Simple Crockpot Spaghetti Sauce

Ahhh….crockpots. They make life so easy. All the work is done in the morning and you get to come home to a fully cooked meal at the end of the day. The house smells so wonderful and inviting. This sauce recipe has a couple of shortcuts that make it a cinch. Come dinner time, all you have to do is make a salad, warm up some bread, boil some pasta, and you’re done.

I ran across a blog several days ago that I wish I would have saved because this person used a crockpot for several months, every single day, and blogged about it. It was quite impressive. I don’t know that I would want a crockpot meal every day, but if you lead a busy life and have a houseful of kids, it’s a huge time saver. There’s only three of us and it is still a major blessing to have around. If you haven’t used yours in a while, get it out and dust it off. There isn’t anyone in this world who couldn’t use a little extra relaxation time.

Crockpot Spaghetti Sauce

1 lb. Ground Beef

1 lb. Hot Ground Sausage

12 Cremini Mushrooms, sliced

1/2 White Onion, finely diced

1/2 Orange Bell Pepper, finely diced

1 Container Basil, leaves removed and chopped

About 4 Large Sprigs of Oregano, leaves removed and chopped

4 Cloves of Garlic, smashed, peeled, and diced

1 – 14.5 oz Can of Diced Roasted Tomatoes

1 – 6 oz Can of Tomato Paste

1 – 24 oz  Jar of Newman’s All Natural Roasted Garlic Pasta Sauce (Newman’s Sauces are all GF)

1 – 24 oz Jar of Newman’s All Natural Marinara Pasta Sauce

3/4 Cup Red Wine

Brown the ground beef and sausage together in a large frying pan, drain oil (I put the meat on a paper towel covered plate to drain it). Add to crockpot.  Slice mushrooms, dice onion and pepper, chop basil, oregano, and garlic and add to crockpot. Pour both jars of pasta sauce, roasted tomatoes, tomato paste and wine in crockpot. Season with about a teaspoon of salt and several grinds of pepper. Stir until ingredients are combined. Set crockpot on low and simmer for 6-8 hours.

Frozen Chocolate Banana Bites

It’s funny how our tastes change as we get older. During my entire childhood, I probably only ever ate maybe five bananas, and I’m pretty sure they were in the form of banana split sundaes. I really didn’t like them at all. It wasn’t until about three years ago that I started eating them on a semi-regular basis. I put them in breakfast protein shakes, make banana bread, and if I’m in a hurry and on the go I grab one for a snack. But for me, they have to be just on this side of green. No mushy bananas here, unless I’m making banana bread.

The other day when I was dipping the peanut butter balls in chocolate, it reminded me of my step-grandmother making chocolate dipped bananas and then freezing them for snacks. She had a strange name for them and I can’t remember exactly what it was…maybe monkey tails? Who knows. They also had a Newfoundland dog named Jake who shed everywhere and honestly, I think everything she made tasted like he smelled. Cool dog, but the hair and slobber, yikes. Hmmm…maybe that’s why I didn’t eat bananas for most of my childhood. Anyhoo, an entire banana dipped in chocolate is a little much for me, so I thought I would just do little bites that we could grab out of a container in the freezer whenever we had a craving. They are surprisingly good and just enough to satisfy a little sweet tooth.

Frozen Chocolate Banana Bites

5 Ripe Bananas (I like mine just ripe, not over ripe.)

2 1/2 Cups Enjoy Life Dairy Free Miniature Chocolate Chips

About 1/2 Cup Chopped Pecans

About 1/2 Cup Toasted Coconut (I do mine in a frying pan on the stove and then allow to cool.)

Peel and cut bananas in bite size pieces and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Freeze for 30 minutes. Toward the end of the freezing time, chop the nuts and toast the coconuts, set aside. Place chocolate in a double-broiler and melt, stirring until smooth.

Remove bananas from freezer and working quickly, dip banana bites one at a time into the chocolate covering thoroughly. Place each bite back onto the baking sheet and sprinkle with coconut or nuts, or both. The chocolate sets pretty fast so you want to sprinkle each one right after you set it on the sheet.

Continue until they are all dipped and sprinkled and freeze until chocolate is completely set. Keep them in the freezer in a freezer bag or freezer safe container.

11 Of My Favorite Cookbooks

When I first entered into the gluten-free world I thought I was going to be stuck with what was being sold online or in the very small gluten-free isles in our local grocery stores. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I was not going to be OK with a lot of what I was seeing. I did mountains of internet research and spent a lot of time at Barnes & Noble trying to figure out this whole gluten-free thing. I Googled everything I could think of. I read magazine articles. I skimmed through tons of books on living gluten-free. I talked to other people who have food allergies. I tried to absorb as much information as possible because I was unwilling to listen to those negative nellies who told me how hard it is to live gluten-free.

Once I realized that many people before me had obviously been to the grocery store and had a look at what there was being offered in the GF isle and were equally as upset, I started to calm down and settle into this new way of thinking. I experimented with GF mixes and different types of GF flours to see what I was up against. Once I became more familiar with the science of baking gluten-free, then I stepped out and ventured into the world of recipe conversion. Converting gluten-full recipes to gluten-free recipes. It’s so much easier than I would have ever guessed! Once I figured out I could do that, then I was truly inspired and very excited to start creating my own recipes. There are so many things to use for inspiration when baking. Pictures, combinations of recipes, flavors, old family recipes that need a new and exciting twist…the list goes on and on.

I promise you that living allergy free is not nearly as difficult as some people would have you think. Here’s a list of eleven of my favorite cookbooks that I often refer to when I’m looking for ideas and inspiration.

Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook

I decided to list this one first, because I absolutely love it. It has every simple, traditional recipe you can think of. Kind of funny that it’s called the “New” cookbook because I’m pretty sure someone gave it to us as a wedding gift…almost 20 years ago. It’s a classic, and perfect for looking through when you have ideas about converting recipes.

Gluten Free Mama’s Best Baking Recipes

This cookbook has more than one hundred recipes that you can try with her almond flour blend and her coconut flour blend. One of my families all time favorite recipes from this book is her Blueberry Yogurt Muffins. To die for. Gluten Free Mama’s Almond Blend All Purpose Gluten Free Flour is the number one flour I use for the majority of my baking. It is also excellent for recipe conversions. This is her first cookbook, she now has another one on the market as well.

Cooking For Isaiah

I reviewed this cookbook not too long ago. I can’t rave enough about it! Every single recipe I’ve tried is perfect and delicious. You can read the review and see a picture of  her doughnuts that I made here.

250 Gluten-Free Favorites

My husband and son bought me this cookbook for Mother’s Day a couple of years ago. I haven’t even made it past the bread section, they are that good. I also like the fact that I can change flours and other ingredients without having to worry too much about the outcome.

Better Homes & Gardens Old-Fashioned Home Baking

I have had this cookbook for twenty years. There are food stains in it and half of the pages are dog-eared. Definitely a sign of a great cookbook. Beautiful, classic, old-fashioned baking, right at your finger tips just waiting to be converted.

Rose’s Christmas Cookies

Here’s another awesome cookbook I’ve had for twenty years. It’s moved five times with us so you know it’s worth it. Hundreds of cookie recipes, tons of which work wonderfully with gluten-free flour and ingredients.

Farm House Cookbook

This is the neatest cookbook. Filled with farm-house comfort food recipes that have a little story to go along with each one. Fantastic!

 

Fresh Food Fast

This cookbook is packed with fresh, easy recipes from soups and salad, to sandwiches, shellfish, and poultry. They even have a meat-less section. I haven’t run across one thing in this cookbook that can’t be converted to gluten-free.

Salads A Collection of Over 100 Essential Recipes

I grabbed this one at Barnes & Noble a few weeks ago when I was meandering around. It is filled with beautiful, fresh, and delicious salads. Each recipe has its own picture, which I love! If you’re like me and get tired of the same old side dishes, this cookbook is for you.

Easy Vegetarian

I love meat. Plain and simple. But…in an attempt to lighten up on the red meat and enter more veggies and fresh foods into our diets, I purchased this lovely cookbook. Again, this one has a picture to go with every recipe. I’ve only had the chance to try a couple of the recipes but so far, so good. The recipes are so flavorful and the outcome so beautiful, that you won’t even miss the meat.

The Everything Mediterranean Diet Book

Don’t misunderstand the word “diet”. They do claim that if you change over to a Mediterranean diet that you will lose weight. However, that’s not why I bought this book. It’s filled with all kinds of information about eating healthier and living healthier. It has tons of fun and delicious recipes, I would highly recommend it.

Grilled Flank Steak And Spinach Salad With Herb & Garlic Potatoes

A couple of months ago my husband and I decided that we needed to cut back on red meat and enter more vegetables, fruits, and fish into our diets. I have always been a meat eater but am surprised at how much I actually do miss eating it several times a week. I thought it would be refreshing to enter more “light” colored things into our main meals like chicken and fish. I suppose it is more refreshing, and certainly healthier to cut back on the amount of red meat we consume, but not nearly as flavorful or satisfying in some ways. I mean honestly, unless you’re a vegan, who can turn down an excellent medium-rare steak? Not I.

Flank steak is such an easy piece of meat to prepare. Marinate it all day, place it on a hot grill and in a matter of 15 minutes it’s done. Sliced thinly, it’s juicy, flavorful, and tender. However, it’s not cheap. Which is weird, because every single time I see someone cooking with one on Food Network  they are always commenting about what a great buy it is because it’s so cheap. I’m sorry, but  in my mind, $8.99 a pound is not cheap for a piece of meat that is tougher than leather unless you know how to marinate it and grill it properly. So, for a 2.83 pound slab of meat, I paid $25.44. I mean, that’s not much less than what you pay per pound for gorgeous rib-eye steaks. A 2.5 to 3 lb. flank steak feeds three of us just fine, usually with enough leftovers for lunch the next day. But if you have a family of more than four, you’re looking at a pretty big expense. So wake up Food Network, flank steak is no longer a “cheap” cut of meat. But…if you can swing it, it’s worth every bite.

Flank Steak Dinner Ingredients

1 Flank Steak

BBQ Sauce

Garlic, chopped, about 3 cloves for the steak marinade, 2 cloves for the potatoes, and 1 clove for the salad dressing

Rice Vinegar, for marinade and salad dressing

2 Hard Boiled Eggs

2 Pieces of Good Bacon, crumbled, save bacon grease for the potatoes later…it’s worth it

About 4-6 Cups of Spinach Leaves, depending on how many people are eating

1 Large Tomato, diced

About 1/4 Red Onion, sliced thinly

A Pinch of Dried Oregano and Basil

Olive Oil, for salad dressing

About 4 Medium Red Potatoes, sliced about 1/4 inch thick

About 2 Tbsp. Fresh Thyme and Oregano, chopped finely, for potatoes

Step 1

*Step 1 can be done in the morning before you get started with your day. The beef doesn’t have to marinate all day. It is much more tender when it has been marinating for at least four hours.

Marinate Beef:

Place flank steak in a zip lock bag. Pour in about 1 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce, about 3 chopped garlic cloves, and about 1/2 cup of rice vinegar. (You can choose to marinate with all kinds of different seasonings and sauces, it’s up to you. Just make sure that you include an acid of some kind…lemon juice, vinegar, wine, etc.) Zip the bag up, massage the seasonings and sauces around on the meat and refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours.

Spinach Salad:

Hard Boil 2 Eggs, refrigerate.

Fry 2 Pieces of Good Bacon, crumble and refrigerate.

(Two for the salad and one for me and the dogs, of course!)

Place spinach in a large bowl and add chopped tomatoes and thinly sliced onions, cover and refrigerate.

Salad Dressing:

In a glass measuring cup, add 1/8 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup rice vinegar, and a pinch of sugar. Add about 1 tsp. chopped garlic, a pinch of dried basil and a pinch of dried oregano. Season with 1 or 2 grinds of sea salt and a few grinds of pepper. (Sometimes I like to add a splash of balsamic vinegar to it also), cover and refrigerate.

Step 2

When you’re ready to start preparing dinner, take the marinating steak out of the fridge and let it rest on the counter until you’re ready to grill it.

Slice the potatoes and onions, chop the garlic and herbs for the potatoes.

Place the bacon fat in frying pan and heat on medium.  Add potatoes and onions to frying pan and cook until potatoes are just about done (raw potatoes take a bit to cook until tender, about 30 minutes or so). Pre-heat the gas grill, medium-medium high (this kind of depends on your grill). Add garlic and herbs to potatoes and continue cooking until done.

Step 3

Place flank steak on hot grates and grill for about 7-8 minutes on each side. This will depend on how you like your meat, I like mine probably more on the rare side of medium-rare. Also, only flip the meat once, and use tongs not a fork so you don’t lose any of the juices. When the steak is done to your preference (any further than medium rare…maybe a little toward medium, but not much and your steak will be tough). One end is also usually thinner than the other, so be mindful of that. That feature works in your favor when there are people at your table who like their steaks done differently. Remove from grill, cover loosely with foil, and allow to rest on the counter while you prepare the salad.

Heat the salad dressing in the microwave for about 30 seconds. I use a mini emulsifier to whip up the liquids but if you don’t have one, just place it in a small bowl and whisk until the oil and vinegar come together a bit for pouring. Slice the egg and place the egg and bacon on the spinach leaves, pour the dressing over and toss the salad carefully.

Slice the steak thinly along the diagonal (against the grain).

Place the meat on a serving dish and make sure you pour the juices from cutting over the top. Serve with herb and garlic potatoes and spinach salad.

Sea Scallops in Wine Sauce With Black Japonica Rice

The men in my house would rotate tacos, spaghetti, pizza, and grilled burgers every day of the week if I let them. I love those things too, but maybe once a month. The dinner request for tonight was tacos but that would have involved a trip to the grocery store. On a Sunday, when everyone and their grandma goes grocery shopping? I think not. No one spoke up and offered to go grocery shopping for the ingredients either, so scallops it was. Not quite as exciting as tacos, I suppose. But quite tasty and the Japonica rice was not only very flavorful, it also looked pretty against the scallops. Both of those combined with a spinach salad with a tangy vinegrette, made for a delicious dinner.

Black Japonica Rice

*Prepare the rice ahead of time according to package directions. I used chicken broth instead of water. Leave lid on and set aside. Later, other ingredients will be added to the rice right before the scallops start searing.

2 Cups Gluten-Free Chicken Broth

1 Cup Black Japonica Rice

1/2 Sweet Onion, diced

1/2 Orange Bell Pepper, diced

1 Cup Spinach, chopped

3 Cloves of Garlic, smashed, peeled, and chopped

1 Heaping Tbsp. Oregano, chopped

1/2 Cup Chicken Broth

Olive Oil

Sea Salt & Pepper to taste

Seared Sea Scallops

2- 12 oz. Packages of Frozen Fresh Caught Sea Scallops, thawed (About 28 medium size scallops)

Olive Oil

Canola Oil

1 Tbsp. Garlic, chopped

2 Tbsp. Dairy Free Butter

About 1/2 Cup White Wine

About 10 Rosemary Leaves

About 1 1/2 tsp. of Thyme, leaves removed from stem

Get all ingredients for the rice and the scallops ready to go. Chop spinach, garlic, onion, oregano, & bell pepper. Strip rosemary and thyme leaves off of stems. Pat the scallops dry. Drizzle olive oil in a skillet for the rice ingredients and drizzle olive oil and canola oil in the skillet for the scallops. You’ll want enough oil in the scallop skillet that when you pick up the pan and swirl it around, the oil covers the bottom of the pan.

Heat the rice skillet on medium to medium-high heat and add onion, bell pepper, and garlic. When onions are beginning to turn translucent, add the oregano and spinach. Cook until spinach is wilted and add 1/2 cup chicken broth and rice. Stir until broth is absorbed, turn heat down to low and cover. Heat scallop skillet on medium-high heat.

Add scallops and allow to sear (don’t touch!) for about 2 minutes. Carefully flip scallops over and sear for another 2-3 minutes.

At about the 3rd minute, scoot the scallops to one side of the pan and add the butter, allow to melt and brown slightly.

Add garlic, thyme, and rosemary, and wine, as it cooks, quickly spoon the sauce over the scallops. Remove from heat.

Serve scallops and rice with spinach salad.

Peanut Butter Balls

Few things in this world go together better than peanut butter and chocolate. And then there’s peanut butter, chocolate, and pretzels…even better. And let’s not forget, this is dairy-free and gluten-free. Dairy-free chocolate that tastes like a high quality chocolate, gluten-free pretzels that are delicious and aren’t like cement, and organic peanut butter that isn’t full of pesticides.

I can’t tell you how thankful I am that I didn’t figure out that I needed to get gluten and dairy out of my diet 20 years ago. It sounds a little ridiculous because I probably wouldn’t have had some of the health issues I’ve had, but honestly, what would I have eaten? I am constantly amazed at the gluten-free and dairy-free items that are now coming out on the market. There have been so many new product additions, even over just the past couple of years. Luckily, awareness of food allergies and sensitivities is growing. Trying out new products, some imagination, and a little cooking know-how make it possible to live an enjoyable gluten-free and dairy-free life. This is a satisfying little snack that takes care of that chocolate-y sweet and salty craving that most of us have on occasion.

Peanut Butter Balls

1 1/2 Cups Organic Peanut Butter (Crunchy or smooth, whatever you prefer, I used the smooth.)

1/4 Cup Crushed Gluten-Free Pretzels

1 1/2 Cups Powdered Sugar

2 Cups Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Chocolate Chips (I used the Enjoy Life brand.)

If you or one of your loved ones have a peanut allergy, I would imagine that you could enjoy the same recipe using almond, cashew, or macadamia nut butters instead of peanut butter.

In a mixer, combine the peanut butter pretzels, and powdered sugar on low. Mix on medium until thoroughly combined.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Form dough into small balls using about a teaspoon of peanut butter mixture.

Place peanut butter balls in freezer to set for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, pour the chocolate chips in a double boiler and melt until smooth.

Working quickly, use a dinner fork and a serving fork to carefully place peanut butter balls in chocolate until coated. Allow excess to drip off. I like to use forks instead of teaspoons because the forks allow excess chocolate to drip through the tines. It’s a messy job no matter how you do it.

Place back onto the lined baking sheets and refrigerate until set. You can keep them in an enclosed container on your counter or in the refrigerator. I like them cold.

Blueberry & Walnut Banana Bread

For some reason, I cannot throw an overripe banana away. Probably because I buy organic bananas and it just kills me that they are so expensive and we didn’t eat them. So I’ve had 4 blackened, organic bananas on my kitchen counter staring at me and reminding of how wasteful it is to allow organic fruit to go bad, for several days now. Not wanting to have that scolding, guilty discussion with myself for another day, I decided to rummage around in my cupboards and fridge to see if I could come up with a satisfying Saturday morning banana bread recipe.

Blueberry & Walnut Banana Bread With Streusel Topping

Pre-heat oven to 350° and grease a non-stick loaf pan, set aside.

1/3 Cup Olive Oil

2/3 Cup Packed Brown Sugar

2 Large Eggs

1 tsp. Pure Vanilla

2 tsp. Baking Powder

1 1/4 tsp. Cinnamon

1 tsp. Xanthan Gum

1/2 tsp. Sea Salt

4 Very Ripe Bananas

1 3/4 Cups Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose GF Baking Flour

1/2 Cup Finely Chopped Walnuts

1 Cup Fresh Blueberries

Finely chop walnuts and rinse and dry blueberries, set aside. In a mixer, add the oil, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, baking powder, cinnamon, xanthan gum, salt, and bananas. Mix on medium until ingredients are combined and bananas are broken up, about 1 minute.  With mixer on low, add flour until combined. Mix on medium-high for about 30 seconds, scraping down bowl once. Turn mixer off and fold in walnuts and blueberries with a spatula. Pour into prepared loaf pan.

Streusel Topping

1/2 Cup Gluten-Free Old Fashioned Rolled Oats

1/2 Cup Packed Brown Sugar

1/2 tsp. Cinnamon

1 1/2 Tbsp. Dairy Free Butter

Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and combine with fingers until incorporated and it forms a crumbly streusel. Sprinkle over the top of the banana bread batter. Bake for 60-65 minutes or until knife inserted into middle comes out clean. (Don’t bake more than 65 minutes or the edges will get too crispy and the banana bread will become dry after sitting.)

Slide a knife around the edges and carefully remove bread to a wire cooling rack covered with parchment. Allow to rest 10 minutes before slicing.