Thursday, November 14, 2013

Gluten Free Persimmon Cookies

One of my fondest childhood memories is the huge persimmon tree in the backyard of my parents home.  Whether it was its beautiful Fall leaves that would cover half of the entire yard or the accidental squish on your shoe from stepping in one that had fallen to its dreadful fate, despite how careful we thought we were being!  But our golden retriever was smart and would avoid her bathroom area during persimmon season like the plague to avoid any unnecessary mess.  And one year, we told the neighbor's gardener he could take some and we came back home to a completely stripped tree!!  We asked for a few of his bagfuls back.

It's a funny tree.  For years it would only bloom fruit every other year until this year!  And we have no idea why, but we aren't complaining because this isn't your everyday kind of fruit like an easily accessible apple or pear.  Yes, you can find them in grocery stores when in season (that are perfectly fine to eat and cook with), but they are typically smaller and harder to come by.  So we try to always take advantage of the short few weeks they are ripe and ready to be eaten by the slice or used in bread or cookies.

Gluten free cookies tend to be on the dry side, which is why putting persimmons in your batch make one of the best GF treats.  The entire cup of its pulp that is used in this recipe makes these cookies moist and fluffy!  How often do you hear that about a GF goody?!  And the taste of Fall is prevalent in this dessert with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg that go really well with this apple/tomato like tasting fruit.

What you'll need:

1 cup persimmon pulp
1 stick butter (room temperate)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg (room temperature)
2 1/2 cups GF all purpose flour (I use Trader Joe's)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup walnuts (roughly chopped)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In a medium size bowl, beat together the persimmon, butter, sugar and egg.  Then add the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg until completely incorporated.  Fold in the walnuts.  An inch apart, drop about a tablespoon of dough onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Cook for about 15 mins or until completely cooked through.  Let cool and eat!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Because of Madalene Etsy Shop

Congratulations to Stacey from De Running Mom for winning the Holiday Wreath Giveaway!  I'll be in touch soon.

I've been in the craft mood lately more than cooking.  Can you tell?  I promise to have a tasty Fall treat on here soon!  But maybe it's because it was Madalene's birthday a couple of weeks ago and I've been inspired by the Craft Queen herself to start creating again.  Unfortunately, I never got to see any of her creations, but my mom was lucky enough to wear the clothes Madalene would make especially for her.     I miss those days where crafts were apart of everyday life, whether it was sewing your own wardrobe, making something for the home, etc.  Things were simpler back then.  Nowadays I have to force myself to get home early from work to make something, anything - keep those juices flowin'!  SO, I've been inspired to create my very own Etsy Shop, where I'll be selling these Raffia Wrapped Holiday Wreaths!  

I think the entrance to your home says a lot about you and what's inside, don't you agree?  Dress up your front door this season with one of these homemade wreaths to create that warm, cozy and welcoming feeling that everyone wants for the upcoming Holidays.  Even if you don't get those lights up on the house this year, at least the front porch will say, "Welcome and Happy Holidays".  This decor makes great gifts for that creative mom, aunt, sister or grandma or makes an equally nice treat for your own home.  Come on over and check them out!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Homemade Holiday Wreath Giveaway

Remember last year's Autumn Wreath?  Well this year I've made a Holiday Wreath that will last all season long.  This raffia wreath is inviting, modern and homemade!  The perfect gift for a loved one or for your own door that will make the entrance to your home feel friendly and inviting for the upcoming Holidays.

And guess what?!  I'm giving it away to one lucky winner.

All you have to do is follow one of the below three tasks or all three for more entries:

- "Like" Because of Madalene on Facebook.
- Follow Because of Madalene on Twitter.
- Follow Because of Madalene on Pinterest.

Leave a comment below letting me know what you've liked or followed and provide your email address so I can contact you.

Giveaway ends this Sunday, Nov 10th.  (only accepting US entries)

Good luck!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Pumpkin Succulent Garden

And the winner is...

This fun little Halloween project won for the best Pumpkin Carving Contest at work on Thursday!  Sure it only competed against one other beautifully carved one, but I'd like to hope it could have been a real contender if others participated.  Do you remember last year's?  Because there was so much competition a year ago, I felt I had to boost up my game this year, so I went all out!  Ironically, everyone was more interested in winning the free lunch outing for best group costume contest instead.  So the only cash prize being offered for the day was handed to me.  :)

But I loved how my little whimsical Halloween scene came about and it also turned into a fun decor for the home.  And even though Halloween is over, this versatile potting project could also be done for Thanksgiving by using pilgrim figurines or the winter Holidays by using a white cinderella pumpkin and winter scene houses instead.

And because carved pumpkins only last so long, this garden will have to be transported in the next few days.  But if you have a Thanksgiving or Holiday party coming up, this will make a fun conversation piece for the evening.

What you need:

1 large cinderella pumpkin
Halloween scene decor (1 house, figurines)
purple lights with battery pack (found at Michaels craft store)
mini succulents (found at Home Depot)
potting soil
mini stone pebbles (found at Bed Bath and Beyond)

Carve a very large hole out of the top of your pumpkin, large enough to fit your entire scene.  Clean out the inside.  Use a pumpkin sculpting tool to create the brick-like carvings on the outside wall of the pumpkin.  Cut a rectangular piece out of the top part of the pumpkin for an interior wall.  Add some brick-like carvings to this, too.  Insert three toothpicks into the bottom of your interior wall piece and place into the pumpkin.  This will stabilize the wall.  Fill the pumpkin with potting soil and layer in your Halloween scene and succulents.  Cover any exposed dirt with the pebbles.  Once you're finished potting, water the succulents.  Transfer a few days later into something else once the pumpkin starts to wilt.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Gluten Free Cannoli Sandwich

I love my Italian people, but they can be old fashioned and stubborn!  For instance, if you tell them you're a vegetarian, they'll probably offer you chicken.  And if you tell them you're gluten free, they'll most likely say, "it's all in your head-ah, don't-ah be ridiculous!".  Visiting my favorite Italian deli is something I look forward to every weekend, but they sure do make shopping for gluten free products frustrating.  The only thing they've given us is pasta.  No cookies, no bread, no pizza, no pastries.  I can't just live off of pasta!  Which has resulted in coming up with my own cannoli "shell".  Because gluten free goods tend to be dryer and more fragile, trying to roll this cookie into a cannoli shell was impossible, so a make it work moment turned this treat into a sandwich instead!  :)

There are two types of cannoli filling - super sweet vs. more savory.  I personally don't care for the super sweet kind but you'll find this type everywhere!  Even in Italy we hunted and hunted for the savory ones and came up empty handed.  Mind you this was before any of us had iphones, so I'm sure we'd be able to track the ones we prefer more easily now.  Maybe it's a southern Italian thing, but I was raised on the enjoyment of still being able to taste the natural creamy flavor of the ricotta cheese filling instead of something that just taste like a gob of frosting.  The shell is sweet enough to counter balance the filling.  And to separate this cannoli from being more of an appetizer, is the sweet tang of orange zest and crunchy mini semi sweet chocolate chips!  Throw a handful of some nutty chopped pistachios and you've got yourself an authentic Italian dessert that's easy on the belly.

What you'll need: filling 10 mins

2 32 oz. tubs low fat ricotta cheese
1 - 1 1/2 cup powdered sugar (according to taste)
1 cup mini semi sweet chocolate chips
1 cup pistachios (roughly chopped)
zest from one orange

In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients with a large spoon.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge while you make the cookies. 

What you'll need: cookies (about 5 dozen, about 30 sandwiches) 1 1/2 hours

1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cubes butter (3/4 cup)
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice 
4 tsp baking powder
4 cups sifted GF all purpose flour (add more if needed) I use Trader Joe's GF mix

Note: This is a big recipe so you can easily half this!  In a large bowl cream the sugar and butter together until evenly incorporated.  Mix in the eggs one at a time.  Add in the vanilla extract, lemon juice and mix.  Sift in the baking powder and flour together gradually.  But don't over mix.  You don't want tough dough.  The end product should feel slightly sticky but not to the point where it's not coming off of your hands.  So add more flour if needed.

Roll the dough into 1 in. balls, cover with plastic wrap so they don't dry out and set aside.  I used an electric pizzelle press instead of my grandma's vintage iron this time.  It's faster and makes two at a time!  Plug in the press, let heat up and begin making the cookies!  Spray the press with vegetable oil each time to prevent any sticking.  Place in the balls and close the press.  Let cook for about 45 seconds or until very lightly golden brown.  The first couple of cookies are testers so you can try to get the right timing for the rest of the batch.  Open the press and remove delicately with a fork.  Let the cookie cool completely on a flat plate.  Continue until all the dough is gone.

These can be delicate so layer in the chilled filling carefully.  And if they break, who cares!  It still tastes delicious and who says a dessert can't be rustic.  :)  Serve immediately.

I'm back on twitter! @BOMadalene

Follow me on Facebook.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Dishcrawl Battledish

I am super excited and still in shock to have been invited to be a guest judge for the International Battledish Culinary Competition in Seattle this Oct 5th hosted by Dishcrawl!  This is going to be a fun and entertainingly tasty event, so I encourage all my Seattle friends to grab a ticket here, taste some incredible food and drinks from the 6 talented competing chefs and cast your vote for who you want the next Battledish Champion to be.

Thank you dishcrawl for this amazing opportunity.  I can't wait to be apart of your fabulous food community and help crown a winner!  

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Gluten Free Meatball Burgers on Garlic Toasted Buns

Just as the scorching sun was setting last Labor Day Monday, I threw some patties on the grill.  These aren't just any burgers... but Italian inspired Meatball Burgers!  And just like the typical meatball sandwich, these suckers are essentially the same, but in burger form, of course.  Not only are they easier to eat and slightly smaller in portion, but you don't have to worry about a meatball escaping onto the floor or worse... your lap!

They're moist due to having the same ingredients as a meatball, just a tad messy from the tangy marinara sauce and the best part.... served on a garlic toasted bun, which bumps them up a whole other level.

I have to admit, eating homemade burgers as a kid was never too exciting.  Sorry, Mom!  Plain buns, plain beef with a few sprinkles of seasoning, ketchup, lettuce and tomato.  It was too fast, too simple and the taste reflected just that.  Thankfully, she's gotten a bit fancier since then with her gourmet toppings.  :)  But these Meatball Burgers are worth the extra 20 mins to make and taste like a true restaurant burger that are a bit healthier than the one you'll order when you're out but still bursting with rich flavor.  And your guests will never know they're gluten free.

Serves 4 - 6
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 10 mins

What you'll need: 

1 slice gluten free bread (I used Udi's whole grain) cut in 1/2 inch cubes
2 - 3 tbsp low fat milk
1 lb ground beef sirloin (I used 93% lean)
1/4 yellow onion (finely chopped)
1 clove garlic (minced)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup gluten free Italian breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
lite provolone cheese (sliced)
marinara sauce

Garlic Toasted Buns:

gluten free hamburger buns (I used Udi's whole grain)
4 tbsp lite butter (room temperature)
1 clove garlic (minced)
1 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
sprinkle smoked paprika 

Prep the bar-b.  Get your buns ready first.  In a small bowl, combine the butter, garlic and cheese.  Spread both the top and bottom of the bun with this mixture and then sprinkle on the smoked paprika.  Set aside.  

In a small bowl, combine the milk and cubed bread and let the bread completely soak up the milk and break up, about 5 minutes.  In a medium size bowl combine the ground beef, onion, garlic, parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, soaked bread, oregano, basil and pepper until all is incorporated.

Mold the meat into about 2 inch balls.  Then press down the balls to create flat burger patties, about a 1/2 inch thick.  Throw on the grill over medium flame.  Cook each side about 5 mins.  Don't over cook!    These are thin patties and can dry out quickly if you forget.  Keep an eye out.  After you flip, top the cooked side with a slice of provolone cheese.

Throw on the buns (face down) the same time as the patties.  Let toast until golden brown, about 5 mins.  

Heat up some marinara sauce in a small sauce pan over low heat, about 5 mins.

Assemble your meatball burger - bottom bun, a ladle full of marinara sauce, patty (with cheese) and top bun.  "Ciao" down!  :)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Roasted Spicy Sausage and Peppers

When people ask you what's your favorite thing to smell, one of the first things that pop in my mind is Sausage and Peppers.  There isn't anything quite like the yummy smell of spicy savory sausage sizzling away in a vat of bell peppers, onions, garlic and wine.

My Grandma Kay was Croatian but married an Italian man and when he went off to war, she stayed with his very full blooded Italian parents who used to cook peppers all the time because they had a pepper garden in the back yard.  She would tell me stories of how she always had to leave the house and take my dad on long walks for hours just to get away from the smell, "Oh, that smell, that smell, I'll never forget it!".  This story always makes me laugh because I'll never understand what she didn't like about that sweet and peppery scent which to me is one of my favorites and always makes me reminisce about family and dinnertime.  Maybe it's an Italian thing.

What's great about this dish is that you can either make it for two or you can make it for twenty.  This classic Italian comfort food goes a long way but also makes delicious leftover sausage sandwiches the next day.  And the convenient thing about Italian sausage is that is freezes really well.  So, even if you're forced to buy a pound and only need enough for two, you can freeze whatever you don't use and it will keep for a few months.  The key to this recipe is finding great quality authentic fresh Italian sausage.  Please do me a favor, find your favorite Italian deli and buy it from there!  It makes a world of difference!  Trust me on this one.

What you need: serves about 4

1 lb spicy Italian pork sausage (about 5 links)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 green bell pepper (julienned)
1/2 red bell pepper (julienned)
1/2 yellow bell pepper (julienned)
1/2 orange bell pepper (julienned)
1 small yellow onion (julienned)
4 cloves garlic (smashed)
1 cup white wine
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
kosher salt and crushed black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, brown the sausage for about 5 mins each side.  This not only makes the sausage look more appetizing to eat but it gives the casing a nice crunch.  In a large baking dish or pan start lining in the seared sausage about an inch apart.  Toss in the rest of the ingredients but try not to cover the tops of the sausage.  Because we are baking the sausage in wine, we want to let them breath as much as possible instead of fully steaming them.  Otherwise, they'll lose the crunch that you previously gave them!  And don't worry about wasting the other half of the bell peppers.  There is always pizza making night during the week, right?  Or you could easily just pick your two favorite bell peppers and use the whole thing.  I like color, so I used all four halves.  :)

Bake for about 45 mins or when the peppers have soften and the sausage is fully cooked.  Serve hot or in a roll for an Italian Sausage Sangwich.  

Friday, August 9, 2013

Tomato Artichoke Tapenade

I may be a bit bias, but Italian restaurants have gotten it right by feeding you immediately with free food, right?  I mean, there is nothing more frustrating than heading out to eat while starving and not being able to get your grub on until a half hour after you've ordered.  It's the same thing when going to a dinner party or coming home from a long day of work... you're hungry and want to eat now!  That's what's so great about Tapenade.  It's a smart and complementary starter to any Italian meal that is easy to make the day before so that you can just pop it out of the fridge the next evening and eat right away while you're eagerly waiting for the main dish.  

Tapenade is usually made of olives, capers and anchovies, but there are a couple of folks in my family who despise olives (I know, maybe they're not real Italians, oh, and I'm kinda one of them...).  So I thought this just as tasty dip could be a good substitute.  Because of the tomatoes, it almost becomes a thick Italian salsa/bruschetta that works great on slices of bread instead of chips.  And without that tangy and salty bite from the capers and anchovies, the artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes works as a smart alternative.  A simple but decadent appetizer that will impress all your friends and family your fabulous authentic Italian skills.  :)

What you'll need: serves 4-6

1 heirloom tomato (roughly diced)
2 6 ounce jar quartered artichokes (not canned, drained)
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (if from jar, drained, roughly chopped)
2 cloves garlic (roughly chopped)
1/4 cup Italian parsley
1 tbsp grated parmesan cheese (a tasty substitute for salt)
1 tsp black ground pepper
2 tbsp olive oil

In a food processor, throw in all the ingredients.  Pulse a couple of times and then blend for a few seconds until everything is finely chopped.  Depending on how chunky you want the paste will determine how long you'll process.  I like mine on the finer side and blended for about 5 seconds.  Chill at least 4 hours or overnight for the flavors to meld together.  Serve on bread or crackers!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Cranberry Citrus Sangria

Sangria is the drink that both winos and not so winos love.  A party pleaser that can satisfy everyone's drink tastes without having to come up with a bunch of other beverage ideas!  And it's so much fun to make because the ways to mix it up are endless.  This time around was super simple but very effective in more ways than one.  :P  Because the wine is more acidic tasting, I wanted to break that up with a lot of citrus and tang by adding Squirt and cranberry juice.  And the best part of it all... the fruit!  Lots and lots of fruit.  Because after you take that last sip of Sangria, you have a wine soaked snack at the bottom of your would-be-sad-empty-glass on any other regular day.  Not only did I stuff the pitcher with diced up crispy anjou pears, granny smith apples, limes and oranges but also froze small slices of limes and oranges in hexagonal shaped ice cubes to keep the drink chilled in a fun way.   

What you'll need: Serves 4

1 bottle less expensive red wine
16 ounces Squirt
16 ounces cranberry juice
1 anjou pear (diced)
1 granny smith apple (diced)
2 limes (1/4 inch sliced) + additional for garnish and ice cubes
1 orange (1/4 inch sliced) + additional for garnish and ice cubes

Nothing to it, just throw all the prepared fruits and fluids in a pitcher, cover and chill over night or four hours before serving.  This amount of time allows the fruit to soak up all the flavors of the Sangria.    Serve over the fruit filled ice cubes, garnish and drink up!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Brie and Pear Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Well, we are now waist deep into National Grilled Cheese Month and I have to say it's been a heck of an awesome April so far - grilled cheeses are a good omen in my book.  I mean, life can't be THAT bad when you have a plate of creamy flavorful cheese in between two pieces of buttery toast, right?  I've mentioned before that when I was a wee thing, I had a grilled cheese sandwich and a sliced up pear everyday during the summer while I sat in front of the TV "wondering" if Kevin Arnold was ever going to end up with Winnie Cooper.  And all that was maybe slightly sad going on in my life like misplacing my favorite blanket or breaking my favorite sky blue crayon all went away when my mom put that simple yet wonderful grilled cheese sandwich in front of me. 

Of course, back then I would have never thought in a zillion years to put the pear inside my sandwich, but today it's an absolute must.  It gives the classic grilled cheese a sweet and savory twist that excites your pallet.  And pair it with some thyme and pecans and you've got yourself a delicious combo of nutty and herby flavors that complement the creamy brie and sweet pear beautifully.  

And the best part, you can still reminisce about your childhood grilled cheese days without having to feel like a kid when eating this one.

What you'll need: serves 2

1 Anjou pear (thinly sliced) crispier pears work better for this recipe
1 tbsp butter (plus extra for toasting the bread)
1/8 cup raw pecans chopped
3 sprigs thyme (roughly chopped)
4 slices White Bread (GF Udi's White Sandwich Bread)
Double Cream Brie Light (1/4 in. slices)

In a small sauce pan over medium heat, melt the 1 tbsp of butter, throw in the slices of pear, chopped pecans and thyme.  Let cook for about 15 mins, until the pears have softened, stir every couple of mins.  Remove from heat.

Butter your bread for a golden crust and start layering in a pan over low-medium heat - bread, brie, pear mixture (get all those pecan and thyme morsels in!), more brie and bread.  Let each side cook for about 5 mins to allow the brie enough time to melt, but don't burn the bread!  Lower the heat if the crust is getting too brown too quickly.  Slice in half, plate and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Cucumber Margarita

Spring is officially here and I'm ready for a cool and refreshing drink.  I'm all for the typical fruity margaritas but they can often be over sweet and mask the yummy flavor of tequila. Cucumbers, on the other hand, are light, healthy and complement tequila and lime very well - the perfect drink for these sunny late afternoons.  All this margarita is missing is a set of maracas!  Trust me, you'll wish you had some after a couple glasses of these.  Aye yai yai!

What you'll need: serves about 4

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cucumber (skin removed, finely diced)
4 jiggers El Jimador Tequila Blanco
4 jiggers Jose Cuervo Light Margarita Mix Classic Lime
juice from 2 limes
1/2 cucumber (skin removed, quartered for garnish)
cherry tomatoes for garnish
kosher salt for glass rim

In a small sauce pan over medium heat, bring the water and sugar to a bowl, to make the simple syrup.  Once the sugar has dissolved (about 5 mins), remove from heat and let completely cool.  In a blender, puree the diced cucumber until completely smooth.  Add 1/2 cup of the cooled simple syrup and mix until well incorporated.

Rub some lime juice around the rim of four margarita glasses and dip in kosher salt.  Fill each glass with a couple handfuls of ice.  Divide the cucumber mixture and add to each glass along with one jigger of tequila, one jigger of margarita mix and a tablespoon of lime juice.  Mix and drink up!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Jalapeño Bacon Wrapped Dates

Ever since I discovered Bacon Wrapped Dates from local tapas bars and restaurants, I've been wanting to create them myself at home.  But I didn't know how to make them a bit more intriguing than just bacon wrapped around a date... until I saw Jalapeño Flavored Bacon by Farmer John at my local grocery store (how did I not know this existed?!).  And I knew immediately that this was the kicker to create the perfect appetizer.  Not only does the jalapeño bacon still give these sweet dates that same smoky and salty flavor we all love from the average everyday bacon, but it also adds just the right amount of kick to spice up the bite.  And if that doesn't excite you enough, I've paired them with three different citrus yogurt dipping sauces to make them all that more tasty and fun to eat.  The tartness from the yogurt is a great complement to the savory dates and the citrus juices/zest and spices make for a new flavor combo that will perk up your foodie pleasures!
What you'll need: serves about 4

1 small pkg dates (about 2 dozen)
1 pkg Farmer John mild jalapeño flavored bacon (patted dry and cut in half for 4 inch strips)

Yogurt Dipping Sauces: 

1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 tsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp lime zest
1 tsp smoked steak seasoning (I used South African Smoke Seasoning Blend - sea salt, mustard seeds, black peppercorns, coriander, onion, garlic, paprika & chili pepper)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 tsp fresh orange juice
1 tsp orange zest
1/2 tsp ground cardamon

1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp agave syrup
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch ground nutmeg

If your dates have pits, cut them longways, remove the pit and close up.  Wrap each date a 4 inch strip of bacon.  Place 1 inch apart on a cookie cooling rack (seam side down) placed on top of a foil lined baking sheet.  This allows the fat from the bacon to drain through the rack and onto the foil (for easy clean up, too!).  Bake at 450 degrees on the top rack for 15-20 mins, depending on how crispy you like your bacon.  As you can tell, I like my really really crispy.  Let slightly cool for 5 mins.

While the dates are cooking, make the yogurt dips.  Combine all ingredients (per flavor) and serve along side the slightly cooled dates.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Homemade Tea

When I think of it, Valentine's Day oddly has never been about a boy.  In, fact, my fondest memories about the holiday have always been nonromantic but loving jesters made by my parents - the little treats and note secretly stuffed in my lunch bag from my mom or the handmade construction paper cards from my dad.  For me, it's not about the dozen roses or fancy jewelry, but the smaller thoughtful things made with love from the people I love.  There is just something about receiving a gift made from the heart that just seems to melt my own.  So instead of cards or candy, I'm making homemade tea for my Valentines this year.  It's personal but also a fun pick-me-up for this long winter season.

With all the colds and flus spreading like crazy this winter, tea has been my saving grace.  So in thoughts of perking up others' winter blues for this Day of Love, this sweet flavor of homemade tea is reminiscent of the Fall that I already desperately miss but a glimpse into the Spring up ahead.  With a mild white tea base, dried orange peel, apples and spices, this particular concoction is comforting, soothing, healthy and tasty!

What you'll need: Serves 4

1 orange
4 tsp loose white tea
4 dried apple rings (cut in small pieces)
8 cinnamon sticks (broken in half)
1 pkg whole allspice (slightly smashed)
Fillable tea bags (found mine at Sur La Table)
Thick white string cut 4 inches long
Card stock paper (two colors)
Heart hole punch
Small hole punch
Double sided tape

Unless you can find already made dried orange peels, it's really easy to make your own.  Using a paring knife, peel off strips from the orange rind (cutting as close to the surface as possible).  The more white pith you leave, the longer it will take to dry out.  For quick results aline the peels on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 150 degrees until the peels have completely dried out.  Check the peels every 10 - 15 mins.  Timing depends on how thick the strip are, but mine took about an hour to completely dry out.

Once the orange peels are done, start assembling each tea bag with 1 tsp of white tea, dried apple pieces, a couple of orange peels, 4 cinnamon stick halves, and a handful of smashed allspice.

Create the tea hang tags by cutting a small piece of rectangular card stock, fold it in half, punch a heart shape hole on one half and tape a piece of contrast paper behind the cutout.  Using a tiny hole punch, make a hole for the thick string in the corner of the tag and tie a knot with one end of the string.  Punch another hole in the fillable tea bag and tie a knot with the other end of the string around that hole.

Once completely assembled, let the tea bags steep in boiling water for about 5 mins.  Remove and enjoy.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Sun Dried Tomato Mac and Cheese

One of the things I miss most about being gluten free is having to give up the fun game of comparing restaurant's gourmet Mac and Cheese with one another, and then finally finding that perfect one and never being able to go anywhere else for it but there because that particular restaurant figured it out.  Does anyone else do this?

So I thought I would do my own comparison at home instead.  And the one that fit the bill was this creamy and rich Sun Dried Tomato Mac and Cheese served in a three cheese blend.  Despite all the yummy cheeses, Mac and Cheese can often turn bland.  But adding sun dried tomatoes give this classic dish some Italian flare, a punch of tang and decadence.  The choice of cheese is also important.  And because I was looking for a richer taste, using mostly extra sharp cheddar did just that (but also added gruyere and fontina for a creamier texture and flavor balance).  But you can't just stop there. In my book, it isn't really gourmet Mac unless there is a buttery, crunchy breadcrumb topping to finish it off.   

What you'll need: Serves 4-6

1 12oz bag Gluten Free elbow pasta
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 clove garlic (roughly chopped)
4 tbsp brown rice flour
2 cups milk (any is fine, I used almond milk)
1/4 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp dried oregano
pepper (to taste)
2 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup grated gruyere cheese
1 cup grated fontina cheese
1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes (drained, thoroughly blotted from olive oil and roughly chopped)

Breadcrumb Topping: 
1/4 cup GF Italian breadcrumbs
3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
pinch dried basil
pinch dried oregano
1 tbsp unsalted butter (cut in small cubes)

Cook and drain the pasta.  Boil about 1 - 2 minutes less than the packages says.  It will continue to cook in the oven.   Set aside.

In a medium size pot over medium heat, melt the butter and add the garlic, let the garlic cook for a couple minutes.  Then create a roux (or rue) by adding the flour to the butter mixture.  Whisk until combined.  Slowly add in the milk (a couple tbsp at a time), continually whisking until lumps are dissolved. Toss in the basil, oregano and pepper.  Reduce the heat to low and let the sauce slightly thicken over the next 15 mins or so, whisking often.  Once thickened, remove from heat and add in the three grated cheeses and sun dried tomatoes (taking off the heat prevents congealed sauce).  Stir until mostly melted.  Gently fold in the pasta until completely incorporated. Transfer to a greased baking pan.


Combine the breadcrumbs, parmesan and herbs.  Distribute evenly over the top of the pasta.  Dot the topping with the cubes of butter (about an inch apart from each other).

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 35-45 mins or until the topping is golden brown and the sauce is bubbling!  Serve hot!