Category Archives: dinner parties

Crock Pot Lasagna-no kidding

I’m always looking for a way to save time while cooking without losing flavor. Don’t get me wrong, I love being in the kitchen chopping, stirring, and tasting. But some days there just isn’t time for that. For those days, there is the crock pot. Now, being a vegetarian means it’s not always as easy as just dropping a roast in there like some folks do.

Veggie, GF, Crockpot Lasagna

Veggie, GF,  Crock Pot Lasagna

Most ideas on the Web are not gluten-free, or vegetarian, or both. So, I decided to modify some of the recipes I found to make my own version of crock pot lasagna. My family was willing to give it a shot. The end result? I will never make lasagna in the oven again, seriously. This was just as good, if not a little better, than any other lasagna I’ve made. No pre-cooking noodles, no mess, minor clean up. Beat that! Give this a try and let me know what you think.

 Crock Pot Vegetarian, Gluten-free Lasagna

1 box gluten-free lasagna noodles (I used DeBole’s)

1 12 oz. container ricotta cheese (light or regular)

2 eggs

1 tsp each of garlic powder, dried parsley and salt

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan

2 cups shredded mozzarella

3 cups Marinara sauce (your own or your favorite brand)

2 cups chopped fresh spinach

2 TBS chopped fresh basil

1. Turn on a 6-quart crock pot to high (I use an oval). Spray with cooking spray or oil.

2. Mix Ricotta, eggs, spices and 1/4 cup Parmesan.

3. Pour about 3/4 cup Marinara on the bottom of the pot and spread it out to cover.

4. Layer with rice noodles so you have one even layer. Don’t worry about breaking them up to make a layer. It’s like a puzzle.

5. Cover noodles with 1/2 of the Ricotta mixture.

6. Next layer is 1/2 the spinach and 1 TBS basil.

7. Cover with another cup of Marinara and then repeat the next layer.

8. Top layer is another layer of noodles. Break it up to cover as well as possible.

9. Cover top layer of noodles with last of the Marinara, making sure to cover all of the noodles so they don’t dry out.

10. Cover the top with a layer of cheese and a few bits of fresh basil.

11. Cover and cook for 3 hours on high or 4-5 on medium/low. Check it after 3 hours to make sure it’s not cooking too fast. It should be bubbly on the sides and cooked well, and if you stick a knife into it there is very little resistance.

Note: I had planned to cook for four hours but stopped at 3 and it was perfect. Let it sit for a few minutes to firm up and serve with extra Marinara sauce if you have it.

This was so easy, even the kids can do it. There is no cooking involved, as long as you’ve already got the Marinara on hand. All it takes is layering and putting the top on. And if you mess up a layer and forget, who will know? I think Daughter switched the spinach and cheese layer in there somewhere, but it tastes great and that’s all that matter. Next up, try this with GF penne or spaghetti, just like my last version here, only easier.

Enjoy!

 

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Filed under dinner parties, gluten free, lasagna, mozzarella, noodles, spinach, vegetarian

Veggie-stuffed peppers

This is a quick and yummy meal that I thought up at the last minute. I was watching the Food Channel and saw someone making a traditional stuffed-pepper meal, meaning hamburger and bread crumbs. Uhm, not gonna work. But I remember loving my Mom’s stuffed peppers when I was a kid. So, with my daughter by my side, we came up with an even better, gluten-free, vegetarian version.

Quick and easy veggie-stuffed peppers

Veggie-stuffed Peppers

3 large peppers (I prefer red or orange since they are a little sweeter)

1 1/2 cups chopped mushrooms

1/2 chopped zucchini

1 large sweet onion, diced

olive oil/salt/pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

1 bag Trader Joe’s frozen Jasmine rice (about 2 cups)

1 cup shredded Mexican cheese

Oregano, basil (dried)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Place olive oil, onions and garlic in saute pan and cook till tender. Add salt and pepper.

3. While onions are cooking, slice the top off the peppers. (when choosing peppers, try to pick out ones that will stand on their own.) Clean out the peppers and leave whole, placing them in a glass baking dish or pie pan so they stand on their own, then dice up the tops and reserve those for the filling.

4. Add peppers to the pan and saute till tender, then mushrooms to the pan and saute till brown.

5. Add zucchini last and cook for a few minutes until just tender.

6. Finally, add the rice, a bit more olive oil, oregano, basil, salt & pepper to taste. Cook until the mixture is warm and mixed well.

7. Fill each pepper halfway, then add a pinch of cheese (a little less than 1/4 cup) in each one.

8. Finish filling peppers and mound it on top.

9. Top off each pepper with another pinch of cheese.

10. Bake for about 30 minutes, then let sit for about 10 minutes. (These are piping hot inside and so good you’ll burn your mouth for sure.)

These can also be made with brown rice (which I didn’t have at the time) and any veggies you have hanging around in the fridge. It’s a great way to use up any leftover veggies, just saute with some rice and stuff a pepper. Enjoy!

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Filed under cheese, cooking, dinner, dinner parties, dinner party, egg-free, gluten free, mushrooms, quick meal, rice, squash, vegetarian, zucchini

Gluten-free Quick Taco Bites

Wanting something quick and tasty for dinner? Company drop by and you’re stuck? Check your cabinets, you’ve probably got everything you need.

Gluten-free Taco Bites
1 bag Tostito scoops
1 can black beans
1 cup shredded Mexican cheese
1 container Trader Joe’s Mango/Papaya Salsa (any salsa will do, but this is my favorite store-bought)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 pinch salt

1. Place chips face up on a platter in one layer.
2. Drop a little cheese in each cup and microwave for about 10-20 seconds to just melt the cheese. (covering plate with a paper towel helps the melting to even out.)
3. Heat beans in a small pot with garlic and paprika. Add a little handful of cheese to thicken the beans.
4. Remove chips and drop about 1 tsp of the beans into each cup. Top with a drop of the salsa.

Enjoy!

These are great as appetizers, or do what I did and treat yourself to a plate for dinner.

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Filed under appetizers, black beans, cheese, company, corn chips, dinner parties, mango, papaya, quick meal, salsa, smoked paprika, taco

A Supernatural Gluten-free Party!

With an elegant twist in honor of Breaking Dawn, a party was created and I was lucky enough to be invited. I spent the evening last night in a beautiful place, eating beautiful food (all gluten free) all while talking with lovely people. I can’t think of a nicer way to spend an evening. And since you were not there, let me tell you all about the fun and more importantly, the food.

Thanks to Angela Saban of Angel Cakes for hosting this fabulous party. Check out her blog, here, for updates on the amazing cakes she creates (see below for more details on the ooh- and aaah-worthy food).

Welcome!

When you’re welcomed at the party by an old truck (Bella’s with a better paint job?) and a sign, this sets the stage for what’s to come inside. With this attention to detail, I had a feeling nothing would be missed from this point on.

Yay, Swag!

I followed the red carpet into the entry hall with it’s TWILIGHT centerpiece surrounded by swag bags for all guests. Sweet! The centerpiece fascinated me with its simplicity yet creativity. I found out that Angela’s wonderful daughter-in-law, Trista Williams, had fashioned it using pages right out of the series. (Although she did say she felt bad tearing up a perfectly good book, it was worth it!) Here’s a close-up for you crafters.

Pages of the book, close up

Can you choose between Team Edward or Team Jacob? Even if you’re not a fan of the movies or books, the theme is fun and whimsical, yet mysterious with werewolves and vampires. I chose Team Jacob, there I said it. Let the debate begin. Fangs for Edward’s team, wolf ears for the better team, er I mean the other team.

Choose a team

With Full Moon cocktail in hand (Maker’s Mark, apple cider and a splash of ginger ale), I made my way around the pool, which was surrounded by candles and spinning lights. Looking up on the wall I saw projected images of Bella, Edward, and Jacob, as well as scenes from previous movies lighting up the patio. DJ Gabriel kept the vibe going with music from the series, keeping the mood romantic and fun.

Photos and movie scenes on the wall

Moving on to the buffet table (you know that’s what you were interested in!) was a real treat. First off, the tables were topped off with spectacular floral arrangements that fit the mood perfectly. A rose here, a red carnation there, moss and greenery everywhere. All arrangements were created by Elba Brown of Designs by E in Phoenix with an eerie, supernatural touch. Floating red roses among moss and soft white flowers gave the buffet table just the right touch of beauty, elegance and mystery.

Notice the enormous pile of potato chips near the flowers? Oh yeah, my friend. Freshly made chips that were crispy, not too salty and oh so yummy. An avocado cream dipping sauce was provided for the chips, but seriously, with a good chip who needs dip (although it was amazing and I just needed a spoon for it and I could eat it like pudding).

The food was provided by Jennifer’s Catering in Phoenix. Check out the website and see how they serve the chips in little cones, Oh my. Maggie Wark, who works at Jennifer’s, is the gluten-free guru there who made the slider rolls and is spear-heading the gluten-free division of the company. Also on the menu was a tomato salad with Cojita cheese. So refreshing and served in little cups with cute tiny forks. Pork belly and salmon rounded out the food, but you know of course that was not my cup of tea, although I hear it was quite good from those who tried it.

 
Tomato/Cojita salad (yes, I had about 7!)

On to the crowning glory of the party, the pastry table. Oh man, if I could have married it, I would have. It was that good. I stood there wishing I hadn’t opted for the cute little purse that matched the outfit rather than the huge, pastry/cupcake smuggling purse. I would have to be content with eating it all there. (Next time, Angela, don’t question the large duffle purse at the party.)

Edward and Bella should have had this at their wedding

First off, the cake. A beautiful centerpiece with edible flowers. Definitely would not fit in the purse (damn!) I did not eat any, but I’ve had Angela’s cake before at a lovely tea party (check it out here).

Next the cupcakes. Both sides were represented with a special cupcake. Jacob’s side (werewolves) had a fabulously chocolatey caramely cupcake with salted caramel and a fondant paw on top. I could have eaten four, I admit it, but I didn’t. But I so wanted to, but I didn’t.

Edward’s side was represented appropriately by a vanilla-bean cupcake with raspberry filling and even bite marks. The filling was gooey and lovely, the cupcake was light and fluffy and the frosting was a dream.

True to my original team choice, I preferred the chocolate, but it was a tough choice, trust me. Both were light and airy like a cupcake should be, but it didn’t fall apart at all. I felt like Florian from Cupcake Wars as I tried both. Of course, I gave them both good marks, but I’m a chocolate lover at heart, you know.

What about Bella, you ask? Bella-berry Cobblers with a berry filling and flaky, buttery crust gave Bella her chance to shine. And that she did. Two bites of a perfect cherry pie. My table mates all claimed that this was their favorite. The crust was something I have been trying to perfect without success. Once again, Angela shines with a gluten-free pie crust that is equal parts flaky and chewy, just the way it should be.

And yes, there were cookies! What, you say? No really, on top of all this, there were little white hearts of vanilla cookies with white icing. They reminded me of the glorious black and white cookie of my New York City days that I feared I would never eat again. Never fear, they are right here. I’ll bet Angela could even make them black and white if you ask her.

Swag bags, you ask? Oh yeah! I was fortunate enough to meet the actual Tom Sawyer of Tom Sawyer Gluten Free Flour-fame, no kidding. And not only that, there was a bag of flour for everyone to take home and start baking. Sweet! A chocolate wolf lollipop, Werewolf “kibble” and “blood-spattered” popcorn, all by Angela Saban started the bags off. Add to that Udi‘s chocolate chip cookie, Julia’s Gluten Free Cinnamon Roll and more. I can’t imagine a better time with better food or company, and I even had swag to take home. Now that’s how you throw a party!

I was lucky enough to meet Kim Pebley, president of the Southern Arizona Celiac Support group and Chandice Probst of Gluten Free Frenzy here in town. Check out her website for giveaways and fun restaurant reviews. I also had the chance to spend a little time with Nina Spitzer, the GF guru who started the Phoenix Celiac group and Gluten Free Absolutely, a wonderful restaurant menu consultation service. What a great group of people who are supporting and advancing the GF community.

Trista Williams, me, and the lovely Elba Brown

Proof positive by Angela that you can have a lovely, successful cocktail party with elegant food and not a speck of gluten to be found. Thanks!

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Filed under Breaking Dawn, cake, cookies, crafts, cupcake, dinner parties, gluten free, party, salad, Team Edward, Team Jacob, Twilight, vegetarian

A Gluten-free Tea Party for Big Girls

Don’t you just want to dive in there?

I was invited to a tea party by a dear friend recently. Normally, I turn those down since all those goodies are off limits to me and it can be quite depressing. I don’t mind spending time with friends over tea, but it breaks my heart sometimes when a lovely affair is catered and I’m munching on fruit. But this time it was different. I wouldn’t have to turn it down, I wouldn’t have to pass on dessert, and as a matter of fact, I would have to refrain from eating too much. Surprise, surprise…everything was gluten free and fabulous.

And not only were all the treats GF, but the little finger sandwiches made by the adorable husband of my friend were made using Udi’s bread. Yum! Top that off with every attention to detail in the design of the room down to the amazingly beautiful Ikebana flower arrangements keeping the theme of blue and yellow throughout their lovely home.

Lovely flowers
Crispy, light sugar cookies

 The party was catered by Angela Saban of Angel Cakes Bakery. Wow! It is very unusual for me to be speechless, but I couldn’t find the words to express how delighted I was at everything I tried. Excuse me while I take a few minutes to gush…

Finger sandwiches with arugula and egg…yum!
(Thanks Chris)

Luscious lemon tarts

There were lovely, light and crispy sugar cookies tied in sweet blue ribbons. Along with those were luscious and delicate lemon tarts in a GF crust that was flaky and buttery, just like grandma used to make. Perfect little bites of lemon creme and topped with a dollop of whipped cream.

  My favorites would have to be the little vanilla cakes with whipped cream icing and fresh fruit. The cake was so light and fluffy, I could have eaten the entire plate and not felt full (I tried, but darn it there were other people who wanted some.)
Little cakes with whipped cream frosting…oh I still dream about these.

The centerpiece of the table was a beautiful chocolate cake with chocolate mousse filling. I didn’t know if I even wanted to eat it, it was that beautiful. Even the flower on top was made of sugar…But I found the courage and couldn’t help myself. The cake was just as I remember a chocolate cake was supposed to be. Light, chocolaty, moist and not too sweet filled with a chocolate mousse filling that I would have eaten out of a bowl if they let me. The cake was decorated with an elegant, simple style and looked more like a piece of art than food. But then again, we eat first with our eyes, right?

Thanks again to my dear friend, Elba, for such a wonderful time, as always….and to Angela Saban for making this one of the best tea parties I’ve ever been to. This topped any tea party the Mad Hatter or Alice ever attended! Any time I need something catered, it will be by Angela for sure. Her passion is obviously making GF treats that taste like we remember them, not like we have learned to accept them. Thanks Angela!

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Filed under cake, cookies, dinner parties, gluten free, tart, tea, vegetarian

Is it Spagana or Laghetti? You decide


We spent the weekend in Payson with my very, very best friend in the whole world, and her husband and young son. We had such a great time, and getting out of the heat was magnificent. It rained most of the time, but a chilly rain that was a welcome relief. My daughter took this photo on a walk one afternoon. I have no idea what it is, but it was so beautiful and elegant. I just wanted to take it home with me. Perhaps I can plant one if I find out what it is. Anybody know?

When I got home, I was in the mood to cook. I’ve been craving lasagna for a long time. I used to eat it just once a year, usually when the bug hit me around Christmas time when comfort food hits the spot. But lately, since I haven’t had it for years, the bug has hit me extra hard…which means I’ve been experimenting with all kinds of tasty, and not-so-tasty, ways to prepare it gluten free.

One attempt was found in a cookbook and I thought it sounded great. Instead of using pasta, you just use a thin layer of potatoes instead. Sounds great, right? Well…I did something wrong and after cooking it for more than two hours, the potatoes were still raw inside. I now know that the potatoes should be pre-cooked, but at the time, I figured they would cook with all that moisture in there, wouldn’t you think? Well, I’m here to tell you–they don’t. But, I knew I was on to something because my daughter and her friends stood in the kitchen with forks, picking away at the pan to eat the cheese and sauce. They loved it, except of course for the uncooked spuds inside.

My latest experiment is a big success. I decided today to give this another try, but I realized that pasta is my best bet. But since I don’t have gf lasagna noodles, I decided to use my favorite gf pasta from Trader Joe’s. I still believe that TJ’s brown rice pasta is the best I’ve tried. And I’ve tried many kinds, even the more expensive versions, and they don’t taste too great and they get too mushy too fast.

Anyway, it turned out fabulous! Layering the creamy ricotta cheese and tomato sauce with cooked spaghetti noodles. I suppose it’s baked spaghetti, but to me, it’s heaven. And to my daughter, and to my ultimate surprise–my husband–it was the lasagna that we’ve been missing. My daughter and I had two helpings, and my husband, who never eats my GF creations on principle, ate a huge piece for dinner. Now that’s a compliment. Since I eat GF and vegetarian, and he doesn’t like veggies and prefers a burger, this was a surprise.

It’s actually a little less heavy than traditional lasagna since the spaghetti gets a little more air in it. And I used just two layers of pasta. Yum… Try it yourself and let me know. I’m going to try and make a vegetable lasagna next time. I’ll let you know how that turns out.


Spagana/Laghette using Trader Joe’s brown rice spaghetti

Baked Laghetti

1 package TJ’s brown rice spaghetti
2 cups spaghetti sauce (use your own, or store-bought gf sauce)
2 8 oz packages gf ricotta cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese (shredded)
1/4 cup shredded Romano cheese
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried basil
salt/pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degree. Spray a lasagna pan and set aside.

1. Cook pasta as directed on package. Remove from water just a minute or two before they are done since they’ll cook more in the oven. Very al dente…

2. Rinse pasta with cold water for a second.

3. Mix ricotta cheese with Romano cheese, garlic, basil, salt and pepper.

4. Assemble the lasagna as follows:
* Put a little tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan to keep it from sticking.
* Next place a layer of spaghetting (about 1/2) in the pan.
* Place a little less than 1/2 of the ricotta in the pan over the spaghetti.
* Sprinkle 1/2 of the mozzarella over the top.
* Place more sauce over the cheese to cover.
* Place the rest of the pasta on top and spread evenly to cover.
* Place the rest of the ricotta dotted on top of the sauce.
* Place the rest of the sauce over the top and spread evenly, making sure no spaghetti is uncovered.
* Cover the top with the rest of the mozzarella.

5. Bake for 35 minutes with a foil tent to keep the cheese from burning.

6. Remove foil and bake another 10 minutes.

7. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes to set.

Enjoy!

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Filed under dinner parties, gluten free, lasagna, vegetarian

Friends and the Sticky Issue of Food

Unless you’re a hermit, you’ve probably been invited to a friend’s house for dinner, lunch, party, snacks, etc. For many people, an invitation is welcomed and accepted immediately. For those of us with food restrictions, this makes things a little more sticky.

I’ve been in many situations over the years regarding friends and food. I’ve learned a few things along the way and I’d like to share them with you. If you’ve already come to these conclusions, then you’ll understand. If you haven’t gotten this far, then take it from me and learn from your experiences.

1. Never accept an invitation without asking about food accommodations. Well, I guess I should say never accept unless you intend not to eat. Then make sure you eat before you go, and make sure that by not eating, you are not insulting the host/hostess. If you accept without asking, you will have to make another inquiry later to make sure you can eat what’s being served.

2. There are tactful ways of asking about what is being served. I always apologize for any inconvenience, and make sure to offer to bring my own food. If the hostess insists on preparing something for you but doesn’t know what that is yet, remember to give any restrictions up front. Mention cross contamination, seasonings, soups, etc. I am a vegetarian and make sure that’s mentioned also.

3. Bring your own food. Even if you have to insist, tell your host that you don’t mind. And at this point, I really don’t mind. I’m going to a friend’s house for the company, not necessarily the food. And there will probably be something there you can eat, even salad or fruit. If you can, find out what the hostess is making and try to make a GF version of it for yourself. I’ve made some great GF eggplant parmesan, spaghetti, etc. There are even some great buns out there, so if you’re heading to a barbecue, just marinate a portabello mushroom in some olive oil, salt and pepper. Then have the host grill it for you. Use the tomatoes, lettuce, etc. available and you’ve got a great sandwich. If you want, bring some balsamic dressing for the sandwich, but either way, you won’t stick out as much and your host will probably be relieved since he didn’t have to find something for you.

I recently asked about potatoes that were made at a gathering recently, making sure to mention the “no-gluten” requirement. The person who made the potatoes even assured me that there was no gluten and she understood since her son has Celiac. Imagine my surprise to find out that she had used a can of cream of chicken soup in the dish. Not only did it have wheat gluten in it, but also chicken.

That leads to the most important point of all:

4. Unless you know someone very well, or know that they are taking precautions, don’t trust anyone. I have had “just salad” so many times I can’t even count it anymore. But it’s so much better than hearing later about something missed by the cook. And unfortunately, gluten is just not that understood by so many people. And since it hasn’t been publicized as much, and doesn’t cause a severe allergic reaction such as peanuts will do, then people just don’t take it as seriously. They don’t understand the gastric distress it can cause that night and for days later, depending on the contamination.

But once again, it all falls on your lap. If you are not sure, don’t eat it. I have been tempted so many times to say, “What the heck” and just eat something. But I know I will pay for it later. And so far nothing has been tempting enough to put me over the edge. I know something will, some day, but for now, it’s just not worth it.

Happy Eating

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Filed under dinner parties, gluten free, vegetarian