Friday, January 30, 2009

Baked Zitti with Rice Penne

I’ve been a bit excited that I have discovered nice rice pasta. I’ve been trying to find ways of testing its versatility. There are many pasta dishes I have not had since I was diagnosed with a wheat allergy. Too often I miss something I enjoyed eating before and when I find a wheat-free or gluten-free substitute find I’m still missing it. The taste and texture just isn’t right.

Since discovering the Tinkyada® gluten-free pasta I have been trying to expand beyond just spaghetti and mac & cheese. I thought my next attempts at making a childhood dish would be baked ziti. I grew up with lots of Italian friends include some who were only first or second generation American. They were insulated by jarred pasta sauces and what was often passed as authentic Italian dishes. To live up to the memories of those grandmotherly Italian dishes would be quite a feat.

I searched the web and found two baked ziti recipes on I followed my usual protocol and read both directions and then did my own thing.

Baked Ziti

1 16 oz bag of Tinkyada® gluten-free rice penne

8 oz pasta sauce

8 oz ricotta cheese

½ c milk

8 oz grated mozzarella cheese

1 tsp each: basil, garlic powder, Italian seasonings blend

Cover the bottom of a baking dish with pasta sauce. Mix together milk, ricotta, 6 oz of mozzarella cheese, cooked pasta, and spices. Spread over pasta sauce in baking dish. Sprinkle top with remainder of mozzarella and pasta sauce. Bake for about 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven until bubbly.

It was wonderful. The kids even liked it… well all but the mozzarella on top. The mozzarella didn’t melt and was a bit more crispy then they like, but the kids ate the rest.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bento: Salad Dressing Containers

I’ve been searching for the perfect salad dressing and sauce container for our packed lunches. So often the ones I’ve found leak especially if I pack a nice vinaigrette for my salad. They might work great for thicker sauces like catsup or even salsa but for the slippery oils and thin constancy there can be a leaky mess for salad dressings.

I think I have found the prefect container. Years ago I attended a Tupperware party and received a small pill container for attending. For years it sat in my kitchen drawer since it was huge for pills when I could reuse smaller prescription bottles. Since I had tried everything else I decided to give it a try. That little blue container has become a near permeate fixture in my lunch box. If I’m having a salad it is there. It is the perfect size for salad dressings and it doesn’t leak.

But of course they are not easy to find. It seems these wonderful little containers can only be gotten by attending a Tupperware party and may have been discontinued. I’ve asked family and friends to search flea markets to get a few more for the kids and myself.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pot O’Stuff - Chamin

A dear friend of mine was from France and grew up in Morocco. Her cooking reflected those areas along with a strong influence from Israel. She loved to cook for everyone but would share her recipes with nobody. She took all of her secretes with her when she passed.

For Shabbat she would seemingly just throw random meats, vegetables and spices into the pot and the results were always fantastic. It has taken me years to find the name for this dish (chamin) and I have yet to be able to reproduce it. Part of the problem is I don’t always follow recipes and neither did she. With years of practice and experimentation you develop a knack to know what goes together and what combinations you want to avoid. Another part of the problem is the use of herbs and spices. Each region of the world has their own idea of what herbs and spices work well together and what they should be used with. When sampling one dish I might be able to identify all of the herbs and spices used while another dish may leave me clueless. Since I love sampling different foods and have to work around various food allergies, mine and others, I have learned to try new combinations. For example growing up having cinnamon sugar on French toast or pancakes was common. Now that I cook for someone allergic to cinnamon I now use cardamom in place of cinnamon in many recipes.

So after years of trying to reproduce my friend’s version of chamin I’m getting a little closer but still not there. A new coworker found a new recipe for me to try and translated it into English for me. Of course as soon as I got the recipe home, I ignored it. Well, okay I didn’t completely ignore it. I used it as a guideline along with my memory of what I saw her do as she tossed together this simple delight.

The new recipe called for…

1.25 cups dried chickpeas (soak overnight)

.25 cup vegetable oil

Cow leg (optional)

1 chopped onion

4 garlic cloves (chopped)

1 cup of rice

3 lb of cubes of lamb meat

1 chicken (in pieces)

6 eggs

3 pilled chopped carrots

1 small chopped cabbage

2 mint springs

3-4 cups of water

1 spoon of Cumin

Salt and black pepper

And then there is what I used….

1 can chickpeas

olive oil

1 pk boneless beef ribs

1 onion quartered

2 garlic cloves

1 c rice

2 chicken boneless breast

2 carrots – pealed

2 red potatoes

3 pinches of dried mint

1 pinch of cumin

salt & black pepper corns

I heated the oil with spices and seared the beef before tossing everything in the pot. I brought the mixture to a boil then turned it back to the lowest flame on the smallest burner on the stove. Three hours latter it was wonderful…. But still missing something. One of the other recipes he didn’t translate called for paprika, hmmmm, maybe in the next chamin experiment.

The recipe called for a special bag for the chickpeas. I didn’t bother for the chickpeas but I did use cheese cloth and a cotton string to contain the rice. I made the bag about 1 ½ times the size of the rice so it would form the solid rice mass that I remembered my friend making. The texture is very different and a nice change when you eat a lot of rice dishes.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Blog catch up …again…

I know I have been suspiciously absent from this blog. The sure fire way of making sure you don’t meet your goals is to take a moment to pat yourself on the back for being on track. A few months ago I was so pleased that I was posting an entry nearly daily for several months life has thrown me a few twist and turns. Now it is time to try again to meet those goals and get blogging.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Party Decorations: Balloon Clips

The large “Mylarballoons I purchased didn’t come with any weights or anything to help keep them in place. Once I had them home I decided to attach them to the arms of the family room futon. Rather then tying the ribbons, I decided to use the plastic bread bag clips. I looped the ribbon around the arm and back up towards the balloon. When the balloon was at the height I wanted it I simply clipped the ribbons all together. The clips are holding the balloons securely in place. The kids are able to unclip the ribbons and move the balloons to pieces of furniture or to different rooms as they please. I’m not sure if this would work in a breezy outdoor environment but they work great inside.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sparkling drinks: Champaign

My husband doesn’t drink and my children are too young. So when I was trying to find beverages for our New Years Micro Party I was concentrating on sparkling apple cider and sparkling cranberry. Trader Joe’s carries a very nice line of sparkling drinks which I tend to only pick up for those special occasions with kids or non drinkers. This past holiday season I noticed they had these really cute little bottles of Champaign. Their resident wine expert said it was a very nice Champaign so I decided to pick up a bottle for myself. This ¼ bottle by Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Champaign is just enough for 3 Champaign flutes. It was a very nice, not to dry Champaign. I would definitely get it again.

Friday, January 9, 2009

New Years Micro Party

What is a New Years Micro Party? Well it is a very exclusive party for a few very special New Year’s Eve guest – My kids.

I needed party hats but these guests deserved something special. I stopped by the local craft store to pick up 2 foam hats, one princess hat and one crown, and some sticky foam ‘gems’ to decorate them with.

Then a stop at the party store for 2 mylar balloons. I really don’t like the risk of the latex balloons and for the venue 2 special balloons was much more fitting. I picked out one large super hero balloon and one large princess carriage. I rounded out the decoration with a simple “New Year” center piece (no date so reusable), a table cover, paper cups and plates, and four small chip bowls.

One more stop at the grocery store for cheese, healthy chips and popcorn, bananas, apples, crispy pea pod chips, salsa, and sparkling cider. The menu would be rounded out with a cake already at home. Then I was off to pick up the guests of honor for an evening of movies and crafts.

The kids thought the ‘micro party’ was fantastic. They decided they needed fancy party clothes for their party. My daughter pulled out her Disney Princess Bell dress and my son found his Lego king cape. Once they got going on the crowns they decided to also decorate their existing water jug crowns I made them last spring. It was a perfect party. They got to eat party food for dinner, do crafts and watch movies until THEY wanted to go to sleep. About an hour after they normally go to bed they were tucked into bed and I got to watch the Times Square celebration with my own little ‘micro’ bottle of Champaign.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Let Them Eat Cake

I was hoping to make a cake for a birthday party that would stratify several dietary restrictions. I was hoping to find a nice firm cake that would work in my Nordicware® Castle Bundt® cake mold and taste good. A co-worker who has won awards for baking recommended the Wilton® basic cake recipe which I could find on their website. I substituted the wheat flour with spelt flour and did a test run in 2-9” round pans. The resulting cake was quite tasty but seemed a little too soft to nicely slide out of a fancy Bundt cake pan. We at one of the cakes over the next few days and the other one was slid into a freezer bag and popped into the freezer.

While I was planning a New Years Micro Party the kids announced we had to have cake for a party. It sounded like a good idea since I had one in the freezer waiting to be eaten. I purchased frozen blue berries and strawberries to top the cake. The kids were not thrilled with this part of the plan. I offered Nutella® spread as an alternative. They were liking that a bit more. My son thought peanut butter would make an even better frosting for his cake. So there you are personalized cake slices. I used silicone cup cake holders to hold 1-2 tablespoons of peanut butter or Nutella spread which I placed on a plate next to a slice of cake. The kids had fun ‘frosting’ their own piece of cake. I didn’t have the heart to tell the two kids who will typically lick off all of the sugary frosting and leave the cake that they picked a much healthier alternative.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Training Them Young

The Scots in the family will be proud of my young son. I drove past a bunch of stuff that had been put out at the curb and stopped to check out what was there. The family was cleaning house. They had carefully put things in the street along the curb so passerby could see the treasures they were discarding. The day before there had even been a ‘free’ sign placed on one of the items to make sure there was no mistake this stuff was going to go one way or another. There was a nice sturdy coffee table that looked more child-friendly then my antique yard sale find from years ago. The problem was it was too big to put into my little car. It was getting late and kids were over due for naps. I told the kids we would take the van tomorrow and see if it was still there. My son announced we should go straight home to get the van and come back for the table so no one else would get it. Since both kids were up for the plan that is just what we did. We swung by the house, swapped cars and went back the 5 blocks to see if anyone else had beaten us to it. It was still there so it was quickly loaded up and taken home. It took a few days before we had the time to bring it into the house to clean it up. Other then a few marks from cups it is in very good condition. I could possibly even refinish the solid wood table but for now it is the perfect sturdy surface for the kids to use their hand-me-down refurbished laptop, to create their next crafty creation and to much on snacks. The marks are reminders to use the child-friendly rubber coasters for their drinks.

The kids are quite proud of THEIR new table and we had a nice lesson in recycling: use, reuse, reduce, and recycle.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Kinnikinnick Cinnamon Sugar Donuts

I'm so disappointed. For the longest time I craved donuts as the rest of the family devoured Dunkin Donuts. The kids would beg for donuts with pink frosting and their dad would walk them to the store only 3 blocks away for fresh donuts. With my wheat allergy I would be left there watching them gobble them. Then I discovered Kinnikinnik® chocolate glazed gluten-free donuts at Healthway Natural Foods. These donuts were so wonderful, I no longer missed their wheat cousins. I allowed my husband to try a sliver. He compared it to the wheat donuts he had just had and announced they tasted good, like a donut and just a little heavier then the ‘real thing’. For a gluten-free pastry this is very high praise. The disappointment came when their vendor discovered there was an artificial ingredient and discontinued the product. For some strange reason they don’t believe in the best of nature and man blended to make a great product. It has to be 100% natural. I have disturbing news for them. Arsenic, mercury, and other natural things are not good for you. Sigh!

So after nearly a year of being donut free I decided to give in and try one of the other Kinnikinnick donuts. The vanilla glazed just didn’t sound appealing so I tried the cinnamon sugar donuts. I like cinnamon and I liked their chocolate glaze so I should like these right – Wrong! They were not a donut. I’m not sure what they were but they are not the delicious donuts I know they are capable of making. Luckily the store has a good return policy for products you don’t like.