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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ceaser's Stuffed Shells with Cheese (in Marinara Sauce)

This isn't what I was reviewing in the post that got eaten, but... well, I'll come back to that post when it's time comes around again. For now, let's talk shells! I found Ceaser's offering in the freezer section of R Downs. I'd like to tell you more about the company, but their website seems to be under a remodeling project at the time I write this, so... no dice. Anyway, R Downs had several of their pasta offerings in the freezer, and I grabbed the shells for a little variety. Tonight, I sat down to eat them.

The shells themselves aren't that bad at all. They're stuffed with ricotta cheese, accentuated by herbs and spices. I found them a teensy bit dry and rubbery, though I am willing to chalk that up to the vagaries of microwave cooking more than anything else. Now, as for the sauce... well, the sauce reminds me of a joke that Woody Allen tells at the beginning of Annie Hall where two women are complaining about the food they're being served: "it's so bad... and in such small portions!" The marinara sauce isn't horrible; it's a bit too tomatoey and bland for my taste, but given that I found the shells dry, that sauce had an important job, and there just wasn't enough of it to go around. There were three shells in the box, but I'd say there was only enough sauce for 2, and that was using said sauce sparingly. So, a mixed bag in terms of the food.

The nutritional facts, on the other hand, kind of surprised me. For a start, a box of this stuff will run you 370 calories. This surprised me by being a bit low. The fat content, on the other hand? 18g total (27% DV), with 9g saturated fat (a whopping 47% DV). Whoa. Not sure where that's coming from-- the cheese? As for the rest of the stats, you're looking at 65mg cholesterol (22%), 660mg sodium (27%), and 37g carbs (12%). The sodium number is less of a surprise to me, but the rest? Huh. Would not have guessed.

I'll be looking to try more of Ceaser's pasta products in the future. While I was mildly disappointed with some of the aspects of these shells, I think I'd eat them again... but I should probably lay off for a couple weeks. Read on!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Quick Post About the Lack of Posts

Keen observers to ye olde gluten-free critic will note that the past month or so has been somewhat devoid of posts. This is... well, it's both entirely fault, and only partially my fault.


Well, I will admit that my espirit de blog has been waning of late. That much is entirely my fault. However, it did not help that a post I meant to put up last week was entirely eaten by Blogger. Having to re-write something from scratch, I think, is loathed by most writers, and I am no exception. So, I've been procrastinating. Sorry! I will be getting back on the blogging horse (hopefully) this week, and will be endeavoring a more regular posting schedule in the ensuing weeks.

In the meantime, I'd like to invite anyone who has been stopping by to drop a comment in ye olde inboxe. Possible topics could include: things you like about the blog, things you hate about the blog, general felicitations, and/or crude and strange drawings made from MS Paint. You can also send in questions via the formspring, if you're so inclined.

Okay, that's all for now. Let's hope this post doesn't get eaten... Read on!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

O'Dough's Chocolate Chip Banana Cake

When is a cake not a cake? When it's served in a loaf that is wrapped in paper? When it is made up of something that is naturally referred to as bread? Does the presence of chocolate chips automatically tip the balance? These questions and more plagued me as I tested a new type of banana loaf, available from the fine folks at O'Dough's, a canadian company who list the usual suspects of buns, breads, and cakes among their products. I found their Chocolate Chip Banana Cake at R Downs, and resolved to review it. My thought was that, even though it was named "cake," it's banana quality would make it a good breakfast food. Of course, now that I see O'Dough's website, I realize my mistake, as the banana cake is described as a "desert cake." Oops.

So! Now that I've got that figured out, how did it fare as a breakfast option? Not bad. The texture falls somewhere between bread and cake (another reason why this stuff is so confusing), and when presented with butter, it slides a bit too far in the direction of "mushy." Of course, that's more on me than it is the breadcake. However, it has a solid, banana breadcake taste to it. The chocolate chips are of the "small" variety, which is the right call here, as large chips would have been too overwhelming to the loaf as a whole. It toasts up nicely, which, given that it's cake, is kind of a surprise.

In the end, I think that this is a product which is caught up in between worlds, so to speak. If you treat it like banana bread, and thusly as a breakfast food, it does all right, but there are better and more easily-obtainable options out there. However, I don't know who would want to eat it as a cake. It's tasty enough, but not in a "dessert cake" way, despite the presence of the chocolate chips. But if I want cake, I'm going to want cake. This... isn't cake, as much as it would have you believe.

Quick rundown of the nutrition facts before we go, and yes, the fact that it's a cake means that some levels aren't tremendously good. A serving of this cake weighs in at 1.4oz (or 40g). They claim 10 servings per loaf; I wish I had been paying more attention when I was slicing it up to see how many slices I got out of my loat, but... anyway. In your single serving, you get 155 calories, 65 of those from fat. Cake! You've also got 7g of fat (1.5g) of that being saturated. Cholesterol? Yup, 40mg worth. There's also 250mg of sodium per serving, and 22g of carbs (surprise, most of that is sugar, at 11g). And remember, that's just one slice. Given that the folks at O'Dough's brag that "you can't eat just one slice," you'll probably be doubling those numbers. Then again, it's cake. Have it, eat it, or both (if you can), it's cake. Read on!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mariposa Baking Sour Cream Coffee Cake

I'm going to cut right to the chase. Mariposa Baking's Sour Cream Coffee Cake is, quite simply, the best coffee cake I've ever had. Now, a cynic might point out that I have never had any other coffee cakes. Still, that doesn't make it any less true: it's the best coffee cake I've ever had. But first, let's talk about the bakers. Mariposa Baking are a small bakery run out of Oakland, California, and appear to have been around since at least 2004. They strive to create "artisan"- quality products (using mostly organic ingredients), producing small batches of food rather than assembly lining their way through the creation process. They claim that their food was blind taste-tested against comparable wheat products by a panel of culinary experts, and they only finished tinkering with the recipies when the panel couldn't tell the GDF food from the non-GF food (for more about the bakery, I recommend taking a look at their FAQ). They also, apparently, donate 2% of their annual profits to "community & world organizations," though it does not seem to be specified anywhere what that means. But, I'm being nitpicky. Anyway, their food is slowly starting to creep out, and you can find this coffee cake, along with a few different types of brownies, in the freezer of R Downs, who seem to have a knack at getting great GF treats before anyone else in town. You'll note on Mariposa's website that they also offer many other delectable-looking foods; if those bagels ever make it out here, it'll be time for another bagel battle!

However, we're here to talk about coffee cake. Said coffee cake comes in a 4.5" wide, circular bundle of deliciousness. It measures about a couple inches thick, and when you look at it, it's all about layers. The top is layered with cinnamon and small walnut pieces. Then you have a cake layer, then a cinnamon streusel layer, and a final cake layer. Given the thickness involved, I kind of expected the cake layers to be a little dense; I was pleasantly surprised when the cake turned out to be not only relatively light, but moist as well. The cinnamon layers are delicious, and the walnuts provide just enough of a crunchy texture without being difficult to handle. In fact, I'd like to see similarly-sized walnuts sold in bulk in supermarkets!

Is there a downside to this coffee cake? Well, it's not a downside per se, but I would recommend against attempting to eat the entire thing in one sitting, as it's quite rich. Now, this is the point in the review where I would regale you with nutritional information, but there's a snag: the labels I have don't have any nutritional information on them, and Mariposa's website does not include said information in their nutrition section! Whoops! I'd argue that the fact alone that the coffee cake is so very good is an indication that it can't be remotely healthy, but again, that would be cynical of me. I will say that the first two ingredients listed are sour cream, and organic unrefined cane sugar. That's quite a start! Perhaps I will look into this matter a little further. For now, though, I will just recommend that you slice the thing up and enjoy it over several occasions. That way it'll last longer, and with a coffee cake this good, why wouldn't you want to spread the joy as long as possible? Read on!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Whole Foods Gluten-Free Almond Scones

We're back with another breakfast product from the folks over at Whole Foods, and I promise that I absolutely did not choose this one because I realized I had fallen asleep at the blog (so to speak) and had not thrown up a post in more than a week and a half. I swear. That said- Whole Foods Almond Scones! These scones are another example of the selection found in the Whole Foods Gluten-Free freezer section. But when we talk about scones, what're we talking about, really? Well, a simple Google image search is... not that helpful, actually. More than half the scones listed have a roundish, almost biscuit-like appearance, as opposed to their triangularly-wedged cohorts. Wikipedia tells me that both types are correct, kind of. This is good news, as I don't want the gluten-free version of a scone to be markedly different from the "real" version. Looking further, there's also a great deal of savory-ness going on. Really a lot of savory-ness. That's partially because of the jam and clotted cream that have been liberally applied in several of the pictures. I'll admit, I have never tried Whole Foods' scones with jam or clotted cream. No jam, because I'm not a huge jam fan. No clotted cream because, well, that sounds like a good way to get a heart attack; also, I have no idea where one purchases clotted cream. My loss, I guess.

Okay, so, the actual scones. Well, you can get a nice look at their size over to the right, here. You'll notice they're sized fairly decently, but they're not terribly thick. We'll be coming back to that point, later. First, let's talk taste. Despite not being "savory," these scones taste pretty good. Their general flavor is slightly sweet, with the thin almond slices providing an additional nuttiness that is quite pleasing. Texture-wise, the scones are fairly firm, and make for good chewing. I, um, mean that in a good way. Scones really aren't supposed to be terribly complicated (at least in their unjammed, un-clotted-cream form), and these scones are no exception. They strike me as being a bit too big for a snack, but they make for a fairly excellent breakfast.

Is there a downside? Well, I mentioned it earlier, but, yes, there is. They're thin. My memory is somewhat hazy on this, but I don't think they were always quite so thin. Yes, they look thick enough in the middle (actually, I'd say they are thick enough in the middle), but their edges tend to be on the narrow side. Is this important? Only if you like slicing your scones in half! If that's the case, you'lld find these scones somewhat problematic. My hazy memory tells me that this wasn't always the case; they used to be about the perfect thickness for splitting in twain! Somehwere, something in the formula changed, and now you have to be skilled and luck to get the perfect slice. I guess that might not matter if you're not a perfectionist in such matters but... well... I kinda am. So the scones get minus points.

I said before that the scones weren't "savory." What does that mean for their nutrition facts? I'm actually a little surprised. Each scone weighs in at 380 calories, with a cool 200 of those calories derived from fat. Yikes. Then again, two of the first three ingredients listed are butter and cream, so there ya go. Aside from the fat, you're getting 22g total fat, and 12g saturated fat, which is... well, I'd call it "okay." On the plus side, 0g trans fat! Then again, I don't know what does have trans fat in it, these days. Maybe they used to have trans fats, then got rid of them, and the scones collapsed as a result. Hmmm. Anyway, to complete the nutritional round-up, they give you 41g carbs, which actually seems low, 100mg cholesterol, and 240mg sodium. So, even if you're not clotting them up, these scones need to be part of a complete, balanced breakfast.

In the end, I won't complain. Good, gluten-free scones are a rarity on the market nowadays (at least, in my neck of the woods), so despite a few flaws, I'll gladly grab a pack of these every few months to shake things up a bit. Maybe one day I'll break out the clotted cream. Maybe. Read on!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Niman Ranch: Pulled Pork with Barbecue Sauce

Oh, barbecue. Or, as I will be referring to it through the remainder of this post, BBQ. One of the staple American foods. Though its form may vary throughout the country, one thing remains true: it's usually pretty @#*%&$ing amazing. Oh, and there is one other unfortunate truth: commercially, it usually comes with gluten-laden soy sauce. Gah! So, you can imagine how intrigued I was when, while trolling my local Whole Foods for dinner ideas, I spotted a tub of Niman Ranch's BBQ pulled pork, with the "Gluten-Free" tag prominently displayed on the packaging. "Why, hello," I thought. "Wouldn't it be interesting to try you... especially on one of Canyon Bakehouse's fantastic buns?" Dinner plans made!

So, who are these guys? Well, from what I can gather, Niman's food animals have it pretty good. Until, you know, they are killed and turned into BBQ. But before that point, their animals are kept relatively uncaged, fed vegetarian-only feed, and never injected with hormones. Of course, that latter talking point is slightly dispelled by an admission that "Federal Regulations prohibit the use of hormones in pork." One assumes that even if that were not true, Niman would not be going crazy with the stuff. The takeaway? This isn't ordinary meat. Cool!

Preparing the BBQ is pretty easy. It comes in a pouch within a tub. You slit some holes in the pouch, rest the pouch in the tub, and nuke it for 4-5 minutes. You then let it rest, dump it out of the pouch, and you're good to go. Since 4-5 minutes is usually how long it takes me to toast a hamburger bun, the timing worked out splendidly. While it was cooking, I checked out the ingredients a little to see what type of BBQ I was dealing with. The result: tomatoes, brown sugar, vinegar, soy sauce... the closest BBQ-variant seems to be Texan. Suits me fine- I'm not as big of a fan of Kansas City's BBQ, and the Carolina mustard-based sauces can be hit-or-miss. Carolina's other BBQ style, the vinegar sauce, on the other hand... DROOOOOOOOOOOL... Er... anyway. The smell that wafted out of the microwave was very enticing, and I had my sights set on good times. I was not disappointed. I would not call the taste of the BBQ sauce "complicated," but I would call it very tasty. As I inferred, the first two ingredients listed for the sauce are tomato puree and brown sugar. No surprise, they're the two most-prevalent taste elements present. If you're not a fan of tomato/brown sugar BBQ, you won't like this. I am a fan. Case closed. The pork, meanwhile was nice and tender and was pulled enough that there were few large, sandwich-busting chunks present. However, there were the occasional chunks of straight fat in there, and those had to be fished out. I know fat is responsible for a lot of beautiful tastes, but I am not a fan of large globules. Get rid of those, and my list of complaints drops to... well, none.

Of course, there is the nutrition issue. It's BBQ, and no one expects a pulled pork sandwich to be the most healthy of delicacies. That said, I am pleasantly surprised by the nutrition info, here. The serving size is a reasonable 1/4 cup (which seems about how much I put in my sandwich). In that quarter-cup, you're getting 110 calories (40 from fat), which is not tremendous. But you're also getting 4.5g fat (1.5g sat fat, 0g trans fat), which seems reasonable, 30mg cholesterol, which is maybe a bit much, and 210mg sodium, which is... okay. So, kind of a mixed bag, here, is what I'm saying. Still, given the usual bomb o' unhealthiness that makes up a typical American BBQ, these stats are pretty good. So, if you want a quick BBQ dinner, check out Niman's Pulled Pork!

Read on!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ruth's Chia Goodness Apple Almond Cinnamon

Ah, breakfast, that most important meal of the day. Yet, it naturally occurs during the time in the day when my personal mental acuity is at its ebb. And, during the work week, it's something I want to be done with ASAP. Given all that, can you imagine how excited I was to find a breakfast item that promised easy preparation and fantastic nutrition? Well, okay, I wasn't jumping up and down or anything, but I was intrigued, to say the least. Well, let's talk first about the food involved here, or rather, the "superfood." That food is Salvia Hispanica, more commonly known as "Chia." Yes, Chia. As in, Chia Pets. That Chia. Yes, apparently the fuel behind all those Porky Pigs has been cultivated in the Americas for thousands of years (especially by the Aztecs), and according to Ruth's packaging, is "quite possibly the most nutritious seed ever." Really? That seems difficult to quantify. What has been quantified is that chia seeds are high in calcium, protein, fiber, magnesium, and an Omega-3 fatty acid known as ALA. Trustworthy studies on the benefits of eating chia seeds are thin on the ground, unfortunately, so the full effects of this food are unknown. That didn't stop "Dr. Oz" from the Oprah Winfrey show from endorsing these seeds, rather predictably leading to their current surge in popularity.

In their particular application, Ruth's have paired their chia seeds with buckwheat and hemp for more seedy goodness; they've also thrown in almonds, raisins, and dried apples for flavor. I've noted before that I have a weakness for apple cinnamon as a taste concept-- would that weakness lead me to loving this food?

Well, let's first talk about the way this stuff is prepared. According to the directions, it couldn't be any easier! Just mix 2T of seed mix with 1/4 cup of water (hot or cold water, even), stir, and let set for 3-5 minutes. While you wait, the mixture is supposed to "thicken." This particular bit led me to think that the resulting meal would be similar to grits in its consistency. Spoiler alert: not so much! The first time I tried making it, I went with the "cold water" approach. I measured, poured, stirred, and waited. After waiting the requisite five minutes, all I had was a not-entirely-appealing-looking layer of watery sludge in the bottom of my bowl (see the pic). I steeled myself, and took a bite. The flavor wasn't too bad. The seeds all tasted, well, seedy, but the apple-cinnamon almond combination was fairly decent. I also didn't mind the presence of the raisins, as I am normally wont to do. However, when considering the dish's texture, well, there was one rather unrelenting problem: chia seeds, apparently, when they get get, get slimy. So I was eating something whose major mass was cold and slimy. I'm not going to lie to you. It was gross. I got through most of the bowl, but I couldn't quite finish it. Cold, slimy, and watery? Blech. Also: raisins. On the plus side, though, I didn't get as hungry as I'd feared, especially given that 2T seeds + 1/4 cup water = not much food. But I didn't get even the slightest bit peckish for the rest of the morning. Bonus!

I knew, though, that in the interests of fairness, I was going to have to try again, this time with hot water. So, once I had convinced myself I was ready, I did just that. Again I measured the seeds, again I poured the water, again I waited. Again, the stuff failed to "set" in any meaningful way (the picture above, actually, is from the second attempt). Was it a better eating experience? Slightly. Using warm water instead of cold meant that the chia seeds were now warm and slimy rather than cold and slimy. However, they were still slimy. And "slimy" is just not a quality I want in my food. For full disclosure's sake, I decided to make the meal one last time, this time being absolutely sure to get the measurements right. Maybe the reason the stuff failed to set was because there was just too much water in it? Turns out, not so much. The third attempt, with my carefully-controlled measurements, was actually the worst of all in terms of cohesiveness. It went in the trash.

Salvia hispanica may, in fact, be one of the most powerfully nutritious seeds out there, but this is a bad vehicle for it. If you're interested in reaping its benefits, The GF Critic suggests buying the seeds in bulk and using them as addons; perhaps sprinkling them into a smoothie or into some yogurt. Meanwhile, I'll be continuing my search for the perfect breakfast food.

Read on!