Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Against The Grain Gourmet products

My Absolute Favorite pizza is from Against The Grain Gourmet. Actually their bread products falls into my favorite category as well.

What makes Against the Grain different from the other brands that are out on the market, is the simplicity of their ingredients; Tapioca starch, milk, mozzarella cheese, eggs, canola oil, salt, for their basic rolls. Their rolls come out very airy, and light, and they don't fall apart as easy as other gluten free breads seem to do.

Their pizza is CHEESEY! which in my opinion is the best way for any pizza to be! The crust is flaky and light, and thin. The pizza also has the right amount of cheese, I think the cheese in the crust helps with that. The back of the box has 2 settings for cooking the pizza, I always go with the crispy crust, because that still comes out soft, but not soggy.

My pizza came out just right, I know I can rely on this to turn out prefect each time, 20 minutes at 400 degrees. I love the size too, it's a 12 inch pizza, so for me there is always a few slices left over for lunch the following day.
Their products are available at several healthy eating stores in my area, but not all products are available at all stores. Recently when my Whole Foods moved, they didn't have the rolls, which are great for beef sandwiches. I ended up going store hopping until I could find them! (Whole Foods did, right the situation, and now have the rolls again.)
Their baguettes are one of my favorites for bruschetta, and cheese fondue. Usually I only use one loaf in the baguettes for bruschetta, so I'll chop up the other loaf and take it with us to The Melting Pot, and use it for the cheese fondue.

Friday, May 24, 2013

I Survived San Fransisco, Gluten Free

We just returned from our Spring vacation, this time we went to Napa Valley, and San Francisco. For me it was the first time I was to the area, my boyfriend was a bit more familiar from a previous trip several years back. As with any trip, I was armed with gluten free snacks, my Find Me Gluten Free App loaded on my phone and tablet, and actually copies of Living Without Magazine, and Gluten Free Living. They both in the past year had highlighted going to the California Coast for traveling.

When we planned the trip, Napa Valley won out, over Sonoma, because we were able to find more gluten free options when we initially investigated things. So we planned the first two days in Napa, then driving over to Sausalito, and into San Francisco. Luck for us, most of the gluten free places were in one spot in the downtown which was also close to the hotel. We got into town, and were starving, so we checked out what Find Me Gluten Free had listed for Napa, we saw the magic word, Cupcakes... So we found a place right by it, decided it was good, and headed towards the cupcakes. That's when we realized there were 3 places near the cupcakes that did gluten free. Two of them were 100% dedicated gluten free. All of the restaurants were in the Oxbow Public Market (OPM); 644 1st St, Napa, CA 94559, we ended up perusing all the places to eat and decided we could come back to there for all our meals. 


Day 1!

Our first meal was at Pica Pica Maize Kitchen, their menu include empanadas, sandwiches, and salads, I had to ask the server if the empanadas were gluten free, he told me Everything was gluten free, they used corn for their base grain. I was tickled pink with excitement. We ended up getting an order of each type of empanada to try out, (cheese or meat) which came with a side of guacamole. The server apologized they were out of the Angry Orchard Cider, but he did have wine, so he gave me his suggestion for a wine to go with our empanadas. We loved the empanadas, we were intrigued by the arepas so we split one of those as well, we had to try the sweet corn one with a spicy pork filling. They weren't kidding when they said Spicy Pork, the Pica'Pun sauce was hot, hot hot!! I really wish we had one of these around Chicagoland, cause I could eat there at least once a week, easily.

We went over to Kara's Cupcakes to get a snack to go, cause who doesn't love cupcakes for a midnight snack! The gluten free cupcakes were in a cake stand on top of the counter separate from the regular cupcakes. They had a variety of mini and regular size, as well as flavors of chocolate, vanilla, and coconut flavors available. I had to snag a vanilla coconut one for my midnight snack. I was glad we got the cupcakes early, when we stop back in the OPM later, they were out of the gluten free ones!

The gal who put our order together, right away put the gluten free cupcake into it's own box and even added a sticker that said Gluten Free on the top. I was very delighted to see their diligence in keeping the product separate. (We found a second Kara's Cupcakes by Ghiradelli Square in San Francisco as well, they were out of GF cupcakes by dinner time on Sunday.)

By the time we walked around the downtown of Napa, checked out the shops, and tasting rooms, we got back to our hotel in time for their evening tasting, and really didn't want to go far for dinner. So we walked over to the restaurant in the parking lot; Oventi Mediterranean 1990 Trower Ave.  Napa, CA. We've had good success with Mediterranean places in the past, so we went over, asked to see a copy of the menu to see if there were any safe items on the menu. One of the servers came over and asked us if he could help us in any way, so I asked him if they were able to do gluten free. He informed me he just served another gluten free meal right before we walked in, and that the chef could improvise anything on the menu to make sure it was safe for me. We'd picked out a few options that looked good to us, he went talked to the chef, and came back to let us know all of them were safe options. We were sold! I got a balsamic glazed chicken with green beans and mashed potatoes, my boyfriend got the curried chicken with basmati rice.

Both dishes were great, we had gotten a bottle of BV Coastal Pinot Nior, it made a great pairing to both dishes. We opt'd out of dessert since we had cupcakes waiting back in the room.

Day 2!

The hotel had a general continental breakfast, including hard boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, sausage, fruit, yogurt, and a variety of gluten-y pastries. I was content with some eggs, yogurt and fruit, so I didn't fill up too much before lunch. While walking around downtown Napa the day before we went to talk to the booking department for the wine train tours to see what the tours included, and if it was possible to accommodate allergies with their lunches, if they couldn't we'd have to come up with another tour idea. The girl right away said yes, they could accommodate allergies, that they do it regularly, and wanted to know what allergies we needed to accommodate for. We told her, just gluten free, she said that was one they did regularly. So we booked our tour! She noted on our reservation that we needed a gluten free meal.
When we got to the station the next morning to pick up our tickets, the girl who gave us the tickets confirmed that we had requested a gluten free meal. I was happy to know they did note it on the reservation. When we were seated on the train (which was really super fancy an cool) I asked the server which of the 5 lunch options was gluten free. He told me All of their sauces contained gluten, so I could order any entrée and the chef would make it with a red wine reduction sauce on the side in place of the listed sauce on the menu, and to order the salad, it was naturally GF. I got a NY strip steak, with kale chips, mashed potatoes and carrots. There was a slice of gorgonzola cheese across the top, which added with the sauce to the steak melted in your mouth.

Here's a glimpse of the scenery we were gazing at while eating. It was a cute tour! You got to go past the big wineries, and depending the tour you got to either get off and tour a winery, or just ride on the train and take in the scenery. 

They had 2 gluten free dessert options, they had crème brulee which I feel is my normal restaurant rating scale, we judge them on how good their crème brulee is, and if we will go back - LOL and they had a Panna Cotta, which I'd never had before. This one was vegan, and made with Coconut milk, it was more sorbet in texture than custard, but it was so refreshing. I give them 2 thumbs up and 4 dragonflies on dinning out scale for the amazing meal. The scenery and tour put it over the top for an amazing day with great food.

Since the train station for the wine tour is right by the OPM we went over there for a light snack when we got back from the tour, and to grab a pizza for later for snacking.
We went over to C CASA, and checked out their options. Also 100% gluten free, using corn as their base grain for many dishes.
We ended up picking up some more sweet treats of Mexican brownies and a coconut lime cake for snacks later, as well as getting an order of nacho's, a taco and some Omission beer!

Since Omission is from Portland, they are a more local beer available places in Northern California, and being from Chicago, Omission isn't in our normal rotation of gluten free beers you find at restaurants. 

The cool part of their menu was the unique flavors and tastes they had. The nachos were black and white bean, (no meat) and the taco my boyfriend had was an array of veggies with avocado being the main flavor.

We went for a walk to check out some of the tasting rooms near by, and did some wine tasting, some chocolate pairing, and decided we weren't really hungry for dinner, so we grabbed a pizza at Ca' Momi Entoeca to eat later back in our room. They advertise on their sign that they can do gluten free BUT it is prepared in a shared environment and cooked in a stone pizza oven where other pizzas are cooked. We thought we'd take a chance, since they had a pear and gorgonzola pizza that was calling our names. When we ordered the server made sure to point these facts out to us again, to make sure full disclosure was up front. We acknowledged the chances and took our pizza to go. It was good, and despite eating half of it on my own, I had no issues with it, since pizza is usually my nemesis when it comes to shared equipment foods.

Day 3!

We stopped by the continental breakfast real quick for some hard boiled eggs, fruit and yogurt again, before hitting the road to Sausalito. Gluten-Free living had an article and some fabulous pictures of food from Copita Tequileria y Comida in Sausalito, so we thought we'd check it out. It's hard to tell from my picture, but the bottom right corner of the menu mentions that everything on today's menu is gluten free. So we got some quesadilla's that really looked more like empanadas, veggie tacos, chips and guacamole, as well as some more Omission beer. The food was spicy and tasty, and we had a nice view of the water and people walking by from our seats on the patio.

This held us over to do the major "driving" sight seeing in San Fran, Coit Tower, Lombard Street, the Golden Gate, and the Painted Ladies. We found our hotel, checked in, and decided to wander towards dinner, possibly in China Town. We stared at the map on Find Me Gluten Free trying to locate a good place with possibly a few reviews to make us more secure on the establishment. We only found a couple, and nothing seemed 100% convincing for me, but we decided to try and see what we could find. We found 1 place E&O Asian Kitchen, nothing was jumping out as dishes I'd like, plus they just opened a location in Mount Prospect, IL walking distance from me, so we skipped that one. The second one we found on Find Me Gluten Free (Mikaku Restaurant) said they did not do gluten free at all, so we skipped that one. We found a place to sit down, and look at our options again. We saw Bamboo Asia was near by, but missed that since they are in the financial district, they are closed on weekends! aahhhhh!!!
At this point 100% determined to have Asian food we found Osha Thai; 4 Embarcadero Center, they do have other locations around the city - Made sure they were open, and walked in their direction. (If I didn't mention we walked to all these locations! I was so hungry by the time we got there!!!) We walked in and right away asked if they did gluten free and the hostess responded Yes like we were crazy for thinking they didn't! So we ended up getting dinner here. Fabulous Thai food, it's been a while since I had Thai so it was super refreshing and tasty, even a little spicy.

We got an order of their Spring Rolls, and I got the Totally Scallops, I'm not a big seafood fan, but I do like good scallops prepared with a good sauce. Delish!  

We had walked almost all the way to the Port of San Francisco, we decided to keep walking and go see the Bay Bridge with the current light display they have set up, and enjoy the gorgeous night.

Day 4!

We're almost done here! But not after our full day of adventuring the city. Our hotel in San Francisco did not provide a breakfast option, only tea and coffee service, so we opted to munch on some of the snacks we brought with, and some of the sweets we found in Napa. Then we started our venture to The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, 2400 Harrison Street, in the Mission District. We'd called to confirm that this location had the gluten free bread, since the Gluten-Free Living magazine only mentioned The South Park Location. The Mission District is similar to the Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago, we walked through looked at the different street art and wandered over to the grilled cheese place. Wow, the bread was fluffy and tasted great!

Their special drink of the day was a raspberry lemonade, freshly squeezed it was nice refreshing choice.
We continued our day heading over to the Wharf, Pier 39, The Ferry building, around the Embarcadero to see the Cupid Span by Claes Oldenburg off the end of the Embarcadero by the Bay Bridge. While at The Ferry Building we did stop at Mariposa's Gluten baking Co. to pick up some baked goods for later, and stopped to get some frozen yogurt at Gott's Roadside.

There was still daylight left so we decided to go and find Ghiradelli Square and see what was around there. (Another Kara's Cupcake's) There are 3 spots you can order ice cream in Ghiradelli's, we happened to walk in upstairs where there was no line to order. I called it the gluten free entrance, since there was a line out the door to order downstairs where they were making fresh waffle bowls for sundae's! Then there was another non-waffle bowl sundae location across the square. We had a nice sundae to hold over our appetites until the sun set. The park right across from the square is a great location to watch the sunset.

We were debating what we wanted for dinner when my boyfriend joked "There was an In-N-Out Burger by the Wharf." I'm a sucker for anywhere I can get French fries, and I love their protein style wraps for their burgers. So after the sunset we headed our way back to the Wharf to get In-N-Out Burger.

That in a nutshell covers our San Francisco vacation, eating, sight seeing, and traveling. I was glad I packed snacks, I indulged in those when we had large gaps between some of our meals, as well as on the plane ride each way. It reminded me to make sure we do our research as best we can before we go, and to make sure we have a back up plan for when a restaurant doesn't work out.

Our next trip, just a short visit to New Jersey / New York next month, we went last year, and found some unique places to try, so I can't wait to see what this trip brings!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Walker Brother's

Here's a quick review of one of my favorite breakfast places in the burbs of Chicago. We just got back from Napa Valley/ San Francisco last night, and I have so many wonderful reviews of my trip, I need another day to get all my thoughts together! Look for my tracel review in the next couple days!!

Walker Brothers Pancake House is a Chicagoland staple, they have been in the North Suburbs since 1960 when their first location opened in Wilmette, on Green Bay Road. Since then they have expanded into several other locations around the area. It's not unusual for there to be a line on a weekend morning for breakfast.

The last few years they have added a gluten free menu offering a wide range of items including pancakes and waffles. Yes, Waffles!! Their announcement of waffles was so exciting, and it was even more exciting that they are made on their own dedicated waffle iron!

Again this one came my direction with some help from a friend "Hey! Tell your sister Walker Brothers has gluten free pancakes!" That was early in 2012, by late 2012 they had added the waffles as well. Their menu includes omelets, salads (at select locations) hash browns, and a few other naturally gluten free items from their regular menu. I have to say, I'm partial to their waffles, they are super tasty. They also are marked with a wooden stick that says Gluten Free on it, to help reduce any confusion when delivering meals. I was delighted to see that their menu included the different varieties of waffles and pancakes, mirroring their regular menu with their options.

As always since it is a shared kitchen you do have to worry about cross contamination, but they are taking many precautionary steps to make this as safe as possible, as evident by the separate waffle iron. When dinning at the Lincolnshire location, the gluten free menus are laid out easily visible to the hostess on their menu stand.

I give Walker Bros. 4 dragonflies since cross contamination is possible due to the shared kitchen, but the expansive menu, and the quality of the food ranks them high on my list.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Going on Vacation

This year has started off in a crazy downward spiral really. It seemed nothing was going the right direction, my stress levels were hitting record high's and I just didn't think I'd accomplish anything this year. Things work out in the strangest ways, that my stress level has gone down from the initial instigator but gone back up in other ways. Recent passing of our family pet, followed by a my brothers emergency hospital stay, and the passing of a dear friend, I could use some sunny days and enjoy getting away from life. My boyfriend and I have a bucket list of places to visit, so we decided to pick one and go, Hey why not! I have a little extra free time right now, might as well take advantage of it. This trip the winner is San Francisco, and Napa Valley. I went to Los Angeles last year with my best friend, and we did well finding gluten free food, without Find Me Gluten Free, but I always welcome the help!

Anyone who has traveled with me in the last 2 years knows can verify that half of every vacation, or day off was spent with my phone to my ear talking to work. That won't be an issue this trip, which makes it even more exciting, I can have a stress free vacation!
We leave in 3 days. I'm the totally prepared for everything kind of person, so I plan out what to take, weeks in advance, only to have the weather at our destination do a complete 360 and I have to rework everything. So far I have 2 outfits picked out, and all my gluten free snacks. Yup, picked the snacks out already.

Nogii bars are a must, them and KIND bars. Those are packed.
Annie's fruit snacks in individual packs, great to fit in my purse.
K-Kritters, Gluten free animal crackers and a small container that will fit in my purse.
Glutino's pretzels, and a small container.
Some individual snack size packs of treats from the GF expo.
My copies of Gluten Free living, and Living Without that highlighted my vacation destination and listed places to eat.
Find Me Gluten Free is loaded on my phone and tablet.
I have magnesium pills, and Benadryl for the emergency reactions.... I'm Set!

Now somewhere here I need to figure out what else I need to pack.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Hofbrauhaus Chicago Gluten free, why yes it is!

Well tickle me pink! who would have thought that Hofbrauhaus would do gluten free?! I know I didn't expect it. While making date night plans to go see Ironman 3 at the Muvico, my boyfriend said for me to figure out which restaurants at The Park at Rosemont were able to do gluten free, and we'll go to one of them, before the movie.

I have been to Toby Keith's I Love this Bar and grill previously, and knew they could do the basics, salads, steak, pork chops, fish all as gluten free options. The servers were very knowledgeable about what they could do. I was also able to see online that Adobe Gila's does have gluten free labels on their menu showing which items were gluten free, or could be prepared to be gluten free. Five Roses Pub has a nice menu they can send over that marks their Gluten Free items. There are salads, and several, easy staples like chicken, steak, and a white fish, as well as the beloved Corned beef and Cabbage. Looking over menus for other locations for My Big Fat Greek Restaurant, they showed markings for gluten free items, but I didn't have time to go and ask the Rosemont location specifically if they could do gluten free as well. (As of Oct 5th this location has closed, and a new restaurant is pending) Looking online it seemed that other Hofbrauhaus locations had gluten free menu's so I decided to give them a call and ask. I was shocked when the hostess who answered said "Yes we do gluten free, would you like to talk to the chef? I'll transfer you he can tell you what we offer." I was so delighted. After speaking with the chef who emailed me a copy of the gluten free menu, I decided, this is where we're going for dinner.

The hostess does have a copy of the gluten free menu at the hostess stand, so you can look it over at the table. I definitely had to read descriptions and really figure out what to try. I figured, I don't know the next time we'll find German food, so accommodating. My only disappointment was they didn't have any gluten free beer, but they only carried their own beers. they did have soda, cocktails, and wine available.

I had to try the potato soup, and decided to do a sausage platter, with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. The soup was a traditional German potato soup, I really liked it, normally it does come with croutons, so make sure to order without the croutons! Our server was nice, and when I pointed to the soup on the gluten free menu, I started to say "With no Bread..." He finished my sentence by saying and no croutons. (Yay! He knew!!). My soup came out with No croutons, which he pointed out very proud.

Our food came out almost right after that, he apologized, that since it wasn't too busy the kitchen was getting orders out super fast. I couldn't remember if my meal (the gluten included version) came with the sausage on bread, I kept thinking, this is a lot of food if these come on bread too! Desserts they had a couple items, including vanilla ice cream with a raspberry sauce. The server understood to leave the cookies that come with the ice cream off. He did ask if my boyfriend wanted them, (since he's not gluten free, and had ordered a gluten filled meal), but he declined, he said he was too filled from dinner.
The restaurant is pretty large, and they have a cute outside seating area as well, which was where most the people were sitting. Inside there was a band performing which was entertaining. They seemed to be having a lot of fun, though most the people that were inside, were by the bar, and seemed to be enjoying their beer more than anything.

On my dinning out rating scale I'd give Hofbrauhaus a 4 dragonfly rating. The staff, even the hostesses were knowledgeable, and the server made me feel comfortable with his understanding of gluten free as well. My call earlier in the day that I got to talk to the chef, he was delighted that I called, and said he hoped I'd be in soon to enjoy a meal.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Dinning Out Rating Scale

I eat out a least once a week. It's just easier some days, especially for date night, unless our plan is making a meal and chilling. Since we have friends in different areas around the city and suburbs we get to check out different areas when we visit friends, or check out new places. Some places we've tried and really liked, they've been added to the repeat visit list, due to something on the menu standing out, so we look for reasons to head that direction.

I have come up with a scale for rating the places that we eat out at, for how gluten free friendly they are. Things that I consider is how safe does the restaurant seems, how knowledgeable are they to gluten free, does their menu have good safe options, was the food good, and did they get the meal right on the first try!

1 Dragonfly - Not eating there ever again. If I absolutely have to, we better be on a road trip and there is no food for hours to come. I'll be digging into my travel snacks to hold me over.

2 Dragonflies -  The menu is probably 2-5 items, which 3 of them don't even sound interesting, and my best bet is a salad that I hope looks better than the ones in the grocery store after 2 days of sitting on the shelf, or a piece of meat that is grilled and that's the only thing on the plate. The server asks you questions like "Can you have tomatoes?" - Yes I've been asked that one before. But at least after a short explanation of what gluten is, it seems like they get it.

3 Dragonflies - They're ok, could do better, menu was ok, the food seemed ok, but nothing excited me about it, but I know I can go back there, and get a decent meal, and the staff was ok, mentioning gluten free didn't seem to explode their heads, they get it.

4 Dragonflies - I'm ready to go back already. Their menu is wow, their service is charming, and the food is delicious.

5 Dragonflies - Superb! This is for places that are dedicated gluten free, there is no chance of getting cross contaminated, there are lots of options, and I'm holding back from trying everything on the menu.

Reviews to come!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Steadfast Gluten Free Beer

Wow! Boy the choices for gluten free beer have started to grow!! This is so exciting to me because, I loved craft beer tasting prior to my Celiac diagnosis. That was my biggest disappointment was not being able to have beer again, especially Blue Moon. I still am hoping someone can make something close to Blue Moon, gluten free. I was still a novice to wine, which is growing on me, but I do miss my beer! So any time we find something new, it's like a holiday in my house.

Last night while picking up beer to go with our tamale's for Cinco De Mayo we decided to stop and go to a different liquor store on our drive home, and we happened to stumble on a new gluten free beer to try! Yay!!!

Steadfast - This is a Sorghum based beer, so there are no gluten ingredients used during the crafting process. It's a hoppy beer, and a robust citrus flavor, and even a bit strong. It reminds me of several micro-brewed beers I'd tried at a local micro brewery back in the day. The initial taste is a bit bitter, but as you drink more the taste becomes lighter, but the citrus taste stays on your tongue for the full flavor. Over all I would rate this beer in par with a traditional IPA from any small barrel American micro brewery.