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.

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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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Red White and Blue JELLO Squares

The summer I was pregnant with my youngest daughter, I had a weird obsession with Jell-O. Yes, I clearly had too much time on my hands as so many would say, between chasing around my one and a half year old, returning back to full time post-graduate student, and the joyful aches and pains of being six, or more, months pregnant. CLEARLY I had too much time on my hands. I began to obsess over fine-tuning the art of layering jello, like a classy 1950’s susie-homemaker. Once I discovered this incredibly simple, yet game changing tweak to the typical boxed jello found at the store, I began to make themed Jigglers for each of my niece and nephews birthday parties. If my sister-in-law read this blog, she would seriously laugh at this post, because I literally made a spider-man face and matching black and red Jigglers for her son.


Prior to that, I made pink and blue for my other niece, along with Rainbow striped for yet another niece that fall. When my daughter’s second birthday rolled around with her super sweet Snow-Bunny theme mentioned in Winter Birthday Blues Brightened, I tried using the Royal Brand jello in the “Frozen” themed colors available at the time. I particularly liked this layered jello, because it had a CLEAR, which was super icy and cool look.

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The other really cool trick I also learned during this summer of layering Jello obsession, was how to make the perfect gelatin white layer, thanks to Recipe Girl, I was able to take her basic formula and expand on it, creating variations to match every party theme possible.

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So today, I am sharing with you her layered Red, White, and Blue Jello, which I absolutely love! It’s so festive and simple to make, and such a crowd pleaser! Once you try this version, you’ll never go back to regular “Jigglers.”

The magic ingredient to this amazing consistency is “Knox” gelatin, which I discovered about 5 years ago while planning for our wedding. I wanted these beautiful jello shots in replace of the schnapps during the bridal dance, and found this Jelly Shot Test Kitchen book, thanks to Pinterest, way back in it’s primal stage. This book was full of beautiful jello cocktails, that also happened to be delicious.

I believe a group of girls came over the Thursday night before my wedding and all sat around while I mixed up batch after batch of light purple and sea foam green tinted concoctions. Just as I was about to finish the last batch, and my friend Kali will vouch for this, I turned around with the final pan in my hand ready for the fridge, but turning just a little too sharply, SHOWERING MY ENTIRE KITCHEN  in Jello goo. What a nightmare that was to clean up. To her ever lasting credit, Kali was the only one who got down to help me scrub up the hot-mess my kitchen had just become. (That was just the beginning of a weekend full catastrophes, but another story for another day)

Returning back to this very simple jello, For ever two boxes of 3 ounce JellO brand, or alternate brand flavored gelatin mix, you would need to add one pouch of Knox gelatin as well.

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Combine those pouches in a glass bowl and add two cups of boiling water to the powder. Pour this layer into a greased 9 x 13 glass dish.

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Now, the other thing I really like about making jello, is my Pyrex Glass Dish with Carrying Case and while I’ve linked you to a newer version, the one I have is a special hand-me-down.

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This specific dish was my great aunt’s and when she passed, my Mom had it for a few years. Once my husband and I got our first home, my Mom gave it to me. I love that every time I open the case, I see her handwriting, neat, and organized on the label. *Disclaimer, this is no longer a valid address or phone number (pre-9/11).*

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My aunt would always bring a cold “salad” for holiday meals, typically consisting of a mousey, gelatin dessert. As a kid, I never questioned an adult giving me dessert as salad, because who would?! The lemon one was my favorite, perhaps I’ll share that with you down the road.

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On a more practical note, I still love the warm core and cool core options for traveling during picnic season. I use the cool one any time I take a gelatin dessert to an event and it works great!

After completing your first layer of red, place in the fridge for at LEAST 30 minutes. It’s super important that you wait the appropriate time between layers or they mix together and you lose that pretty, smooth layered look.

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Once the red layer has been placed in the fridge, begin working on the white layer, starting by emptying a can of sweetened condensed milk into a bowl. Add one cup of boiling water. In a separate bowl sprinkle two pouches of gelatin over 1/2 cup ICE COLD water, letting stand for 5 minutes. Then add the other 1/2 cup of boiling water to dissolve the gelatin, before adding to the milk mixture.

*When I made this for our picnic this year, I made a mistake and placed a cup of ice cold water in a bowl, sprinkling my two pouches over this, instead of the original instructions. I simply let it stand a minute or two, and then mixed into the hot milk mixture. The gelatin dissolved just fine, luckily!

Remove the chilled red layer is solid, waiting until your white creamy layer is room temperature. I have made the mistake of pouring hot mixture on to the solidified gelatin, ultimately turning my white layer pink.

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Pour in your white mixture and let chill at least thirty minutes.

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Once it’s back in the fridge, repeat the directions from the red layer, with blue gelatin and Knox.

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I usually have to do some strategic balancing act in our fridge, since we are usually having this for a picnic, and our fridge is slightly un level, which can leave your layers looking something like that crafty 1990’s sand art in a bottle, before accidentally shaking it up on the way home. I swear I could never get enough sand in those darn things to keep them set…

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Again, when adding your final layer, be sure to not rush and pour in your gelatin before gets to room temperature. Patience is key, which reinforces the fact that it truly is a miracle that I am ever capable of completing this dish.


Once all is said and done, you have a splendid looking and deliciously tasting teeny work of art! Try out some cookie cutters for fun shapes!

Click HERE for original recipe.

Happy Picnic Season 🙂

Cheers!

  • Whitney

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Spinach and Sausage Lasagna | Gluten Free

Lasagna and I have a love-hate relationship. My husband loves it, and I have grown to “like” it. My Mom made it one day for some dinner a few years ago, that seriously turned out perfect. It was the perfect combination of sausage and ground beef, had the perfect balance of cheese, noodle, and meat, incorporated some amazing sautéed mushrooms, and frankly, was kick ass.

Since that lasagna, mine just haven’t held a candle. I have used gluten free pre-boil noodles, no-cook noodles, different brands of noodles, all with mediocre results. Something was always missing; whether I didn’t let it cook long enough, didn’t incorporate enough meat, or added too much cheese, almost every time there was something worthy of the Lasagna King’s complaint. I gave up on the dish for a while, re-evaluating my approach and basically putting the meal on the back burner for a while to avoid yet another failure.

After making my shift back to the home, I discovered the major ingredient I was missing was time. I was not taking enough time to prepare, layer, and certainly wasn’t giving the dish enough time to not only bake in the oven, but rest and set up before serving. When I was getting home at four thirty, some times five o’clock, I definitely did not have enough time to invest the adequate amount of attention needed to properly prepare a lasagna, especially with two toddlers in cabin fever over load running circles around my feet. So it was on my first week working from home that I decided to brave this dish again, but taking a “let’s start from scratch” approach.

I decided to risk it and try the no-boil noodles that bake in the oven, since my Mom always seems to have good luck with them. I used the Gluten Free Cafe brand and this really worked out well in the final product.

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I also decided to eliminate ground beef or ground venison and go for a mild Italian sausage (you could switch in sweet Italian sausage if you preferred.) One pound works well for a half-pan. My Pyrex dish is an odd size identified as 6-cup and you can find this dish HERE if you are in the market for a new baking dish. This is the perfect size for one box of no-boil noodles. If you decide to make a 9 x 13 and double the recipe, be sure to purchase two boxes of noodles.

I began the recipe by browning my sausage with a little olive oil.

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Once the meat cooked down, I added 1/3 of a jar of Del Grosso Meat Flavored Sauce. You can use your favorite sauce at this point, I just grew up with this specific one and will most likely always use it.

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continue to let this cook and thicken on low heat for a few minutes. In the mean time, if you haven’t thawed your frozen package of chopped spinach, toss it in a colander and run hot water over it. It takes just a few minutes to thaw.

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After thawing the spinach, be sure to drain it, literally ring it out with paper towels until all the extra liquid has been removed. I only used about half of the spinach, keeping in mind I didn’t want to freak out the Lasagna King with too much “Green” or have the threenage inspector obsess a little too harshly on the flecks of green spoiling her favorite meal.

I then combined all of the cheeses, eggs, and seasonings and tossed in my spinach. By this point, I really started to get excited about my new invention!

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Once you’ve mixed your cheese mixture, the fun of layering can begin! Start with a solid layer of sauce from your remaining 2/3 of a jar.

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Every time I open a box of lasagna noodles, I feel like I am putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The pieces are always slightly smashed, but luckily it doesn’t matter. And if you’re going for that suzy-homemaker quality look, just save the few solid pieces for the top layer. No one will know the difference.

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Once you’ve pieced together the first layer, add in half of your sausage mixture.

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Continue with a second layer of puzzle piece lasagna noodles, breaking the pieces as needed to fit into the dish you’re layering in. Then drizzle a little more sauce onto the noodles. I like to spread it around with a spoon once I’ve added the drizzle.

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The next step is to dollop on the entire cheese mixture. Yes, to please the Lasagna King we must have two time the meat in comparison to the cheese. This is so wrong to me, but the end result was delicious so maybe, just maybe he’s right. Once in a while.

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More Sauce, More noodle, repeat Meat layer, more noodle, and top it off with sauce.

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Cover your final product with foil and pop that bad boy in to a preheated oven and cook at LEAST one hour. Remove from the oven and let it sit for 20-30 minutes. There is nothing that annoys the “Lasagna King” more than a runny lasagna.

Once I pulled the dish from the oven, I knew almost immediately that the lasagna was going to be a hit. The noodles weren’t curled and hard on top, so the foil lid was definitely critical, I did a quick sprinkle of additional mozzarella cheese across the top to add a finishing touch to the dish and let it sit about a half hour before digging in.

I think the strangest part about being home more, is actually being ready for dinner before my husband gets home. I find myself beginning to feed the girls before he’s even home, simply because I can, and I feel so ORGANIZED lately. It’s been a real mental health check to say the least.

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I can report that my girls BOTH ate this recipe, spinach included, and never questioned it once! While I did add the spinach, do not mislead yourselves, this is not a healthy recipe! No, it is a rich, flavorful, greasy, and delicious twist on the average lasagna. Hopefully this will entertain and please the “foodies” in your household. Happy Saturday!

  • Cheers!

Whitney

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Spinach and Sausage Lasagna

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A simple twist to amp up the average classic recipe and please the picky eaters in any household

Ingredients

  • 1 box Gluten Free Cafe No-boil lasagna noodles
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb loose mild (or sweet) italian sausage
  • 1 32 oz. jar spaghetti sauce (Del Grosso)
  • 1 8 oz container Ricotta Cheese
  • 1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed.
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese plus additional for topping
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 egg

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Brown sausage with 1 tbsp olive oil. Drain and add 1/2 jar spaghetti sauce. Cook until slightly thickened.
  2. In a separate bowl combine Ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, 1/2 of spinach, egg, and seasonings. Mix well.
  3. In a small glass baking dish, begin layering: Sauce, noodles, half of meat, noodles, & sauce.
  4. Add entire cheese mixture and carefully spread, following with a drizzle of sauce, and another layer of noodles. Add remaining meat, top with noodles and one last layer of sauce.
  5. Cover with foil and place in the oven for 1 hour. Remove and let stand 20-30 minutes before cutting and serving.

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 “Beef” Stew

While Beef Stew isn’t necessarily a spring-focused recipe, it is a simple recipe that seems to reset your taste buds after a holiday, or even during picnic season. We recently over-indulged through the Easter holiday weekend, having a solid 3 days of family, food, and festivities. The following week, I needed a simple, REAL home-cooked meal. We were also spending the week trying to budget out our groceries and various other expenses working towards getting back on track with my “Spend Less, Value More” theme for the year. As I have mentioned before, my husband is an avid hunter, particularly PA fall Archery. We usually end up with a surplus of various cuts of venison to make it through the entire year. I have mastered the obvious: ground venison, sausage, kielbasa, and even some roasts, although I don’t love using the roasts.

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But every year we end up with an over load of packages labeled “deer loin.” The only way my husband cooks them is by frying them with breadcrumbs. Needless to say, he saves this meal for the very few moments when his gluten free family is not around. I wanted to find a way to use these up so they didn’t go to waste. I also recently discovered more of the McCormick Gluten Free Seasoning Packets. I LOVE the Brown Gravy packet and use it weekly in the winter, feeding my meat and potatoes husband.

I recently noticed a McCormick Gluten Free Beef Stew packet, and have been meaning to incorporate it into a recipe at some point. I know it is just as simple to create these seasoning mixtures and thicken the sauce with corn starch, but McCormick packets make such a nice, rich sauce that I’m just as happy to take the simple road on this. So one evening after the kids were in bed, and my husband had some show I was definitely not interested in on tv, I started trying to think of some new ideas for inexpensive meals. I decided to try a crock pot version of “Beef” Stew, using the term beef lightly with the intention to replace the beef with the deer loin we have in the freezer.

Knowing that venison is a mild meat, but has a very detectible flavor to some, I knew the McCormick packet would be a good pair up, since we’ve used other packets that have excellent flavor.

I also discovered that the Sam’s Choice brand Bone Broth flavors are gluten free and available at chains like Walmart. It’s an inexpensive brand and readily available which is super convenient if you aren’t in close proximity to a Giant, Wegman’s, Trader Joe’s,  Whole Foods, or any other Gluten-Free friendly organic-focused grocery store.

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I also recently broke down and upgraded my Crock Pot from my old turn-the-knob style to this Crock Pot with a timer, delay start, and VERY convenient settings when you have 10 + hours out of the house! If you purchase the one in my link above, you get an additional mini dipper with it! I don’t recommend the Crock Pots with the clip-on lids. They eventually break and the lids do not stay on well without the clips.

I started out by thawing the deer loins and tossing them in to the crock pot. Simple right? This entire recipe is SUCH A BREEZE, and trust me, turns out so well!

Next, I used long carrots and peeled them but did not cut them. I would not have done this if it wasn’t for The Wicked Noodle’s recipe on, Recipe Review | Balsamic Dijon Roast suggested to me by a great friend, where the original recipe used long skinny carrots. We LOVED the carrots like this, and they hold up much better when in a crock pot for 10+ hours. I simply diced my russet potatoes into nice chunks.

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Before adding the vegetables I sprinkled my seasoning packet over the meat in the crockpot and dumped one carton full of beef bone broth over top. Then I tossed my vegetables in, set my time and did not touch it again until I got home from work.

These types of meals are the best to come home to. The entire house smells so good the second you open the door. When I picked my kids up from our sitter, I told her how excited I was to get home and try this recipe out, when she said they just had a similar meal a few nights before. She asked me if I made biscuits, and thanks to her suggestion, I did just that! GLUTEN FREE BISQUICK is the best invention EVER, in case you weren’t sure. My girls and I were able to whip up a half batch of drop biscuits once we got home, but not before peeking into the crock pot to see how our little creation was stewing.

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I wish I could share the scent with the picture. Once our drop biscuits were finished, I couldn’t even wait for my husband to get home before diving into this dish.

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And there you have it, a simple meal that tastes like you slaved over the stove all day.

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Please let me know if you try this, if you use venison, or if you have any recipes you’d like to share! I always welcome feedback! Cheers!

  • Whitney

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Gluten Free Venison Stew

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 2 lbs deer loin, (or cubed beef)
  • 1 packet McCormick’s Gluten Free Beef Stew seasoning
  • 6-8 large carrots
  • 4 large russet potatoes cubed
  • 1 carton Sam’s Choice Beef Bone Broth (or other gluten free broth)

Directions

  1. Place the deer loin or cubed beef in the crock pot.
  2. Sprinkle entire seasoning packet over the meat. Pour in the carton of beef broth.
  3. Peel carrots and dice potatoes. Pour vegetables into crock pot. Set to low heat 8-10 hours. Keep warm until ready to serve.
  4. Optional: serve with Gluten Free Bisquick Drop Biscuits

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
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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.

The BEST Gluten Free (And Dairy Free) Sugar Cookie

Well this is it. THE. MOTHER. OF. ALL. MOTHER. The official: Gluten Free Sugar Cookie recipe. I’ve been speaking about my Mother-in-law’s sugar cookies for months now. She makes, no joke, the softest and by far the most delicious, sugar cookie recipe I’ve ever tasted. The recipe is very easy to make as well; however, I am not giving you her recipe.


I am giving you my modified, and gluten-free specific recipe. This recipe can be made dairy free by substituting the buttermilk with an “acidic milk substitute.” See the conversion graphic below from buzzle.com. (Thank you Pinterest!) I have made these cookies using regular milk and adding vinegar to it, whenever I get home and realize I forgot to purchase buttermilk. It doesn’t really affect the end product.

6047d6a047601fe9b277c22c14d75e5eThis is the one hot ticket item that every Bargerstock grandchild looks for at every holiday, from Christmas, to Easter, birthdays and even one time my mother-in-law and I decorated 4th of July cookies together (lord help me that she doesn’t still have pictures of those cookies…!)  They were a centerpiece at each one of our weddings, bridal showers, baby showers, and I have carried on her tradition of sugar cookies for each of my children’s birthday parties. She even attempted gluten free cookies once for me. Not being used to gluten free baking, I’m pretty sure she hated it. Having begun to fine tune the craft of gluten free baking I am beginning to find the “fixes” for the original recipe to create the updated Gluten Free version of her cookies.

The one specific detail that my mother-in-law always includes in her cookies is the very era-specific “Star-tipped” decorating that takes you right back to 90’s childhood when it was customary to buy old school style sheet cakes covered in star-tipped icing. More recently this has been replaced with a slightly more intricate, and less carpal-tunnel-causing method of cake and cookie decorating that look more like works of art than food.

I have created this cookies in a variety of ways, from the original star tipped style, to the flooded royal icing, and even to a combination of both, layering icing on top of hardened icing.

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Here you can see the classic start tipped icing from my post, Winter Birthday Blues Brightened, where we held a “Snow Bunny” themed birthday party for our oldest when she turned two.

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These cookies were my first attempt at “flooding” and layering of icing, (pardon the incredibly crooked lines… it was my first attempt!) which didn’t turn out too bad, the pearlescent dust really helped to cover up some of my unsteady hand errors. I made these for my youngest daughter’s Bohemian 1st Birthday. I also really enjoyed the “toothpick” effect of pulling the icing in the feathers. I will post a follow up with suggested decorating do’s and don’ts that I have learned through trial and error.

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These were from my second attempt at “flooding” icing. My niece was turning two last fall, and I had recently finish making the teepee and feather cookies, and really started to get obsessed with decorating. Plus, I found the jackpot royal icing recipe, which I will also share with you. This round I was able to get a better handle on lining and flooding.

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These are from the same round of cookie baking. The chef and her family were Disney bound in the near future, so in my cookie-obsessed mind, I decided I should make some Disney themed cookies to send in a care package along with each of their birthday gifts. I also sent Cinderella’s Castle; however, they were incredibly ugly so I didn’t even bother to photograph them.

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How can you not love a  flamingo tucked into a 3? Best accidental design ever! (I secretly forgot to purchase a flamingo cookie cutter… whoopsies!) fullsizerender-2.jpg

This last series of cookies is from my oldest daughter’s most recent birthday. We had a Flock on Over and Let’s Flamingle theme.

I had WAY too much fun with this theme and returned back to the classic star tipped icing style. It just seemed to fit so well with the pineapples scattered throughout the theme.

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And of course, the subject of today’s post: Spring themed sugar cookies.

So you can see, my Mother-in-law’s cookies will forever hold a precious place in our home, whether it’s the original recipe she follows or one modified to meet my family’s needs, these cookies are a tradition that WILL be passed on to my daughters.

To begin the recipe you will need to crazy kids with jammies having a bad hair day:

Just kidding, in a separate bowl combine your Pamela’s Artisan Blend flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Set your oven to 350 degrees.

In your stand mixer, cream your Crisco (the magic ingredient to this entire recipe) eggs and sugar. I beat this on high speed until it’s nice and fluffy.

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Next, add your vanilla, almond extract, and then add in your buttermilk, (or dairy-free substitute following the conversion table).

6047d6a047601fe9b277c22c14d75e5eIt’s very important not to panic when your mixture starts to look like it’s curdled on you. It tends to get a little gross looking at this point, but I promise you, it will turn out amazing in the end.

The only way I can guarantee that your recipe will turn out with the quality consistency of a soft sturdy sugar cookie is if you follow this recipe exactly and use Pamela’s Artisan Blend Flour. It is a perfect CUP FOR CUP replacement whenever following a recipe you may have had prior to going gluten free. For this recipe you will need 4 1/4 cups of flour (previously mixed with your baking soda, baking powder, and salt)

Begin by adding the flour in 1/2 cup increments at a time, stirring on medium-low speed. Continue to stir and add flour until just combined.

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Once your flour is mixed, turn off your stand mixer and give it one last good mix with a wide spatula, being sure to scrape the sides well and incorporate all the flour. The batter will be fairly soft. Place the entire mixing bowl in the fridge for 30 minutes to allow the flour to stiffen up just slightly.

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Once your batter has chilled, it will still have a light, almost velvety feel to it. Time for the fun! By this point in baking, my youngest daughter has typically headed to bed for a morning nap, leaving my oldest and I to get down to business rolling and cutting out cookies.

I have to pause for a minute, because when we baked these cookies a month or so ago, it almost took my breath away looking through the photographs afterwards at how grown up she is becoming. She is such a kind child and loves to help, particularly in the kitchen that I can’t help almost tearing up writing about our afternoon of baking cookies together.

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Before baking, she and I have a routine. First, we wipe down the entire kitchen table, because lets face it, crust kids will be crusty kids… Next, we set up our Stackable Cooling Racks (enter Pampered Chef sales pitch), get out our pre-cut baking sheets, (GENIOUS invention), set out the container of flour, and cookie sheets.

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Finally, choose our cookie cutters. My daughter loves picking out the cookie cutters, although I need to find a better organizational system for storing baking supplies in the near future.

Our set up looks something like this:

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When preparing to roll your cookies, it’s important to remember some specific gluten free practices:

  • Only bake gluten free
  • If you are baking with regular flour wait until AFTER you have finished AND stored the gluten free product
  • Keep separate rolling pins for use with Gluten Free flours ONLY.

Flour your surface with a nice even layer, and flour your assistance surface to match.

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I like to work in small portions and I only re-roll my dough one time. If you work this dough too much, it becomes stiff and hard, losing the soft, fresh-baked feel these cookies should have. Trust me, I have made this mistake before. (Thanksgiving 2016 – ask any of my in-laws)

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Pat the top of your dough down with a little additional flour and begin to work it gently with the rolling pin.

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Melissa and Doug have a darling baking set that actually works for your little assistants. We need to get a second rolling pin soon for my littlest assistant.

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I like to leave my dough about 1/4 of an inch thick when I’ve finished rolling. When you begin to use cookie cutters, I strongly recommend keeping a metal spatula nearby to transfer cookies smoothly to the prepared baking sheets.

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Keeping in mind that you only want to re-roll your dough one time, be efficient in placing your cookie cutters in order to get as many cookies as possible from the dough.

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One re-roll of the dough will look something like this. Do not go beyond this or your cookies will be hard and crumbly.

Yes, even at 3 years old she pretty much has mastered the craft of baking. I could spend every day doing things like this with her.

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Once your cookie sheets are prepare, place in the oven for 10 – 13 minutes. I specifically chose this arrangement to demonstrate the variation in time. For the smaller cookies start with 10 minutes, and check them. Larger cookies like the butterfly, larger shapes and my daughter’s ridiculously thick “B” would all require a minimum of 12 minutes to bake.

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Once your cookies have finished they should look something like this. Set, but not browned, and puffed, but not sinking anywhere.

Transfer ALL cookies to a cooling rack about a minute after being removed from the oven.

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In the bottom right corner of the cookie picture above, notice how cracked and split those cookies are. These are ones that my daughter rolled, cut, re-rolled, cut again, about 3 times total before deciding they were ready. I included them to emphasize why you only want to re-roll your dough one time with this gluten free product.

If you are only baking on one cookie sheet at a time, consider placing your cookie dough back into the fridge between sheets. We typically have 4 baking sheets going at once, so I do not worry about keeping the dough chilled.

When I do re-use a cookie sheet, I don’t like to be wasteful of my baking sheets, so I place a second round of cookies onto the same pre-cute parchment paper I used on the first round.

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Once your cookies have completely cooled, your cooling racks make excellent “out of reach” resting zones for your cookies as you complete decorations on them.

My Mother-in-law’s cookies use canned classic white icing. And it’s amazing. Don’t judge the use of canned icing until you try it. Trust me, you can make very similar tasting icing from scratch, and I will provide you with some of my favorite homemade recipes for cookie decorating, but why waste the time? Unless you love the Royal Icing, then hold tight as I will be giving you the BEST ROYAL ICING recipe in the very near future.

A little canned icing, food coloring and some star tipping, and you too can celebrate in our family’s tradition of sugar cookie baking! I hope this recipe allows you the family project time my girls and I enjoy while baking together.

Cheers! and Happy Spring!

  • Whitney

 

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The BEST Gluten Free (And Dairy Free) Sugar Cookies

  • Servings: 6 dozen cookies
  • Difficulty: moderate
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Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Cup Crisco
  • 1 Cup Buttermilk (or Acidic Dairy Substitute)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 1/4 Cups Pamela’s Artisan Blend Flour (plus additional for rolling)

Directions

  1. Set oven temperature to 350 degrees. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  2. In a stand mixer, beat the eggs, sugar, and crisco until creamy and slightly fluffy.
  3. Add in vanilla, almond extract, and buttermilk stirring until just combined.
  4. Begin to add flour in 1/2 cup increments until all dry mixture is just combined. Remove bowl from mixer, scarping sides with a large spatula to ensure all ingredients combined well.
  5. Refrigerate mixture for 30 minutes until firm.
  6. Flour surface and roll 1/4 of the dough at a time until 1/4 of an inch thick. Using cookie cutters, place cookies on prepared baking sheets.
  7. Only re-roll dough one time. Repeat with remaining 3/4 of dough mixture.
  8. Bake cookie sheets in oven at 350 degrees for 10 – 13 minutes.