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Gluten-Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Muffins

If you’re in the mood for dessert for breakfast, you’ve come to the right place!

These muffins are super duper moist and chocolatey. They have a soft, velvety inside that feels like you’re eating a cupcake! Cupcakes for breakfast?! How can you go wrong?

What makes these muffins so moist is the banana and applesauce. The banana taste goes very nicely with the peanut butter and the chocolate. And the peanut butter and chocolate combination? Well, if you don’t like that, we might not be able to be friends… Just kidding. I forgive you. But if that is the case, you might want to choose a different muffin to make….

In any case, if you do decide to make this recipe, you can choose to make a loaf of quick bread (see original recipe for modifications), or you can make muffins. The original recipe I found was for two loaves of quick bread, but I wanted something that I could easily portion out and that was easy to grab and go, so I made the recipe into one batch of muffins instead. These made for a great breakfast to take to the office. I enjoyed them alongside a glass of cold milk. Now chocolate and milk – there’s another amazing combination!

The other great thing about these was that they froze beautifully. I portioned them into sandwich baggies and kept them in the freezer. The night before I planned to take one to work with me, I took one out to defrost on the countertop overnight. When I enjoyed it for breakfast the next morning, it tasted like I had just baked it. Amazing!

Gluten-Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Muffins
adapted from Chef Q in Oregon’s Gluten-Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Bread

Dry Ingredients
3/4 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup sweet sorghum flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Wet Ingredients
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons reduced-fat peanut butter
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 very ripe bananas, smashed
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin, or fill with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients until well-combined.

Using a stand mixer or a large bowl with a handheld beater, cream together the wet ingredients. Little by little, add the dry ingredient mixture to the wet ingredient mixture, beating and scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition, until well-combined.

Using an ice-cream scoop or tablespoon, ladle the batter into the prepared muffin cups. Bake in your preheated oven for 18-22 minutes or until the muffin tops spring back when touched.

Makes 12 muffins/servings (4 points+ per serving).

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Lollia: Gluten-Free Hand Cream

I adore using my sense of smell. Yes, that might seem like an odd thing to say, but it’s true. I love burning deliciously scented candles, burying my face in a towel fresh from the dryer, spritzing my wrists with a delicate mist of fragrance, leaving the bedroom windows open on a cool summer night, and slathering on a layer of rich hand cream so I could smell it all day long.

Shortly after going gluten-free, my GI doctor recommended I go through all my beauty products to check if they contained gluten. This took me by surprise – I hadn’t even thought of it. Unfortunately, the list of ingredients for beauty products can be far more mysterious than food products. Unless it is marketed specifically to be so, it can take a lot of research to confirm whether or not a beauty product is gluten-free.

After lots of internet research and emails, I learned that the hand creams I used from Bath & Body Works contained gluten. For your information, according to my internet research, here are the ingredients in Bath & Body Works products that contain wheat and soy:

Wheat: Triticum Vulgare
Oat: Avena Sativa
Barley: Hordeum Distichon
Rye: Secale Cereale
Soy: Glycina soja

After I had to get rid of those hand creams, I was down to my last resort. A Christmas or two ago, a dear friend gave me some Crabtree & Evelyn La Source Ultra Moisturizing Hand Therapy hand cream. I fell in love with it immediately. Unfortunately, after I was diagnosed, a quick read of the package revealed wheat as an ingredient. Fortunately, I didn’t have to do any research to find out whether or not it was gluten-free – a rare moment where it was spelled out for me with no doubt. I was devastated that I could no longer use my beloved hand cream, but I had no choice. I gave what I had left of it to my mom and set out on a search for a new gluten-free hand cream.

I found quite a few gluten-free hand creams online; however, I was more interested in the scent than anything else, and nothing seemed to be up to snuff. Happily, I stumbled across the exquisite world of Lollia. The descriptions of their fragrances are beautiful and paint a lovely picture. I was enraptured. After reading some product reviews, I decided that these hand creams were definitely worth looking into further. I was ecstatic to receive a reply from their Customer Service department indicating that all of their lotions and hand creams are gluten-free. Yay! Now came the hard part: deciding which scents to get.

Of their eight available scents, I decided to try two. Because of my long-standing love affair with the smell of vanilla, my first choice had to be Wish.

After much deliberation, my second choice was Relax.

Upon receiving these hand creams, I carefully opened up the beautiful boxes they arrived in and tried Wish. I wasn’t as in love with it as I thought I would be. Frankly, I was a little disappointed. I decided to keep that one at work. I’ve had it for a few months now and I am happy to say that my opinion has certainly changed. I really love that lotion now and highly recommend it, especially if you like the Warm Vanilla Sugar scent from Bath & Body Works. The scent is certainly warm and rich and very sweet, like cookies.

Then I tried Relax. This one was love at first sniff. The scent is light, floral, and slightly sweet. It reminds me of a garden in the summertime. If you like floral scents, you’ll love this. I decided to keep this one at home and save it for special occasions.

Aside from their scents, the other important thing to consider when trying a new hand cream is the way it feels on your hands. (Duh.) I hate greasy lotions. The Lollia creams are not greasy at all. They leave your hands feeling wonderfully smooth and silky and certainly hydrated. I use hand cream frequently at work because the cheap hand soap in the bathroom dries out my hands quickly – especially in the dry winter months. Lollia creams really works to help keep my hands from drying out, and I’m more than happy to recommend them.

If you’re interested in trying Lollia hand cream out yourself, you can order it online through the Lollia website or through various other online retailers, such as Beauty.com; or you can enter your ZIP code into their store locator and see if it can be found at a store near you. I really hope you do try it!

Note: I am not affiliated with Lollia in any way, and I was not compensated in any way for this product review.

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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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Eating Gluten-Free at Jimmy John’s

Before my gluten-free days, I used to go to the delightfully quirky sandwich shop Jimmy John’s at least once a week. My sandwich of choice was the Beach Club – delicious. Ever since my diagnosis, I haven’t eaten there because I didn’t think they would have anything for me. They are a sandwich place, you know. At sandwich shops, bread sits around in mass quantities smelling frustratingly delicious.

Anyway, we had a lunch meeting at work this week and we were ordering Jimmy John’s for everyone. I had heard of their “Unwich” before, which is just a fun way of saying, “lettuce wrap.” After some internet searching and an email conversation with the company, I felt comfortable ordering one. Here’s the scoop.

Through a bunch of internet searching, I learned that most of their meats are gluten-free. Okay, that’s a good start. Since I was such a huge fan of their avocado spread, I contacted them via email and asked if it was gluten-free. I received a reply within an hour or two to learn that their avocado spread IS gluten-free! Happy day! In the same email, I also asked about their tuna salad since I was also a fan of that, but unfortunately, it is not gluten-free.

Their beef, cheese, and tuna salad *are not* gluten-free. (I’m not gonna lie, the fact that the cheese isn’t gluten-free kinda scares me…but oh well… I’m also kinda afraid to ask.)

Their bacon, ham, capicola, salami, turkey, and avocado spread *are* gluten-free.

So I happily ordered an Unwich Turkey Tom with tomatoes and avocado spread. I also ordered the reduced-fat Thinny Chips, which are gluten-free, and slightly better for you than their regular chips. Watch out though, one bag is two servings. I was happy with my selection for the most part; however, I would definitely ask for extra meat next time. I only got two slices of turkey, and it seemed unsubstantial and didn’t keep me full for very long.

A few ordering tips for when you visit: Explain that you have a food allergy. (I find that’s the quickest and easiest way to to convey your point in situations such as these.) Ask for your Unwich to be prepared on its wrapping paper and that it does not come in contact with the actual table where they prepare other sandwiches. If you order a spread, such as mayo or avocado, ask if they will use a clean spatula to minimize the chance of cross-contamination. The meats should be okay as they are because they are pre-measured into portion sizes and placed between parchment paper.

As for the nutritional information, Jimmy John’s has a nifty little nutrition calculator on their website. You can plug in exactly what you’re eating to get the nutrition stats. This is amazing if you are counting calories or are on Weight Watchers. The biggest surprise is that an Unwich with a lean meat like turkey was super duper healthy and extremely low in fat. As soon as I added mayo however, the fat content skyrocketed by about 20g!!! I highly suggest avoiding mayo here – it’s just not worth it. The avocado spread adds only about 1g of fat! Using that instead gives you the creamy texture of a spread without the ridiculous amount of fat. And you can add that to any Unwich you’d like. I personally think turkey and avocado go together like peanut butter and jelly.

I hope you have a Jimmy John’s near you so you can experience the joys of the Unwich!

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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).

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Gluten & Allergen Free Expo 2012

Yesterday, I was thrilled to attend the Gluten & Allergen Free Expo in Lombard, Illinois. My mom graciously accompanied me, even though she doesn’t eat gluten-free. I was attending in hopes of finding some gluten-free options out there that I hadn’t discovered yet, and my mom was there to keep me company and get me a few extra free samples do some discovering herself. Look at all the treasures I came home with!

The thing I’m most excited about trying are those hazelnut wafers from Schar. I absolutely adore Kit Kats, and since I can’t eat them anymore, I’ve been wanting to try a gluten-free wafer treat for so long. Plus…hazelnut?! OMG. I can’t wait until the day I deem worthy enough to enjoy them.

Anyway, we had a great time! There were more than 100 vendors there with lots and lots of information and free samples. All the food there was gluten-free, and many others were free from other allergens as well, so I reached for practically anything I could get my hands on. Here are some of the highlights:

I got a chance to try tons of amazing gluten-free foods. The best thing I had BY FAR was a chocolate brownie from Rose’s Bakery. I mean this thing was TO DIE for. Lucky for me, they are located in Evanston, which isn’t that far from where we live. Tim and I will definitely have to take a little trip down there sometime soon. If that brownie was that good, imagine how amazing everything else is!

I got samples of three different gluten-free magazines I had been considering subscribing to. I hadn’t made a decision until I met the lovely people from Delight Gluten Free Magazine. They were so friendly, I decided to subscribe right there on the spot. They even gave me a back issue to keep me content until my first issue arrives in the mail. Hooray!

As you can see in the picture above, I purchased a cute little cookbook called Gluten-Free Mexican from the booth for Cecelia’s Marketplace. Mexican is definitely a top contender for my favorite cuisine, so I’m excited to try some recipes. Perhaps you’ll see some posted in the future!

As we were meandering through the aisles, I heard a gentleman from behind one of the booths telling someone, “It’s like Groupon, but for gluten-free products and restaurants.” My ears perked up. I love Groupon, but for gluten-free stuff? How exciting! The gentleman was representing Gluten Free Deals, which was free to sign up for. I signed up right then and there.

There were also quite a few “celebrity” sightings: We met Pamela from Pamela’s Products. She was so sweet! She and my mom got all buddy buddy since they share the same name and all…. Pamela was kind enough to give my mom a hat with the company logo on it. She was thrilled. I saw Laura B. Russell from The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen, who was promoting her cookbook. I met Mary Fran Wiley from FrannyCakes (she liked the name of my blog!!!), who was promoting a series of gluten-free e-books she’s releasing next month. I also got to speak with Kelli and Pete Bronski from No Gluten, No Problem, who were selling their cookbooks. At one point I walked by Jen Cafferty, the founder of the Expo, looking all official in a green chef’s jacket and wearing a headset. My favorite encounter, however, was when my mom and I were speaking with a lovely woman behind the Better Batter booth. I asked her if she had her own blog, and it turns out she was the founder of Better Batter herself, Naomi Poe! When she told us their products were being sold at a special price for attendees, my mom offered to buy me a whole bunch as a late birthday present. How sweet of her.

I feel so lucky that I had the opportunity to attend this expo. I found a number of new products I can’t wait to get my hands on and I met some really nice people. What a great experience.

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Baby steps

Well, here it is. This is the first entry in the blog I’ve been fantasizing about creating for months now.

I actually created this blog more than a month ago, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to write this first entry. I’ve been agonizing about what to write about. Finally, I decided to just sit down and write. I’m going to break the ice with these baby steps and then go from there.

It seems like I discover something new about gluten-free living every day. Some things are intentionally unearthed after lots of digging and research. And then some things I just happen upon without any effort on my part. There’s a simple joy that bubbles up inside me when I’m perusing an ingredient list and I can turn to Tim and say, “Hey, this is marked gluten-free!”

In this blog, I’m going to be sharing my discoveries in hopes that I can make it easier for others to find them. I’ll also be sharing recipe creations and inspirations, gluten-free and healthful recipe makeovers, my opinions about various gluten-free products, weight loss pitfalls and triumphs, and lots of other adventures as I strive to live a more healthful and gluten-free life. I sure hope you’ll join me! I think we’re going to have a great time.