The Great Chicago Gluten Free Challenge

There are a few facts I know about my dearest friend Jon Beebe when I’m cooking for him.

  1. No beef or pork.  Side note: Not a fan of cutting meat off the bone.
  2. Allergies to bananas, mushrooms, and shellfish.
  3. Dairy sensitivity

Late last year he had to add this to the list.

4. Gluten Free

Knowing very little about this diet I found myself roaming the Whole Foods Gluten Free aisle.  I gave him a bag worth of random products over the holidays with the message…

Merry Christmas my dear friend.

Now eat something.

Cooking for Jon has always been a healthy challenge, but Gluten Free? This felt out of my comfort zone. So when he visited me this month, I wanted to commit to making some meals at home.  I bought a cookbook called “Cooking For Isaiah” to help me through the weekend.


What a culinary savor.


I made some of the easiest recipes to play it as safe as possible.  Here is the quick overview:

Cinnamon-Toasted Belgian Waffles

“I wouldn’t haven known it was gluten free.” – Jon

 I doubled the recipe, and in my massive Kitchen Aid waffle maker, it only made 5. But it was enough. I like my waffles a tad bit crispy, so I would up the cooking by 45 seconds.

Puffy Peach Pancake Pie with Caramel Maple Syrup

“Peaches compliment this perfectly.” – Jon

I was worried that these would be too sugary, but they weren’t.

Penny’s Apple-Brown Sugar Coffee Cake

“I loved them all, but this this one is my favorite.” – Jon

I kept thinking that there wasn’t enough batter, but it turned out beautifully. It came together in a snap.

Asparagus Risotto Casserole

“MmmMmm!” – My hubby who’s not even Gluten Free

I marinated and grilled some chicken to compliment this recipe. It was filling and full of flavor. Next time I would cut the asparagus smaller or work different veggies in the mix.

We also went out to a few new places:


Jon raved it’s the best gluten free pizza crust he’s had so far– even more than Buddy’s GF version. Which caught my husband’s attention: he likes Buddy’s GF crust as much as their regular crust.

Mity Nice:

Gluten Free Cheese Puffs? OMGeeeeeee! We loved these. Jon also happily consumed these with his club sandwich.

Tank Noodle:

Tank Noodle doesn’t have a Gluten Free menu like the others, but Jon was dreaming about dish number V154 from his last trip.

Rice noodle curry tofu with taro, onion, cilantro, coconut milk. Nom! Instead of the noodles he ordered it with rice. Just as magical for the taste buds as he hoped it would be.

Bistro 110:

Gluten Free Squash Soup? Yum. Gluten Free drinking options? Yes, you have our attention. Just when this feast was looking up, Jon bit into his trout dish and had to send it back. He ended up getting the ½ of chicken and he was pleased with that.  I also would like to note that our non-gluten free dishes were delicious.  I haven’t found a bolognese that matched my grandmothers so closely.

With that, it looks like Bistro 110 is undergoing some changes. Hope their new chapter continues to show love for the Gluten Free folks.

Mia Francecsa

Jon had the Linguine Aglio Olio… The Quinoa gluten-free linguine was much different in texture than he expected, but he did enjoy it.

Until Jon visits again, I’ll have to keep my eye out for the next must-eat places.

I know The Peninsula will be on our list. Look at that view!


The Chicago Food[ie] Tour[ist]

I have a minor confession.

My knowledge on where to eat in Chicago, outside my neighborhood, is extremely limited. We’re talking a minor step above tourist-status. Instead of putting on a fanny pack and heading to the Cheesecake Factory I realized it was time to admit something. *sigh*

I needed help.

Foodie support.

For Pete’s sake, I’ve been living here for 2 ½ years already.

At first, I thought that I could do this on my own.

I gathered Ms. Worthy and Ms. Quinn and created an unofficial grilled cheese tour.*

I made up two tours after researching for a couple of hours. We picked one and went on our cheese-filled adventure.  It was an excellent and delicious afternoon.

But we did it wrong. We only made it to two places because we were so full. I came home, after I consumed my daily calories in 3 hours, feeling like I could scratch the surface better.

I needed some professional help. I turned to the Chicago Planet Food Tours to show me how it’s done right.

The DH and I went on the Buck Town/Wicker Park tour.

We’re still talking about:

1.  My husband added celery salt to the grocery list after going to George’s Hot Dogs.

2.  Brewpub? Okay Piece, you have our attention. We’ll be back [very] soon.

3.  We’ve had plenty of Falafel since we’ve been here, but Sultan’s Market is by far the best we’ve had.

4.  I am so impressed by the use of Kitchen Aids in iCream. I love that it’s a build your own combo place. I like that flavor challenge.

5. How soon can we do the new Chinatown tour?


*Unofficial Grilled Cheese Tour
1. Birchwood Kitchen: Amazing sandwich. Best part? They split our grilled cheese in three. Now that’s service.

2. Hot Chocolate: Oh. My. Yum.  On all levels.

3. The Handlebar: We didn’t make it here… but I hope to try it out soon.

On a budget? I know we are. Which reminds me to check out very, very soon.

Bonus: Currently they are promoting a free South Loop Tour.

Lemon Curd Poppy Seed Biscotti

Last week I was eyeing a jar of lemon curd from Trader Joes I was given over the holidays. Imported from England and authentic – how fancy!  I wanted to create a recipe after realizing that the jar’s main ingredients were found your standard basic biscotti recipe already. I made two different versions.

Round 1: Lemon Curd Poppy Seed Biscotti with Walnuts


1 cup of sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tbs. poppy seeds

3 tbs. lemon curd

¾ cup ground walnuts

2 cups flour

1 tsp. baking powder

½ Kosher salt


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat eggs and sugar. Add vanilla, seeds, curd and ground walnuts. Add flour, baking powder and salt.  Bake for 12-15 minutes. Flip logs and bake for another 12-15 minutes.

Take logs out and push the oven temp down to 325 degrees F. Let the logs cool for 10 minutes and then using a serrated knife cut on a diagonal into ½ inch slices.  Place the slices cut side down back on your baking pans and place back in the oven to cook for a further 10- 20 minutes or until they are lightly browned.

Recipe was adapted from here.


Dough worked but was slightly dry. If it’s too hard for you work with, add another egg or spray your hands with PAM when forming the log. Or maybe all of this would be solved from my results below.


Flipping the entire log ½ through baking was a decision I made through pure curiosity. It gave all sides an even crunch.  (Like a crunch you would get from a perfectly grilled sandwich.) Between the two versions I made, this recipe was favorite.  My co-worker Sara said she would add a tablespoon of lemon peel. She also said she would have drizzled some type of icing on top. I may try that next time, but one thing is for sure… the double-baked log is here to stay.

Round 2: Lemon Curd Poppy Seed Biscotti


1/2 cup butter, softened

1 cup white sugar

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

4 eggs

1/3 cup lemon curd

2 tsp vanilla

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups of whole wheat flour

2 tbsp poppy seeds


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat the butter on high for half a minute and add the sugar.  Mix to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl.  Add the eggs and curd.  Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and poppy seeds. Mix until dough forms.

Make four 7 x 2 inch logs and place on a pans lined with parchment. Bake for 22-25 minutes.

Let the logs cool for 10 minutes and then using a serrated knife cut on a diagonal into ½ inch slices.  Place the slices cut side down back on your baking pans and place back in the oven to cook for a further 10 minutes or until they are lightly browned.

Recipe was adapted from here. This recipe is doubled from the original recipe.


I loved working with this dough. It held up great in all the steps.


These went over well with the co-workers. My DH also said these were his favorite. Next time I’ll add: 1 more tablespoon of the seeds and grate 1-2 lemons.  The lemon curd smell was really strong when I put it in the dough, but I think the citrus kick was slightly lost when baking.

On to the next kitchen adventure…

Peanut Butter and Jelly Biscotti

I saw. I baked. Most importantly… I conquered.

I have to give it to the King Arthur Flour Company: Jammy Bits = brilliant.  They have the texture of a gummy bear yet the true taste of your favorite jelly.  In fact, I wish gummy bears would taste this good.

This weekend I combined these tiny bits of glory with a peanut butter base. I made two batches and tweaked two different recipes.  Here was the breakdown:

Round 1

RECIPE: Peanut Butter and Raspberry Jam Biscotti


2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

6 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature

¾ cup creamy peanut butter

1 cup sugar

2 tsp. vanilla extract

5 to 6 large eggs

¾ cup or 1 cup of Jammy Bits


Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.  Whisk to blend.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, peanut butter and sugar.  Beat on medium-high speed until fluffy and smooth, 1-2 minutes.  Blend in the vanilla.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl as needed between additions.  With the mixer on low speed, blend in the dry ingredients just until incorporated.  Stir in the Jammy Bits until evenly distributed.

Divide the dough in half.  Shape into logs on the prepared baking sheet, about 11- by 3-inches in size, spacing at least 3 inches apart.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven change the temperature to 325˚ F.  Let the logs cool for 10 minutes.  Slice the logs diagonally into slices about ½- to ¾-inch thick.  Lay the slices, cut side down, on the baking sheet.  Bake, turning once, until the slices are slightly crisp, about 30 minutes or more.   Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.   Let set before serving.

Recipe was adapted from here.


This recipe originally called for just three eggs. But the dough was too crumbly for me to work with. I ended up making 3 logs and adding an egg to each log to help me form it better. It was messy. Next time, I’ll add the extra eggs earlier. Also, I would put in ¾ cups of the Jammy Bits verses 1 cup.  I felt like the jam/dough ratio had slightly hurt the structure of the cookie which made flipping them during the second bake a very delicate process.


Despite my fight with the dough, I loved these. My husband took them to work and texted me just to say how good they were. They are softer than your average biscotti and overall the flavor felt balanced.

Round 2

RECIPE: Peanut Butter and Blueberry Jam Biscotti


1 cup flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

3 large eggs

2 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup Jammy Bits


Preheat oven to 325. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, combine flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, beat peanut butter, sugars, egg, egg whites and vanilla until smooth. Add the flour mixture and Jammy Bits to the peanut butter mixture and stir until combined.

Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface, divide in half, and shape each piece into an 8-inch long log. Place the logs 2 to 3 inches apart on cookie sheet and flatten each into a rectangle that is about 3 inches wide. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until firm and starting to crack on top. Place on wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 275.
Place logs on cutting board. Cut each into 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch thick slices with a sharp serrated knife. Place biscotti cut side down on the cookie sheet. Return them to the oven for 15 minutes, then flip them over and bake for another 15 minutes.

Recipe was adapted from here.


This really was the perfect mix to work with. Clean up was way easier.


This more traditional butter-less recipe is crispy and chewy. Just perfect for dunking. I forgot to turn down the oven in the second bake, but it didn’t hurt the taste.

So now the question is… how can you get your hands on Jammy Bits? Here!

The Sweet Spots

On to the next kitchen adventure… Nom, nom, nom.

BTW- Did you notice my photography just became much more interesting? We had a camera upgrade (thankfully).  I’ll try to stop from using my iPhone moving forward. 🙂

Betty Crocker, Martha Stewart and Rachael Ray, oh, my!

I really should plan our weekly meals out more often. Sometimes I just stock the house with food we like and we end up winging it and making it work. But the issue is when I do that- I often to buy things we don’t use in time or doesn’t go with anything else in house. (Sometimes the supermarket greatness makes me impulse buyer. Yes, I’ve been that person to buy 10 cans of olives when they are on sale for a dollar.) So, trying to be smarter about our food budget- this weekend I started going through my cookbooks and magazine recipes. Here were the three I’ve made this week:

Sunday Night: (Betty Crocker)

Last time I was home, my mom let me take her 1993 Betty Crocker New Choices Cookbook.  I picked up this vegetarian gem, which just happens to be a low fat, low cholesterol, low calories, and high in fiber recipe.

Lentil Stew

Betty Crocker Sunday Stew


2 teaspoons of vegetable oil

1 cup of chopped onion (about 1 large)

1 clove garlic, finely chopped (uh, I used 4 cloves)

2 cups coarsely chopped potatoes (about two medium)

1 cup dried lentils

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

3 cups of water

½ teaspoon salt (I used sea salt)

½ teaspoon cumin

¼ teaspoon of pepper

¼ teaspoon of ground mace (Had to buy- ugh. Since when does a spice cost 10 dollars?… must find more recipes to justify this cost)

8 ounces small mushrooms, cut into halves

1 can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes, un-drained.


Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook onion and garlic in oil, stirring frequently, until onion is tender. Stir in remaining ingredients; break up tomatoes. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender.  (6 servings).


I loved the way this made my house smell. I thought the prep was easy and was glad that it was healthy for me. And it was good with out cheese (yes, for some reason, I like to think everything is better with cheese).  Flavor was great- I think next time, I would cut my potatoes differently (I made potato sticks.) The hubby, who grew up eating Arabic lentil meals was more of a critic. “No meat?… It’s best with meat” and “I thought the potatoes were slightly underdone”. My coworker loved the potatoes so meh. Obviously, I can tinker with it next time.

Tuesday Night: (Martha Stewart)

Asian Noodle Salad with Chicken and Cilantro

Just another reason I love Ginger... :)

I love ginger. The smell, the taste, the texture and the health benefits.  And I’ve been looking for ways to use it more. Plus, I have this Asian mart right by me, where the ginger is bigger than my head.  So when I saw this in my monthly Everyday Food- I wanted to try.  It was pretty easy to put together- but I realized- I have no freaking clue on how to de-meat a rotisserie chicken. And at 7 p.m. at night- I didn’t care- I zoned in until I think I had four cups. That poor carcass didn’t even have a chance.

Ingredients: Serves 4

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 jalapeno chile, minced (ribs and seeds removed for less heat if desired)
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup dark-brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 4 cups shredded rotisserie chicken, skin and bones discarded (from 1 whole chicken), room temperature
  • 1 package (8.8 ounces) cellophane (bean-thread) noodles, prepared according to package instructions
  • 1 English cucumber, cut into 3-inch sticks
  • 2 cups fresh cilantro leaves


  1. In a small saucepan, heat oil over medium. Add jalapeno, ginger, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until garlic is golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Add sugar and vinegar and cook until sauce is slightly thickened, about 6 minutes. Refrigerate until cool, at least 15 minutes (or up to 1 week).
  2. Combine chicken, noodles, cucumber, and cilantro. Drizzle with dressing just before serving.


Hubby ate this and loved it. He even said it was perfect even two days later. I liked it because it was so different. And I have friends that have lots of food restrictions, and I could make this meal for them. Thus, it’s a keeper.

Wednesday Night (Rachel Ray)

Drunken Tuscan Pasta

Pink Noodles? Yum. :)


  • 1 (750 ml) bottle tuscan red table wine (Rosso di Montalcino or Chianti) *Um. I just picked up a cheap bottle of red.
  • coarse salt
  • 1 lb bucatini pasta or spaghetti or perciatelli
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 lb deli-sliced pancetta * I just used the Morning Star Bacon.
  • 3 portabella mushroom caps, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves finely chopped *Not a fan of rosemary- so I used fresh basil and chives.
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • red pepper flakes (a couple of pinches)
  • 4-5 cups chopped chard leaves or escarole or spinach or kale *I bought Kale for the first time.
  • black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated fresh nutmeg
  • grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese * Eh, too expensive- so I had some other three cheese blend that worked just fine


1.    Pour the entire bottle of wine into a large pan; add water and fill the pot up as you would to cook pasta.
2.    Bring the wine and water to a boil over high heat.
3.    When the liquids boil, add salt and the pasta; cook to al dente. (you will use some of the cooking liquid later).
4.    Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat; add 2 tablespoons of olive oil; then chop and add the pancetta.
5.    Brown the pieces until they are golden at the edges and transfer them to a paper-towel lined plate.
6.    Add the mushrooms to the olive oil in the same skillet; season with rosemary; cook 6-8 minutes until deeply golden.
7.    Push the mushrooms to the sides of the skillet; add in the garlic and red pepper flakes; cook for a minute or so, then toss the mushrooms together with the garlic.
8.    Add the greens to the pan; season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
9.    When the greens have wilted down, add a couple ladles of the starchy pasta cooking liquid to the pan; cook for a minute to reduce it a little.
10. Drain pasta well and add it to the skillet.
11. Add in the pancetta and a handful of cheese to the pan; toss the pasta for a minute or so to allow it to absorb the remaining liquid.
12. Adjust the seasonings and serve; pass the extra cheese at the table.


Can I just say… cooking with a bottle of wine awesome- why didn’t I think about that before? Though, I couldn’t really taste the wine but the hubby could. I liked it- but I think next time I make this I would use maybe spinach or escarole just to see the difference. Also, I thought I just use the fake-on because I thought pancetta would hurt the hubby’s tummy. Though he said it wouldn’t- so next time, I’ll actually buy it. Also this says four servings, but honestly, it felt like 6 to me.

Final word:

So, I still don’t know if I’m a Betty, a Martha or a Rachel Ray. But I still enjoyed this week’s culinary adventures.

Speaking of culinary adventures- I just finished reading Julie & Julia. I felt very trendy reading it… and like I should have read it before it was a movie deal. Ha. My sister and mom sent me the same article from the Detroit Free Press:

It was a cute book. Though, if you read it and liked it- read My Life in France also. Both are adventures that your taste buds will enjoy.

The only thing about J&J… is Julie was kinda too bitchy at points. Like I just felt though she was having a professional and personal identity crisis- I kept thinking- do you have be such a bitch to everyone? I honestly had a hard time liking her character until the end. Anyways- I’m glad that she’s successful though (side note- kinda shocked that she hasn’t had a baby yet- and she’s 36 now- but eh. It’s probably because it was talked so much about in the book).

Anyways – the point is she found her foodie niche and ran with it.

And that’s what I’ve been thinking about for months.

What will be my foodie niche?

Until then, I think I’ll add the Art of French Cooking to my Christmas List. J&J made me want cook with liver. Hopefully, there is a recipe with liver and olives. 🙂

So a plum and an apricot walk into a bar…

Today I took my little rolling shopping cart in 90 degree weather and went to supermarket for this weeks groceries.

I was picking up some red grapes and I noticed an employee passing out free samples.

My mom say’s it’s her favorite F word.
Anyways, he had some fruit cut up in perfect slices on his little cutting board.

As I bit into the sweet and juicy err um…

“So what am I eating?

“It’s a Pluot”, he responded.

I wondered how many times he had said that already today.

He explained to me that it’s a hybrid fruit. It is a complex cross between a plum and apricot but it exhibits more plum-like traits.

Another woman asked him if these were grown in Australia.

He assured her that they were grown in the US.

I kind of wanted to take another slice, but I decided to invest into one. My body would probably appreciate it more than a bag of chips.

So I bought one 57 cent pluot and now I regret not buying a bag of them. Why wouldn’t I spice up my weekly fruit order?

I decided to research a little more on this fruit that was made by biologist and inventor Floyd Zaiger

I didn’t realize they had so many types of Pluots.
I think I had the Dapple Dandy: large sweet with pale green to yellow, red-spotted skin, red or pink juicy flesh.


It just proves that you learn something new everyday.

Even on a Sunday.

In Jewel-Osco.

From the employees.

In the fresh produce aisle.

And the foodie adventures continue.

“I’m in love with this meal.”

I’ve missed you Kitchen.

This weekend was a great reminder how much I love you.

I love making simple fruit salads. This week’s fruit combo is melon and red grapes.  Last summer we were addicted to red grapes and peaches.
If somebody would have told me when I was young, “You will enjoy using your Melon-Baller”- I’m sure I would have thought they were a little strange. But really I like how it looks and I love that I don’t have to use a knife.

I love the way fresh cookies smell when they come out of the oven. Today I made: Milk Chocolate-Butterscotch Cafe Cookies (I made these this morning for a few people we’ve been meaning to thank.)

C is for cookie... :)

I love when my husbands gets involved in the kitchen with me. This weekend our new grill arrived (Weber Spirit e-210… so far… so good!)– and the hubby has been excited to try it out. I bought him the Webber Big Book of Grilling at Borders this weekend-
And when I said I needed help grilling some eggplant- he opened up the book and told me how he was going to help.

I guess you put some kosher salt on the on the eggplant for 30 minutes. This helps draw the bitterness out.  You put them on a cooling rake over a cookie sheet so it can catch the water.
After the 30 minutes he patted it dry and then brushed olive oil on it and grilled it.
Also the book said that you don’t put your eggplant in the fridge. So… we took ours out before cutting it in ½ inch slices.

Let me tell you where this going. So, Foodbuzz asked me a month ago if I wanted to try some new pasta… and F- being my favorite word (free)- I said sure. They sent me Buitoni’s Wild Mushroom Agnolotti. Now, I am a mushroom snob. If I order a pizza with mushrooms I ask if the mushrooms are canned or not. And if they are canned- I don’t order them. Side story: One night my hubby made a pasta- and put canned mushrooms in to “see” if I really could notice. Ha, ha and I could. But I love him for trying. :oP  Anways- another note my hubby hated mushrooms for most of his life- has embraced only in the last few years. So, I knew this was a good challenge for us.

This is how I ended up preparing it.  It was really in 4 layers.

Layer One: 1 eggplant (see how prepared above)
Layer Two: I sautéed 4 chopped garlic cloves, chopped red oven and a zucchini in olive oil. I added a fistful of fresh parsley and two fistfuls of spinach.  After the onions were soft I added a handful of fresh parm cheese.
Layer Three: The Buitoni: Boiled as directed.
Layer Four: Another sprinkle of cheese and some more fresh parsley.

Hello, Beautiful. :)

Results? My hubby said, “You made lots of vegetarian meals that I love… but I’m in love with meal.“  And for my meat loving “This would be better with chicken”- husband- that is the best compliment I could ask for. I personally loved the freshness.  And that it didn’t feel heavy afterwards. The presentation turned out so well; that I would make this for family or close friends again.

Anyways- tonight I am making this Grilled Chicken Salsa Verde.

Learned about it from Betty Crocker’s the Mixer- (it’s these live cooking classes where you can talk to the actual Betty Crocker Kitchens…)  I checked it out for the first time last week- and loved there butter 101 lesson (seriously,  so helpful for the novice baker like me).

I’m not hungry… I swear… But I think I might want a little piece of chocolate to finish off that amazing lunch.