Monday, November 21, 2016

Grain-Free Italian Wedding Soup: A Simple Winter Meal

I find it funny that I recently posted about how much I love to grocery shop, and the post I'm writing today came about because we were so short on food the other night! It was cold, windy, dark (I am NOT used to this dark-at-4:30 crap...), and we had NO food in the house. Like, I-feel-like-a-TOTAL-slacker kind of no-food-in-the-house. Ugh.

But desperation is the mother of creativity, right?


Wide open the pantry, fridge and freezer doors were flung, followed by some shuffling and grunting, and out came:

  • 3 hot Italian sausages
  • 1 28-oz. can of whole, peeled tomatoes
  • 1/2 a zucchini
  • 6 baby bella mushrooms
  • 4 large carrots
  • 1/2 a yellow onion
  • 1 large potato
  • 6 cups of homemade beef stock (check out how to make your own here!)

Right then Chef Reiton walked into the kitchen. "Italian wedding soup?" he asked. 


You will not believe the tastiness created by throwing these ingredients together. Not to mention, it was super easy and quick. I had it done from pulling out the ingredients to sitting down to dinner in an hour, tops. 

Don't forget: you are allowed to play. Change up the veggies to use what you have. Add pasta, if you insist (you will want to thin out the stock with some additional water, if you do). And if you want to jazz it up to another level, grate some fresh Parmesan into your bowl as a topper. 

Grain-free, gluten-free Italian wedding soup recipe

Oh, dear. Wedding or no, get ready for your diners to ask for a second bowlful!

Click the recipe card below to download or print! And remember, when you've been a total slacker, don't lose faith! Just get creative!

Printable recipe card for Gluten-Free Italian Wedding Soup

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

When a Potato Isn't a Potato: The Best Mashed "Fauxtatoes" Recipe for a Paleo (or Diabetic) Thanksgiving

Many of you out there have heard of the Paleo diet, a way of eating that eliminates foods that are "new" in the agricultural evolutionary scheme of things which supposedly freak out our bodies and make a lot of weird, unhealthy crap-ola happen: potentially things like lupus, Crohn's, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer... It's been getting a lot of research, and while both sides vehemently argue its validity, I have to personally say that I have felt much, MUCH better by drastically cutting back on two of the big "no-nos" of the Paleo menu: grains of any sort and dried legumes (that includes peanuts).

Also included on some Paleo-ers "do-not-eat" list are white potatoes. I believe the argument is that the glycemic index of a white potato is quite high. With that being said, I still eat white potatoes; I just eat them a LOT less often. What I do instead is what a lot of Paleo-ers (and a lot of diabetics!) do: I make "fauxtatoes."

What the hell, you ask? 

I know. It's hokey. But here's what it is: it's cauliflower, generally steamed and then puréed to a smooth consistency to resemble mashed potatoes. 

I've been making it for several years now, and I like it. I do. But I've always been a bit annoyed with one thing (which if you've tried it, you probably know what I'm about to say): the "fauxtatoes" always come out looking a bit watery and loose. They don't have that oomph that mashed potatoes do. And I WANT that oomph. I like when they plop onto my plate, not ooze.

SO. Last night I was making fauxtatoes to accompany some chicken scallopini and sautéed Swiss chard when it suddenly hit me: why don't I try drying out my cauliflower before I purée it???


So, here's what I did: I placed my cauliflower florets (a medium-sized head, cored and cut into large florets) plus two peeled garlic cloves into a steamer basket, sprinkled them with a bit of kosher salt, and steamed them for about 15 minutes (or until I could easily slide a fork into the center of the largest piece).

Steamed cauliflower for the "fauxtatoes"

I then spread out the florets on a baking sheet, making sure to have room around each piece so that they weren't steaming each other. I sprinkled them again with a little bit of kosher salt.

Steamed cauliflower for the "fauxtatoes," ready to roast

I roasted the florets in a 350° oven for 30 minutes without tossing them until they were golden on the tops and nicely browned on the bottoms.

Roasted pre-steamed cauliflower

Then I scooped the florets and the garlic cloves into my food processor, dropped in half a stick of butter (true Paleo-ers would not use any dairy), ground in some freshly ground black pepper, and puréed for about a minute. I scraped down the sides and puréed for another minute. I kept repeating this until the mixture was almost completely smooth. I then added a tablespoon-ish splash of cream and puréed until the fauxtatoes were perfectly smooth.

Here's a glamour shot with lots of Irish butter:

The best mashed "fauxtatoes" you will eat: a puréed cauliflower recipe

When we sat down to dinner, I asked Chef Reiton if he noticed anything different. The first thing out of his mouth: "The consistency! These are like potatoes!"

YAHOOOOO! My experiment worked! But we still brainstormed things we will try next time. What if I didn't roast the florets so long? The browning definitely affected the color of the fauxtatoes, not to mention the taste. While the taste was good, we were interested in seeing what it would be like to roast them just long enough to drive off that excess water, maybe when the tops were just beginning to become brown in spots.

We also thought about eliminating the garlic. Or maybe adding a bit of sour cream instead of cream? How about some herbs? So many things to try! All will taste good, I know, but it will be fun to experiment.

SO. If you've got some diabetics coming to Thanksgiving dinner, or some Paleo eaters, give these fauxtatoes a try. They may just be the best non-potato potato you've been dreaming of! Print the recipe below, and, please, feel free to share what you think in the comments!

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Recipe for the Best Fauxtatoes Ever!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Make the Most of Your Food Budget: Smart Produce Shopping Tips

I have to admit it: I'm a grocery shopping junkie. I LOVE to grocery shop. Part of it is probably related to the fact that I love to cook, so it's kind-of like shopping for shoes, for me.

Yes, I'm serious. Some people treat themselves with shoes. I treat myself with food. 

SO. Where am I going with this? Well, because I spend so much time at the grocery store—AND, yes, because I am rather detail-oriented—I notice little things at the grocery...things that save me money. 

Like, produce pricing. If you have never noticed, the pricing format for fruits and veggies is not all the same, and there are ways that the grocery store prices and displays produce that could be having you spend more money on those veggies than you need to. 

So. I thought I'd pass along two tips that you can keep your eye out for when you do your next grocery shop, and maybe you'll save some money. Let's take a look:
Tip #1 - Some items are sold as "each" and some by pound. If your item is labeled as "each," buy the biggest beauty you can find. If it is sold by the pound, feel free to buy the smallest quantity you need, even if that means taking a bundle apart.
See how the fennel bulbs below are sold as $2.49/each? When I see that, I dig through the batch and choose the biggest bulb I can find.

Smart Grocery Shopping: Tips for Produce Purchases

But some items are sold by pound. Check out the broccoli rabe below:

Produce priced as "by pound"

So why do I care? Well, a lot of times these items are pre-bundled with rubber bands or twisty ties, giving the impression that you need to buy the whole bundle. But the item is being sold "by the pound," which means I can portion out and purchase only the amount that I want and need, not what is being presented as a set portion. 

Shopping with this in mind can save you money and keep you from wasting a lot of produce. That honking bunch of asparagus that ends up turning to stinky mush in your fridge? Yeah. That's what I mean. 

So, here's what you do when you are shopping for that asparagus for dinner: remove the bottom rubber band from the asparagus bundle, count out 6 spears per person (for the typical serving size) and slide them out of the bunch, then replace the bottom rubber band and toss your loose asparagus in a produce bag. You will most likely find that you didn't need nearly what was in that bunch.

Let's take a look at the next tip.
Tip #2 - Similar items can be sold in different ways: bulk, pre-packaged, organic, etc. Pay attention to the pricing. Things may not be as cheap as they seem.
We go through a lot of lemons in our house. For years, I bought lemons from the bulk bin. Note the price: it's per lemon. They are large, but they also tend to be firmer, which usually means less juice.

Produce priced as "each"

One day I happened to take a closer look at the pre-packaged lemons that I always walked past. 

Smart Grocery Shopping: Tips for Produce Purchases

What are your first thoughts? $3.99 for a bag vs. $.69 each? Hmmm... 

I'm a believer in "Don't-spend-money-to-save-money." But lemons? I go through them pretty quickly. And with closer inspection of the lemons in the bag, I found them smaller but much more plump and juicy. AND, there were TEN in a bag!

Do the math! That's $6.90 if I bought that many individually over time, but only $4.00 if I bought a bag! 

Don't get me wrong. I still check the price of the bulk lemons sold individually, just in case they are on sale. But nine times out of ten, buying the bagged lemons (or even organic once in awhile!) is much cheaper than buying them individually.

I do periodically have to remind myself: if I'm not going to actually use all those lemons (or whatever fruit/veggie I'm contemplating buying) before they go bad, it's not going to be saving me money if I'm throwing a bunch of moldy, blue lemons away. I should just buy the smaller portion instead. You just have to know your own menu and eating/cooking habits and make your own judgement from there as to how you should most wisely be purchasing your produce (which can be different from shop to shop). 

So. I hope you find these two tips useful. If you have any questions about anything, give me a shout in the comments and I'll see if I can help!

Here's to smart shopping and healthy eating!

Monday, November 7, 2016

An Old Hollywood Cocktail Party: Testing the Art of Food and Cocktail Pairing

We finally did it! (Hear me clapping?)

After years of talking about having an honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned, get-dressed-up cocktail party, we finally pulled one off. To help steer the dressing-up into a common vein, we themed the evening "Old Hollywood" and invited a smattering of our friends who love to drink great cocktails as much as we do with a glamorous, homemade invitation (love you, Paper Source! And, yes, I Photoshopped out our address!).

An Old Hollywood Cocktail Party invite

I had no idea how much our friends would get into it. One gentleman grew in a PERFECT Clark Gable mustache. His wife got a new haircut just for the party. Satin gloves, Murray's pomade, red lipstick, mink, feathers...they were everywhere! It was a scream.

A flapper ready to start the party!

A couple starlets enjoying the night

Chef Reiton could not look more dapper with his Negroni in hand

Sock garters make the outfit complete!

My husband, three hours before the party, made personalized tags for the coupe glasses with each person's initials letterpressed into the brass. (I wasn't even going to THINK about using plastic coupe glasses, are you kidding me??? I actually ordered a case of Libbey's retro coupe glasses from for a great price! You do have to pay shipping, but I think you will find so many amazingly cheap things on that site that you want, it won't matter! )

Personalized cocktail glass charms for each guest

The atmosphere was easy: dimmed lights, lots of candles, a fire in the fireplace, flowers everywhere, Frank Sinatra serenading.

The food and cocktails? That, my friends, took some serious research. We had to plan this baby out. I didn't want to have a cocktail party that ended with me worrying about people driving home completely sloshed. I did want to have a cocktail party that was memorable and delicious, so here is what we did...

Thanks once again to my sister's years-old birthday gift of The Flavor Bible, Chef Reiton and I created a list of classic cocktails that we love, then I matched up the flavors in each cocktail with corresponding flavors in foods. Thanks to this amazing book, I was able to create a menu of totally old-school hors d'oeuvres that still tasted fabulous AND paired beautifully with the cocktails that we were going to be serving.

Chef Reiton then wrote a spreadsheet to figure out how much of each cocktail to make, portioning it out so everyone got to try each one but ended up only drinking about three beers' worth of alcohol over the course of the evening.

Yes, we made everything from scratch. You don't need to, but we easily prepared all of the food the day before and the day of and just threw the few hot items in the oven right before they were served (the dates and the tart). To be honest, I did get a bit mixed up once and brought the melon and tart out late. Oops. I got distracted. But the plan was mostly pulled off smoothly... So, for your amusement or guidance, here you go:

Available at Arrival: Aperol Spritzers with Everything Spice-Coated Cheddar Cheese Ball (major hit), triple-creamed bleu cheese, Sartori's rosemary asiago, a variety of crackers, figs, red pears and Macoun apples to slice, marinated olives, and chili-jelly veal and beef meatballs in the Crockpot (oh, come could I not?!?!)

(When everyone arrived we explained the evening's plan, how the food and cocktails were paired, that we weren't going to get them blitzed and then send them home, that the ashtray was out on the deck, etc. And theeeeeeeeen...)

Cocktail #1: The Sidecar (NO sugar rim! Gag.) with Parsi Deviled Eggs (from The Best 150 American Recipes) and bacon-wrapped dates (buy bacon; cut the strips in half or thirds; wrap a piece around a date; spear together with a toothpick; place on a cookie sheet with space between each piece; bake in 400º oven for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through. A-MAZ-ING.)

Cocktail #2: The Last Word with prosciutto-wrapped melon slices and an apple, roasted fennel, feta and arugala tart

Cocktail #3: Sage Brown Derby with chicken liver pate and crostinis and Mini Frittatas with Wild Mushrooms (also from The Best 150...)

Cocktail #4: Negroni with Cheddar Walnut Crisps and Sweet and Spicy Nuts (both from The Best 150... Great cookbook, I'm telling you!)

Cocktail #5: The Aviation with cucumber sandwiches with hummus on rye

Cocktail #6: Corpse Reviver #3 with lime-mint guac and salt-and-peppered pita toasts

Cocktail #7: Brandy Alexander with flourless chocolate cake (from Baked) and Brown Butter Dream Cookies ( guessed it: The Best 150...).

What an evening! The laughter! The food love! The new friendships made! I can see why people used to throw these parties all the time! Although we don't have the Hollywood budget to do this too too often, I know for sure that we will be doing this again!

Cheers, dah-lings!!!

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