gluten-free… is it for me?

A few weeks ago I decided to try going gluten-free. I’ve had quirky issues with my stomach most of my life (ironic since I’m such a food lover right?) and I wanted to see if making the switch would make a difference. It’s too soon to make any concrete declarations but all signs are pointing to… maybe.

Deciding to change your diet can feel like a daunting task. I’ll be honest, my motto is more “Life is too short not enjoy dinner!” than “Moderation is the key too happiness.” With that in mind I’ve tried my best not to let gluten-free mean flavor-free, but it hasn’t been easy. I’ve discovered that potato chips and wine are both gluten-free (which frankly made me one happy girl) and I’ve come to the conclusion that if you fall into three simple categories you’re certain to find eating well gluten-free to be a snap. And here they are:

1.) You like vegetables and are happy to eat lots of them.
2.) You’re not a big fan of carbs and can give them up without a backward glance.
3.) You’re more of a baked goods buyer than a from scratch baker.

Honestly I’ve got no problem with 1. And I’m actually surprised at how easily I’ve given up 2., but the baking part has been tricky. You see while it’s quite possible to find recipes for ooey-gooey gluten-free cinnamon buns and chewy chocolate chip cookies; these recipes are often labor intensive and usually require a boat load of special ingredients. Ingredients such as tapioca and rice flour, xanthan gum, potato starch and agar flakes, things you probably don’t exactly have lying around the pantry. Yeah, I know— annoying. I’ve decide that if I stick with this little wheat-free detour then perhaps I will make the ingredient investment, but until then I’ve been trying to manage with my own little tweaks and substitutions. So what have I come up with? Well I’m glad you asked…

My daughter and I made our own oat flour and used it to bake up some lovely applesauce muffins. I’ve made dozens of loaves of cornbread with a blend of fine and coarse cornmeal, a couple of eggs and some cream style corn— the results were delicious. But my biggest gluten-free success so far has to be macaroni n’ cheese. I swapped regular pasta for rice (I like Trader Joe’s brand the best), used arrowroot powder instead of flour in the roux for the cheese sauce, and punched up the flavor big time by using a combination of goat brie and cheddar. Afraid of that goaty flavor? Don’t be, it’s really subtle but makes a huge flavor impact and this combo seems to be loved by all. Seriously! My family thinks it’s one of the best versions of mac n’ cheese I’ve ever made, which is fantastic, but I really knew I was onto something when I served it at our July 4th barbecue. Not a single one of the dozen kids who were here had anything but “Is there more?” to say about it. I’ll take that as one big fat recipe success.

I guess you can say that I’m slowly learning to navigate the world of gluten-free living. I can almost imagine myself continuing to live this way if I can just conquer one all mighty obstacle… The ultimate crusty loaf of gluten-free bread. So stay tuned!

Gluten-Free Goat Brie + Cheddar Mac n’ Cheese
I make this with goat brie and my family loves it, but you can use all cheddar if you don’t think yours will.

glutenfree mac2

2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. arrowroot powder
1 1/2 cups skim milk, warmed
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
4 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, diced
4 oz. wheel goat brie, peeled and diced
16 oz. gluten-free rice macaroni

  1. Begin cooking the macaroni according to package directions. While it cooks melt the butter in a medium saucepan.
  2. Add the arrowroot powder and whisk until it turns golden. (The key to using arrowroot is not to overheat it, otherwise it loses it’s thickening magic.)
  3. Slowly add the warm milk and whisk until the sauce has thickened. Add the garlic powder, salt and Dijon mustard and stir until well combined.
  4. Drain the macaroni and return to the pot. Add the diced cheese to the white sauce and stir until the sauce is smooth.
  5. Pour half the cheese sauce over the cooked macaroni and give it a gentle stir. Add additional sauce until the macaroni is coated to your liking. (I often have extra sauce that I use when I reheat the leftovers.)
  6. Serve, enjoy and be amazed at how tasty gluten-free can be!
Advertisements

pulled turkey tacos

Sometimes I grocery shop with a clear menu in mind and sometimes I buy whatever strikes my fancy and figure out how to use it later. That’s exactly what happened the other day when I came home from the store with two packages of turkey cutlets. I knew I could grill them or bake them just like I would chicken, but I felt like taking a more untraditional approach. Francese? Stir fry? Parmigiana? No… Tacos!

We’ve all had those uninspired and dull as dishwater tacos made with a lump of ground beef and a packet of “taco seasoning.” Yeah, no thanks. I had far greater aspirations for my turkey tacos. First of all I planned to slow cook the turkey with sweet onion, garlic and traditional Mexican spices so that it was crazy flavorful and falling apart tender. Then I would shred it and serve it in warm soft taco shells with some aged cheddar cheese, fresh cilantro leaves, pickled red onion and jalapeños piled on top.

Oh baby— These were some of the tastiest tacos the Greco family has ever eaten (and frankly we’re eaten more than out fair share.) So long boring hand-held meal and hello delicious Wednesday night dinner!

Pulled Turkey Tacos
This shredded turkey is fabulous in tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas or as a pulled sandwich. The recipe is just as fantastic if you decide to swap a boneless pork lion for the turkey. 

pickled onions

2 1/4 cups homemade (or jarred) marinara sauce
2 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tbsp. ground cumin
2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. chipotle chili powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2.5 lbs. turkey breast cutlets (or boneless pork loin)
1 tbsp. corn starch
1 tbsp. cold water
1 tbsp. butter*
soft taco shells, optional
shredded cheddar cheese, optional
shredded lettuce or cilantro, optional
Greek yogurt (or sour cream), optional
pickled red onion, optional
diced jalapeño pepper, optional

  1. Stir together the first 8 ingredients and pour into the crock pot. Add the turkey cutlets and mix to coat well. Cover and cook on medium for 6 hours.
  2. When the turkey is done remove it from the pot and shred it using two forks.
  3. Mix together the corn starch and water and add it to the sauce. Stir in the butter until it melts, then add back the shredded turkey and mix so that the turkey is well coated with the sauce.
  4. Serve in warmed tortillas with fresh cilantro, cheddar cheese, and pickled red onions and an ice cold beer.

*Because the turkey breast is so lean I added a bit of butter to the sauce to add some richness and depth of flavor. However if you use pork loin instead of turkey I can’t imagine you would need to add it and therefore wouldn’t bother.

Holy-peño Peppers!

One Saturday this past Spring my husband and son went to Home Depot for lumber and came home with herbs and jalapeño peppers. My son apparently took a little side trip into the gardening department and knowing how much his mother enjoys spicy food, decided to buy me a jalapeño pepper plant. He’s right I do love spicy, but I don’t have much experience cooking with jalapeño peppers and I didn’t really know what I would do if the plants grew and produced fruit. But since my sweet boy bought it for me, you know it got the utmost love and attention. Well my one small plant not only grew, it sprouted into a jalapeño tree laden with enormous peppers!

I really wanted to use the peppers whole, to make the most of their tremendous size, rather than dicing them up and adding them to a dish. Naturally the first thing that came to mind was stuffing them; jalapeño popper style. But instead of your traditional deep-fried disaster with gloppy cream cheese oozing out when you attempted to eat it, my poppers would be civilized. Mine would be knife and fork poppers, not beers and football poppers. I stuffed each one with aged cheddar cheese, wrapped it in real turkey bacon and grilled it for a few minutes on each side. The results were crazy good, with such a subtle amount of heat that even my “we don’t like spicy food children” enjoyed them. And they actually turned out attractive enough that you could serve them to guests, even if it’s not Super Bowl Sunday.

Grilled Jalapeño Poppers
These would also be tasty stuffed with Monterey Jack (or a Jack/Cheddar blend) and wrapped in real bacon.

4 large jalapeño peppers
4 slices turkey bacon
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

  1. Make a slit from stem to tip on the top side of each jalapeno pepper and scrape out the seeds. Fill each pepper with the shredded cheese, pressing it in well with your thumb. Wrap a piece of bacon around each pepper and secure it with several toothpicks.
  2. Place the peppers onto the preheated grill and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Flip and continue cooking until the peppers begin to soften and the bacon is cooked through, about 3-5 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

*adapted from the food network

A Cheesy Topic

…In 1993 Crayola held a contest to
name a new shade of crayon.
The winning name: Macaroni and Cheese…
The suggested wine to serve with mac n’ cheese
is a crisp Chardonnay… If you google
“macaroni and cheese”,
20,800,000 results will come up…

My son loves to play the “What’s your favorite” game. What’s your favorite place to be? (Anywhere with him and his sister, of course!)… What was your favorite subject in school? (English, he gets his love of reading from me)… What’s your favorite video game? (Words with Friends) and most recently, What’s your favorite vegetable? (I love most vegetables and I don’t really have a favorite). I’ve tried to instill my enjoyment of vegetables and healthy food in general in my children, and so far it seems to be working. My son loves anything with lots of onions and garlic, and my daughter is crazy about broccoli, raw carrots and celery. But they are kids after all and like most kids they also adore french fries, chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese.

I’m not proud of this, but I will come clean… there’s a bag of tater tots and some chicken nuggets in my freezer at this very moment. I’m a busy mom and sometimes I too need to cut corners. However, I draw the line at boxed macaroni and cheese. Have you ever tasted mac n’ cheese from a box? It’s awful. Even the organic stuff is almost inedible. So I set about finding a recipe that tasted good and wasn’t so loaded with fat that I would feel guilty feeding it to my kids. It took a lot of trial and error but I finally found a Cook Yourself Thin recipe that used real cheese and butter, but in restrained amounts. After a little tweaking on my part (and if you know me then you know I can never follow a recipe exactly as written) I finally have a meal that has the whole family looking forward to mac n’ cheese night. And naturally, it always gets served with a nice side of veggies!

Macaroni and Cheese
This recipe can be made with any shape or type of macaroni you like.
I’m not abig fan of elbows (too boring and not a great vehicle for holding sauce), so I usually use something like Campanelle, Radiatori or even Orecchiette.

2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. flour
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 1/2 cup skim milk, warmed
16 oz. dried multi-grain macaroni
1/4 cup aged Asiago (or Pecorino Ramano) cheese, grated
4 oz. Sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz. Colby Jack, shredded
Plain panko crumbs (for topping)
Aged Asiago cheese, grated (for topping)

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and whisk until it turns a golden brown, about 2 minutes.
  3. Slowly add the warm milk, continue whisking and bring the mixture to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes, whisking frequently, until the sauce has thickened. Add the garlic powder, salt and Dijon mustard and stir until well combined.
  4. Drain the pasta and return to the pot. Remove the white sauce from the heat, add the three cheeses and stir until the cheese is completely melted and the sauce is smooth.
  5. Pour half the cheese sauce over the cooked macaroni and give it a gentle stir. Add additional sauce until the macaroni is coated to your liking. (I often have extra sauce that I use when I reheat the leftovers.)
  6. Serve as is or sprinkle the top with some panko crumbs and a bit more of the Asiago cheese. Pop it under the broiler for 4-5 minutes until the top is golden brown and bubbling. Serve and enjoy!

*adapted from Cook Yourself Thin