Sombra Mexican Kitchen = Love

If you know me (or even if you follow me on Twitter), you know how much I love Mexican food. Or at least you think you know, but really, you have no idea. I am one of those people who could honestly eat Mexican food every single day. Fajitas, taco salads, tacos, chips, cheese dip, guacamole – you name it, I love it! So when Sombra Mexican Kitchen opened up a few years ago right down the street from my office, I was ecstatic.

At first, my trips to Sombra were few and far between while I was feeling the new restaurant out. But soon I found myself stopping by for lunch and/or happy hour once or twice a week and getting to know the servers and staff who work there. (Did I mention they have the most awesome employees ever?!) In the last six months or so, my love of Sombra has grown to what some people might consider ridiculous and my co-workers and I try to grab lunch there at least 2-3 times per week.

Since I would now consider myself somewhat of an expert on their menu, here are some of my Sombra favorites:

The Taco Salad

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Though I just tried this salad for the first time a couple weeks ago, this may very well be my new favorite thing on the menu. I order mine with ground beef (also no shell for this gluten free girl!), but if the chicken taco salad is half as good as this, then you are in for a treat! The flavor of the taco meat is seriously to die for! Not to mention, Sombra definitely doesn’t skimp on the meat on this salad. I never feel hungry after eating one of these babies for lunch!

The King Special

When you eat at Sombra as much as we do, it’s not long before you start inventing your own menu items. If you’ve ever had their cheese dip or enjoyed their Smothered Chicken for dinner, you know how fantastic the cheese at Sombra is. And if you’ve ever had their steak fajitas, you know they cook the most flavorful steak of any Mexican restaurant in the area! So naturally, we decided to combine the two.

Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the King special…

Meat & Cheesy Goodness - YUM!

Meat & Cheesy Goodness – YUM!

That’s right. This is a plate of amazing steak covered in cheese dip. Great for those on a low carb (or gluten free!) diet, but even more delicious with rice (for those of you NOT avoiding carbs)! What makes this dish even better is you can get the cheese dip for free just by showing your Eat Jackson card!

The St. Rita Margarita

St. Rita Margarita

St. Rita Margarita

I love MANY of the margaritas at Sombra, and you can surely catch me enjoying a house margarita during happy hour from time to time. But when I’m really craving a delicious and smooth margarita, I always turn to the St. Rita. Made with fresh agave nectar, top shelf tequila and St. Germain, this drink is a margarita lovers dream! You can find my review of Sombra’s margarita options here.

If you haven’t tried one of these menu items then definitely give it a shot next time you’re at Sombra. And if you’ve never eaten there at all, what the heck are you waiting for?

YOLO – Buffalo, NY

Even though I now call Mississippi home, I was actually born and raised in Buffalo, NY. This surprises people who now see me wearing scarves and jackets whenever it drops below 65 degrees, but it’s true.

Lucky for me, my job takes me all over the country. From East Coast to West Coast, I am fortunate to visit lots of amazing cities throughout the year. But most of all, I am especially lucky that my job brings me back to the great city of Buffalo every once in awhile.

This past week, I spent several days in Buffalo, followed by a few nights in Albany, NY. And it needs to be said: I was never hungry for one minute throughout that entire visit. I haven’t eaten so much amazingly delicious food in one week in a long time.

Where was my favorite stop on this food adventure? Definitely my dinner at YOLO in East Amherst, NY. First thing I love about Yolo is the ambience. This place screams fabulous, with it’s sexy lighting and modern décor. The second thing that makes it so great is the incredible staff. All night long, my drink was constantly full (something I seriously paid for the next morning) and my every request delivered.

Let’s talk about this gluten free menu at YOLO. Tell me this is not the most extensive menu you’ve ever seen:

So many options!

So many options!

From incredible appetizers like stuffed peppers, stuffed mushrooms and knock-your-socks-off spinach and artichoke dip, to incredible sides including macaroni and cheese, this menu is loaded with awesome gluten free options! And we didn’t order a single thing that wasn’t absolutely perfect!

Insaaaaanely Good & Gluten Free!

Insaaaaanely Good & Gluten Free!

Headed to Buffalo anytime soon? Be sure to stop by YOLO. And don’t forget to try the stuffed peppers, which were definitely my favorite!

The Gluten Free Guest Guide

So you’re going to a wedding. Or any sort of event, really. There will be food, of course, but you have a gluten intolerance or Celiac Disease. Instead of stressing about it and worrying what you might or might not be able to eat, go prepared! Here are some helpful tips for navigating those big events in your life:

1. Whatever you do, do not as the host/hostess what food he or she will be serving at the event.
This is especially true in regards to attending a wedding. The bride is busy enough actually planning all of the details of her big day; she does not need the extra stress of accommodating food allergies. Unless she specifically brings up food in a conversation with you, do not ask. When attending a party, unless the host or hostess is a direct relative of yours, do not ask about the menu.

Wedding food - to eat or not to eat?

Wedding food – to eat or not to eat?

Although we all secretly hope our friends and relatives will remember our food allergies when planning events, we should never feel bad if they don’t. Eating gluten free is tricky enough for us to figure out. Imagine how much harder it is for people who do not have to eat that way!

2. Pack some snacks
Seriously. If you’re worried that you might not be able to eat much at an event, don’t be afraid to pack some little snacks in your purse. Snacks like gluten free granola bars or a small bag of nuts are always great options! Best of all, you can fit these in even the smallest of purses. Let me tell you from personal experience, it is better to snack on something you brought to an event than to just go hungry all night – especially if you’re drinking alcohol! ;)

3. Eat beforehand
If all else fails, eat before you go. I know this option is not all that great. We all know that being the only person who can’t enjoy all the delicious treats at a party is no fun. But you aren’t there JUST to eat. You’re there to celebrate, socialize and have some fun; so focus on that instead of thinking about all of the things you can’t eat.

Dance it up!

Celebrate!

4. Just have fun
It’s just food, after all. If you didn’t remember to eat and you can’t eat anything there, don’t stress about it! Dance, have a few cocktails (but not too many on that empty stomach!) and enjoy yourself. As a last resort, you can always hit up the Chick-fil-A drive through for some grilled nuggets and French fries on the ride home!

Just Have Fun!

Just Have Fun!

Special thanks to Chao Photography for the awesome wedding photos :)

Better Late than Never: GF in San Diego

So first let me address what a major slacker I have been lately. It’s been an entire month since my last blog post! I can’t even begin to tell you how much I’ve missed writing over the last few weeks. But, the bright side of taking a break is that I have LOTS to share with you!

Whenever I travel, I love to test out new restaurants and gluten free menu items that I normally don’t get to try here in Mississippi. Our trip to San Diego a couple weeks ago was definitely no exception. Even though I could EASILY give you a play-by-play of every single meal we ate while we were there, I’ll make it easy and narrow it down to the top 3.

3. The Melting Pot – I know what you’re going to say – “That’s not even a local restaurant to San Diego!” – and you’re right. It’s definitely a national chain. It’s just a national chain that my husband and I had never tried before with a gluten free fondue menu that is delicious enough to make anyone’s mouth water. So we tried it out. And let me tell you, we were NOT disappointed.

Best part: Dessert. Hands down! Chocolate/Peanut Butter fondue with gluten free brownie bites, cake, strawberries and marshmallows for dipping? Yes please! Bonus: our awesome waitress even brought us two chocolate covered strawberries with a sweet “Welcome to San Diego” note written in icing and sprinkles. How sweet is that?

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Worst part: The meal itself. Cooking your own meat in a boiling pot sounds easier than it actually is. It was hard to get the temperature of the food just perfect.

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Take away: If you’re thinking of going to the Melting Pot, grab a cheese fondue (because who doesn’t love dipping gluten free bread IN CHEESE?!) and dessert (because it will rock your world). But in my opinion, you can skip the main course. It’s nothing too special.

2. Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza – You know those days when you wake up really feeling the aftermath of your night before? Well, our third day in San Diego was exactly like that. After a wine tour all day Saturday, which was incredible and so fun but clearly involved a lot of wine consumption (thank goodness wine is gluten free) and then a late night out in the Gaslamp District, we were desperate for something delicious and loaded with carbs. What could be better for that than a gluten free pizza?

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I ordered the Five Cheese pizza. Because cheese can make any day a little bit better. My husband stuck with the traditional pepperoni. Classic. Both were incredible! The crust was thin but perfectly cooked (not always the case with gluten free pizzas out there) and the toppings were fantastic.

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Take away: Sammy’s isn’t playing around when it comes to their gluten free pizzas. They have Redbridge on the menu as well – so you can top your pizza off with an ice cold beer!

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1. Nobu – Let me be clear. I did not like sushi before meeting my husband. In fact, I still don’t really love sushi. But this restaurant changed the way I think of sushi completely. Not to mention our waitress had Celiac Disease so she was incredibly knowledgeable about menu options for us as well as preparation of every item.

I wish that I could give you a list of all of the menu items that we tried that night. But our waitress was so good that we basically just ordered every item that she recommended that was gluten free. And not one of them disappointed us!

Take away: If you’re into sushi, and planning a visit to any city that Nobu is in, be sure to check it out. But make sure to get a reservation well in advance! They stay pretty packed.

BONUS RESTAURANT: 1500 Ocean at the Hotel del Coronado. We visited during San Diego restaurant week so the menu was extremely limited, but everything we ate was delicious. Not to mention, the gluten free bread we enjoyed before our meal was probably the best I’ve ever had in a restaurant!

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In all the cities and states that I have visited, San Diego is pretty high up on my list of favorite cities now. If you’re considering a getaway to California, you should definitely check it out! Just be sure to save room for lots and lots of delicious meals!

Gluten Free Without Breaking the Bank

Here’s a fun fact anybody who follows a gluten free diet is well aware of: living gluten free is expensive. It just is. No matter which way you slice it, a life free of beloved wheat, rye and barley is not only more difficult but it absolutely kills your wallet.

Since most of us gluten free folks try to minimize our meals out as to avoid cross-contamination and accidental “glutening”, we find ourselves frantically searching the aisles of our local grocery store for gluten free ingredients to prepare our own meals at home. And as the cashier rings us up at the check-out line, we sigh and take out our debit cards, nostalgic for the days of buy-one get-one-free loaves of bread and crackers that cost less than $5 per box.

So what can we do about it? What can we eat that keeps us healthy and doesn’t break the bank?

First, start with the basics: meat, fruits and veggies. All three of these things are naturally gluten free, and staples of a healthy diet anyway! Sure, it may cost a little more to purchase fruit than a box of Oreos, but in the long run your body will thank you and you won’t find yourself getting sick anymore. Meat is a staple of gluten free living in our household. We always have chicken, ground beef and shrimp in the freezer, ready at a moment’s notice for a night of grilling or homemade tacos! (With corn tortillas, of course!)

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You know what else is naturally gluten free? Nuts, eggs and cheese. Looking for a quick snack but not willing to splurge on a $6 box of gluten free crackers? No problem; buy yourself a bag of nuts. Grab yourself some fresh cheese and pop a few cubes whenever you need a snack. Cook up some scrambled eggs in the morning for a quick and delicious gluten free breakfast.

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For those times when you are really craving some delicious carbs, don’t shy away from using coupons! The sting of a $5 bag of bread or $6 box of muffins (4 per pack) won’t hurt quite as much when you can save a buck or two by simply using a coupon. Sign up for emails and promotions from some of the best gluten free companies out there like Rudis, Udi, and Glutino all offer coupons for email subscribers!

Grab a big bag of gluten free flour and prep your favorite snacks from scratch! There are some awesome gluten free flours out there, but many have a price tag to match. (Cup 4 Cup, I’m talking about you) I’ve had some of my best luck with brands like Pamela’s and Bob’s Red Mill. These can easily be substituted for regular flour in almost any recipe and don’t carry the hefty price tag that others do. Not sure what to whip up? Check out Pinterest for some fantastic gluten free recipe inspiration or start following a few gluten free blogs online.
When you really want some delicious processed gluten free food (and let’s face it, we all crave it from time to time), try shopping online. Vitacost.com regularly offers some amazing deals on gluten free products and every order over $50 ships for free. Do yourself a favor and get yourself an Amazon Prime account and enjoy the benefits of free 2-day shipping every time you order some gluten free goodies.

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I won’t sugar coat it for you: you absolutely will spend more money living a gluten free lifestyle. Your friend’s hamburger will almost inevitably cost lot less than the salad you ordered because nothing else on the menu was gluten free. So cook at home as much as you can, saving you the frustration of pricey gluten free menus or places where you might get accidently glutened. And try some of these money saving tricks next time you hit up your local grocery store!

New Year Resolutions

I never make resolutions. I used to, when I was younger, but I quickly learned that most resolutions that I made were superficial (“exercise more”) and cheesy (“be more open minded” – I mean really, what does that even mean?) and it wasn’t long before I fell off the new year bandwagon and went back to my old ways.

But I have been thinking a lot over the last couple of weeks. Thinking about my previous year and this year ahead of me and what they mean to me. 2013 was my best year ever. And I can truthfully say that. It was incredible; not in some lame “best year ever” kind of way. In the honest-to-goodness, most genuine way possible. If I could relive 2013 over and over again, I would. To sum it up, here are some of the highlights of my last year:

I got married. To an awesome man who genuinely makes me feel like a better version of myself whenever we’re together. I cannot even remember what my life was like before I was his wife.

View More: http://chaophotography.pass.us/lindsayjason

Our family grew. With the addition of our six pound maltese, our baby girl Gracie became the center of attention in our home. What did we even used to do before we brought her home with us last April?

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I started this blog. That’s right, my blog less than 8 months old. But in those eight months, I’ve had the chance to share information with people all over the world. And joining the gluten free community has opened my eyes to so many new ideas, new people and let’s face it, amazing recipes, that I can’t imagine NOT being a part of it.

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I traveled. A lot. In 2013 I had the chance to visit St. Louis, Minneapolis, Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock, Tampa, Las Vegas, Austin, Seattle, St. Louis, Buffalo, Houston, Chicago, Niagara Falls, Orlando, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Birmingham, Dallas and did I mention Antigua?!

Beautiful Antigua

Beautiful Antigua

2013 was a whirlwind of a year surrounded by awesome customers, incredible friends and of course, my amazing husband. So when I think about 2014, I wonder how on Earth I am going to top last year’s awesomeness. The only way I can even think about coming close is to set some goals for myself. Not resolutions, because we know I can’t help but break a New Year’s Resolution. But instead, some reasonably attainable goals that won’t make me feel terrible about myself if I can’t do them every single day.

- I will travel. As far and as often as possible. You can’t see, learn and eat everything from Mississippi. There are too many incredible things (and incredible foods) in the world to sit around and miss it all. So get ready for some (Gluten Free) posts while I’m out exploring this year.

- I will write. More. Writing is more than just a hobby for me now. It’s cathartic. I’ve written a countless number of blog posts that never even get “published” but instead, just sit in my drafts as evidence of a crazy day at work, or an amazing trip or even a terrible dinner. Reading old posts never fails to make me laugh. And writing new ones never fails to make me smile.

- I will smile. As much as I can. Because not every day is perfect, but if there’s one thing that last year taught me, it’s that happiness is contagious and smiling in and of itself can make any day brighter.

- I will be more grateful. Let’s face it, we are all guilty of taking things for granted from time to time. This year, I want to focus my efforts on constantly staying grateful for all of the amazing things in my life. Whether it is a night out with friends, a simple dinner at home with the hubs, a wonderful vacation, or just a delicious piece of gluten free pie… Taking a second to appreciate things will surely help to make the year a better one.

Cheer’s to 2014! Wishing you a year that is as much of an adventure as I hope mine will be!

cheers-2014

A Gluten Free Christmas!

This Christmas was definitely my favorite one so far. No, it wasn’t just because of the amazing food (though I am going to get to that in just a second). This year my entire family came to town for their first Mississippi Christmas – which meant I got to spend the week surrounded by the ones I love. And my husband and I didn’t have to worry about splitting time between families. We had both of them with us all week!

Combining families at Christmas can be a challenge though. It involves more than just combining bodies; it means combining traditions as well – and that includes the food. In my family, we always do a big Christmas Eve dinner. And since four of us are gluten free (five if you count my husband), we make the entire meal Celiac-friendly. Though my husband’s family doesn’t share our gluten allergy, this year we wanted them to share our love of some delicious gluten free food so I volunteered to host Christmas Eve dinner at our house.

What was on our gluten free menu?
- Turkey
- Mashed Potatoes
- Homemade GF Gravy (my favorite!)
- Gluten Free Stuffing (thanks to Glutino for this mix!)
- GF Dinner Rolls (courtesy of Chebe Bread Mix)
- Cranberry Sauce (my sister’s favorite)
- Squash (because we thought we should include at least one vegetable)
- Gluten Free Pecan Pie (Pillsbury, your GF crust is a lifesaver!)
and last but most definitely not least
- A ridiculous amount of GF cookies and wine!

No meal is complete without Chebe Bread

No meal is complete without Chebe Bread

GF Stuffing, courtesy of Glutino!

GF Stuffing, courtesy of Glutino!

Though this year’s meal turned out surprisingly perfectly (we barely had any leftovers everyone loved it so much), the dinner itself was not my favorite part. After all, isn’t dessert what everyone looks forward to during the holidays?

My favorite Christmas cookie is the white chocolate covered oreo. I always use Glutino Chocolate Vanilla Creme Cookies white chocolate bark to melt for the coating. They could not be easier to make – and they are so so delicious!

Add some sprinkles to make them festive!

Add some sprinkles to make them festive!

Oreos are great, but it just wouldn’t be Christmas without cut-out cookies! This year, my sister and I decided to try out Chebe Bread’s sugar cookie recipe made with Chebe All-Purpose Mix. Combined with our homemade frosting, these cookies were incredible. And did I mention also incredibly cute?!

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I also love pecan pie, especially during the holidays. Because nothing tastes better for dessert (and breakfast!) than Pecan Pie. This year, we used fresh pecans from my grandmother’s pecan orchard and Pillsbury GF Pie Crust. You can find the recipe here.

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But more than anything else during Christmastime, I love a good Christmas morning breakfast. For my family, Christmas morning would not be complete without homemade cinnamon rolls. And since going gluten free, we’ve always used Chebe Bread Cinnamon Roll Mix to whip a batch up. It makes for a hassle free – and delicious – Christmas day treat!

What you’ll need to make your own:
- Chebe Bread Cinnamon Roll Mix
- Eggs
- Milk
- Butter
- Powdered Sugar
- Vanilla Extract

It’s easy! Just follow the instructions for the Chebe Mix on the box. Then, roll the dough out completely flat. Cover the dough in a layer of melted butter and powdered sugar. Cut into strips and roll into mini-buns. Cook at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

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While your rolls are cooking, whip up some icing. Mix together powdered sugar, butter, milk and a dash of vanilla extract. Yes, I really wish I had exact measurements for the frosting, but unfortunately, we are not an exact measurement type of family. Next time I make some I’ll be sure to measure!

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When the rolls come out of the oven, pour some of your homemade icing over the top of them while they’re still hot. Serve warm with your favorite morning coffee and enjoy!

Hopefully each of you had a holiday week that was just as much fun, and as delicious, as mine was! :)

Merry Christmas!