Archive for ‘Gluten-Free’

May 23, 2017

Salad Days

Could these be your salad days? I know they’re mine.

Spring always delivers sweet, tender greens perfect for salad – Oak Leaf, Black Seeded Simpson, Deer Tongue, Bibb, Cos, Green Leaf, and Buttercrunch. Bitter Arugula, Kale, Frisée, and spicy micro mixes widen the flavor field. Toppings abound in green onions, radishes, salad turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and fresh herbs. Mix, match, and combine your favorites…yum!
leafy greens
It’s not unusual for me to serve a salad as part of a family meal, but when it’s just me I have to be a little more crafty. I may not want to take the time to clean and chop a salad for one. My way around that reluctance is to create a basic salad mix and store it in the fridge. At meal time, I can grab a handful to throw on my plate or I can add ingredients to create a specific flavor profile or entree salad.
sld base
I currently have a salad made of red and green spring mix, chopped green onions, and carrots stored in a Glad® Ovenware 9 x 12 pan in the refrigerator. These pans work great for this purpose. They’re rectangular, not too tall, and easy to stack. I can fill a second container with a salad of arugula or spinach and store it on top of the existing one.

For dinner yesterday, I topped a large bowl of this salad base with tuna salad and almonds. It was crunchy, satisfying, and ready in 5 minutes. Having something green I can quickly prepare helps keep me on track when I fill my schedule too full. When it’s just as easy to reach for the salad as it is to reach for something less healthy, I’m more likely to reach for the salad.

I’ve also discovered that salad is appreciated when family and friends gather for the birth of a baby, a health crisis, or the loss of a loved one. Last year when DJ was born, I mixed a variety of salads each week and delivered them to Ben & his wife. It was easy for me and a great addition to all the casserole dinners their friends delivered. Every time I offered assistance in those early days of baby fatigue, Ben asked for more salad.

Leafy greens don’t just provide a filling crunch, they’re packed with vitamins like A, C, K, and folate plus minerals like potassium and calcium. Delivering all this nutrition with a maximum of fiber and a minimum of calories makes leafy greens a great food choice. Of course, it’s easy to make them less healthy by overdressing or over adorning a salad.
I like to make salad dressing just before serving the salad and I usually serve it on the side. Yogurt or olive oil make a good base for homemade dressings, and flavored balsamic vinegar, fresh squeezed juice, or unsweetened fruit juice can add interesting flavors.

Here’s a vinaigrette I often pair with arugula. Just mix it all up and let it sit for a few minutes before dressing the salad.

1/2 cup Just Black Cherry juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp fresh squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp water
3/4 tsp salt to taste
1/8 tsp coarse ground black pepper
1 pinch garlic powder

Some of my favorite salad toppings are blueberries, strawberries, ripe pears, oven roasted pumpkin seeds, spiced pecans, raw sunflower seeds, raw almonds, raw cashews, goat cheese, bleu cheese, green peas, homegrown tomatoes, green onions, fresh basil, and fresh mint. I also appreciate black beans, avocado, red bell pepper, white cheddar, and crispy bacon.

However you mix it, top it, flavor it, and dress it, having a basic salad prepared is sure to increase your consumption of leafy green vegetables. That can’t be a bad thing. And all the fresh, tender greens make spring my favorite time of year for salad days!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

March 7, 2017

Five Minute Gluten-Free Dessert Tricks

Everyone needs some five minute gluten-free dessert tricks. When the kids start asking for a treat on a rainy school night, I bet you think of your mom’s five minute desserts. I’m pretty sure all moms have them.

I grew up on a farm about seven miles from town and 10 from the closest grocery store. If I wanted dessert some evening, no one was baking and no one was driving me to the store. Instead, my mom’s go-to treat was what she called “angels-on-horseback”.
If I search that name online, I find s’mores, but my mom’s version was a saltine cracker topped with a slice of American cheese (from a cheese brick, not a sliced single), and half of a large marshmallow placed torn side down. She’d place these on a baking sheet under the broiler until the top of the marshmallow was toasty brown and they were ready to serve. The mix of salty from the cracker and sweet from the marshmallow balanced by the slight tang of the cheese was a perfect bite for a kid who wanted dessert.

My mom had a couple of other tricks up her sleeve. She sometimes made icing with milk, butter, confectioner’s sugar, and vanilla and then put it between two graham crackers. That was her favorite, so you might find some already made and wrapped in plastic wrap on the counter if you looked around for a minute.

I suppose these days it’s more likely that the pantry has prepackaged cookies, snack cakes, or oatmeal cream pies, but in the gluten-free home, that may not be the case. There are too many expensive, mediocre gluten-free products on the grocery store shelves. Homemade is better, but can mean that dessert is reserved for special occasions rather served every day. If that’s the case at your home, you need some five minute gluten-free dessert tricks handy when the family gets a craving.

Here are a few and they’re all gluten-free:

Stuffed dates. I often keep dates in the pantry. I like to use them to sweeten muffins, but I also like to eat them. If you have some dates, raw pecan halves and smoked gouda cheese, you’ve got dessert. Just slice a pitted date lengthwise and then insert a pecan half and a thin slice of smoked gouda. Voilà, dessert.
Chocolate dipped grapes. This is a great one person dessert and it will encourage your children to eat fruit. Place 2.5 tbsp semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1 tbsp smooth peanut butter in the microwave. Heat for 30 seconds and stir. Place back in the microwave for 15 – 30 seconds depending on the power of your microwave. Stir until smooth. Dip grapes, fresh pineapple, cherries, strawberries, bananas, or dates in the mix and eat. Cold grapes are my favorite.

Chocolate oatmeal. Fix a packet or cup of instant, single-serving gluten-free oatmeal. Once it is cooked, stir in a handful of chocolate chips and a spoonful of marshmallow cream.

No bake cookies. For a more elaborate dessert that the whole family can share, you can stir up some no bake cookies by combining 2/3 cup dark chocolate chips, 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter, and 2 tbsp water in a medium microwaveable bowl. Cover with a paper towel and microwave on high for 2 minutes. Remove from microwave and stir until smooth. Add 2 packets of maple brown sugar gluten-free oatmeal and stir until evenly distributed. Drop in spoonfuls on wax paper and let sit at room temperature until hardened – about 20 minutes or eat them with a spoon right away.

These gluten-free dessert tricks are all fast and easy! They’re also a tiny bit healthier than the typical dessert. Each one of them contains something healthy – fruit, whole grain, or nuts and a minimum of sugar. Some of them are based on single servings providing automatic portion control.

Best of all, these simple solutions satisfy that desire for a sweet treat after a meal. Who knew gluten-free dessert could taste this good with this little effort?

February 28, 2017

Easy Peasy Recipe for a Last Minute Gluten-Free Dinner Party

Sometimes life throws a curve ball and we’re required to host a last minute gluten-free dinner party. For the unfamiliar, this sounds really difficult. It doesn’t have to be. With a combination of home cooked and home enhanced items, you can deliver a simple, but tasty feast easy peasy!

My son’s birthday recently coincided with an unplanned visit from my sister & brother-in-law, unexpected work deadlines, and recovery from a cold. A reasonable person could advise us to celebrate at a restaurant, but my best birthday memories are the meals my grandmother prepared for each member of the family. We’d gather at her house for a home cooked meal and dessert of our choice. I appreciate the time and energy she invested, the delicious food she prepared, and the grace with which she made the difficult look easy.
burrito bowl
I want to give my kids the feeling of specialness that my grandmother gave us. I also recognize that there are times when I need to keep things simple. A make-your-own burrito bowl party followed by homemade gluten-free cinnamon rolls and locally made artisan ice cream filled the bill this year. My family loved it. Yours can too.

Here’s how I made it easy.

I purchased a pound of pulled pork and a half pound of beef brisket from a local barbecue restaurant. The meat is smoked, neutrally seasoned, and gluten-free. Then I bought a savory rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. This meant I didn’t have to cook any meat for our burrito bowls.

I also purchased pico de gallo, Wholly Guacamole®, white cheese dip, salsa verde, deli fresh salsa, corn tortillas, and tortilla chips already prepared from the grocery store. In addition, I picked up a head of iceberg lettuce, fresh jalapeño peppers, tomatoes, green onions, limes, cilantro, sour cream, Ro*Tel® Original diced tomatoes and peppers, and chopped green chiles in a can plus a peeled and cored fresh pineapple.
At home, I prepared white rice and black beans from the pantry using a Cooking2Thrive recipe for the beans. Once the rice was cooked, I added chopped cilantro, green onions, and lime juice. I placed the pulled pork in a pan to warm and added green chiles, garlic powder, cumin, and a spoonful or two of Ro*Tel® with some liquid, then let is simmer. In similar fashion, I chopped the brisket into thin strips, sprinkled it with chipotle pepper and garlic powder, placed it in a skillet and added the remaining Ro*Tel Original diced tomatoes and peppers. I removed the white meat from the rotisserie chicken, chopped it into small cubes, and simmered it in sour cream and salsa verde with a little chopped cilantro.

While the meat was warming, I mixed a little salsa verde into the jarred cheese dip and placed it in a dish by the microwave. From that point, I chopped the fresh tomatoes, jalapeños, pineapple, and green onion and placed each in a separate bowl. I chopped the lettuce into thin strips and put it in a bowl. I also placed my store prepared pico, salsas, guacamole, and sour cream in individual bowls.

Just before serving time, I lightly coated the corn tortillas with some melted butter, wrapped them in foil, and warmed them in the oven. While I placed all the burrito bowl toppings on the table, I microwaved the cheese dip. All that was left to do was put the tortilla chips in a bowl and dish up the hot items.
Of course all of this took time, but we ended up with a feast — cilantro lime rice, black beans, green chili pork, chipotle beef, salsa verde chicken, cheese dip, lettuce, tomatoes, jalapeños, green onion, pico de gallo, red salsa, salsa verde, guacamole, sour cream, pineapple, tortillas, and tortilla chips that could be mixed and matched in any proportion to create a burrito bowl. Everyone went back for seconds. Some even fixed a third bowl.

And what’s better after a burrito bowl than ice cream? I bought several pints of ice cream in a variety of flavors like buttermilk, egg nog, salted caramel, chocolate, and strawberry sorbet. This ice cream is made in small batches about 7 blocks from my house. I really didn’t need to bake anything. I just happened to have a batch of cinnamon rolls from a recipe I was testing, so I warmed them up and served them as well.

The time I spent preparing this meal was small in proportion to the amount and variety of food I served. Sometimes combining homemade with carefully selected prepared food is a great way to make your family feel special without making yourself too tired. In fact, it can be the recipe for delivering a delicious last minute gluten-free dinner party…easy peasy!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

August 1, 2016

You Don’t Need a Competition to Have a Winning Experience in the Kitchen

chicken and riceYou Don’t Need a Competition to Have a Winning Experience in the Kitchen. When it’s time to cook dinner for the family, you don’t have to make the best dish in the least amount of time and plate it perfectly. You don’t have to precisely recreate your grandmother’s beef stroganoff or her cherry pie to deliver a delicious meal. It’s not necessary to have expert knife skills, know how to make perfect icing rosettes, or to have ever even heard of durian fruit to create a satisfying meal.

If you get most of your cooking lessons from television, you may mistakenly believe that speed is critical to the equation or that all dishes must look beautiful on the plate to taste good. It’s easy to see why you’d think that. There’s no shortage of cooking shows in which contestants must make difficult preparations in extremely short periods of time. Chopped, Top Chef, MasterChef, Food Network Star, Iron Chef, and Cupcake Wars are just a few of the many available at the end of the remote.

A little binge watching can be fun, but it can also be intimidating. How many times have you walked past beautiful Swiss chard, fresh baby ginger, soybeans on the branch, or rich purple eggplant at the farmer’s market because you had a sudden glimpse in your head of rushing to try to get them prepped, cooked, and on the plate that led to an immediate fear that you’d never succeed? It’s a bit ironic that the construct of these shows gets us interested in cooking and compels us to watch a complete episode, but may hold us back in our own kitchens.

With cooking, as with anything in life, you don’t know what you can achieve until you get in the game and you never know how good you can be until you’re willing to learn from failure. If you’ve read my series on the Benefits of Cooking, you already know many of the incredible skills that can be learned in the kitchen, but beyond fractions, ratios, chemistry, and process thinking, resilience may be the most valuable lesson of all.

Even a failure in the kitchen may be delicious – an overcooked caramel takes on a bitterness that some people prefer; an accidental charred edge on lasagne or even kale can be the best part of the dish. Even slightly burned rice takes on an interesting dimension of flavor.

So, with no fear of competition, how about we get in the kitchen and give this simple, hearty dish a try? This was one of my go-to recipes as a working, single mom with kids to feed. You don’t have to hurry because this is so easy and cooks so fast, you’ll have dinner ready in less time than it takes to drive to a restaurant, ordering, and getting your food.
Chicken and Rice
Serves 4

2 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups quick cooking Royal Rice Blend
1/4 white onion
1 package of boneless, skinless chicken tenders
Ground black pepper
Garlic powder

In medium pot, combine water, rice and onion. Add chicken tenders. Sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Turn burner to high and allow water to come to a boil. Stir, reduce heat to medium or low and simmer for 15 minutes. You want a low boil in the pan as you simmer. Continue to cook for 2 – 3 minutes if needed to boil away any extra liquid. Turn off heat and allow to sit with cover on for 5 minutes. Remove onion if desired. Serve hot.

The addition of a simple green salad or a fruit salad topped with yogurt turns this into a full, nutritious meal. Of course there are other options as well. While the Chicken and Rice is simmering, there’s time to steam some fresh broccoli, asparagus, or sugar snap peas. If none of those sound like a fit for your family, you can also play with the Chicken and Rice.

Chop a few baby carrots into small pieces and add to the rice before you turn on the heat. The carrots will cook right along with the rice. Don’t like carrots? After 10 – 12 minutes of simmering, add some frozen English peas to the pot and continue to cook as per the recipe. Another option is to give this dish a more spanish flair by adding some precooked black beans, a bit of Rotel® Original Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies, and a sprinkle of cumin and a sprinkle of chili powder. One-third cup of both the beans and Rotel should be adequate, but use more or less depending on your preference.

I cooked this last night and it took less than 30 minutes from start to finish. I say that only to illustrate that this is a great throw-together entrée for a busy night. If it takes you 45 minutes or an hour, that’s fine too. Thank goodness you don’t need a competition to have a winning experience in the kitchen!