Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Product Review: Tinkyada Gluten-Free Rice Pasta

You know, even for someone who can't have wheat, everybody deserves a little pasta in their life, right? It's chewy, filling, and satisfying in so many ways. And all the delicious things you can do with it!

Okay, truth is, we all know pasta is not the absolute best thing for us especially if all we ever have are cream sauces or butter on it. However - and this a big HOWEVER - if you use it complementarily with all sorts of other delicious and nutritious items, then yes, pasta can be a really great food. And don't despair gluten-free eaters, there are many, many companies who are more than willing to provide you with a whole host of gluten-free options. In fact, in Asia, rice noodles have been used for thousands of years with the most basic ingredients possible - stone-ground rice (rice flour) and water. That's it. Pretty simple and easy to make.

You can walk into any Pho house in the world and you'll find exactly what I'm talking about: good rice noodles steeped deeply in that delicious Pho broth. And if you want rice noodle selection, just peruse your local Asian market (if you have one) and walk down the noodle aisle. One whole side will be dedicated to rice noodles in every shape and size.

Now, for anyone who has tried a rice noodle, it really depends on the noodle, the maker and the ingredients as to how the texture and feel in your mouth will be. Some noodles are sticky intentionally; some noodles fall apart if overcooked; some noodles cook quickly while others take twenty minutes or longer to soften; and some noodles just aren't very good.

Rice in and of itself is not a bad food. It has gotten a bad rap because the glycemic index of it is a bit high and that is a major concern for a lot of people. However, rice is a quick and sustainable energy source, low in sodium, cholesterol-free and full of vitamins and minerals like niacin, Vitamin D, calcium, iron, thiamine and riboflavin. This popular crop feeds more than half of the population of the world and is considered a staple in most countries.

And just think about the vast quantity of types of rice: red, white, black, jasmine, arborio, short-grain, long-grain, instant. The list goes on and on. But the most popular debate has and will probably always be: white or brown? Keeping that outer husk with all its beneficial bran seems a great way to go.

And that is just what my favorite rice pasta company has done.

As more people find themselves on a gluten-free diet, the need for gluten-free pastas are on the rise. Companies are taking hold of this potential and creating new and exciting options that really rival their original wheat-filled counterparts. Penne, spirals, shapes and letters, bunnies, lasagna, elbows, fusilli, fettucini, shells, and more. The rice pasta industry has tried and succeeded at copying just about everything.

But as I have said before, not all pastas are the same. I have tried quinoa pastas made with corn, rice pastas made with organic brown rice, standard rice flour and water pastas, rice pastas that add dried vegetables right into the pasta and more. They all have their positives and their negatives and one of these days, I would love to do a taste, compare and share. But, that's another article.

Today, I am going to share with you my all-time favorite rice pasta and why it is my all-time favorite.

Tinkyada Rice Pasta is the winner hands-down.

Let me tell you why.

I have tried a lot of rice pasta. A LOT.

In my early quest for a great gluten-free diet, I didn't know how to make my own pasta and finding rice pasta was easy. In every natural store, it is abundant and now, in most stores, you can find at least a package or two. I have learned to make my own pasta, but pre-packaged rice pasta is fast, easy and readily available, so why not? That's my theory. And there is no way I am about to spend the hours trying to make my own gluten-free pasta into little spiral shapes. Not gonna happen. Who has time? Or should I say, days?

When I started out, I tried lots of different kinds of rice pastas, always looking for the one that would offer some greater nutritional value, but also a really great product. That's not too much to ask, is it? I didn't think so. So, I bought various package after package cooking them according to direction and remembering the rules of great pasta cooking (believe it or not, with the right rice pasta, it will cook just like the wheat varieties, al dente and all) I found my favorite.

Through a few bad pasta experiences, I found some gluten-free pastas to be dull or lifeless, grainy or starchy, overly chewy or gummy, and so many of them with all the great rice bran just fell apart when you cooked them. That's not any fun. Food should be pretty, as well as enjoyable. If it is possible, why compromise for second-best? Again, that's my theory.

And that's when I stumbled upon Tinkyada. Okay, stumble is probably not the right word. Fell would be more like it. How could I not when in the majority of the stores I went into it was either the only rice pasta they carried or it filled the entire shelf. Tinkyada has such a vast variety of types, shapes and sizes, most stores don't even carry all they offer. So, with the store stocking so many, it must be good, right?

This is where I wave my little red flag. Note to all gluten-free eaters: just because a store stocks several varieties of a particular brand does not, and I repeat, does not mean they are actually any good or even the best. Tinkyada is the exception here. As a matter of fact, they are quite the exception because their pasta is good. Okay, not just good, but goooooooooooooooooooooood. Can you hear my lips smacking just thinking about them?

Tinkyada offers lots of options from organic brown rice pastas to spinach brown rice spaghetti noodles (one of my favorites) to multi-colored vegetable spirals with carrot, tomato, and spinach in the pasta itself. Probably the one and only noodle I have yet to have tried is their lasagna noodle. No, wait. I believe I did try that some years ago, but it has been awhile. I just haven't gotten around to making any sort of lasagna. But, I will!

You can eat the noodles cold or hot (a big problem for many manufacturers), you can sauce them or eat them plain, and nearly all the noodles contain rice bran for extra nutrition, texture and flavor. And only one is made with white rice; the rest are filled with the beneficial brown rice variety. Delish.

So, what is one to do with a rice noodle?

Whatever you want to.

Literally. Make spaghetti with marinara sauce and add a meatball or two; make a cold pasta salad on a hot summer night; add some to make chicken noodle soup; make a delicious cream sauce and serve up some fettucini; or do what I do: make your own sauce concoction and devour. *See below for my latest offering.

Here are some tips for pasta lovers (and really, these are pretty standard pasta making tips whether you eat wheat pasta or rice):

1. Salt the water generously. This will make the pasta more flavorful and you'll have to add less salt to your dish later. (Of course, for those of you who don't eat salt or prefer not to, this is completely optional. Tinkyada is just as delicious without added salt.)

2. Cook the pasta just until al dente, which literally means, "to the tooth." The texture should still be a bit chewy and firm. The pasta will continue to cook once you remove it from the heat, so if you overcook it prior to that, by the time it gets to the plate and in your mouth, it will be mushy. Unless you like that, then have at it.

3. If you need to stop the pasta from continuing to cook (aka, you overcooked it), then run it under some cold water to stop the cooking process. Some of the packages of rice pasta will recommend that you do this anyway. You don't have to do this with Tinkyada's pasta. Not necessary. And on the plus side, then your pasta won't be cold when you want it to be hot. Some of the other brands recommend you do this to also remove the excess starch from the outside of the noodle. After having cooked some of them, I can see why. They start to clump in the water and that's just a gooey mess. This is not a problem with Tinkyada. Ever. No need to rinse unless you really want to.

4. If you are going to refrigerate any leftover pasta or you are going to serve it by itself (where people can put their own toppings on, etc), then remove the pasta from the water, rinse if you must, and add a little olive oil and gently mix it around. This will prevent the pasta from sticking together, which does happen whether it is wheat or rice. If you are putting a sauce or dressing on it right away, this step is unnecessary. But remember, as with all pastas, the pasta is going to absorb the dressing somewhat. Add more later if you need to.

And that is pretty much it. Pretty simple, pretty fast and pretty delicious.

Happy eating everybody!

Creamy Italian Squash and Carrot Sauce

Great with pasta or over turkey or chicken! Delicious!

Recipe courtesy of Michelle Hankes
Serves 4-6


2 cups baby carrots or regular carrots chopped into 1” pieces

½ acorn squash, seeded, peeled and diced

1 cup water

¼ cup milk of choice

1 tsp dried thyme

2 tbsp dried oregano

2 tbsp dried basil

2 bay leaves

½ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp dried tarragon

½ - 1 tsp salt (add more or less to taste)

Dash cayenne pepper

½ onion, diced

1 tbsp olive oil or butter

½ tbsp butter or natural margarine

2 oz. Neufchatel cheese or vegan cream cheese alternative

Place carrots, squash, and water in a large saucepan and cook over medium heat until squash is tender and carrots are easily cut or pulled apart with a fork, about 15-20 minutes. Place cooked squash, carrots and water mixture into a blender or VitaMix. Add milk and blend until smooth.

Return pureed mixture to saucepan and add thyme, oregano, basil, bay leaves, garlic, tarragon, salt and cayenne pepper. Reduce heat to low and allow sauce to gently simmer.

Meanwhile, in a separate skillet, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil or butter on medium-low heat. Saute onions until tender, not browned, about 3-4 minutes.

Add sautéed onions, butter and Neufchatel cheese to saucepan with pureed mixture and stir gently to incorporate. Gently use a whisk to incorporate the cheese, if necessary.

Remove bay leaves, salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Restaurant Review: Thrive

One winter day, a friend and I set out for adventure. We whisked around town in our little car doing a little shopping, running a few errands and decidedly finding ourselves in that ever so familiar place: hungryland.

I had brought my newly purchased Chinook Book with me for a closer look (for those unfamiliar, the Chinook Book is EcoMetro's Seattle version of an all-green, all-about-sustainable, happy-earth-friendly coupon book filled with discounts from grocery stores, restaurants, manufacturers and so much more. Think Entertainment Book, but all about the greenness. Go to to see if your city has one). We flipped through the book looking for something near Seattle, or just north of Seattle, that would fit what our palates were craving.

Flip. Flip. Flip. So many options. How does one, or two, choose?

And there it was. Something that fit right into our scheme of adventure: Thrive.

Who doesn't want to thrive? Really?

And for those of you who already know or curiosity has crept up so silently you can't stand it, the website is . Hurry up. Go there, then come back and I'll tell you more. I'll wait.

Okay, good. We're all here now. So, Thrive. Eclectic little Thrive.

When we first walked in, after finding what could be called difficult parking simply because it is right on 65th across from Whole Foods in Ravenna, the first thing we couldn't help but notice was how small it was. Unfortunately, that really did jump out at us. The little store had five tables and a counter for sitting, most of the tables only seating two, except one family-style seating arrangement at the window. My friend and I opted to sit at the counter so we could chat and watch the food denizens preparing our scrumptious fare.

But, of course, prior to sitting, we had to pick what we wanted to eat. At Thrive, you order at the front counter and they deliver it to your table by calling your name. Makes sense since the place is fairly intimate. The woman behind the counter answered most of our questions; she said she'd just come in and wasn't sure what was in the dessert counter, but other than that, she was knowledegable and super helpful. My friend ordered a warm grain bowl - Awaken - with steamed quinoa and veggies galore dressed in a Sesame-Ginger sauce. I chose the Mighty Thai - a raw (did I mention they were a raw food restaurant, except some of their steamed grain options? Did I mention that? Sorry, I suppose I didn't, but for those of you who read my latest review, it was also of a raw restaurant. Well, believe it or not, Thrive was the first raw place I tried, but I decided to review Chaco Canyon yesterday instead. Don't know why. Just did.) salad piled high with shredded red cabbage and carrots oozing with their homemade Thai "Peanut" Sauce and topped with cashews and dates. Delish. It spoke to me right off the menu.

We both decided we needed a smoothie of some sort to top off our meal, so my friend chose a Sweet Tart with fresh strawberries, lime juice, agave and ice. I had to have a Creamsicle of the strawberry variety (there are other options) and their own homemade Almond Milk. Divine.

My friend couldn't help peering into the dessert counter as I ordered - it was cleverly right where we were standing - and on the flip side, there were no labels on the actual food items, nor a list of ingredients, but everything was beautiful, tempting and beckoning. The lack of a label is not a plus for someone like me who is very aware of what I choose to consume. On a white board near the dessert case was a hand-written list of what items were featured for dessert that day. However, you had to be able to discern what was what by either guessing or asking, of which we tried to do the latter but were forced to do the prior. Let me explain. We asked the smiling woman behind the counter for better clarification, but she didn't know what was what. So, we had to guess. My friend chose a little "pudding" container with a layer of what looked like dark chocolate, milk chocolate and then dark chocolate. Her adventurous side won out. She had to have some. I decided to reserve my adventure for my cuisine.

We used our coupon (from the Chinook Book), paid, and sat down. We talked and watched the cooks from the counter spinning various kinds of foods in blenders and cuisinarts, each being plated in cute little bowls, glasses or plates. My friend cracked open her tiny container of pudding and began sampling. She said it was definitely chocolately, smooth and creamy, not too heavy and not too light. She enjoyed it immensely, licking her lips after each and every bite. She didn't want to miss a drop.

I walked over to peruse the tiny retail section that consisted of a self-help wall of grains and beans, cookbooks and other raw food reading fare, and a selection of pre-made goodies in refrigerated cases. I returned just in time to see our smoothies delivered having picked up some silverware and napkins along the way from the self-service center.

My smoothie was a beautiful pink color, creamy and blended to perfection. It tasted just like a strawberry creamsicle. It was fantastic. I wonder if they'll give me their almond milk recipe? My friend's smoothie was also a beautiful reddish pink color. She took a sip and with the sparkle in her eyes, I knew it was a hit.

One of the chefs called our names and placed two large bowls (even though we both ordered regular size, there was a bit of a concern if it would be enough. Once we saw the bowls, we realized, oh yeah, more than enough.) in front of us and we dove in. My friend kept remarking that if this was what raw food tasted like, she wanted more of it. She acknowledged that her bowl wasn't completely raw (the steamed quinoa), but the majority of it was and it was truly delicious. My Mighty Thai salad had a delicious crunch with just the right amount of dressing and flavor to tantalize my taste buds. No salt needed here. It was crunchy, it was sweet, it was filling and there was plenty left over. As I mentioned yesterday, raw food has a way of filling you up. I think it's because of all the crunching and with all that mastication, you have to eat slowly. The brain has a chance to recognize full. That's my theory.

We ate and munched and slurped in happy silence, only breaking to say how good something was. And it really was. Thrive has breathed new life back into raw food eating and I applaud them for cracking open the long-held stigma surrounding raw eateries. They really were a breath of fresh air. Literally.

The only part that stalled my refreshing inspiration was two-fold: for whatever reason, it was really hot inside the store. I must say, I was a bit surprised because for a restaurant that doesn't use stoves (I don't think they even had one in there...maybe to steam the rice or quinoa, but I think they used steamers...baffling) it was extraordinarily hot in there. Once I removed my jacket and acclimated, I was fine, but momentarily, I did wonder if I would be comfortable staying inside. I can't imagine I was just having a hot flash.

And the second-fold was price. Not on everything, mind you. I thought the food was well-priced, certainly for what you got in terms of quality and quantity. Our dishes ran about $6 or $7 for a regular bowl, $8 or $9 for a large, which neither of us got, but of the regular, we both took some home. And the smoothies were in the $4-5 range. They had smoothies that were more expensive and bigger, but alas, I could not find this info on their website and I cannot remember the exact pricing, so, I guess you'll just have to go and find out for yourself. Okay, so what I am talking about is the price of the pudding cup my friend bought. Four dollars. Four dollars? I thought that was a little much for what she got. And the price was nowhere to be found along with the missing labels and ingredient lists, otherwise she may have considered otherwise. The pudding cup came in one of those little sauce-sized take-home containers you get from Chinese restaurants or teriyaki. Tiny. She said it was just enough, but four dollars worth? Come on. That seems a little extreme. I do own a few raw food cookbooks and I know the basics of how they make those puddings and well, two or three bucks would have sufficed.

But other than that, I loved everything about them. Thrive really is opening up the eyes of a whole new generation into the world of raw, healthy eating. Raw food isn't just for rabbits anymore. It's people food. Real, good, delicious, home-style people food. Which makes the people feel good.

Go Generation Thrive.

Happy eating!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Restaurant Review: Chaco Canyon

A friend, who is vegetarian, and I decided to make a trip down to Chaco Canyon ( near the U-District in Seattle and use the coupon I had in my Chinook Book (Seattle’s eco-friendly coupon booklet).

When we first walked in, it was such a nice surprise! The atmosphere was eclectic and sublime, hand-written signage on one side with cleverly pre-made signage on another. The menu list was belovedly long with all kinds of options from warm bowls to organic smoothies to raw dishes and desserts, even breakfast. The prices were so reasonable we considered ordering several items, but we decided on a dish each and, as usual, the dessert case was screaming my name, especially with the words 'gluten-free' written on most of the items. Needless to say, I was ecstatic!

My friend ordered a warm quinoa bowl (pictured below) and I ordered the Cilantro Pesto Bowl (pictured on the left). And of course, we had to have a little dessert. To start. Everyone needs something sweet, even if it is the appetizer.

The nice fellow at the counter answered all my gluten-free questions (to which he provided a book full of the ingredients for each and every item) and gave me my chocolate coconut cupcake on its little plate and a numbered flag to track us down.

We found water and silverware (biodegradable and washable kinds) along a little bar in the middle of the room, along with bus-yourself stations. We grabbed what we needed and headed to a little table in the back corner.

One thing we noticed immediately was for the number of people in the room, it actually sounded quite, well, quiet. We dove into the cupcake, which was fantastic – slightly crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy, like a brownie, on the inside with a giant helping of raw ‘buttercream’ coconut frosting - and waited for our bowls to be delivered. We could have just sat and ate dessert.

In but the briefest moment later, they were. My friend’s bowl of veggies and quinoa glistened brightly with the faint aroma of nuttiness from the quinoa and tang from the tomato sauce. My beautiful green pesto bowl was filled to the brim with zucchini ‘noodles’ slathered in cilantro pesto deliciousness and speckled with black and white sesame seeds. The pesto had a clear zestiness to it with a nice crunch to the raw zucchini and sesame seeds, and just the right amount of seasoning to inspire any palate. And as with all raw food – or so it seems – there was more than enough left over. I always seem to fill up quickly with raw foods feeling satisfied and healthy afterwards. I retrieved a couple of eco-friendly take-home containers from their counter and we bussed our table, gathered our belongings and left happy, full and ready to come back again.

Thank you, Chaco Canyon, for offering so many options in a pleasing atmosphere that inspired both of us to try more raw foods. I would recommend Chaco Canyon ( to anyone interested in trying raw foods, experimenting in the organic field, or just wanting to try something different. They give you a clear idea that raw food is not just salads or cut-up carrots and celery anymore. This is great, inexpensive, delicious food that will tempt your taste buds to try more.
As my body happily sang through the rest of the day, I contemplated where to find a mandolin so I could have the option to experiment and make my own ‘noodles’ out of zucchini, carrots or well, anything.

Happy eating!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Product Review: Natural Desserts Instant Vanilla Pudding

You know, every once in a while I get the hankering for a little pudding. The soft, velvety texture, creamy, soft mouth-feel that just slides right down without really having to even move your mouth. It just floats down to your tummy.


Well, most of the time, anyhow. I am not a huge fan of instant pudding, but there are times when you just don't want to stand over a stove and stir and stir and stir and stir. And then 30 minutes later, you have warm pudding. Sometimes, warm pudding is fantastic, but other times, you just want a nice, cold cup of creamy vanilla pudding, right?


And sometimes you want it right now, right?


Ah, the American motto. But I digress...

As I shopped around Whole Foods, I stopped by the baking aisle to check on a few items for a friend whose daughter has just recently gone gluten-, dairy- and corn-free. Very similar to me. In my attempt to help her make the transition smoothly, I was pricing some necessary items for them, when I spotted a little white box with words 'all-natural gluten-free instant vanilla pudding.'


I picked up the new little box and immediately do what I always do: turned it over. I am an ingredient reader. Have to be. My body is discerning and so am I.

Reading the ingredient label, I was neither frightened, nor appalled (it is Whole Foods, after all) and pleasantly surprised to see that corn starch was not their thickener of choice.

Thumbs up for those of us abstaining from corn.

Feeling pretty pleased about it, I dropped the Natural Desserts vanilla variety in my cart (there was also a tempting chocolate version, but I was in a vanilla mood, as we all have those kinds of moments - I can hear my good friend's husband shrieking. He is a chocolate purist. Not that the chocolate has to be pure, but it has to be pure chocolate.) and headed home.

Fast-forward a few days.

It's a lazy Sunday morning and I have decided to give the new item a try. I had also just recently purchased a bunch of new and fun items from my local Asian market, so something had to be tried. The vanilla pudding stood out. It beckoned to be eaten. And I was ready to answer that call.

Flipping it over again, I re-read the backside looking at the ingredients again and all the various verbiage: no corn, no wheat, no milk (unless you choose to use some), no eggs and no soy. Excellent. This could be a new favorite for me and my new gluten-free, dairy-free, corn-free twelve-year-old friend.

Emblazoned across the top in bold italics - No Cooking! Just mix with milk! Great. Perfect for what I am looking for. There were also alternate suggestions for pudding, using milk (skim or whole) or milk alternatives (rice milk or even potato milk), pie filling, rice pudding and even a recipe for Cherries 'N Cream Pie. Mmmm. Sounds good, doesn't it?
Yep. My mouth was a'watering.

I dumped the package inside into a large bowl with two cups of cold milk (I used hemp milk because it was all I had and if the package says you can use rice or potato milk, well, hemp will work just as well). I started to whisk for the two minutes the package declared was the amount of time needed to whisk the powdery mixture into smooth and creamy goodness.

I whisked and I whisked, slow and gently, as recommended. I looked at my clock. One minute.

The mixture was still pretty much in a fluid state, so I figured something magical was about to happen around minute two.

Nope. Still liquid. Slightly thicker liquid, but nothing like pudding. Maybe like a watery sauce. Maybe.

I whisked some more and then I thought, well, why don't I just taste it? See how it tastes. Tastes like vanilla hemp milk with little pearly lumps in it.

Okay, so maybe the mixture has gelled before it mixed together fully. Interesting, considering the milk was cold and that's what the package directions tell you to do.

I whisked a little while longer, hoping for some change or some pudding magic to happen. I was only disappointed. So, I thought to myself again, as I do often while I cook or create, let's just leave it alone and see what happens. Maybe it will thicken on its own. Maybe.

I left it sit on the counter for about 7 minutes and when I came back, it looked, well, the same.

I flipped the box over again reading and scouring the words to see what I might have done wrong or where I may have flubbed. I could find no error. Put milk in bowl; dump in mixture; whisk together. Wa-la! Instant pudding. More like instant flavored milk.

Out of curiosity and not really wanting to waste half a box of hemp milk, I put the liquid into a saucepan and set it on medium. I thought maybe it just needed some heat, even though it was supposed to be a no-cook pudding mix.

I continued to whisk and stir, waiting for the mixture to at least get to the boiling stage. If it made it to that point and hadn't thickened, it wasn't going to. Whatever starch they used was either not enough or just wasn't working. Now, mind you, it has been close to an hour with all the whisking and waiting and whisking some more. I could have just made my own pudding and it would have taken less time without the confusion or frustration.

As the liquid began to boil, I realized it had thickened some to about the consistency of a nice sauce, but that really wasn't what I was looking for. And now that I had invested time and money into this project, I wasn't going to throw it away. It still had potential and I wanted pudding.

I mixed in some sweet potato starch (a fun find from the Asian market - starch from sweet potatoes! Ingenious!) and began whisking away. It began to thicken, as expected, and I realized that I put in maybe about half of what I would have to make my own pudding, so maybe the mix didn't have enough starch and whatever they were trying to do to make it be instant had failed miserably. I was kind of wondering if they had tested this product in-house before putting it in a box.

Maybe. Maybe not.

So, all in all, I would say, forget the $1.49 (or $2.49 on several websites) for the Natural Desserts Instant Pudding Mixes and if you can eat cornstarch, use one of those varieties - there are plenty. If you can't, just make your own at home. It will be less hassle, probably about the same cost, maybe even a little cheaper and you know what you're going to get when you are done.

Happy eating,