Monday, February 25, 2013

Recipe: Sausage Stuffed Poblano Peppers

I first came up with this recipe when I was craving something simple and spicy to eat.  It is a spicy dish, but one with so much flavour.  It takes less than 30 minutes to put together, but looks like it took much longer.  Definitely a recipe to try if you like spicy food!

Serves 8 as an appetizer (1/2 pepper each) or 4 as part of a main course

4 poblano peppers, cut in half lengthwise & seeds removed
4 hot Italian sausages, casings removed
1 onion, diced
1 red or orange bell pepper, diced
1 celery rib, diced
1 zucchini, diced
1 can (186 ml) chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1/4 cup salsa ranchera (or plain salsa)
1/2 cup Petacones cheese (or other hard, salty cheese, like Feta)

Subsitutions & Where to Find Ingredients:
With the exception of the Petacones cheese, I found everything I needed at my local grocery store.  The Salsa Ranchera and chipotles were in the Mexican food section with the regular salsa.  The poblanos were with the produce.  Feta or Cheddar could be substituted for the cheese. 

Preheat Oven to 350F

1- Wash, slice and deseed poblanos.  Place with skins up on baking sheet and bake for 15 min.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.  Turn over so skins are facing down. 

2- While poblanos are cooking, in a large frying
 pan cook sausage, breaking up into small pieces.  When almost cooked through, add onion, pepper,celery and zucchini and cook another 5 minutes.  Add the chipotles with their sauce and the salsa ranchera.  Let simmer until liquid has thickened and sausage is cooked, another 5 min. or so.

3- When cooked, fill each poblano have with sausage mixture.  Top with crumbled cheese.  Serve as is or place back into oven another 5 min. until cheese is soft. 

Serve with crema or sour cream to help take away some of the heat.  I like to serve mine with fried plantains & tortillas, or with beans & rice.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Gluten Free weekly Menu Plan

Monday: Stuffed Poblano Peppers with Plantains & Rice 

Tuesday: Chicken Tacos  in Soft Corn Tortillas
(Roast chicken breasts, shred, top with grated cheese, avocado, salsa or other toppings on a warm tortilla.)

Wednesday: Hamburgers & Fries 

Thursday: Potage St. Germain (from cookbook of the month) 

Friday: Baked Potato & Bacon Soup (from cookbook of the month)

More menu plans can be found under the Menu Plans tab.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Gluten Free Birthday Party at Chuck E Cheese

Last weekend we celebrated my son's 4th birthday party at Chuck E Cheese, a location previously off limits because there were no meal options for a kid who can't eat gluten.  Not anymore.  Chuck E Cheese now offers a gluten free cheese personal cheese pizza and a gluten free chocolate cupcake at its locations.  I did a bit of research and learned that the pizzas are delivered and cooked in their own sealed bags, reducing the possibility of cross-contamination.  The pizzas are brought to the table sealed, and are cut with their own pizza cutter, which has gluten free written on the side.  It was so nice not to have to bring our own meal for him at his own birthday party.

Gluten Free Cheese Pizza, on the bag it is served in

This is the first year that we've had a party outside of our house for our son, and the first with his friends, and not just family.  We wanted to celebrate somewhere fun, where every detail would be looked after and we could just focus on enjoying the party with our son and our baby.  We were really happy with the way everything worked out. 

We booked the party online, and picked the simplest birthday package, which included pizza and beverages for all the children, a balloon, medallion, and crown for the birthday boy, a turn in the ticket blaster, 16 tokens per child plus an extra 100 tokens for the party, a personal party host, and the table for two hours.  We also ordered a few pizzas and drinks for the adults, and tacked on goody bags for an extra $2.99 per child.  We were initially concerned that with 9 children (3 family, 6 friends) we would run out of tokens, but that didn't happen.  Each game at Chuck E Cheese is only 1 token, and the kids had more than enough. 

Playing air hockey

Chuck E greets each of the birthday children individually

In the ticket blaster

Chuck E Cheese has birthday parties down to a science.  We had a confirmation phone call a few days before the party to make sure all of the details were correct.  Our table was ready to go when we arrived, our host greeted us at the door and she ran through everything for us before guests arrived.  We chose the toppings we wanted for the pizzas and which beverages we wanted, and they were able to provide our son with a gluten free pizza at no extra charge.  After the initial play time for the kids they were served lunch, and Chuck E himself cam out and gave a birthday show.

The birthday show

The gluten and dairy free birthday cake
While the kids were eating, a manager came over and greeted us, making sure that everything was going as planned.  Our host cut and served the cake, and then we sent the kids off to play again before the party was over.  We distributed the goody bags, which contained a mix of little toys and some candy (most of which was gluten free, but not all), and then we said goodbye. 

We couldn't be happier with how everything worked out.  The party ran smoothly and all the kids had fun.  There was enough variety in the activities that each child had something to entertain them.  We had asked when the best time to have a party is, and had been told that Sunday mornings were less busy than most other times.  The place was busy, but not packed, and no one had to wait to play any of the games.  The party ran smoothly, and we enjoyed ourselves. 

I felt that we got good value for our money, and I would definitely consider going back and holding another event there in the future. 

A very intense game of Skee-ball

My niece, playing one of many games

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wordless Wednesday

My little guy's 4th birthday!  I can't believe how quickly he's growing up!

Ready to blow out the candles on his Cars themed cake.

Gluten & Dairy Free birthday cake

Opening presents.  His Mack truck.  A fave!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tips For Eating Gluten Free in Restaurants

Eating out when one is gluten free can be like navigating a field of hidden landmines.  Even restaurants that have a dedicated gluten free menu might not be safe.  Unless you're eating at a restaurant that is completely gluten free, the chance for cross-contamination is always there.  That doesn't mean never eating out again, but it does mean taking extra precautions.  Here are some tips for eating out that I use with my family.

1- Do your homework:  Whenever possible, scope out the restaurant before heading out for a meal.  While this isn't always possible and doesn't always guarantee that what is advertised is what you get, it does help narrow down choices.  Take a look at the online menu, note if they have any information posted about allergies, or substitutions.  More and more restaurants are adding gluten free selections these days.  Some are completely gluten free.  I had a negative experience this summer with a chain restaurant that advertises a separate gluten free menu on the website, but staff were clueless when we arrived.  Click HERE for that post.  

2- Make contact with the restaurant before you go:  Once you've narrowed down a location or two, give them a call and ask to speak with a manager.  Having a gluten free pasta on the menu doesn't mean that preparation procedures are safe.  Ask questions.  Is there a separate prep area for gluten free dishes?  Are separate cooking surfaces/utensils used?  How aware is the wait staff of your particular food restriction?  What are the ingredients of that menu selection that you think is gluten free but that isn't explicitly listed as being GF?  I experienced this at a fast food restaurant that listed everything as being gluten free, but their fries were not being fried separately.  Click HERE for that post. 

3- Fill in the wait staff when you sit down and ask to speak with the chef:  The more people who are aware of your food issues, the better.  It's important that it be taken seriously.  I know people who tell servers that it's an allergy, because allergies they are aware of and careful about.  Whatever works.  It's important to spell out specifics: You can't have the basket of bread, don't include crackers with your soup, please put the dressing on the side, the pasta must be cooked in a different pot, etc.  If they seem annoyed, speak with a manager.  If the attitude persist, don't go back.  We have a few restaurants we return to regularly because they know my son and never act like it's a hassle to serve him.  This isn't about picky eaters, it's about his health and safety.  I don't want to give my money to a restaurant that doesn't get that.

4- Don't accidentally cross-contaminate yourself:  Just because you can't have the bread doesn't mean that others won't order it.  Be aware of crumbs.  Just because the salad bar is gluten free, doesn't mean that no croutons have fallen into the lettuce.  The ice cream may be GF as well, but the toppings at the sundae bar may not all be.  A little vigilance goes a long way.

5- Show your appreciation:  When a restaurant gets it right, let them know.  Thank everyone who made your visit safe and enjoyable, from the chef to the wait staff and all the way up to the manager.  If it's a chain restaurant, write an email to head office.  Don't forget to name names.  Tip generously.  Tweet about it, write a good review, and send others there.  Although it is a medical necessity for my son to eat gluten free, that doesn't mean I'm oblivious to the fact that it does involve more work on the part of the restaurant.  Some people say So what? I'm paying.  I guess that's one attitude to have, but I would rather say Hey, thanks for going above and beyond.  I appreciate it.  Let me help send you some business.  Win-win. 

If your experience wasn't all you had hoped, there are ways to give that feedback too.  When I went to the fast  food restaurant with my son and found out the fries were being cooked in the same fryer as other foods, I wrote that in my review.  Turns out it was specific to that location, and someone at head office wrote me back to say that the issue had been corrected and staff had been trained on proper procedure.  This is new for a lot of restaurants.  Good, constructive feedback helps them improve their service.  That's a good thing. 

Finding a safe restaurant when you're gluten free can be a lot of work, but over time you will have a network of safe places to eat and enjoy your meal.  Sometimes smaller, local restaurants are willing to go the extra mile.  There's a local Vietnamese restaurant that always takes special care when we bring our son in, and as a result, we give them a lot of business. 

I know that it's always a risk when we try a new place, but I don't want to shelter my son from the pleasures of eating out, nor do I want him to be afraid to try new things.  Most importantly, I want to give him the skills to speak up about his food restrictions, to be able to read a menu and question ingredients, and to be an advocate for himself.  That begins with providing him with a good example to follow, and plenty of real life experiences to learn from. 

Gluten Free at Frankie's Ristorante

Monday, February 18, 2013

Recipe: Gluten and Dairy Free Spinach Soup

I make this soup often because it requires very little time and very few ingredients, but always tastes great.  My son loves it too, which is a bonus.  It is also very healthy!


3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bag prewashed spinach (baby or regular)
4-6 cups vegetable broth
1 red potato, cubed ***If you can't eat potato, the flesh of one avocado or a drained can of white beans can be substituted.  The point is to add some creaminess to the soup
Salt & Pepper to taste
Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
Olive Oil


1- In a large soup pot, heat the garlic over medium heat in a small amount of olive oil (1-2 tbsp.) for 1-2 minutes.  Add spinach and potatoes, and stir to mix.  Cook for another 5 min., or until spinach is wilted.

2- Add vegetable broth and season with salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil and then  lower to simmer for approx. 15 min., or until potato is soft.  If using avocado or beans, just heat through. 

3- Using an immersion blender, blend soup until smooth.  If using a regular blender, allow soup to cool a bit before blending, and blend in batches.

Serving Options:  Garnish with red pepper flakes, or top with Parmesan cheese.  Add GF croutons if desired. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Gluten Free Weekly Menu Plan

Monday: Focaccia Pie with Goat Cheese & Sausage  (This I'll make on Monday, so it doesn't dry out, but here's a photo of my plain focaccia)

Tuesday: Indonesian Chicken Curry & Mango Salad

Wednesday: Spinach Soup & Caesar Salad 

Thursday: Chicken Parmigiana & Grilled Zucchini 

Friday: Greek Style Gluten Free Pasta Salad 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Guest Post: Gluten Free Eating Tips For Those With Celiac Disease

Those who suffer from celiac disease understand very specifically the problems that come along with eating gluten. Celiac is a very specific disease that causes upset in the digestive system when the intestines try to process foods containing gluten. Symptoms of celiac disease include severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, nutritional deficiency, and vitamin deficiency. Over time, the result of celiac disease can lead to organ damage if you continue to eat a diet high in gluten.

The disease can’t be cured at this time, but it can be properly managed. The most important tool you have to managing your condition is your diet. Simple dietary changes can guarantee you do not suffer the symptoms of the disease.

Thankfully, numerous restaurants and food manufacturers have recognized the need to offer gluten free foods. Because of this, you have access to more meals, and better tasting foods, than you once would have been able to choose. However, you still need to be smart about the choices you make so that you can avoid the impact of gluten on your body. Here are tips you can use to keep your diet gluten free and tasteful.

Know Your Grains

A gluten free diet can be especially confusing if you are new to it. There are certain grains considered perfectly safe and others that you can’t have.  Your first step to eating a healthy diet will include knowing your grains. It could be helpful to post a safe and unsafe list on your refrigerator.

Safe Grains

You can have the following grains without worry. With the exception of oats, which is still under controversy, these grains are completely gluten free and safe.

  • Buckwheat
  • Millet
  • Corn
  • Quinoa
  • Sorghum
  • Amaranth
  • Oats (as mentioned, under controversy)

Unsafe Grains

The grains below do contain gluten, and they should never be included in your diet if you have celiac disease. Very specifically, you must avoid anything that contains wheat or is wheat based. Unsafe grains include:

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Triticale
  • Wheat Starch

Look for Gluten Free Baking Options

Many people think that cutting gluten from their diet means cutting out anything they would enjoy. However, as mentioned, numerous food manufacturers are recognizing the need for specialty foods and are producing tasty meals you can enjoy. These include baking mixes. These mixes use different types of gluten free flour, so you will need to try a few different options to determine which tastes best for you.

Many grocery stores include a specific aisle dedicated to these foods. However, if you have trouble finding options at your regular market, consider visiting a health foods store.

Foods to Be Careful Of Eating

Trying to lead a normal life while dealing with celiac disease can be quite difficult. Obviously, you want to eat normal foods, but there are numerous foods that may or may not contain gluten. The list below includes foods that you should be careful of. Make sure to read the label before consuming them.

  • Bread
  • Cake
  • Cereal
  • Beer
  • French Fries
  • Pasta
  • Salad Dressing
  • Candy
  • Sauce
  • Snack Foods
  • Soup
  • Sauced Vegetables

In order to ensure you are living a completely gluten free life, you will need to carefully read labels before you purchase anything in the grocery store. If you are eating in a restaurant, then you may need to avoid these foods or request a gluten free menu before ordering.

Celiac disease can be completely controlled with diet. You don’t have to suffer from the digestive upset if you choose to eat a diet free of gluten. The tips above can be very helpful in guiding you to the best dietary choices without having to give up your favorite foods.

Valerie Johnston is a health and fitness writer located in East Texas. With ambitions of one day running a marathon, writing for ensures she keeps up-to-date on all of the latest health and fitness news.

The above post contains information on maintaining a gluten free diet.  The information provided in the post is the opinion of the writer, and is not meant to replace the advice of a doctor. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

From my family to yours, I hope your Valentine's day is filled with yummy gluten free treats and lots of love, love, love! 
A couple of photos from Valentine's past, while I await this evening's celebration with the family!

A very pregnant me, 4 years ago, waiting for my 1st born to arrive!

Cupcakes with sprinkles, the first year we made gluten free ones

Last year's flowers

Slightly more sophisticated cupcakes!


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Homemade Gluten Free Pancake Recipe

I've made pancakes from a mix before, and they turned out fine, but this weekend my son wanted pancakes and I didn't have a mix.  So, I took an old recipe and adapted it to be gluten free.  The results were great, and my kid ate three.  We froze the leftovers and have been heating them in the toaster for his breakfast.  Since today is Pancake Tuesday (Happy Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday!), I thought I'd share the recipe. 

(Makes approx. 16, using a quarter cup measurement)


2 cups gluten free all purpose flour (I use Bob's Red Mill)
1 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tablespoon sugar (optional, or to taste)
2 eggs
2 cups milk (or dairy free alternative)
2 tablespoons oil or melted butter


1- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.

2- Add wet ingredients and mix well using a whisk or a wooden spoon until most lumps are removed.  Let stand 5 minutes to thicken slightly.

3- Heat a griddle or a small, non-stick frying pan (lightly greased) on medium heat.  Using a 1/4 cup measure, pour batter for one pancake into pan.  Cook on one side until edge bubble, 1-2 minutes.  Flip and cook another 1-2 minutes until done. 

4- Keep pancakes warm by placing in a 200F oven while the rest are cooking. 

*** This recipe can easily be adjusted for crepes by adding more sugar to taste, and thinning batter with more milk, start with 1/4 more, then slowly add more if needed, 1 tablespoon at a time.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Gluten Free Weekly Menu Plan

Monday: Boeuf Bourgignon over Rice (from cookbook of the month)

Tuesday: Gluten Free Spinach & Sundried Tomato Pasta

Wednesday: Fish Tacos with Coleslaw 

Thursday: Gluten & Dairy Free Leek & Potato Soup

Friday: Butter Chicken & Chana Masala w/Flour Tortillas

Friday, February 8, 2013

Friday Five List: Snow Day!

So, as we get hammered with one of the biggest snowstorms we've had in a long time, my muscles are sore from shoveling the driveway twice already. Thankfully I have some really nice neighbours who came over and did it a third time with their snow blowers. Days like this make me want to hibernate, so here are five ideas for staying warm and enjoying the snow.

1- Hot Chocolate & Marshmallows: Good quality Mexican hot chocolate that is made from pure cocoa is generally gluten free.  Some are dairy free as well.  If you can't have dairy, make it with water (which is how it's traditionally made anyway) or use rice milk and add some mini marshmallows.  Heaven.

2- A hearty soup or stew is almost mandatory on days like this.  I'm making Boeuf Bourgignon, but if you want something lighter but still hearty, try my White Chicken Chowder.  Or a hearty Meat Lasagna.  Six ingredients, Really, it will be ready in less than an hour. 

3- Cuddle up under the covers.  One thing I love to do with the kids when it gets cold is cuddle in bed.  Everybody brings something to do (book, toy, etc.), we make a huge nest with the blankets and then hang out in our pajamas, watching the snow fall.  It's awesome.

4- Movie Marathon: Sometimes just curling up on the couch catching up on movies or TV just feels right.  Make a bunch of popcorn, find a comfy spot, and catch a flick or two.

5- Check on a neighbour:  I'm lucky to live in a neighbourhood where people help each other out, but it's easy to forget that sometimes people need help in this weather.  Help clear someone else's drive, or knock on the door of a neighbour who lives alone to see if they have all the supplies they need. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

February's Cookbook Review Preview

Gluten Free Slow Cooking: Over 250 Recipes of Wheat-Free Wonders for the Electric Slow Cooker
by Ellen Brown

Celiac disease shouldn’t hold you back from the diversity of cooking! Whether you are strictly wheat-free, or just watching your diet, this book is the first of its kind, specializing in gluten-free slow cooking. Ellen Brown, the author of the highly acclaimed Complete Idiot’s Guide to Slow Cooker Cooking and Gluten Free Christmas Cookies, has created more than 150 new and original recipes for the first book to meet the needs of anyone suffering from gluten intolerance.

(Cover and Description from Indigo. Source.)
Publisher: Cider Mill Press
Publication Date: May 15, 2012

I picked up this particular cookbook because I have been meaning to use my slow cooker more, but usually can't be bothered.  And so it sits, under the counter, waiting to be used.  It's a nice slow cooker, though nothing fancy.  We received it as a shower gift from someone I worked with at the time, almost seven years ago.  So there are certainly more up to date models on the market, but I still think mine is cute.  I'm hoping this book will put it to good use. 

The second reason I picked up this book is because it is written by a well known author of cookbooks, Ellen Brown, including one devoted entirely to gluten free Christmas cookies.  Although I am familiar with her cookbooks, I have never owned one or tried her recipes.  This is my chance to remedy that, and I'm hoping it goes well. 

The book already has a few things going for it.  The price was reasonable, at under $20.  There are photographs of every recipe, which I love, and the recipes themselves look delicious. 

If you want to know more about how my monthly cookbook review system works, click on the Cookbooks link to read more.

Monday, February 4, 2013

How To: Homemade Italian Sausages

Making sausages is a tradition in my house, something handed down from generation to generation.  Like many family traditions, people often assume the recipes are more complicated than they actually are.  Making sausages is actually quite simple.  With 5 ingredients (7 for hot sausages), and a few hours of your time, you can have a freezer full of savoury Italian sausages to use in soups, pastas, or to eat on their own.  This job takes two people to make things move smoothly, one to fill tray with meat and one to guide the filling of the casings.  Once you get the hang of it, the whole process moves quite quickly.

A few tips before starting:
1- Make sure you have everything you need before starting, including paper towels or cloths to wipe your hands on periodically. 
2- Ask the butcher to put the bones aside for you.  They are great for flavouring soups or for adding flavour to sauce during the cooking process.
3- Don't worry if the first couple of sausages come out a little wonky.  It takes a few minutes to get the technique right. 
4- In terms of flavour, the fennel seeds are probably the most important ingredient.  They're essentially what gives Italian sausages their distinct flavour.  The way they taste cooked is much different from how they taste raw.


-Large flat surface for working with meat (large table or countertop)

-Mixer with a sausage stuffing attachment or a meat grinder with a sausage stuffing attachment.  I use the mixer with the small attachment & something to push the meat down into the grinder  My mixer attachment comes with one, but one can be improvised.
(See photo)

Ingredients for approx. 50-60 sausages
(Buy half a pork shoulder for fewer sausages.)

1 whole pork shoulder, coarsely ground (A good supermarket or butcher will grind the meat for you at no cost.  They will remove the outer layer of fat and take out the bones.)
Fennel Seeds
Sausage casings (intestines or tripe) 1 small package should be enough
(For hot sausages, some cayenne & hot pepper flakes to taste)


1- Empty the sausage casings into a bowl with water.  Untangle them and let them soak while preparing meat.  The casings feel gritty because they are packed in salt.  Soaking them washes some off and helps make them easy to handle.  They look like noodles, and need to be untangled.

2- Lay the ground meat out on a large, flat surface and mix a bit with hands, spreading it out on the table.  Sprinkle entire surface of meat with salt.  Follow with pepper.  Follow with fennel seeds (approx. 1-2 tablespoons). If making hot sausages, season with hot pepper.  I go a little light on the seasonings at first, because it's easier to add more than to take away.

3- Mix meat with your hands to evenly distribute the seasonings, almost like gently kneading dough, and spread out on surface a second time.  Repeat seasoning with salt, pepper and fennel.  Take 1-2 tablespoons of meat and heat in a frying pan until cooked through. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. 

3- Fit one casing over the nozzle of the sausage stuffer.  Push the casing up all the way to the end. Tie a knot at the end. 

4- Fill the meat tray and turn on machine, pushing down on meat.  As meat fills casing, twist casing when desired sausage length is achieved to create a new sausage.  When casing is finished, tie a knot at the end.  You will have a large link of sausages. 

To store, place desired number of sausages in freezer bags and remove air from bags.  I usually store 8 to a bag, in links of 4, with parchment or wax paper between the two rows.