Restaurant Review: Moerlein Lager House, Cincinnati, Ohio

Moerlein Lager House, Cincinnati, Ohio

Moerlein Lager House, Cincinnati, Ohio

Restaurant: Moerlein Lager House, Cincinnati, Ohio

It had been a long day for me.  No…really.  And, while a part of me was super stoked that I was leaving right from work to drive up to Cincinnati, Ohio, with my roommate, for a concert, another part of me just wanted to curl up under a blanket on the sofa at home.  But…there was music to be enjoyed.  And she had purchased a set of tickets to see Bastille in Cincinnati awhile back to help cheer me up.

This foot injury has had me pretty down since July…and she thought a surprise and a band I love might just help lift my spirits.  It did.  but this was a crazy, intense week at work, and my brain was ready to shut down.

Thankfully, that mindset changes when you actually get on the road to an event that you are really looking forward to.

So, at 4 p.m., we departed the office and hit the road up to Cincinnati, Ohio.  A couple of days prior, Cathy had made reservations with a place not to far from US Bank Arena (the venue for the show) due to some gluten-free options available on their menu.  I love trying out new food places so…WOOHOO!  Even better…it had fish and chips readily available for her.  YAY!  She made the reservations for 6:30 p.m., which would give us some time to hit traffic and get into the city, park, and get to the venue.  The last-ditch food option would be Chipotle, if the traffic gods were not with us.

But they were…and we arrived in Cincinnati just before 6 p.m., having only hit some traffic in Covington, Kentucky, just before crossing into Ohio and hitting Cincinnati.  We readily found parking and got out, making the short stroll from the parking garage (with it’s $20 event parking!) to the restaurant, which was literally one block up and then over…down toward the river walk.  Beautiful night too.  Perfect weather.

We walked up the stairs to Moerlein Lager House and stepped inside.  There were a few people ahead of us, but most went right to the bar.  We stepped up and Cathy mentioned that we were early, because traffic wasn’t as bad as we anticipated…and they were more than happy to sit us down early.  Nice.  We were shown to a very nice table, somewhere between the rowdy bar and the floor to ceiling windows, which offered a spectacular view of the riverfront.  We were given our menus and a menu that had the specials on it, where if any item were ordered off that menu, a donation would go towards a charity.  Tempting, but there really wasn’t anything on there for me…and Cathy had her heart set on fish and chips.  Our waitress, Kelly, came over to see if we wanted something to drink.  We started with water.  And when she returned, she asked if we wanted any appetizers or had any questions on the menu.  Cathy mentioned that I was a gluten-free vegetarian…and she came over.  I think she missed the “vegetarian” part following gluten-free…because she highly recommended the crab cakes.  But…hey…she tried.  And…working in it’s favor – the restaurant labeled everything V for vegetarian and GF for gluten-free.  And wouldn’t you know it…they had a dish that fit both requirements.

Cathy ordered her Fish and Chips ($18.00), which was cod that was battered with their house beer, Hudelphol, and served with a jalapeno tartar sauce, coleslaw, and fries…and decided she’d live dangerously with a non-alcoholic beer (I agree with some friends of mine on this…what’s the point??!), Einbecker ($7.00) to have with her entree.

As for me…I happily placed an order for the Crispy Balsamic Tofu ($17.00).  YES!  You read that right.  This entree was served with a spinach basil risotto and roasted tomatoes, cipoline onions, and wild mushrooms, topped with shaved asparagus and preserved lemon salad.  It had actually been a toss-up between that entree, or ordering a few sides and dining on that.  Cathy pointed out I could get those sides offered virtually anywhere…but the tofu dish was an original.  I agreed…and that’s what I ordered.

Moerlein Lager House's Crispy Balsamic Tofu

Moerlein Lager House’s Crispy Balsamic Tofu

While we waited for food, we discussed the concert…the music…my upcoming marathon…my foot (which to this day still bothers me!)…and the restaurant itself. And, when our food arrived, we were both certainly ready to dive in and devour.

My dish looked beautiful.  It was a true culinary work of art.  The tofu was sliced on the diagonal, making perfect triangles that had this great crispy coating on the outside.  It was all set over this mound of perfectly creamy risotto with the vegetables framing the outside of the dish.  Shaves asparagus topped it all off and there was this gorgeous balsamic reduction that was drizzled over the plate.  I felt bad slicing into it…but I was hungry, so that moment only lasted briefly.

One bite was all I needed to realize how much I loved this meal.  The tofu had this great crispy outside, but inside it was still rich and soft.  It was glazed perfectly with the balsamic reduction and the hit of lemon just made it shine.  The shaved asparagus was cooked to a perfect al dente and used as not only a garnish, but as a great addition to the roasted vegetables on the plate.  The onions were spectacular and the tomatoes were soft and juicy.  But the star…the absolute star of this entree was the spinach basil risotto.  It was phenomenal.  Creamy and rich and packed with great earthy and herby flavors.  I was already telling Cathy after one bite that I wanted to recreate this dish at home.  She sampled the risotto and understood why.  I also had her try the tofu…and she really liked that as well.  This dish hit on everything I liked.  It had a nice tang to it, but the flavors were simple and real.  And I ate the entire thing…possibly in record time.

A dessert menu was brought to our table and after a bit of discussion…and the mention of a Chocolate Creme Brulee ($7.00), Cathy and I decided that we could treat ourselves and split the dessert.  Cathy checked with Kelly to make sure the Creme Brulee was gluten-free.  She said she thought it was, but would check.  It was…and after a small wait, the delicious looking dessert was arriving at our table with two spoons.  Holy Moses!  This was one spectacular and rich dessert.  The burnt sugar on top was fun to crack through, but what it gave way to was this rich and decadent chocolate cream.  Cathy described it as high-class pudding.  HA!  And that’s what it tasted like.  It was amazing.  And I think once we set the spoons down, Cathy might have licked the bowl a little bit.

Honestly, the service was amazing and I didn’t feel nervous about eating here.  The clearly labeled items on the menu helped make it very easy to navigate and to make sure I got what I needed and wanted.  And what would be safe for me.  Cathy loved her meal, and even enjoyed the jalapeno tartar sauce.  She said it was her second favorite tartar sauce she’s had yet.  That’s something.  The food was outstanding.  I mean…it’s not every day I can get a vegetarian dish that is also gluten-free at a restaurant without it being…a salad.  So, this was a nice treat, indeed.  And one day, when I run the Flying Pig Marathon…you better believe this is the place I’ll be hitting up for dinner.

Thank you, Moerlein Lager House…you exceeded my expectations!

Moerlein Lager House's Chocolate Creme Brulee

Moerlein Lager House’s Chocolate Creme Brulee

 

Recipe: Gluten-Free Sweet-and-Sour Tofu with Bok Choy

Bok Choy.

It seems to be a seasonal favorite of my CSA bin as of late.  For two weeks in a row, it has been one of the components of my bin.  Now, normally I would simply make a stir-fry out of it…but I’ve been attempting to expand on my culinary skills a little.  Step a little outside the comfort zone.  Do something…different.

I think I accomplished that last night when I cooked up a meal inspired by the blog Big Girls Small Kitchen.  I had all the components on hand in my pantry and fridge…including the bok choy and tofu.

What emerged was a fantastic meal that really worked together.  I served mine over basmati rice…which I cooked up while I was working on the rest of the dish as well.  It was a fantastic meal and not too difficult to create either.

Recipe: Gluten-Free Sweet-and-Sour Tofu with Bok Choy

Gluten-Free Sweet-and-Sour Tofu with Bok Choy

Gluten-Free Sweet-and-Sour Tofu with Bok Choy

Servings: 2
Time: Prep 10 minutes; Cook 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 6 ounces firm tofu
  • 2 tablespoons flour (I used Better Batter Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour)
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons safflower, grapeseed, or other neutral oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger (I used 1 teaspoon ground ginger)
  • 1 tablespoon grated garlic (3 cloves)
  • Sriracha
  • 2 bunches baby bok choy, rinsed, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 scallions, white and green parts chopped and separated (I substituted 1/2 a white onion)

Directions:

Cut the tofu into slices about 1 inch thick. Press the water out of the slices, then cut them into 1-inch square cubes. In a baggie or on a wide plate, toss the tofu with the flour and salt until all the pieces have a thin coating.

Mix the lemon juice, honey, soy sauce, sriracha, garlic and ginger in a small bowl.  Add 1 tablespoon water.

In a frying pan, warm the oil.  In one layer, brown the tofu (in two batches if your pan is small), about 4 minutes per side.

Return all the tofu to the pan if you browned it in two batches.

Put in the onions and the crunchy part of the bok choy and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the green leaves and cook 1 more minute.

Add the sauce.

Bring the tofu to a boil, then lower the heat and let is simmer until the sauce has reduced and coats the tofu thickly, about 10 minutes.

~*~*~

I was so happy with the way this meal turned out.  The tofu was perfectly cooked, the flour giving it this slight texture to it, even after cooking in the sauce.  The bok choy and onion, along with the sauce brought this amazing flavor to every component.  I loved this sauce.  It smelled amazing and it had the perfect balance of sweet and sour…nothing overpowering the other.

This meal is a great source of protein.  As I said, I served mine over a serving of basmati rice…and it was delicious.  This meal was so easy to put together and cook…perfect for those nights where you don’t want to spend all night in the kitchen cooking up dinner.

Product Review: Star Anise Foods Happy Pho – Garlic Goodness Vietnamese Brown Rice Pho Noodle Soup

Star Anise Foods Happy Pho Garlic Goodness Vietnamese Brown Rice Noodle Soup

Star Anise Foods Happy Pho Garlic Goodness – Vietnamese Brown Rice Noodle Soup

Product: Star Anise Foods Happy Pho – Garlic Goodness Vietnamese Brown Rice Pho Noodle Soup – $3.49+

Splurges happen.

For real.

And for me…splurges tend to happen when food is involved.  Mainly…grocery shopping.  Something catches my eye, peeks my interest, and before you know it, the plan to stick to the already tight budget is out the window and I’m scraping by the rest of the week.  But it’s okay…because I have food.  Right?

Sure.

Well, a splurge happened this past weekend.  I was wandering the aisles of Whole Foods, which already is a dangerous thing, when my roomie spotted these little brown boxes.  The words “PHO” caught her attention first.  Followed by “GLUTEN-FREE.”  Now we’re talking.  She’s been wanting to have pho for a long, long while…but…I just don’t know of where to go in Louisville to make that happen for her.  Instead…we figured this might be a good way to use up some of the produce and make our own version of a pho.  And why not?  If you can’t get creative in the kitchen…there’s no point to having one.

The product we spotted was by Star Anise Foods.  It’s called Happy Pho, and it comes in three different flavors.  We chose the Garlic Goodness Vietnamese Brown Rice Pho Noodle Soup.  We figured we’d eventually try them all…if the one we tried was any good.  Cathy loves garlic…so I had a feeling that would be the one to start us off.

Instead…with a little refrigerator magic…and a Organic Vegetarian Pho Base by Pacific Natural Foods (which was in my pantry, swear to the culinary gods!), this splurge of a purchase became tonight’s dinner.  And tomorrows lunch for that matter.

Let’s talk a little bit about this product though.  First of all, Star Anise Foods Happy Pho – Garlic Goodness Vietnamese Brown Rice Pho Noodle Soup is not only gluten-free, but also non-GMO, low in sodium, contains no MSG, made from 100% brown rice with organic green tea, vegan, all natural, made with organic ingredients, fat-free, wheat-free, egg-free, dairy-free, free from artificial colors and preservatives.  It’s ALL NATURAL, my little pho babies!!

One serving is 1/2 the packet, which my roommate and I stretched out into 4 meals, so we’re only eating 1/4 of the packet each.  Regardless, a regular serving will provide you with 222 calories.  A serving only has 190 mg of sodium, which is amazing for a shelf-stable, packaged product.  The Garlic Goodness variety of Happy Pho also will has 1 gram sugar, 3 grams of fiber, and 4 grams of protein.  That’s really good!!

To make my pho…I pan fried up some thinly sliced tofu.  While the pho starter came to a boil, I added the packet of seasoning that comes with the noodles and allowed it to blend with the pho starter.  I then sliced up some bok choy (compliments of my CSA bin) and put it into the broth.  Once the tofu was nearing completion, in went the brown rice noodles to soften up in the hot soup base.  As the noodles finished up, I poured the tofu in to warm and…dinner was easily served.

And…OMG…was it ever good!!  I mean super good.  As in I make a mean vegetarian pho thanks to Star Anise Foods and their Happy Pho starter kits.  Honestly.  I was so happy with the flavor of this noodle soup.  The brown rice noodles were a bit gummy, but that tends to be the trend with brown rice noodles.  Sadly enough.  But…the flavor was there, and the noodles, broth, tofu, and bok choy all married together to make this incredible, flavor-filled meal.  The seasoning packet combined with the pho soup base made a perfect base for the vegetables, tofu, and…the noodles.  My roommate and I devoured this with chopsticks.  Happy girls, we were!  Food Yoda, I speak like.

Go to your local Whole Foods…check out their aisle with the Asian foods.  If you spot Star Anise Foods Happy Pho kits…buy one.  Buy them all.  Trust me, they are totally amazing and I intend to pick up more of them, other flavors, and give them a taste as well.  This made for a quick, easy, and very delicious (and nutritious) dinner tonight.  I was beyond impressed.

Star Anise Foods Happy Pho - Garlic Goodness Vietnamese Brown Rice Noodle Soup

Star Anise Foods Happy Pho – Garlic Goodness Vietnamese Brown Rice Noodle Soup

Cofresh adds a bit of Indian heat to any dish with this spicy Tandoori Marinade

Cofresh Tandoori Marinade

Cofresh Tandoori Marinade

Product: Cofresh Tandoori Marinade – $2.50+

Oh, the things you find at Big Lots when you walk the aisles.  It never ceases to amaze me what kind of gluten-free goodness lurks in their food aisles.  Especially when you hit up some of the specialty aisles…where things comes from across the ocean.

That was what happened when I happened across Cofresh Tandoori Marinade.  It was any other browsing session through Big Lots to kill off some time.  And naturally, I find something that catches my eye.

Being that I love, love, love, love Indian food…I figured this gluten-free marinade (it’s even labeled!) would come in handy…at some point.  You know.  Like when I feel the need to make something and give it some Indian twist.  So, I purchased this imported sauce and took it home with me.  And then, as is normally the case, it sat in my pantry for a good long while.

Until today.

Because today I decided to flex my CSA Bin muscle.  I have lots of produce left from last week and a new bin on its way tomorrow…so I wanted to use whatever I could this evening with dinner.  Over the weekend, I also picked up some Twin Oaks Original Tofu at Whole Foods, so I figured…at least I could do some Tandoori Tofu.  But how to step it up?  And how to use some of that produce in my crisper drawer?  Hmmm…

And then…it came to me.  It’s what my roommate now calls Triple T!

What is Triple T, you might ask?  Well, it’s Tandoori Tofu Tortilla Wrap.  And I added some of the Bibb lettuce and baby spinach in my crisper drawer, as well as chopped up some shallots to add a bit of texture.  All I needed to do was get that tandoori tofu working.  And that was easy!!

This morning, I cut exactly 6 ounces of tofu (2 servings) from the block and then sliced it up into bite-sized cubes.  I tossed them into a plastic baggy with about 4 tablespoons of Cofresh Tandoori Marinade.  I gave the bag a shake, and then let it rest in the fridge all day while I was at work.  When I returned home tonight, I simply heated up a nonstick pan on the stove, dumped my marinaded tofu into it, and cooked it through.

Then…I warmed one of Rudi’s Gluten-Free Spinach Tortillas up in the microwave, added a touch more of the marinade to it, then layered on the fresh Bibb lettuce and baby spinach.  On top of that when my warmed tandoori tofu, then a sprinkling of raw shallot, for texture.  And when it was done…the Triple T was what we were having for dinner.  I took my roomie her plate then went to get mine.

First of all…this was one healthy and amazingly flavorful dinner.  The Cofresh Tandoori Marinade is labeled as being at a medium heat, but it does have some kick to it.  And, you all know I am a spice girl, so I was loving that gentle burn.  It worked so well on the tofu as the tofu really absorbed that rich flavor of the marinade.  So delicious.  And with the added crunch of the shallot and the fresh greens underneath, this was a hearty, satisfying, and spicy meal that sort of fused Mexican with Indian.  And it was a match made in heaven.

Cofresh Tandoori Marinade also wins as far as nutrition as well.  A serving size is 2 tablespoons, of which only sets you back 20 calories.  That’s amazing for a sauce.  This sauce is also fat free, gluten-free, vegetarian, and also vegan.  The sodium is a bit higher than I like, topping off at 520 mg, but it just means there is no need to season further.  And, honestly, you don’t need to.

I absolutely loved this marinade.  The tandoori flavor had the right amount of heat, kick, and spice to keep each bite interesting to my palate.  And I loved how it worked with my fresh, local produce.  Looking for a new way to spice up your meal, I highly recommend Cofresh Tandoori Marinade.

Tandoori Tofu Tortilla Wrap (made with Cofresh Tandoori Marinade)

Tandoori Tofu Tortilla Wrap (made with Cofresh Tandoori Marinade)

San-J finds balance between sweet and spicy with gluten-free Sweet & Tangy Sauce

San-J Gluten-Free Sweet & Tangy Sauce

San-J Gluten-Free Sweet & Tangy Sauce

Product: San-J Gluten-Free Sweet & Tangy Sauce – $3.49+

When it comes to sauces that I can trust, I often turn to San-J.  San-J has an entire line of gluten-free sauces with an Asian flair.  And, since it is nearly impossible for me to eat any sort of Asian food outside of the stuff I prepare…it’s nice to know there is a variety of sauces and marinades out there than can help enhance my own homemade dishes.

Well, awhile back I picked up the San-J Gluten-Free Sweet & Tangy Sauce at the grocery store.  I think I had some gluten-free and vegan nuggets in my freezer that I had hoped to use it with.  And then…as it sat in my pantry, I ate the nuggets with bar-b-que sauce instead.  D’oh!  And then…as the expiration date grew closer and closer, my gluten-free and vegan chickenless nuggets were no longer being carried by my grocery store.  So, I was out of luck.  And now…I needed a new plan.  I needed to come up with something to use this sauce with.

And I was drawing a blank.

Until…it occurred to me.

TOFU.

HA HA!  Yes.  I’ve become well versed in the various ways of properly making tofu.  Whether it’s marinading it to grill it, stir-fry it, or just playing around with it…I have been quite successful in incorporating tofu into various dishes.  So…tonight…I was determined to use this sauce.  I don’t like things to expire without at least having been tried.

That being said, this past weekend I made sure we stopped in at Whole Foods for some Twin Oaks Tofu…because it’s the best…so that I could make something with this sauce.  I decided that it would be best to go ahead and do it up tonight.  It’s a Sunday night, which means I had time to mess around with dinner and not feel so rushed, as I often do on weeknights.  So…I decided to make Crispy Tofu Nuggets and serve it with the San-J Sweet & Tangy Sauce as a dipping sauce.

Perfect.

San-J’s Gluten-Free Sweet & Tangy Sauce is a throwback to a Polynesian sauce.  It is a blend of honey, fruit juice, gluten-free Tamari, and some spices, which give it that sweet yet spicy flavor that is just awesome.  It looks like a thin bar-b-que sauce.  And…back when I used to eat meat, the Polynesian sauce was my sauce of choice at Chick-Fil-A when it came to a dipping sauce.  So, it only makes sense that this would be a good pairing for crispy tofu nuggets.  It even tastes like a sweeter bar-b-que sauce.  It was really tasty.  Now I’m trying to come up with other dishes to use it on.  Perhaps I will have some ideas come to me this week as I play around with some homemade veggie burger varieties.

What I loved about this sauce was that it wasn’t too much spice or too much sweet.  It’s the right level of both.  So that it doesn’t detract from whatever you use to dip into it.  San-J is so good about this when it comes to their sauces.  They make the sauce work for the ingredient.  The ingredient still gets to shine and is not outdone by the sauce.  It’s a nice quality of their sauces.  This one, in particular, really stands out.

San-J’s Gluten-Free Sweet & Tangy Sauce serves up 50 calories per 2 tablespoon serving.  This sauce is fat free!  In addition, the Sweet & Tangy Sauce has only 320 mg sodium and 11 grams of sugar.  Given that much of this comes from the ingredients itself…and is not added in…I’m impressed.  Not a bad showing for a sauce.  Especially a sauce of this nature.

So, if regular bar-b-que sauce has you longing for something more, or perhaps you have a dish that needs a great marinade or dipping sauce…I highly recommend the San-J Gluten-Free Sweet & Tangy Sauce.  It is full of flavor and really tastes amazing.  I can’t wait to pair it with something else and use it all over again.  Perhaps some spring rolls should be next on the menu…

Crisp Tofu Nuggets with San-J Gluten-Free Sweet & Tangy Sauce

Crisp Tofu Nuggets with San-J Gluten-Free Sweet & Tangy Sauce

Tinkyáda Brown Rice Grand Shells didn’t crumble under heat…surprisingly…

Tinkyáda Brown Rice Grand Shells

Tinkyáda Brown Rice Grand Shells

Product: Tinkyáda Brown Rice Grand Shells – $3.39+

You know…I do have to give major props to Tinkyáda as a whole when it comes to gluten-free pasta options that are out on the market today.  They definitely have the best variety when it comes to options.  Normally the grocery store will have your basic fusilli, penne, spaghetti…but Tinkyáda actually has a couple of different options out there.  For that, I am beyond appreciative.

One such option that is difficult to find, but worth the search or possibly the Internet order…is Tinkyáda’s Brown Rice Grand Shells.

In other words…a gluten-free option for anyone who has been craving stuffed shells.

Like I had been.

For…like…ever!

And on a whim one day while out at the grocery store, I spotted some Tofutti Better Than Ricotta Cheese in the vegan/vegetarian refrigerated section and bought it.  Why?  I have no idea.  I wanted to try it.  Tofutti makes the best vegan sour cream and a really great vegan cream cheese…so why not give the vegan ricotta cheese a try, yes?

I’m a chef in my own mind…the answer to that is always…a resounding, “YES!”

So, I purchased it.  And took it home.  I popped it into my refrigerator.

And then…it just…sat.

But it donned on me this past weekend while out grocery shopping…that I had purchased a box of Tinkyáda Brown Rice Grand Shells this past summer while in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for a race.  I stopped by the Gluten-Free Trading Company and made a point to purchase a box of those.  Why?  Because my friend Jenn and I ended up ordering some on the Internet awhile back and we still haven’t used them.  So…I now got to be the guinea pig.

After a long, hectic day at the office, I got home and immediately put a pot of water on the stove to bring to a boil.  I retrieved this pasta from the pantry and popped it open to take a look.  If you, like me, were expecting “normal” sized jumbo shells…like the “real” stuff you can buy at the store if you can eat the regular stuff…you will be disappointed.  I sort of was.

Tinkyáda Brown Rice Grand Shells (cooked)

Tinkyáda Brown Rice Grand Shells (cooked)

These Grand Shells…are definitely much smaller than the average shell you would use to make stuffed shells.  So, I did feel my heart drop a little upon opening up the box.  I checked the serving size…and it said that the box held 4 servings.  So I counted out the shells and found I had 28 of them.  Awesome.  I always allow for pasta rippage and general carnage when using larger noodles.  You might recall my unfortunate incident with the Tinkyáda Lasagna Noodles…and how they stuck together and then promptly fell apart into pieces, making my lasagna…a little interesting to put together.  So…I dumped the entire box into the boiling water and cooked it for about 18 minutes, just so that it was al dente.

While the noodles cooked, I said a prayer to the gluten-free pasta gods for a little luck when it came to the shells.  Maybe, just maybe enough of them would be useable.  If not…I’d have to get really creative with my stuffed shell meal.  So, with the shells boiling away, I set to prepping my filling for the shells.

I totally made this up.  All I knew was that I wanted to use the Tofutti Better Than Ricotta Cheese.  So, I scooped out a cup of it and put it in a bowl.  From there…it needed to be seasoned.  So I grabbed some dried herbs from my spice rack and just started eyeballing things.  In went the parsley, sage, thyme, basil, and oregano.  Then, a little garlic salt, some crushed red pepper flakes, a touch of cayenne pepper, and a little garlic powder.  I mixed it all together.  Then, I grabbed the green onions I had from my CSA bin and chopped those up, both parts…the white and the green, and threw them into a pan to sautee in a little olive oil.  Out of the fridge came the vegan and gluten-free chorizo that I got at Trader Joes.  I added it to the pan after the onions had softened and just allowed it to heat through.  Finally, I threw in some minced garlic, let that heat for about 30 seconds until it was fragrant…then took it off the heat.  I let it sit for a few minutes, then emptied that into my ricotta cheese mixture and folded it all together.

At that point, my shells were just about ready.  I set up the colander to drain them, and picked up the large pot of noodles.  Holding my breath, I poured the contents into the colander, expecting torn bits of these grand shells to tumble out.  But, for the most part, the shells were completely intact.  Color me impressed!  I gave the shells a rinse in cold water and then shook them carefully out to get most of the water out.  I brought them over to my work station and prepped my casserole dish with some tomato sauce and a sprinkling of Daiya mozzarella shreds.

Tinkyáda Brown Rice Grand Shells (stuffed)

Tinkyáda Brown Rice Grand Shells (stuffed)

Then…the exciting part.  Stuffing the shells.

I handled each shell carefully at first, afraid that one single wrong move would cause the shell to tear or fall apart.  Let’s face it…rice noodles have this reputation of getting mushy.  And they have that reputation because…it happens.  One tablespoon of filling went into each of the “grand” shells, because that gave them the perfect stuffed appearance.  As these shells don’t fold over like normal shells, I laid them in the pan face up, instead of down, because I didn’t want my stuffing to fall out into the pan.  The entire point of having stuffed shells is that they are…stuffed.  Only a few shells didn’t make the cut.  And the rest I had leftover were tossed only because I ran out of stuffing.  It happens.  Next time…more stuffing.

So now, the shells had survived boiling, draining, rinsing, and stuffing.  And they were still holding their form.  Still impressed.  So, I took the remainder of my tomato sauce and poured it over top the shells.  A sprinkling of Daiya mozzarella shreds went over the top.  Then, into the oven at 350°F for about 30 minutes it went.

And I managed to squeeze in some time with my yoga mat while it baked away.  I uncovered the dish for the last 5 minutes of baking and hoped for the best.

Out of the oven they came and I took a moment to marvel at how amazing the pasta still looked.  The big test now was how they would hold up as I transferred them from the casserole dish to the plate.

The Tinkyáda Brown Rice Grand Shells passed with flying colors.  I scooped up each shell in the cradle of a spoon and carefully deposited a serving on a plate.  They didn’t fall apart at all.  I was SO impressed.  Now it came down to taste.

My roommate and I settled in with our dinner and she took the first bite.  She raved about the filling.  And then said that the noodles were actually really good.  She loved how they were like regular ones in that you slice into them, and they squish down and the filling fills up the fork.  I couldn’t agree more.  Some of the shells were still a little too al dente…but the sauce and filling helped with that.  Of course, the true test will come tonight when I reheat the shells and see if they still hold up as well after spending the night in the fridge.

As far as brown rice pasta goes, Tinkyáda is one of my go-to brands.  I haven’t met a noodle I didn’t like from them.  Honestly.  The box of Tinkyáda Brown Rice Grand Shells has 4 servings in it.  That’s actually a lot of shells…so you can probably squeeze out more to be honest.  Even if they are smaller than the average pasta shell.  A serving as 210 calories, which is right there with regular shells, so that’s a plus.  The serving has only 2 grams of fat and 43 grams of carbohydrates for all you gluten-free athletes out there.  Oh…and 4 grams of protein as well.  Loving that.  What’s even better is that the ingredients couldn’t be more basic: stone-ground brown rice, rice bran and water.  Yep…I love ingredients that I recognize and can tell you exactly what they are.  Love that this has nothing questionable in it.

So, all-in-all…a great showing for Tinkyáda when it comes to these “jumbo” (I use the term loosely) shells.  I won’t complain.  They did the job.  And, as far as I have seen, Tinkyáda is currently the only gluten-free pasta company that offers something remotely close to the jumbo pasta shells out on the market.  So, there is definitely a niche there and one that I am happy they filled.

Much love, Tinkyáda…and appreciation.  Because my stuffed shell craving has been satisfied.  Now…if only my local stores would start carrying these in their inventory…

Gluten-Free and Vegan Stuffed Shells made with Tinkyáda Brown Rice Grand Shells

Gluten-Free and Vegan Stuffed Shells made with Tinkyáda Brown Rice Grand Shells

Amy’s Thai Coconut Soup a surprisingly delicious addition to my lineup

Amy's Organic Thai Coconut Soup (Tom Kha Phak)

Amy’s Organic Thai Coconut Soup (Tom Kha Phak)

Product: Amy’s Organic Thai Coconut Soup (Tom Kha Phak) – $4.59+

Ah, winter.  The only thing about winter that I absolutely love…is that it is the heart of soup season.  Nothing beats a warm bowl of soup on an icy cold evening.  Nothing.  Just…trust me on this one.

Now, I do love to make my own soups and often do.  However…sometimes there just isn’t enough time in the day to get all the prep work and the whole cooking part of the meal done.  It can be a bit daunting…especially in my closet-sized kitchen.  I love to cook, but not in there.  Not for long periods of time.  There just isn’t room.

Well, upon returning from vacation in Disney World, my roomie and I were looking to use up some of the items that are lingering in the pantry, fridge, and/or freezer.  Being that we had come from warm, beautiful Florida…back to a wintery mix falling from the Louisville skies…soup sounded pretty awesome.  We had two more days until the weekend and we were trying to make it through without hitting up the grocery store for anything besides necessary items (her skim milk, my Greek yogurt, etc.).

That being said, I had a couple of Amy’s Soups in my pantry…both gluten-free of course.  It was just a matter of which one we should devour that chilly evening.

I let Cathy choose…and her decision was to have Amy’s Thai Coconut (Tom Kha Phak) soup that night with a gluten-free grilled cheese and avocado sandwich.  Sounded good to me…and it was as easy as making a sandwich and heating up the contents of the soup can, which made my travel weary body very happy.

Tom Kha Phak is a popular soup in Thai restaurants that combines sweet coconut milk with warm Thai spices, organic tofu, lemongrass, shiitake mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and other various vegetables.  So many times, this type of soup is a go-to for someone who is unfamiliar with Thai food and not sure what to get or what they might like.  As Tom Kha Phak has a delicate, mild flavor…it is often a good place to start.

But…I adore Thai food.  I love Thai food.  I often crave Thai food.  That being said, I have never had Tom Kha Phak at any Thai restaurant.  I normally go for a Pad Thai or something along that line.  So, I didn’t know what this soup was going to taste like or if I would like it.  Really the most daunting part of it was the fact that it was a coconut milk based soup.  Which, shouldn’t make a difference as I drink and use coconut milk in many things.  Why this threw me off and made me a bit apprehensive about this soup is beyond me.  Guess it was just one of those mental roadblocks.

But, I set aside any judgement and poured the soup out of the can into a pot and began to warm it on the stove.  While that was warming, I went to work on the gluten-free grilled (vegan) cheese and avocado sandwiches.  They finished up at the same time, so I couldn’t have been happier.  I sliced the sandwiches into fourths (because you gotta have those little triangles!) and then dished up little bowls of the soup.  Dinner was served.

I’ll say this…the soup absolutely smelled fantastic, so if that was any indication as to what it might taste like…I was ready to be wowed.  One little slurp of just the broth and I was hooked.  Once I began ladling up spoonfuls of the broth with the vegetables and tofu…it was soup magic.  This instantly became one of my most favorite pre-packaged, buy-it-off-the-shelf soups on the market.  I loved the warm spices that were throughout the coconut milk broth.  The vegetables were soft, yet packed with flavor.  The tofu was rich, but didn’t overpower anything else in the soup.  I wanted more…but all I had was what was in my bowl.  So I savored it…down to the last slurp.

Amy’s Thai Coconut Soup (Tom Kha Phak) has no trans fat, no added MSG, and no preservatives.  It is certified vegan and gluten-free.  The ingredients that go into this soup are all items I recognize.  Every single one of them.  Filtered water, organic coconut milk, organic sweet potatoes, organic carrots, organic tofu, organic green beans, organic onions, organic shiitake mushrooms, spices, sea salt, organic evaporated cane juice, organic cornstarch, organic tamari, kaffir lime leaf (remove this before serving, BTW), organic garlic, shallots, organic orange peel, and organic oil.  I bet you recognize every single item I listed off.  It’s all natural and organic…and what that sort of quality brings to the product is astounding.

As for nutritional information, the serving size is half the can, which means you get two servings out of the container.  Each serving contains 140 calories and 10 grams of fat.  Don’t panic over those fat calories…much of that is healthy fat that comes form your coconut milk.  A serving packs a 4 grams of protein punch.  And, for being a canned soup, the 580 mg of sodium isn’t too bad comparatively speaking.

Oh…and this soup is delicious.  If I didn’t get my point across earlier.

Amy’s Kitchen provides so many gluten-free and vegan options that I don’t know why I doubted the quality and taste of this soup.  I have yet to meet an Amy’s product that I can eat that I don’t like.  Honestly…when a company puts that much effort into providing the best quality and tasting product they can produce…it shows.

And this soup…now ranks as one of my favorites.  Never tried it?  Go out to your grocery store…right now…and buy a can.  Give it a quick warm and enjoy.  I promise…you’ll fall in love with it as quickly as I did.

Thank you…again…Amy’s Kitchen.

Amy's Organic Thai Coconut Soup (Tom Kha Phak) (cooked)

Amy’s Organic Thai Coconut Soup (Tom Kha Phak) (cooked)