Monday, February 20, 2012

Johnny Marzetti

Johnny Marzetti is a recipe you may or may not be familiar with. It's a baked pasta dish- kind of like a cross between a lasagna and a mac'n cheese.

I first stumbled across it several years ago when my husband and I were poor(er) and I was much less experienced as a cook. The ingredients are basic and the directions are foolproof.

I originally used this recipe, but now that I've made my own little modifications to make it healthier and Biblically kosher.


8 oz noodles (I use Ancient Harvest quinoa/corn noodles. They're organic, non-gmo and gluten free.)
1 lb ground beef, turkey, chicken or buffalo
1 lg sweet onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 lg bell pepper, chopped
minced garlic to taste
a handful of white mushrooms, chopped (this can be omitted without issue, if you don't eat mushrooms)
Homemade tomato soup*
Homemade cream of mushroom soup* (this can be replaced with cream of chicken, cream or celery or just a plain white sauce to omit the mushrooms.)
3/4 c shredded cheese
4 slices Horizon Organic American cheese (While not labeled as kosher, this cheese is rennet-free and vegetarian, so there you have it.)
Salt and pepper to taste

*There are some kosher, organic, healthy condensed soups out there, but most canned condensed soups are not kosher and are loaded with salt, MSG, HFCS and other unhealthy things. It's super easy to make your own versions at home. A friend shared this link with me and I've tried several varieties. It's super easy. My recommendation is to make several batches of soups and freeze them, that way anytime you run into a recipe that calls for condensed soup you'll be prepared.
Preheat your over to 350F and grease a big fat casserole dish (9x13" will do).
Cook your noodle to al dente (basically, slightly firmer than you'd like, but not teeth-shatteringly hard. I'd say, knock a couple minutes of the cooking directions on the box).
Cook up your meat and veggies in a big ol' skillet. Drain any excessive grease and add your soups.
Put half of your noodles in your dish, pour half of your meat mixture over them, and sprinkle half your shredded cheese on top. Repeat.
Lay your American cheese over that for extra cheesiness.
Bake for 30 minutes until cheese is bubbly! Enjoy!

Easy Substitutions

For many of us with dietary restrictions, we feel like we have to give up foods we enjoy. Often times, however, there are quick fixes for many of our no-no ingredients.

Gluten free bread crumbs:

One things gf breads are famous for is being dry and crumbly. That said, all you really need to do to make gf bread crumbs is to crumble a loaf of gf bread in your hands and store it in the freezer until needed. If you try out a recipe, find that it is too dry and/or gross to eat, make crumbs easy and a good use of otherwise inedible "bread."

In meatloaf, things like rolled oats, quinoa and rice work well.

For Panko-like breading for fried chicken and breaded fish, crumbled Rice Chex or other crisp, gf cereals are delicious. Just season with salt, pepper and any other savory spices.

Sauce thickeners:

Corn starch is gluten free, but if you're avoiding grains, it's a no-go. Also, virtually all conventionally grown corn is now genetically modified, which may or may not bother you. So, if you go for corn starch, you might want to check out an organic variety.

Potato flakes are an easy substitute. Whisk some into soups, gravies and sauces.

Pureed fruits and veggies will also thicken breads, soups and other dishes. A can's worth of pureed beans will thicken up a chili and a processed banana will thicken pancake batter.

Tofu is also a great thickener. Mix with fruit and milk for a quick smoothie. It's can also be made into a vegan cheesecake with just a few ingredients.


There are many fruit, grain and nut "milks" out there including soy, almond, hazelnut, oat, coconut and rice milks. In coffee, vanilla hazelnut milk tastes like a flavored cafe drink. In homemade ice cream, coconut milk is amazing. Almond milk makes the BEST hot cocoa I've ever had and plain oat milk is a good substitution for cow's milk in recipes. Soy milk is the traditional milk substitute, but I would encourage everyone to branch out and try other types of milk replacements.


Appleasuce will knock out all added fat in many breads. It will moisten a loaf without the calories or fat.

Coconut oil is a super healthy fat full of vitamins and minerals. It's delicious in pasteries.


There are so many sweeteners out there today. Many are chemicals that end up being less healthy than cane sugar. Many are natural and plant based. My favorites are stevia, xylitol and honey. Other natural sweeteners include agave, molasses, coconut palm sugar and erythritol. If you use sugar, I would recomend an organic variety.

In conclusion, where there is a will, there is a way. There is a solution to most of these substitutionary issues. Play with your food- or at least your ingredients!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Gluten Free, Amazingly Normal Tasting Chocolate Cake

I wish I could take credit for this one, because it is amazing. But, some other genius came up with this protein-rich, gluten-free delight. I make very little changes to this recipe from the original.
1 1/2 c dark chocolate chunks/chips
1 19 oz can of garbanzo beans. Yes, really. Chickpeas.
4 eggs
1/2 c sugar
1/4 cup Stevia in the Raw
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp powdered sugar (or xylitol) for dusting
Preheat your oven to 350F
Grease a round cake pan.
Melt your chocolate in a saucepan (or the microwave) and still until smooth.
Drain your beans, then drop them and the eggs into your food processor. Puree the suckers.
Add your sweeteners and your baking powder. Pulse it a couple of times.
Pour in your chocolate. Blend until thoroughly combined.
Empty the contents of your food processor into your cake pan and bake for 4oish minutes until the center of the cake is set and a toothpick inserted there comes out clean.
Cool the cake in the pan, on a rack for 15-20 minutes, then invert to a plate and dust with powdered sugar.
Thank me in the morning.

Fruity Platz (plus bonus gluten free adaptation)

Five years ago, I was wringing my hands over what to bring to a little soiree with friends. It was casual and light and my usual standby desserts were heavy and rich. I stumbled upon a platz recipe and fell in love. I've tweeked it a bit over the years a few different ways. This is my final version and it is excellente'.


1 c whole wheat flour
1 c unbleached white flour
1/2 c sugar
1/4 cup xylitol
1/4 cup Stevia in the Raw
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2/3 c butter
2 eggs, beaten
2/3 c milk
1 1/2 c berries or cherries

**** Gluten free adaptations:

I have made this recipe subbing 2 c Bob's Red Mill All Purpose Gluten Free flour and had excellent results. I would also suggest adding a splash of extra milk and possibly a 1/2 tsp of xanthan gum to the flour. The flavor will be a bit stronger, so you may also want to throw in a splash of vanilla to balance that out.


Preheat your over to 350F. Grease and flour a 9" square or round pan. Glass works the best with these, I've found, and you don't get any weird teflon in your food.

Mix all the dry ingredients, then cut in the butter with a fork. Some genius suggested freezing the butter, then using a cheese grater to mince it. I know- genius. Unfortunately, I'm usually flying by the seat of my pants, so this never works out for me, but it is a fab idea.

At this point, you'll want to pull a bit of the crumbly butter mixture and set it aside for the topping. The original recipe suggests 3/4 cup, which I discovered immediately was a ton. Like, wow. So much topping. I mean, really? How much of that do you need? I generally reserve 1/4 cup and even then I often times feel like it's just too much.

Mix the eggs and milk into the butter mixture and stir until just combined. Toss about half of your fruit in at this point and gently mix. This is my preference here. I prefer getting berriliciousness in every bite, and it allows me to cut back on the sugar/sweetener. Sprinkle the remaining berries on the top of your batter, then sprinkle on the crumbs.

Bake for 45-90 minutes. I know, it's a huge window, but this bad boy does not want to be predictable. The 25 minutes called for in the original recipe is a joke. You will definitely need at least 45 minutes, depending on your pan, your oven, etc. I test it every 15 minutes after the first 45.

Here is the gluten free version:

And here is the traditional:

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Dozen Ways to NOT Make GF Challah

Braided breads are like the Bigfoot of gluten free baking. People have these idea about it, they know someone who was pretty sure they saw it once, and there are a million online sites claiming to have the secret trick to making it.

Truth be told, I have tried a dozen times to create a pliable dough with a light consistency that holds together well. I tried substituting GF flour in my classic recipe. I tried various recipes online. I tried different flours, adding vinegars and gums, and for the most part they were all epic fails.

The trouble with GF bread is the lack of gluten. HAHA! In all seriousness though, the gluten is what holds the bread together, and many of the so called substitutes either don't work, or they work by bulking up the dry ingredients until nobody wants to eat it. Many of my fails were crumbled and frozen and reincarnated into bread crumbs. And I did not process them. I just ground the loaf up with my hands. That is just too dry.

So today I got back in the saddle again and tried out a new combo adjustment to my recipe.

First, I swapped out my flour for Bob's Red Mill Garbanzo and Fava Bean Flour. Second, I added two heaping tsps of Bob's Xanthan Gum to the flour. I added everything as usual, but I did NOT add that extra cup of flour (that will ruin this bread. Don't do it.). Then, I only let it rise about half way, so like 20 minutes or so. Lastly, I did not give it a second rise.

I was pleasantly surprised by the consistency of the dough. It was pliable! I was able to roll it into snakes and braid it with only minor cracking! That is pretty much miraculous.

I let it sit for a few minutes until I noticed some slight blistering under the surface of the dough. I popped into my over (350F) and baked it up. I did the egg was and poppy seeds at about 10 minutes and pulled the finished loaf out 10 minutes later.

It looks like challah!

It rips apart like challah!

It tastes like beans!

Yes, beans. It is, after all, made from garbanzo and fava bean flour, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Sigh. Wow. So very beany. I'm guessing if I added some sort of savory vegetable like zucchini and some italian herbs it would be amazing. But with a glass of Manischewitz and some honey butter? No way, Moshe.

Whole Wheat White Challah

My challah recipe is one of my greatest kitchen successes. I had been looking for a healthier version than the traditional sugary white flour loaves I'd seen. I waded through dozens of different recipes before I finally cut and spliced my recipe together. The result is a healthy, slightly light, whole wheat loaf with a hint of sweetness. It's amazing as French toast.
2 1/2 c warm water
2 oz active dry yeast
1/3 c raw honey
1/4 c Stevia in the Raw*
1/2 tbsp salt
3 eggs, divided
2 tbsp unsweetened applesauce
2 tbsp olive oil
4 1/2 c unbleached white flour
4 c whole wheat white flour**
sesame seeds, poppy seeds or kosher salt to sprinkle on top (optional)
*I use this brand because it's sold in large bags. There are many other brands who carry stevia products, however, including Truvia, SweetLeaf and some grocery store generics. Stevia in the Raw is in most grocery stores with the artificial sweeteners. Stevia is, however an all natural sweetener made from the leaves of Stevia Rebaudiana, which is actually a relative of the daisy. It has zero calories, and is sweet as sugar. If you don't have stevia or don't want to use it, you can either use all honey or substitute the stevia for sugar or some other sweetener. Erythritol and Xylitol are other all natural granulated sweeteners that are a cup for cup exchange. Or you can add agave or maple syrup. You'll want to scale these back a bit.

**Whole wheat white AKA white whole wheat AKA whole white wheat is a whole wheat flour with a lighter color and flavor than traditional whole wheat. It is made from a lighter variety of wheat. I use King Arthur's version. It's a kosher brand and it's sold at many grocery stores so you won't have to drive to some health food store to find this. You can substitute this with traditional whole wheat flour, but it will be a much heavier bread. I would recommendusing 2 c whole wheat and 6 c white flour. You can also use all white flour, if you want.
Pour the warm water and the yeast into a ridulously large bowl. Really. Your Pyrex bowl will be too small. Get a big ol' mixing bow from a stand mixer. Something crazy.

Whisk together and add the honey and stevia. Let stand 5 minutes or so, if you want. If you're in a rush, however, you can just plow through this.
Toss in the salt, 2 eggs, appleasauce and olive oil and whisk it up.
Add 4 cups of each flour, a cup or two at a time, stirring/kneading in the bowl between additions. Once you get 4 or 5 cups of flour in there it will be pretty hard to stir. Knead at this point.
Once it's all mixed together, sprinkle 1/2 c of remaining white flour on a countertop and knead the dough. Give it 5 or 10 minutes (or until your arms are so tired you just can't go on). At this point, I cut the dough in half, put one blob of dough in a freezer bag, label it "challah" and bid it farewell until next week. This dough freezes super well and we can only eat one loaf a week. Genius.
You might want to start thinking about a warm place for your dough to rise, right about now. The oven is the obvious (just turn it to 250F), but near a fireplace, in the laundry room or near a window in certain hellish locales might be just peachy.
Now, take your bowl, make sure there aren't any blobs of dough stuck in there and oil it up. I use this organic olive oil cooking spray, but you can use veg oil or whatever. Place the dough in the bowl, turn it to coat with oil and cover the bowl with a damp towel. At this point I stick the bowl in the oven, turn the oven off, and do find something to do. Like, maybe all the dirty dishes I've just accumulated in the mixing, stirring process. Yeah. It's bad.
Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, an hour or so has passed. Take a peek at your blob. It should be about twice as big as it was when you put it in the bowl. If you used a little Pyrex bowl, or left both loaves worth in the bowl, you might find gobs of dough in the bottom of your oven, glued to your damp towel and caked to the outside of your bowl. Take a picture and send it to me now. I love these.
Once you've cleaned up your mess, punch the dough down. Knead it again for a bit. 5 minutes ought to do it.
If you have nothing but time, let it rise again for 30-45 mins. Put it back in the bowl, cover with the damp towel, etc. This will create a lighter loaf. It's worth it to do. But if you're impatient and/or pressed for time you can skip this. Your loaf might be a bit more dense, but it won't be the end of the world.
Okay! We're in the home stretch! Preheat your oven to 350F. Pull out a cookie sheet and lightly oil it or slap some parchment paper on it.
You generally braid challah, so divide it into however many pieces you will need. Roll out some snakes and braid it up. I braid it on the cookie sheet, but if you like to live dangerously, do it on the counter and move it.
Quick tip- as you braid the dough, you don't want the strands to stick to each other much. If they are glued together ar this point, they will melt in the oven and it won't look like a braid. I suggest flouring the strands a bit before braiding.
Pop it in the oven and set your timer for 10 minutes.
Grab that egg that you didn't use before and crack it into a bowl. Pour in a splash of water. Voila! You just made an egg wash. I've heard of adding vanilla to this, but I have yet to try it. Whatever.
Stir up the egg wash and when the timer goes off, brush the egg wash on the challah. If you're sprinkling seeds or salt, I recommend brushing small sections at a time, sprinkling, then brushing a new section.
Pop the challah back in the oven bake it til it's done. Probably another 15-20 minutes. When you think it's done, pull it out and stand it on it's end. Flick the bottom of the loaf with your fingers. It should make a hollow sound if it's finished. Also, this will most definitely burn the crap out of your hands.