Sunday, February 14, 2016

Makin' Bacon!

So for the past two weeks I've been doing the #Whole30 meal plan, which is essentially a way of cutting out all the things that might be making me feel like roasted dog crap every day, and eating the things that might not make me feel like roasted dog crap. I've blogged in more detail about it over at my main page, here: Whole30 Week 1 - I Survived, but essentially I'm off grains, dairy, added sugar, legumes, and any processed foods. I'm eating meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, and fruit. This sounds awful and a bit restrictive on the surface, but since I like to cook anyway, and I've been off wheat flour since 2007, I figured it was something I'd give a shot.

Now, y'all know how much I love bacon. I mean, I love bacon a lot. And since Whole30 focuses a great deal on proteins and good fats, I thought to myself, "Self, we can eat all the bacon!"


Commercially produced bacon is full of sugar, which is why it tastes so damn good. Some of it has both sugar AND weird preservatives in it, both of which are off my menu right now. What, then, is a bacon-lovin' gal to do?

Because the Google-fu is strong in me, the first thing I did was search to see if there were any brands of Whole30-compliant bacon out there. And yes, there are. But they're incredibly expensive - not that it's not worthwhile to spend extra money to get what you're looking for, but quite frankly, I'm not in a position to spend $20 on a pound of bacon. I just can't.

So I did what I always do when I find something I want. I FIGURED OUT HOW TO MAKE IT.

Yes, my pretties, I have made my own bacon. And it's so good that I think my life has just changed forever.

The first thing I did was go visit my new friends at Blystone Farm, which is about fifteen minutes from me. It's a huge family-run farm that also has a shop where you can buy meat that was just strolling the grounds a couple of days before. It's the kind of place where you go up the driveway and travel right past these HUGE cows lazing in the sun and you know that the meat you're buying comes from happy, fat, well-treated animals. I managed to snag a three-pound package of pork belly, for about $15 - and the only ingredient in it? Pork.

The Curing Process

So, step two was to go ahead and season it for curing. Robb Wolf, who is sort of the guru of the whole Paleo movement, has a great blog post about how he does his bacon, but I didn't have half the stuff on hand that he uses, so I figured I'm kitchen-savvy enough to come up with alternatives, based upon the things I already own. I'm never going to cook with caraway seeds so I couldn't justify running to the store to buy them. Anyway, here's what I used, for a three pound pork belly:

1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground white pepper (yes, it has a different flavor than the black)
1 tsp onion powder
2 tsp dried rosemary
2 tsp dried sage
2 tsp dried oregano
3 Tbsp pink Himalayan salt*
2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced

I ground everything but the garlic up with my handy dandy mortar and pestle (if you don't own a set you really should - I have five), added the minced garlic, and then rubbed the whole mess over my pork belly. Yes, it was a little weird to type that sentence.

Then the pork belly went into a zippy bag - actually, TWO zippy bags since I had to cut it in half to make it fit - and then sat in the deli drawer of my fridge, taunting me.

Heat That Sucker Up

After my pork belly sat minding its own business for a week, it was time to smoke it. Now, here's the thing. I live in Ohio. It's February. Yesterday's high temperature was 6. SIX DAMN DEGREES. So I'll be damned if I was going to go outside and fire up my smoker. Hell to the no, peeps. Which meant it was going to have to slowly warm up in my oven. Not a problem.

I took the pork belly and rinsed off the cure seasonings, put it in my favorite baking dish (skin side up!) and plopped it in the oven at 200 degrees, for about three hours. Once the internal temperature reached 160, I figured it was good. Also, I may have used a candy thermometer as a meat thermometer but since I never actually MAKE candy I figured it was ok.

Next step? Let it cool - and I actually let it sit overnight in my fridge because I was tired and didn't feel like slicing it before I went to bed.

Slice It, Slice It Real Good...

This morning, I got up, pulled my pork belly out of the fridge, and cut it into strips. Holy cow pig, it LOOKS just like regular bacon. This is one of those times when I actually wish I had a meat slicer, because although I used a really sharp Santoku knife, the strips are still fairly thick. Because of that, I ended up cutting each strip into halves, just for ease of cooking. 

As I was frying my bacon strips, I noticed that they didn't smell as bacony as the bacon I buy in the store, and I wondered if that could be because of the extra stuff they add into the commercial brands. There was definitely a delicious porky smell, but more mild, like you'd get with a roast in your oven, and less smoky and bacony. So... how would the flavor compare?

The Final Verdict

I can't even begin to explain how GOOD this tastes. It's not sweet, like regular bacon, but it's got an earthy, salty flavor that is just amazing. I'm sitting here enjoying a few slices with my spinach and eggs this morning, and it's just... so... INCREDIBLE.

I fried up about 1/4 of my bacon this morning, and put the rest into freezer bags for later. It's one of the most delicious things I've ever made, and it's super simple. Also, it cost me $5 a pound, which is about what you'd pay for high-end commercially produced bacon WITH additives, and 25% of what you'd pay for Whole30-compliant bacon anywhere else.

I'm legitimately in awe of how tasty this is. Looks like I'll be going back to the farm shop next week for more pork belly!

*Random note on ingredients: I'm thinking I could probably cut the salt back to 2 Tbsp instead. It's not overpowering with three, but it could probably be less and still taste amazing.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

DIY Starbucks VIA Iced Coffee Mix!

OK, so I'll be the first to admit I'm a huge coffee fan.

And I'll also admit that I like Starbucks coffee - DON'T YOU JUDGE ME! However, I don't do foofy fluffy drinks with sparkles and whipped deliciousness piled on top - I only get their Iced Coffee (venti, please, cream and no sweetener) because it's really delicious and it's only $2.95. Plus every time I buy one I get another star on my rewards card, and after I rack up a dozen, I get a free drink which I usually use as a Pay It Backwards in the drive thru lane.

Anyway, Starbucks has their VIA Iced Coffee mixes available to purchase both in their shops and in grocery stores. It's basically a packet of powder that you add to a glass of cold water, mix it up, and it tastes very similar to their iced coffee that's brewed in the stores. A 6-packet box of VIA is a little pricy, at anywhere from $4.99 to $7.99 in the grocery store, depending on whether it's on sale or not. Cheaper than buying a $2.95 drink each day, but the fact is, I *love* my VIAs, and I go through those six packets in about two to three days, tops.

I thought, "Wouldn't be awesome if I could make something similar myself?"


And this really has nothing to do with gluten-free stuff at all, but this is so darn good, y'all. Technically, coffee is gluten free, so there's that.
Anyway, it's only three ingredients, and you may want to adjust the proportions depending on how sweet you like things, but play around with it and see what you can do. I'm posting this in parts, rather than specific amounts - that way, you can either make a small batch to play around with and adjust your flavors, or you can just go whole hog like I did, and make a big batch to sit in your pantry, greeting you every time you open the door.

Here's what you need: sugar, instant coffee granules, and powdered milk. That's it. Now, the really important part - you also need a coffee grinder. Why do you need this? Because you need to powder the instant coffee granules and the sugar before you mix them with the powdered milk – otherwise, your mix is not going to dissolve in water, which means you’ll get clumpy brown floaters on the top of your iced coffee. No one likes that. If you don't have a coffee grinder, throw it in your food processor or whatever, and then go buy a coffee grinder because they're great.

So these portions (and I used a half cup as a part, but use whatever you like) are based on the amounts AFTER the coffee granules and sugar have been pulverized in the coffee grinder. You’ll need:

1 part coffee granules
2 parts powdered milk
4 parts sugar

I know it sounds like a lot of sugar, but because instant coffee is very concentrated, and the flavor is strong, you’ll taste the coffee before you taste the sweetness of the sugar. If you like your iced coffee sweeter, use more parts of sugar, but try it this way first and see what you think.

Mix all your stuff up in a bowl, and then do a couple of taste tests to make sure your mixture is where you like it, flavorwise. I put 16 oz water in a glass, and added 3 Tbs of the above mixture, stirred it up, and got it exactly where I wanted it. Store your dry mix in a bag or mason jar.

A couple of notes on cost effectiveness: the above blend, using half-cup parts as measurement, cost me the following.

One half of a $5.99 jar of coffee granules
One $1.99 packet of powdered milk
2 Cups of sugar that I already had in the pantry

This gave me 3 ½ cups powdered instant coffee mix. I estimate that using my 3 Tbs measurement, that’s around eighteen cups of iced coffee, at around a third (or less) of the price of buying the mix in the store. Not bad, and I can always whip up another batch when I run out!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Go Buy a Spirooli

Guys, guys, guys! I have found the best thing ever and OMG IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE.

One thing a lot of people notice instantly when they go gluten-free is that their pasta choices are suddenly limited. Those 59 cent boxes of macaroni and that five-pack of Ramen that you lived on in college are out the door, never again to find their way down into your belly. You can buy some gluten-free noodles, sure - and there are some good ones out there, like the Tinkyada and Schar brands - but for the most part, pasta seems like kind of too much effort sometimes.

Here's my pasta secret. Don't tell anyone, it's too embarrassing. Here goes: even before I had to go gluten-free, I didn't really love pasta at all.

I know, I know, how can a suburban midwesterner not be a fan of pasta, right? That and bratwurst is practically all we eat here! No, really, I have just never liked pasta that much, because it made me feel so full and bloated. Not gluten-reaction bloated, but gotta-put-on-the-yoga-pants-and-skip-dessert bloated. So while I *occasionally* ate pasta, usually I'd pass on it, because it just wasn't something I enjoyed.

Anyway, all that was backstory. Last week I'm noodling around on Pinterest (see what I did there?) and I came across this recipe: Zucchini Noodles and Grilled Shrimp. My friends, it was like the skies opened up, the clouds parted, the sun shone upon me and a chorus of angels began to sing. ZUCCHINI NOODLES. Turning a vegetable into a pasta-like shape! WHO KNEW???

Then I had to figure out how to make it happen, and because the Google-fu is strong in me, within about 12 seconds I discovered I needed to get a spiralizer. Now, there are a ton of different ones out there, but because I'm poor (and because I often lose interest in gadgets after I've paid for them) I decided to get the least expensive, but still decent-looking one I could find.

Ladies and germs, The Spirooli.

For $24.99 (actually, it was $20 because I had a 20% off BB&B coupon), I got a gizmo that is kind of fabulous. It's made of very basic plastic (hey, it was twenty bucks!) but it works perfectly to crank out little spirally ribbons of whatever vegetable you want to put in there.

One and a half medium sized zucchini gave me a huge pile of noodles full of ribbony green goodness.


Anyway, I tossed them in a ceramic pot with some butter, garlic, salt and a handful of Parmesan cheese, and microwaved it for about four minutes to warm it up.

It was a giant bowl of heaven.

And then, just when I thought my zoodles couldn't be any more amazing, I went out to the garden and grabbed some fresh basil and a tomato for topping, and served it all up with a plate of Greek chicken.

The Spirooli washes up easily too - I had it cleaned and dried in the time it took me to nuke my zoodles.

Seriously, guys, I'm going to Spirooli the hell out of any vegetable that gets near me. Potatoes = curly fries. Cabbage = coleslaw. AND MOAR ZUCCHINI NOODLES.

Go buy one. It's going to make you rethink the way you look at pasta.

Review: Schar Deli-Style Bread

So, I haven't blogged for a while, because I got this crazy idea that I should go back to school back in the spring. It's going well, but even with just two classes a semester, it's a bit of a time-suck, but I promise I'm going to try to get better about sharing recipes and product reviews more on the regular. For now, though, I wanted to jump back into things with an absolutely amazing gluten-free bread I've found.

Back in 2012, I checked out Schar's White Bread Rolls, and they were pretty darn tasty. As I mentioned then, I don't really buy a lot of pre-made GF bread things, for a variety of reasons, but mostly because a lot of times they're terrible. If something tastes like a cardboard box, putting chicken salad or ham'n'cheese ain't gonna make it taste less like a cardboard box. It's just going to taste like a cardboard box with toppings.

Anyway, I decided to treat myself to something nice (or at least, so I hoped) and bought a package of Schar's Deli-Style Bread. It looked interesting. It looked like it had texture. It looked like - dare I say it? - a soft rye. Color me intrigued.

Now, a quick aside - you only get five slices per package. It doesn't sound like much, but they're pretty good-sized pieces of bread. Deli size. You could easily make five meals out of them, if you use one slice per sandwich.

I was hungry. I used TWO slices and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

In fact, I made an absolutely lovely grilled turkey and cheese sandwich with pesto mayo on it. The bread has a great flavor, it's soft enough that you could eat it without toasting or grilling it, and it holds together beautifully. Did I mention it has a great flavor? Seriously, guys, it tastes like a light rye (the company's website says it's sourdough, but I'm not really getting that sourdough vibe at all).

Anyway, go try some Schar bread. It's seriously yummy, and it's so soft you'll forget you're eating a gluten-free sandwich bread.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Review: Pillsbury Gluten Free Pizza Crust

Oh, Pillsbury. You do so many things well, and I'm thrilled that you're getting into the gluten free market. Well, actually, I was thrilled about the pie crust blend, because that makes the best chicken pot pie ever.

Your gluten free pizza dough, sadly, is a bit of a disappointment. I was really excited to give it a shot - after all, Pizza Friday is kind of a twice-a-month event at my house - so I figured it would be worth it, since I'd been so pleased with the pie crust dough.

Don't get me wrong - the pizza crust dough has a great texture. It rolls out beautifully, although the container said I'd get two crusts out of one package, and there's no way on dog's green earth that was going to happen unless I made a pair of five-inch pizzas. Really, it was nice and stretchy and soft, easy to work with, and didn't spring back once it was stretched into place on the pizza pan. Two thumbs up so far.

I baked my crust for a few minutes just to firm it up before I loaded it with toppings, then added my sauce, pepperoni and cheese, and baked it for a few more minutes. When it came out of the oven, it was gorgeous. Look at how pretty it is!

And of course it smelled good, because pizza smells good by its very nature. It even sliced neatly and evenly. In fact, I could tell already that this pizza would be one I could eat with my hands, and not the messy crumbly pile of ingredients that my children refer to as "forkin' pizza." Again, two more thumbs up!

And then I took a few bites, which is where I discovered Pillbury Gluten Free Pizza Dough's fatal flaw.

The problem is not that it has a bad taste or unpleasant flavor. The problem is that it has NO FLAVOR AT ALL.

At first I thought I was imagining this - after all, it's Pillsbury - and figured maybe all my delicious toppings were obscuring the taste of the crust. So I broke off a few bits of un-topped crust from around the edges and nibbled on them by themselves.

Nada. Nothing. Zip.

Like I said, it's not a BAD flavor, it's simply non-existent. There's a bit of a faint aftertaste once I swallowed, which I suspect can be attributed to the millet flour, but in general, it just doesn't taste like anything at all. This crust scored a perfect ten on every other aspect, like texture and consistency, but the absence of any discernible flavor is unforgivable. Don't get me wrong, I did eat all my pizza - because the crust served as a delivery method for all my tasty cheese and pepperoni, but it was a huge let-down.

I've read the reviews on the Pillsbury website, and people have mixed feelings about this product, so I'd definitely suggest trying it for yourself... but only if you don't mind a hit or miss pizza crust. I'm hoping Pillsbury eventually revises their recipe for this and adds something -- anything -- that gives this product some flavor. Because otherwise I know I personally won't be wasting another $4 on a tub of it.

Review: Chebe Cinnamon Roll Mix

I love cinnamon rolls. Like, really love them. They're the perfect weekend breakfast food. However, they're also fairly time consuming to make from scratch, which I have to do if I want them to be gluten free, so I really haven't bothered to make them in, oh, I don't know, three years or something.

So the other day I was at Ye Olde Grocery Shoppe and saw that Chebe has a cinnamon roll mix. Hmmmm, thought I. Chebe's cheese bread and focaccia are staples in my pantry, and I keep them on hand in case I'm having a bread emergency, because they're tasty. I figured I'd give the cinnamon roll mix a shot.

Like all Chebe mix, it's pretty easy to bang out a batch of these. The mix blended easily, and I think it took me maybe five minutes to get everything combined and ready to roll out.

Here's where a lot of gluten-free mixes fail. One of the reasons that gluten is such an important thing in baking is that it's what helps bind stuff together - it's a sticky, stretchy protein that makes everything have a structure and shape instead of just being a dense loaf of flours. A problem I see with many commercially prepared GF mixes is that they haven't included enough of whatever alternate ingredients make the dough stretchy, so things tend to fall apart when you're doing important stuff like, say, using a rolling pin. I'm happy to say that the Chebe cinnamon roll dough rolled out pretty well. I use a silpat-style baking mat to roll everything out, liberally sprayed with cooking spray, and was able to easily get the dough to the recommended 8x12" dimensions. 

Topping it was easy, and even the roll-up process wasn't too bad - this part, though, is definitely a good reason to use a baking mat when you work with dough. You can simply angle the edge of the mat up and flop the dough back in over itself to get your roll rolling. Slicing it up worked pretty well, and it was no problem to get the 12 slices the box said I would get.

The box says to bake the rolls for about sixteen minutes, but honestly they didn't seem quite done, so I gave them an extra two. That's going to vary depending on your oven. Now, here's one thing that's important to remember about these cinnamon rolls. If you're expecting something that's going to quadruple in size, like those refrigerated cinnabun monstrosities that our gluten-eating family members get to eat, you're doing to be disappointed. These do not plump when you cook 'em, although they do expand out just a little bit.

Flavor-wise, they're delicious - they taste just like a cinnamon roll should. Texture-wise, mine came out a little firm on the outside - with a chewy consistency almost like a cookie - and softer on the inside, but again, that may have to do with my oven.

I like my cinnamon rolls with frosting, so I whipped up a quick batch of cream cheese topping to spread on the top, but honestly, they would have been just fine without it. On the whole, if you're going to use a mix, Chebe has a decent blend available here - like I said, they're not big or puffy or fluffy cinnamon rolls, but they're tasty, have a good consistency, and are easy to whip up if you want a quick and delicious breakfast. I'd definitely recommend these to anyone who's a fan of my "work smarter not harder" philosophy, and keep a box on hand in your pantry just in case you're having a hankering for cinnamon rolls and aren't interested in making them from scratch.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Holy Cow It's Cold Out, So Make a Gluten Free Lasagna

Holy cow, that's good stuff.
Lasagna is one of those foods that I don't get to make that often, because it takes a while to put together, and then even once you've done all the assembly, it has to bake for a good 45 minutes before it's done. Since I'm usually banging out dinner sometime after 5 but I like to have it on the table by 6 pm, lasagna honestly requires way too much planning ahead for me.

Except for today. Because where I live, in Upper Middle Suburbia, we are under a winter whitedeathsnowmageddonpocalypse, which - by the grace of the old snow gods - meant that I got a much-wanted phone call from my part time job telling me I wasn't needed to work my 12-830 shift today.

Which meant I could run to the store to buy groceries before next week's subzero temps roll in (oh yes, gentle readers, we're looking at a wind chill of 35 BELOW in just a couple of days) and it meant I had the time to make a lasagna. Oh, comfort food, how do I love thee, let me count the ways.

I probably should be taking down last month's holiday tree, but I like making and eating food better than I like taking down seasonal decorations. So. Lasagna it is.

If you've never made a lasagna, they're not hard to make, they're just time consuming because there are several different components. There's the noodles, which you have to cook first, there's the meat sauce, and there's the Cheese Glop.

Preheat your oven to 350, and grease a lasagna pan. You'll need the following ingredients:

1 package gluten free lasagna noodles (I really dig the Tinkyada brown rice ones)
1 lb. ground turkey (or whatever meat you like)
1 lb. breakfast sausage
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
1 29-oz can tomato sauce
1 32-oz tub Ricotta cheese
1 1/2 C. shredded Parmesan
2 eggs
2 Tbs. oregano
1/2 lb Mozzarella cheese, shredded or sliced

First of all, get your noodles boiling, and follow the instructions on the package to cook them al dente. You can't make a lasagna without noodles (ok, technically you CAN, but not this one).

Next, brown the meat, the sausage, the onion and the garlic in a pan. You can use whatever kind of meat you like - venison, cow, whatever you have on hand, but I like turkey because it's lean, and we're going to put a ton of cheese in here, so every calorie saved in meat is one earned back in cheese. Once your meat has browned completely, add the can of tomato sauce, and let it simmer for about ten minutes. Add a pinch of salt.

Cheese Glop: Better than it sounds
While your meat is browning and your noodles are noodling, mix up your Cheese Glop. There's probably a technical term for this, and if I was an Italian chef I'd know it, but in my house it's just cheese glop. Mix the Ricotta, one cup of the Parmesan (save the rest), the eggs, and the oregano in a bowl. Now you have all three components of your lasagna.

After you've rinsed and drained your noodles, place half of them in the bottom of your lasagna pan. You're going to add the ingredients in layers as follows:
Yum! Noodly goodness!

1. Half the noodles
2. Half the Cheese Glop
3. Half your Mozzarella cheese
4. Half the meat
5. The rest of the noodles
6. The rest of the Cheese Glop
7. The rest of the Mozzarella
8. The rest of the meat
9. That remaining one third of the Parmesan that you probably ate while you were reading this

After that top layer of Parmesan, I like to throw some more oregano on the top too, because oregano is GOOD.

Can you do this lasagna with three layers of everything instead of two? Sure, have at it. And if you use the Tinkayda noodles, you'll actually end up with enough noodles to do three layers, so go crazy.

Ready to go in the oven!
Bake the whole shebang at 350 for about 40 minutes, and then let it cool for another ten or so before you eat it, or that hot Cheese Glop will burn your lips with the heat of a thousand fiery cheese suns. Dig in and enjoy. And yes, this makes a LOT of lasagna - I'm feeding myself tonight, my husband and three fourteen year olds, and there will be enough left for tomorrow's lunch!