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Gluten-Free Boxed Dinner Dress-Up: Chili Cheeseburger Mac

Do you ever find yourself missing those helpful boxed dinners that allow you to get dinner together in about a half hour with super minimal effort? I sure do. On rare occasions, I have seen gluten-free versions of these in stores, but they always cost at least twice as much as their gluten-filled counterparts, and turned out not tasting quite as good as I remember.

In an effort to recreate a gluten-free version one of those boxed dinners, I decided to dress up a popular, and less expensive, gluten-free boxed dinner: Annie’s Creamy Deluxe Rice Pasta Dinner. So if you cannot find any of the gluten-free versions of those helpful boxed dinners, or don’t want to spend the extra money on one of them, give this version of Chili Cheeseburger Mac a whirl.

wpid-IMAG0475.jpgI can find this at many of my local grocery stores, including Walmart and Target. It reminds me of the delicious shells and cheese dinner I used to enjoy in my pre-GF days; however, this version is made with all natural ingredients and tastes like real cheese – because it IS real cheese!

Gluten-Free Boxed Dinner Dress-Up: Chili Cheeseburger Mac

1 box Annie’s Deluxe Rice Pasta Dinner
1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup diced onion
1 cup fat-free milk
3 Tablespoons corn starch
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
pinch pepper

To begin, you need to cook your pasta. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Then add the pasta. Stir immediately. The water will become cloudy – that’s normal.

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Never follow the package directions when cooking gluten-free pasta. I usually just start with 6-7 minutes on the timer and check the pasta every minute after that until it’s done. Gluten-free pasta can go from done to mush in a minute, so be careful. Also, the water tends to foam up quite a bit, so stir frequently and turn down your heat as necessary.

While your pasta is cooking, brown the ground beef or turkey in a large skillet with the chopped onion; drain. (If you decide to use turkey, you’ll need to adjust the points appropriately.)

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When the pasta is done, pour it into a colander and return the pot to the stove. The sauce packet included is only enough for the noodles, and we want to add more sauce for the meat! So here’s where you’re going to make more sauce.

Measure out your milk into a large measuring cup. Whisk in the cornstarch and other spices. Slowly pour the milk mixture into the pot that you cooked your noodles in and heat over medium-high heat. Stir constantly with a flat or regular whisk until the mixture comes to a boil. This is when it will thicken. At this point, you can whisk in the cheese sauce from the packet. Continue to heat until the mixture reaches your preferred consistency. If you prefer it a little cheesier, feel free to add a handful of cheddar cheese or another cheese of your choice and stir until melted. This will also help thicken the sauce a bit if you so desire. Once the sauce has thickened to your liking, remove from the heat.

If your noodles have since cooled down and started to stick together, run some hot water over them in the colander to loosen them up. Pour the noodles and the meat mixture into the cheese mix and stir until well-combined.

Serve with a leafy green salad and warm gluten-free rolls or cornbread. This is wonderful when reheated for leftovers the next day – I can personally attest to that!

(Serves 4 at 11 pts+/serving)

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Pork Tenderloin with Gorgonzola Cheese Sauce

Another family birthday, another excuse to cook an exquisite meal.

Have you ever tried gorgonzola cheese? It’s a type of blue cheese, but a much milder one. And as evidenced by this recipe, it makes an absolutely delicious sauce. There’s a big debate among the gluten-free community about whether or not blue cheeses are safe to eat. The truth is that it depends on how it’s made. A Google search brings up results on both sides of the argument, but there’s recent evidence that suggests blue cheese is safe for a gluten-free diet. Just be sure to check the label to make sure it doesn’t contain wheat.

For this crowd-pleasing dish (ask my family if you want proof of that claim), I began by coating the pork tenderloin with this garlic peppercorn spice rub, some salt, and a little bit of our favorite roasted garlic olive oil. I wrapped them tightly in plastic wrap and let them sit in the fridge overnight. You can use your favorite spice rub for this recipe (use about 1 tablespoon of spice rub per tenderloin), or you can use the spice rub recipe below that’s similar to the one I used.

The best preparation for tenderloins is the oven. (Save the slow cooker for a tougher cut of meat.) However, before placing them in the oven, they must be seared. Don’t skip this important step! Searing the meat creates a thin layer of crust that adds a ton of delicious flavor and creates a nice contrast against the juicy, tender meat inside. Secondly, don’t skip the resting period after you remove the meat from the oven. This allows the juices to be sucked back into the meat. If you skip the resting period and cut into the tenderloin too early, those lovely juices will be all over your cutting board instead of in your tenderloin. No bueno.

I made this for my dad’s birthday dinner and it was a huge hit. I served it alongside mashed potatoes and a broccoli/cauliflower mix, both of which tasted amazing with the cheese sauce. I hope you share this beautiful dish with your family like I shared it with mine!

Pork Tenderloin with Gorgonzola Cheese Sauce
adapted from Taste of Home

Spice Rub
2 tablespoons granulated garlic
2 tablespoons crushed black peppercorns
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/4 teaspoon salt

2 pork tenderloins (about 1 1/2 pounds total), trimmed of visible fat
olive oil

Gorgonzola Cheese Sauce
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon sweet rice flour or white rice flour
1 cup half and half
1/4 cup dry white wine or white cooking wine
1/4 cup gluten-free, fat-free chicken broth
1 cup (4 oz) gluten-free Gorgonzola cheese crumbles

additional Gorgonzola cheese crumbles for garnish if desired
fresh or dried parsley for garnish if desired

In a small bowl, mix together the ingredients for the spice rub. Lightly drizzle the tops of each tenderloin with olive oil and, using clean hands, rub over the meat until evenly coated. Sprinkle about half of the spice rub onto the tops of the tenderloins and rub the mixture into the meat. Flip the tenderloins over and repeat the process, using the rest of the spice rub. Tightly wrap each tenderloin individually in plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Line a large roasting pan or baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. (If you don’t have a non-stick skillet, drizzle the pan with olive oil.) Place one tenderloin into the pan for about 30 seconds to one minute on each side to sear the meat. Continue to rotate the tenderloin to sear the sides as well. You might have to hold the meat in place with tongs to sear the sides. Place the tenderloin on the prepared roasting pan. Repeat with the second tenderloin. Bake in the preheated oven for about 10-20 minutes until a thermometer reads 145 degrees. Place the tenderloins on a cutting board to rest for about 5-10 minutes.

While the pork is cooking, prepare the cheese sauce. Over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the minced garlic and cook for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Sprinkle in the flour and stir until well-combined and a beige paste forms (this is called a roux). Very slowly whisk in the half and half, wine, and chicken broth. Continue whisking until the mixture comes to a boil. Continue whisking for about a minute or until thickened. Lower the heat to medium low and stir in the cheese, reserving some additional crumbles for garnish if desired. Continue to whisk until the cheese is completely melted and the sauce has thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

Diagonally slice the tenderloins against the grain of the meat to form about 1-inch thick medallions. Transfer the pork to a serving platter. Spoon the sauce over the pork and garnish with reserved cheese crumbles and parsley if desired.

Makes 6 servings (8 points+/serving).

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Gluten-Free Smothered Pork Chops

As you transition over to eating and cooking gluten-free, you’ll quicly discover that oftentimes you’ll have to do without one of the classic “convenience” foods: canned soup.

Thank goodness we have Progresso. Many of their soups are gluten-free, and those are clearly labeled as such. Check out this section on Gluten Freely where you can buy any of Progresso’s gluten-free soups.

I was pleased as punch to see that their french onion soup was gluten-free. Yum! So the next time I saw a can at my grocery store, I snatched it off the shelf. Then I went hunting for a recipe in which I could use it. I was sure I could make some kind of gravy with it. Sure enough, I stumbled upon this recipe for smothered pork chops, again from Gluten Freely. (LOVE that site – check it out if you haven’t already!)

I happened to have some mashed potatoes left over in my fridge that night, so I served the chops alongside them instead of the rice called for in the original recipe. The onion gravy went very well with them. I also used boneless pork chops instead of bone-in, so the cooking time was reduced dramatically. Cooking times for pork chops vary based on thickness. To give you a starting point, one-inch thick chops take about 4-5 minutes per side over medium-high heat. Just be sure that your sauce cooks long enough to thicken up.

Head on over to Gluten Freely for the recipe!

Made using lean, trimmed boneless pork chops, the recipe comes out to be 10 points+ per serving and serves 4. This point total is for the pork chops and gravy only – it excludes the rice from the original recipe, and the mashed potatoes pictured above.

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Gluten-Free Baked Ziti

My lovely mom celebrated her birthday earlier this month. As a special treat, I declared I was going to make dinner for her and our family. I wanted a meal that I could put together ahead of time so I wasn’t doing all the prep work when my family was over.

Happily, I came across Annie’s Eats and her recipe for baked ziti. (Thanks, Annie!) I made baked mostaccioli before – pasta sauce, pasta, and cheese topped with some more cheese. Simple and delicious. Baked ziti, which I had never made before, is a little different though, and I was super excited to try it. First of all, it’s made with meat in the sauce. Annie’s recipe calls for Italian turkey sausage, which I’m sure would have been delicious, but we don’t care for sausage, so I used lean ground turkey instead. Also, the sauce is made with cream, so it’s not just a straight-up tomato sauce.

I made the dish gluten-free by using corn pasta instead of regular. Luckily that was the only gluten-free conversion I needed to make! To cut down on the fat, I used fat-free half and half in place of the heavy cream and I also used reduced-fat mozzarella. Unfortunatly, even with those modifications, this dish is still a bit high in points value, so save it for a special ocassion or plan ahead.

This is a cool recipe because it uses cottage cheese instead of ricotta, which Tim cannot eat. I just put the cottage cheese in my food processor to get rid of the curds. The consistency was wonderfully creamy – a nice alternative to ricotta.

I’m not gonna lie, this took a while to put together. To make it easy on yourself, definitely have all your ingredients measured out and ready to go before you begin. If not, you will be scrambling around your kitchen like a crazy thing. Trust me!

The recipe called for a 9×13 pan. While it did fit into a 9×13 pan, I did find it to be a bit overfull. If you have a pan that’s slightly larger, I’d recommend using it instead. If you don’t, you can place your 9×13 pan on a larger sheet pan to catch any sauce or cheese that might escape, or you can divide it between two smaller pans.

It definitely paid off to have made the dish the night before. After I prepped the dish, I let it cool thoroughly before putting it in the fridge overnight. Take the dish out of the fridge one to two hours before you’re ready to bake it so it can come down to room temperature. This will help it bake more evenly and in less time. You can then bake the dish as directed below.

Baked Ziti
adapted from Annie’s Eats Baked Ziti

1 pound 1% cottage cheese
2 large eggs
3 ounces Parmesan cheese, shredded and divided
1 Tablespoon salt
1 pound uncooked gluten-free ziti or mostaccioli
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 1/4 pounds extra lean ground turkey (99% fat-free)
1/2 cup white onion, finely chopped
5 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 (28-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3/4 teaspoon cornstarch
1 cup fat-free half and half
8 ounces low-moisture mozzarella, shredded

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Place the cottage cheese, eggs, and about 1 cup of the Parmesan cheese into a food processor. Process until smooth; set aside. (Note: If you don’t mind the curds in the cottage cheese, you may skip the food processor and simply whisk the ingredients together in a medium bowl.)

Bring a large stock pot of water to a rolling boil. Add 1 Tablespoon of salt and the pasta and stir. Cook, stirring frequently, until the pasta is not quite al dente. Cooking times for gluten-free pasta vary greatly, so test for doneness frequently. Drain the pasta and leave it in the colander. You will use the stock pot again in a later step – no need to clean it.

Heat olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the turkey, break it apart, and cook until halfway browned. Add the onion and garlic and continue to cook until the turkey is completely browned and the onion has softened. Reduce heat to medium and add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and oregano. Stir until well-combined. Bring to a gentle simmer, then stir ocassionally for about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sugar. Slowly stir in 1/2 cup of the basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and the half and half. Pour this mixture into the stock pot you cooked the pasta in. Place the pan over medium heat. Whisking contstantly, bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for about three to four minutes; the mixture will thicken slightly. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the cottage cheese mixture. Stir in about 1 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce mixture and about 3/4 cup of mozzarella. Stir until well-combined. Gently fold in the pasta until it is thoroughly coated.

Transfer the pasta mixture into a 9×13 baking dish. Carefully pour the remaining tomato sauce mixture over the top of the pasta mixture. Use a rubber spatula to spread the sauce so it’s evenly distributed. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan evenly over the top of the sauce mixture. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes.

Remove the foil from the dish and cook for another 30 minutes until the cheese has melted and is starting to brown. Cool uncovered on a rack for about 15-20 minutes. Garnish with the remaining two Tablespoons of basil.

Serve alongside a fresh salad and some gluten-free garlic bread or rolls for a filling meal. This reheats well for leftovers too. Always a bonus!

Makes 8 large servings (14 points+ per serving).

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Gluten-Free Mexican Pulled Chicken

For me, one of the ultimate joys in life is cooking a wonderful meal for my friends or family. I am always inviting people over for dinner so I can cook for them. And if that doesn’t tell you enough, I even cooked my own birthday dinner this year. I made my birthday cake too. It was delightful.

Anyway, I came across this easy recipe a few months ago when I was looking for a delicious dish to serve for company. And by easy, I mean super duper ridiculously easy.

All you have to do is pop your chicken in the slow cooker to spend a relaxing day bathing in salsa, spices, and broth. After that, the chicken will be incredibly tender and juicy. At that point, you need only shred it, give it a stir, and you’re done! You’ll end up with delicious pulled chicken that can star in a variety of Mexican dishes.

I’ve served it on corn tortillas to make some tasty chicken tacos. I’ve also used it to make an absolutely amazing batch of chicken enchiladas with made-from-scratch green enchilada sauce. You could also easily use this as a filling for quesadillas or burritos or as a topping for a heaping pile of nachos.

The salsa that you choose will make a huge difference. First of all, make sure the salsa you choose is fat-free; they often are, but be sure to double-check. As for the taste, I am a huge fan of the combination of salsa verde and chicken. I also think the salsa verde pairs nicely with green enchilada sauce if you want to go that route. However, feel free to switch it up! If you want to use regular salsa, go for it. If you want spicy chicken, choose a spicy salsa. If you can’t do spicy, go for mild. Salsa verde typically comes in medium, so it’s a happy medium (pun intended) for those who like spicy and those who like mild (a.k.a., Tim and I).

Now, a few words of caution about the ingredients: Make sure your chicken broth is gluten-free. Weirdly enough, it not always is. I have faithfully used Swanson Natural Goodness since my diagnosis, which is listed on Campbell’s Gluten-Free Product List. Not only is it fat-free and all-natural, it’s also reduced-sodium so you have more control over the saltiness of your dishes. Salsa is something you should watch out for as well. Check your label to make sure it’s gluten-free. All-natural salsas are usually good choices because there are no weird, questionable ingredients that could be hiding gluten. The same goes for taco seasoning – check your label. Or, feel free to substitute your own homemade seasoning mix!

Gluten-Free Mexican Pulled Chicken
adapted from Celiac Family’s Slow-Cooked Shredded Chicken

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (3-4 small or medium breasts)
1 packet of chicken taco seasoning mix (1 ounce/4 tablespoons)
1 cup fat-free salsa verde (more or less to taste)
1 cup fat-free chicken broth

Place the chicken breasts in the bottom of your slow cooker; avoid overlapping them if possible. Sprinkle the chicken taco seasoning evenly over the chicken. Top the chicken breasts with the salsa. Slowly pour in the chicken broth around the chicken, not directly onto them. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 4-5 hours.

Turn the heat off on your slow cooker and remove the cover. Do not drain! The broth is now infused with all kinds of flavor and you don’t want to lose it. Using two forks, pull or shred the chicken completely. Stir well to coat the chicken with the spices and broth. Place the cover back on your slow cooker to keep the chicken warm while you prepare the rest of your meal.

Makes 4 servings (4 points+ per serving).