Mushroom Risotto (Gluten Free)

Mushroom Risotto

(Click here for Mushroom Risotto PDF)

The musty, damp air. Songbirds belting their tunes. Tender wildflowers peeking through the rich soil. These things all lead me to one thought. It’s mushroom season!

Let me come clean right now. I hate mushrooms. At least, that is what I thought. For. Years. They are slimy. They taste like dirt. They make my teeth squeak.

Then Mystery Man and I dined at Artist Point, a restaurant at the Wilderness Lodge at Disney World. He ordered the Smoked Portobello Bisque. After listening to the chorus of yummy slurps and ‘Mmmmmms,’ I asked him for a taste.

So is this what mushrooms are supposed to be all about? It was pleasant. Actually, more than pleasant. Meaty, mouthwatering, deep flavors aroused my tongue. In a possibly trendy, probably hipster (but I don’t know, I’m not that cool) word, Umami.

This was the beginning of a whole new culinary road. Mushrooms. I started considering menu items that contained them. I never again dismissed a recipe that called for them. In fact, now I cook with them often, and this is one of my favorite side dishes. (I serve it with Pan Fried Pork Chops or Steelhead Trout).

 

 

Mock Manicotti (Gluten Free)

Mock manicotti

Mock Manicotti (pictured with Meaty Marinara Sauce)

The human brain can connect tastes and smells to memories from long ago. I do not question that logic one bit, especially since there are certain recipes that make my heart my heart sing.

The joy in this dish comes from my early days with Mystery Man. (You can catch the entire history here, here and here).

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.

On more than one occasion, Mystery Man mentioned he liked to cook, was good at it, and was known to host a dinner party or two. I laughed it off, until one day the topic turned into a little friendly competition. I’ll cook for you, then you cook for me. We’ll see who can bring the heat.

The competition so intense, we went from one dinner each, to two, then three… In fact I think we are still competing (but I’m winning, for the record).

This dish (in it’s original manicotti shape) was one of the first Mystery Man made for me. It had the best balanced blend of cheeses, the pasta was cooked to perfection, and he had picked up a bottle of wine that complemented the course. He was proud, but not smug, and I was secretly impressed.

For some reason I had forgotten about this dish, until last week Vintage Thread brought a version over for dinner. She used the Tinkyada Lasagna noodles and rolled them for a faux manicotti. It worked beautifully. I dug out Mystery Man’s recipe this week and used Barilla Penne Pasta in a layering method. It worked beautifully, too, and in both cases, my heart sang.

 

 

 

Classic Chili (Gluten Free)

2016-02-11 14.20.18Classic Chili

I think I was meant to be a hibernating mammal. The only thing I can think about during these cold days of winter is sleeping. And soup. Hot, filling, stick-to-your-ribs, soup.

I have many requirements for soup. They must be flavorful, even the spoonfuls void of the main ingredients. They have to be easy so I can walk away (or run eight errands) without things going array. Last, they have to be just as good when made gluten free, my family can tell when substitutions go wrong.

I present to you this chili. It gets an A+ in all categories, and is a great gluten free alternative to the chili served at that fast food restaurant featuring a little girl with red pig tails. Put it in your slow cooker and come home to a cozy meal. Post-meal nap is optional, but highly recommended.

 

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

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.

Italian Meatballs (Gluten Free)

Meatballs1

My 16th birthday was just one week away. The big day included an appointment at the local BMV for my driver’s test, an appointment at the orthodontist to remove my three-year-old braces, and most importantly, I planned to go job hunting.

You see, a few weeks prior, I attended a meeting at my school for the foreign language club and learned of a twenty-one-day European tour offered to their members. I had the itinerary memorized.

(…and I still do…Land in Madrid, via New York City. Take a night train to Paris. Ride a tour bus and stop in Lucerne, Switzerland, head south into Italy and stop in Florence, Sienna, and Rome. Make our way back north to Venice, then skip over to Austria and see Innsbruck. Germany is next with a stop in Munich and Frankfurt. Skip up to the Netherlands and say hello to Amsterdam then hop on the ferry over to England and spend a day in London. Pack our bags for good and head home.)

That evening I took all the brochures home to my parents to plead my case. In my mind, the fact that I would be the first to have this awesome opportunity to travel parts of the world only my Grandfather had seen during the war was a no brainer. They should say “yes”, sign up for the payment plan, and in nine months I would be on my way.

Instead, they said nothing. They looked at one another. My Dad looked at Mom, then mumbled to me “No way we can pay for this. Get a job and pay for it yourself.” That was the end of the discussion*.

So, I needed a job.

First stop. Bob Evans restaurant. I had on my Sunday best, I couldn’t stop smiling from the new feeling of smooth teeth, and I marched on in there and handed the manager my application. He hired me on the spot. Just three shifts a week, but it was a start.

I trained, learned, became a shift leader, and everyone knew I would pick up any hours available. Six months later, all the installment payments were made and the remaining three months I worked for spending money.

The summer between my Sophomore and Junior year of high school became a journey of a lifetime, and this is precisely when I fell in love with anything and everything Italian. Especially the food.

It was seven years before I found a meatball in my hometown that rivaled those in my fond memories. Mystery Man and I stumbled upon a hole-in-the-wall Italian place named “Armando’s Italian Market”. We became so well known in the joint that Lady Linda at the front counter covertly shared his Italian Meatball secrets with us. After Armando retired and closed the place down, we set our minds to making them ourselves.

*One week before jetting off to Europe at the age of sixteen, Dad approached Mom and told her they could not possibly let me go – I was too young, naive, and had never traveled more than one state from my hometown. He was not serious when he told me to get a job. That was his way of saying “no”.  While Mom agreed, she would not let my hard work go without reward and she

Here they are!

*While Armando’s were not Gluten Free, I have adapted this recipe to meet my dietary needs.

 

Meatballs4

 

Spicy Italian Meatballs
Makes approximately 72 (2 ounce) meatballs

 

Ingredients:
3 lbs ground beef
3 lbs spicy Italian sausage (casings removed)
3 c. Romano Cheese (grated)
3 c. Dry Italian Bread Crumbs (One whole loaf of Udi’s white sandwich bread, and various spices. See instructions below.)
6 eggs
6 cloves garlic

Canola Oil for Deep Fryer

 

Preparation:
•    Pour canola oil into deep fryer to the ‘fill’ line. Heat to 300 degrees.
•    Working in small batches at a time, place 1/2 pound ground beef, 1/2 pound spicy Italian sausage, 1 cup Romano cheese, 1 cup bread crumbs, 1 egg and 1 clove of grated garlic in a large food processor. Combine for approximately 15 seconds (or mix by hand in a large bowl).
•    Roll into 2” balls. (I weigh them into 2 ounce portions)
•    Place on a rimmed baking sheet.
•    Using tongs, place meatballs into fryer basket, being careful not to overcrowd.
•    Fry for five minutes.
•    Remove from the fryer and place on cooling rack nested in a rimmed baking sheet.
•    Repeat with remaining meatballs.
•    Place number of desired meatballs into saucepan with marinara sauce, heat through and serve.

 

NOTES:
Use only Romano cheese.

To freeze meatballs, let them cool completely and portion desired amount in quart size freezer bags. Thaw directly in warm marinara sauce.

Make your own bread crumbs:
Place 1/4 Udi’s bread loaf in food processor. Pulse until all bits and pieces are smaller than a pea. Add Italian seasonings, such as Oregano, Thyme, Basil, Garlic Powder, etc. Toss crumbs with olive oil and spread out over two rimmed baking sheets. Bake at 400 degrees until brown. Cool completely before using. (Freeze any leftover crumbs for other recipes.)

One-Pot Mexican Chicken & Rice (Gluten Free)

Nappy's Chicken Shit

I was on a school bus,  for the first time in more than a decade, and much earlier than ever in my life. Still dark, we couldn’t see the landscape. It was quite chilly, there was no sound except the motor. All the passengers where silent with their thoughts and the bus rocked us gently back and forth. I can pretty much fall asleep anywhere, but right then my nerves where taking over and keeping my stomach uncomfortable and fluttery. ‘How long is twenty six miles, anyway?’ It seemed like an eternity getting to the marathon start line and every second I sat there I pictured my legs having to carry me all the way back.

Yes, I had put skates on again, even after my disastrous start in the sport.  Mystery Man and I put the inline skates on every weekend and racked up the miles on the local trails. My miles were much different than his. As I pushed, sweated, and worked for every stride, most of his time was spent skating backwards in front of me, coaching me along, and on occasion would break away to ‘stretch his legs’, then wait patiently for me to catch up.

I reminded myself that we were here for fun. After all, we had met up at this race in Duluth Minnesota for more than the skating. Friends came from several states away. Ones we hadn’t seen in far too long. The skating, to them, was only secondary.

Stepping off the bus, I was astounded. Three thousand five hundred people where here to skate this race and yet everyone was calm, collected, and making their way to the appropriate fitness stage for start times. We found ours, but not our friends. The crowd was too thick. Bang! Here we go!

I have seen wonderful sites in my life. The Sistine Chapel. The Rome Colosseum, Big Ben, the canals of Amsterdam. But, that finish line is one of the most memorable and beautiful things. Bleachers full of people flanked each side of the the road. Flags, banners and festive music filled our senses and took the pain from our legs. Mystery Man stayed with me all the way to the end and we crossed the finish line together.

We found our friends and hugs lasted minutes as we soaked everyone in. It had, indeed, been way too long.  We had two days and we planned to make the most of it. Lunches lasted through dinner. Toasts where made with silly sayings and laughter, and solemn memories and wet eyes. Laughter rang in our ears long after retiring for the evening, and as I lay there and took stock of my body that I had pushed to the limit, the parts that hurt most were not my legs, but my cheeks and abdomen from smiling and laughing. Suddenly the skating, for me, was secondary.

________________________________

 

This is a recipe from a friend in the skating community.  We (lovingly) call it Chicken Shit in our house, but I have renamed it for you. Your welcome.

 

One-Pot Mexican Chicken & Rice

Ingredients:
1 Pound boneless skinless chicken breasts (cut into bite-sized pieces)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 – 13 Ounce can chicken broth
1 – 8 Ounce can tomato sauce
1 Package taco seasoning (check for gluten in the ingredients)
1 can corn, drained
1 green pepper (diced)
1 1/2 Cup minute rice
1/2 Teaspoon hot sauce (optional)
Corn chips

Toppings:
All Toppings are Optional
1 – 2 Ounce can Sliced Olives
Shredded Mexican/Spicy Cheese
Sour Cream
Lettuce
Tomatoes (diced)

Preparation:
• Heat olive oil in 4” deep heavy pan over medium heat until shimmering
• Add chicken and cook (stirring) until no loner pink
• Add broth, tomato sauce and seasoning packet. Stir and bring to a boil.
• Reduce heat and simmer for minutes.
• Add corn and pepper, stir and bring to a boil.
• Stir in rice, cover the pan and remove from heat.
• Fluff with fork and adjust spice with hot sauce if desired.
• Serve with toppings and corn chips.

Notes:
For a crowd – Do not drain corn. Add one cup of water and one additional cup of rice. Transfer to crock pot on low. Serve directly out of crock pot. Check periodically to make sure it does not dry out. Add water as needed. This dish is just as good, or better the next day.

Options:
Vegetarian –  Add one can of thoroughly rinsed black beans, omit the chicken, use vegetable broth.