Monthly Archives: November 2013

Apple Pie Spice “Un-Popcorn”

thanksgiving popcornI can’t believe I’ve never managed to share this little gem of a holiday recipe with you. I will admit, I’ve made it several times already. You’ll have to forgive me for not doing so sooner.

You see, typically the Thanksgiving holiday is a whirlwind for me. I’m often working at the ol’ day job up until the Wednesday before, and we usually have around 20+ people to feed. I try to do as much advance preparation as possible, but it’s still a busy, busy holiday.

Let me tell you, when I finally sit down after dinner, the glass of wine I decide to enjoy is often the best glass of wine ever.

Somehow, in that whirlwind, I’ve never made this pre-dinner Thanksgiving snack far enough in advance to share. Well, friends, this year is your lucky year. I’ve made it already, and so I can share it with you.

But why “un-popcorn”?

Truthfully, I love popcorn. I don’t eat it often, but when I do, I thoroughly enjoy it. You can certainly make this with popcorn. But I have some family members that cannot tolerate corn products. For those family members, I have opted to make a popcorn alternative. I promise you, it’s just as satisfying as the real deal. What do I use?

Why, rice cakes, of course!

I’ve done it before, in this “granola“. Crumbled rice cakes make an excellent stand-in for popcorn. They’re light and airy, and hold up perfectly to the caramel-y topping. I’m a big fan of Lundberg’s rice cakes – they’re gluten-free and they have versions that are lightly salted, which are my preference for a recipe such as this. And no, I’m not paid to tell you that – I just like their products.

This “un-popcorn” is easy to make – just crumble rice cakes, and then simmer maple syrup and spices, pour, toss, and bake. The result is a sweet and salty, crunchy mixture that just feels like Thanksgiving, thanks to the cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. The dried cranberries and walnuts definitely help out that Thanksgiving feel as well. My personal favorite, however, is the black pepper. It’s a perfect foil to the sweeter spices, and keeps it in that “appetizer” category and away from feeling too much like a dessert.

Whether you make this with real popcorn or faux, I encourage you to add this to your Thanksgiving menu. It’ll keep the hungry masses at bay while you make the finishing touches to the big meal, and it’s very more-ish. I’m certain it’ll be a hit that will keep you coming back to it, year after year.

Print Recipe

Apple Pie Spice “Un-Popcorn” (gluten-free, vegan)

1 package Lundberg lightly salted rice cakes, crumbled

3/4 c chopped walnuts

1/2 c dried cranberries

2 T coconut oil

3/4 c maple syrup

1 t kosher salt

1/2 t freshly ground black pepper

1 t cinnamon

1/4 t ground cardamom

1/4 t ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place the oven racks on the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line 2 baking sheets with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, add the crumbled rice cakes, walnuts, and dried cranberries and toss.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the coconut oil, maple syrup, and salt to a boil. Add the black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg and whisk in. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 4-5 minutes. Pour over rice cake mixture and stir well, making sure everything is evenly coated.

Divide mixture between the two prepared baking sheets and spread out into an even layer. Bake on the lower and upper racks for 5 minutes, and then swap the baking sheets and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Break into smaller chunks. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

 

Autumn Kale Salad with Apples and Candied Pecans

kale salad thanksgiving

If your Thanksgiving menu is anything like mine, it’s filled with the traditional fare: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, rolls, casseroles, pies, and more. All of these dishes are iconic, and I wouldn’t leave any of them out for anything. But honestly, it’s all so heavy. So when I’m brainstorming for vegetable or additional side dish ideas, I want something a little lighter to balance it all out. Something fresh. Something green.

Now I know kale has been the latest darling in the “healthy eating” industry. I’ve posted recipes with kale before. I love it, personally, and eat it because it tastes good to me. But lately kale is everyone’s favorite “detox” vegetable. I’m not a believer in detoxing – I have juiced and such in the past, and I enjoy the flavor. I sometimes even feel the green juices give me a boost of energy. I will admit, in the past I did have a touch of obsession with ensuring I got what was in reality a crazy amount of greens into my body on a daily basis, thinking I was healthier for doing so. (I wasn’t healthier…) I’ve since backed off and have listened to my body and just focus on whatever vegetables are fresh and sound good to me at the time. (And sometimes, that’s kale!) But I’ve never believed that squeezing juice out of fruits or vegetables somehow “detox” your body – that’s what your liver does, all on its own. It doesn’t mean that the vegetables, including kale, don’t have great vitamins and such – they do. They’re just not magical.

Anyway. I digress.

Thanksgiving. And this salad. It’s fresh. It’s easy. It can be made in advance. unlike lettuce-based salads, and can still hold its crunch. In fact, I find it’s tastier made a bit in advance of eating. It allows the lemon juice to really meld and mingle. With the sweetness of the apples and cranberries, and the candied pecans, it’s a lovely autumn salad. Most of all, it’s a great, refreshing addition to your Thanksgiving menu.

Print Recipe

Autumn Kale Salad with Apples and Candied Pecans (gluten-free, vegan, grain-free)

1 bunch kale, leaves torn into bite-sized pieces

1 T olive oil

A couple pinches of kosher salt

1 carrot, julienned

2 stalks celery, sliced

1/4 c dried cranberries

1 crisp apple (such as Honeycrisp), cut into 1/2 inch dice

1/4 c flat-leaf parsley, leaves coarsely chopped

1-2 T lemon juice

Candied Pecans (recipe follows)

Drizzle the olive oil over the kale, and sprinkle with salt. Massage the oil evenly over all of the kale leaves. Add the carrot, celery, cranberries, apple, and parsley, and drizzle with a bit of lemon juice. Toss well and taste. Adjust salt and lemon juice as desired. Top with candied pecans and serve.

Serves 4-6.

Candied Pecans (gluten-free, vegan)

1 t coconut oil

1/2 c raw, shelled pecans

3 T brown rice syrup

A couple pinches of kosher salt

Dash of cinnamon

In a small skillet, melt the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the pecans, brown rice syrup, salt and cinnamon. Stir to coat completely. Keep stirring over heat until sugar bubbles and clings to pecans, pulling away from the pan and becoming “drier”. Once everything really seems to stick together in a “glob”, remove from heat and turn out to a parchment-lined baking sheet, spreading out the pecans as much as you can with the back of a spoon. Allow to cool completely and break into small pieces.

Creamy Eggplant-Tahini Pasta Sauce

eggplant pasta

Until this past week, when we had below-freezing temperatures, my eggplant was still producing. It was a late-bloomer, as I didn’t even get my first eggplant until September. But each one I grew was gorgeous. I know I’m tooting my own horn, but seriously, take a look:

eggplant

I’m pretty proud of that. Apparently, half-ignoring your garden makes purple globes of deliciousness.

Anyway, I wasn’t sure what to do with all of these eggplants. I made a Cheater’s Ratatouille a while back that was pretty delicious, but I’m the only one in the house that will eat a dish like that, and it was getting old. I wanted a way to enjoy the creamy texture of roasted eggplant, but also wanted to make it palatable to the eggplant-phobic members of the household.

I started to contemplate the wonders of baba ganoush. It’s creamy, garlicky, and luscious. I could eat a whole bowl of the stuff. Then I wondered – how would that luscious texture translate to a pasta sauce?

With a bit of coconut milk to thin, and a good, thorough blending to ensure a silky texture, this sauce was born. It’s creamy. It’s garlicky. It’s as satisfying as an alfredo sauce, only slightly more complex.

The sauce by itself is gluten-free and vegan, so if you’re not an eater of meat, then you could certainly serve it on gluten-free pasta and have a satisfying meal. I had some turkey thighs in the freezer, so I opted to cube the meat, brown it, and toss in with the sauce and pasta. You could also substitute chicken breasts or thighs with equally delicious results.

Part of me is sad to know this is the last eggplant of the season, but I was glad to enjoy it in a delicious, simple manner. An added bonus? The eggplant-phobe ate it. That’s a definite win.

Print Recipe

Creamy Eggplant-Tahini Pasta Sauce (gluten-free, vegan, grain-free)

1 large eggplant

1/3 c tahini (sesame seed paste)

scant 1 t kosher salt

2 T lemon juice

2 cloves garlic, mashed

1/8 t chile powder

1/8 t cumin powder

1/4 t smoked paprika

a half-bunch of flat-leaf parsley, plus a few tablespoons more, roughly chopped for garnish

About 1/4 c canned full-fat coconut milk

Preheat broiler of oven (or grill). Prick each eggplant with a fork several times. Char the outside of the eggplants all over under the broiler or on the grill until they look wilted, turning every few minutes.

Turn the oven down to 375 degrees. Place eggplants on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast for about 20 minutes. The eggplants should be completely soft.

Remove from oven and let cool. Split the eggplant and with a spoon, scrape out the pulp. Puree in a food processor, along with the remaining ingredients, until smooth. Scrape sauce into a saucepan and heat over medium-low heat, whisking often, until warmed through. Adjust seasonings as necessary. If desired, stir in cooked turkey or chicken. Toss with pasta and serve.

Serves 4.

Gluten-Free: The Beginning of a Healthier Lifestyle

Eating gluten-free does not always equal “healthy”. It definitely does not equal “weight loss”. For those without celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, gluten-free is not a magic cure-all, promising a happily ever after. (For those with celiac disease and intolerances, however, I can imagine that once you removed gluten, you likely felt like it WAS magic – you felt so much better!)

So if that is so, then how does eating gluten-free play into a healthier lifestyle?

For me, it was the beginning of a heightened awareness of what I was eating. What ingredients were in my foods. Where my food was coming from. How I was nourishing my body. When I went gluten-free in hopes of alleviating digestive issues I was experiencing, I had to read labels. That opened my eyes in two ways.

Number one: I was eating a lot of foods with ingredients I couldn’t identify. I then spent time understanding what these ingredients were, where they came from, and whether or not I wanted to include those ingredients in my everyday diet, or only reserve them as a treat.

Number two: I found that eating whole, simple, fresh foods was easier, if for no other reason than just so I didn’t have to read these labels.

There was also a lot of reading of gluten-free blogs and articles and such during that time, but ultimately, these two pieces had the biggest impact on my shift to healthier eating. For a while, I’ll admit, I went a little overboard with my scrutiny of the “healthfulness” of foods – shunning any amount of sugar, grains, or whatever I determined was “bad” for my health. I’ve now found a balance and peace in moderation, which in my opinion, is closer to health in both body and mind. Nowadays, I might eat some processed foods, and I don’t sweat it, (and have even found some great gluten-free ones, such as Udi’s – and their products all contain ingredients I’m actually familiar and comfortable with and can pronounce – a good sign.) but the majority of my day-to-day foods are from whole, fresh ingredients. I prefer it – the food tastes better in many cases, and it’s good for me. It’s also cheaper – I’m all for budget-friendly eating!

I also implemented healthier habits over the years. I started exercising regularly. I have worked to develop a balance between my work and play. (This is an ongoing balance, I assure you!) I’m learning to chill out and allow more relaxation in my life, both in diet and everything else. I’m working to be more present and in the moment with the ones I love, and not worry so much about the little things. Because after all, happiness is part of health, right?

And to think, my decision to go gluten-free had a hand in all of these changes. Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but it was definitely the start of a journey I’m on towards loving and improving my life. That’s not a bad addition to gluten-free’s resume, I’d say.

Learn more about living gluten free! Visit http://udisglutenfree.com/

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Udi’s Gluten Free. The opinions and text are all mine.

Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sometimes, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to prepare all you need to prepare for Thanksgiving Day. Or even if there were, you know good and well that if you truly tried to do it all in one day, you’d be dead on your feet come meal time.

I know this truth. In my first few years hosting Thanksgiving Dinner, I spent a good amount of effort making everything the night before and the day of the meal. I was exhausted and frantic. I had too much on my plate at once.

Now, I find that a good plan is key. Part of that “good plan” is making things in advance. I make several dishes and freeze them, thawing a few days before the meal. One such dish is the gravy.

My Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy is delicious – every bit as much as if it were made on Thanksgiving Day. It’s simple too – leaving precious time for you to focus on other dishes, your family, or just to catch your breath.

Head on over to Balanced Platter to check out my Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy!

Almond-Coconut Granola

almond coconut granolaSchool has been in session for a few months now. Chances are, the kids are tiring of the same ol’ stuff that is being packed in their lunchboxes. Sure, those bags of gluten-free crackers and applesauce cups were exciting in August, but now that it’s November, they’re old hat. You’re in need of something new. Something reasonably healthy. And something you wouldn’t mind packing in your own lunch, because, let’s face it: you’re tired of the same ol’ stuff as well.

Enter homemade gluten-free granola.

This almond-coconut granola is unlike most granola recipes. First of all, there are no oats. There’s also no butter or oil either. It’s supremely easy to make – simply mix up the ingredients, spread out on a baking sheet, and bake for a few minutes. And the results far outweigh the effort involved. You are rewarded with a slightly sweet, crunchy mix filled with almond-y, coconut-y goodness. It’s perfect for snacking, or for topping yogurt or even making a parfait. I personally have never gotten past eating it straight out of hand. It’s also nearly gone in just a few days every time I make it. It’s very more-ish. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Print Recipe

Almond Coconut Granola (gluten-free, vegan, refined sugar-free)

 1 1/3 cups almonds, toasted and chopped

1 brown rice cake, crumbled (equals about ½ cup) (I used Lundberg rice cakes)

1/8 teaspoon salt

¼ cup chopped pitted dates

¼ cup large unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted

1 tablespoon chia seeds

1/3 cup brown rice syrup (I used Lundberg brown rice syrup)

1/8 teaspoon almond extract

1/8 teaspoon coconut extract

 Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. In a large bowl, add almonds, brown rice cake crumbles, salt, dates, coconut flakes, and chia seeds. Pour brown rice syrup, almond and coconut extracts over and toss to combine everything and get everything coated evenly with the syrup.

 Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Spread mixture out on the baking sheet evenly. Bake for 15-18 minutes, stopping to stir every 5 minutes or so, to ensure even cooking. Allow to cool to room temperature and store in an air-tight container.

Nose to Tail: Head Cheese

head cheese

Yes. I realize the way that sounds. Head cheese. I can picture many of your facial expressions now, because I saw similar ones in the few people I told about this project face-to-face. But hear me out.

I’m a big proponent of nose-to-tail eating. After all, if we must eat a living thing – and everything we eat was once living – then we shouldn’t waste it. This means finding ways to use parts many are used to throwing away. Radish tops. Turkey or chicken bones. Broccoli leaves. And yes, a pig’s head.

I split a hog with a friend a few months ago. We’ve been thoroughly enjoying the bacon, chops, roasts, and sausage. But I’d also asked the boy (He was raising hogs for college money.) if I could have the head. He gave me two. They occupied space in my freezer for about two months before I finally carved out the time to tackle one.

When the time came though, it was a breeze. Only slightly more difficult than making stock, and considerably less tough than making a proper terrine. It was surprising how much meat really comes from a hog head. There’s a great deal from the tongue and cheeks. I had enough to fill a 9″ X 5″ loaf pan with ease. I also had an added bonus – about 7 quarts of golden, delicious, porky broth. I’ll certainly enjoy using that for soups and stews throughout the winter.

The head cheese is deliciously meaty, and somewhat rich, but not overly so. We enjoyed thin slices on crackers, accompanied by cheeses, various pickles, apple slices, grainy mustard, and an egg salad. It makes a lovely cold lunch, and a nice change to a more typical salami or other cold meat. I was glad to have made it.

But most of all, I’m glad for the experience. There’s something about making a food that most others have long forgotten, and using a part of an animal most throw away. I’m looking forward to the other hog head, although I’m more planning on dedicating that one to tamales.

head cheese overhead

 Print Recipe

Head Cheese (gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo)

1 pig’s head

2-3 bay leaves

12 peppercorns

1 sprig fresh rosemary

3-4 sprigs fresh thyme

3 T kosher salt, plus more to taste

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Fresh ground black pepper

Place the pig’s head in a large stockpot (I had to use my huge tamale pot to make it fit). Place the bay leaves, peppercorns, rosemary, thyme, and salt in the pot and fill with enough water to just cover the head.

Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer on low for about 6-8 hours, or until meat is falling apart and tender.

Carefully remove the meat and bones from the stock and set on a platter. Once cool enough to touch, pick apart the meat and collagen material and place in a bowl. You can opt to include bits of skin as well if you choose. Skin the tongue and include the tongue meat as well. Chop the meat into 1/2 inch dice. Toss with the lemon juice and more salt, plus fresh pepper, until it is to your taste.

Simmer the remaining stock until it has sufficient “gelling” capability. You can test this by putting a spoonful in a small bowl and chilling it. If it gels, you’re good. If it doesn’t, reduce the stock more.

Line a terrine or loaf pan (I used a 9″ X 5″ loaf pan) with plastic wrap. Spoon all of the meat into the prepared pan. Pour in just enough of the pork stock to cover the meat, and press everything down. Wrap securely, pressing down the wrap to ensure the mixture fills the entire mold. Refrigerate overnight. Keeps for about a week.