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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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.

Summer Salads You Can’t Live Without

It’s that time of year, personally this is the season that kills me the most when it comes to the “foodie” in me. Summer holidays are my favorite! We kick off summer with a large Memorial Day picnic full of family and friends, and now that we are all new parents, tons of toddlers and “Threenagers” (my new favorite term!) running around everywhere. It’s like mass chaos and I love every second of it. Since moving into our new home (how long can you really call it new… I mean, we’ve been here longer than our last house at this point) we have monopolized on the massive backyard with a natural barrier of privacy from thick shrubs and THAT porch. The selling point to my husband and I when house shopping at 8:00 at night, on a Tuesday, eight and a half months pregnant, was the magnificent porch on this potential future home. Immediately we could both envision our future children running in the yard, friends getting together on the porch and family swinging on what can only be described as the most massive porch swing I’ve ever seen. The house was glowing and welcoming when we first pulled in the driveway. We were sold.

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Since then, we have had countless picnics, parties, “Sprinkles” birthdays, Mother’s Day lunches, Father’s Day grill-outs and even “porch sales” on this outdoor living space. But getting back to the matter at hand, SUMMER SALADS! Today I want to share with you my top 10 favorite Summer Salads that you need to try this summer!

  1. Fresh Tomato Basil Salad

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This is the first salad I make EVERY year. Why? Because it’s simple, can easily be made after work, and is SO. GOOD. The foodie in me screams every time I make this. It’s amazing when you toss in little balls of Fresh Mozzarella, or slice nice thick slices of it and serve alongside.

2. Dill Pickle Pasta Salad

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If you haven’t tried this gem from Family Fresh Meals that is blowing up Pinterest, I strongly recommend that you do! It was SO. GOOD!!! Seriously, summer isn’t summer without a pickle! You can also find the link on my Pinterest Board Summer Picnic Dishes

3. Jude’s Potato Salad

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This one is another golden ticket item in our house! My Mom’s potato salad is my favorite because well, it’s my Mom’s and who doesn’t think their Mom makes the best food???

4. Bacon Cheddar Potato Salad

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So, any recipe that starts with the term Bacon is an instant winner in our house. Seriously… how could you go wrong with BACON? This recipe was simple and flavorful. The recipe calls for a specific brand of ranch dressing; however, we used our own preference. A homemade Ranch would also be great!

5. Broccoli Cauliflower Salad

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Nothing sales pitches me more on Pinterest than a GREAT photo of food. Cooking Classy knocks it out of the park, plus this recipe is similar to the family classic Broccoli Cauliflower salad my in laws introduced to me. BUT this is a salad you need to make a little ahead if you want to to absorb the flavors! Don’t save this one for a last minute dish!

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6. Honey Lime Fruit Salad

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This recipe originally caught my eye because of the variety in color, but the FLAVOR! is what sends this one out of the park. Instead of the typical berry mix, or a standard fruit tray, try switching this little gem in for a spin on summer flavors!

7. Cucumber Dill Greek Yogurt Salad

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I found this gem over 4 years ago on Pinterest and make it ALL OF THE TIME. I had to do some serious searching in my old pins to find it, because I have the recipe memorized, but really wanted to share SheWearsManyHat’s direct link to the recipe!

I’ve noticed many salads mixing cucumbers and tomatoes, but these are two items I personally like to keep separate. I know many love the combo, I just like to enjoy either Tomatoes or Cucumbers. Period.

8. Dorito Taco Salad

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This is such an old-school salad that how can you NOT love it? We used to eat this all of the time at picnics when I was younger. I re-introduced it back into our picnic rotations last year and still love it as much as I did when I was a kid.

9. Southwestern Chop Salad

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This is another one of those recipes that caught me with colorful photography. These are the posts that draw my attention and make me realize that I really need to step it up on my Pinterest account! I made this recipe several years ago and frankly, forgot about it until I began researching through my own historical pins to develop this post. It’s so good and will most likely be on our table next week!

10. Avocado Pasta Salad

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This is such a creamy, cool summer salad option. I know you either love or don’t even want to bother with Avocado, but I strongly urge you to try this one out! Once again, I find myself obsessing over Spend with Pennies. Holly’s posts are so well written, photographed, publicized, and shared, that I had to sign up for her weekly recipe newsletter!

 

So here we are, just shy of Mother’s Day weekend, ready to dive on into summer head first, with the first annual picnic only weeks away. I hope this recipe really helps inspire you to try out those summer taste buds with these incredible salads you can’t live without this season!

Cheers!

  • Whitney

 

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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.

Pasta Carbonera | Simple and Delicious

Rich, Creamy, and Easy! These are the words that describe this simple, and frequently made dish in our household. This is my husband’s favorite pasta dish, one I forget about too often. I usually make a trip to our local Meat Market on Fridays on my way home from work, stocking up on the essentials for the weekend, particularly as we creep into grilling season. There is something about fresh bacon that is so much more appealing than the typical bacon purchased at the store; however, in this dish, both work amazingly. With the unpredictable weather that falls in the months of March and April, this comfort food dish is a real crowd-pleaser on those dreary rainy days.

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I was first introduced to Carbonera years ago by my sister, before she ever chose the path of culinary arts whenever visiting her in Harrisburg. My mom copied her recipe and returned home adding it into her regular rotations. Once moving out on my own I received a copy of her recipe and filed it away with many other family favorites. Over time, and several moves, her original recipe was lost in the shuffle. Eventually I began playing around with what I remembered to be the basic foundations of her original recipe and settled in a simplified version of this savory meal.

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To start, begin by slicing your bacon into small pieces, or mini strips and place in your frying pan with olive oil. We use extra light, but I know many recipes call for Extra Virgin. I simply chose this  because it is what my Mom always used, so I habitually began buying it.

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This precious little gem of a splatter screen from The Pampered Chef, is an excellent protector when you have crazy little people running around at your feel while cooking. I would definitely recommend contacting my friend Kathy for this and many more of her great products! I used to sell Pampered Chef, so I am a bit of an addict. (Ok seriously, half my kitchen has The Pampered Chef written on it!) My favorite pan, pictured above, came in a 7 piece set, I received on a cookware promotional month for hosting a show. Perhaps Kathy could hook you up with the seasonal promotions!

While the bacon sizzles away, boil your water and toss in those gluten free noodles. I like to use Tinkyada; however, I also LOVE Glutino brand pasta. I am just terrible at keeping it in stock.

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Once your bacon browns a little and begins to crisp, add in the chicken broth and let simmer until slightly reduced. Use this time to shred your cheese and whisk up your eggs. We used to always used the packaged cheese, but I switched to a block of Parmesan freshly grated and it was delicious! Both will work, but I strongly recommend fresh grated Parmesan.

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I used my Micro-plane for this batch of cheese and I love it! We have all sizes of the micro-plane graters, and they withstand the test of time! Mine is almost 8 years old. I received it in my starter kit back when I was a consultant.

I found this inexpensive Pasta Pot by Tramontina, which included the pot, a lock-n-strain strainer, and glass lid. This is a LIFE SAVER. I hate leaving strainers blocking my sink and getting in the way in my cabinets. We found it on Amazon a few years ago and use it approximately 3 times a week for any number of tasks including steaming vegetables and cooking pasta. Once the pasta has been drained and using a pot holder, I simply slide the strainer off.

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After draining the pasta, you will need to stir in the whisked eggs and grated cheese into the hot pasta, continuing to stir until a creamy consistency develops. The heat of the pasta will actually temper the eggs, combined with the cheese, you end up with a creamy “cooked” sauce.

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Then pour in the bacon mixture stirring it all together and serve immediately. I noticed some recipes recommend saving pasta water to thin the mixture out if it gets too thick; however, I have always just used a little chicken broth to thin the pasta back out whenever reheating left overs the following day.

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Once you plate up your pasta, be sure to top it with additional cheese and enjoy the flavorful rewards from this very simple pasta dish!

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Cheers!

  • Whitney

 

Simple Pasta Carbonera

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Credit: Chef Lindsey-inspired

Ingredients

  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1 package bacon
  • 1/2 c. chicken broth
  • 12 ounces pasta
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 3 eggs whisked
  • 1 8 oz block of Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

    1. Place water on to boil and cook pasta according to package directions
  1. Slice bacon strips cross-wise into small pieces. Place olive oil and bacon in large skillet and cook until slightly browned and crisp.
  2. Add in chicken broth and continue to cook over medium heat until slightly reduced. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. Grate cheese and set aside. Whisk eggs and garlic together.
  4. Once pasta has cooked and been drained pour egg mixture and cheese immediately over hot pasta stirring constantly until a smooth sauce develops.
  5. Pour bacon mixture into pasta stirring until well combined. Serve immediately.

 

Gluten Free Reuben

As a last celebratory Irish themed post, I present you with The Gluten Free Reuben. We love all things reuben in our house. When my husband and I took our delayed honeymoon trip to Maine for our first anniversary, we stopped in a cute little coastal town in New Hampshire for dinner to start our week off. This was my first truly normal dining experience. 5 years ago, dining out was so different in the New England area than it was for a Celiac person in Western Pennsylvania. Almost every restaurant we went to on our little getaway offered gluten free this, or gluten free that. I was in heaven.

Fast forward 5 years and my local area has gone above and beyond to catch up with the New England states jumping on the gluten free alternatives in almost every restaurant around. In my small town alone I have 5 different options for ordering a gluten free pizza. If you told 16 year old, newly diagnosed Whitney that in the future, not only would I be able to get gluten free pizza, but that I would have five different options, I probably would have cried. I still feel like crying thinking about how different my life was at 16 with this frustrating diet. Looking back, it was by far the best option of the possible issues I could have been dealing with, but as a teenager, I hated it.

When we discovered a tolerable tortilla shell a few years back, I made reuben styles quesadillas for St. Patrick’s Day. Now that gluten free bread is so readily available, it’s nothing to schedule a sandwich into our weekly meal plan.

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The recipe is pretty straight forward. I like to use Udi’s Whole Grain bread as a substitute for the classic Rye option. Start off by buttering one slice of your bread and lay it down on your prep area. Place 2 slices of the corned beef on to the bread and start the magical layering process!

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Next add a couple spoonfuls of Sauerkraut on to the meat, trying to drain off the excess liquid.

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Follow this up with Swiss cheese and the Thousand Island dressing.

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And then place those bad boys in a pan and grill away! I butter the top slice after placing it in pan. (I like to place a lid on for a minute to help heat up the meat and melt the cheese)

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Halfway through, flip the sandwiches and give a nice little golden hue to each side of the bread.

As always, if you are a split home like ours, half gluten free and half regular products, prepare on two separate surfaces, preferably preparing the gluten free sandwiches first. Here is a glimpse of what our counter looks like when preparing meals like this:

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It seems like a pain, but you get used to it quickly! It’s second nature to us at this point. Once your grilled sandwich has lightly browned on both sides plate that bad boy up and serve it with a side of Simple Potato Wedges.

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My second most favorite Reuben style dish, the one I will be taking to my Mom’s annual St. Patrick’s Day dinner is the Reuben Dip! My sister and I tried is several years ago when I spent the holiday weekend at her house. It was so good! I haven’t made it in a few years so I thought it would be a good variation on the holiday sides.

Cheers & Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

  • Whitney

 

Simple Potato Wedge

My sister is a phenomenal chef, I’m sure I have mentioned this before. The ironic part about this is my most favorite recipes of hers are potato wedges and steamed broccoli. One might think, “Seriously? You have a culinary expert sister, and STEAMED BROCCOLI is your favorite thing she makes?” But any family member, picky toddler, or former client will vouch for the fact that my sister makes amazing broccoli!

Now, I have tried countless times to replicate her ridiculously simple-sounding instructions failing slightly every time. There is no point in even telling you how she does it because, you won’t get the full effect until you have had hers. Clearly she just has that natural instinct that someone well versed in a trade develops when they have a passion for something.

My sister is one of those people who excels at whatever she dabbles in, and can transition so smoothly from one professional opportunity to another, and doesn’t hold back from pursuing a dream. She also has the courage to make life decisions when that dream has changed or pulls her in an alternate direction, never wavering in the desire to pursue it. Perhaps it was a little of her inspiration that pushed me to make my current career shift back to the home, a decision that is all too quickly coming to a reality.

Returning back to the potato wedges. I have a very simple recipe inspired from my sister’s delicious potato wedges along with my nieces excellent Sirach mayo dipping sauce. My children love tater tots, fries, and hash brown thanks to Ore Ida, but I like to make potato dishes from scratch, even if it is a simple fry.

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My particular favorite version of these fries involves a little light olive oil, salt, and smoked paprika seasoning. To start, cut each potato in half lengthwise. Begin to slice the halves lengthwise to create wedges to your thickness preference. We like thinner wedges, and they are a little more time efficient for baking. 3 potatoes is plenty for my family of 2 adults and 2 toddlers. You might want to consider doubling the recipe for more than 2 adults.

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Once all of the potatoes are sliced, spread them out on a baking sheet evenly. Drizzle a little olive oil over the wedges, approximately 3-4 tablespoons. I do not measure this, just lightly drizzle. Toss the potatoes to coat, redistributing them evenly on the baking sheet again.

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Sprinkle the wedges with salt (about 1 – 2 tablespoons) to your liking. My favorite seasoning to add is a light coating of smoked paprika. You could really add any flavor to these to match whatever you are cooking. Some times we used onion salt and garlic powder, while other times we use plain salt. Once we used grill mates seasonings to pair them with my husband’s expertly grilled steaks. (Just wait until grilling season kicks in!)

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Place the baking sheet into an oven pre-heated to 425 degrees. Set your timer to 30 minutes. While the wedges bake, prepare your main course or sneak in a few extra snuggles from cuties running around your kitchen. Every time I create a recipe and photograph the different steps my youngest daughter runs into the kitchen yelling, “Cheese! Cheese! Cheeeeeeeeese!”

After the thirty minutes are up, pull the sheet pan from the oven and give the potato wedges a little toss. They should look something like this:

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Place back into the oven for an additional 10-15 minutes depending on the crispiness you prefer your potato wedges to have. Once they are complete, pair them with an excellent grilled meal, sandwich, or anything that meets your taste buds that evening!

So, thank the chef for always motivating me to try more “fresh” options for my family. Perhaps she’ll even inspire a healthier diet once I am home more to experiment with recipes and alternative ingredients!

Cheers!

Simple Potato Wedge

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A great side dish option when prep time is limited but homemade is critical.

Ingredients

  • 3 medium russet potatoes
  • 3 tablespoons of Extra Light Olive Oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons Salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

Directions

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. Slice each potato in half lengthwise. Continue to cut each half into aproximately 6-8 wedges lengthwise.
  2. Spread the potato wedges out on a large baking sheet.
  3. Drizzle olive oil over the potatoes and toss to coat evenly
  4. Season with salt and paprika.
  5. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, turn over and return to bake an additional 10 – 15 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven when wedges have reached desired consistency.

 

 

 

Food Post | Debbie’s Pizzaburgers

This recipe is by far, one of my family’s most recent favorites. But I must warn you, it not for the healthy or faint-of-heart. If you were looking for an old-school, simple but delicious recipe that reminds you of simpler times where kids ran the streets of town and parents stood on the porch at dusk yelling for them to come home to eat, this recipe is for you. My husband asked me a few months ago to make  Pizza-burgers. So I of course, referred to my mother for a recipe and she gave me a recipe that is what I believe to be the most common concoction found in recipe boxes and even on the internet. Once I prepared them, my husband immediately said, “These are not like the Pizza-burgers I grew up with.” Intrigued, I called my mother-in-law the next day and she started out by warning me that I needed to try them before judging the ingredients.

Before I introduce the ingredients to my Mother-in-law’s recipe, I feel like I need to present some information. One of the main ingredients in this concoction of meats and cheeses is quite possibly one of the most mocked products on the market; however, has an incredibly interesting history.

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SPAM. Yes… I all but tossed the recipe at the first mention of the ingredient; but my mother-in-law assured me, it’s good. If you can get past the snapping of the can and dumping of a loaf of meat onto your cutting board, you will like the end result. Never having done either of these tasks with meat in the past, I was timid at the thought, to say the least. Nevertheless, I persevered and dove head first into my first Spam creation.

SPAM has quite an interesting history behind those tin cans. To begin, Dan Myers, the editor of The Daily Meal explains:

“Spam (or officially, SPAM), was introduced by the Hormel Foods Corporation in 1937. At the time, the fact that meat could be kept fresh for years by canning it was incredibly novel. It was rationed to troops during World War II, and while the Europeans the GI’s exposed to the canned meat largely didn’t want to have anything to do with it  (except for the British), those on the Pacific front fell in love with it, and it’s still extremely popular there to this day.” (thedailymeal.com)

The article also sites astronomical figures of 44,000 cans of spam produced every HOUR. I had to further investigate this statistic as it was staggeringly large. Several websites concurred with these statistics. I also reviewed the nutritional information presented on SPAM discovering the nutritional information to be no different than many brands of deli meats like Ham or Bologna.

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Spam is literally celebrated in Hawaii every year, particularly this year as the product will be turning 80! Myers goes on to describe how the publicity for SPAM grew after the War ended, citing: “After the war, Hormel launched a massive publicity campaign for the canned ham, recruiting a group of former servicewomen, whom they dubbed the ‘Hormel Girls,’ to tour the country promoting the product. By 1948 the group had swelled to 60 women with a 16-piece orchestra, and they were even given a radio show which aired until the group disbanded in 1953.” (thedailymeal.com) 

Intrigued by the history, I then started looking through the facts on the product located on SPAM’s home site:

  • There are 15 varieties of SPAM
  • Products are sold in 44 different countries
  • Over 8 BILLION cans have been sold to date
  • The canjo is a banjo made using a SPAM can (no joke… this is a REAL thing!)
  • Hawaii eats 7 million cans of SPAM every year (Think… 50 First Dates with Adam Sandler )
  • In Southeast Asia, SPAM is given as a luxury gift
  • There is an entire Museum dedicated to the SPAM brand in Austin, MN.
  • One SPAM brand plant produces 350 cans a minute.

The list goes on, and being one who is intrigued by weird statistics, I could go on for hours! Check out the SPAM home page for more fun facts.

Returning back to Debbie’s Pizza-burgers, I made my first batch a few months ago. I was amazed at how different hers were than the normal ones I was used to. I personally loved the variation on flavor!

To start off, brown one pound of meat in a pan. I add a little onion salt and garlic powder. We use a lot of ground venison so those seasonings are used every time a recipe starts with a ground chuck or ground venison. (If you were looking for healthy, I presume you could use a ground turkey; however, I have not done that yet.) My Mother-in-law also adds oregano. I add some during the meat browning and when adding the sauce later.

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This next step is the one that almost did me in: Grate one SPAM loaf and add it into the browned meat. Repeat this step grating in the block of Longhorn cheese. (On one particular occasion, I was unable to find this specific cheese, so I did some last minute research and discovered Colby cheese is almost identical in make and style It works as a good substitute. There was no flavor difference!)

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Continue to cook on low heat until the cheese begins to melt, occasionally stirring the two meats and cheese until combined.

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Next, add in enough Ragu traditional marinara sauce (I have also subbed in my favorite sauce on occasion when forgetting to get this specific brand, and noticed very little change in flavor) to moisten the mixture, (It took me about half of the jar, but use your best judgement) and season with a little more Oregano. Stir to combine.

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Now, to make the perfect GLUTEN FREE Pizza-burger, you need a good quality bun to support the hearty topping. We love Udi’s brand products and I am fortunate enough to have two local stores stocking the hamburger buns, hot dog buns, and loaves of bread in the gluten free freezer section. These items are available on Amazon in case options.

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Our family is a 50/50 split, so preparation for meals involving bread products requires two separate baking sheets, one gluten free and one for regular products. If you are preparing both types of pizza-burgers, be cautious and always prepare the gluten-free buns first to prevent cross-contamination with a spoon being re-dipped into the meat mixture.

Once you have prepared your pizza-burgers, place the sheet pans into an oven heated to 425 degrees for 10 minutes. You can do a lower temperature if you prefer, we just seem to always have tater tots with this meal and they require the higher heat.

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The gluten-free sheet pan always consists of tater tots along with the Pizza-burgers! Thank you Ore Ida for being certified gluten-free!

Once the timer goes off, pull those delicious bad boys out of the oven and let them sit a minute or two before serving. Trust me when I tell you, the flavor behind these burgers is like no other Pizza-burger you’ve had before. Debbie, we are calling this a winner!

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So, when you are looking for a quick dinner, or a twist on an old classic, pull this recipe out and surprise your family with a recipe full of ingredients that have clearly stood the test of time.

Cheers!

Debbie's Pizza-burgers

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

An old classic with a flavorful twist that is perfect as a nostalgic recipe reminiscent of childhood.

Ingredients


– 1 pound ground beef
– 1 can SPAM classic or lite
– 1 block Longhorn cheese
– 1 1/2 tsp of Oregano
– 1 jar Ragu traditional marinara (only using half)
– 1 package hamburger buns
[/recipe-ingredients}

Directions


1. Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees. In a large skillet, brown the ground beef and season with onion salt and garlic powder if desired.
2. While the meat is browning, grate one container of SPAM or SPAM lite and 1 block of Longhorn cheese.
3. Once the meat is brown, drain the excess liquid and add the grated meat and cheese. Stir to combine.
4. Add in approximately half the jar of Ragu traditional marinara, or just until meat mixture is moistened.
5. Season with Oregano
6. Once all of the ingredients have been mixed thoroughly, and cheese has melted, remove from heat.
7. Prepare hamburger buns on baking sheets. Spoon on to prepared hamburger buns. Mixture should cover approximately 8-12 Hamburger bun halves
8. Place baking sheets in the oven and bake for 10 minutes.

 

Recipe Review | Balsamic Dijon Roast

So, it’s pretty obvious to most who know my family that we are a Meat-and-Potatoes kind of crew. My husband is an avid hunter and keeps us well stocked throughout the year with a variety of cuts of meat. I do appreciate a good quality roast recipe. In my initial searches, trial and errors of roast recipe hunting, they all felt like they tasted the same to me… like simply a hunk of meat would taste. I continued to make several pot roast recipes since my husband did really like this style of meal until I came across my first game changer roast recipe. This initial recipe, which was so crazy to me, but SO. DELICIOUS was a crock pot recipe.

The recipe was as follow:

  • 1 rump roast or chuck roast
  • 1 packaged of Hidden Valley Ranch Seasoning
  • 1 package McCormick gluten free brown gravy (this is a STAPLE in our house)
  • 2 cups beef broth, gluten free, low sodium

I literally tossed the roast in the crock pot in the morning before work, shook in each of the packages of dried seasonings and put in the broth plus an additional half cup because I knew it would be 10 + hours before I would be home and my Crock Pot did not have the timer setting on it.

The magic of this roast is the fact that it creates its own gravy while cooking! And it’s DELICIOUS! This is the quickest and easiest way to feel like you spent the day cooking when really, you were at work all day, or hopefully, shopping with your bestie all day.

Speaking of besties, I was fortunate enough to spend part of my weekend catching up with mine and snuggling her sweet new bundle of joy. She and I have been friends since childhood and she knows me better than anyone else! I could go on for an hour about how she’s the “peanut butter to my jelly…” the “yin to my yang…” and countless other corny sayings just to describe to you how crucial she is to my life.

She messaged me the other day with a recipe suggestion that she just loved and thought might be a good piece for my blog. Well let me tell you, she was SPOT ON. She sent me a pin from The Wicked Noodle, a blog now on my radar for excellent flavor combinations, with the suggestion that I try this Chuck Roast with Balsamic and Dijon. Now, typically when I hear the term balsamic, I hesitate a bit. Why? I have no idea because my adult taste buds love everything involving it. Perhaps it was a bad encounter when I was younger, but I’m so glad I resisted that naive thought process.

This recipe recommends using a dutch oven, which I happen to LOVE cooking in but do not use nearly enough. It’s a simple straightforward recipe that involves a total of 3 1/2 to 4 hours in the oven, so the perfect Sunday dinner. That is exactly when we tried this bad boy.

Simply start out by browning your well salted and peppered chuck roast in a couple tablespoons of oil, preferably canola, making sure to seal all the flavor in on all sides.

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Once you’ve browned all the sides of the roast remove from the pan and toss in one chopped yellow onion. I prefer larger chunks in something like this so I didn’t dice too small.

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Using the drippings from the meat, cook the onions until they begin to soften and absorb all the delicious flavors from the meat. This took me about 5 minutes. Once the onions soften add the balsamic vinegar and bring to a boil continuing to cook until the liquid reduces and appears to be slightly syrupy.

You can see the difference in the pictures above from when I first added the liquid to when the onions caramelized in the balsamic vinegar. By this point my kitchen was smelling ah-mazing! After the liquid reduces stir in the Dijon mustard making a nice creamy bed to lay your chuck roast on.

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Return the roast to the bed of onion mixture and add two cups of beef broth to the heavenly flavors that have already infiltrated the air. The recipe calls for fresh Thyme; however, I did not have that and replaced with a few shakes of dried thyme leaves. I would strongly recommend sticking to fresh herbs, they just were not available at the time of cooking this roast.

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Once you have added all of the ingredients, place the lid on your dutch oven and return it to a 300 degree oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

After the chuck roast has cooked for the given time, add in your carrots and teeny tiny potatoes. And, can I just add, that my daughters love teeny tiny potatoes? It doesn’t even matter what type they are, they love them! They also love large carrots! Switching from small carrots and standard sized potatoes adds a fun little spin on the recipe, so we went for it!

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After adding the vegetables, return to the oven for an additional 30 to 60 minutes. I chose to go for the full 60 because I love good tender vegetables with my roast.

The prep time on this meal was less than 15 minutes and so simple that I had enough time to grade some always lovely research papers for my cuties at work. As much as I would have loved to consume my time with meal prep in exchange for paper grading, both needed done, and BOTH were completed with a solid hour left over during nap time to do… whatever I wanted! I like to call that the Sunday JACK POT!

Once the meal was complete, I let it stand for a few minutes while prepping my little ladies final pieces to their meals and like all good Sundays, we sat down, together to eat.

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So, The Wicked Noodle hit the jack pot with this roast bursting with flavor and texture. Excellent job, excellent job.

Cheers!

  • Whitney

Gluten Free Stromboli

Gluten-free fourteen years ago looked nothing like it does today. Flours didn’t hold the rich consistencies they have today, products were not so readily available, and let’s just call it like it is: the stuff that was available? It was crap.

One of the first game-changer gluten free products we found when I was younger was this amazing invention known as Chebe original cheese bread! We still use this as a staple in our house for Stromboli and pizza crusts. There are a variety of options, but I prefer the classic cheese bread. Every year at Easter my family mass produces Easter Pizzas which are very similar to the traditional Stromboli with a slight twist. With Chebe bread mix, Stromboli becomes a quick last minute throw together meal.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

To start, you need:

  • 1 box mix of the cheese bread mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of oil
  • 1 cup of shredded cheese (any kind you prefer. I use whatever is left over in my fridge)
  • 4 tablespoons of water.

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To start, add the mix, two eggs, oil and cheese into your mixing bowl. I typically use a fork to mix these first ingredients. The mixture will begin to stick together forming small crumbs.

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Oooh love some good quality i-Phone pictures! Vanessa Huey would shudder at these photos! Hopefully this summer, she and I will have the opportunity to collaborate over a few projects and you won’t have to be tortured with my “lovely” amateur phone pictures!

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Once these first ingredients are mixed really well together, slowly add the water  to the mixture and begin to knead the dough with your hands. Gradually it will stick together to make a glorious little knot of dough! I think the most amazing thing about this product is the elasticity. This is not a characteristic often attributed to gluten-free foods.

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The trick to a simple Stromboli, and those of you who can actually bake with regular flour may concur with this trick, is to line the counter with plastic wrap before laying out your dough. (As luck would have it, I opened our plastic wrap box still sitting in the drawer, and it was empty) I happened to discover that press-n-seal wrap also will work if you happen to be that person, like me, who opens the plastic wrap box only to find an empty roll STILL. IN. THE. DRAWER. I’d like to take this moment to totally point the finger at my husband. Unfortunately the reality is, it was probably my fault. No, guaranteed it was my fault.

I will show you the purpose behind rolling out your Stromboli on the plastic wrap in just a moment. If you have a rolling pin that you have used on gluten in previous recipes or baking projects, take a second piece of plastic wrap and lay it on top of the dough while you roll out your crust. The thinner the crust the better. I like to keep mine 1/8 of an inch. When the dough gets to 1/4 of an inch or thicker, it can feel gummy whenever it’s finished.

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Loving that smooth round roll, right? Well I can promise you that the second one I rolled out was much smoother; however, not photographed. Let’s be realistic, I made these in 15 minutes after work on a Thursday and top-notch photogenic food was not my first priority.

Once your crust has reached that nice thin quality, lightly spoon your pizza sauce on half of the crust and begin layering your fillings of choice. In our house we follow this order:

  • Thin layer of Del Grosso spaghetti sauce (my favorite!)
  • A solid layer of pepperoni (with extra for the little ladies to snack on while we assemble)
  • Half of a deli-meat container of smoke ham (we like the kind with a bonus storage container when it’s emptied!)
  • 5 round sliced of provolone cheese (smoked or non-smoked… we switch it up!)
  • 1/2 to 1 cup of  shredded mozzarella cheese

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I don’t add any additional seasonings to the crust or the layers of filling. The meats already layered into the Stromboli add so much flavor to the final product. Hey, less is more, right?

Now the magic of plastic wrap. Using the plastic wrap as a guide, fold your Stromboli crust closed by pulling it over with the plastic wrap.

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Look at that gloriously CLEAN counter top and perfectly folded Stromboli! Carefully peel the plastic wrap back and begin to seal the edge of the Stromboli by pressing the two edges together evenly. Use the plastic wrap as a guide when transferring the completed Stromboli to a baking sheet.

*I STRONGLY recommend using a baking sheet with sides. Depending on how much delicious meat you have added, there will be a slight grease trail while the Stromboli bakes.

Poke the top of your Stromboli with a fork and place that bad boy into the oven.

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Turn on your oven light if you want to watch the magic happen. Let the Stromboli bake for approximately 30 minutes, removing it from the oven when the edges are just slightly golden brown. Let the Stromboli stand about 10 minutes before serving.

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Look at that ooey-gooey, cheese bursting at the edge. My husband willingly eats gluten-free and really likes these crusts. We’ve used these crusts to make Steak and Cheese Stromboli, Buffalo Chicken Stromboli, and countless other “empty the cupboard” Stromboli ideas.

So, if you’re in the mood for a meal that tastes like you worked on it for an hour, try a quickie Stromboli!

And don’t forget to order some Chebe Original Cheese Bread mixes for your next dinner ideas!

Cheers!

  • Whitney