Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Father's Day and Cake Mixes

We hosted a cookout on Father's Day - it's a tradition at this point. It was a typical cookout - burgers, BBQ chicken, baked beans, macaroni salad (made with gluten free elbows), green salad, etc. We did some munchies earlier in the day - clams steamed in gluten free beer, shrimp cocktail, that sort of thing. Of course we moved the cookout indoors due to the fact that we've seemingly had nothing but rain for - well, ever. (Yes, I know the day before was sunny. It just feels like way too much rain for June in NY).

Anyway. In my latest issue of Cook's Country, I found this recipe for a pina colada cake. And I just had to try it. In lieu of their recipe for yellow layer cake, I subbed gluten free yellow cake mix. And It. Was. Awesome. I should have taken a picture of the cake before I cut into it, but there's none left to photograph.

I also found that I'm now a devotee to King Arthur Flour gluten free mixes. I'd always used the Betty Crocker mixes before - but a couple of things bugged me about their mixes:

  1. I always had to doctor the mix in order for it to taste good. 
  2. Starting the next day, the yellow cake was a bit stale tasting, and it didn't last more than a few days. (Full disclosure: I never tried the other mixes, because the hubby doesn't eat chocolate). 
  3. A single box only gives you one 9" round. So that means buying two boxes for a layer cake. Since these mixes are over 5 bucks a pop at my local Price Chopper, that's starting to get a bit pricey for a cake mix, even a gluten free cake mix. 
King Arthur's yellow cake mix was better on all fronts. At least, I liked the taste when it wasn't doctored, I made the cake the night before and it still tasted fresh and was spongy the next day, and I got two rounds out of the box, halving the cost from a Betty Crocker layer cake (the cake mixes are pretty similarly priced per box). Not too shabby, right? 

We've tried a couple of other King Arthur mixes - their muffin mix was pretty good, and their bread mix cam out looking and feeling better than  my homemade bread (my crust gets a little lumpy and uneven, and has to be frozen so it doesn't get too stale too quickly) but my husband thought it rather bland tasting, so we haven't bought it again. 

Have you tried King Arthur Flour mixes? Are there even better ones on the market? 

Monday, May 27, 2013


Last week, my husband and I went on vacation to celebrate our five year anniversary (as well as my MBA graduation!). We chose an Eastern Caribbean cruise to Nassau Bahamas, St. Thomas and St. Maarten on the Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas. (Albany people - if you are looking for a cruise travel agent contact me and I will refer you to the person we used!).

We had a ton of fun! Some of the highlights: 
  • I was extremely impressed by the dinners on the ship. We had an awesome waiter who made sure my husband had more gluten free bread than he could eat each night. 
  • The breakfasts and lunches, notsomuch. I thought a lot of the food was mediocre. A chef walked around with my husband and showed him what he could and couldn't eat but my husband didn't trust a lot of it - for example they said the bacon was fine, but later in the week we found out they put toast at the bottom of the pan. Be forewarned. 
  • That said, they did have gluten free pancakes, bagels, hot dog and hamburger buns, and even Udi's GF cookies available. Individually wrapped, which was nice. 
  • St. Maarten was by far my favorite island of the three. We went kayaking, snorkeling, and shopping there and had a blast! I also thought they had the nicest beaches. We stuck to the Dutch side. 
  • St. Thomas is supposedly this place where you can clean up and get super-cheap jewelry... I didn't find that to necessarily be the case, or maybe I'm just cheap. 
  • Atlantis, on Paradise Island, is pretty amazing. 
  • The best drink that I had, hands down, was a rum drink in a coconut in Nassau. Yes, in a coconut. Awesome. The second best was on the ship, a strawberry daiquiri mixed with mango sherbet. A-mazing. 
  • The cheesy game shows and events hosted on the ship are often hilarious, and are must-sees, even if you think the description sounds lame. We died laughing most evenings! 
  • We had layovers in ATL airport. The first time was around breakfast time and NOTHING had gluten free dining options. That was OK since we brought food. The second time we were coming from the ship (and are not allowed to bring fruits through customs) so we had nothing and had to pick up some lunch. Places with GF menus don't know enough to not put bread on salads. It took two thirds of our hour-long layover just to get a salad that was supposedly safe to eat. Not impressed. 
  • It was 45 degrees when we got back. When did that happen!?!? 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Changing eating habits

Last year, my husband and I had a lot of fun - and most of that revolved around food. Every social gathering we had - and there was something going on every weekend - revolved around food and/or drinks. When it was just the two of us, we got into a nice Sunday routine of hanging out in the backyard, getting toasted on sangria, and then grilling some amazing food for dinner - ribs, bacon wrapped filets, etc. Always accompanied by sides like loaded baked potatoes, caprese salad, etc.

Incidentally, we also both put a few pounds on during the last year.

This December was an eye-opener for me when I realized a lot of my clothes either didn't fit me or didn't look good. So I did the cliche of, make a New Years' resolution to eat better and drop the weight. My goal - 15 lbs. by May - seemed unbelievably hard. I can look at fries and immediately gain 10 pounds.

And in the beginning - OMG it was hard. I tried to keep all of my beloved starches in my diet - and it left me with puny portion sizes, no free calories to snack, and a grumbling tummy about an hour after dinner. After a week of this misery, I'd hop on the scale and lose... half a pound. Obviously, the plan of making myself miserable to lose weight was a loser.

Next, I joined a CSA after having a talk with my husband. He had to be on board with trying a whole bunch of new veggies, and not letting things go to waste. He was - so our meals gradually became protein- and veggie- based, with starches still there but fewer and farther between. Rather than be hungry, we're filling up on volume of food. We've both lost weight. We both feel better. I'm not yet ready for full-on paleo - I may never be because I like cheese too much - but we're definitely eating a lot "cleaner" than before. And it's also lowered our grocery bill by about 30-50 dollars a week - less packaged crap and junk food filling our cart.

I also made a rule - alcohol only on weekends or special occasions. That saves us money and calories - and also doesn't mess with our sleep schedule during the week.

So what do we eat?

  • Friday night, we were in the mood for starchy comfort food and made loaded baked potatoes (russet potatoes with cheddar, bacon, fresh chives and some fat free greek yogurt) served with a green salad and water. In the past this would have been accompanied by ribs or some other meat, and wine. 
  • Saturday, we had teriyaki marinated grilled 90% kosher beef. Served with another green salad, and sauteed mushrooms and sweet onions from my CSA. We did have wine with that. 
  • Today (Happy Cinqo de Mayo!) we started the day with Skinnytaste huevos rancheros, and are making sangria and chicken fajitas on the grill tonight - a healthier recipe from America's Test Kitchen Light & Healthy 2011. Dessert: watermelon slices. 
  • Monday: Wood-grilled salmon with green salad. I'll also be roasting some red CSA potatoes with fresh chives, but that'll probably be more my husband than me. 
  • Tuesday: Shrimp cocktail with homemade cocktail sauce (I got fresh horseradish root in my CSA bag) and a huge green salad with egg and garbanzo beans to be extra filling. Dessert: grilled fresh pineapple. 
  • Wednesday: More loaded baked potatoes with salad and aqua. 
  • Thursday: We're grilling chicken with Dino BBQ sauce. Veggie TBD depending on what comes in the CSA bag. 
  • Friday: TBD - it's the weekend! 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Purple potatoes

My CSA came with a ton of goodies this week. I didn't take pictures of most of them because, well, a lot of it was the same ol', same ol' stuff I've been snapping lately. Pea greens, potatoes, lettuces, apples, frozen veggies... however, I was shocked to see a new color when I was cutting up potatoes to roast: 

Purple potatoes? Yup. I have found a legit purple food. 

I did some reading and apparently these purple bad boys are South American in origin, and pack a pretty hefty nutritional wallop. They're high in antioxidants and have been shown to reduce blood pressure. And, they're rumored to do so without causing weight gain. Does that sound too good to be true or what? (I'm guessing here that we don't have liberty to eat our weight in potatoes and still have to practice portion control in order to get that particular benefit ;-)). 

Anyway, my purple potatoes came with a couple more traditional red-skinned potatoes with white flesh. I sliced them all up, tossed them in a bit of EVOO, seasoned with seasoned salt and pepper, and roasted them. They were delicious! My husband thought the purple potatoes tasted the same as regular potatoes but I thought they had a slight nuttier and earthier flavor - I liked them more. 

I'll keep an eye out for these in the future. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Fro yo

In the past year or so there has been an explosion of fro-yo in the Capital Region.

The ones I can list off the top of my head: 
  • Lemon Drop - I love this place. It's convenient (on Wolf Road next to Trader Joes) and all allergens are clearly labelled on electronic screens. 
  • Sweet Frog, which just opened up in Mohawk Commons. This is dangerous - it's close to my gym AND my nearest Chipotle. They also get points for allergen labels on their signs. My husband was a little disappointed in their flavor selection (his only option was vanilla) but to be fair - they had a lot of gluten free options, he just hates chocolate and most fruit flavors. 
  • TCBY, which I believe has the most locations in the area. They get points for awesome labelling on their website, but the stores I have been to don't label gluten free so you either have to ask or have a smartphone on you. 
  • Menchie's, which is opening (soon?) in Rotterdam. I am looking forward to trying them out! 
  • Plum Dandy - this one is still my favorite in Saratoga. I love their homemade whipped cream. And yes, they have signs up indicating what their GF flavors are. 
  • 16 Handles - I love this place too. I can't remember if we had to ask about gluten free yogurt or if it was labelled when we went to the Clifton Park location. Trying out the East Greenbush location is on my TODO list, but last week's sleet made me not want yogurt that much. 
  • There are others in the malls too. 
Now - this is awesome because a lot of yogurt is naturally GF, it's self serve so you can decide how much or how little you want, and you can make your dessert quasi-healthy by choosing non or low fat versions and adding fruit toppings. It's also dangerous because I always want yogurt - and I wonder how they'll stack up against our seasonal outdoor ice cream stands. 

I also suspect the fro yo trend has also had an impact on the cupcake craze of a few years ago based on some of the recent closings that I have seen. :-( 

Overall though, in my social circle at least, "let's go meet for fro yo" has replaced "let's go meet for cocktails." 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Lots of restaurants

Happy Sunday!

There was no post last week because we were out of town. Hubby and I went to NJ for the weekend (I bought him Wrestlemania tickets - the event was definitely an experience, I had a lot more fun people watching than I would have thought). We ate a ton of food there - the two highlights were a chain called Cheeseburger in Paradise where we got awesome burgers on gluten free buns and fries. Also, breakfast at Six Brothers Diner, where they have a pretty extensive gluten free menu. I was surprised that my hubby didn't go with pancakes or french toast, but he wanted an omelette with a GF english muffin since that's hard to come by at restaurants around us.

I don't know why, but it seems that wherever we go - California, Boston, NYC, NJ... these places have so many more GF options than our area does. Don't get me wrong - we're definitely getting better each year - but other areas just seem much more progressive. There are no pancake houses with GF options here. PF Changs is the only Chinese restaurant I know in the area with a GF menu. And it's still a crapshoot whether many servers understand what gluten is and what cross contamination is.

This weekend, we tried a Groupon to Simply Grille in Albany. I never heard about them before until they advertised on Groupon and between the prices and the fact that their menu is mostly GF I had to pick up the Groupon to try it. We had lamb and beef kebabs for lunch and they were pretty decent. The basmati rice was my favorite part of the lunch - we'll definitely be back again. We also had dinner at the old standby Bangkok Bistro. I love that place. Wow, we've eaten at a lot of restaurants this week! I really need to work on scaling back on that, because it's hard not to gain weight when we're eating out all the time - and I have 2-3 pounds (depending on the day of the week) to go to hit my May goal of 15 lbs lost since January!

This last week, my CSA subscription resumed too. Yay! Here's my haul this week (not sure why I can't rotate it):
Shiitake mushrooms, kohlrabi, apples, frozen corn and flat green beans, microgreens and garlic cheese nuggets. 
  • The corn was a side dish on Thursday with leftover BBQ grilled chicken before my Zumba class. 
  • We tried the garlic cheese nuggets with dinner on Friday. Verdict: meh. The flat green beans were also for dinner on Friday, sauteed in EVOO with garlic, salt and pepper. They were delish. 
  • The shiitake mushrooms are going in this mushroom soup recipe, I'll just sub the flour for a GF flour. 
  • I'm going to roast the kohlrabi again, since that's so easy and just awesome. 
  • The apples are basically gone, with lunches. 
  • I figure that I'll try the microgreens on more time. I bought some fish to make at home this weekend - I might try that as a garnish (copying Prime from a couple weeks ago). 
So, meal plans this week: 
  • Tonight: a cajun-style stuffed pepper recipe with chicken andouille sausage, rice, onions, garlic, and monterey jack cheese - and of course, Red Hot. I love one-dish dinners. 
  • Monday: grilled shrimp with spicy lemon garlic sauce with salad and homemade GF garlic bread. At least, it looks like Monday's the best grilling day so far. 
  • Tuesday: Mushroom soup with salad and homemade GF garlic bread
  • Wednesday: Pan fried tilapia with Old Bay; roasted kohlrabi and salad. Served with either small cups of leftover mushroom soup or else small baked potatoes. 
  • Thursday: Cleaning up leftovers.
  • Friday: TBD.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Random thoughts

  • No CSA delivery for two weeks. I miss the veggies and am looking forward to getting them next week! I've been making do with grocery store veggies, lots of salads, that sort of thing. 
  • However, I still have not found a way to enjoy kale. I just don't know if I can like it. 
  • We tried O'Toole's in Albany last weekend. Had drinks, nachos, and sandwiches. It's great to enjoy pub food and not feel disgusting afterwards like we do with some other places. We'll definitely be back! Wish I had been able to make the buffet in Queensbury, but it's just too far away on a weeknight.
  • Bought Groupons to the Melting Pot and Simply Grille. Can't wait to use them. 
  • I need to find time to go to Wednesday wine dinner at For Love of Wine. 
  • Had Easter brunch with family at Riverstone Manor. All of the sauces were GF, which meant that only the obvious stuff (breads, pastas) was off limits. I thought it was a little on the pricey side (though probably all Easter events are), but it was nice.
  • New fro yo places have been popping up relatively close to my house. I feel this is dangerous. I also feel that it is my responsibility to try them all. ;-) 
  • Grilled for the first time this week! It finally feels like Spring. 
  • Working from home vastly increases my mini egg consumption. Thank goodness I don't have many left. When they're gone, they're gone. 
  • Dinner date last night at 677 Prime. First time I've been there and It. Was. Awesome.
  • Now that I know what microgreens are, I see them everywhere. 
  • As of this week, I am done with school! No more homework! No more classes! Yay!