March 25, 2014

Eating All The Food: My Week of Dining Out. (And some IHHS finds!)

I'm not quite sure what happened. Maybe it was the slight warm-up in the weather. Maybe I fell into a routine of laziness. Maybe too many awesome food related events were happening all at once. Maybe I made too many plans with too many friends. Regardless, last week, and for a week straight, I ate almost every meal out. And lemme tell was delicious.

It all started last Saturday when I met up with frannycakes for the International Home & Housewares Show. While we didn't eat anything when we were there, we sure had our fill of delicious beverages, starting with Sodastream's new Happy Hour Cocktail mixers. I had PiƱa Colada and Mary Fran had a Cosmopolitan. Refreshingly bubbly with a fraction of the calories and no hangovers!

Can you believe this was the very first sodastream beverage I ever had!
We followed up with a shot of green juice from Juicepresso.  I was too busy being mesmerized by the magical cold-press mini juicer that I failed to photograph it. I couldn't get over how compact and quiet the machine was.  I seriously need to start saving up for one of those stat! It puts my old school juicer to shame! Here's how it works:

If that weren't enough, we then indulged in cups of rich, flavorful hazelnut and french vanilla coffee from Nespresso's VertuoLine. Add a Vertuoline to my list of items in my dream kitchen. The cup of joe it brews was amazing. The Nespresso VertuoLine coffees are characterized by rich, generous foam called crema - naturally formed during the brewing process, thanks to the Centrifusion™ technology. The result is such an intense coffee flavor.

Look at that crema forming!
How fancy are the Nespresso Vertuoline coffee capsules?

After a day of walking around scoping out the latest and greatest housewares, I dined on theater fare of nachos and Reese's Pieces as I caught the Veronica Mars movie with friends. I never watched the show when it first aired in 2004, but binged watched to catch up in time for the movie. I loved it...more please!

Perhaps it was that not-so-stellar day of nutrition that set me up for my week-long no cooking adventures.

Since Monday was St. Patrick's day. I picked up Corned Beef and Cabbage from the restaurant in my office building. Not bad. They sprinkled cilantro on the corned beef. Different, but not bad.

Tuesday I decided it was high time to cash in my free meal coupons from Roti Mediterranean Grill's holiday promotion. Roti is really good about trying to prevent cross contamination. When you tell them you want a gluten free meal, they call over the shift manager who will change their gloves and go through the line with you to put your plate together. They keep their gluten free pitas individually wrapped in foil in a separate freezer and heat them on a separate pita warmer. Unrelated from the cross contamination procedures: the garlic sauce is amazing.

Not pictured: GLUTEN FREE PITA (made for Roti by MyBreadBakery)
Wednesday was M Burger's 4th Birthday and they were celebrating by giving away a free burger with any purchase. Alexandra and I headed over there for lunch to wish them a Happy Birthday and get our burger fix.

I love that you can order a burger "Salad Style" and their fries are made in a dedicated fryer.
In fact nothing else BUT fries goes into that deep fryer.
Thursday at work we celebrated my colleague's upcoming birth of his very first baby. We thought barbecue from Blackwood BBQ was appropriate for the event. Their restaurant is right across the street from our office, so we constantly smell the sweet, sweet, smokey smells of barbecue. When they first opened last year, they offered free meals for a couple of days. I spoke with the owners then and learned that all of their sauces and meats are gluten free. The sides for gluten free folks are limited to coleslaw and baked beans (which I didn't care for), but they have a killer salad loaded with grape tomatoes, black beans, and sweet corn. I filled up on salad and meat at our celebratory lunch.

Friday I met up with friends for happy hour at The Berghoff. I tried the Estrella Daura Damm beer and didn't like it. It was a bit too heavy for my liking, but then again it's a lager. I prefer lighter brews. I also had a bowl of Kartoffelsuppe Mit Thuringer (potato soup) which was amazing. So warm and creamy with soft pieces of potato and thin slivers of sausage. It's rare to be able to eat soup in a restaurant as a celiac and this soup was one of the best I've had. (P.S. If you want to eat amazing gluten free potato soup at The Berghoff with my Chicago group, sign up for our special Prix Fixe Dinner April 23rd!)

Saturday was the first of a two weekend special flavor tasting at Swirlz Cupcakes. They are all set to whip up their ONE THOUSANDTH CUPCAKE FLAVOR and asked their fans to help them create that historic flavor. Submissions were taken on Facebook, Twitter, and in the store, and they narrowed it down to four flavors. Two of those flavors, Banana Caramel Bacon and Heirloom Apple Cheddar, were tested this past weekend. The Banana Caramel Bacon was made gluten free and a Triple Chocolate was made in place of the Apple Cheddar. Once again, Alexandra and I headed out to Lincoln Park to visit Pam & Co. and buy the limited edition cupcakes. They were magical. That Banana Caramel Bacon was a genius idea. The sweet and salty flavors work so perfectly together.  If you live in the Chicagoland area, I highly encourage you to visit Swirlz this Saturday, March 29th to try the last two flavors and get ready to vote! Chocolate Blueberry Lemon and Peanut Butter Chocolate Caramel Pretzel (both will be in gluten free!)? YES PLEASE!!!!

We went splities because we had to try both!
Sunday ended my eating out streak with a giant bang. My BFF, Amy, and I hit up Tweet for a very late brunch. We got there at 1pm and waited an hour and a half, but it was worth every minute. We split an order of gluten free pumpkin pancakes, which were simply divine. I'd been eyeing those pancakes since Alissa ordered them at a brunch meetup last year. Not to outdo myself, I also ordered the Gluten Free California Eggs Benedict. I needed something savory to the pancake's sweet. Needless to say, we couldn't even finish everything and left the restaurant very stuffed, but very satisfied.

THE. BEST. gluten free pancakes ever.
California Eggs Benedict with tomato and avocado. I added turkey for good measure.
Now I'm back in business and have been firing up the stove and oven this week. My little break from cooking was fun, but I'm ready to start eating from home again.

Have you ever taken a long break from home cooking? Where's your favorite place to eat out?

March 17, 2014

Gluten and Allergen Free Expo - Next Stop Chicago!

April is just a couple weeks away and if you're a gluten free Chicagoan you know that means the annual Gluten and Allergen Free Expo is coming soon. What started out as gluten free cooking classes with a handful of vendors in the suburbs of Chicago, the expo has since expanded to several cities nationwide.

While the actual cooking classes have been dropped from the schedule, the expo still features cooking demos, nutritional information sessions, book signings, and so much more. Each year seems to bring something new, so there is sure to be some great discoveries in store for us again.

This year's expo will take place:
Saturday, April 12th and Sunday, April 13th
9am - 3pm
The Schaumburg Renaissance Convention Center
1551 Thoreau Drive North
Schaumburg, IL 60173

I've signed up to be an official Blogger of the Chicago Expo again this year, and with that fancy title comes a few perks, including being able to offer YOU a discount on tickets! Woo! You can save 35% if you purchase your tickets online using the promo code BLOGCHI.

I'm also pulling double duty this year, working at the Udi's Gluten Free table. Be sure to stop by and say hello and try all of the delightful samples we'll be passing out. I'm not quite sure what's on the sampling menu just yet, but hopefully some of the new lasagnas and penne pasta meals!

See you there!

March 13, 2014

A Night Out at Fiorentino's Cucina Italiana

Yesterday I had the pleasure of joining a handful of social media influencers for a special dinner at Fiorentino's Cucina Italiana, a cozy little Italian restaurant found along Ashland Avenue in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood.

Earlier this year I found out they offer a large selection of homemade gluten free dishes, including fresh gluten free gnocchi and ravioli. When I was invited to join the group of other Chicago foodies to sample their offerings, naturally I jumped at the chance.

The meal started out with two appetizers I've never had before, carpaccio. The paper thin slices of beef and tuna plated with fennel and arugula were mouth watering. Something I probably would have never thought to order in the past.

The Carpaccio di Tonna was thinly sliced seared ahi tuna with arugula, capers, and shaved fennel tossed in a lemon vinaigrette. So fresh and flavorful.

The Carpaccio di Manzo was just as tasty. Thinly sliced raw beef tenderloin with mixed arugula, and capers, topped with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano.

Two savory salads followed. One with beets, one with figs. Both fresh and light.

Our Red & Golden Beet Salad was combined with arugula, shaved fennel and goat cheese in a tangy citrus vinaigrette. I was never a super big fan of beets, but this salad convinced me otherwise.

The Mission Fig, Apple, and Blue Cheese Salad was my favorite. Served with mixed baby greens and caramelized walnuts, I just loved this one.

The pasta came out next. Gluten free gnocchi and ravioli! It's a total treat to have a gluten free pasta other than spaghetti or mostaccioli and these dishes really delivered.

The Gluten Free Stuffed Gnocchi were little pockets of goodness filled with ricotta cheese and covered in a creamy tomato sauce.  Eve over at Gluten Free Nosh and I were talking about how hard it is to make a good gluten free gnocchi that isn't gummy or chewy. Fiorentino's were so perfect, they practically melted in your mouth.

The Gluten Free Portabella Mushroom Ravioli was served in porcini mushroom sauce with a touch of brandy cream. Divine.

Dessert followed. The gluten eaters had a deconstructed cannoli, us gluten free eaters had pistachio and spumoni gelato. The cannoli looked so good, we asked Katie, our server, if we could just have the filling with some berries. It might just be my new favorite dessert.

Photo credit: Eve Becker

It was a great evening and I can't wait to go back with my gluten free friends or family. Gluten free Chicagoans, if you haven't checked out Fiorentino's amazing gluten free cuisine, go eat up! You will not be disappointed.

What's your favorite gluten free Italian dish?