Gluten free weeknight meals & budgeting

So this blog post should really be a post of the numerous ways the month of September has come and is exiting before my head has been able to wrap itself around it all.  Surely I am not the only mom who finds herself witnessing myself both coming and going in the middle of the dark of night, right?

My new purse is even sporting some tag-along buddies.  I don’t think I go anywhere any more without things packed into my purse that aren’t really mine.  And despite the extra poundage, I wouldn’t really change the rest of it.

Now THIS is a MOM purse

Well, maybe I’d change my sleep schedule:  to bed late (or early) and it takes me forever to fall asleep and up no later than 5AM or we are ALL off late for the day already.  A change with these hours would be helpful, but I honestly don’t see that happening anytime soon.  Teaching doesn’t end with the kids leave… or even when my kids finally crash and go to bed.  (PS…they have been in bed for 45 minutes now… and the Chicklet just asked via the monitor “Hey Mom, what’s my cake going to look like?”  “Your cake?”  “Yes, for my birthday.”  “Babe….your birthday is in May.  It’s September. We have a while to think about it, okay?” = this is the kind of thing that never ends around here….LOL)  Evidence:  apple slices + goofy face photos…despite a few attempts we don’t have ONE photo for BOTH smiling nor BOTH making a goofy face at the same time.  Egad.

Apple slices + goofy faces

So I decided to share my working mom “Sanity Saver” meals.  I’ve been asking and posting here when I thought my world was careening off track, but seldom have I posted when I have done it right (finally) for a month.  I challenged myself this month to get the meals down and stick to them.

Next month, I am challenging myself to:

  • only go to the grocery store every 10 days to 2 weeks
  • STICK to my grocery budget – and SAVE every penny that I don’t spend in an account for a family trip
  • stick to my meal plan (come high water or sleep exhaustion)
  • stick to a reduced (extremely) budget for “eating out”

Seriously.  I’m starting at ZERO here people.  There is only room to grow, right?

Some of you are experts at all of the above (budgeting, time-management, meal-planning, saving (!), etc) but these are things I tend to stick to for a short time and then meander down some random thought-path-etc and I blow it.  We have had TWO four-day vacations/trips in the last EIGHT YEARS of our lives.  (My Love does NOT get time off from work.)  But we’ve had SO much fun on these rapid-paced trips to see family (my parents/his parents) that we want to do it more often.  And now the girls have seen an ad for Disney Land and CarsLand.

Yeap.  My budget better get in gear.  NOW.

Want to follow along on my endeavor?  Care to add your two cents/tips?  I’d love to hear them!

Okay… enough meandering.  Some of you are just here for the list of my weeknight go-to meals.  Take note:  the meals on this list HAD to be able to be prepared and ready to go in under an hour (or toddler + mom meltdown ensures).  Well, here it is:

  1. fajitas (chicken or flank steak)
  2. enchiladas
  3. taco salad
  4. one-pot rice dish (random meat/tofu, rice, veggies – a la jambalaya)
  5. tarragon chicken tenders
  6. Bo-jay-fan (Chinese one-pot chicken/rice/sausage/mushroom)
  7. pork chops and apples
  8. steamed fish + tofu
  9. split pea soup (thank you crock pot)
  10. jambalaya
  11. quinoa salad (a la fried rice/couscous – NOTE couscous is NOT gluten free!)
  12. pasta salad (schars or jovial)
  13. parfait (yogurt + granola)
  14. pancakes (corn ones here) or waffles (to save time, i’ve made “waffles” in a panini pan with pancake batter )
  15. chicken chili
  16. mongolian beef (marinate night before or immediately upon returning home for 45 min at least)
  17. spaghetti (schars, jovial or homemade on the weekend)
  18. lasagna (no boil/lazy method – make ahead, pop in oven)
  19. pot pie (make ahead OR make muffin-sized (lunch/dinner) OR make with crescent roll dough  for last minute)
  20. roasts (pork loin is our favorite as faster than whole chicken, etc)
  21. meatballs and mashed/roasted potatoes
  22. kebabs
  23. tortilla española (potatoes, eggs, onions, seasoning) – leftovers are great lunches too
  24. shrimp and grits
  25. chicken marsala
  26. risotto
  27. lettuce wraps
  28. migas
  29. corned beef (crock pot or reheat after cooking on Sunday), roasted cabbage
  30. curried chicken
  31. beef and broccoli
  32. spicy green beans and tofu
  33. arroz con pollo
  34. baharat chicken or lamb
  35. chowder (Chinese corn, OR salmon/fish, etc – whatever you got and put it in a pot!)
  36. arepa sandwiches
  37. jibaro sandwiches (plantains, flank steak, etc)
  38. burgers (bean or beef) (speedy buns – done in the oven while I grill/cook burger or pao-d-quejo buns – quick too!)
  39. beef stroganoff but served over rice, mashed potatoes, steamed cauliflower/broccoli in lieu of noodles
  40. teriyaki chicken (or whatever is on hand)
  41. quiche
  42. fried rice
  43. ….leftovers!  (the great list ender…I try to use up leftovers for lunch, but often there is a bit more)

I hope this list helps someone else pull a menu plan together.  My trusty purple spiral bound notebook and I roam the aisles of the grocer trying to make sure I have it all together.  Maybe that will be what I share next?  Ay!  Who knows!

Hopefully now that I am getting my feet under me at school the next blog post won’t be delayed as long as this one has been.  I’m sorry – and THANK YOU for sticking with me.

Happy GF Eating 

Gluten Free Rainbow Enchiladas

Enchilada fixings

Seriously.  This is why my posts have dropped in quantity.  I truly think all of us cook like this, so it feels awkward to post this but here goes nothing.  Maybe someone hasn’t made an enchilada before?  Maybe you are stuck in a rut (like I usually am…lol) making the same-old-same-old meals day in and day out?  Okay.  Well then, for you, I post this.

Usually our enchiladas are chicken + whatever veggies are in the fridge/freezer (typically some squash/zucchini and some frozen corn).  Seems strange to me to say that we have zucchini on hand (it’s definitely not my fave veg) but for a while, it was the main “green” veggie that the girls would eat in order to “Eat The Rainbow” everyday.  Somehow, they’ve moved away from zucchini as their green and are much more content to eat edamame.  (Whatever works.)  Last night, I had them thinking that the fresh peas from the CSA were “just like edamame only you can eat the pod too”  (insert parental “oohs” and “ahhs” in order to make story more “exciting”).  But they busted me.  However, they did both consume at least two tablespoons of peas sans the pods which I ate (I LOVE the fresh ones from the CSA).

Into these enchiladas, I tossed the veggies that they DO eat and that make up the rainbow:  carrots, corn, roasted red pepper strips, green zucchini (had to slide in something green) and some chicken.  Zoe kept telling me that she want broccoli in hers, but I realized that she was just trying to appease me and would only take a smidgen of food if that is what really ended up on her plate.  Thus the zucchini was stealthy added before they realized the evil plan.

All of the veggies were stir-fried/sautéed (whichever works for you) until crisp-tender and seasoned nicely with salt/pepper and a little chili powder.  The chicken was actually from a grocer rotisserie (yes, I checked, it is gluten free.  Thankfully, knowledgeable staff helped out!).  Hey – short cuts are highly encouraged with little feet and hands “helping” in the kitchen and demonstrating new dance moves when things are busiest. 😀

So here is what I did to throw this inexpensive dinner together.  It served the four of us for dinner and lunch the next day.  I made one 8′ by 12″ pan with the fixings I used.  The measurements below are estimates for some (like seasoning and frozen corn) as I do most of my cooking by taste and appearance when it is something like this.  Baking… well… I usually measure unless I’m making a riff on something like pancakes that I’ve made a million times for the girls this summer.

Horrible pictures - but great enchiladas

PS.  This picture doesn’t do it justice.  My kitchen helper added an extra cup of chicken broth to the top when we had finished putting it together.  Thus the extra soft/lack of rolled enchilada.  I hesitated to even share the photo, but you know what?  I’m just a home cook like you!

Rainbow Enchiladas – gluten free


2 cooked chicken breasts, roughly chopped (bite-sized if you have little ones)
2 small zucchini, sliced into 1/4″ rounds and quartered
3 small carrots, sliced into 1/4″ rounds and quartered
1 cup frozen corn
1 small can (5 ounces?) diced mild green chiles
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper, if desired
salt/pepper to taste
cumin (2+ teaspoons) and red chile powder (2 teaspoons +) to taste
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 small sweet onion, minced
2 cups of shredded melting cheese (Monterrey jack or queso quesadilla) for the topping
**optional:  2 cups of shredded melting cheese (Monterrey jack or queso quesadilla) added to the filling
16 corn tortillas (be sure these are gluten free)
2 cups enchilada sauce, gluten free (see note and a recipe below)


  1. Roast the red and green peppers under the broiler in order while you cut/prep your other veggies.  It’s easy to roast your own.  Split the bell peppers in half and seed them.  Lay them open side down on a parchment or tin foiled lined sheet (with a lip, the juices might run while they roast).  Keep your eye on them.  Once the skins blacken, remove from the oven and place into a paper lunch sack (and on plate or something to prevent dripping, etc).  Set aside until cool.  Once cool, you can easily peel the blackened skin off and then slice/chop the roasted peppered into your desired size.
  2. While roasting the peppers, prep other veggies.  Quarter and slice zucchini and carrots. Mince garlic and onion. In a frying pan large enough to hold your veg, add a teaspoon of olive oil.  When hot, add carrots and onions.  Sautee for 2-4 minutes until *just* beginning to become a bit tender.  Add garlic, zucchini and corn.  Sautee an additional 3-4 minutes until everything is crisp-tender.  Remove from the heat.
  3. Mix together veggies, chopped roasted pepper, green chiles (cheese, if using) and chicken.  Season generously with cumin, chile powder, salt and pepper.  Taste.  Adjust seasonings.  If it is bland now, it will be super bland later.
  4. Warm your enchilada sauce.  Working in batches, warm your corn tortillas (half at a time) in the microwave wrapped in a damp paper towel for 20-25 seconds.  You just want them to be pliable so they won’t break.  Drizzle the bottom of your baking pan with a 1/2 cup of the warm enchilada sauce. Spread it around.  This will help prevent your enchiladas from sticking to the pan.
  5. If baking right away, preheat your oven now to 350F.  If freezing (almost typed freaking… nice), feel free to obviously skip this step.
  6. Dip an individual tortilla into the enchilada sauce, flip it over and then lay it on a cutting board or clean prep surface (yes, it’s messy).  Place 1/3 cup (or so) onto the tortilla.  Roll it up.  Lay it into your prepared pan at one end.  Continue this way, tucking each enchilada next to the previously created fabulous enchilada in your pan.  You will need to pack them tightly.
  7. Once you are done, pour the remaining sauce over the top of the enchiladas.  Brush it over to cover them to prevent the tortillas from getting dried out/burned and all around yucky.  Top with shredded melting cheese.    Bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese if melted and golden.  (Cheese coloring will changed depending on which cheese you have chosen.  Please cook to your desired doneness as you would watch your pizza cheese.)
  8. Serve with avocado slices, sour cream, diced jalapeño (for the heat lovers in your house), shredded lettuce, pickled carrots/radishes, Mexican rice, beans, etc.


Gluten free enchilada sauce is easy to find.  I like Frontera and Victoria – the green sauces are my favorites.  Read the ingredients, obviously, but I bet you will find one that you like as well.  If you want, there is a red sauce enchilada recipe from Rick Bayless that is ah-mazingly good.  This recipe for green enchilada sauce looks quite similar to what I make too.  However, that is so just-for-the-weekends-in-the-summer for me now.  (It involves an easy step of rehydrating dried Mexican chiles (red sauce) or roasting the tomatillos (green sauce), etc – easy… but not for me at the moment.

 I regularly use the recipe below to make a red enchilada sauce when I want them in a pinch and don’t have the convenience of a canned sauce on hand.

Whatever-you-got Red Enchilada Sauce


3 teaspoons of minced garlic (yes, we love garlic)
1/4 cup minced sweet onion
2 Tablespoons + chile powder (we like to vary this and use ancho or pasilla or whatever we have on hand)
1 12 (or so) ounce can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes (sometimes with green chiles, but never the Ro-tel stuff)
1 cup gluten free chicken broth
2 Tablespoons GF flour mix (OR sweet rice flour)
2 teaspoons cumin
salt and pepper to taste
jalapeño, optional (if you want to add some more heat)


Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan.  Saute onions until translucent (or even slightly browned/caramelized if you like that add flavor/smokiness).  Add the chile powder, cumin, garlic and gluten free flour.  Sautee until fragrant (2-3 minutes).  Add tomatoes and chicken broth.  Simmer over medium for 10 minutes.  Adjust seasoning.  Blend with an immersion blender (what we have from 1988, tyvm) or be brave (AND CAREFUL!) and transfer/blend it in batches in your blender.  It need not be perfectly smooth sauce.  It’s up to you.

Happy GF Eats, everyone

Gluten Free Chinese Scallion Pancakes

Oh my.

GF Scallion Pancakes

I warn you.  This recipe is dangerous.  As in – definitely need oil/fats and holy cow…you will NOT be able to eat just one.  At least not if you are like me.

Traditional scallion pancakes are layered with scallions and sesame oil.  This layered makes for a flakier pancake and delicious seasoning throughout.  The layering happens because the dough is rolled out like a pie crust (about that thick) which is then painted/drizzled with sesame oil and green onions sprinkled on top.  Then you roll it up into a tube and flatten again.  Do this a couple of times and you have scallions and seasoning throughout.

Since I’m not interested in standing at the counter for that long between toddlers and pancakes, I add my green onions into the dough.  We do, however, roll it out as well and fold/flatten a few times in order to get the layers and sesame oil throughout.  (Really, the only thing I skipping is the green onion part and the rolling into a tube.)

Honestly this works for me, so I am just going to keep this pattern.  Here’s what it looks like:

1.  Make the dough (recipe below).

2.  Divide it into the number of pancakes you wish to make.  (We usually make between 8 – 12 with this recipe.)

3.  Take one piece and flatten it into a disc.  Put it between two pieces of parchment (or I cut two sides on a gallon-sized baggie for this).  Roll it out into a rounded, pie crust shape that is about 1/4 inch thick (or a little less, once you have practice).

4.  Paint it with a thin layer of sesame oil with a pastry brush (or drizzle and use the back of a spoon to smooth it out evenly).  Sprinkle with salt.

5.  Fold it in half.  Brush with another thin layer of sesame oil (you can sprinkle with salt IF you find after frying/testing the first one, it isn’t salty enough for you with just one layer of sprinkled salt).

6.  Repeat:  fold/paint with a thin layer of sesame oil.

7.  That was the last fold.  This time, don’t brush it with sesame oil but gently flatten it/roll it out into your pancake shape.  The fry it in a little bit of olive oil (about 1 teaspoon or less per side) until golden brown.  Serve right away with the dipping sauce (recipe below) or keep it warm in a warm oven until all of your pancakes have been fried up to their golden goodness.

Are you hungry yet?

Okay, I’ll quit teasing.  Here’s the recipe.

Gluten Free Chinese Scallion Pancakes

Recipe makes 8 large or up to 12 medium/small pancakes (or a combination of both!)

2 cups GF Flour Mix (I used GF Mama’s Almond Flour Blend)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1 teaspoons salt
1 cup boiling water
2 Tablespoons olive oil (plus more for frying)
1/2-2/3 cup of finely chopped green onion
sesame oil (up to 1/4 cup – depending on quantity of pancakes/desired flavor)
salt or sea salt for seasoning


  1. Mix together GF flour mix, baking soda, xanthan gum and salt.
  2. Add one cup of boiling water.  Mix again.
  3. Add olive oil and chopped green onion.  Your dough should look like this after mixing again:

GF Scallion Pancakes

4.  Shape it into a ball.  Divide into the number of pancakes you wish and follow the directions above for rolling out and painting with sesame oil.

5.  Fry in a small bit of oil (a teaspoon or less) in a non-stick pan until golden brown.  Flip and fry the other side until golden as well.  (You may need to add a drizzle of oil for it to crisp up golden perfection.  Serve warm with dipping sauce (recipe to follow) or keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.

(Non-traditionally – you can always use these are the basis for some AMAZING turkey sandwiches too!)

Quick and Easy Dipping Sauce

There are traditional sauces you can simmer or rest with ginger, scallions, etc.  But I used this quick one.  Truly, it works in a pinch.

1/4 cup gluten free soy sauce
2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon minced/chopped (left over!) scallions
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger  (if using fresh, you will need to slice it thin and let soak in sauce to infuse flavor)

  1. Mix together and serve with fresh, warm scallion pancakes.

I hope you enjoy these as much as we do!

Six Reasons Why: Just because it’s Gluten Free, doesn’t mean I have to eat it. Right?

Can you guess what this is?

a "standard" polenta loaf.... but nothing is as easy as just that. Everyone does it differently.

So yes, this IS a “loaf” of polenta.  And it was EASY to make.  In fact, I made the polenta and as it cooled, I cooked some pork chops, asparagus and sliced up some fruit.  Then I even whipped up some gravy with the pork bits in the pan (and sweet rice flour/butter/chicken stock – easy).  I sliced the polenta loaf and plated it with the pork chops and gravy on top.  Dinner.  Done.  Sweet.  (If you want the “recipe” for how I made this Polenta Loaf – and it’s variations, please click here.)

I’m glad I made polenta again.  For a long time after going gluten free, I tried EVERYTHING *just because* it was gluten free.  And you know what?  I discovered some very awesome food!  And, I ate/ordered/attempted to digest – and spent WAY too much money – on some very horrendous food.

Very horrendous.

When I think about it, I always go back to the FIRST box of ordered gluten-free food/bread that I ordered.  O. M. G.  Never again.  Really.  After I was diagnosed, I ordered some “rolls” to bring with us on our honeymoon to Italy.  I had no idea if it would be easy or difficult to navigate gluten-free life in Italy back then (PS – it’s fairly easy!).  I barely knew what I was doing at home.  When we had begun to plan our trip, we planned to just get up in the morning and take the subway as far out as we could (each day in a new direction) and then stop at a local open-air, fresh market.  We bought meat, cheese, and fruit for our backpacks.  And then we started walking back in to the center of Rome and our hotel.  I really thought I would be hungry – and have a hankering for chips or bread.

Silly me.

We lugged what seems like a veritable elephant-weight of gluten free “buns”.  The first morning, I opened one up and brought it down to our “continental” breakfast at the hotel.

I should have just left it as a door stop in the hotel room.

It was disgusting.  No amount of heating, toasting, microwaving, steaming, etc that the kitchen offered made a difference.  On the second day, the kitchen brought me some gluten free corn-based crackers they had picked up at the local “farmacia”.  Done.

Those dry, tasteless corn crackers (shaped like a graham cracker) rocked my eggs, jams, and prosciutto breakfast plate.  And probably only because the other option was so disgusting.

So now, I’m older.  And that is SUPPOSED to mean that I am wiser.  Although I question the application of this logical statement to myself, it seems that experience has taught me a few things.

Gluten Free Store Bought Breads:   while developing shelf-life, they also may just outlast nuclear fallout.  My first loaf of GF bread had an expiry date FIVE YEARS from the date of purchase.  *This* is questionable for my health, IMHO.  And then the other side of the coin for me was:  Hey!  This might be great in that “emergency food box” I’m supposed to have (but don’t, even though we always talk about it).  Not all store-bought bread fits this category, but the stuff that I find in the freezer section?  Not good.  At least, I don’t like it.  It’s crumbly, dry and not so flavorful.  And I don’t think I’m alone in that assessment.  So I guess I’ll just keep making my own.  At least I know what all of the ingredients are and it stays together nicely. 😀

Prepackaged lunches:  in particular I’m thinking of a can of noodle soup that was gluten free.  Even heating it up in the microwave at school (my only option) did not  save it.  And when my next class entered the room (the microwave is in my classroom), there was a mini-rebellion due to the unpleasant aroma.  Can’t say I blame them.  I didn’t even eat the soup.  Not okay.  I – once again – in search convenience overlooked the fact that not only is homemade soup cheaper and BETTER for you that the sodium-saturated can version, but that I had fallen back into a bad pattern.  Not planning my meals – lunches included – meant grabbing anything on the way out the door at 7AM.  Time to change that habit.  I’m working on it.  Really.  I am.



Costco.  Warehouse Clubs.  Whatever.  How many freaking boxes of rice crackers does a person really need?

If you are ever at my house sometime after Christmas, i will gladly share.  I am JUST NOW using up the last pack of rice crackers I bought in NOVEMBER.  Truly, these bad boys don’t go stale… but dang.  I would rather snack on fresh fruit, crunchy nuts or some celery/peanut butter – or … well – spoonfuls of NUTELLA (yeah, baby!) than eat my weight in rice crackers.  Never again.   (Well… unless I’m hosting a party of 50+ people.  Rice crackers are just NOT the “in demand” crunch for us.)


Once upon a time, I accepted a sample box of items to taste test for my blog.  I was so excited.  It arrived and we spent time figuring out which goody to try first.  And you know what?  We didn’t like any of them.  They were too salty or lack flavor or…. whatever.  They just weren’t for us.  And, I rarely post reviews.  Truly I only do it when I really love something.  (Psssst:  NUTELLA….. I’m willing!)  Now I know that when a sample offer comes, I am picky.  I truly only accept it if it is something I can NOT do on my own.  And the salti-fied, tasteless?  Need not apply.

Just because we eat gluten free doesn’t mean we don’t have taste buds.



Is it just me or are the absolute to-die-for gluten free prepared foods also the ones with the most limited market range?  There used to be a product called Dragon Toast – offered out of Portland.  It was great – and simple.  But once they got recognized, they got overwhelmed.  It crashed.  They just couldn’t produce the quantity people wanted to buy.  And maybe that’s the trick.  The companies that are able to meet the huge, growing demand for gluten free foods are simply not always able to maintain the standard.  Or at least, that is my experience.

Maybe when the market gets more saturated, those companies will have to step it up and the quality will become more stable?


Have  you  seen it?  The “Gluten Free” or “Naturally Gluten Free” label on things that are head-slappingly obvious?  (Like the potato in my produce department (and/or the email from the potato council, not kidding either).  Next time, I will take a picture.)  Here’s the kicker for me:  when the newly labeled gluten free food item suddenly costs more than before it was labeled as such.

Dear Marketers:  Don’t play on the “fear” factor.  These are real health issues for us.  The GF label should be meaningful and helpful.  Do us a favor, support the GF Labeling laws.  Add your comments to the mix.  But don’t treat us poorly.  We are a serious cash-cow for your business when you treat us as intelligent consumers and not mindless purchasers.  TYVM



And as for my motto:  Just because it is gluten free doesn’t me I have to eat it?
That doesn’t mean I’m not willing to try – or come back to things to try them again.

Like that polenta.  An item I forced myself to eat even though I didn’t like just because it was easy and naturally gluten free.  But now?  I’m growing up, I guess.  My taste buds have changed and I like it!  (Well, at least when prepared like this.)

But it does mean i feel SO MUCH LESS pressure when shopping nowadays.  It used to be that when you found a GF item – you would buy in bulk because who knew when you would be back again or find it again.  And now, I am fortunate enough to live near a GF market and to be able to find GF items in common markets about town.  My reality is so different from 12 years ago.  Thank goodness.

Tomorrow we set off on our first  adventure (read 4 day mini-vacation) since 2003 (or 2005…. but that was for my brother’s funeral).  I recently posted my anxiety on Facebook.  And then I googled the Las Vegas airport (layover/lunch).  Several websites popped up telling me the three restaurants in the airport that serve actually GF food (not just ‘salads”).  Really?  I’m done worrying.  I’m still packing my snack pack with nuts, cheese and fruit.  But years ago, I think I packed sandwiches etc for the long flight back to Chicago and Minnesota.

So – a shout out to all of us:  Let’s hear it for banding together and making GLUTEN FREE work.  We are a hugely diverse community.  There are many voices among us.  Not one speaks for you but your own.  So speak up, people.  Let’s get a GF Labeling Law passed and move forward.




%d bloggers like this: