February 13, 2018

No Special Equipment Required for Gluten-Free Cooking, but Some Gadgets are Fun!

If you’re new to gluten-free cooking, you’ll be relieved to learn there’s no special equipment required to make a delicious gluten-free chocolate cake, Gouda muffin, or meatball from scratch. Everyone I know has everything needed already in their kitchen. With that said, there’s no hiding the fact that some gadgets are fun!
If you have a sharp knife, whisk, grater, food chopper or blender, you have all you need to make most recipes. If you want to bake, it’s also helpful to have a dough blender, and a mixer. I’m not big on small electric appliances, so I have an inexpensive food chopper, but no electric food processor, blender, mixer, juicer, toaster, rice cooker, waffle iron, or even coffee maker.
I drink coffee, but use a French press and make waffles using an antique cast iron waffle maker. Admittedly, my waffles might fare better with a nonstick waffle iron, but I love the simplicity and durability of the one I have. While I don’t want a bunch of appliances lining my countertops, I must confess that there are a few gadgets I love to use!
Cube Grater
Last weekend I was grating garlic for scalloped potatoes using a small box grater. Made by Microplane®, this 3-sided cube has 3 different blades. None of them are specifically made for garlic, but I got a great result anyway.

The bladed cube comes in a slightly larger translucent cube marked with measurements. Grate your cheese, chocolate, or coconut into the larger cube and measure it at the same time! Add the top and you have an automatic storage container.

I like having tiny grated pieces automatically trapped in a container where I can easily scoop them into a teaspoon. I also love the efficiency of the blades. This tool just works well which makes it a pleasure to use.
While we’re on the subject of Microplane graters, I’ve used my zester on a regular basis for years. Again, it works well! There’s nothing more frustrating than buying a kitchen tool that looks great, but doesn’t do the job. None of those will be making my list.

Rotary Hand Mixer
I use a rotary hand mixer for cake batter, whipped cream, and meringue. It looks a lot like an egg beater, but it’s much heavier and capable of mixing a thick batter.

Just before I moved into my first apartment, my father acquired an assortment of pots, pans, dishes, cups, metal mixing bowls, and kitchen tools from a restaurant. Seems this restaurant owed him some money that they didn’t have, so he decided to collect in what was available – kitchen and dining equipment. The timing was good. I needed to outfit an apartment, and Dad didn’t really want to sue.

The hand mixer I use today, came from that transaction. I used the pots and metal mixing bowls for years. They weren’t attractive, but they were large and functional. All that’s left now is the mixer. I’m grateful to have it. It’s a workhorse!

Dough Blender
Of the several dough blenders in my drawer, an old one with a red handle is my favorite! I found it in my mother’s kitchen. Like all of the old implements I use, it’s sturdy. I find the wires more effective for cutting fat into flour than the metal blades on a more modern model I own.
Funnel Pitcher
The day I poured boiling water across my hand while attempting to fill a French press, I learned that I might need some assistance with my pouring aim. A funnel pitcher fits the bill. It’s easy to fill dessert glasses with panna cotta or create the perfect pancake using a funnel pitcher. I like these pitchers so much, I’ve given them as gifts so other people can like them too.

Looking back at this list, it appears that I like sturdy, functional, tools that work well. That sounds right. I don’t really care whether they’re new, old, or in between as long as they have the other characteristics.

I can make do without these tools and still create delicious gluten-free food, but a well-crafted utensil heightens my cooking experience and I like that. Hopefully, you have favorites that make your kitchen time more pleasant. If not, feel free to check out my favorites!


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.”

February 5, 2018

My Heart Will be Filled With Love and My Tummy With Chocolate for Valentine’s Day

My heart will be filled with love and my tummy with chocolate for Valentine’s Day! I’ll be keeping DJ, my 18-month-old grandson on Valentine’s Day this year. Along with a card, I’m giving him a real, working stethoscope. He’ll get to listen to his heart while we talk about hearts and lungs and friendship and love. Valentine’s Day holds many natural lessons. The chocolate, I’m saving for myself.

If your Valentine is gluten-free, you may be tempted to shower him/her with flowers, jewelry, movie tickets, or stethoscopes rather than food. There’s nothing wrong with any of those. Sometimes they’re my choices as well. But if you really want to score points, take on the challenge of cooking a homemade gluten-free dessert. It won’t be as hard as you think, and the thoughtfulness and effort are certain to touch the heart!
brownie and punch
Since chocolate is a tradition for Valentine’s Day, brownies can be a good choice. The only specialty products needed for the following recipe are a small amount of almond flour and coconut flour. These flours are widely available in regular grocery stores. (The almond flour may be called almond meal.)

If you cannot find almond or coconut flour in your area, they are available from Nuts.com, King Arthur Flour Company, Inc. or big box online retailers like Walmart and Amazon. All of the other ingredients are regular baker’s chocolate, brown sugar, butter, and the like.

There’s no special equipment needed to make this gluten-free Cooking2Thrive recipe, but a heart-shaped cookie cutter can add some romance to the finished product. Just wait until the brownies are cool before you cut them.
recipe card
12 brownies

4 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
4 oz semi-sweet baking chocolate, rough chopped
1/2 oz unsweetened baking chocolate, rough chopped
1/3 cup milk chocolate chips
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup blanched almond flour
3 tbsp coconut flour + enough to flour baking pan
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup walnut pieces

Preheat oven to 350º. Grease and flour 8 x 8 inch baking pan.

Place butter, chocolate, and honey in sauce pan.  Heat over low until melted, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and cool for 3 or 4 minutes.  

While chocolate is melting, whisk together almond flour, 3 tbsp coconut flour, salt, and baking powder in a bowl.  

Once chocolate mixture has cooled slightly, add vanilla, brown sugar, and egg to it and mix well. Add chocolate mixture to bowl with flour mixture and combine. Stir in walnut pieces.  

Pour batter into prepared 8 x 8 pan. Bake in 350° oven for 18 – 22 minutes. Cool on rack for 15 minutes. Slice and serve.

It’s always comforting to have a gluten-free dish prepared by someone you trust, and food really does taste better when it’s prepared with love.

Wishing you a Happy Valentine’s Day filled with love and chocolate!


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.”

January 30, 2018

Back to Basics in the Kitchen

We often talk about cooking here as if you’ve been cooking all your life, but today we’re going to get back to basics. While my mom didn’t cook much when I was growing up, my grandmother did. I spent enough time cooking fresh food and baking from scratch to feel comfortable with the tools and the terms. That’s not true for everyone my age and certainly not for everyone my kids’ age.

In some circles cooking has come to mean popping a packaged meal in the microwave or heating precooked entrees or vegetables in the oven. I’ve seen posts in which a description of baking from “scratch” included a cake mix.

Reducing the amount of prepackaged, convenience foods you eat can help lessen your consumption of chemical additives, sodium, manufactured fats, and sugar. It also means you may have to perform a few additional “cooking” related tasks.
If you’re not familiar with cooking terminology, translating a recipe into a dish may seem daunting. Removing some of the mystery can help you get past the feeling that you can’t cook because you don’t even know what the words in the instructions mean. Today, let’s explore some basic cooking terms and techniques so you can be on your way to becoming a great cook!

You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to prepare a wide variety of foods for boiling, steaming, baking or broiling. Peeling, slicing, chopping, dicing, and mincing only require a knife. But what are they?
Peel – Remove the outside skin from vegetables or fruits.
Slice – Cut a thick or thin, flat piece of something like fruit, vegetable, bread, or meat.
Chop – Cut food into irregular pieces of similar size to each other. Chopped pieces are typically larger than diced or minced.
Dice – Cut food into cubes between 1/8″ and 1/2″ in size. If size is not specified, use 1/4″
Mince – Mincing is like dicing, but the pieces are smaller.

When preparing vegetables and fruits, you’ll use these techniques over and over again.

Sometimes you may not want a cooked or raw vegetable to retain its shape at all. You can then use a food chopper or processor to grind or purée it. Grinding reduces the food to tiny particles. Puréeing means the food is processed until it’s smooth. You don’t have to have an electronic appliance to do this. A cooked vegetable can be mashed, then put through a sieve to create a purée.

Once you’ve prepped vegetables and meats, you may want to add heat in order to boil, steam, sauté, bake, broil, roast, grill, or braise.
Boil – To submerge in a boiling liquid at or above the boiling point of water.
Steam – To place food above boiling water in a pot or pan using some kind of rack or basket and a cover so that steam cooks the food.
Sauté – To cook a food quickly in oil and/or butter over high heat.
Bake – To cook using dry heat in an oven or on heated metal or stones.
Broil – To cook quickly using high heat from above the food.
Roast – To cook using dry heat with a temperature of at least 300 in an environment in which hot air from an open flame, oven or other heat source envelops the food, cooking it evenly on all sides.
Grill – To cook directly over live, high heat flames.
Braise – To cook slowly in a small amount of liquid in a covered container in the oven or on a burner.
Brown – To give a cooked surface to meat or flour. Also to turn a brown color in the oven.

Sometimes you’ll want to parboil, blanch, simmer, scald or blend.
Parboil – To briefly boil in water until food begins to soften.
Blanch – To briefly place food in boiling water, then immediately move it into cold water. 
Simmer – To cook in liquid at a temperature just below a boil. 
Scald – Refers to both dipping into boiling water, and heating milk to just below the boiling point.
Blend – To mix ingredients together thoroughly often using a beater, mixer, or blender.

You may be instructed to dot a casserole with butter before baking it, or to baste a turkey while it roasts. If so, here’s what to do:
Dot – Cover the top with small pieces of butter.
Baste – Spoon, brush or pour drippings or liquid over a food before or during cooking.

When you begin baking from scratch, you’ll commonly see instructions to sift, mix, cut in, whisk, flour, fold, and knead so let’s prepare for that:
From Scratch – To make from the very beginning without using already prepared ingredients.
Sift – Use a device made of a metal cup with a screen at the bottom that contains a mechanism to force the flour through the mesh.
Mix – Combine items to form one mass.
Cut In – Work solid fat into dry ingredients with a pastry blender until evenly distributed.
Whisk – Beat or stir with a whisk.
Flour – To dust a pan the shortening in a prepared baking pan with flour.
Fold – To delicately incorporate one substance into another substance without releasing air bubbles.
Knead – To work a dough by mixing, stretching, and pulling with the fingers and mashing with the heel of the hand.
Other common actions are grating, whipping, and garnishing. Let’s explore those terms:
Grate – To rub firm food on a tool with small, rough, sharp-edged holes grater to create small pieces.
Whip – To beat vigorously to incorporate air and cause expansion.
Garnish – To decorate a dish with something attractive and flavorful.

Now for the important question – Can we use these terms to make a great snack for the Super Bowl?

Of course we can! It’s winter. Let’s make chili!

Chili Sallie
Serves 8

1 large onion, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 or 2 jalapeño peppers, seeds removed, finely chopped
2 fire roasted sweet peppers, seeds removed, diced
1 1/2 lbs lean ground beef
2 tbsp chili powder
1 1/2 cups cooked black beans
3 1/2 – 4 cups tomato juice
1/3 cup stewed tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 tbsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Sauté onion in olive oil in large pan until translucent – about 5-7 minutes. Add the jalapeño and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Add red peppers and ground beef to the pan and brown. Once beef is browned, sprinkle with chili powder and stir until all the meat turns red. Add beans, 3 1/2 cups tomato juice, stewed tomatoes, and the balance of the spices.  

Stir and simmer for at least 20 minutes. Add the balance of the tomato juice if needed as the chili cooks down.
Serve hot.
Now that you have a guide to more than 30 common cooking terms and have had a chance to see them as they appear in a recipe, you can build on this knowledge as you gain experience and confidence.

Never feel bad about having to look something up. Many chefs have used books and kitchen experience to become successful. And remember, you don’t have to be a chef to be a great cook!

January 22, 2018

Mix and Match

Sometimes in the kitchen I just have to mix and match. I grew up on a farm so it wasn’t convenient to shop at the grocery store often. We planned and purchased for a week at a time. If we decided to vary the menu from our plan, we sometimes had to make substitutions. Those habits stuck with me. I tend to shop once a week with a loose plan in my head. In between trips, I mix and match to create the meals I desire.
While our Cooking2Thrive recipes go through at least three extensive tests to make sure the proportion of each ingredient is just right, my everyday cooking is haphazard, thrown together, and, more often than not, delicious! I’m rarely deterred by lack of an ingredient.

I recently decided to make tuna croquettes. They’re one of my favorite quick & easy go-tos. I keep them really simple like my grandmother did. She always mixed canned salmon, an egg, crushed saltines and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Then she pan fried them in melted butter. I use tuna rather than salmon, but other than that I follow her lead.

Technically, these may not even be croquettes to you. They have no béchamel or brown sauce. They’re not rolled in breadcrumbs, and they’re shaped like round patties instead of cylinders. Nonetheless, they’re quite tasty.

Five-ounce cans of solid white albacore tuna in water are staples in my pantry. I combine one or two cans with one egg, gluten-free breadcrumbs, and a little salt & pepper. I never measure, I just add breadcrumbs until the mixture isn’t too wet or dry to hold together. Then I make patties and pan fry them in butter.

Most recently, I began making the croquettes and realized I only had about a tablespoon of breadcrumbs. That’s not enough. I had no crackers or bread on hand. I did have an open bag of Cheetos® puffs (yes, I know those aren’t healthy). I placed a handful of them in a plastic bag and crushed them to use in place of the breadcrumbs. I had to crush a few more, but they worked like a charm!

I had never before considered using Cheetos in croquettes, but there are substitutions I make on a fairly regular basis. I add vinegar to regular milk to use in place of buttermilk. I use coconut crystals in place of brown sugar. I use dates or honey to sweeten muffins or cookies. I substitute anise for fennel or vice versa. I mix and match citrus all the time depending on what I have handy, sometimes adding a little apple cider or rice wine vinegar to enhance the acidity of lemon, lime, or orange flavor and balsamic vinegar to enhance cherry.

Last week I baked some tilapia to serve over rice. I really wanted the fresh punch of a pico de gallo as a finisher on top. I had no cilantro, lime, or peppers on hand. What I had was grape tomatoes, yellow onion, and basil stir-in paste.

I thought why not see if I can combine these into something that will add the cool acidic top note I’m looking for? I chopped the tomatoes and onion into small pieces, added a small dollop of the basil along with some salt and pepper. The resulting salsa enhanced the fish and rice perfectly even though the flavor profile varied from pico de gallo.

At some point, most of us will discover we lack an ingredient needed to finish a dish we’ve already started cooking for dinner. That’s a great time to mix and match. If you’re not sure where to begin, a guide to pairing flavors can be helpful. Check out the award-winning book – The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs.

Or just do what I do and wing it. Cooking is as much art as science. I can’t tell you how I know a substitution will work. I just see it in my head. You may be able to do this too. There’s nothing wrong with giving it a try!

Mixing and matching may make your food a little less predictable, but in my experience, no one seems to mind as long as it’s tasty.



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.”