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Archive for February, 2011

Some days I love to cook, and happily spend an hour or so preparing dinner.  Today is not one of those days.  Since I often pick up a package of boneless, skinless, chicken breasts at Wal-Mart (always $1.78/lb.), I can typically throw together something with chicken fairly quickly – especially if I’ve taken the time to trim all the breasts and remove the tenders the first time the package is opened (kitchen scissors make short work of this task).  Last week, when I was in one of these moods (meaning “lazy”), I created a fabulous chicken dinner using some Stonehill Spinach and Artichoke Parmesan Dip from Costco.  It was so good, we had it four days in a row!  I made it on the stove with tenders, and also baked it in the oven using the breast portion.  The oven baked version was moist and juicy, but the stove top version was super fast.  Since both methods have their merits, I’m sharing the directions to both.

Spinach and Artichoke Dip Chicken
Oven Method: Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Drizzle chicken breasts with a little olive oil to keep it from drying out.  Sprinkle with salt (I used coarse salt, but regular salt would work).  Cover and bake for 30 minutes.  Uncover and spread generously with Spinach and Artichoke Dip.  Bake, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes or until cooked through and top is bubbly.
Stove Method: Pour a thin layer of olive oil in a frying pan and heat pan over medium heat.  Put chicken tenders (or breasts pounded flat) in pan and sprinkle with a little salt.  Cook for 5 minutes or until lightly browned underneath.  Turn chicken over and cook for another 5 minutes.  Coat generously with Spinach and Artichoke Dip.  Reduce heat a little and cover.  Cook 5 minutes more or until chicken is done and topping is heated through.

Another great use for chicken tenders is in chicken pizzas.  This month, Kinnickinnick gluten free pizza crusts are on sale at Fred Meyer, so we’ll grab a few boxes since this crust is particularly good for chicken pizzas.  My son loves buffalo chicken pizza, so I like to make this when I have a few pieces of chicken to use up, but not enough for a meal.  In the summertime, I like to grill extra chicken breasts (with a little Lowry’s Seasoned Salt) to use in barbecue chicken pizzas.  We like Sweet Baby Rays Original sauce for barbecue pizzas, although Bulls-Eye barbecue sauce is also good and contains no high fructose corn syrup (both sauces are GF).

Barbecue Chicken Pizza:
Cut up some leftover grilled chicken into bite-size pieces.  Cover pizza crust with barbecue sauce and sprinkle with chicken (we put the cheese on top of the chicken, but you can certainly put the cheese down first if you prefer).  Sprinkle pizza blend cheese or a combination of mozzarella and cheddar on top.  We also like to add some bacon bits and chopped red onion, if we have it on hand.  Bake according to crust directions.

Buffalo Chicken Pizza:
In a small baking dish (I have one that’s a little smaller than a 7″x11″ baking dish), cut up chicken breasts or tenders into bite-size pieces.  Pour a generous amount of buffalo wing sauce over top (we’ve tried Frank’s and Texas Pete’s buffalo sauces, and they’re both good).  Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes.  Cover pizza crust with your favorite Ranch dressing (we like Newman’s Own because it doesn’t have any naughty ingredients).   Separate cooked chicken pieces with a fork (they’ll stick together while baking, but are easy to separate).  Using a fork, lift a few pieces out at a time and place on crust, letting a little sauce run onto the crust.  Sprinkle with pizza cheese blend or some mozzarella and cheddar.  If desired, top with bacon bits and chopped green onion (you should desire this).

Of course, the ultimate lazy chicken recipe is to simply drizzle barbecue sauce over some chicken in a crock pot and cook on low for 5 hours.  I like to sprinkle the chicken with a little Lowry’s Seasoned Salt first.  It’s the easiest recipe I know since you can even start out with frozen chicken breasts.  In the summertime, I like to finish the cooked breasts on the grill for just a minute to give it a little grilled flavor.  You can also do this exact same recipe using boneless ribs or a combination of ribs and chicken (but “Lazy Ribs” didn’t sound like a good blog title).  This is a great recipe for a party since you can give guests a choice of chicken or ribs.   Round it out with a baked potato and salad, and this menu can be put together early in the day, leaving you time to clean or put your feet up and relax!  If you need a dessert (and what party doesn’t?), check out last week’s post on yummy gluten free desserts.

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Okay, I know what you’re thinking: “What in the world does joyful faith have to do with diet soda?”  Absolutely nothing – yet I’m going to tie them together in the post anyway, because that’s how I roll.  I’m not good at compartmentalizing.  I believe our body, mind, spirit, and relationships are all connected, and I believe God juxtaposed this week’s daily scripture readings from Romans with the following articles on strokes and diet soda for a reason.  So here goes…

Diet Soda Tied to Stroke Risk
In the February 10 issue of the Idaho Press Tribune, two articles were printed about strokes right next to each other.  The first article mentioned that strokes are rising dramatically among young and middle-aged Americans.  “The sharpest increase – 51% – was among men 15 through 34.”  Right below that article was a report on a study done in the New York area that found a higher risk for stroke and heart attack among those who drink diet soda every day versus those who drink no soda at all.   Hmmm.  Do you think these two reports could be connected?  Could it be that the rise in strokes among young people is due to the preference for diet soda among young people in our culture?  (I can refer to this age group as “young people” because I have, sadly, outgrown this age bracket.)

We all assume that the ingredients in our foods must be safe because they’re regulated by the FDA, right?  Sort of.  Much of the testing on new chemicals is done voluntarily by food manufacturers, and they’re only required to test the safety of that one ingredient.  Less testing is done on the safety of the chemical cocktails we drink when all these chemicals are combined in something like diet soda. The ingredients in Diet Coke are: carbonated water, caramel color, aspartame, phosphoric acid, potassium benzoate, natural flavors, citric acid, caffeine.  The only thing that sounds natural are the “natural flavors” – whatever those are.  The original formula of Coca Cola contained small amounts of cocaine, which is “natural” – hence the name Coca Cola – so I think we can agree that just because something is found in nature, doesn’t always mean it’s good for you.  If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve probably guessed that we don’t consume diet soda or other food-like substances that are developed in a lab.

So What Does This Have To Do With Faith?
This week I’ve been reading Paul’s letter to the Romans about weak and strong faith as they relate to personal food decisions.  Romans 14 says, “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.  One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.  The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. ”  While Paul was addressing specific food issues of his time, I think the spirit of Paul’s words still applies to food choices today.

Each of us is on his or her own personal journey in regards to what foods we feel are acceptable.  Your journey is different from mine.  While I will continue to share what I’ve learned – like the link between diet soda and strokes – I do not pass judgment on those who are not on my same journey.  So don’t hide your Diet Coke when I walk by because I’m not going to look down on you for drinking it.  If you offer me something to eat and I refuse, please don’t assume it’s because I am judging it as evil – I may simply not be hungry.  When I am a guest in someone’s home, I gladly eat what is offered to me, whether it fits into my food preferences or not.  When we’re at a party where other children are drinking pop and my kids ask for some, I give them a choice between a half can of pop or dessert (my daughter will choose the pop).  We eat natural foods most of the time, but I would never want my preferences to be a burden to someone else (with the exception of gluten, which is a medical issue – but even then, I prefer to bring a gluten free substitute with me rather than impose on someone else).

So I hope this random post helps to illustrate that even though I write passionately about food issues from time to time, I value relationships with others over food preferences.  God accepts us all wherever we are on our food journey, according to Romans, so we also need to accept one another.  If you’re interested in more articles on dangerous chemicals in food, check out this post.  If you’d like to join me in daily Bible reading, we’re in Matthew, Romans, and Proverbs this week.  Feel free to jump in and share what God’s teaching you!  The Daily Bible Reading Schedule is always posted on the Faith tab above.  (See, I told you I’d tie all this together!)  🙂

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Okay, after a month of pushing the low sugar diet, I’m finally pulling out the dessert recipes for Valentines Day.  Whether you’re looking for homemade goodies to give as gifts or a special dessert for you and your valentine, you’ve come to the right place.  Every recipe is gluten free (with the option to use wheat flour) and guaranteed to please – they don’t call me the “dessert queen” for nothing!  Just click on the links below to find the recipes for these yummy goodies that are sure to bring a smile to your valentine.

Gifts from the Kitchen:

  • Earlier, I posted the recipe for kettle corn.  However, I’ve added another variation at the bottom for Chocolate Drizzled Kettle Corn.  Packaged in a decorative tin or treat sack with a few valentine M&Ms thrown in, this looks fancy but is very easy to throw together.  I especially like making this for kids parties (a nice change of pace from sugary cupcakes and cookies) since it’s inexpensive and naturally gluten free.
  • Another great treat for kids parties or potlucks that is also inexpensive and naturally gluten free are the Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies & Bars.  You can push Hershey’s Kisses into the cookies for a special valentine touch, or press valentine M&Ms into the bars for a dessert that tastes great with ice cream and is ready to eat in less than 30 minutes.
  • Sometimes you just have to make sugar cookies, and this gluten free adaptation of my grandmother’s soft Sour Cream Sugar Cookies recipe tastes just like the original.  (Of course, you can use regular all-purpose flour for these if gluten is not an issue for you.)  Since I hate trying to store and transport frosted cookies, these are my favorite because they only need a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar or colored sugar sprinkles for a more festive look.

Saying, “I Love You,” with Chocolate:

  • In case you missed my Decadent Brownies recipe in my last post, it’s worth repeating that these are the best brownies ever!  I originally made them with self-rising flour, but modified them to be gluten free.  Either way you make them, these blow away anything from a box.  (Typically, after eating a few bites of these brownies, my husband will look up at me and say, “Have I told you today that I love you?”)
  • Everything tastes better dipped in chocolate, so wow your valentine with a fabulous Chocolate Fondue.  I prefer the easy milk chocolate sauce, but I’ve included a dark chocolate variation, and even a dairy free fondue (the peanut butter bars and most of the items for dipping are also dairy free).  All the dipping items are gluten free, and I promise you won’t miss the pound cake!

I’ll have lots more recipes to share over the coming months, so keep checking back.  (To automatically receive each yummy recipe and post in your email inbox, just click on the “subscribe” button beneath the calendar.)  In the meantime, I hope you have a wonderful Valentines Day!

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Chocolate Fondue

Everything tastes better dipped in chocolate, so let your imagination run wild when it comes to deciding what to dip in this amazing chocolate sauce.  If you prefer dark chocolate fondue, try Hershey’s Special Dark chips.  To make dairy free chocolate fondue, use Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips and substitute almond milk (I used Silk Original almond milk) for the light cream.

Milk Chocolate Sauce (serves about 4 people):
6 oz. Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips (half a package)
¼ cup half-and-half or light cream
½ tsp. vanilla extract

Directions:
In a heavy 1-quart saucepan or fondue pot, melt chocolate with half-and-half over low heat until mixture is smooth, stirring frequently.  Stir in vanilla; keep sauce warm.  If you don’t have a fondue pot, you may need to occasionally return the sauce to the stove to reheat.  Optionally, you can divide the sauce into small glass bowls – which works well for kids – and reheat individual bowls in the microwave as needed.  (We use an electric fondue pot, which works well for fondue and frying small items in oil.)

Gluten Free Items for Dipping:

  • Strawberries
  • Sliced banana
  • Apple or caramel coated apple (cut in ½ inch chunks)
  • Caramels (I sneak these from my kids’ Halloween stash)
  • Marshmallows
  • Peppermint Patties
  • Pretzels (we like Glutino GF pretzels)
  • Kinnickinnick Smorables GF graham-style crackers (dip with fingers)
    OR Homemade cheesecake made with a Smorables crumb crust, frozen in cubes
  • Rice crispy treat squares made with Nature’s Path GF crisped rice cereal
    OR cut up a few Envirokids GF/DF peanut butter crispy rice bars
  • ¾-in. day-old brownie chunks (GF Betty Crocker mix or homemade brownies)
  • Freshly baked flourless peanut butter bars (cut into ¾-inch pieces)
    OR Peanut Butter Balls (recipe below – these are the best!)

Crushed nuts for rolling dipped items in (optional)

If you don’t have to worry about gluten, feel free to use traditional items like pound cake.  But if you’re sharing the sauce, have a separate container for gluten free folks so the chocolate doesn’t get contaminated by crumbs.

Peanut Butter Balls (make ahead and freeze):
1/4 c. + 2 T. peanut butter
2 T. butter or margarine, softened
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1 c. powdered sugar

In an electric mixer, cream peanut butter and butter.  Stir in vanilla.  Mix in powdered sugar, a little at a time.  Roll into 1/2-in. balls and place on a wax-paper lined baking sheet or jellyroll pan.  Freeze.  Use frozen balls for fondue.

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Yes, gluten free sugar cookies can taste delicious and every bit as good as the wheat version!  (Of course, you can make these with wheat flour by replacing the first 5 ingredients with 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour.)  I modified my grandmother’s sour cream sugar cookie recipe to be gluten free, and after trying one she said it tasted exactly like hers.  The great thing about these cookies is that they can stand alone without frosting.  My grandma made them year-round with a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar, but colored sugar sprinkles work great for the holidays.

1-1/3 c. *Brenda’s cheap & awesome flour blend (below)
1/2 c. tapioca flour/starch
1/2 c. potato starch (NOT potato flour)
1 T. sweet rice flour (also called sticky rice flour)
2 rounded tsp. xanthan gum (omit if using wheat flour)
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 c. sugar
6 T. shortening (I use butter flavor Crisco)
1 egg
2 tsp. vanilla (flavoring, NOT extract)
1/2 c. sour cream
Extra flour blend for dusting counter
Colored sugar sprinkles or cinnamon and sugar for topping

In a large bowl, mix together thoroughly the flours, xanthan gum, salt, soda, and baking powder.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together sugar and shortening.  Add egg and vanilla; mix well.  Mix in half of flour mixture.  Add sour cream.  Add remaining flour and mix well.

Divide dough into halves or thirds and place one portion on a lightly floured counter top.  Dust rolling pin with a little flour and roll out dough to desired thickness (these puff up quite a bit, so I roll it somewhere between a 1/4-in. and 1/8-in. thickness).  Cut out into desired shapes and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.  Sprinkle with colored sugar or cinnamon and sugar (or you can bake these plain and frost them later).

Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.  Remove to a wire rack to cool.  These stay soft and last for weeks when sealed tight and stored in a cool place.

*I have only tried this recipe with my flour blend, so if you use a different flour blend I can’t guarantee the same results.
Brenda’s Cheap & Awesome Flour Blend:

  • 1 c. white rice flour
  • 1 c. brown rice flour
  • 1/3 c. tapioca flour/starch (it’s the same thing)
  • 1/3 c. potato starch (not the same as potato flour)
  • 1/3 c. corn starch
  • 1 T. potato flour
  • 1 T. sweet rice (also called sticky rice) flour

You could stop short of the last two ingredients and get by in most basic cooking, but if you want to have the best texture and be able to swap this for wheat flour in any recipe with confidence, I strongly suggest you add the last 2 ingredients.  You can store these flours in the freezer and they’ll last a long time.

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These 5-ingredient cookies are naturally gluten free, and taste wonderful as cookies or bars.  I love making the bars with chocolate chips and serving them with ice cream for a quick, easy dessert.  Using seasonal colored M&Ms for the cookies or bars adds a festive touch during the holidays.

1 c. peanut butter
1 c. sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
24 Hershey Kisses or whatever chocolate chips you have on hand

Directions for Hershey Kiss Method:
Cream peanut butter and sugar in mixing bowl.  Add the egg and vanilla; beat until blended.  Roll into 2 dozen balls and place 2-in. apart on ungreased baking sheets.

Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes or until tops are slightly cracked.  Immediately press one chocolate kiss into the center of each cookie.  Cool for 5 minutes before removing to wire racks.

Chocolate Chip Variation:
Follow directions above, except stir in chocolate chips before rolling into balls.  Flatten balls with your hand, as these cookies won’t spread.  Bake according to directions above.

Bar Variation:
Instead of rolling into balls, press dough into an ungreased 9”x13” pan.  Press chocolate chips, M&Ms, Reece’s Pieces or Peanut Butter Cups – or a combination – into dough.  (For a dairy free dessert, use Ghiradelli semi-sweet chocolate chips.)  Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until lightly browned on the edges.

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Valentines Day is just a week away!  I love this holiday, but it can be stressful when you’re on a tight budget.  However, you don’t have to buy fancy cards or go out to eat to have Valentine fun with your family.  Here are some ways we’ll be enjoying Valentines Day on a dime.

Print-Your-Own Valentines
One of my fondest memories from childhood was the annual valentine exchange at school.  There’s just something gratifying about coming home with a construction paper pocket full of little cards (and candy from the cool moms).  This is the one time of year when homeschooling can be a bummer.  In past years, I’ve had my kids make valentines for widows at church and residents of an Alzheimers care home where my Grandma used to live.  While they loved giving the valentines away, my heart always sank when they would ask why they didn’t get any in return.  On Valentines Day, it’s quantity – not quality – that counts when you’re a kid.

So this year, I decided to look for cheap Valentines I could print off on the computer and give to my kids.  I found this awesome set of 9 Disney Valentines online.  I printed them in black and white, since we’re out of colored ink, then cut them out and pasted them onto hot pink card stock trimmed with fancy scrapbooking scissors for my daughter.  My son loves Cyberchase on PBS, so I was thrilled to find these Cyberchase Valentines for him.  (I also found links to Sponge Bob and other character valentines online, so if your kids prefer other characters, it’s worth Googling!)  We’re planning to hide these for the kids to find on Valentines Day, since my kids LOVE treasure hunts (and we’ll, of course, make construction paper heart envelopes to hold them!).  My daughter adores pets, and since we accidentally bought a pregnant gerbil and ended up with 5 for the price of one, I decided to address some of her Valentines from our pets.

Mommy Meals
My kids love Happy Meals at McDonald’s, but with us being a gluten free family, these aren’t such a great deal.  (My son does not like to eat a hamburger without a bun, and nuggets are out.)  Besides the gluten issue, we’re generally not fans of fast food and are living on a tight budget, so when we have money to eat out we prefer a sit-down restaurant instead.  Still, there’s something thrilling about getting a toy with your meal.  So I invented Mommy Meals a few weeks ago when I was trying to cope with the 5th straight day of fog and winter gloom.  I found a couple decorative paper gift sacks (the kind you get for $.20 around the holidays) in the closet, and rounded up a couple cheap toys from my stash where I keep dollar store finds, party favors, carnival toys, and other little trinkets my kids forget about the day after they got them.  I made hamburgers with gluten free buns for dinner, and wrapped them in foil to go in the bags.  I also sliced an apple and split it between two Disney character-themed sandwich bags.  Since my kids love to get chocolate milk at McDonald’s, but it’s no longer an option for my daughter who can’t drink milk, I made chocolate milk using chocolate syrup and rice milk for my daughter, and put both kids’ drinks in thermoses to go in their bags.  The kids were beyond delighted when I plopped down their colorful bags in front of them and explained what they were.  My daughter asked me every day the following week when we could have them again!

Mom-E-Cheese’s
For Valentines Day this year, I’m planning to go a step beyond Mommy Meals and duplicate the other iconic childhood restaurant experience: the pizza parlor/arcade with prizes.  Since there is no gluten free pizza at these places, we haven’t visited this type of establishment in two years.  We’ve visited places with arcades, but this can be pretty spendy.   So we’re going to make our own pizza and fun at home!  Even though we’re big fans of Udi’s GF pizza crusts, we’ll probably use the Bob’s Red Mill GF pizza dough mix so we can make heart-shaped pizzas and let the kids decorate their own with the toppings of their choice.  (For non-GF folks, you could use Pillsbury pizza dough and divide it into individual heart-shaped pizzas.)  For the arcade, I’ll give them tokens (plastic gold coins we already have) to spend at various games set up around the house with tickets to earn toward prizes.  Anything can be turned into a carnival or arcade game with a little imagination.  Some I’ll use include:

  • Little catapults with foil balls to shoot onto paper plate targets with various point values
  • Plastic bowling set or Wii bowling (with extra tickets awarded for strikes)
  • Bean Bag Toss (you can make homemade bean bags with rice or beans in doubled sandwich bags, and a large piece of cardboard with holes cut out)
  • Putting green with toy golf set or a tape ball, wooden spoon putter, and hole made out of an upside down paper plate with a hole cut out of the middle (or you can skip the other games and just set up a miniature golf course!)
  • Spin the Wheel game using a spinner from a board game with stickers or tape attached stating the number of tickets awarded for landing on each color/number
  • Ball Bounce using a bunch of plastic balls on a mini trampoline (or your bed, if you don’t mind kids jumping on it this one time) with a set amount of time to bounce all the balls onto the floor
  • Fishing game with either a strong magnet on the end of a string used to pick up small metal items, or a clothespin at the end of a makeshift pole tossed over a sheet to “catch” a ticket or prize clipped on by you
  • Mystery Egg game with a prize ticket placed inside one or two plastic Easter eggs for kids to try to find in a basket full of plastic eggs (we reuse plastic eggs, so we always have some on hand)
  • Pillow sack race or obstacle course (a tricycle obstacle course outside is fun when weather’s nice) with a prize ticket for the winner (or if you don’t want to have one winner, they can try to beat the clock)
  • Ball Toss game with a toy hoop or laundry basket and tickets awarded for however many baskets are made within a certain time limit
  • Ring Toss with homemade cardboard rings or canning jar rings tossed on a sturdy skinny bottle (condiment bottles work) taped to a plate

Obviously, the possibilities are endless for homemade games.  All you need to do is assign a point or ticket value to each game and give kids enough tokens to play each game at least once.  For prizes, I’ll raid my cheap toy/trinket stash and assign different ticket values to each prize (you kind of have to think this through and add up how many tickets your child is likely to collect, or you could wait to write the amounts until the end).  It’s interesting to see whether kids will choose to spend all their tickets on something big or collect a bunch of little things.  If you don’t have a goody stash, you can check the party favors aisle or dollar store for inexpensive treats.  I like to include things like stickers, fun art supplies, balls, dollar store books, bubbles, and other things I know will get used.

Just Me and My Valentine
Of course, once the kids are in bed, my husband and I will probably leave the mess to clean up later and enjoy a yummy dessert, like these decadent homemade brownies (made with regular or GF flour), while watching a favorite romantic comedy on DVD and snuggling by the fireplace.  Who needs expensive gifts and crowded restaurants when there’s no place like home!

(For frugal gift ideas for your valentine, check out this post from Simple Mom.)

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