Cinnamon & Sugar “Snaps” from El’s

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(sorry, El’s, I couldn’t resist eating them as soon I got them…before I could snap a photo)

A little less than two years ago, El’s first reached out to me to try their new Medley’s, a gluten-free snack mix, and Snaps, their gluten-free bagel chip.  You can read my review of their products then, here.  The positive reactions and the demand for a stand-alone bagel chip has helped El’s to launch their newest bagel chips, Snaps, in three flavors: sea salt, garlic & herb, and cinnamon & sugar.  I was once again lucky enough to receive an invitation from El’s to try a bag.  I decided to go for the cinnamon & sugar, because it was the most different from their other products.  Plus, I have a sweet tooth :)

As soon I the bagel chips arrived, I ripped open the bag, and crunched on a handful of chips.  Then I crunched another handful.  I had to physically remove the bag from the kitchen and place it in my office, so I could save some for my review.  They were named perfectly.  Snaps are well, snappy.  Their crunch is unparalleled by any gluten-free bagel chip I’ve tried and they are perfect for snacking.  Their flavor is subtle: a well-rounded blend of cinnamon and sugar that doesn’t overwhelm the palate, but keeps you grabbing for more.

Not only do El’s satisfy in flavor and texture, they are all natural.  The ingredients are easily recognizable so you aren’t left wondering what you just put into your body.  Also, they are free of gluten, eggs, nuts, peanuts, dairy and soy which makes them a great snack for people with multiple allergies.

Thanks El’s for letting me sample your delicious product!

Lucy’s Maple Bliss Cookies + Giveaway

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Recently, Lucy’s Cookies emailed me and asked if I wanted to sample their Maple Bliss Cookies in honor of Maple Syrup Month.  I grew up in a house where we ate my father’s from-scratch pancakes every weekend, and one of my favorite things in the world is a warm pancake slathered with butter, covered with real, pure, maple syrup.  So of course, I couldn’t refuse!

Lucy Gibney founded Lucy’s Cookies after discovering her son had severe food allergies.  All of her cookies are gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, tree nut and peanut-free.  They are made in a dedicated bakery where trace amounts of these common allergens are tested for.  Not only is this great for individuals with multiple allergies, but multiple allergies within a household.

I’ve had Lucy’s cookies once before.  This past December, my friend served Lucy’s special holiday Merry Mint Cookies at a book club.  I found them light but with a huge punch of flavor.  Everyone else did too.  These Maple Bliss Cookies are also light and crunchy which is driven by the oat-based ingredients (all gluten-free, of course).  This cookie is sightly sweet and the maple flavor is present but not pronounced.    The cookie actually captures the buttery-sweetness of a properly dressed pancake.   I like this, but if you are looking to indulge at the end of the meal, this is not the cookie for you.  Instead, this cookie is best enjoyed in the afternoon with a glass of milk.

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Luckily, I  am not the only one benefiting from Lucy’s Cookies generosity.  I have an extra box to give away to a reader.  Comment on this post by April 17 with your favorite way to enjoy maple syrup, and I will randomly select a winner!

Review: Next Door’s “Living Gluten Free”

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Whatever expectations I had for last night’s “Living Gluten Free” dinner by Next Door were exceeded.  From start to finish, I felt special.  The event took place in the Test Kitchen, a private dining space and when we arrived for the reception,  Alex and I were each given a glass of prosecco.  While sipping on prosecco, we noticed that Danny and Stenzy Wegman were amongst the guests.  It certainly upped the “special” factor but also was a great example of how involved Wegmans is in the community it serves.  For the amuse-bouche, we were served a butternut squash soup shooter which set the standard for the deliciousness that was ahead of us, then we were ushered to the tables.

The 18 guests were seated at two long tables, dressed elegantly and lit with candles, creating a warm and intimate ambiance.  Executive Chef, Chris Brandt opened the dinner by talking about how easy it actually is to accommodate gluten free diners, since there are so many foods that are naturally gluten free, and that Next Door regularly caters to dietary restrictions.  I was generally aware of this, as a frequent Next Door diner, but it was reassuring to hear from the Chef, himself.  Then, the food service began with Wegmans own freshly baked gluten free multigrain and white breads.  Out of the eight people at our table, only three were celiac/gluten-intolerant, but every was quite happy with the flavor and moist texture of the bread.  Interestingly, only Alex and I were Rochester residents, one guest came all the way from Auburn to take part in this special evening.

nextdoorThe first course was the Raw Winter Vegetable Salad.  Shaved cauliflower, beets, radish, and winter truffle were tossed with microgreens and dressed with a truffle-yuzu dressing.  For added crunch, the chef prepared a chia seed cracker, which was my favorite surprise gluten free treat.  This was Alex’s favorite dish because of its uniqueness.  I could smell the second course of scallops being prepared in the test kitchen, which was just feet away from us, and when it arrived, my taste buds were ready!  The scallops were served with a vanilla-fennel-pear sauce and cranberries.  This was my favorite dish because the scallops were cooked perfectly and I loved the vanilla-cranberry flavor combination with a savory dish.

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Waiting for our main course of colorado lamb, we were once again teased with delicious smells that wafted from the kitchen.  The lamb was prepared as roasted chops and a braised foreshank, seasoned with rosemary.  It was served with baby carrots, goat cheese potato puree, and a zucchini-mint sauce.  Both cuts of meat were incredibly flavorful, but slightly fatty.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed this dish thoroughly.  The portion size of the dishes was relatively generous, so after our main course, we were all feeling quite satisfied.

 

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However, any feeling of fullness was ignored as the waiters presented us with dessert: molten chocolate cake with house-made cherry-vanilla ice cream, cherry sauce, and a chocolate wafer.  The cake was in one word, decadent.  The cake-y outside gave way to a ganache on the inside.  The ice cream helped tone down the chocolate and the cherry sauce was so good I could have licked it off my plate.  Chef Brandt shared with us that he used Cup4Cup as a replacement for wheat flour in the cake and recommended it generally as a good all-purpose GF flour.

When we’d finished our last course, there were murmurs of delight and approval in reflection of the experience we had all just shared.  No one missed the gluten.

As we left the Test Kitchen, I stopped to thank the Chef and saw a plate of leftover chia seed crackers. After I mentioned how much I enjoyed the crunch and flavor of the crackers, Chef Brandt offered them to me to take home.  See? Special from start to finish.

Brunch at Brown Hound Bistro

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Last weekend, we took advantage of the fresh snow and went to Bristol Mountain for a day of skiing.  This was only my second time at Bristol Mountain as a new Rochesterian.  I was impressed by the accessibility of the mountain and the amount of runs they had for a small mountain in western New York.  We did a half day, getting in as many runs as possible to keep our bodies moving and warm.  By the end of the day, we were all much more exhausted than we had anticipated and spent the rest of the evening at a friends’ house on Canandaigua Lake by the fire, drinking wine.

The next morning, re-energized, we woke up early (for a weekend) and had breakfast at the Brown Hound Bistro.  The Brown Hound Bistro is near the southwestern part of Canandaigua Lake in South Bristol.  It is in a charming 100-year-old house and seats only 20.  It defines cozy.

Brown Hound Bistro only serves Brunch on Sundays and only from 8-2, so if you want a table, you are strongly encouraged to make a reservation.  For someone with a non-restricted diet, the menu has a wide array of options.  From French toast to German pancakes, NYC inspired bagel sandwich with salmon (entitled the Oh My Gawd!) to a Greek inspired lamb wrap, the Brown Hound has something for every palate.  But for a celiac like me, I felt limited to the eggs and salads especially since there weren’t any labels or disclaimers for special diets.  So, I ordered the Wild Bills Hangover, an omelette with cheddar, banana peppers, onion and bacon.

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I must admit, I didn’t disclose the fact that I was gluten free, until I specified no toast.  At that point, the waitress said, “I think we may have some gluten free bread left.”  Am I glad they did!  Yes, the omelet was delicious, but the gluten free bread was hands down the best gluten free bread I have every had.  It was sliced thick-Texas style, flavorful  and the texture was spot-on: chewy, but not tough.  I made everyone at the table sample it and they agreed it was really good.  Alas, bread that good, gluten free or not, could only be homemade and indeed it was.  I shamelessly asked the waitress for the recipe but she said it was a secret.

The Brown Hound Bistro makes good food and is quite charming- but I can get good food and charm at a lot of places.  What makes this small restaurant stand out is its baked goods, made on-site.  Although I would suggest they beef up their labeling practices on their menu and advertise that they accommodate gluten free diners, I would make the trek from Rochester on a weeknight to enjoy the freshly baked gluten free bread and I suggest you do too.

Trader Joe’s Opens in Pittsford

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Whether you are a Trader Joe’s fan or not, its arrival in Rochester has been highly-anticipated.  Many Rochesterians cannot imagine shopping anywhere other than Wegmans and the location of this TJ’s, as fans affectionately call it, has caused some confusion among loyal Wegman’s shopping.  Establishing the first Trader Joe’s in the Rochester area adjacent to the Pittsford Wegmans seems like a bad idea to many.  How could TJ’s survive next to the grocery shopping mecca that is the Pittsford Wegmans.  Why on earth would people make two trips to go grocery shopping when they could find everything they could possibly need at Wegmans?  This is the sentiment felt by many born and raised Rochesterians that have been exposed exclusively to the Wegmans grocery shopping experience.

Being from the New York area, exposed to my first Trader Joe’s at an early age in Westport, CT and subsequently becoming a loyal fan of the inexpensive TJ brand, I was not as skeptical about the success that Trader Joe’s will have in the Rochester area.  Trader Joes has never been a one-stop shop like Wegmans and frequently competes against large supermarkets.  I shop at Trader Joe’s because they have really good prices, it’s small, service is great, and treat bagging like a Tetris game.  I love their snack foods, cheeses, frozen options and packaged meats.  Admittedly, their produce isn’t very good, but its those other things that keep me coming back.  Plus, did I mention that their prices rock?

Despite the mixed opinions, Trader Joe’s opened in Pittsford Plaza last Friday, October 5th.  While I wasn’t able to check it out that day, I stopped by Monday and Tuesday to scope out the scene. Monday, I went in around 4 pm to get a couple of items.  It was packed.  So packed, I was having NYC TJ’s flashbacks.  While living in Manhattan, Alex and I would have to muster up our courage to enter a Trader Joe’s because of the crowds.  The lines were so long they wrapped around the store and the only efficient and sane way to get out of there was having one person stand in the line while the other shopped.  So, when I experienced a bit of this in Pittsford, my instinct was to get the heck out of there.

I returned Tuesday morning to a much calmer, less panic attack inducing Trader Joe’s.  I took my time wandering around the store, getting the lay of the land, and then started my shopping.  I needed: cereal, almond milk, snacks, lunch meats, fruit and gluten free bread.  In NYC I was used to TJ’s having “G” labels for items that are gluten free, so I scanned the shelves looking for the familiar letter and came up short.  Where was my beloved “G”?  In the cereal section I found plenty of Puffins but it took my a while to find the gluten free version.  Same story with the chips.  I resorted to checking labels.  After a while, I did find the gluten free items I was used to and the “G” seemed to appear sometimes but not for every dedicated gluten free item.  I left with the everything I needed plus some more, and was pleasantly surprised to see my bill average at $2.65 per item.  The big ticket item in there was the Udi’s which is $4.99 at TJ’s.

So how does Trader Joe’s compare to Wegmans?  Well, it would be like comparing apples to oranges.  Like I mentioned before, Trader Joe’s isn’t trying to be a Wegmans, or a Stop & Shop, or a Publix.  It’s a boutique grocery store.  That being said, I will do my best to summarize my gluten-free shopping experience there to Wegmans.  A virgin, gluten-free, Trader Joe’s shopper will have a hard time finding gluten free items.  The labeling isn’t consistent, and the GF items aren’t grouped separately from the regular items.  This takes some getting used to.  Additionally, the selection is significantly smaller.  There is only a couple GF breads, one GF cereal, one GF granola mix, and one GF baking mix.  However, gluten free folks will be pleasantly surprised by the amount of interesting gluten free snack items like chips and popcorn.  Once you know the lay of the land and what your options are, shopping at Trader Joe’s is much faster because of the simple fact that it is smaller.  Plus, I think it’s a benefit that the two stores are in the same plaza!  That means you can go to both easily in the same errand run.

Will I shop at Trader Joe’s?  Yes.  Will I stop shopping at Wegmans?  No. So, check it out and decide for yourself.  Here are some resources to make your first trip easier:

Trader Joe’s “No Gluten” Product Guide: http://www.traderjoes.com/lists/no-gluten.asp

Trader Joe’s “Fearless Flyer” Newsletter: http://www.traderjoes.com/fearless-flyer/article.asp?article_id=755