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.

 

 

 

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!

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.

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.

Guacamole

Guac

She showed up at Swing Night just about the same month as I did. Her porcelain white skin, pearly white teeth, spunky curly hair and youthful smile made for an evening of never ending dance partners. Plus, she was good, and always looked like she was having a blast without ever breaking a sweat. I admired her from a distance and our interactions were brief for weeks, until one particular night when Mystery Man  and I were working on a few steps off to the side of the dance floor.

The Charleston basic was proving difficult for me and my frustration level had hit an all time high. I secretly wondered why I was even trying, why I cared so much, and why I shouldn’t just leave and find some other hobby. But, he was being kind and offering tips, so I couldn’t just up and go without seeming very rude. So there I was struggling through it. Then Spunky Girl walked up. She watched for a minute.

“Oh, you mean like this?” she chirped, and banged out the step right then and there.

There are times in life when you make a choice.

For a split second I considered gathering my things, muttering something like “go ahead you two, knock yourselves out” and leaving, never to return.

I am so glad that split second came and went, and I stayed put. That was seventeen years ago. Spunky Girl became my Homey and together we have danced miles on the same floors (including the Charleston), met our husbands, graduated, started careers and had our children. My admiration for her started on the dance floor and continues to this day.

She likes to bring this Guacamole to our gatherings. I hope you have Homey you can share it with, too.
Guacamole
Ingredients:
3-4 very ripe avocados
1 small to medium red onion, finely diced
1 Anaheim chile, finely diced
1 lime, squeezed, (about 2 tablespoons)
1/2 lemon, squeezed (about 1 tablespoon)
cilantro to taste (about 1 tablespoon, chopped)
salt to taste
tortilla chips

Preparation:
•    Slice the avocados all the way around and pull apart. Scoop out the flesh and place in a food processor. Reserve the pits.
•    Add diced onion and chile.
•    Give the food processor two one-second pulses.
•    Add the lime juice, lemon juice and cilantro.
•    Pulse the food processor in one-second increments until the guacamole is the texture you prefer.
•    Remove from bowl with rubber spatula into a serving dish. Add the pits to the guacamole (this keeps it from turning brown so quickly).
•     Adjust cilantro to taste.
•    Serve with tortilla chips.

Notes:
This also can be made by hand in a large mortar and pestle set.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicken Piccata

Image

We were dance partners first. For three years. He had a girlfriend and I had a boyfriend – our dancing together was nothing but that, and a good time. The local Lindy Hop teach­ers had given us all the material they had, and we sucked the knowledge out of all of our peers. We wanted more. This only meant one thing. Travel.

We heard about a clinic in Atlanta. National instructors, hours upon hours of dancing crammed into one weekend, it was close enough to drive, and Mystery Man had friends in the area who would put us up for a few days.

Paul and Cindy were friends when he was an inline skating instructor years ago. “Hey man! Good to see you. Dude, lets gear up and go for a trip around the park”. That is pretty much the first thing out of Paul’s mouth.

These people not only did a little inline skating, they lived it. It was their business. The garage did not hold a car, a lawn mower, a tool bench or anything else a normal person would have. It held hundreds of skates, pads, helmets, and two full leg plaster casts hung on the wall like trophies. Cindy took me in and fitted me with gear. We piled into the truck and went off to the park.

Now, I had been on skates before. The kind with four wheels NOT in a straight line. On a nice smooth hard surface. With music. Flashing lights. And a railing around the outside of the rink. No biggie. I can do this. This inline thing can’t be that much dif­ferent.

The beginning was good. I was upright. The street was level. Everyone was having a good time. It was a beautiful afternoon, not too hot for Atlanta. Cindy hung back with me to give me some pointers. Picking up speed I was getting a little wobbly and uncomfortable, but still holding my own. Until the hill. A steep cliff, really. One that lemmings would run off of and never see the likes of their family again. I hurled myself uncontrollably down the slope and then I committed the number one sin of beginner skater. I stood straight up. Locking my knees and flailing my arms, I was done. Jessica, meet street. Street, meet Jessica.

I learned a new word that day, besides the general skate talk. ‘Road rash’. All the way up my thigh’s backside and stopping right around the bootie area. It also said hello to my elbow. Luckily the padding warded off the asphalt to some degree, but my arm still showed quite a war wound.

Coming to my rescue, Cindy immediately jumped into skating coach mode. Helping me up, brushing me off, and assessing the damage. Determining right away that I was done for the day, she helped my wobbly, bleeding behind to the truck. The guys would skate home.

The next morning started a full day’s worth of dance instruction. I woke up in the guest room and rummaged through my suitcase. A skirt was in order for the day – I couldn’t imagine pants rubbing on the wound, even if it was covered. I needed fresh bandages, so I finished getting dressed and wondered out into the house looking for Cindy to help me out.

Cindy wasn’t there. Paul wasn’t there. They left hours before us for a skate marathon. Crap. Now what?

I shyly approached my totally platonic dance partner. This was not going to be good. These bandages were way, way, up the leg. He agreed to help me out. I spent next several minutes bent at the waist, lifting up my skirt, with him on his knees trying his best to place the gauze. A perfect gentleman about it, I was soon fixed up and we went on our way.

Paul and Cindy continue to open their house to us without question. Whether we are passing through for one night or in town for a week-long conference, they are always eager to lend us a place and a home cooked meal. The evenings on their patio with good food, wine and stories are ones to remember, even if some memories include the term ‘road rash’.

This is one of my favorites that Cindy was generous enough to share with me. I make it on a regular basis and hope you will, too.

I did finally conquer inline skating. This is me at the Deluth Inline Marathon (right) and the Disney Inline Half Marathon (left).

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Chicken Picatta

Ingredients:

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 2-3 breasts)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour (for a gluten free meal, use corn starch)

Salt and pepper to taste

3 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup dry white wine

½ cup chicken broth

3 tablespoons capers (rinsed)

1 lemon (peeled, seeds removed and sliced very thin)

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons parsley

Preparation:

• Slice chicken in half lengthwise to make two thin cutlets each. (Place on cutting board and press down on breasts with one hand while horizon­tally cutting the chicken with a sharp knife.) You should have 4-6 cutlets.

• Place chicken between two pieces of plastic wrap (or into a plastic bag) and pound with the smooth side of a meat tenderizer to an even 1/4 inch thickness.

• Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a nonstick skillet (12”) over medium-high heat until it shimmers.

• Pat chicken dry with paper towels.

• Salt and pepper chicken on both sides.

• Coat with flour on both sides, shake off excess.

• Place cutlets in the heated skillet and reduce heat to medium. Cook for about 3 minutes on each side, until chicken is no longer pink in the center, it should be slightly browned.

• Remove chicken from pan and cover with foil. Set aside.

• Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the skillet and add garlic. Saute’ for about one minute.

• Add wine and broth wine. Whisk or stir to incorporate the garlic and loosen any bits from the skillet. Bring to a simmer and reduce by about half.

• Stir in capers and lemon slices. Return to boil and add butter and parsley.

• Add chicken back into the skillet and warm through.

• Serve over your favorite pasta.

Note: Cooking for two? Reduce the amount of chicken by half. Proceed with the rest of the recipe as written. Freeze half of the sauce for a fast and easy weeknight dinner (just thaw sauce, brown chicken and serve over pasta!)

7 Ingredient Artichoke Dip

Art Dip

While it is cool to say we have posh British friends, that is not the reason we are friends with R & S at all. Ok, I take that back, some of the reasons have to do with their British-ness, but I am quite certain we would still be friends regardless of their birth country.  It all started roughly ten years ago when Mr. and Mrs. Air Force were being PCS’d (moved, in military terms) to England. Mr. Air Force learned there was a Royal Air Force chap within his offices who he should seek out for advice.

R & S agreed to give them tips on fitting in across the pond and Mr. & Mrs. Air Force returned the favor by introducing them to Swing Dancing.

Enter Mystery Man and I – fellow Swing Dancers of Mr. & Mrs. Air Force for years.

Our first impression of R & S was they were a little shy and to be honest, we had trouble understanding them at times with their accents and British colloquialisms. These things did not prevent us from getting to know them. We found it very interesting to be in their company and enjoyed learning about their culture and teaching them how to Swing Dance.

Mystery Man and R share a passion for technology and can talk for hours about hardware, software, apps…. S and I enjoy a bit of gardening, recipe sharing and can talk on and on about kitchen crockery and gadgets. But with all that in common, I think the real reason we are such great friends is because they are some of the most genuine people I know. Giving. Gentle.

Most Friday evenings they come over to our house for after dinner drinks and a chat, but only after my two children climb on them like jungle gyms, demand books to be read and are given the mandatory high-fives in all directions before bed time. My babies squeal with glee when I announce it Uncle R and Aunt S are coming over. R & S don’t have children of their own, but they have embraced ours with all the love they could ever give.

___

This is one of the many recipes S has shared with me and it continues to be a favorite for parties. I will typically throw it together a day in advance then transfer it to a small crock pot for the gathering. It can be served with crackers, a nice rye bread, tortilla chips or what ever your heart desires.

_DSC0137Art Dip2

7 Ingredient Artichoke Dip
Ingredients
1 14 oz can artichoke hearts (drained and chopped)
8 oz feta cheese (crumbled)
1 cup mayo
1/2 cup and 2 oz Parmesan cheese (I use Parmesan or Romano)
2 oz jar pimentos
1 large garlic clove (minced)
pinch black pepper
Preparation
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees
• Combine all ingredients and place in a 9” baking dish.
• Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until hot and bubbly.

Serve hot, or transfer to a small crock pot on low for more lengthy parties.