Thursday, December 1, 2011

Kick Ass Lasagna (Gluten Free and Dairy Free)

Italian Heritage + Gluten Free + Dairy Free = One Very Sad Woman 

Italian + Gluten Free + Dairy Free x a Love of Cooking / Experimental Approaches in the Kitchen = A Shining Moment of Culinary Brilliance 

Are you following my math here? After many years preparing food for a gluten and dairy free household, living without lasagna was no longer acceptable in my book. 

How sad is this... My kids didn't even know what I was referring to when I said I had made lasagna for dinner. Zero frame of reference. Completely unacceptable in the kitchen of a woman with rich Italian heritage. I became bound and determined to create a lasagna that was a fair match for the real thing that my grandmother would make for me as a child. 

This recipe has been a long time coming, friends. Try it out. And if you've been gluten and dairy free for a long time, allow yourself to radiate with joy after your first bite. Go ahead and take a deep breath. Now sigh. And smile.

Kick Ass Lasagna (Gluten Free and Dairy Free)


Red Sauce
2 TBS olive oil
1 large red onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 TBS dried crushed oregano
1 tsp salt
1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground Italian sausage
1 cup red wine (Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon would be a fine choice here)
14 ounce can diced tomatoes
28 ounce can tomato sauce

Cashew Cream "Ricotta"
2 cups raw unsalted cashews, soaked for at least 30 minutes
1 1/2 cups water
2 eggs
1 tsp salt
2 large handfuls fresh Italian parsley

Lasagna Noodles
Tinkyada brand - 10 ounce package

The Preparation Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Begin soaking the cashews, if they are not already set out to soak.

Set large pot of water to boil. 

Follow package directions for cooking the lasagna noodles. Word to the wise, use the noodles you have to cook first. I tried this recipe with the no-cook variety and it did not have the right consistency. In fact, it was quite icky in comparison to the Tinkyada version.

First step: Prep vegetables.

Take a moment to reflect on the beauty all around you.

Saute onions, mushrooms, green peppers, and garlic in olive oil until soft over medium-high heat, approximately 8 minutes.

Add ground beef and ground Italian sausage. Brown it up, baby.

While cooking, season the meat with the oregano and salt.

Once the meat is browned and fat has been drained, add the wine and continue cooking until reduced, about 5 minutes. For a nice article on choosing your cooking wine check out this New York Times article from March 2007.

Now add the cans of diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. Stir well to combine. Allow to simmer over low heat for the next 20 minutes or so.

And now on to the cashew cream "ricotta" cheese...

What we'll be doing in this segment is recreating the ricotta cheese flavor and consistency for the sake of actually enjoying our gluten and dairy free lasagna when it's all said and done.

We've been soaking the cashews for at least 30 minutes. But perhaps for as long as 6 hours.

Drain the water away from the soaked cashews.

Place the cashews in the blender with 1 1/2 cups water. Puree until the cashews are smooth as smooth can be. Depending on the strength of your machine this could take up to five minutes of blending. The smoother the better here folks.

We've got our Italian parsley washed up. Grab two handfuls of the parsley and throw it into the blender with the two eggs.

Give it a spin. Not too long though. Just enough to mix the egg and parsley into the cream. Too much blending of the parsley and the "ricotta" will turn completely green. Ewwww.

And now begins the fun part of making lasagna from scratch. Layer a few spoonfuls of red sauce on the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. Spoon some cream sauce in there too and mix it around to create a nice nonstick surface for the first layer of lasagna noodles.

Layer #1 of noodles. And yes, what you see here is a classic example of rice noodle behavior. They do not perform like normal wheat noodles. They break apart all too easily. But hey, no one will know the difference once it's all baked together in a fantastic casserole of Italian goodness.

Next a layer of cream sauce. Use approximately 1 cup's worth here. Spread it around, sister (or brother).

And another layer of meat sauce.

You get the idea here. I need not describe the process any further.

End with a nice thick layer of cream sauce with the remaining meat sauce placed carefully on top.

Cover with tin foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Take the cover off and bake another 5 minutes.

Let cool a bit before diving in. Enjoy!

It's December. You know what that means around here. It's a Christmas music bonanza! This is one of my absolute favorite Christmas tunes of all time. An ode to my old Italian grandmother — a little Frank Sinatra for your listening pleasure.

Frank Sinatra - Mistletoe and Holly

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Homebrewed Chai Latte

Oh yes I did. And the aroma wafting through the house is nothing short of divine.

I have prepared my first batch of homemade chai in my new Little White Kitchen.

Remember back in July of 2011 when I posted my original chai recipe to Dance While You Cook?

Do you also remember how I gave you general directions for making this homemade chai and told you to experiment around to find the perfect blend to suite your taste?

Now that I'm all moved-in to my new home out in the country, I wish to share with you my favorite blend for this homemade Masala Chai. I have been making this recipe for years and the mix of spices I'm about to describe make for a cup of perfection each and every time.

Judith's Masala Chai Concentrate


cinnamon sticks, the 4-inch sticks, crushed into chips
3 TBS whole cardamom pods, crushed
2 TBS whole cloves
2 TBS fennel, crushed
   or 4 whole star anise
   or both
2 TBS whole black peppercorns
3 TBS chopped ginger, crystallized
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper, or less if spicy drinks aren't your thang
5 heaping TBS loose-leaf Assam black tea, caffeinated or decaf—whatever your preference
16 cups water

The Preparation Method:

First and foremost, have everything measured out and ready to go.

Then, in a large stock pot, dry-roast the first five ingredients over high heat: 8 crushed sticks cinnamon, 3 TBS cardamom, 2 TBS cloves, 2 TBS fennel, and 2 TBS peppercorns.

Roast only until fragrant. Do not smoke the spices. They should not change color. Usually two or three minutes max.

Immediately pour water into the hot pot with spices. Keep heat on high. Add chopped ginger.

Boil with vigor until the water has reduced to half. For me this is usually about 30 minutes or so. I have an easy method for determining when you've reached the halfway mark. Either it's too late, or I'm just plan lazy, so I'm not going to tell you about that here. Refer to my original chai post in July 2011 to learn more about this technique my Dad taught me when learning to make Lithuanian Krupnikas. But I digress. Krupnikas is for another day, another time.

Back to the chai. Once the water level reduces to the halfway point it is time to remove the pot from the heat source, add 5 heaping TBS loose-leaf Assam black tea and 1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper. Mix well and let steep for five minutes. Don't let it steep a second longer. The tea will become bitter and that will ruin the whole effort.

Immediately strain the spices and tea contents from the chai concentrate. Combine the hot chai liquid to the 1/2 cup of sugar. Stir well. Cap tightly. Refrigerate. The concentrate keeps for one week (give or take) in the refrigerator.

To serve: Use one part chai concentrate to one part milk or milk alternative. I'm crazy for Almond Milk in this chai latte. Heat on the stovetop. Do not allow to boil. And done.

I sure hope you enjoy these fall mornings with a warm cup of home brewed chai as much as I do.

Instead of a song tonight, I thought I'd attach photos of a few scenes from my new location.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Simple Joy ~ Gavin DeGraw

It's Monday. Time for Simply Joy.

I tell you what... nothing has brought me more joy over the past two weeks than this man's music. I can not stop listening to it. I can not stop singing it. The words run through my head as I sleep. The nananananana's are rolling out of my mouth upon waking. I have not seen an artist that has moved me like this in—hmmmmmm—ever.

The more I hear of his music, the deeper I fall into it.

Gavin DeGraw. Yes.

Here's a taste of the glory...

Or try this one. The soul of the music shines through profoundly here, friends.

I'm not done yet. Check out this most fantastic Sam Cooke cover. Good God this is great!

Now if you've made it this far, you're in for a special treat. This next song ROCKS. I've been somewhat paralyzed in performing my daily duties thanks to this song. I try to leave the house, but I can't stop dancing, singing, and proclaiming my love of life... over and over and over again. Wow. What is happening to me?

I could not find a video that does justice to the blow-your-mind quality of this song. So here's the audio. Turn it up. And jam.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Music for You Kjersti

Hey Everybody.

I know it's been awhile since my last post.

Lots happening over here in The Little White Kitchen. In fact, I have a new little white kitchen. Hence the lack of posting over the last many seasons.

Moving takes it out of ya', I tell you. Still lots happening, no time for posting just yet. More to come soon. Or later. Or not. Not sure yet.

But for now, I promised Kjersti that I'd share great music whenever I find it. Somehow I've never been exposed to this artist before last weekend when I saw him preform at a festival and I stumbled upon this song on Spotify and have now listened to it 15 times over and keep hitting repeat. That makes this song Kjersti worthy.

Girl, from across that great big ocean, this one's for you...

Amos Lee - Supply and Demand

YouTube link: Amos Lee - Supply and Demand


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sweet Potato Casserole

You could say I am getting a head start on next year's Thanksgiving recipe postings. Or you could say that my Thanksgiving recipe posting planning went the way of most things I attempt to plan, straight to pot. 

Either way, this recipe is hands-down one of the favorites at our Thanksgiving table every year. It's such a hit that I typically make it for Christmas dinner as well. Maybe you will too.

This recipe finds its origins with our dear friend, Dr. B, who is from the South. Before I met Dr. B, I never had a sweet potato casserole. A cryin' shame. 

About a decade ago he brought it to a Thanksgiving potluck at church. Upon request, he passed the recipe along to me from his mother. Whom I'm sure was passed along the recipe from someone else after attending a Thanksgiving potluck at church. 

My point here is twofold. Despite the fact that I'm a Yankee [proven by my 22% Dixie score on this here Advanced Rebel-Yankee test], this recipe is Southern through and through. And despite that I've made some changes to accommodate our special gluten and dairy free diet, good recipes always have a way of getting passed down from homecook to homecook. This is one of those recipes. Dixie disclaimer: I reduced the amount of sugar in the casserole by half... and it still tastes like dessert to me.

Sweet Potato Casserole


1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 stick butter (or butter alternative such as Earth Balance)
1/2 cup milk (or milk alternative such as Almond Milk)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 cups canned sweet potatoes

1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup self rising flour (or 1/2 cup of your favorite gf flour mix + 3/4 tsp baking powder)
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

On Top of the Topping
1/3 stick butter (or butter alternative such as Earth Balance)

The Preparation Method:

This recipe is super easy. Literally two steps and done.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix filling ingredients together with a handheld blender. Distribute mixture evenly in a well greased 9 x 13 baking dish.

Mix topping ingredients together.

Distribute topping evenly over the sweet potato filling.

Place pads of butter evenly over the top. Cover with tin foil.

Place in preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove foil covering. Continue cooking for another 15 minutes or until the topping is nice and brown.

Serve as a festive holiday side dish, or even as a gluten and dairy free dessert. Scrumptious!

Gavin DeGraw has been blowing my mind lately. I can not get enough of his music, specifically his 2011 album Sweeter. If you have not heard this yet, you need to. There is something so remarkable about this man's music. Please, please, I beg of you, go listen to his album on Spotify right this instant.

But in keeping true to the holiday spirit, I am compelled to play a little Christmas jingle for you. Gavin DeGraw displays his musical prowess here singing Merry Little Christmas.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Simple Joy ~ Holiday Loves

The fast approaching Thanksgiving holiday is making me all sentimental about the joyous things this season brings with it. 

I'm not crazy for mall shopping, movie theaters or unmanageable bills come January 1st. Instead, my favorite parts of the season come with great simplicity and a whole lot of love.

Homemade (gluten and dairy free) lasagna full of heritage and heart.

Magical buns of delight (gluten and dairy free, of course) that find their home in my earliest holiday memories.

Sugar nuts, to keep up my endurance and stamina through all the busy-ness next month brings.

Let us not forget the Lithuanian Krupnikas parties!

A warm mug of homemade chai to share with neighbor friends on cold winter mornings.

And last but not least, the magnificent joy that comes from watching little children play endlessly in the snow.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving Tagine

I present this recipe as an alternative to all the traditional Thanksgiving fare you're likely planning this week. Tagine is a nice gluten-free and vegan option to present on your Thanksgiving table for your guests with special diets. Totally untypical, I know, but with the squash and carrots it has a festive flair about itself. It's super easy to make the day before, and in fact, becomes more delicious after it sits in the refrigerator overnight.

Should you choose not to replace your T-Day favorites with this Moroccan classic, my tagine will make a fantastic recipe for Saturday night's dinner once you've grown completely annoyed with all the holiday leftovers.

Here's to a great week of preparation for giving thanks abundantly!

Thanksgiving Tagine


2 TBS grapeseed oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small butternut squash, peeled and chopped
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup raw unsalted cashew halves
1/4 cup raisins
14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
14 ounces vegetable broth
1 TBS sugar
1 TBS fresh lemon juice
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1 dash cayenne pepper
1 cube crystalized ginger, or 1/4 tsp ground ginger

The Preparation Method:

Heat grapeseed oil in a large pot over medium heat.

Add onion and garlic, cook until softened.

Add all other ingredients. Stir well. Reduce heat to medium, cover and simmer for approximately 30 minutes until all vegetables are tender as evidenced by how easily they are pierced with a fork.

If you and gluten don't agree, serve with quinoa. If gluten is your friend, serve with the traditional couscous.


Speaking of non-traditional holiday delights, I found this remarkable Christmas tune (go figure) the other day. Seeing as Thanksgiving is just the gateway to Christmas, and Moroccan Tagine really has nothing to do with Thanksgiving, I thought this Hawaiian Christmas jingle would be an appropriate video to accompany this dish. Yay for Brushfire Records just released second Christmas album This Warm December, A Brushfire Holiday Vol. 2 !!!! Such quality music.

Jack Johnson - In The Morning

Jack - In The Morning from Brushfire Records on Vimeo.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Simple Joy ~ Cool TV

Just the other day the hubs and I were having a discussion about MTV. What the heck ever happened to music television? Why did it have such a short life? Whose idea was it to play endless reality television in place of rad music videos?

As a youth, I'll admit I had a major addiction to the 24-7 feed of videos streaming through that glass screen in my living room. I'd spend days on end lazing around on the couch watching and waiting for more Bon Jovi to come on. And more Guns 'N Roses. And more Poison. And more Skid Row.

Gosh, those were the good days. I still love music videos. Perhaps you've noticed?

Boy was there a treat in store for me last week when I traveled to Canada for a business trip. Flipping through the channels in my hotel room, I came across something so fantastic I nearly dropped the remote. A channel devoted to playing all music all the time. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.

Apparently, someone else had been asking the same questions that we'd been pondering.

The Cool TV even hosts theme shows just like I remember them. Remember Veejays? Martha Quinn was always my favorite. Ahhhhhh. The good ol' days.

I'll spare you the potential pain it could cause to watch one of those artists I mentioned from my good ol' MTV watching days and instead send some old-timey feel good music your way.

Ricky Nelson - Hello Mary-Lou

Monday, November 7, 2011

Simple Joy ~ Anticipation of Winter

Seasons change, feelings stir.

Pretty soon, we'll all be wearing the boots with the fur.

These kids are eager with the anticipation of winter.

With it comes warm mugs of liquid chocolate and skiing fever.

Bring it on!!!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Apple Spice Muffins (Gluten Free)

The fall bounty is in full effect. Apples of every kind line the market aisles. Big ones. Small ones. Juicy ones. Tart ones. Red ones. Pink ones. It's apple mania, people!

Why not make use of fall's most notorious fruit in some fluffy gluten-free muffins? Besides, baking this treat today will fill your home with a heavenly aroma. Why not! Let's not waste another minute...

Apple Spice Muffins (Gluten Free)

Makes 12 muffins


Wet Ingredients = Large Mixing Bowl
3 large eggs
3/4 cup applesauce
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp apple pie spice

Dry Ingredients = Small Mixing Bowl
1 1/2 cups sweet white rice flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt

1 sweet apple - peeled, cored and diced

The Preparation Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk the three eggs well. Add remaining wet ingredients. Stir together until well blended.

Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Fold gently to combine. Do not over-stir. Stir just enough to make the dry ingredients wetted. Gluten-free muffins are temperamental. Don't go agro on 'em, folks. Be gentle. And kind. If you take your time, the muffins will be gentle and kind right back at you.

Just like the Gluten-Free Pumpkin Buckwheat Muffins I posted last month, stirring too much will cause your muffins to turn out tough. And like I've said before... nobody likes a tough muffin. A tough cookie, maybe, but not a tough muffin.

Have the peeled, cored and diced apples on hand.

Begin filling the muffin cups just halfway. About a tablespoon of batter will do. We're going to fill the center of the muffin with the diced apples and finish up with another tablespoon of batter on top.

With a technique like this we might as well call this recipe Spiced Apple Surprise Muffins.

Once all the apples are tucked nicely inside each muffin cup, bake in a preheated 350 degree oven approximately 18 minutes (give or take) until a toothpick inserted to the center of the muffin comes out clean. Don't overcook. This also leads to tough gluten-free muffins, friends.


Raise your hand if you love Mat Kearney as much as I do. Ah-ha, I knew it. See, that's why we're friends.

This song is so flippin' fantastic it deserves a three-peat listen-to. Amazingly enough, the video is approximately twelve times more fantastic than the song by itself. How hard is that to accomplish? Go, Mr. Kearney, Go!

Mat Kearney - Hey Mama

(Special note for my readers who receive Dance While You Cook posts via email: I realize you may not be able to play the videos I've been posting from this email. You probably already realize this, but just to be sure I thought I'd mention it. Click on the link at the top of the page to get through to my website so you can see the videos play.)
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