Simple Gluten-Free Dinners

One thing I love about being gluten free is that is has really forced me to step up my game in the kitchen. Most nights, I’d rather make a meal than eat out. Since I rarely get home before 7:30, and usually must closer to 8 than I’d like, I’ve had to learn ways to make great meals that cook fast.

I’ve also learned that it’s absolutely critical to have meals planned in advance, so I have necessary ingredients on hand. This eliminates frustrating trips to the grocery store after work…because it seems like whenever I’m in a hurry, it has never occurred to the person in front me that, you know, groceries require money. Continue reading “Simple Gluten-Free Dinners”

Macaroni and Cheese

Years ago during South by Southwest, my husband and I snuck out for a meal by ourselves. We ended up at the Moonshine Grill in downtown Austin. On the menu was an amazing macaroni and cheese with spicy green peppers. The moment we returned home, I started trying to recreate this recipe.

Over time, I stopped trying to make Moonshine’s mac and cheese, focusing instead on making my own. My ever-faithful bookclub has cheerfully (and hungrily) endured my experiments over the years, and there was only one major failure. Note to all: soymilk is not a good substitute for real milk in this instance.

You live, you learn.

From my perspective, the key to good mac and cheese is a mix of cheeses that bring appropriate meltiness and flavor. As a rule, I rely upon good old-fashioned regular milk when making my cheese sauce, but have, once or twice, tried out evaporated milk. The latter does add an interesting creaminess to the sauce…and that weird evaporated milk smell completely disappears in the sauce.

Needless to say, this recipe makes excellent leftovers. I do find that gluten-free pastas tend to absorb a lot of sauce, so I tend to go heavy on the sauce, lighter on the noodles.

Traditional Lasagna

I’m not a huge tomato sauce person, but lasagna is one of my weaknesses. How could I resist? Gooey cheese, layers of meat and noodles, that sauce pulling the whole thing together. And because I couldn’t find gluten-free lasagna noodles ahead of time, I bought 12 boxes from Amazon. That’s a whole lotta lasagna.

The way I figure it, I have enough noodles to last me several years!*

It takes about five minutes of Internet research to discover that everyone has a favorite lasagna recipe, ranging from quick to laborious. Or, there is no wrong way to make a lasagna. Take what works for you and don’t worry too much about doing it “right” — as long as it’s tasty, you’re good.

This recipe involves making your own Bolognese sauce, so it will take some time (think of a terrific sauce simmering on the stove all afternoon, that’s what we’re doing here). Letting the sauce simmer develops a rich flavor — one I find hard to replicate with store-bought sauces (which, of course, I use when time is working against me).

As you will see in the notes, you can skip steps 1 − 6 if you are pressed for time.

* — Okay, truth: those noodles will be gone in no time since I’m testing different lasagna styles.

Chicken, Sausage, and Spinach Lasagna

It should be obvious by now that I love meals that result in lots of yummy leftovers. Lasagna fits that need perfectly. It’s such a flexible dish — there are so many ways to make it, it can be made ahead of time and popped in the oven later, and it’s a great dish for those nights when it’s your turn to host your book club.

Because my local grocery stores don’t carry gluten-free lasagna noodles, I bought a case from Amazon.com. The price was fantastic, and knowing I have the noodles handy opens up a wide range of of possibilities…including lasagna roll-ups and cupcakes! Once you have your favorite base recipe, it’s easy to try different serving ideas.

I know that most people think of red meat sauce and loads of cheese when they think lasagna (I know I do), but this recipe takes the dish in a whole different direction. You can continue with the Italian flavor profile, mix in a little Mexican or Southwest American, or go wild with Caribbean spices. Whatever tickles your palate.

Meatless Monday Pastas for Gluten-Free Cooks

I love the idea of Meatless Monday (info here), even though I’m abysmal about practicing it. I seem to do Meatless Wednesdays, which, you know, doesn’t have the same ring to it. Even if you’re an avowed carnivore, having a vegetarian (or even vegan!) meal once a week is a great way to shake up your cooking routine. And one easy way to achieve this goal is a pasta dinner.

Gluten-free pastas are readily available just about anywhere, and while the selection of shapes isn’t wide (think mostly spaghetti and penne shapes, with a few others tossed in every now and then), the taste is pretty darn good. The most common base ingredients are brown rice, corn, or quinoa. I tend to prefer the corn-based GF pastas as they are a bit more forgiving when I accidentally leave them cooking for too long.

Needless to say, pasta dishes generally come together very quickly, so you can have a great meal on the table in less than half an hour. Make the sauce while your water is boiling, cook the pasta, toss with sauce, serve! This thirty minute window holds true even if you’re making pesto from scratch.

In addition to aforementioned pesto — a great, flavorful sauce — there are other ways to dress up vegetarian pastas. A simple marinara sauce can be perfect if you’re looking for a light meal. Top the dish with a bit of shredded basil. If you’re a fan of Alfredo sauces, just combine heavy cream, butter, and grated parmesan for an elegant sauce.  Season to taste, add some finely chopped parsley for color, and serve.

One of my favorite additions to pasta is grilled or roasted vegetables, your classic pasta primavera with whatever’s in season. You can use an Alfredo sauce, a tomato-based sauce, or simple olive oil and garlic with a touch of lemon zest. In our house, we use zucchini ribbons as an elegant accompaniment to a lightly dressed pasta.

Legumes like chickpeas add hearty protein to a pasta dish. Pair them with feta cheese, spinach, and an olive oil and garlic sauce. Grilled or steamed asparagus and a balsamic vinegar-based sauce is always a good choice.

Another favorite for vegetarian pasta meals is a quick sesame sauce, using sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, garlic, and a little bit of (optional) sugar for an Asian twist on pasta night. Take it a step further with peanut butter for a peanut sauce. Use traditional Asian-style rice noodles or Italian-style noodles — your choice.

If you’re feeling ambitious, a vegetable lasagna makes for a great change. Chunks of eggplant or zucchini or any other vegetables fill in for the meat in your layers. Or roll a ratatouille-style combination of veggies in cooked lasagna noodles, cover with marinara sauce, and bake for 20 minutes (until heated all the way through).

Obviously, there is no end to the pasta-bilities (sorry, couldn’t resist!) when it comes to meat-free pasta dishes. What are your favorites? Tell me about them in the comments!

Tip of the Week

Reserve about a cup of pasta water in case you need a bit more liquid to help your sauce coat the pasta thoroughly. I usually scoop out a bit before draining my pasta, and I generally use a half cup at the most.

Menu of the Week

Pesto is one of my favorite additions to pasta, rice, potatoes, meats. You can go traditional with basil, olive oil, parmesan, and pine nuts. Or you can use kale and walnuts. Artichoke hearts. Here are some great suggestions at Love and Lemons http://www.loveandlemons.com/2012/08/03/pesto-ways/ — as you can see, it’s all about variations on the basic recipe.

  • Pasta with Pesto Sauce
  • Green Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette