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!


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


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)


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!

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…)


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.


  • 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.


  • 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.

Chocolate Caramel Surprise Cookies (Plus BONUS Gluten Free Version)

Chocolate Caramel Surprise Cookies1

It was Independence Day and we were gearing up for our annual BBQ and Ka-Boom Party. It took me a while to get everything in order since fatigue would set in without notice. Once it was finally all set, I anxiously awaited our guests, especially Spunky Girl.

Mystery Man and I had been keep my pregnancy a secret, as most people do for the first trimester. But, she was the one friend that I looked forward to sharing my news, and I knew she would keep it quiet until I was ready.

Friends and neighbors started piling in. Family by family they handed me covered dishes, grabbed a cold drink, and headed out to the heat of the back deck to the smell of meat on the grill.

The moment Spunky Girl arrived we headed upstairs to my closest for our continuous exchange of borrowed clothes. I gave here my ‘I know something you don’t’ slanted grin. She took the bait and asked what was up. As I shared the news, suddenly, her face started to change. A ‘I know something you don’t’ slanted grin came over her.



Not only were we both keeping a secret, our due dates were within two weeks.

As we shared in the journey of pregnancy, we also shared our most lethal cravings. Spunky Girl brought these cookies to me and I was hooked with the first bite. You obviously do not have to be pregnant to enjoy, but if you crave a chocolaty, salty, caramel trifecta on occasion, these are your cure.

Keep scrolling for the Gluten Free option…

Chocolate Caramel Surprise Cookies

Makes 4 dozen


1 cup butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour, plus 1/4 cup
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 Heath bars, chopped, or 1 bag Heath chips (or skip the Heath topping and opt for salt flakes)
6 rolls Rollo Caramel Chewy candies


  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • In a stand-mixer bowl, combine butter, brown sugar and 1 cup granulated sugar.. Mix on medium for about one minute or until mixture is fluffy, scraping down sides as needed.
  • Add eggs, one at a time. Then add vanilla. Scrape down bowl if needed.
  • In a medium bowl whisk together 2 1/2 cups flour, cocoa, and baking soda.
  • With the mixer on low, add flour mixture a small amount at a time making sure each addition is mixed in thoroughly before adding more. (if you have a splash guard for your mixer, now would be a great time to use it.)
  • Cover dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  • Place Heath pieces in a small bowl and mix with 1 tablespoon sugar.
  • Measure out chilled dough with a 2 tablespoon cookie scoop. Wrap each portion around a Rollo candy, totally encasing the candy with the dough and rolling it into a ball.
  • Press each ball into the Heath mixture, covering just 1/2 of the ball (or sprinkle the top with a bit of salt.)
  • Place three inches apart on a cookie sheet, Heath, or salt, side up.
  • Bake 7-10 minutes. Cookies should look cracked and slightly undercooked in the center.
  • Allow cookies to cool five minutes before transferring to a rack. (This is important – if you place them on the rack too soon, the caramel will run out the bottom and through the rack onto your counter.)

NOTES: Can be transformed into a chocolate/mint cookie by substituting mint Hershey kisses for the Rollos, and crushed candy canes for the Heath topping.

GLUTEN FREE Chocolate Caramel Surprise Cookies

Makes 2 dozen


12 ounces semi sweet chocolate (chips, or chopped)
4 ounces gluten free flour blend**
3/4 ounce unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
5 1/4 ounces (3/4 cup packed) light brown sugar
1 3/4 ounces (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
2 eggs
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (melted, then slightly cooled)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
2 Heath bars, chopped, or 1 bag Heath chips (or skip the Heath topping and opt for salt flakes)
(Check your Heath bar label for gluten contents!)
3  rolls Rollo Caramel Chewy* candies

* Although Rollo Caramel Chewy candies are not labeled gluten free, the ingredient list does not reflect any gluten. As always, do your own research for gluten free items and substitute accordingly.

**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)


  • Microwave semisweet chocolate in a bowl at 50 percent power, thirty second sessions, until melted (stirring between sessions). Let cool slightly.
  • In a separate bowl whisk together measured flour blend, cocoa, baking soda, salt and xanthan gum, set aside.
  • In a large bowl whisk together brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, oil, melted butter, vanilla, and espresso powder.
  • Whisk in slightly cooled chocolate. Combine until smooth.
  • With rubber spatula, incorporate the flour mixture until a sticky dough forms and no white streaks are left behind.
  • Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rest for 30 minutes.
    (Do not short change the resting period of the dough, or the cookies will be slightly gritty and not as chewy.)
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Measure out chilled dough with a 2 tablespoon cookie scoop. I find applying vegetable spray to the scoop helps keep the dough from sticking. Wrap each portion around a Rollo candy, totally encasing the candy with the dough and rolling it into a ball.
  • Press each ball into the Heath mixture, covering just 1/2 of the ball (or sprinkle the top with a bit of salt.)
  • Place three inches apart on a cookie sheet, Heath, or salt, side up.
  • Bake 12-14 minutes. Cookies should look cracked and slightly undercooked in the center.
  • Allow cookies to cool five minutes before transferring to a rack. (This is important – if you place them on the rack too soon, the caramel will run out the bottom and through the rack onto your counter.)

NOTES: Can be transformed into a chocolate/mint cookie by substituting mint Hershey kisses for the Rollos, and crushed candy canes for the Heath topping. Again, check any substitutions for gluten contents.

Rosemary Citrus Turkey

Miso Turkey

When Mystery Man and I built a house an acquaintance of ours warned us it could be the beginning of the end of our marriage. What she didn’t know was how like-minded the two of us are. I think we are the only people on the planet that actually enjoyed the process. Choosing the structural plan, flooring, cabinets, fix­tures, and brick color were all a breeze. Visiting the job site every day, we were excited to see even the smallest progress. It was a fantastic time.

The most fun was moving in, especially the kitchen. I could actually stretch out my arms in every direction and touch nothing but air. A far cry from the tiny apart­ment kitchens I had endured for the last seven years. It even had a pantry. A pantry!

I looked forward to messing it up, cleaning it up, and preparing exquisite meals for our friends and family. I especially could not wait to break in the new shiny double oven with a convection fan and a control panel that looked like the Star Ship Enter­prise.

For two years I baked and baked. Cookies, breads, cakes, potatoes, and casseroles. The only thing I did not make well was meat. Any kind of meat. When I did, it was tough. Over­cooked. Chewy.

I blame my father.

I know that sounds unfair. Just throwing blame on him because that is what people do to their parents when they fail. But seriously, it’s HIS fault.

You see, my father liked his meat very, very well done. If there was a tint of pink left he was unhappy. Many of waiters grimaced, eye-rolled and sighed as they walked from the table with a rejected steak. At home he would fire up the grill and cook the meat his way, there was never a question of how you liked yours. So this is how I learned, by watching him. Like I said it’s my father’s fault, God love ‘em.

Then one day everything changed. Mystery Man and I were preparing for a holiday dinner party and I wanted to make a turkey. Deciding that a good quality digital meat thermometer was my ticket to a perfectly cooked bird I started researching the best brands. Deciding on one, I presented Mystery Man with my choice and told him of my intentions of a trip to Williams Somoma the next day.

That is when he said to me “Don’t we have one of those in the drawer? It came with the oven.”

“Uh, what?!” I walked over to the oven and stared at the Star Ship Enterprise panel. There, under the timer button was the word ‘Probe’. That November I perfected turkey with the help of hours of internet searches, a good brine, and a meat thermometer that had been there all along.

Rosemary Citrus Turkey

One 12-15 pound turkey (Remove stray quills, neck and giblets. Set aside for another use if desired.)

1 gallon water
3/4 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons dried rosemary
1 tablespoon caraway seed
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons black pepper

Roasted Turkey
1 Large Onion. (peeled and sliced 1 inch thick, separated into rings)
2 Tablespoons fresh Rosemary (or 1 Tablespoon Dried Rosemary)
1 Garlic Clove (through a garlic press, or grated on a micro-plain.)
1 Teaspoon Black Pepper
1 Teaspoon Poultry Seasoning
1/2 Cup Miso Paste* (this can be found in a plastic squeeze bottle in the Asian food isle)
*to make this gluten free, substitute plan hummus
1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter
2 Lemons (1 sliced 1/4 inch thick into rings. 1 quartered.)
1 Red Bell Pepper (Seeded and sliced into 1/4 inch thick rings)
1/2 Teaspoon Seasoned Salt
1 Orange (Quartered)
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Flour
3 Celery Stalks (including leaves, chopped into 1 inch pieces.)

1 Large Poultry Bag (Reynold’s oven roasting bag)
Large roasting pan with rack insert
Kitchen twine
Turkey lacers
Large soup kettle for brining


Brining the turkey

•    When to start. Twelve hours + the recommended roasting time + thirty minutes rest time.  Please be aware that this is really a ‘stuffed’ turkey, so allow for the recommended time for a stuffed bird on cooking charts. (Meat thermometer temperature should register 180 degrees at the thickest area of the thigh.)

12-16 lbs = 2 to 2 1/2 hours

16-20 lbs = 2 1/2 to 3 hours

20-24 lbs = 3 to 3 1/2 hours

•    In a large pot mix together water, salt, sugar, rosemary, caraway, garlic and pepper. Stir well to dissolve all sugar and salt.
•    Add the turkey, breast side down (if possible). Add water to cover entire bird, if necessary. Refrigerate for 12 hours. (In a pinch for refrigerator space? In Ohio, the weather normally permits leaving the turkey in the cold garage.  If need be, a large cooler and a plastic water-tight bag can be used to brine the turkey if you are not in a cold climate. Pack ice around the bagged turkey and secure the lid.)

Roasting the turkey

The following can be completed one day in advance:
•    Prepare the Onion as described. Put about 1/4 of the Onion in a food processor.  Place the remaining in a gallon zipper-sealed bag and refrigerate.
•    To the food processor add the rosemary and garlic. Pulse until finely chopped, just short of becoming a paste.
•    Add black pepper, poultry seasoning and miso paste (or hummus) to the food processor mixture and pulse until smooth. Add melted butter and blend well. This mixture will appear curdled, and that’s ok. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, and up to a day in advance.
•    Prepare the 2 Lemons, Red Bell Pepper, Orange and Celery as described. Add to the  gallon zipper-sealed bag (with onion) and refrigerate for later use.

When you are ready to roast:
•    Place oven rack in lowest position and preheat to 350 degrees.
•    Rinse turkey and place on a large cutting board, or clean work surface. Pat dry with paper towels.
•    Working from the large cavity, run fingers under the skin to loosen. Try to loosen the skin from the meat in the breast, thigh and drumstick areas without tearing the skin.
•    Once all the skin is loosened, push the miso (or hummus) butter into these areas using a spoon, your fingers, or any combination of the two. This is a messy task, but the more chilled the butter mixture is, the easier it will be to deal with.
•    Take the bag of produce your prepared earlier out of the refrigerator.
•    Place a lemon slice inside a pepper ring and slide it under the skin with the butter mixture. Repeat, one on each breast, and one on each drumstick. Use remaining lemon and pepper slices to fill in any empty gaps.
•    Sprinkle turkey cavity with seasoned salt and stuff with lemon and orange quarters, squeezing juice into the cavity as you go.
•    Fold the neck skin up over the cavity and secure in place with turkey lacers or long toothpicks. Tie the drumsticks together with kitchen string and tuck the wings under the body, using  turkey lacers if needed.
•    Rub the turkey skin with olive oil.
•    Place flour in oven roasting bag and shake it around.
•    Place bag on roasting rack (which is nested in the roasting pan) and layer the bottom of the bag with onion and celery slices (and any other produce left over).
•    Place turkey in oven roasting bag and close it with the tie provided.
•    Roast until a meat thermometer temperature should register 180 degrees at the thickest area of the thigh. Remove from oven and let the bird rest for thirty minutes.
•    Carve the turkey and enjoy!

Italian Meatballs (Gluten Free)


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.




Spicy Italian Meatballs
Makes approximately 72 (2 ounce) meatballs


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


•    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.


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

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

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

• 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.

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.

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




An Accidental Collection


The rolling pins were here and there. Taking up space. Pushing cooking tools around in the drawer like school yard bullies. Threatening to roll off the top of the microwave onto my foot, smashing it like a drunk relative on a wedding dance floor.

I took stock of them. My ‘donate’ pile for the rest of the house was about big enough to make a trip to the local drop-off, so I figured weeding through the rolling pins was in order.

“How did I get so many of these?” as I lay them all out on the counter.

‘That one’ was an original from my Mom’s kitchen. A gift to me along with other must-haves for a new life in the city. This one stays.

‘This one’ is a memento for all the trips our family has taken to Disney. Plus, it’s the only French rolling pin in the collection. Must keep.

The ‘Bites of Nostalgia Pin’ is the trademark to my many shortbread cookies. Not. Going. Anywhere.


Then there is my Work Horse. My five pound, solid marble go-to pin. Also known as the Biscotti and bicep-maker, it will be itemized in my Will.

Ok, I had it down to four.

Now what? A trip to Ikea, naturally.

Then, a trip to Auto Zone for automobile door trim.

And of course, a trip to Home Depot for the right wall anchors.

The only thing left was a little batting of the eye lashes to Mystery Man for the install.


Wine Rack



Prosciutto Wrapped Stuffed Figs

Figs1 Meeting people on the dance floor can be a little strange.  You see them on the dance floor. You smile. You might dance beside them. Heck, you might just dance with one another, but forget their name just as fast as a tuck turn. It takes time to build a friendship when chatting in short spurts in the seconds between songs. Just after Mystery Man and I married we met another Swing dancing couple who recently moved to the area. Through the fits and starts of communicating at dances we learned we had a lot in common. ‘Mr. Zoot Suit’ and ‘Vintage Thread’ were also recently married, had a vintage wedding, and a big band at their reception – just as we did. We were surprised and quite lucky to have met them and the friendships continued to grow. Just a year later we vacationed together at a beach outside of Charleston, South Carolina.  Mr. Zoot Suit’s folks had graciously donated a week of their time-share on the shore. We took full advantage of not only being in a beach hot spot, but the culinary hot spot of Charleston. Sun and sand by day, gourmet restaurant by night. We happened upon a local eatery called Al Di La and took a chance it might be good food – after all, their tagline was ‘A Northern Italian Trattoria’. Mystery Man and I are pretty much open to any culinary experience, but Mr. Zoot Suit is not – he is more of a meat and potatoes man. So, we figured we couldn’t go wrong with Italian fair. figs2 Our appetizer arrived at the table – Prosciutto Wrapped Stuffed Figs, and Mystery Man and I dug in with instant delight. Wanting to share this Heaven-on-a-plate, we offered some up to our friends. To our shock and disbelief, Mr. Zoot Suit was just as delighted with the dish as we were, and instantly ordered another round. The server obliged with the very last serving – it was a seasonal dish and we were quite lucky to have had it. Prosciutto Wrapped Figs First, figs have a very short ‘season’ here in the Midwest. They are shipped in from California and you have to be on your produce ‘game’ to get them before they go mushy or moldy. I happen to have several friends who know of my fresh fig obsession and text me whenever they spy them. Next, get the best prosciutto money can buy – don’t worry, we only need twelve slices for the twelve figs we bought – and that is nowhere near a pound. Your deli counter specialist will gladly sell it to you by the slice. I purchased this at Dorothy Lane Market and it is so yummy! Fig Gallery 1 Gather your ingredients and equipment. Figs, Gorgonzola cheese, prosciutto, a muffin tin and foil.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Cut foil into squares and line each recess of the muffin tin.  Using a paring knife, cut the stem off of the fig in a circular motion (like you would hull a strawberry). Widen the opening with your pinky finger to make room for the cheese filling – being careful not to tear the fig down the side. Fill the fig with Gorgonzola and wrap the prosciutto snugly around. Place one fig in each muffin tin recess. Fig Gallery 2 Bake about 20-30 minutes, or until the prosciutto is slightly crispy around the edges and the cheese is bubbling. Note – you can stuff and wrap in advance! Complete all the steps and wrap (tightly! you don’t want things to dry out) your muffin tin in saran wrap. Refrigerate for up to a day and bake as directed.

Peanut Butter Pie (Mystery Man Part 1)

PB Pie

I was in need of an escape. Nearly nineteen years old, a full time student and holding two part time jobs, I really didn’t have time for a new hobby, but if I continued to be this anti social there would be a lot of cats and Wheel of Fortune in my future. Something had to be done.

I decided to start at the book store. Maybe I could find a good read, a book club, or someone who enjoyed coffee as much as I did. Wandering around, and just about to give up on my new ‘hobby’, I ran into a familiar face. James was the big brother of a girl I knew in high school. He and I crossed paths at the climbing gym the year before (another flash-in-the-pan hobby) and frequently met up there until he moved away.

We enthusiastically caught up and I was just about to breath a sigh of relief that I could re-up on an old hobby when he mentioned climbing was no longer his thing. Deflated, and flashes of cats and game shows in my eyes, I turned away and said goodbye. “Wait!” I heard from behind me. “I am teaching Swing Dancing now. You should come out tonight!”

I walked through the door at the Country Western club and paid my cover fee. The interior was not blaring boot-scootin’ music and there were no cowboys in sight. There were girls with hair pin curls and saddle shoes, and guys with suspenders and drivers caps, energetically jumping around on the dance floor to Zoot Suit Riot.

James waved me over and gave me a short dance lesson and sent me on my way.

I was hooked.

Week after week I returned to that venue, then ventured out to the other bars in town. Swing Dancing was hot, and there was a place to go four nights a week.

Night after night there was a man sitting at a secluded table drinking a gin and tonic. The club owners would stop by and share a handshake and smile. He moved from the table only when the music moved him, and he only danced with the ladies who were experienced dancers.  He never wore the suspenders and cap like the rest. The black fedora, four-button vest, and tasteful tie added to the mystery.

I was new to the scene and practically lived for the day I was a good enough dancer that Mystery Man would come my way and ask for a dance. Never missing a Swing Night, I was determined. Dancing with anyone who would say yes, I fine tuned my skills and had a blast all at the same time.

One particular evening I danced with a regular who was kind of known as the ‘know-it’all’.  Even though most of the girls rolled their eyes at his egoistical manner, I never turned down a dance. That is when it happened. He grabbed my hands to pull me into an aerial and did not follow through – dropping me on my head.

I was o.k. – hey, things like this happen and I picked myself up and looked into the face of Know-It-All. He was laughing. Laughing! Disgusted, I walked off the dance floor and recovered with the encouragement of my new found friends. The next song started and I immediately scanned the room for another partner, eager to get back on the horse. Turning on the bar stool, I swiveled into Mystery Man, who had is hand out asking me for a dance.

Elated on the inside, but trying to stay cool on the outside, I took his hand and we proceeded to the floor. Initially nervous, I wondered if I would be good enough, but found confidence in his leads. The nerves fading away, I started having fun. Not missing a step as the last bar of the song concluded, I decided  my first dance with Mystery Man was a big success. He led me off the dance floor and said “If you need a dance partner, please come and ask me – don’t dance with him.”


For Father’s Day Mystery Man requested this pie. This is a multi-step recipe, but don’t worry – I’ll take the lead.


First thing first – PIE DOUGH

You can use store-bought pie dough shells, use your own recipe, or give a Gluten Free Pie Dough (post coming!) recipe a try.

You will need TWO pie dough shells for this recipe – cooled to room temperature.


Peanut Butter Pie
Yields 2 pies

2 baked pie shells

Step 1
4 cups milk, scalded
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
4 egg yolks, beaten with fork
2 teaspoons vanilla

Step 2
2 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup peanut butter

Step 3
4 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar



Step 1

• In a heavy medium sauce pan, melt the butter and peanut butter briefly and stir with a wooden spoon. Whisk in hot, scalded milk. Remove from heat until directed.
• In a medium bowl, mix together the sugar, cornstarch, egg yolks, and vanilla with a fork until completely incorporated and as smooth as possible.
• Measure out 1 cup of the hot milk mixture. While whisking the egg yolk/corn starch mixture constantly, slowly add the 1 cup of hot milk mixture until smooth and silky with no lumps.
• Put pan of milk back on medium-high heat and add the smooth egg yolk mixture, whisking until smooth. Continue stirring. Bring to a boil and cook until thick and the whisk leaves trails through the pudding-like mixture.

PB Pie 2
• Transfer immediately to a medium bowl. Cool on the counter for 1/2 hour. Place plastic wrap directly on top of pudding to prevent skin from forming. Chill in the refrigerator for about 3 hours, or until completely cold.


Step 2

• Put the ingredients for the crumbs in a medium bowl.
• Using a fork, mix the ingredients together to make “crumbs”.

Step 3

Topping and Final Assembly
• In a stand mixer with the wire whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until frothy – about 45 seconds
• Add 1/2 cup sugar.
• Beat on high speed until medium to stiff peaks form. Set aside.

• Put 1/2 cup crumbs in each pie shells, spreading evenly. Reserve the remaining crumbs for the top of the pie.
• Divide the pudding between the two pies, spooning into the shells (and on top of the crumbs) spreading evenly.
• Dividing the egg whites, spread over top of the pudding mixture and make sure it is all the way to the edge for a good seal.
• Sprinkle tops of the pies with the reserved crumbs.
• Bake on low broil for 2-3 minutes until topping is light golden brown.

Chill for three hours, then serve.