Sunday, December 22, 2013

Last Minute Microwave Gifts

Need a last minute gift?  Have a microwave?  With a few ingredients you may already have on hand you can make delicious candy and very happy friends.

Microwave Nut Brittle
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 cups nuts or seeds, whichever you like/have on hand*
1 Tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Measure out the butter and vanilla, put them nearby in a small dish.  Ditto for the baking soda.  It must be in it's own dish.  Do it now, you won't have time to be measuring at the end.

Line a jelly roll pan with a silpat or aluminum foil.  If using foil, oil the foil.  Place in oven set to 200F.  The warm pan will help you spread the brittle later.

Have ready a cooling rack to place the hot pan on later.  Also set out a heatproof mat to place the hot bowl on.

In an 8 cup microwave safe bowl, combine corn syrup and sugar until uniformly wet.  Microwave on high, uncovered, for 4 minutes. 

Using an oven mitt, remove from microwave and stir in nuts/seeds.  Cook 3-5 minutes longer, until pale amber.  Don't walk away or it will burn.  I don't know how it knows you've left the room, but it knows.

Stir in butter and vanilla.  Stir until butter melts.  Add baking soda and stir to combine.  It will foam.  Immediately pour out onto the prepared pan.  Using a metal or high heat proof silicone spatula, spread the candy as thinly as you like.  If you like your brittle thicker leave it thicker.

Allow to cool until room temperature, at least 1 hour.  Break into pieces.  I find my meat mallet handy for this.  Store in a cool, dry place.

Don't try to wash the bowl until it comes to room temperature.  The boiling sugar is far hotter than boiling water and you may crack your bowl.  Once it comes to room temp, fill it with hot water and let it soak.  The sugar will dissolve and all you'll need to do is give it a quick wash.

*Cashews, peanuts, sliced almonds, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds are all very good.  Dry roasted or heavily salted nuts are not as tasty.

When I was a kid, I used to save my nickles and dimes to buy Fanny May Mint Meltaways. Do you have a chocolate loving friend?  Make them Mint Meltaways.

Microwave Mint Meltaways
12 oz. bag mint chocolate chips
1 1/2 Tablespoons plain vegetable shortening (Crisco)

Place both in a microwave safe bowl.  Cook on high 45 seconds, stir.  Cook another 30 seconds, stir.  Continue until chocolate has melted and runs off the spoon.  Pour into chocolate molds.  I use a dollar store plastic ice cube tray.  Chill until firm; pop out of trays.  Store in the fridge, take out 30 minutes before serving. Taste one, if it's too firm for your liking, melt them down with a little more shortening and re-chill.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Gluten Free Pancake

Ever notice that you really want something after being told you can't have it?  I never was a fan of pancakes because I always got a tummyache after eating them.  Since finding out that I'm gluten sensitive what do I crave? You got it - Pancakes!

After trying some ok and some really terrible gluten free pancakes, I found one that is wheat free, sugar free, filling, satisfying, great tasting and fast.  I can have this on the table in 2 minutes.  Literally.

How? The microwave!  Yep, you bake this in the microwave.

The Ingredients
My BFF ground flaxseed takes center stage in this recipe.  I add a little GF flour to give it a better texture, but you can leave it out.  This time I used brown rice flour, other flours also work. I don't recommend soy flour, messes with the flavor.

Spray a microwaveable pie plate with non stick, add the wet ingredients and whisk. 
Combine the dry ingredients in another bowl.
Add them to the wet ingredients and whisk to combine. 

Sprinkle with walnuts.
Microwave 1 minute 30 seconds on high.
Enjoy with some sugar free pancake syrup.

Gluten-Free Pancake
1 serving

1 tablespoon oil
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar free vanilla syrup (OR 1 Tablespoon Splenda + 1 1/2 Tablespoons water + 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract)
1 egg white (3 tablespoons from the carton)

1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1 Tablespoon Gluten Free flour (rice, almond and coconut are all good)
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon baking powder

1 Tablespoon chopped walnuts

Spray a microwave safe pie plate with non-stick.  Add the wet ingredients and whisk.
Combine the dry ingredients and whisk into the wet until well combined.
Sprinkle with walnuts.
Microwave 1 minute 30 seconds on High.
Serve right from the pie plate. (Why dirty another plate?)

Let me know if you try this.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Gluten-Free Flatbread

Walt and I are trying to stay gluten-free.  Umm - I am trying to stay gluten-free and Walt is along for the ride because I'm the cook.  We are following South Beach Diet.  I noticed that I lost weight rapidly in the first phase, which eliminates all breads and starches, but started gaining when South Beach told us to start adding whole grain.  I also felt and looked bloated.  Lightbulb moment. "I think I may be sensitive to gluten".  However, some things just can't be eaten without some facsimile of bread.  Like Pulled Pork.  I was able to devise a sugar-free barbeque sauce, but you have to have it on a bun/bread/pita. 

Pinterest to the rescue.  I found this flatbread recipe Gluten-Free Flatbread.  It called for Gluten Free All Purpose Flour.  Every brand in the stores contain sugar.  Back to Pinterest.  I found this gluten-free flourmix.  It's good, but the coconut flour gives it a slightly coconutty flavor that doesn't work with Pulled Pork.  So I tried again and subbed Almond Meal for my Pulled Pork leftovers.  I'll be trying another version of gluten-free flour blend using garbanzo bean flour soon. Then I'll have an assortment of blends and will be able to pick the blend for the recipe.  The coconut flour version is perfect for sweets.

In using and revising this recipe, I found that 2 large eggs works better than the extra large egg plus egg white called for, and that almond meal is not as thirsty as coconut flour, so I had to decrease the liquid.  I also had best results using the convection feature on my oven. I tried baking one cookie sheet lined with a Silpat and the second on parchment paper. Using a Silpat caused the flatbread to be soggy in the middle.   Here's my current adaptation:

Gluten-Free Flatbread
2 cups Gluten Free Flour Blend (see below)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large eggs
1/4 cup unflavored, unsweetened milk (cow, almond, soy)
1/4 cup water

Place oven racks and 2 lowest positions. Preheat oven to 425F and use convection if available.
Combine dry ingredients.
Add oil, eggs and milk.
Slowly add warm water.  You want a soft, wet dough.
Use an ice cream scoop to portion out 6 scoops onto 2 parchment lined cookie sheets.
Use wet fingers to smooth each into thin 5" circles.
Bake 8 minutes for convection/10 minutes regular oven.
Remove from oven and flip each using a pancake turner.
Return to oven with the pan that was on the upper rack in the lower position.
Bake 8 minutes longer.
Remove to wire rack to cool.
Store at room temperature in a zip top bag.

These are flexible; you can hold the sandwiches like a taco. They are also very filling.

Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup GF certified oat flour
1 cup almond flour/meal
1 cup tapioca flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

Combine in a zip top bag.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Easy 3 Bean Crockpot Chili

My crockpot chili is super fast and easy because I don't pre-brown the meat.  I use ground sirloin so there's no extra fat to cook off and drain.  I can get this started in 15 minutes and be on my way.
Everything gets stirred together in the crockpot, cover on, set to Low and off I go.
Stirring the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste into the raw meat will allow the meat to cook without forming large clumps.  I love how forgiving this recipe is - sometimes I add some diced jalapeno instead of, or in addition to, the sweet pepper, sometimes I leave out the diced tomatoes or use ground turkey instead of beef.  Prefer a vegetarian chili? Leave out the meat altogether. 
After everything is combined, sprinkle the cocoa powder over the top. Once your cooker heats up, the cocoa powder will melt. You can stir it in anytime after it melts. If you try to stir it in when it's still dry, it will clump. Let it cook at least 30 minutes longer after stirring in the melted cocoa powder to allow flavors to blend. You will not taste cocoa, you will taste rich silkyness.
Notice how stiff the mixture looks.  It will thin out a bit once it cooks, but this is a thick chili.  If it's too thick for your taste, you can add additional broth after it's finished cooking. 
Easy 3 Bean Crockpot Chili
1 lb. ground sirloin
1 (14-16 oz.) can crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
2 tablespoons dried chopped onion
1 tablespoon paprika
2 - 3 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon minced garlic OR 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 (14-16 oz.) cans chili beans
2 (14-16 oz.) cans beans, drained and rinsed (black, pinto, red, great northern)
1 (14-16 oz.) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 of a sweet bell pepper, diced (any color)
1/2 cup beef broth or water
2-3 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Spray interior of crockpot with non-stick.
Add ground beef, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and spices.  Stir until smooth.
Add beans, tomatoes, bell pepper and broth; stir gently to combine.
Sprinkle cocoa powder evenly over top.
Put lid on, turn on Low and cook 5 - 8 hours.  It gets better the longer it cooks. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Couponing at CVS

I haven't written about couponing for a while because, frankly, there wasn't much to say.  The deals were few and far between and mostly involved child related deals.  We're empty nesters - so cereal, lunch snacks and diapers are not on my radar.  I stocked up on razors, bath gel and shampoo, but there were no real deals - until this day.

I found a bunch of deals at CVS that I rolled as much as I could, and I still have $7 in CVS Extra Care Bucks to use next time.

Total out of pocket $13.32  (doesn't include the $7 ECB for next time, so net is $6.32 for EVERYTHING)

Here's how I did it:
First I went to my 3 favorite couponing sites. to see what she found for the week, then to to see everything on sale at CVS with coupon matchups.  Between those two sites, I determined what I wanted to buy.  Then I went to to search for any coupons they may have missed. 
Then I figured out the best grouping and order to roll ECBs as much as possible.  I'm a bit of a geek, so I used a spreadsheet, but you can do it on a pad of paper.
When I got to CVS, I scanned my Extra Bucks card and got coupons for $3.00 off any cosmetic purchase over $10 and $1.00 off Crest.  Happy dance!
First transaction:
Dean Milk $2.99, 2 Almay eye $8.29 each, trial size shampoo $1.99
I had to throw in the shampoo to keep it from going into negative. That allowed me to use all the coupons.
Used coupons: 
$10 CVS ECB from prior week, 2 Almay coupons $2.00 each, $3 off cosmetics, $ .50 off Dean milk. 
Earned: $4.00 ECBs on the Almay and $1.00 ECB on the milk.

Total out of pocket $1.55!  Happy Dance!
My second transaction was the toilet paper. A 12 pack of Angel Soft was sold out at $5.00, so I went with twelve double rolls of Quilted Northern Ultra Plush for $7.00.  Used $5.00 ECBs earned from transaction 1. Had the Angel Soft been in stock it would have been Free after ECBs.
Total out of pocket $2.54
Third transaction:
2 Orbit gum $1.00 each, 1 Crest Pro White $2.99
Used coupons:
$1.00 off Crest
Earned me $2 ECBs for Crest and $1 ECB for Orbit

Total out of pocket $3.30
My final transaction:
1 Physicians Formula concealer $8.29
Used: $3 in ECBs from third transaction
Earned: $7.00 ECBs
Out of pocket $5.93 and earned ECB $7.00!  They paid me to take this home!
Deals are out there, search for them.  ;)

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Gluten Free, Grain Free Pizza

Walt and I are having wonderful success on South Beach.  I'm down 28 lbs., Walt has lost 33!  The problem is, it restricts grain, and we're bread people.  Walt was missing pizza.  (I could do without pizza, since I almost always had a tummy-ache afterwards).  To satisfy our bread cravings, I looked for grain-free breads and found a recipe for Socca, a flatbread from France that uses garbanzo bean flour instead of wheat flour.  I had my doubts, but went to Woodman's, bought some Bob's Red Mill Garbanzo Bean Flour and gave it a try.
The method is entirely different from wheat crust - no yeast (!) and it's made from a watery batter.  Hint: Wipe up any spills, it dries like concrete!

Equal parts garbanzo bean flour and water plus salt, seasonings and olive oil are whisked together.  It's poured into two screaming hot skillets and baked for 20 minutes. That baked crust is very different.  Different can be yummy, too.

The toppings must be fully cooked before adding to the crust, because it's topped and then put under the broiler only long enough to melt the cheese.  I microwave the veggies with a little water in a covered dish. My pepperoni pizza below has Pastorelli brand sauce, thinly sliced onions, red bell pepper, turkey pepperoni and reduced fat cheese.

My Margherita pizza has my own white garlic cheese sauce, grape tomatoes, fresh basil leaves and reduced fat cheese.

The white garlic sauce is very easy to make from cream cheese, minced garlic, cottage cheese and parmesan cheese. Just whizz them together in a mini food processor (or stir in a bowl).

For the Crust
makes 2 10" crusts

1 1/2 cups garbanzo bean flour
1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon + 1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning blend
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
extra olive oil for the skillets

Whisk together.  Set aside while heating oven and skillets.

If your broiler is at the top of your oven, place one oven rack at the uppermost slot. Another rack should be on the middle slot. Place two 10" cast iron skillets in oven on the middle slot.  Preheat oven to 450F.  When oven and skillets are hot, remove and add 1 tablespoon olive oil to each skillet.  Swirl to coat bottom of skillets.

Add half of batter to each skillet.  Swirl to coat evenly - kinda like making a crepe. Put skillets back in oven and bake 20 minutes.

For the Toppings
While crusts are baking, slice and cook any toppings (except the cheese, natch).  I microwave sliced onion until limp; sweet peppers until just tender.  Pepperoni is already fully cooked, but if I make sausage pizza, I cook it thoroughly then drain very well on paper towels.

For the Red Sauce
We like canned Pastorelli pizza sauce or Sweet Baby Ray's barbeque sauce. 

White Garlic Cheese Sauce
2 Tablespoons cream cheese
2 Tablespoons cottage cheese
2 Tablespoons parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon minced garlic

Whizz together in mini food processor or stir together until the cottage cheese is smooth.

Doctoring the Crust
When the crusts are done, remove from the oven and wrap a towel around the skillet handles to remind you that they're screaming hot.  Turn the oven off and the broiler on High. 

Spread crusts with a small amount of sauce - 2 tablespoons or less.  Add pre-cooked toppings and cheese.  Sprinkle with additional Italian seasoning, salt and pepper, whatever you like.  I like Lawry's Seasoned Salt.  Place under broiler until cheese melts.  Let it brown as much as you enjoy.

Remove from broiler onto sturdy cooling racks (or your stove grates).  Using a thin metal spatula, loosen crust and slide out onto a cutting board.  Let rest a couple minutes before slicing.

Serve with cold beer or soda.
Unexpected Bonus 1 - NO more Pizza tummy-aches for me!
Unexpected Bonus 2 - cast iron skillets get very well seasoned!
What do you do when you have lots of leftover sauce?  Using two tablespoons per pizza, the 16 oz. can of sauce goes a long way.  It will go bad in the fridge before I can use it all. So I froze it in an ice cube tray from the dollar store,  popped out the frozen cubes and put them in a zip top bag. On Pizza
Night, I pull out a couple of cubes and zap them in the microwave to thaw.  Each cube is about 1 1/2 tablespoons sauce.

What do you put on your pizza?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Skillet Chops with Mushroom Whiskey Peppercorn Sauce

I was gone a long time.  Many things took up my time.  Volunteering, helping my in-laws, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day and Easter.  The best thing that took time wasn't a thing.  It was a tiny, perfect human named Naomi Dawn.  She is my newest grandbaby, born in February, and she has the entire family wrapped around her tiny fingers. Who wouldn't love such a happy baby?
Her older brother and sister have grown too.

I've gotten a wee bit smaller.  At the New Year, my husband suggested we go without potatoes, noodles, rice or bread and see what happened. Yikes!  My immediate thought was "What's left?!? This won't last a week!" So I started doing a little research and re-discovered The South Beach Diet. I say re-discovered, because several of our favorite meals are South Beach, BUT we had never followed the program.

So I borrowed several South Beach Diet books from the library and dug in.  After a rough week, our starch and sugar cravings faded.  Oh yes - NO sugar. Twelve weeks later I'm down 23 lbs. and my hubs is down 28.  Not bad.
Here's what we had for dinner last night:

Skillet Chops with Mushroom Whiskey Peppercorn Sauce
For chops:
4 thick cut boneless pork chops
course ground black pepper
1 T. butter
Season chops with salt and pepper.  Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until hot.  Add oil and butter.  Swirl to combine and coat bottom of skillet.  Add chops.
Brown well on both sides, about 4 minutes per side; then lower heat, cover and cook an additional 10 minutes.  Remove from pan and cover while making sauce.
For Mushroom Whiskey Peppercorn Sauce:
1 T. butter
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup onion, sliced
2 -3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/2 tsp. peppercorns, slightly crushed (optional)
3/4 cup reduced fat, low-sodium chicken stock or broth
1/2 cup half and half
2 T. balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup whiskey (I used Seagrams VO, Jack Daniel's would also be good)
Preheat oven to 400F.
In same skillet you cooked the chops add EVOO and butter, swirl to coat skillet. Add mushrooms and onions.  Cook over medium high heat until well browned (Brown = flavor), turning with a spatula every couple of minutes.  It will take 10 - 15 minutes depending on the water content of the mushrooms.
Add garlic and peppercorns, stir.  Add chicken stock and balsamic vinegar and stir to loosen browned bits from skillet.  Add half and half, stir.  Remove pan from flame and add whiskey.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until sauce thickens slightly.
Add chops and any juices to skillet.  Place in preheated oven 10 minutes to finish cooking. 
Test temperature for doneness.  Serves 4 (6 if you're on South Beach)
Along side the chops, serve:

Summer Squash with Parm
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 medium onion, sliced
2 medium summer squash, cut in 3" strips
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup parmesan, shredded

Heat skillet over medium heat.  Add EVOO when hot.
Add garlic and onions, stir to coat.  Cook until onions wilt.
Add squash.
Cover and cook 3-4 minutes, turning gently several times.
Add broth, cover and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
Serve with 1 T. parmesan cheese

Serves 4
Stay tuned and find out how I make pizza without wheat flour.  Gluten Free!