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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Upside Down Tater Totchos with Homemade Guacamole

This is an original recipe from Recipes Are Guidelines! I made this one up myself. It came about one night when I was preparing to make Tater Tot Casserole and realized I only had tater tots, onions, and ground beef. I decided to make nachos instead but realized I didn't have any chips. So I combined the two with nacho ingredients on the bottom, tater tots and cheese on top, and dubbed it Upside Down Tater Totchos. Yum.

If you have a lot of vegetables you need to use up - whether fresh, frozen, or canned - this is a great recipe to dump them into. You'll see me do just that! You'll also see how incredibly simple it is to make your own guacamole. In fact, it only uses two ingredients!

Final Star Rating
Taste: **** (4 stars - I've impressed myself)
Texture: **** (4 stars - I've impressed myself)
Easy to Make: **** (4 stars - I've impressed myself)
Overall Rating: **** (4 stars - I've impressed myself)

Upside Down Tater Totchos with Homemade Guacamole
Serves 8 

2 tbsp chili-pepper infused olive oil
1 lb lean ground beef (or any ground meat)
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped bell pepper
1 tbsp garlic powder
2 tbsp Mrs. Dash Southwest Chipotle seasoning
16 oz (2 cups) black bean and corn salsa (or your favorite salsa)
1 (15 oz) can no salt added diced tomatoes
1 cup frozen corn
1 pint halved cherry tomatoes
1 (15 oz) can no salt added beans, drained and rinsed
1 small can chopped olives, drained and rinsed
1 (8 oz) pkg 2% shredded cheese
1 (2lb) bag tater tots
Optional: additional cheese for topping

Homemade Guacamole
3 ripe avocados
1 cup salsa

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Spray 11x7 baking pan with cooking spray and set aside. 
  2. To make the totcho base, drizzle flavored olive oil into skillet. Add ground beef, onion, and green pepper. Brown meat over medium-high heat until cooked through. 
  3. Add salsa, garlic powder, and Mrs. Dash. Stir well to combine. Add corn, tomatoes, and cherry tomatoes. Stir again. 
  4. Drain and rinse the beans and olives. Add to skillet and stir gently as skillet will be full. Let simmer on stovetop over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  5. Remove skillet from heat and pour contents into prepared baking dish. Spread evenly into pan. Sprinkle with cheese. 
  6. Add tater tots on top of totchos, and spread tots out into even layer. These are your "chips."
  7. Put into preheated oven for 30-35 minutes or until tots are browned and crispy. 
  8. While the totchos are baking, make your very simple, homemade guacamole: cut avocados in half and use a spoon to scoop out the seed and remove the skin. Put avocado in bowl with 1 cup salsa. Smash avocados and salsa together with a fork, stirring as you go. Cover guacamole and refrigerate until ready to use. 
  9. When totchos have 5 minutes left on timer, remove from oven, and sprinkle with cheese (if desired). Put back in oven to bake and melt cheese for remaining 5 minutes. 
  10. When done baking, let totchos cool on counter for 5-10 minutes. Slice into 8 squares, top with homemade guacamole, and enjoy!

Source: This is an original from Recipes Are Guidelines.

I completely forgot to add the guacamole. 

Notes for Next Time: This is one of those recipes where you can dump any vegetables (fresh, frozen, or canned) you are looking to use up. As you can see, it has a TON of vegetables in my recipe, which makes this a high fiber meal. It's also high fat and high carb. Because of the meat, cheese, AND beans, this is also a protein-loaded meal. Basically, this recipe is high in everything. I'm a dietitian. 

The nice thing about this recipe is the versatility. You can use any kind of meat you have available. Leftover chicken or turkey or even hamburgers can save you a step! You can use any kind of salsa you enjoy eating. As I've mentioned before, black bean and corn salsa is my favorite, and primarily my only salsa. 

Who knew making your own guacamole could be so simple? I am certain I am not the only person to figure out the "cheater's way" for a quick guac, but I'm going to pretend I did. 

Another nice thing about this recipe: you just pour everything into a skillet, stir it around for a bit, then pour everything into a baking dish. Simple! I don't eat this one very often because it makes such a huge quantity, but I look forward to eating it when I do! I hope you do as well. But don't touch these ones because they're mine. 

Check out how I made this recipe and homemade guacamole below 👇

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Baked Avocado Fries

This is another Produce for Kids recipe because I love that website so much. You can find the original Baked Avocado Fries recipe here. Another easy, fun recipe that requires minimal effort. 

Final Star Rating
Flavor: *** (3 stars - edible)
Texture: **** (4 stars - I've impressed myself)
Easy to Make: ***** (5 stars - Delicious Award)
Overall Rating: **** (4 stars - I've impressed myself)

This is a fun alternative to french fries. Not difficult to make at all and really versatile; you can use a multitude of different spices in this, depending on what flavor you're going for. 

Baked Avocado Fries
Serves 4
2 firm, ripe avocados
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp lime juice
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 tsp lite salt (split into two 1/8 tsp servings)
2 tbsp Mrs. Dash Southwest Chipotle seasoning (split into two 1 tbsp servings)
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Combine lemon & lime juice in small bowl, stir in 1 tbsp Mrs. Dash seasoning and 1/8 tsp salt. In a separate bowl, mix cornmeal 1/8 tsp. salt and 1 tbsp Mrs. Dash seasoning.
  3. Dip avocados into juice, then press into cornmeal mixture.
  4. Line baking sheet with parchment, lay avocados flat in a single layer, and bake 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown.
Source: Modified, gluten-free recipe provided by Recipes Are Guidelines. To view the original recipe, please visit Produce For Kids

Notes for Next Time: As I said and as you can now see, this is a really simple recipe. Two easy ones in a row! Both side dishes or snacks that can be made in less than 30 minutes.  

I felt the cornmeal was a little overpowering in this recipe, so I will likely cut it back to around 2/3 cup, if I do this one again. The Mrs. Dash added great flavor, but because of the Hispanic flavor this did not dip well with the standard ketchup or ranch dressing. It tasted great with salsa, though. I'm a dipper. I need something to dip. 

That's honestly all I have to say about this one. It was fun and easy and even reheated well on days 2 and 3. I really can't say I have a lot of complaints, which is nice! Maybe I'm finally getting better at this whole cooking thing. 

Watch me make this recipe below 👇

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Cheesy Cauliflower Tots

The original recipe for Cheesy Cauliflower Tots can be found on Produce for Kids. This is a good, simple recipe. Quick and easy to make. Win!

This recipe came about because I despise - with a passion - cauliflower. I don't like the taste, the smell, the texture. I don't like anything about it. While doing a webinar on "pandemic eating" for a local company, I was challenged to continue trying cauliflower until I found a way I enjoyed it. And, honestly, my first try did pretty well. I would make, and eat, these again. Final star rating - pretty high for cauliflower - is below.

Final Star Ratings
Flavor: **** (4 stars - I've impressed myself)
Texture: **** (4 stars - I've impressed myself)
Easy to Make: ***** (5 stars - Delicious Award)
Overall Rating: ****.3 (4.3 stars - I've impressed myself)

Check out this very simple recipe below!

Cheesy Cauliflower Tots
Serves 4
1 (10 oz) bag riced cauliflower
1 large egg
1 cup 2% shredded colby-jack cheese
1 tbsp Mrs. Dash garlic & herb seasoning

close up of cauliflower tot still in the paper muffin liner. It is yellow in color, with a golden brown top. It has texture in it from the cornmeal.
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line mini muffin pan with paper liners and set aside.
  2. Cook cauliflower according to package directions (place entire package in microwave on high for 4 minutes - do not poke or open bag prior to cooking). Let cool. Pour cauliflower onto kitchen towel and squeeze out excess water.
  3. Mix cauliflower, egg, cheese, breadcrumbs, and Mrs. Dash in large bowl. Scoop evenly into prepared muffin tin.
  4. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.
rows of cauliflower tots cooling on a metal rack. the tots are still wrapped in their paper liner.
They came out so perfect I had to take a million pictures

Notes for Next Time: As  you can see, this was quite a simple recipe. Except for the cauliflower, I kept all the same proportions from the original recipe. I didn't realize the cauliflower I ordered was actually quite a bit smaller than what the recipe called for. This honestly didn't hurt the recipe at all. Nicely, the frozen riced cauliflower had a little bit of garlic sprinkled on it already which made the kitchen smell great and helped hide the cauliflower smell (except for inside my microwave, which required much scrubbing to rid it of the farty cauliflower stench).

Because I had about 6 oz less of cauliflower than the original recipe, I could have cut back slightly on the cornmeal and cheese. Because I had so much of both, I ended up with a very dry mixture requiring a second egg. That held the mixture together perfectly. And, in the end, it was quite good. 

If I have the same 10 oz package of cauliflower rice next time, I will cutback the cornmeal to 1/3 cup and the cheese to 2/3 cup. Between both of those adjustments, I can stick with just one egg and reduce the overall calories/carbohydrates in the recipe. 

I had a cauliflower success on my first try. Yay me! Watch the video to see how easy it was to make. 

oak kitchen table with small ceramic plate painted with cherries. On the plate are 5 round cauliflower tots that resemble tiny muffins.
So cuuuuuuute

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Skillet Apple Pancakes

The original recipe for today's post comes from Produce For Kids - one of my favorite places to go for simple, delicious recipes. I tried out a modified version of their Upside Down Apple Skillet Pancakes. I made just a couple of rookie mistakes, which caused this one to lose a couple stars. Definitely won't be repeated though. Overall, it's a great one to try for breakfast or brunch one weekend.

Final Star Ratings
Taste: **** (4 stars - I've impressed myself)
Texture: ***** (5 stars, Delicious Award)
Easy to Make: *** (3 stars - meh)
Overall Rating: **** (4 stars - I've impressed myself)

**Please note: The modified version of this recipe contain sugar alcohols coming from the sugar-free pancake syrup. Some people experience stomach discomfort and GI distress when consuming sugar alcohols. If this happens to you, you can substitute regular syrup and add to recipe in 1-2 tbsp increments to achieve desired sweetness.**

Skillet Apple Pancakes
Serves 4

ingredients for recipe include skim milk, margarine, gluten free pancake mix, sugar free pancake syrup, 1 egg, cinnamon, and 2 apples2 Honeycrisp apples (or whatever kind you have lying around)
1/4 cup sugar-free pancake syrup
2 tbsp Smart Balance light reduced-calorie margarine
2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup Bisquick gluten free pancake mix
1 cup skim milk
1 egg
Additional syrup and cinnamon for topping, to taste

  1. Add apples, syrup, butter, and cinnamon to skillet. Turn stovetop to medium heat and cook until syrup is bubbly and apples are soft. About 3-5 minutes, depending on thickness of apples. 
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together pancake mix, milk, and egg until smooth. Pour over top of apples and smooth mixture out to completely cover apples. 
  3. Let cook on stovetop until pancakes are partially set. Carefully flip over and continue to cook until pancakes are completely set and lightly browned. 
  4. Dish onto plate and top with additional cinnamon and syrup. Enjoy!
photo of crumbled pancakes and apples topped with syrup

Notes for Next Time: As you can see, this is a very simple recipe. Immediately after pouring the pancake mix onto the apples, I realized I had no idea how I was going to flip it and keep the whole thing intact. Basically, I couldn't.....so I was disappointed to have to break it up and end up with an ugly broken jumble of pancakes. 

Why did I choose to make the entire thing on the stovetop? Because I have no oven-safe pans. All of my skillets have a squishy plastic handle, preventing me from putting them anywhere but a stovetop. Soon after ruining my pretty pancake by having to flip it, I realized there was a very, very simple solution to all of this: I could have just cooked the apples, then put them in an oven-safe baking dish and poured the pancakes on top, then placed them in the oven. But, I never think of these things when it's convenient. 

If you want to further simplify this recipe, you can use frozen chopped apple slices or dried apple slices. That can save you one step. Remember, dried apples have concentrated sweetness, so you will more than likely need to decrease the amount of syrup you use. Frozen apples will be chopped thicker than what I used. If you decide to use frozen, the apples will take longer to soften, so add another 2-3 minutes to total cooking time. 

My only complaint about this recipe is the super sweetness. I felt the sugar alcohols were too sweet, so I'll need to make sure to cut back on how much I use next time. Maybe I just won't use any as a topper. Outside of that, though, this was an easy and tasty recipe. The mistakes were all mine, and I think this is definitely something I'm going to try again - maybe with pears next time!

overhead photo of  a wooden table with white plate decorated with painted cherries. on the plate is crumbled pancakes with cinnamon apples, with syrup poured over the top

Check out the video to see me realize my mistakes as they happen.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Shepherd's Pie

The original recipe for today's meal can be found at Wholesome Dish. It is superb, and my confidence in cooking has returned.

I'm so pleased with how this turned out, let's get straight to it. Final star ratings are below.

Final Star Rating
Flavor: **** (4 stars - I've impressed myself)
Texture: ***** (5 stars - Delicious Award)
Easy to Make: ***** (5 stars - Delicious Award)
Overall Rating: ****.75 (4.75 stars - I've impressed myself)

While the recipe may seem intimidating because it appears to have a lot of ingredients, don't let it fool you. This is actually quite easy to make. Essentially, you're stirring all the pie-based ingredients together and letting them thicken, then stirring together all the potato ingredients. Super simple and very tasty.

Shepherd's Pie

Serves 8
ingredients for recipe: shredded colby jack cheese, Mrs Dash seasoning, ground turkey, chicken broth, Smart Balance margarine, canned tomatoes, salt, pepper, Domata flour, chopped onions, olive oil, worcestershire sauce, baking potatoes, skim milk, frozen mixed vegetables.
Pie "Insides"
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup frozen chopped onions
1 lb lean ground meat (I used ground turkey)
2 tbsp Mrs. Dash Garlic & Herb seasoning
salt & pepper to taste
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp gluten free Domata Flour
1 (14.5 oz) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes
1 (14.5 oz) can low sodium chicken broth
1 bag Birds Eye Steamfresh frozen mixed vegetables (carrots, green beans, corn)

Mashed Potato Topper
4 russet potatoes
1/4 cup butter or margarine
2 tbsp skim milk
3 tsp garlic powder
salt & pepper to taste
1 cup shredded colby jack cheese

Pie "Insides"
  1. Add oil to a large skillet with onions, ground meat, 1 tbsp Mrs. Dash seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well, breaking the meat into small bits. Cook until the meat is browned, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add the Worcestershire sauce. Stir to combine.
  3. Add flour and canned tomatoes. Stir until well incorporated and no clumps of flour remain.
  4. Add the broth, frozen vegetables, remaining Mrs. Dash seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring the liquid to a boil then reduce to simmer. Let simmer on stove while making the potatoes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Mashed Potato Topper
  1. Place the potatoes in a large pot. Cover the potatoes with water. Bring the water to a boil. Cook until potatoes are soft.
  2. Drain the potatoes, then place in a large bowl.
  3. Add butter, milk, garlic powder, salt, and pepper (to taste). Mash the potatoes and stir until all ingredients are mixed.
  4. Add the shredded cheese to the potatoes and stir until combined.

Putting it together
  1. Pour the meat mixture into a rectangle shaped baking dish. Spread it into an even layer. Spoon the mashed potatoes on top of the meat and carefully spread out over entire dish.
  2. Bake for 30 minutes. Take out of oven and sprinkle top with additional shredded cheese. Put back into oven for 5 minutes or until cheese is melted, bubbly and lightly browned on top.
  3. Let cool, serve, and enjoy!

Notes for Next Time: I've never tried making Shepherd's Pie before because I always thought it would be more complex than it actually is. I was pleasantly surprised to find it's easy to make, and the taste is just what I was hoping for - cheesy and comforting. 

If you're someone who would like to save even more time on this recipe, you don't have to make your own mashed potatoes. Buy some pre-made mashed potatoes in the refrigerated section and simply spread those over the top of the meat mixture. If you want a thicker, more crust-like topping, use mashed potatoes from Simply Potatoes. If you would like something softer and thinner, use Bob Evans potatoes

I opted to make my own potatoes, and I left the skin on. I almost always leave the skin on the potatoes for two reasons: 1) there's some fiber in the skin that's good to eat; 2) peeling potatoes is a pain I choose not to endure. 

Having said all this, there are just a couple simple changes I would make. I would definitely add more vegetables - a second bag of frozen vegetables, and I would add bell peppers to the onion and meat when browning. Additionally, I would consider adding another potato. I used 4 potatoes, and it didn't quite go all the way to the edge of the pan. Five potatoes might be just the right amount. Finally, I would probably add just a little more seasoning. I debated between a few different seasoning mixes, and the Mrs. Dash was great. The leftovers, though, didn't have quite as much flavor on day 2 or day 3 as I would have liked. I could either add more (maybe another 1 tbsp total), or try a different mixture, like Litehouse poultry seasoning or Mrs. Dash chicken grilling seasoning.

Despite these potential changes, what I made came out very well. For my first time making it, I am pleased. I feel I have redeemed myself for my second failed caked attempt.  

Watch how I made it here: 

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Round 2: Almond Strawberry Cake

This is my second attempt at a modification of Ditch The Carbs' original Coconut Flour Raspberry Fingers. The first attempt was....not successful. The second attempt was....better.

Actually, second attempt was pretty good. After a brief meltdown and questioning my life up until this point, the final product was delicious with a super-extra-very moist cake-like texture. Final star ratings are below, and you'll see - they're quite good.

Final Star Ratings
Taste: ***** (5 stars - Delicious Aware)
Texture: **** (4 stars - I've impressed myself)
Easy to Make: **** (4 stars - I've impressed myself)
Overall Rating: ****.5 (4.5 stars - I've impressed myself)

Almond Strawberry Cake
Serves 8 (can probably serve 12)
photo of recipe ingredients: frozen strawberries, almond flour, sweetener, almond flavoring, eggs, butter, baking powder
cooking spray
1 stick (110g) melted butter
1/2 cup almond flour
1/3 cup Splenda sugar blend
1 tbsp almond extract
7 large eggs
1 cup frozen strawberries

  1. Preheat oven to 350℉ (180℃). Spray 8x8 inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. With a handmixer, mix together the melted butter, almond flour, Splenda, and almond extract until smooth.
  3. Add the eggs, one by one, mixing batter in between each egg.
  4. Pour batter into prepared 8x8 inch baking dish.
  5. Gently press each strawberry into the cake. 
  6. Bake at 350℉ for 55 minutes or until the center is cooked and top is browned. Once cooled, slice the cake into 8 pieces. 

Recipe Modified by: Recipes Are Guidelines www.recipesareguidelines.com, based on an original recipe from Ditch the Carbs

small piece of cake on a decorative plate, sitting on a table with spring flowers
Delicious finale after a disastrous beginning.

Notes for Next Time: First of all, if you make a handwritten note on your recipe to double check the liquid-to-flour ratio when converting coconut flour to almond flour, don't forget to actually follow up on the note. Because I did not. I knew the recipe would either need a lot less liquid or a lot more flour since almond flour is a lot less dense and absorbs a lot less than coconut flour. But, as I mentioned, I completely forgot about my own question marks around measurements for flour, butter, and egg.

This recipe should NOT have to bake for 55 minutes. It should bake about 25 minutes. However, when you have 3 times the amount of liquid you need, you're going to have to bake it for a whole lot longer than the recipe intends. More than double longer. 

During this period of thirty extra baking minutes, you will question all your decisions, yell loudly at the cake to bake faster, and chew your nails to nubs worrying it will never be done baking. In a final desperate attempt, you'll cover the cake in foil and realize it actually helps...kind of. It at least prevents the top from catching fire while waiting for the inside to bake enough not to kill you with salmonella. In the end, you'll be pleasantly surprised. The cake eventually bakes up very nicely, and is super-extra-moist because of all the additional liquid. 

The flavor is actually perfect. It was exactly what I was looking for to hide the eggy flavor in the coconut raspberry recipe. The almond and strawberries complement each other perfectly, so it truly tastes like a dessert. While I am not pleased with myself for forgetting to recalculate measurements for important ingredients, I am pleased with how the final product came out. It was good...even if I lost a few chunks of hair in the process. 

Below you can watch the video to see me panic in real time.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Cheesy Sandwich-dilla Melt

I am the original source for this recipe, so once again there isn't a link to provide you. I did the best I could to create a recipe, and the made up version is below. This one takes roughly 10 minutes from start to finish, and has the added bonus of also being delicious. So many different ways you can jazz this recipe up, too! And....drum roll please....our first 5 star recipe!

You may be asking yourself what is a sandwich-dilla? And I can't blame you because I am asking myself the exact same question. A sandwich-dilla is the jumble of words you throw together to describe something kind of like a sandwich and kind of like a quesadilla, while also being absolutely nothing like either. It's the "close enough" word. The final star rating for this "close enough" meal are below.

Final Star Rating
Taste: ***** (5 stars, Delicious Award)
Texture: ***** (5 stars, Delicious Award)
Easy to Make: ***** (5 stars, Delicious Award)
Overall stars: ***** (5 stars, Delicious Award)

recipe ingredients laid out on counter top: 2 slices cheese, corn tortillas, cooking spray, turkey sausage, salsa
Cheesy Sandwich-dilla Melt
Serves 1

cooking spray
2 corn tortillas
1 slice 2% provolone cheese
1 tsp Mrs. Dash Southwest Chipotle seasoning
1/4 cup black bean & corn salsa
3 oz turkey sausage (1/2 link), or 3 slices lunch meat of choice
1 slice 2% sharp cheddar cheese
Optional toppings, as desired: cheese, salsa, guacamole, sour cream

  1. Liberally spray the bottom of a small skillet with cooking spray.
  2. Layer all ingredients inside pan, topping with the second tortilla. Liberally spray top of sandwich-dilla with additional cooking spray. 
  3. Turn stove top on to medium heat. Cook for approximately 3-5 minutes, until slightly crispy and golden brown and the cheese has started to melt. Carefully flip sandwich-dilla over and cook an additional 3-5 minutes. 
  4. Turn stove top off, remove pan from heat, and place sandwich-dilla onto plate. Top with your choice of toppings. 
Gryffindor beer stein behind a red and white plate painted with cherries. on top of the plate is a tortilla sandwich with cheese spilling out and a dollop of salsa on top

Notes for Next Time: It really is as easy as it looks. This is an incredibly quick, cheesy sandwich/quesadilla to make. The best part about it is the versatility of ingredients....

Black bean and corn salsa is my personal favorite, but you can snazz this recipe up with peach, mango, or watermelon salsa. Try out various different kinds of lunch meat, sausage, or leftover grilled meats, too. Because everything is precooked, all you're doing is heating up the meat and letting the cheese melt. Cheese is just one more way to change the flavor profile, too! Smoky, sharp, white, orange, light, full.... so many options. 

To go vegetarian with this recipe, you just need an additional source of protein. You can use extra cheese or add additional beans, either whole or smashed. Tofu would be good as it absorbs the flavor of the spices you're cooking with. If you've ever cooked with TVP (textured vegetable protein) before, you can add that as a ground meat substitute. 

You can also choose from a multitude of seasoning mixes. I nearly always use some sort of Mrs. Dash seasoning - Fiesta Lime, Garlic & Herb, Cajun, or taco seasoning would be nice flavors to use. If you're feeling adventurous, you can add your own spices individually to fit your tastes.Chili powder, cumin, paprika, garlic, or black pepper should get you started. 

And, of course, don't forget your vegetables! You can very easily cut up a few extra peppers, onions, or tomatoes to go with this. Avocados would also add a nice creamy texture. Just make sure the top tortilla lays flat so you can flip it over easily. 

Watch how it's made here!

Have fun with it, and enjoy this 10 minute meal!

Friday, April 3, 2020

RAG Pasta & Semi Homemade Sauce

After my first couple recipes did not go according to plan, I decided to take a moment to think about where I went wrong. I didn't come up with an answer.

So I asked myself what are some of my favorite things to make that consistently come out good. My first answer was pasta. It's quick, it's easy, and reminds me of family holidays. My mom's side of the family is from Italy, and I was about 14 years old before I realized no one else had cavatelli at a local park to celebrate Independence Day or Labor Day. I just thought it was....normal. 

What is it about this meal that makes me feel accomplished? Turns out, that was hard to answer too. You see, I don't have a recipe for how I make it. I've just....kind of....figured it out. My Grandma wouldn't let anyone write down her recipes (she'd slap your hand and make you leave the kitchen if you tried). You had to learn by doing. Unfortunately, she died before I was really able to get into the beauty of homemade meatballs and pasta sauce. It takes years to learn, and I was only able to have one session with her.

But, in the end, my pasta was a tasty success! Since I have no formal recipe and no Official Grandma Training, I took a stab at writing down my semi-homemade version. The measurements for this recipe are very iffy. I've never measured ingredients for pasta before, so I am going with an "educated" guess. The nice thing is, this recipe is very hard to mess up. Final star ratings are below.

Final Star Rating
Taste: ***** (5 stars - delicious award)
Texture: **** (4 stars - I've impressed myself)
Easy to make: **** (4 stars - I've impressed myself)
Overall rating: ****.3 (4.3 stars - I've impressed myself)

Here's my best shot at a recipe:

RAG Pasta and Semi-homemade Sauce
Serves 6-8

1 tbsp garlic infused olive oil
1 tbsp basil infused olive oil
2 cups frozen, chopped bell peppers
1 1/2 cup frozen, chopped onion
1 tbsp Mrs. Dash tomato basil seasoning
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
2 tsp garlic powder
1 box Barilla gluten free pasta
1 (24 oz) jar marinara sauce
2 (14.5 oz) cans no-salt-added diced tomatoes
1 (3.8 oz) can sliced olives, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
2 pkts (2 tsp) Splenda
1 pkg turkey pepperoni, chopped into quarters
additional Parmesan cheese for topping, as desired

  1. Fill stock pot about half way full with water. Place stock pot on stove and turn burner to high. 
  2. While waiting for water to boil, coat bottom of large skillet or sauce pan with flavored olive oil. Add peppers and onion and ground beef to skillet. Turn stove to medium high and stir to break up meat. Add Mrs. Dash, Italian seasoning and garlic powder, and continue to stir until meat is browned. 
  3. Add gluten free pasta to boiling water. Stir periodically to make sure noodles don't stick together. 
  4. To the skillet, add pasta sauce, canned tomatoes, olives and any other vegetables you would like to add. Gently stir to mix, cover with lid, and turn heat down to medium. Let simmer for 2-3 minutes. 
  5. Remove the lid and add Parmesan cheese and two packets of artificial sweetener. Stir well, breaking up any cheese clumps. Cover and reduce heat to medium low. 
  6. Remove noodles from heat and use a strainer to drain the water. Rinse noodles with cold water to remove starch. Let sit in sink to continue draining.
  7. Chop bag of turkey pepperoni into quarters. Add to pasta sauce, stir, and let simmer an additional 2-3 minutes. 
  8. Return pasta to the stockpot. Turn off stove top and remove sauce from heat. Pour on top of pasta and stir together. Dish pasta into bowl and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, if desired. 
  9. Eat, enjoy.

Nutrition Information (calculated by hand)
6 servings per batch / 8 servings per batch
calories 595 / 466.5
total fat 21g / 16g
       saturated fat 6.5g / 5g
sodium 1440mg / 1080mg
total carbohydrate 68g / 51g
fiber 7.5g / 6g
sugar 11.5g 9g
       added sugar 0g / 0g
protein 36g / 27g

Click the video title to be taken directly to YouTube to watch.
You can view the video full screen or slow it down, if needed.

Notes for Next Time: Generally when I make this meal, I can just zone out and automatically add everything without thinking. The more I paid attention to what I was doing, the more I realized there are actually quite a lot of steps that go into making this. I tried to make it as simple as possible. If you want to try some different things to change the sauce up a bit, below are some suggestions.

For seasonings, you can also add additional basil and/or oregano. Mrs. Dash Garlic & Herb seasoning would also be a good addition. The spices will get stronger the more they have time to simmer and sit in the sauce. If you have any leftovers, you will notice a more intense flavor the next day. This is always my favorite part, as I feel Day 2 gives me the best taste. If you have the time, you can also let the sauce simmer for an hour on the stove top, on low heat, to give the flavor time to meld together. 

If you're interested in trying different meats, I have also made this with ground turkey and grilled chicken breast (cut into small cubes). I marinated the chicken breast in Balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic, and Italian seasoning for about 3 hours before grilling, and cooled the chicken completely before adding it to the pasta sauce. I have also made this meatless. If you do this, you'll want to find a way to add additional protein - either through chickpea or lentil noodles or tofu. 

Vegetables can also be added to this recipe. Really, the only modification you have to make with additional veggies is to cook the sauce just a tad longer to make sure they have time to soften. I usually add an entire (10 oz) bag of spinach to the sauce since it shrivels up to three leaves after cooking. In the past, I have also added shredded carrots (can omit 1 pkt of sweetener if you add this), mushrooms, zucchini, yellow squash, and basically any other non-starchy vegetable.

If you're new to dumping things into pasta sauce, start by reading the sauce label on the jar and adding more of the vegetables that show up there. You know you won't mess up the flavor because you're adding what's already present. The more vegetables you add, the more fiber you have and a wider variety of nutrients. The sweetener added to the sauce helps cut down on the some of the acidity of the tomatoes, as there are A LOT of them in this recipe.

You may notice the sauce is a bit watery at the end. That's good. Gluten free noodles are desperate for moisture, so they will soak up all the extra liquid. This is especially important if you have leftover noodles. Without that extra liquid, they turn into gluten free paste with a light Italian flavor. For best results, very slightly undercook the noodles so they finish cooking as they absorb the sauce, and don't turn to mush on your plate or in your fridge.

Pasta. One of the few things I can do right without even trying. 

Monday, March 30, 2020

Broccoli Tots

The original recipe for today's ego thrasher came from Produce for Kids. This is one of my favorite recipe sites for simple and fun, yet healthy recipes. I've actually made this recipe before, in my previous life as a grocery store dietitian, as well as several others from this site. I'm sure we'll be seeing more recipes from Produce for Kids show up on RAG.

The previous recipe, Coconut Raspberry Fingers, hurt my ego quite a bit. Not only did I forget to add the baking powder, there was a nice thin uncooked layer of egg at the bottom. So, this time, I decided to use a recipe I've done before, modified to be gluten free. This will help fluff up my bruised ego, right? HA HA. 😭

The RAG modified recipe is below, as well as my final star ratings. Once again, these ratings apply ONLY to the modified version of the recipe I made. In no way do these stars represent the original recipe.

Final star rating
Taste: *** (3 stars - edible)
Texture: *** (3 stars - edible)
Easy to Make: **** (4 stars  - I've impressed myself)
Overall rating: ***.3 (3.3 stars - edible)

ingredients for broccoli tots on a table. ingredients include cornmeal, frozen broccoli, potatoes, and spices
What I used to make the broccoli tots

Broccoli Tots
Serves 4 (8 tots per serving)

cooking spray
2 russet potatoes
1 (10 oz) bag of frozen broccoli florets
1 large egg
1 cup corn meal
1 tsp seasoned salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder

  1. Preheat oven to 400℉. Line baking pan with aluminum foil, spray lightly with cooking spray.
  2. Wash potatoes well, then slice and cube into chunks. Put into a stock pot or deep sauce pan. Add enough water to cover the potatoes and bring to a boil over high heat. 
  3. Once boiling, reduce to medium-low and simmer for 3 minutes. Add bag of broccoli, then cover and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes at a low simmer. Drain water from broccoli and potatoes. 
  4. While potatoes and broccoli are on stove top, in a large bowl stir together egg, cornmeal, seasoned salt, pepper, and garlic powder. 
  5. Add potatoes and broccoli into a food processor. Process until finely grated, and pour into bowl with cornmeal mixture. Stir well to combine. 
  6. Using a spoon, scoop tots into mounds and place on lined baking sheet. Lightly smash tops to make them flat. You should have around 32 tots. 
  7. Place in preheated oven and cook for approximately 10 minutes. Flip and bake an additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven when tops are golden brown. 

Nutrition info per serving (calculated by hand)
1 serving = 8 broccoli tots

235 calories
3g fat
     0.5g saturated fat
303mg sodium
47g carbohydrate
7.5g fiber
1.5g sugar
     0g added sugar
6g protein

Recipe Source: Modified recipe by Recipes Are Guidelines www.recipesareguidelines.com. Based on an original recipe from Produce for Kids. 

Notes for Next Time: This should be an easy recipe. LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES, DEAR READER. First, I cooked the potatoes and broccoli for way, way too long. They were too soft, so instead of ending up with "finely grated," I got "thick soup." This does not bode well for making nice "mounds." So, at this point, my cooking prowess went off the rails. I doubled the cornmeal, dumped spices in willy-nilly, and screamed at the potatoes to get thicker. The cornmeal kind of worked. In the end, it's the reason there's so much fiber in this recipe. DEFINITELY will keep a closer eye on the potatoes and broccoli as they cook - either I need to cook them for less time or cut the potatoes thicker. Or both.

The tots did end up cooking nicely with lightly golden browned tops. The first set, I forgot to smash the tops, so they were nearly impossible to flip over. But the second batch ,I remembered, and they were a lot easier to flip. I also sprayed the tops with cooking spray to prevent them from sticking to the foil after the flip. This caused....a lot....of smoke. 😒

In the end, the flavor was actually fine. I thought they tasted like gluten free chicken nuggets. The next time I make this, I might try 1/2 cup cornmeal and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Even though I quadrupled the spices from the original recipe, I felt the cornmeal overpowered anything else in the tots. Less cornmeal should help alleviate that. I might also try a bit of chili powder or Mrs. Dash Garlic & Herb. It just felt like it was missing something, but I couldn't quite place what. The tots dipped well with both ketchup and light ranch dressing. Not bad plain, either, just a little dry.

My ego did not recover trying this recipe. I might need to re-evaluate why my normally awesome cooking skills are failing in every way possible. Have people always just been nice to me and spit their food in a napkin when I'm not looking? Are my tastebuds broken?

oak table with green glass chalice and a plate arranged with ketchup, light ranch salad dressing, and broccoli tots. behind is a nice spring setting with a wooden bunny and pink flowers.
You can't see me waving my arms around to get the smoke out of the kitchen before the smoke alarms go off.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Coconut Flour Raspberry Fingers

The original recipe for today's blunder can be found at Ditch The Carbs. 

My first baking expedition!
...It did not go well.
...I forgot an important ingredient. 😬

The modified recipe I made, as well as my final votes, are below. PLEASE remember, my voting system is based on what I have made and is in NO WAY a reflection of the original recipe.

Flavor: *** (3 stars, edible)
Easy to make: ***** (5 stars, delicious award)
Texture: **** (4 stars, I've impressed myself)
Overall: **** (4 stars, I've impressed myself)

ingredients for the recipe, packages shown. 1 bowl with uncracked eggs, 1 bag of coconut flour, 1 bag of Splenda sugar blend, 1 stick of butter, 1 bottle of vanilla extract, 1 jar of baking powder, 1 package of frozen raspberries
Coconut Raspberry Bars
cooking spray
1 stick (110g) melted butter
1/2 cup (50g) coconut flour
1/3 cup Splenda sugar blend
1 tbsp vanilla extract
7 large eggs
1 cup (120g) frozen raspberries

  1. Preheat oven to 350℉ (180℃). Spray 8x8 inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. With a handmixer, mix together the melted butter, coconut flour, Splenda, and vanilla until smooth.
  3. Add the eggs, one by one, mixing batter in between each egg.
  4. Pour batter into prepared 8x8 inch baking dish.
  5. Gently press each raspberry into the cake. This will help prevent the batter from turning pink during cooking. 
  6. Bake at 350℉ for 45 minutes or until the center is cooked and top is browned. Once cooled, slice the cake into 8 pieces. 

Recipe Modified by: Recipes Are Guidelines www.recipesareguidelines.com, based on an original recipe from Ditch the Carbs 

Nutrition Information (calculated by hand)
1 serving = 1 bar (1/8 pan)

Calories 238.5
Total fat 16.5g
    Saturated fat 9g
Sodium 156mg
Total carbohydrate 16g
Fiber 3.5g
Total sugar 3g
     Added sugar 0.5g
Protein 7g

Notes for next time: This recipe was incredibly easy to make - which is why forgetting the baking powder is even more embarrassing. I'll actually remember to put the baking powder in next time. Cooking it for 45 minutes was no fun. With the 1 tsp baking powder addition (should be added during Step 2), I am guessing it will take around 25 minutes (??) to bake at 350℉.

Because I can tell this recipe has a lot of potential to be delicious, I might also try making it with almond flour and almond extract next time. The final product has a very eggy flavor and because almond extract has a powerful taste, I think that may help hide some of the egg. However, using almond flour - while still gluten free - will decrease the fiber. 

small piece of yellow cake with raspberries baked in, placed on a ceramic plate with cherries painted on it. Next to it is a wine goblet with the Hogwarts Houses painted on it.
I'm not a food stylist, but I'm trying. The Harry Potter goblet was a nice touch, yeah?