Review: Great Value Gluten-Free Rice Shells and Cheddar

Do you like Velveeta Shells and Cheese? If you do, you’ll probably like the Walmart store brand Great Value Gluten-Free Rice Shells and Cheddar. Unlike their hideous Hamburger Helper knockoff, this take on the classic American comfort food actually hits the mark.

It’s pretty simple, actually. Everything you need is in the box.

Like the other Great Value Gluten-Free brands, the design sticks with the light blue box and circular bubble for the brand  and item name.

Walmart Great Value GF Shells and Cheese

Walmart Great Value GF Shells and Cheese

Open the box and you will see loose rice shell pasta.

A Box of Rice Pasta Shells

A Box of Rice Pasta Shells

Dig around a bit and you will find a packet of prepared cheddar cheese sauce a la Velveeta.

And A Package of Cheese Product

And A Package of Cheese Product

Pop the shells in water to boil (we add a couple of hot dogs to the mix).

Shells in The Pan With A Couple of Hot Dogs

Shells in The Pan With A Couple of Hot Dogs

As usual, the rice pasta gets mushy. You can see the cloudiness of the water. Unlike other rice pastas, this one has a perfect a dente texture–it won’t turn to mush in your mouth, but it’s not tough either.

Cooked Shells Before Draining

Cooked Shells Before Draining

Squeeze the cheese sauce into the pan.

Drained Shells With Cheese Product

Drained Shells With Cheese Product

We add frozen peas to the mix too. We’ve been told we don’t get enough vegetables :)

Frozen Peas Added

Frozen Peas Added

 

Smoosh it all together on low until the cheese evenly distributes and the peas defreeze. Plop it in a bowl and gobble away.

One-Dish American Comfort Food

One-Dish American Comfort Food

Here are the nutrition facts for Great Value GF Shells and Cheese:

Shells and Cheese Nutrition Facts

Shells and Cheese Nutrition Facts

And a list of ingredients:

Shells and Cheese Ingredients

Shells and Cheese Ingredients

What saves this box mix over the stroganoff I tried is the fact that the sauce is pre-made. Because it is cheese rather than cream based, there is less of an issue with thickening. My hunch is that what we’re getting in the sauce package is exactly the same as what we get in this package–

wpid-2014-07-28_14-54-34_921.jpg

which you can also get in Walmart in the packaged cheese aisle. As a matter of fact, until I stumbled across the Great Value GF Shells and Cheese,  I made my own mac and cheese with a bag of rice elbows and a packet of Velveeta.

If you can’t find the Velveeta packets in your store (but you probably should if your store carries Velveeta and, honestly, what store in North America doesn’t?), then the GF package is a good substitute.

The box sold for $2.19 at my store, and it has 3 servings, so we’re looking at 73 cents per serving. Hot dogs and peas are add-ons at your discretion, depending on what your local mac and cheese tradition may be.

The Tornado Returns

Yet another tornado dream. Not sure what chaos or change is on its way with this dream, but I’ll log it anyway.

I am in a hotel at a meeting in Louisiana. Yes, Louisiana, but it does not look like New Orleans, so I’m not sure where it is. It is a fairly large hotel, and I am there for a business conference. We are in a conference room milling around the snack tables during break. One entire wall of the room is windows, and I can see that a storm is coming in from the north (so I guess the windows are facing north). I can also see in the clouds rotation, and, sure enough, I see a funnel start to snake down.

I turn and there is one of my former teachers (the nun!) and I tell her about the funnel cloud. “Shouldn’t we do something?” I ask. I seem to assume in the dream that she is in charge (because she is a nun?). “Shouldn’t we tell people about the tornado?” I don’t understand why the sirens aren’t going off, and I don’t understand why no one else is concerned when there is a freaking tornado heading right for us!

She just seems to sneer at me and is very condescending. I don’t remember exactly what she said but the gist of it was that I was being silly and to be quiet and stop making a ruckus.

I am exasperated that she is not taking me seriously. Why I don’t announce to the room that there is a tornado, I don’t know, but maybe I thought if they were so damn dense they couldn’t see a freaking tornado heading right for us  that they deserved to get sucked up for a little joy ride.

To my right is a girl with long dark hair. I grab her hand and say “Come on. We’ve got to get to a lower floor.” She does not want to go; she is preoccupied with the food and drinks on the table. But I am insistent and won’t let go of her hand and tug her out, protesting, into the corridor.

Now, I have no idea who this girl is, but I seem to know her and I seem to feel responsible for her so I keep pulling on her hand and nudging her to the stair well. She is chatting away irritably because she wanted the food and drinks on the table. I keep trying to get through to her that there is a freaking tornado heading right for us but it’s like talking to a child.

I manage to get her down the stairs and onto the second floor of the building but she won’t go any lower. She walks into a large suite and I walk over to the window and sure enough there is the damn tornado, still heading right for us. I try to convince her that the second floor still isn’t safe; we need to be on the first floor or even better in a basement, but now she has moved from irritability to anger because she has stayed in this suite before. She keeps going on and on that the management had claimed she had gone through all the booze in the bar but “I never touched it!” she says indignantly.

I keep trying to calm her down and coax her out of the room, but she won’t let it go.

“They charged me hundreds of dollars!” she said. “Look!” She pulls up out of thin air a map of the hotel and touches the suite that we are in and it starts to glow red. “Here!” she yells. “Here is the room. The very room we’re in! This is where they claimed I drank all the booze but I never did! I want it on record! FOR POSTERITY. I NEVER DRANK THE BOOZE.”

At this point, I am thinking “you doth protest too much” since she was pretty damn obsessed with the food and wine in the conference room, but for some reason I still feel compelled to try to get her somewhere safe. I take her hand again and try to tug her to the door but she pulls away. She is in a full-on tirade FOR POSTERITY DAMN IT and I can’t get through to her. I run back to the window. The tornado is still coming. We’ve got a couple of minutes tops. Do I try to talk her down? Do I stay with her and try to minimize damage when the tornado hits? Or do I leave?

I wish I could say I did the heroic thing and stayed, but I didn’t. I left. As I walked through the door to find the stairs to the basement, I remember thinking “Some people just don’t want to be saved.” And then I woke up.

Con Kasterborous 2014

Hello everyone. I’m being pestered to do a write-up of Con K in Huntsville from last month. I wasn’t able to get many pictures on the second day of the con for reasons I’ll explain later in the tale, but I’ll post what I do have.

The tl;dr version: Con K is a very new, Who-centric convention that is going through some growing pains but has a lot of potential to be a really fun event if organizational and venue issues can be resolved.

If you’re not interested in my adventure in getting there and problems with the hotel, skip to Part The Second on page 2.

Part The First: The Trip

You just know it’s going to be one of those trips when the day before you leave you get an email from your credit card company telling you that your card has been placed on fraud alert. At least this time, the card company had the courtesy to tell me; last time they froze my account I was mid-air on my way to Calgary, only to find when I landed that both my credit card and my bank card had been frozen. Not fun. So instead of getting some rest and packing, I spent the day on the phone with the credit card company and my bank, making sure the travel notices were set up on the cards, and ensuring that the charge for the hotel would go through.

Then, when I finally did make it on the road, about an hour outside of Huntsville something smacked into my windshield and cracked the glass.

Then, just as I turned into Huntsville, the heavens parted and I was in the middle of a deluge, driving on an unfamiliar interstate, with a cracked windshield, and rain so hard I could barely see the car in front of me. It took forever, but I did eventually make it to the turn off–and then couldn’t find parking at the Westin.It took another good half hour of driving around to find where I was actually supposed to park, and I was dripping wet by the time I get to the desk.

The person at the desk was very cordial to me, until he saw the reservation and that I was with the con. Immediately his demeanor changed, and he became very condescending. That was not the first time that the staff at the Westin Huntsville behaved in such a manner. There were at least four instances, directed at me by three Westin staff, during my stay there, and in chatting with other con goers, I heard that some of them were treated even worse. Most of the issues seemed to focus in the bar and grill area, where I personally overheard one of the staff make fun of con goers while talking to other patrons. This is completely unprofessional behavior. I have had excellent experiences with the Westin in the past, and I was very disappointed to observe this kind of behavior in Huntsville.

That said, it’s still a Westin, and you’re guaranteed a decent bed and a great shower. So I blew off the snarkiness and went to my room to sleep for a couple hours.

The Huntsville Westin, like the Westin at Lombard, is situated next to a mall. That means that you are not trapped in the hotel for the whole time, you can get out, take a walk, try out other restaurants, do a little shopping. That’s exactly what I did on the night before the con. I was pretty excited when I saw the mall directory and realized that there were several establishments that offered gluten-free options, but disappointed to find out how long the wait was at the restaurants.

So after I finished my shopping, I put my purchases in the car and went back to the hotel for supper. I ordered the steak with mushroom risotto and a glass of the house merlot. The merlot was actually pretty decent. Unfortunately, the steak and risotto were not. I had ordered the steak medium rare and they sent me well-done. The outside was charred black, and the meat was tough and stringy. I should have sent it back–but I was so hungry I ate it anyway. I might as well have been eating leather. The first few bites of the risotto were fine, but then I started picking up the saltiness–way too much salt for my preference. But at least I got my tummy full and I called it quits and went to bed.

Please scroll down to click on the link to Page 2.

Review: Walmart’s Gluten-Free Beef Stroganoff Mix

After discovering last year that I was gluten-sensitive, I basically gave up on bread, and pasta, and cookies, and cakes–well, you know, anything that had flour in it. The mixes that were on the market that were gluten-free were barely edible, and I have been so busy I have not had time to track down all the different types of flours and learn all the new ratios necessary to try to replicate my favorites.

Plus, five dollars for a cake mix that will only give me one layer? That’s simply insane.

It was with great joy that I found recently that our two local bargain grocery stores–Walmart and Aldi’s–had started carrying gluten-free mixes and items at a far more reasonable price. I’ve stocked up on items from both stores, and as I try them, I’ll post my reactions and results.

First up–Walmart’s Gluten-Free Beef Stroganoff.

This is a Great Value (Walmart store brand) version of the Hamburger Helper Beef Stroganoff. Having seen the design of the Aldi’s G-Free box mixes, the Great Value box immediately leapt out at me on the shelf. It’s not close enough to be accused of copying, but similar enough that for someone familiar with the Aldi’s brand, the association is made.

Just in case you are curious, here’s the Great Value box:

stroganoffpackage

 

And here is one of the Aldi’s box mixes:

aldipizzabox

The box contains exactly what you would expect in a Hamburger Helper box–a packet of sauce mix and a bag of pasta (in this instance rice rotini).

The instructions are also very similar to Hamburger Helper: you cook it exactly as you would the original formula.

The rice pasta cooked up well. I find rice pasta can sometimes be too chewy, while other times it loses integrity and falls apart. This pasta was very soft, and it also tasted like real pasta.

The problem, however, was the sauce.

From the very beginning, the sauce did not mix well with the water.There were grainy lumps among the ground beef. Milk did not help either. Even after vigorous stirring, the sauce remained grainy and lumpy. I covered the pan and hoped that it would come together on the simmer.

It didn’t. After nearly fifteen minutes, instead of a sauce I had a watery mess. I got down the cornstarch from the cupboard and added nearly two teaspoons before the sauce finally came together.

Here’s what it looked like after the cornstarch and a few more minutes of simmering:

stroganoffpan

Was it worth the effort?

Not really.

The sauce was very, very bland and extremely salty. I am not exaggerating when I say that it tasted like salty cardboard. I added sour cream on the plate, and that gave it some taste, but on its own, I can’t recommend it. For heating up the leftovers, I’ll throw in a can of mushrooms to see if that helps give the sauce a little more body and flavor, but unless Walmart dramatically changes its formula for the sauce, this is yet another GF product I won’t buy again. Even if it takes more time, I’d rather try to make my own sauce than fight with this one again.

Here are the Nutrition Facts for the Beef Stroganoff. The sodium level is high, but I suppose not unexpected for packaged food. I eat so little packaged food, however, that perhaps what is too salty to me will taste fine to someone else who is used to it:

StroganoffNutritionFacts

And, finally, the ingredients. I am not thrilled that there is corn syrup in this, but avoiding corn syrup is a personal choice on my part and again maybe not an issue for someone else. Supposedly the sauce has cornstarch in it already, so I’m not sure why the sauce didn’t take.

StroganoffingredientsCost:

The stroganoff mix was $1.48.

Ground beef was $ 4.98

Milk (organic 2%) $1.035 (half gallon was $ 3.68. 2.25 cups/8 in a half gallon=28%. .28x 3.88 = 1.035)

The total then is $7.495. At five servings per box, that comes out as $1.50 per serving.

 

The Effect of Wine and Cheese Before Bedtime. . .

. . . seems to be the first semi-narrative dream I’ve had in several months. I still have no idea what it means, but at least it’s more than just the flashes of weird images I’ve been having recently. Logged for your amusement/analysis–

I’m on a street in a large city outside what looks like a mall. There are lots of people milling about. It looks to be Christmastime; people are wearing jackets and exchanging gifts. A guy I went to school with named Jack is handing out some kind of little baked goods wrapped in cello paper. He hands me one. It’s the letter B made in chocolate cake, with a bit of chocolate glaze drizzled over it. I’m a bit offended–I’m only a B? Not an A? Well, I think, at least he doesn’t think I’m an F. I say to him, “I don’t know if I can eat this.” He says “It’s allergen-free.” I turn it over and read the ingredients, and it seems to be safe. I put it in my pocket and thank him.

Then I turn and go into the building. I’m expecting shops or some kind of seating area, but instead I am in the bedroom of an apartment. John Cusack is sitting propped up against the headboard of the bed. There are a lot of people there, which I think is weird for a bedroom. A guy comes and sits next to him on the bed. Cusack grabs a big coffee-table book off the bed and opens it and starts showing him pictures from it. He is talking like it was a movie he was in, but as I am looking at the cover it clearly says Get Smart. I don’t think he was in that, was he?

Then I’m out on the street. Cusack and the guy are in a car driving away, but somehow the guy gets out of the car and people swarm him. They all seem to know him and want to talk to him, which I think is odd because I have no idea who this guy is, but in the car is Cusack for God’s sake. Cusack yells at the guy to get back into the car, but the guy doesn’t (or can’t–I can’t tell which), and Cusack drives off. I think this is weird because somehow I know this is Cusack’s brother. But in real life he doesn’t have a brother, does he? So who is this brother or what does he represent?

As I’m standing there trying to figure it out, I realize that  I am now outside another building. It seems to be a duplex. I lived here, I guess, and I’m getting ready to move. I’m at the back door getting ready to lock it, and as I look into the back door, someone is moving furniture by scooting it across the hardwood floor in the hallway toward the front door. I yell at them and pound on the door and tell them they are going to tear up the hardwood–and they ignore me and the hardwood just peels up behind them like shavings from a sharpened pencil as they scoot a bookcase toward the door. I scream and pound on the door–why I don’t unlock it, I don’t know, but I just yell and throw up my hands. I’m gonna lose my security deposit. Damn it. I stomp down the concrete steps to the car that is waiting for me. In the dream, I know the person in the car, but I can’t remember now who it was. I get in the car, and then I wake up.