One Year Later…

I give myself Saturdays to do nothing, or more precisely, I don’t do anything that I don’t want to do. Mostly, this means I wake up without the screaming of an alarm at 5am, walk the dog, and do the weekly menu planning until Whole Foods opens at 8am, and then do the grocery shopping before it gets crowded. On this very Saturday one year ago, Miracle joined our family. Our hearts were still aching after losing Turbo, but sadist that I am, I had to dive right back in so that I would not come home to an empty house. Unlocking the door to a dog who is always happy to see you is a magical thing that says more than anything – “welcome home.”

Those first few months with Miracle were not pretty. She loved us immediately, but was desperately sad while we were away and restless at night. Mark and I struggled in a fog of exhaustion for months. We had a taste of what life is like for parents of newborns, who catch sleep when they can, or not at all, because Miracle needed a lot of soothing. But a year is a good stretch of time – enough for a hound to gain confidence that we’ll always come home to her, and for us to get to know this clownish beast we share our home with.

Also, on the second hound, we’ve turned into complete softies. Miracle helped herself to snoozing on the furniture not long after she came home. The moment you make a few moves in preparation to leave the house and – BOOM – Miracle is on the sofa, in your seat and glaring at you…daring you to kick her off, as if to say, “If you think you’re leaving me – fine, but I’ll be right here in your spot on the couch, all day long.” I can’t argue with that. We’re gone 12+ hours per day during the week, and if she wants to chill on the furniture, I am not going to stop her. Softies.

The hound can also be persuaded to join us for a run. In the early days, running was one way we could manage her separation anxiety. Now, we use her more as an excuse to stop for a few seconds and dither around before continuing on our way. It works for all of us.

One year later, we’re so glad that Miracle joined our family. She’s a lovey little hound, always scheming for a belly rub or snuggle on the couch. Her bursts of play, endless squeaking of toys and high speed laps around the house keep us laughing. Welcome to the family, dear hound.

I’ll have a new recipe or two for you in the next couple of weeks…I hope!  In the meantime, here are a few old favorites that have been gracing our table in the last couple of months:

  • Fennel, Apple and Orange Salad – Fennel, granny smith apples and oranges are a few fresh ingredients that can be relied upon to brighten up any meal in the dead of winter. I could eat this salad daily and not get tired of it.
  • Tomato Sauce with Butter – A simple, classic sauce that makes enough for several meals, freezes well, and is a savior for getting a quick mid-week meal on the table.
  • DIY Kind Bars (grain-free granola bars) – These little tasty treats have been a near constant companion, since discovering that I am sensitive even to gluten-free oats. A little bit sweet and a good source of protein, these bars are getting me through weeks when I need to travel for work.
  • Indian Spiced Red Lentil Soup – This pot of soup is dead simple, and takes few ingredients, but it makes for a hearty bowl of soup that warms the belly on the coldest of winter days.

Thank you to everyone who has commented, written, posted and tweeted me, asking when I’d get the next blog post up. I’ve missed our conversation here – and I hope to be back more often in 2012!

Chilaquile Casserole

I have a natural aversion to anything attached to the term “casserole.” Growing up in the 80s attending frequent Lutheran potlucks and soup dinners. I have seen many casserole tragedies I’d care not to repeat – most included that gloopy staple – cream-of-whatever soup. There were definitely good dishes, too, but mostly the potluck table failed to live up to what my mom made for us every night at home. In fact, many folks would scope out which dish my mom brought and dive into that one first because she had a reputation as a very good cook. The reputation was certainly well-earned.

In my own kitchen, casseroles are few and far between. Most have some form of pasta or heavy dairy component, which I clearly avoid in my post-gluten and limited-dairy life. And maybe this isn’t a casserole either, but it does have layers, is briefly baked in the oven and has a sprinkle of cheese on top. Close enough. This isn’t a traditional chilaquile recipe either, but it has the essential elements, and it’s pretty easy to throw it all together and pop it in to bake. The leftover homemade tortillas give the chilaquiles a nice heartiness, and I like how the handmade tortillas hold up when baked with spicy tomato sauce. We topped each serving with an egg, though it would be plenty hearty without. I’ll just use any excuse to enjoy a perfect over-easy egg with my dinner.

Chilaquile Casserole
Serves 2 (with a little for leftovers)

5 leftover homemade tortillas
2 T olive oil, divided
1/2 cup diced onion
1 clove minced garlic
1 jalepeno, seeded and sliced
1 1/2 cups of tomato sauce or salsa
salt to taste
1 1/2 oz grated chihuahua or jack cheese
2 eggs
cilantro and sliced scallions for garnish

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Stack the tortillas and cut them in half, then slice into 1/3″ width matchsticks, and scoop them into a medium sized mixing bowl. Drizzle 1 T olive oil over the tortillas and quickly toss to lightly coat the tortillas, then sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt. Pour the tortillas onto a baking sheet in one layer, and bake for 10 minutes, then stir, and bake for another 5 minutes. Remove the tortillas from the oven and set aside. The tortillas should be toasted, but not completely hard all the way through – still a little chewy.
  3. While the tortillas bake, make the tomato sauce: Heat a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to the hot pan. Add the onions and jalepenos and saute for 3-4 minutes, until the onion begins to soften. Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the tomato sauce, stir and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the tortillas are toasted.
  4. Take out a small casserole or pie pan, and spoon about 1/3 cup of the tomato sauce into the bottom of the pan, covering the bottom. Pile the toasted tortillas on top in an even layer, then spoon the remainder of the tomato sauce over the top. Sprinkle the chihuahua cheese over the top, and bake for 15 minutes. During the last three minutes of baking, cook 2 eggs to a perfect over-easy. Scoop the chilaquiles onto plates and top each serving with an egg, cilantro and scallions.
519 cal, 260 cal from fat, 29g fat, 235mg cholesterol, 1160mg sodium, 360mg potassium, 49g carbs, 5g fiber, 4g sugars, 16g protein

Roasted Polenta Wedges

Polenta is one of those comfort foods that I adore, yet I seem to forget about it most of the time. It’s humble food – there’s nothing really flashy about this thick corn porridge, yet it can be dressed up into something marvelous with very few ingredients.

In November, I was reminded about how much I love polenta at the Safe & Sound Allergy-Free Dinner at Chicago’s BOKA restaurant. One of the courses in the awesome meal included a few cubes of the creamiest polenta I’ve ever had. They were crisp on the outside, but soft and creamy inside. I could have eaten a whole bowl of those little cubes. I’ve been pondering how Chef Tentori achieved this culinary marvel (without any dairy at all) and I’m guessing he was using a much more finely ground polenta than what I had in the pantry for this recipe.

I’m no Chef Tentori, but my polenta is quite tasty and fills the bill when the craving for comfort food hits. After you roast the polenta, it’s lovely and crisp on the outside and still soft inside. YUM. One batch of polenta makes a lot, so you can make these lovely polenta wedges and dip in that fabulous tomato butter sauce, while having plenty of leftovers to say – spread some olive tapenade on, or make openface polenta pizzas. The possibilities are wide open with polenta as your culinary blank slate.

Roasted Polenta
Serves 5

1 1/2 cups corn polenta
4 cups water
1 T butter
2 T olive oil (I used the garlic oil from my mojo de ajo)
3 T half & half
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 tsp kosher salt

  1. Heat a large non-stick skillet (that has a lid) over high heat. Pour in the water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and slowly pour in the polenta, stirring constantly. Add the butter, thyme and rosemary. Cook for about 10 minutes, until all the water is absorbed and the polenta begins to pull away from the edges of the pan.
  2. Add the half & half, pepper 1 tsp salt, cayenne and most of the grated parmesan (leave a little bit for garnishing later) – stir to incorporate.
  3. Spray a half sheet pan (or 9×13 baking pan) with olive oil. Turn the cooked polenta out into the sheet pan, and gently smooth the polenta into one layer using a spatula. Sprinkle on the reserved parmesan cheese and then chill the polenta until you’re ready to prepare dinner – at least 3 hours, so the polenta has time to firm up.
  4. Roasting the polenta: Preheat the broiler. Remove the polenta from the fridge, and turn the polenta out onto a large cutting board. Cut into desired shapes – slender fingers or large triangles for a main course. Lightly spray the sliced polenta with olive oil. Place the polenta on a sheet pan, and broil for 15 minutes, turning the pieces over halfway through. Serve piping hot.

268 cal/serving, 100 cal from fat, 11.3g fat, 15mg cholesterol, 25mg potassium, 33g carbs, 3g fiber, 6.7g protein

Simply Perfect Tomato Sauce with Butter

I have to confess that this one is a total copycat post. This tomato sauce recipe has been banging around the blogging community for YEARS. I have bookmarked it no less than three times, and never gotten around to making it, despite all the wild adoration of many bloggers I love. How could a recipe for tomato sauce with so few ingredients be that good?!  Last week, Smitten Kitchen posted the recipe and raved that this was the be-all-end-all tomato sauce. If Smitten Kitchen vouches for it, I knew I had to make it. And I’m glad I did.

I did add some red pepper flakes and a clove of smashed garlic to the original recipe. I find myself completely unable to follow any recipe as-is. But the sauce – it’s amazing. I would never have thought that a sauce made from canned tomatoes would be better than my painstakingly long-simmered canned homemade sauce, but there it is. This is my new go-to sauce, and I’m looking forward to spooning a thin skim of this sauce on a gluten-free pizza very soon.

There’s 4 tablespoons of butter in this recipe – very indulgent for my usual healthy cooking, but you need no cheese or meat with this simple sauce – a grind or two of fresh ground pepper is a nice touch, but even that is optional. I only used about 1/3 cup of sauce for one serving of rice penne – so that’s not so bad, right?  Anyway, I highly recommend that you raid the pantry and make a pot of this sauce – pronto.

Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes 3 cups of sauce

28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium-sized yellow onion, peeled and halved
Salt to taste
1 clove garlic, peeled and gently smashed
1 generous pinch red pepper flakes

Put the tomatoes, garlic, red pepper flakes, onion and butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Bring the sauce to a simmer then lower the heat to keep the sauce at a slow, steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free of the tomatoes. Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat, discard the onion, puree the sauce in a blender, add salt to taste. Serve over your favorite shape of pasta.

1/3 cup of sauce: 75 calories, 50cal from fat, 5.8g fat, 15mg cholesterol, 220mg sodium, 30mg potassium, 5g carbs, 1g fiber, 3g sugars, 1.1g protein