Eggplant Parmesan Bake (Gluten Free)

Eggplant Parmesan Bake

View and Print Here Eggplant Parmesan Bake

Grocery stores usually inspire me. Like last week, when I had no intention of making Eggplant Parmesan, and a big, beautiful, deep purple specimen caught my eye in the produce department.  I had to have it. I had to make it. I had to eat it.

There was a time when grocery stores struck fear in me. Like years ago, as a child, I took refuge under the cart just in case one of the giant ‘cost cutter’ cardboard scissor signs fell from the ceiling and cut me in half.  Or, when Mama ran over Bunny. My precious Bunny. Oh, who is he? Read on, my friend.

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Bunny travels. Half Dome was a favorite.

I suffered from Conductive Deafness until I was four. Just days after my first surgery Mama and I went about our usual business, which included a stop at the chicken farm for fresh eggs. The barn was lined with chickens and we stood in the market space just on the other side of a windowed wall. Mama chose her eggs, paid the lady, and turned to hand the carton to me. That was my job. To carefully carry the eggs to the car. Only I didn’t reach for the carton this time. I was horrified. Awed. Overwhelmed. I looked at her with wide eyes and asked, “Mama, what is that noise?!”  “Those are the chickens.” She replied. “Chickens make noise?” It was the first of many hearing-world revelations.

My speech therapist sat across from me. She had pulled a chair around to my side of the table and crouched down to me and smiled. My legs swung back and forth and I bounced my pink stuffed bunny on my lap. She asked me what it’s name was. “Buh-honey” I replied. “Do you mean ‘Bunny’? She asked. I nodded.

In the car on the way home, I held Bunny by the hands. His head wobbled a bit, and I made him nod ‘yes’ and shake ‘no’. I murmured his name. “Buh-honey.” I shook his head ‘no’. Louder, I tried again. “Buh-honey.” Once again, I shook his head ‘no’. Three more times. The same result. I looked out the window and watched a couple of corn and bean fields hurry by. We were almost home. Back to my friend on my lap, I tried again. “Bunny.” He nodded ‘yes!’

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Cheesy Risotto (Mock Mac&Cheese, Gluten Free) (Mystery Man Part 4)

Cheesy Risotto Cheesey Arborio Rice

Skip to the recipe here. Cheesy Risotto

The Grand Canyon was brilliant. I walked down the South Kaibab Trail in the bright sunlight and carried a full pack of provisions for our trip. Mystery Man, Hockey Guy and his girlfriend, Lady Hockey, hiked along side me. It was only a 6.1 mile journey, but the elevation change was a decent of 4860 feet with little water on the trail and the sun was already baking. We had a full day of walking ahead, but luckily had a campsite along the Colorado River awaiting our arrival.

Mystery Man had just graduated with his Master’s Degree three days earlier. It had been several long years stuck in classrooms, computer labs and offices. It was time to get outside.

I knew the hiking would be challenging. It would be hot. Once we were on the trail we were at least three days from getting back to civilization. I knew all of these things and more. What I deliberately put out of my mind were the shear cliffs and dizzying views from heights I would not be comfortable. I suppressed my fears. I hiked along. Dealt with it. In fact, we were getting close to the bottom of the Canyon and I thought ‘hey, I might have put my fear of heights behind me.’

Then I saw this.

South Kaibib Bridge

Are you kidding me?!

I approached the bridge with shaky knees. Mystery Man was fully aware of this bridge, and had kept this little detail to himself. He knew I would do it – if there was no choice.

There was no choice.

The walking surface was made of grates. You could see all the way – straight down – to the moving river. The bridge was suspended between two rock faces and swung slightly in the breeze.

I laughed at my previous thoughts of overcoming my fear of heights. It was real. It was happening.

We were the only people on the trail, so I asked the others to stay off the bridge to minimize any movement. Taking a deep breath, I put my boot on the first grate, looked straight ahead and strode my short, little, tired, shaky, legs to the next grate. Then the next, then the next. It was a long bridge.

The red dusty dirt clouded the air when I jumped onto solid ground. I finally exhaled. The others had started across and where taking their time with pictures and pausing to take in the views. I peeled my pack off and took a rest on a large boulder.

They joined me at the boulder, and we soon decided our short rest was over. Darkness was just two hours away and we still had to set camp and make dinner.

Upon arriving at our home for the night, Mystery Man and Hockey Guy suddenly became slightly panicked. A camera was missing and the search was on to find it. They decided it must be back at the resting boulder and left Lady Hockey and I to set camp.

So we did.

We set camp, prepped the stove, and settled in. I was getting hungry and short tempered. It was time to get dinner on and Lady Hockey insisted we wait until they returned before beginning to cook. Where were those guys?

Finally. Boots kicked up dust into camp. Making my way to the stove to get things going, I hear Mystery Man suggest we take a short walk down to the river to take in the sights.

“I’m hungry”. I groaned.

He promised it wouldn’t take long and suddenly all three of them were prodding me along. I followed reluctantly, until we reached a path to the helicopter pad. The trail head was marked for “Authorized Personnel Only”, and with a chip on my shoulder, I refused to go further. I really, really, just wanted to return to camp, eat, and rest.

Since I was being the stubborn rule-follower, Mystery Man found a nearby overgrown path. It had thickets. I had changed out of my boots into sport sandals. He led on in front of me.

I called up to him, “If I hurt my feet, I am never going to forgive you!”

“Never?” He said over his shoulder.

“Never!” I yelled.

Just a few seconds later he stopped. The Colorado River’s edge was at our feet, and the valley colors were every shade of orange and green with the setting sun. As I took in the greatness surrounding me, my eye was suddenly disrupted by an unnatural sight. Another bridge stretched across the canyon, but this one was bigger, and there was some sort of trash or strange flag hanging from it.

I turned to Mystery Man, “What is that?”

“I don’t know. Here, check it out.” He said, and handed me binoculars.

The view was very blurry at first, and it took some time to adjust the lens in the darkening valley. I finally zeroed in on the spot. This was not trash or a flag.

Hanging on the bridge was a giant white sign. It had five words.

Jessica Will You Marry Me?

Completely stunned, I brought the binoculars down and turned to Mystery Man, who was suddenly on one knee, with a ring.

Here I was. Covered in red canyon dust. Sweaty. Smelly. Cranky. And here he was. On one knee. Asking that we spend the rest of our lives together.

“….well?” he asked.

It didn’t occur to me he had been waiting for an answer. Of course I would!

“Yes!”

A few moments later we headed for the bridge to retrieve the sign. Thoughts were flying through my head. The ‘lost’ camera, the stalling for dinner, leading me to the right spot along the river… It was all coming together and making sense. That’s when he looked at me.

“It’s all uphill from here.” he said.

“Very funny. I’m hungry.” I replied.

(We had Mac & Cheese with canned chicken for dinner. Since I can’t have Mac & Cheese anymore, I have found this recipe fills the craving, and brings back memories of the Canyon.)

Print It Here Cheesy Risotto

Cheesy Risotto

Gluten Free Buttermilk Pancakes (Mystery Man Part 3)

Buttermilk PancakesThis week is Mystery Man’s birthday and one of the things he will be enjoying is pancakes for breakfast. Unlike most gluten free pancakes, these are light and airy, and there is not a hint of grit or heaviness. I took a page from my Best Buttermilk Waffle recipe and whipped the egg whites to add extra fluff. I dare you to compare these to ‘the real thing’.

Mystery Man Part 3

Ever since he showed up in my store on Valentines Day, Mystery Man never left my thoughts for long. I hated that I thought of him so often and tried to squelch these thoughts with futile rebuttals.

‘He is such a great friend, I don’t want to ruin it’.

‘I love being his dance partner. I can’t risk losing that for just a fling’.

The mental excuses ran on and on and on. For months, upon months, and we continued to dance together nearly five nights a week.

One of our favorite places was a club called El Diablo Lounge. The owner dabbled in Swing dancing himself, and the interior was a cross between a tiki lounge and swanky 1940s Rat Pack Swing club, with sidewalk seating out front and a billiards room in the back. The booths were red leather, lighting low, and in the center, a small but inviting dance floor. We met every Thursday around nine o’clock, and joined Spunky Girl among others to dance off some energy, socialize, and catch up.

It was the middle of summer and the humidity was high. There was a particular energy in the air and the DJ was hot, playing one favorite after another.

He dipped me at the end of the song, and as I went to walk away, the first few notes of a Rumba, and the hand of Mystery Man drew me back onto the floor. He pulled me slightly closer than usual, and I smelled his aftershave and could feel the heat coming from his body. I didn’t know much more than the Rumba basic, so we whispered to me now and then.

“Walk forward”   “Come back to me”   “Follow me around”   “Step back”

For more than five minutes I followed his every lead. Felt his every touch and heard his every whisper. All the other couples on the dance floor melted away from my vision and the only thing I saw was him.

At the end of the song, breathless, and fully aware, yet unaware of what just happened, he dipped me. Once on my feet again, I squeaked out a “thank you” and we headed opposite directions – me to the billiards room, him to the front sidewalk seating.

I entered the room with my head spinning, my body overheating, and my face flushed. Spunky Girl looked at me and asked if I was O.K. “yeah. I don’t know what just happened there…” I trailed off. It was then she knew exactly what had just happened.

Mystery Man walked out to the front sidewalk, took out his handkerchief and patted his brow. Spunky Girl’s partner was standing there taking in some cooler air. “I’m not quite sure what just happened there,” he said. 

It would take Mystery Man and I another six months to figure it out on our own.

Gluten Free Buttermilk Pancakes

Ingredients

10 1/2 ounces gluten free flour blend*
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs, separated
4 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled
1-2 teaspoons vegetable oil

*Gluten Free Flour Blend

24 ounces white rice flour (4 ½ cups, pus 1/3 cup) (one bag of Bob’s Red Mill brand)
7 ½ ounces brown rice flour (1 2/3 cups)
7 ounces potato starch (not potato flour) (1 1/3 cup)
3 ounces tapioca starch (also called tapioca flour) (3/4 cup)

Method

Mix flour blend, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a medium to large bowl. In a 2-3 cup liquid measuring cup, measure buttermilk. Add eggs and blend well with a fork. In a thin, steady stream, add melted butter while stirring. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and whisk very well until little to no lumps remain.

Using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites on low/medium for about one minute. Increase speed to medium high for an additional minute. Gradually add sugar and whip until stiff peaks form (about 3 additional minutes).

Gently fold egg whites into pancake batter until just a few white streaks remain.

Heat griddle to 350 degrees or a skillet on a medium/high burner. Brush with one teaspoon of vegetable oil. Once hot, add pancake batter 1/4 cup at a time – or make any size pancakes you wish. Wait until the pancakes have bubbles on top that have popped, and they look slightly dry around the edges. Flip to other side for about two more minutes, or until they are the desired color. Add vegetable oil to griddle or skillet as needed.

Serve with your favorite toppings!

Cheesy Mex Chicken with Fritos (Slow Cooker) (Naturally Gluten Free)

Cheesy Mex Chicken

I hopped on my bike and headed down the country road with the white bridge in site. The creek was just a short ride and I leaned my bike against the rail and jumped over it into the tall grass. I shimmy-ed down the steep bank and found a foothold on one of the large stones my sister and I placed there. It was hot and I was eagerly seeking the cool, bubbly, water in the shade under the road. I carefully made my way across by jumping stone-to-stone and landed on the large flat one that served as my shoe stool. If I ruined another pair, I knew my days at the creek were numbered.

My bare feet sunk into the wet, sandy dirt and my body instantly felt the relief. This summer was boiling and the creek was lower than usual. I patted some water on my face and started turning rocks. Crawdads, minnows and tadpoles scurried along as I inspected the creek bed.

This last week I took my daughter ‘creeking’ for the first time. While it was not at ‘my’ creek, it certainly brought back many faded memories.

Photo Credit: My friend Liz over at http://superveggiemom.com/

Photo Credit: My friend Liz over at http://www.superveggiemom.com

The summer heat is upon us, the kids have activities all over the place, and getting dinner on the table is getting harder and harder. This recipe has many perks – quick to put together, leave in it in the crock pot, no ovens to heat up the kitchen, and utterly cheesy and kid-pleasing. Add fresh cilantro, a squeeze of lime and avocado, because it’s summer, and you can.

Cheesy Mex Chicken with Fritos

Ingredients

2 (10 ounce) cans Ro-tel Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies (Original), drained
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained (check ingredient label for gluten)
2 tablespoons instant tapioca (found in the baking isle of most grocers)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs*, trimmed
salt and pepper
1 cup Fritos corn chips, slightly crushed, plus more for garnish
1 1/2 cup Mexican cheese blend (grated)
1/2 cup frozen corn, thawed (or one package freezer sweet corn)
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro

Garnish
extra Fritos
diced avocado
1/2 lime, cut into wedges

*my grocer did not have these, so I de-skinned and de-boned two packs of regular chicken thighs

Preparation

Drain tomatoes. Add to crock pot. Drain and rinse beans. Add to crock pot. Stir in tapioca and cumin. Nestle chicken into crock pot and salt and pepper.

Set crock pot on low for 4-5 hours.

Remove chicken and place on cutting board. Shred into large bite size pieces.

Stir one cup Fritos, 1 cup Mexican cheese blend, corn and cilantro into slow cooker. Gently stir in chicken and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook on high for about 10 minutes until cheese is melted in.

Portion into bowls and top with Fritos, cheese, avocado and a small wedge of lime.

Notes: If left in crock pot, it may thicken too much. Add very hot water, one half cup at a time, until desired consistency is reached.

Strawberry Pie (with bonus gluten free dough recipe!)

Strawberry Pie 1

Finish tilling gardenIt has been more than twenty years since I sat in the garden at the farm house. The wide patch of strawberries sat perpendicular to the rows of onions, potatoes, green beans, and corn, and I sprawled out in the gap in between. With my Tonka trucks and dirt movers, die cast cars and a small trowel, I mounded dirt, made roads and dug rivers. My parents spent the day bent at the waist, weeding, planting, and tending to their precious crop, and our Black Labrador wondered about. She eventually ended up huffing and plopping right down in the middle of my ‘town’. Nosing my leg for attention, I complied and drove cars up and over her like a big mountain.

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I didn’t even give my husband a chance to think about it or plan something special. When I saw that my neighbor wanted to remove the neglected raised garden beds from his property, I eagerly made a deal that we (my husband!) would remove them if I could have all the (rich and beautiful!) soil they contained. “Hey, Honey…. you don’t have to worry about getting me anything for Mother’s Day! Just move these for me!”

“Fine, but you get to move the dirt.”

Raised Beds Before and After

(Here is a before and after of the rebuild/relocation.
It took me two weeks to play in, I mean move, the dirt.)

So now I have a garden. Tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, peppers, cabbage, oregano, basil, and asparagus. For those of you wondering how I planted all of that in just these two boxes? Well… I kinda, sorta, expanded to a third. And I might have two blueberry bushes now, too.

Is this my midlife crisis?

I better just eat this pie and think about that for a while.

(There are three – count em! – THREE recipes here. Two pie crusts, and the strawberry pie filling with topping.)

Strawberry Pie  (Adapted from From Cook’s Country Icebox Strawberry Pie – June 2009)

Serves 8

It is imperative that the cooked strawberry mixture measures 2 cups; any more and the filling will be loose. If your fresh berries aren’t fully ripe, you may want to add extra sugar to taste in step 2. Use your favorite pie dough or use the ‘Oil Pie Crust for Fruit Pies’ or ‘Gluten Free Pie Crust’ below. This pie is even tastier after living in the refrigerator for twenty four hours.

Ingredients

1 (9-inch) pie shell, baked and cooled (see recipes below)

Filling:

2 pounds frozen strawberries
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin (or two 1/4 ounce envelopes of Knox Gelatine)
1 cup sugar
Pinch salt
1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced thin

Topping:

4 ounces cream cheese , softened
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream

Filling Preparation:

Cook frozen berries in large, heavy saucepan over medium-low heat until berries begin to release juice, about 3 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently with a rubber spatula, until thick and jam-like, about 25 minutes (mixture should measure 2 cups, exactly). Remove from heat.

In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, water, and gelatin with a fork. Let stand until gelatin is softened and mixture has thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir gelatin mixture, sugar, and salt into cooked berry mixture and return to simmer, about 2 minutes. Transfer to bowl and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

Fold fresh berries into filling. Spread evenly in pie shell and refrigerate until set, about 4 hours. (Filled pie can, and is better tasting, after refrigerated for 24 hours.)

Topping Preparation:

With electric mixer on medium speed, beat cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla until smooth, about 30 seconds. With mixer running, slowly add cream in one continuous stream. Stop mixer and scrape down sides with a rubber spatula. Return mixer to medium/high speed and whip until stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes. Serve pie with whipped cream topping. (I spread the topping over the entire pie and smooth with an off-set spatula. Others prefer to dollop the topping on each piece of sliced pie. Do what feels right to you – I won’t judge!)

Oil Pie Crust (for fruit pies)

Ingredients
1-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup oil
2 tablespoons milk
1-1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and set rack to the middle position.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, salt and sugar on low for about ten seconds. In a steady stream, slowly add oil and milk. Mix until dough is a sandy texture.

Transfer dough to a glass or aluminum pie pan. Pat dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Using a fork, prick the bottom four times, and evenly around the sides eight times. This will help prevent bubbling while baking.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes, until the crust is no longer moist and is starting to slightly brown.
Cool the baked pie crust on a wire rack for at least one hour before filling.

Gluten Free Pie Dough

Yields 1, 9″ Pie Shell

Ingredients
2 1/2 tablespoons ice water
1 1/2 tablespoons very cold sour cream
1 1/2 ounce white wine vinegar or rice vinegar
6 1/2 ounces gluten free flour blend**
1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon zanthan gum
8 tablespoons frozen butter cut (with a very sharp knife) into 1/4 square inch pieces

**Gluten Free Flour Blend

24 ounces white rice flour (4 ½ cups, plus 1/3 cup) (one bag of Bob’s Red Mill brand)
7 ½ ounces brown rice flour (1 2/3 cups)
7 ounces potato starch (not potato flour) (1 1/3 cup)
3 ounces tapioca starch (also called tapioca flour) (3/4 cup)
¾ ounce nonfat milk powder (3 tablespoons)

Preparation

(Notes: Use a seven cup, or larger, food processor for this single batch. If you want to make a double crust pie, do not double this recipe in one food processor batch. Take the time to do it twice, trust me. This is experience talking. Do not skimp on freezing the butter. Again, trust me on this one.)

In a small bowl, combine the ice water, sour cream and vinegar with a fork. Place bowl in freezer while you prep the next steps.

Place flour blend, sugar, salt and zanthan gum in the food processor. Combine for five seconds. Scatter frozen butter pieces over top and pulse ten times. Dollop the (very cold) sour cream mixture over top and pulse until the texture is sandy, about ten times.

Spread a large piece of plastic wrap out on the counter top. Carefully dump the contents of the food processor onto the wrap. Gather the dough into the center and work it into a solid six inch round disk. Wrap the disk tightly with the wrap and refrigerate for one hour. (This one hour resting time is important. Your dough will be sandy and gritty if you skip this step.)

Rolling the dough:

Prep your pie pan. Lightly grease the very bottom of the pie pan – not the sides. Set aside.

First rule – do not add flour!

Adding flour to the rolling process negates the resting time to rid of the gritty texture. Instead, place two lengths of plastic wrap out on the counter top. Slightly overlap them to make a continuous 18″x18″ covered work surface. Unwrap the chilled dough disk and place it in the center of your prepare surface. Cover the disk with another two sheets of wrap, again, slightly overlapping to make a continuous 18′”x18″ sheet.

Using a rolling pin, start in the center of the dough disk and roll out to the edge. Bring the pin back to the center and roll out the edge in a different direction. Do this over and over again until the disk doubles is size. Sometimes the dough will not roll out in a perfect circle, leaving gaps and cracks. Stop, remove the top wrap and pinch the dough into a circle. Replace wrap and continue to roll from the center in all directions until you have a pie shell measuring about 12″ across.

Transfer the dough to the pie pan:

Remove the top layer of wrap from your pie shell. Lift the bottom layer of wrap and slide a flat hand under the dough to the center of the circle. With your other hand, invert the pie pan over your dough and carefully turn (slowly flip) both hands over, ending up with the pie pan right side up and the dough resting inside. Work the dough into the sides of the pan and very carefully remove the (now top) layer of wrap.

Gently roll the extra dough under the edge and pinch all the way around the pan, making the design of your choice.

Strawberry Pie 3

Loosely cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for one hour, or the freezer for thirty minutes.

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees.

Bake 24-30 minutes, rotating half way through, until no longer doughy and slightly brown along the edges. Cool completely before adding fruit filling.

Stealhead Trout with Rosemary (Naturally Gluten Free)

trout3

We live in a neighborhood. I did not want to live in a neighborhood. I came from open green spaces. Corn, bean, and wheat fields surrounded our farm house and an old red barn sat next door where our Black Labrador gave birth to puppies in the abandoned horse stalls.  I could see the spring storms roll in from miles away and the walls of rain approach across the newly plowed fields, turning them a darker shade of brown one row at a time. For me, the thought of living in a place where houses sat close together and nature was reduced to manicured lawns was less than inspiring.

My husband, on the other hand, grew up in a neighborhood. He rode his bikes on sidewalks (I only did that when we visited Grandma ‘in town’), walked to friend’s houses, and ordered pizza to be delivered to their doorstep.

So, when we started looking for a new home for our new married life, the search was far and wide to find just the right combination. Fortunately I worked for a new home builder and I stumbled upon a section of new lots. And one of them had a view of nature out the back, and a neighborhood out the front. Perfect. SOLD.

ZC Back Yard 22 Dec 05ZJ Back Yard 10 Apr 06Pond

The other day I was in the side yard working on a couple of raised garden beds, and two teenage boys walked by with fishing poles and gear. I struck up a conversation with them about their luck down at the pond and the size of fish they were getting. They told me they were getting large enough fish for dinner.

As I continued to work, my mind drifted to fish recipes. It wasn’t long before I had a plan in place for a family gathering, a large trout, and mushroom risotto. The messages went out, invitations accepted, and I headed off to the fish market*.

*Our area has a lovely fish market, and it seems to be a well-kept secret. Foremost Seafood Ltd. is located in Kettering, Ohio and has high quality fish. I love the way their system works, too. When you walk in, you are handed a freshly printed sheet of their current inventory, complete with prices. On this particular day, Stealhead Trout was listed as fillets. I asked if I could have one half of a whole fish. The employee went to the back, had it cut, and came out with it on a tray. At this point I could decline the fish because of quality or size, or accept the fish. I gave her the nod and she disappeared again to wrap it up and put it on ice. I rang out at the counter and off I went. (This is in no way an advertisement for Foremost Seafood and I am receiving no payment or benefit from them – I just really want the local folks to know about this awesome place.)

A few notes about stealhead trout. Most fish lovers are big fans of salmon. I am too, but I can really get into trout as well. It is a tad milder than salmon, and a tad less dense, which are two qualities I like. The third advantage to trout is it can be much less expensive. I paid two dollars less per pound for mine, so that was a savings of seven bucks. Feel free to use this same method for salmon. It will be just as delicious.

Stealhead Trout with Rosemary

(adapted from the Little City Cooking School)

1 half of a whole trout (or 4-6 large fillets)

1 clove garlic, minced or grated over a microplane

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, coarsely chopped

1 whole lemon (Zest of whole lemon, juice of 1/2 lemon. Thinly slice the remaining 1/2 for garnish)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

Adjust oven racks – the first rack, on the second notch from the top. The second rack, on the second notch from the bottom. Pre heat oven on high broil (or 500 degrees).

Lay a Silpat baking liner, or aluminum foil in a rimmed baking sheet.

Thoughts on brushing your pan with olive oil: If you like to eat the skin, or serve with the skin on, you will want to oil your baking surface. If you do not want the skin, skip the oil and the skin will stick to the surface making it easier to remove the skin. Do not use parchment paper, as it will catch fire under the broiler.

In a 1-2 cup bowl, combine all the ingredients (except the fish) and blend well with a fork or small whisk. (I do this ahead of time and let the flavors mingle in the fridge for up to a day).

Unwrap the fish and lay skin side down on the prepared baking sheet. If the fish is damp, blot it gently with paper towels.

Using a small rubber spatula, spread the rosemary blend evenly over the top of the fish.

Place on the top rack of the oven and broil for 3-5 minutes, careful not to burn the rosemary topping.

Lower the fish to the bottom rack and lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake for about 10 minutes per inch of fish thickness. Check the internal temperature with an instant read thermometer. It should read 140 degrees. If not, bake at three minute intervals until internal temperature is reached.

Serve hot, or cold.

Meaty, Cheesy Lasagna (with gluten free option)

Lasagna

A few months ago I was standing in the checkout line at Kohl’s with an armload of clothes for my growing-too-fast kids, and a timetable that was pushing the boundaries. Rocking my weight from one foot to another, I impatiently waited for the lovely, older lady in front of me to get situated before moving along with her bagged items, when she suddenly turned to face me.

“I smell donuts.” She said, then turned to the cashier and asked her if she smelled donuts. The cashier thoughtfully sniffed the air and said, “Yes! I do smell donuts.” They both looked at me for confirmation. I casually sniffed the sleeve of my arm. Yep, the sweet smell was coming from me. “Um, I think you are smelling me. I am a baker.”

While I thought it was a slightly odd experience, it got me thinking of how smells are so much of a memory trigger. My Dad was an Olde Spice Man. My friend Marge is lavender. Great Grandma was ginger. Mystery Man is a blend of a certain shampoo and aftershave.  And I guess I am baked treats, and if it’s not, it is most likely Italian food. Things could be worse.

Best Lasagna

Ingredients:
1 lb ground beef
1/2 lb spicy Italian Sausage, removed from casings
15 ounces ricotta cheese
8 ounces grated mozzarella cheese
6 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
48 ounces marinara sauce (two 24 ounce jars) or 1/2 recipe Meaty Marinara Sauce Sauce
9 Ounce box no-boil lasagne noodles* (such as Barilla)

*Gluten free version: Use one box Tinkyada Gluten free Lasagna Noodles, boiled for 1/2 suggested cooking time, then rinsed under cool water. I have found these locally in Meijer grocery stores.

Equipment:
• Skillet for browning meat, 9″x13″ pyrex (or similar) glass baking dish.

Preparation:
• Adjust oven rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• Over Medium/High heat and in batches if necessary, brown ground beef and sausage, breaking up into crumbles as it cooks. Drain and return to skillet.
• Add 24 ounces (half) of the Marinara Sauce to the meat mixture and combine.
• In a 9×13 glass dish, spread about one cup of marinara sauce (without meat) evenly covering the bottom of the dish.
• Now it is time to layer. Here is the order:
• Arrange 4 to 5 noodles across the dish. Overlap the noodles slightly if needed.
• About 4 cups of the sauce/meat mixture on top of the noodles.
• Evenly dot with ricotta cheese.
• Another layer of noodles, slightly press them into the pan without breaking or tearing.
• Sauce/meat mixture.
• 1/2 Parmesan cheese and 1/2 of mozzarella cheese evenly over top.
• One last layer of noodles.
• Remaining meat/sauce mixture and remaining marinara sauce.
•  Remaining cheese, making sure the cheese is spread all the way out the the edges of the pan.
• Place dish on a foil-lined baking sheet and cover dish with a foil tent, taking care that the foil is not touching the Cheese topping.
• Bake for 50 minutes at 350 degrees.
• Remove the foil tent and place back in the oven set to BROIL.
• Broil until the top is nicely browned and the cheese is bubbly, about 3 to 5 minutes.
• Remove from oven and let stand for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Salmon with Cucumber Dill Sauce (Gluten Free)

Salmon4

1990

I was thirteen and we were taking our first real family vacation. As I sat in the car driving through northern Michigan the roads became surrounded by water on both sides. I had never seen such a thing and it freaked me out a little. We arrived at our cabin skirting Lake Lelanau and the breeze from the water made the hot summer somewhat bearable as I steadied my jello-like legs from the long ride.

Salmon5

Settling in, my sister and I made quick friends with a couple of older boys a few cabins down. Their dad owned a speed boat and they invited us out on a ride. Having never been on a boat before, it was exhilarating. The sun was shining, the radio was blaring “Straight Up” by Paula Abdul, and the wind whipped through my long pony tail.

That week Dad went out on a charter fishing trip and returned with several King Salmon. He took me to the fish cleaning station at the back of the cabin and taught me how to fillet fish. Mom prepped the grill and cucumber dill sauce and soon we sat at the porch table and took in the sunset over dinner.

We returned to that cabin the next year. I begged Dad to take me on the charter with him. He promised once I turned sixteen he would make it happen. Time passed by too quickly and even though we talked about it and dreamed about it, that trip never happened for us.

In 2009, ten years to the day after Dad died, I found myself on a small fishing boat in Michigan. Vintage Thread took me up for a weekend – John, a close family friend of hers was an avid fisherman and we made our way out to deeper waters.

Not one hour into our trolling I saw a line pull, yelled ‘FISH ON’ and grabbed the pole from its holder. I immediately felt the weight of something big and heavy. John stood alongside me and coached me with the line. “Ok, pull. Ok, now reel. Stop. Pull, reel. Step forward. Back up. Reel more.” He barked a few directions to Vintage Thread who was at the wheel, but they did not compute with me. I had the pole anchored into my hip, painfully digging into my muscles and was struggling to hold the line. I turned to John, “It’s too heavy. You need to help me!”

“No way, you’ve got this. Just do what I tell you.”

A few minutes later a thirty pound King Salmon flopped into the boat.

We continued to fish for the rest of the day, pulling in nine more salmon, but none the size of the King. With the afternoon behind us and our bellies grumbling for dinner we pulled the lines and sped toward our slip. The wind was in my hair and the sun on my face, and I was transported back to those Michiagn family vacations and wished Dad had seen me reel in the big one.

30lb King

Salmon with Cucumber Dill Sauce

Ingredients:

1.5 lbs fresh salmon, cut into 4-5 ounce fillets
1 medium cucumber, or 1/2 English cucumber
2 tablespoons fresh dill, minced
1/2 cup mayo
1/2 cup sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable cooking spray

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and set the rack on the lower third position.
Lightly spray a 9×13 inch glass baking dish with vegetable oil and set aside.

Using a vegetable peeler, peel the skin off of the cucumber. Trim cucumber as needed, then slice down the middle and remove the large seeds with a spoon. If you are using an English cucumber you can skip removing the seeds.

Using a box greater on the largest holes, grate the cucumber into a colander and nest the colander in a bowl. Lightly salt the shredded cucumber and let stand for five to ten minutes. Press the cucumber into the colander with a rubber spatula or the back of a spoon to release as mush liquid as you can. Transfer to a clean, dry bowl.

Add dill, mayo and sour cream and a little black pepper to the cucumber and combine. Taste the sauce and adjust with salt and pepper.

Place the fish fillets, skin side down, in the baking dish leaving one inch between each. Dollop a spoon of cucumber dill sauce on top of each fillet and using a separate utensil (as to not contaminate the sauce) spread evenly over the top. Place remaining sauce in refrigerator.

Bake the salmon for approximately 20-35 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fillets) until the internal temperature reaches 130 to 135 degrees or until the fish is translucent and flakes easily.

Serve with reserved sauce and sides of your choice. Our family favorite is pasta, polenta or risotto with asparagus.

Aunt Helen’s Sugar Cookies (Mystery Man Part 2)

Sugar Cookies 5

(You can catch Mystery Man Part 1 here).

Mystery Man and I started dancing together, and we danced a lot. Three to five evenings a week I would venture out of my tiny apartment around nine p.m. and head out to a local bar, restaurant or club to the designated ‘Swing Night’, usually returning well after one a.m. with my clothes damp from sweat and that feeling of calm after a good workout.

In between dances we would sit at a table, catch up on the day’s happenings and enjoy a drink. Gin and Tonic for him, Corona with a lime for me. The conversations were all over the place. Cooking, movies, our families, and dance steps were weekly topics. I was not par­ticularly attracted to Mystery Man and neither him to me. We were friends, dance partners, nothing more.

Valentine’s Day, February 2000. I was at my retail job on the closing shift and there was no swing dancing to be had that evening. That was fine with me, I was going home to crash since I had the tendency to burn the candle at both ends. I had no Valentine to speak of and had enough of the dating thing for a while. Besides, Valentine’s Day had never really been my thing, even as a kid I thought it was a pretty silly holiday.

The store was slow and I had sent most of the staff home. Shopping for educational toys on this holiday was not my clientele’s top priority. I was counting down to the end of my shift by fiddling with the cash register area. Straightening this, organizing that. The equivalent of cleaning your closet on a rainy day.

I felt a presence of someone entering the store and approaching. I looked up with my ‘can I help you’ look on my face and stared directly into Mystery Man’s eyes. On the counter sat a bouquet of sugar cookies. Wrapped in cellophane with sticks baked in, they were iced to resemble various flowers. Alongside the cookies was a small collection of heavy full-fat milk in three flavors. My favorite kind. He handed me a card, said “Happy Valentine’s Day”, and promptly left.

Shocked and a little flushed, I opened that card. It was a ‘friend’ card. No mention of love, not a hint of romance. Just a straight up, platonic, card. The redness in my face faded, and I tore into those cookies and milk to keep me energized through our closing routine, all the while trying earnestly to curb a little flutter in my stomach.

Since that day, every year on the fourteenth of February, Mystery Man visits that specialty cookie shop and brings me full fat, heavy milk. To be honest, the cookies have gone downhill since that first gift. Or maybe it is just the sweet memories that make me believe they were tasty. But in any case, I still eat them, then soon after that I get a hankering for my Aunt Helen’s sugar cookies.

I hope you make these for someone special, platonic or not.

Sugar Cookies Three Pics

Aunt Helen’s Sugar Cookies (pictured with Decorator’s Icing, recipe coming soon…)

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

3 eggs

1 cup sour cream

1 cup (two sticks) butter, softened

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon soda

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 cups sifted flour, plus more for rolling and cutting.

Preparation:

  • Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together the sugar and butter. (about 1-2 minutes)
  • Add the eggs, one at a time and combine on medium speed for about twenty seconds in between additions.
  • Add in the sour cream and vanilla, mixing until uniform on medium speed. Stop and scrape the bowl down with a rubber spatula two times.
  • In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, salt, and soda and add to the mixture to the mixer (on low speed) about 1 cup at a time. After all flour is added, mix until no streaks of flour.
  • Using about a baseball-worth of dough at a time, dust your work surface, dough ball, and rolling pin with flour. Roll out to about 1/8-1/4 inch thick. Cut into desired shapes and transfer to lined baking sheet (parchment paper or Silpat).
  • Cookies will spread a little, so don’t crowd them on the sheet pan too close together.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool for five minutes before transferring to wire rack.
  • Repeat with remaining dough.

NOTES:

  • Dough can be refrigerated for up to two days prior to use. Let stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes before rolling and cutting shapes.
  • The cookies pictured were decorated by: Put icing in a Zip-Lock bag and squeeze out all the air before sealing. Snip off one corner of the bag and pipe icing onto cookies as desired. (If the icing will not stick to the cookie, use a spritz bottle of water and lightly wet the surface of the cookie prior to icing.) Press cookies – icing side down – into bowls of colored sugar, sprinkles, or any other decorative items you desire.

Baked Potato Soup (Naturally Gluten Free)

Baked Potato Soup

This week little furry things came out of hibernation for a test of the weather. What was the verdict? Punxsutawney Phil ‘declared’ six more weeks of winter, however, Jimmy the Groundhog in Wisconsin predicted an early spring after taking a little taste test of the Mayor’s ear.

While I have never made life plans around a marmot’s shadow, there is always a glimmer of hope when the second of February rolls around. It is the same anticipation I feel when our local baseball team starts up their spring training. A smile washes over my face when I walk into stores and suddenly the clothing is bright and fun, and tulips are arriving in the floral shops.

Then I walk to my car and freeze my buns off. It’s still February, after all, and whether it is six weeks away or not, spring can not arrive soon enough. So in the interim I’ll embrace the frigid temperatures, because five months from now we are going to be cursing the heat and there is no way I will be putting soup on the table.

Baked Potato Soup
Ingredients:
8 Ounces bacon, chopped
3 Pounds russet potatoes, washed (Idaho works, too. Do not use Yellow or Red)
1 Large Onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cup)
2 Garlic cloves, pressed or grated over a micro plane
4 Cups chicken stock (Or one 32 ounce carton)
1 Cup heavy cream
1 Cup chopped ham
4 Cups, (plus 1 cup for garnish) sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1-2 Cups instant mashed potato flakes
1 Cup sour cream (for garnish)
1 bundle green onions (chives) chopped (for garnish)

Preparation:

The faster way…
• Bake the potatoes in the microwave until soft all the way through.

The tastier way…
• Preheat your oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the middle to low position. Nest a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet and place the potatoes on the rack. Spear each potato with a fork (about 1/8″ deep) once on two sides. Brush olive oil all over each potato and sprinkle salt on all sides. Bake for about one hour, depending on the size of the potatoes, checking them with a fork after 45 minutes. Let cool completely.
• In a large dutch oven or heavy pot over Medium-High heat, cook bacon until crispy.
• Meanwhile, use a vegetable peeler or sharp kitchen knife to remove the skins from the (cooled) baked potatoes, removing wide strips. Reserve the skins. Chop potatoes into bite sized pieces and set aside. (Keep a close eye on the bacon, as to not allow it to burn).
• With a slotted spoon remove bacon to a paper towel lined plate leaving the grease in the pot.
• Add potato skins to hot bacon grease and fry until crispy, about 5-8 minutes.
• With a slotted spoon remove potato skins to the bacon plate to drain. (These will be used for garnish later)
• Add onion to remaining fat and cook until soft and golden brown, stir in Garlic and continue
to cook for 1 minute. If the bottom of the pot begins to brown too much during the potato frying or onion cooking, turn down your burner and add olive oil one tablespoon at a time until it is resolved – no more then four tablespoons)
• After the onions have softened, gradually stir in chicken stock, cream and potatoes and bring to a boil.
• Turn heat down to simmer (very low!) and cook for thirty minutes stirring occasionally.
• Remove two cups of soup and blend in food processor or blender. Return to pot.
• Add 4 cups shredded cheese and melt into soup. Add ham.
• Adjust thickness of soup with desired amount of instant mashed potatoes.
• Adjust seasonings to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with reserved bacon and potato skin garnishes, and any other desired garnish.
Suggested Garnishes: Shredded Cheese, Sour Cream, Chives, Bacon, Potato Skins