe avocado on top).

ENJOY!

~*~*~

LOVED this chili from the first taste.  It’s tangy, it’s got a kick to it, but it’s not overwhelming.  Not only that, it’s warming and hearty…and healthy!  How’s that for winning?

Go ahead, cook some up!!  It freezes well, but, trust me, it may not be around long enough to need to hit the freezer!

Three Things on Thursday

My life is a roller coaster these days.  Good days.  Bad days.  Highs and lows.  There are days I feel unstoppable and days that stop me cold.  There are days where I feel on top of the world, and days where the tears just won’t stop.

There are pain-free days…and days where it hurts just getting out of bed.

This is my life…and has been since February 16, 2015.

Almost a year.

Still not better.  Still fighting.  Still not where I imagined I’d be.

I’m going to be honest, I came out of the weekend, despite the slip and fall on ice, feeling good.  My pain levels were down.  I was moving without problems.  And then…Tuesday hill repeats.  UGH!  JUST UGH!!  I did fine, but when I stop that’s when the problems start.  And despite a round of stretches my physical therapist assigned me, I was still feeling it yesterday and this morning when I worked in my training runs.

All that being said, I’ve powered through a lot, and despite my demanding work/training/recovery schedule…I’ve done some pretty amazing things so far this week.  I thought I’d share!

1. THEMED SPIN CLASSES

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I think I have the perfect (always colorful) tights for a Disco-themed spin class, yes?

Rocking perfect tights for a disco-themed spin class, yes?

My amazing and inspiring friend, Deana, is a very fun spin instructor.  It’s always a mixed bag with her.  And when you attend one of her classes, you are going to walk out of there a sweaty mess.  She’s in training for her first Half Ironman, and we’re in training with her, in a way.  At least on the stationary bike in the safety of the walls of the YMCA.  HA!

Anyway, this week, Deana has had themed spin classes.  And I am loving it.  Monday morning, my 5:30 a.m. class was treated to Spinning to the ’90s.  All the music was songs straight out of the 1990s…and I knew and even sang along with every single one of them.  Not loudly, because, I wouldn’t put anyone through the torture of hearing me sing, but it really takes your mind off of that hill climb and definitely brought a lot of hoots and hollers from the class.  And Friday morning, we’re getting a disco ball and having our own Disco Inferno all up in the spin room.  And I am already working on what I intend to wear for said Disco day.  There might even be a lava lamp.  Regardless, I’ll be ready to work hard to the tune of the best disco songs.

Themed spin classes…who knew?!

2. HILL REPEATS

Bright colors, bright lights, and loving that I'm DONE with hill repeats.
Bright colors, bright lights, and loving that I’m DONE with hill repeats.

Love them or hate them…hill repeats are real.  In fact, hill repeats are what my physical therapist currently wants me doing.  So, every Tuesday, I’m out at either Cherokee Park or Iroquois Park here in Louisville…running me some major hill repeats.  The past two weeks, I’ve knocked out 4 miles of hill repeats each Tuesday night.  4 freakin’ miles.  To this point, that is the furthest I have run since…the stress fracture in my leg back in August.

I won’t lie…a little part of me panics every time I go out there for these.  Hills do make you a stronger runner…but they hurt.  In my case, they really hurt.  But, I feel strong while doing them, and after some plyometric exercises and stretches…and a little TLC from my foam roller…I’m usually back in the game the next day.  So yeah…hills.  YAY!

I don’t worry about my time or how long I’m out there or even my speed.  What’s important to me is that I am actually out and running again.  Not completely pain-free…but being out there is SO much better than where I have been.  I’ll take every chance I can get to attempt to get stronger again.

3. CHILI COOK OFF

Hawaiian Chili (with a bit of Gluten Free Corn Spoonbread and Gluten Free Breton Original with Flax Crackers)
Hawaiian Chili (with a bit of Gluten Free Corn Spoon Bread and Gluten Free Breton Original with Flax Crackers)

So, yesterday was the annual chili cook off at my office.  Now, I have never actually submitted a chili to this cook off because, prior to this year, the co-owner (who has since retired) used to always tell me not to bother with bringing in a vegetarian chili, since his wife was making one.  I just never argued the fact.  With this year being wide open, I got a little carried away and ended up making 2 chilies and 1 batch of my gluten free corn spoon bread recipe that I’ve killed every time I’ve made it.  Meaning, it’s extremely awesome.  When it comes to cooking, especially in a quasi-competitive manner, I can be pretty indecisive on what chili to make.  So, I did what any chef would do…

…I made both.

Pizza Chili (which I figured would be my star) and Hawaiian Chili.

I realized I was splitting my odds at winning, but…I love both of these chilies and they were both very different.  VERY different.  Even from the other chilies (there were 7 entries…2 of which were mine) that were entered into the annual cook off.

And, shocking me (and probably the rest of the office who doesn’t always want to venture into my plant-based, gluten-free goodies)…I won.  With…Hawaiian Chili.  So not the chili that I expected to win.  I was seriously surprised. Of the two I brought in, I thought Pizza Chili would be the more popular one.  And it was a very near thing with the runner-up, a Mexican Beer Chili.  The winning chili is pictured above with the corn spoon bread.

I am so happy.  This is the first time a vegan/vegetarian chili has won.  And it’s the first time I have won anything at work.  So…YAY!!

I’ve had many requests for this recipe, so I will leave it here.  Do try it.  It’s amazing.

Recipe: Hawaiian Chili
Makes 4 very large servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 bell pepper, seeded & diced
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 (15 oz) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 cups pineapple, diced
  • 2 (15 oz) cans tomato sauce
    Crackers (optional…to serve on the side)
Directions:
Line a large pot with vegetable broth.
Sauté onions, garlic, and bell pepper until onions are translucent and bell peppers are soft.
Add spices, stir to coat vegetables.
Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Serve with crackers

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Seriously…make this stuff.

If you live in the area…come to tomorrow’s 5:30 a.m. spin class at the YMCA of Southern Indiana in New Albany and let Deana bring the funk and disco back…disco ball included.

And…run hills.  Feel strong.

Product Review: Dare Breton Gluten Free Original with Flax Crackers

Dare Breton Gluten Free Original with Flax Crackers
Dare Breton Gluten Free Original with Flax Crackers

Product: Dare Breton Gluten Free Original with Flax Crackers – $4.59+

Growing up, I remember eating Dare Breton Crackers (the wheat versions) at my friends houses at little get-together or parties.  I remember schmearing port wine cheese over them and devouring them by the box-full.

So, you can imagine how excited I was to see boxes of Gluten Free Breton Crackers on the shelves of my local Kroger and Walmart stores.  Yep.  Very excited.  But, I never really could think of something I could use with them.  And being on a super-strict budget these days, I had to pass them over time-and-time again.

Well, when I went home for Christmas, my mom picked up a box of the Herb & Garlic Breton Gluten Free Crackers…but we never quite got around to eating them.  While I love cooking and making homemade dishes, with the craziness of the holidays and all the family, we tend to eat out more than in.  And that’s fine.  But it means the crackers remained untested and untasted.

However, the other day while killing off some time on a Sunday morning (after a snowstorm), my roommate and I were walking the aisles of our local Fresh Market, because we hadn’t gone out there in months.  On sale, there in the cracker aisle, were boxes of Dare Breton Gluten Free Crackers.  Of the gluten free varieties available, my roomie suggested we begin sampling them by going with the original flavor.  So, it was settled.  A sale meant they came home, so a box of the Dare Breton Gluten Free Original Flax with Crackers made it to my pantry.

And didn’t stay there long.

This week’s meal planning called for 2 days of soup and some chili too.  I was participating (and ended up winning) in the office chili cookoff and…hey…crackers are great with both soup and chili.

So, Monday morning, out came the crackers, stashing some in little traveling baggies for my roommate and I to have at lunch when we heated up our homemade vegan Smokey Potato Soup.  Lunch time rolled around, soup was assembled, and the crackers came out.

One bite…and I knew…I knew this was cracker gold.  Gluten free crackers either are amazing or they taste like cardboard.  These…are amazing.  Light and buttery in flavor, these Breton Crackers reminded me so much of their original counterparts.  They were great for dunking in the soup, piling chili on top and noshing, and just busting up to have a little added crunch in the soup. They’d be great to schmear whatever schmeary things you like to schmear on crackers.  Cheese, butter, peanut butter, hummus…whatever.  These crackers are perfect for all of it.  The box even comes with two cracker-type recipes on it, in case you’re feeling uninspired.  But crackers this good will leave you feeling anything but uninspired.  Trust me.  Love their crisp and flaky texture.  So amazing.  And, with the added addition of flax, the Dare Breton Gluten Free Original with Flax Crackers add a little bit of omega goodness to each serving.

I will probably always have a box of these in my pantry.  No doubt.  And one can always use crackers, yes?

Let’s talk about the ingredients that go into the Dare Breton Gluten Free Original with Flax Crackers.  These crackers are made from corn starch, arrowroot flour, canola oil, coconut oil, green lentil flour, rice bran, flax seeds, sugar, salt, sesame seeds, modified milk ingredients, baking soda, ammonium bicarbonate, xanthan gum, soy lecithin, and natural flavor.  They are processed in a peanut-free facility also.

As far as nutrition information goes, you’ll love this!  The rather large,  circular crackers that are Dare Breton Gluten Free Original with Flax Crackers are a great way to enjoy a snack without the guilt.  A serving size is 4 crackers (18 grams) and the box contains about 8 servings.  One serving will provide you with 90 calories, 4.5 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0.5 grams polyunsaturated fat, 2 grams monounsaturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 80 mg sodium, 12 grams carbohydrates, less than 1 gram fiber, less than 1 gram sugars, and less than 1 gram of protein.  They won’t fill you up or really wipe out your calorie count for the day.  Gotta love it.

So, if you are still on the hunt for a cracker that lives up to the standards of the crackers you may have grown up with…try to find the Dare Breton Gluten Free Original with Flax Crackers.  Their tender-crisp texture and wholesome taste are reminiscent of the Breton crackers I devoured before the Celiac diagnosis.  What a great way to bring great taste from a trusted brand to the gluten free community.  And for a very fair price.

So happy.

 

Product Review: Milton’s Craft Bakers Gluten Free Everything Baked Crackers

Milton's Craft Bakers Gluten Free Everything Baked Crackers
Milton’s Craft Bakers Gluten Free Everything Baked Crackers

Product: Milton’s Craft Bakers Gluten Free Everything Baked Crackers – $3.59+

I wish I could remember where I picked up the pouch of Milton’s Craft Bakers Gluten Free Everything Baked Crackers…but I don’t remember.  I think…think…they came from my local Kroger.  Possibly one of those days where my roommate threw something into the cart, off list, to surprise me.  Who knows for sure.

What I do know is that I have a pouch of Milton’s Craft Bakers Gluten Free Everything Baked Crackers…so why not pair it with a hearty (and healthy) chowder for lunch today?  Hey, if I have the product, I best use said product!  It does no good just sitting in my pantry (or in this case, in the basket on top of my fridge).

Today, I popped them open.

Milton’s Craft Bakers  began in 1995 with the opening of Milton’s Restaurant and Delicatessen in Del Mar, California, offering up wholesome and great tasting foods in the tradition of the delis of New York City.  The founders then continued their passion by creating their own breads for any sandwiches they served.  The customers loved the bread so much that they wanted to take it home with them…and thus…Milton’s Baking Company was born.  Since then, their line of delicious and nutritious breads has grown, and they have since developed an assortment of flavorful crackers made with the same whole grains that they make those famous breads with.  But, wait for just a moment.  That’s not all.  This past summer, Milton’s stepped into the gluten-free realm by offering a new line of crackers and cookies, that they state are so good that consumers won’t know for a moment that they are gluten-free.  The crackers come in four (4) varieties: Cheddar Cheese, Crispy Sea Salt, Everything and Multi-Grain.  The cookies have three (3) varieties: Chocolate Chip, Double Chocolate Chip, and Snickerdoodle.

I haven’t seen the cookies yet…but…now that I’ve had the crackers…I’d love to try them.  So, let’s get into the nitty-gritty here.  I never do anything basic, so when faced with a flavor option, I aim to be different.  Now, these might have been the only offerings at the mystery store where I mysteriously picked these up…but…either way, why start with Multi-Grain and Crispy Sea Salt?  I can’t do cheese…so EVERYTHING!

Being a New Yorker…I love me a good (gluten free) everything bagel.  I really, really do.  It has every wonderful flavor packed into each bite.  You want poppy seeds…yep…in there.  Sesame seeds…also in there.  Onion and caraway…got that too!  EVERYTHING literally means…everything.  And any New Yorker appreciates this flavor.

But…did the flavor come across in cracker form?  YES!  Oh yes.  First of all, these crackers have an abundance of flavor, without being a distraction.  Everything about this cracker is right and good in the world.  Simple pleasures come in simple packages…and this was one I am glad I somehow ended up with.  These crackers are made with 7 grains and 4 seeds, which are perfect for snacking, stacking and dipping.  For reals.  The texture is thin, and crispy.  I don’t want a cracker that wilts in soups and stews.  I want it to keep that texture and crispiness when I dip, or spoon heaps of the soup onto the top of these.  Oh yeah…these went above and beyond all expectations.  And, yes, they have that perfect everything I love about everything everything (did you follow that?) flavor.  It’s turning the best bagel in the world into a chip…that makes it so versatile and amazing.  And I am a happier snacker because of it.

Let’s take a look at the ingredients that Milton’s Craft Bakers puts into the Gluten Free Everything Baked Crackers.  These crackers are made from brown rice flour, gluten free oats, potato flakes, potato starch, corn flour, high oleic sunflower oil (tocopherols, rosemary extract and ascorbyl palmitate added as an antioxidant), rice flour, cane sugar, white toasted sesame seeds, molasses granules (syrup, molasses), spice blend (poppy seeds, caraway seeds, sesame seeds, dehydrated onion), sugar, black sesame seeds, sea salt, millet, whey protein concentrate, poppy seeds, quinoa seeds, amaranth, autolyzed yeast, baking soda, monocalcium phosphate, sunflower lecithin, salt, sodium acid pyrophosphate, garlic powder, natural butter flavor, and caraway seeds.  These crackers are non-GMO verified, certified gluten free, wheat free, kosher, and vegetarian.

As for nutrition information, the Milton’s Craft Bakers Gluten Free Everything Baked Crackers are actually a healthy option when paired against other snacks out there.  A serving size is about 14 crackers (30 grams) and there are around 4.5 servings per package.  A serving will provide you with 130 calories, 4 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 180 mg sodium, 21 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 3 grams sugars, and 2 grams protein.

These baked (not fried) crackers definitely deliver on their promise to provide a healthier snack without the gluten!  These are one of the best crackers I have had in my gluten-free life.  And I love crackers.  They are even (dare I say it?) better than Crunchmaster!  Pair it with a spread, soup, or just snack on them on their own.  However you do it…just do it.  I’d hate to have you miss out on these delicious snack crackers.

 

Product Review: Gratify Gluten Free Tuscan Herbs Baked Bites

Gratify Gluten Free Tuscan Herbs Baked Bites
Gratify Gluten Free Tuscan Herbs Baked Bites

Product: Gratify Gluten Free Tuscan Herbs Baked Bites – $2.99

When it comes to gluten-free bites, very few do it as deliciously well (or as affordable) as Gratify Gluten Free.  I first became familiar with this brand when out shopping at Meijer, seeing shelf-after-shelf of their pretzel varieties…including both yogurt and milk chocolate covered varieties.  During the holidays last year, a dark chocolate peppermint version was introduced to the market.  You better believe I devoured that bag.  By myself.  In an airport.  And I didn’t feel any shame.  Not one bit.

That’s the thing about Gratify though…it’s the little brand with the big promise of fitting tasty snacks into your lifestyle.  And when a company that focuses on gluten-free snacks states that they are “obsessed with great taste,” you expect them to deliver all the high notes of flavors and textures.  You want to be able to break these out at a cocktail party and not have anyone glance at them sideways and give you the “that must taste like cardboard” eyebrow and then ignore the snacks entirely.

Whether gluten-free or not, Gratify definitely knows how to deliver on their promises.  With simple and basic products, these are as “reliable and comfortable as your favorite pair of jeans.”  Flavors are big and bold, and textures are so amazing that no one would guess these were gluten-free…unless they read the box.  Be proud of your gluten-free snacking tendencies.  Don’t hide the box…because this brand knows how to keep you and your guests…”Gratified.”

See what they did there?  HA!

With all that being said, I had never seen a box of the new Gratify Gluten Free Baked Bites Crackers.  In fact, I had no idea they even existed until I was at Raisin Rack in Columbus, Ohio and found them on the clearance shelf.  Seriously.  For $1.99 on sale.  HELLO!  Into my big basket of gluten-free goodness it went, and with a gluten-free and vegan chickpea noodle soup on tap for dinner tonight, I figured there was no better time to bust out these crackers than now.

Because soup and crackers…are BFFs.

The boxes that were available at Raisin Rack for the Gratify Gluten Free Baked Bites were the Tuscan Herbs flavor, although these bite-size crackers (they look like mini saltines, no joke!) also come in Original, Everything, and Cinnamon flavors.  I broke out the kitchen scale and measured out a serving of these adorable crackers to serve alongside a big, satisfying bowl of the homemade soup.  And, guess what…

They were perfect.  Absolutely perfect.  Texture-wise…just as light and airy as a regular saltine, with that crumble you get when you bite down.  It was fantastic to pop these into my mouth on their own or after being dipped into my soup and picking up some of the chunky vegetables that I cooked into it.  Packed with great seasoning and flavor, each bite was amazing and satisfying (or gratifying).  I found myself eating the crackers more on their own than in or with the soup.  That, my friends, is a huge deal since I’m a bit of a dipper when it comes to things I eat with soup (sammies and crackers!).  I loved these from the first to the last bite.  In fact, I even have dished up servings to take to work to have with the leftover soup for lunch.  Can’t go without these.  Now, I just hope Meijer or some other local store that carries the Gratify brand has these in stock.  I never want my pantry to be un-Gratified.  HA!

So, let’s talk about what goes into the Gratify Gluten Free Tuscan Herbs Baked Bites, shall we?  These adorable bite-size crackers are made from corn starch, palm fruit oil (RSPO certified), rice flour, sugar, inulin, sea salt, corn grits, maltodextrin, dehydrated vegetables (garlic, onion), leavenings (ammonium bicarbonate, sodium bicarbonate, disodium diphosphate), spices, cellulose gum, emulsifier (soy lecithin), dried yeast, dextrose, rice starch, cottonseed oil and/or canola oil, and natural flavors.  These crackers are wheat free, dairy free, egg free, and contain non-GMO ingredients.  They are certified gluten-free.

As for nutritional information, a serving of Gratify Gluten Free Tuscan Herbs Baked Bites is 30 grams (which is A LOT of little crackers) and there are 4 servings per box.  A serving will provide you with 120 calories, 4.5 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 240 mg sodium, 21 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 1 gram sugars, and less than 1 gram protein.

I loved these crackers at first bite.  Gratify Gluten Free does manage to do something that most gluten-free crackers don’t do…and that’s taste like and feel like a real cracker.  The mouthfeel, the crispy texture, the flavor…it’s all there and it’s all perfection.  And that’s what really astonished me and blew me away.  These crackers are perfect for every crowd…and I hope to be able to find more in my area.  Otherwise, next time I’m in Columbus, I’m stocking up!

Trust me…these are worth a spot in the pantry.

Product Review: Explore Asian Gluten Free Vegetable Flavor Soybean Noodle Soup

Explore Asian Gluten Free Vegetable Flavor Soybean Noodle Soup
Explore Asian Gluten Free Vegetable Flavor Soybean Noodle Soup

Product: Explore Asian Gluten Free Vegetable Flavor Soybean Noodle Soup – $2.49+

Ah, my dear Jungle Jim’s…

Why must you be so far away and give me such good (and healthy) food.  I had never, never, ever seen any Explore Asian noodle cups anywhere around here…but I find you while cruising the international food aisles on my birthday, and…not knowing any better…only pick up enough for me to have once (I got two, for the record, but my roomie ate the other one).

*sigh*

This week, I’ve been really slacking on the meal prep for lunch.  In fact…it’s been vegetarian sushi and soup all week, because, it’s affordable, easy, and healthy!  At least I’m keeping it healthy, regardless of not really prepping anything to have on hand or keeping something on hand (okay…technically the soup was kept on hand…but I digress…), which is more than a lot of people manage.

Monday, due to being out of town…vegetarian sushi.  Tuesday…Amy’s Thai Coconut Soup (from a can…but SO GOOD!), Wednesday…SOFT PRETZEL WEDNESDAY at ANNIE MAY’S SWEET CAFE in Louisville.  Best (and only) gluten-free soft pretzels I’ve had out of an allergen-free bakery!  Thursday…soup…and this time…like a Cup ‘O Noodle…I pulled out the very new to my pantry Explore Asian Gluten Free Vegetable Flavor Soybean Noodle Soup.

Why?

Because it was easy and I didn’t have to really do anything the night before to prep it.  How’s that for me being lazy.  Hey, I’m coming off a crazy, hectic, fun wedding weekend…I haven’t recovered yet!

Explore Asian strives to be innovative creators of everyday family friendly foods with a healthier twist.  While a small company, they still strive to put a lot of effort into exploring the world to find the highest quality, organic, and natural foods for their consumers to enjoy.  In fact, Explore Asian works directly with farmers to provide top of the line products.  Not only that, they take time to build a superior product that not only tastes good, but will nourish the body.  And, they believe in transparency when it comes to their consumers, maintaining a policy of being open and honest.

So, here we have a product similar to a Cup ‘O Noodle that is claiming to be healthy.  And you know what?  It really is!  In fact, people who consume Explore Asian products include healthy living advocates, athletes, people with special diets (gluten-free, wheat-free, egg-free), people who follow heart healthy diets (20 GI index for Explore Asian bean pastas), dieters and people trying to lose weight, non-GMO advocates, chefs and restaurants, vegans, and people who have to eat kosher!  Yep…all of that.

So, why was I still skeptical that this would make an amazing lunch?  I have no freakin’ idea!  Thursday afternoon…lunch time…and I prepare my roomie’s soup first…getting water and filling it to the line in the container with water, then using the 3 minute microwave method to eat it up.  It was piping hot when the microwave beeped and I prepped my bowl to go in.  This simply means…I pull off the lid (not microwave safe), dump out the contents, which include a packet of noodles, seasoning packet, salt packet, and a little plastic fork.  Add water up to the line and then stick the container in to warm for three minutes.  I delivered hers with gusto, showing her the fork (hers broke right away…mine did not break at all).  Spoon not provided, but it is a big bowl/cup thing…so you can always slurp the broth…

Anyway, I returned as my bowl was finishing up and I removed it from the microwave and walked it (with fork in hand) back to my desk.  I let it cool slightly before dipping the fork into the broth and spinning up a clump of the soybean noodles.  One taste was all it took for me to immediately berate myself for not purchasing more of these beauties.  The noodles were perfect…not mushy and definitely not going to get mushy throughout the time it took me to consume said container.  They stayed perfect…al dente and delicious!  I mean…really delicious.  The seasoning packet added all the flavor, and the brilliant part of the salt packet was that I could choose how much salt went in.  I put in half the packet in each bowl…and it was perfect.  Great flavor.  The noodles were definitely the stars.  My only complaint, I think, was that there were only like 4 pieces of vegetable in this soup.  It was all broth and noodle…and a piece of corn…maybe two…and a little bit of the chives.  I can’t make this up.  So, a little lacking on the actual vegetables…but those noodles were on point.  YUMMY!  And, trust me, nothing makes a hectic week better like a warm bowl of soup.  Am I right?  Of course I’m right!

So, let’s discuss the ingredients that are inside the Explore Asian Gluten Free Vegetable Flavor Soybean Noodle Soup, shall we?  This soup contains organic soybeans, organic rice, water.  The seasoning packet includes maltodextrin, sichuanese pepper, wild pepper, star anise, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, dehydrated chives, dehydrated carrot, dehydrated sweet corn.  And, as mentioned, the salt packet is separate.  This amazing soup is gluten free, vegan (they also have vegan chicken and beef flavored as well), and non-GMO.

So, I’ve mentioned how this is actually a healthy (and filling) choice for an easy, brain-less meal, right?  But now let me prove it with the nutritional information on the Explore Asian Gluten Free Vegetable Flavor Soybean Noodle Soup.  A serving size is 2.2 ounces (aka: 1 container).  This serving will dish up 207 calories, 3 grams fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 grams cholesterol, 150 mg sodium (if you add the entire salt packet, you are adding an additional 606 mg sodium…so if you are watching your sodium intake like we are…a dash does just fine!), 25 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams fiber, 8 grams sugars, and 20 grams of protein.  When I said that this soup will make you feel full, I wasn’t kidding!!

Filling, yes…but even more importantly…YUMMY!  This soup went above and beyond all expectations.  This is not ramen noodles.  This is not Cup ‘O Noodle.  This is a healthy, beneficial, amazing soup that I hope I can locate somewhere around where I live…otherwise next time I journey through Cincinnati…I’ll have to stop off at Jungle Jim’s specifically to pick up more of these.  It was a lunch I felt good about eating…even if I was doing it at my desk while working.

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

Recipe: Tomato-Miso Soup

If there is one thing that I love almost as much as breakfast…it’s soup.  I am a soup junkie.  I will eat soup at any time of the year…even in the summer.  I think it can be the most perfect meal.  And, when made right, it can be quite good for you too.

I bought some white miso paste a few weeks ago to use in an eggplant recipe and had quite a bit still left over in the fridge.  I was interested in what I might be able to make with it…and that’s when Food & Wine Magazine sent through one of their recipe e-mails, and this one was timely, indeed.

This Tomato-Miso Soup both light and hearty…and definitely healthy.  It became one of my favorite lunches I have brought to work thus far.  And it’s made from real ingredients…which makes it even better.  The flavor is earthy and sweet…bringing this fantastic balance.  And the star…the shiitake mushrooms.

Recipe: Tomato-Miso Soup

Tomato-Miso Soup
Tomato-Miso Soup

Servings: 6
Time: 10 minutes; Cook 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps thinly sliced
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup light miso paste (shiro)
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce (I used reduced sodium tamari)
  • 3/4 pound soft tofu, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 3 large scallions, thinly sliced
  • 6 small to medium radishes, thinly sliced

 

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan.

Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Cover and cook over low heat, stirring a few times, until the mushrooms are tender, about 6 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Pour in the water, stir well and bring to a boil.

Add the tomatoes, cover and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes.

Whisk in the miso and soy sauce and return to a simmer.

Add the tofu and simmer for 2 minutes.

Ladle into bowls, garnish with the scallions and radishes and serve.

~*~*~

I loved everything there was about this soup.  There were so many textures, and this bold flavor, thanks to the miso.  The radishes and scallions added before eating brought a bit of crunch, while the mushrooms gave this soup a meatiness to it, without any actual meat.  I can’t wait to make this one again.  If you have a great love of soup and rich flavors without simmering it all day…this is the soup for you.