Monthly Archives: May 2011

Zucchini and Sun-Dried Tomato Casserole and Meal Plan May 30-June 3

Hope those of you here in the United States enjoyed a wonderful long weekend. I know we did…but it goes by so fast!

Here is another version of the squash casserole I made the other day. I can’t decide, honestly, whether I like this one better than the previous one – but they were both satisfying and delicious. This one had a lovely combination of sweetness from the sun-dried tomatoes and freshness from the herbs. It took some considerable self-control not to eat the entire casserole in one sitting. I even enjoyed some of the leftovers for breakfast. (Of course, I’m a big fan of just about any tasty leftovers for breakfast!)

This week’s meal plan is somewhat short, and not quite as organized as usual. We’re eating a lot of what’s already on hand – we have some meat in the freezer, a lot of swiss chard that I pulled from the garden today, and the pantry holds quite a few goodies. In addition, we have activities that aren’t allowing for much in the way of dinner preparation time. So while I’ve written down a few things, it’s mostly a chance for me to wing it a bit.


Breakfast: Teff and Millet Pancakes (I thought they were pretty tasty, but the family didn’t agree. Still trying to come up with a whole grain pancake recipe that everyone else likes!), fruit smoothies

Dinner: Shepherd’s Pie (made with slow-cooked shredded lamb shoulder), Sauteed Swiss Chard (without onion, but with a bit of carrot and celery)

Also making hard-boiled eggs and beef jerky for the coming week


Breakfast: leftover pancakes with nut butter, 1/2 banana, and maple syrup

Lunch: leftover shepherd’s pie, swiss chard

Dinner: grilled chicken on salad


Breakfast: gluten-free cornflakes with almond milk, raspberries, hard-boiled egg

Lunch: grilled chicken with salad

Dinner: Quinoa pizza with spinach or swiss chard


Breakfast: green smoothie with spinach, pineapple, and mint

Lunch: leftover pizza

Dinner: Lettuce wraps (made with turkey, and omitting oyster sauce, using gluten-free soy sauce)


Breakfast: gluten-free cornflakes with almond milk, banana, hard-boiled egg

Lunch: leftovers or egg or tuna salad sandwich with gluten-free bread, baby carrots, celery sticks

Dinner: the husband might be in charge of this one for the kids, as I have a soccer game during dinner time

Snacks include baby carrots, oranges, Tanka bars, and brown rice cakes


Alright, I’ve kept you long enough. Here’s the zucchini and sun-dried tomato casserole!

Zucchini and Sun-Dried Tomato Casserole

2 T olive oil

4 c sliced zucchini

1 t chopped fresh sage

1 T chopped fresh parsley

½ t chopped fresh thyme leaves

½ c soaked and chopped sun-dried tomatoes

½ t smoked paprika

Salt and pepper to taste

1 T ghee or olive oil

¼ c almond flour

½ c cheddar cheese alternative (I used Daiya)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a casserole dish and set aside.

Heat a skillet to medium heat. Add olive oil and swirl to coat. Saute zucchini for about 8-10 minutes, or until softened. Add herbs and sun-dried tomatoes and continue to sauté for another minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Using a paper towel, squeeze the excess juice from the vegetables (otherwise, you’ll end up with a wetter casserole than you desire) Transfer the vegetables to the casserole dish. Top with Daiya cheese.

Melt the ghee in a small microwaveable bowl for 30-45 seconds. Combine ghee and almond flour along with a pinch of salt in a bowl. Blend together with a spoon until crumbly. Spread over the Daiya evenly.

Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes.

This meal plan post is linked to Gluten-Free Menu Swap over at Celiacs In The House.

This post is linked to Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays at Simply Sugar and Gluten Free.


Filed under Budget-Friendly, Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Healthy Meals, Meal Plans, Side Dishes, Vegetables, Vegetarian

National Foundation for Celiac Awareness – Celiac Awareness Month

In case you haven’t already heard, May is Celiac Awareness Month. This is a fairly new designation; but it’s quickly gaining ground. I, for one, hope it continues to do so. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness states that 3 million Americans are affected by celiac disease, yet 95% don’t know they have it. That’s nearly 3 million people that are suffering from symptoms ranging from digestive distress, emotional, neurological, and behavioral disorders, numbness and tingling in various parts of their bodies, headaches, malnourishment, and many other things, not knowing there’s a way out. Did you know there are more than 300 symptoms of celiac disease? All of these could be alleviated by a gluten-free diet.

And that’s just celiac disease. What about those with gluten intolerance? The numbers for those that cannot digest gluten are many times higher.

Many of us with undiagnosed celiac disease or gluten intolerance visit the doctor, complaining of symptoms. I did. It started in 2004-2005 – and I complained of a lot of digestive issues. (In hindsight, I had some of these issues for many, many years before then – they just worsened over time.) After multiple visits to my doctor, multiple visits to a gastroenterologist, I was told I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I was given several medications (none of which worked). After explaining to my doctor that I had an immediate family member with diagnosed celiac disease, he reluctantly gave me a blood test. All the while he told me I couldn’t have this issue – I wasn’t underweight. (Fact is, many people with celiac disease and/or gluten intolerance can be at any weight.) My blood test did come back negative. I kept eating gluten, and resigned to the fact that I’d have to deal with my issues for the rest of my life.

A few years passed. Over time, I wanted to be healthier. I didn’t feel energetic anymore, and I had even been given ADD medications for a while, as it became harder and harder to focus at my job. I started to try to exercise daily. I transitioned to a healthy, nourishing diet. More whole grains (lots of whole wheat bread), more vegetables, less fast food. I did all the “right” things. And yet I continued to feel worse. I got sick more often, I couldn’t handle stress, my hands and feet would swell, go partially numb and tingle, I couldn’t focus, and my digestive issues continued to plague me. My vitamin B and D levels were low, even though I regularly took supplements and ate properly. Towards the end of my “gluten-eating time”, I couldn’t eat anything, it seemed, without severe heartburn and/or nausea. I’d given up my well-loved imported beer, my coffee, and regularly took Prilosec with little relief. Finally, after talking with other family members that already went gluten-free, I decided to eliminate gluten from my diet. I did a 90-day trial. Most of those symptoms disappeared before the 90 days was up. I felt better – better than I had in a long time. I did eat gluten at the end of the 90 days, to “double-check” that it was indeed causing me harm, and my reaction to it was severe enough that I knew I had to stay away from it for the rest of my life. I never received a formal medical diagnosis of celiac disease, but I know my body doesn’t like gluten. That’s enough for me.

Many times, throughout this process, I felt like I was going crazy. That it was “all in my head.” That I had to deal with it, and that I was just getting older. (I went gluten-free at age 29. I certainly hope that’s not old!) I’ve heard this story echoed over and over as I’ve become friends with others that have discovered they are intolerant to gluten or have celiac disease. Often times, it takes years until a diagnosis is reached. Or in my case, it’s a matter of personal trial and error. (In my mind, that almost makes it tougher – many people don’t feel “validated” without that diagnosis. We should take our health and our diet just as seriously as those with a diagnosis. After all, our bodies react “seriously” to gluten!)

This is what makes Celiac Awareness Month and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness so important. Their mission is to further research and raise awareness for celiac disease and gluten intolerance. They work to improve the time it takes for someone to receive a proper diagnosis, and to help people improve the quality of their lives.

They offer valuable information for anyone curious about what celiac disease is, what the symptoms can include, and how to deal with a gluten-free diet. They offer educational opportunities and events. They are even highlighting gluten-free bloggers every day this month on their blog (I’m one of them highlighted today!) Their website is a wealth of information and an opportunity to gain a sense of community. (For those of us dealing with gluten intolerance or celiac disease, we need all the information and community we can get.) I hope to see more and more positive events in the future from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and others – awareness is the only way that the millions of undiagnosed people can begin to find relief.

For those of you that suffer from some of the symptoms of celiac disease or gluten intolerance – it’s not all in your head. Visit your doctor. Get tested. Listen to your body. For me, that last part is still a work in progress, but I feel a million times better than I did two years ago. I promise you, if you find gluten is causing your problems, removing it from your diet might seem daunting at first, but you’ll feel the benefits. Your body will thank you.

Want to read more stories about symptoms of celiac and gluten-intolerance? Check out this great post by Gluten-Free Girl. She shares her story, but there are many, many commenters on that post that share theirs as well.


Filed under About, Gluten-Free

Meal Plan May 22-May 27

We got our first CSA share for the season from SqueezePenny Farm this weekend, and I was excited! In true spring form, a good majority of our share was comprised of greens (collards, kale, spinach, swiss chard) but there were also some carrots, Thai basil, red leaf lettuce, snow peas, and a big turnip (and probably some other things I’m forgetting about as I write this). We will definitely make use of our bounty this week.

Still following the low-FODMAP diet. So far, not sure if this is really helping. Some symptoms are lessened, but not completely gone. But I’m only one week in – we shall see. If anyone wants to discuss in detail, feel free to email me and we can chat!

In other news, I spent a lot of time out in our flower beds this weekend. We have been in this house for nearly 5 years now, and we’ve made repeated attempts to improve the shrubs, plant various flowers and other things, only to be met with troubles and failures. The existing shrubs were overgrown when we moved in (the previous owners didn’t keep up with things very well), so no matter what we did, they looked shabby. The soil was unimproved, inpenetrable clay (which is typical in this part of Texas) that didn’t drain or provide any nutrients to the plants. When I would try to dig the soil to plant something (much less attempt to till by hand), I could put the shovel in the ground and put all of my weight into it, only to barely make a dent.

So this spring, we employed some help. We had a landscaping company help us remove nearly all of the existing shrubs and till and amend the soil, so there could be hope of planting new life. Meanwhile, I worked to educate myself on what plans would thrive in the heat of our summers and the unpredictability of our winters. (I’m really still a garden newbie) I drew up a basic plan, and this weekend, purchased and planted the entire flower beds. I planted knock-out roses, dwarf yaupon hollies, lamb’s ear, rosemary and lavender, moss rose, pencil hollies, coral honeysuckle, yucca, daylilies, Mexican petunias, and a butterfly bush. The plants all look like such babies now, but I hope that they will grow big and thrive in their new home. I still have a few things to do – mulch, there are a few places where I could add a plant or two, and we’re still debating what to do about the border – but overall, I’m happy and hopeful this new beginning is what our home needed. For now, I’m sporting a lovely sunburn on my shoulders and arms (but not on my neck or face, thanks to the dorky floppy hat I shamelessly wore – and chased down the lawn too many times, as it was really windy yesterday), thanks to my foolish lack of belief that even partially cloudy skies will still make for red skin. Spending this many years on Earth has not necessarily made me smarter!

For those of you who were interested in what was on the menu this week, here it is! Last week we stuck to the menu pretty closely, except that some bursts of last-minute creativity appeared in the kitchen, giving rise to a squash and chard casserole and a cucumber salad. I’ve given myself some wiggle room in this week’s plan as well, hoping similar creativity will show itself at the right time. I did enjoy the casserole from last week so much that I’m hoping to try a zucchini variation – I’ll share if it turns out well!


Breakfast – Breakfast taquitos for the kids and husband, fried egg and sauteed spinach for me 

Dinner – Was going to make something, and after 4+ hours of planting stuff in my front flower beds, husband offered to pick up Chipotle. I had a salad – just lettuce, carnitas, and the hot salsa. Topped with chopped tomatoes and red peppers I cut up myself.

Also made hard-boiled eggs, cream of buckwheat, and almond milk for the week


Breakfast: Cream of buckwheat with pecans and cinnamon, hard-boiled egg

Lunch: leftover lamb empanada (from my freezer – I will make again soon and share recipes!), baby carrots, steamed kale, kiwi fruit

Dinner: Creamy pasta shells with chicken, collard greens


Breakfast: Smoothie (half a banana, blueberries, mint, spinach), hard-boiled egg

Lunch: leftover creamy pasta, spinach salad

Dinner: Grilled chicken on salad of red-tip lettuce, radishes, snow peas, carrots, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, red bell pepper


Breakfast: Cream of buckwheat with pecans and banana, hard-boiled egg

Lunch: Salad with half-sandwich on gluten-free “rye” bread (recipe not quite perfect yet, but is based on this one, with the addition of caraway seeds and some other spices)

Dinner: Lamb chops, baked sweet potatoes, zucchini and sun-dried tomato casserole


Breakfast: Same smoothie as Tuesday, hard-boiled egg

Lunch: Chicken or tuna sandwich on “rye”, baby carrots and celery, possibly leftover casserole

Dinner: Fish tacos (tenative – might eat out or random leftovers, since we have errands to do before the holiday weekend)


Breakfast: Cream of buckwheat with blueberries

Lunch: Scrambled eggs and sauteed veggies

Dinner: Pizzas (mine with the quinoa crust) – use up leftover veggies as toppings

What about snacks? I plan on having oranges and blueberries around, as well as nuts, the occasional brown rice cake, and Tanka bars.


Filed under Meal Plans

Cucumber Herb Salad

Salads are an area where I tend to have a “kitchen sink” mentality. The more vegetables, the better – I tend to throw in anything and everything that looks fresh and tastes good. More than one type of greens? Check. Radishes? Check. Tomatoes? Check. Cucumbers? Why not? Sometimes, even squash, olives, pumpkin seeds, picked peppers, and pickled okra all show up in the salad. And with some source of protein, such as grilled chicken, steak, or beans, these are good salads for meals (I’m enjoying such a version today for lunch, in fact), but they’re not really composed. There’s something to be said for a lovely salad that is restrained and highlights just a few fresh ingredients.

That’s precisely what this salad does. It’s not fancy, and it takes practically no time. Just some fresh cucumber, chopped fresh herbs, a bit of vinegar and salt, and what arises is a refreshing, light accompaniment to a meal. I loved how bright it was (we enjoyed this alongside a creamy pasta dish with sausage, which was heavy), and it didn’t hurt that it was a very low-calorie way to add some interest. I definitely need to remind myself how enjoyable a salad like this can be, especially as the temperatures start rising in the next few months!

Cucumber Herb Salad

5-6 Kirby cucumbers or 1 English cucumber, thinly sliced

1 T chopped fresh mint leaves

1 t chopped fresh tarragon

1 T rice wine vinegar

Pinch or two of salt

Toss the cucumber slices with the herbs, vinegar, and salt. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Serves 3-4 as a side dish.


Filed under Appetizers, Budget-Friendly, Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Healthy Meals, Quick and Easy, Salads, Side Dishes, Vegetables, Vegetarian

Squash and Chard Casserole

Do you remember squash casserole? If you’re from the South, it’s likely you’ve had it before (or quite often) – a cheesy, buttery, creamy casserole filled with squash that has been cooked within an inch of its life, topped with buttery crumbs. I didn’t grow up eating such a casserole (my parents aren’t from the South), but I definitely enjoyed it a time or two, typically in local diners that also served other Southern favorites, such as fried okra, chicken-fried steak, collard greens (with lots of ham or bacon), grits, and lots of biscuits and gravy. While tasty, it’s definitely not something that is friendly on the waistline or to those of us with gluten and dairy issues.

I’d forgotten about squash casserole, truth be told, until Sunday evening, when I was staring down some fresh yellow squash I’d picked up at the farmer’s market. I had unimaginative plans for it as a side dish for roasted chicken, figuring I’d saute it just until tender, season with a bit of salt and pepper, and call it good. But then, out of nowhere, squash casserole popped into my head. Also faced with an overabundance of swiss chard from my garden, the wheels started turning. I could make a squash casserole that would be tasty, but not a guilty pleasure. Something that could still be considered a vegetable. It could be possible to make something gluten-free, casein-free, and even low FODMAP-friendly.

And so this dish was born. It was still creamy from the Daiya cheese I used to top it, but not overly so. The vegetables were tender, but not overcooked. There was still a buttery flavor from the “crumb” topping. The chipotle chile powder added a lovely boost of flavor, so you really felt like you had a treat without a bunch of heaviness. I even enjoyed some leftovers for breakfast. As squash season hasn’t even really begun yet, I’m sure this won’t be the last time this dish graces our dinner table.

Squash and Chard Casserole (Gluten-Free, Casein-Free)

1 bunch swiss chard

2 T olive oil

3 c sliced yellow squash

½ t chipotle chile powder

Salt and pepper to taste

½ c Daiya cheddar cheese (or other vegan cheese alternative)

1 T ghee or olive oil (if you can’t tolerate ghee or prefer to make this vegan)

¼ c almond flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a medium-sized casserole dish (mine was an oval one about 9″X6″) and set aside.

Cut the swiss chard leaves from the stalks. Thinly slice the stalks and set aside, and chop the leaves.

Heat a skillet to medium heat. Add olive oil and swirl to coat. Saute yellow squash and the swiss chard stalks for about 8-10 minutes, or until softened. Add swiss chard leaves and sauté until wilted, another 2-3 minutes. Season with chipotle chile powder, salt and pepper to taste. Using a paper towel, squeeze the excess juice from the vegetables (otherwise, you’ll end up with a wetter casserole than you desire.) Transfer the vegetables to the casserole dish. Top with Daiya cheese.

Melt the ghee in a small microwaveable bowl for 30-45 seconds. Combine ghee and almond flour along with a pinch of salt in a bowl. Blend together with a spoon until crumbly. Spread over the Daiya evenly.

Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes.

This post is linked to Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays over at Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free.


Filed under Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Healthy Meals, Side Dishes, Vegetables, Vegetarian

Winner of Good Morning! Breakfasts without Gluten, Sugar, Eggs or Dairy

Want to know who the winner of the free copy of Good Morning! Breakfasts without Gluten, Sugar, Eggs or Dairy by Ricki Heller is?

Are you sure you’re ready?

Really sure?

Sigh…okay! The winner is Christy, who said “We learned how to eat without gluten, but then found out my daughter couldn’t have sugar….which has pretty much knocked all non-cardboard cereal out of the park. Breakfast is the most challenging meal of my day…trying to come up with something healthy AND pallatable.”

Christy, I think you’ll be more than pleased with Ricki’s breakfast ideas. Congratulations!


Filed under Uncategorized

Daring Cooks: Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Our May hostess for The Daring Cooks’ challenge, Denise, of There’s a Newf in My Soup!, challenged The Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we’d need, from creole spices, homemade stock, and Louisiana white rice, to Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.

I’m no stranger to gumbo. Every year, my husband makes Emeril’s gumbo turkey ya-ya around Thanksgiving, and if we’re lucky, another pot at New Years’ Eve. It’s delicious. It’s also one of the few gumbos out there that doesn’t have okra and file powder in it, so it’s more to my husband’s tastes. The entire family looks forward to that gumbo.

When I went gluten-free, I asked him to make the gumbo gluten-free so I could enjoy it. This took some trials to get right. You see, the base of any good gumbo is the roux – that mix of cooked flour and oil that browns and adds so much flavor to the gumbo while thickening it. You can find just about any gluten-free flour can thicken a soup, if you put proper amounts in it, but finding a flour that browns similarly to wheat flour is a bit tricky. Regular rice flour failed – it was gritty, never soaking up the oil, and ultimately burning. Eventually, though, we got it right. When I saw that this month’s challenge was gumbo, I realized I was overdue in sharing this gluten-free gumbo version with you.

Since it’s May and not November, turkeys are scarce in the grocery stores. So in this instance, I substituted a similar amount of whole chickens. I have no real preference for one over the other – both were delicious. But what really made this gumbo, in my opinion, was the delicious cajun smoked sausage I found from a local rancher, Rehoboth Ranch. (In fact, I sourced the chickens from them too!) That, plus some andouille from Applegate Farms, really added a ton of high-quality flavor (not just salt, like the way cheaper sausages tend to taste). Also, in the past, the white meat from the poultry had a tendency to dry out, as it spent too long cooking. To compensate for this, I removed the chicken breasts, and only poached them for about 20 minutes when making the stock. This way, they were cooked through, but not overcooked. A bit fussy? Perhaps. But gumbo is a longer, more intricate dish anyway. Why not take one extra step to improve the flavor? This is optional, of course. If you decide to make this, you can totally leave the birds intact.

The result? It was a hit – again. We had a few family members over, and there wasn’t much left over. (Gumbo leftovers are divine when you take them for lunch – just saying.) Just the right amount of heat, deeply savory, and full of complex flavors from a long simmer and of course, that roux. Gumbo is a comfort food for sure; at least, in my book it is.

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, adapted from Emeril Lagasse

3 small chickens (about 9-10 lbs total) – you can opt to cut them into quarters and remove the breast meat

10 cups water

2 medium-size yellow onions

2 ribs celery, cut into a few pieces

2 bay leaves

1 T salt

1 1/2 t cayenne powder

1 c vegetable oil

3/4 c sorghum flour

3/4 c sweet white rice flour (sweet white rice flour is much finer than regular flour, so no gritty texture)

2 c chopped yellow onions

1 c chopped bell pepper

1 c chopped celery

12 oz andouille sausage, cut into quarters lengthwise and sliced thinly

1 lb smoked sausage, cut into quarters lengthwise and sliced thinly

2 T chopped green onions

2 T chopped flat-leaf parsley

Steamed white rice for serving

Put the chicken (reserve the chicken breasts), water, quartered onions, celery pieces, bay leaves 1 tablespoon of the salt, and the cayenne in a large, heavy pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and cook, partially covered, until the chicken is tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Add the breasts and continue to simmer for an additional 20 minutes. Remove thechicken, strain and reserve the broth.

In a large, heavy pot or a Dutch oven, over medium heat, combine the oil and flours. Stirring slowly and constantly, make a dark brown roux, the color of chocolate, 20 to 25 minutes. Add the chopped onions, bell peppers, chopped celery, and sausages. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are very soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the reserved broth and stir until the roux mixture and broth are well combined. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 hours. Meanwhile, remove the skin from the chicken and pick the meat off the bones, discarding the skin and bones. Coarsely chop the chicken meat. Add the chicken. Cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Skim off the fat that has risen to the surface with a spoon. Stir in the green onions and parsley and serve the gumbo in individual soup or gumbo bowls.

Serves 10-12.


Filed under Chicken, Turkey, and other Poultry, Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Main Dishes, Soups