These Are a Few of MY Favorite Things!

I like to browse after I finish my necessary shopping whether at the grocery store or any other store. I don’t buy everything I see, but when I find something that works for my hobbies, my health, or my comfort, I’m willing to indulge. So, thought I’d share a few of my current favorite things.

We are gluten-free at our house because of my husband’s intolerance to wheat products. It took us years to discover the problem so never going to change that aspect of our life. If any of you are gluten-free, I’m willing to bet one of the things you miss the most is any kind of bread product. Yes, you can bake a sort of, not really, reasonable facsimile but it is never quite as satisfying as the real deal. I was an avid bread baker until we had to change the family diet around. You CAN produce a reasonable bread-like outcome on a gluten-free diet but the texture of the dough and the process is different.

I was cruising the Internet a few weeks ago and discovered Authentic Foods – Steve’s Gluten-Free Bread Flour. It promised great things and I purchased some with not too much hope. Bingo! First loaf of bread was amazing with the right texture and a wonderful yeast rise. I currently have a 25-pound bag of the stuff in my former wheat flour storage container! Definitely, number one on my discoveries of late.

Here is an odd, new favorite – Hemp hearts! I saw this at Costco and was intrigued. It has a lot of vitamins including three grams of fiber per serving. Supposedly, it claimed to taste good, too. And, it does! It now gets sprinkled on salads, blended in smoothies, and even enjoyed by the spoonful. I gave one of my sons a bag for his apartment living and his three roommates enjoy it, too. Great for those between-meal hunger pains.

Dry weather and being a constant knitter, crocheter, seamstress is very hard on my hands. I am seldom without chapped hands and split fingers. Buy stock in Liquid Bandage as I keep two bottles in the house constantly. Discovered O’Keeffe’s Skin Repair 48-hour lotion. It stated it was guaranteed to relieve extremely dry and itchy skin. I was desperate. I used it at bedtime and the next morning there was noticeable improvement. Found it at Walmart.

In the realm of gluten-free again, two other flour blends are good additions to my baking/cooking efforts in the kitchen: BetterBatter and Pamela’s All-Purpose Gluten-Free Artisan Flour (Dairy-free, too!) are now staples in my cupboard. BetterBatter has a multitude of recipes on their Internet site for inspiration. Pamela’s is cup for cup for using in formerly favorite regular recipes and especially nice for baking cookies. Again, you can find recipes on-line and try some of your own favorites from the gluten day. I usually buy my flour blends on-line as it is less expensive than health store prices.

My addiction to yarn and crocheting/knitting was satisfied recently. I love making projects with varicolored yarn but couldn’t find exactly the mix of colors that pleased me in the usual offerings. Several months ago, I was looking at the yarn aisle and there was something new! It was a yarn that was soft, came in a larger amount than others for a good price and . . . it was variegated in the most interesting color combinations. I liked the whimsical names of the various choices, too. I recently completed a blanket for one daughter in the color blend ‘Gnome’. It was a wild assortment of vivid almost neon colors with enough somber ones to create a nice result. I’m now working on a blanket for my older son’s birthday and it is called ‘Sphinx’ which is a manly (can we still use the word manly in this day and age?) combination of brown and blue tones. The really nice thing about this yarn is that each skein has a lot more yardage than other brands which makes the under $5.00 a skein actually a bit of a bargain. Right now, Walmart is the only store selling this yarn. It is called Mandala and produced by Lion Brand Yarns.

End of sharing time. Laundry calls and I still haven’t invented dinner for this evening! Would rather be crocheting but them’s the breaks!

Last-Minute Baking Suggestions

The clock is definitely ticking down to Christmas. It really seems to sneak up on a person the last week when you realize that you do NOT have another week to shop, you do NOT have another week to buy groceries, and you do NOT have some great Christmas cookies stocked away in the cupboards and freezer. There is also the concern for people who have to avoid gluten. It wasn’t stated in my marriage vows, but after thirty-plus years of marriage, I seem to have acquired a husband who is very sensitive to gluten.

Around Christmas time, Christmas cookies  would make life sad for my husband until I discovered ‘flour’ blends that can turn out rather great cookies and still be safe for him to eat.

My latest discovery is Pamela’s All Purpose Flour, Gluten-Free Artisan Blend, Non-Dairy. It doesn’t work well for yeast-raised goodies but some people think it makes better cookies than wheat flour. It is pretty much cup to cup for measurements so you can use some of your old favorites still. I found the best deal on Amazon.com.

BetterBatter is a standby in my cupboard for making quick biscuits, egg noodles, tortillas and such. Their computer site has a lot of recipes to cover just about any need you have for baking during the holiday and throughout the year. Sometimes, the best deal is on Amazon and other times directly from BetterBatter.

King Arthur’s Flour is almost the same as Pamela’s and BetterBatter but, probably best for cookies and cakes. They, too, offer recipes for the asking  and just surfing for a particular recipe on the internet with their name in the search will bring up a lot of recipes from individuals, too. Just make sure to read the ratings for hints to avoid disasters.

Before my husband had to omit gluten from his diet, my specialty was bread and most any yeast-raised recipe. Although I have managed to produce some reasonable outcomes, to date, nothing was exactly what I wanted. I just discovered Steve’s Gluten-Free Bread flour blend by Authentic Foods. The first baguette turned out amazingly well with a crust and a ‘bread interior’ that was springy and didn’t ‘melt’ down exposing it’s gluten-free origins. I purchased 25 pounds and bread baking is back in my schedule. It looks, acts, and tastes like the real deal.

Easy Side Dish

Ever have those days when dinner is coming together except for what kind of potato dish would be easy, taste great, and be quick to do? My favorite choice are ‘smashed’ potatoes.  The recipe is easy: Purchase small potatoes, either red or white is fine. Boil them in heavily salted water until JUST tender. Let them cool so you can handle them easily. Now, take a cup or small dish and press down to ‘smash’ them until they are still about a half inch thick but with lots of cracks.  Heat butter and olive oil in a large frying pan and place the potatoes in, one deep, and fry until they are brown and golden. Turn them over, season with some salt and pepper and finish off the other side to the same  buttery brown. Serve.

As for seasoning, salt and pepper can be your basis but garlic or onion powder can add a nice flavor, too.

Watermelon Hints

The best part of the summer season for me is that it is watermelon season, too. Yes, in California, you can find a watermelon most any time of the year but the summer ones are always the best. We discovered one problem, however. Since we revamped our diet and now indulge in more fruits and vegetables, our refrigerator is always full with absolutely no room for a watermelon. Not wanting to deal with a watermelon addict in withdrawal, my husband came up with the idea of keeping the melon in a cooler with four or five frozen bottles of water. Every evening, he switches out the bottles for the back up one in the freezer and this has kept my watermelon in a healthy state of coldness leaving room in the refrigerator for that pesky broccoli, squash, and carrots.

Also, an annual word to the wise. Always thoroughly wash the melons you bring home from the store before storing them either in a cooler or refrigerator. It is not enough to merely use a clean knife for cutting a delectable piece of melon as the knife is cutting through the ‘dirty’ outside of the melon and scraping any germs/virus right across that slice of deliciousness you are about to enjoy. Just think about where that watermelon has been on it’s way to your home! I use a dab or Dawn dish detergent as it rinses clean, doesn’t have a lingering scent and really gets the surface of the melon clean.

Cinnamon Crumb Top Cake

Even with the rise in temperatures, we still have some baking going on around here. Hey, that’s why we got the air conditioning system fixed, right! Don’t want to waste cool air on a summer day!

We are huge fans of cinnamon and spice and if we can put all that into one cake, we’ve put in a good day’s work. This makes a small, 8x8x2 inch cake so there is enough for a surprise dessert and a slice or two for whoever gets up first in the morning.

Crumb Topping
1/4 cup softened butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl until the mixture is crumbly but mixed. Scatter over cake before putting it in the oven.

Cinnamon Crumb Top Cake
1/3 cup softened butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour*
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup whole milk
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
Finely shredded zest of one orange
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Vegetable oil spray a square 8x8x2 inch baking pan.

Combine the butter, sugar and eggs in a mixing bowl. Beat together until mixture is light and fluffy. Blend together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add to butter mixture, stir in lightly, and then add remaining ingredients (except the nuts!) and beat until just smooth. Fold in the nuts and smooth into prepared pan. Sprinkle over the topping mixture and bake approximately 30 minutes or until done. Let cool a bit before servings.

*If you are gluten-free, King Arthur’s Cup for Cup Gluten-Free flour blend would probably work well in this recipe. Although I haven’t tried it yet, the success I’ve had with other recipes using the King Arthur’s blend were successful.

Our Favorite at the Family Salad Bar!

We enjoy salads in our family and are always trying out new combinations, dressings, and vegetables. The latest (pictured above) is the easiest yet most popular one yet . . . very few leftovers!

The Dressing is easy and most people will have the ingredients already around the house.

Peanut Butter Thai Dressing

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
4 tablespoons sesame oil
4 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
Juice of three or four limes
Dressing a little too thick for you? Just thin with adding a bit of water.

Combine all the ingredients in a container you can seal and mix until smooth. Refrigerate until needed. It keeps well for a day or two.

Salad
1 cup shredded carrots
1 red bell pepper thinly sliced
1 green bell pepper thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups shredded green cabbage
1 cup shredded red cabbage
1 cup sliced cauliflower
1 cup broccoli broken down into small florets
1/4 – 1/2 cup chopped, fresh cilantro
1/2 cup finely sliced green onion (used the white and green part)
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Prepare all your vegetables (You can add/substitute for other favorites) in a large serving bowl. When ready to serve, drizzle the dressing generously over the top of the salad ingredient and toss to coat evenly.

When we have guests, I like to bring the bowl to the table before using the dressing so everyone can see the pretty variety of salad ingredients and then
toss with the dressing just before everyone helps themselves.

We try to avoid too many carbs so often serve this with Cashew Chicken or a Spicy Beef stir fry. With all the produce and the rich dressing, no one misses a
side of rice . . . although no stopping you if you want to add that to the dinner plate, too!

And, The Secret Ingredient Is . . .

For quite a few dinner preparations, I had to hide the above fact from my family lest I get early votes on something they weren’t going to try. Cauliflower has actually been the best thing that has happened to our mashed potatoes and once tried, the family doesn’t want to change back. In fact, a few weeks ago, I ran out of cauliflower and made the ‘regular’ mashed potatoes with, well, only potatoes like the normal people do. At the first bite, shocked faces turned to me and demanded, “What happened to the mashed potatoes?” I admitted that there wasn’t any cauliflower to add today.” They finished their dinner but left the table with, “Don’t EVER let that happen, again!”