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
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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.

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.