Category Archives: Quick and Easy

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.

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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.

 

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.

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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.

Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy

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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.

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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.

Coconut Oil Kettle Corn

There are just a few days left for the State Fair of Texas. We actually visited this year – the first time I’ve been since I was a kid. It was fun – lots of things to see and do, and of course, tons of food to eat. Way more than anyone could possibly eat, much less afford. And if you’re following a gluten-free diet, there isn’t much that’s safe.

Good thing you can make a standard fair favorite at home! No, not Fried Thanksgiving Dinner (although that might be possible…). I’m talking about Kettle Corn – that deliciously salty-sweet, crunchy treat that’s so irresistible when fresh.

Sure, you can buy microwave kettle corn at the store, but it’s just not all that good. This version takes only the smallest additional effort, and it’s so worth it. Just a few ingredients in a pot, a few minutes over the stove, and a quick toss in a bowl, and you have a treat that will definitely be a favorite among kids and adults alike. It’s also an excellent, simple addition for a Halloween party snack table.

You could also fancy it up any number of ways. Toss a pinch or two of cayenne in, or cinnamon. Add peanuts or candy once you get to the stirring phase. I’d be happy with any of those variations – but the simple, basic recipe is always enough to make me happy. I’m sure you could also store the leftovers for the following day with ease, although I personally wouldn’t know. There’s never any leftovers to be had.

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Coconut Oil Kettle Corn (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

3 T coconut oil (I used unrefined coconut oil)

1/2 c organic, non-GMO popcorn kernels

1/4 c granulated sugar

3/4 t kosher salt

In a 3-quart saucepan with a lid, add coconut oil, popcorn kernels, and sugar. Turn on to medium heat. Stir with a spoon until sugar and coconut oil starts to melt just a bit. Once everything starts to heat up, cover the pot and shake intermittently, popping the corn, until the popping slows to 5 seconds between pops. Remove the popcorn from heat and transfer it to a large mixing bowl. Immediately sprinkle the salt over and stir to coat the popcorn a bit more evenly with the melted sugar and salt. Serve.

Serves 2-4.

Cheater’s Ratatouille, or Pesto Zucchini, Tomato and Eggplant Bake

I love ratatouille. It’s an awesome dish that seems to just sing the highest notes of the end of summer and the start of fall. (Yes, I realize it’s now officially fall. Around here, however, it’s still in the mid-90s, and so it’s still very much feeling like summer.) It’s fresh, but comforting.

But alas, it takes some time. Especially if you want it to look pretty. (My recipe was more on the tasty side, less on the aesthetics.) Let’s face it – we don’t always have that kind of time.

That’s where this cheater’s version comes in. It’s not exactly ratatouille. It’s streamlined – just zucchini, tomato, and eggplant. Plus a not-so-secret ingredient:

Pesto.

I love to make pesto. It can be easily made dairy-free (like this Basil-Walnut Pesto) or you can go for the traditional basil, Parmesan, and pine nuts version. Or any version you desire, really. But often I make a great deal on the weekend, and then scramble to find ways to eat it up during the week. This “ratatouille” is one such way to make great use of pesto. If the pesto is already made, then it’s a cinch to put together – just layer the vegetables, smear some pesto in between layers, and pop in the oven.

Then, as soon as it’s not mouth-scalding hot, then devour!

So while it’s not a traditional ratatouille, it’s a flavor punch for sure. So call it ratatouille, or call it a pesto zucchini, tomato and eggplant bake if you prefer. Whatever you decide, be sure to call me to dinner when you make it.

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Cheater’s Ratatouille/Pesto Zucchini, Tomato and Eggplant Bake (gluten-free, dairy-free if using vegan pesto)

1/2 lb sliced zucchini

1/2 lb sliced tomato

1/2 lb sliced eggplant

Salt and pepper

1/2 c pesto (for vegan/dairy-free, try this Basil-Walnut Pesto)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Alternately layer zucchini, tomato slices, and eggplant in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and spread a few spoonfuls of pesto evenly over the vegetables. Repeat with another layer of vegetables, salt, and pesto. Keep repeating until you use all of the vegetables and pesto.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft and bubbly.

 

Dairy-Free Coffee Panna Cotta

I’m definitely a fan of coffee in desserts. Okay, let’s face it: I’m really just a fan of coffee. I love using it in unexpected places – in rub mixes for meat, for example. I’ve used it before in brownies. I love it in ice cream, and lately, I’m really digging starting my morning commute with a jar of cold brew coffee. I figured I’d go ahead and continue with my coffee routine, and make this unbelievably easy dessert with a coffee flair - panna cotta.

Panna cotta is one of those desserts that are excellent for dinner parties. They’re make-ahead, and really only take a few minutes to prepare. Then, they keep in the fridge until ready to serve, and you can whip them out, add any finishing touches you desire, and you’re ready to go. I don’t know about you, but that’s the way I like to do things. I’m not very good at playing hostess and putting together something complicated in the kitchen at the same time. I have to concentrate in the kitchen. So when I have guests, I try my hardest to plan my meals so that I can do as much preparation as possible before they arrive, making things easy for me while I’m hosting.

Anyway, back to this panna cotta. It’s creamy. It’s not overly sweet. In fact, it’s a perfect treat after a late summer dinner – creamy and cool. The coffee flavor is definitely there, but it’s not overly strong. In contrast to many of my favorite foods, this isn’t one of those in-your-face flavor punches. It’s gentle, a little rich, somewhat subtle, but especially satisfying.

You can certainly serve this with garnishment – some shaved chocolate or a chocolate or vanilla sauce. I preferred to keep things simple for the time being, and served mine unadorned.

Print Recipe 

Coffee Panna Cotta (gluten-free, dairy-free, grain-free, refined sugar-free)

2 T + 1/2 c strong brewed coffee, cooled

1 1/2 t unflavored gelatin

1/4 c coconut palm sugar

1 1/2 c full-fat canned coconut milk

Pinch of salt

4 panna cotta molds, bowls, or dessert dishes

Pour the 2 tablespoons of coffee into a bowl and sprinkle over the gelatin. Let stand until softened.

Pour the remaining coffee into a small saucepan along with the coconut palm sugar, coconut milk, and salt. Stir until dissolved, and place over a medium heat. Allow to warm until just before it comes to a boil (when there are bubbles just starting around the edges). Remove pan from heat.

Scrape all of the softened gelatin into the pan and whisk until it has fully dissolved.

Divide the mixture equally among the 4 molds or dessert dishes. (You may wish to first pour the mixture into a pitcher or measuring cup for ease of pouring.) Place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or until set. Allow to sit out at room temperature around 30 minutes before serving.

Serves 4.

Sriracha-Lime Grilled Okra

 

In late Texas summers, when it’s been hot and dry for weeks on end and the tomatoes and strawberries have long wilted under the sun, what’s still growing without fail? Okra.

And boy, how does it grow!? I just have a modest number of plants, but I go outside every afternoon to water, and find a handful of pods ready to be picked. It seems they appear almost overnight. A bud one day, a 3-inch okra pod the next. Not that I’m complaining. It gives me plenty to pickle, share with friends, and eat in all sorts of ways.

This time, I opted for grilled.

Grilling okra is a speedy way to get flavor into this unique veggie without making it slimy – a texture that often is off-putting to okra critics. It takes just a few minutes to do, and with a simple sauce brushed over, it’s divine. Especially when that sauce involves Sriracha.

If you have not become acquainted with the wonders of Sriracha sauce, I highly encourage you to seek it out. I’m not often a big proponent of store-bought sauces, but this is definitely an exception. It’s spicy and adds that perfect punch to just about anything – scrambled eggs, fried rice, and of course, pho. I’ve always wanted to make my own – one day I will – but until then, it’s the “rooster” sauce for me. Combined with lime and ghee in this quick sauce, it’s a bold wake-up for your taste buds, which pairs perfectly with mild okra. It’s quickly becoming my go-to way to prepare it.

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Sriracha-Lime Grilled Okra (gluten-free, casein-free)

About 20 tender pods okra

1 T Sriracha

Zest of 1 lime (about 1 teaspoon)

Juice of 1 lime (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)

1 T ghee, melted (can substitute vegan butter or coconut oil for dairy-free/vegan)

Salt to taste

Heat a grill to medium heat. Skewer the okra pods so that there is a little space in between each pod. In a small bowl, whisk together the Sriracha, lime zest, lime juice, and ghee. When the grill is hot, place the okra on the grill. Brush one side with the Sriracha mixture. Allow to grill until lightly browned/blackened in spots, about 1-2 minutes. Turn over and brush other side. Grill another 2 minutes or until browned and the okra pods are softened/tender. Flip once more and brush any remaining sauce over. Remove, salt to taste and serve hot.

Serves 2-3.

Cucumber Salad with Tahini and Basil

My ridiculously successful cucumber season is coming to a close. I’ve eaten more cucumbers this summer than ever, and have given many away. But even still, I haven’t tired of them. I truly love cucumbers. And this year, thanks to the slightly lower temps (our usual never-ending stretch of triple digits only amounted to about two weeks so far), I’ve been able to grow cucumbers well into August. It also helps that I’ve been growing Armenian cucumbers – they seem to enjoy the heat. I will be a bit sad when they’re gone.

Before I am out of cucumbers, however, I wanted to make another unique cucumber salad. While most of my cucumbers have gone into light, refreshing salads (like this Watermelon Cucumber Salad), I wanted something creamy and a touch more substantial, but still cool and dairy-free.

Enter tahini.

I love tahini, but typically use it up making copious amounts of baba ganoush. Truth be told, the flavors in my baba ganoush were the inspiration for this salad. Tahini, lemon, garlic, and my favorite additions of cumin and smoked paprika were all at play here. But instead of my usual parsley, I swapped it out for basil. After all, that’s an herb that is also quite successful in my garden.

What resulted was a quick and easy salad that would pair perfectly with grilled chicken, some kabobs, or whatever you’d like to make for an upcoming Labor Day barbecue or picnic. It’s delicious even made a few hours in advance, and is allergy-friendly, so everyone can partake. Before summer is over for good, I highly suggest you find a reason to make this! It’s delightfully different.

Print Recipe

Cucumber Salad with Tahini and Basil (gluten-free, vegan)

About 1 lb cucumber, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2 t kosher salt

3 T tahini

1 t lemon zest (from 1 lemon)

2 T lemon juice (from 1 lemon)

1/2 garlic clove, minced

1/4 t ground cumin

Pinch or two of smoked paprika

Salt and pepper to taste

3 T chopped fresh basil

Place the cucumber in a colander and toss with the salt. Allow to sit in the sink and drain while you prepare the dressing.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper.

Rinse the cucumbers and allow to drain again. In a large bowl, stir together the cucumbers and tahini dressing until evenly coated. Add in the basil and stir again.

Serves 4.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Crispy Squares

I’ve been thinking lately about how we are all in back-to-school mode. I’ve been browsing a bunch of lunchbox recipes on Pinterest lately. My step-kids don’t live with us, and so I don’t get to experience that fun/stress, but I can certainly empathize. Heck, it’s tough enough just packing my own lunch every day!

What I am good at, however, is coming up with an after-school treat. Most of the time, it would be something nutritious, like apples and peanut butter, dehydrated apple slices, some cut up raw veggies and a tasty dip, or even a trail mix. But sometimes, it’s fun to have a real treat. You know, something with chocolate.

Of course, the presence of children is not a requirement to make these. They’re equally satisfying for those of us wishing to speak to our inner child. Or inner peanut butter and chocoholic. Whatever.

They’re a cinch to make – not much more difficult than a rice crispy treat, really. There’s no baking required, making them perfect for late summer, when it’s still too hot to turn the oven on. Just a little stovetop magic, and a brief nap in the fridge, and they’re ready to impress a crowd with their crispy combo of sweet and salty peanut butter and rich chocolate.

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Crispy Squares (gluten-free, dairy-free)

6 c rice Chex (you could substitute gluten-free crispy rice cereal)

1 c agave nectar

1 c coconut palm sugar (you could substitute cane sugar)

1 1/2 c natural peanut butter

A pinch or two of salt (depending on how salty your peanut butter is)

3 c semi-sweet dairy-free chocolate chips (Enjoy Life is a dairy-free brand)

Lightly oil a large bowl and pour the cereal in. Oil a 9 X 13 inch baking dish and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the agave nectar and coconut sugar. Heat over medium heat, stirring, just until it comes to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the peanut butter and salt until smooth.

Immediately pour this mixture over the cereal and stir in until evenly distributed. Transfer this into the prepared baking dish, pressing out evenly with the back of a spoon.

In a bowl set over a small saucepan filled with an inch or two of simmering water (or a double boiler), place the chocolate chips. Stir occasionally until melted. Spread the melted chocolate evenly over the top of the peanut butter-Chex bars. Place baking dish into refrigerator for an hour or until everything has cooled completely. Cut into squares.

Makes 40-60 bars, depending on how large you cut them.

What gluten-free after school treats do you like to have handy for when the kids come home hungry? Share at Udi’s Gluten-Free Living Community!