Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Around Here

Am I the only one who doesn't quite feel like it's actually Christmas Eve? Maybe it has something to do with it still being 76 degrees...oh well.

I've been listening to this song on repeat, watching Christmas specials (I'm a sucker for the classic claymations), and discovering this browser extension that benefits charities to help get myself in the Christmas spirit while we wait for the next cold front to come through. Otherwise, the Christmas season has looked a bit like this around here...

A first attempt at homemade key lime pie

Coming home to discover ornaments I threw together last year (and then promptly forgot about) already strung...plain clear bulbs 1) filled with tiny decorative pine cones, 2) frosted easily with a bit of glue and white glitter, and 3) with one or two white feathers inserted (I think it gives them such a lovely ethereal feel, don't you agree?)

A plain twig wreath base (picked up from Hobby Lobby) that I then wove with fake frosted berry strands and leftover mini pine cones

A bag full of homegrown giant yellow limes (yes, limes!) from a dear neighbor and friend

I hope you're all having a lovely holiday filled with family, friends, laughter, sweet tidings, and lots of good food.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A (sort of) Goodbye to Fall

So, confession. It's almost 80 degrees today. And has been most of the week.
We're not exactly out of the woods for "fall."

BUT, as the winds gets colder, humidity levels drop, Christmas lights get strung (or, in my case, a tiny but loved Christmas tree put together with the best help), and most of the world devolves from fall, I figured it was appropriate to post one of my most utilized recipes. This is one of those rare ones where people who aren't gluten-free (and are often scared of it) have told me "It tastes better than normal!" or "You can't even tell!"

I've mentioned that I was never really big on pumpkin-flavored things. Pumpkin bread was the exception. Or, more specifically, Ms. Ann's pumpkin bread. My neighbor pulled out this recipe on the first cool weekend of fall every year like clockwork. And, since her children grew up with me and the recipe made two loaves, we would always get a knock on our door and a plated loaf of still-warm pumpkin bread delivered straight into our hands. It was the best ritual.

My sophomore year of college, I couldn't come home in the fall and eventually cajoled her into giving me the recipe. It was the first thing I adapted to bake gluten-free, and I've modified it slightly since.

Best (and gluten free) Pumpkin Bread
  • 3 and 1/3 c gluten-free all purpose flour
  • 3 tsp xantham gum (skip if using regular wheat flour)
  • slightly less than 3 c sugar (don't quite fill them to the top)
  • 1-2 T honey
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 c canola or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp each cinnamon, ground cloves, nutmeg
  • 1 can pumpkin (15 oz., NOT pumpkin pie filling)
Makes 2 loaves.

Preheat oven to 350. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well.  Line two bread pans with parchment paper and spoon the batter into them, dividing the amount equally. Bake for 1 hour until or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool. This bread saves well for several days if placed in an airtight container/bag and kept in the fridge.

My favorite ways to enjoy it include warm with a bit of butter (and honey), spread with Nutella, or simply sliced off the loaf. Plus, as an added bonus, baking with parchment paper instead of non-stick spray means it wraps up perfectly into a portable package that also makes it great for gifts or toting along to a family Thanksgiving/Christmas!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Songs for Winter

Hello there. In the midst of finals and some almost-freezing winter turns, I've been compiling some songs befitting the weather. Not Christmas (that may come later), but tunes for when the weather turns cold. Blustering winds, scarves and cozy sweaters, quiet nights, and mugs of warm tea. You get the idea. I hope you enjoy.

listen  // download

*note: all songs remain the property of their respective copyright owners...I've simply compiled this playlist for enjoyment.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Tonight's Treat

In the past 2 days I have: turned in a 25 page research paper, been diagnosed with a sinus infection, gotten sick from the medication for said sinus infection, slept about 5 hours, used way too many cough drops, and sat through an advising appointment that took an hour longer than it should have. Oy.

To say I needed a bit of a mental break is an understatement.

Unfortunately, this time of year doesn't offer too much of a reprieve. So, instead, I whipped up some comfort food from things I had on hand and ended up with a simple little treat: cinnamon apples.

Single-Serve Cinnamon Apples:
  • 1 apple; peeled, cored, and sliced (I used honeycrisp because that's what I happened to have)
  • approx. 1.5 T sugar (less if you're using a sweeter apple variety, etc.)
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • dash of nutmeg
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • approx. 1/2 tsp honey (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 and peel, core, and slice apple into moderately thin pieces. Toss all dry ingredients together with apple slices until the apples are relatively evenly coated. Pour into (ungreased) ramekin/jar/whatever you'd like and stir in honey. Bake for approx. 45 minutes or until apples reach your desired texture, stirring occasionally. Note that the time may vary depending on what type of container you use.

Note that apples release a lot of liquid while they bake, so what you thought might be too much at the beginning (like my then-overflowing ramekin--literally) will actually cook down to look much smaller. This juice also means that it can be great to add granola, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and even a bit of caramel to make a faux-crisp. Though personally, I think I enjoy these apples most simply by themselves.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Spiced Apple Cider

Growing up, Christmas-time mean one thing: cider. Or more specifically, wassail, which would accompany the overflowing mountains of cookies on the holiday-time concert tables. (Being a child of a choir member, we always got any leftover cookies we was understandably one of my favorite things.) But when I realized that I couldn't stomach hot chocolate on an empty stomach, apple cider evolved into one of the things that, for me, signals that fall has arrived.

Or at least, here, is arriving. October and November are notoriously volatile months weather-wise as we slip from our very pervasive summertime into a mild winter. This week was the perfect example: Monday was in the 50s, with our first true and crisp foray into sweater-weather, and by Friday it was well into the 80s once more. Oh well. Nonetheless, I took this as my sign that fall had arrived and whipped up a batch of spiced apple cider last night.
Spiced (or "mulled") cider is incredibly easy to make, as you just put everything into a pot and let it stew. It's even easier to personalize by tasting as you go and adjusting the strengths of the different flavors you enjoy most prominently. Here, I've listed the simple recipe I used and enjoy the most.

I used a 1.75 L jug of Zeigler's Organic Apple Cider that I happened to pick up at my local Whole Foods. Since this is such an odd size, I've included a range of quantities for ingredients, which I used the upper end of. I suggest putting in the smaller amount to start, then tasting and adding as you go along!

  • 1 jug apple cider
  • juice of 1.5-2 lemons
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 5-7 whole cloves
  • 2 sticks of cinnamon
  • dash of ground nutmeg
  • 3-4 T honey (you may want to lessen or skip this if your cider is already sweetened)
Combine cider, lemon juice, lemon zest, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg in an appropriately sized pot. Bring up to a simmer, then allow to lightly simmer covered over medium-low heat. Stir in honey. Allow ingredients to stew, adding more as desired, for 1 hr-1 hr 30 minutes on heat, stirring periodically. Filter finished cider through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth, and place into a jar or jug for storing if not serving immediately. Cider may settle as it is less filtered than apple juice, so simply stir or shake before serving. Enjoy hot.

I like mine as-is or with a bit of almond milk and a splash of caramel syrup. Whipped cream can also make a great topping!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Life Lately: A Weekend in the Mountains

When the rest of the world starts to turn gold, we stay firmly rooted in the warmth of something-like-summer. We cross our fingers and hold our breath for the days that fall somewhere under 80 degrees, slowly and one at a time, until we can feel the stifling of southern heat begin to give way. Everything stays green. I love summer (and the south) as much as the next person, but there is something to be said for pulling a long sweater over your wrists, wrapping your fingers around a warm mug of tea, and burying your face in a scarf. Something to be said for not having bare legs carry you all the way through October. And mornings have only ever been worth it for me when you can feel the cocoon of sheets curled around you trapping in heat, the softest barrier between your skin and everything outside.
fall foliage and a view of the Shenandoah Valley
This post is less about food and more about life, and the way travel has always pulled at me. I'm not sure what exactly it is, but interstate sunsets have always looked more beautiful and something about an airplane window makes my heart feel at peace (even amid motion I love the road stretched out in front of a dashboard with nowhere to be.

Blame it on growing up driving I-10 every holiday or reading too many books set in far-off places, but this desire to travel has been in my blood for as long as I can remember. I don't quite understand people who don't have it. In fact, travel was one of the very first things I worried about upon diagnosis. ("But I'm studying abroad! And I want to see so many things! How am I supposed to eat?!?" etc., etc.) And while I definitely don't have traveling down quite yet, and it takes quite a bit more research (I can't tell you how many times I've been to Chipotle's website to find the nearest location), there's also something rather nice about eating blackberries sprinkled with sugar on a drive in the morning or slices of ham halfway up a mountain. It's something real.
(side note: I've been eating so many blackberries lately--definitely my snack of choice.)
 So we went to the mountains and experienced all things fall. We got away from the flatness of our land. I wrapped myself up in sweaters and scarves, several deep breaths of cool air, and let myself run away until I got tired.
my first pumpkin patch experience

I've always known travel would let me see new things, but it's always nice to see the same things in a fresh light. Like the way people interact, or a place you call home. Even just to feel a different wind in your hair.
...and got lost in a corn maze
We got to imagine different futures and have adventures we never planned. New trees, new faces, new cold-bitten cheeks. Not all of them were pretty, but they were all wholly unique. Something that we'll never experience exactly again.

 I don't know if you're itching quite the way I am, but I hope that you go. Happy travels.
(p.s. I made a playlist for our drive into the mountains, if you'd like to hear what I've been listening to lately.)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Easy Chicken & Lime Tacos

So, there are a few things I didn't anticipate missing when I changed my diet.

I knew the big ones, of course: easy pasta, delicious breads, the entire world of cakes...sure, there are gluten free varieties, but they just aren't the same.

But crunch. Oh, the crunch! That, I never would have guessed.

Fun fact to all you blissful people living in a world with gluten nowhere near your radar: it's kind of crucial. It's the "glue" in grains; a protein that helps hold everything together and makes it all light and fluffy...and, I've also found, allows it to hold a crunch.

That's right. In gluten free bread, there's no flaky, buttery, crisped outside crust (at least that I've experienced). I know what you're thinking: that's the best part of a fresh-baked loaf! I know, I know. Even gf pretzels don't have that snap.

That's why after a few weeks of going gluten-free, I found myself *craving* something crunchy.
For a while I did with potato chips.
Then, I decided to try something else: tacos.

The problem with tacos, however, is that they usually contain a decent amount of spice, and cayenne and chili peppers are now off-limits for me (speaking of other things I miss...).  But the good thing about tacos is that you can essentially make them anyway you want. They're a dream come true for families with varying tastes or any other personalizer extraordinaire. And, with hard (corn) taco shells, you're not missing out! Because they're not specifically made or changed to be gluten free, you get the exact same taste as you would be getting if you were anyone else, which is great especially for still-adjusting taste buds. Count me in.

 Now, something you may not know about me: I am a fan of limes. A huge fan, you might even say. I've been known to bite in to one or two on occasion without any real direction or purpose, other than just straight up enjoying it. After some nights of experimenting, I found these to be the perfect solution to providing my tacos with unmistakable flavor, while avoiding the realm of spice-laden taco seasoning.

I didn't get any photos of the finished was late, I was hungry, and it's been a long couple of weeks. Forgive me?

These tacos are simple. Like, incredibly simple. They almost shouldn't taste this good. I also think this provides the perfect base for changing or spicing it up a little, if you so choose. (Though I obviously haven't tried it, I can see a little bit of cayenne pepper fitting right in with these flavors.)

Ingredients (for approx. 3 tacos--though I like to double it and eat leftovers the next day):
  • 2-3 limes
  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, or 3 chicken tenderloins (I like to keep frozen chicken and defrost it in a sealed bag under hot water for 10-15 minutes)
  • approx. 1-1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • approx. 1 T olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • brown rice (I'm guilty of regularly using boil-in-a-bag rice...what can I say, I like convenience!)
  • pico de gallo (I actually quite like WalMart's pico...I know, I was surprised, too.)
  • hard taco shells*
  • any other toppings you may like
*Note: I feel most comfortable with Whole Food's brand yellow corn taco shells for those of you with gluten sensitivity. They're made with simple, clearly distinguishable ingredients and I feel slightly better about the cross-contamination risk. I've gotten away with others, but just never feel quite as good.

Place thawed chicken in a gallon-sized plastic bag. Add olive oil; at least enough to lightly coat all chicken. Press and roll limes against the counter to make them easier to juice, then slice in half and squeeze juice into bag, reserving one lime half for cooking (don't worry if seeds or pulp get in). Add garlic, salt, pepper, and seal bag, turning so that the ingredients coat the entire chicken. Let marinade in fridge for about 1 hour (longer is fine, too).

Lightly coat a skillet with olive oil (or cooking spray, but I like the extra flavor) and place on medium-high heat. Remove chicken from marinade, and discard excess liquid. Slice chicken into bite sized cubes and add to the pan. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir regularly to keep the chicken cooking evenly and to prevent pieces from sticking together. When chicken is essentially cooked through (this will happen relatively quickly because of the small size), add the juice of the reserved lime and allow to brown lightly.
While chicken is cooking, begin boiling rice and warming taco shells according to directions. Turn cooked chicken on low heat to keep it warm while you wait.

Assemble tacos with rice, chicken, and pico. If you have leftovers, simply heat up new taco shells the next day and assemble from the reheated remains!

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Hello and a Recipe

In my life, I've come to realize that there are multiple ways of making decisions.

There are some decisions you undertake knowing the results will be...debatable.
Then there are some decisions you make knowing the results should be unambiguously wonderful.

This blog falls under the first. One night of 2am insomnia and a suggestion planted in my head, and voila. So hello. Welcome. We shall see how this goes.

The following recipe definitively, unequivocally was the second.

Last week we got our first taste of fall weather. Blissfully breezy and sweat-free, everyone planted themselves outdoors. Though we've since drifted back into the 90s, it was enough to get us craving all things autumn. Naturally, this includes the yearly rash of pumpkin goods.

Now, I've never been pumpkin's number 1 fan (with the exception of carving...I do love a good pumpkin carving). Not that I have anything against it, it was just never at the top of my To-Do/Cook/Eat/Savor list. However, in February when I first got brave enough to try my hand at gluten-free baking, I saw a suggestion that baked goods with strong fruit/vegetable elements were an easy transition for taste.
Thus, the relationship was set.
I broke out my neighbor's beloved pumpkin bread recipe and spread some (mostly successful) pumpkin love.

Since then, that recipe's been broken out fairly regularly as it rests well within my comfort zone (this gf baking thing is still very new and terrifying) and has fans gluten-free and non alike, but this weekend I decided to venture out with our newly budding tryst into fall-hood. As I'm awfully fond of someone who's very fond of pumpkin, and as he was in for a visit, I decided to stay within this realm while trying something new...and thus the Pumpkin Chocolate Chip muffin was born.

I adapted this recipe to suit my craving (and curiosity).
I've kept what remained of my batch of muffins stored in a plastic bag in my fridge and have been rationing them out for breakfast over the week with the delicious plums that are in season. I'm already a little sad thinking of missing these beauts next week...

(Gluten Free) Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

  • approx. 1 5/6 c all purpose gluten free flour blend (I tend to use Bob's Red Mill because it's easiest for me to find)
  • 1/2 c almond flour
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 1/3 c brown sugar
  • 1 c canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie--if this is all you can find, skip/modify adding the above cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg as it's preseasoned)
  • 1/3 c olive oil (butter should work here, too, though I haven't tried it)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c vanilla almond milk
  • approx. 1 T honey
  • 1/2 c (heaping) chocolate chips
**Note: if not making gf, skip the xantham gum. You may choose to omit the almond flour as well, though I like the warmth and nuttiness it brings to baked goods. If you're curious and want to try it out, I've had luck finding Bob's Red Mill Almond Meal/Flour at the Wal-Mart (on the baking aisle, with the gf products) and Whole Foods nearby (as well as almond meal on the bulk aisle).

Preheat oven to 350 and line/grease a 12-muffin pan. Stir the dry ingredients together (note that brown sugar and pumpkin count as wet here). Add in the wet ingredients and mix until smooth. Fold in the chocolate chips...I personally think a little extra never hurts. Spoon into the pan until mostly full (slightly less so if you're using wheat flour as this will rise more).
Bake 20-25 minutes (mine took about 25) or until a toothpick can be removed from the center cleanly. Cool. Makes 12 muffins.