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.

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
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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.

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.

Fun Breakfast | Simple Gluten Free Pancakes

 

I will never forget the trip to my sister’s when her youngest daughter was officially in charge of breakfast. She was making gluten free pancakes. In our house, we only worry about gluten free, but with my niece she is both dairy and gluten free. Using the Bisquick Gluten Free mix, which I cannot stress enough what an AMAZING mix this is, she substitutes almond milk in to replace the milk added. The mixture is dairy free (not soy free, but dairy free) and even with this additional substitution the pancakes taste just like the Bisquick pancakes I grew up with.

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Photo Credit: General Mills Website

My niece has been one of those unbelievably creative and one of a kind kids as long as I can remember. She is sweet, crazy intelligent, and every now and then reminds me so much of myself at her age minus all the access to . It’s fun to see her interacting with her sister, because I think her older sister is much like her mother, my older sister. I wonder if we had grown up closer together in age, if we would have been like those two.

Returning back to my niece’s clever pancakes, after she mixed the batter up, she tinted the pancakes with food coloring to match my oldest daughter’s request for pink. (brilliant idea for any toddler). But the next thing she did blew me out of the water on creative breakfasts. Using a decorating bottle, she poured the mixture into the bottle and used the bottle to create shapes and designs in my daughter’s pancakes. INGENIOUS!

Since this day, I have been following suit making pancakes like my niece inspired me, starting first, of course, with the Bisquick mixture, and following suit with food coloring and a decorator bottle.

And so when my girls requested “Breakfast for Dinner!!!” the other night, I began with this simple and very easy method for making pancakes! To start, I made one batch beginning with:

* 1 cup of Gluten Free Bisquick Mix
* 1 cup of Milk (I used 2 percent but Almond Milk is an excellent substitute)
* 2 Tablespoons of Oil (I used Canola)
* 1 egg

I then added 2-3 drops of red food coloring to achieve the perfect shade of pink.

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Once again, this awesome bowl from Pampered Chef comes to the rescue with the pour spout, but I have found a close substitute HERE if you’re in the market for a great mixing bowl. Perhaps it would be a good Mother’s Day Gift Idea for the baker in your life or to just treat yourself!

Begin by spraying your pan with a non stick spray or use butter. (We use Pam.) And heat the pan or griddle, no one has purchase a griddle in my house… I’m hoping I can get an add-in griddle when we replace our stove… someday soon… hopefully… maybe… probably not.

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Next, decide which shape you want to create. We typically stick to the basics: hearts, Minnie Mouse bows, Mickey Heads, and flowers. Draw the outline of your shape in the pan.

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Fill in your shape using a side to side motion.

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How stinking cute it this?! If you can master the art of the outline and fill, who would ever need a “Pancake Mold” ever again?

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Here is another cute little (and incredibly lopsided) shape. It’s SO EASY and is such a fun surprise for any child! My niece would get a little fancier and place the letter “B” in the pan, wait a few seconds and then fill in around it, the B looked like it was stamped into the heart-shaped pancake. You could have a field day making these cute little pancakes for your own little cuties.

Once your pancake has begun to set and the edges begin to puff a little, flip your design over and let your pancake finish just a few more seconds on the other side.

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If you’re a real perfectionist you could trim these up with a butter knife after removing from the pan.

 

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And just like that, you have a simple, but very pretty breakfast for a loved one, perhaps a special breakfast in bed treat? Or a sweet little cutie who is beginning to learn shapes and colors. Whoever you are preparing these for is sure to be pleased with this fun little twist on breakfast!

My parents recently purchased these DARLING little Easter plates and bowls for the girls. We decided a fun meal like “Breakfast for Dinner!” would be an excellent time to try out the new tools.

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The girls love having compartments to eat different foods  from and both girls have always responded well to several finger food options. Each of the girls was given a heart shaped pancake, along with their two favorite fruits of the week: (I use this term lightly because this really does change weekly) Apples and Strawberries. They also love sausage so it must be part of a “breakfast for dinner” kind of night!

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A few years back, I stumbled across these interactive plates on Uncommon Goods and I could not resist buying them as Christmas Gifts! Here is a link with my referral to find these Construction Plates and Utensils on Amazon.

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I can still remember my sister in law sending me a picture of him using the plate. I think at the time she was having trouble keeping him at the table to eat. This extra little bit of entertainment went a long way for him.

While my nephew loved this plate, I had to find a match for his sister, which lead me to this sweet little Garden Fairy Plate Set and Utensils so she could join in the fun as well!

Garden Plate How stinking cute is this little set?! My daughter has a match, and the “pusher tool” really helped when she was initially learning how to use the utensils. I would definitely recommend this set to any children from toddlers to elementary age because of how fun the tools are! Perhaps it’s my weird Obsessive Compulsiveness that I have passed on to my children, but I totally get why they feel the need to organize their food before eating it. Frankly, I wish I had a grown up set of these plates.

Hopefully this post inspires so creativity for your Sunday Morning breakfasts this week.

Cheers!

  • Whitney

 

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.

Shimering Twig Carbonera

 

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.

Copy of Gluten Free Carbonera

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.

Shimering Twig Carbonera

 

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!

Copy of Gluten Free Carbonera

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.

 

Food Post | One Pot Jambalaya

My husband and I recently had the opportunity to have a kid free “date day” and found ourselves in Central PA shopping and trying out some new restaurants. Once seated in our restaurant, something felt strangely repetitive. The Piano Bar was so familiar and the entire vibe of the place felt like such a deja vu moment I found myself lost in thought trying to place the similar memory or location when it hit me; I had been in this exact restaurant, ironically sitting in this exact booth, with my bestie and sister for a “mini bachelorette night out” almost exactly five years before.

I found myself reminiscing over the shift life takes in a five year span and began to reflect on how good life has been to us. Here I sat with my high school sweetheart, a free night for just the two of us that wasn’t super crazy but very much needed and two healthy girls having their own mini vacation at Nana and Papa’s house. Yes, life has been good to us.

After receiving the wine list, and feeling incredibly inferior to it’s elegance and class, citing brands I had never heard before, our fabulous waitress guided me in my choice steering me to an excellent selection for my naive taste buds. The steam bar was full with a wide selection of fresh clams that my husband and I debated trying, temporarily flashing back to our one trip to Maine knocking fresh clams off our food bucket list (permanently knocking them off of mine…!) and chose to refrain. I ended up selecting a flavorful dish of jambalaya while my husband chose a steak with some amazing potato side dish. We spent the evening eating and chatting, uninterrupted by a toddler’s requests or a one year old’s singing. Such a peaceful evening. As my dish arrived I knew I had to replicate a simple quick version at home.

Fast forward three weeks and here we are discussing the simplicity of Jambalaya. While I am no New Orleans native, or well versed in any type of culinary expertise, I do enjoy a flavorful dish and particularly time sensitive dinners. So I began to throw together my best interpretation of a One-Pot Jambalaya. The recipe I am about to present does not have seafood, but could easily be adapted by tossing in your favorite shell fish at the last moment.

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I started off with 3 tablespoons of butter and a Rotisserie Chicken diced up into two cups of small chunks (because, I SUCK at cooking chicken, and who doesn’t love a good rotisserie chicken?) tossing them both into a large skillet until the chicken began to get a slightly golden hue to it, approximately 3 minutes. I then added one package of turkey kielbasa sliced into neat little discs.

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YUM. I am reliving the smells as I type! After the sausage begins to brown just a little, add:

  • 1 diced green bell pepper
  • 1 medium diced sweet onion
  • 3 ribs of celery  diced

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Place the lid on the pan and let the vegetables cook for about 5 more minutes until softened. (I like a little crunch to my Jambalaya, so I did not go beyond 5 minutes)

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I then added 1 28 oz can of Crushed Tomatoes, 2 small squirts of minced garlic (yes… I keep it simple and buy the squeeze jar) and 2 cups of chicken broth.

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I’m looking for time friendly meals during the week, but flavorful. Canned crushed tomatoes, squeeze garlic, and chicken broth are all quick, flavorful additions to any meal.
*Disclaimer: This is not an add for any of these products, nor can I verify that the chicken broth pictured is 100% gluten free. 

I also did a little research and made up a blend of Cajun Seasoning listed below the recipe.

Add anywhere from 2 to 3 tablespoons of this seasoning blend depending on how spicy you want your Jambalaya. We planned on an alternate dinner for the girls on this particular night so we could turn the heat up in this recipe.

Stir the ingredients together and bring to a boil. Once the mixture is just beginning to boil, add 2 cups of Instant Rice and let cook an additional 5 minutes.

I did not go beyond the 5 minutes because I was worried about the Rice absorbing too much of the liquids. The end result of this meal was AH-MAZING!

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I am sure a year down the road I will look back at these initial posts and think, “Wow! Those were some terrible pictures!” But the reality is, that is what MY dinner looked like, real, and simple. And delicious.

Cheers!

  • Whitney

One Pot Jambalaya

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A flavorful, simple meal, providing a homemade feel on those busy week nights.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 rotisserie chicken diced to make two cups of chicken
  • 1 package turkey kielbasa sliced
  • 1 green bell pepper diced
  • 3 ribs of celery diced
  • 1 medium sweet onion diced
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 2-3 Tablespoons of Cajun seasoning mix
  • 2 cups instant rice

Directions


1. In large skillet melt 3 Tbsp butter. Add 2 cups diced chicken from rotisserie chicken lets cook 2-3 minutes.
2. Add in one package turkey kielbasa sliced and continue to cook until slightly browned.
3. Add in diced vegetables and continue to cook covered over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until vegetables begin to soften.
4. Add remaining ingredients minus the rice and bring to a boil.
5. Add 2 cups of rice and cover, letting cook 5 more minutes.
6. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

 

 

Simple Cajun Seasoning

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

  1. Mix all ingredients together well. Store in an air-tight container.