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Monday Musings: It’s not always about winning

30 Apr

This recipe took at least five tries and a lot of perseverance to perfect.

Early this winter, I saw a cooking contest pass by in my newsfeed on social media. A local New England applesauce brand, Simply Wholesome–recently re-branded with a new name: Our Family Garden– was sponsoring a cooking contest. The participants would receive a six jars of their applesauce (two each of three different varieties) and they could submit as many recipes as they wished, as long as they utilized the applesauce in their recipes, which had to be previously unpublished, original recipes.

We love cooking contests here, we have won several of them between us, and I decided to enter the contest. The winter months are a little bit slower for me work-wise than the spring and there was enough time allotted for some trial and error as I went about figuring out how to create an original-never-been-published-before recipe.

My box of applesauce arrived within a few days of letting them know I’d be entering the contest. I was shocked to find six, full-sized samples of applesauce in the box, along with a jar of their blueberry jam as a gift for entering.

I had already decided that I wanted to try to create an apple pie type of muffin with a streusel topping. I just had to come up with a recipe and incorporate the applesauce. I began researching basic muffin recipes so that I could see what ingredients I needed and approximately how much of each  it takes to make a muffin, a muffin. Then, I added in their cinnamon applesauce, at first adding it in just to the actual muffin mix, to give them the apple pie flavor I was hoping for. As I created my streusel topping, my youngest daughter, who was home and doing a lot of cooking at the time, suggested that I add the applesauce to the topping as well. I thought that was a brilliant idea. I was creating a topping that included brown sugar, butter, quick oats, and now the applesauce too. My entire recipe was gluten free, using gluten free flour and gluten free oatmeal as well.

I made the muffins, following the recipe I’d come up with. We waited with great anticipation for them to come out of the oven. It was very exciting as we watched them cook through the window of the oven.

This wasn’t quite the result I’d been anticipating.

As we looked inside though, we saw a big mess. The muffin topping was oozing all over the place. They tasted delicious, but they were a mess. The topping was oozing and the centers were sinking.

Hmmm…not really contest-worthy.

I hadn’t thought about the fact that this really might take more than one try.

My family said the muffins were good enough to try again, so I did.

Again, and again, and again, and again.

Now I’d gone too far in the other direction.

I was determined to get this recipe right. Although the first time I made them they were too wet, by the fourth time I’d added in flour to the topping and now they were too dry, and my kids were beginning to dread coming home to the latest “after school snack” or waking up to a Saturday breakfast “surprise”  of apple pie muffins—again.

“What did you do to them,” one of the kids asked in distress this particular time. “Go back to the way they were, at least they tasted good.”

I was starting to run out of time and out of willing tasters.

I talked with my mom multiple times to get her opinion, and I thought and thought about my recipe ingredients and what seemed to be working and what didn’t.

What was I doing wrong??

Over and over in my mind I thought about all of the times I’d learned about scientists and how their hypotheses weren’t always right and how their experiments didn’t always work the first time around and how the learning takes place in the trial and error process, not necessarily in getting it right the first time around.

I was feeling like a kitchen scientist, albeit a weary one. How long did these scientists take to perfect their experiments??

The contest deadline was coming up. I’d had about two months to get this recipe right and I was not going to give up. I wasn’t even in it for the win any longer, I was in it for the personal satisfaction of accomplishing this task of creating my own recipe for the first (and possibly only) time ever. I wanted it to be good, I wanted my husband and kids to like it and be proud of me, and I wanted to get it right. I like to get things right. I like to give 110 percent all the time.

I gave it one final try. I adjusted my ingredients one last time. I begged my family to give them one last taste.

“I hope you get them right this time, they’re good, but I don’t think I can eat another one any time soon,” my oldest daughter said.

If I didn’t get the topping right this time, I really thought I might give up.

I put what I hoped would be the final batch in the oven, and I held my breath, literally. I’d added in raisins to one of the trays on the advice of my mother and two of my kids who like them, and left one without, for the one who doesn’t.

I watched them cooking in the oven. The topping seemed to be doing what it was supposed to be doing, spreading out without oozing over, and didn’t seem overly dry.

Could it be that I’d finally gotten the right balance of every ingredient down??

It seems that it could. I’d figured it out. I think I cheered out loud.

I pulled them out of the oven, and everyone took a bite. Again, I held my breath and waited for their responses.

Five thumbs up from my family.

Perfection.

Apple Pie Muffins with a Sweet Streusel topping for the win.

Except I didn’t win.

Not exactly.

I didn’t win one of the top three cash prizes that seemed attractive at the time I started out in this process.

But, I won a lot more than that. I can proudly say that I have created a recipe, my very own recipe, that was delicious, and most importantly I did not give up. I never anticipated this would take this long. I generally don’t have the patience to stick with something this long and see it through, but I could not let this one go, and I’m glad I didn’t.

Additionally, I have to say, we fell in love with this applesauce. I submitted a second recipe to the contest for Zesty BBQ pork chops which also utilized one of the varieties of applesauce, and my kids were going through the six jars like crazy, each variety was just as good as the last. I always have been a homemade applesauce kind of girl, and I have never purchased an applesauce my family has loved this much. I’m glad that we don’t live far from the Big Y markets in Massachusetts where it is going to be on the shelves under the new branding. It’ll be worth the ride just over the state line to get more. Not to mention, I recently ordered a case of their jams, as my youngest daughter finished the entire jar of blueberry jam on her own. When I heard that there were two other varieties, I decided to place an order for them.

In the end, I gained much more from this experience than I ever imagined I would have, and I have no regrets about entering, or about not winning.

Sometimes it just not about the win, it’s about the journey.

Apple Pie Muffins with Sweet Streusel Topping
by Jennifer L. Cowart

Apple pie muffins
*to make gluten free, use 1:1 gluten free all-purpose baking flour

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ tsp salt

2 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1/3 cup Touch of Honey Applesauce With Cinnamon

2 apples peeled, cored and diced
Optional: use only one apple and add in 2/3 cups raisins.

Sweet Streusel Topping
*to make gluten free, use gluten free oats and gluten free flour.

¼ cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup quick oats (not instant) uncooked
1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup Touch of Honey Applesauce with Cinnamon

Directions

1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray 24 muffin tins with nonstick cooking spray.

2) In a large bowl whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

3) Add in eggs, milk and applesauce. Mix until well combined.

4) Add diced apples (and raisins, if desired) and mix well.

5) Put approximately two tablespoons of batter into each muffin tin, until ¾ of the way full. Set aside. **If there are empty muffin tins, fill with water, ¾ of the way full.**

6) In a separate bowl, mix together streusel ingredients.

7) Add one teaspoon of topping to the top of each portion of batter, spreading across top of batter.

8) Bake for 15-18 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center of muffins comes out clean.

Best served warm.
Makes 18-24 muffins.

Finally!

 

Fun Friday: Low-fat Lemon Pound Cake

6 Apr

This was a winner last year, so we brought it back for an encore performance this year.

 

Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post about a new dessert we tried (and tried again) for our Easter meal. In it, I referred to the fact that I also made a second dessert, so today I thought I’d share that one with you. It’s one that can be made all year long, and it’s gotten rave reviews from my family for two years in a row.

Last Easter we did not host, but we did contribute to the meal, and one of the items we contributed was a dessert. I am not even sure now, how I found this dessert from Angel in the Kitchen, but it was fitting for a springtime, Easter meal and it was one we’d all like, as well as one that I could easily transform to be gluten free by switching out the flour for the Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 baking flour that we use here.

When I read through the recipe, I was a little bit nervous because it used real lemon juice and lemon zest, and I’d always been a cheater and used a bottle of lemon juice in my recipes. I was also nervous because the directions start with, “Unload your dishwasher,” and states that this is a five-bowl recipe. So there was that. Additionally, I doubled my recipe both years in order to make two pound cakes—one for the potluck party after church on Saturday night and one for Easter dessert on Sunday. So for me that was ten bowls because in this case, with this particular recipe, it was easier for me to make two of everything than it was to try to figure out splitting it into two at the end.

It was a multi-bowl recipe, but it was worth it.

I have to say, it’s a fabulous dessert, and it gets amazing feedback each year, whether from our immediate and extended family or from our friends at church, and no one can ever tell it’s gluten free unless I tell them. The use of the fresh lemon juice and lemon zest are what make the difference, and it also makes our house smell delicious as I’m squeezing the juice and grating the lemon for the zest.

My one change that I had to implement was in regards to the glaze. Both years I had to increase it. I tripled it this year, in order to have what I felt was the right amount on top of the cake, even though a lot drips down to the plate below.

I used two lemons, one per cake, and it did not make the 1 ½ tablespoons of zest, but it made enough to make it work, and it makes plenty of juice to make what is needed for the cake and the glaze.

I encourage you to give this recipe a try. It’s not fast and easy, but it’s not incredibly hard and it’s worth every step, every bowl, every minute it it takes.

Have a wonderful weekend!

The taste of success is sweeter after failure

3 Apr

 

It took a lot of perseverance to get to this point.

Throughout their lives, whenever our kids have stumbled, fallen, failed, we’ve helped to support them in getting back up, maybe taking a quick break, and then trying again. It doesn’t matter whether it was learning to walk, riding a bike, passing a class, creating a project or practicing a role. At the end of their journey, we would celebrate their success with them, even if success looked different than they originally anticipated or took longer to achieve than they thought it would. In the end, that taste of victory was sweet.

Cooking can be like that. Sometimes you follow a recipe and make a creation that comes out right the first time. Sometimes you follow a recipe and even though you worked hard and did what you were supposed to do, it ends up having to go into the trash and you need to start all over again. No matter what though, it is my opinion that the taste at the end when you’ve finally gotten it right, is so much sweeter than it would have been the first time around.

It seemed to look okay coming out of the oven.

This Easter I had that experience. I wanted to try out a new recipe for an Italian Ricotta Cake, from “Tornadough Alli,” and to make it gluten free so we could all enjoy it. Because the cake called for using a cake mix, rather than making the entire thing from scratch, it would be easier for me to make a gluten free substitution in the ingredients.

I know that they say not to try out a new recipe for company, and I knew that it’s especially important when it’s for a holiday meal that you’re hosting, but I decided to try it out for Easter anyway. Our guests are forgiving, and really how bad could it go?

Luckily I gave myself an extra day for baking and started on Good Friday night. I had slept much later that morning than usual, so I could cook into the wee hours of the night and get ahead with my baking. It also gave me a buffer of a day or so in case I had to bake an entire cake recipe all over again.

I’m sure you can tell where this is going.

I followed the recipe to a “t” as they say. I only substituted out the white cake mix for a gluten free yellow cake mix so we could all eat it. I used a springform pan for probably the second time in my life.

As it cooled, it looked less and less promising.

However, after I cooked the cake according to the directions and had taken it out to cool, I had a sneaking suspicion that things weren’t going to go my way this time around with this new dessert.

The instructions had specifically stated to be sure the center of the cake was set when taking it out of the oven.

It seemed a little jiggly, but I used a cake tester to test it so many times that it seemed almost like polka dots on top of my cake. Each time, it came out clean, so I figured I was in the clear.

I wasn’t.

As the cake cooled, the center proceeded to sink and I knew the news was not going to be good.

At about 11pm I opted to try to slide the cake off of the bottom of the pan and onto a serving plate to see what would happen.

Not company-ready.

That happened.

Ugh.

I was so bummed out. I was going to have to toss this cake into the trash. There was still raw batter in the center and there was no way to salvage this dessert.

However, as I got ready to toss it, I tasted it. The cooked edges of the cake were delicious! I knew that if it had gone differently, this recipe could have been a keeper.

I still had a half container of ricotta cheese and of heavy cream. I had all the ingredients I needed, I just had to get a new box of gluten free cake mix.

Luckily I had my buffer of an extra day.

On Saturday, my husband picked up the cake mix as I made our other dessert and I mentally prepared myself to start this one all over again. I was determined to make it work.

I followed all of the steps. This time, on the advice of my mother, whom I was frantically texting out of state at almost midnight the night before, I cooked the cake much longer. Her own recipe usually takes almost 20 extra minutes to cook and set properly, so with that in mind, I cooked it until it no longer seemed jiggly in the middle-about 20 extra minutes-and then I pulled it out and crossed my fingers.

Seemed to look much better this time.

It had to work this time or else there was a gluten free bakery down the street that I’d soon be visiting instead.

I left it to cool, went to the mall to get the last kid their Easter dress for church that night (yes, day before Easter and night of when we needed it, I know) and hoped and prayed that when I got back it would still be solid in the middle.

And it was.

We arrived home in time to color our eggs and head off to church that night. I had my two desserts ready to be frosted the next day and I was good to go. I had managed to pull it all off.

On Easter morning, as I was frosting this cake and sprinkling the spring-colored sprinkles on top, I was glad I’d tried out something new, and glad I’d not quit after the first try. Had I not given myself that extra day for the trial run, I may not have had the chance to try a second time, but I’m glad I did.

That evening as we cut into the cake, I was so proud of it and everyone raved about how good it was. It was definitely a keeper, and I definitely think that I enjoyed it more than I would have if it was something I’d accomplished easily. My kids were definitely more proud of me, more complimentary of this particular cake, knowing how much of my time and effort and how many prayers had gone into making it.

I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, I’m pretty sure that this cake had that extra sweet taste of perseverance as it was going down.

Fun Friday: Gluten Free Cherry Cobbler

26 Jan

20180120_194842Each year in January, I try to make my parents a cherry dessert, reminiscent of the cherry pie my dad always says stole his heart when he first tasted it, made from scratch by my mom for one of their very first dates. Hers was much more decadent than my cherry desserts ever are, with a criss-cross woven pie crust to boot. However, it’s the thought that counts.

Earlier in the week, I wrote about the dinner recipe we tried out when they visited for dinner before leaving for the winter, and I promised to share the dessert recipe we tried out for them as well.

I have made cobblers before, a peach cobbler and a blueberry cobbler, but I was looking for an easy cherry cobbler recipe. I was “cheating” and using canned pie filling rather than fresh cherries, as many recipes call for, but I really just needed the recipe for the cobbler topping.

One of my go-to cookbooks on my shelf here at home is the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. I have had it forever, and it always has what I need in it. Sure enough, I found a quick and easy Cherry Cobbler recipe inside. I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1:1 Baking Flour instead of All-Purpose Flour in order to make it safe for everyone to eat, and I offered whipped cream, French Vanilla ice cream and Chocolate ice cream for toppings.

20180120_165459The dessert was a hit, and I was pleased with how easily it came together. Since there were seven of us, I doubled the original ingredients list and used two large cans (21 oz.) of cherries.

Here is the Better Homes and Gardens recipe:

Fruit Cobbler

Desired Filling
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional, I included it)
3 tablespoons margarine or butter
1 beaten egg
3 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Prepare filling, keep hot. (I put my two cans of cherries into the Pyrex dish and put it in the oven for a little while so that the cherries were hot when I took it out.)

For topping, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and if desired, cinnamon. Cut in margarine till mixture resembles course crumbs. Combine egg and milk. Add to flour mixture, stirring to just moisten.

Transfer filling to 8x8x2 inch baking dish (mine was already in my baking dish). Drop topping into six mounds atop hot filling.

Bake in a 400 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes or till a toothpick inserted into topping comes out clean. Serve warm with ice cream if desired. Serves six.

New week, new recipes

22 Jan

We broke the “never try a new recipe for company” rule, and we were so glad we did!

Welcome to a new week! It’s a new week of work, school, weather and here on The Whole Bag of Chips, I have several new recipes for you!

This weekend we hosted company for dinner, my parents, and we were struggling with the question of what to make. It would be the last time we would be seeing them until spring, and therefore, we wanted to make it extra-special.

As we went down our list of the usual meals, nothing seemed to spark my taste buds. It seemed we’d had it all recently or that the meals we were thinking of were ones we typically made for them whenever they came.

Normally there is an unofficial rule that says you shouldn’t try out a new recipe when you’re having company, but I decided that since my parents were always up for trying something new, I’d do an internet search for a new dish to make for them. I Googled “Sunday Dinners” even though it was going to be a Saturday night, to see what kinds of dinner recipes would come up. Sure enough, my wish was granted and I found this dish from Cafe Delites for Creamy Garlic Parmesan Mushroom Chicken and Bacon, which seemed to be a perfect dish to try. It had all things we liked, it was already gluten free, it was inexpensive to make, and it had the option to use light cream, heavy cream or milk, which would make it lower in fat, which we also like. It seemed like something everyone would enjoy and we decided to give it a try and serve it over pasta with a salad and bread on the side.

We chose to use a bag of frozen chicken tenderloins for this dish, rather than the chicken thighs, and we doubled the recipe.

The new chicken dish received rave reviews from everyone, even the kids. They especially loved the sauce, and having the pasta on the side made for a perfect combination. Everyone had seconds, and by the end we had just a couple of servings left to be used as leftovers later this week. I already had a couple of the kids asking when we would be having the leftovers this week.

I would definitely recommend breaking that old rule about new recipes and company again in the future, if our guests are game for trying something new, and I’m glad we took the risk this time around.

Additionally, we tried a new dessert recipe for cherry cobbler, turned gluten free, and I will post that recipe later on this week.

In the meantime, be sure to check out the new recipe from our weekend dinner and see what you think. A big thanks to Cafe Delites, for saving the day because it’s definitely a keeper at our house!

Introducing ‘Forget the Flour’….a new blog from a new favorite blogger

10 Jan

I have a new favorite blog, and I definitely have a new favorite blogger.

If you live life gluten free for any reason, you need to check out “Forget the Flour,” my daughter’s new blog. You can go and visit by clicking here. It might just become your new favorite blog too.

Here’s the back story to how this blog was born:

Early in the fall of 2015, it was determined that our youngest daughter could no longer have gluten in her diet. She had just begun the fifth grade and we had spent the summer on an epic, five-week cross country camping vacation, trying to figure out what was continuously making her so sick, and had been throughout most of the spring before.

If you’re a longtime reader of The Whole Bag of Chips, you have since seen my recipes evolve over time to now include notations with the ingredients as to how we have gone about making our recipes gluten free, if they were not already.

It has not been an easy few years. I have a shellfish allergy, and I’d like to say that I can relate to her struggles, but I truly can’t. I’m much older, first off, so I can weather some of the “trauma” of missing out on favorite foods at favorite events better than a tween. Additionally, shellfish is not contained in my every meal, or at every party, sleepover or at every restaurant I go to.

To say that being gluten free, being young AND gluten free is challenging would be an understatement.

Our third Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve all just passed, and it’s always important to make sure we have food for her to eat everywhere we go, and as we sometimes find out, even if we think something is going to be gluten free where we are headed, she finds out the hard way it may not have been, or that cross-contamination may have taken place.

However, for every challenge, there are a lot of successes. Thankfully, we are a family of cooks and we love to try out new recipes. Our kids have all been cooking since they were old enough to roll cookies or to stand on a stool at the kitchen counter and pick beans. We have a love for cookbooks, food magazines, food videos online, food show on television and anything related to cooking and eating. Therefore, we’ve discovered some great new recipes, and we’ve cheered (literally) when we’ve been able to make an old favorite into a new gluten free favorite so as not to give them up.

We’re lucky too, that we live in an internet age where we can find help online, we can Google anything and get a helpful answer about ingredients and substitutions. We are also lucky that in past years the amount of information and availability of ingredients has exploded from what it once was. We even have an allergy-free bakery in our city and we spend a great deal of time there.

Additionally, we have wonderful friends and family. I can’t be more thankful to those who have turned their own recipes into gluten free for her, or to those friends who have chosen to keep things on hand for when she’s there, or to cook entire gluten free meals just because she’s there (and I’m getting a little teary just thinking about it.) I have sent bags of gluten free food with her, only to see them come back with her after an event or visit, and to hear her happily describing all she was able to eat, along with everyone else.

All of that said, one might think a kid could get depressed having to deal with all of this on top of regular life, and she definitely has her moments of frustration and of sadness at times, and we feel terrible about it when she does. However, rather than wallowing in the latest disappointment or challenge, as some might, our daughter asked just the other night if she could create a blog for sharing what she’s learned in the past three years and going forward. It took me just a second to think about it and say yes, and it took her even less time to share with me the one she’d already created, but not published, complete with her first post draft all typed up. She just needed a name that wasn’t already taken, since there are many gluten free blogs out there already. Somehow, and I’m not sure how, she came up with Forget the Flour, and I love it. It wasn’t taken, and so, her blog was born.

She posted her first two posts one night earlier this week and the blog hits just exploded. Although it’s still young, the blog has already received almost 1000 hits in just a couple of days’ time. I told her I have some blog-hit envy already.

I think that as a younger blogger, her perspective is slightly different than those who are blogging about living an adult life gluten free, and I hope it will be a valuable perspective to others as she shares her favorite products, recipes and restaurants, as well as some of her not-so-great experiences in the hopes of preventing them from happening to others.

So if you haven’t yet, go on over and visit Forget the Flour and check out the first couple of posts. Sign up to follow it too, so that you don’t miss a moment of gluten free goodness.

I was thrilled to see this beautiful new blog pop up on my computer screen earlier this week. However, I can promise that not all of the almost 1000 hits were from me.

Two weeks of meals before the holiday rush

4 Dec

It’s hard to believe, but it’s the first week of December already. There are exactly three weeks until Christmas. Although I’ve been behind in posting some weekly menus, I thought that now might be a good time to provide some meal inspiration as a way to get us through the next three weeks. I also know that in the next two weeks or so, my posts will be filled with Christmas cookie recipes, and although we’d like to just eat those for dinner, most nights we can’t.

This was one we hadn’t had in a while and we devoured it. Not a morsel left.

Below are some meal options to get you through the next few weeks, with links included for every single one, not necessarily even in the order we’ve had them on our menu but more of a list of our past weeks’ “best of” meals that will let you peruse and choose what works for you in any given week.

TWO WEEKS OF MEALS

  1. Taco Bake
  2. Chicken, Broccoli, Cauliflower Casserole
  3. Kielbasa and Cabbage
  4. Parmesan Chicken Cutlets
  5. Instant Pot Chicken Marsala
  6. Beef and Broccoli
  7. Turkey Meatloaf Burgers
  8. Sweet and sour meatballs

    One of my favorite fall meals ever: Cranberry Chicken

  9. Shepherd’s Pie
  10. Instant Pot Macaroni and Cheese
  11. Chicken with White Wine and Mushrooms
  12. Cranberry Chicken
  13. Steak Lettuce Tacos
  14. Pork Tenderloin (instead of brisket) with applesauce and potato pancakes

Fun Friday: One-bowl brownies from Gluten-Free Living

6 Oct

Since finding this recipe at the end of the summer, we have made it at least four or five times.

Recently, I mentioned that when we cleaned out our kitchen to be redone, I had a huge pile of recipes and cookbooks to go through once we were ready to reload. In that pile was also a small pile of Gluten-Free Living magazines that I had put aside as they came in every other month, hoping for a day to go through them with my daughter.

At some point near the middle of August we found a day and we went through and pulled out any recipes we wanted to try, and recycled the rest of the magazines. Today’s recipe is one of the ones we pulled out to try. It’s from the newest issue, the September/October 2017 magazine that had just come in August. It is for a one-bowl recipe for brownies. I love anything that has very little cleanup, so one bowl appeals to me. I also love my new glass mixing bowl that I got in the springtime when my old plastic bowl broke, so I looked forward to the chance to use it as our one bowl.

This recipe was so easy that my daughter, who is 12, could make the whole thing by herself, with very little direction or help from me, other than some clarifying details. Additionally, I always enjoy a good teachable moment in the kitchen, and I loved showing her how the brownie batter doesn’t start out dark, but becomes so when you add in the unsweetened cocoa powder. It’s a simple thing, but when we make them out of a box, they start out chocolatey, so it was unusual for her to see the transition from a plain batter to a chocolate batter.

Like magic, it becomes chocolatey.

 

I’ll never not use parchment paper again.

In the months since we made this recipe for the first time, we have used it at least four or five more times, and we have doubled it depending on how many we were baking for. It’s fast, it’s easy, and it’s delicious. More importantly, people say that it doesn’t taste gluten-free. The brownies are thick and fudgy, just as brownies should be.

We started a new baking habit with this recipe and actually followed the directions for lining the bowl with parchment paper, which we sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. I always skipped doing this in the past, just spraying my baking dish, but my daughter wanted to use the paper, and we had it, and we’ll never go back to not using it again. The cleanup is super easy and the brownies can be lifted out, cooled and cut right on the paper.

Here is the recipe, I hope you’ll give it a try!

One-Bowl Brownies
from Gluten-Free Living magazine

Makes 12 brownies

Ingredients

non-stick cooking spray

1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup gluten-free flour blend (they recommended Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 Baking Flour, which we use as well.)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F.

Line an 8×8 baking pan with foil or parchment paper, allowing the edges to hang over the side. This makes removal easy. Spray the foil or parchment paper lightly with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk together butter and granulated sugar until combined. Add the eggs and vanilla extract. Whisk until combined. Add the flour, cocoa powder and salt. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir batter until smooth.

Spread batter evenly into prepared pan. Bake until set, about 20 minutes. A cake tester inserted into the center of the pan should come out with a few damp crumbs clinging to it.

Allow the brownies to cool completely in the pan set on a wire rack, about two hours.

Lift the brownies from the pan using the foil, cut into squares.

What’s for dinner Wednesday: two weeks of meals and a new kitchen toy

27 Sep

It seemed as if everyone was getting one of these for Christmas last year. I watched, and I waited, and then I bargain-shopped.

Happy Wednesday! Since it’s been a while since I gave you a two week menu, I thought I owed you a really good post when I shared one this time around. To that end, I have the two week menu, some new recipes to go along with it, and our experiences with a new kitchen toy.

It’s been a while since we got a new”toy” to add to our collection of small kitchen appliances, but around Christmastime last year, I started seeing this new Instant Pot appliance floating around blog posts and status updates, and my interest was definitely piqued. When I looked it up, the appliance was a bit costly, and with our impending kitchen renovations, not a priority at the time.

However, it’s a new school year, we have the usual “stuff” each night and/or after school, and yet we still try to eat as healthy as we can, at home, as often as we can, together. This Instant Pot seemed to really be calling my name, in that it seemed it might be able to help us continue to achieve those goals.

I finally bit the bullet, as they say, and on the advice of my friend Kim, I used a Kohl’s coupon code to get one for 30% off, on sale, with Kohl’s Cash (and earning Kohl’s cash with the purchase too) and I scored the Instant Pot for $75 (no shipping, including tax). I picked it up in the store, carried it home, and then I wondered what exactly to do with it. It reminded me of when they send you home with a new baby: it’s very intimidating, it makes some crazy noises, and you’re not quite sure if you know what to do if something goes wrong, or how to know if you’re doing everything right. For such a tiny appliance, it’s got a big intimidation factor, just like a new baby.

Ratitouille was a request from our oldest daughter as a new recipe to try. She cited the fact that we like all the veggies that come in it, so why not try it?

We let it sit there for almost a week, and then as the following weekend approached, we broke it out and did just what you’re not supposed to do: we used it (or attempted to) without reading the directions. We were also making a new recipe for Ratitouille, which is something we’d never made before with any recipe, never mind a recipe for use with a new appliance. New recipe, new appliance, no directions. Well played. Dinner took over an hour to make because we had no idea what we were doing, but it was delicious and although we were still a bit wary, we were thinking we liked this new toy. If we knew what we were doing, we’d like it even more.

These potatoes were so fast, so easy and I used them a total of three different times, for pork, for leftover salmon, and for a potato and egg omelet.

In the meantime, two of my friends, Gina and Marcia, also bought an Instant Pot the same week I did, and we all took our new “babies” home within days of each other and a texting thread emerged, sharing recipes, tips, new “parent” fears and more.  There were some successes in that thread, and we began to try each other’s recipes the following week. I chose to make Gina’s potatoes to go along with our grilled pork tenderloin one night and Marcia inspired me to try out a Mac and Cheese recipe another night.

During our trial week, the kids would come home each night from wherever, and joke that we were at it again, making something in the Instant Pot, moving it around to the best location in the kitchen, and they’d shake their heads, but they enjoyed each and every meal we made with it, and I joked that by using it every day, we didn’t need to find a place to store it. (I wasn’t really joking.)

On Sunday, a few days into our Instapot cooking adventures, we tried something new. We took a recipe we’d made before, nicknamed “Liz’s soup” because she requested it last year and I copied the recipe off a video and I have no idea where it came from originally. It was a crockpot recipe last year, but we didn’t have enough time to devote to using the crockpot this time around. Instead we found a recipe that was similar, had the same sorts of ingredients more or less, but used the Instant Pot to cook it. We adapted our recipe for Liz’s soup to that recipe for chicken stew, and presto….we had a delicious soup in a short amount of time. Each time we cooked, we seemed to have more of an idea of what we were doing, and in the meantime, with three of us friends trying out recipes every night, we had triple the ideas and solutions to any problems.

And so, today I share with you our two week menu, some new recipe links to go along with the menu items, and my encouragement for you to try out your Instant Pot too, if you haven’t yet, and if you haven’t jumped on that bandwagon, maybe this will be helpful to you in your own decision-making and bargain-shopping process.

Growing up, I’d only had Ratitouille at my friend Jen’s house. Her mom made it often. I channeled my memories of them as we ate this delicious meal over rice and chicken.

Two Weeks of Meals

WEEK ONE: In the days before the Instant Pot

Monday: Pastene Soup recipe here (Today I brought the Instant Pot home!)

Tuesday: Meatloaf Burgers recipe here

Wednesday: Paninis recipe here

Thursday: The Instant Pot is Opened:
Ratitouille recipe here 

Friday: Leftovers

Saturday: Grilled salmon with pesto (be watching for a post about this meal in the coming days!

WEEK TWO:

This soup is delicious and makes the house smell wonderful!

Sunday: Liz’s soup, adapted using this recipe

Monday: Grilled pork tenderloin, frozen homemade applesauce from the last time we grilled pork, and these Instant Pot potatoes.

Tuesday: Leftovers again!

Wednesday: Six Sisters Macaroni and Cheese (I am making this recipe tonight, but sharing it now. Gina and Marcia have made it already, and I love the Six Sisters’ recipes any time I try them!)

Thursday: Burritos and Quesadillas

Friday: We are leaving our new “baby” home and going out to dinner, we’ve definitely earned a night out tonight!

Liz’s Soup is amazing, especially if you top it with sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese and use some crunchy tortilla chips on the side!

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Busy? Me too! Meals for on the go schedules

14 Jun

I feel like I must look like this by the end of the school year, every June. Most days, I barely know what day it is.

Happy Wednesday!

It’s finally stopped raining, at least temporarily, so we’re cancelling our plans to build an ark and have instead started the final countdown to the end of the school year. We have just about a week to go.

I always compare this time of year for teachers, students, parents and those of us in the education world to what I imagine the tax season to be like for accountants. It’s crazy-busy for all of us, and we’re spread thin, trying to put ourselves in several places at once. This year, I am especially thankful that we have a third driver, which has helped our situation when we aren’t able to clone ourselves to be two places at once.

Busy? Absolutely. Still need to cook and eat? Absolutely.

Normally during much of the year we plan our meals two weeks in advance and shop for them two weeks in advance as well. However, since after the April vacation week, we have only been able to manage to plan and shop a week at a time for much of May and June. It’s been working out, and this week I am particularly proud of our meal planning because we were able to prep so much of it in advance. It meant a lot of work, particularly on Sunday night, but we had the time to spend that evening, and it’s nice to know we’re set for this week, the final full week of the school year for all of us. Like everyone else, we’re battling with the culminating events for  sports and school and work and other extra-curriculars, but we get through it, just like everyone else does, just like all the other years, and then it will be summer and we can breathe again.

I told someone just the other day that during the rest of the year our schedules are busy, but doable because everything has a designated slot on the schedule and when left as is, it all works out. There may be a lot of it, with five schedules and only seven days in a week, but everything fits. November/December and May/June are the months that throw things off because all of the activities choose new, additional slots on the schedule in which to place their seasonal events. So our Saturday morning slot also goes into a slot on Monday and on Tuesday night, for example, but yet we already have something in that slot on Monday. And on Tuesday. Our Monday and Wednesday slots decide to put their event on a Saturday and on also a Sunday, and still on Monday and Wednesday too. Things that are normally contained within the school day curriculum, like band for one, or chorus for another, or theater for the other, or even recognition events for all, suddenly need night time slots for everyone. As adults we are also required to attend many of these same events at other schools for our school-related jobs as well as for our own three kids, so the chaos multiplies quickly for us here. It gets all mixed up for a good month and then it goes back to normal again, but for those weeks of the year, twice a year, we are definitely over-scheduled, over-worked and overwhelmed before normalcy and calm returns.

We use our summer to decompress. We don’t over-schedule and we don’t have to worry much about competing events because we don’t do a lot, and for both of us adults, work slows down to a more normal, regular pace. I take the time to evaluate what worked and what didn’t from the past year and make adjustments by August for the upcoming year. I also look at ways we can be more organized as a family, every summer. Last year I instituted the Cozi app, and have loved that and will definitely keep it going for the next year. The year before, I instituted a great allowance system, and have kept that going as well. Summer is always a great time for reflecting, making changes and improving our well-oiled machines.

So, in preparation for all of your upcoming busy weeks ahead, here is our one week of meals, instead of two, but they are great for making ahead, cooking once and eating twice, and for having to grab and go.

ONE WEEK OF MEALS

Sunday: Shepherd’s Pie: This was our plan ahead, shop ahead and cook ahead day, and even though the daytime hours were full of obligations, we cooked into the evening hours and ate our dinner late that night in order to be ready for the week ahead. The kids used the time wisely and played outside until well after the street lights came on. See the recipe here. Make a big batch, eat half the first night and save the rest for a leftovers night later in the week.

Monday: Quesadillas: This night we had a PT appointment for one, a dance class for another and a fashion show rehearsal for all three, all after school, so we needed a literal grab and go dinner. (Thankfully, no one had any homework.) As a shortcut, I used already cooked chicken strips as my chicken and cheese fillers for these. I made plain cheese, spicy chicken and cheese, and plain chicken and cheese, and I bagged them all up, labeled and ready to go. When made with corn tortillas, these are also gluten free. They’re better served hot, but they’re edible cold as well, and when you’re hungry, cold will do just fine. Find the recipe here. As an added bonus, these make a great lunch, so I was one step ahead Tuesday morning as well.

My bag of quesadillas, ready to conquer dinner and then lunches, in one fell swoop.

Tuesday: American Chopped Suey: This was a meal we made ahead on Sunday night as well. Sauteed peppers, onions, mushrooms and olives filled our kitchen with a delicious aroma as we cooked, and thanks to that little teaser, now everyone can’t wait for this meal. We need to be at the kids’ fashion show by 5:30, so this will be an early meal, but will fill everyone’s bellies sufficiently before we go. Additionally, this will be something that will leave leftovers for our leftovers night. I don’t have a recipe we follow for this, it’s just sauteed ground meat (we use turkey), veggies of your choice, cooked pasta and sauce topped and baked with cheese. Ours is gluten free.

Wednesday: French Toast: This is my favorite go-to meal: breakfast for dinner. It’s fast and French Toast is my favorite meal for breakfast, despite my love for other types of morning treats. We have an after school meeting for one, piano lessons for one, dance class for one, a band concert for another, plus a work event for one, all before 7pm so this time, everyone will eat when they can, before they need to go, or when they get back, or both. It’ll be ready to eat, gluten free and not, for whenever it’s needed.

Thursday: Leftovers: On this night, all the kids are home, and finals start in the morning for our highschooler, so it’s crunch time for sure, but now both adults have to work. Normally we try our hardest to avoid both being out simultaneously for work at night, especially since I can set my own schedule more easily, but this week is an exception. It is graduation week here in our city and I cover three of the four high school graduation events, so my being out can’t be avoided, and neither can his. So, we planned our leftover night for this night because everything can be reheated from earlier in the week. If no one likes that, there’s enough other choices that they can make on their own easily enough, but we’ve done what we consider to be our parental due diligence and provided good meal options.

Friday: Homemade Pizza: Only I have to work on this night, graduation event #2. So I’ll come home at the end of the night and enjoy some yummy homemade pizzas. We enjoy homemade more than the pizza we take out, Don makes the absolute best pizza around, so this is a treat we all look forward to.

Saturday: Dinner event: We have a birthday party for one child early on in the day, and the final graduation event during the day for me as well, and then we are all heading to a dinner event that night, so our final meal of the week is planned for us, thankfully.

We will (hopefully) have made it through the week unscathed and having our meals planned out and mostly ready to go will have allowed us to enjoy the moments as we get to them and through them, and to enjoy the end of the year as it comes. It was a relatively inexpensive set of meals too, so that has been a little bit of a break for our grocery budget as well, when all else is so much more costly at this time of year.

May you all survive the busy seasons in your own lives, families and occupations. If this isn’t your busy season, save this post for when you’ll need it most!