Tag Archives: gluten free

Getting Warmer

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Do you ever get a flavor stuck in your head that you just HAVE to eat? Something that just calls to you, a craving so deep that you simply must make it happen as soon as possible? I know I do, and it’s not just chocolate. I find that I cook in waves sometimes: a week of Mexican inspired dishes here, a few nights of peasant Italian dishes there, a smattering of barbecued goodness. Lately, though, it’s been Thai style: peanut sauce, fish sauce, cilantro, lime. It hit me one night that I had ‘Pinned’ 3 different Thai-leaning foods in one sitting, and two meals on my weekly menu planner were deeply Asian influenced. Time to make this puppy happen!

Last night was the night; it was warm out, the husband had a long day at the office, and I had been cleaning like a banshee after being gone last weekend and a day or two of wine-club shipment packaging. We had everything we needed and it was a quick dinner that didn’t heat the house (though I secretly didn’t care because I would take the opportunity to BLAST our brand new A/C).

I found myself short some soy sauce, and so added in a tablespoon of fish sauce as detailed below. I personally think it made it better with the fish sauce, as it added a little something extra to the dish. Feel free to sub it out with regular soy (or sub all the soy with tamari for my GF pals out there). After it had cooled and the sauce really stuck to the noodles it was even better. And tonight? Well, tonight it’s sublime, with a nice cold glass of sauvignon blanc by my side and the A/C on. It’s definitely feeling more like summer out there!

Almost the weekend! Stop in tomorrow for a killer cocktail recipe.

Peanut Noodles with Shrimp
Makes a monster pile, about 6 large servings

1/2 cup peanut butter
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
8 ounces spaghetti (half a box, and go on ahead and sub in quinoa or brown rice noodles
1/2 lb. large shrimp, either raw or precooked, peeled, deveined and the tails removed
1/2 large red bell pepper, sliced into strips
1/2 English cucumber, sliced into strips
3 scallions, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
8 oz. sugar snap peas
3 tablespoons sesame seeds

Cook the pasta according to the package directions; if using raw shrimp add in 2 minutes prior to pasta being finished; drain and pour into a large mixing bowl.

In the same pot, combine 1 cup water with the peanut butter, rice vinegar, tamari/soy sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar, and ginger. Blend until smooth.

Add the peanut mixture, bell pepper, cucumber, cilantro, snap peas, and sesame seeds to the mixing bowl with the pasta and shrimp, and toss to combine.

Taking it Back: A Pan of Brownies

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Confession: while many things are made from scratch in this house, brownies are generally not one of them. I am a huge fan of boxed mixes that I gussy up to be something entirely unlike your usual brownies. And a plate of really tasty brownies are a quick and easy thing that can be made to take to a barbecue or potluck when you’re headed to one, or when you have folks in for dinner, they make a great dessert when gently warmed and served with a scoop of ice cream***.

One of my mom’s favorite brownie mix tricks is to glug in a good sized wave of chocolate syrup, of the Hershey’s persuasion. A ‘glug’ would equal about 1/4 of a cup, I think. Mom, if you’re reading, does that sound about right? It adds extra richness and gooeyness, and I am a gooey brownie girl, not a cakey brownie girl. Anything I can do to make them chewier I’ll do, including undercooking them just slightly.

You can add chopped nuts, and not just walnuts ~ toasted pecans, peanuts, cashews, go crazy. Sprinkle them on top, or stir them in. Coarsely chop them so they are big chunks, or really mill them down so they aren’t as prominent, your choice. As we’ve talked about before, though, I am not a nut fan in my baked goods and thusly leave them out (unless I’m trying to stay away from them, in which case I’ll add extra and stir them in so I won’t touch them).

With the trendy advent of adding chiles to chocolate in the last few years, I made a pan of brownies over super bowl weekend that was a stunner. I realized that my buffet had nary a sweet bit on it, and when you’re having a chili bar you have to have something to cut all of the savory. They were a huge hit and something I made up on the fly ~ I was praying that they’d taste as good as they did in my head when I was adding in my adjuncts.

I mention below that you can use a gluten-free brownie mix with great success (and they are so, so good as a GF treat). Be sure, though, that you check your syrup and cherries to be sure that they are completely gluten-free and processed in a plant with good practices. I know that my GF friends are rolling their collective eyes at me for such a basic aside, but for those of you preparing these treats for someone with celiac disease, this can be a crucial note.

Cherry Chipotle Brownies
Makes a 13 x 9″ pan*

1 Family Sized brownie mix (denoted on the box, Pillsbury makes a good one but use whichever you’d like, even a gluten-free one)
1 1/4 t. chipotle powder
1/4 c. chocolate syrup (optional)
1 1/2 c. dried cherries (these are my favorite)
1 c. chocolate chips (optional)**

Preheat oven to 325/350*F as denoted on the box (this will depend on the color of your pan, I use my trusty Pyrex so 350*F for me). Prepare your pan with cooking spray or butter as directed on the box.

Stir the chipotle powder into the brownie mix in a large bowl, and proceed with preparation as outlined on the box, adding in the optional chocolate chips, if you’re using them. Fold in the cherries and optional chocolate chips right at the end.

Spread the brownie mix into the prepared pan, and bake for 28-31 minutes as the box designates.

*To make a smaller mix in a 9 x 9″ pan, purchase your favorite brownie mix, adding in 3/4 t. of chipotle powder and 1 cup of dried cherries, proceeding as outlined above with the package directions.

**Instead of stirring in your chocolate chips, you can sprinkle them on the top of your still-hot but fully-baked brownies, return them to the oven for a second, and then spread the melted chocolate chips on the top, making a chocolate glaze.

***About that ice cream! These brownies make a killer sundae when paired with a big scoop of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream. You’re welcome!

Cinco de Mayo ~ Taco Bar and Side Dishes

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A taco bar is one of the easiest, most festive buffets that you can lay out for people. I love having sit-down dinners for a handful of people, but sometimes we have open house-style get togethers where people are coming and going throughout an afternoon and it’s nice to be able to have food come out in waves, or to be able to replenish as the day goes on. With a little bit of careful planning and menu construction, you can have a full-blown taco bar for an entire day.

My favorite taco bar set-up includes the following:

Carnitas or Carne Asada
Margarita Marinated Chicken or Shrimp
Tortillas, corn and flour (because my gringo self loves a flour tortilla)
Salsas, rojo and tomatillo (green)
Diced green onions
Pickled red onions
Shredded cheddar and crumbled Cotija cheese
Shredded cabbage or iceberg lettuce
Chopped cilantro
Lime wedges
Many, many hot sauces (and in fact I have been known to host a hot-sauce competition, getting everyone to bring one and we vote on which is best)
Fruit salad
Black bean and corn salad (mine is similar to this one, without the salad greens and sometimes with cucumber instead of mango)
Tortilla Chips
Refried beans
Guacamole (lots and lots of guacamole)

And of course, beverages:

Sangria Rojo (or Blanco, but only if the weather is REALLY hot)
Mexican beer selection
Lots of cut up limes

What, no margaritas? Depends on the size of the crowd, but usually, no. I’m too cheap to buy stuff for marges, because I only like them top shelf. Tequila also has a way of turning a party into a Par-Tay so I usually steer away from it. I never turn a soul down that wants to bring them, though.

As for folks bringing things, you can make this a less expensive party if your friends are like ours and offer to bring things. Make a list of what you want on your bar (or snacks you’d like to have) and when people ask, say ‘why yes, if you’d bring four avocados it would be awesome!’ You can also word your invitation to have your pals bring a bottle of inexpensive red wine to keep the Sangria pot full or a 6 pack of their favorite Mexican beer. The hooch is by far the most expensive part of a party but spread out this way it becomes a lot more affordable for everyone involved.

On  my taco bar, the condiment that always seems to fly off the buffet, that I can never seem to make enough of, is the pickled red onions. They’re not traditional by any means, but a smattering of them gives a nice vinegary brightness to the food that cuts through the richness of the fillings. And they are so, so easy to make.

Pickled Red Onions

In a saucepan, combine 3/4 cup of rice wine vinegar, 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice, a teaspoon of sugar and a teaspoon of salt. Bring up to a simmer, stirring occasionally, to dissolve the sugar and salt.

Meanwhile, dice a medium-large red onion and place in a non-reactive, heat proof bowl or jar (I use canning jars for this). Pour your vinegar mixture over the top of the onions, submerging them in the liquid. Make these several hours ahead of time so they can really get pickle-y, or even a day or two ahead and cross it off of your list.

Cinco de Mayo ~ Carnitas

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Mexican food is a staple in our house. The husband and I eat many tacos, taco salads, enchiladas, rice plates and quesadillas, filled with different savory meats, beans, rice or grains, and cheeses. Chicken, steak, fish, shrimp, it all makes for great fillings. Because a lot of our favorites come together quickly and have bright, fresh flavors, they are weeknight staples for us. The secret to Mexican cooking? It’s the spices. In order to whip up a fiesta in a flash, you need to have ground cumin, ground coriander, red chile flakes, New Mexico chile powder, chipotle powder, ground cinnamon and Mexican oregano in the cabinet and a handful of varied citrus or citrus juices (lemon, lime and orange) laying around. Fresh cilantro is also a must. Luckily, most of these spices are not expensive and can be found in the spice aisle of your grocery store. Look for the ones that come in the little pouches in the Mexican spice area, rather than your traditional spice bottles, to save some money.

For this recipe, though, you actually don’t need the spices listed above. This is a very simple recipe that only takes patience and a heavy cast iron pan to make it happen. Carnitas are one of my taqueria go-to items. Tender, succulent shreds of pork roast that have been slow roasted to perfection are the name of this game. Traditional carnitas are cooked covered in lard over very low heat in a very heavy pan until they quite literally fall apart, but for the sake of our arteries we won’t go there in this recipe.

Because of our love of all things Mexican food and in honor of Cinco de Mayo, I’ll give you some of our favorite recipes this week. This first one is still not healthy by any means, but sometimes only carnitas will do. And as part of a bigger meal, one little taco won’t hurt anyone.

Carnitas

Serves 8-10 hungry caballeros

1 fatty pork shoulder roast, about 4 lbs, stripped from the bone if bone-in, and cut into 3-4″ chunks
2 c. orange juice, freshly squeezed or from concentrate
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 T. dried Mexican oregano
3 chiles de arbol, crushed, or 1 t. of crushed red chile flakes
1 t. salt

In a large plastic zip-top bag or deep bowl, combine the orange juice, garlic, chiles or chile powder and salt. Put in pork pieces and let marinade in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, and up to 4. Remove from refrigerator about a half hour prior to cooking.

Preheat oven to 300*F. Heat a large cast iron skillet (I use a 10″ skillet) over medium high heat and pour in about a tablespoon of canola oil. Remove the pork pieces from the marinade and pat dry, reserving 3/4 cup of the marinade.

Sear the pork pieces on all sides in the skillet until they develop a nice brown crust. Pour reserved marinade over the pork pieces in the skillet and place in the oven, uncovered. Bake at 300*F for about 3 hours, or until pork shreds easily with a fork.

Remove skillet from oven, and raise oven temp to 450*F. Carefully shred the pork into bite-sized shreds and place the skillet back in the oven. Cook at 450*F until the liquid has nearly evaporated from the skillet and the pork shreds have a nice brown crispy crust on them, about 20-30 minutes.

Serve with lime wedges, cilantro, radish slices, your favorite salsa*, and warmed corn and flour tortillas.

* Pssst, about salsa: I RARELY make my own. If you have a great taqueria near you whose chips and salsa you love, swing by and ask if you can buy a quart of their salsa and a bag of chips. It will generally set you back less than $5 for the lot, and it’s fresher and tastier than anything you’re going to get at the store.

Everything Right

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And after weeks of radio silence, I’m back. It’s been a busy month, October. It’s my favorite month and I thought that I would have so many things to share with you, and I do, but finding the time to write about all of them is the hard part. I’ve made some tasty stuff, crafted some cute things for our house, had a party, attended a wedding. I have things to share with you about all of them.

Last weekend was our very first Married People Anniversary, which we spent in Monterey celebrating my dearest cousin‘s wedding. We spent it drinking, and dancing, and relaxing and eating, in true Big Italian Family fashion. The weather was beautiful, I had crab cakes and eggs for breakfast one morning which just about sent me over the top, it was so great.

Nick and I stopped in the city on our way home and had a sweet lunch at a cafe in our favorite park and a serendipitous encounter with our favorite truffle store, which was supposed to be closed but to our delight was open. The air was fresh and crisp, the way fall air should be, and the bells of the cathedral chiming the hours away were the perfect touch.

Three days away makes me antsy, though. I miss my cat, and I miss my cooking. After a long day of traveling all I wanted was a home cooked dinner and some cozy pants. One of those items was going to be a lot more work than the other. Any other day of the year it would have been Eggs and Something for dinner, but that Sunday was The Actual Anniversary. There’s no way I was going to celebrate this auspicious occasion with fried eggs and toast. You get me?

Armed with cozy pants and my grocery bag I went to the store, as our cupboard was bare, anything of substance was going to require defrosting, and my energy was waning. A short spin around the grocery store for necessities (coffee, milk, a bunch of kale that cried out to me when I walked by) and a layover at the butcher counter and we were having beef stew for dinner. Not necessarily the most romantic meal, but it sounded so good and was something I could put together with little effort. I tossed a bottle of red wine into the basket and I was my merry way.

We made dinner together, which we do sometimes but not too often in our busy lives (control freak over here doesn’t let people drive her kitchen). The gentle rhythm and sizzle of browning the meat cubes, chopping the veggies and drinking wine brought everything back in to perspective. The cat actually hung around, and his cat sitter for the weekend stopped in for an anniversary beer and stayed for dinner. We laughed and talked and had a nice evening. Couldn’t have been a better anniversary.

My stew recipe is pretty basic, as many of the best are in my opinion. I’ve read over so many of them that call for exotic spices, expensive bottles of wine just dumped in the pot ($40 Barolo? Surely you jest…), and difficult and/or time consuming tasks. Stew to me should be something that comes together quick, cooks for ages, and soothes your soul on consumption. Fancy it’s not, pretty it won’t be, but a steaming perfect bowl should make you feel like everything is right in the universe and you can solve the world’s problems. Or something like that.-

This last time around I used brown rice flour to dredge the meat in, after learning with a fried chicken experiment that it makes the most crispy, amazing crust on things. I’ll tell you about the chicken another day, but in the mean time if you can get your hands on some of this flour you have to try it. Not only does it crisp up like a champ, but it lends the most lovely nuttiness to anything it’s in. So, so tasty.

Mrs. Cadi’s Beef Stew

Makes a nice big pot, serves about 6-8 hungry folks

1 1/2 lbs. of beef stew meat, cut into bite-sized hunks
1/2 cup of  brown rice flour, for dredging
Paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper for seasoning your flour and your stew
1 large onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
About a half pound of potato: either one big one cut into 1/2″ cubes, or red potatoes cut into 1/2″ cubes, or fingerling (my favorite) cut into bite sized pieces
About a half a bottle of red wine (save the good stuff for drinking with dinner, please)
1 14 oz. can of double strength beef stock, or cups of homemade/boxed stock reduced to 1 1/2 cups
A bay leaf
Worcestershire Sauce
Canola or olive oil (I use canola because it has a higher smoke point)

Wash and chop all of your veggies and set aside.

In a large bowl or food safe plastic bag, combine your flour and spices. Be generous with your spices here, as this is the only seasoning the meat is going to get before cooking. I use about 3/4 teaspoon of each of my listed spices with the exception of the pepper, and I use about a 1/2 teaspoon. I know, lots, but it’s worth it. Toss in your meat hunks and stir to coat them.

Heat up a large heavy bottomed soup pot over medium high heat and add a tablespoon of oil. Add the meat pieces to the pan one at a time, being sure to shake off the excess flour before dropping them in. Sear your meat pieces in batches, being careful not to crowd the pan. Remove your meat cubes to a bowl and set aside, continuing to brown until all of the pieces are seared. Add more oil as you need it. Don’t, however, throw out that flour mixture.

Lower the heat on the pan to about medium or just a bit below. Add another small splash of oil to the pan, and then add your carrots, onion and celery. Saute until your veggies begin to soften, scraping up the crusty brown bits (called fond) as you go. When your veggies are softened add your meat back in, as well as the beef broth, red wine, bay leaf and a dash or two of worcestershire. Cover leaving the lid akimbo, lower the heat to a simmer, and let ‘er go for a good hour. Pour yourself a glass of wine and hang out.

So let’s get back to that flour mixture. Take about 1/4 cup of it and put it in a jar with a tight fitting lid, and add about 1/2 cup of water to it. Replace the lid and shake like the dickens, and pour it into the pot, stirring to combine. Let it simmer for another 10-15 minutes to marry those flavors a bit. Ladle in to bowls and serve with warm crusty buttered bread and a glass of hearty red wine (break out the good stuff, you have my permission).