It’s no pasta, but spaghetti squash is pretty awesome

A gluten free dish to warm you up and keep you full

A gluten free dish to warm you up and keep you full

It’s April 13, 2014, and apparently it is going to snow the day after tomorrow.

This, after a brutal and endless snowstorm-filled season that kicked my lifelong “I love winter” proclamation’s butt.

But to be honest, I think I still love winter. Maybe now more than recent years because I no longer have to drive to work. Truth be told, my highway driving commute to work for the past few years has soured the season I once thought was so magical. But now I have a new job, one on the subway line no less, which means buh-bye icy roads (and jerks who don’t adjust their driving habits to the elements).

There were many times throughout the last few months where I felt chilled to the bone. Soup was always a good soul-warming meal, but what I ended up eating a lot of was spaghetti squash. Before this year, I had never eaten it. I once had a health conscious classmate tell me it was the perfect replacement for pasta.

“No one really eats pasta for the pasta anyway,” she said. “It’s all about the sauce.”

While she may have had a point about the sauce being the crux of the pasta dish, spaghetti squash is no replacement for pasta. Sure, it looks like spaghetti when carved out with a fork, but the texture and taste are telltale properties of squash, not pasta, thankyouverymuch. When I really want a bowl (or two) of pasta, no squash will satisfy that craving pang. No matter how good the sauce it sits in is.

OK, it’s starting to look like I’m ragging on spaghetti squash. I’m not. I actually really enjoy it. I made the recipe below many, many times this past winter and it was a delicious, hearty meal that always warmed me up after a treacherous drive on the snowy highway.

Are you still getting snow or bitter cold weather where you live? Whether you are or aren’t, here’s a meal that is sure to warm – and fill – you up.

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Fresh ‘n easy g-free lemon poppy seed muffins

A quick and easy gluten free treat.

A quick and easy gluten free treat.

Thanks to these muffins, almond flour has become by new favourite flour. But sitting at around $11.50 a pound, is it ever expensive! A few weeks ago I saw it was on sale at about half that price and I’m pretty sure I squealed. Needless to say, I stocked up and got a bunch to last me a while.

Around Christmastime a friend of mine gave me a recipe for chocolate chip almond muffins, and it’s essentially what I’ve presented below. The chocolate version is delicious because, hello, it involves chocolate. But since I don’t want a daily helping of chocolate chips in my diet, I’ve tweaked the recipe to create my second favourite muffin: lemon poppy seed.

What you need

  • Almond flour, 3 cups
  • Baking soda, 1 tsp
  • 3 eggs
  • Honey, ¼ cup
  • Lemon zest, 1 tbsp
  • Lemon juice, 2 tbsp (or 1 tbsp lemon extract)
  • Vanilla extract, 1 tsp
  • Poppy seeds, as many as you desire

What you have to do

  • Preheat the oven to 300 Degrees
  • Mix everything together till smooth
  • Pour into lined muffin tin
  • Bake for 25 mins (apply the toothpick trick to ensure they are done!)

LSCicchirillo

I enjoy these because they are incredibly easy and quick to make. I’m also impressed with how good they taste considering there’s no butter or sugar, which actually helps in making these guilt-free – especially when I want to make a chocolate chip batch!

One last note: If the chocolate chip version is calling out to you, swap out the lemon and poppy seed ingredients for chocolate chips, and up the vanilla extract to 1 tbsp.

Enjoy!

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The Paleo Diet: “More what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules”

Was Capt. Barbossa on the Paleo Diet?

Was Capt. Barbossa on the Paleo Diet?

This week I’m deviating from my gluten free theme and focusing on the Paleo Diet.

I work for one of the largest Canadian news organizations, and last week I penned a health article on the controversy surrounding the diet.

I really didn’t know much about it. While I had come across many a Paleo recipe in my never-ending online hunt for meal ideas, I didn’t really know what it was. I just knew that when I found a Paleo recipe, it was gluten free, too.

In my research, I stumbled upon numerous articles that either supported or criticized the lifestyle. After many hours of reading (it was hard to pull myself away from the debate, actually), all I had in my mind was a scene from the first Pirates of the Caribbean, where Captain Barbossa is giving Elizabeth Swann a good verbal smack-down of what the Pirate’s Code is all about.

“The code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules,” he spits out with a smirk.

It’s a classic scene, and I tried oh-so hard to find a way to incorporate it into my article. I didn’t actually do it. Alas, there was no smooth way to pull it off. But I did allude to it. For those who read the article below, you’ll see how I wove it in.

Anyway, this scene was ringing in my mind when reading about the Paleo Diet because when it comes down to it, to eat like a caveman does not mean to eat exactly what he ate. Those who embody the lifestyle model their nutrition plan on our ancestors using the food available to them now.

There’s more I could say about the Paleo Diet, but why not let the article do the talking from here?

And for those who are now compelled to catch that Pirates of the Caribbean scene, here it is, in all its (blurry) glory.

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Making Macarons, part two: The ‘hey-I-think-I’ve-got-the-hand-of-this’ edition

The perfect French macaron, made by yours truly.

The perfect French macaron, made by yours truly.

See that macaron pictured in the photo right above this line? I did that.

Well, to be perfectly honest, my mom and I did that.

The second time I made macaron shells proved far more successful than the first, and I’m chalking this up to two reasons:

  • I made them with someone who made them before. Granted, my mom had only made them once, but once just so happened to be enough.
  • We had all the right tools. A food processor, a fine-holed strainer – you name it, it was there. And it made all the difference.

We followed this Martha Stewart recipe and combined it with tips my mom had transcribed from a ‘how-to’ baking session on the French treat. While both my mom and I embarked on this challenge together, there were many a few times when I took a step back and just watched. This isn’t a cake or batch of cookies. I consider macarons ‘advanced baking,’ and as such, sometimes the best way to learn is by shadowing someone who knows what they are doing.

Must-have tips when making macarons

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Making Macarons, part one: The ‘these-would-get-me-slapped-by-any-self-respecting-Parisian’ edition

French macarons, attempt #1

French macarons, attempt #1

Ok. Remember when I said I vowed I would one day become a French Macaron Connoisseur? In November I took some birthday money and bought myself this book. Upon flipping through ‘Les Petits Macarons’ in the store, I knew this purchase would be one of the better ‘fun’ buys I’ve made in a while. It seemed there were endless fillings, both of the sweet and savory variety, just waiting to be sandwiched between those delicate, colourful, little shells.

One chilly day leading up to Christmas, my cousin came over to help me make macarons for the first time. These were to be my contribution to a family Christmas get-together.  We’re Italian, so I was pretty sure we wouldn’t be seeing macarons on the dessert table. Cannoli and biscotti would be plentiful, but a French sweet? Unlikely. My platter will impress all, I thought, confidently.

Here’s the thing. I didn’t exactly plan well. And there’s no excuses, really. I had the book at my fingertips for at least a week leading up to the big baking day. But like a four-year-old with a picture book, I was too busy marveling at the photos. I was immediately caught off guard. I had four methods to choose from for the shells alone. Would I make them French-style? Swiss? Italian? All these looked pretty advanced to me. Something akin to sweet relief is what I felt when I saw my fourth option, the ‘easiest French macaron method.’ Done.

When my cousin and I got to work, I realized I didn’t have a couple must-have kitchen items. I was missing a food processor and a fine-holed strainer. All I had was a pasta strainer, and this wouldn’t work well when sifting the almond flour and icing sugar. We whisked these ingredients together along with cocoa (because we were making chocolate shells), until they looked well-mixed. And they did, but it wasn’t a fine mixture like it was supposed to be. We continued on preparing this so-called ‘easiest’ shell concoction for far longer than I’m sure it was supposed to take. But hey, we had questions.

Did we already add the sugar? No.

Confectioners sugar. Is that the coarse kind? No.

Why don’t they just say icing sugar? I’m still wondering, actually.

What on earth is a ‘soft peak’? Nota bene: When egg whites are beaten till peaks form.

We finally finished the shells and popped them in the oven. What came in the middle was next. In the spirit of Christmas, I had selected a candy cane filling. It was basically a vanilla filling featured in my book, only I had replaced the vanilla extract with peppermint and added crushed candy canes. Sounds good, right? Wrong.

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Chunky black bean soup: How I broke in my brand new Christmas gift

Chunky black bean soup by LSCicchirillo

This Christmas I got a bit of a laugh when I opened a gift given to me by my husband.

‘You broke a cardinal rule,’ I teased as I held my brand new, just-unwrapped, still-in-the-box KitchenAid food processor.

‘What?’ Jon answered, truly confused.

You see, I had pretty much grown up knowing in my soul it wasn’t right for a husband to give a wife a kitchen appliance (or anything, really, that was solely practical) for her *insert birthday, anniversary, holiday present, etc. My dad had once given my mom a pancake griddle for Christmas, and it didn’t become a funny story till a few years later. In the 1991 version of ‘Father of the Bride,’ the young couple almost doesn’t make it to the altar when the bride-to-be is given a blender by her fiancé. Just recently, one of my friends was livid after receiving a GPS system from her fiancé for Christmas.

And now it was my turn.

Only I wasn’t upset. I felt I was supposed to feel irked over this broken Golden Rule of Marriage, but I only laughed.

For our honeymoon, we went to Paris and Rome. In Paris I fell in love with macarons so much that I had vowed I would one day become a French Macaron Connoisseur. I had recently bought a book on how to make the delicate, little treat, and my first attempt was a hilarious failure (more to come on that in an upcoming post!). I had blamed my failed attempt on not having a food processor (not me, of course!), which the recipe had called for, and this is what Jon had remembered.

And, I suppose I should mention to his credit, my main Christmas present were two tickets to the pre-Broadway show of ‘Aladdin,’ which was scheduled a few weeks prior to Dec. 25! It was a fantastic surprise.

But back to the food processor. And my chunky black bean soup. I must admit, the soup looks like a bowl of mud. But oh wow does it taste delicious! And we Canadians have been getting a wicked walloping from winter this season, so muddy appearance aside, I have been looking forward to my hot, comforting bowl of chunky black bean soup.

What you need

  • 1 – 2 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ large red onion, finely chopped
  • ½ tbsp. minced garlic
  • Five 15-ounce cans of black beans
  • 1 ½ cups of chicken broth (or more if you want to thin out your soup)
  • 3 – 4 tbsp chili pepper
  • 1 tbsp ground black pepper
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • Dash of red pepper flakes

What you have to do

  • Begin cooking the onion and garlic in the olive oil in your slow cooker (you can also pre-cook it on your stove-top if you don’t mind the extra pan)
  • Wash and drain the black beans, and run about ¾ of them in your (fancy! new!) food processor
  • Add the black beans, chicken broth, and everything else to your slow cooker and leave for about 3 – 4 hours on low.
It may not look like much, it is one of the better tasting soups I've had all season.

It may not look like much, but it is one of the better tasting soups I’ve had all season.

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PC’s new corn pasta put to the test in gourmet mac’n’cheese

Just how well did PC's new corn macaroni pasta hold up?

Just how well did PC’s new corn macaroni pasta hold up?

I believe I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog that I prefer corn pasta over rice pasta. Rice pasta, I find, is heavy and can become gummy very quickly. I’ve also come across a couple brands that break easily after boiling. Corn pasta, on the other hand, is lighter, doesn’t break, and takes way less time to cook. I’ve only really ever seen one brand of corn pasta in the grocery store I frequent, so you can imagine my delight when I saw President’s Choice had come out with its own version of gluten free pastas. I picked up a couple boxes (spaghetti and macaroni) to see if there was any difference from the brand I normally purchase.

On one particularly chilly evening, I whipped out the box of macaroni and put a mouth-watering gourmet spin on my usual gluten free macaroni and cheese. If interested, check out the dish I made below. And below that you’ll see how I found the pasta itself.

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Cozy gluten free apple cinnamon oatmeal

Buy prepared flavoured oatmeal? This is an easy, less expensive, and healthy alternative.

Buy prepared flavoured oatmeal? This is an easy, less expensive, and healthy alternative.

While I, like many, many others, lovingly refer to this time of year as ‘pumpkin everything season,’ it’s also the time of year apples are at their finest. Every weekend I see someone on my Twitter feed or Facebook page posting photos of themselves ankle deep in an apple orchard, surrounded by full trees and bushels brimming with the sweet, crispy fruit. Well, I finally made it to an apple orchard myself, and now my fridge is overloaded with them. I went through a decent amount of them at a pretty impressive pace all on my own. My husband didn’t start reaching for any till I introduced him to the tasty apple-almond butter combo. After a while, though, a slight panic settled in when I realized I had just too many apples. So, I decided to chop some up and make an oatmeal dish that I could heat up every morning for breakfast.

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(Mostly) gluten free Thanksgiving treats: How I glutened myself

Cute mini gluten free pies. Except for the ones on the left. Those are cute, but deadly.

Cute mini gluten free pies. Except for the ones on the left. Those are cute, but deadly.

This year, I decided it had been far too long since I had pumpkin pie, so I set out to make that. A few days before I hit the kitchen to whip it up, I visited an apple orchard. Before I knew it my fridge was bursting with apples. Ok, looks like I’m making some apple pie, too, I thought.

Since I had never made pie crust before (and my only experience with it was — occasionally — watching my mom release a string of expletives because the dough wouldn’t hold together — sorry mom!), I did some heavy duty googling.  In my search for the easiest of pie crusts, I came across images of charming little pies baked in cupcake pans. Well, I certainly had a couple of those! Just like that my pie baking feat morphed into a mini pie baking feat. And, if I do say so myself, they came out pretty darn cute!

For the crust, I used Bob’s Red Mill gluten free ‘easy as pie crust’ recipe. I doubled the recipe and added 1 tbsp of sugar, as the pie crusts I’ve always had had a hint of sweetness to them.

For the apple filling, I used Chef Michael Smith’s recipe (only I, of course, substituted the flour with all-purpose gluten free flour).

For the pumpkin filling, I used E.D. Smith’s pumpkin pie filling.

And this is how I glutened myself.

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A lovely gluten free wedding cake just for me, part deux

It's hard to believe it's been two years since we got engaged!

It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since we got engaged!

Well, I can’t believe I’m writing this as it really doesn’t feel like it’s been 365 days, but this weekend my husband and I celebrated our one year wedding anniversary. In the morning he surprised me with a beautiful bouquet, and then we took to our car and journeyed three hours away to Algonquin Park, which was were he had proposed to me two years ago. There, on bended knee, he asked me to marry him. On a ‘lookout point’ cliff top. In front of dozens of tourists. The ‘oooohs’ and ‘ahhhhs’ coming from our sudden audience made me tongue-tied, to say the least. So much so that I left the poor guy suspended on bended knee for far longer than I had intended. When I heard one person not too far away whisper, ‘oh my God, is she going to say no?!’ I finally snapped out of my stage fright and said, ‘Yes!’

One year after that we were walking down the aisle, and now one year after that we are marveling at the fact that it’s been a year. It almost feels funny ringing in ‘one year,’ as we’ve been together for almost a decade, but it’s fun having another milestone to celebrate.

After a year of staring at wrapped up leftover wedding cake sitting in our freezer, we finally put it in the fridge yesterday to defrost. Will it taste good? Who knows; we’re about to find out. His might taste a better, as it looks like it was wrapped up with a bit more care. Yes, we do have a ‘his and hers’ wedding cake. As I told in one of my earlier posts, he had surprised me with a maple gluten free wedding cake just for me, as I had recently discovered my gluten intolerance. So whether the cake tastes fresh or stale, this is a fun wedding tradition we’ve both been looking forward to for the past year, and it’s the perfect way to end a spectacular weekend down memory lane :)

Blast from the past meets present day: A piece of cake from our wedding day, one year ago today, and a bouquet to celebrate our one year.

Blast from the past meets present day: A piece of cake from our wedding day, one year ago today, and a bouquet to celebrate our one year.

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