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xo Gluten Free Lover xo bio picture

my two loves . . .

Hello! My name is Kathryn - a Georgia girl and bona fide bread lover. Well, that is until I met and fell in love with Justin. Let's be real, I still LOVE bread and all things gluten-ful, but have given up that life for a gluten-free one - because now, I am a gluten-free lover.

I have always loved food. Cooking it, eating it, discussing it. I hope you'll try some of the recipes I've posted and you'll see - gluten-free cooking is accessible and delicious!

Pork a la J

Pork a la J

Pork a la J

This past Monday, I had a 24 oz garlic and pepper marinated pork roast thawing in the fridge that I planned to make for dinner. When I got home from work, J inquired about our dinner plans and was not shy about his distaste for “pork roast with rice or potatoes”. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to that either. The roast was one of those 4-5 inch thick, about 6 inches long vacuum packed pork roasts that come from the grocery store pre-marinated. The marinade is great, really flavorful, but the slices of meat aren’t very appetizing without gravy or sauce. (Obviously this is just our opinion but hey – it’s my blog.) On the other hand, pork tenderloin roasted in the oven with a yummy marinade is fine, we enjoy that, there’s just something about the thick roast that is a turn off for our taste buds. Almost immediately, J asked if we chopped up the pork, could I make a Chinese stir fry out of it? I said “sure, in theory. but I don’t know how to make up a Chinese sauce…” Well, J didn’t take “I don’t know how” for an answer and just kept encouraging me to think about it and even offered to help cook. I got out my Perfect Chinese cookbook for inspiration. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any there but as per usual, Joy of Cooking came to my rescue. I found a wonderful recipe for a basic brown sauce and added too it to make it the perfect sauce for J. Here’s my recipe:

Pork a la J (with a sauce inspired by Joy of Cooking)
serves 4

1 1/4 lb lean garlic-marinated* pork, chopped into bite sized pieces
1 large head of broccoli, cut into florets
2 T cornstarch
2 T water
1/3 c dry sherry
3 T soy sauce*
2 T brown sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 c raw Jasmine rice
1 T butter
3 T peanut oil
salt and pepper

For the Jasmine rice: Bring 1 3/4 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add 1 T butter and a pinch of salt, then add the rice and stir gently. Turn the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 18 minutes or just until all the water is absorbed. Turn off the heat, fluff the rice with a fork, cover again and let sit for at least 5 minutes or until ready to use.

Whisk together the cornstarch and 2 T water to make a slurry. Combine the dry sherry, soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl and thoroughly combine. Put the broccoli florets in a microwave safe bowl with 2-3 T water and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Cook on high for 2-3 minutes until the broccoli is barley tender. Set aside. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat for several minutes. When the pan is hot, add 2 T peanut oil and swirl around to coat the pan. Add the pork and cook, stirring frequently, for about 6 minutes or until the pork is cooked through. Remove the pork from the skillet, set aside, and drain the excess fat from the pan. Place the pan back on the heat, add 1 T peanut oil, and add the steamed broccoli. Season with salt and pepper and saute the broccoli for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the dry sherry mixture to the pan and then, while stirring quickly, add the slurry. When the slurry and sherry mixture are thoroughly combined, add the pork, lower the heat and simmer for a minute or two. When the sauce is thickened (it will happen pretty quickly) turn off the heat and serve over the Jasmine rice.

I was almost speechless at how delicious this meal turned out. The brown sauce was sweet, tangy, and spicy – just like so many brown sauces I’ve order from Chinese take out. J was over the moon, which is why I named this dish after him. As I said, Joy of Cooking offered the basic ingredients for the sauce but I added the red pepper flakes since J and I like things spicy. The marinade from the pork also added some serious flavor to the dish. If you use plain pork you’ll definitely want to season it with salt and pepper before cooking it and I’d suggest adding some fresh minced garlic in the last 30 seconds of cooking the broccoli. I want to take a minute to discuss Jasmine rice. I’ve had it in the pantry since last summer when I used it for a Thai themed Girl’s Night dinner. (It was wonderful with the Panang Curry that night, but I hadn’t used it again because I figured it shouldn’t be used as an “everyday” rice.) Boy was I wrong. Jasmine rice is now my go to rice. It cooks beautifully, stays firm and doesn’t get all stuck together. It was outstanding with the leftover boeuf bourguignon. It made Pork a la J into an absolutely perfect meal. And I have a sneaking suspicion it will make for a stunning rice pudding. I’m sad though because I’m almost out and can’t find it at the regular grocery store and I hate having to go to Whole Foods. They’re so stuck up there and now that we’ve moved, the closest one is almost 15 minutes away. I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll be able to find some when I go to the Dekalb Farmer’s Market. Wish me luck!

*Read ingredients carefully; these items commonly contain gluten.

Boeuf Bourguignon

boeuf bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon

My apologies for the several-week long absence. I was recently promoted at work (yay!) and am now full-time, which is a big adjustment after a year of being unemployed. In short – mama’s been tired, y’all. I haven’t been working on my cookbook recipes as much as I’d like (read: at all) and haven’t even been doing that much real cooking (real cooking = something I didn’t throw together based on ingredients in the fridge), so I don’t have a lot to report but I do want to tell you about my very special Valentine’s Day menu: Boeuf Bourguignon and homemade Chocolate Pudding for dessert.
I’m not sure if I mentioned that I recently (finally) saw the movie Julie & Julia. (I’ve read the book 4 times already.) Boeuf Bourguignon plays a large part in the movie and that motivated me to finally try the recipe. I’ve been wanting to try it because of all the wonderful things I’ve heard about it and I knew J would love it because he loves beef stew style dishes. Since Valentine’s Day fell on a Sunday, I figured, what better day to try a recipe that calls for several hours worth of preparation and cooking? There was no better day. It was a wonderful day full of cooking and eating. (My parents actually stopped by right as I was adding the meat back in, along with the wine, the broth, and the slurry and patiently waiting for it to boil and thicken. It was a bit intense. I felt very harried and distracted but they didn’t seem to notice.) Here is the recipe:

Boeuf Bourguignon (from Barefoot in Paris)
serves 6

1 T olive oil
8 oz bacon, diced
2 1/2 lbs beef chuck cut into 1-inch cubes
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb carrots, peeled and sliced diagonally into 1-inch chunks
2 yellow onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 c Cognac or brandy
1, 750 ml bottle good dry red wine, such as Burgundy (I used Cycles Gladiator Pinot Noir, I don’t remember which year or from where…)
2 1/2 c beef broth
1 T tomato paste
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
4 T unsalted butter
2 T cornstarch (original recipe calls for 3 T all-purpose flour)
1 lb frozen pearl onions
1 lb mushrooms, stems discarded, caps thickly sliced (I used baby portobellos)
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a large Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is lightly browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a large plate. Dry the beef cubes with paper towels and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Brown the beef in a single layer, in batches, in the hot oil/bacon drippings. Cook for 3-5 minutes turning to brown all sides. Remove the seared cubes to the plate with the bacon and continue searing until all the beef is browned. Set aside. Toss the carrots and onions into the pot and toss to coat with the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the brandy, stand back, and ignite with a match to burn off the alcohol. Put the meat and bacon back into the pot along with any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Add the wine plus enough beef broth to almost cover the meat, reserving 1/4 c of broth. Add the tomato paste and thyme. Bring to a boil, cover with a tight fitting lid, and place it in the oven for about 1 1/4 hours or until the meat is very tender when pierced with a fork.
Remove from the oven and place back on the burner over medium-low heat. Whisk the cornstarch into the remaining 1/4 c beef broth and stir  into the stew. Add the frozen onions. In a medium skillet, melt 2 T butter and saute half of the mushrooms for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until browned. Add salt and pepper after about 3 minutes. Add the first batch to the stew and saute the second batch in the same way, adding to the stew when browned. Bring the stew to a boil (you may need to raise the heat a bit), then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Season to taste and serve.

As per usual, I altered the recipe a tad. Obviously I had to substitute a slurry of beef broth and cornstarch for the flour/butter paste Ina calls for and I didn’t serve the stew on top of a slice of crusty bread, either. Never-the-less it was stunningly delicious. As I noted above, I chose baby portobello mushrooms which added a nice heartiness to the stew. I’m sure button mushrooms would be fine as well, but since the “baby bellas” were on sale, I went for them. Let’s see….what other adjustments did I make…Oh! The whole beef chuck was quite a bit more expensive than buying pre-cut “stew meat” so I opted for the “stew meat” and it worked great. I will probably use that from now on, because, boeuf bourguignon is definitely going in my repertoire. It was so flavorful that each bite actually tasted better than the last. Every single element and ingredient had its own specific flavor yet everything tasted inherently of red wine and beef. I did not light the brandy on fire. (Which reminds me, I used some no name brandy that I had leftover from the Christmas duck glaze. There was NO WAY I was spending money on Cognac, sorry Ina.) I just let it cook for a minute or two before moving on. I added the thyme, stems and all, knowing the leaves would fall off during cooking and was actually surprised to see that almost all of the stems came up to the top when it was time to remove them from the stew. I was expecting to have to search for them and I warned J that if he found one on his bowl, not to eat it. Next time, I will add less onions, maybe 3/4 lb instead of a whole pound. They were delicious but J and I both reached a point where we felt obligated to eat them rather than wanting to eat them. In this case, less is totally more.

I’d like to take a moment to talk about the leftovers. After Valentine’s dinner was over and the clean up began, we ended up with 3, 32 oz plastic containers full of stew. I put two in the fridge because I knew we’d want to take it for lunches, etc and I put the third in the freezer. I was hoping to save it for lunch with my Dad (we used to have lunch together on Monday’s) but that’s been discontinued due to my now working full time – sorry Dad. Instead, I took it out of the freezer two days ago so J and I could have it for dinner sometime this weekend. Well, turns out we had it last night. Let me tell you, this recipe for boeuf bourguignon freezes beautifully! I decided to serve it with rice since there wasn’t a ton leftover and I wanted it to be a filling meal. I reheated the stew in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat until it simmered, then left it covered over low heat until we were ready to eat. Just before serving I stirred in 1 T of butter for some added richness. I actually decided to make Jasmine rice because I thought the slightly sweet essence would pair nicely with the luxurious flavors of slow-cooked wine, beef, and vegetables. I hate to brag, but OH MY GOD it was perfection. In my opinion (and I’m pretty sure J agrees with me) the leftovers with Jasmine rice almost 2 weeks later tasted much, MUCH better than the first time we ate it, fresh, on Valentine’s Day. This, in part, is not surprising. It is not a secret that boeuf bourguignon is better a day or two later after the stew has had ample time to sit and, well, stew, but I was blown away by how delicious it tasted! We were thoroughly disappointed that we ate everything in one sitting. (For the record, I took a picture but it did not do justice to the magnificence of the meal, so I won’t bother posting it.)

I also don’t have a picture of the chocolate pudding, I guess I forgot to take one, but it didn’t look as good as I expected it to anyway, so I guess that works out for the best. It tasted pretty great though there are somethings I’d change. I’m hoping maybe someone has some advice for me on how to get it exactly right next time.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Pudding (from Joy of Cooking)
Serves 4-6

2 c milk, seperated
1/2 c sugar
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
Pinch of Kosher salt
3 T cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla

Have ready a 3 cup bowl or mold or four 5-6 oz cups or ramekins. (If unmolding the pudding, oil the small molds.) Combine 1 3/4 cups of milk, the sugar, chocolate, and pinch of salt in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is melted. Whisk the remaining 1/4 c milk with the cornstarch to make a slurry. Slowly add to the hot milk and sugar mixture and, stirring constantly, raise the heat to medium and bring just to a simmer.  Reduce the heat to low and stirring briskly, cook for 1 more minute. Once thickened, remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Transfer to prepared dish and cover with plastic wrap. Make sure to place the plastic wrap directly to the surface of the pudding, to avoid a skin from forming. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, 4 hours if unmolding, for up to 2 days.

Mine came out the perfect consistency, if a little grainy and it looked like the chocolate didn’t quite melt completely. You could barely see teeny-tiny flecks suspended in the milky thickness. Also, I thought it could use a bit more sugar or use semi-sweet chocolate instead. It was a triumph though, homemade pudding. My next venture will be Banana Pudding (from scratch) – the traditional Southern dessert. I still have to find gluten-free “nilla wafers” and I’m hoping that won’t be too difficult.

A very special Wednesday

J and I celebrated our 2 year anniversary this past Wednesday. I wanted to make a special meal but knew it had to be fast and easy or else I would lame-out and claim “too tired” as my excuse. Also factors in my decision-making: a lack of funds and plenty of frozen shrimp. That is how Shrimp Scampi with Linguine became our anniversary meal. I don’t typically make desserts, we usually have ice cream or sherbet (or nothing) but what better time to try Pear, Apple, and Cranberry Crisp than on our anniversary? Fruit crisps have always been my favorite dessert and J doesn’t have a preference except to say he’s not that much of a dessert person. There you have it, a simply wonderful anniversary menu: Shrimp Scampi with Linguine and Pear, Apple, and Cranberry Crisp.

shrimp scampi

Linguine with Shrimp Scampi

Linguine with Shrimp Scampi (from Barefoot Contessa Family Style)
serves 6

Kosher salt
1 1/2 lbs linguine
6 T unsalted butter
5 T olive oil
3 T minced garlic (9 cloves)
2 lbs large shrimp (about 32 shrimp), peeled and deveined
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3/4 c chopped fresh parsley
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 c freshly squeezed lemon juice (4 lemons)
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced in half-rounds
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large (12-inch) heavy bottomed pan, melt the butter and olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic. Saute for 1 minute. Be careful, the garlic burns easily! Add the shrimp, 1 T of salt and the pepper and saute until the shrimp have just turned pink, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat, add the parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, lemon slices, and red pepper flakes. Toss to combine. When the pasta is done, drain, and put it back in the pot. Immediately add the shrimp and sauce, toss well, and serve.

I made this last summer for dinner with my friend Tristin and she really liked it and since then I’d been wanting to make it for J (I’ve mentioned how he loves shrimp, haven’t I?). I halved Ina’s recipe although there was quite a bit of sauce in the end. (I think I have a problem with halving sauce ingredients. It happened with a balsamic vinaigrette recently…) I’ve been using frozen shrimp more frequently than fresh because it keeps better (duh) and is usually less expensive. I really recommend you try frozen shrimp. (I mean, if you live around the corner from a fresh shrimp market, by all means use fresh, but for those of us land locked, it’s a pretty amazing resource.) They defrost beautifully and I dare you to tell me they taste like they were frozen half an hour earlier. As I always do, I will sing the praises of Quinoa Ancient Harvest pasta. In my experience with gluten-free cooking, it is the most suitable replacement for semolina pasta. (I used to say “normal” or “regular” pasta, but that doesn’t seem fair. There isn’t anything “abnormal” or “wrong” about eating gluten-free. It’s just different.) The only thing I notice that’s different about the pasta is that it tends to stick together more so it’s very important to add olive oil to the cooking water (and sometimes I add a little more after draining).

The preparation of the meal went very smoothly. I decided against adding the lemon zest and lemon slices because while J loves shrimp, he’s not especially fond of strong lemon flavor. Even without those ingredients, the sauce was plenty lemony. J did say that he’d never had a shrimp and pasta dish and that even though he’s not a huge fan of lemon he absolutely loved it. I tossed the drained pasta (including a little bit of the cooking water) into the pan with the shrimp. That little bit of water, with starch from the pasta, helps thicken the sauce, which helps it stick to the pasta. In the end, the most potent memory I have of dinner is the flavor. Fresh, tart, intense – just absolutely delicious.

pear,apple,cranberry crisp1

Pear, Apple, and Cranberry Crisp

Once again, I used a Barefoot Contessa recipe but had to do some gluten-free tweaking. I will list the recipe as I made it with a link to her recipe that I modified. I still need to work on the topping, it wasn’t quite perfect, but man-oh-man is it good. It’s even better the next day.

Pear, Apple, and Cranberry Crisp (slightly modified version of the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe of the same name)
serves 6

1 lb ripe Bosc pears (3 pears – Note: Bosc pears turn brown when they are ripe)
1 lb firm red-skinned apples (2 apples – Ina recommends Macoun)
1/4 c plus 2 T dried cranberries
1/2 tsp grated orange zest
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 T freshly squeezed orange juice
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 c granulated sugar
2 T cornstarch
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

2 T cornstarch
1/4 c plus 2 T granulated sugar
1/4 c plus 2 T brown sugar, lightly packed
pinch of Kosher salt
1/2 c gluten-free oats* (Bob’s Red Mill makes some. I know I denounced Bob’s Red Mill a few posts ago, but I forgot about the GF oats. Those are good.)
1 stick cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Peel and core the apples and pears and cut them into large chunks. Place the fruit in a large bowl and toss with the cranberries, zests, juices, sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and nutmeg. (You can stir together the cornstarch and the citrus juices before adding to the fruit, if you like. I didn’t and it came out fine but just now it occurred to me that might be a good idea.) Pour into a 2 quart baking dish. (I think it would also fit in an 8×8 baking dish but I used a 2 quart.)
For the topping, combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and, using a pastry blender, combine until the mixture is in large crumbles. (Of course Ina suggest using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment but I’m not getting into that again. I don’t even have the pastry blender I linked to, although I would LOVE ONE, so I used two knives.) Sprinkle evenly over the fruit making sure to cover completely. (If using an 8×8 baking dish, place it on top of a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and put into the oven.) Otherwise, put the dish into the oven and bake for 36 minutes or until the top is browned and the fruit is bubbly. Serve warm.

I thought the citrus flavor was a bit strong, so next time I’ll either cut out one of the zests or just cut back on both amounts. The cornstarch worked beautifully in the fruit mixture but there was something lacking in the topping. I will just have to play around with different flours to see what will give the right consistency. Recently, I came across a cookbook all about using almond flour in gluten-free cooking and I’m intrigued to give almond flour a try. Apparently almond flour has a better consistency than the more commonly available rice and potato flours. Although it does seem like it might be best for desserts and sweet things as opposed to an all purpose use. Either way, I need to start experimenting to find the best flours for my needs and I’m very anxious to develop an all purpose blend.

*Some people may have an intolerance to gluten-free oats. The best way to know is to talk with your doctor before trying them. For the record, J feels 100% fine after eating Bob’s Red Mill GF Rolled Oats.

Great recipes for quick meals

The first recipe I want to share is for Brussels sprouts. Before you navigate away, these Brussels sprouts are easy and, I kid you not, DELICIOUS! I am an oddity in that I actually like cabbage but let’s be honest; Brussels sprouts have a tendency to be, well, gross. I’ve had them sauteed and they’ve been good but this recipe trumps all others. As much praise as I’m giving the recipe it was not without it’s faults. I had to make it twice in the same evening. The first time they came out burnt to within an inch of their lives. It was not pretty. This, my friends, is pretty:

brussels sprouts

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Roasted Brussels Sprouts (adapted from Food Network Magazine, December 2009)
makes 2-3 servings

1 lb Brussels sprouts, halved
3 T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 T white wine vinegar
2 T honey

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the halved Brussels sprouts with the olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Place the sprouts cut side down on a baking sheet and cook in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until the cut side of the sprouts are golden brown. Remove from the oven and toss the hot sprouts with the vinegar and honey. Serve immediately.

At first I thought, “White wine vinegar and honey?!? On BRUSSELS SPROUTS?!?! That sounds awful.” But I tell you what, they were amazing! J loved them. I especially loved them and vowed to make this my official Brussels sprouts recipe. Kudos to the Food Network Kitchens. Whoever came up with this recipe, I salute you. I changed things just a bit after they came out completely burnt the first time but I have to give credit where credit is due. These flavors are too good to be true. I hope you’ll give it a try and post your results in the comments!

The next set of recipes made for a surprisingly delicious and oh-so-simple weeknight dinner. (I’m tempted to erase that and reword it so it doesn’t sound like the intro to my cooking show, but why do I have this blog if I’m not going to be myself? Oh Kathryn, don’t go there.) The menu: Good old broiled flank steak, Parmesan mashed potatoes, and broccolini and balsamic vinaigrette. For the flank steak, I seasoned it generously with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and garlic powder, then broiled it for 14 minutes, turning halfway through. (I don’t remember the exact poundage of the steak, but it was on the larger side, for that cut.) I can say that 14 minutes was a bit too long. I like a very medium steak; pink-pink NOT red-pink. I’d probably cook it again for maybe 12 minutes instead of 14. At any rate, it was flavorful and easy.

flank steak, etc

Broccolini with Balsamic Vinaigrette - Parmesan Mashed Potatoes - Broiled Flank Steak

Parmesan Mashed Potatoes (from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)
serves 6 – 8

3 lbs red potatoes, unpeeled
1 T plus 2 tsp Kosher salt
1 1/2 c half-and-half
1/4 lb unsalted butter
1/2 c sour cream
1/2 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper (I always put more – like at least 1 tsp)

Place the potatoes and 1 T of salt in a 4-quart saucepan with cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer covered for 25-35 minutes, until the potatoes are completely tender. Drain. In a small saucepan, heat the half-and-half and butter. Put the potatoes into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment* and mix them for a few seconds on low speed, to break them up. (Since I don’t have a wonderful stand mixer, I just use a potato masher and it works fine.) Slowly add the hot cream and butter to the potatoes, mixing on the lowest speed (the last quarter of the cream and butter should be folded in by hand). Fold in the sour cream, Parmesan cheese, the remaining salt, and pepper; taste for seasoning and serve immediately. If the potatoes are too thick, add more hot cream and butter.

These are our “go-to” mashed potatoes. They are really creamy but retain their heft and thickness. Also, they taste tangy and ever-so-slightly cheesy. Good all the time, but especially good with steak. As I mentioned in the actual recipe, I use a regular hand potato masher and while I imagine my version comes out chunkier than Ina’s, I know they taste just as delicious.

Broccolini and Balsamic Vinaigrette (from Barefoot Contessa at Home)
serves 6

Kosher salt
4 bunches broccolini (1 1/2 lbs)
1/4 c olive oil
1 1/2 T balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 lemon

Remove and discard the bottom third of the broccolini stems. If some stems are very thick, cut them in half lengthwise. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, garlic, 1 1/2 tsp salt, and the pepper. (Ina then directs you to cook the broccolini in boiling salted water for about 2 minutes and drain well. I was feeling a bit lazy and that’s just too many dishes for a side, so I cook the broccolini and a little water for 2-3 minutes, covered, in the microwave until slightly tender. Drain if necessary. Voila, cest magnifique.) Pour enough of the dressing over the broccolini to moisten and toss well. Splash with a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice, sprinkle with salt, and serve warm or cold. (I say warm.)

SO GOOD! I put a bit too much dressing because I halved the amount of broccolini but forgot to halve the dressing ingredients, so, oops. I really liked it even though it was REALLY tart but I know J thought it was a bit much. The only problem with this recipe is that broccolini is expensive. I imagine this would be just as good with broccoli as long as you cut the florets thinly. The dressing pretty much ran all over the plate and tasted divine with both the potatoes and the steak. Four star dinner, 1 star effort. That’s what I call a success.

*Here’s one I really love. Just fyi.

Hot Sesame Beef

hot sesame beef

Hot Sesame Beef

Hot Sesame Beef (recipe from Perfect Chinese)
makes 3-4 servings

1 lb beef fillet, cut into thin strips
1 1/2 T sesame seeds
1/2 c beef stock
2 T soy sauce*
2 T grated, fresh ginger root
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
3 T sesame oil
1 large head of broccoli, cut into florets
1 orange bell pepper, thinly sliced (you can substitute green, they are less expensive!)
1 red chili, seeded and minced (I used a red jalapeno)
Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

Mix the beef strips with 1 T of the sesame seeds in a bowl and set aside. In a different bowl, whisk together the beef stock, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, cornstarch, and red pepper flakes. Heat 1 T of the sesame oil in a large skillet (or wok) over medium to medium-high heat. Add the beef strips and, stirring almost constantly, cook for about 3 minutes or until browned all over. Remove and set aside. Discard any oil left in the pan and wipe it out with paper towels to remove any excess sesame seeds. Heat the remaining oil and add the broccoli, bell pepper, and chili pepper and stir fry for 2-3 minutes, stirring often. When the vegetables are just beginning to brown and soften, stir in the beef stock mixture, cover, and let simmer for 2 minutes. Return the beef to the pan and let simmer until the liquids thicken, stirring frequently for about 1-2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the last of the sesame seeds. Top with chopped cilantro and serve immediately with cooked white rice.

Steamed White Rice (also from Perfect Chinese)
makes 3-4 servings

Rinse 1 generous cup of white rice under cold running water. Put the rice in a small sauce pan with enough cold water to just cover the rice. Bring to a boil, then cover and let simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the rice sit and steam for another 5 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork and serve.

As a rule, Chinese food is a “no-no” in the gluten-free lifestyle. Soy sauce is the culprit. It usually contains wheat, although I have seen a few brands that are gluten-free. Therefore, Chinese take-out (one of my FAVORITE things, pre-J) has been all but non-existent since we started dating. That all changed when I bought this great little cookbook, Perfect Chinese. (I found it at Marshalls for $4(!!!) a while ago and I’m just so happy about it.) As long as you make sure all of your ingredients are gluten-free, you can enjoy Chinese food again! And it’s usually better for you when it’s homemade anyway. Aside from the soy sauce, Chinese cooking tends to include gluten-free ingredients. Rice, both grain and noodle, is very abundant as well as cornstarch, which is most commonly used as a thickener. (Thai and Vietnamese cuisines are even more gluten-free friendly, although none of these three are 100% gluten-free. Be careful when you order, is all I’m saying.) Ok, that’s enough with the lesson.

My first comment on this recipe is: make sure all of your ingredients are ready before you start cooking! This is a fast cooking recipe and if you’re not on top of things, you’ll either burn or overcook something, neither of which is very fun. The recipe in the cookbook doesn’t specify over what heat to cook the dish, so I recommend cooking the beef and vegetables over medium-high and before you add the beef stock mixture turn the heat down to medium. When I added the beef stock mixture (over more of a medium-high heat) it thickened almost immediately. It was pretty crazy to see that happen, I must admit. I fixed the issue by adding a bit of water and then let it cook off until it reached the right consistency. I also had trouble with the ginger. I had fresh ginger root in the freezer from a Thai dish I made for Girl’s Night last summer. (Rachael Ray suggests keeping ginger wrapped in plastic wrap in the freezer so it lasts longer. So, that’s what I did.) I mistakenly did not peel the ginger before freezing it which led me to thaw the ginger in the fridge the day before so I could peel it before grating it. Since I’m not a ginger expert, I don’t know if it was the thawing that messed me up or if the ginger had gone bad, but when I went to peel the defrosted ginger, it was mush. Literally. I sliced off the peel with a paring knife and, since I couldn’t grate mush, I minced and mashed it up. It smelled fine, which leads me to believe that it was the thawing part that ruined the ginger. Now I know: peel the ginger before freezing it, then I can just grate it while it’s frozen, no problem.

It was delicious. J was impressed that I pulled it off. I think he had completely given up on Chinese food because all he could ever order was one of the “Dieter’s Delight” steamed, boring dishes. (I’m actually planning my next meal from this cookbook – Sweet and Sour Chicken – and we’re both pretty excited about it!) I will say that I should have made a bit more rice. Somehow it didn’t even out and when J took the leftovers for lunch the next day, he barely had any rice to go underneath. Sad…I kind of blame myself, though. I’ve always been a sucker for rice, eating way more than allotted for my portion, so I probably ate his lunch rice with my dinner. Oops.

*Most brands of soy sauce contain wheat, so make sure you read the ingredients carefully. I use Kroger brand “Lite Soy Sauce” which is gluten free.

Sensational Soups

lentil soup

Lentil Soup with Sausage and Potato

I made Lentil Soup with Sausage and Potato last week and it was so good, I made it again on Saturday. It is incredibly flavorful and hearty; and when J and I invited my parents over on Saturday, I decided it was the perfect lunch for a dreary February afternoon. (It’s not like we’re having insane snow, like J’s family in Pittsburgh, but it’s still winter here too.)
I know to some of you it won’t look like much or may even look like crap, but trust me – this soup is so full of flavor, you’ll forget what it looks like. In fact…yes. I just decided; it tastes much, MUCH better than it looks. (Though, to be fair, I think it looks delicious.) Oh, and one more thing: I love this recipe so much, I’m legitimately sad that I didn’t come up with it myself.
Lentil Soup with Sausage and Potato (from Joy of Cooking)
makes about 10 cups

3 T olive oil
3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
3 medium celery ribs, diced
1 large onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups dried lentils, rinsed and picked over
1, 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 tsp dried thyme
8 c chicken stock
1 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 large potato, peeled and diced
8 oz kielbasa, diced
about 1 c water

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Saute carrots, celery, and onion until tender but not browned, about 10 minutes. When there is one minute or less left to cook the vegetables, add the garlic and stir to combine. Stir in the lentils, tomatoes, dried thyme, and chicken stock. Raise the heat and bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the potatoes, stir, and cook another 10 minutes. Add the kielbasa and water, stir, and cook another 5 minutes or until the potatoes are tender and the sausage is heated through. Finally, stir in balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.

I served the soup with garlic Parmesan toast on Saturday and goat cheese toast today when I had it for lunch. The goat cheese toast was awesome and both tasted pretty amazing with the soup.

Next up: The Barefoot Contessa’s Mexican Chicken Soup with my alterations, of course. I’ve made this soup several times and both J and I just love it! It’s fresh yet spicy and will go so well with cornbread (when I remember to make it). Speaking of cornbread, my mom reminded me that my Grandmother’s cornbread recipe is not only absolutely divine but it just so happens to be gluten free! UNBELIEVABLE! I think I’ll make it this week.

Mexican Chicken Soup

Mexican Chicken Soup

Mexican Chicken Soup (adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home)
serves 6-8

3 T olive oil
2-3 c cooked, shredded chicken
2 c chopped yellow onions
1 1/2 c chopped celery
2 c chopped carrots
4 large garlic cloves, diced
2 1/2 quarts chicken stock (check ingredients to ensure it’s GF)
1, 28oz can chopped tomatoes
4 jalapenos, seeded and minced
1 tsp cumin
1 generous tsp ground coriander
1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro
1 c uncooked Jasmine rice
1 3/4 c water
1 T butter
salt and pepper
diced avocado
sour cream
chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the onions, celery, and carrots and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes or until the onions start to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock, tomatoes with their puree, jalapenos, cumin, coriander, salt and pepper to taste, and cilantro. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, partly covered, for 25 minutes. Cook the Jasmine rice: Bring 1 3/4 cups water to a boil. Add 1 T butter, a hearty pinch of salt, and raw Jasmine rice, stir well, return to boil then lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 18 minutes. Add the shredded chicken to the soup and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook another 5-6 minutes or until the chicken is heated through. Serve soup over cooked Jasmine rice with toppings, if desired.

I really and truly love soup. I love how methodical the preparation is and how the smell permeates the house when you’re cooking. Its gotten to the point where I always have homemade soup in the freezer and that is a good feeling.

Play with your food

I’ve been playing with some recipes lately and wanted to share my findings. My Dad’s chili recipe, a favorite of mine since childhood, wasn’t supposed to be one of my experiments but I completely forgot to buy the extra ingredients so I just used what I had. It turns out I am skilled at improvising (good to know) and I liked the result just as well, if not better, than the original (sorry Dad!). Another recipe I tinkered with is one of Ina Garten’s many Mac & Cheese recipes. I wanted to tackle the problem of the roux in a gluten-free kitchen and I thought mac and cheese was as good a place to start as any. I have considered the problem and theorized many, many times, so it felt REALLY good to finally try it out. There’s a pizza recipe and chicken fingers with mustard BBQ sauce to discuss as well. Oh and the sides, of course. Let’s get to it…..


"Steve's" Chili

My version of Steve’s Chili
makes about 8 servings

2 lbs ground turkey
1 package Carroll Shelby’s Chili Kit (omit: masa flour and salt packets)
2, 15 oz cans dark red kidney beans
1, 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1, 8 oz can tomato sauce
salt and pepper

Brown turkey in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook until the meat is completely cooked and the excess fat has almost completely evaporated. Add chili seasoning and cayenne packets, beans with their juices, tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Stir to combine and cook for 20 minutes. Check for consistency and add as much water as needed to get your desired consistency. Also add salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cook at least another 10 minutes (the longer it simmers, the better it will taste).

We never added toppings to this chili but feel free to top it how you like. J put some cheese on his and I think it would taste good with any number of toppings. But honestly, it doesn’t NEED anything else. It is so flavorful and thick and satisfying on its own. (Although, as I sit here, mouth watering, it seems like some diced shallots and sour cream would be spectacular.) My Dad doesn’t add the cayenne packet because my Mom doesn’t like things too spicy, so it was my first time having “his chili” the spicy way and MAN is it good! I made Jalapeno Cornbread Muffins to go along side, which was a great side dish, in theory. [To save time, and due to the fact that I haven’t come up with a gluten-free all purpose flour blend, I used Bob’s Red Mill Cornbread Mix. NEVER AGAIN. I have discussed my experience with Bob’s Red Mill products having an odd taste and it happened yet again. I’ve tried three different products and now I’m officially done with Bob’s Red Mill. I do not recommend their gluten-free products. Period.] Regardless, I will post a picture because they did look appetizing and, well, why not? (Click here to see the Jalapeno Cornbread Muffins.)

Now, on to my experiment with classic Mac & Cheese prepared gluten-free style. Here is the Barefoot Contessa’s original recipe for Mac & Cheese. I was nervous about altering the recipe (even though I knew I had to) but in the end, it turned out really, really well. I’m very pleased and have made some notes about what to do differently next time. I think Ina would be impressed.

mac & cheese

Fancy Mac and Cheese with Breadcrumbs

Fancy Mac and Cheese with Breadcrumbs (inspired by the Barefoot Contessa)
serves 6-8

16 oz Quinoa Ancient Harvest brand Elbow Macaroni
1 T olive oil
2 T, plus 1 tsp salt
1 qt, plus 3 T milk
1 stick unsalted butter, divided
3 T cornstarch
12 oz Gruyere cheese, grated
8 oz extra sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/2 c fresh GF breadcrumbs (about 5 slices of sandwich bread)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish with cooking spray (or butter). Drizzle 1 T olive oil and 2 T salt into a large pot of boiling water. Cook pasta 2 minutes less than indicated in package directions. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat 1 quart of milk and 6 T butter in a large saucepan until the butter melts and the milk has tiny bubbles along the edge. Combine 3 T cornstarch with 3T cold milk to make a slurry and set aside. While the milk and butter come to temperature, cut the crusts off of the bread and cut the slices into large chunks. Process in a food processor fitted with a steel blade until the crumbs are the desired size. Once the milk and butter are warm, add slurry and whisk well. Turn off the heat and add both cheeses, stirring constantly in a figure eight motion with a wooden spoon. Once cheese is combined (there may be some clumps but that is ok, they will melt out in the oven) add 1 tsp salt, pepper, and nutmeg and stir to combine. Finally, add the cooked macaroni and stir until completely combined.
Pour the macaroni and cheese mixture into the greased baking dish. Melt the last 2 T butter and combine with the fresh breadcrumbs. Top the macaroni and cheese evenly with the buttered breadcrumbs and put into the oven. Cook for 30 minutes until the top is browned and the sauce is bubbly. Let sit a few minutes out of the oven then serve.

It worried me at first that the cheese sauce didn’t thicken on the stove, but I new that was because I wasn’t boiling the milk (in order for the cornstarch to thicken, whatever you put it into has to boil) and that in the oven, it would be hot enough to “boil”. I was also worried because the cheese clumped up when I added it to the hot butter and milk (that’s why I added the direction to stir constantly) but again, common sense told me it would all melt away in the oven. The Mac & Cheese turned out beautifully! I can assure you J loved it and gave it rave reviews.

Some things I’d like to try next time: I would either do away with the breadcrumbs OR add chopped parsley, salt and pepper to give them even more yummy flavor. I think the Mac & Cheese would taste divine with sauteed mushrooms or diced ham. Also, I thought sauteed shallots might add a nice crunch and tangy flavor to the final product. [I discovered that inexpensive Kraft extra sharp Cheddar, while affordable, does not work well in my food processor (that’s how I grated it), so I recommend you use firm, good quality cheeses.] Also, I want to try either equal amounts of Gruyere and Cheddar OR 12 oz Cheddar and 8 oz Gruyere, just to see if the flavor will be “cheesier”. If you’re not familiar with Gruyere it is a potent cheese with a wonderful nutty, salty flavor – very yummy in fondue but very strong in macaroni and cheese.

chicken fingers with mustard bbq sauce

Chicken Fingers with Mustard BBQ Sauce

For some time now, I’ve been playing with a recipe for oven fried chicken from Joy of Cooking. I was initially drawn to the recipe because it uses a cornmeal crust (yay! inherently gluten-free!) and bakes in the oven (yay! less mess!). I’ve made it with chicken breasts several times and then decided, “why not make it with chicken tenders?”. Then I found a mustard BBQ sauce, also in Joy of Cooking, that is to die for and the rest is history. The tangy mustard sauce pairs beautifully with chicken, especially breaded/”fried” chicken.

I will post the recipe once I’ve gotten it exactly as I want it. The last time I made it (reference the above picture) I simply cut boneless, skinless chicken breasts into about 1-inch thick strips and coated them with dry GF breadcrumbs seasoned with salt and pepper. Then sprayed them lightly with cooking spray and baked them in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. While they were delicious, they lacked a certain crunch. I should have dipped them in egg wash or some other kind of wash – I’m thinking buttermilk might be good…Also, I recently discovered that Quinoa Ancient Harvest makes quinoa flakes, which I think I might be able to use in place of Panko (Japanese bread flakes). That makes me pretty excited. That might be the key to a crunchier crust! Stay tuned…

I WILL share the amazingly robust and flavorful mustard BBQ sauce that J and I have fallen in love with.
Ray’s Mustard Barbecue Sauce (from Joy of Cooking)
makes 3 cups

1 1/2 c prepared yellow mustard*
1/2 c ketchup
1/2 c cider vinegar
1/2 c vegetable oil
1/4 c grated onion
1/4 c honey
4 garlic cloves, minced
Juice of 1 lime
2 T Worcestershire sauce*
1 1/2 T black pepper
*(French’s makes both of these GF)

Combine all ingredients in a medium sauce pan and bring to a slow simmer over medium-low heat. Simmer, stirring often to prevent sticking, for 15 minutes. The sauce will keep, covered and refrigerated, for about 1 month. The sauce goes very well with fried chicken, as a basting sauce for pork ribs, and/or with pulled pork.

Last but certainly not least, I want to tell you about my recipe for Mexican Pizza. I tried this once before with mediocre but promising results. This time, I think I got it! I’m still tweaking the crust a bit but the flavors were right on target.

mexican pizza

Mexican Pizza

Mexican Pizza
serves 4

1, 12″ prepared, uncooked pizza crust
3/4 lb. Ground turkey
1 packet taco seasoning
1/2 c diced red onion
4-6 oz taco sauce (Ortega is GF)
3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 1/2-2 c Mexican blend shredded cheese
1/2 c chopped Pickled jalapenos

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (or according to pizza crust package). In a skillet, cook ground turkey and red onion per taco seasoning packet directions. Prepare dough on baking sheet, per package directions, prick lightly with a fork and cook in the oven for 8 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven and spread taco sauce over the dough, almost to the edge. Sprinkle a few of the chopped jalapenos over the taco sauce. Layer generously with cheese. Top with the ground turkey mixture, the tomatoes, and the remaining jalapenos. Finally, top with a little bit more cheese. Bake for 22 minutes or until cheese and crust are browned.

You’ll notice in the picture that I didn’t use tomatoes when I made this last week (I forgot to buy them) but I did use them last time and I know it’s good, so…J and I pondered throughout the entire meal what else to add to make it more Mexican…I thought it was pretty perfect and in the end the only additions we came up with were additional toppings like guacamole, sour cream, salsa, etc. We didn’t feel like we needed the extra toppings but it might be worth giving a try. One last recipe – this is a quick one, I promise! We ate a very fresh and delicious vegetable salad along side the pizza.

chunky veg. salad

Chunky Vegetable Salad

Mexican Chunk Vegetable Salad (from Classic Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals)
makes 4 servings

2 vine-ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/3 English cucumber, cut into bite-size chunks
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
1 medium red or green bell pepper, seeded and cut into bite-size chunks
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
2 T chopped cilantro or parsley
2 tsp cayenne pepper sauce
Juice of 2 limes
2 T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Combine the vegetables in a bowl. Sprinkle with the cilantro. Dress the salad with the hot sauce, lime juice, and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine and adjust seasonings to taste.

Thank you for sticking with me to the end of this post! I know it was a long one, but I just felt like getting through all of these recipes at once.

Caribbean Fried Rice

caribbean fried rice1
Caribbean Fried Rice
serves 4

1 1/2 c cooked pork, shredded or chopped
3 c cooked yellow rice
2 T olive oil
1 c onion, chopped
3 tsp Jerk seasoning, separated
1/2 c frozen peas
2/3 c diced carrots
1 T Smart Balance or butter
about 3/4 c water or chicken stock

Season pork with 2 tsp Jerk seasoning and set aside. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add onions and saute until translucent. Add pork and saute until heated through and starting to brown, about 8 minutes. While pork cooks, put carrots in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a simmer and cook until tender, 5-8 minutes. Drain, stir in butter and set aside. Deglaze pan with 3/4 c water (more or less as necessary) then add rice. Stir to combine. Add 1 tsp Jerk seasoning, peas, and carrots. Continue to cook until everything is heated through and liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.

I came up with this recipe because I had leftover pork and leftover yellow rice. I thought it might be good to try a twist on the standard fried rice and since the rice I had was yellow, I thought, Caribbean! (Plus, I really love Jerk seasoning.) Frozen carrots would work beautifully, but I only had fresh, so I cooked them to soften them before sauteing. I liked the way it turned out. It was filling and flavorful, but it didn’t send me to the moon, if you know what I mean. It was fine, not spectacular. Maybe I’m too hard on myself or maybe I expect too much, I don’t know. I served it with black beans and those turned out beautifully.

Black Beans
serves 2-3

1, 15oz can black bean
1 small ham hock
1 large bay leaf
black pepper to taste
1/2 c water

Stir together black beans (with can juices), ham hock, water and bay leaf in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, cover, and allow to cook for at least 20 minutes. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste, remove bay leaf, and serve.

black beans2

The beans turned out much better than I was expecting. The ham hock (which I had around from New Year’s Day) was a new ingredient for me so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But now it’s pretty clear to me why Southern cooks use it so much. It imbues such amazing smoky, deep flavor into the dish. It will surprise you how much flavor these beans have, if you make this dish.

Lessons I learned from this meal
1. It is harder to make up a recipe, and have it turn out exactly how you imagine, than you’d expect.
2. That said, now I know it’s not impossible to make up a recipe completely from scratch.

All in all, a completely middle of the road meal with a lot of potential.

Southern Traditions

NYD dinner

Fresh Pork Ham and Spaghetti with Tomato Gravy - Black Eyed Peas

This year, I made my first traditional Southern New Year’s Day dinner. Before I go any further, you may be asking yourself, “Is there such a thing as a traditional New Year’s Day dinner?” I answer you with a resounding “YES!” (After doing some research, I found out that peoples all over the world, since the time of the Pharaohs, have eaten certain foods on the first day of the new year to bring good luck, and the South is no different.) I have eaten the exact same meal every New Year’s Day for 29 years. The recipe comes from Ma, my great-grandmother on my mom’s side, and I am honored to continue the tradition. Every Southern family’s dinner varies slightly but there are at least two aspects of the meal that are the same no matter where in the South you are: black-eyed peas and greens. The black-eyed peas symbolize good luck and the greens (collard, mustard, turnip – doesn’t matter) symbolize wealth. Most meals include pork which is eaten to symbolize moving forward in the new year (because pigs literally forage for food by shuffling forward. Cows stand still, chickens dig backwards, lobsters swim backwards, etc.) That being said, skeptics and historians will tell you that Southerners eat these foods because that is what was available during the cold winter months. (Of note: It is said that during the Civil War, Northern soldiers didn’t see any point in destroying black-eyed pea crops, while burning their way through the South, because they considered it “animal fodder”. Therefore, one would consider oneself lucky to have food after living through the Yankee pillage. Get it? Black-eyed peas = luck.) Also, pigs were typically slaughtered in December and January and, in the South, greens remain a viable crop through January. Whatever the reason and whatever you choose to believe, in my family we eat the same meal, every January 1st because it is tradition. I could go on and on about the different reasons that these foods are considered “good luck” but I want this to be a website about food, not history – even though I do love history…

Fresh Pork Ham and Spaghetti (my Great-Grandmother’s recipe)
serves 6-8

6-9 lb pork butt
4 or 5 peeled whole garlic cloves, 1 minced
1 T salt (I prefer Kosher)
1/2 c prepared yellow mustard
1/4 c brown sugar
1/4 c hot pepper sauce (this brand is GF, but it was difficult to find a label that listed “distilled vinegar”)
1/4 c water
1/2 c sweet pickle vinegar (from a jar of Bread n’ Butter pickles)
2 cans tomato soup (I used Amy’s Cream of Tomato soup)
1 c ketchup
1/4 c Worcestershire sauce
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2-3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 lb spaghetti (I use Quinoa Ancient Harvest brand)

Combine brown sugar, hot pepper sauce, sweet pickle vinegar, and water in the bottom of a large Dutch oven. Place a rack in the bottom of the pot. (If you don’t have one that fits, you can make a coil out of rolled aluminum foil.) Pierce the pork in 3 or 4 places using a paring knife to create slots (do not go deeper than halfway into the meat). Push one peeled, whole garlic clove into each slot. Lightly salt the pork, then evenly coat with the mustard. Top with the remaining salt (1 T in total). Place the prepared pork into the Dutch oven. (It’s OK if the meat touches the sides of the pot, it will pull back as it cooks.) Bring the liquid in the pot to a rapid boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 3 hours. (Check the pot occasionally to make sure the liquid is not cooking away. You may need to keep turning the heat down in increments to maintain a steady simmer.) The meat is done when it has pulled away from the bone. Remove pork from the pot and cover with foil. Skim off excess fat from the liquid in the pot and discard. Add both cans of tomato soup, ketchup, minced garlic clove, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper and stir to thoroughly combine. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until the sauce thickens enough for gravy, about 30 minutes. (The sauce will cook down significantly.) Prepare spaghetti according to package directions. Before serving, thinly slice pork and serve both the pork and spaghetti with gravy. (You’ll want a big gravy boat full on the table, trust me.)

New Year’s Day Black-eyed Peas (family recipe)
serves 4

1, 16 oz package frozen Pictsweet brand black-eyed peas
1 cured ham hock

Place peas and ham hock in a medium saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes. Taste for seasonings. When ready to serve, drain and remove ham hock if desired (do not eat). Serve with hot pepper sauce. (Also delicious with the gravy, but honestly, what isn’t?!)

I am not including a recipe for the greens because I haven’t ever made them in a way that actually tastes good. There are a myriad of recipes for traditional Southern greens and I will definitely find the best one for my cookbook. (I am certain that ham hocks will be involved there, too.) As I mentioned, the greens are a non-negotiable part of the tradition of this meal, so every year we make them and every year (depending on your tastes) you either eat a small portion, a tiny bite, or serving after serving. (My brother is especially fond of turnip greens…I never understood that.) Regardless of how you make them, serve them with hot pepper sauce – it makes them easier to eat.

My dad, who is from Ohio, always made sauerkraut with the meal and now that has become part of the tradition as well. It works out perfectly because J, being from Pittsburgh, also loves sauerkraut and it goes very well with the pork, besides. (I’m sure you noticed there is no sauerkraut in the picture and that is only because I forgot to make it…oops.) Another component of the traditional meal (not in my family, but in many, many others) is cornbread. I plan to develop a GF cornbread recipe for my cookbook and might end up serving it alongside this already perfect meal.

Recently, I asked my mother to recount her memories of this meal to help inspire my post. She and I laughed at our shared dislike for the greens, both of us exclaiming “I only eat a little bit, because you HAVE TO!” I was touched and (frankly) amazed to learn that the Dutch oven I recently inherited and used is the same one that, not only my grandmother but, my GREAT-grandmother used to make this meal. But, the thing we talked about most was the gravy. I can hardly describe the flavor because it is so intense and specific. It is a combination of sweet, tangy, spicy, rich, and so many other things. And what makes it especially enticing is that we only have it once a year. Obviously the recipe makes a lot, almost a quart and a half, so there are leftovers, but we don’t make it any other time during the year. (I don’t know if I’m allowed to change this rule or not – I’ll have to ask.)

I hope this post has given you ideas for your next New Year’s Day or at least shed some light on why Southerner’s do things the way we do. I look forward to working on this menu more extensively for my cookbook – THAT will be my excuse for making the gravy more than just once a year!!! (Don’t worry Mom, I’ll save you some.)

Happy New Year!

In lieu of going out for an expensive dinner or fighting our way through a crowded bar, J and I opted for a romantic yet celebratory night at home for New Year’s Eve. We skipped all the dressing up and being fancy (except for the food – the food was fancy) and instead we snuggled in, watched TV, made a fire, and celebrated the birth of a new decade bathed in the light of our (still decorated) Christmas tree. On the menu: Baked Brie with Honey and Pecans for an hors d’oeuvre and Sea Scallop Gratin as the entree. I chose scallops for two reasons (the least of which being that they were on sale at Kroger). The main reason I chose scallops is because J talks a lot about how much he loves them. We don’t eat seafood at home all that often, not for any reason other than I’m not completely confident in my seafood cooking skills, but none-the-less, J mentions scallops quite frequently. To me scallops are somehow a “fancy” food. Perhaps because of their color and size (edible, giant pearls, if you will) or the way they live and are harvested. (On a side note: I spent many childhood summers scalloping with extended family in St. Joe Bay in Florida. Of course those were bay scallops (the teeny-tiny ones) but still, there is quite a process for picking them, shucking them, cleaning them, and keeping them until cooked.) So, there I am at Kroger, nervous about frozen scallops (even though Joy of Cooking reassured me that as long as the color and smell are right, frozen scallops would be fine), all the while determined to make J a romantic meal for New Year’s Eve.

scallop gratin1

Sea Scallop Gratin

Sea Scallop Gratin (Joy of Cooking)
serves 2-3

3 T unsalted butter, 2 T melted
1/2 c fresh breadcrumbs
3 T grated Parmesan
1 T minced parsley
1 tsp chopped thyme
1 tsp, plus a pinch salt
Black pepper to taste
2 shallots, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz small mushrooms, quartered
1/4 c white wine
1 c heavy cream
12 oz scallops, shucked and cleaned, cut in half horizontally
1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Combine 2 T melted butter, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, parsley, thyme, a pinch of salt and pepper in a bowl; set aside. Melt 1 T butter in a medium skillet over medium heat and saute shallots and garlic until soft but not browned, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and saute about 7 minutes, adding 1 tsp salt towards the end of cooking, until mushrooms begin to soften. Add white wine, increase heat, and simmer until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Add cream and bring to a gentle boil then cook until thickened, about 5 minutes. Preheat the broiler. Reduce the heat and bring the sauce down to a simmer. Add the scallops and stir to cover with sauce. Cook until the scallops are opaque, about 1 1/2 minutes, remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Spoon the mixture into individual gratin dishes and top evenly with the breadcrumb mixture. Broil until the top is golden brown and the sauce is bubbling around the edges.

I’m not sure why, but I very much enjoyed cooking this dish. I think because I love all of the ingredients and flavors individually, therefore combining them just increased my love for them. Instead of making my own fresh gluten free breadcrumbs, I used the dried GF breadcrumbs that I already had. This worked fine, except I should have used less than what is called for in the recipe. I had to use curly parsley rather than Italian flat-leaf parsley because, for the 3rd week in a row, Kroger didn’t have flat-leaf. (This doesn’t really affect the recipe – curly parsley tastes the same as flat-leaf, just not as potent – but it does affect my sanity. I feel embarrassed buying curly parsley – as if the chefs I watch on Food Network are going to see me at the check out and think I’m a moron! I know it’s not that big of a deal but, WHERE IS ALL THE FLAT-LEAF PARSLEY?!?) I hesitated when it came to adding the mushrooms. I knew I had to do it and always planned to add them but J has a serious aversion to mushrooms, so I hesitated. I made sure they were small enough not to call attention to themselves and threw them in with the butter, shallots, and garlic. Not long after, J strolled by saying, “Mmmmm that smells good.” When he looked into the skillet and noticed the mushrooms, he froze. (I literally winced, waiting for his reaction. I have been lectured about his abhorrence of mushrooms. I didn’t want him to think I was being disrespectful, but I knew the mushrooms were essential to the flavor of the dish!) A few, painfully long, seconds later, he said, “Huh! Mushrooms smell that good?” If I hadn’t been minding the food I could have danced a jig around the kitchen! He admitted that the mushrooms looked and smelled good! That’s what I call progress, people! When it came to adding the scallops, again, I worried. I knew in theory it was easy; put them in, stir the sauce, cook for 1 1/2 minutes. But in reality; I put them in and stirred the sauce. They are the same color. How am I supposed to tell when they are opaque?! I let them cook for 1 1/2 minutes. They look the same as when I put them in – are they done?! I turned some of the thicker ones to assist in “even cooking”. It’s been 2 minutes…are they opaque?! After about 3 minutes I knew I had to take them out or else they would overcook. Plus, they were going under the broiler for a minute or two, that should take care of any under cooking. I spooned the scallops and sauce into a greased 9-inch round cake pan (I do not own any gratin dishes), topped it with the breadcrumb mixture, and popped it under the broiler. It came out bubbling and smelling amazing. I served J and myself and put a lemon wedge on the side. We tried the gratin “as is” but in the end, adding fresh lemon juice to the warm-from-the-oven gratin was perfection. That extra bit of lemon did wonders for the overall flavor of the gratin.

scallop gratin2

Sea Scallop Gratin

From his first bite, J was in scallop heaven. He loved the crunchy topping (even taking time to mention the parsley), he loved the touch of lemon juice, he LOVED the scallops (but we knew that already), and most importantly – he loved the mushrooms! He made a point of telling me each time he ate a mushroom. What a cutie. (Honestly though, anything tastes amazing when it’s cooked with garlic, shallots, butter, cream, and breadcrumbs.) I loved the dish as well. Scallops are not my favorite seafood, I find them to be a bit sweet for my taste, but I did enjoy this meal. I’m considering making a tradition of having seafood for dinner on New Year’s Eve.

Now, I know I did this backwards, but let’s talk about the hors d’oeuvre:

brie with honey

Baked Brie with Honey and Pecans

Baked Brie with Honey and Pecans (based on Ina Garten’s Baked Brie recipe)
serves 4-6

1, 8oz wheel of Brie, room temperature
5-6 T honey
1/2 c pecans, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the Brie on a baking sheet topped with parchment paper. (If not using parchment paper, lightly grease baking sheet.) Cover the Brie with honey, letting some drip over the sides. Top with the chopped pecans. Bake for 8-10 minutes until the honey is fragrant and the Brie is soft. (Test the Brie by pushing against the rind with your finger. It should be very flexible when ready.) Remove from oven, transfer to serving plate, and surround with crackers. Serve immediately.

I don’t think I need to describe how delicious this tastes. The best part is, because everything is warm, once you cut the first piece, the pecans, honey, and Brie all run together. I prefer to serve this with almond or pecan flavor Nut Thins. These crackers are a GF lover’s best friend. They are rice and nut crackers and come in several different flavors. J introduced me to them when we first started dating and I took to them instantly. In fact, I think I like them better than he does. They are SUPER crunchy and because they are made from nuts, they have an inherent flavor that can accentuate whatever they are being eaten with. The perfect little snack. J was surprised at how much he liked the Brie with honey but to be fair, I ate most of it…