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!

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Eat Local, Jackson: A Giveway!

Are you looking for a quality local restaurant while you’re in Jackson? Wondering which local restaurants might be best for a romantic date night or a Southern Style meal? Look no further than Eat Jackson.

I first discovered Eat Jackson a few months after I moved to Mississippi. I was unfamiliar with the city, and definitely didn’t know which places were best to eat at, so I would constantly search online for new spots to try out. Luckily, I discovered Eat Jackson, a local’s dream guide to the latest and greatest dining options that Jackson, MS has to offer. With food directories by location, craving and meal type, this site makes finding food an absolute breeze!

Here’s what makes it even more awesome. You can purchase an EatJXN Card for just $20, which gives you discounts and freebies at tons of local places throughout the year! Some of my favorite deals include Free Cheese Dip with the purchase of an entree at Sombra Mexican Kitchen, Two-for-One Dessert at Bravo! Italian Restaurant (their GF peanut butter pie is to die for) and Bar and 10% off your order at Campbell’s Bakery (which features GF options daily!). For a complete list of card deals, click here.

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For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you know how important that free cheese dip at Sombra is to me! And if you’ve read my post about Bravo!, you won’t want to miss out on that two-for-one dessert deal. So how can I help YOU benefit from this awesomeness?

One lucky reader will win a 2014 EatJXN card! That’s right, all of those awesome deals can be yours for an entire year. All you have to do is comment below and tell me what your favorite restaurant in Jackson is or which of these deals you’re most excited about. Tweet about the giveaway and “Like” Gluten Free Girl MS on Facebook to increase your chances to win!

One winner will be randomly selected on Friday, December 20th.

Good luck!

Chicago Knows its Gluten Free Food

When it comes to gluten free food, Chicago is not messing around. The hubs and I spent the entire weekend eating and drinking and there was not one place that we visited that wasn’t fantastic. Not only was the food delicious, but the staff almost everywhere we went was incredibly knowledgeable about both gluten-intolerance and Celiac Disease. They went above and beyond to take care of us, explain menus to us and recommend items on the menu that they knew we could eat. I was absolutely blown away by the quality of care we received!

Here are a few of our favorite places that we visited this weekend:

We loved the gluten free pizza at Homeslice. And not just because the name of the restaurant is great, but because they make their gluten free crust from scratch and it is thick, fluffy and delicious – and will bring back memories of the days when your pizzas were gluten-filled.

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Mity Nice Bar & Grill serves homemade gluten free cheese muffins made with tapioca flour that are glorious! And their gluten free hamburger buns will make your stomach smile.

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Plus you can grab a gluten free beer almost anywhere. No joke. Search for beer on findmeglutenfree.com in Chicago and over 150 locations are listed. I can’t find beer that many places in the entire state of Mississippi! We were even able to enjoy some Redbridge at Wrigley Field! Because nothing goes better with baseball than cold beer!

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But of everywhere we ate this weekend our favorite restaurant was Wildfire. We almost didn’t go because we try to avoid any “chain” restaurants when we travel. But the reviews for Wildfire were just extraordinary – and since there are only seven Wildfire Restaurants in the US, and all of them are in the Midwest (far from Mississippi!), we decided to pay it a visit. And were we ever glad that we did!

Let’s start with the the Gluten Free menu itself. Two pages long, the options are so extensive that choosing what to eat is a challenge in itself! Luckily, your server will probably be extremely helpful (ours certainly was!) and he or she will walk you through the options. After they bring you your delicious homemade gluten free bread of course! I am not using the word delicious lightly here either. The bread is great! They make their bread with Damata gluten free flour – something that I will be investing in as soon as I make it back to Mississippi for sure!

While we enjoyed our bread, our waitress talked us into the Spinach and Artichoke Fondue, which is served with homemade gluten free pita chips, also made with Damata gluten free flour. Holy cow. Those chips were rockin’. I could live on those pita chips they are so good. By the time we got finished with the bread and the spinach and artichoke dip, we were both getting so full, we had no idea how we were going to eat our steaks that we had ordered!

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But somehow, we managed. To eat not just our bone-in filets (which were cooked to absolute perfection I might add) but also to share what was arguably the greatest gluten free macaroni and cheese in the history of macaronis. Several times during the meal I noticed that my husband actually had his eyes closed while he was chewing, as if he was savoring every bite.

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We were both stuffed after the meal, there was no way we could even consider ordering a dessert. But our incredible waitress insisted on bringing us the flour-less chocolate cake – a dessert she described as “life-changing”. I’ve rarely eaten a dessert that is worthy of such high praise, but she was adamant about it.

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When it arrived at our table, I knew that I was done for. It looked absolutely incredible. Like everything else throughout the meal, the dessert was perfection. It was warm, gooey and rich. We devoured the entire thing, despite the fact that we were so full we could barely move.

After we were finished, while we were waiting for our check and talking about how impressed we were with the entire meal, my husband said to me, “Honestly, if all gluten free food tasted this good, I would have started eating this way before I even found out I was allergic to gluten. This was amazing.”

If you are ever in Chicago, stop by Wildfire Restaurant. Sure, it is a “chain”, but you certainly won’t feel that way once you step inside. The food is delicious. The waitstaff is wonderful and incredibly knowledgeable about their gluten free menu. And did I mention that all of your food is served with these adorable “allergy” sticks to indicate a food allergy?

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And oh yea, order the dessert. No matter how full you are. It’s totally worth it!

Gluten Free Eats – Orlando, FL

I love a vacation. And I definitely love eating on a vacation. After all, isn’t that the best time to indulge in all of the things you wouldn’t normally eat? Frozen drinks, fancy cocktails, and even desserts? So when we planned a family vacation to Orlando, I immediately started researching some of the best gluten free restaurants in the area. And I definitely was not disappointed.

Our trip began on Wednesday night when we arrived at the condo. My mother and sisters had been there since Sunday and my grandparents had gotten to town earlier that afternoon. When my hubby and I walked in, we were immediately greeted with not just hugs, but two kinds of gluten free beer – Omission and New Grist.

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Neither of us had ever tried New Grist before, so of course we popped a couple open right away! They did not disappoint. 🙂

The next day, we of course enjoyed some delicious cocktails poolside. I mean with a menu like this, who could resist?

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AND our drinks were served in these fantastic pineapples! This vacation was off to an incredible start.

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That evening, after a homecooked gluten free spaghetti dinner, we ventured over to Downtown Disney. I had heard about Babycakes NYC, a completely dairy-free, gluten free bakery, and knew we had to try some cupcakes from there while we were in town! There were so many delicious options, I don’t even know how we chose.

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We ended up with some “Brownie” cupcakes, a red velvet, and something called the blondie – basically a vanilla cupcake with chocolate chips.

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The blondie was definitely my favorite!

Yes, it tasted as good as it looks

Yes, it tasted as good as it looks

Oh, did I mention Babycakes also makes incredible gluten free doughnuts and pumpkin bread? Don’t worry, we were sure to scoop up some of those for breakfast the following day as well!

The gluten free fun didn’t stop at Babycakes though. There was an awesome band playing on the patio at Raglan Road (also in Downtown Disney) so we grabbed a table outside to listen and grab a few drinks. My hubby and I jumped at the Redbridge gluten free beer we spotted on the menu, as we are both big fans. 🙂

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When our waiter delivered a menu to the table, he immediately asked if there were any allergies at the table. We were all shocked – and obviously super impressed. When we said four of the five of us were gluten free, he proceeded to tell us all about the gluten free menu options, including fish and chips and onion rings!

Into fish and chips?  Be sure to try Raglan Road for a gluten free version

Into fish and chips? Be sure to try Raglan Road for a gluten free version

We weren’t even hungry but we opted for an order of onion rings. I mean, come on, can you blame us? Just look at these babies. They were INSANELY good – and vanished within minutes.

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I’m still not sure how we recovered from the binge-fest that took place on Thursday night, but somehow by the following afternoon, we were ready to get after it again. After using my handy “Find Me Gluten Free” app, we decided to head over to Benihana for some hibachi and sushi – with gluten free soy sauce!

Our dinner was delicious, and the chef was careful to prepare all of the gluten free meals at the table first (rice too!) before making the gluten-filled items for the rest of the guests we were sitting with.

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The only thing that is kind of a downer about Benihana was the lack of awesome sauces! You know those incredible sauces they bring with everyone’s meal to dip your food in (or pour all over your food, if you prefer to load up with deliciousness)?! Well, it turns out those sauces are made with soy sauce – aka they are not gluten free. I have to ask though, if Benihana has gluten free soy sauce available, why don’t they have a batch of regular sauce and a batch made with GF soy sauce? Surely I can’t be the first person to think of this!

Saturday (our final day of vaca!) finally arrived. After a day of delicious gluten free snacks at the condo, including some fabulous chocolate chip cookies made with XO Gluten Free Flour, we found ourselves looking for places for dinner. (What? More eating?! I know, we are crazy people)

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We found a Bonefish Grill not too far from the hotel and decided to eat there since my mother and sisters had never been to one before. The hubs and I are big lovers of Bonefish – and their incredible gluten free menu. Let’s just say that this meal did not disappoint either. Three of us opted for the filet mignon (A-MAZ-ING, if I do say so myself) while one of my sisters enjoyed an awesome salad.

The icing on the cake was when our waiter brought over an incredible GF macadamia nut brownie to celebrate my hubby’s birthday! It took approximately 35 seconds for the five of us to devour that little slice of heaven.

Are you not DYING to try this now?!

Are you not DYING to try this now?!

Seriously, are you not drooling right now?!

Our entire trip was absolutely incredible – and full of so many delicious meals! Needless to say, tomorrow I start my vacation recovery diet. 🙂

For those of you interested in learning more about awesome GF (or dairy-free) places to eat at Disney World, check out this awesome blog: http://glutenfreedairyfreewdw.blogspot.com/

Eating Gluten Free in Jackson, MS

I get a lot of requests from friends, co-workers, customers, random people at the grocery store… All of them sound a little bit like this, “My friend is coming to town and she is gluten free. What restaurants do you recommend I take her to?” or “My cousin’s son just got diagnosed with a gluten allergy. Where are some good places in Jackson that he can eat at?”

The bottom line is people who are gluten free still love to go out to eat. They just don’t usually know the best places to go. Or they’re nervous about trying the food on new gluten free menus. Will it be any good? Will it even be worth the money or should they just stick with a salad?

I’ve been living in Jackson for almost four years now. In that time, I’ve eaten countless dinners out and I have watched restaurants add gluten free items to their menus – and others add completely gluten free menus! Since I travel so much for work, I know that Jackson is by no means a “Gluten Free Friendly” city. There are still not THAT MANY places to eat at. However, we do have some FANTASTIC restaurants in town that are definitely worth checking out.

So I wanted to put together a list of my favorite places. Keep in mind, all opinions below are completely my own. If your sister-in-law’s mother’s neighbor had a terrible experience at one of these restaurants that I love, I’m so sorry for her. If you or someone you know had a wonderful experience somewhere that I don’t particularly love, that’s okay too! Tell me about it! I love hearing about any great gluten free experience at a restaurant in Jackson.

Here are some of my favorites in the area:

Top 3 Gluten Free Pizzas in Jackson

Biaggis – The gluten free pizza is not only delicious here, but it is big enough that you can easily share with someone else or bring home leftovers for lunch the next day! And the crust won’t get all soggy and weird on day 2. It reheats extremely well.

Mellow Mushroom – I love that Mellow Mushroom lets you customize your pizza with any toppings you want. The downside here is the ONLY gluten free thing on the menu is the pizza. Try not to be jealous of the people at the table next to you munching on their delicious “gluteny” hot pretzel appetizer.

– Dominos – I actually LOVE Gluten Free pizza from Dominos. If you are super sensitive to gluten, do not order from here though. They make no guarantees that there won’t be cross-contamination during the preparation process. But if you’re not as sensitive, be sure to order one sometime! I know people how actually prefer it to the regular crust!
*Note – Since this was originally posted in July, I had my first bad Domino’s experience. You can read about it here if you’re interested. My husband still risks it once in awhile when I am out of town, but I haven’t been back since*

Skip the Trip: Pie Works in Madison – I actually just visited Pie Works in Madison last week for the first time in years, after hearing that they added gluten free pizza crust to their menu! However, I was extremely disappointed when my pizza was served undercooked – and with a whopping $18 price tag. For that much, it better be one heck of a pizza!

Top 3 Gluten Free Pasta Dishes in Jackson

Bravo! – This is hands down my favorite restaurant in town to get a gluten free pasta dish! It might be because I’m pretty much obsessed with their Gluten Free Bruschetta appetizer. (Not pasta, I know, but oh boy is it delicious!)

Biaggis – What a fantastic gluten free pasta menu here! Order penne or spaghetti noodles and choose from a variety of sauces. They will even make gluten free mac and cheese! (It’s delicious I might add)

– Homemade – There may be another restaurant in Jackson with Gluten Free pasta, but if there is, I have not heard about it (or tried it) yet! When we want really good pasta, we make it at home. We recently discovered that we prefer corn-based noodles to rice-based noodles. Why? They’re not as sticky, they don’t leave that really weird white gooey residue on all of your pots and pans, and they taste more like the real thing! (Again, personal preference!)

Top 3 Gluten Free Desserts in Jackson

– Bravo! – I know, Bravo! tops the list again, but this place really is incredible. Their peanut butter pie with pecan crust is INSANE. I mean it will leave you desperate to come back for more. (Not that you could probably finish your first piece, it’s so rich and delicious!)

Bonefish Grill – Their gluten free chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream is ridiculously delicious. I cannot eat here without ordering this dessert – no matter how full I am after dinner. It’s worth every calorie.

Local 463 – Their menu features a flourless chocolate cake that tastes just like the real thing. I mean it – this is a GREAT cake.

Bonus: Campbell’s Bakery in Fondren offers Gluten Free items every day of the week! One of the best (if not the VERY best) bakery in the state of Mississippi, they don’t mess around when it comes to gluten free. They’ve featured everything from cookies and brownies to cupcakes!

Best Place to get a Gluten Free Sandwich

Jason’s Deli – Hands down, Jason’s Deli tops the list as my favorite place to get a gluten free sandwich. Made with Udi’s gluten free bread, you choose what you want in your sandwich and they deliver it to your table in its own individual wrapper with a “Gluten Free” sticker. The entire process not only makes you feel good about what you’re eating, but there’s free ice cream at the end of every meal! What a great bonus!

Sweet Peppers – I was pleasantly surprised with Sweet Peppers recently added a Gluten Free bread to their sandwich selection. Made with Udi’s as well, the sandwiches are definitely delicious. Just know that Sweet Peppers employees don’t seem to have as great of an understanding of “Gluten Free” as those at Jason’s Deli. Though I’m sure they will learn quickly!

Place I desperately wish would go Gluten Free: Newk’s. I still love Newk’s, as they have some of the best salads around, in my opinion. Plus their to-go cups are the bomb dot com! However, with so many delicious pizzas and sandwiches on the menu, it sure would be awesome if they could cater to the gluten free community a little more.

Austin: Battle of the Gluten Free Beers

I’ve been to Austin, TX several times before, but those trips were very “work-centric” and left little time to explore the actual city itself. This past week, my husband and I went to Austin for what we’ve now started calling a mini “workation”. Both of us had work out there so we decided to travel together and explore the city at night. It ended up being an incredible trip!

I often travel for work, but very rarely bring up my Gluten-intolerance in front of customers. I typically carefully select menu items without making a big deal of the issue whenever we’re out to eat. And I never, I mean never, request a gluten-free menu unless it specifically states on the menu that they have one or I know we’re eating at a restaurant with one. Might I have missed out on hundreds of opportunities for gluten-free deliciousness? Of course. But we all know that pointing out an allergy often leads to others asking questions. And my dinners with customers are not meant to focus on my food allergy.

So when the hubs and I arrived in Austin, we decided to live up our Gluten-Free dining options. After all, he is only recently diagnosed with a Gluten Allergy and he is still discovering what “good” gluten-free eating is all about. Especially in restaurants.

As soon as we arrived, we used the app, Find Me Gluten Free, to explore restaurants and bars surrounding our hotel to find a place for a late lunch. When we use this app in Mississippi, it usually comes back with just a few results. In fact, in our hometown of Vicksburg, MS, the app brings back only 3 restaurants – one of which, McAlister’s, does not even have Gluten-Free bread at our location! So we were extremely excited to see pages and pages of results – most within walking distance of our hotel! (If you don’t have the FMGF app on your phone yet, download it immediately! It’s a lifesaver!)

The first place we visited, Hickory Street Bar & Grill, had an incredible selection of Gluten-Free menu items including fried chicken, mac and cheese, a buffalo chicken sandwich and fried pickles! We loaded up on everything! But the best thing they had was Gluten-Free beer! My husband, a beer lover in his “gluten days” was most excited about this. I hadn’t had a beer since college, but nothing sounded better on a hot Texas afternoon so I ordered one as well.

The staff recommended Omission. Talk about an awesome choice! We couldn’t believe how delicious it was! Even my husband, who is often hesitant to agree that anything Gluten-Free tastes 100% like the “real thing” agreed that this beer was AWESOME. Two thumbs way up!

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As the week carried on, we enjoyed a ridiculous amount of delicious food. One of my favorites was when our incredible waiter at UchiKo brought us some amazing Gluten-Free fried chicken to try. Sounds like an odd dish for a sushi restaurant, right? But it was arguably the most delicious thing we ate all week long!

Towards the end of the week, we headed to Top Golf Austin to play some competitive games with my customers – and maybe enjoy a cocktail or two. Top Golf is where we discovered Bard’s Gluten-Free Beer! It had been YEARS since I had even had a beer and here I was trying two different kinds of beer in one week – and loving them! I was in beer heaven!

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If you had to ask me to choose between Omission and Bard’s, I would have a hard time. (Probably because I was just so darn excited to be drinking a beer at all). But for my husband, the choice was easy. He is an Omission fan all the way now. If only there was somewhere near our hometown where we could actually get some…!

But Austin, keep an eye out for this girl. I will definitely be back for more!

How about you? Have you tried any amazing gluten-free beers recently?

Sweet Pancake Heaven

This morning, we scheduled a breakfast meeting with a new employee. Poor guy – his first month’s review meeting and we schedule it at 7:30 am. Lucky for him, we scheduled it at the most glorious place on Earth – Another Broken Egg Cafe. If you have never been to Another Broken Egg, you are missing out on one of life’s greatest little treasures. I’ve never had a meal I didn’t like there. (Or, on the weekend, a mimosa I didn’t enjoy!) And recently, they added Gluten-Free items to their menu, making ABE (don’t you like how I think it’s okay to start abbreviating it now?) a personal favorite of mine!

So this morning, I was feeling particularly hungry and obviously had no regard for the number of carbs I was consuming. Which means when I saw my favorite Jumbo Gluten-Free Pancake on the menu, I jumped at the chance to order it. Now, when I say jumbo, I mean enormous. This baby is bigger than my head. And trust me when I say that I have a larger than average size head people. Every bite is fluffier and more glorious than the last. And so deliciously gluten-free.

Oh. Sweet. Pancake. Heaven.

Oh. Sweet. Pancake. Heaven.

There are no words to express the kind of contentment I felt after eating this pancake.

Or how many times I yawned after eating so many carbs so early in the morning…

Ah, but it was worth it.