Feb 27, 2015

product review: Udi's Gluten Free Rich & Creamy Penne & Cheese

I'm a huge fan of mac 'n cheese. For years, I ate gluten free pasta with the Kraft cheese packet out of the regular mac 'n cheese. We went through the process of wiping off the packet before opening it to avoid getting gluten in the cheese when we opened it... and it was always wonderful. A couple years ago, however, I started feeling really kind of sluggish after eating mac 'n cheese. It was like the cheese was so rich and just made me feel overly full. It wasn't worth it - and I didn't know if I was reacting to the cheese itself or accidental gluten. I stopped eating it. 
Then I tried Annie's gluten free mac 'n cheese (the one in the blue box). It was great - so much better than I remembered it. I made the switch and yummy cheese coated pasta was back in my life. (The Deluxe version, I'm still not a fan of.) 
When I was pretty young - 8-12ish - I tried Amy's Frozen Mac 'N Cheese. I DID NOT like it. Years later, I tried it again, and fell in love. 

All of that brings me to the topic of this post. Udi's Gluten Free Rich & Creamy Penne & Cheese was a product I'd seen for a while but never tried. I'm always a little wary of new mac n cheese products... but like I said in my shopping cart post, I figured it was time to give it a try. Well, I did. 

I didn't take a picture of it right out of the box, but I was not impressed. Looks aren't everything, so I did as the directions said and cut a slit in the overwrap and stuck it in the microwave for two minutes. Remove overwrap. Stir. Still not impressed. Back in the microwave for two minutes and forty five seconds. Let it sit for a couple minutes (so I might have cheated a little on this one... I didn't want it to get cold...). 

The result? 
The pictures are a little dark but they get my point across. My compliments to the package photographer... no idea how they heated it up and transferred it to a plate with the noodles intact. It's not that big of a deal, but it's a little tiny bit unappetizing to feel like you're eating mush when you planned on pasta.
I've definitely gotten used to Amy's frozen mac 'n cheese, because this seemed small. I feel full enough after eating just this, but I'm also 5 foot tall and under 100 pounds... so most people would probably need a little something extra.
The pasta is made from rice and corn flours, which is evident in the taste. I'm personally not a huge fan of corn pasta, and this one tasted overly starchy to me. The cheese sauce is ABSOLUTELY more of an adult taste - closer to the homemade mac 'n cheese that my grandma gave me a recipe for, as opposed to the kind from the Kraft box. 
To be fair, this one doesn't technically claim to be mac 'n cheese... so maybe it's unfair to compare it to products that do. I did anyway. You don't have to. 

Overall, I'd give it probably three stars. I don't plan on buying it again, and I wouldn't pick it to eat, but I wouldn't turn it down if that's what was offered. 
What do you think? Have you tried it? Should I do something differently and give it another shot? Let me know! 

Feb 25, 2015

Thoughts from State: updated

So last week, I published the TFS that I wrote a couple years back. Today, I'll share some thoughts that are a little more recent. It's really whatever works for you, but things have changed a little since I wrote that one, so what works for me is different.
*I now stay in the main conference hotel. This change came because, as a judge/volunteer, it was easier to go upstairs to my room after a late night of helping "behind the curtain"... versus walking back to a hotel by myself, at night, downtown, in the cold.
*Take a reusable water bottle. This might be a little more practical than buying a gallon of water, especially with the restrictions that students might have (like not wandering off by themselves).
*Pack snacks. This rings true especially for me, because I'm gluten free, but there are lots of times in between events and things where finding a snack was annoyingly hard or expensive. I'll have a post about what, exactly, I took to State this year. (I realize that's not much help for THIS year, but, well, oops.)
*You don't need as many regular clothes. I always forget that and end up packing regular clothes for all days, and then spending 90% or more of my time in business dress or pjs.
*Bring slippers. I always forget, and I always want them.
*WiFi might not be worth it. Now bear with me for a second. I'm not saying it ISN'T. I'm just saying that you really need to think about it. Last year, I used my laptop for google maps and watching a DVD of Veronica Mars. The former used the internet, the latter did not. However, my phone has google maps, and it's own internet. I wasn't in my room for long periods of time, because I spent most of my time doing judging or behind the scenes stuff. I'm not sure if I'll get it this year, but it's something to consider first.
Some things, of course, are the same.
*Still find the Starbucks. Judging starts at 8am. They provide coffee and tea for us, which is great, but if I have the option to hop off to a Starbies before, that would make me much happier. That wouldn't be possible if I had to search for the Starbucks that early.
*State is still cold. Seriously. That's all.
*Business clothes still need to be tried on before you leave. I'll add to this and say that you should try to match as much as possible. If I could have three different blouses match with one pair of pants, that would be great. Or, just in case, two pairs of pants... who knows what life will bring. Don't forget a belt and any socks that go with shoes. Check for undergarment compatibility (ladies, trust me on this one).

I'm sure I'm forgetting things, but the entire weekend of last year's SLC is kind of a blur. I was so busy and had so much fun. State this year starts NEXT WEEK WEDNESDAY (Thursday for me), so expect a post after that with all the new tips and tricks, for both judges and competitors. Good luck to everyone competing, and if you are, let me know! I'd like to say hi!

Feb 23, 2015

what's in my grocery basket: Sprouts and HEB

I might have gone a little crazy at the store last week... 
 (There's actually one thing missing from this shot, so I'll include it by itself at the bottom. It's worth including!)
So, above, we have:
*Pillsbury Gluten Free Funfetti cake and cupcake mix
*Pillsbury Gluten Free Funfetti sugar cookie mix
*Pamela's Gluten Free Baking & Pancake mix
*Udi's Gluten Free Rich & Creamy Penne & Cheese
*Glutino Hazelnut Gluten Free Wafer Bites
*Smart Flour Gluten Free Uncured Pepperoni Pizza
*Andes Creme de Menthe Thins
*Betty Lou's Blueberry Fruit Bar
*Betty Lou's Peanut Butter & Blueberry PB&J Bar
*4U! Gluten Free Thin Crust Uncured Pepperoni Pizza
(and at the bottom)
*Venice Bakery Gluten-Free Vegan 8" Pizza crust (2 pack)
I got super excited over these mixes. They're new, which is always fun, and they're FUNFETTI. Come on. That's just awesome. I'll post a review of both after I make them. [Found at HEB]
Pamela's pancake mix has long been my favorite. I've tried Bisquick (great), other box mixes (not so great), and from scratch (blech), and always go back to Pamela's. Always. They're so easy to make and so tasty. [HEB]
The Glutino wafer bites are pretty good. I was honestly thinking of the Schar hazelnut wafers when I bought these - I personally like the Schar wafers better, but these are so cute and fun to eat... I'll buy them again. [HEB] 
I haven't yet tried the Udi's penne & cheese, but I figured it was time to give it a chance. I love Amy's frozen Mac & Cheese, so it has pretty big shoes to fill, but I'll let you know what I think. [both HEB and Sprouts]
So, last year, Miranda and I went to a gluten free food and allergy fair in Austin, TX, and we tried Smart Flour pizza there. It was SO GOOD, so of course I bought it as soon as I found it here in Corpus. We'll see if it's as good when I make it as it was when the pros did it. [Sprouts]
One of my best friends works at HEB, and her and I wandered down the candy aisle. She pointed out that the Andes mints were gluten free - something I'd never known (or never paid attention to maybe). It says it right on the package, but not on the individual mint. [HEB]
The PB&J bar and the Fruit bar were right next to each other at Sprouts, and since I've recently gotten into various kinds of snack bars, I figured I'd give these a try. Both had other flavors, but blueberry wins every time in my book. These will be featured in an upcoming post about all different kinds of snack bars. [Sprouts]
More pizza? Always. I haven't tried this one. I haven't heard about it before. However, it's gluten free pizza and that alone gives me enough reason to try it. I should do an entire post on pizza. That would be fun. And really, really yummy. [Sprouts]
I don't want to hear it on how much pizza I bought. These crusts are my favorite so far and Sprouts didn't have them last time I went... so even though I had two other pizzas in my basket, I had to pick up a two-pack. I really like these because they're small enough where I COULD eat the whole thing but generally only eat half. They reheat well and taste great. They're not overly doughy or hard to deal with. [Sprouts]

Feb 20, 2015

chocolates in a red box

Assorted chocolates are something I've grown to want - I don't "miss" them per se, because kids under five don't really eat a whole bunch of them (or, I didn't), but as I've gotten older, I've realized that MOST assorted chocolate boxes "may contain wheat". I was in England a couple summers ago, and found a labeled GF box with absolutely no effort. They were wonderful. Really showed me what I've been missing.
Cut to every single Valentine's Day or Christmas grocery store aisle, and you'll see tons of assorted chocolates. I know I can't have them, yet I put myself through the annoyance of checking each time. I was at Walmart a few days ago, and saw a Hershey's box. Now, I LIKE Hershey's chocolate, but I'm not a huge fan of their solid chocolate bars (except the ones with almonds. Those rock). Before you think I'm crazy, let me note that they're GREAT - I just don't eat them all the time. A few bites, fine, s'mores, duh, but the big momma chocolate bars? Not my cup of tea.
Still, it was a box of assorted chocolates, and I have a thing about those. Picked up the box. Saw no warning. Read the ingredients. No indication of gluten. Sighed. Debated. Put it down and walked away. Went back and got it. Tried to call the 800 number, but it was after hours and I didn't want to deal with automation.
I bought the box, and just hoped it was gluten free.
Before you panic, I didn't actually eat the chocolate until I called the next day. Chocolates aren't worth that pain. Someone else would have eaten it if I couldn't, but LUCKILY, all was well and I'm now happily making my way through various yummy chocolates.

(I bought more before the season was up... just in case anyone doubted that. )

Feb 18, 2015

[revived post] Thoughts From State

This post is from March 3, 2013 and was originally posted on my old blog, which is now on hiatus. It's BPA State time again, and I figured I'd post this ahead of this year's convention, so that it can serve the purpose it was intended for... especially since the cycle has come around again so that the city is the same as it was in 2012. 
Next week, I'll have a post about last year's SLC - because I definitely have thoughts. AND I'll be in Dallas in about two weeks from today for this year's Texas BPA State Leadership Convention, so expect that post sometime the following week. 


Howdy loves! 

I've spent the past few days at the Business Professionals of America State Leadership Conference (more info) in Houston, Texas with one of my best friends, Saira. A teeny bit of background here - I've done BPA since I was a sophomore in high school, and this year, instead of competing at State, I went as a judge. It was SO much fun. I honestly loved every moment, and always have. 

There are always things that I realize at the end of the weekend that I wish I'd known/remembered at the beginning of the trip, so this time, I'm sharing. Here we go! 
  • Find the Starbucks (and other places you'll want to go) before you get there. It was pure luck that we found a Starbucks on the first night. Last year (Dallas), we got lost on night 1 and Siri wouldn't work on my phone. As much as "it isn't State until we get lost", try to avoid it. 
  • Actually try on the clothes you're bringing. With business clothing, you can't really just mix and match as you see fit while on the trip. It needs to be planned out, because colors need to match and you need the right shoes for your pants. 
  • Remember that it will be cold. State is always cold. Always. 
  • Right off the bat, buy a gallon of water. It will keep you from having to constantly buy a water bottle and you won't have to drink tap water. 
  • Do your research and find out if the hotel will have wifi. Most convention centers/hotel conference rooms don't have it, so if you need it, make other arrangements. 
  • Places in business districts close early. This includes restaurants. Know the hours of operation before hand, or you'll end up walking 20 minutes away for Chipolte, because they're the only place open after 6PM. 
  • It may be better to NOT stay at the main hotel (ie: the one that most of the competitions are being held at), simply because of the sheer number of people that are there. This could be based on my dislike of elevators, but I can't remember the last time I've stayed at the main hotel. 
  • Smile. It gets people to help you. 
  • Pack hand lotion. I'm used to warm weather, and any time I'm in the cold, my skin FREAKS OUT and gets super dry. The hotel usually provides lotion, but sensitive skin can have a problem. 
  • Backup chargers exist for a reason, but having one does no good unless you actually bring it with you. 
  • You won't use the hotel gym. You just won't. Don't bother packing workout clothes. Even if you're someone that goes all the time (I go every MWF, so I can say this), you won't go. Why? Because you have to walk freaking everywhere and that's enough exercise for one day. 

There are also things that I learned through judging this year. I'm including a couple of tips here so that when (not if; it always happens) anyone asks me, I don't have to try to think back. 
  • If you're part of a team, YOU NEED TO MATCH. It's seriously a huge pet peeve of mine when the team isn't uniform. I was part of a team for three years, so I understand how frustrating it can be to find things that match, but it doesn't have to be perfect. Two boys and a girl? The boys can wear ties that match each other and match the girl's blouse. Black and white is really easy and looks great. More than one girl on the team? Go shopping together. Girls can wear pants or a skirt, it doesn't really matter, as long as the color scheme is there. It shows that you worked together and actually thought things through. 
  • Make sure you're in dress code. BPA guidelines say that (for females) open toed shoes MUST have a heel. While most people won't DQ you, don't take that chance. 
  • You're in a professional competition, so make sure that you ARE professional. Keep your hands out of your pockets, don't fiddle with your hair, and don't read from your notecards. 
  • If you're doing web site design or something else that involves the internet, and want to show said web site/internet thing in your presentation, either have your own wifi, or take screen shots of each page and stick it in a powerpoint. The judges shouldn't dock you for not having wifi, but seeing the web page will really help. 
  • If you're in a team, you'll probably have questions after your presentation. Make sure that everyone answers something, or speaks at least, and don't, under any circumstances, argue with your teammates. I can't stress that enough. Even if they're wrong, add on instead of correcting them. You don't want the judges to think that you can't work as a team. Pretend to like each other, at least. 
  • Remember that the goal here is to send the best of the best to Nationals. Bring your A-game, always. 
A couple little secrets here that you shouldn't bank on but should be aware of and use to your advantage: 
  • Sometimes, the judges have no idea what you're supposed to be doing. They're learning from you. If you're first, be really good. Explain things, be lively, and for the love all things yummy, please stay on topic. There's no faster way to get last place than to be the "left fielder" of the group. There's always one. 
  • Make sure to look over the grading rubric. You can see that in the WSAP, which every advisor has access to. READ IT. The judges grade based on that, especially if they're new to judging or unfamiliar to your event. 
  • Going along with that, judges have NO control over technical points. If you turn in a paper that gets graded ahead of time, really spend time on that paper. You need a solid paper to go with a solid presentation. One out of the two will NOT get you to Nationals. The presentation judges don't usually see the paper, and if they do, it's already been scored. 
  • I feel that it should go without saying, but make sure you actually turn your paper in. If you don't, well, there's really no point of showing up to the presentation. You won't make it. 
  • Definitely give the judges a self-addressed, stamped envelope for comments. Chances are, they won't tell you what you did wrong/how you can improve while you're there, but they WILL give you tips and you should get them before Nationals. If you don't make it to Nationals, at least you'll have a chance for next year.  
That's all I've got for now, but if I think of anything else, I'll do a follow up. 

Are you a BPAer? Let me know! 

Feb 17, 2015

dinnertime: grilled lemon chicken

Yesterday, Bruce made me dinner. It was low-key and really nice. He'd offered last week, but I had dinner plans with my parents. He planned on making it gluten free when he went to the store, and bought gluten free soy sauce. (:
This recipe is super easy, super tasty, and super low-maintenance. I'll talk a little bit more about the potential here at the end, but first... recipe.
Grilled Lemon Chicken
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup gluten free soy sauce
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
4 (6 ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

Take the first four ingredients and mix them together (you can use a small bowl for this). Pour the mix into a large ziplock baggie. Rinse the chicken, pat dry, and add it to the bag. Close the bag and massage the liquid mixture into the chicken. Put the bag into the refrigerator to marinate for at least 20 minutes (we did about 30, but you can leave it for up to 24 hours).

You can make this on an outdoor grill or on the stovetop. We used the stovetop, and I would suggest using a flat skillet instead of a pan. Heat the skillet up to medium-high heat. Place the chicken on the skillet and discard the excess marinade. Cook until the chicken is no longer pink - about 6-8 minutes on each side. We also butterflied the chicken and grilled the middle for a couple minutes.
Bruce says that the chicken is good as leftovers as well. You can absolutely make and marinate the chicken the night before or morning of, let it sit, and then take fifteen or so minutes to fry it up.
Pair the chicken with sides like green beans and mashed potatoes, or cut it up and add it to a salad.

(The original recipe can be found here. Bruce modified it slightly.) 

Feb 9, 2015

January Favorites

My plan with this little series is to highlight a few of my favorite gluten free items - meals, recipes, restaurants, snacks, whatever - new or old. I'm going to try not to repeat a product, even if I still LOVE it. The point is to get out products and my thoughts on them. (: I'm totally open to suggestions, so let me know what YOU like and I'll try it!
These aren't in any specific order - just what came to mind first throughout the month.

Van's Gluten Free Snack Bars - Blueberry & Peanut Butter Sandwich Bars
These are a new find for me. I like pb&j's, but I don't like packing them. Way messy, cold and/or soggy bread... pass. Cut to these puppies. They're snack bars, which is GREAT for travel or school, and they're blueberry (yum). They also come in strawberry, but I'm allergic to strawberries... so I can't tell you how those taste.

Annie's Double Chocolate Chip Chewy Gluten Free Granola Bars
Another snack bar, Cassidy? Really? Yes, really. I like snack bars. They're super convenient when I need to grab something and go to class. These are good - they're chewy (duh), which I like in a granola bar.

Red Berry Ciroc Vodka
...mixed with Capri Sun. It makes Capri Funs - the adult version of one of my favorite little kid drink. (: There's been some confusion and disagreements on the internet regarding the flavored vodka, so I emailed the company this month. They came back and said that yes, it was, in fact, gluten free. YAY!
(I have been informed that Capri Funs are actually something different, but just roll with me on this one.)

Hershey's Pot of Gold Valentine's Assorted Chocolates
Hershey's is pretty good about not hiding gluten in their products, but I called the company just in case. They cleared the Pot of Gold boxes as gluten free, which makes me a VERY happy little penguin. Click here to read the rest of my thoughts on this lovely product.

(the rest of these will hopefully be a little better done...and out sooner. Life's been a little hectic lately. xx)