Cherrybrook Kitchen mixes up the chocolate cake gluten-free dreams are made of!

Cherrybrook Kitchen Chocolate Cake
Cherrybrook Kitchen's Gluten Free Dreams Chocolate Cake Mix

It was a manager’s special at my local grocery store that drove my roommate to purchase three boxes of Cherrybrook Kitchen’s Gluten Free Dreams Chocolate Cake.  And it was a stretch of 10 days at home that convinced me it was time to give it a try.  Lack of dessert is never a good thing in my household as I am a firm believer that dessert should always accompany a meal.

What I loved about this cake mix was that not only is it gluten-free and wheat free, but it also contained no peanuts, no soy, no eggs, and no dairy.  Any possible food allergy was pretty much covered by what was not in this cake mix.  And that was reassuring in and of itself.  The oven was preheating, so…it was time to get mixing.

I added the cake mix to the water, vegetable oil, and gluten-free vanilla and mixed it up.  I was a bit concerned at first, as when mixed, it didn’t have a thick consistency that normally accompanies a cake mix.  It seemed runnier than it should have been.  I ended up double-checking the measurements on the box…but I had done it right.

Pouring it into the cake pan, I smoothed it out and said a prayer to the baking gods before slipping it into the hot oven.  My roommate, per custom, was then invited to lick the batter bowl (which I felt okay about this time as there was no raw egg in it!), which she did, saying that it tasted really good.  So…that was reassuring.  If the batter was edible…

Into the oven for 25 minutes…and I only stole one peek the entire baking time.  That’s a new record for me.  When it was done, I pulled it out and set it down on a rack to cool.  On first glance, it looked like a rich, dark chocolate cake.  Already I was feeling better about life.  I let it cool for about 20 minutes before I decided I had to have a slice of it.

The cake box serving size is 8 slices from a round cake.   I didn’t own a round cake pan, so I baked mine up in a square one.  When I cut it, I got 16 squares from it…perfect sizes for a slice of cake anyway.  Woohoo!  More nights with a dessert.

Now, I’ve never been a frosting person.  It’s something with the sugars and how sweet they are that I’ve never liked.  So, I didn’t frost this cake.  I decided instead to do something else with it.  As I was unprepared the first night, I simply melted down some dark chocolate and drizzled it over the top.  Serving it to my roommate first, she was done and had licked the plate clean by the time I finished with mine.  Her constant comments of “Mmmm…” and “Oh…my…MMMMMM….” were definitely good signs!

And when I had my cake ready to sample, I couldn’t agree with her more.  It was moist and rich.  The chocolate was sweet and paired really well with  the dark chocolate I drizzled over it.  The texture was not dense, but very soft.  As I said, this was a moist cake.  And it was certainly setting the bar high for all other gluten-free cakes I attempt to make from a mix.  It was everything like the cake I used to eat…if not better.  Not to mention, this mix has a very low fat content with each serving.  Only 0.5 grams.  So, the only sinful thing about it was how amazing it tasted.

The next night I went to prepare it, I had swung by the grocery store, so in addition to drizzling it with melted dark chocolate, I scooped up a bit of Cool Whip light and topped it all off with fresh strawberries.  The pairing took an already amazing product and amped it up.  Sweet, refreshing, rich, decedent.  Yes…it was as good, if not better, as something that would be ordered in a restaurant.

If you are in need of a cake fix…or have an upcoming celebration to bake for, I highly recommend using Cherrybrook Kitchen’s Gluten Free Dreams Chocolate Cake Mix.  I was highly impressed with their product, and continue to be wowed each time I prepare dessert this week.  High flavor.  Rich.  Moist.  Delicious.  Gluten-free sweet dreams, indeed!

Piece of (gluten-free) chocolate cake
A slice of Cherrybrook Kitchen's Gluten Free Dreams Chocolate Cake (with dark chocolate, Cool Whip Lite, and fresh strawberries!)

Via Gelato serves up scoop after scoop of sinfully good Italian sweets

Via Gelato
Via Gelato and Café, Glenview, Illinois

I’m a firm believer that no meal is complete without something sweet to cleanse the palate.  After dining out with some friends in Glenview, Illinois, my local friend, Heather, mentioned this great place that served up some of the best gelato and sorbets.  This peeked my attention immediately because I am a gelato/sorbet fiend.  And again…it’s hard to find anywhere in the Midwest that does it well.  Hell, sometimes it’s just hard to find someplace that does it well at all.

But she raved and raved about this little shop so I knew I had to try it out.  Decision made, we took the short stroll down the way to Via Gelato and Café in The Glen.

First appearances are everything.  And this little shop had one major thing going for it.  The patrons who were sitting around outside, sipping on coffee and enjoying soups, salads, sandwiches, crepes and the gelato were speaking Italian.  This was a good sign.  A very good sing.  And the shop itself was clean.  Hardwood, a beautiful and clean counter displaying their signature and regular flavors.  Everything written up on a chalk board.  It just had the feel of a really great place.

Heather went to her favorite flavors and ordered a small (two scoops)…with one scoop of Ferraro-Rocher gelato and one scoop of Chocolate Peanut Butter gelato.  Cathy, saying she was still quite full from our dinner, had her arm twisted into at least trying some gelato and went with a kiddie size (one scoop) of the Ferraro-Rocher gelato.  As for me…I was drawn to the colorful array of sorbets.  And in the end, went with a small (two scoops) order with one scoop of Strawberry Lemonade sorbetto and one scoop of Pomegranate-Blueberry sorbetto.

Previously, my most recent sorbet experience came from Las Vegas.  After eating at Via Gelato, Cocolini in Vegas doesn’t even begin to measure up to flavor and quality.  This was the perfect consistency for a sorbetto.  Not only was it packing a fruity punch, but it had the proper icy crust on it.  And the fruity blend of flavors was AMAZING!!  Cathy sampled each of my flavors and fell in love with the Strawberry Lemonade one.  I can’t blame her either.  It was sweet and tart and had that perfect balance where the flavors complimented instead of outweighing each other.

As for the ladies and their gelato…they were in heaven.  Cathy fell in love with the Ferraro-Rocher flavor, saying it tasted just like the hazelnut chocolates you buy at the store.  I’d say that was a win!  And Heather enjoyed her blend of gelatos, which looked absolutely fantastic.  I think, next time, I’ll give one of the gelatos a try because they looked so amazing and made to the right consistency.  No easy task, but speaking volumes of Via Gelato and their product.

Should you find yourself in need of a light, but sweet treat while in Glenview, Illinois, seek out Via Gelato.  They also offer up coffee, espresso drinks, panini sandwiches, salads, crepes, and more.  So, stop in…eat.  Treat yourself to a sorbet or gelato.  Sit outside and watch the world pass as you eat and sip on a coffee.  Believe me…this stop is worth being made!

È squisito!

Gelato & Sorbet YUM!
Via Gelato and Café's gelato & sorbet (from left - right): (small) Ferraro-Rocher gelato with Chocolate Peanut Butter gelato; (kiddie) Ferraro-Rocher gelato; (small) Pomegranate-Blueberry sorbetto with Strawberry Lemonade sorbetto

Flavor diversity and local ingredients make Jeni’s one sweet stop

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams
Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, Bexley, Ohio

Life is made for sweet indulgences and good times.  One thing that can bring a smile to my face is ice cream.  I can eat this sweet treat any time of the year.  Yes…even in the chill of winter, in the middle of an ice storm.  Ice cream can make any bad day better.

But there is no ice cream out there that is better than Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.  Made with local products in Ohio, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is a stop I now make every time I visit Ohio.  As the one in Bexley, Ohio is conveniently located across the way from the Rusty Bucket, after finishing up dinner there, my friends and I went to indulge in our dessert…a flavor rush of ice cream goodness from the best ice cream ever invented.

It’s always a challenge trying to decide what flavor to try.  Go with something you know is good or step off the reservation and try something new and exciting.  Play with the flavors.  Mix and match.  That’s the great thing about Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.  You don’t have to stick with one flavor.

On my previous trip, however, I did.  And the Dark Chocolate flavor was like eating the batter of a rich fudge brownie.  What a way to kick-start my experience with this frozen treat.  This time, I was feeling summer flavors.  Fruit was on my mind so when I stepped up to the counter, I decided to try something a little different.  I went with the small…or two scoops…one of the Lemon and Blueberries Yogurt and one of the Strawberry Buttermilk.

Lemon and Blueberry Yogurt
Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams' scoop of Lemon and Blueberry Yogurt

Oh…if I thought the rich chocolate from the previous visit was amazing, I was in for a fruity treat this time.  The scoops were layered…Strawberry Buttermilk on top with the Lemon and Blueberries Yogurt on the bottom.  My friends and I settled into a table and took our first bites of our choices.  The Strawberry Buttermilk was rich, creamy…and full of flavor.  A lot of times strawberry ice creams taste fake and processed.  You can tell this is the real deal.  It was sweet and creamy…the right texture.  It tasted like real strawberries and cream and I let it linger on my tongue for a moment, savoring it.  Then I shared with my friends.  Before I knew it…I was down to the Lemon and Blueberries Yogurt scoop.  I had been anticipating this.  From other dishes, I knew the blend of lemon and blueberries was a good one…but how would it translate into frozen yogurt?  The answer…amazingly well.  It was tart and bold, neither the citric zing of the lemon nor the sweetness of the blueberries overpowering the other.  The perfect marriage of two flavors.  It was gone way too soon!

At first bite, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams won me over.  And that’s why I pay $4.00 for two scoops of ice cream.  It’s a worthy cause.  There is ice cream…and then there is Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.  Splendid makes the official name of the store…because it’s true.  Ice cream done right.  Ice cream done well.  Ice cream in any flavor imaginable…with the taste volume turned up to eleven!

Strawberry Buttermilk
Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams' scoop of Strawberry Buttermilk Ice Cream

Top Chef serves up amazing Italian food at Cafe Firenze

Cafe Firenze
Cafe Firenze, Moorpark, California

Top Chef.  It’s one of my guilty pleasures.  Any food show is, naturally.  Celeb chef cooking shows on Food Network, Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, Adam Richman’s Man v. Food, Gordan Ramsay’s The F-Word, Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen.  So, yes…I enjoy watching chefs from every level and every walk of life duke it out on Top Chef as much as the next person.

And that was how I found Fabio Viviani.  First seen on Top Chef: Season 5 – New York, Viviani was one of my personal favorites to cheer for.  He ended up in the top four before being cast off, but he returned and won fan favorite.  Anyone who watched would understand why.  So, when I was making plans with my friends for a good place to eat Saturday afternoon, we all agreed that Viviani’s restaurant in Moorpark, California, Cafe Firenze, would be an ideal place to dine.

Steamed Mussels
Cafe Firenze's Bowl of Steamed Mussels in a White Wine Broth with Crostino

We arrived for our reservation right when the restaurant opened.  We were seated in a booth in the back, where I had a fine view of the kitchen, which only added to my excitement.  We settled in with water and perused the menu for a moment.  I already had an idea of what I wanted, but an appetizer was in question.  We decided to split an order of Steamed Mussels in a White Wine Broth with Crostino.  This was one of my friend’s first experience with mussels…and now she is addicted to them.  If a restaurant has them…she wants them.  But nothing has equaled Cafe Firenze’s version.  Especially with the sauce they were served in.  Light, but full of flavor.  It was the perfect compliment to the seafood bite of the mussels.  In fact, I think my three friends set themselves to mopping up every bit of that sauce with the complimentary bread that had been brought to the table.

The entrees were next.  And each of us ordered something different.  Tawn ordered the Fettuccini Four Cheese and Sausage; Indy ordered the Penne alla Vodka, Cathy won the prize for best deal with her “personal” Margherita Pizza, which was the size of a regular pizza pan; and I got the Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce and Fresh Ricotta.  We had good conversation and good photo ops while we awaited our food.  And I had the chance to watch the chefs in the kitchen prepare each meal from scratch…including the pasta.  Yes…I loved where we were seated!

Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce and Fresh Ricotta
Cafe Firenze's Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce and Fresh Ricotta

When our meals arrived, none of us were disappointed.  Cathy indulged in every bite of her pizza.  Indy’s penne was cooked to perfection and the sauce was amazing.  Tawn enjoyed her fettuccini so much, she swore she saw Jesus in her plate.  And as for me…the gnocchi was out of this world.  Soft, delicate, and served with a sauce that was packed with bold flavor.  The ricotta was the perfect match to the sweet tomato sauce.  It was topped off with freshly shredded Parmesan cheese, which only served to enhance the dish.  I savored each bite and shared it with my friends.  Just awesome food.  Fresh, delicious, and made to order.  It doesn’t get better than that.

Cappuccino
Cafe Firenze's Cappuccino

After we polished off our meals, we allowed food to settle.  Tawn, Indy and I settled in for a round of cappuccinos.  Interesting thing about this cappuccino was that the longer it sit, the more delicious it was.  All three of us noticed that, so we didn’t down it quickly.  We sipped it slowly, discussing desserts.  And just in time too…as the dessert menu was brought out to us.

Once again, we all decided to get something different.  Tawn ordered the Tiramisu; Indy ordered the Panna Cotta; Cathy got her usual at Italian restaurants, the Cannoli; as for me…I went with the gluten-free option: the Flourless Chocolate Cake.

As we waited for our desserts we were blessed with an even better surprise.  Fabio Viviani was in the restaurant.  He had the day off, but had stopped in and delivered our desserts to us.  What an amazing surprise.  The best moment of the entire time at the restaurant was when he came around that corner and all four of us blinked up at him and in the girliest tone all said, in unison: “FABIO!”  It was…epic!  He was very nice, asking how we enjoyed our meals and being kind enough to take pictures with us.  We eventually let him get back to what he was doing, but it was the topper of the day.  Honestly!  I was floating on a  Foodie Cloud Nine.  Meeting a chef hero…cross that one off the bucket list!

Flourless Chocolate Cake
Cafe Firenze's Flourless Chocolate Cake

Desserts were now in front of us, and I managed to come down from my chef high and take my first bite of the chocolate cake.  It was moist and rich, melting against my tongue.  It was topped with a vanilla gelato with chocolate sauce and coffee cream.  Yes…it was as amazing as it sounds.  It was completely different texture and taste from the flourless cake I had at Nobu in Vegas.  But this stood on its own.  The flavors came alive in my mouth, every bit of chocolate, vanilla, and coffee meshing in perfect harmony and drawing me into another heavenly food coma.  If gluten-free desserts meant more flourless chocolate cakes like this, then I’m one happy allergic foodie.  I still dream of this dessert.

Cafe Firenze was at a level all its own.  The Italian ambiance was authentic.  The food was beyond all expectations.  The desserts were one step closer to heaven.  And the opportunity to meet Fabio Viviani topped off the experience.  Nothing could ever compare to this level of Italian goodness outside of Italy itself.  Then again, Fabio hails from Florence, Italy.  If the food was anything but authentic, I would have been disappointed.  This isn’t a Buca di Beppo or Olive Garden.  This is a state of Italy in California.  And oh…it tastes so good!

Me and Fabio
Top Chef Fabio Viviani with me at his restaurant, Cafe Firenze, Moorpark, California

A banana split before we split…

Mr. Lucky's 24-7
Mr. Lucky's 24-7, inside the Hard Rock Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada

Everything comes full-circle at the end of a trip.  And my culinary adventures through Las Vegas came to an end with a sweet treat instead of a fine dining establishment.  I found myself back in familiar ground.  After all, the convenience of being in the resort I’m staying at merits one more visit…but this time for dessert…not breakfast.

That’s one of the best qualities of Mr. Lucky’s 24-7.  As a diner-like establishment that is open every hour of every day, it has quite the selection on its menu.  And dessert is what I was craving this time.

For weeks I had wanted nothing but a banana split.  I love the exciting mix of flavors that comes in a good banana split…and coming from Indiana, finding someone who does this particular dessert well is not easy.  My hopes all came to rest on the shoulders of the staff at Mr. Lucky’s once more.

What I received lived up to every expectation and then proceeded to exceed them.  The dessert itself was a proper banana split, made with strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate ice cream, topped with hot fudge, whipped cream, chopped nuts, and a cherry…and served with strawberries and crushed pineapple.  Every flavor that should come in this particular dessert was present, and my first bite came with the ripe banana split in half and buried beneath the scoops of cold, delicious ice cream.

Dessert heaven!

My friend had never had a banana split in her life.  And she was blown away by this one.  Good way to start when it comes to first experiences with a new dessert.  Me…I grew up on banana splits and had some of the best (and biggest) in some unexpected places.  I wasn’t sure this would measure up to my childhood memories of summer treats of larger-than-life banana splits from the Lincoln Del in Minnesota…but it was just as good.  The portion was sizable, more than what I anticipated for the price.  And the assortment of flavors, the way they mixed and mingled and tasted as the ice cream melted and the different fruits were scooped up with each bite.  Yes…this was the perfect banana split and just what I needed after craving one for so long.

Mr. Lucky’s 24-7 did it again, and this time with something other than their epic breakfast foods.  They serve up one hell of a banana split…and gave me my last delicious taste of Las Vegas before I departed the following morning.

I wonder if anywhere else will make one as good as this.  A banana covered in three flavors of ice cream and topped with every topping imaginable never tasted so damn sweet.

Lucky me!

DESSERT EPICNESS!
Mr. Lucky's 24-7's Banana Split

Cocolini delivers a delicious scoop of sorbet in the heart of Las Vegas

Cocolini
Cocolini, inside The Venetian, Las Vegas, Nevada

The Venetian has become one of my favorite casinos to visit on the Las Vegas strip.  It just seems like it has the best-of-the-best when it comes to shops, restaurants, and ambiance.  One afternoon, I needed something cold to soothe my palate.  What I found was Cocolini, an Italian gelato counter in the heart of the Grand Canal Shoppes in St. Mark’s Square in The Venetian casino.

I admit, the price for the small cup threw me for a loop.  EXPENSIVE!  I could have bought a pint of Ben & Jerry’s at the CVS near my resort for what I paid for the scoop of sorbet I ended up ordering.  But I was craving and this was what I wanted.  And Cocolini had quite the selection of flavors in both gelatos and sorbets to choose from.  I had my work cut out for me.

It took awhile to finally get someone to wait on me.  There was really no order to how people walked up to the counter, and the staff just picked who they felt like serving next.  But when I finally voiced that I was next, I ordered the sugar-free strawberry sorbet.  Not only is sorbet lactose free, but it’s fat free as well.  WIN!

I paid the exhorbent price and went to take a seat on the steps looking out at St. Mark’s Square.  I admit, the sorbet was good.  It was creamier than a sorbet should be, however, but still…the flavor was what caught my attention.  Rich, despite being sugar-free, and exploding with a fruity burst in each taste.  That’s not always easy to do when something is sugar-free.  I give Cocolini major props for that.

Since then, however, I have had a real Italian sorbet, and in comparison, Cocolini doesn’t even come close to the correct texture for this sweet treat.  Yet, going into this blind, I enjoyed my sorbet, letting each scoop I took of it melt down on my tongue and allowed the flavor to linger as long as it could.  It was one of the best sugar-free strawberry treats I have ever eaten, to be honest.  Full of flavor and packing a WOW-factor punch to the untrained Italian palate.

The cost of the small cup I received, however, was definitely a minus.  While I found the product they offered to be up-to-par taste-wise, I didn’t like the wallet-busting cost it came with.  Definitely worth a try if you are seeking a cool, tasty treat while in Vegas…but know that it does come with a price.  Next time, I think I’ll go to a more authentic gelato/sorbet shoppe and put my money into a more genuine experience.

Sugar-free Strawberry Sorbet
Cocolini's Sugar-free Strawberry Sorbet

French bistro food a winning bet at Bouchon in Las Vegas

Bouchon
Bouchon, located inside The Venetian, Las Vegas, Nevada

Bouchon.  Very French, oui?  That’s the brilliant thing about Las Vegas…it literally has a little of everything.  And thanks to the extraordinary culinary mind of Thomas Keller, one of the most renowned chef’s in the world, Vegas has a touch of French class with delicious bistro food.

I knew little about French food coming into this restaurant.  What captured my attention was the name attached.  Thomas Keller.  Foodie nerd…that’s me.  Pair that with an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” where he visited Las Vegas and ate at Bouchon, raving about the frites (fries)…and I knew…next time I was in Sin City, I had to try this place out.

Bread and nuts
Bouchon's homemade bread and toasted pistachios

My friend and I were seated immediately upon our arrival for our reservation.  Our table was beautiful.  Simple.  Understated.  But illuminated by the natural light of summer in Las Vegas.  Nothing was overdone.  And that was part of the beauty of it.  Our server came over and poured us water.  As he did so, he inquired if we would be interested in any wine.  Neither of us are wine drinkers, and while the experience would have been amazing, we passed.  He unfolded our menus for us (they are paper and guests are allowed to take them with them upon leaving) and told us of the specials that night.  It was then that we alerted him of my food allergies and dietary restrictions, and he assured me that I would have no problem finding something.  That being said, he pointed out that the soupe du jour that night was vegan – roasted potato leek soup with a black truffle oil.  The very description of the soup was enough to win me over, so both my friend and I unexpectedly ordered the soup as a starter.

The rest of our order was taken and we eagerly anticipated our first taste of food from one of Thomas Keller’s restaurants.  The food nerd inside me was squeeing with delight.  As we waited, we were brought homemade bread and a small bowl of roasted pistachios to wet our appetites while we waited.  My friend threw herself on the bread, and I enjoyed the nuts.

Soupe du jour
Bouchon's Soupe du Jour: Potato & Leek Soup with Black Truffle Oil

And then…the soup arrived.  It look fantastic.  Most soups with any sort of potato base are heavy, but not this one.  It was light and the swirl of truffle oil added just the right about of flavor without overpowering the essence of the root vegetables in the soup itself.  In fact, the truffle oil made the soup the perfect trifecta of seasoning and taste.  One spoonful and Thomas Keller and his restaurant won my heart.  Each ingredient melted on my palate and I soon polished off the bowl.  My friend used the bread to mop up every last drop.  Yeah…it was that amazing.  And that was just our starter!

Since I am a vegetarian, there was only a few items that I could order on the menu.  Pair that with a gluten-intolerance, and quite a bit more got knocked out of the running.  Never fear though.  Restaurants normally have a salad that will work and that held true for Bouchon.  My entree of choice that night was the Salade Maraîchère au Chèvre Chaud, which consisted mixed greens with red wine vinaigrette, warm goat cheese and herbes de Provence.  I ordered it with a side of the much raved about Pommes Frites…because whenever Anthony Bourdain says the fries are better than the ones from his restaurant, Les Halles, you know they have to be amazing.  I certainly wasn’t going to miss out on trying them.  My friend, following Bourdain’s lead, ordered the Steak Frites, which she has henceforth deemed one of the best medium-well steaks ever made for her (it was still juicy, while being cooked to an actual medium-well) and topped with a shallot-butter that she wants to baptize her children in.   Apparently, it was mind-blowing.

Salade Maraîchère au Chèvre Chaud
Bouchon's Salade Maraîchère au Chèvre Chaud

When the entree was brought out, I already knew that, despite being a salad, it was going to be a good one.  The thing with salad is, they don’t always have to taste alike.  Salads can be a mishmash of amazing flavors that tantalize and tease taste buds.  Or they can be bland.  While this salad was minimal as far as ingredients go, the flavors were WOW!  The goat cheese practically melted in my mouth.  The herbes de Provence provided a bit of flair to what would have otherwise been a rather bland pile of mixed greens.  And the red wine vinaigrette was the right hint of tart to marry the flavors together.  Salads can be boring, or they can take “rabbit food” to the next level.  Bouchon takes it to the next tier.

Fries of YUM!
Bouchon's Pommes Frites

As for those much-raved about frites, Anthony Bourdain was right on the money.  Thomas Keller trained his chefs at Bouchon right.  Because fries are fries…in most cases.  They can either be really good…or really bad.  Most of the time it has to do with the cut and the how they are cooked, or how long for that matter.  I do not like mushy fries.  Steak fries are not my favorite cut.  Neither are curly, nor crinkle-cut.  Shoestring fries are generally my favorite because they come out with a crisp crust on them that lends bite to the potato.  At Bouchon, the Pommes Frites were above and beyond any other fries I have ever eaten in my life.  And I LOVE my fries.  Bourdain is one of my culinary heroes for a reason.  He has good tastes in deep-fried potato-y goodness.  Bouchon doesn’t just serve up a sizable portion of frites on the side, they do a damn good job of cooking them to perfection.  The waiter thought there was way too many frites on the table between my friend and I, but we polished them all off.  Not one went to waste.  Normally, I don’t finish my fries because there are so many of them…but that wasn’t the case here.  I almost wished I had more.  You think you’ve had fries…then you eat at Bouchon and you realize they set the bar for french fry standards and those waffle fries from Chick-Fil-A will never equal what you just consumed.  Considering the paragraph on the Pommes Frites is now longer than that on the soup and the salad…just believe me.  Try it for yourself and no other restaurant fries will ever compare.  Nowhere.  No way.  No how!  It isn’t a pompous French thing to call them Pommes Frites and serve up average fries.  No…these have every right to be pompous and French.  They earned it.

Dark chocolate mousse with burnt orange cream
Bouchon's Marquise au Chocolat

Despite being full, dessert was a must.  The dessert menu was presented to us and after a bit of discussion, my friend and I decided that we would split Marquise au Chocolat, a dark chocolate mousse with burnt orange cream.  The dessert won my heart with dark chocolate.  The orange cream was an added bonus.  And when it arrived, we couldn’t have been happier with our decision.  It looked like a slice of cake, laid out and surrounded by dollops of  edible-orange goodness.  Picture-perfect.  And the taste…manna from heaven.  Everything paired perfectly.  The citric bitterness of the orange cream paired with the smooth dark chocolate and the melt-in-your-mouth texture of the mousse.  It was fantastic.  Down to the last bite, which was smeared through the last of the burnt orange cream so that nothing went to waste.  I finished off the evening with an after-dinner cup of tea that just polished off the perfect meal.

Hot tea
Bouchon's hot tea

There is French bistro food and then there is Bouchon.  Thomas Keller set out to do something amazing in Vegas, and he succeeded.  Bouchon, tucked away in the Venezia Tower of The Venetian in Las Vegas, is one of those must-go places.  When I return to Vegas, I will be making another reservation for a dinner there.  Despite all of the culinary treats that are hidden away in Vegas, I can’t help but think of what new treats might be served up on the menu here.  And I can’t wait to sink my teeth into those Pommes Frites once again.  Make a reservation.  Dress up.  Dine.  It’s a feast so pleasing to the any palate that there is literally something for everyone.  Even this gluten-free vegetarian.  Amazing food outweighs the celebrity name and the Michelin stars any day.  From the moment you step into Bouchon, you feast upon great ambiance, great service, and great food.  How can it get better than that?

It can’t.

Take it from this vegetarian foodie.

Bouchon...amazing food!
This Vegetarian Foodie ♥'s Bouchon

A culinary explosion of the palate at Nobu

Nobu
Nobu (at the Hard Rock Hotel), Las Vegas, Nevada

I just returned from an amazing culinary excursion of the West.  If there was good food to eat, I was going to find it.  And this trip proved my instincts to be right on par.

My culinary vacation began with a dinner at the world-renowned Nobu restaurant in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Located in the Hard Rock Hotel, this beautiful restaurant is tucked away in a quiet section and you immediately feel the difference upon entering.  My roommate and I had reservations for 7:00 pm.  We showed up about 15 minutes early, and were immediately seated.  The first thing the waiter did, after unsheathing our chopsticks was to ask what we knew about the restaurant.  Since we were Nobu-newbies, he went through the history of the restaurant briefly, then offered suggestions from the menu, including Nobu’s signature dish: Black Cod Miso.  We alerted him to my food allergies and he assured me the kitchen had gluten-free soy sauce should I need it, as well as any sushi dish could be done vegetable style.  He left us alone as he went to fill our drink order and we pondered the menu for a moment.

Mushroom Soup
Nobu's Mushroom Soup

Upon his return, we placed our orders.  My roommate went with one of the recommended dishes: the Miso Soup followed by the Rock Shrimp Tempura with a Creamy Spicy Sauce.  I was craving vegetarian sushi.  So I put in for the Mushroom Soup and a cut roll of the Vegetable Sushi and a cut roll of the Oshinko Sushi.

The soup arrived first.  And this was going to be it.  Our first taste of the much-raved over Nobu food.  I picked up my spoon, eyeing the floating bits of mushroom in the broth before taking my first sip.  And it was good.  Beyond good.  While most vegetable-based soups can run bland, this exploded with flavor, without being overpoweringly earthy.  It was fantastic.  My roommate gave it a try as well, although her favorite soup is still the Miso.  We finished our soups and had time to let it digest before our dinners arrived.

Green Tea
Nobu's green tea - proceeds from the sale of their tea went to help with Japan's earthquake relief

The cut rolls were absolutely stunning.  The Vegetable Sushi roll was cut in circular slices, stuffed with rice and a variety of vegetables.  The Oshinko Sushi roll (pickled vegetables) exploded with flavor.  This one was cut into smaller, square pieces and all displayed against a dark green banana leaf with ginger and wasabi on the side.  Their ginger, by the way, was awesome.  And I normally don’t like ginger.  I opted to try the vegetable one first and took one bite and immediately fell in love with it.  It was the best vegetarian sushi I had ever tasted.  Packed with flavor…not bland or dull.  But the real treat was the Oshinko.  The pickled vegetables packed a powerful punch that played well against the rice.  It was one of the most amazing things I have ever let cross my palate.  It alternated between the two throughout the meal and polished off each roll, savoring every bite.

Bento Box
Nobu's Bento Box dessert

With the appetizer and main course down, we decided that since we were on vacation we’d treat ourselves to dessert.  With my gluten intolerance, this can sometimes be a challenge.  But, not at Nobu.  We ordered the Bento Box, a flourless chocolate cake with a white chocolate sauce, shiso syrup and green tea ice cream.  Was that ever worth the splurge.  I have never, ever had a cake melt in my mouth before, but this did.  Like butter.  It was soft, creamy, dreamy, chocolate goodness paired with a green tea ice cream that paired so well with the gooey chocolate cake that it was an unbelievable party in my mouth.  My roommate commented upon finishing that if it wouldn’t go against all dining etiquette, that she would lick the box it was served in.  I also tried their green tea with my dessert and it was warm and delicious.  All proceeds from the tea sold went toward helping Japan.  A worthy cause…delicious tea.

Nobu was more than a splurge.  It was a dining experience.  No one should visit any city one of these restaurants are in without going.  The tastes, the food, the ambiance…it all plays into one of the most amazing dining experiences.  And the food…well, that’s a culinary vacation all its own.  And one so good, that my roommate and I cancelled our Thursday night dinner reservation to return.  But that is another blog…

Vegetable sushi
Nobu's Cut Roll Sushi: Vegetable (round) and Oshinko (square)

Enjoy Life and take a bite out of chocolate chip cookies again!

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Enjoy Life's Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Back in February, I was told that I have a gluten intolerance.  This was…heartbreaking.  I’m a girl in love with her carbs.  Bread, pasta, pancakes, pizza, pretzels, muffins, bagels, donuts…all delicious and, sadly, all very glutenous.  It has been a challenge taking on a gluten-free lifestyle.  Expensive too.  Sometimes I just can’t justify spending money to try out a product that I might not like.  Granted, gluten-free products have come a long way over the years, but sometimes the trial-and-error method doesn’t work into my budget.  And, not surprisingly, there are times all I crave are things that I can no longer easily have.  One such thing was cookies.

That was until I was entered into an online contest during May’s Celiac Awareness Month on Gluten Free Networks.  Just for being a member of the site, you were entered into drawings for gluten-free prizes all month.  It just so happened that I won.

My prize was a box of gluten-free cookies from Enjoy Life.  They had just rolled out their new line of crunchy cookies.  I was going to receive one of four flavors: chocolate chip, double chocolate chip, crisp sugar, or vanilla honey graham.

My box arrived in the mail not long after and I received a box of their crunchy chocolate chip cookies.

I knew what dessert was going to be that night so after eating dinner, I broke into my prize and pulled out the cookies.  On the box, despite being listed as crunchy, they still look very raised and soft.  The cookies are pretty flat when you see them.  But…sometimes cookies baked at home are like that.  Let’s let the taste buds do the talking.

Now, my roommate does not have to be gluten-free, but she does eat that way sometimes because I’m the chef in this apartment and I refuse to cook things two different ways.  So, I handed her a cookie and got my own.  I was nervous about the first bite, but after taking it, feeling the crisp cookie break away and dance across my tastebuds…I was sold.

Not only did these taste like homemade cookies, they were really delicious!  The crunch was just the right kind that I like with cookies (despite that I much prefer soft-bake…but Enjoy Life makes those too and might be worth a try).  The chocolate chips were perfectly sweet and paired with the sweetness of the cookie base.  I admit that I even reverted back to being five years old at one point and dunked the cookie into my glass of almond milk.  A pre-packaged product that tastes like a homemade cookie isn’t an easy find, but I found it in this box.  The rest were devoured throughout the week and I savored every bite.

If a grocery store out this way ever starts carrying these delicious treats from Enjoy Life…I’ll buy them up.  I’m now dying to try the other flavors.  Gluten-free tastes oh, so good again!

Jeni’s sinful scoops are worth the price!

Jeni's
Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, Columbus, Ohio

There are fewer things in this world as indulgent and as delicious as ice cream.  But not all ice creams are created alike.  Some walk a fine line of being too bland, some too rich.

On a recent journey to Columbus, Ohio, my friends and I stopped into Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams for dessert.  What we got was an array of different flavors, ones you would not see anywhere else.  And, wow, were we ever anxious to try them.  My roommate got two scoops of The Buckeye State, peanut butter flavored ice cream with the crunch of delicious dark chocolate mixed in.  My friend mixed and matched, opting for one scoop of the Salty Caramel and one scoop of the Bourbon Butter Pecan.

Initially, I had every intention of getting the Queen City Cayenne flavor, which is a rich chocolate flavor with a kick of cayenne pepper in it.  I’m glad I sampled it first because, while tasty, I don’t think I could have managed two scoops of it.  Since I was really feeling chocolate that day, I instead got two scoops of the Dark Chocolate, intense chocolate flavor with a fudge texture.  It was like eating brownie batter, honestly.  And I loved every spoonful of it.

Since we all had different kinds, we all sampled each others.  And yeah…this is honestly some of the best ice cream around.  Ever.  And I have eaten a lot of ice cream in my life…in a lot of different places.  Sure, Jeni’s comes with a cost.  But they use local ingredients to make their ice creams.  You can’t get much better than that.  Local business supporting local businesses.  Yes…that in itself makes it worth the cost.  The two scoops, about a serving, or 1/2 cup, of regular ice cream ran $4.00.  But it was four delicious dollars well spent.

If you happen to be traveling through Ohio and spot a Jeni’s…stop and treat yourself to some of their ice cream.  With an array of flavors and even seasonal ones appearing on their menu…you’ll have more than enough reasons to keep going back.  I recommend you do because ice cream doesn’t get much better than that.  And I’ll scream that from the rafters any day, anywhere.

Jeni's Dark Chocolate ice cream
Jeni's Dark Chocolate ice cream