I should be honest.  This isn’t a recipe.  Or, if it is a recipe, it’s one that everyone has in their head.  Who doesn’t have some standard recipe involving bell peppers, onions, and whatever protein happens to be handy?  For that reason, I wasn’t going to post this “recipe.”  The boy changed my mind.  He had a point: once upon a time, I did not have this recipe sitting in my head, waiting for a day when I was very hungry and relatively lazy.  It came from somewhere.  Plus, I like my version a lot, and it was particularly satisfying last night.  So, if you already have this recipe in your mental file under “low-effort, lots of yum ” then read no further.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, read on.  🙂

One of my favorite things about this meal is how easy it is to adjust according to how many people you have to feed.  I tend to buy chicken breasts in bulk and freeze them in pairs, so it’s easy for me to make a chicken dinner for 2 or 6 (odd numbers continue to stymie me!).  My other favorite thing about this meal is how easy it is to adjust to what I have on hand – need to use up that stir fry beef you bought?  That’ll do.  Really, you don’t even need the meat.   Basically, this is the perfect after-work meal, or your-friends-just-called-and-said-they’ll-be-there-in-20-minutes meal.  Plus, did I mention it’s tasty?

Now, of course you could just serve this as-is; protein and veggies, what more do you need?  But, you know me, why leave well enough alone when you could pile that meal on a baked potato?  Or a pile of mashed potatoes?  Or a crusty roll?  Or some brown rice?  You get where I’m going with this…to make it the perfect, filling, quick-but-satisfying meal, I recommend serving it with a starch of some sort. Oh, and I use a mix of orange and red peppers, because I like the taste, and because I like the look of using two colors.

Chicken with Peppers
Serves 2, easily adjusts for more

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
1-2 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers (depending on size, I usually use 1 1/2 or so), thinly sliced
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons Montreal Steak Seasoning (or something similar)
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (Lea and Perrins is Gluten-free)
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat.  Salt and pepper the sliced chicken, then brown chicken on all sides.  Add peppers, onions, and garlic.  Cook, stirring (like a stir fry, keep the veggies moving) for 3-5 minutes, or until the onions are translucent and the peppers are softened (you don’t want to cook them until they’re gooey, just not crisp anymore).  Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper, the steak seasoning, and Worcestershire sauce, stir to coat the chicken and veggies.  Lower heat to medium and cook another 5 minutes, stirring.  Adjust seasoning to taste (I like this really strong, so I almost always add an extra sprinkle of steak seasoning and a splash of Worcestershire at the end).

Keep in mind that if you use more or less veg (or protein), you’ll need more or less seasoning.  Use your judgment…I don’t measure anything for a meal like this…just sprinkle and taste, sprinkle and taste 🙂

My favorite way to serve this is over a baked potato.

I know I’ve only been gluten-free for 2 1/2 weeks (barely), but since the moment I went gluten-free, I’ve been craving pizza.  Since I decided that to really give gluten-free a chance, I’ll need to stick with it for at least 3 weeks (4 if I notice any hint of a difference), I realized that I might as well start exploring my options.   Plus, as a baker, I’m intrigued by the idea of gluten-free bread (and baking in general).  When I hit the one week mark (and had just turned in a draft of my 3rd dissertation chapter) I rewarded myself with an impulse purchase.  It started with a recommendation from Gluten-Free Girl for the book, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day.   I was innocently looking for recipes for dinner (love her site), and came across this review (she helped develop one of the gluten-free recipes in the book).  After reading her review and watching their video on amazon, I managed to justify the purchase.  I’m a champion at rationalization.  My reasoning went this way: if I end up going gluten-free forever, Shauna says it’s worth the purchase just for the chapter on gluten-free.  If I don’t stay gluten-free, I can play with the recipes in the rest of the book!  Win-win.  (my husband later asked what was wrong with the other gazillion baking books I have, including one brand new gluten-free baking book…he soo doesn’t get it)

So, I broke my previous rule of not buying specialty baking supplies.  The boy actually enabled me in this- I think he wanted to play with the xanthan gum.  Loaded down with new flours and starches from Whole Foods, all I had to do was choose which bread to make.  It was a no-brainer for me, there were 3 choices (the book uses a variety of master recipes, then additional methods to build on those basic masters): gluten-free crusty boule, gluten-free olive oil bread, and gluten-free brioche (I know!).  It was close there for a minute…but the decision was made for me when I read that the olive oil bread made a great crusty loaf…or a fabulous pizza dough!

I made the olive oil bread dough, and baked a loaf immediately after the 2 hour rest (you’re supposed to put it in the fridge for at least 24 hours…have I mentioned I’m not terribly patient?).  It was wonderful.  Slightly underbaked inside (I’ve since learned that you have to allow gluten-free bread to cool completely, otherwise it’s gummy in the middle), but still delicious.  My non-GF husband (elsewhere known as the boy) immediately devoured 2 pieces, and only stopped when I brought to his attention the fact the he was eating MY bread!  I have another batch on the counter as we speak, resting and waiting to be made into pizza again.  Oh, did I not tell you about the pizza?

This one batch of dough made, I believe, 3 loaves and one large pizza crust…and there’s enough for one more pizza crust left in the bowl.  This stuff is amazing.  And yet, I can’t bring myself to give you the recipe…the book is so good, you have to buy it!  To explain, usually I’m ok with posting a recipe from a book, because I figure if you really like it, then you’ll go buy the book.  But in this case, because the book relies on “master recipes,” if I gave you one recipe, I’d really be giving you around 12 recipes, and that seems shady to me.  But, I will give you a link to the recipe for their gluten-free boule (which can also be made into pizza crust…I haven’t tried it because I don’t have sorghum flour yet), and then tell you how I made my pizza.  I’m seriously in love with this book, and it is more than worth the price (which is quite reasonable on Amazon), gluten-free or not.  Also, while you’re there, pick up some plastic covers for the bowl of your mixer…my kitchenaid mixer just happens to have a 5 quart bowl, exactly what the authors of Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day recommend, so with a plastic cover, you only have to dirty one bowl, and you can then store it easily in the fridge.  I was inordinately excited to discover these lids. 

Oh ya, so the pizza.  I made mine extremely simple, a good jarred sauce, pepperoni from Whole Foods, and mozzarella and provolone cheese.  It was fantastic.  I wanted it simple so I could taste the crust, and the crust was tasty, thin and crisp, with slightly chewy edges.  Completely satisfied my craving for pizza (that irrational craving that started this whole thing). 

Gluten-Free Pizza

1 grapefruit sized portion of Gluten-free Crusty Boule dough, or Gluten-free Olive oil dough (I used olive oil)
rice flour, for rolling
olive oil, for brushing the crust
Your choice of toppings: high quality jarred or homemade sauce, pepperoni, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella cheese (I used shredded because it tends to be drier than fresh, but slices of fresh would be tasty too), olives, mushrooms…use your imagination!

Preheat oven, with pizza stone on center rack, to 420 degrees (or as hot as your parchment paper is rated to, mine is 420).

Lay out a piece of parchment paper that is roughly the size of your pizza stone (slightly bigger).  Sprinkle the paper lightly with rice flour.  Coat your hands with rice flour, and sprinkle some on top of the dough.  Scoop or cut out a grapefruit sized portion (1/2 – 1 lb depending on the size of your pizza stone).  Form the dough into a ball quickly and place on the parchment.  Sprinkle more rice flour over the dough and on the rolling pin (the dough is very moist, so you’ll have to keep sprinkling flour throughout, just avoid working clumps of flour into the dough).  Roll the dough out to 1/4 to 1/8 inch thickness.  The dough will be stuck to the parchment (I kept mine moving in the beginning as I normally would, but eventually just gave up and let it stick, it doesn’t matter as long as you keep moving the parchment so you get a nice circle).  With your fingers, form a rim around the edge to hold in the sauce and toppings.  Top as desired.  Brush the edges of the crust with olive oil.

Slide a pizza peel (or use a baking sheet without sides) under the parchment, and slide the pizza, on the parchment, onto the preheated pizza stone.  Bake for 8 minutes.  Using your pizza peel (or the baking sheet, or a large spatula), slide the pizza off of the parchment and directly onto the stone.  Raise the oven temperature to 450-475 and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes.   Keep an eye on the pizza during the last few minutes of cooking.  Oven temps vary, and depending on the moisture content of your cheese and toppings, your pizza might take more or less time than mine.  Remove from the oven when the crust is browned and crispy and the cheese is starting to turn golden. 

Enjoy!  This pizza is a treat!

Guess what – some cooking actually happened this weekend!  Actually it was Friday.  After sitting in the ER all day with a friend I had promised myself some tasty sushi as a reward.  By the end of the day, I’d changed my tune.  Even huddled under my fleece jacket (and I was wearing layers, no ER novice, I) I was freezing!  Sushi just didn’t sound good anymore.  Instead, I finally got around to making a stew.  That poor stew beef had been sitting in the fridge for 3 days, and was about to get shoved in the deep freezer.  I kept meaning to make stew, but then finding some reason not to.  Friday night, I made it happen. 

Now, usually if I make a beef stew it’s topped with pastry.  Since I did not have the energy to even contemplate GF pastry, I decided a straight stew would be great.  Filled with potatoes and carrots, it would be cozy, warming, and filling.  I used a similar spice blend as I do in my Meat and Potato Pie, and added some nice red wine for extra richness.  It came out wonderfully, even though I wasn’t patient enough to let it simmer quite as long as it should have for really melt-in-your-mouth stew beef.  You could also throw it in the crockpot first thing in the morning, and then add the potatoes in when you get home from work. 

Beef Stew

1 1/2 lbs stew beef (I buy the pre-cut stuff because I’m lazy and cheap, but I do cut it up into slightly smaller pieces and trim the fat)
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala
dash of cayenne
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup dry red wine
4 cups beef broth (gluten-free, if necessary)
2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped (I used baby carrots I had on hand, and just cut them in half or thirds)
2 lbs red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1 inch pieces

Cut the beef into bite-size pieces, season with salt and pepper.  Heat oil in a heavy dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Sear beef on all sides (you might need to do this in batches, it usually takes me at least 2 batches).  Set beef aside.  Add onion, saute until translucent.  Add garlic, saute for 1 or 2 minutes.  Be careful not to burn the garlic, as it will get bitter.  Add bay leaves and spices, stir until fragrant (it should smell heavenly at this point).  Pour in the red wine, and use a wooden spoon to scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Return the beef to the pan, add the broth and carrots.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer.  Simmer, covered (if you want a really thick, gravy-like sauce you can simmer it uncovered – but keep in mind that it will reduce some when you add the potatoes) for at least an hour – the longer the better. 

Add in the potatoes, and return the stew to a boil.  Boil approximately 20 minutes, or until potatoes are fork tender.  Check the seasoning.  Adjust to taste.  Serve while still steaming, and watch people be happy.  This would be extra lovely with a nice crusty piece of bread for dipping.  I ate the final bowl of leftovers with a toasted slice of my very first gluten-free bread and it was quite yummy.

Well, it’s been almost a week, and I feel I owe you an update on the gluten-free experiment.  The trouble is that there hasn’t been any actual cooking around here.   The boy and I have both been feeling icky, which means that the boy has been eating a lot of fast food and frozen pizza, and I’ve been eating a lot of cobbled together meals (usually involving corn chips: corn chips and hummus, corn chips and guacamole, etc.).  On Sunday the boy cooked us a gluten-free meal of chicken and brown rice with a tomato and zucchini sauce.  I was so excited to blog about it: the main thing the boy cooks is spaghetti, so the from-scratch gluten-free meal was quite an achievement.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t wonderful.  It wasn’t awful, and we both ate it, but it just wasn’t what he was aiming for, so I’ll wait and post it when he’s perfected it.

Other than that, there hasn’t been a lot of real food going on here.  And I’ve been eating a lot of rabbity food.  And lots and lots of potatoes.  This is kind of the central conundrum of going gluten-free for me.  Given plenty of energy to grocery shop and cook, I feel like I could manage at least my 2 week trial without much trouble.  The problem is when a 10 minute drive to the grocery store seems utterly overwhelming and exhausting.  The 20 minute drive to Whole Foods – impossible.   Actually cooking real food??  No way.   Sigh.  Oh well.  If this works, and makes me feel better, then I will have energy to cook.

In addition to all of this, I’ve managed to make the whole experiment more difficult for myself.  I decided that I would not buy any specialty versions of staples: no GF flour mixes, no replacing all my standard sauces and seasonings with GF versions.  My theory was that if it works, then I’ll have time to go and buy all that stuff.  On the other hand, if it doesn’t work, what’s the point of having a bunch of GF stuff?  Plus, I had smugly told myself, “How hard could it be?”  Ahh, arrogance…how you always return to bite me in my smug ass.

Today the plan is to (despite all my resolutions) make a quick bombing-run style trip to Whole Foods, and get a few things to make my life a bit easier for the next week.  Also, I’ve heard Betty Crocker makes a GF brownie mix…this might require investigation.

Eat well!

I should preface all of this with one statement: I love gluten.  I love all things gluten-y.  When I roast a chicken, I look forward to making a stew out of the leftovers, just to that I can top it with a crust or pour it over biscuits.  When I make soup, I always imagine it mostly as something to dip crusty bread in.  I love baking bread, I love the smell of it, and the act of kneading.

This morning is the beginning of my gluten-free trial.  I have been tested for celiac’s disease, with negative results.  But, my doctor has suggested that cutting out gluten might make a big difference in my symptoms. She says she has many patients with negative test results who see a huge difference when they go gluten-free.  Sigh.  I’ve been putting this off for a very long time.  My excuse wasn’t entirely made up – I was waiting until I reached some stable place with my medications and symptoms.  Well, it’s time to stop waiting.  I have to tell you, the last month or two have not been so good.  Before Christmas, I was doing pretty well.  I was swimming 2-3 times per week, I was working consistently on my dissertation, and I was generally feeling well.  Based on all this fabulous progress, we (doctor, husband, me) decided to decrease my methotrexate dose, hoping that a lower dose would still maintain the progress I’d made.  It didn’t work out so well.  Even after increasing the dose again, things have not evened out.  Just a reminder that Behcet’s and my body don’t mess around.  And they don’t really care if I’m months behind on my dissertation (years if we’re being honest, but let’s not do that).  So, to sum up: lots of mouth sores, lots of pain, and lots of fatigue and brain fog.  All of this adds up to going gluten-free.  I hope it works…and I kind of hope it doesn’t.

The morning, and the trial, started with peanut butter and chocolate flavored children’s cereal, so it’s not all bad.  I have blueberry waffles in the freezer, also gluten-free.  I have an enormous bag of brown rice in the pantry.  Oh, and the freezer still has probably 30 lbs of zucchini, tomatoes, and bell peppers from last summer’s out of control garden.

The reality is that a gluten-free trial of 2 or 3 weeks should not be that difficult.  If the gluten-free diet actually works though, I have no illusions that it will be easy to maintain indefinitely.  But, if it made me not hurt?  If I could focus for more than 30 minutes at a time?  If it allowed me to decrease my meds?  It would be worth it…but I will miss the biscuits and pastry.

I’d be infinitely grateful for any tasty (preferably wintery, cozy) gluten-free recipes you might have.   Eat well!

It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that the boy and I (an engineer and a ph.d. candidate, respectively), are not terribly social people.  We love going out to a nice meal, but having that nice meal on Valentine’s Day, with everyone else in the world, all trying desperately to have the most romantic night possible – whew…well, it stresses us out.  Plus, the food is much more likely to be mediocre or even bad if you go out to eat on a busy holiday weekend like that (the chefs are just trying to keep up and avoid disaster, they don’t have time to focus on making really good food).

So this year, the boy and I continued our tradition of eating at home on Valentine’s day.  What we eat depends on the year, and our mood.  Lots of years we just bake fresh baguette, and pile plates with cheese, sausage or prosciutto, and fruit.  There’s not much that’s more romantic (or just yummy, if you’re eating alone or with friends rather than a partner) than a warm loaf of french bread, a tasty gruyer, and piles of grapes.  Oh, and of course wine.

This year we planned to cook a meal together.  After a lot of debate, we decided on steak with a pomegranate red wine sauce, mashed redskin potatoes, and asparagus.  For dessert, we choose a flourless chocolate cake from the Gluten-Free Goddess.  Sadly, the dinner was a huge disappointment.  The steaks we selected were not very good, despite flawless searing technique on the part of the boy.  The sauce was just not quite right…it seemed overpowering in the pan, but then when served with the steaks, the flavor completely disappeared.  Sad.  The potatoes were good…but they were mashed potatoes, not much mystery there.  The asparagus was also good, but, again, the veg was not the exciting part of this meal.

Luckily for us, the Goddess did not let us down.  This cake is so luscious, so rich and wonderful, it’s unbelievable.  At every stage the batter was silky, rich (and delicious, oh yes, we tasted it…a lot).  It’s also ridiculously easy to make, which is worrying me a little bit, because it would probably be better if there were something to discourage me from making this cake.  The taste and texture is some magical mix of cake, frosting, and fudge, all at the same time.  The Goddess recommends serving it with chocolate sauce or a dusting of powdered sugar.  She must be even more chocolate-mad than I am, because this cake is so rich that I don’t think I could eat it with more chocolate.  I served it with a raspberry sauce and fresh raspberries, which was beautiful (dark chocolate and a vibrant red, plus the freshness of fresh berries), and the tartness of the sauce perfectly balances the richness of the cake.  And, of course, the cake is gluten-free.  And trust me, no one will know, or care.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Sauce
from The Gluten-Free Goddess

16 oz dark chocolate (the best you’re willing to pay for…I used Nestle’s new fancy label)
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup very hot strong coffee (or espresso powder in very hot water)
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
8 large eggs, at room temperature
1 Tablespoon real vanilla extract
1 batch Raspberry Sauce (recipe below)
fresh raspberries, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare a 10-inch Springform pan by lining the bottom with buttered parchment (I didn’t have parchment, so I just buttered the bottom.  It worked fine.)

Break up the dark chocolate into pieces and place in the bowl of a large food processor.  Pulse until the chocolate breaks up into small bits (it will make a godawful noise…).  Add the sugar.  Pulse until the chocolate and sugar turns into an even, sandy grain.

Pour the hot water or coffee slowly into the feed tube as you pulse again.  Pulse until the chocolate is melted.  Magic!

Add the butter pieces and the cocoa powder, and pulse to combine.  (if you taste it at this stage, the batter is positively truffle-like.  Taste it.)  Add the eggs and vanilla, and process until smooth.  The batter will be liquid and creamy.

Pour the batter into the lined Springform pan.  Wrap the outside of the pan with foil (the cake will rise above the top of the pan, so it needs a guide to prevent it flopping onto the bottom of your oven).  Bake at 350 degrees in the center of the oven, til puffed and cracked and lovely – about 55 to 65 minutes (mine took almost exactly 60).  Use a wooden toothpick to check the center of the cake; pick should emerge clean, with maybe a crumb.

Place the cake pan on a wire rack to cool.  The cake will deflate.  Don’t worry!  When cooled a bit, press down on it gently with a spatula to make it even, if you wish.  I skipped this step, because I thought it looked unique and beautiful all cracked and uneven.

When the cake is completely cooled, cover, and chill it for three hours (up to eight hours) until serving.  Release the cake from the pan.  Slice and serve, drizzled with raspberry sauce and sprinkled with fresh raspberries.

Note: I don’t like my cakes cold, so I took this out of the fridge an hour or so before I planned to serve it.  It was perfect!

Raspberry Sauce

10 oz frozen raspberries, thawed
2-4 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons Amaretto or raspberry liqueur (optional)

Combine berries and 2 Tablespoons of the sugar in a heavy saucepan.  Heat over medium heat, stirring to break up the berries and mix in the sugar.  (Berries should break apart themselves, but if you want to make this step a little faster, you can puree them in a blender or food processor first).   Add the liqueur.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Taste (be careful, hot sugar burns!), and adjust sugar and liqueur to taste.  Depending on the raspberries you may need more sugar.  Cool completely before serving.

If the seeds trouble you, you can strain the sauce before serving.  I like them – you can tell the sauce is made from real fruit this way!

Drizzle over cake.  Enjoy!

Note: I use this same sauce to fill layer cakes, I just add a bit of cornstarch to stiffen it up.  It’s unbelievable between layers of red velvet cake with a cream cheese frosting!

This chili is not gourmet in any way.  I don’t care.  It’s delicious, it’s easy, ridiculously quick to put together, and it’s even better the next day. Plus, as with any crockpot meal, it’s lovely to come home at the end of the day and smell a delicious dinner bubbling away.

Growing up, I didn’t realize there were other kinds of chili.  Since I grew up in Northern Michigan, I only ever saw northern-style chili: tomato based, thick and stewy in consistency.  In my hometown, there was an annual chili supper held just before the big Homecoming football game.  I rarely went to this chili supper, but when I did, I was always slightly disappointed, because it didn’t taste like my mom’s.  Later, when I went to college in Texas, I was shocked by what they called chili.  This broth-based concoction looked nothing like any bowl of chili I’d seen.  I suppose if I’d grown up eating southern-style chili, I’d be posting a very different recipe, although, my husband (growing up in Texas) never liked chili until he had my mom’s.  So, it might just be that good.

The name of the game here is speed and convenience.  So, if you really want big chunks of stew beef, you can do that…but it will require more prep (ideally searing in batches before adding to the crockpot).  Pretty much everything comes from a can or a packet, and I refuse to apologize for that, because it is extremely tasty chili.  In my opinion it should always be served with corn muffins and shredded cheddar cheese.  Also, this is a very mild chili, so I serve it with a bottle of hot sauce for people who like a little more kick.

Mom’s Chili

1 lb. lean ground beef
2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes
2 15 oz. cans tomato sauce
1 12 oz. can tomato paste
1 12 oz. can tomato soup
3 15 oz. cans kidney beans, drained (I prefer light, but it doesn’t really matter)
1 packet Chili seasoning (My favorite is French’s Chili-O, which is getting hard to find)
1 bottle beer, optional (a lighter beer is preferable to a darker beer, because a dark beer can get bitter cooking all day)

Brown beef in a skillet.  Drain.  Combine beef and all other ingredients in the bowl of a large crockpot.  Cook on low for 8-10 hours, or on high for 4-6 hours.

Serve with shredded cheese and sour cream for topping, and corn muffins on the side.  Have a bottle of hot sauce on hand for those who like their chili spicy.