Killin’ it with Casseroles

So, we have been on a budget crunch this summer transitioning from one job to another (and possibly irrationally spending while on a short little getaway with my husband, if we are being totally honest). Earlier this year my goal was to value more and spend less, and while I have made some great strides in this area, I’m not completely where I would like to be.

While I have made decent attempts at getting financially organized… by decent I mean, I did some Pinterest research, read some online suggestions, and created really REALLY cute charts and budgeting sheets with super cute fonts, I then proceeded to do nothing with them. Ball. Dropped.

I have managed to develop a nice little collection of “Fall Foods” aka… the casserole. Yes, that 1980’s to 1990’s style dish that takes a whopping 15 minutes to assemble and 30 minutes or so to bake. It is the golden child of week night dishes and frankly the ultimate in comfort food. Between The Casserole and a slow cooker.. you could really feel like susie homemaker even if you aren’t home until 5 o’clock each night.

I have come across some excellent finds, along with some not so great ones we have ditched along the way. Each recipe I share has either been adapted from a Pinterest big ticket item, or is a family one, and has been taste-tested and approved by the Connoisseur of all things Dinner… my husband. I have already shared with you my spin on the Classic Lasagna with my Spinach and Sausage Lasagna | Gluten Free  and the one I have to share today isn’t exactly the healthiest either, but it really is delicious.

I originally found the recipe from Incredible Recipes from Heaven and just the pictures on Pinterest ALONE sold me on this little gem! Between the pictures and the main ingredients: Chicken, Bacon, & Ranch I was SOLD! I knew this was a way to tackle my constant battle with the Chicken Hater in the house… he knows who I’m talking about too… and so do all of you since there is only one person that can be referred to as “HE” in this household…. Bacon, Ranch, and Cheese would definitely be enough to get him to eat chicken.

And so I present you with the Gluten Free | Bacon Ranch Chicken Pasta Casserole. Um… yes please…! When I first came across this item, I thought to myself, “If I can’t get my husband to each chicken like this, he will never, ever, eat it. Period.” And let me tell you, he ate it, and he ate it again as left overs. That my friends, is saying something. There is nothing in the world my husband dislikes almost as much as chicken, but left-overs come in at a close second.

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But I digress… I began this dish with my chicken, diced and marinated in a bag of olive oil and delicious seasonings…! This made the chicken much more appealing to my anti-chicken husband. (The original recipe calls for Adobo but you can find this simple alternative HERE that I used in replace of the already mixed seasoning.)

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And then of course, frying up some bacon helped out his hesitancy towards any recipe involving chicken.

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If you do not have a double flip bacon screen, I strongly recommend getting one. I have two little crazies running around my kitchen the entire time I cook and the last thing I ever want is for one of my little balls of energy to get splashed with hot bacon grease.

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Once your bacon is nice and crispy, (I like to chop mine up before cooking, but feel free to approach this how ever you’d like – just make sure the bacon is nice and cold before chopping it) remove the pieces to a paper towel and drain most of the bacon fat, leaving just a tiny bit for the chicken to cook in.

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*FULL DISCLAIMER: As a person considering beginning a portion control diet… this is NOT diet food… which is why it is so delicious!

While your chicken cooks, boil your noodles to al dente, and by all means, PLEASE consider switching to Barilla Gluten Free Pasta, because it is AMAZING!

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Once you have cooked your noodles, toss them in the Newman’s Own Alfredo and Ranch dressing.

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I chose this specific brand of Alfredo, because it was the only one I could find guaranteed to be Gluten Free. I’m sure several brands are, but I really like this one. Of course you could make your own, and that would be wonderful; however, the purpose of casseroles our home are to be time efficient, and making an Alfredo sauce really puts a damper on time efficiency.

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Next comes the fun part: mixing and layering…!!

Start with your creamy pasta layer, and then add in your chicken and half of your crispy bacon.

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Give that bad boy a toss and then top it off with your shredded cheeses and remaining bacon pieces. Toss it in the oven for 20 – 30 minutes and ENJOY!

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I must admit, this one was a hit with ALL of the food critics in my house, and I will definitely be including this simple recipes into our week day rotations.

Speaking of rotations, have you ever found yourself getting caught up in the same 5-10 recipes for week nights? My husband complains that I make the same foods over and over… and that I make “plenty of good meals” I just don’t make them often enough. But when it comes to meal planning, and grocery list making, my mind goes BLANK. I have a heck of a time remembering what all of those dishes are. I know I pin some… I print some… and some I have on recipe cards, but I could REALLY use a good organizational system for keeping track of the recipes I love and don’t love.

Do you have any systems that work for you and your family? I would LOVE to hear about them! Reach out to me at shimmeringtwig@gmail.com and I’d love to feature your kitchen recipe organizational system on my blog!

I can’t decide if I need to take a digital approach, or if I need a good old-fashioned notebook LIST of the meals we like!

I will never forget when my sister lived in town years ago, opening up a kitchen drawer of hers and finding a list of “Jason’s Favorite Foods” it was hysterical! It was a list of all the foods he liked to eat! I seriously think I need to make my husband write a list similar to that! Just a reference point for those brain fart moments when you JUST. CAN’T. THINK. of a meal to make.

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Anyways, I hope you find a space in your weekly rotations for this Bacon Ranch Chicken Pasta Casserole! Link to original recipe is here:

Gluten Free Notes:

Cheers!

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  • Whitney
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Thoughts on a Thursday | Welcoming September

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I feel like my blog has taken a back seat since jumping full gear into the cyber world and it has been this quiet little whisper in the back of my mind just hanging there… reminding me how much I have been slacking in the writing department. I hate that this is happening and my new resolution is to prevent it from happening again. As I begin this post, I do not have a clear direction, but my “Thoughts on a Thursday” never really begin with a set goal, it just kind of develops as I reflect and take a sort of writer’s mental health moment.

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As a teacher, we all know the saying that “August is just one long Sunday for every teacher” which is true. Don’t let any teacher tell you otherwise. Change is intimidating, even for the most experienced and strong-willed people out there. When you are in the education field you know that every year brings a fresh start, new challenges, new students, and a new opportunity to view your year and your students as a chance to always bring your best self to work each day. September can bring on that New Years resolution feel for teachers, it is an opportunity to begin again, an opportunity to reflect on the reasons why you chose this profession. For some unexplained reasons this feeling

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of renewal seems to get lost over time, and teachers begin to lose that fire, the one that burned so strongly in the first few years of teaching. You know what I mean, back during the time when you’re really in the trenches… developing every single worksheet, test, unit, attempting to align standards to each word that comes out of your mouth… living in your classroom… investing in things like “Cricuts”, downloading “Fonts”, and losing hours of your life on Pinterest.

 

No, something happens after a few years… you become nostalgic of how things “used to be…” over everything, literally everything from how the faculty rooms “used to have better ink…” to “only getting 56 days off this summer…” I mean, really?? Say that one outloud to a non teacher and good luck NOT getting slapped. It happens to almost every teacher which makes me wonder… do things really change like we perceive them to? Or is there something hidden in those first few years of a job that really make them so memorable? Or is it that rose-colored glasses effect. It’s like we forget about the sleepless nights, the hours of time and planning. If anything you would think teachers would like their jobs more over time as they are able to make simple tweaks and fine tune lessons that have already been labored over. But it doesn’t work that way. 925cd84c43665f1f195515d740955014--teacher-quotes-funny-inspirational-teacher-quotes

For many, myself included, the entrance of a child changes everything, possibly causing this mental shift in our attitude along with our priorities. Prior to having children, you take your students in as if they were your own, learning every possible avenue into those brains and pulling at every ounce of potential possible from them. You stay after, come in early, whatever it takes to get these children where they need to be in life. No exceptions.

Then you have a baby. And your world. Stops.

Suddenly you become consumed with Mom guilt (or Dad guilt) and you panic as the hours, minutes, and seconds tick away of your maternity leave to the inevitable moment you have to return to work and figure out life with work, a family, and that precious little baby that utterly consumes your life. Regardless of what a go-getter, career minded person you were before that little tiny person took over your soul, your life has forever changed.

Perhaps you are one of the lucky few who figured this out early on and capitalized on these precious years sooner rather than later, finding ways to get home with that sweet baby for those few years before they too are consumed by the schedule of school and extra organized events. Or maybe you were like so many of us who fought the good fight a little longer until that second little miracle showed up in our lives and just pushed the scales a little too far. I was one of those, trying to balance it all, ultimately crashing after our second little lady arrived.

Which leads me to this NEW sense of renewal. This school year is going to be a TRUE fresh start, a chance to be the best Mom, Wife, and Teacher yet. I am going to put my kids first, reach those hard to reach kids, and make meals that please picky toddlers and taste-bud-expert husbands (huuuge eye roll over that part…ugh). This is MY year, the year where I have finally found a way to balance Motherhood and teaching eliminating some of that “Mom Guilt” that has been weighing on me for the past 3 1/2 years of my life.

If you haven’t heard of  One Funny Mother, check out her recent video while shopping for pencils… Here.

I will NOT complain about “staring at a computer most of my day…” using it as an excuse for slacking on this blog, I WILL keep up, because there is no reason NOT to keep it up. So if there is something pulling you in a slump… or a goal you’ve been thinking about tackling… but keep playing the “I don’t have the time..” card, FIND A WAY. Mom life is the best life. Period. There is a coach out there who I keep promising that I am going to jump on board and let her help me get to my fitness goal that I know I can get to, if I just commit.

September is my month Maegan. It’s happening. Ps… if you’re looking for someone to motivate you in to accomplishing a goal, add this Queen of the Entrepreneural Hat on Facebook, she is literally eating, breathing, and sweating motivation. It’s unreal, and exactly what I need in my newsfeed on a daily basis. She is the epitome of setting goals and achieving them.

And to all of my teacher friends out there, just remember: We have the best job! We spend every day shaping and changing kids lives, doing something we love, sharing information we are passionate about and helping kids who need us. Who WOULDN’T love doing that?!

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BRING IT SEPTEMBER, I’m ready!

Cheers!

Whitney

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Meatballs | Gluten Free AND Homemade!

The Meatball battle. It’s a war I’ve been fighting with my mother since I was old enough to speak. I decided way back then that I did NOT love homemade meatballs. She tried and tried and tried to convince me that meatballs were BETTER homemade. I disagreed. I loved-me-some good frozen meatballs. Every Italian blooded person reading this blog has officially clicked the “unfollow” button by now, but I can promise you, if you hang in there with me, I was finally able to come to my senses.

We have this crazy thing about meatballs… as long as my husband and I have been living in the same household, be it in our new home, the terrifyingly risky apartment we first lived in, or our starter home, the house he grew up in; we have had our share of some crazy memories associated with meatballs. There is a period of time that is so under appreciated by so many, that golden time when you find the person you will spend the rest of your life with, but still do not have any major life commitments yet. It’s the time in life when you can have fun, and be care free. Our period of this phase of life together began just after I graduated college. We got our first apartment together, with minimal monthly bills, while I was subbing, and waitressing in the summers, and he was working 12 hours shifts, rotating every two weeks between days and nights. Eventually I went back to school, and his job landed him staying away more than not. So when he would come home, we made the most of it. From our favorite little local restaurant/bar surrounded by some of the greatest group of people in the same phase of life as us, to cookouts and fires in our backyard that went way beyond the normal “last call” hours, we enjoyed life, worked hard, and played harder.

I know you are wondering, “how does this have anything to do with meatballs?” Well trust me, if you are any of those friends from that phase of life, you know EXACTLY how this connects back to meatballs (and flip cup… but that’s not what this post is about!) Every time the bar closed, the fires dragged on, or the appetites grew, we found ourselves crowed in our little Big Run kitchen cooking up frozen meatballs at 2 am, 3 am, 4 am, rarely but even occasionally as early as midnight. Yes, somehow we always ended up back at our house feeding lord knows how many people, Meatballs. It became a standing joke between this group of friends from that golden phase of life. Long standing rivalries over flip cup always came to a halt over a ridiculous tradition of taming the post-alcohol hunger with frozen meatballs.

Fast-forward 4 years, one move, and two kids into the future, and those memories feel like a lifetime ago. One of those couple friends we used to spend every free second with recently got married and we found ourselves headed out to dinner with a portion of that old group again, only this time there were about 6 additional little ones ranging from baby carriers, high chairs, all the way up to pre school age. I feel safe in saying the groom-to-be was a little overwhelmed walking into that dining room…!

When I say that phase in life is the “golden phase” I don’t mean it in a way to place it above any other phase of life, I am just trying to explain the purpose and the value of it. Life is SO short, and it changes so drastically once kids are in the picture; with those changes all being amazing, and monumental, and even golden in their own ways. But don’t rush it. Enjoy these little phases of life because they all fly by so quickly. And if you are past it, I hope you find yourself reflecting on those carefree memories that stilly little things like “gyros at 2 in the morning while wearing feather boas, and cups of ice being dumped…” and never forget them. Life is so good.

So returning to the “meat” of this post; alright, that was a little corny even for me. My oldest daughter is obsessed with meatballs. She lived on frozen meatballs for a phase, and now being cared for by an amazing Italian cook while I’m at work, has acquired a slightly more sophisticated taste for meatballs, forcing my hand into trying out my own version of a “good homemade meatball” but one that was also gluten free for her little sister and myself to enjoy. (Meanwhile… my mom says, “it’s about time!!!”)

So I began scouring the internet for suggestions and this is what I was able to come up with:

IMG_0751-I started out following a strange suggestion, that I felt would really help with the gluten free texture, and that was to soak bread in milk. So I began with two sliced of UDI’s Gluten Free White Bread, crust removed, ripped into chunks and soaked in milk.

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I seriously love this towel, it cracks me up every time I read it, thanks Danielle!

While those were soaking I worked with equal parts ground beef and ground pork, adding in one egg, some parmesan cheese, some parsley, some garlic, a chopped onion, and a little shake of Italian seasoning blend, salt and pepper.

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Next, I added the milky bread mixture (the whole thing, not just the bread) and really mixed the entire bowl well with my hands. This took  a while since I wanted to make sure everything was evenly combined.

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I began methodically rounding each little clump of meat into what I felt to be a nice sized ball for spaghetti or even sandwiches, for leftovers. I’d guess about two tablespoons of meat? Maybe a little less?

Next I placed a skillet on the stove with some good olive oil in it and heated it to medium, placing each rounded ball of meat in to brown on all sides evenly. I then transferred the balls to a plate and continued until all the meatballs were well cooked.

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Once all of the meatballs were browned evenly I placed them back into the skillet (you could use a crock pot if you wanted to instead) and poured our favorite spaghetti sauce over letting them simmer on low for about a half hour before serving.

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They were definitely a hit! I was pretty pleased with the final results as well! So whether your in that “work hard, play harder” phase, or the “throws of parenthood” phase… or even the “I have to repaint the walls in my house because I have teenagers and their friends” phase; may this post bring up some fun memories, inspire new memories, or even just push you past the breaking point, ready to dive into the homemade versions of your family’s recipes. 

Cheers!

  • Whitney

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Homemade Gluten Free Meatballs

  • Servings: 30-36 meatballs
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 2 slices gluten free white sandwich bread, crust removed
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 medium onion diced
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese freshly grated
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsp parsley
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Directions

  1. Place gluten free bread in a bowl with 1/2 cup milk and let it stand 5 minutes.
  2. Combine ground beef, pork, garlic, onion, parmesan cheese, egg, parsley, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. Add milk and bread mixture. Mix well with hands until all ingredients are well combined.
  3. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Begin rolling the meat mixture into approximately 1-2 tbsp balls and brown in skillet evenly on all sides. Remove and continue until all of the meat mixture has been formed into balls and browned on all sides.
  4. Return meatballs to the skillet and add 1-2 jars of spaghetti sauce turning heat to low. Cover and let simmer for approximately 1/2 hour before serving.
  5. Serve with pasta or rolls.

The Hungry, Hungry Healthy Eater

So it has been a while since I dove into writing. For some reason the whole, career shift, mental shift, life shift, really made me just take a step back from everything. I’ve spent the last two months really evaluating my choices over the past several years, my relationships with friends, family, and acquaintances, and just really taking a mental health month. From all of this time-out phase, I have learned so many valuable lessons.

1. Life is short, so DO the things you WANT TO DO.

Before I found out I was pregnant with my oldest daughter I feel safe in calling myself  a runner. I loved running. I loved the mental check out that happened whenever you set off with no end goal in sight, just an awesome play list and the mindless relaxing task of enjoying the sights around you, totally in control of where you go and how long you are gone. I felt so at pease when I ran.

But then kids happened. And life happened, And baby weight happened. And for about 4 years… nothing could really spark up the EXTRA planning, motivation, and organization involved in scheduling runs around commuting to work, having kids, working around a husband who used to work away sometimes more than he was home, choosing to run over sipping on my favorite glass of wine, and all those other excuses we are really, really good at coming up with, as normal human beings.

But then I worked from home. And plan periods, and lunch breaks became “let’s DO THIS” breaks and, “lets try adding a mile on” breaks. And before you knew it, I was able to run to the end of my road and back in 20 minutes (2 miles… not very far but a HUGE step for me.)

Now, a full 5 weeks into summer and I am up to a solid 6 mile run, and it feels AMAZING to get back into that routine. I signed up for my first 1/2 Marathon to run with a very close friend, and I am SO EXCITED!

So if there is a goal you’ve been “thinking about…” just go for it! Life is short, so ENJOY IT.

2. Holding a Grudge is… NEVER. WORTH. IT.

There is no secret in the fact that this previous school year has been an incredibly difficult one for me. I interviewed for several administrative positions that I wasn’t really ready to take, but it took interviewing and second rounds of interview to really put my priorities in check; and of course those work “feuds” that seem to sneak up on you and just seem to linger on… and on… and on.

Nothing is more stressful than the passive aggressive “disputes” that happen in the work force. We all have them. Whether you work in the school districts, industry, public transportation, or business offices, we all have that “person” or even “people” who apply those passive aggressive stressors on our lives. I avoided faculty rooms like the plague this past year, because when you have a husband who doesn’t have a schedule, works 60 – 80 hour work weeks as a normal routine, those petty complaints about summer break not being long enough, or catty comments about your boss are really hard to sit and swallow.

For some reason, we are hard wired to only hit the “reset” button whenever a crisis hits us. Suddenly those feuds, and petty arguments are nothing more than lost time between friends who lost track of why they became friends in the first place. Guiltily, I too, have struggled with this but managed to repair the ones that mattered before it was too late.

3. Work Stress doesn’t have to come “home” with you.

This clearly has been mentioned in previous posts as I never realized how much stress was added to my life with all the extra unnecessary drama of the work place, faculty rooms, and even the commute. Once my kids could wake up on their own and were no longer pulled from their beds at 5:45 in the morning, life became much more peaceful.

4. Family Comes First

I feel like this could apply in so many different ways during the past two months. Family is Forever; You can’t pick them, but you gotta love them; etc. There are so many cliche’s that go along with family, it’s impossible to even keep track of them all. Over the years, I have gone through several phases of relationships with my siblings; from childhood adoration of those older siblings, to teenage best friends, to heartbreaking distance; the first harsh reality of adulthood when you realize how different you really are; to acceptance of the people you are and the relationships you have together; and then finally to growth, where you discover new ways to appreciate each other and the incredibly different phases of life you may always be in from each other. Each of my siblings including the siblings I have gained through marrying my husband are all a varied levels of complicated, and irreplaceable relationships to me. When one of our siblings is hurting, we hurt with them. When one is celebrating, we celebrate with them.

This summer has also reinforced to my that my family will ALWAYS come first to me. My daughters and my husband’s needs will always fall ahead of everything else in life. These are the people who build me up, and keep my world spinning. Last year we went through a slight health scare which ultimately ended up being nothing, thank goodness, and I’m not sure if it was that scary reality check that really enforced the bond of a husband and wife, or if it’s the complicated and extensive history going back almost 15 years, or if its just that we are lucky enough to have found that true soul mate; regardless, celebrating our 5th year anniversary will most certainly be the highlight of my July.

5. True Friends are Friends Forever.

I have been blessed with a handful of friends who I know will be in my life forever. Some are from childhood, others from my previous job, and still others are friends developed through my husband, and continue to grow and help to shape the mother, and friend I am. I also have a unique blend of long-term friends that I only get the opportunity to see once or twice a year. But those times when we are reunited, we are so busy catching up on each others lives that it’s like the time between visits doesn’t even exist. (One of the major perks to social media…)

I have also spent so much time investing in relationships that were never really there in the first place. These people are the ones who bring you down, use artificial bonds and temporarily fill spaces in your life. My best advice, become incredibly good at determining the difference between the real friends, and the ones who are only temporary.

6. I love Food. This will NEVER. CHANGE.

And finally, the hard hitting lesson from the past few months: I. LOVE. FOOD. I am not a dieter, a health fanatic, or disciplined in any way shape or form. I love to eat, all things delicious and flavorful. I really enjoy carb-loaded foods, sweets, and wine. God I love wine. So when I splurge and attempt a recipe involving roasted vegetables and Salmon… about 2 hours later… I AM STARVING. But I digress…

Today I will share with you the light, and incredibly healthy meal my family and I shared Sunday, including a simple salmon suggestion from a good friend (definitely on the growing friends forever list) along with some hearty roasted vegetables.

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To begin, I must address the darling purple potatoes that have been frequenting the produce isles at Aldi’s all summer long! My girls LOVE PURPLE POTATOES! The roasted vegetables are a simple combination of the tiny potatoes from Aldi’s and broccoli florets tossed in olive oil and seasoned with garlic salt and pepper. They were delicious…!

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I strongly recommend placing your vegetables in the oven about 10 minutes prior to placing the salmon in the oven as well.

To prepare the Salmon:

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The salmon filets also came from Aldi’s and were my first experience with fish filets that still had skin on them. Not an enjoyable task, but I did slice off the outer layer before baking. (Feel free to laugh… I honestly wasn’t sure whether or not to leave it on…? I’m still not really sure!) Brush your salmon with a quality olive oil, sprinkle a little salt and pepper, and lay a few slices of lemon on those bad boys.

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One mistake I made: I am not a lemony person, and I took the additional lemons and squeezed a little over top the Salmon. I do not recommend doing that if you aren’t big into Lemon flavor on your fish. Just the slices laying on top should be more than enough.

Fold up your little cute Salmon foil packet, and place it on to the baking sheet beside the vegetables. Continue roasting and baking for about 15 minutes at 425 degrees.

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And when you pull the sheet out of the oven, with a whole 25 minutes of your life invested in this dinner, you’ll be super proud when your family is eating healthy and enjoying the flavors…!

Unless they are like me.

And they are starved… 2 hours later.

I want to be healthy and enjoy eating salmon and vegetables… however, I am a RED MEAT AND POTATOES GIRL. I’m also a wine girl. Mainly, a wine girl.

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Happy Healthy Eating! (And then unhealthy snacking a few hours later…!)

Cheers!

  • Whitney

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Baked S’Mores | Gluten Free

This is another one of those recipes that has become a seasonal classic. It’s also a recipe that literally blew up Pinterest about 4 years ago. The combination of Graham Cracker “Blondie”, Marshmallow Creme, and Chocolate perfectly capture that freshly roasted S’mores taste. I have had to make several adaptations to the original recipe I found years ago, in order to fine tune the gluten free version. But trust me, the layering, and spreading of oey-gooey goodness, will definitely keep you coming back to this dish for more. I prefer them about 5 minutes after coming out of the oven, while my Mother-in-law likes to chill hers in the oven so they have a little crunch to them. Either way, it’s a WIN-WIN

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To begin, start by creaming your butter and sugar, next adding in your egg and vanilla.

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With Gluten free, the stiffer the dough, the easier it is to work with. I do not let my butter get to room temperature, rather use my stand mixer to make it nice and fluffy, but still stiff, like the picture above. (This is before the eggs and vanilla were added)

Then I add in my flour. Now I LOVE being able to store my flour in a large rubber sealed container like this, because for some reason it makes me feel so NORMAL. I grew up in a house where my Mom had matching flour and sugar containers, which were eventually replaced with three hundred different individual flour containers, because when we first began this Gluten Free journey 15 years ago, every recipe required a slightly different concoction of flours to get a mediocre attempt at “normal” textures. I think this is the largest selling point with the Pamela’s Artisan Blend Flour, that it replaces that “Science Experiment feel” that baking gluten free used to have. It makes life simple, and baking FUN again. It has also dramatically increased my organizational space in my baking supply cabinets.

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So this is also one of the “stress-reliever” recipes. You know, the ones where you get to beat something to a pulp? Take Pamela’s Gluten Free Graham Crackers for example, place one container’s worth in a zip lock bag, and go to town on those bad boys until they are a fine powder.

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I recently switched to these crackers just by coincidence and definitely have found my new favorite. It shouldn’t surprise me since I love the flour so much as well. These crackers have a good taste to actually make REAL S’mores with, and pass my gluten free 21 month-old picky eater test.

I saved one set of squares to make her a real S’more for dinner that night. I definitely should have photographed our two crazies eating their S’mores. So funny!

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Once your crackers are ready, add in your graham cracker crumbs and flour and prepare for the infamous “mushroom cloud” that seems to puff out of the mixer every time you turn it on with gluten free flour! (I have to admit, the Pamela’s mushroom cloud is minimal as compared to some other super fine flours out there.)

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Oh boy… look at that dough! That is how stiff you want this dough, to make it pliable when layering your bars. The recipe I am providing you gives a little more dough than you really need for a 9 x 13 inch pan; however, who doesn’t love a little left over snacky-snacky dough?!

Take just under half the dough and place it in a greased 9 x 13 inch baking dish. begin working the dough out slowly with your finger tips pressing it evenly into the bottom of the pan.

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Once you’ve completed that, place THREE of the “GIANT” sized Hershey Bars in the pan. I stress the “GIANT” because I swear there are like 3 different sized humongous Hershey bars out there. I have come home from the store with what I thought to be the correct size, only to find I was incredibly short on chocolate. Now THAT is annoying.

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Next take a LARGE container of Marshmallow fluff and spread it around on the chocolate as evenly as possible, because in all reality, you end up with about half of it stuck to you, your spatula, and perhaps even your hair. Such a mess.. but so good… I was too busy licking the marshmallow fluff off my spatula to even remember to take a picture of that layer.

The final layer involves a little skill, and patience. Again, it truly is a miracle I can manage to make these correctly! Start off as if you are rolling out a crust from my Gluten Free Stromboli post and line your counter with a sheet of wax paper that is larger than your pan. Flop the remaining dough down on to the wax paper and begin to work the dough into a rectangle that is LARGER than the pan itself. You will see why in a moment.

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Once you have this massive pancake of a blondie rolled out, carefully flip the wax paper on to your 9 x 13 baking pan. If your aim is as good as mine, you’ll be glad to have the excess dough to compensate for your misjudged layer.

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Carefully peel back your wax paper and using a paring knife, trim away the edges of the dough. You will have a significant amount left over, but its so delicious that I’m sure you’ll find something to do with it…!

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Once it’s all trimmed up you are ready to bake! Toss these in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 degrees and before you know it you’ll have an ooey gooey treat waiting for you!

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I let mine set up over night before our picnic to help the mess factor while serving these in the hot weather. I have included my adapted gluten free recipe below; however, the only major change is the flour conversion. You should have no trouble making this recipe with any typical flour.

Cheers!

  • Whitney

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Gluten Free S'Mores Bars

  • Servings: 24
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

-1 cup salted butter -1/2 cup brown sugar -1 cups sugar -2 large eggs -2 tsp vanilla -2 2/3 cups Pamela’s Artisan Blend Flour -1 1/2 cups crushed Pamela’s Graham Crackers -2 tsp baking powder -1/2 tsp salt -3 GIANT sized Hershey Bars -1 Large container marshmallow fluff

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until fluffy.
  2. Crush graham crackers. Add flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder, and salt to mixture. Mix until just combined. Batter should be stiff
  3. Separate just under half the mixture and press into a greased 9 x 13 inch pan.
  4. Line bottom layer with three GIANT Hershey bars.
  5. Spread 1 container of marshmallow fluff on to the Hershey bars.
  6. place remaining dough on a large sheet of wax paper. Roll out until thin and LARGER than the pan.
  7. Flip out on to the pan and trim excess off the sides of the pan.
  8. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or just until edges are slightly golden. Remove from oven and let stand 15 minutes before cutting. Serve immediately if looking for a gooey bar. Refrigerate if you prefer a more solid bar.

Breakfast Casserole | GLUTEN FREE

This specific breakfast is one of those “trip down memory lane” breakfast options. As a kid from the age of 8 and on, I lived life like an only child. My sister and I were of course close, but at the time as close as a 9 year old can be with her 19 year old sister. There was a lump of my childhood where we were just in too different of age brackets to really have that “bond” like you have with a sister. This changed quite a bit around the time I turned 13, and started to develop the “older mind-set” of a pre-teenager/teenager.

Teenage years… yikes. My sister was a lifeline of words of wisdom and guidance in an ever slipply social slide, and hormonal phase of life. Here we are 15 years later and she is now smoothly guiding two teenagers of her own through that monumental phase in life. But I digress…


This specific dish isn’t about my sister, rather a different memory comes to mind whenever I make this. During those “only child” feeling years, visits from my aunt, uncle, and two cousins who lived in Eastern Pennsylvania were so exciting. My two cousins were older than me, but never treated me like they were older. Some of my best childhood memories involved playing with them at our house or even theirs. I think the thing I loved the most about those visits was that our house was full of people, waking up in the morning and finding my uncle and Dad already downstairs having coffee. Each time they would come and stay with us, we had a very specific food regimen. My mom would make her breakfast casserole, a cheese danish (really still working out the details on how to convert this to gluten free…) and of course, Laska’s Pizzas for dinner! Laska’s is a local specialty pizza shop that my aunt and uncle would stock up on for their boys, particularly on the trips when they came without them.

I love the recipes that can pull you back to very specific moments in your life, and even make you feel like a kid again. This breakfast casserole became the large crowd breakfast, making appearances at family reunions, when my sister and her husband came home from college with a crowd of friends for “Groundhog’s Day” and even my own excursion with summer school friends up to the knob. Yes, my mother sure did master the art of pleasing a crowd.

The recipe I am about to share with you is a small version, only using half of a gluten free loaf of break and filling a 6 cup casserole dish. Feel free to double and triple as needed. When my mom needed to prepare a large quantity, she would make it in a roasting pan. To begin, cube half a loaf of UDI’s brand white bread. You can use your favorite bread, my mom used to bake a gluten free egg loaf, and slice it up. I’m not 100% sure if she still does that or not, as that was back in the years when quality gluten free products were not readily available.

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Once your bread has been cubed, fill your casserole dish loosely. Don’t pack it too tightly or you’ll have one very dry Breakfast Casserole.

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Next prepare your eggs. Whisk your eggs, milk, mustard, salt and pepper until smooth. Evenly pour mixture over top of cubed bread.

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Once your bread is nice and gooey, cover the entire casserole with shredded cheddar cheese. Top with bacon bits (or crumbled REAL bacon if you want to get fancy) and place it in the oven.

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Let the casserole bake for approximately 45 minutes, and let stand at least 10 minutes before serving.

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This savory dish was so good with the sweet addition of my Mom’s cream cheese danish, and once I come up with a solution for the crescent roll, I’ll be sure to share it as well.

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Share this dish with great company, fruit, and some fresh coffee, and you’re sure to create memories that you and your guests will never forget.

Cheers!

  • Whitney

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GLUTEN FREE | Knock off Ice Cream Cake

As promised, I must deliver on this ridiculously simple and amazingly delicious gluten free version of, you guessed it, Dairy Queen’s infamous Ice Cream Cakes. I made this in 2016 for Mother’s Day, as mentioned in my post 10 Tips for Hosting the Perfect Mother’s Day Brunch, and chose this because it’s a dessert that must be made the night before, leaving more free time the day of. This weekend kick starts picnic season, and surprising everyone at your picnic with this cool and pretty dessert, would definitely wow a crowd.

This dessert went over so well with my in-laws and parents on Mother’s Day last year, that I believe they had all wished I would repeat for Father’s Day. I seriously regretted not repeating the recipe this year for Mother’s Day. But lucky for you gluten-free fanatics, my girls and I whipped one together just for fun this week!

Now, I was recreating this from memory, and quickly ran to the store grabbing the essentials. There are two major differences between the one I photographed, and the one I made last year. The first major difference is the one in the photographs only has one half gallon of vanilla ice cream; whereas the exact Dairy Queen Replica cake requires one full gallon of vanilla ice cream. The second difference is the quantity of whipped topping used to “ice” your cake. So be prepared for the one following the recipe below to be a bit taller than the one picture here.

To make this cake you will need a spring form pan, preferably a 9-inch. I believe mine was a 10-inch, which made a wider and flatter cake. (but just as delicious!)

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You will need to line the bottom and sides with wax paper. Remove the bottom piece of your pan and trace it on to a piece of waxed paper.

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Next line the edges of your pan with waxed paper. Tape it together if you are going for a cake that’s taller than the sides of your pan.

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I like to make this after getting home from the grocery store. Ice cream seems to naturally soften while shopping, loading, and unloading groceries. By the time everything is put away the ice cream is the perfect consistency to spread evenly.

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If you have a half gallon of chocolate, you will need a full gallon of vanilla. Begin by evenly spreading the chocolate in the bottom of the pan. Now, this is not an ad for ice cream brands, but if I’m being totally honest, Great Value brand ice cream has to be my favorite carton ice cream on the market right now. It’s so rich!

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Next, take a container of gluten free chocolate cookies with vanilla filling (aka, Gluten Free Oreo alternatives) and let out all that aggression from the week with a few good swift whacks of a rolling pin.

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Crumbling these Oreos evenly over your chocolate ice cream will create that delicious crunchy mystery layer hidden inside the Dairy Queen cakes. Place in the freezer at least 30 minutes.

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Next, soften two jars of hot fudge just until pliable. Drop the fudge on to the semi-frozen layer of ice-cream and cookie crumbs, and gently spread until evenly coated. If you are quick handed go ahead and spread the softened vanilla ice cream on to the fudge. If you are not comfortable with this, place the cake back in the freezer an additional 30 minutes until the fudge solidifies again.

This is where my pictures are not a proper replica of the recipe provided below. I only used a half gallon, but strongly recommend using a full gallon to create your cake.

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Place back into the freezer for a solid 30 minutes to an hour. Once the cake is nice a solid, remove spring-form sides and wax lining.

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Don’t worry if your cake isn’t perfectly smooth or even. A swift hand and lovely thick whipped topping “icing” will smooth out all of those bumps and cracks. You literally just open a package of cool whip and begin to “ice your cake, starting by evening out the top of your ice cream.

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Once you have a nice even layer of cool whip on the cake, place the cake back in to the freezer for at least two hours or overnight. If you want to get really fancy, consider this your “Crumb layer, and use a second container of cool whip at room temperature to put a smoother layer over the entire thing, even adding a little piping on the edge of the cake to get that true “DQ” feel.

Remove the cake from the freezer just before serving and top with sprinkles, pipe on some decorative cool whip or take my approach and line that bad boy with more cookies! Chop your gluten free cookies in half and gently press them into the frozen dessert.

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Ok, some little fingers found their way into this pile of cookies before ever decorating the final product. And trust me, I got one official stamp of approval on the end product from a 3 year old semi-pro dessert sampler.

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And with a few simple steps, zero cooking, a little free time, and a whole lotta ice cream carton licking, you can FINALLY have a gluten-free ice cream cake that will most certainly”Take the cake” to any store-bought ice cream cake around. Happy Summer!

Cheers!

  • Whitney

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Gluten Free DQ Knock Off Ice Cream Cake

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1/2 gallon chocolate ice cream
  • 1 gallon vanilla ice cream
  • 1 jar hot fudge
  • 1 container gluten free chocolate cookies with vanilla cream (plus additional for topping)
  • 2 8 oz containers Cool Whip
  • OPTIONAL
  • sprinkles, cherries, additional cookies to decorate

Directions

  1. Line a 9-inch spring form pan with wax paper. Spread softened half gallon of chocolate ice cream in bottom of pan.
  2. Crush chocolate cookies and sprinkle over ice cream. Drizzle hot fudge sauce (slightly warm) over cookies. Place in freezer 30 minutes or until solid.
  3. Spread softened gallon of vanilla ice cream over top. Free again until firm.(30 minutes to 1 hour)
  4. Remove from freezer. Ice with cool whip. Decorate with optional toppings, return to freezer at least 2 hours or over night. Serve immediately after pulling from freezer.

Rainy Day Activities for the Littles (and biggies) in your Life

So we have just entered into the second week of terrible weather in Western Pennsylvania with temperatures bouncing between the thirties and fifties, drizzly rain to torrential down pours, and just an overall lingering “blah” feel in the air. If you have toddlers in your life, particularly ones who got just a taste of those few warm, sunny, and beautiful days in April, then you know how frustrating it is to go from running in the yard, to being cooped up inside. The last thing I want is to drag out this cabin fever any longer that necessary.

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I’ve really been scouring the internet recently to come up with some less than average ways to bring that fun and excitement back for my cuties and combat the rainy weather blues. I was browsing through my Facebook memories, you know the daily reminders we get on exactly what we were doing on this very day over the past however many years we’ve had a Facebook account, (Eleven for me… disturbingly), and I came across one from exactly one year ago today. In this particular memory, my daughter was camping out in her teepee on a, you guessed it, Rainy Day. And just like that, I was inspired to begin my search again, for the perfect list of Rainy Day Activities, to help survive this next week of even more awful weather.

I have several options, from fun projects to cute little unusual toys you can find in my two most favorite places: Target, and Amazon (THANK YOU PRIME SHIPPING!!!) Each blue name link will take you directly to the product I am talking about.

So first up on the list:

  1. Teepee Tents

91HwifUKrcL._SL1500_This is the exact tent we ordered a year ago for our daughters to play in. Let me tell you, this was the BEST investment we have ever made. Neither of the girls ever got sick of it, and it folds up into one long skinny post we just put behind out couch so it’s always available at a moments notice. It was simple to assemble and both my husband (who is 6′ 2″) and I can comfortable sit in it with our girls. We usually fill it with blankets and the throw pillows from the room just to make it a little more fun. Spur of the moment blanket forts are awesome, but just don’t quite compare to your own TEEPEE.

The link takes you directly to Amazon, and below the item you’ll find tons of variations on this specific tent from sizes, to colors, to even different styled tents. You just can’t go wrong with this little fortress!

2. Pop-Open Tunnels

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My youngest was given a pop-open Caterpillar Tunnel, by my sister in law for her first birthday. These are the perfect rainy day activity because they open and close so easily and storage is super convenient with the little carrying case it comes with. Plus it’s CHEAP! This is the best inexpensive source of hours of entertainment! Don’t like the caterpillar? Try the super cute Ladybug Tunnel!

3. Wooden Paper Roll Dispenser

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There are TONS and TONS and TONS of art supplies on the market. As a former art teacher, it was super important to me that our girls be exposed to creativity and have access to supplies that support just that. For Christmas this past year, my Mother in Law and Father in Law got our oldest a beautiful White Easel by Kid Craft (and I’m sure every Pottery-Barn loving mother can relate when I say Kid Craft is the affordable alternative to the gorgeous Pottery Barn creative play ideas). While the White Easel is a high price item, there are several alternatives that are inexpensive for creative play. For example, this Melissa and Doug Wooden Paper Roll Dispenser. This is perfect for a kitchen table or play table with easy dispensing paper, kids can go from small wall art, to life size treasure maps of the living room, to human outlines of themselves to color and cut out. The possibilities are endless with roll paper.

4. Creative Play: Imagination Baking

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You have all seen my little assistants in action helping in the kitchen, especially whenever a dessert is involved, but those exciting baking moments transfer right into imaginative play. The BEST, BEST, BEST, investment we ever made for our girls, was the KidKraft Play Kitchen the girls received for Christmas a year and a half ago. It was a splurge, but the quality of KidKraft made it so worth it. My father-in-law put it best that year, “you can buy a cheap toy kitchen and it might last a year or two, or you can get one like this, and even an 8 year old will still want to play with it, some things are just worth it in the long run.” He reference my niece who was 8 at the time, and immediately goes to play with the girls at the kitchen whenever she comes over to our house. I even love playing with the girls with their kitchen. You can find kitchens from all price ranges. The specific Kitchen set we purchased can be found HERE. Melissa and Doug really support the imagination play by creating such high quality toys that withstand the brutality instilled upon them by toddlers. We have the Melissa and Doug Baking Set, Bake and Decorate Wooden Cupcake Set, and the Brew and Serve Wooden Coffee Maker Set. Personally, the little coffee maker set is my favorite…!

 

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5. Creative Play: Household Accessories

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The research behind creative play is unreal. There are so many skills and developmental milestones in simply imagining real life tasks. Our girls LOVE playing with their matching Cabbage Patch baby dolls, carrying them around in car seats, pushing them in strollers, and even feeding them in sweet little high chairs. Our youngest’s current favorite task is “ironing” her blanket on this DARLING little Honestly Cute Ironing Board on Target’s website. They have an entire category for Pretend Play on their website. I mean, Honestly Cute even has a Dyson-look-alike VACUUM! Or try the Let’s Get Cleaning Broom and Duster set! My girls LOVE copying whatever chore or task I’m doing, so why not make it fun?! After all, I do get an awful lot of cleaning done on Rainy Days!

6. Creative Kitchen : Bake some Cupcakes!

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It’s no secret that I love to bake, or that my kids love helping me. On rainy and chilly days  like today I find myself drawn to the kitchen looking for an excuse to turn the stove on and shake the chill that never seems to leave. Plus, who doesn’t love sharing a goey cake batter spoon with their little loved ones? So here are some cute little inspiration photos to get you in the mood to make fun little cupcakes with your littles, or bigs, depending on what age you have running around your house on these chilly and rainy days.

Head over to my Pinterest Board: Cupcakes for more ideas!

7. Read some Cute New Books!

Whether your an e-reader, or a hard copy book guru, you can never have enough cute books for your kids! I always welcome new book suggestions for the 1-4 year old age. Another great way to get your hands on some new titles for your kiddos would be to find a family member or friend with similar aged children and do a “book exchange” trading your favorites for their favorites. It’s a win win! You find new books that have already been approved by people you care about, and you get to share the treasure you and your children love in return. Thanks to my sister, we love the Sandra Boynton books: Snuggle Puppy!, Hippos Go Berserk!, Pajama Time!, and Barnyard Dance!

LITTLE FREE LIBRARY
I’ve seen so many of the “Little Free Libraries” popping up all over the place. If you have never heard of this idea, a Little Free Library is a drop box located in a common area or a volunteering neighbor’s yard to donate books no longer used for others in a community to read. They are typically waterproof boxes that are unlocked and offer a spot to share, discuss, and build a stronger community simply by exchanging books.

8. Create a Day of Sunshine

Colors brighten our day, so why not try a cute spin off from sending a “Box of Sunshine” to having a Day of Sunshine to brighten those dreary days. Fill your day with as many sunny and brightly colored things from yellow table cloths, to colorful paper plates, yellow fruits and snacks, or yellow lemonade. Try to fill your whole date with everything bright and yellow! Make sparkly yellow suns, listen to “Yellow Submarine” just fill those dreary clouds outside with rays of fun and sun inside.  Check out my Day of Sunshine board on Pinterest to find more colorful inspirational ideas for a sun-filled day.

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Hopefully this little list was able to inspire you to create some excitement for your kids in one way or another to weather the stormy days!

Cheers!

  • Whitney

Saying Goodbye | Looking Forward

Yesterday could only be described as similar to watching my own funeral. It was so similar to family and friends coming in and out of a deceased  loved one’s home to pay their last respects. Between emotional hugs, heartfelt words, funny memories, letters from students, videos of my classes of students saying goodbye, and even disagreements put aside, I spent my final day in a district I have been teaching with for 5 years. I was surrounded with students I’ve been responsible for their entire high school career, only a few weeks left themselves before they too will leave the district and head out into the real world. It is an incredibly surreal experience when you realize how much a small community of people can feel more like a life long family. But what is even crazier is how you don’t realize it until you are saying goodbye. That school has been a massive part of my world for my entire professional teaching career. I have so much emotionally invested inside those brick walls, picturing day to day life without entering that building feels like an impossible task. Prior to this district, I worked part time at my local district, but that doesn’t compare to the day in and day out responsibilities, personal connections, and extras, you put forth without even realizing it.

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I think the part that was undeniably mind blowing was the fact that all of these people went above and beyond to describe the impact I had made on them personally or with students they worked with. It was utterly overwhelming. I have a stack of 32 cards sitting beside me with intimate details of friendship, inspiration, and well wishes that I can’t even begin to read yet. The wound is too fresh, my heart still broken. I have learned so much from this family, this community, about sacrifice, looking at the bigger picture, realizing what is truly important, developing life long friendships, realizing when you’ve misjudged and learning from those mistakes, brushing aside the nonsense and staying focused on why we are here, and understanding the difference a relationship built with a student can make.

I have had the privilege to teach around 230 students in my short 5 years teaching with the district. Within those students I have seen the potential, the growth, the failures, the accomplishments, the future, and most importantly, the hope. Each child held the promise for a better future. If we could give each child the skills to prepare them for the struggles in life, the heart aches, the knock-you-down moments, then they would be ok. It wasn’t until my second year though, that I realized most of these students have experienced more “real life” more “struggle” and more “knock-you-down” in the short fifteen years of their lives than I may ever see in my entire life. It was at this turning point that I realized, these kids will teach me as much, if not more, than I could ever teach them.

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I began to empathize with them, to remember that while they might be frustrated or lashing out, it isn’t necessarily at me, but may very well be the only moment they have in their day to release the stress and anxiety of a life dealt to them, that is unfair and at times even down right cruel. I began to stack all of my emotional eggs in these fragile baskets, risking heart break when a student slipped back into old habits, or was taken from me from poor decision making, but every heart ache was worth it, because these kids needed to know they mattered.

So with the tearful goodbyes and life long friendship that I will carry with me, I can look forward to this new adventure, this new role in my life. What does this new career look like? I will find out in a matter of 36 hours. To say I am nervous would be an understatement. I feel this crazy mixture of emotions from lingering heartbreak and loss, to the unsettled nerves of a first year teacher, to the excitement of the potential to be more actively involved in my own children’s lives.

I have a Mom goal in my mind: to be that Mom. The Mom who packs lunches every morning with little notes tucked inside. The Mom who is there and present every morning before school, and anxiously waiting after to hear about her children’s day. The Mom who can assist with PTA events because she wants the best for her children. The Mom other Moms call to pick up their children from school and run them to practices in the evenings, because I am the Mom who is available and ready for anything.

While those events may be down the road a bit, I know that road will come all too quickly. On my last drive to work yesterday, my oldest asked me, “Mommy, after today, can we be home with you more?” I have never had any conversations with her about my job changing, about working from home, or anything even remotely close to this. But here she was, perceptive as ever, picking up on the change, feeding from my emotions. I answered her with a simple, “Absolutely girls, Mommy is going to be home much more after today.” And with that simple little question, I had the energy to pull through what I knew was going to be an incredibly difficult day.

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My work better half, and best friend shared this quote last night, and while it completely broke every barrier I had built up to get through the day, it was so perfect, because it was how I truly felt about her in return.

So here we are, two months after announcing the change and publishing Career Shift in the aftermath of it all, ready to start this new adventure. Today I woke up willing to say goodbye to the past and prepared to only look forward. So thank you, each any every one of you, who have inspired me to be empathetic, to promote achievement, to put my family first, to have the confidence to make a shift when it is necessary, to value my skill set, to leave you even when you didn’t want me to, to strive for greatness even when it’s a completely different path than I started out towards, and to always be myself. Thank you for shaping me into who I am today.

Tomorrow is a new day, a new challenge, and a new adventure.

Cheers!

  • Whitney

Gluten Free Tacos | Tater Tot Tacos

As a Celiac patient, there have been several minor difficulties in certain meals that I have struggled with for years. Tacos have always been a favorite meal option of mine; however, if you have ever been forced to switch from soft flexible flour tortillas to stiff and incredibly crumbly soft corn shells, you can understand my disappointment.

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As usual, any meal that cannot be a sandwich is converted to a salad. And if you have ever been forced to cut Gluten from your life, you can relate with me when I say, you can only eat SO. MANY. SALADS. Period.

My husband and I began making meals of loaded tater tots long before it became a “thing” or local made-to-order chains jumped on to the band wagon. It wasn’t until a trip to my sisters though, that I considered using Tater Tots as a base for tacos. I love Nachos, Taco Salads, and even suffering through the awful dry corn shells, but this was a whole new level of delicious. Tater Tots are top in my “these are a few of my favorite things!” (think The Sound of Music theme song added to my food list) So whenever my sister made dinner one evening and everyone loaded up a plate of tater tots, including this Non-Gluten-Free half of her family, I thought to myself, this is the answer I have been looking for.

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Tacos are such a quick and easy meal, but have been missing from our meal rotation, because like many good ideas, once they slip your mind, it takes some random reminder to bring them back to the fore front. I can’t even tell you the last time I had Tater Tot Tacos. So when we decided to get back on track with meal-planning and budgeting our groceries, (recently I have fallen off the spend less value more, theme for the year) I immediately thought of this, because it is simple and budget friendly.

We are the stereotypical western Pennsylvania family: a husband who hunts just about every season, and a wife who tries to incorporate all of that meat into her meals without anyone knowing it’s there. Needless to say we have a surplus of ground venison throughout the year. The thing I like the most about ground venison is that any meal with a significant amount of seasoning or flavorful sauce, masks the slightly different texture and hint of a flavor someone who isn’t necessarily fond of the meat, would ever notice. I started out with a pound of ground venison and a packet of Ortega’s Mild Taco seasoning. Every time I start browning ground venison I add both onions and garlic salt to the meat. After the meat has browned and any liquids have been drained, add in your packet of seasoning and cup of water.

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But before browning your meat, as it takes only a few minutes, you will want to place your tater tots in a preheated oven at 425 degrees. I prefer the Crispy Crowns, by Ore Ida, as they hold up better with the toppings, and have a nice little crunch. We brown our Tots for 15 minutes in the oven, sometimes flipping halfway through, sometimes not, depending on whether or not I actually remember to do it. Either way, both options turn out some delicious tater tots.

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Once your tater tots are in the oven, you would want to actually brown your meat and prepare your toppings. I have gone from a smorgasbord of topping options, to the simple tomato, lettuce, and cheese options. For this sample I have included shredded fiesta blend cheese, sour cream, diced tomato, romaine lettuce shredded, taco sauce, and of course the hearty ground meat mixture.

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My favorite part of this is the layering… I LOVE LOADED TATER TOTS. Literally with any toppings, I’m good to go.

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With a total of like 15 minutes of prep, you have a delicious and filling meal. It doesn’t hurt that it looks pretty too!

Tater Tots are always stocked in our freezer, as it is a safe option for both of my daughters to eat, they taste delicious, and are a convenient side when in a time crunch. Again, THANK YOU ORE-IDA for always considering the needs of Celiac patients in offering guaranteed gluten free products.

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Cheers, and enjoy the beautiful weather!

  • Whitney

Loaded Taco Tater Tots

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1/2 a bag of Ore Ida crispy crowns
  • 1 pound lean ground beef (or venison)
  • 1 packet Ortega Mild Taco Seasoning
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 roma tomatoes
  • 4 leaves Romain lettuce
  • shredded taco blend cheese
  • taco sauce
  • optional sour cream for topping

Directions

  1. Place half the bag of tater tots on a baking sheet. Bake in a pre-heated oven set to 425 degrees for 15 minutes.
  2. While the tater tots bake, brown the ground meat. Add seasoning packet and water, continue to cook over medium-low heat until thickened.
  3. Prepare toppings: shred lettuce, dice tomatoes, gather all remaining toppings of choosing.
  4. Once tater tots have baked, remove from the oven. Top first with meat, then cheese, and add additional toppings of choosing after that. Serve immediately.