A Few Words on Gluten Free Sandwiches

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Admittedly, since I have become gluten free, I don’t get very excited about sandwiches.  I am sure that you will agree that there are many mediocre gluten free breads out there.  In fact, there are many yucky gluten free breads out there. Unfortunately, many of us work and have hectic schedules that don’t leave time for the tasty home baked versions. You just have to painstakingly and courageously trial them all, until finally one just sits right on your very own palate.  There are many, many varieties available to buy in stores and on the web, and there are many recommendations by others, as well, but the bread thing, for me anyway, is very personal.  Truly, I have not found many gluten free sandwich breads that wow me.  Most of the time, it is the combination of your favorite sandwich bread with what’s inside the sandwich that makes it worth telling about for sure!

Today, I ate one of those amazing gluten free sandwiches worth a tale or two.  My Mom’s favorite sandwich (and being very much her prodigy) was a BLT!  What a very wise woman. She just savored every bite.  It had to have a lot of mayonnaise. She just loved mayonnaise.  Her eyes would roll as she ate it, and she would make yummy noises.  Consequently, whenever I eat one, she floods my thoughts.

Today, I built a BLT to die for, that is, to live for! I tried a new bacon I had never had before called Niman Ranch brand maple, uncured and gluten free.  Delicious with a capital “D”!  It smelled heavenly sizzling in the pan.  My three cats were lined up at the stove with their nostrils wiggling and meowing and dreaming for some to come their way.  I used a lovely Ugly Ripe tomato and some crisp Red Leaf lettuce leaves.  Now for the bread, I happen to have a freshly purchased loaf of Glutino Flax Seed Bread.  I do believe that they have made some improvements with this bread, as I had not bought it in awhile, and it seemed more flavorful this time around. The slices are light and just perfect when toasted.  I proceeded to build my scrumptious and memorable gluten free BLT! The Niman Ranch bacon just made the sandwich.  It was not too smoky or sweet and just thick enough.  I enjoyed every morsel and every mouthful. Small pieces of bacon and tomato covered with mayo fell out on my plate as I devoured it.  I ate each remaining escaped piece with gusto.   I am writing this and I can still taste it.

That’s what makes a gluten free sandwich so wonderful.  It’s the total picture. It is the total experience. It is the total sandwich, a sum of its parts.  This was undoubtedly one of those “islands of happiness” that my Mom always talked about. I thank you, Niman Ranch.I thank you, Glutino, especially, if you improved your product.  I thank my cats for their adoring company.

But, most of all, I thank you, Mom.

La Melanzana (Eggplant in Italian)

Penne Dash of Sorrento is an eggplant pasta dish that my husband and I discovered while on our honeymoon on the Amalfi Border, Italy.I grew up in an Italian household, but I had never had such a dish.  It had been my dream to visit the Amalfi Border in Italy for many, many years.  I saved and cherished an article on the beauty and breathtaking views of the area written in National Geographic Traveler for 10 years.  When I met Wayne,

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I told him about my dream, and our trip there became two dreams come true, i.e. finding someone wonderful to share my life with and a visit to this amazingly beautiful stretch of towns built into the side of hills from Naples to Sorrento to Salerno.  We encountered this eggplant dish at dinner one evening in our hotel.  There was something very unique in flavor, and although we asked everyone along the way about the ingredients, everyone inadvertently omitted one of the most important ingredients. When we returned, I purchased the simple repertoire of eggplant, garlic, oil, mozzarella, plum tomatoes, and parmigiana cheese.  I made the dish, and it looked fantastic.  We both took  a bite and simultaneously cheesewine1.jpglooked at eachother, and almost said together, “Something is missing”.  I did a little more research and discovered that our rendition was missing “Mozzarella di Bufala Affumicato”, otherwise known as Smoked Buffalo Mozzarella.  I made the dish again using smoked mozzarella (unfortunately not the imported Buffalo version), but it definitely put the punch back in the dish.  Try this on your spouse, your friends, your family.  It is a magical use of the incredible la melanzana, that is, eggplant.  You will love it.  

 

Penne Dash of Sorrento

Ingredients

1/2-8oz Smoked Braided Mozzarella (need the smoked type)

2-Small Eggplants, peeled and chopped (small are best)

4-Ripe Plum Tomatoes (skinned and chopped)

3 to 4-Cloves of Garlic, finely chopped

1-Pound Penne Pasta (Tinkyada or Gluten Free Bionature are good picks)

3/4-Small Ball Poly-o Mozzarella, dicedFresh grated parmigiana cheese

Handful fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped

About ¼ cup good quality olive oil (you may need just a little more)

Method

Have all your ingredients chopped and lined up to go for this dish. Put your water onto boil for the pasta.When the water boils, drop your fresh whole tomatoes in the water for about 2 minutes.Remove and drain. Skin will come right off with a knife. Chop and set aside.Take half of the oil and sauté quickly diced eggplant. Set aside.Sauté chopped garlic in remainder of olive oil until tender; do not burn as it will make your sauce bitter.

Keep moving it in the sizzling oil with a spatula or spoon.Add your chopped plum tomatoes juice and all. Simmer for a minute. Add your eggplant.Add salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for about 5 minutes.Salt your pasta water. Put your penne on to boil. When done, drain. Save about ¾ cup of the macaroni water when you drain the pasta.Put the drained pasta right into the skillet with the tomato/eggplant mixture. Add diced mozzarella cheeses, parmigiana to taste, freshly chopped basil and mix.

Cover, turn off heat and let the cheeses melt into the pasta. You may need to add just a little macaroni water. You be the judge of that.Serve immediately.(A nice salad, crusty Italian bread and table wine would complete the meal).

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Wayne and me in La Taverna del Leone, Positano, Italy (a rustic pizzeria with an antipasto spread like no other. Italian food to die for!)

Calling All Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Lovers

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Pamela’s Products Simplebites, Chocolate Chip Mini Cookies

If you are a soft cookie lover, then read no more. These bite size cookies are for people who love “crunch” foods. They have a pleasant crispness to them, with just a slight touch of softness.  Ok, so what can I say?  I just love Pamela’s Products!   These are tiny chocolate chip cookies big on flavor. I love two or three of these with a nice cup of tea in the evening.  Three are the perfect accompaniment for a cup of soothing tea or a nice, cold glass of milk.  Warning!  Don’t try to dip them in milk, as you will lose them to the bottom of the glass.  Just pop them in your mouth, and then proceed to gulp down your milk.  Enjoy and thank you Pamela.

Any Shape Pasta with Artichoke Hearts and Sun Dried Tomatoes

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It was a stormy, rainy summer evening. I had gone for a walk and got caught in the rain. It was rather fun, but as soon as I got back home and changed clothes, I knew I was in for the evening. I was hungry and did not want to trek back out for groceries. I took inventory of what I had on hand for dinner and came up with this dish. As I moved the garlic through the simmering olive oil in the skillet, I realized that this delicious aroma is one of my favorite childhood memories. Every Sunday morning, my Italian Mom would prepare a pot of spaghetti sauce. She would begin the process with the infamous simmering garlic and oil combo. The scent lingers deliciously in my mind. I also realized how easy it is to cook up something quick but equally delicious and nutritious. The best part is accomplishing a delightful dish like this with so few ingredients. The tomatoes, artichokes, garlic, and olive oil come packed with health enhancing phytochemicals, which I have outlined below. My husband and I just love this one…..so yummy!

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Ingredients

¼ cup good quality olive oil

6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

½ cup sundried tomatoes, rehydrated and thinly sliced

1 package frozen artichoke hearts

3 large plum tomatoes, skin removed, chopped

Handful fresh basil, chopped

Salt and black pepper to taste

16 oz. Tinkyada penne pasta

Parmigiana (grated) to sprinkle on top

Method

Cook pasta per package directions unitl al dente. While water boils and pasta cooks, sauté garlic in olive oil. Do not brown or burn. Add both type of tomatoes and continue to sauté in the olive oil and garlic for a few minutes over low heat. Add the defrosted artichoke hearts and salt and pepper to taste, cover and simmer for a few minutes. Toss in fresh basil at end of a few minutes. Mix cooked, drained pasta into sauce adding some reserved pasta water to loosen up. Serve with a sprinkle of parmigiana cheese.

  • Artichokes-contains a flavonoid phytochemical that offers anticancer protection through its ability to act as an antioxidant
  • Tomatoes-cooked tomatoes, especially those cooked in oil, are rich sources of lycopene, thought to be responsible for protecting against prostate cancer ;they are also a rich source of beta-carotene
  • Garlic-contains the phytochemicals allicin and ajoene, thought to be responsibe for lowering cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, and possibly reducing the risk of stomach cancer
  • Olive oil– rich in polyphenols, substances that have been found to be powerful antioxidants capable of protecting against certain types of disease; add a splash of extra virgin olive oil at the end while mixing the pasta with the sauce for an extra dose of polyphenols;extra virgin olive oil is richest in polyphenols

The Best Pancake Mix on the Planet

baking-mix_productspage.jpgI make all kinds of thing out of Pamela’s Pancake Mix, however, the pancakes are one our favorites.   They come out fluffy, light, a lovely brown, and with a slightly nutty flavor.  So delicious with any of your favorite fruits added.  This is an amazing gluten free product that you must try, if you have not already.  Get out the griddle and smack your lips.  You are in for a delicious surprise.

Potato Leek Soup (That Flour stuff most definitely optional)

I made potato leek soup today for the first time in my life. I found some very fresh enormous leeks at my neighborhood produce store. I just had to take them home.I reviewed many different leek soup recipes on the web, and then created my own version. Many of the recipes contained “flour”. Of course being gluten intolerant, I did

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not use flour. Quite frankly, I questioned the use of this ingredient, as potatoes, as we all know, are natural thickening agents. Just as I surmised, one does not need flour! This soup is gluten free without manipulation. It is pretty simple to put together and the best part is eating it. Delish! And your house is going to smell really wonderful with this one!

Sunday’s Potato Leek Soup

Serves: 6-8 hearty bowls
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes

3-4 large leeks
6 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 bay leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup white wine
5 cups chicken broth
Salt to taste
1/2 cup Half and Half cream
2 tablespoons chopped chives

Trim off the dark green ends of leeks. Save a small portion of the dark end. Wash and set aside. Discard the rest of the dark green ends. Cut white part of leeks in half lengthwise. Wash under cold running water thoroughly, as there is a lot of sand inside the leek layers. Dry them with a paper towel. Rough chop the leeks.

In a large soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter and add the chopped leeks. Season with fresh ground pepper and salt. Pour over the wine. Bring to boil and then simmer leek-butter-wine combo for 5-7 minutes. Add the chopped potatoes, saved green portion of leeks, thyme, bay leaf, chicken broth. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if needed. Bring to boil, then cover and simmer about 40 minutes until potatoes are soft and soup is very flavorful. Remove the green ends and thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Puree soup in batches in a blender or food processor.

Stir in the half and half and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Serve with chopped chives sprinkled on top and a few more twists of fresh black pepper from the grinder.

 

 

 

Blessed

woodpecker2.JPGMy husband and I took a walk this morning and had the most wonderful opportunity to view up close two beautiful “red-bellied woodpeckers”. They were obviously a couple, and he was courting her. Her plumage was almost as colorful as his. They flitted around just above us in a tree. We were mesmerized. He called out to her with a lovely song. Definitely a fabulous way to start the day! OK, so you ask, what does this have to do with pasta? Well, obviously, we had pasta for dinner. Then we ventured outside to the back of our house which is situated on a small lake. The shadows of dusk were breathtaking on the houses across the way. The breeze had kicked up and it was creating ripples and waves on the surface. Wonderful eye dessert. Suddenly up in the sky, there was an elegant bird soaring over the lake. He kept soaring and circling and then diving into the water for fish. I ran to get my bird book. It turned out to be an “osprey”! He had a white belly, white head and a broad wing span. We just sat there on our swing and gazed up at his majestic beauty. Red bellied woodpeckers in the morning. Then a delicious pasta dinner. Then the osprey at day’s end. As I ran out the back door with the bird guide, I smelled a comforting childhood smell, that is, the smell of boiling pasta on a Sunday afternoon. I miss my mother, butospreyohio.jpg I actually got a little smile on my face, just remembering her at the stove stirring the two pots, one with homemade sauce and the other with the boiling pasta water. She put so much love into her cooking. I am convinced that is why it tasted so good! We are blessed. I wish you the same type of day soon. In fact, I wish you many days like these, filled with the marvels of nature, being in the moment, delicious pasta, and your mind happy with childhood nostalgia.

Cannellini Bean Soup

Cannellini bean = white kidney bean = fazolia bean. You’ve probably already encountered this Italian bean in minestrone soup or a bean salad. It’s prized for its smooth and creamy texture and nutty flavor. If you were brought up Italian, the cannellini bean was an every day staple. This soup is simple, fast, and very delicious. My husband, Wayne, and I prepare it at least once a week after work because of its simplicity. I was given the recipe by a friend several years ago who told me that the original version is from the famous Italian cookbook writer Marcella Hazan. It truly tastes like you spent a lot more time on it than you will. I am much more generous with the garlic and fresh parsley than the original recipe. My friend, Debra, uses fresh marjoram in lieu of parsley and proclaims it to be yummy. I, myself, have only made it with parsley. Of course, you have to love garlic to love the soup!

Preparation Time: 15 min.
Serves 4 (hearty bowls)

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5-6 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
  • 2 cans (15 oz) cannellini beans, drained
  • 1 cup beef broth, canned
  • 1 cup chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Put the oil and the garlic in a saucepan. Cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the garlic is a pale gold. Add the beans and a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour in the broth. You can add more or less broth depending on how thick you like your soup. Add in half of the chopped parsley. Bring to a simmer. Transfer about 1/2 of the bean broth mixture to a blender and process until smooth. Add it back to the pan with the rext of the mixture. Simmer the soup for 5 minutes, then season with salt and pepper. Swirl in the remainder parsley. Serve the soup with your favorite toasted gluten free bread, or if you are not gluten free, your favorite crusty French bread. (Try Kinnikinnick Tapioca Rice English Muffins toasted with this soup. Very good! Check it out: www.kinnikinnick.com)

Small Marvels

RosedMy week started out on a bad foot. I am sure we all have those beginnings. But here, we are, Sunday night, and about to embark on a brand new week. Life always gives us many, many second chances and opportunities to start over. It is refreshing. I got to thinking about the small yet amazing marvels of my Sunday. I dare to even call them small, for with so many people in the world, and with such a vast world, I am just a minute particle. I was looking down on Orlando the other day from the 18th floor of a building downtown. The houses looked like toys. The cars looked ridiculous. Who would spend almost an entire year’s salary on one of those?! People were not even visible from that height. They were all insignificant in the scheme of things. But each day, we awaken and make it all significant. God cares about every little hair on our heads, so we are very special, and thank God for that! My Mom always talked about “islands of happiness”. She told me that life marches on uneventfully or in a most challenging and uninviting way. Then suddenly, without notice, comes an island of happiness floating along. They are slices of heaven. Today was no ordinary Sunday. Small marvels came to visit me. My miniature rose bushes sat naked all winter. This week they bloomed prolifically. I sit here on my lap top next to a tea cup filled with peach and white miniature roses that I cut just this morning. A mother duck and her brood of ducklings marched up the hill this evening to our swing in the back of our house. I cooked up the most delicious fresh spinach for dinner. Two friends called to say hello. We can just say that this is all very ordinary, or we can look at the islands of happiness with the eyes of a child and be filled with wonder and joy. I choose the path of wonder and joy. I keep looking at these small roses and all of their beauty, and I cannot help to think that one would never see their innate beauty from the 18th floor. Good night and pleasant dreams.

Washing The Rainbow Chard

Rinsing out the sand from beautiful rainbow chard

Wayne and I ate the most delicious rainbow chard yesterday. It is a vegetable to feast your eyes on and so nutritious as well.  It features red, white, and gold stems and large, rippled glossy leaves. All the colors make this vegetable look very magical. This particular chard came all the way from a California grower called Lakeside Organic Gardens.  Of course, I would buy it locally, if Orlando could grow chard.  Florida oranges and avocadoes are more our speed. 

Here I am at our kitchen sink painstakingly rinsing out all the sand and lots of sand there was!  I remember my Mom washing all the sand and debris out of escarole. I could hear her voice giving directives and see her hands repeatedly dipping in and out of the cold water.  She taught me to fill up a large bowl or pot and dunk and soak the greens.  Then she would say to let the leaves kind of float to the top of the water and gently remove all the leaves and place them in another container. All the sand would sink to the bottom of the pot. Then she would dump out the water and repeat the procedure until the water was free of sand. It was a lot of work, but well worth it in the end.  I sauteed our lovely chard with garlic, olive oil, touch of salt, and a pinch of red pepper flakes.  Yummy! 

Again, I cannot thank my Mom enough for all of her kitchen knowledge, but most importantly, for all the love she poured into demonstrating this knowledge to my sister and myself.  Her love of cooking lives on in “us.”

Afterthought:  The little label attached to the twisty tie on the chard had a recipe for pasta with chard, named Pasta Francine.  At the end of the recipe, it says “Molto bene!”, which in Italian means “very good.”
“Molto bene” for rainbow chard!