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Now that cold temps and snow have finally arrived, soups, stews, and chili call like sirens from the kitchen.  I’ve shared my turkey chili recipe before, and it’s one that we always enjoy. I typically make a double batch, freeze half for the future, and all’s well.  I came across a different recipe this week that looked delicious, and decided to try it.  My family was surprised when they heard what I was making, “Chicken chili?  Why chicken?”  Yet afterwards, we were all glad I tried something new.

Southwest Chicken Chili

Crockpot cooking offers a great opportunity for kids to help with meal preparation. Especially in a recipe as simple as this one, ingredients are measured, poured, and mixed. Kids can help with every step, and other than using a can opener, there’s nothing sharp or tricky involved.  As always, the beauty of slow cooking becomes evident when you return home from a busy day to find dinner waiting, without the mess of last minute prep.

Creamy Chicken Chili

The biggest difference between this recipe and the one I usually make (other than the chicken) was the addition of the ranch powder and cream cheese.  We make our own ranch powder and keep a jar of it in the refrigerator (using this great recipe), and it worked beautifully.  The only change I made to the chili was to use salsa in place of the diced tomatoes, and I omitted the chili powder as a result.  I used two frozen chicken breasts, and cooked it on low for eight hours.  We ate it with shredded cheese, a dollop of sour cream, and some crumbled tortilla chips, and it was delicious.  Really, really good. I will most definitely make this again.

Share your favorite crockpot recipe with our readers, especially ones suitable for kids in the kitchen.  Keep warm! Snow’s on its way.

Somehow, we always end up with too many over-ripe bananas. In the summer, they’re easy to toss into smoothies, yet this time of year, they pile up. Eventually, I peel and store them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer, but who needs 100 bananas in the freezer?

I’m a recent Instagram convert (don’t ask what took me so long, but now I love it) and discovered the videos on there.  The time lapse videos, to be exact.  In one minute or less, you can learn how to glam up your eyeshadow, upcycle random household stuff into crafts, and cook.  I scrolled across a video that started with two bananas, and had to learn more. Forty-three seconds later, I was copying down the recipe and excited to try it out.

Banana Oat Muffins

Banana Oat Muffins

These muffins came together so quickly (my daughter did most of it herself) and we had fun deciding what toppings to try out.  We settled on blueberries, chocolate chips, and diced apple.  The recipe yielded 18 muffins rather than the dozen shown in the video, so we made six of each kind.  Since oats are used instead of flour, these muffins can easily be made gluten free by using gluten free oats.  With a short ingredient list and no need for even a butter knife, this recipe can be made entirely by kids.  Leftovers warmed up nicely in the toaster oven, making them perfect for a busy school morning.

Now that I’ve discovered the wonder that is time-lapse cooking, I’m excited to see what is out there.  It’s fascinating to watch new dishes come together right before your eyes, and copying down the ingredients as they flash across the screen offers a fun challenge.  What are your favorite video recipes?  Share with our readers, below.

My girls had a friend sleepover the other day, and they woke up hungry and wanting a breakfast that was “not cereal.”  Fortunately we’re on holiday break, so I could indulge their wishes and save cold cereal for a busy school morning.  I had some other tasks on the agenda, so I looked for something that would come together quickly.  I found potatoes that looked great and would go well with eggs and fruit, so I decided to give the recipe a try.

Breakfast Potatoes

Breakfast Potatoes

The most time consuming part of preparing this recipe was dicing the potatoes. They didn’t need to be peeled, which was awesome.  I always skip peeling unless absolutely necessary.  There are great nutrients in the skin, plus, who wants to peel potatoes?  I expected the recipe to call for browning in a frying pan, but they were able to go in the oven, which saved me the time of standing in front of the stove.  The recipe indicated that they may stick to the pan, and recommended lining the pan with parchment paper.  I think this was key to the success of the recipe, so I definitely recommend following this tip.  The only two changes I made  (of course) were to use fresh rosemary instead of parsley, and I browned them under twice under the broiler instead of once, stirring halfway through.

Breakfast with Potatoes

They were quickly gobbled, with many compliments about their crunchy outside, fluffy inside, and flavor. Definitely kid friendly.  They were simple enough to go with any kind of main dish.  The recipe has been pinned on my Pinterest Breakfast board, and will definitely have a recurring role in our repertoire. Share your favorite breakfast recipes with out readers, below.  Happy New  Year!

No matter what holidays your family does (or doesn’t) celebrate,  sweet treats are everywhere this time of year.  If you or someone in your life happens to be gluten-free, most of those babies are off-limits.  Instead of feeling left out, decide on what you’ve been missing the most, and bake to your heart’s content.  With great flour blends and tried-and-true recipes, no one needs to miss out on the sweet fun of the holiday season.  Our family has accumulated many hours of baking over the years, and I’m happy to share our tips for success, along with links to some of our favorite holiday cookies.

Some tips for gluten-free baking success

  1. Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 Baking Mix: I’ve tried lots brands of all-purpose gluten-free flour mixes, and for years I mixed my own using recipes from a few trusted sources. Mixing your own yields great results but is a huge time commitment.  The original Bob’s Red Mill all-purpose mix contained bean flour, which in my opinion was not conducive for any sweet baked goods.  The 1 to 1 blend, however, rocks.  I’ve found it to work well in making breads, cookies, muffins, and just about everything.
  2. Parchment paper: Gluten-free baked goods respond well to parchment paper.  Use it to line the pan before baking brownies, to roll out dough for pies or cinnamon rolls, or on baking sheets so that nothing sticks.  Working with gluten-free dough is different than traditional gluten-full dough, and parchment paper truly helps you get similar results.
  3. Your digital scale: So many quality recipes give measurements for dry ingredients in grams or ounces rather than cups.  At first I didn’t understand, but the precision and ease of assembling ingredients speaks for itself.
  4. Shape before you bake: If you’ve baked with regular flour, you know that baked goods tend to round themselves out as they bake.  Muffins puff up, cookies spread, and loafs naturally take shape.  Not so with gluten-free!  If you leave your dough or batter oddly shaped as it goes into the oven, it will maintain that exact shape after baking. After much trial and error, I learned two tricks.  First, if you’re baking anything in a pan like bread or muffins, give the bottom of the pan a few taps on the counter to help even out the batter.  Keep a small bowl of water nearby, and occasionally dip a fingertip or two into the water and use it to smooth out the tops of baked goods, being careful to use the water sparingly.
  5. Don’t overbake: Gluten-free baked goods don’t mess around.  If you overbake them, they get hard and crumbly, more so than traditional baked goods.  Err on the side of caution, and set your timer for just a minute or two less than necessary.  Better to check on what’s baking and give it another minute rather than find it’s overcooked.

Peanut Butter Blossom

Cookie Favorites

I shared a number of our family favorites last year and the year prior.  Still at the top of the list are Peanut Butter Blossom, the red and green M&M chocolate chip, and sparkly sugar cookies.  Last year we tried candy cane cookies, which were delicious and will be back this year. Lemon sugar cookies have also been a staple.  We’ve always enjoyed this recipe, although for a cookie swap this year I tried a different recipe (with Bob’s 1:1 flour substituted) and we may have liked them even better!  More fluff, and fun to roll in powdered sugar before baking.

The M&M Chocolate Chip

 

In the end, it’s just about adding a little magic to your holiday season.  Sharing the love takes many forms, and a sparkly cookie platter is just one way. Spend some time with our family’s baking tips and favorite recipes, and make some memories.  Share your favorite recipes and baking tips with our readers, below. Happy baking!

It’s no secret that I love a) my crockpot and b) soup.  Combine a + b and I’m one happy mama.  With the busy holiday season and cold days, coming home to a warm, healthy meal that was prepped in the morning is a gift in and of itself.  I was looking to make something different the other day, and had frozen chicken breasts and a bag of potatoes that I wanted to use.  I couldn’t think of anything offhand, so I did some Googling.  The search resulted in a plethora of options, so I read through them until I found one that looked good.  Hearty potatoes, chicken, carrots and celery, some turkey bacon to add flavor-depth… yum. Thanks to a well-stocked pantry, I was able to make a decent meal without a trip to the store.  This recipe also had a few steps that could easily be assisted by my kids, which is always a bonus.

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Healthy Slow Cooker Chicken Potato Soup

I followed the recipe almost exactly.  (Anyone who knows me just fell over in shock). There wasn’t anything I needed to omit or modify in order to make it gluten-free, which is awesome.  I used turkey bacon, which I had in the freezer but thawed really quickly by running the edge of the package under warm water in order to separate four slices. After these were crisped in a frying pan, I put the remaining ingredients into the crockpot.  I don’t always like crockpot recipes that require pre-cooking some ingredients as that kind of defeats the purpose, but for certain ingredients, like bacon, I get it. The chicken breasts were frozen (not shredded like shown in the recipe photo), but I knew that’d be fine since ultimately it would break up in the liquid.  Most soup recipes cook all day on low, so I was surprised to see this one call for cooking on high.  Since my crockpot is newer and cooks quickly, I was able to cook it for six hours rather than a whole day, and it was fully cooked.  My kids helped peel and slice the potatoes, carrots, and celery, so I count that as cooking with kids.

After about four hours of cooking on high,  I could tell the chicken breasts had softened up.  I gently shredded them with two meat forks, so that they would absorb the broth. After two more hours, the liquid was bubbly.  I tested the potatoes and carrots, which were fork-tender and ready to eat.  In order to give the soup some depth and creaminess, I ran the immersion blender through it just a little.  I made sure to break up the chunks of chicken and some of the vegetables, but left it very chunky. The soup was extremely hot due to being cooked on high, so it required scooping into bowls for a good cooling period before it was ready to serve.  The recipe photo showed shredded cheese on top, but it didn’t appear to need it, so I skipped it.  I could put cheese on most anything, so that says a lot about the flavor of the soup.  With the diced turkey bacon, it had a richness that seemed complete on its own.

This was a big hit.  My husband can be really picky about soup (he prefers dinner on a plate, not in a bowl) but the turkey bacon seemed to sway him into concluding that the soup was enough to be “dinner.”  My kids loved it, as it wasn’t too spicy and contained nothing that needed to be eaten around (like zucchini, whose presence always offends them when it’s in soup).  It made a wonderful amount- plenty for dinner with enough left over for another night.  That’s always a huge bonus, as another dinner that can just be heated and eaten makes me really happy.  I guess it doesn’t take much to win me over.

Overall, A+.  Easy to make without any fussy ingredients, unique soup (no beans or pasta, as so many tend to have), healthy, gluten-free without any substitutions, and one simple enough for the kids to help prep.  I’m looking forward to eating it again tonight.  My husband would like to add that “pork bacon would bring out a whole different flavor.” I don’t eat or cook with pork, though, so he’ll have to make it himself if he’d like to test that out. Share your favorite soup recipes with our readers below, or your feedback on this one. Happy (almost) Holidays!

Another busy time of year is here again.  That hectic time leading up to the holidays that can overwhelm even the most organized, Zen parent.  School parties, work parties, family parties.  Shopping, decorating, wrapping.  Helping the less fortunate by participating in clothing, gift, or food drives.  All of this, on top of the regular daily responsibilities of being a parent and an adult.  About now, I find myself craving ease in the kitchen, as well as something comforting, but healthy.  I have a love affair with my crockpot, as do so many busy parents.  This baby allows me to make dinner in the morning when I’m cozy in my pajamas, and feed my family at night when I’m frazzled and tired from a busy day.

Chicken and Rice Soup

Chicken and Rice ranks among my favorite soups.  My family loves it, it tastes pure and simple, and it’s super-duper easy to make. In fact, it offers yet another opportunity for kids to help with chopping and measuring.  This recipe from crockpot goddess Stephanie O’Dea is an oldie but a goodie, and customizable as your own.  She encourages any vegetable combination that tickles your fancy.  I typically stick to the very traditional chicken soup veggies (carrots and celery) but this time I also had three zucchinis needing to be used, so in they went.  My kids aren’t zucchini fans (unless it’s inside of bread) so they ate around it, but gobbled up the rest.  It made enough for dinner and two days of lunches, which rocked!

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I make a few changes to the recipe.  I skip pureeing the vegetables, leaving them in chunks since we enjoy them as they are.  I cook the rice separately, scoop it into individual bowls before serving, and store leftovers separately, so that the rice doesn’t get mushy.  Rather than cooked chicken, I put in two raw chicken breasts (often frozen) and shred them before serving.  After 8-10 hours of cooking, the chicken is perfectly tender and shreds easily, as I find that precooked chicken gets rubbery.

No matter how you make this simple soup, I can almost promise your family will enjoy it. Naturally gluten-free, filled with your favorite veggies, warm and relaxing, delicious… the list goes on and on!  Give it a go, share your results with our readers, below, and keep warm.  Chicken and rice soup is perfect for a chilly Fall day.  Before you know it, you’ll be baking holiday cookies!

how-to-make-apple-pops-with-kids

I really love making candied apples in the fall. But that hard shell coating can be difficult for little ones to bite through. Chocolate, or caramel dipped apples can be so much easier for little ones to eat. Except that my kids never finish an entire apple by themselves. I usually cut it into slices so they can enjoy a portioned sized amount of sweets. It never occurred to me to slice the apples before dipping!

Saturday’s weather was all day dreary. All our fun activities for the day were cancelled so that left us home. We baked and cleaned because what else do you do for long stretches of time with no plans? Just as we were finishing up chores and the kids were begging for something fun to do I remembered I have everything we need to make chocolate dipped apple pops. My kids were in heaven!

Here is what you need:

3 Large apples- any variety

Wooden craft sticks, or skewers- without stain or finish

Chocolate chips

Decorative candies or sprinkles

Begin by washing and drying your apples. Next, slice apples on each side of the core so you have circles. Then you can cut the remaining sides into wedges and secure with a skewer before you dip. (You can remove the skewer before serving the dipped wedges to kids). You can use a small, sharp knife to make a slit in the edge of the apple just deep enough to add your wooden Popsicle stick.

apple-pops-1

Next, melt your favorite chocolate chips in the microwave, or by using the double boiler method. Bring a small amount of water to a boil in a pot, and place chips in the bowl. Set the the bowl on top of the boiling water and continue stirring until melted. An important thing to remember is you do not need a lot of water, it shouldn’t even touch the bowl. And use a bowl that fits just a bit bigger than the opening of the pot.

apple-pops-3

Then line a baking tray, or cutting board with wax paper. Insert the Popsicle stick or wooden dowel into each apple.

Once the chocolate is fully melted you can dip your apples into the chocolate. You can use a spoon or spatula to help coat the apples evenly. Place the dipped apples onto the wax paper and let your kids have fun decorating! You can go as simple, or as fancy as you’d like. We used what we have on hand- some M&Ms and Halloween themed sprinkles. You could also use crumbled cookies, crushed pretzels, a drizzle of caramel. Or you can get really fancy and use edible candy eyes found in the candy section of most craft stores.

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Pop these into the freezer for about 10 minutes or a little longer. Once the chocolate is solid you are ready to eat! We had so much fun making them on our rainy day, but this could really make a fun Halloween activity, or after school treat.

apple-pops5

What toppings would add to these apple pops?

The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here. You can also find her musings and popular shares on Facebook and Twitter. Stay up to date with her creative ideas and outings on Pinterest. 

 

Let’s get right down to it… Mac and Cheese.  There, I said it.  I’ve always been a mac and cheese girl.  It’s a direct route to my heart, the first thing I try at a buffet, my favorite comfort food.  Even when I find a recipe I love, I keep trying new ones, because who knows?  There might be one I love even more.

Becoming gluten-free was a bit of a bump in the mac and cheese world.  For one, opportunities to eat it now rest solely on me.  No more buffets, no more potlucks, no more emergency blue box.  Another facet of being gluten free is that convenience foods are gone.  There’s no fast food, or grabbing a bagel, or a sandwich.  Portable food became important, and with the cost of a loaf of gluten free bread (sheesh) we aren’t going to rely on a sandwich every time.

Enter: Miniature Mac and Cheese Cups!  This is not the first time you’ve heard me sing the praises of Nicole Hunn, gluten free cookbook author and blogger extraordinaire.  Thanks to her cooking pursuits, I found the recipes (and the confidence!) to master pie crust, bagels, and rock-star worthy cinnamon buns. Macaroni and cheese, especially portable, mini mac and cheese, is just perfect. They were incredible, and we froze the extras, which I hear works well.  We couldn’t wait to try these, and so many of the other recipes in her new book, Gluten-Free Small Bites.  It’s filled with a bevy of delicious “small bites,” such as handheld wraps, roll-ups, and pies.

With Nicole’s permission, I’ve shared the recipe (and her photo).  Enjoy, and do check out her new book—you won’t know what to make first!  We can’t wait to try the spinach balls and apple hand pies.  If you pre-order before October 25th, you’ll have access to six extra freebies, including a flour calculator, and step-by-step videos of some recipes. If you get your hands on the book, share your thoughts with our readers, below.

mini-mac-and-cheese-cups

miniature mac and cheese cups

Makes about 24 cups

Ingredients

8 ounces small dried gluten-free pasta (like elbows)

1 to 2 tablespoons (14 to 28 g) extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons (28 g) unsalted butter, chopped

3 tablespoons (27 g) Basic Gum-Free Gluten-Free Flour (page 4)

6 fluid ounces (1/2 can) evaporated milk

1 to 11/4 cups (8 to 10 fluid ounces) milk, at room temperature

4 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded

4 ounces sharp yellow Cheddar cheese, shredded

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 egg (50 g, weighed out of shell), at room

temperature, beaten

Directions

Boil the pasta in a large pasta pot to an al dente texture, according to the package directions. Drain the pasta, return it to the pot, and toss it with olive oil to prevent it from sticking together.  Cover the pot and set it aside.

Preheat your oven to 735°F. Generously grease the wells of two 12-cup standard muffin tins, and set them aside. To make the cheese sauce melt the chopped butter in a medium-size, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk to combine well. The mixture will clump at first, and then smooth after it cooks for a minute or so. This is the roux that will thicken the cheese sauce. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture has just begun to turn a very light-brown color, about 2 minutes. Add the evaporated milk to the roux very slowly, stirring constantly to break up any lumps that might form. Add 1 cup of milk, and whisk to combine well. Bring the mixture to a simmer, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduced by about one-quarter, about 7 minutes. The sauce should coat the back of a spoon. Remove the saucepan from the heat, add the shredded cheeses, salt, and pepper, and mix to combine. The cheese sauce should be very thickly pourable. Add the beaten egg to the remaining milk, and pour the mixture into the cheese sauce, mixing constantly. Pour the hot cheese sauce over the cooked pasta, and stir carefully to coat all of the pasta in the cheese sauce without breaking up the pasta at all.

Fill the prepared wells of the mini muffin tins just past the top with the macaroni and cheese mixture, and press down carefully but firmly to pack the mixture into the well. Place the muffin tins, one at a time, in the center of the preheated oven. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the muffin tins for 5 minutes before running a toothpick around the edge of each muffin well to loosen the cups and popping them out. Serve warm.

From the book Gluten-Free Small Bites: Sweet and Savory Handheld Treats for On-the-Go Lifestyles and Entertaining, by Nicole Hunn. Excerpted by arrangement with Da Capo Press, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc. Copyright © 2016.

My daughter Jenny loves whipped cream, but when we made the decision to eat cleaner, store-bought whipped topping made with polysorbate 60 and sorbitan monostearate had to go. Then I discovered how easy it is to make our own whipped cream, and it became a staple, something she & I like to make together. Here’s how simple it is to make:

  1. Place a metal bowl and beaters in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.
  2. In this bowl, whip together 1 cup heavy cream and 2 tablespoons sugar until stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes (these peaks will stand up without folding over).
  3. Spoon over fresh berries or your favorite dessert.

Jenny loves this so much, she wants to bring it to school for her birthday.  Please enjoy!

BBQ season has arrived.  My husband is delighted with the possibilities– ribs, and burgers, and steak, oh my!  Personally, I’m not such a huge BBQ fan, especially since I only eat poultry (and grilled salmon- but it has to be marinated just right first).  This weekend my husband had meat cooking in the smoker, and we decided to give the grill a break.  We were in the mood for pulled chicken, as it’s got that BBQ flavor without having to heat up the flames.  I sifted through lots of recipes before finding one that looked good (and didn’t call for vinegar- so many do).  I love that we could enjoy a delicious BBQ-type dish without having to stand in front of the heat (or warm up the kitchen) on a hot day.

Pulled Chicken

Slow Cooked Pulled Chicken

This recipe combined a few choice ingredients and looked like something the family would enjoy.  I used Sweet Baby Ray’s Hickory and Brown Sugar BBQ sauce as the base, adding the extra ingredients as called for in the recipe.  For future reference, an 18 oz bottle is just the right amount.  I doubled everything since we were having company.  We ate it for lunch three additional days, and I have to say, I was sad to see it gone.  I love leftovers, especially when everyone enjoyed the meal and looked forward to eating it again.  Such an easy meal- the crockpot really does all of the work.  It can be served in a sandwich, but being gluten free, we enjoyed it without bread, and didn’t miss it a bit.  This is definitely a recipe to hold onto for the dinner rotation!

Share your summertime favorites (below) with our readers.  To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.  Happy beginning of summer!

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