Gluten Free Buffalo Style Chicken Finger Lettuce Wraps

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Last week I was cleaning and reorganizing my cookbook library shelves. Some people collect dishes, spoons or other knick knacks, I collect cookbooks. Sure, I use the gift of the internet just as well as anyone for cooking recipes and inspiration, but I love the tactile feel of a cookbook. I love to read the recipes, flip through the pages and let my mouth water with the photographs. Let’s face it, even in this high technology world we live in, there will never be a replacement for the touch and feel of a cherished, worn, food stained and well loved cookbook. (This goes for all books in my opinion) 

I took the opportunity, while cleaning (all 140 of them, yes I have issues!) to check their condition, relevance, and thumb through the color pictures when I stumbled upon one of my more recent purchases that I’ve yet to make something from. It is The American Test Kitchens HEALTHY Family Cookbook. I have the regular version (see here) that I adore and use all the time. They both are the same format, ringed binder books that come with the tabs separating the sections. When you get the book, you have to place the tabs in between the pages. It’s a great concept actually, because it forces you to thumb through the pages and well, it’s hard not to be inspired not to cook SOMETHING after looking at all that great food! This particular book was still in it’s plastic wrap, so I took the time to put the tabs in place. While thumbing through, I noticed a cute section in the back labeled “Kid Friendly”. Curious, I looked through the section and found a recipe for chicken fingers. Nowadays, I always look at recipes through the lens of Gluten Free. How can I modify, what can I switch out, ect? This recipe is a baked chicken fingers which uses Panko bread crumbs to get that crunchy ‘fried’ texture/taste without having to deep fry them. Bummer. Panko is wheat, and so I moved on finishing my project for the day. 

Providentially, that next week while shopping at the little grocery I frequent, I was scanning the shelves as I walked the aisles. This is something I love to do. Some people window shop at the mall, I window shop at the grocery. There, next to the regular Panko was Gluten Free Panko!!! Those chicken fingers were still on my mind, so I snatched the last bag (I learned they cannot keep them in stock, they are THAT popular) and headed home to whip up a batch for my gluten intolerant daughter. 

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That night for dinner we had, what I can best describe as a hybrid between buffalo wings and chicken lettuce wraps, and they were AMAZING. I served the chicken with side sauces of homemade honey mustard (gluten free), homemade low-fat ranch, Franks Red Hot Sauce, and gluten free BBQ sauce. I had Butter Lettuce leaves on hand, so that is what I used as a vehicle to get it in to our mouths! A side of carrots, celery and radishes, and it was really a fun and tasty meal. Below is the recipe which I have modified from the original to be gluten free. 

My daughter was tickled pink and remarked how she had not had a chicken finger for over a year, since she was diagnosed, and honestly it had never occurred to me to make them! I forget how much out there is breaded, floured or deep fried with wheat products. As an adult who doesn’t eat at fast food joints anyway, I hadn’t noticed on our new gluten free diet. But as a teenager who goes out with her friends to eat at places like that, she had missed being able to have something as simplistic as a breaded chicken finger. Well, no more. This recipe is a keeper. Now make a double batch and freeze the rest, so she can microwave them up and have chicken fingers anytime. 

Gluten Free Baked Chicken Fingers

2 cups gluten free Panko (if you are not gluten free, you can use regular)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (you could use olive oil but it will change the taste)

1/2 cup gluten free flour (i used Pamela’s Artisan Flour); 1 tsp garlic powder; 1/8 tsp cayenne powder (this is your dredge, combine them together)

3 large egg whites; 1 tbsp water; 1 tablespoon gluten free Dijon mustard; 1 tsp fresh minced Thyme, or 1/4 tsp dried.  (this is your wash, whisk these together)

1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut in to 3/4in wide strips

Preheat the oven to 475 deg. Line a low rimmed jelly roll pan with foil and put a metal (heat safe) cookie cooling rack inside or across the top. (this allows the airflow to cook the chicken evenly) Toss the Panko with the oil, and in a skillet, toast the Panko till it looks golden, stirring often. Remove to cool. Mix up your dredge and wash and put in shallow pans or bowls that you can easily toss the chicken pieces in. Cut your chicken breasts in to strips, season with salt and pepper. 

Spray your wire rack with Pam (or any vegetable oil spray). Working with a few pieces of chicken at a time, dredge in the flour, then the egg wash, then in the Panko and lay on the wire rack. When done with all the chicken, spray the tops of the chicken pieces with Pam and bake for about 10-12 minutes until cooked through. 

Serve with your favorite sauces, ranch, blue cheese (be careful with blue, most are not GF), BBQ sauce, honey mustard or even horseradish. 

Admit it. You want these, don’t you?! 

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Oil Braised Garlic Chicken

Oil Braised Garlic Chicken

If you have never tried oil-braising, you are missing out!
No, it does NOT make food greasy, but it does seal in moisture, flavor and will have your loved ones pushing each other aside to be first ‘dibs’.

It’s so very easy: Season liberally with salt and pepper, and brown your bone in chicken, skin side down, in an oven proof, heavy bottomed skillet or roasting pan. I prefer a cast iron. Make sure to preheat your oven to 375. Once the meat is browned, add olive oil (yes, olive oil. it is a good fat, and healthy for you. plus, it really adds to the flavor. DO NOT WASTE EVOO, just use regular old olive oil)  to about 1/2 way up the meat level. Add lots of peeled garlic cloves using this tip for easy and fast peeling. The garlic which ends up being braised along with the meat, comes out soft, creamy and mellow. It’s delicious to spread on crusty bread, served on the side. (Or GF biscuits in our case).

Give the oil a head start by allowing the pan with chicken, garlic and oil to stay on the heat for a couple of minutes. When the oil is hot, put the whole thing in to the oven. (Please be careful when dealing with hot oil. This is why I like my cast iron pan that has 2 handles to hang on to it securely, not splashing oil.)

Braise until meat is cooked through, about 45min to an hour depending upon the cut and size of the meat. (use a thermometer to ensure its cooked to correct temp) Breast meat will cook more quickly than thigh meat. Do not attempt to make this with boneless-skinless chicken. I fear it would just dry out with the cooking time needed to really cook the garlic. When it’s done, it will come out of the oven looking like the photo above, bubbly, moist and tender.

Serve with mashed potatoes or root veggies and a nice green salad, or roasted broccoli or cauliflower.

With my easy peeling technique, there is no reason to be discouraged about peeling 40+ cloves of garlic.
Plus, leftovers (if there are any) are delicious on homemade pizza, in casseroles, or in eggs. What isn’t good in eggs?


Gluten Free Mac ‘n Cheese: Christmas Party at the Horse Barn

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Well, isn’t that post title truly an example of words that you’d never expect to see together! My daughters ride horses, and so when the trainer holds a Christmas party, it just seems to make sense to have it at the barn!

As those who are gluten intolerant can appreciate, one can never be confident that foods at a holiday party are going to be safe to eat. I have entertained for decades, (oh, I hope that doesn’t date me too much!) and I can say with confidence that most parties tend to be rather unfriendly environments for those who cannot do wheat or gluten. (*2014 update: Things are slowly becoming more GF friendly!) Whether it’s potluck or cocktail party, there are loads of crackers, breads, pasta, tortillas, and hidden flour in many dips, chips and casseroles. I cannot emphasize this point enough: a potluck table is a dangerous place for those GF. We discovered quite belatedly, that the lovely ‘Stewed Apples’ a woman brought contained hidden gluten in it. After asking her for the recipe, she said she used Stouffers as the base. Here I was thinking to myself, stewed apples, cinnamon and dried cranberries, how can that have gluten? Shortly thereafter, my daughter had a reaction and I went online to check. Guess what? Stouffers Harvest Apples has wheat in it. Who’da thunk? You’d think the two of us would have learned better by now!

Back to the point, when you have dietary issues, it’s smart offer to bring something, and I tend to bring/send both a main dish as well as a dessert that is safe. I want my daughter to be able to enjoy herself. It’s hard enough being a teenager where pizza parties reign, and having to sit by and watch while they eat, so I make the extra effort to always send something for her to enjoy. Plus, I ensure it’s tasty enough that my daughter isn’t the only one digging in.

Today with temperatures being in the 20’s here, I decided to bring Macaroni & Cheese. One of my favorite versions is from the Cook’s Illustrated Family Cookbook. You can trust from Cook’s that the recipe will turn out the way they describe.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am a pantry cook. I do my shopping weekly and pretty much make something based on what is either in my fridge and/or pantry. Then I proceed to modify the recipe based on what I have on hand. Today, I had on hand some sharp cheddar, jack cheese, a little havarti and swiss. Altogether it was close to the amount of cheese called for in the recipe. I used lactose free milk and substituted the pasta for my favorite brand of GF noodles – Tinkyada (Penne) Noodles. The Tinkyada holds up magnificently in cooking and just refuses to get soggy. Use whatever brand works for you, but make sure to not over cook the noodles and rinse them fully, or when you bake them in the cheese sauce you’ll end up with cheese flavored wallpaper paste, most certainly not the desired result.

*This will look ‘loose’ when you put it in the oven. That is ok, it will tighten up while baking. Do not add more noodles or it will turn out dry.

This has been a regular favorite in our family. I hope you enjoy it also.

Macaroni & Cheese (gluten free)

8 tbsp Unsalted Butter (you will use 2 tbsp melted to toss with the breadcrumbs)

2 cups Breadcrumbs (I pulse GF bread in a food processor to make my own)

1 lb Macaroni Noodles (We use GF)

1 Garlic Clove, minced or put through a press

1 tsp Dried Mustard, reconstituted in 1 tsp water

1/4 tsp Cayenne Pepper

6 tbsp Gluten Free Flour (You can use regular wheat flour, I use Pamelas GF Artisan Flour)

3.5 cups Whole Milk (I used lactose free, please use whole or add cream to make your low-fat whole. This is mac n cheese for goodness sake, it’s not a diet dish!)

1.75 cups Low-Sodium Chicken Broth

1 lb colby cheese & 8 ounces of extra sharp cheddar (I used what I had on hand, see above. I really feel it’s up to you. If this were not for a potluck, I’d have added pepper jack!)

Preheat your oven to 400 deg

Mix the breadcrumbs with the melted butter and set aside.

Boil your pasta till a dente. Drain, and rinse thoroughly. While the pasta is cooking (I’m all about time efficiency. Turn the oven on, get the water boiling, and start your sauce…)

To make the cheese sauce:

1. Melt the 6 tbsp of butter, add the garlic, mustard and cayenne. Cook until fragrant, about a minute.
2. Add the flour, whisking till smooth and well combined. I cook it about a minute to make sure there is no ‘flour’ taste.
3. Slowly add the milk and chicken broth, whisking constantly to keep from clumping. Cook it about 6 minutes until the mixture is slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and add your cheese, still whisking to keep from clumping. 4. Add your well drained noodles, and gently fold together until well combined. (Don’t panic if it seems overly soupy. I have done exactly that, trying to spoon off some of the ‘excess’, only to have a dry dish in the end. Leave it and it will remain creamy and yummy if you don’t panic!)

Pour in to a 13×9 baking dish, top with the buttered bread crumb and bake for about 25-30 mins until bubbly and topping is well-browned.

Let sit for 10 minutes before enjoying. And then…..ENJOY!

ps) This may not be the most artistic photo, but I took it at the barn with my smart phone. As you can see, it had been 1/2 devoured and we came late after most had already eaten. Yes, it really is that good! One more tip: I have a gel pack that is microwavable which I put under the casserole dish to keep it hot. If you can find one and live in a climate like mine, I highly recommend. No power source needed!)