Sunday, December 27, 2009

New Years Resolution - Cutting back on grocery bills!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! I hope everyone enjoyed a wonderful (and, of course, gluten free) holiday season. In the middle of all the parties and celebrations and gatherings, though (yes, some of which are still going on), I'm starting to think of New Years resolutions -- that time of year has already crept up on us! Every year I make the same resolution -- to lose 5, 10, 15 lbs. I'll go to the gym (for a few weeks -- usually until the Spring semester starts and I'm busy with homework), cook healthy meals, omit cookies, candies, chips, and alcohol, and try to be virtuous as long as I can.

Well, I'm still probably going to end up doing that (at least until I take the guaranteed holiday 5 lbs. off then all bets are off) but decided this year to make a resolution that I've got a better chance of sticking to:

Spend less on groceries. While maintaining most of our current lifestyle, eating healthy meals and not crap. (Or at least, not ALL crap - some crap in moderation is OK).

Right now my husband and I spend approximately $150 on groceries per week. That's just for us, and doesn't include our puggle or our ferrets. I know we eat gluten free, but come on -- we can do a LOT better!

So, in detail, my New Years Resolution to spend less on groceries includes:
  • Start by getting the grocery bill down to $100/week. That includes gluten free flours, regular groceries, cleaning supplies and laundry detergents. (I am not including pet food, which we have a separate budget for -- we splurge on the all-natural, bad-carb-free, canned dog food. It's expensive but worth it). Once we're down to $100/week, we'll go from there.
  • Plan out meals in advance. This means leftovers on evenings when I have class or something else going on after work -- and long, time-consuming meals with a lot of leftovers have to be made on the weekends.
  • Cut down my reliance on pre-packaged gluten free convenience foods. It's easy to ask my husband to whip up Ian's fish sticks and tater tots on his bowling league night, but our waistlines and wallets are insisting that this be an occasional treat only. However, I don't consider gluten free pasta to be a convenience food. :-)
  • On the same vein, TV dinners are a convenience, but only once in a while when they're on sale or we absolutely need them.
  • Continue to shop partially organic. By this I mean, shop organic when I can, but always shop organic when it comes to things like lettuce. That's non-negotiable.
  • Try to balance shopping locally with shopping at Walmart.
  • Clip coupons and plan meals based on grocery store circulars. And Don't Shop Off List!
  • Try to limit dinners out/takeout to once per month unless it's a special occasion (I'll admit, this is probably the first one that's going to slip -- especially since I'm a sushi addict).
There you have it. I think it sounds do-able.

To start myself off -- I found a great common-sense article detailing how to save money at the grocery store.

Oh yeah -- and as an incentive to keep at it -- The money we save on groceries will be used to pay for a vacation in 2010!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Gluten free eggnog breakfast cake

I found an interesting looking recipe on Betty Crocker's website - for gluten free eggnog breakfast cake. Well my husband LOVES egg nog with a passion so we decided to try it.

The original recipe is here, but I decided to make a few changes. First since my husband hates pecans, we omitted those. Second, I made meringue cookies last night and had a lot of egg yolks to get rid of so I used six egg yolks instead of the three eggs. (I think in the future I'll use the three eggs). Finally, I used ingredients I had on hand.

Here's the recipe I made:

  • 1 box Betty Crocker GF yellow cake mix
  • 1 package Jello instant vanilla pudding
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup egg nog
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
  • 1 Tbsp dark rum
  • 1 tsp gluten free vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 6 egg yolks (not recommended - use 3 eggs)
  • 1/4 cup frosting (I think I used a lot more, I didn't measure).
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease bottom of 9" square pan. Beat all ingredients except frosting in a large bowl on low speed, them on medium speed until completely combined. Pour into the greased pan.
  • Bake 35 minutes or until it passes the "toothpick test" and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes, scrape the edges of the pan with a knife.
  • Let cool for 30 minutes, then drizzle with frosting. It's easier to drizzle if you nuke it for 15 seconds or so.
  • Optional: sprinkle top with pecans or gluten free candied pecans.

Overall - pretty yummy, though I felt myself gaining 5 lbs. with the first bite. I'll leave it for my hubby (who doesn't have that problem) and keep it in my notes for an occasional holiday treat. :-)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Monster cookies!

Some girlfriends and I started a monthly book club a little over a year ago. For December we selected The Christmas Cookie Club by Ann Pearlman, and we decided that, to go with the theme of the book, it would be nice to bring cookies and wine and do a holiday cookie swap. (Okay, so full disclosure, we decided to do that before selecting the book, but it fits in very nicely).

As you can imagine, most holiday treats aren't gluten free. However, one of my girlfriends brought monster cookies which can very easily be made gluten free -- no recipe substitutions, just using gluten free oats! The recipe for monster cookies can be found on the Food Network website, and here it is:


* 3 eggs
* 1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
* 1 cup granulated sugar
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 1 12-ounce jar creamy peanut butter
* 1 stick butter, softened
* 1/2 cup multi-colored chocolate candies
* 1/2 cup chocolate chips
* 1/4 cup raisins, optional
* 2 teaspoons baking soda
* 4 1/2 cups quick-cooking oatmeal (not instant)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats.

In a very large mixing bowl, combine the eggs and sugars. Mix well. Add the salt, vanilla, peanut butter, and butter. Mix well. Stir in the chocolate candies, chocolate chips, raisins, if using, baking soda, and oatmeal. Drop by tablespoons 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Do not overbake. Let stand for about 3 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool. When cool, store in large resealable plastic bags.

To make this recipe gluten free, make sure to use gluten free oats (and gluten free vanilla extract, non-contaminated peanut butter, etc. etc. etc.) and that's pretty much all that you need to do! It's nice to have another recipe that doesn't need a lot of modification. The cookies are absolutely delicious and I'm adding them to the list of cookies we're planning to make.

The one modification that I'm planning to make is omitting the chocolate candies and chocolate chips from the cookies -- since my husband doesn't eat chocolate and I want to be able to share these gluten free goodies! We may just make plain cookies, but I'm going to try them this weekend with some shredded coconut. Yum!!!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

EASY Gluten Free Pineapple Upside Down Cake

My mother's birthday is this weekend, and though she's not gluten free she requested a pineapple upside down cake that everyone could eat. (As opposed to bringing, say, a gluten dessert and a gluten free dessert). I'd never made a pineapple upside down cake, but fortunately Betty Crocker's website has a base recipe using theIir gluten free yellow cake mix. Considering that their mix is slightly disappointing without some form of doctoring, here's my first version of a pineapple upside down cake:

Gluten free Pineapple Upside Down Cake:
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 2/3 c. packed brown sugar
  • Pineapple rings, without juice
  • Maraschino cherries, without juice
  • 1 package Betty Crocker gluten free yellow cake mix
  • 1 package Jell-O french vanilla instant pudding mix
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. canola oil
  • 3/4 c. orange juice (note: next time I might try pineapple juice here)
  • 4 eggs + 1 egg white
  • 2 tsp. gluten free vanilla extract
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. In a 9" square baking pan melt the butter, stir in the brown sugar and honey. Spread evenly and arrange pineapples and cherries (with the cherries in the center of the pineapple rings).
  2. In a mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients and beat for at least 5 minutes until smooth and completely combined. Pour batter over the fruit in the pan.
  3. Bake for 38 - 43 minutes or until the top is golden brown and passes the toothpick test. (an inserted toothpick comes out clean).
  4. When done, immediately run a knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake. Place a heat-resistant serving plate on top of the baking dish. Turn it over and let it sit for 5 minutes to let the juices run down. After that, remove the pan and let the cake cool for at least 30 minutes.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Our first Thanksgiving!

Welcome back from the Thanksgiving holiday! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday full of gluten free treats, family and friends. We certainly enjoyed ourselves!

We started the week off with dinner with my friend Samantha and her family. They made an amazing amount of Italian food, and we were touched not only to be included but also with the fact that they were so aware of cross-contamination, etc. They made a gluten free baked ziti dish for my husband, and made sure he had his own dish of gluten free sauce, and pointed out the other dishes on the table that were safe for him to eat. I know how much of a pain we can be to cook for, especially when there is a group of people, and we were very appreciative!

Then, on Thursday -- My husband and I hosted our first Thanksgiving. We're fortunate that both my parents and his are local, so we invited both of our immediate families for the holiday. We ended up with a total of eight people, three dogs, and two ferrets.

While I've roasted chickens before, this was my first turkey. I was also excited to finally have a chance to finally use the pretty china we selected before our wedding!

Our menu:

  • Cheese and crackers (we had "regular" crackers, as well as rice crackers and gluten free crackers).
  • Veggies and dip (with extra green peppers for the puggle, she absolutely adores them)
  • Homemade crab dip with freshly baked brown-rice-and-sorghum toast for spreading

Main course:
  • 20-lb roast turkey and gravy
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Dressing, both traditional and gluten free cornbread (courtesy of both our mothers)
  • Sweet potatoes and creamed white onions (two dishes, courtesy of my mother)
  • Homemade applesauce (courtesy of my mother-in-law)
  • Freshly baked dinner rolls
  • Corn
  • Peas
  • Green beans
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Traditional pecan and pumpkin pies (non-gluten free, purchased from Grandma's)
  • Gluten free apple pie from Laurie's Gluten Free Goodness, in Scotia
  • Homemade gluten free coconut cream pie

Everything came out very well! There were two minor snags with the turkey, but neither of them affected the taste of the bird, which ended up juicy and delicious. However:
  • We purchased an electronic thermometer that was supposed to alert us when the bird was "almost done," "done," and "overdone." I don't know if we stuck it in the wrong, er, location of the turkey or the contraption was just a piece of junk, but it beeped that my 20-lb. turkey was done two hours into the roasting cycle. We took the electronic thermometer out at that point and relied on the manual meat thermometer and pop-up timer in the bird itself.
  • Most of our serving utensils, including our carving fork, are made of plastic. They presented an interested engineering problem when actually faced with removing the bird from the pan, but fortunately we were up to the challenge. :-)
Other than that, the meat fell off the bone and somehow, everything was done at the perfect time. So overall I'd consider the meal a success. We have finally reached the point where the leftovers are almost all gone!

The one note about the pie: I was very excited to try the pie from Laurie's gluten free goodness. It wasn't bad, but there was something missing. The apple filling was very tart and there wasn't a lot of sugar in the pie crust either. I would have preferred the filling and/or the crust to be slightly sweeter, though it was interesting to taste her crust!

Overall we had a wonderful time, and it kicked off holiday celebrations just right!