Cabbage and Noodles

I planted a bunch of different veggies in the spring to see how they did.  The cabbage did well – so now I need to figure out how to cook cabbage.  My first attempt produced pretty decent results.  Steve and I liked it a lot.  The kids not so much, although they liked the flavor of the noodles covered by the sauce they either didn’t like the texture of the cabbage or were psyched out by the thought of cabbage.  We made them each try several bites but didn’t want to pick an all out fight.  I’ll consider it a truce.

I started with this recipe.

The recipe I cited called it haluski, or halušky which Wikipedia explains is a Czech dish.  Our Polish friends who were with us at the weekend gave me the idea to add Sausage, and I want to try a traditional Polish recipe for bigos next.

Ingredients

1 large onion
1 large or 2 small heads of cabbage
8 oz. egg noodles
1 stick butter (more or less to taste)

1/2 lb sausage
salt/pepper

Directions

Brown sausage in a very large skillet.  Remove browned sausage, leaving brown bits and a bit of oil in the pan.

Thinly slice the onion and the cabbage. In a very large frying pan over medium high heat, melt 3 Tbs butter. Add the onion, cook for a few minutes until it smells good. :-)

Add the cabbage. You may not be able to add the cabbage all at once. Add what you can, cover and cook until it shrinks enough to add more. Cabbage shrinks a lot so you’ll eventually be able to fit it all. Once all the cabbage is added to the pan, cook it (covered) for at least 30 minutes. It should be very tender. Add sausage back to pan near the end of this half hour.  Then, raise the heat a bit and allow it to brown slightly in spots.

While you’re cooking the cabbage, boil the noodles according to the package instructions in well-salted water. When done, drain and add several Tbs butter. When the cabbage and noodles are both finished, combine. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Cheesy Chicken and Rice Caserole (GF, no cans)

This was a good, rich, creamy casserole.  A good alternative to mac & cheese when you want veg and meat along with your cheesy carbs.

Cheesy Chicken and Wild Rice Casserole (GF)

3 Tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 stalks celery, finely diced
6 carrots, peeled and diced
4 cloves fresh minced garlic
2 Cups shredded, cooked chicken breast
2 c wild rice pilaf – cook according to package directions (Trader Joe’s has good gluten free choices, check any package carefully to ensure GF)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Cheese Sauce
4 Tablespoons butter
1/4 Cup corn starch
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 Cups chicken broth
2 Cups shredded cheddar cheese
Top with extra shredded cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Heat butter in a medium dutch oven or pot over medium heat. Saute onion, celery and carrots (with pinch of salt) until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in chicken and cooked rice. Turn off heat.
2. To prepare cheese sauce melt butter into a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in corn starch, salt and pepper then slowly pour in chicken broth whisking continuously. Whisk until thick and nearly boiling then stir in cheese until melted. Pour cheese sauce into rice mixture. Cook in dutch oven or optionally transfer to a 9×13 baking dish. Top with additional cheese and bake for 25-30. 8-10 servings

Adapted from here.

How our family does Gluten-free (at the moment)

Our current gluten-free/dairy-free status:

  • I try to keep Simon 99% gluten free.  Once in a while he has a bit of something with gluten as a hidden ingredient but that seems to be OK.  He has been 99% dairy-free since October 2011, but I’m starting to introduce more to see how his system responds.  His symptom is loose stool.  I thought going DF helped, but going GF seems to have made a bigger difference, hence trying to bring back dairy.  He’s tested negative for dairy allergy.  I need to get a blood draw to check for gluten sensitivity but getting blood from a 3 year old is not fun and it isn’t nearly as accurate as just doing the trial.
  • Steve is moving towards being gluten-free.  He is finishing up his granola stockpile and has gluten when we eat out, but is mostly gluten-free.  He is 99% dairy free.  He splurges on some cheese occasionally.  He has a confirmed dairy-protein allergy and too-much dairy results in sinus trouble and congestion.  An ice cream really messes up his GI system.  He seems to tolerate a bit of butter in cooking just fine.
  • Bee eats what her brother eats except for places where it is easy to make different.  I.e. I make her sandwiches with regular bread and his with GF bread.  She has no symptoms of any gluten or dairy sensitivities.  She is though highly allergic to sesame.
  • I eat what the family eats at dinner.  I have regular bread and when I eat out I go nuts with lots of gluten and lots of dairy.  It doesn’t seem to bother me at all.   My only known food issues are allergies to clams and halibut.

Transitioning to GF:

We have been mostly dairy-free for years.  We use butter and I’ll use a bit of milk in a recipe from time to time but no cheese and nothing cream or dairy based.  Because of this I was already used to reading labels and already using a minimum of processed food.  This made the leap to GF a bit smaller for me.  All of these things label reading and meal planning are skills that you build over time, they’re not an overnight transformation for most people.  Be patient with yourself and don’t expect perfection.

Cost:

GF costs more.  BUT – if you are focusing on spending on quality, nourishing foods the value to your family is enormous.  GF junk food is crazy expensive.  Potatoes, frozen veg, rice, beans, etc, etc are not.  It is about being intentional with how I spend your grocery budget.

Meal planning:

You will HAVE to work hard at meal planning at the beginning for sure.  I meal plan a week at a time.  Dinners are planned out and I build my grocery list around those.  Lunches are leftovers or something easy like tuna salad.

  • I try to make things that are naturally GF instead of relying on special GF ingredients.  This means lots of meat+veg menus, rice, potatoes and soups.  This is for two reasons.
    • Firstly GF substitutions are EXPENSIVE.  Sticking with things that are naturally GF is way cheaper.
    • Secondly GF substitutions are trying to mimic properties of gluten and it is hard to do that well.  Gluten is what gives bread its awesome texture.  Any substitution is an imitation.  I feel cheated when I spend 5x as much for bread that is half as good.  Sticking with naturally GF food allows us to eat food at its best.
    • Eggs.  I’m transitioning the kids to eat eggs for breakfast and less cereal.
    • Using more rice and potatoes in meals where before I might have planned noodles or bread.
    • See my list below for GF meal-plan meals.

Standard food substitutions:

I’m transitioning to use more of the following as substitutions for wheat containing foods.

  • If a recipe calls for some flour as a thickener (in stews and sauces) I substitute corns starch 1:1.  Has worked fine so far.
  • Chex (except wheat obviously) are GF.  But other GF cereals in the nat’l foods aisle are often cheaper.
  • I often use rice in soup recipes that call for pasta noodles.
  • Corn tortillas are GF (check package to make sure) but Mission brand are and they are similar price to the flour tortillas.

Special “GF” food:

I try to minimize the amount of special GF food I buy.  It is EXPENSIVE!  These are the things that I have tried and like.

  • Bisquick GF mix.  This is expensive, but when I really want to serve biscuits I like having it on hand.
  • GF pasta seems to be pretty good and you can find it for not-insane-prices at WalMart and Kroger.  It works great in soups with pasta.  We were never big pasta people so we don’t use a lot.  I try to use rice instead when it makes sense.
  • GF animal crackers to send to Sunday School.
  • GF cookies.  I like having a bag of these as a special treat for the kids.  They get one or two, not a lot.  These are very expensive.
  • GF cereal.  This often is on sale in the nat’l food aisle at Kroger for good prices.  Double check each box – the GF and ‘natural’ are mixed together.
  • GF bread.  $5.50 a small loaf!  I am using less and less as I figure out alternative lunches to replace sandwiches, but I allowed myself to use more at the beginning so I didn’t go crazy.  I try to keep to one loaf a week now.  Eventually I want to learn to bake my own, but in time…

Stores:

  • Morton Kroger:  GF bread, reasonable selection of GF replacement products, they do have things on special for very good prices from time to time.
  • Walmart:  There is a small section of GF things plus sometimes GF mixed in the various sections.  They seem to have different things each time – so I never rely on them having anything in-particular.  I just pick up what I can if it is a good price.
  • Naturally Yours at Metro Centre:  Huge selection.  Usually expensive but also have specials with good prices.  A great place to go for ideas.  But don’t get carried away.  Set a budget and stick to itJ
  • Schnucks in Peoria:  Prices comparable to Kroger but a different mix of items.
  • Trader Joes:  I ALWAYS stop there when I’m in Chicago, St Louis or Indy.  They have a ton of GF items for good prices.  They also have a list of all their GF products – consult before shopping to make a good list and take advantage when you can!
  • Online:  I havn’t tried any online sources yet.  Hopefully soon.  One step at a time.

Eating out:

We don’t eat out with the kids much at all.  (not like it is fun to eat out with two toddlers anywayJ)  The hardest things for me with the transition to GF has been the eating out restrictions.  It is not easy to just pick up a quick sandwich while we’re out or to meet friends at McD’s for lunch.  I know it can be done, I just haven’t invested much time in investigating menus.  I do know Chick-fil-a has GF fries and the grilled chicken is GF so that is our go-to place.

My go-to GF meals:

  • Taco bar.  This is great when catering for a group with food issues.  Everyone can add toppings that work for them and leave off what doesn’t.  Beans and rice make this stretch further.
  • Roast chicken, potatoes and veg.  I use leftover chicken for soups, curry, risotto, etc.
  • Risotto.  A satisfying creamy texture if you miss cheesy pastas.
  • Hamburger patties with mushroom sauce.  With roast potatos or rice.
  • Rice and beans.
  • Chili (double check to make sure any canned beans are GF)
  • Black bean soup
  • Beef stew (I have several different varities and I make this a LOT)
  • Cottage pie (ground beef casserole topped with mashed potatos)
  • Chicken stew
  • Sauteed shrimp and rice
  • Salmon patties with rice
  • Chicken rice soup
  • Baked potato bar (great way to use taco leftovers, curry leftovers, stew leftovers…)
  • Chicken curry
  • Bacon and eggs or omlettes
  • BBQd pork
  • Bangers and mash (brats with mashed potatoes – double check sausages to ensure they are GF)

Lunches

  • Avocado wrapped up in turkey slices
  • Tuna salad (on lettuce or GF crackers)
  • PB&J
  • Leftovers
  • Hummous on veg (Bee can’t eat this – wish we could do this more!)

Side by side comparison

The Daily Mail is my guilty pleasure.  Well, the Daily Mail and a Dr Pepper for breakfast.

Today I saw this article comparing photos of Anna Wintour and Posh Spice.  The snarky comments below each pair of pictures are brilliant!

Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Anna Wintour Victoria Beckham

“GREEN FROCKS Due to the dark glasses both insist on wearing at night, it can be  hard for the friends to spot each other at events. So they wear fluorescent  clothes, such as Posh’s Oscar de la Renta dress.”

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2282631/Victoria-Beckham-Anna-Wintour-Has-Posh-turned-Devil-Wears-Prada.html#ixzz2Lf2n4vWw

An overflow of random thoughts.

I’m finding myself with more and more random thoughts these days.  I think it is a combination of two toddlers who are constantly doing funny random things and the small snippets of time my day is fractured into.  I wish I had more time to concentrate and work on things of more substance, but I just don’t right now.  Well, I do after the kids go to bed but by that time of day I’m shattered and usually fall into a coma about 10 minutes after they are down.

So, what to do with these random thoughts?  I think I am probably annoying my Facebook friends with them, and Twitter just isn’t my thing (plus my thoughts are somewhat longer-winded than the character limit).  So, we’ll try a little return to blogging.  No promises for consistency, and certainly no promises for making sense.

Accents

Ever since living in England I have had an interest in accents.  I saw an article today where Helen Mirren was pointing out that the Queen’s accent has changed over the years, becoming less posh and more closely resembling what is broadly spoken. 

I was then reading about what defines these accents and found that there is such a thing as General American. This is the accent that is used widely in TV and radio and is also, interestingly, the accent taught to those studying English as a second language in the United States.

And – most interestingly to me – Standard American English is most similar to the regional accents of suburban, middle America and more specifically a region that includes my hometown at its eastern edge.

This finally explains why people from other parts of the world don’t think I have a regional accent – because my regional accent is considered to be General American.  I am so happy to finally be able to understand and articulate this!

But, as we prepare to travel back the UK next week, it will be interesting to hear myself against others speaking British English.  I don’t think I really have a good gauge of how much my speech has been re-Americanized.  I would love to have the time sometime to compile a list of the British words and constructions that I have continued to use and where I have reverted back to the American way of saying things.  (maybe if I have a sleeping baby on the flight I might get to do that)

I do know, though, that living in England improved my language in that it forced me to ennunciate more clearly, out of necesity to be understood.  I could mumble a lot more when those around me were more familiar with my accent, words and constructions.  Whether or not some people consider my continued use of some British terms to be an improvment is up for debate…

Before the remodeling.

We are doing some remodeling in the kitchen and enough people have asked what we’re doing and for the ‘before’ pictures so I’ll do a quick post.

The main drivers for the remodeling are:

  1. Opening up the rooms so that it functions more as one cohesive space, with a good view from end to end so we can keep an eye on the kids from the kitchen and enjoy more connectedness between what is happening in the kitchen and the family room.
  2. Improving the lighting.
  3. Replacing appliances with newer models that work better and are more suited to the way we cook.

View one shows the current view from the refrigerator towards the fireplace.

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We are having the cabinets that currently hang over the peninsula removed and they will be hung above the workbench in the garage.  The soffit will also be removed for a continuous flush ceiling.  Beyond that the wall separating the breakfast area and the family room will be opened up to have just a small return on each side.  I am most excited about these changes that will give us a great big kitchen/family room.  It will not read as one 44′ long room, as the flooring and partial wall will give some separation, but it will be open enough to allow for good family time.  Currently the cook is quite cut off from what is happening in the family room as even after you peek under the cabinets you can only see a corner of the family room.

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It will also allow more natural light from the sliding glass door to come into the main part of the kitchen.

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We are also replacing the current cooktop with a gas cooktop.  We have always had gas ever since moving out of our first student apartment in Champaign.  I have ruined more meals for burning or not cooking fast enough here in the last 4 months than I have in the last 10 years.  I will not miss this ceramic cooktop.  More power to you if you have one and like one, just so long as I don’t have to try to cook on one ever again!  We are replacing it with another downdraft fan model.  Definitely not what we would choose if we were designing from scratch, but the expense of plumbing for a floating ‘island’ hood and routing the vent through the ceiling and out the back (brick) wall and then having a big hood hanging down where we just removed cabinets was a non-starter.  Moving the cooktop along the exterior wall would have necessitated new cabinets and floors, basically a gut-and-start-over remodel, and it just wasn’t worth that much to us.  So downdraft it is.

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We’re having all the upper cabinets taken down and the soffits removed.  They’ll be reinstalled a bit higher to allow for better countertop access and to allow for a taller fridge. Crown molding will go up around the tops of the cabinets, and there will be a gap between the tops of the cabinets and the ceiling. I won’t be filling it with accroturements or accent lighting. Just dead space, and the crown molding will hopefully hide the inevetible dust. I’d love cabinets to go to the ceiling, but not worth the expense.  The backsplash is also being removed and replaced with something less brown.  Between the brown floor, brown cabinets, brown countertops, brown backsplash and brown paint the kitchen is very, well, brown.  We’re doing creamy subway tile and that will give a nice contrast.

We are building an under-counter shelf for the microwave directly below its current counter-hogging home.  A wall mounted microwave would be more convenient for the microwave, but I just couldn’t bear to give up my prime upper cabinet space.  That lower cabinet is the least used in the kitchen and is along the food prep wall, so it will be quite convenient.

As for lighting the ceiling fan is a goner!  It is very fussy and creates terrible shadows, while also being totally inadequate light for a large kitchen.  We’re having cans installed throughout the kitchen and will go without a center fixture.  If anyone is in the market for an ‘elegant’ ceiling fan with a nice moodlight feature I know where you can get a great deal;-)

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To round out the kitchen plans we’re removing that nice scalloped panel above the sink, re-trimming the window with new, non-chipped casings, replacing the dishwasher, fridge and garbage disposal.

Oh, and I almost forgot I’m getting all new drawers!  Our 30 year old cabinets are still in great shape, but the drawers are on old, squeaky gliders.  The drawers are going to be replaced with all new drawer boxes and runners, the old ones will be removed, the fronts taken off and the old fronts attached to the new drawers.  It will operate just like new (well better than when these were new as it will have the fancy whisper shut action).  I’m happy we can mend and make do with the current cabinets, but these new drawers will make it feel all nice and new.

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On to the family room.

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Opening up the wall will be great for the family room as well. Those french doors are never closed, and they block the light switches and the kids think they’re fun to bang on. We won’t miss them.

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In here we are having can lights installed between each set of beams.  This will give us tons more light.  It is pretty cave-like in there now, relying on a couple eyeball cans along the fireplace and a couple switched outlets to power lamps.  We are also having the paneling primed and painted, to remove one of the big woody elements.  We’re not painting anything else yet…we’ll see how it feels and then if it is still too dark we’ll consider painting the bookcase backs, the bookcases, the mantle, and then only in extreme duress the brick or the beams.  Hopefully the lights and the paneling will do the trick.  We’ll see.

Then, all the ceilings will be patched and plastered and the entire space, walls and ceilings will get a fresh coat of paint.  (exact shades TBD after the wall and cabinets come out and I decide how it feels.

OK – more detail than most people needed, but I know at least a couple of my cooking friends care.

And for those of you who don’t give a hoot about my kitchen, but would rather see the kids I caught them in the pictures too:-)

Will post when it is all done for the before/after effect.

-Sarah