Sunday, September 1, 2013

Time for a break

I was really, really hoping that I could give this blog it's due and really be able to put together some quality recipes, reviews, and also express my love for good ole CLE. Unfortunately, due to work and personal commitments, this blog is going to have to be put on the back burner.

Thanks to those who have followed me and encouraged me. Perhaps I'll be back once things settle down.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Eggplant Parmesan Bake

I feel like half the meals I cook come from Pinterest or are ideas based on pins. One of my recent favorites is this one: Eggplant Ricotta Bake from

You can find the full original recipe at the link above. It really is worth your time! Even if you think you don't like eggplant, I highly encourage you to give this a try. As for me, I made some adjustments (mostly because I bought the wrong amount of some ingredients) and my recipe is below. Also, I've renamed it Vegetarian Eggplant Lasagna because I feel that 'Eggplant Ricotta Bake' doesn't do it justice.

Vegetarian Eggplant Lasagna
1 large eggplant
Salt & Pepper
Garlic Powder
Oil (I used safflower, but I'm sure olive oil would be great, too!)
1 tub of ricotta (14oz?)
1 T.(?) of Oregano (use your judgement, I don't actually know how much I added)
3 eggs
1-1/2 cups of Parmesan cheese
1/2 jar of marinara sauce

First, preheat your oven to 375F. Next, slice your eggplant. I cut mine in rounds, but if you're using a rectangular oblong dish, slicing them lengthwise might be better. (I don't actually own a casserole dish, so I used a glass pie plate).  Grease a jelly roll pan (or in my words: a cookie sheet with sides) with oil, lay the slices of eggplant in a single layer on the pan and make sure both sides are brushed lightly with the oil (again, in my words: drizzle with oil and just rub them down). Also, season both sides of the eggplant with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Roast the eggplant for about 25 minutes in the oven (turning over halfway through).

While the eggplant is roasting, mix together the ricotta, the eggs, oregano and one cup of the Parmesan. This lovely mixture will be part of your filling. Set it to the side and wait for your eggplant to finish roasting.

This is where you need to stop what you're doing and just eat some eggplant. Seriously. I'd never really cooked with eggplant before so I tentatively tried one of the smaller rounds. Holy cow (and other more emphatic words that definitely apply but I will refrain from using at this time). Delicious. DELICIOUS.

Once you get over how amazing the eggplant tastes, you can start assembling your lasagna. Because I forgot to buy two eggplants like the original recipe told me to, my layers are a little bit off. But essentially, you want to follow this pattern:  sauce, eggplant, cheese mixture, eggplant. Repeat this until you run out of eggplant. The only rule is that you must end with the cheese mixture on top. Once you smooth out your final cheese layer, top with Parmesan cheese and then put in the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes (or until the cheese is starting to brown and is nice and bubbly).

Look at those layers! Yum!

I let mine brown more than other people might like, but it was still delicious!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Spaghetti Cravings

Going gluten-free usually means giving up a lot of things. Yes, you're giving up gluten, but you're also giving up things people take for granted like dining out, or being able to comfortably and safely eat a home-cooked meal with your friends and family.

Being Italian, my family eats a lot of pasta. Every Sunday, you will find a group of us (ranging from 10-30 on any given Sunday depending on the time of year and event) congregating at my grandparents house. We talk (okay, most of it is yelling), laugh, hug, and especially eat. For the majority of my family, this means pasta and lots of it. It also means breaded chicken. As far as eating goes, we are for the majority your stereotypical American-Italian family.

This is an on-going trial for me with gluten-free. I know how good my grandmother's pasta is. I know how much I miss it. But I also know how much pain I'll be in if I do eat it. This weekend, I was hit by an insatiable craving for spaghetti.

Fortunately, there's this amazing little vegetable called the spaghetti squash which totally rocks my world. It's super easy to prepare (as long as you give it enough time), and even reheats well for packed lunches. If I had more time, I would make my own sauce and go into some diatribe about how the best sauce is Nonna's homemade sauce, but as I don't have the time and I was just packing lunches, I'll let you in on the recipe for my current favorite packed lunch: Spaghetti Squash with Marinara.


One spaghetti squash (I used a pretty small one)
Marinara Sauce (I used about a half a jar)
Stew beef (optional, I added about a 1/3 pound of browned stew beef to the dish while it was baking to add some flavor)

Preheat your oven to 350F.

Take one spaghetti squash and pierce the skin in a few places. Pop it in the microwave for a few minutes to soften the skin (it's really hard to cut otherwise). Slice it in half and remove the seeds. Place face down in a baking dish. Put in the oven and let bake for about 45 minutes. (Normally I'd bake it for about an hour, but it will be going back in the oven for this recipe).

Take it out and let it cool for a bit. Once it's cool enough to handle, remove the "spaghetti" by running a fork lengthwise through the squash. I then mixed this with some jarred marinara sauce and added the browned beef chunks and put it in a small casserole dish. Put the whole thing back into the oven for about another half hour.

And that's it. Seriously. I ate part of it for dinner that night and boxed the rest up for two lunches this week. I actually reheated some of it for my lunch today and it's fantastic. It even retains that al dente bite after reheating where pasta doesn't.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cinnamon Coconut Milk Ice Cream

I nearly had a meltdown in the grocery store. I’m ashamed to admit it, but it’s true. There is a reason, really and truly, but it is a true story nonetheless.

For some time now, I’ve known that I need to go dairy-free. Gluten-free and yeast-free? Not that big a deal. But dairy-free? The thought alone makes me want to cry. Not for the butter, no (I already use mostly olive oil or coconut oil). Also, not for the ice cream or the milk. I only use almond milk at home and, while pricey, dairy-free ice cream is readily available. No, what really had me sad while standing in the middle of the store was the thought of giving up cheese. Oh. The cheese.

You see, I have yet to find a substitute that can hold it’s own against the real thing. (Except for, you know, in the healthy-for-you category...) Sure there are options (an image of the Daiya vegan “cheese” package comes to mind), but none of them live up to the reputation cheese has in my mind. I am a cheese lover. I have never met a cheese that I didn’t like. Cheddar, gouda, brie, bleu, stilton, ricotta, parmesan, manchego, chevre, provolone, swiss, you name it, I probably love it. And this is what I need to give up. Even now, I’m sitting on Pinterest searching phrases like “paleo cheese recipe” and “dairy-free cheese that’s not plastic”. The options right now are not looking so good.

To make up for the lack of dairy-free options over the past week, I made my first attempt at coconut milk ice cream. Believe me when I tell you that this recipe is easy. I managed to pull it all together with just a pot, a metal bowl, and a whisk --no blender, food processor, or ice cream maker needed (though it would probably be a LOT simpler and smoother if you did have one, it's not strictly necessary).

I started with this recipe from Paleo Diet Lifestyle (and didn't really vary that much, so the credit goes to them for developing this recipe). I'm not a huge advocate for the paleo diet, but it is very convenient to look at a list of paleo recipes and know that they're automatically dairy-, yeast- and gluten-free without any modifications.

  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • 2 eggs
  • Seeds from two vanilla beans OR 4 tsp of vanilla extract (I actually used two sad, slightly-dried-out vanilla beans and about two teaspoons of homemade vanilla extract).
  • Sugar to taste (I did add sugar, but I added it little by little until it was sweet enough for me, so I don't actually know how much I put in. Plus, tastes vary so, what works for me may not for you.)
  • Cinnamon to taste (I think it was about 2 teaspoons)


Bring some water to a boil in a pot and then reduce to a simmer for the double boiler. Put the coconut milk in a heatproof metal bowl that will sit safely on top of your pot (without the bottom touching the simmering water). Add the vanilla. Make sure that the mixture doesn't boil. Whisk eggs in a separate bowl and temper them with the hot milk mixture (slowly add small amounts of the hot milk to the eggs so that it will bring them up to temperature slowly without curdling them).  Add the milk-egg mixture to the rest of the milk in the double boiler and stir for a few minutes until it forms a thick custard (kind of like instant pudding consistency before it "gels".  Again, don't let it boil.

Remove from the heat and let it cool (so that it's cool to touch) before adding other ingredients. If you don't have an ice cream maker, put it in a pan and pop it in the freezer. What you will need to do is to set a timer for 30 minutes and stir it really well every thirty minutes for about three hours (I did this while watching a movie and it proved the perfect distraction).

Result? Super tasty, dairy-free ice cream. Easy to make, easy to clean up and perfect for quelling those dairy cravings.

Very bad picture that doesn't do justice to the deliciousness of this ice cream

Monday, February 11, 2013

Deagan's Kitchen & Bar

I want to gush about Deagan’s for a bit. Or a lot. Deagan’s Kitchen & Bar in Lakewood, Ohio has long been on my list of must-visit places that are known for being gluten-free friendly in the good old CLE. I only regret that I waited this long to visit.

Saturday night, a friend and I made our way to Deagan’s for dinner. Busy, but we didn’t have to wait for a table, which was good as we’d both arrived with appetites.

Before I say anything else, I want to commend Deagan’s for their gluten-free service. Not only do they have an actual gluten-free menu (Hallelujah!), but their staff was knowledgeable and accommodating.  I believe our server’s name was Jen and she was fantastic. As soon as she saw the gluten-free menu in my hands (easily requested as we were seated) she was on point and ready with suggestions and a great attitude. I wish I could say this is a norm, but so often at restaurants, gluten-free diners (as well as those with other allergies and intolerances) are often seen as nuisance. To visit a restaurant where I could order safely and without needing to alter the menu items really made my day.

We started out with the polenta croutons.  I’m already a fan of polenta. It’s not the most common dish that my Italian-American family eats, but it is something that my grandmother and I will whip up for lunches or a quick dinner sometimes. I’ve had it baked, fried and boiled, but these polenta croutons have to be one of the best polenta-based I’ve ever eaten. Crispy cubes of polenta, smothered in mushrooms and parmesan? I am so in.

We also gave the marcona almond stuffed dates a try. Amazing, but so rich that one was plenty.

I am a sucker for red meat. I really am. Even when I know I should be ordering chicken or vegetarian meals, I find it so incredibly hard to resist a really good burger or steak. So, when I saw a steak on the specials menu and the server checked on gluten-free options without even being asked...? Yes, that totally happened. Now, the steak was great. It really was. Perfectly cooked (surprisingly hard to find), delicious and tender.  It was also gigantic and was taken home and played a starring role in lunch today.

But the star of the main course show? The Brussels sprouts. I know. Brussels sprouts? The star of the show? Really and truly, my friends. The Brussels sprouts.  The original steak special came with a gluten-filled strudel, so I substituted with a side of shaved Brussels sprouts with bacon, walnuts, and bleu cheese. Dear god, these things are amazing.  No words can describe how pleasantly surprised I was.

For dessert, I couldn’t resist the Tahitian vanilla bean crème brûlée. While I hesitate to use the term “mind-blowing” as a descriptor, it really is the closest word I could find to do this justice.  Simple, but phenomenal. It was plated with a vanilla syrup on one side, a tart raspberry sauce on the other, and fresh berries.

Between all this delicious food, the great company (laughs with friends make everything better), and my standard Manhattan, it made for one of the best meals and nights I’ve had in a long time.

Thanks, Deagan’s for making the night so fantastic. And thanks to our server for being awesome. I’m sorry it took me so long to finally make it over there, but you definitely have a fan now!