Fast and Easy


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!

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.

This recipe is adapted from the wonderful (and beautiful) Smitten Kitchen.  First, I’ll come clean – one of the biggest changes to this recipe was actually an accident.  I was at the store, staring at the bulk whole grains, and I could have sworn I scooped from the bin labeled: bulgur.  Apparently, it was barley.  I know that most people would know the difference between these two things on sight, but I, alas, did not.  I even insisted to many of the people who ate it that this was, indeed, bulgur.  All of them kindly nodded and went about their business, but I’m pretty sure that most of them were laughing at me on the inside.  Oh well, there are worse faux pas than confusing your whole grains. 

Luckily, it turns out that this salad is wonderful with barley, but barley needs to be cooked for considerably longer than bulgur, so if you’re in a time pinch, use bulgur instead.

I love this salad, and it’s really very good for you, so I usually make a double batch and eat it for lunch every day.  This has led to my husband boycotting barley for the remainder of the summer, but that’s another post.

Don’t be intimidated by the ingredient list – this is a very simple recipe that requires a minimum of prep.  You can leave out the garam masala and turmeric if you can’t find them, and don’t be afraid to play with other spices you think might work.

Barley Salad with Chickpeas, Tomatoes, and Spinach

1 1/2 cups barley
4-5 cups water
3 Tablespoons lemon juice (when I first made this, I didn’t have lemons, so I used 3 TB mojito mix and skipped the honey, it was fabulous)
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon garam masala
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
salt
2 Tablespoons Walnut oil or olive oil
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small red onion, finely chopped (to reduce it’s bite, you can soak it and then drain it out with the barley for some of the soaking time).
2 handfuls or so baby spinach, washed and dried
Whole Wheat Pita bread, sprayed with olive oil and toasted in a 450 degree oven until brown and crispy

To cook the barley, bring water to boil in a medium saucepan.  Add barley and return to a boil.  Cover, reduce to a simmer, and simmer 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for an additional 20 minutes. (If you like your barley softer, simmer longer).  Drain the barley and place in a large bowl.

Whisk together lemon juice, honey, cumin, cayenne, garam masala, turmeric, and salt.  Whisk in oil until dressing is smooth.

Add chickpeas, tomatoes, onion, and spinach to the bowl with the drained barley and stir to combine. Pour the dressing over the barley mixture and toss to combine. 

Serve with toasted pita wedges.  Good served warm or cold.

This recipe is one of my childhood favorites (I think I say that about all my recipes, but it’s true!).  My grandma always made it for my sister and me when we went to visit her and Papa in Tennessee.  One of the highlights of our summer visits was finding out what desserts grandma had waiting for us.  There were always at least two.  Usually, they included a chocolate pie and this “icebox cake.”  Of course, we usually stayed there for at least 3 weeks, so there were lots of other desserts to be had.  She made (and still makes) amazing red velvet cake, strawberry cake, lemon icebox pie, German chocolate cake, coconut cake, and many, many more. 

This was probably one of our favorites, and to this day my mom makes it when I go to visit, and my sister and I still reminisce about how Papa used to cut the dessert.  Papa was a devoted dessert lover, and we loved when he cut any sort of cake or pie, because he always gave us the size piece he wanted – which was always very big!  My mom (a weight watchers instructor) is not allowed to cut desserts at our house – my sister or I usually take this job, because we can be trusted to give each other enough, and – almost as important – the right part!  This cake is extra fun because of it’s punning name (Cool Whip, Cool Miner’s…like Coal Miner’s…) – I think it’s from the era when convenience foods were a big deal, and Campbell’s casseroles were actually fashionable to serve for your husband’s boss or whatnot. 

If you have kids in the house (or a husband), you can let them crush the Oreos (grandma always let us loose with a Ziploc of cookies and a rolling pin).  You can also give them a zip in the food processor, but what fun is that?  This is a great summer cake, since there is no baking and very little prep.  Perfect for a summer barbeque or picnic – although I have certainly made it in the middle of the winter!

Cool Miner’s Cake
Crust:
Regular package of Oreos
1 cup butter, melted

Filling:
2 small pkgs instant vanilla pudding
1 cups milk
1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese (low fat does not work as well)
1/2 cup sugar
1 9 oz. container of Cool Whip

Crush Oreos, reserve 1 cup of crumbs for topping.  Mix remainder of crumbs w/ melted butter.  Press into a 9×13 pan.

Mix cream cheese, sugar, and 1/2 of cool whip, spread over crust. 

Mix pudding packets and milk and spread over cream cheese layer.  Spread remaining Cool whip and sprinkle with extra crumbs. 

Chill at least 4 hours before serving.

Ok, let me start by saying that this is not one of my personal favorite recipes.  However, my dad loves it, as does almost every other person I know.  What can I say, I’m just not a fan of the smoked fish…

This recipe originally came from a restaurant called The Bowery in Traverse City, Michigan, near where I grew up.  My parents often went there for holiday parties and special occasions, and this dip was always a favorite.  Eventually, my mom managed to weasel the recipe out of a waitress (my mom is notoriously personable and talkative, a trait I didn’t really inherit from her).  She was shocked by how easy it was (the waitress even told her where in town to get the smoked fish).  That was at least 10 years ago, maybe 15, and mom still makes it for parties.  She doesn’t make it all that often, because it does make the house smell like fish.  If you like fish, this is not a problem.  Mom doesn’t like fish. 

All that aside, it is ridiculously easy, and makes a very impressive appetizer, especially if you serve it in a pretty little terrine or small baker (a couple of those little Le Creuset bakers would be beautiful).  Serve hot with breadsticks, crackers, or bagel chips (anything crunchy is good I think).

Smoked Whitefish Dip
Ingredients:
3/4-1 lb smoked whitefish, deboned, shredded
1 lb cream cheese
1 oz of garlic

To prepare: Mix all ingredients well in a blender or food processor.  (If you want to retain the bits of shredded fish, beat the cream cheese until soft, add the garlic, and then fold in the fish by hand.  This will give you a chunkier texture.)  Spread dip in an oval baker or other oven-safe dish. 

Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.  Serve hot.

I had never had a zucchini casserole before moving to Texas for college and meeting my (then boyfriend) husband.  I first had it in his mom’s kitchen (I remember nervously chopping the zucchini for her – I was so worried I would mess it up and make a bad impression).  I’ve played with the recipe a little, but it’s still very close to hers.  It’s not exactly healthy, although I try to keep the oil to a minimum, and I use reduced fat cheese and Bisquick.  Still, when the zucchini comes in in the summer, this is one of my favorite things to make.  You can add gourmet chicken or turkey sausage (or veggie sausage would be good) and make it a complete meal. 

Zucchini Casserole
6-8 cups zucchini, sliced
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/8 cup fresh Parmesan, grated
1 1/2 cups Bisquick
3 eggs
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp oregano or Italian seasoning

To Prepare:  Mix all ingredients except eggs and oil in a large bowl.  Beat eggs and oil together and add to mixture.  Pour into large casserole or 13 x 9 pan.

Bake, uncovered for 50 minutes at 350 degrees.

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