Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Rice Pudding

I grew up on custard and pudding - to me it tastes like home. Every warm and creamy spoonful brings back so many memories. My dad made "cook and serve" all the time ... and my mom made a variety of homemade comforts like tapioca, bread pudding, and, of course, rice pudding. My grandma was the custard lady - vanilla, pumpkin ... you name it! 

So, that leads me here.  I want Morgan to have the same kind of warm memories of home ... memories and recipes she can share with her kids.  I have to make sure that even though we're busy, I take the time to make these special treats.  And let's face it, special treats are different once you eliminate gluten from your diet.  To my delight, this one just happens to be naturally gluten-free. :)

I love that you can make this recipe dairy-free as well.  The coconut milk gives it a subtle coconut-ty flavour that really compliments the vanilla.  It's not too sweet either - just right!

Serve this treat with some fresh fruit and an extra drizzle of maple syrup or honey ... and maybe even a dollop of coconut whipped cream, if you happen to have some on-hand.

2 - 14 oz cans light coconut milk - Trader Joe's is the BEST (you can use 4 cups of regular milk instead if you don't have any coconut milk on-hand)
1/2 cup pure maple syrup or honey
3/4 cup uncooked short-grained white rice, rinsed (NOT Minute Rice)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

Optional: 1/2 cup golden raisins

Bring coconut milk and maple syrup or honey to a simmer.

Just before it boils, add the rice (and the raisins, if using).  Turn heat to low, and cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar so steam can escape (if you don't, it will overflow ... and what a terrible mess THAT is).

Stir often until the rice is cooked through and the mixture is thickened - about 20-30 minutes, depending on your rice.

Crack egg into a small bowl, slowly whisk in a few spoonfuls of the hot rice mixture to temper the egg, then add it into the pudding along with the vanilla.

Spoon into ramekins or small serving bowls.  Eat warm or cold ... and enjoy!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Simple Granola

To me, good granola starts with good ingredients.  It's simple, crunchy and slightly sweet ... yet hearty enough to fill me up with only a handful.  I love adding it to probiotic yogurt for breakfast on the fly (extra amazing if you have IBS).  It also makes a great afternoon snack when you get the munchies.

This simple granola is my go-to recipe and I love it because the ingredients are so versatile.  You can use any combination of nuts and seeds and interchange the honey with maple syrup for a completely different flavour.

Here's a little info on the ingredients I use the most ...

Chia Seeds - contain omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fibre, antioxidants, and calcium.  They swell in your stomach and keep you full.

Almonds - protein and fibre powerhouse.

Organic Coconut Oil - fat source that's converted into energy rather than stored. People who have trouble digesting fat find it easier to digest than other oils ... making it perfect if you've had your gallbladder removed like me.

4 cups oats (use wheat-free if you are gluten intolerant)
1/4 cup chia seed or flax seed/meal
1 cup raw almonds, chopped
1 cup honey
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional ... you can even add more if you LOVE cinnamon)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix all ingredients together in large bowl.  Stir well to coat.

Spread evenly over a slipat or nonstick baking surface (this is very important).  I find using a silpat the easiest way to keep it from sticking to the baking sheet.

Bake for 12 minutes.  Pull out of the oven and stir.  Bake for another 15 minutes.

As soon as the granola comes out of the oven, scrape it off onto a cold non-stick baking sheet - I use my nonstick griddle pan because of it's super-non-stickability. :)  If you don't do this step, when it cools the granola will become part of the pan you baked it on.  It takes about 15 -20 minutes to cool completely.

Here's it is atop my probiotic yogurt this morning.  The nuts get just slightly toasted ... mmmm!!  I really can't say enough how yummy and how filling this granola is.

Store in an airtight container.  Not sure how long it keeps ... it's never around long enough to find out! :)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Oaty Banana Bread

There's not much better on a cold winter day that a hot mug of tea and a slice of rich, dense banana bread.  I've tried several recipes since going gluten-free and they were a FAIL.  Each called for 2-3 different flours along with a couple "gums" to try and mimic the texture of wheat.  I'm a simple girl ... I don't have the time or the funding for all those weird ingredients.

Oats are probably one of the closest grains to wheat.  To me, they're very similar in texture and taste, and about the same as far as fibre and calories ... but oats pack an extra punch of protein and iron.  Even if you aren't gluten-free, oats make a great tasting and healthy substitution for your regular wheat flour, without sacrificing texture, especially in cookies and quick breads like this.  If you are gluten-free, make sure to look for wheat-free oats ... as many of the brands you buy are contaminated with wheat particles.

Back to the banana bread ... I came up with this recipe based on a tried and true version of the real deal.  I swapped out half the fat with a good fat .. half the sugar with a low glycemic alternative .. and used oat flour* instead of wheat.  The taste and texture are great - you'd never know it's gluten-free!

1/2 cup evaporated cane juice
1/2 cup amber agave nectar
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted (reduce to 1/4 cup for a lighter textured bread)
1/4 cup butter, melted
5 large over-ripe bananas, mashed
3 eggs, beaten

3 cups wheat-free oat flour*
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, combine evaporated cane sugar, agave nectar, coconut oil and butter. Add bananas and eggs and mix until incorporated.

Add dry ingredients and mix until the batter is smooth ... about 30 seconds.

Pour half the batter into a 9x9 baking pan and bake for 25 minutes.  (I like baking in a 9x9 because the bread cooks evenly and twice as fast.)

Allow to cool at least 10 minutes before removing from the pan and placing on a cooling rack.  Repeat with the remaining batter.  (Try not to bake pans together if possible. Your bread will cook at a more even rate and you won't end up with overdone edges and a gooey middle.)

*If you don't have oat flour, it's really easy to make!  Just take out your food processor or dry blade Vitamix attachment and blend some old fashioned or quick oats into a powder.  Super easy ... takes about a minute to do.

Wa-la!  Fresh oat flour!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Gluten-free: What I’ve Learned

I've been gluten-free now for a little over a month, so I thought I'd take a couple minutes to post about my experience as I know others are considering the lifestyle.  For some, it is a choice ... for others, it's not.  Thankfully, I fall into the first category.  I am not allergic to wheat, but I do have digestive issues, which compelled me to at least try ... and I'm here to tell you I would not go back.

Below are a few things I've learned along the way ... there's so much more, but this post would be a mile long, so I'll try to be concise ...

#1 - It’s not for the faint of heart.
That’s right … it’s hard.  Not just giving up bread or certain foods –that’s the easy part, and a matter that resolves itself when your energy starts to skyrocket and you feel great ... you don't want to sacrifice feeling crappy to eat a buttery roll.  No thanks. :)  It’s the social aspect that really got me down the first couple weeks.  Friends are not always accepting of your new lifestyle.  Some will even make jokes …and it is hurtful.  This is a huge effort on your part and to have someone make fun of your hard work is disheartening. Don't be discouraged though ... most people aren't disciplined enough to take gluten-free on, so kudos to you!

Another social aspect: dinner invites.  I have to admit, it’s awkward when people invite you over for dinner – what do you say? Thankfully, my experiences have been positive so far.  I just simply let them know that we are wheat-free due to my IBS or health issues. Then I pray that they actually know what wheat-free means.  So far, so good.  I try not to use the words "gluten-free" in conversation … it scares people and immediately they think everything they make needs to have that label.  What they don’t realize is many normal, everyday recipes have no gluten, it just depends on how you make them – like chili or tacos, etc.

#2 - Your body will go through withdrawals.
This part is not pretty.  Mine didn't last too long - just a couple hours one evening.  I felt crazy ... I wanted a huge gooey cinnamon roll - BAD.  I could feel it to my core.  I laid in bed and wanted to scream and kick my feet as hard as I could.  (I actually did a little ... because Matt was laughing at me.  Then we laughed together.)  I didn't give in, but instead forced myself to turn the light off and go to bed.  I woke up the next day feeling fine and haven't experienced anything like it since.  Matt had a withdrawal time as well, but his was different ... a couple days of running to the bathroom, but it passed and hasn't been an issue since.  I think how your body reacts is individual - each withdrawal experience is unique.

#3 - It’s not a diet.
If you think a gluten-free diet will help you lose weight, you are greatly mistaken.  It can reduce bloating, so you might lose a couple pounds, but it’s water.  You still can’t overeat or overindulge.  If you want to lose weight while eating gluten-free, you can effectively shed pounds by eliminating gluten and limiting other grains, replacing them fruit and veggies.  Honestly, that’s true of any good nutritious diet, wheat or no wheat.

#4 - It gets easier ... I promise.
At first it’s a label game.  You have to read everything and constantly reference the gluten-free safe ingredient list as well as the forbidden list. It’s easy to focus on what you can’t have … but instead, if you can focus on what you CAN have, you don’t lose out on much at all. Like with any habit or lifestyle change, it does get easier with time.  The first couple weeks are the hardest, then it starts to come naturally.  You still look at labels, but you know what you’re looking for.  You know right away what to buy at the store and what meals to plan.  You know your substitutions by heart.  Your go-to foods are established and you get excited about experimenting with new recipes and products.

#5 - It will pay off ... but it takes time.
My energy has exploded!!  I didn’t realize I lived in such a fog until it lifted.  My mind is clear and I can remember things.  I used to lose my train of thought all the time.  Every day mid-afternoon I had to lay down on the couch for a snooze.  I was so tired and I couldn't shake it.  Crazy thing is, I’m 34 … that shouldn’t be happening.  Going gluten-free woke me up.  I’m alive and ready for whatever the day brings … there’s no way I could nap! My moodiness is gone.  I used to have crazy anxiety - it’s gone.  I’ve slept better.  My IBS?  It’s still IBS … but it’s better.  No more stomach pain.  No more waiting days for my body to eliminate.  I’ve only been gluten-free for about 6 weeks and I have a feeling things will only get better as time passes.

I hope you are encouraged by what you read above.  Whether you want to try gluten-free, or just simply provide your family with healthy alternatives, it isn't easy ... but it's so worth the effort.

And if you need just a little more encouragement or want to know more about incorporating alternative ingredients and healthy meal ideas into your diet, look through my gluten-free and meatless recipes ... also visit my friends at Not Deprived and Clean 4 My King - two great ladies with awesome ideas and amazing resources to help you along your journey.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

My Favourite Glass Cleaner

I'm a heavy Windex user.  I've always used Windex ... for everything (reference My Big Fat Greek Wedding).  But as the years pass, the price seems to be crawling up (especially here in Canada).  I was cleaning the other day and went to grab my Windex ... it was empty and I had a client arriving in a couple hours - no time to run to the store.  I started frantically browsing the web ... and found the most amazing glass cleaner recipe test.  Different products were tested together for effectiveness ... and I tried her recommendation, with a little bit of a tweak (little less water).

1/2 cup rubbing alcohol
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 cups water

This ratio fits perfectly into a large spray bottle.  Add to the bottle and shake well before each use.

It was beautiful!  EVEN BETTER than Windex!  Check out my bedroom mirror - it was the test ... you almost can't tell it's glass! (Wish I would have taken a before picture)

Here's my upstairs bathroom mirror ... before and after.  You can still see Windex residue from the last time I cleaned it.  My bathroom has the worst, most unforgiving light because of the skylight.  You can see every streak.  And even with the daylight coming in ... check out the results!

I tried it on my kitchen counters, my doors, my tub, my tile floor ... I love it!!  It's anti-bacterial too, so perfect for quickly wiping down the toilet seat and surrounding areas.  It even removed stubborn Matrix hairspray residue without much effort (that stuff is impossible to get off). I was a little hesitant about the smell, but the alcohol seems to neutralize the vinegar scent ... I'm thinking you could add a few drops of essential oil if you're really concerned about it.

As for me, I will be saving my pennies - no more Windex.  Instead I'll buy the big bottles of rubbing alcohol and vinegar at Sam's Club to make my own.  Wish I would have done this years ago ... just another way to simplify!

Friday, February 8, 2013

King Ranch Chicken

King Ranch Chicken will always be one of my favourite casseroles.  Back in my Pensacola Christian College days, they used to serve it in the Varsity Commons ... and on that day "main line" was FULL.  After I finished school, I went on a hunt to find the recipe, with several fails, and finally, through a combination of a couple versions, I think I've come close to the real deal!

It has a bit of a tex-mex flare mixed with a chicken-and-noodles kind of heartiness. As a busy mom, I love it because assembly is quick ... and it's so easy to make ahead of time to pop in the freezer.  I also love that making it gluten-free is very easy with just a couple swaps.

1 rotisserie chicken, de-boned and shredded (no skin)
1 regular-sized bag Tostitos, crunched up
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (I love the fire-roasted by Hunts)
1 4 oz can chopped green chilis
1 can cream of chicken soup*
1 can cream of mushroom soup*
1 onion, chopped
olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt + a pinch
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper + a pinch
3-4 cups shredded cheddar, or cheddar blend

* To make this recipe gluten-free, substitute one can of Progresso Gluten-free Creamy Mushroom soup mixed well with two gluten-free chicken bouillon cubes for the two cans of "cream of" soup.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Sauté onions, seasoned with a pinch of salt and pepper, in a little olive oil until golden.  Set aside.

Mix together soups, tomatoes, green chilis, sautéd onion, salt and pepper.

Add crunched up chips to the bottom of a greased 9x13 baking dish. (Dot is always willing to help out when he sees me crunching up the chips ...)

Pour half the soup mixture over the chips.  Top with all the chicken, then half the cheese.  Add the remaining soup mixture on top. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 20 minutes.

Out of the oven, remove foil and top with remaining cheese.  Bake another 20 minutes, uncovered, until cheese is bubbly and starts to brown.

You can make this a full meal by adding a salad ... or even a few apples, cut up for dessert.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Loaded Chicken Sausages

One of the hardest things about living gluten-free, as you'd expect, is bread.  Oh, they sell GF bread ... but the texture is ... different.  We aren't huge bread eaters in our house anyway, but we do like our buns :) ... and let me tell you, Udi's gluten-free buns cannot be beat.  I tried them with gluten-free mozzarella and roasted garlic chicken sausages I found at Sam's Club for a quick, busy weeknight dinner.

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced
1 large green pepper, sliced
salt and pepper to taste
4-6 sausages of your choice
buns of your choice (of course, Udi's is the BEST for gluten-free)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wrap desired number of buns tightly in foil and place in the oven to warm while you make the sausages.

On medium heat, melt butter with olive oil.  Add onions and peppers as stir to coat.  Season with salt and pepper.

As soon as the peppers and onions start to soften, add sausages.

Continue cooking until the onion and peppers are caramelized and the sausages are lightly browned.

Remove buns from the oven and load them up!  (These sausages were super cheesy on the inside!!)  Serve with a little homemade Kansas City BBQ Sauce and some delicious baked chips.  We love these from Sam's Club ...

BONUS!!  Leftover sausages make an amazing lunch the next day ...

Simply fill the sausage and wrap tightly in foil and store in the fridge until lunchtime.

Preheat oven or toaster oven to 350 degrees and place the wrapped sausage in to cook.  20 minutes later ... a warm treat better than any fast food!  Serve with some fresh fruit and call it lunch!