Gluten-Free Cheese Crackers, Or, Your Cats’ New Favorite Treat

Resolution #2: find ultimate fulfillment as happy homemaker by baking tasty kitty num-num.

Your family will love them, too. We had to hide ours because the cats were trying to eat through the plastic wrap to get to them.

Or what was left of them, as Nacho Man and the girls kept sneaking into the kitchen to swipe them from the baking sheet.

Lupe does a pretty impressive job of avoiding foods that contain gluten, unless it’s the holidays, in which case she has about as much will power as the rest of us. But now that those days are behind us, she’s trying to clean out her system.

Unless there are cheese crackers within a five-mile radius of her. She finds those irresistible year-round. Cheez-Its, Goldfish, you name it.

Like nearly every other woman in America, I spend a fair amount of time browsing a website called pinterest. (Please stop rolling your eyes, Nacho Man.) There are lots of interesting ideas, just as many pointless ones, and plenty of shirtless photos of The Two Ryans: Gosling and Reynolds. What fascinates me about pinterest (aside from the fact that you’ve got photos of heart-clogging recipes next to photos of thin, toned, and tan women that are the inspiration for weight-loss plans) is that it’s fueled predominantly by women.

Way to go, ladies.

I saw this recipe for homemade cheese crackers there, which was actually taken from someone else’s recipe, and so on. That’s life on the Internet.

Make the recipe just as it is and send them in school lunches or serve them after school. It’s awesome. And you can pronounce every ingredient which, unless you have an advanced science degree, generally isn’t possible when you read the side of a box of processed food. If you want to make the recipe gluten-free, substitute the weight equivalent of your favorite gluten-free flour (in my case, 4 5/8 ounces of this flour). Want to dress these up? Try a different sharp, dry cheese or add garlic powder or some chopped chives or rosemary.

Gluten-Free Cheese Crackers (adapted from New Nostalgia)

Ingredients:

weight equivalent of 1 cup of wheat flour

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

pinch of cayenne (original recipe calls for 1/4 teaspoon, which was a little too spicy for the girls)

water

Directions:

1. Put the flour, cheese, butter, and spices in a food processor and pulse until it resembles fine crumbs.

2. Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together. (For me, about 2 1/2 or 3 tablespoons)

3. Wrap dough in plastic and freeze for 30 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

5. Roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness (the original recipe says 1/8 inch but I didn’t have the patience or arm strength for that, and the family loved the thicker crackers anyway) between 2 pieces of plastic, then transfer to baking sheet. Sprinkle with a little kosher or sea salt, if desired.

6. Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to cut dough into 1-inch squares–they will still be touching. Bake approximately 25 minutes, then check for browning and crisping. I separate the crackers with a spatula at this point. Continue baking until crackers have browned and crisped to your liking. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets, then transfer to airtight containers. These are best the day you bake them, but I’ve found that my people and felines are happy to tolerate them for a day or two after that.

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Momo’s Cookie Butter Blossoms

One resolution for 2012: spend quality time with people who are risk-takers in the kitchen. Just not the knife-throwing kind.

For me, that person is my sister. Momo, as she’s affectionately known by my girls, is a brilliant baker, and the rest of us are just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to sample her divine creations.

And clean up after her. Have I mentioned she’s also an F5 tornado blazing through the kitchen?

How brilliant is she? Well, to give you an example, there’s pretty much nothing more perfect than a Peanut Blossom cookie–that peanut butter cookie topped with a Hershey’s Kiss. It’s great and you don’t mess with greatness…unless you’re Momo and you get it in your head to swap out the peanut butter for Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter.

Do you know about Cookie Butter? I didn’t, until Momo enlightened me. It’s a spread made of speculoos, a type of shortbread cookie that’s a winter holiday treat in parts of Europe, sugars, oils, and other stuff that tastes good but is bad for you.

That this stuff isn’t gluten-free is the least of its sins. Doesn’t matter. With every bite, it moves higher on my list of favorite forbidden foods.

When you open a jar of this Naughty/Nice stuff, you’re hit with the aroma of something faintly gingerbready and warm. It’s delicious on bread, apples, the tip of your finger, you name it. And apparently it’s seasonal, which means I should have blogged this during the holidays, but my fingers were covered in Cookie Butter.

Thanks, Momo, for turning me into the Cookie Butter Monster.

Momo the Cookie Alchemist came up with the idea to replace the peanut butter with Cookie Butter (which shall always be capitalized because it deserves it) in the Peanut Blossom recipe. What I love about baking with Momo is that she doesn’t overthink it. She just goes for it. Where I would have weighed 1 cup of peanut butter and replaced it with the equivalent weight of cookie butter, she just dumped 1 cup of it into the batter.

Let go of your hand-wringing and gut-wrenching inhibitions or get out of her way.

Did I mention that she’s an F5 tornado in the kitchen?

So we went with it. And we’ll never go back.

Cookie Butter Blossoms are soft and chewy and spicy. They have a vaguely snickerdoodley taste.

They make you want to dash to Trader Joe’s after a Zumba class and buy up what’s left of the Cookie Butter…not that I did that. I’m just saying.

We don’t keep our Chistmas decorations up year-round, we don’t listen to Christmas music in July, and we don’t buy any holiday stuff when it first hits the market because those shelves represent consumerism and corporate greed.

Besides, if you wait until three days before the holiday, you can get everything for eighty percent off. Or so.

My point is that I don’t need to have this stuff in my face every day. As a reward, I would like to see Cookie Butter on the store shelves at all times so I can have my face in a jar of Cookie Butter at all times.

Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter Blossoms

(basically this Peanut Blossoms recipe by Rosemarie Magee, with Cookie Butter substituted)

Ingredients:

1 cup shortening (for Momo, nothing beats a loaf of butter-flavored Crisc0)

1 cup Cookie Butter

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

2 extra-large eggs

1/4 cup milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup white sugar (Turbinado sugar would also be nice here)

2 9-ounce bags of milk chocolate Hershey’s Kisses, wrappers removed

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Use a mixer to cream the shortening, Cookie Butter, brown sugar, and 1 cup white sugar until well incorporated. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until thoroughly combined.

3. Sift the floor, baking soda, and salt, and add to the Cookie Butter mixture, blending well.

4. Use a tablespoon to scoop out dough, roll into a ball, and roll in the 1/2 cup of white sugar or Turbinado sugar. Place on cookie sheet about 3 inches apart.

5. Bake 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and gently press a chocolate kiss into the center of each cookie while still hot. Cool on wire racks.

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Meatloaf Cake, Or, When Cooks Go Smug

So it was 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon and I was blasting through Amy Green‘s Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free cookbook, looking for something quick and easy. I came across a recipe for Apple Carrot Breakfast Cake and as I skimmed the ingredients list and instructions, I thought to myself, “I can do this nooooo problem.” I love having quick breads for Lupe to take to school for her mid-morning snack and this recipe looked similar enough to my muffin recipe that I felt confident.

Maybe too confident.

Too confident to read the instructions carefully. Especially the line about putting the apples and carrots and a few other ingredients into a blender or food processor.

Warning: the following image is graphic, horrific, disturbing, offensive, wrong, and unfortunate.

The saddest thing, aside from the senseless, wanton waste of apples and carrots and expensive gluten-free flours? I actually scoffed as I dumped chunks of carrots and apples into the batter. I thought, “There’s no way this is going to work. What is this author thinking? Ha. I’ll show her how wrong this recipe is when I make it and it doesn’t turn out.”

That’s right. I knew it wouldn’t work. What’s more, I didn’t want it to so I could feel superior to a published cookbook author. I laughed maniacally at my own genius, then took a closer look at the recipe.

And caught the bit about blending the apples and carrots to smithereens.

Oh, dang.

Thoroughly chastened, I gave it another go.

Ta da.

I took a moment to reflect as I bit into this cake. Here are the highlights:

a. Don’t ever assume that you’re smarter than you actually are.

b. Assume that you’re smarter than you think you are. If you think it doesn’t make sense to drop stew-sized wedges of carrot and apple into a cake batter, then listen to your gut.

c. Don’t try to be superior to others. We are all students.

d. Read instructions slowly and carefully. What’s applicable to everything from the SATs to prescription medication is good for recipes.

e. If at first you don’t succeed, laugh it off and try again. The old me would have hidden the evidence in the compost bin, but I’d like to think that I’m evolving. Plus I know that you tens of you get a bigger kick out of my food bloopers than my actual recipes. So I’m playing to my crowd.

And so, adapted from Amy Green’s recipe, which she adapted from a blender manual, is…

Apple Carrot Breakfast Cake

9 servings

Ingredients:

2 cups gluten-free flour

1/4 cup agave (or 1/2 cup sugar)

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3 extra-large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 apples, cut into wedges

3 medium carrots, washed well and chopped

1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat an 8 x 8 inch glass baking pan with nonstick spray.

2. Whisk flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl.

3. Place eggs, carrots, apples, vanilla, and agave in a blender or food processor. Blend or process until you have a smooth mixture, scraping down sides of container as needed.

4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until combined. Add walnuts if using. Pour into the cake pan and bake about 25-30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the middle of the pan comes out clean. Allow to cool completely in the pan.

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Potato, Kale and Sausage Soup

I’ve been making this meal for Nacho Man almost longer than any other meal…except my spaghetti sauce.

Which he dumped about a quarter bottle of ketchup into the first time I served it to him.

I married him anyway. And continued to cook for him.

We love this soup. It’s perfect for cold, wet weather, it’s got lots of color and texture, and it’s got meat. Meat! This is a big plus for Nacho Man, who won’t eat those pureed squash soups that I love because they remind him of baby food. Which I’d like to point out to him have the same consistency as ketchup.

Take one pound of mild Italian sausage and brown both sides of the casings in a soup pot on medium-high heat. Take them out of the pot and slice them.

They won’t be cooked all the way through. Put the slices back in the pot and brown both sides until they are cooked through. You might have to slice one open and eat it to make sure it’s completely cooked. Just sayin.’

You could remove the sausage from the casings and have crumbled sausage in your soup, but I like the bigger pieces. I think they balance the potato and kale. But to each her own.

These chicken sausages from PCC have only 3 grams of fat per serving. If you’re using a super low-fat sausage, add a little olive oil to the pot to prevent sticking. If you bought yourself some Jabba the Hut sausages, wipe the excess fat out of the pot after you’ve browned the meat. You want some fat for flavor, but you don’t want to feel like you’re swallowing Vaseline.

Gross. Almost as gross as dumping ketchup into homemade spaghetti sauce.

Add 3 cloves of whole, peeled garlic that you’ve mashed up a bit to the pot, along with a pinch or two of red pepper flakes. Saute each side of the garlic for about one minute.

Then, add 4-6 cups of stock or stock-water combo to suit your taste. If you have a little dry white wine, you can use it to deglaze the pot before adding the stock. Mmmmm.

Add 3 medium red potatoes that you’ve scrubbed well and sliced. Half a teaspoon of dried oregano would be good here, along with some salt and black pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and simmer until the potatoes are fork tender.

Meanwhile, take a head of kale and remove the hard stems. Tear or cut the leaves into bite-size pieces, then rinse well. When the potatoes are done, add the kale to the pot.

It’s going to look ridiculous, kale-heavy, totally out of proportion. But it cooks down a lot. All that’s left to do now is stir the pot gently until the kale is blanched and cooked to your liking. Then, see if you can find those hunks o’ garlic, remove them, and serve up some soup.

I like to sprinkle a little more red pepper flakes and freshly grated Parmesan cheese on my soup. Everything’s better with Parmesan cheese.

Like homemade spaghetti sauce.

Potato, Kale and Sausage Soup

serves 4

Ingredients

1 pound pork or chicken mild Italian sausage

3 medium red potatoes, scrubbed well and sliced

1 head of kale, hard stems removed and torn into bite-size pieces

3 cloves of garlic, peeled and gently mashed but still whole

4-6 cups of low-sodium stock or stock-water

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

red pepper flakes to taste

salt and pepper to taste

freshly grated Parmesan for garnish (optional)

Directions

1. Brown sausages in a large soup pot. Slice and brown insides. If using low-fat sausages, add olive oil to prevent sticking. Wipe out excess fat, if any.

2. Add garlic cloves and red pepper flakes. Saute garlic one minute per side.

3. Add stock or stock-water combination, oregano, salt, pepper, and potatoes. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until potatoes are fork tender, about 15-20 minutes.

4. Add kale and cook until done to your liking. Remove garlic and serve. Garnish with Parmesan cheese if desired.

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Roasted Broccoli, Or, A Mother’s Desperate Attempt to Avoid Cheese Sauce

How many of us are eating enough broccoli this holiday season? Not me, unless it’s a secret ingredient in my fudge and peppermint bark.

While Rue will down bushels of steamed or bland, boiled broccoli, I can’t get Lupe to voluntarily eat the stuff. After much coaxing and even more threatening, she’ll pinch off a millimeter with her front teeth, refusing to touch it with her lips and grimacing as she chews.

It’s a delightful sight to behold, let me tell you.

I’d become desperate. Desperate to stop throwing broccoli away. Desperate to avoid eating two servings because a certain someone has a problem with a certain vegetable.

Desperate for a win. My life is simple; my world is small. These small victories are all I have left.

Here’s my solution. Crank up the oven to 475 degrees F and set the oven grate nice and high, up close to the heating element. Toss a head of broccoli that’s been washed and roughly chopped, stems and all, onto a baking sheet. Drizzle the broccoli pieces with some olive oil and sprinkle a little kosher salt on them, then slide the baking sheet into the oven and roast until they are fork tender but crisp.

This doesn’t take long. Maybe 5-7 minutes. Don’t mosey away from your oven. Don’t get on the Internet. Don’t multitask. The broccoli deserves your undivided attention.

Toss the broccoli once or twice while it’s in the oven, and when it’s done the way you like, remove it and serve immediately. You might sprinkle a little more kosher salt on it, if you like.

I wasn’t sure how this would go over the first time I put it in front of Lupe. After all, it’s her least favorite vegetable in a slightly burned form.

Rue can’t stand it. As far as she’s concerned, boiled broccoli ain’t broke. But Lupe, Nacho Man, and I love roasted broccoli. It’s smoky, crisp, and has a wonderful, complex flavor.

Which means we can save the cheese sauce for the tortilla chips.

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Twine Wrapped Candleholders

During the holidays, it’s kinda hard not to notice that you’re supposed to be buying stuff. Which you could do…or you could make stuff. Being a producer instead of a consumer is fun, cheap, calming, artistic, and rewarding. Okay, maybe not all at once. But you get the idea. Plus you can do it with your kids. Which, as far as I’m concerned, beats standing in line with the kids at any store during the holidays.

During the next month, I’ll be writing about simple handmade things that make me happy. If at some point in the future, you receive one of these creations, you’re going to know what it cost. Sorry. Just know that it was a labor of love.

First up: dollar store candleholders wrapped in twine.

Since transitioning from working woman to stay-at-home mom, I’ve frequented some stores that used to be off my radar. The Dollar Tree is one of them. Dollar Tree is great! Everything is easily laid out and nicely organized. No fancy math to tally up your total. And you never know what you’re going to find. I think that’s rather exciting.

Last time I popped into a Dollar Tree, I found these great glasses with a wide base that would work as either a small vase or a large candle holder. So I snapped up five.

The only other things I needed were  a roll of twine that probably set me back about three dollars (didn’t get that at the Dollar Tree, but you could probably find some there) and a fully loaded hot glue gun.

Love the size and that great base.

Place a small dab of hot glue on the bottom of the vase and press the end of the twine into it. Then, run a short, thin line of hot glue and adhere the twine to it. You don’t want to go crazy and hot glue the entire glass because the glue will start to harden as soon as it hits the cold glass.

Um, I don’t know why I know that.

So basically you just keep going with that hot glue gun and twine until you reach the top of the candleholder. It’s not even a craft. It’s just uncoiling some rope.

I really let my Type A personality shine through while working on the first glass, and tried to glue each ring of twine as close as possible to the one beneath it so that you couldn’t see the glass underneath. But that means that you also can’t see the candlelight beneath as well, either. You want the light to play peek-a-boo.

Also, it’s a total pain to glue the twine that close, and you’ve got more of these to finish.

Lights on…

Lights out. You can probably tell which is my Type A votive.

Lesson I learned? Sometimes, things work out better when you stop trying to be perfect.

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Killer Kielbasa and Potatoes

The four-ingredient meal:

I stole this one from my mom. I don’t think she cooks anything else that contains fewer than, like, twenty ingredients. Check out our pho recipe if you don’t believe me.

Once a month, I treat our family to a “meat” item at PCC from the hot dog/cocktail wienie/kielbasa section. You know, meats I wouldn’t normally buy but that my people sneak around and eat behind my back. Like at Costco. So I figure that if the people want it, they can have it, as long as I can feed it to them without getting the willies when I think about what goes into it.

This isn’t so much a recipe as it is a quick saute. Here’s how it goes:

1. Cut 2 medium Russet potatoes that you’ve washed and peeled into matchsticks and pat dry. Cut a kielbasa into matchsticks to match. Cut a quarter of a sweet onion into long, thin slivers.

2. In a large skillet with a bit of olive oil going over medium-high heat, cook up the potatoes. Stir often.

3. After several minutes, add the sweet onion. Stir everything around a lot. After several more minutes, the onions should be opaque.

4. Add the kielbasa. Cook until the meat is heated through.

5. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle a handful of sesame seeds you’ve toasted over medium heat in a small pan into the kielbasa/potato mixture.

We love this for dinner but it makes a great breakfast if you happen to have leftovers. We never have that problem with this meal.

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