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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.