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Posts Tagged ‘kid favorites’

It’s that time of year when people start looking for recipes to utilize the abundance of zucchini in their garden. I don’t grow zucchini because 1) the only things that grow in my yard are weeds, chives, and berries in that order (mostly in the lawn), and 2) so many people grow zucchini that I just wait around for someone else to give me their unwanted produce. This snack cake goes nicely with soup in the fall or as an afternoon snack when the kids get home from school, and is perfect for lazy cooks (like me) who can’t be bothered to squeeze the moisture out of shredded zucchini. I make it in an 11″x7″ pan, so I call it a cake rather than bread, but it’s tasty enough to not need any frosting. (That makes it low sugar, right?)

Variations:
If you want to make it a little more healthy and less sweet, you can reduce the butter/oil to 1/2 c. total, reduce the white sugar to 2/3 c., and add 1/4 c. applesauce. This recipe should work with any GF flour blend. I used the Namaste flour blend for this recipe, but you could use a homemade blend and add 3/4 tsp. xanthan gum. I also like to substitute 1/3 c. sorghum and 1/3 c. millet for 2/3 c. of the flour in order to boost nutrition. But hey, you’re already winning by making a recipe with a vegetable in it, so there’s no need to be an overachiever.

Gluten Free Zucchini Snack Cake

1 2/3 c. Namaste GF Flour Blend minus 2 T. (math-free instructions below)
2 T. cornstarch
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
2 eggs
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. melted butter plus canola oil to equal 2/3 c. total oil/butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 medium zucchini

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 11″x7″ or 9″x9″ pan.

To measure the flour without hurting your brain, just put 2 T. cornstarch in the bottom of the measuring cup you’re using for flour, then fill with flour to the top of the cup. (When using Namaste Flour blend, which is cheap at Costco, I substitute 1 T. cornstarch for 1 T. of the flour per cup of flour for better results when baking.) Combine the first 7 ingredients. (Or if you’re me, put the spices and leavening ingredients on top of the measuring cups containing flour, then dump them into the wet ingredients all at once. Did I mention I’m lazy?)

In a separate bowl, whisk eggs. Whisk in white sugar. Dump brown sugar in the bowl, then pour melted butter/oil over it and let the oil dissolve the sugar for a minute before whisking it in. (To measure the oil, use the same brain-saving method as the flour and microwave 1/4 c. butter in a 1 c. glass measuring cup, then fill to the 2/3 c. mark with oil.) Stir in vanilla.

Shred the zucchini right into the bowl of wet ingredients because you have better things to do than squeeze liquid out of zucchini. Stir in the dry ingredients, then pour batter into your greased pan. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until the center springs back when you poke it. (I baked mine 27 minutes, and it was a little doughy in the center, so check at 25 and adjust if needed.)

Now pat yourself on the back for using 1 of the 50 million zucchini in your garden. You are winning at all the things, my friend.

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After a lovely summer of letting my children forage for their breakfast most days, I decided to celebrate our first cool, fall day with some I-can’t-believe-these-are-gluten-free ooey, gooey, caramel sticky buns. My family loves cinnamon rolls, but as those are tricky to make gluten free and require a lot of work, these little bites of heaven satisfy their desire for sweet rolls and my desire to not curse while baking.

Now if you are a more recent follower of my blog, you’ve probably come to expect low sugar, grain free or otherwise healthy recipes from me. This recipe is…um…not those things. But sometimes you need a recipe that will knock the socks off of a gluten-free skeptic, and so I feel obligated to share with you the mouth-watering result of my combining and tweaking the Namaste biscuit and Pillsbury Caramel Sticky Bun recipes. Happy fall baking (or whatever excuse you need to make these)!

Sticky Buns

Biscuit Ingredients:
2/3 c. milk + 2 tsp. white vinegar (to make buttermilk)
1 egg
1/2 c. very cold butter
2 c. Namaste Flour Blend (or other GF flour blend + 1 tsp. xanthan gum)
1 T. sugar
1 T. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt (I just eyeballed a scant tsp.)
1/8 tsp. baking soda (omit if using other milk besides buttermilk)

Biscuit Coating:
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3 T. butter, melted

Caramel Topping:
1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. brown sugar
2 T. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. vanilla (vanilla flavoring, not vanilla extract)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Pop the 1/2 c. butter for the biscuits in the freezer to get it nice and cold. Put the 3 T. butter for the biscuit coating in a microwave safe bowl and set aside. Combine the sugar and cinnamon for the biscuit coating in another bowl and set aside.

In a 1 c. liquid measuring cup, combine 2/3 c. milk with 2 tsp. white vinegar and stir to make buttermilk. (Using buttermilk really does make a difference in the texture of the biscuits, but if you need to use a dairy free milk, skip this step and omit the vinegar and baking soda.) Set aside.

In a large bowl, use a fork to combine the flour (plus xanthan gum if using a GF blend that does not contain any xanthan or guar gum), sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda (only if using buttermilk, which is needed to activate the soda). Take the butter out of the freezer and chop it into 8 slices, cutting each of those into quarters until it’s all in little cubes.

Toss half of the cubes in the flour mixture with the fork to coat. (This makes it easier to cut in butter without it all sticking together.) Using a pastry blender or two knives, start cutting in the butter. Add the remaining cubes and coat with flour, then cut in the butter until it is all in pea-sized or smaller crumbles. (And when you’re all done, recall that you have a food processor in the garage that is meant to make short work of projects such as this, then kick yourself for not remembering sooner.)

Place the 1/4 c. butter for the caramel topping in an ungreased, deep 8″x8″ pan and pop it in the oven to melt while you form the biscuits. (You really do need a pan with deep sides because the caramel will bubble up, and I can tell you from personal experience what a travesty it is to have the precious, yummy caramel bubble over onto the oven liner, making the whole house smell like burnt sugar for days. Heed this warning, gentle reader, lest ye suffer likewise.)

Crack the egg into the buttermilk and mix well with a fork. Stir this into the flour mixture with the fork until just combined. Place a little extra flour in a measuring cup to dip your fingers in to keep the biscuit dough from sticking to them. With floured fingers, pull off  2-3 T.-sized chunks of dough and roll into a ball, then gently flatten into a smallish biscuit on a piece of waxed paper. (The size/number is up to you; the smaller the biscuit, the more surface area is covered with sugar and the more servings you have. I ended up with 15.) Continue until all the dough is rolled into biscuits, occasionally checking on the butter in the oven to see if it’s melted.

Remove pan with melted butter from the oven (before it browns). Stir in the brown sugar until it dissolves. Add maple syrup and vanilla. Stir until you have a buttery caramel, occasionally swatting away fingers of children who wish to sample the caramel.

Melt butter for biscuit coating in the microwave, about 30 seconds. Dip biscuits into the butter, then coat in the sugar/cinnamon mixture you set aside AGES ago. (We’re almost there!!) Place biscuits on top of the caramel mixture in the pan, overlapping as necessary to make them all fit.

Bake 20-25 minutes until golden and biscuits are no longer doughy in the center. Let cool for 2 minutes (while you pour a cup of coffee or heat some sausage to serve with these in an effort to avert a sugar-coma).

Place an upside-down pretty serving plate on top of the pan (so your family will recognize that this is a special occasion and acknowledge your efforts accordingly) and, using oven mitts – duh – carefully invert the pan onto the serving plate. Spoon any remaining caramel from the pan onto the rolls (or save it for yourself as a reward for later if your family fails to give you the proper praise). Serve immediately.

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This versatile cookie dough is perfect for times when you need a dessert but are out of gluten free flour blend.  (Yes, I said “need a dessert.”)  We made some of these not-too-sweet cookies for our trip to Yellowstone last summer, and they were the perfect afternoon snack while hiking, providing protein and fiber from whole grain oats to keep us going.  I was surprised that they stayed soft and delicious for several days.

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This recipe yields a lot of dough and freezes beautifully, so it’s handy for this time of year when you may need a last minute treat to take to a party or family get-together.  The chocolate-covered bar variation looks especially festive for fall when you sprinkle mini Reese’s Pieces on top, and is always a hit with my “gluten friends.”  To make festive looking cookies, just substitute M&Ms with holiday colors for the chocolate chips.  My nine-year-old daughter helped me throw together the easy dough for cookies this afternoon, then I pressed the remaining dough into 2 gallon-sized freezer bags set inside my 8×8-in. pan to freeze for later, so I can plop the frozen dough right into the pan to make chocolate-covered peanut butter oat bars the next time our “need” for dessert arises (a.k.a. next week).

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The cookies are fine stored at room temperature, but the bars taste best refrigerated, even though the candies on top may pop off when you cut through the chocolate topping.  (I call the loose candies the “mom tax.”)

Flourless Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip Oat Cookies

1 1/2 c. peanut butter
1/2 c. butter or dairy free margarine, softened
3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. baking soda
4 1/2 c. GF oats (Winco carries cheap bulk GF oats, but they’re no longer labeled GF, so ask an employee to help you)
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips or holiday-themed M&Ms
1 c. mini semisweet chocolate chips or mini M&Ms (we prefer semi-sweet chips for at least 1 c. of the chocolate)

In a large mixing bowl – seriously, it needs to be large – cream peanut butter, butter and both sugars.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in vanilla.  Combine oats and baking soda; gradually add to creamed mixture.  Stir in chocolate chips and/or M&Ms.

Using a cookie scoop, drop mounds of dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Smash down with fingers to the height of the chocolate chips, since these won’t spread very much.  Bake at 350 degrees for 8-12 minutes.  (I like my cookies soft and chewy, so I prefer a shorter baking time and pull them out before they brown around the edges.)  Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Yields 2 dozen cookies plus one 9×13-in. pan (or 2 8×8-in. pans) of bars.

Chocolate-Covered Peanut Butter Oat Bars:

If using frozen dough, place frozen dough in a greased 9×13-in. pan (or 2 8×8-in. pans) and thaw.  Bake 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees.  When bars are cool, melt 1 package of milk chocolate chips (or semisweet, if you prefer) with 2/3 c. chunky peanut butter in a microwave-safe bowl on 70% power until chips look glossy, about 45-60 seconds.  Stir until smooth, heating for 15 sec. intervals as necessary to melt chips – don’t overheat or you’ll get frosting.  (If making one 8×8-in. pan, use 3/4 c. chocolate chips and 1/3 c. peanut butter.)

Pour melted chocolate over bars and immediately sprinkle with mini Reese’s Pieces, if desired.  Refrigerate until chocolate is firm, and cut into bars.  Store in the refrigerator.

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My son returned home from camp yesterday, and after I casually inquired about his week (Did you make any new friends?  Did you do all the activities this time?  Did you remember to shower?), I decided to celebrate his survival/success at camp with my homemade pizza (even though homemade pizza itself is a reason to celebrate in this house).  But as I was gathering my ingredients, I realized that I’m guilty of both procrastinating and hoarding this recipe – two things I’m trying to address through The Fast.  This recipe is hands down the best pizza in town, according to the 4 people in my home.  I can’t speak for anyone else because we don’t share our pizza.  Ever.  Pizza is a lot of work to make from scratch, people, so my son goes into Super Flattery mode every time I make it in an effort to get pizza more often.  If we order one from Domino’s or pull out an Udi’s crust – which we still like, it’s just that they’re expensive and small – he bemoans the fact that it’s not my recipe.  Loudly.

So please forgive me, readers, for holding out on you and not posting this sooner.  My site stats tell me that most of my visitors are gluten free parents, and my phone book tells me that most of what we Americans want to eat is pizza.  So I apologize for my procrastination.  (I took this picture of a baked pizza a year ago.  Please don’t hate me.)

Gluten Free Pizza

What I love about this pizza is that it makes a large, 14-inch crust!  If you’ve ever gone out to a restaurant with wheat-eaters, and plunked down twice what they spent on their bulging, large pizza for your little kids-size, gluten free/cardboard pizza, you understand the injustice of the gluten free pizza universe.  It’s especially tough to feed a family on small pizzas.  ($22-$26 for two small, marginally decent pizzas?  I don’t think so.)  My recipe makes a thin crust pizza.  When you bake the crust initially, it will rise and look pretty and fluffy (remember those days?), but once you load on the toppings, it will settle into a thin crust – that tastes wonderful!!  The crust is nicely browned on the bottom (with no soggy center!) and makes delicious bread sticks or focaccia if you decide to just bake it with olive oil and herbs, in which case it stays nice and fluffy.  (Gluten Free Cooking Tip: I’m convinced it’s the corn flour that gives your taste buds something to latch onto, and makes this taste like wheat crust – you don’t taste the corn.  I now add 1 or 2 T. corn meal/cup of flour to all my savory GF breads, and it makes all the difference!)

14" Pizza Crust

The best part for me is that it doesn’t require any time to rise, although it still takes me an hour to make because I’m totally OCD about toppings placement. (Or has my husband says, “No, you’re just doing it RIGHT.”)  One of these days, I’ll post my homemade pizza sauce recipe, when I can reproduce it the same way twice and actually remember what I did.  But since the crust is what matters to GF folks, I’ll say no to excuses for procrastination and share this recipe for 12 slices of heaven with you.

Heavenly Gluten Free Pizza Crust / Focaccia Recipe

Dry ingredients:
1 c. + 2 T. Brenda’s flour blend (recipe at the end)
1/4 c. potato starch (not potato flour; could substitute corn starch)
2 T. corn flour (mine is coarse ground; could substitute corn meal)
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. xanthan gum
1 packet yeast (regular, active dry yeast)

Wet ingredients:
1/2 c. hot water + 2 T., divided
2 T. olive oil (EVOO or the cheap stuff; I like 1 T. each)
1 egg
1/2 tsp. cider vinegar

Corn meal for dusting parchment

Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit your pizza pan or baking stone.  (I use a 15-in. Pampered Chef baking stone, and it really does make a difference.)  Place baking stone in cold oven and preheat to 450 degrees.  (If you’re using a regular metal pan, you can probably wait to preheat your pan until the dough is mixing.)  Sprinkle corn meal on parchment paper and set aside on counter.

In the bowl of your mixer, whisk together dry ingredients.  In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together 1/2 c. hot water, olive oil, egg, and vinegar.  Add to dry ingredients and mix together on low until combined.  Continue mixing and gradually add additional hot water, 1 T. at a time, until batter is smooth and thick.  (I use 2 T. water, but if you alter the flour blend in this recipe, you may need more or less water, since gluten free flours absorb water differently.)  Beat 5 minutes on medium-high, scraping bowl occasionally.  (If using a metal pizza pan, preheat your oven and pan at this time.  I also like to fry the sausage and shred cheese, if needed, while the batter is mixing.)

I call this “batter” instead of “dough” because unbaked gluten free bread products do not resemble wheat dough.  Don’t let this freak you out – I promise it tastes good!  Because it is a sticky batter, the process of spreading it out on the parchment is a little tricky and takes time, but if you’ve ever tried to make pizza with wheat dough, you know that it’s just as tricky but in a different way.  (There’s a reason we all order takeout or buy frozen pizzas.)  So to get a large circle of “dough,” you’ll want to drop about 5 mounds of batter in a circle with the remaining batter in a mound in the middle.  Fill your empty mixing bowl halfway with water, then dip a rubber spatula/scraper in the water and use the back of it to flatten each dough mound, dipping in water as needed to keep the batter from sticking to the spatula.  When each mound is flattened, begin to spread the mounds together, working from the middle outward.  Once it’s all in a circle, you can begin making circular strokes and spreading the dough toward the edge of your parchment, creating a slightly raised edge that comes within 1/2-in. of the edge of the paper.  (My stone is about 15-in., so I end up with a 14-in. pizza.)

Drizzle a little olive oil in a spiral and spread over top of crust with a brush or your spatula, for a nice, golden crust.  Slide parchment paper onto a large baking sheet with no edges (or an upside-down one).  Remove baking stone from oven and carefully slide the pizza crust onto the hot stone.  (This step is what gives you a golden crust, instead of a soggy one.)  Bake 8 minutes.  Remove from oven and top with your favorite toppings.  (I like to layer pepperoni and sausage on my sauce, then top with mozzarella and a little cheddar.  Putting the cheese on top instead of underneath guarantees that the toppings don’t fall off!)  Bake pizza 8-10 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and starts to brown.

Bonus Points: If you really want to rock your husband’s world, while the pizza is baking, melt 1 T. butter with a pinch of garlic powder and brush on the edges of the crust when the pizza is done baking.  Pizza AND garlic bread sticks!  Yum!

Focaccia: Let the dough rest for 20 minutes after you spread it on the parchment.  Dimple the dough with wet fingers, then sprinkle with herbs (I like rosemary), minced garlic, and coarsely ground black pepper.  Drizzle 2-3 T. olive oil on top.  Bake 15 minutes until lightly browned.  Sprinkle with grated Parmesan.  (Modified from the recipe in The Gluten Free Bible.)

Brenda’s Flour Blend* (I usually triple this and store in a gallon-size zippered bag in the fridge):

  • 1 c. rice flour
  • 1 c. brown rice flour
  • 1/3 c. potato starch (not flour)
  • 1/3 c. cornstarch
  • 1/3 c. tapioca starch/flour (same thing)
  • 1 T. sweet rice flour (also called sticky rice flour)
  • 1 T. potato flour

*There are lots of good flour blends, so feel free to substitute your favorite, although I can’t guarantee the same results.

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This fun take on 2 kid favorites – chicken pot pie and pizza – is a recipe I adapted from Family Fun Magazine, and can be made either as a pizza or biscuit pot pie.  I began making the pizza when we figured out that my son was suffering from Intersticial Cystitus, a chronic condition that feels like a constant urinary tract infection.  While there’s no cure, the symptoms can be alleviated by avoiding certain trigger foods like caffeine, citrus and many other fruits, including tomatoes (hence, the search for a tomato-free pizza).

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Before I go on to tell you about this tasty recipe, I just want to take a minute to tell my readers how much my heart goes out to you, especially if you’re a parent of a child with multiple food intolerances.  When I downloaded the enormous list of possible food triggers (many of which we’ve now determined are okay for him), it was like receiving the gluten intolerance diagnosis all over again.  I looked through my pantry with despair at all the foods that would be off limits to my son until we slowly tested each food.  As I looked through my cookbook and tagged the half-dozen recipes there were NOT off limits to him, I cried for him and myself.  I remembered how overwhelmed I was during our first few months on the gluten free diet, and how sad I was that my kids had to be “different.”  If that’s where you are today, I just want you to know that you’re not alone.  

It’s been 6 weeks since then, and my son has handled his new diet restrictions remarkably well.  I’m reminded, once again, of how resilient our kids are.  We think they’ll fall apart when something bad happens, but if we continue to love and support them, showing empathy and compassion, they can amaze us with their ability to bounce back.  Kids with food intolerances have the potential to be some of the most compassionate kids on the planet because they know what it’s like to be the only one who has to pass up the Valentines cookie or sip punch at a reception because it’s the only safe thing to eat.  They also tend to be more grateful when people do go out of their way to include them because they don’t take for granted that they will be given anything.  So yes, it hurts to see our kids suffer, but sometimes the road of suffering is the road that leads to strength of character, compassion, and gratitude.  

One way we can support our kids is by taking the time to make yummy substitutes for some of their favorite foods.  That’s why I’m continuing my series of “Gluten Free Kid Favorites” (like corn dogs and chicken tenders) with the recipe below.   

Whether you like chicken pot pie or are just looking for an easy GF pizza crust recipe, I’ve got you covered on both!  The crust recipe is so versatile.  It makes tender, flaky biscuits, a quick and easy pizza crust, and can be used in your favorite recipes that call for Pillsbury biscuits from a can.  I like to mix up the dry ingredients in bags to have on hand for quick suppers.  If you have a food processor, you can simply dump the dry ingredients in, cut in the butter, then add milk.  So easy!  I’ve made it with half milk and half cream for extra moist biscuits, and rice milk for dairy free recipes.  The pot pie filling is spot on when it comes to mimicking those little (nutritionally void and laden with unhealthy ingredients) frozen pies I used to love.

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Chicken or Turkey Pot Pie Filling/Topping

1 T. butter
1 T. GF flour blend with a pinch of xanthan gum
1 tsp. chicken flavored Better Than Bouillon + 2/3 c. water (or 2/3 c. GF chicken broth)
1/2 tsp. dried minced onion
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. sage (I use ground sage, not rubbed)
1/4 tsp. thyme
2/3 – 1 c. frozen mixed veggies, thawed and patted dry (I use peas, diced carrots, and corn)
2/3 – 1 c. cooked chicken or turkey, chopped
1 c. shredded mozzarella (optional, if making biscuit pot pie cups)

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk in flour and cook for 1 minute.  If using Better Than Bouillon, whisk this into the roux (the flour/butter mixture).  Slowly whisk in the water (or chicken broth) until the mixture is smooth.  Cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens and begins to bubble, about 2 min.  Whisk in onion and seasonings, and cook for 1 more minute.

Remove from heat and let cool while you make the dough.  If you made the dough first, just pop the sauce in the fridge on a hot pad to quickly cool while you chop the meat.

Biscuit and Pizza Crust Dough

1 c. gluten free flour blend
1/4 c. tapioca starch/flour (they’re the same thing)
1/4 c. potato starch (for softer biscuits) or cornstarch (for pizza crust)
2 1/2 T. baking powder
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. xanthan gum
1/4 c. butter or dairy free margarine (real butter is best, if tolerated)
2/3 c. milk, rice milk, or half-and-half (for really good biscuits)

Whisk dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl or food processor.  Cut butter into chunks, then cut into dry ingredients with a food processor or two knives used like scissors.  (When I use my food processor, I like to add half the butter and pulse a few times, then add the remaining butter chunks and pulse a few more times.  Ideally, you want some pieces to be small and some larger pea-size chunks.  Smartypants Factoid: It’s the steam created from the melting of the larger chunks of butter that creates the flaky layers in biscuits, so don’t over-process.)  Stir in milk.

For Pizza: With floured hands, spread dough onto a 15-in. greased pizza pan or, if preheating a pizza stone in the oven, spread dough onto a piece of parchment paper cut to fit the stone.  (Preheating your pan will help brown the bottom of the crust.)  Spread sauce over the crust and top with 1 c. veggies and 1 c. meat.  Sprinkle cheese evenly over the pizza.  Bake 18-20 min. at 425 degrees.  (This crust also works with any topping, not just the pot pie topping!)

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For Pot Pies: Divide dough into quarters.  Divide each quarter into 3 balls.  Place the balls in 12 greased muffin cups.  With floured hands, gently press the dough down and up the sides of each muffin cup.  The dough should reach the top of the muffin cup.  (If you do this before making the filling, you may need to go back and press the dough up the sides again before filling, since it will slide down after sitting for awhile.)  Stir 2/3 c. meat and 2/3 c. veggies into the sauce and divide among the cups, about 2 T. filling per cup.  If desired, sprinkle with cheese.  Bake 15-20 minutes at 425 degrees.

For Biscuits: Divide dough into quarters or thirds (depending on how big you want your biscuits to be) and roll into balls according to pot pie directions.  Place the balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet and, with floured hands or the bottom of a glass, gently press down on each ball until it’s about 1/2-in. thick.  Or, using an ice cream scoop, scoop out the dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and gently press down to flatten.  (These won’t rise or spread much, so you’ll end up with more even results if the biscuits are flat instead of rounded.)  Bake 15-20 minutes at 425 degrees.

There are lots more variations for this dough, so check back for future recipes like Garlic Cheese Biscuits, Bread Sticks, and more!

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Last weekend, I spontaneously decided that a family fun night was in order – it was either that, or lock the kids in their rooms for the rest of winter – and invited my daughter, Little Miss Planner, to help organize it.  Honestly, I think putting her “in charge” was as much of a thrill for her as the actual event itself.  We started by coming up with 3 possible options for the dinner menu, dessert, game, and family movie.  (We’ll use this same format next month when it’s my son’s turn to plan our family fun night.)  Even though I came up with most of the ideas, I tried to casually mention them as options from which she got to choose.  Again, she had so much fun writing down the ideas we came up with and circling her favorites, I was reminded that giving kids opportunities to have control is good from time to time.  (Not surprisingly, she’s been a much more cooperative child this week.  Hmmm…)

As we narrowed down the list of ideas, I realized that we could easily turn our fun night into a snow-themed party, a fitting way to celebrate the good part of winter – snow!  Here is what we did, along with some ideas for your own snowy fun.

Dinner Menu
Since we’ve had snow on the ground since Christmas, I suggested that we gather some clean snow to make snow cones.  I had bought some snow cone syrup years ago, and it had been sitting, unopened, in the garage for who knows how long.  But since it’s just corn syrup and chemicals, we decided to take a chance and ended up enjoying delicious, watermelon-flavored snow cones.  (It was actually strawberry syrup, though – I said it was old.)  Real snow cones are awesome!  If you have the means, I highly recommend them.

To go along with our snow theme, I wrapped homemade burgers on buns in white parchment paper and called them “snowball burgers.” (This was a BIG deal to my gluten intolerant family, since we rarely buy expensive GF buns.  However, I’ve discovered that the crusts from Udi’s and Rudi’s bread make great buns when buttered and grilled.)  I made a fresh fruit salad with pineapple, strawberries and kiwi, then sprinkled dried coconut on top and called it “snow-covered fruit salad.”  For veggies, I cut up broccoli “trees” and drizzled ranch dressing “snow” over top.

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Atmosphere
I knew my craft-loving daughter would get excited about decorating, so I dug out some snowflake stamps for her to use to decorate white paper as place mats (which, unfortunately, doesn’t show up in my picture).  We set out colored pencils so everyone could draw snowman pictures on their place mats while they waited for dinner, like the kids do at restaurants.  I also gave my daughter snowflake stickers to put on cheap, white paper plates.  I dug out some plastic snowman cups and snowman napkins from Christmas, and also set some snowflake votive candle holders on the table.  It’s easy to re-purpose Christmas decorations to add a festive touch (if your husband is willing to drag out the boxes from the garage that you JUST put away).

For music, we played the “Happy Feet” soundtrack (which I’ll admit, I do enjoy) while we got everything ready.  During dinner, we switched to George Winston’s “December” album, which is not overly Christmasy, and provides nice background music.

Activities
Our favorite activity, hands down, was the “snowball” fight with rolled up white socks as snowballs.  We each took a corner of the room and started with 6 “sockballs” each.  The kids and I hid behind chairs, while my husband was exposed (to level the playing field a little).  My daughter got to tell us when to start, then we proceeded to pelt each other with socks.  The great thing about sockballs is that they’re reusable, so we played until I got tired of getting beaned in the head by my husband, who has way better aim than I do.

For our other game, my daughter chose Cadoo, which is Cranium for kids.  It involves easy word puzzles and group activities like charades, drawing, and sculpting.  The winner got a ride in the “snowmobile” (an 18-gallon storage bin powered by my husband), while the losers dumped a sockball avalanche on the snowmobile.

Ice Cream Snowmen

Dessert
After so much play and exertion, we were ready for dessert.  To go with some leftover cake, we made ice cream snowmen.  Unfortunately, we were in a hurry to assemble them before we started the party, and did not let the ice cream scoops harden long enough, so our snowmen ended up leaning on the cake for support.  Oh well.  They’re super easy to make, however.  I used a cookie scoop to scoop out 3 small vanilla ice cream scoops for each snowman, and placed them in a wax paper-lined pan.  (I’d recommend letting them harden in the freezer for at least a half-hour to avoid lopsided snowmen.)  When the balls are firm, stack them into snowmen next to an edge of your pan to keep them from tipping over.  Put them back in the freezer for another 10-20 minutes.  (I skipped this step and regretted it.)  While they’re firming up, gather your supplies for making the face, arms, and hat.  Decorating the snowmen is a great activity for the kids.

  • For the face, we used mini chocolate chips for eyes, and jimmies sprinkles for the nose and mouth.  We use an orange sprinkle as a “carrot nose” by inserting a pointed end into the ice cream.  We used a brown sprinkle as a mouth.
  • For the arms, we used Glutino gluten free stick pretzels.  I broke the sticks in half, since a half pretzel looked better.
  • For the hat, we used a partially melted chocolate chip to “glue” a Rolo candy onto a Peppermint Patty because that’s what I had on hand.  (I warned the kids to eat the candies separately because…yuck.)  You can use a mini cookie for the base of the hat and whatever candy you have on hand for the top.  To glue them together, put 1 chocolate chip per hat on a piece of wax paper and heat it in the microwave until it starts to soften.  It should still retain its shape until you press down on it.  Use a spatula to transfer it to the base of the Rolo or whatever candy you’re using, then attach it to the base of the hat.  We had a hard time keeping the hats on the snowmen, but they still looked cute!

Snowman Candy Hats

Movie
After dessert, we watched our favorite winter movie, “Snowball Express” – a must-see family movie!  It’s from the ’70s, so it might be hard to track down, but it’s great fun.  “Happy Feet” and “Happy Feet 2” are also great for little ones.  Older kids will like “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” or “Chronicles of Narnia.”  Any movie about winter/snow would work, though.

During the movie, we had to have some hot chocolate, of course.  (We normally don’t consume this much sugar, but that’s what makes it a party!)  This easy mix can be used with any kind of milk, so it’s perfect for kids with dairy allergies who can’t have the powdered mixes.  I like to keep a batch of this mix in a container to add to warm milk whenever the kids have been playing in the snow.  Add your favorite flavoring and you have gourmet cocoa that’s a whole lot healthier than the stuff from the store for just pennies.

Dairy Free Cocoa

Dairy Free Cocoa Mix:

  • 1/4 c. cocoa (the kind you use for baking)
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • Milk (dairy, rice, almond, coconut)
  • Flavoring, optional (vanilla flavoring, peppermint extract, rum extract, coffee syrups)
  • Canned whipped cream or mini marshmallows, if desired

Combine cocoa and sugar in a container.  Heat milk of choice (or decaf coffee for the grown-ups!) in the microwave until just warm.  In my microwave, it takes about 1 min. to heat 6 oz. (3/4 c.) milk.  Stir a heaping tablespoon of cocoa mix into each 6 oz. of milk (slightly more for coffee), then add a drop or two of flavoring, if desired.  Top with a squirt of whipped cream or mini marshmallows (or if you’re me, use kitchen scissors to cut up old, hard marshmallows leftover from last summer – the kids will never know!).

With a little creativity and planning, having a snow party can break up the winter blahs and brighten those long, dark nights.  For more indoor winter party ideas, check out my posts on cheap Valentines Fun with kids and Spring Break Staycation ideas.  Yes, it can be a happy January!

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If you’re looking for an easy, tasty, gluten free dish to bring to a party or set out for guests with allergies, here is a favorite that doesn’t require “special” ingredients or expensive gluten free substitutes.  The hot wassail punch is always a hit at parties, and is easy to throw together in the crock pot earlier in the day to make the house smell wonderful when guests arrive (and cover up the smell of cleaning products from last minute cleaning – not that I wait until the last minute to clean…).  

We love bringing homemade kettle corn with holiday M&Ms to parties because it’s cheap and serves a lot of people.  For more dessert ideas, check out my previous post with 10 ideas for easy gluten free desserts.  

Buffalo Chicken Dip

Not-Too-Spicy Buffalo Chicken Dip

2 12.5-oz. cans of chicken or 2 cooked chicken breasts, chopped
2 8-oz. packages cream cheese (I use light cream cheese, also called Neufchatel)
1/2 c. buffalo wing hot sauce (I use cheap dollar store brands)
1/2 c. ranch or blue cheese dressing (my family prefers ranch)
1-2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
Celery sticks for dipping
Gluten free tortilla chips for dipping (read labels, since not all chips are GF)

Place the unwrapped cream cheese in a large, microwave-safe mixing bowl.  Heat for 30 sec. in the microwave.  Flip cream cheese bricks over and heat for another 30 sec.  Drain and flake cans of chicken.  Add chicken, buffalo sauce, and dressing to the bowl.  Stir together until you no longer see streaks of cream cheese.

Spread mixture evenly into a greased, 9″x13″ baking dish.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Bake 20 min. at 350 degrees until cheese is bubbly and starting to brown a little around the edges.  Serve warm with tortilla chips and celery sticks.  (We like to cut the recipe in half and make it in a 7″x11″ pan for an easy football game snack.)

Wassail
(Double this recipe for groups larger than 8 people or for tasty oatmeal*)

4 c. apple cider
2 c. cranberry juice (either cranberry juice cocktail or 100% juice blends work)
1 c. orange juice
1 11.5-oz. can apricot nectar (found in non-frozen juice aisle or Mexican food section)
1 c. sugar (can be reduced to 3/4 c. if using cranberry juice cocktail which has added sugar)
2 cinnamon sticks

Stove Top Directions:
Combine all ingredients in a large soup pot on the stove and heat over medium until warm, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat to low and simmer at least 20 minutes.  (The longer it simmers, the stronger the cinnamon flavor will be.)

Crock Pot Directions:
If you’re using a crock pot, mix everything together and heat on high for 3 hrs., then turn to low for the party so guests don’t burn their tongue.  I usually heat it on the stove about an hour before the party, then transfer it to the crock pot to keep warm.

*We love to use leftover wassail to make homemade oatmeal.  Just substitute it for half the water in your oatmeal and stir in some dried cranberries, if desired.  So easy and yummy!

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