just a drop of simple sunshine


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For the love of apples.

It’s no secret that fall is my favorite time of year. From the chilly days to the changing leaves, I just find the entire season so peaceful, and I grow to love it more and more each year. For me, fall officially begins after the last full week of August, when the Lorain County Fair is over & as a child I’d head back to school; another summer’s worth of 4-H meetings done with & the marching band season just beginning.

The elementary and high schools of the small district I attended are at the bottom of Apple Hill, an orchard and bulk food store I still head to every visit home. Every member of my family has worked there for at least some amount of time – my mom worked the store and did the Johnny Appleseed talk to visiting children for a few years, my dad helped out with the U-Pick apple stand on the weekends for a bit and my sister worked there throughout high school. I think I probably worked the least; only a six month stint before I gave it up for a job working food service at a local retirement center (I learned so much about food at that job; I’ll probably talk about it later), but something about that place – & the humble apple – has rooted itself firmly in my heart.

I cannot stand grocery store apples – they don’t taste like anything! Whenever I read about or hear someone say “it tastes like an apple,” I know they’ve never really had good ones. And there is NOTHING like a good northeast Ohio apple. I can personally never keep straight which apples are good for what (I really ought to have my mom write it down for me), but I love the names: Gala, Cortland, Macintosh, Braeburn, Jonathon, Jonagold, Winesap, Melrose, Northern Spy, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith… I’m a mac & golden delicious girl myself, but I think if one more person tries to get me to try a honeycrisp I’ll throw it at them. I did try one once, after hearing all the hype, and decided that it was BORING.

In my completely biased opinion, people who like the honeycrisp have never had an apple from their local Apple Hill equivalent. Give me an old school apple ripened to perfection from an old orchard on a chilly October day over available-year-round flavorless junk any time. I’ll wait it out. And last Friday, I did just that. I stood in the chilly October sunshine on Apple Hill with a gigantic smile on my face while I bit into a (not-washed! the horror!) fresh-from-the-orchard yellow delicious confection and enjoyed every bit, the nostalgia as good as the flavor.

I might have even headed across the street to the football stadium if it hadn’t been an away game.

If you eat seasonal for no other reason, do it because there’s always some delicious fruit about to hit its peak. And eating it at its peak is really the only way to do it. After the apples, we’ll have pomegranates, then clementines & Florida citrus & fuzzy kiwis to look forward to for the long winter. Yeah, I purchase the odd container of strawberries, but there really is nothing like the surprise of seeing the first cherries of spring show up at the farm market and knowing it’s going to be delicious.

But anyway! Back to apples – my favorite way of eating them, besides raw or in cider, is as apple crisp. As with so many things in the culinary part of my life, this too had to be re-thought. Although oats can be gluten-free, they can still be problematic and I just don’t really want to tempt fate, you know? So I’ve whipped up a few batches here and there, & I think I’ve got a winner!

One of the beautiful bits of apple crisp is that you can make it with a lot of apples, or with only a few. I used almost an entire half-peck of apples (I honestly couldn’t tell you how many that is), but the apples were on the smaller side (not being the scary giant-sized apples found in grocery store aisles), so my guess is that there were a lot. I also used a variety, which is what I recommend as well. Use some sweet, some tart, a few crisp and a few soft – it makes for a better flavor palate. As for which varieties to use, well, that’s up to where you’re located and what’s available. Talk to the farmers at your local orchard, or call up my mom! It’s what I do.

I used a lot of almonds, but feel free to try other nuts and nut meal! I think this might be heavenly with hazelnut meal. You could also try using coconut oil to make it vegan, or lessen the sugar content. But this is what I did, and received the seal of approval for!

Apple Crisp

gluten-free, grain-free

What you need:
Apples:

  • 1/2 peck apples; cored, peeled, & diced
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg

Topping:

  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/3 cup flax meal
  • 1/3 cup almond meal
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon

How to do it:

  1. Preheat oven to 350° & grease a large pan.
  2. Combine apples with all ingredients, tossing to coat. Add to pan.
  3. Stir together all topping ingredients thoroughly. Using fingers, sprinkle mixture evenly over apples.
  4. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour; serve warm with sharp cheddar cheese or vanilla ice cream!

 

As always, enjoy!


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Eggplant Lasagna

I don’t honestly remember eating lasagna all that much growing up, but somewhere along the line, I decided that I really liked it. I had never made it prior to my gluten-free existence, but over the summer, I had the thought that eggplant would probably make a very good pasta substitute in a true veggie lasagna. A quick Google search proved that I wasn’t alone, & I soon had a pretty easy recipe!

It seems that for some people, lasagna is a pretty involved, hours-long process, but I whipped this up pretty quickly. I’m not going to include exact amounts, mainly because how much you make depends a lot on the size of your pan! I used a rather small square glass pan (it’s 22cm by 22cm – yay for Canadian merchandise from Big Lots!), & just used what I had until it was gone.

Eggplant Lasagna

Makes six servings; gluten-free, grain-free

What you need:

  • Fresh eggplant
  • salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tub ricotta cheese
  • mozzarella cheese
  • meat sauce
  • fresh herbs & spices as desired

 

How to do it:

  1. Prepare eggplant by cutting into thin slices, about a half inch thick. Lay slices flat & sprinkle with a bit of salt. Allow to rest for about 30 minutes or so – this draws some of the liquid out.
  2. While this is happening, prepare your meat sauce!
  3. Blot up the moisture from the eggplant, then drizzle a pan with some olive oil & roast the eggplant at 400° for about 15 minutes.
  4. Combine ricotta with the egg, & any other herbs & spices you’d like to include.
  5. Once eggplant is done, you can begin the layering process! Grease your pan with some olive oil, then begin with a layer of eggplant. Although I tried to keep the pieces whole, I did cut a few in half so the bottom would have a nice continuous layer of eggplant. Then I slathered on about half of the ricotta, some sauce, then repeated. I only had room in my pan for two layers of eggplant, but the end result was deliciously hearty, so I think it worked great!
  6. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top, then bake at 350° for about an hour or until completely heated through. I’d suggest placing your lasagna on a baking sheet while it bakes, as some juice may bubble up to the surface & over the side. Messy ovens make people sad.

 

Serve with some salad & enjoy!


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Multi-Seed Bread

There’s a recipe floating out there for a coconut flax bread, which I believe originated from Tropical Traditions. It is indeed delicious, but my tummy? Cannot handle that much flax seed. I feel uncomfortably full for most of the day afterwards, & that’s just not a fun state to be in. But, it being a rather delicious bread made with 100% Real Food ingredients, I really wanted to turn this into a bread I could enjoy.

Enter: the Chia seed.

Chia seeds are, believe it or not, the same thing from the “Chi-chi-chi-CHIA!” commercials! They’re completely edible & rather interesting – they form a sort of gel & are chock full of protein, fiber, & good fats.

Multi-Seed Bread

gluten-free, high-fiber

What you need:

  • 1 cup coconut flour, sifted
  • 1/2 cup flax meal
  • 1/4 cup chia seed + 1/4 cup water, set aside to gel
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 8 eggs
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar

 

How to do it:

  1. Preheat oven to 325°
  2. Mix together dry ingredients, adding chia gel.
  3. Add wet ingredients, mixing well.
  4. Grease a baking pan (I use a standard bread pan; it’s what I have!) with a bit more butter & gently place batter inside. It’s a very dense, heavy batter than doesn’t rise all that much, so be sure to not squish it firmly into the pan.
  5. Bake for 45 minutes or until a knife comes out clean!
  6. Serve warm smothered in butter, or after it’s cooled, with peanut butter & jelly. Enjoy!


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Homemade Ranch Dip

We eat a lot of ranch at our house. Veggies, salad, sweet potato fries, buffalo chicken fingers (sans breading, of course), hamburgers… we like our ranch.

Problem is, of course, the ingredients. Behold the nastiness that is Hidden Valley: soybean oil, water, egg yolk, sugar, salt, cultured nonfat buttermilk, natural flavors (soy), spices, less than 2% of: dried garlic, dried onion, vinegar, phosphoric acid, xanthan gum, modified food starch, MSG, artificial flavors, disodium phosphate, sorbic acid, calcium disodium EDTA, disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate.

Can I get an “Ew, GROSS!” from the at-home audience? Because yeah. MSG? That’s pretty disgusting. & what the hell are those last six ingredients anyway? What makes me even sadder is the latest advertising campaign stating that this is a great way to get kids to eat their veggies. “Hey kids! Cover your delicious Real Food with nasty chemicals! It’s the American way!”

Sad. But, there is an easier way – just make your own!

Homemade Ranch Dip

What you need:

  •  2 tablespoons mayonnaise, homemade or from the jar
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • black pepper, ~ 1/4 teaspoon
  • dill, chives, parsley, ~ 1/2 teaspoon each
  • dash of paprika

 

How to do it:

  1. Mix sour cream & mayo together, adding more to taste. Just the mix of these two ingredients get the taste pretty close.
  2. Add spices, adding more to taste. Personally, I’ve yet to put too much of the spice in, but start small. It’s even better if it sits for a bit before serving.
  3. Enjoy!


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Gluten-free cheesy biscuits

Cheddar bay biscuits, anyone? Every time I pass our Red Lobster, I sigh mournfully. Although they might be one of the better restaurants for the gluten-free crowd (om nom scampi om nom nom), I know the cheddar bay biscuits will be too much to bear. I can pass on Outback’s pumpernickel, Brown Derby’s rolls, & every other restaurant’s bread du jour.

But the biscuits? I knew I’d eaten my last.

Or so I thought!

I don’t even know how or why inspiration struck, but I’m so glad that it did, & even more so that my original idea worked so well! Turns out the basic coconut muffin recipe is incredibly versatile – not only can it be used to make muffins & bread, but you can add biscuits to its resume, too.

Cheesy biscuits

gluten-free, grain-free

What you need:

  • 1/3 cup butter, plus more for pan
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup cheddar or colby jack cheese, shredded (more if desired!)
  • 2 tablespoons dried chives

 

How to do it:

  1. Melt butter. Stir in eggs.
  2. Add coconut flour, chives, salt, baking soda, & baking powder.
  3. Stir in cheese.
  4. Generously grease a cookie sheet, then drop large spoonfuls of batter onto the sheet. (It made 12 for me)
  5. Bake at 350° for 12-15 minutes, until a knife comes out clean.
  6. Completely optional step: throw a bit more shredded cheese on top, then pop back into the oven for a few minutes until melted.

 

This is… oh man, I was so excited when I bit into it. SO, SO GOOD! Perfect when hot, slathered with butter. Fabulous with a bit of pepperoni. I think next time I might try to make pepperoni rolls with them – the flavors are just so good together. These would be great as bun alternatives for upcoming Memorial Day cookouts – sliders, anyone?

If you try these out, definitely let me know what you think!


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Easy chicken parmesan

Mmm – chicken parmesan. Sad thing is, a month or two before I gave up wheat, I learned how to make a totally rockin’ chicken parmesan. It was a long process that involved a lot of ingredients, but WOW, was it tasty. I bid it adieu in January 2010 & moved on to other things, but then I stumbled upon a flour-less chicken parm recipe in the surprisingly primal-friendly cookbook Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs. It’s quick & easy, has only a few ingredients, & best of all, really tasty. Although not all the recipes in the cookbook are gluten-free, the emphasis on fresh food cooked simply is pretty rad. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly (do I ever?), but it was definitely inspiring.

I don’t think I’ll ever understand the hate towards boneless, skinless chicken breast. If money is tight & conventional chicken is all you’ve got, this is totally the way to go. & if you cook it right, it’ll be nice & juicy. At least mine always are.

Anyways! Let’s get this yummy recipe started!

Quick & Easy Chicken Parmesan

gluten-free

What you need:

  • boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • about a cup of parmesan cheese (the best quality you can afford)
  • salt, herbs & spices to your liking*
  • olive oil
  • tomato puree (or whatever tomato sauce you have lying around)

 

*I tend to use oregano, basil, tarragon, parsley, sage, & rosemary for everything of the Italian persuasion.

How to do it:

  1. Drizzle some olive oil on a hot griddle.
  2. Throw the parmesan cheese, a bit of salt, & whatever Italian herbs you feel like using into a bowl. Mix it altogether, then place on a plate or in a bag. Dredge the chicken in the parmesan mixture. You don’t need to add anything to the chicken; it’ll stick right onto the meat as is!
  3. Place the chicken on the griddle & let it get crisp on the outside, as shown below.
  4. Once it’s nice & crisp on the outside, transfer to an oven-safe dish that’s been drizzled with a bit of olive oil. Spoon some sauce over top, then sprinkle any leftover parmesan mixture on top.
  5. Bake at 350&deg for about ten minutes or until the chicken is completely cooked through!

 

Serve with a salad, some steamed veggies, or the pasta alternative of your choice. Enjoy!


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Coconut flour banana bread

Is there anything so delicious as butter smeared on just-baked banana bread? Personally, I’m not so sure. With a few bananas well past their edible-as-is state, I decided to try my hand at a gluten-free banana bread. The husband didn’t like it so much – “I think I’ve lost my taste for bread. Except for muffins. I still like muffins. Hint hint.” were his words, but I declared loudly: More for me!

This totally hit the spot. As with many things I thought I’d given up for good, I didn’t even realize how much I missed it. Now, to be fair, it’s been so long (a year & a half, at least) since I’ve had the real stuff that I can’t honestly say it tastes just like the real thing. Frankly, I think I’m just so used to the consistency & taste of coconut flour that that tastes “normal” to me now. But try it out, & let me know what you think!

This recipe might look familiar, as it’s basically the same one for my gluten-free coconut flour muffins. Hooray for easy recipe transfers!

Banana bread

gluten-free, high fiber

What you need:

  • 2-3 very over-ripe bananas
  • 1/3 cup butter, plus more for pan
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup nuts (optional; I used sliced almonds)

 

How to do it:

  1.  Melt butter. Stir in eggs, bananas, vanilla, & honey.
  2. Add flour, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, & baking powder.
  3. Gently mix in nuts
  4. Generously grease a bread pan, then pour in batter.
  5. Bake at 350° for about forty minutes, until a knife comes out clean. This won’t raise like the traditional stuff does, but I personally found it just as tasty.

 

This was breakfast for about a week. I personally love to eat it with some cheese & cold meat, maybe a few fresh strawberries. Delicious!