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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.

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Missing in action, but for good reasons!

4 Aug

We spent two weeks camping at the beginning of the summer, and enjoying sunsets like this one every night.

Hello and happy August!

Yes, I know it’s August.

And yes, I know I haven’t posted a blog post in a very long time, and I am here to say that although I have been MIA for a while, it’s been for good reasons and that we are all well!

When school ended at the end of June, we had one week and then we were very lucky to head almost immediately into two weeks of vacation for the first two weeks of July. We took the camper to a state campground right here in our very own state for a much-needed Staycation. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, nor could the location. We had an amazing time enjoying each other, our friends and the treasure that is our home state. So often we feel the need to go away to get away, and although we technically did go away, it was only about a half hour away, but yet we felt as if we were away-away.

We spent two very relaxing weeks reading, resting and getting our energy back from a busy school year, but also getting ourselves ready for a huge kitchen renovation project ahead.

In the meantime, we were getting ourselves ready for a huge project that we’d be in the thick of once we were home from our two weeks. We were going to be finishing up a kitchen renovation project that we started, somewhat unexpectedly, last February 2016.

Our old kitchen was out-dated and in need of pretty much everything.

As a family who does a whole lot of cooking, we have always been frustrated that we had a pretty small, closed in, cramped and out-dated kitchen. In February 2016 we were given a generous gift: all new appliances. We were so excited when they arrived, and we could not wait to use them all. Our old dishwasher hadn’t worked in a couple of years, our old fridge no longer made ice or dispensed water on the door, and our old stove didn’t cook things properly or consistently.

When the delivery guy from the store brought in our new appliances, he commented that the layout of our kitchen, with the stove and fridge so close together, was odd and not usually recommended. The layout had always been this way since the house was built in 1976, and we really had no other options than the way it was, so he put the new ones just as the old ones had been.

What could possibly happen?

What could possibly go wrong?

Within weeks, our new stove was melting the side of our new fridge.

Panic set in as we realized we had to quickly fix the situation. We opted to do a partial renovation of our kitchen last year in order to remedy the problem as best we could at the time. So last April we ripped out one set of cabinets and counter tops and ripped out five layers of flooring in order to move our fridge into a new spot. It meant getting a new tile floor (which we also needed badly) and putting up some new wall covering, and painting. Once we did all of that, we put in some temporary cabinets and a temporary counter top where the fridge used to be and then stopped where we were and took more than a year “off” to regroup, save some money and ready ourselves for the rest of the project.

This always-cluttered back counter and cabinet space would soon be a new home for our new fridge.

This summer our focus was taking down a wall to knee wall height in order to open up our kitchen and dining area a bit, and replacing all of the rest of the kitchen cabinets and counter tops.

We took out a wall to open up our space significantly.

In order to keep costs down, we did all of the demolition ourselves and assembled our kitchen cabinets ourselves too, rather than having our contractor or the cabinet store do any of it for us. I use the words “we” and “us” quite liberally, since I wasn’t the one actually doing a lot of the manual labor. I did my part, emptying and later re-loading the kitchen, and helped with demolition and assembly in any way I could. Even the kids helped out with demolition, happy to put a hammer to a wall and put a hole through it with permission.

As I type this post, we are about 3/4 of the way done. Our demolition was started before we went camping and finished when we returned, and our contractor arrived the very next week to do the work we couldn’t do on our own. That one week was a bit chaotic, although not nearly as bad as I imagined it would be.

Our kitchen was a mix of old and new for more than a year before we continued with our renovation project this summer, knocking down a wall and taking out the rest of the old cabinets.

Now, we are down to waiting for our new counter tops and sink to arrive so that we can stop doing dishes in our bathroom sink and tub.

We still have a lot to do, and I am sure we will be finishing up this project for quite a while, with a tile backsplash still to go in and touch up painting still to be done on the walls and ceiling, but it’ll be more complete than it’s been in a long time, and for that, I am thankful.

Below are some photos of where we are at right now as we are awaiting the arrival of our granite counters and our kitchen sink this weekend.

I will end my post with a promise that I will eventually post again soon, but it may be a little while longer until I do. At least for now, while you wait, you know what I’m doing instead!

A new home for the refrigerator solved our melting problem.

Looking in from the dining room, which we can do now that the wall is gone.

 

 

 

We can hardly remember what it looked like when the wall was there.

Cave Tools Pigtail Food Flipper: a great new tool for summer grilling

30 Jun

We’ll be taking these with us to the campground this summer!

It’s officially summer! Summer means so many things, but one thing it means for us is grilling. Another thing it means for us is camping.When we camp, we grill! Therefore, I was very excited when Cave Tools asked me to try out another one of their fabulous products. I have reviewed several of their other grilling tools and have yet to be disappointed.

The Pigtail Food Flippers arrived on our doorstep just as we were creating our menu for a week’s worth of meals, and we put steaks right on the menu so we could try out our new tool. We would be grilling at home, but soon we will be camping and we’ll be grilling over a campfire. These new tools, a pair of two-one longer and one shorter-seemed to be perfect for all the grilling we do. Although we were doing steaks on this particular night, the tools are great for so many other things, including bacon, chicken, hot dogs and ribs, just to name a few ideas.

The Pigtail Food Flipper was great for grilling steaks, but it has many other uses as well.

When I asked my husband what he liked about the new Pigtail Food Flippers versus using a spatula, a fork or tongs, he said that the shape of the hook which made for easy flipping.

“I liked the way the hook was shaped,” he said. “All you had to do was hook the meat and flip it rather than trying to get a spatula underneath. I also liked that it came in two sizes, I didn’t have to use a big one for a small piece of meat and I won’t have to use a small one for a big piece.”

The tool was super-easy to clean because they’re dishwasher safe, and to store, which is a big plus for a small kitchen. Additionally, the handles fit well into the palm of your hand, much more comfortable than the flat form of a spatula.

You can find this great new tool set in two places and it’s very affordable. It’s on Amazon here, and on the Cave Tools website here. If you choose to order from the Cave Tools site, there is a great 15% off discount available by entering the coupon code PIGTAIL15 at checkout.

As we pack up for camping, we’ll be including our Pigtail Flippers, and I encourage you to check them out too!

 

***I was given a free product in order to do this review. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own.***

 

Fun Friday: Mini Strawberry Cheesecakes

9 Jun

If you’re looking for a new summertime dessert, this one comes highly recommended!

We don’t entertain often, but when we do, I like to try out new things. We are generally among friends and family so the “never try out new things for guests” rule gets bent a little bit, if I think it’s a new thing that I can pull off relatively easily.

Last Wednesday I shared our Burger Bar post from the previous Sunday’s get-together and I promised I’d share two other recipes. Today’s is one and I’ll still have another one for you coming up in a future post as well.

I was looking for a summery dessert to serve that Sunday, something different than brownies or cookies. I came across this recipe by Life, Love and Sugar and thought it would be different and something I could make gluten free, which is always a consideration. My grandmother has always made mini cherry cheesecakes which are my absolute favorite, and this reminded me of those. Additionally, they were summery and a little bit patriotic looking, which was an added bonus.

I had gluten free graham cracker crumbs on hand and I also had gluten free graham crackers in the freezer if I had needed to use them to make my own crumbs, which I didn’t need to do. I had enough left in my box to make a set of gluten free cheesecakes and a regular box to make a set of non-gluten free. I had colored cupcake liners in red, pink, orange and green in my cabinet too, so I made the red and pink liners the gluten free cheesecakes and the orange and green the non-gluten free cheesecakes so everyone could easily tell which was which.

These cheesecakes have multiple layers of deliciousness, and they’re able to be made gluten free to boot!

What I loved about this recipe was that it had layers to it: a layer of crumbs, a layer of fresh strawberries, a layer of cheesecake, more strawberries and some whipped cream. They were mini, but they were fancy and multi-faceted.

The thing to pay attention to in the recipe is the baking and cooling times. You need to pre-bake the crumbs for a few minutes, and the temperature for baking changes. The time and locations for cooling are specific as well. It’s not hard, but if you’re someone who doesn’t read a recipe all the way through to start, or who just skims and will wing it along the way, I encourage you to take the time to read it through first.

The entire recipe is easy, and the dessert was delicious, well-received by everyone and I would most definitely do it again. I like that it fed so many people. I had two trays of mini cheesecakes, minus just a couple. For my ingredients, I chose to substitute low fat sour cream instead of full fat and 1/3 fat cream cheese instead of full fat, and to use I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter for my butter, which we always do. I also increased the recipe slightly, in order to make more mini cheesecakes, and increased my ingredients all accordingly. I also cheated and used a squirty whipped cream instead of making it homemade, given our time constraints.

I hope you’ll give this recipe from Life, Love and Sugar a try, and many thanks to them for sharing it!

*Tip: If you’re looking for gluten free graham cracker crumbs, I found these at a Super Walmart, but you can also make your own by using a blender or food processor to grind whole gluten free graham crackers into crumbs.*

Fun Friday: Summer is here!

26 May

Ready to plan your summer?

Well, not officially, but it’s Memorial Day weekend, and that often signifies the un-official start of summer, while seasonally it doesn’t officially start until mid-June. Today, I wanted to share two exciting links with you from my work with The Providence Journal, which will help you plan your summer adventures, if you are local to Rhode Island, most especially your eating adventures.

The Providence Journal published its annual Summer Guide last weekend, providing readers with nearly 100 pages of summertime fun. I was asked to be a contributor to the guide, providing readers with a comprehensive roundup of great places to eat during the summer months and great food festivals to visit all summer long.

To create my lists of places to eat and festivals to visit, I polled my social media community. I asked them where they like to eat, and what their favorite festivals are each summer. I was amazed by the answers. My family and I tend to be creatures of habit, and we often visit our same favorites over and over again, forgetting that our littlest state packs quite a punch when it comes to delectable meals. I found myself saying, “We’ll have to remember this place, and that one, and that one….next time we want to eat out.”

And so, here are my two pieces for you so that as you sit down and with your calendar to plan out some summer fun, you have a place to start.

You too, might find a new place to eat that you never knew about!

To see the roundup of Rhode Islanders’ Favorite Restaurants, visit the link here.

To find some great new food festivals to visit (Swedish Meatballs anyone?) visit the link here.

Foodie festivals for everyone’s tastes and budgets!

And finally, to read the entire guide, visit this link here. You can find the best beaches, historic homes, fairs and more, to fill your summer months with fun and adventure.

Budget-friendly camping tips from The Penny Hoarder

24 May

Camping on a budget can make you a very happy camper!

It’s the end of May, Memorial Day weekend is just days away. I can almost taste the summertime…if it would just stop raining! We had some hot, 100 degree days last week, and the flip flops and tank tops were out, the sun shining, kids playing in the yard, I could see the lazy days of summer just ahead.

If summertime includes camping for you, as it does for us, you’ll be happy to read the most recent post from The Penny Hoarder’s site, “Get the Vacation You’ve Been Craving on a Budget: Go Camping.” The post contains six tips for budget-friendly travel through camping.

If you’ve been a fan of The Whole Bag of Chips recently, then you know that we purchased a new-to-us camper in 2015 and used it to travel in a budget-friendly manner over the past couple of years, touring the country in 2015 and touring NYC this past spring. We also traveled to Mystic, CT and to Meredith, NH as well as hanging out by the beaches here in the Ocean State in 2015, 2016 and again this coming summer in 2017. Having our own camper is thousands of dollars cheaper than renting a beach house in New England for a week every summer.

I was so thrilled when Lisa Rowan, writer for The Penny Hoarder, reached out to me for some tips to include in their camping post. The only thing that makes me happier than being able to do things because of the fact that we budget, is to be able to help others achieve their own goals by doing things on a budget as well. Stretching a dollar has helped us to achieve so many things, including all of the recent travel that we’ve been doing.

So if you are wishing you could do more traveling, but just don’t have the means, be sure to read the above post, or check out my travel pages #crosscountryadventure2015 and #thecowartstakemanhattan2017 for some tips and tricks for traveling and camping on a budget.

Fun Friday: Ideas for a fun camping-themed birthday party

31 Mar

My daughter started planning her camping-themed party months ago and this shirt was a gift from one of her sisters to wear that night.

We are campers.

We have camped across the country for weeks on end, we are one Eagle Scout and four Girl Scouts. We definitely know camping and we love it. Therefore, many months ago during the winter, when my youngest daughter asked for a camping-themed birthday for her party this spring, I was excited. It was something we hadn’t done before as a birthday party theme, and although as our kids get older their parties get much smaller, it was a fun theme for any sized party, and one that was relatively easy and very inexpensive to plan, especially for a small group.

The Taco in a Bag meal even includes some veggies, if they choose to take the lettuce and tomatoes as their toppings.

This daughter also happens to be the daughter that has to follow a gluten free diet, so that makes planning meals somewhat more challenging, but for this party, it was relatively easy. As Girl Scouts, one of the favorite camping meals is Tacos in a Bag. As a family, we have a favorite summer taco salad which is similar to this one from Tasty Points. Tacos in a Bag is the best of both worlds if you’re a kid. To make them, you take individual packs of Doritos (which are now gluten free), the kids crush them up while they are in the bag, and then they layer their desired taco fixings in the order in which they want them, eating them right out of the bag. Be sure to either use a homemade taco seasoning mix or one that is gluten free. The brand we used was McCormick and was gluten free, and we prefer to use ground turkey rather than ground beef. To be on the safe side, I also grabbed a regular-sized bag of Doritos to have on hand for extras in case I needed them. I did not, so we have them to use here at home when needed.

I already had these on hand, so the recipe I found was perfect!

Initially, she thought of S’mores as her dessert of choice, but I hesitated, as I was recently having some trouble finding gluten-free graham crackers, even though I knew we’d had them before. I needed a different plan in case I couldn’t find them again in time for the party. Oddly enough, one afternoon, a recipe came across my Facebook newsfeed for this vegan, gluten free recipe for S’Mores cupcakes. Although we are not vegan, this recipe from Pickles and Honey provided me with just the inspiration I needed to formulate a plan to make my own S’Mores cupcakes for the party.

I already had graham cracker crumbs on hand that were gluten free and I had plenty left. To create my cupcakes, I filled two muffin trays with paper liners and sprayed the liners with nonstick cooking spray. I put about a teaspoon of the crumbs in the bottom of half the paper liners and left half without, in case anyone didn’t think they liked the graham cracker crumb idea. I used a gluten free Funfetti cake mix to fill the liners with batter and cooked them according to the package directions. To keep track of which were which, I used two different patterns of liners, one for each kind of cupcake. The white liners had crumbs at the bottom and the green did not.

My most favorite camping party idea. Thanks to Pickles and Honey for the initial inspiration!!

Although I normally make my own frosting, and I had one in mind that I had planned to use for the party, the day of the party came quickly and it was a busy one. When I was out picking up last minute things for that night, I saw a container of pre-made frosting, realized I could save myself some unnecessary stress and some time by just using that for the kids. I had planned on letting them frost their own cupcakes (sharing one little bowl of frosting between two kids) while I got ready to roast their marshmallows over my gas stove burner. The pre-made frosting would be just fine for our purposes.

When it came time for dessert, these cupcakes were a huge hit and I was so excited as to how they came out. I used a low, back burner and skewers to roast one marshmallow at a time, and I did them myself, rather than letting the kids do them for this first time around. The cupcakes went quickly, both varieties, and at the end of the night there were just a few left over and a little bit of frosting to keep in the fridge for them.

When your sister gives you glue, glue and more glue for your birthday, you have plenty to spare for a little party slime-making.

For the rest of the party, we had two crafts. First off, they made the currently very popular DIY slime, since my oldest daughter had given her sister several bottles of glue as part of her gift, and I’d been sure to restock all the food coloring, baking soda and corn starch we might need, depending on the DIY recipe they used.

I had also asked a summer camping friend who was going to be at the party if she wouldn’t mind teaching all of the kids to make friendship bracelets. While we were together this past summer at the local campground, she’d done a really great job teaching all our kids how to make the bracelets, and we had all the materials here. We just needed her expertise. I even picked up safety pins so that they could pin them to their sleeping bags or pillows and work on them while they were camped out in our living room watching a movie.

For our movie choice, we opted to show the old 1960’s version of “The Parent Trap,” which has some summer camp and family camping scenes in it. We had found it on Netflix ahead of time. We also had the remake recorded here at home, but we felt that the older version was one that the kids might not have seen before. We thought that if there was time the next morning, or if they wanted to at night, they could watch the newer version instead of or in addition to the older one, but they never did. They got a kick out of the older movie and had not seen it before.

All in all, it was a great night, with a fun group of kids and this is a party theme I’d highly recommend for those who are camping fans. It got us looking ahead to our camping days this coming summer, which will be here before we know it, and we’ll be having S’mores and campfires outside, and making friendship bracelets all summer long.