Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter and Twice Baked Potato Casserole

Happy Easter everyone!  Today is a quiet day around my house, no kids here, just two adults.  The Easter Bunny somehow missed our house, I checked everywhere for eggs or a solid chocolate bunny....nothing.  I'm going to write a letter so he has my address for next year!
We went out to breakfast this morning, like we do every Sunday, it’s our weekly “date” that we never miss.  I’m making dinner for us tonight, a traditional ham (because my husband loves ham) and just some green beans and a twice baked potato casserole.  I came up with the casserole recipe on my own, it’s basically a twice baked potato in mashed potato form.  I thought I would share the recipe with you (warning, this is definitely not low in calories or fat, but it’s good!).

Twice Baked Potato Casserole
Serves 6-8

2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes
4 cloves garlic, smashed
3-4 T butter
½ C milk (add ¼ at a time, you don’t want the potatoes too runny)
2 oz cream cheese (you can use reduced fat)
4-5 slices bacon, cooked crisp
4 scallions, chopped finely (you could also use chives)
1 T dried dill (optional)
1 tsp ground coriander (optional)
1 C sharp cheddar
Salt & pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and liberally spray a casserole dish with baking spray
  2. Cut the potatoes into uniform size pieces, I leave the skins on, but you can peel them first
  3. Smash and peel garlic cloves
  4. Place the potatoes and garlic in a large pot and cover with cold water
  5. Bring to a boil on high, lower heat just a bit and cook until just fork tender (the amount of time it will take is dependent on how large or small your potato chunks are)
  6. While the potatoes are cooking cook the bacon until crispy and set aside
  7. Drain the potatoes and garlic and put back into same pan and place back on the stove with the burner turned off, the residual heat will remove the remaining water
  8. Drop in the butter, cream cheese, a bit of salt and pepper and ¼ C of milk, using a potato masher mash to desired consistency (a chunkier consistency works better in this recipe, you don’t want them too runny or it will make for a runny casserole)
  9. Add in the scallions, herbs, crumbled bacon and half of the cheese and mix with a spoon or spatula, this is the time to check on the salt and pepper to see if more is needed
  10. Dump everything into the prepared casserole dish and top with the remaining cheese
  11. Bake for 20-25 minutes until bubbly and the cheese is melty and a little brown
  12. Remove from oven, cover and let sit for about 5 minutes prior to serving

I hope everyone is having a great day with family!

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Weekend and

How was your weekend?  I had a good one by my standards.  I didn’t have anything planned and had a lot of time to spend just doing the things I love doing.  This is where I need to give a big thank you on here to my husband who sent me off to Barnes & Noble on Saturday morning so that he could vacuum and dust the house (stay away ladies, he’s mine J ).  I have been having trouble with hives popping up, which happens every year at the beginning of allergy season, and he’s being diligent about keeping things in the house as allergy free as possible.

On Sunday I spent a good portion of the day playing in my studio.  I made several Easter cards and plan to spend some time tonight making the rest of the ones I need for family.  Nothing like waiting until the last minute huh?  I think I mentioned that my husband gave me a Cricut for my birthday.  I had so much fun just experimenting with it.  I cut out way too many Easter bunnies, my family better watch out for bunny confetti in their cards.  I did realize that I need to get more storage for the things I cut that I don’t use right away otherwise the piles on my work surfaces are going to get high.  I did see something on Pinterest over the weekend (that I pinned, of course) about how to deal with all of the scraps that result from paper crafting.  The best part of working in my studio?  Time passes and I don’t even notice it.  I went in there around 11 and didn’t look up until 3:30 when my husband suggested maybe we should have some lunch (or, at that time, early dinner). It is good for my spirit to be creative and lose track of time, a great stress-reliever!

I did finally make the chicken and veggie enchiladas on Saturday, they turned out really good.  I think the only adjustment I made to the original recipe I posted was to add some chipotle peppers which are my favorite.  I used the veggies that were in the fridge; zucchini, red bell pepper, mushrooms, onion and a tomato.  I even used the avocado I had and made a little bit of guacamole to go along with it.  Yum.

Since I didn’t have one of my recipes to share today I thought I would direct you to a blog that I reference a lot,  If you are a WW person and haven’t been to this site you need to go, now.  She has bunches of recipes for just about everything.  You can search by meal, ingredient, WW points values and she even has her GF recipes tagged.  It’s a site I go to at least a couple of times a week, I always want to see what’s new.  The recipe I found when I went there today sounds amazing and is gluten free, Sweet Potato Tandoori Salad, I can’t wait to try it!  Go to her site today if you haven’t already, you will be addicted to it like I am after you do.

I will be travelling for work for the next few days so you may not see  a post from me until Friday or Saturday, unless I find a really great GF place to eat in Charlotte that I just have to share.  Have a great week!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Happy Spring and Sauteed Veggie Quesadilla

Happy Spring!  I’m so glad to see the first day of spring even if it means bad allergies and the beginning of tornado season here.  Everything seems so alive during this time of the year, blooming and coming to life.  I love watching the transformation from the quiet of winter to the rowdy colors of spring.  It’s Mother Nature at her most colorful!

Last night was quiet, the husband worked and I didn’t do anything special.  I worked out (OMG, a speed of 4 with an incline of 2% on the treadmill means walking/jogging for me, I nearly keeled over!).  I took care of feeding all of my furry four-legged children that watched me while I huffed and puffed on through my workout.  My dinner was a little different than I had planned, I only made half of a smoothie last night because I knew I was hungry enough to need something besides that.  I rummaged around in my refrigerator and came up with a sautéed veggie quesadilla, it tasted really good.  The recipe is below but I’m guessing that most people can come up with this one on their own!  There are a lot of different veggies you can put in it, the ones I used were what I had in my refrigerator.

I love corn tortillas, I'm not sure if you have noticed, I use them quite a bit.  They are gluten-free, WW points friendly and just generally yummy.  I have a bit of an addiction to them.  Tonight I’m going to make some chicken, black bean and roasted veggie enchiladas for my lunches the remainder of the week.  I have leftover rotisserie chicken and I need to use it for something.  I love the convenience of those things but I always end up with more chicken than I need.  Solution….make enchiladas!  If they turn out well I will post a recipe tomorrow J

Sautéed Veggie Quesadilla
(Serves 1)

2 corn tortillas
Olive oil cooking spray (just a bit)
¼ C chopped grape tomatoes (you could use any kind, this is what I had on hand)
1 scallion, chopped
¼ C chopped mushrooms
1 C fresh spinach, torn into smaller pieces
¼ C cheddar cheese, shredded (I used Sargento Off the Block Sharp Cheddar)

1.      Cooking the tortillas – I have said this before and I will say it again, if you want your tortillas to not turn out squishy, cook them first.  I use a preheated dry nonstick pan, place the tortillas in one (or two) in the pan at a time and turn when they start getting brown in spots, be careful not to burn.  This makes them stand up to fillings better and I think gives them great flavor…..don’t just throw them in the microwave!
2.      Put the cooked tortillas aside, they don’t need to be kept warm, you will cook them a little more
3.      Let pan cool just a bit then add the cooking spray (otherwise you will smoke up your kitchen!), dump in the tomatoes, scallion and mushrooms and sauté until a little soft, then add the spinach and cook until just wilted, set veggies aside and wipe out pan
4.      Make sure heat is on medium or medium low
5.      Place one tortilla in the pan, spread half the cheese and top with the veggie mixture, top with remaining cheese and other tortilla
6.      Cook until the tortilla is a bit more brown and the cheese has melted, turn it to the other side to do the same
7.      Remove from pan, cut into wedges.  You can serve it with a little salsa (which is what I did) or any of your favorite toppings

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Berry/Spinach Smoothie and Chicken Salad Made with Guacamole

First I have to mention that someone in the office brought in pizza for a lunch meeting, it’s all I can smell right now….OMG do I miss real pizza crust.  Ok, enough of that, it just had to be said.  I closed my office door but that wonderfully awful smell is finding a way to get in here!

Anyway, moving right along, I finally figured out last night that I can work out after work now that we are doing smoothies for dinner.  If I don’t have to cook I have lots of free time when I get home, yay!  I got on the treadmill, the first time in a while after being sick, etc. (you have already heard about it).  It felt SO good!  I didn’t move too fast but I cranked the incline up to 3 for 30 minutes, a little over a mile.  It’s kind of sad that I used to do two in 30 minutes, but I will get there again.  After that I did some arm work with my exercise band.  Yay, it felt great.  It really is a good stress reliever, and those endorphins always make you feel good when you are done.  I didn’t realize how much I was missing it.

I have a strange sounding combination of foods for you today.  It sounds really strange but both are good, just try them!  The first one was my smoothie creation last night.  I always try to work veggies into them because they are good for me J  Here’s my Berry-Spinach creation from last night:

Berry-Spinach Smoothie

½ C nonfat plain Greek yogurt (I use Chobani)
1 C unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1 C frozen unsweetened berry mix
1 T raw agave syrup
1 T chia seeds
1.5 C fresh spinach

1.      Put the berries in the bottom of the blender, add the yogurt, almond milk, agave syrup and top with spinach
2.      Start the blender on low, give it a chance to get into those frozen berries, then gradually increase the power until the spinach has been pulled down and blended into the mixture
3.      Turn off and taste, add sweetener if you want more (I don’t like it too sweet) and dump in the chia seeds, blend for about 30 seconds longer
4.      Pour into a large glass (and I do mean large, this makes a big smoothie), enjoy!

The second recipe is what I’m sitting here eating for lunch while I’m typing.  I came across the idea on Pinterest, I didn’t follow the recipe, I just kind of winged it based on the idea.  The recipe below is my version, and, if you love guacamole (the real, homemade kind) then you are going to love this one.  By the way, this makes a lot, for me it was two lunches.

Chicken Salad made with Guacamole

1 avocado
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 T lime juice (I use a little more but I like that flavor)
Salt & Pepper to taste
2 cooked, chopped chicken breasts (about 6 oz. total) – I used a rotisserie chicken
½ C quartered grape tomatoes
2 scallions, chopped

1.      Cut the avocado in half, dispose of the seed and scoop out into a bowl
2.      Squeeze a lime over the avocado, add the garlic powder and a little salt and pepper
3.      Mash the mixture with a fork until desired consistency (I like mine slightly lumpy) – this is the point where you should taste it for salt levels
4.      Add in the chicken, tomatoes and scallions and mix well
5.      Serve with crackers, your own baked tortilla chips or even on some GF bread

BTW, if you are eating GF and love crackers like I do make sure you try Mary’s Gone Crackers, they are GF and vegan and so darned delicious sometimes I just eat them without anything else.  They are great when I need something crunchy.  Kroger in my town carries them, actually they have several flavors.  I always reach for the original but the others are yummy too.  There is a store locator on their website, check them out if you can find them near you.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Grape "Salad" and Spring Fever

We had a beautiful spring weekend here in middle Tennessee and now I have Spring fever!  Saturday it was sunny and in the high 70s, yesterday it was sunny and not quite as warm.  I did too much over the weekend and ended up not getting everything I was hoping to accomplish done.  But I had a lot of fun!

Saturday I visited a bunch of estate sales with a friend.  I picked up some great club chairs for my living room for only $50, total, not each, a great deal!  I also found some other fun things for my art supplies, old sewing patterns and sheet music.  I think those things would be fun in cards or other art projects.  I got some large soup mugs for work so I can stop wasting paper plates and a Good Housekeeping cookbook that was published in the 1940s (I’m a sucker for old cookbooks).  It was a fun day, time spent out in the sun and finding some great deals!

Sunday was a great day too, I worked in the yard for most of the day.  Mostly raking, pine needles and pinecones, cleaning out the mulch and leaves that protected my flower beds in the front of the house (the hydrangeas survived the winter and have lots of buds, I’m SO excited about it!).  I wanted to plant some pansies but ran out of gas after also cleaning off our back patio.  It was an active day but a lot of fun.

I didn’t do a lot of cooking this weekend, which is unusual for me.  Usually weekends are my cooking time.  I made a GF chicken nuggets recipe using Bisquick GF mix, they turned out pretty good.  We had those along with some oven baked fries and salad on Saturday night.  On Sunday we decided to go out for a late lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant (where I know I can go because they understand how to cook GF, the chef once told me that using flour is for lazy chefs….I loved that!).  Chicken fajitas with corn tortillas along with pico and guacamole, yummy!

I don’t have a recipe to share today that I have actually made myself but I thought I would share the grape salad recipe that I had at a baby shower last week, it was so good I want to make some for me, but I will have to cut down the quantities, it makes a lot! The only change I may make when I make it is to cut back a bit on the white sugar or even use a sugar substitute or agave syrup.  I’m not sure where she got the recipe, if it looks familiar to someone and you know where it comes from let me know so I can give proper credit.  Try this, it’s a good one!

Grape “Salad”
(one serving is about ¾ C)

  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 pounds seedless red grapes
  • 2 pounds seedless green grapes
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons chopped pecans

  • In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, sour cream, sugar and vanilla until blended. Add grapes and toss to coat.
  • Transfer to a serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate until serving. Sprinkle with brown sugar and pecans just before serving. Yield: 21-24 servings.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Balsamic Quinoa Veggie "Salad"

I attended a baby shower at work yesterday; I love baby showers, mostly because I love the opportunity to shop for baby clothes.  It was a lot of fun, and there was this grape “salad” that someone brought that was so good (luckily it was GF).  I asked her for the recipe, I’m going to have to share it at some point.  I don’t know where she got it from but I haven’t had anything like it.  Anyway, there were lots of cute baby clothes, lots of fun with some of the ladies I work with.  I really am lucky, I actually like the people I work with!

On another note, since I had that bad cold and ended up on antibiotics for the resulting bronchitis and sinus infection my immune system has been after my thyroid.  The exhaustion, aching, hair loss and brain fog are back.  Yuck!  I had a bit of a scary moment yesterday on my way home from work.  I was sitting at a light downtown, which I do every day after I leave my parking garage, I let my mind wander for a second then when I came back I forgot where I was.  I wasn’t sure where to turn.  It only took a split-second to come back but it was a scary moment.  That’s when I decided that I’m going to eat as clean as possible the next couple of weeks to get this kicked.  No more eating out, other than when I have to travel for work, I can’t avoid that, but at home I will only eat the food I have prepared.  Healthy, fresh, healing, that’s the mantra for the next few weeks.

Last night I had a green smoothie for dinner, I added some ground flax for fiber and whatever other benefits it provides.  I always feel good drinking it, anything that green (from the spinach) can only be good for me.  I also made a great salad of sorts for lunch today, the recipe is listed below, hopefully you enjoy it as much as I did.  It contains about two servings; I guess it depends on how hungry you are.  I ate half and felt quite full.

Balsamic Quinoa Veggie Salad, makes about 2 servings
(dressing ingredients also listed below)

½ cup quinoa, uncooked
1 cup fat free low-sodium chicken broth
1 tsp olive oil
1 T balsamic vinegar
½ cup chickpeans (if you use canned make sure you drain and rinse well)
½ cup chopped English cucumber
½ cup chopped broccoli
½ cup chopped grape tomatoes
1-2 scallions, chopped finely
3 T crumbled feta

Dressing ingredients:
½ T Dijon mustard
2 T balsamic vinegar (I love vinegar, you may want less)
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

1.      Rinse quinoa well then place in a preheated skillet with olive oil to toast just a bit (be careful not to burn it, stir frequently)
2.      Add chicken broth to the pan and bring to a boil, turn heat down and simmer for about 18 minutes or until the broth is completely absorbed
3.      Remove quinoa from the heat and put in a storage container, add the chickpeas and the balsamic vinegar while still warm and mix well (I love vinegar, if you don’t like too strong a taste of vinegar you may want to skip this)
4.      Refrigerate overnight
5.      Dump all of the dressing ingredients into a container (I use a small ball jar) and shake well
6.      Chop up all of the veggies and add to the quinoa along with the feta cheese, top with the dressing and mix well, refrigerate until ready to eat

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

GF Recipes Are Everywhere!

So, I didn’t cook last night, I was TIRED by the time I got home, I was so tired I put the dog outside and fell asleep the second I sat down.  My poor dog was outside for almost an hour before I woke up and let him back in, luckily the weather wasn’t bad.  Thank goodness for a wonderful husband that took care of food when he got home.

I did come across a couple of interesting recipes while feeding my Pinterest addiction (if you want to check out my boards you can find me here) that I’m going to try eventually.  I thought I would share the links with you.  Here they are…

The first one is from the blog This Primal Fanny, the name cracks me up!  I’m finding that there are a lot of Paleo-style recipes out there that match up well with my need for GF eating.  Anyway, the recipe on this one is Primal Bacon Spinach Cream Cheese Stuffed Portabella.  The name of the recipe just made my mouth water, even before reading the ingredient list!  I’m going to list the recipe here because I find it frustrating when I have to follow a bunch of links to get to what I’m looking for but thought I would provide the link to the site as well, she has lots of good pictures to go along with the recipe.  I can’t wait to try this one, it has everything I love in it, bacon, feta, spinach and mushrooms.  The only thing I may change up a bit is adding some finely chopped sundried tomatoes, I’m not sure about the paleo diet, those may not be allowed?


4 slices uncured bacon, cooked and chopped (I bake mine in the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, and save all the fat for future cooking)
1/4 cup cream cheese
2 green onions or scallions, chopped
1/4 cup spinach
salt and pepper to taste
1 large portabella mushroom, stem removed and chopped
2 Tbsp. crumbled feta

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine bacon, cream cheese, onions, spinach, salt and pepper,  and chopped mushroom stem in a small bowl. Lay mushroom top-side down on lightly greased baking sheet (I actually used a pie plate), and pile bacon cream cheese mixture inside.

Sprinkle crumbled feta on top. Bake in preheated oven approximately 20 minutes, or until feta begins to brown.

The second recipe is a dessert recipe because I just need to have something sweet every once in a while.  I have been experimenting with raw agave syrup.  So far I have liked it, though it does take a little getting used to.  This recipe is for Chocolate Frosting Shots, it’s from the blog Chocolate Covered Katie…doesn’t the title just make you want to head on over and see what else is there?  I’m going to just post the link on this one, you need to check out her site.  When I do try the recipe I will let you know how it goes.  It’s chocolate, how could it go poorly?

There are a million different places to find GF recipes on the web, go to Google yourself and find out.  I also like taking recipes that have gluten in them and converting them over so that I can have them.  Just make sure that you have educated yourself about ingredients and what you should/should not eat.  I say should/should not because I knowingly took a bite of something at a dinner last week that I knew had gluten in it.  I did it because I wanted it, really wanted to try it, so I had a little tiny bit, about a tablespoon size bite.  I had a little discomfort but it was worth it because I so wanted to taste it.  Sometimes you just gotta take the bite and pay for it later, it's all about what your priorities are.  I think for me, because I stay away from gluten pretty much 99% of the time, when I want one little bite I can do it.  I'm sure there are tons of people out there that can't, I'm lucky enough to be one that can.  Sure, I will be tired and achy for a day or so, but sometimes it's just plain worth it.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The GF Travel Experience

I was sick, then I travelled for a week…so, I have been away for a while.  Sometimes in life pauses just happen.  I had a nasty cold, it wasn’t much fun, and it took almost two weeks to get through.  I guess if you are only going to get sick once during cold season you may as well do it all and get it out of your system.

On the bright side, part of the travel was a quick trip up to see family for a couple of days.  It was great to spend some time with my parents, siblings and nieces/nephews.  I really wish that I lived closer so I could spend more time with them.  I have lived far away for over 20 years now and it never gets any easier.

I thought I would mention a couple of restaurant experiences during my travels last week, one big negative, and some really positive.  GF eating out can be quite the experience!  What’s surprising to me is where you will find knowledgeable people that can help and where you find people that just plain don’t care.  I’m going to start with the just plain don’t care because I want to end on a positive note.

On the "don’t care what you want/need" end of the spectrum you will find Rao’s Italian at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.  I will say that I don’t know if the entire restaurant’s attitude was the same as the experience that I had indicates, but it certainly made me angry and unlikely to recommend the restaurant to anyone, GF or not.  I started out by checking the website for the restaurant, it indicated that they will accommodate for those with food allergies.  That’s usually a good indicator that I should find some good options and a good attitude at the place.  Unfortunately that wasn’t the case at this restaurant. 

We ended up with a waiter that had the worst attitude about everything.  When asked if they had a GF menu his response was “No” with nothing but a stare following it.  Ok, I thought, I need to ask…do you have anything on the menu you can recommend?  “No”.  Ok, is there anything on the menu that you know wouldn’t have gluten/wheat?  “Maybe a salad”.  REALLY??  Then I asked him a couple of basic questions, which apparently irritated him.  When I asked if he would be willing to ask the chef to make one little change to a dish (Veal Picatta, which can be prepared without flour) he refused and told me it simply wasn’t an option.  I moved on and ended up with a chicken dish that’s prepared on the bone.  I have a weird thing about meat served on the bone, so I asked the waiter if the chicken could be removed from the bone prior to serving…..guess what the answer was?  No.  I ordered it anyway; it was pretty much the only thing I could tell likely wouldn’t have gluten.  The waiter refused to put anything indicating a gluten allergy on the ticket.  Can you say pissed off?  When the service assistant (who clearly had better people skills than her senior partner) came to clear our plates and noted I hadn’t touched mine she asked if I liked it, I simply answered “no”.  She offered to replace it with something else; at that point I was so mad I was no longer hungry so I told her no.  At least the manager removed it from the final bill, but he never bothered to come to the table to ask about our experience.  Really bad idea people, I was the one paying the bill.

Anyway, enough of that one, there were some good experiences as well.  There was breakfast at Denny’s and IHOP with wait staff that actually understood and were helpful.  I find it amazing that I paid less than ¼ of the cost at Rao’s and received service way above them.  Lunch was at Jason’s Deli where they actually carry GF bread.  Dinner at the hotel again, this time at Mesa Grill, a place I have wanted to go to forever (I’m a big Bobby Flay fan).  The waitress was wonderful, accommodating, and knowledgeable.  I had an amazing meal, lots of flavor, great experience and all GF.  My thanks to Mesa Grill for making my last evening in Las Vegas a positive one; it was all I was hoping it would be.

Finally, I had a GREAT lunch with my Mom at a place in Portland, Oregon named Old Wives Tale.  What an amazing restaurant, a huge menu that stated exactly what was in everything (a good indicator they actually make everything themselves).  Also, they indicate what is gluten free, and there are a lot of options!  I had a great curry-cauliflower soup that I loved, salmon cakes AND a dessert (because there were several options, I couldn’t pass that up!).  It was fun, the atmosphere was so Portland, my Mom and I had a great conversation and the food was wonderful.  If you are ever in Portland be sure to stop by, you won’t be disappointed.  I know that I will be back the next time I'm in town!

No recipes today, maybe tomorrow, I have a bunch of veggies in my refrigerator just waiting for me to do something with them.  I may need to share a recipe from my sister too, easy crockpot taco soup.  I will put my twist on it, but it will still be from her!