Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Chickpea Salad

Yummy Chickpea Salad - healthy & easy to make!

1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 plum tomatoes, thickly sliced
1 small red onion, sliced into half moons
3/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
3/4 cup mint leaves, chopped
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl.  Enjoy!
Makes 4 servings

See, easy?

Alternate versions: try white beans instead of chickpeas. You can also try sauteed onion and garlic.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Paleo Diet Foods

Here's a great food list for keeping to the Paelo Diet:

Encouraged Foods

Lean Meats 
Lean beef (trimmed of visible fat)
Flank steak
Top sirloin steak
Extra-lean hamburger (no more than 7% fat, extra fat drained off)
London broil
Chuck steak
Lean veal
Any other lean cut
Lean pork (trimmed of visible fat)
Pork loin
Pork chops
Any other lean cut

Lean poultry (white meat, skin removed)
Chicken breast
Turkey breast
Game hen breasts

Eggs (limit to six a week)
Chicken (go for the enriched omega 3 variety)

Other meats
Rabbit meat (any cut)
Goat meat (any cut)

Organ meats
Beef, lamb, pork, and chicken livers
Beef, pork, and lamb tongues
Beef, lamb, and pork marrow
Beef, lamb, and pork “sweetbreads”

Game meat
Bison (buffalo)
Muscovy duck
New Zealand cervena deer
Wild boar
Wild turkey

Northern pike
Orange roughy
Red snapper
Striped bass
Any other commercially available fish


Cassava melon
Honeydew melon
Passion fruit
Star fruit
All other fruits

Beet greens
Bell peppers
Brussels sprouts
Green onions
Mustard greens
Peppers (all kinds)
Squash (all kinds)
Swiss chard
Tomato (actually a fruit, but most people think of it as a vegetable)
Turnip greens

Nuts and Seeds
Brazil nuts
Hazelnuts (filberts)
Macadamia nuts
Pine nuts
Pistachios (unsalted)
Pumpkin seeds
Sesame seeds
Sunflower seeds

Foods To Be Eaten In Moderation
Olive, avocado, walnut, flaxseed, and canola oils (use in moderation—4 tablespoons or less a day when weight loss is of primary importance)

Diet sodas (These often contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and saccharine, which may be harmful; you’re better off drinking bottled and mineral waters.)
Wine (two 4-ounce glasses; Note: Don’t buy “cooking wine,” which is loaded with salt.)
Beer (one 12-ounce serving)
Spirits (4 ounces)

Paleo Sweets
Dried fruits (no more than 2 ounces a day, particularly if you are trying to lose weight)
Nuts mixed with dried and fresh fruits (no more than 4 ounces of nuts and 2 ounces of dried fruit a day, particularly if you are trying to lose weight)

Foods You Should Avoid

Dairy Foods
All processed foods made with any dairy products
Dairy spreads
Frozen yogurt
Ice cream
Ice milk
Low-fat milk
Nonfat dairy creamer
Powdered milk
Skim milk
Whole milk

Cereal Grains
Barley (barley soup, barley bread, and all processed foods made with barley)
Corn (corn on the cob, corn tortillas, corn chips, corn starch, corn syrup)
Oats (steel-cut oats, rolled oats, and all processed foods made with oats)
Rice (brown rice, white rice, top ramen, rice noodles, bas mati rice, rice cakes, Rice flour (all processed foods made with rice)
Rye (rye bread, rye crackers, and all processed foods made with rye)
Wheat (bread, rolls, muffins, noodles, crackers, cookies, cake, doughnuts, pancakes, waffles, pasta, spaghetti, lasagna, wheat tortillas, pizza, pita bread, flat bread, and all processed foods made with wheat or wheat flour)
Wild rice

Cereal Grainlike Seeds

All beans (adzuki beans, black beans, broad beans, fava beans, field beans, garbanzo beans, horse beans, kidney beans, lima beans, mung beans, navy beans, pinto beans, red beans, string beans, white beans)
Black-eyed peas
Peanut butter
Sugar snap peas
Soybeans and all soybean products, including tofu

Starchy Vegetables
Starchy tubers
Cassava root
Potatoes and all potato products (French fries, potato chips, etc.)
Sweet potatoes
Tapioca pudding

Salt-Containing Foods
Almost all commercial salad dressings and condiments
Deli meats
Hot dogs
Pickled foods
Pork rinds
Processed meats
Salted nuts
Salted spices
Smoked, dried, and salted fish and meat
Virtually all canned meats and fish (unless they are unsalted or unless you soak and drain them)

Fatty Meats
Beef ribs
Chicken and turkey legs
Chicken and turkey skin
Chicken and turkey thighs and wings•
Fatty beef roasts
Fatty cuts of beef
Fatty ground beef
Fatty pork chops
Fatty pork roasts
Lamb chops
Lamb roasts
Leg of lamb
Pork ribs
Pork sausage
T—bone steaks

Soft Drinks and Fruit Juice
All sugary soft drinks
Canned, bottled, and freshly squeezed fruit drinks (which lack the fiber of fresh fruit and have a much higher glvcemic index)


Monday, December 20, 2010

2011: A new year, a new me!

I recently updated my weight/body fat tracker. The news is not good. I have basically gained a lot of weight – and all primarily body fat. How depressing. Check out this chart that plots my last 4 years of weight. Yes, I’m neurotic but honestly it’s very telling! (click to enlarge)

Today, I’m currently 124 lbs, 26% body fat. Yuck. I’m wasting energy carrying around 32 lbs of pure fat. My goal is 110 lbs, 15-17% body fat. This is totally realistic since I was very close to this composition a mere 2.5 years ago. On April 16, 2008 I was 114 lbs and 15.5% body fat. In order to achieve this goal, I need to lose 13-15.5 lbs of fat and add 2.5-4.7 lbs of muscle.

Over the past week I’ve been working with my former trainer Randy to construct a new eating and workout program. Based on my n=1 (me) longitudinal study, I looked at what’s worked in the past and what hasn’t. You’ll notice in the graph that weight training and caveman/velocity diets are the main loss periods. I did lose weight on the Clean program but I think I ended up destroying muscle mass. Unfortunately, I didn't test my BF % to know if that's a true statement. I want to change my overall body composition and not just lose weight.

Here are the highlights of my 2011 plan:


1. Intermittent fasting. The “fasted state” will last for 14 hrs (16 for males) and therefore I will basically eat 3 meals within an 8-10 hour period. Read up on the Leangains blog. My target is to keep this ‘feeding period’ to 12noon – 8pm. I also saw this fasted state working for me while on the “Clean Program”. The difference is that during the Clean Program, I am pretty sure I lost a lot of my body muscle along with the body fat which was not my goal.

2. Reduce Calorie Intake to 1280/day. Using the livestrong website, I estimated losing 1.5 lbs/week and the result is 1280 calories/day. This is quite similar to the 1250/day recommended by my sports nutritionist two years ago. With a 1.5 lb/week goal, it should take me 10 weeks of strict caloric adherence in order to lose 15 lbs. So in reality, it will probably take me 3-4 months at minimum.

          a. Maintain a predominately Paleo Diet. It’s noted on the graph as “Caveman Diet” and you will see this is the point that I lost a significant amount of weight/fat. Paleo Diet is based on the premise that humans are hunters & gatherers. If you think about it, what did Cavemen eat? Meat, veggies, nuts and berries. Best part is, this is naturally a gluten-free diet.

          b. Reduce carb intake to 36-48g/day and only consume low glycemic carbs. “The immediate pre-workout meal should contain no more than a moderate amount of low glycemic carbs. Approx 0.3-0.4g carbs per pound body weight. Have this meal 1.5-2.5 hours pre training session." Leangains. That’s 36-48g carbs for me at 120 lbs.

3. A new Supplement Program. Increase daily Fish Oils, and add supplements such as proteins in the form of Branch Chain Amino Acids and L-Carnitine Tartrate.

          a. I’ll be increasing Omega 3's to 15/day or 30grams. Lots of health studies available on omega 3’s so I don’t need to bore you with details.

          b. 18grams/day of Branch Chain Amino Acids. BCAA’s are highly recommended by many training professionals. I’ll take 6 grams pre-workout, 6 grams post-workout and 6 grams 2 hours later. I read up a lot on this blog from trainer Randy.  It’s not the easiest read but there’s a lot of good information and the writer consolidates information from training professionals around the world. This is where the basis of my new diet-workout plan started.

          c. 6-8 grams/day of L-Carnitine Tartrate, a natural supplement. I read several articles on the non-toxic supplement and benefits that sold me are:

               i. Increased strength and endurance
               ii. Accelerated muscle regeneration
               iii. Increased cardiac output and lowers heart rate under stress (especially with my super-high heart rate issues)
               iv. Slows aging of the brain (dementia runs in my family).
               v. It’s especially beneficial for those who are insulin resistant and with my high triglycerides, it may prove to work better for me than for the average.
          You can google this substrate to learn more about it. Here or here. Check out a video from trainer Randy.  This supplement was part of my significant weight loss in Feb-March 2008.


1. Train in the morning after a fasted state. I used to train in the morning before work primarily because the gym is less crowded and I can get on any machine I needed. Training in the morning meant that I didn’t have time to eat breakfast before training. Little did I know, this could have actually contributed more to the weight loss rather than training after eating. This article, is a study about fasted state workouts.

2. New workout programs. I started the Christian Thibaudeau Get Jacked Fast program a couple of months ago. I’ve really noticed a change in my endurance and strength. I can now squat 100 lbs again – and not just 1 squat, a whole six sets! I’ll continue on this program for awhile. Just message me for details.
Disclaimer: I'm not a trained nutritionist nor certified personal trainer. I'm just telling you what my plan is and am not recommending this plan for others. Please consult your health care professional. I'm not responsible for anything you try based on my blog. Good luck :)

Holiday Peppermint Bark - a GF Solution to Christmas Cookies!

We had an annual girls Holiday Cookie party this past Saturday.  Everyone bakes 6-7 dozen of their favorite holiday cookies.  With all the different types of cookies, we make variety bags for co-workers, friends, families, etc.

Well, what to do if you're gluten-free?  Unfortunately, you can't eat the cookies that others are baking but you can bring a few options to add additional fun to the mix. 

Here's an easy Holiday Peppermint Bark recipe for you try:

12 oz white chocolate (I used Bakers brand)
12 oz milk or dark chocolate (I used Bakers brand)
1 teaspoon peppermint extract, divided
10 candy canes crushed

1) Crush the candy canes into pieces. Don’t crush too much or you will end up with powder rather than chunky pieces.

2) Melt dark or milk chocolate in the top of a double broiler over just barely simmering water, stirring frequently and scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula to avoid scorching. Alternatively, you can melt the chocolate in the microwave in a glass bowl.  I don't have a double broiler so I just stacked two sauce pans. Below is a picture of the white chocolate melting.

3) Add ½ teaspoon Peppermint extract to the melted chocolate and stir.  Pour into lined pan and spread evenly over the pan.  Sprinkle with 1/3 of the crushed canes. Refrigerate while you melt the white chocolate until the top is just slightly hardened. Here's a photo of the pan in my fridge.

4) Melt white chocolate. White chocolate will met faster than the dark or milk chocolate so microwave for a shorter amount of time.  Add remaining ½ teaspoon Peppermint extract to the melted chocolate and stir.  Pour over top of dark or milk chocolate. Be careful when spreading white chocolate or you will end up swirling the two together.

5) Sprinkle with remaining crushed canes. Refrigerate for 2 hours

6) Turn upside down onto a clean working surface or clean kitchen towel, peel off the foil and break into pieces.

7) Store in the fridge. The finished product was quite a hit!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Difficult Office Lunches

Being Gluten Free really becomes a noticeable challenge in the office place during catered meals. There's the usual "sandwich and wrap" tray, the "pizza party" or the "bagels and doughnuts" breakfasts. Often times, there's really nothing you can eat save for the lunchmeat you've peeled away from soggy bread. Even then, for fear of contamination, you choose to forego eating the catered meal.

Today, we had a team offsite where each team member prepared one part of our lunch meal. A semi-potluck if you will. The nice thing is that my office has 5 kitchens in one room so each of us could make our assigned recipe in the same location.

Here was today's lunch menu:
Stove Top Easy Chicken Bake
Stuffed Mushrooms with Spinach and bread crumbs
Chicken Parmesan with Parmesan flavored Shake 'N Bake and fettuccini noodles
7 Layer Taco Dip with Taco Bell(R) Home Originals(R) Seasoning
Buffalo Chicken Salad with New Crispy Buffalo Shake 'N Bake

Notice a trend? (other than using all of the brands I work on)... everything had gluten, right down to the taco dip.

I really didn't think lunch would be an issue but as I was going around the kitchens checking out what my team members were cooking up, I started to get nervous. One of my co-workers quickly asked for the staff to cook up a separate chicken breast.  Luckily, there was enough chicken left over to bake up one single breast using just salt and pepper to season.

I write this not to complain that people didn't consider my GF diet for lunch. My business team is so very considerate and even sets aside separate GF taco meat when we have food tastings.  I just want to let other GF people know that they're not alone in these challenging situations.  There's always a solution (like the extra chicken breast), but it doesn't hurt to be prepared with your own food when you have no control over menu options.  Don't be shy or embarrased to ask for what you need.  I should take my own advice since I usually feel too guilty to ask for special treatment.

What was your last office meal experience?

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Good “Gluten-Free Wedding Cake” is Hard To Find

Ernie’s on cake duty… mostly because I can’t eat normal cake.  We’ve been searching for some options that can make us a gluten-free cake, or at least one tier that’s gluten-free.  Ernie contacted lots of Chicago cake companies and here’s the run down:

·         Baking for the Taking: $3.75/slice and they can make the top tier gluten-free.

·         Amy Beck Cake Design: They make gluten free cakes, but at $7.50/slice, the price is too steep.

·         Take the Cake: Their gluten-free option is a cheesecake layer with a flourless chocolate cake base. But, they have a $25 tasting fee.

·         Bleeding Heart Bakery: Amazingly decorated gluten-free cakes but slices start at $9/person.  I would love to go with this bakery but I just can't justify the cost, especially when most people forget to eat the cake.

The only place we have visited so far was Reuter’s Bakery. They were the least expensive option at $3.20/slice (up charged to $4.20/slice with fondant decorations) but they don’t make gluten-free cakes. I offered a solution of using the Betty Crocker Gluten-Free Cake Mix for the top layer.  Is that ghetto?  Maybe we should just cut a cupcake instead of a cake. 

Does anyone know of Gluten-Free Wedding Cake options in Chicago?

The Gluten Free Bar

A classmate of mine from grad school recently launched “The Gluten Free Bar”. I’d like to think that I was the one who helped him identify his sensitivity to wheat after our trip to South Africa. He was complaining of joint pain and digestion issues so I simply suggested he eliminate wheat to see if it would help. And now, two years later, he’s off on his own venture with these wonderful gluten free bars!

The Gluten Free Bars are definitely worth trying, even if you’re not gluten-free. Ernie loves them too! Currently, there are two varieties: Chocolate and Chocolate Peanut Butter. I used to make my own bars since I could never quite find a gluten-free snack that was convenient and delicious...and now I don't have to make my own! The website boasts “the best gluten-free bar on the market” and while I am sure I haven’t tasted ALL of the GF bars on the market, I would agree that this is the best one.

I love that the ingredients are all natural. GFB’s are made in a dedicated gluten-free facility which eases any worries about wheat contamination. The light puffed rice adds a lovely crunchiness that both tastes yummy and provides a nice texture when chewing. I was surprisingly full for hours, making GFB’s perfectly suitable for a meal replacement. GFB’s are great option for traveling and especially as a back-up in case the pre-ordered corporate meal is the usual sandwich & wrap tray. (You know that happens all too often!)

Here’s to hoping for more flavors! Maybe Mint Chocolate Chip, Peppermint Stick, Cookie Dough… the options are endless. Leave your flavor suggestions in “comments” below and I’ll pass it along to the master minds behind The GFB.

For my friends & readers, please use the coupon code “Cindy” at check out to get free shipping!

Alternatively, stop by the following locations to pick up your very own GFB:
The Gluten Free Bar

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Spicy Chicken and Tortilla Soup

You should definitely try out this recipe, it's delicious!

Prep Time: 20 min
Makes 4 servings

1 store-bought rotisserie chicken still warm
2 32-oz containers low-sodium chicken broth
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 jalapenos, seeded and thinly sliced
2 large tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 cup corn kernels, thawed if frozen
A couple of handfulls of tortilla chips
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 ripe avocado, roughly chopped
1 cup crumbled chihuahua cheese
1 lime, cut into wedges
  1. Remove and discard skin from the chicken.
  2. Shred the chicken meat and add it to the broth in a saucepan, along with the onion, jalapenos, and tomatoes.  Cook over medium heat and cook until boiling.
  3. Add corn and heat until warmed through, about 3 minutes.
  4. Place some of the tortilla chips in each of 4 bowls.
  5. Ladle in the soup and top with cilantro, avocado, cheese and remaining chips.
  6. Serve the lime wedges on the side.
Modified Recipe from Real Simple Meals Made Easy cookbook.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Rose's Bakery

We finally made it out to Rose's Bakery in Evanston!  All I can say is Hoooorrray for a gluten-free bakery! It's like walking in to a totally normal bakery filled of delicious cookies, pasteries, pies, cakes, breads, etc... but everything in there is certified 100% gluten-free!  I was a bit overwhelmed and didn't know what to pick out.  I stared at the glass case for a solid few minutes before deciding on some cookies and bagels.

We chose three cookie flavors: Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal Craisin and Snickerdoodle.  These are listed in order of my favorite to least favorite.  Ernie even said he thought the Chocolate Chip Cookie tasted like a normal, real cookie!  The snickerdoodle was a bit on the hard side and not soft & moist like the other cookies.  There were lots of varieties so I encourage you to go out and try some.

The bagels satisfied my craving for bagels. I used to work at a bagel shop back in the day with several friends. I ate SO many bagels when I was young and not gluten-free. I really miss smooshing warm bagels into my hungry mouth.  I love all the flavors: egg, pretzel, everything aka "mish-mosh", pizza bagels, cinnamon rasin, onion, garlic, poppy, salt ... But now, I have Rose's bagels. They're soft and not really crispy around the outside, but they are similar enough to the real thing for me to be happy eating them! I'm glad I only bought 2 bagels - otherwise, I probably would have eaten the whole dozen by Monday morning.

I love that they have a little cafe where you can order gluten-free foods.  The helpful gentleman that served me said that everyone who works at Rose's has some tie to "the disease" which I assume he means Celiac's.

There are some specials that Rose's runs throughout the week.

Mon-Wed, Sun
French Berad Loaf
French Bread Rolls
Seeded Sandwich Loaf

French Bread Loaf
French Bread Rolls
Sandwich Bread
Seeded Sandwich Loaf

French Bread Loaf
French Bread Rolls
Herb Cheddar Dinner Rolls
Seeded Sandwich Loaf

French Bread Loaf
French Bread Rolls
Sandwich Bread
Seeded Sandwhich Loaf

Rose's Bakery
2901 Central Street
Evanston, IL 60201

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Quinoa with Tomatoes and White Beans

This recipe is modified from "Bulgur with Tomatoes and White Beans"

Prep: 25 min

1 cup uncooked Quinoa
1 (15oz) can white beans, rinsed and drained
2 medium tomatoes, cored and diced
4 scallions thinly sliced
3/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf fresh parsley
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
3 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp coarsely ground black pepper

1. Prepare Quinoa per package directions.  Drain into strainer.

2. Add remaining ingredients and mix gently

Makes 4 servings, 281 calories per serving with Bulgur. Unknown calories with Quinoa.

If you want to make the original recipe, use 1 cup Bulgur instead of Quinoa.  Place bulger in a large bowl. Cover with boiling water; let stand 20 min or until softened. Drain into a strainer, pressing down with a large spoon to squeeze out excess water.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Moroccan Carrot Salad

Prep 15 min; Cook 12 min

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin

2 lbs carrots, halved lenghtwise and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

1. Heat oil in nonstick skillet over medium heat. Stir in garlic and cumin; cook 1 min. Cool.

2. Fill large pot with water. Add carrots to a steamer insert; place in pot. Steam carrotts covered for 8-10 min or until crisp-tender. Drain.

3. Combine vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper in bowl. Gradually add garlic mixture, stirring with a whisk until blended.  Pour over carrots; sprinkle with parsley and cilantro, and toss gently to coat.

Yeild: 8 servings, 1/2 cup each, 81 calories

This recipie is also from the same unknown magazine as the Chorizo-White bean soup.

Chorizo-White Bean Soup

Prep 10 min, Cook 20 min

2 Whole links chorizo sausage or Italian sausage, chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 carrott, thinly sliced
2 (14-oz) cans fat free, less sodium chicken broth
1 (6-oz) package fresh baby spinach
1 (15 or 16-oz) can Great Northern or Navy beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat a large nonstick saucepan over medium-high heat. Add sausage, pepper, carrot; saute 5 minutes or until sausage is browned.

2. Add broth; bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 min until vegetables are tender.

3. Add spinach, stir until wilted.

4. Add beans, cook for 5 min or until thoroughly heated.

Ladel soup into each of 4 bowls; top with 1 tbsp cheese.

Calories 324 per serving (although it depends on what type of chorizo you purchase)

I clipped this recipe from a magazine and unfortunately I have no idea what magazine it is from!  Sorry I can't give credit where it's due.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cranberry-Pear Sauce for Turkey Day!

We recently had "friendsgiving" at The Connelly's home this past Saturday. It was a great event chock full of laughing and singing - with a special Thanksgiving song written by Mr. Connelly himself. It was quite a catchy tune!

We made the Cranberry-Pear sauce which is FAR better than the canned excuse for real fruit.  Fresh cranberry sauce is delicious and easy to make.  According to Women's Health, "studies have found that they contain organic acids that may help dissolve fat deposits, plus enzymes that may bosst metabolism."  I pulled this recipe from the November issue of Women's Health.  It was by far the best dish I made all weekend (which also included GF Chocolate bread pudding, GF Pumpkin Turtle Pie, and GF frosting filled chocolate cupcakes).  The other recipies are so bad that I won't even waste your time by posting them.

Cranberry-Pear Sauce

1/2 cup Sugar (I used organic cane sugar)
12 oz fresh cranberries
3 Bosch pears, peeled, cored and chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves

Step 1: In a large saucepan, bring 1 cup water, sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a boil. stir well.

Step 2: Add cranberries, pears, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves; stir well to combine. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 25-30 min until cranberries burst.

Step 3: Remove from heat. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Makes 8 servings
Per 1/3 cup serving: 112 calories, 0g Fat, 29g carbs, 4g fiber, 0g protein

compare to canned cranberry sauce:
Per 1/3 cup serving: 225 calories, <1g Fat, 57g carbs, 4g fiber, <1g protein

Monday, November 15, 2010

Gilt Bar

What was supposed to be a Party People Reunion turned into dinner with two friends. We all met at our former place of employment, but none of us work there anymore.  Tejus was in town for a few days so we set up a dinner to celebrate his visit! Unfortunately at the last minute, Chris and Louisa could no longer join due to a sad passing in Louisa's family.

Sindhu, Tejus and I noticed a serious void in our dinner group with just the three of us. The last place setting remained unused and a reminder that our dinner group was not complete.  What really shocked us was our inability to order sharing dishes without our fourth-partner-in-crime.  Tejus is lactose intolerant, Sindhu a pescitarian, Chris a non-fish eater and me, the gluten-free one.  You would think that the four of us would have many challenges with dinner menus, however, do not be fooled! It has been surprisingly easy in the past!  Two would share a dish that a third could not eat and there was always this natural balance among friends.  With our missing one, we resorted to the only things left on the Gilt menu that we could all three eat.

Set in a dark, rustic atmosphere, Gilt was packed at 7pm on a Thursday evening. Patrons were even sitting at the lounge chairs and couches to snack on appetizers and sip on drinks.  Two overdressed gals in way too much make-up sat to our right along the exposed brick-painted-white wall to the east side.  A fanciful modern chandalier hung above the dim lit room.

The food was delicious and at a great value for an upscale lounge downtown across from the Merchandise mart.  By process of elimination, here's what the three of us were able to eat:
  • roasted beets, clementines, feta cheese, toasted pistachios, arugula & pink peppercorn vinaigrette $10
  • Sindhu and Tejus also shared the "on toast" sweet balsamic roasted garlic & olive oil $5
  • chilled hamachi crudo with green apple heirloom radish, mint & curry vinaigrette $15
  • bouchot mussels with white wine, shallots, herbs & salsa verde $18
  • blackened cauliflower with red onion, capers & chili $7
  • smashed red potatoes with roasted garlic & chicken jus $5
There were also some other salads to choose from, but the roasted beets sounded best!  The salad was a bit larger than a starter salad for one, but not quite enough for three of us to share. I mostly ate the salad while Tejus and Sindhu munched on the crusty loaf of bread dipped in balsamic vinegar and roasted garlic. The beets were cubed fresh and roasted to dark red/purple color. The light flavor was nicely complimeted with sweet clemintines bits and just a sprinkle of feta cheese. Pistachios added a nice savory saltiness and a unique pairing with arugula. I love arugula salads!

Hamachi is a light flavored white fish. This plate was served sashimi style with small slivers covering a plate much like a traditional German prosciutto dish.  It only had a hint of mint but the curry vinagrette added a nice aroma.  Don't look for a large portion or a meal in it's on with this choice - it's definitely meant to be shared so each person can have a little taste of hamachi.

Mussels are mussels. When they're fresh and cooked well you're happy, but when mussles are old or over cooked they're nasty.  I always enjoy eating mussels and this was no different.  The large bowl filled with mussles was enough for all of us to share, and then some extra.  The most noticable flavor was the white wine. Nothing extraordinary to report on the mussels but nothing to complain about either.

We picked the two sides of cauliflower and smashed potatoes because honestly there wasn't another main dish we could order to satisfy our dietary restrictions!  The sides were woth it though - excellent portions with enough for four people to share.  I can't say I've ever had blacked cauliflower before but I don't know why more restaurants don't offer it! The hit of smokey flavor really added to the normally-bland vegitable.  The potatoes come with chicken jus so if you're a strict vegitarian, this dish isn't for you. But the savory jus on the melted buttery potatoes was the perfect balance of flavor. 

For a final tab of $30/each, we really had an excellent variety of dishes, a well rounded meal and 2.5 hours of fantastic company.  Definitely worth a trip to Gilt Bar.  I'm looking forward to the menu refresh so I can try new creations from the master chef.

Gilt Bar
230 W. Kinzie Street

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mirai Sushi

I know sushi is expensive, but really? THIS expensive?  Mirai Sushi is hands down the most expensive sushi place I've been to - ever.

We went to sushi with Chris & Abby before an engagement party for Matt & Aliy.  It was just across the street from the bar hosting said engagement party so we thought we'd give it a whirl.

I walked in and realized I had been here before on a date with a wealthy Australian banker.  I knew it was pricey, but I wasn't prepared for our final tab.

For the table, we ordered edamame, 3 rolls, a sashimi plate and 2 pieces of nigiri for each of us.  I really only remember the "tuna tuna salmon" and the octapus special rolls. The selection was small with a handful of Special Rolls and the normal selection of spicy tuna, et al. 

The portions are small - 6 pieces per specialty roll and cost us quite a high price of $15+ each.  The otoro tuna nigiri was fatty but delicious but cost a small fortune as well. You could tell that the fish was extraordinarly fresh and my Soho Lychee flavored martini was the best part of the meal.

In the end, I had some edamame, 4 pieces of sushi, 2 pieces of nigiri and 2 little slices of sashimi to eat.  Would you guess that the final bill per couple was $120?  I definitely left hungry... and with a mental note to not come back. I'd rather go to Sushi Wabi if I'm going for upscale sushi. Even Japonais's specialty rolls that are priced about the same offer several more pieces per roll.

Mirai Sushi
2020 W Division
Chicago, IL

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The battle of the Burger Bars

Hip-Urban style burger bars are popping up all over the city. I've finally made it to the big Three: The Counter, DMK Burger Bar, and Burger Bar.

Each burger joint has it's own concept that comes along with pros and cons, particularly for the Glutoids that have to forego the buns.  Why can't any of these places carry gluten-free buns?  I'm going to give you a quick rundown of each place and share my likes/dislikes.

1) The Counter - Best versatility for gluten-free eaters
The idea behind "The Counter" is that you can build any combination your little heart desires.  The website says there are "312,120+ different burger combinations" so if you ate a different burger here for every day of your life, it would take 855 years to eat one of every combination.  Too many options you say? Not for me, the gluten-free gal who loves the option to put her burger atop fresh salad greens a la "burgers in a bowl" rather than get a greasy patty served up on a plate.

There are also signature chef selections for those of you who don't know how to combine roasted garlic aioli with the best toppings and cheese selections. 

I love all of the options you have, from the type of meat, to the size of meat to cheese, sauces and toppings.  The combinations are endless.  I love that I can choose whether I want 1/3 to 1 pound - this place gets that girls don't need the same serving size as boys! Also, the meat is hormone and antibiotic free.  Burgers range from $7.50-$10.50.

Best yet, the sweet potato fries are my favorite of all three burger places.  And the serving size is enough to feed two or more. 

The Counter
666 W Diversey Pkwy
Chicago, Illinois 60657
(773) 935-1995

2) DMK Burger Bar - Grass fed beef a huge PLUS!
At DMK, you can choose one of 9 burgers offered on high quality grass fed beef.  It's not often you find that in a restaurant.  There are also 5 "alternative" burgers served on turkey, lamb or veggie burgers.

All burgers run $8.00 but the patties are pretty small. I'd venture to guess about 1/4 lb or maybe 1/3 lb at the most per patty. You can double the patty for another $3.00. For gluten-free eaters, couldn't we just order two patties for $6.00?  There aren't any gluten-free buns and the patty comes out on a sheet of wax paper dripping in grease. I don't know about you, but it wasn't all that appetizing to look at.

While I like the freshness and taste of grass-fed beef, I didn't feel like this place gave me the best value on food. I had Burger #1: Aged cheddar, Smoked bacon, charred balsamic red onions, rufus teague's BBQ sauce.  The combination of flavors was unique and kept my taste buds in high-gear yearning for more.  I quickly finished my patty-on-the-plate and was still feeling hungry.

The portions for the fries are also rather small and not really for sharing. But there are so many yummy flavors!  The sweet potato fries could be passed on, they weren't that great. Do try the parmesan fries and the truffle cream! 

You might be mistaken from the outside of DMK and think it's a hip club, but once you're beyond the red brick wall and dark tinted windows, you'll see an exposed brick loft that seats enough to make the place feel crowded on a Tuesday night.

DMK Burger Bar
2954 North Sheffield Avenue
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 360-8686

3) Burger Bar - Bison Burgers are for real
Is this place called "Urban Burger Bar" or simply "Burger Bar"?  I think everyone gets it confused and keeps calling it Urban Burger Bar.

I had a tough time picking which burger I wanted and ended up going with a custom option which wasn't very delicious.  It was hard to pick one burger because there were so many options available with interesting combinations. There were also several alternative options like turkey, chicken, tuna and veggie burgers.  The special of the day was a goat burger but none of us in the 8 person group tried that.

Though there were many pre-selected combinations, you can still opt to make your own.  I ended up with a plain bison patty with avocado slices and the house sauce.  I like that I could order bison patties because it's way more healthy than beef.  On the plus side, they had sweet potato tater tots!! On the minus side, their sweet potato fries were too skinny, burnt and greasy. 

I can't remember how much the burgers cost, but they were definitely over $10 per burger which is overpriced in my book.  I think the bison was even an upcharge and so was the avocado. All I know is that Ernie and I walked away paying $39 for 2 burgers and Ernie had 2 beers.  That's ridiculous.

Burger Bar
1578 North Clybourn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60642
(312) 255-0055

My ideal burger bar would include the following:

1) Gluten-Free buns as an option. If you can supply veggie burgers, you can supply gluten-free buns

2) Delicious sweet potato fries, enough for 1.  Ernie doesn't like sweet potato fries (he only recently confessed it to me after I'd been making him eat them with me for 2 years!)

3) Burgers under $10. McD's can whip 'em out for a buck.  Are you really 10 times more premium?

4) Grass fed beef, bison, turkey and veggie (gluten-free) options please!  A lot of veggie burgers actually have flour so GF friends, please beware!

5) Option to make the burger bowl (like The Counter)

6) Suggested combos but the possibility to make your own!

Is this too much to ask?

Girl and the Goat

Girl and the Goat is the simply best Chicago restaurant we've been to in a really really long time.  I can't believe it's taken me this long to post a review.  I made the reservations about a month in advance since we wanted a Thursday night at 7pm, a highly coveted dinner time.

I must say, this restaurant is worth the wait and lives up to all of the hype.  I don't watch Top Chef or whatever show this master chef was on, but I heard about this place through several friends who raved about the eats (one even sat next to The Allstate Guy/President Palmer from 24!).

Ernie and I arrived a little early for our reservation but the table wasn't quite ready yet.  The dark room was dimly lit by low hanging lights over wooden tables.  It was vibrantly loud inside with voices bouncing off the walls and slick un-carpeted floors. The scent of burning firewood filled the air.  Our friends Amy and Eugene and fellow foodies joined us and we were seated at the front of the dining room near the wall of windows that looks to out to the pedestrian sidewalk.

The staff was overly attentitive and made sure my water glass never got less than half full.  The sommelier recommended a nice blended red wine for the table, I believe it was a pinotage but my memory escapes me.

Let's get on to the food...  We had the most amazing collection of small-medium sized dishes. It's suggested to order 2-3 plates per person. The menu is split up into "V" for Veggie, "F" for Fish and "M" for Meat.  Our cheerful server dressed in a black t-shirt with a cartoon goat screened to his lapel made fantastic suggestions.  My highest recommendations are for the chickpea fritters and the pigface.  The frittars were deliciously crispy on the outside, soft on the inside.  It just melt in your mouth with a buttery warm sensation.  The frittars are served on a bed of heirloom tomatos as fresh as those in grandma's backyard and mildly flavored mozzarella cheese. 

Though the term "pig face" sounds disgusting, I assure you it looks like nothing more than 2 round slabs of wood oven roasted meat.  The pork was extremely tender and did not need a knife to cut since it simply fell apart at the tines of your fork.  It's served with a sunny side up egg and potato stix which rounds out the amazing southern-influenced dish.

Other dishes we tried were:
1) Roasted Cauliflour - great if you like cauliflour but go for the chickpeas if you're only getting one V dish.
2) Hiramasa crudo - a flaky white fish served with a small piece of crisp pork belly.
3) Skirt Steak - a good choice, but if you only have one red meat option go for the...
4) Short ribs - meat so tender it cuts so easily and served with edamame out of the pod.
5) Oysters were a special of the day and totally worth it! 

The table also ordered some bread, but nothing to report from me, the gluten-free one!

I absolutely loved this restaurant and is easily the best place we've dined all year.  For those special occasions, this is a perfect place to go with a few friends so you can try more dishes.  My only suggestion is that the menu items be re-named so they don't sound so disgusting. I'm not sure how many people are willing to eat "whipped back fat", which I hear is actually quite delicious.

Bon appetite!

Girl and the Goat
809 West Randolph Street

Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 492-6262

Monday, November 1, 2010


Cheer Cincinnati, Cincy will Win!

A fun weekend with many of my college friends. Thanks to Lisa & Justin for hosting us!  I don't know how they do it, but these two make parenting look easy. Both of their daughters are super adorable and well behaved.

A few pictures from the big Homecoming Day:


(ugh. I have no idea why this image won't rotate)

Sometimes your seats can be too good... We had first row behind the Bearcat line.  We basically only saw spandex.

We amused ourselves...

And hung out with the bearcat.

Robbie & Jenn's wedding in Lake Tahoe

Another fun Chen Family Wedding this year! Looks like next year will bring three more happy Chen reunions!  These are my sis's pictures.  Isn't Tahoe a lovely place to get married?

Chiang Family (Not long before Ernie asked dad for permission to marry me!)

Robbie's Family - So many Chens!

Brown's Orchard & Farm Market

I was recently on a business trip out east to Hunt Valley, near Baltimore.  I was so pleasantly surprised to learn that the catering group went out of the way to pick up delicious gluten-free desserts for me!  There was a variety of treats including Pumpkin bread, Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Brownies.  While I am a huge lover of pumpkin bread, I would actually recommend the Chocolate Chip Cookies over anything. These cookies were very similar to the original kind!  One of the guys in the meeting was eating the pumpkin bread and when I asked him if it tasted gluten-free, he said he didn't even realize it.

Definitely keep this bakery on your list if you're traveling in the Baltimore area. It's actually about 45 min from Hunt Valley in Pennsylvania.  Info is below.  Enjoy!

Browns Orchard and Farm Market

3100 North George Street
Emigsville, PA 17318
Phone: (717) 767-4142

BROWN'S SOUTH (Original location)
8892 Susquehanna Trail South
Loganville, PA 17342
Phone: (717) 428-2036

Gluten-Free Guide to Paris

I was worried that I wouldn't be able to enjoy Parisan food.  The last time I was in Paris was in 2002 and I was certainly munching away on the crusty baguettes and buttery croissants every moment we walked past a patasserie.  But now, having converted to the gluten-free lifestyle, I was definitely concerned.

Aside from breakfast which I found to be the most challenging meal of the day, I was alright for the bigger meals of lunch and dinner.  There are a lot of gluten-free options available. We LOVED the French food and it's difficult to find really bad food, but here are a list of GF-Friendly places for you to check out!  I also wanted to provide recommendations for three restaurants that weren't necessarily GF but totally amazing and worth finding.

Des Si et Des Mets
It's the first FULLY gluten-free restaurant that I've ever found! I was so excited to find it online and HAD to try it. We even planned some of our sight-seeing events around getting to this restaurant since it's a bit out of the way.

We went for lunch on Saturday and were the first to arrive at the restaurant. Shortly after, several other couples trickled in for lunch. We sat next to a nice couple from DC that the wife was gluten-free and had also found this restaurant online.

Let's just say, it's exhiliarating to be in a restaurant and NOT have to explain that you can't eat 90% of the menu.  The bread slices they brought to the table was GF bread. Leave it to the French to figure out delicious breads! Sure, it wasn't spongy or crustly like the baguettes, but it didn't have the sharp aftertaste of most GF breads and it wasn't super crumbly either.

The portions were enormous. I couldn't even finish.  In fact, Ernie and I could have split one plate and we would still be stuffed.  Plus, we got desserts!

The owner served us and speaks English though prefers French. She even thought I was fluent in French and handed me a menu I couldn't read.  She was quiet and mild-mannered but very polite.  We even got parting gifts of GF yellow cakes individually wrapped. I saved mine for the flight home!

63 Rue Lepic
Metro: Lamarck-Caulaincourt
Near: Montmartre

Briezah Cafe
Go for the amazing buckwheat crepes, or known locally as 'galettes'. Normally, galettes are the savory version of crepes and served with eggs & meat or some variation. Traditional flour crepes are the dessert versions because they are a bit sweeter and softer in texture. At Briezah, they had no problems subbing the buckwheat crepe in for the regular. I got a buckwheat crepe filled with apple sauce and drizzled with a caramel sauce. It was topped with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.  A delicious treat!
Buckwheat crepes are good substitutes of the originals. They have a deeper flavor, a stiffer texture and a darker color but overall, it's totally worth it. You might miss the light, fluffyness of the original crepe but honestly, this will make you pretty happy as well.  (The GF crepe is the bottom one in the picture)

Briezah is also known for their varities of hard cider.  They have several pages of different flavors. Try a jug while you're at it!

49 Rue Vieille du Temple
Metro: Saint-Sebastien-Froissart
Near: Picasso Museum (which is closed until 2012)
3rd Arr.
Note that the website says they open at 9am but they really open at noon.

Other crepe places that serve Galettes:
Lepic Assiette
35 Rue Lepic
Metro: Abbesses Blanch
Near: Monmartre

Creperie de Josselin
67 Rue du Montparnasse

I also hear that along Rue d'Odessa and Rue du Montparnasse are countless Creperies.

Naturala Grocery Stores
This is a chain of grocery stores that are speckled throughout Paris.  We happened to walk by one near our first hotel and another one near our second hotel.  (We stayed in two different parts of town to experience as much of Paris as we could!)  Try the Quinoa bread loafs. They're made fresh everyday. 

Don't expect something that tastes similar to your regular white Wonder Bread loaf.  It's definitely more dense, crumbly and has a darker flavor than the white breads.  Think of it closer to the flavor of a multi-grain or even a dark rye bread.  I was more-or-less happy about the flavor and the moist and consistent texture. I yearned for a little more, maybe something a bit sweeter rather than savory.  The bread wasn't amazing but when you're walking around scouring for breakfast options that are GF, you'll be happy you packed a few slices of Quinoa bread in your purse or bag.

The staff was friendly and helpful to find the gluten-free bread loaves and they're even marked in English by the bread baskets.  Let them select and pack it up for you to take on your way!  Loaves run about 4-5 Euros each.

Biogeneration Grocery Store
I read that there were gluten free croissants (heaven!!!) and chocolate chip mini cakes, etc. But after trekking all the way out to this store, I was dissappointed to only find that they have dry packaged GF goods. If you do decide to make this a destination during your trip to Paris, head down stairs to find a full GF section filled with pastas, cookies, biscuits, crackers, etc. I bought some lasagne noodles since I've never seen them in the US. I'll let you know how those are once I make my first gluten-free lasagne!  It cost me 10 Euros for 2 packages of pasta. Packages are smaller than those sold in the US.

70 Rue de Cherch Midi

It's a chain (like our Panera Bread) so they're all over town.
Get the Macarones that are made of almond flour and are gluten free!  They are very sweet cookies with filling in the middle.  Paul's has large sized ones. You can find smaller sized ones all over town at the Patisseries (bakeries).  I liked the Raspberry flavor best. Vanilla was delicious but the Pistaschio was not very good.  It just depends what flavors you like.

Other noteable places for Macarones:
Laduree (also a chain)
75 ave de Champs Elysees (flagship store)

Here are some restaurants that are not necessarily Gluten Free, but have great GF options and servers willing to help:

Willi's Wine Bar
It may say "Bar" in the name, but this was way more up-scale than I imagined.  As one of our most expensive meals in Paris, this is totally worth it for the quality of the food and the friendliness of the staff. This waas a recommendation by Ernie's Uncles Lee & Bill who swear it's their favorite place in Paris.

Our server was actually from Singapore though she could have fooled us with her French accent and pale caucasian skin.  Nevertheless, she was amazingly helpful and totally willing to find GF options for me.  We also went by her recommendations for starters, main plates and desserts. 

The Wine selection (as you may infer by the restaurant name) was vast. We had a light white wine from the Loire Valley on the south-western area of France. It was a perfect pick since we spent the day visiting the Loire Valley Castles that are better described as Chateauxs.

13 Rue des Petits Champs
Metro: Pyramides
Near Jardin du Palais Royale
1st Arr

Le Chalet des Iles
This restaurant is not easy to get to. You have to take the metro to the closest stop and either walk 15-20 min or cab it.  I'll tell you that the walk would have been really difficult due to the topography of the area and just plain getting lost in the round-about.  One cab driver refused our business and it took another 15 min to get another cab driver to take us. We ended up being 30 min late for our reservation. I felt really bad because we were meeting up with a friend from Kellogg and Kraft and he was waiting around without any way of us contacting him.

Once we got there, it was much smoother. You take this little ferry across the pond to an adorable pond-side restaurant kind of like Tavern on the Green in NYC's Central Park.  The food was unbelievable.  I'd recommend the heirloom and tomato mozzarella salad for starters. I had the shrimp cocktail with greek yogurt and a tomato jelly paste. It was good, but the tomato salad was so much more delicious.

My main dish was the walleye fish with a salty/crusty exterior and a moist and flaky white fish interior. It was served with Quinoa on the side.  Ernie had steak served with potato croquettes. The potato was the highlight of his meal. The outer shell was fried crispy and the inside was soft, mashed potato puree.  Olivier, my friend, had the lobster. I don't think you could pick something that wasn't satisfying.

Dessert options are limited to ice cream for GF people.  Otherwise, there's a caramel cake option that you MUST get.  It's like a molten chocolate cake but it's caramel vanilla cake with soft warm caramel inside rather  than the chocolate.  I did have a bite and it was heaven.

Port de La Muette

Print this card before you go. It tells servers/chefs that you have a gluten intolerance and it's written in French!