Quinoa Spaghetti with Meatballs: Gluten-free, Egg-free, Dairy-free, Allergy-friendly
Sometimes we don’t have much time to make dinner, but of course we still want something nourishing and yummy to eat! And sometimes we really miss pasta! Before we switched to an allergy-friendly diet we ate pasta at least two or three times a week. Now it is a rare treat when we can find a pasta that fits with what we eat.
Enter quinoa pasta – it is made from, you guessed it, quinoa instead of wheat flour, so it doesn’t cause any food sensitivities in our house. We add meatballs for a protein punch and some tasty pasta sauce for a complete meal that is as fast as typical wheat spaghetti. Just add ground meat of your choice to the ingredients pictured here (and ground pepper – my pepper mill didn’t fit in this shot, haha).
Side note – we don’t usually eat tomatoes since we try to avoid nightshades, but we bend a little for pasta night (and the occasional barbecue sauce!).
Making quinoa spaghetti is a lot like normal spaghetti – boil some water, throw in some salt, and boil for 6 to 9 minutes (following package directions). One thing that is different for me is the salt. Here are a couple tips to make it extra good:
- I never used to add salt to boiling water when I made wheat pasta, but with quinoa it is almost essential, otherwise the noodles will stick together. Honestly, even with the salt they still stick a bit but I’ve found it is way worse if I don’t add salt at all.
- As with most pasta, don’t overcook but definitely don’t overcook quinoa pasta. It will get mussy and… well, not yummy.
- Serve the pasta (or at the very least, plate it up) immediately after you drain the boiling water from it. If it sits, it will start to stick together even if the boiling water was generously salted. It is much easier to dish up right away, then add sauce and the stickiness factor is greatly reduced.
For the meatballs, this is one of the easiest meat recipes I know, except for maybe grilling or roasting plain meat. Simply add the ingredients to a bowl, ball up the meat, and bake. I like to make smaller meatballs because they cook faster. This IS a last-minute meal after all! No need to get fancy with big ol’ meatballs. Plus the smaller ones are easier for the kids to eat.
With all that in mind, here’s our recipe for allergy-friendly spaghetti and meatballs!
Quinoa Spaghetti with Meatballs
half a medium-sized white or yellow onion, diced small
five cloves garlic, diced small
one pound ground meat of choice (beef, pork, turkey, etc.)
two tablespoons dried parsley (or five to six tablespoons fresh parsley)
one box of quinoa spaghetti
half a jar of prepared pasta sauce (of course you can make your own as well!)
salt and pepper
+ 2-3 quart saucepan for boiling water and pasta
+ 1-2 quart saucepan for simmering pasta sauce
+ small bowl for mixing meatballs
+ shallow baking dish to bake meatballs
+ Sharp knife to chop onions and garlic
+ Stirring spoon
+ Collander for draining boiling pasta water
1. Gather all ingredients and tools. Start by filling 2/3 of the larger saucepan with water. Place on stove over high heat. A covered pan will boil slightly faster.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Dice the onion and garlic, add to the small bowl with the pound of ground meat and the parsley.
3. Use your hands (or a spoon if you prefer) to mix the meat into the veggies and herbs. Mix for a few minutes to ensure the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
4. Start balling up the meatballs by grabbing a small chunk of meat and rolling it between your hands. You will get your hands messy so it’s a good idea to remove jewelry first. Alternatively you could use a small scoop or baller tool to try to keep some meat off you.
5. Add the balls of meat to the shallow baking dish, spaced about a half inch apart so there’s some room for air flow. I used two glass pie dishes. If you use an aluminum pan, be sure to line it with some parchment paper to avoid food contact with the aluminum. No need to grease the pan – the meat will release some fat that will do that work for you.
6. Place the baking dish of meatballs in the oven and set the timer for 15 minutes.
7. Next, add the pasta sauce to the smaller saucepan and place over medium heat.
8. After the meatballs have been in the oven for about five minutes, add the qunioa pasta to the boiling water.
9. Stir the sauce while the pasta boils. It should only take a few minutes to get hot. Also, check on the meatballs – no need to flip or rotate, just make sure they aren’t burning.
10. Assuming the pasta was added when the timer had :10 left on it for the meatballs, it will need to have the boiling water drained at about :03. For Ancient Harvest quinoa pasta, I’ve found about 7 minutes is a good boiling time. Once the time is up, drain the boiling water into a sink using the collender. Have your plates ready!
11. As soon as the pasta is drained, dish it up onto the plates. Add the sauce on top of the plates of pasta right away too. Both these things will keep the pasta from getting too sticky.
12. By now the timer should be going off for the meatballs. Take them out of the oven and add a few to the pasta plates. Serve immediately.
Easy “Rainbow” Dinner: Leftover Meatballs with Fresh, Frozen, and Fermented Veggies
The triple “F” of vegetables! Fresh rainbow carrots, frozen (then steamed) peas, and fermented purple cabbage help make this easy dinner plate super colorful, and super quick! The most complicated item to make on this plate was probably the rice – everything else is just a step or two from being ready to eat!
Let’s go over how each item made it to the dinner table, in rainbow order of course!
Easy! Peel, chop, and eat! Right out of the fridge, no other prep work required. We picked red, classic orange, and yellow carrots to start off our rainbow colors.
Frozen peas to the rescue! They’re by far the easiest green vegetable I make – just put about half a cup in a small pan, add a couple tablespoons of water, cover and cook on the stove on medium for about 10 minutes. Done! My kids love them because they’re sweet and fun to pop in their mouths.
This is the easiest one on the plate – just pull some out of the jar and toss it on the plate! Fermented cabbage may sound scary, but it’s actually really tasty. I’ll post instructions on how to ferment vegetables soon – it’s actually pretty fun!
These are leftover from our Spaghetti and Meatball Night. This is why I make more meatballs than we’ll need with the spaghetti – because they make such easy leftovers! Just heat and serve. I usually heat mine in a small, covered pan on medium low. They give off enough meat juices that I don’t even need to grease the pan.
There are already a fair amount of carbs on our plate (carrots and peas are high-carb vegetables) but the rice helps the kids tolerate all these vegetables so I give in on leftover night. Rice has become second nature for me to cook. We only need a small amount so I first rinse about 3/4 cup rice in cold water, until the water runs clear. Then combine the rinsed rice and about 1-1/4 cup water in a pan and bring it to a boil over high heat. Once the boil begins, cover, reduce the heat to very low and cook for 12 minutes. Then remove from the heat and let it sit, covered, for another 10-15 minutes (don’t take that lid off at any point or you’ll disturb the steaming process!). I usually start heating up the meatballs and steaming the peas when I remove the rice from the heat. Then everything gets hot and ready at the same time!
In cooking order…
- Rinse the rice and start to boil
- Lower the heat and cook rice for 12 minutes
- Get out the peas from the freezer and combine with water in a small pan
- Peel the carrots
- Get the meatballs and cabbage from the fridge
- Remove the rice from the heat (remember not to open the lid!)
- Start heating the meatballs and peas
- Chop the carrots into your preferred size and shape
- Plate the carrots and cabbage, followed by peas, meatballs, and the rice. Serve and enjoy!!
Product Review: Easylunchboxes.com and Planetbox lunch containers
My son takes his lunch to school every day because he has so many food sensitivities that “hot lunch” just won’t ever work for him. We also like being able to know what he’s eating while he’s away from home and he likes that he knows he’ll like his lunch every day.
When we started these lunches at the beginning of the school year, the only downside (other than having to do the work to actually pack the lunch!) was finding a suitable container to keep the lunch in and a bag that would both fit that container and not be too cumbersome for our son to keep in his locker and hull home on his bike.
We liked the bento style of lunchbox because our son doesn’t just take something simple like a sandwich to lunch each day. His lunches are literally more “bento style,” with a variety of vegetables, some meat, maybe a fruit or sweet treat. It’s nice to have the separate compartments not only so the food doesn’t touch (heaven forbid!) but also to keep meats away from raw veggies and keep more liquid foods like fruits from running all over the other stuff in the box.
We started with Easylunchboxes.com (that’s the official brand name). They fit the criteria of having several compartments and they were inexpensive. We bought several of them so we wouldn’t have to worry about washing them every day. They are dishwasher safe so at the end of the day we just put the soiled container in the dishwasher and packed another fresh container.
The brand says the boxes are not leak-proof, but we never had any trouble with applesauce or thicker liquids leaking. We didn’t ever pack anything super liquidy, like fruit in syrup or salad dressing, but I’ve read that placing a sheet of plastic wrap over the compartment before putting the lid on will help with leaking issues.
While these lunch boxes worked well for a few months, soon the downsides started appearing. First, the plastic would often hold the smell of some foods, even after being washed in the dishwasher. And the containers never sat in the dishwasher for long; we usually run our machine every night. That’s just the nature of plastic, though. It’s a porous material so it will soak in odors after awhile.
Then the little tab on the lids (to make it easier to open the box) started to break off when we were trying to get the box open. The lids were still usable but they didn’t come off as easy.
Then the boxes themselves started to crack. Sometimes I’d take them out of the dishwasher cracked and sometimes I’d find them cracked before they were washed. To be fair, my son is hard on the boxes and drops them from his bike sometimes (the fault of the bag, which I’ll get to in a moment), but it seemed like we were getting a constant flow of cracked boxes there toward the end of our use of these. We started with 8 boxes and now have 3. When we got down to 4 boxes we started looking for an alternative.
The final thing that got us to stop using the Easylunchboxes.com boxes was that they’re made of plastic. There has been a lot of research coming out about the dangers of mixing plastics and food, and even bpa-free plastic is just as bad. We’ve successfully removed most of the plastic from our kitchen, except for these lunch containers. So once the containers starting breaking right and left, it gave me a good financial excuse to forgo my investment in them (not that these boxes are expensive, but replacements are).
PAG Neoprene Lunch Tote
We found the PAG bag on Amazon and went with it mostly because it is big enough to fit the bento-style containers and it is insulated.
This bag did follow through on those two things (size and keeps cool) and it is washable too, but it also had durability problems. The zipper pull broke off within the first couple weeks of using it. We replaced it with a safety pin so it works but it is uncomfortable to zip open.
Some of the stitching started to fray after a few months of use, and we hadn’t even put it in the washer yet.
Finally, and to no fault of the bag, it was just a hard bag for our son to get home on his bike. We bought it thinking he’d fold it up and put it in his backpack on the way home, but his backpack was always stuffed with school things so there wasn’t ever room for the lunch bag to fit in there too. And since there’s no shoulder strap on this bag, he just put the handles through his bike handlebars in order to get it home. Sometimes it would fall off the handlebars and tumble to the ground from the bike, which didn’t help in keeping the plastic of our Easylunchboxes.com boxes from cracking. So our whole system was flawed, basically.
Planetbox Launch Complete System
When we started packing lunches at the beginning of this school year, I really wanted to get the Planetbox system that comes with a stainless steel box and custom-shaped bag. I liked it because it was stainless steel instead of plastic, but I didn’t get it because they are so expensive. For the whole “system,” which includes the main box, a leakproof glass container that fits inside, a small stainless steel leakproof condiment container that also fits inside, a lunch bag, and magnets to decorate the steel box, it costs about $75. Compare that to spending $42 on our Easylunchboxes.com and PAG setup, and with that I got 8 lunchboxes! So going with Planetbox was going to be a significant investment.
But once our plastic boxes started to fail and I got more serious about eliminating all the plastic from our food storage, then I started looking more closely at Planetbox. Planetboxes almost never go on sale, but for St. Patrick’s Day they actually offered $17 off a complete Launch system! There are three styles of Planetboxes and the Launch one was closest to the setup we already had, with three separate compartments for the three types of foods we usually pack (meat, veggies, and fruit or sweets). So since I was already shopping for a new system and there was a sale, I went for it.
We’ve only been using the Planetbox for two weeks, so it’s probably a little too early to write a glowing review of the system (since we didn’t have many problems with our old system until several months in), but we’re really happy with the switch so far.
Just like our old plastic boxes, this one is not leakproof but it does come with the two leakproof containers – one large glass one that fits in the big compartment and one small stainless one that fits in any of the three compartments (it fits about two ounces of liquid). We also haven’t yet had any trouble with more liquid-y foods like fruits leaking over into the other compartments, or out of the box altogether.
The leakproof glass container is a bit bulky and pretty much takes up the entire big compartment, but that isn’t so much a problem as just a minor inconvenience because when we use it we end up stuffing the two smaller compartments just a bit more full of food than we normally would. We haven’t used the small leakproof stainless steel container yet, but the only complaint I’ve read on that one is that the rubber piece in the lid that makes it leakproof is a little hard to get out to clean.
The box can be decorated with interchangeable magnets. I find this a LOT cooler than stickers because if, or should I say, when, the box is passed down to the next child, we can order different magnets if that child wants to change up the look of the system. Also, the two larger magnets are the same size and so are the two smaller magnets, so we can move the magnets around to however we see fit. And stickers are so much more annoying to replace than magnets, and stickers will start to fade and come off with cleanings while the magnets can just be removed if we want to run the box through the dishwasher. Usually we just wash it out by hand at the end of the day, though. It’s super easy to clean and it’s best to just clean it right away so we don’t forget, since we only have one of these!
I really do think this Planetbox could last long enough to retire with our son when he’s in high school and pass on to our daughter who will start elementary school. It is very sturdy and is made of a nice heavy weight of metal. Maybe the hinge or latch could break, but I imagine they could be fixed if we found the right crafty person to weld or fabricate new parts. It will likely get a bit dented when my son drops it, but unless the dents affect the box’s function, I don’t think they’ll be a problem.
The box is secured closed by a metal latch. I haven’t had any trouble with it popping open unexpectedly but I could see if it were dropped it could pop open. Luckily the bag fits securely around the box so when the bag is dropped, nothing pops open and spills out. And when the box is outside the bag, it is either being filled or being emptied. The box usually isn’t sitting out or being transported by itself.
That brings me to the bag: it’s both nice and not nice that the bag fits securely around the box. It’s nice because the box can’t open when it’s in the bag, like I already mentioned, and the ice pack is held close to the box to keep it really cool. We use just a regular ice pack (that does make the bag bulge a tiny bit but it is barely noticeable and does not affect the zipper’s ability to close) but there are custom Planetbox ice packs available that are more flat and wide so they cover the entire surface of the box and don’t make the bag bulge at all.
The “not nice” part of the secure-fitting bag is that there is no room for anything else in there! Our son has an after-school program twice a week and he likes to have a snack to take so he isn’t starving by the time he comes home. With our old PAG bag there was space for an extra orange or apple, a meat stick, and a container of chips or crackers. But with this bag we have to pack a separate bag for the snack, usually a paper bag so it can be stuffed in the backpack to be reused or thrown away at school. It isn’t a major inconvenience, more that we got used to doing things a certain way with our old system and now we’re adapting to a new way of getting everything packed.
Finally the bag has an adjustable shoulder strap so our son can hang it cross-body style so he doesn’t drop it from his bike and it doesn’t get in his way.
In the end, I wish we would have just started with the Planetbox system instead of going the cheap way with the Easylunchboxes.com and PAG bag pieces. We could have saved $42 by going with the more durable system! But now we know and we won’t be making that mistake again. Plastics just aren’t worth it in the long run, both because of durability and because of their toxic nature.
Taco Tuesday: Taco Meat Recipe and BONUS Cauliflower Rice Recipe
Meal planning is a big part of how we stick to our allergy-friendly diet. One of the ways we make meal planning easier is to have a couple “theme” days in our week. For breakfasts we have such days as Waffle Wednesday and Bacon Friday, and for dinner we have Meatless Monday and, our son’s favorite, Taco Tuesday.
The cool thing about tacos is there are lots of different ways to have them. There’s a variety of meats, toppings, and side dishes so that every week, even though we have tacos, they don’t get boring (although our son does use the same toppings every time, but he’s not bored with it so it works out!). Our typical toppings are shown below: shredded lettuce, diced cucumbers, diced red onion, salsa, and cilantro (we try to use fresh cilantro but until it starts growing in the garden again we’re using dried). Sometimes we add carrots, diced tomatoes, or even fermented cabbage.
For our taco meat, we start out with the same basic recipe every week (which is nice because we don’t have to think about it too much!) – we saute onions in the cast iron skillet, add some meat, and season with spices, salt, and pepper. And taco meat is done! While the meat is cooking, we chop veggies for toppings and gather salsa and whatever else we’d like to add, plus warm some corn tortillas in the oven on low, low heat. We also take the meat-cooking time to make a side dish if we choose to have one, but sometimes the tacos themselves are enough for a full meal.
Cauliflower rice is one of our favorite sides for Taco Tuesday. It’s another dish that is easy to customize and takes few steps to make. Just wash the cauliflower, break chunks of it into a food processor and pulse until rice-sized, then season and bake in the oven until it starts to brown. We season it with salt and pepper, or sometimes we add a kick of chili powder, maybe some cilantro or parsley, or even curry.
So here’s our easy recipe for taco meat AND our easy recipe for cauliflower rice.
cooking fat of your choice (we use bacon grease for almost anything; also recommended are lard or coconut oil)
half a white, yellow, or sweet onion (about half cup to a cup, depending on how much you like onions)
2 pounds meat of choice (like ground beef, pork, chicken, turkey; sirloin beef, chicken pieces, etc.)
1-2 teaspoons chili powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon garlic powder or 3-4 diced garlic cloves
+ Sharp knife to chop onions (and chop your toppings of choice, not listed)
+ Cast iron skillet (can also use a stainless steel skillet, but the dish may cook faster so watch closely)
+ Wooden spatula for stirring
+ Serving platter
1. Heat the cast iron skillet over medium low and gather all ingredients. Dice the onion into small pieces (about the size of your pinky nail or a pencil eraser).
2. After the skillet begins to let off the slightest bit of smoke, add the cooking fat until it melts, then add the diced onion. Stir the onion to coat it in the cooking fat.
3. Saute the onion for 3-5 minutes or until soft and slightly translucent. Then add the meat.
4. For ground meats, start breaking the meat up into smaller chunks with a wooden spatula. For cuts of meat, let it cook on the skillet for a few minutes without moving it. No matter what kind of meat is being used, let it cook for 5 minutes or so. While the meat cooks, dice the garlic (if using fresh cloves).
5. Season the meat with chili powder and salt and pepper. Keep breaking up ground meats or start breaking up cuts of meat with the wooden spatula. Once the meat is sufficiently “taco-sized,” add the garlic powder or diced cloves and then leave the whole thing alone for the meat to cook through, about 10-20 minutes depending on the type of meat. It’s usually done when it is no longer pink and juices run clear (unless you’re cooking a steak to medium or below).
6. Turn off the skillet and either let the meat hang out there until it is time to serve or plate it up and serve immediately.
Cauliflower rice is a great companion to the taco meat recipe. While the skillet is heating up for the rice (and after the onions are prepped), wash the cauliflower and break it chunks into a food processor. Pulse the cauliflower until it is “rice-sized,” then lay it out on a baking sheet in a thin layer. Don’t be too meticulous about spreading it super evenly, because halfway through cooking the “rice” will need to be stirred around anyway to keep it from burning. Everything will cook evenly, no worries. Once the rice goes in the oven, turn attention back to the meat and everything should finish up about the same time.
one head of cauliflower (about a quarter cup per person)
salt and pepper to taste
optional: 1-2 teaspoons of ONE of the following spices – chili powder, cilantro, parsley, or curry
+ Food processor or blender
+ Cookie sheet with optional liner (like parchment paper or silicon sheet)
1. Wash and dry the cauliflower. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Break cauliflower into about 2-inch pieces and load into food processor.
3. Pulse the processor to slowly break up the cauliflower until it is roughly “rice-sized.” Don’t be too particular about it, the pieces will shrink a little while baking.
4. Line a cookie sheet and spread the cauliflower into an even layer. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes.
5. Take out the cookie sheet and push all the cauliflower to the center of the sheet, then spread back out again (this is the easiest way I’ve found to “flip” the cauliflower).
6. Bake for another 10-15 minutes, but watch it for the last 5 minutes or so to make sure it doesn’t burn. The edges will brown a little, which gives a nice subtle crunch. Serve immediately.
French Chicken: Dairy-Free Version
Chicken, bacon, potatoes, onions, deliciousness. That’s what you’ll find in this amazing chicken recipe, adapted from my go-to cookbook for anything that comes from an animal, called Long Way on a Little by Shannon Hayes (author of Radical Homemakers). In the book this dish is called “Poulet en Cocotte Bonne Femme, Made Simple,” but I like to make it even simpler and just call it “French Chicken.” I use less onions and more bacon than Shannon’s recipe calls for and I substitute butter (dairy) with bacon grease.
Did I mention this chicken is fantastic? Well it is. It takes time to make and keeps a cook close to the stove to tend to it, but it is well worth the time. It’s one of those recipes that begs to be made if you’ve already got to spend some time in the kitchen. I suggest having a list of chores handy to keep occupied – oil the wood, polish the appliances, clean out the dishwasher filter, etc. You’re going to want to keep close by anyway, because the smell of this bird cooking… it’s nothing short of wonderful. The yummy bacon/onion scent sticks around all evening, too. Who needs air fresheners when there’s bacon, amiright??
Here we go. First, start as many of our recipes here on Nourishing Rainbows start – with warming up a piece of cast iron while gathering ingredients. This time we’re using a dutch oven, mostly to contain the splatter from cooking grease and so we can cover the bird to cook on the stove. After the cast iron is set over medium low heat, get out half a pound of bacon, a medium-sized onion, some potatoes (red potatoes or fingerlings work well with this), a few cloves of garlic and a whole chicken, plus salt and pepper. Prep the chicken (remove gizzard and neck if those came with) and give it a good salt and pepper rub inside and outside and place 3 or 4 garlic cloves in the cavity.
Side note – we don’t normally eat potatoes, and you won’t find them on our What We Eat list. We tend to limit nightshade foods from our diet as they can compound digestive issues. But this time we had red potatoes in the house already (a hurried grocery shopping mistake) and they needed to be used, so here we are. Normally I use white sweet potatoes in this recipe, though. They are a little sweeter but still give that startchy element to the dish. I’ll use white sweet potatoes in the full recipe below, but obviously the pictures show red potatoes being used.
Anyway, back to the task at hand. Cut the bacon into one-inch pieces and line the bottom of the cast iron with it. You’ll know the cast iron is at the correct temp if the bacon gives off a quiet sizzle when it hits the pan. No sizzle? No worries, the pan will heat up as the bacon cooks, it just takes a little longer. On the other hand, do you get a loud sizzle when the bacon touches the cast iron? Again no worries, just turn down the heat a bit and expect that bacon to cook quickly, so watch it closely. It takes cast iron several minutes to adjust temperature so watch your food with patience.
If at the proper temp, the bacon will cook about 7 minutes on each side. The bacon is ready to be flipped over when it starts to curl ever so slightly, as seen in the image above.
While the bacon cooks, chop the onion. For this recipe I like to chop fairly thick wedges, mostly because it’s easier that way! When the bacon is fairly well cooked on each side, but not completely done, throw in the onion wedges and stir them up to coat them with the bacon grease that has accumulated in the pan. Cook the onions until they are soft and slightly translucent, about 7-10 minutes. Stir once or twice during that time. While the onions are cooking, chop up the potatoes in pieces slightly bigger than bite-sized, about an inch square.
Now that the onion is soft and the bacon is fully cooked, transfer the bacon and onions to a separate bowl so we can cook the potatoes. I like to transfer to a stainless steel bowl because it will get warm with the heat of the freshly cooked onions and bacon, but any kind of separate dish will work just fine.
Extra bacon grease is nice to have on hand at this point. The pan will be coated with a bit of leftover grease from what we just cooked, but potatoes love to try to stick to cast iron so grease it up. Place the potatoes in the cast iron in a single layer. Try not to stack the potatoes so that the potato flesh has contact with the cooking surface. This will help the potatoes cook faster and make them brown nicely. Season with salt and pepper. Flip the potatoes every 10 minutes or so, allowing them to cook evenly and get crispy on several sides. It should take about 30 minutes in total with the potatoes.
I really want to eat those potatoes when they’re done… but don’t! Save them because they are going to get EVEN MORE delicious by the end.
Once the potatoes are done, remove them from the pan and add them to the cooked bacon and onions. The trio of yummy ingredients will join us again in a bit. Now we move on to the chicken. Our bird has been prepped and salted and should be at room temperature by now. It’s important that the bird is both dry and not cold because a wet and cold chicken will not crisp up the way we want it to.
We’re going to sear the chicken on all sides, so start by getting that reserve of bacon grease again and adding a generous amount to the cast iron pan – at least a tablespoon. We don’t want the precious and tasty chicken skin to stick to the cast iron, we want it to stay on the chicken and ultimately end up in our mouths and bellies! So do yourself a favor and grease that pan up again! You can’t really over-grease as we’ll add a bit more grease every time we flip the chicken.
Now that the pan is greased, add the chicken on it’s side, with a leg down touching the pan. It’s a balancing act, but again, worth it. The chicken will need to sear for about 7-10 minutes. It will be hard to budge before it’s ready, so don’t touch it until at least seven minutes have passed. Once it is time to move the chicken, it helps to have a spatula to scrape between the skin and the pan so that the skin doesn’t stick. I use my handy wooden spatula for the job, since I don’t like using metal on cast iron. Flip the chicken onto its back, maybe add some more bacon grease, and sear for another 7-10 minutes. Then sear on the uncooked leg/side, then breast. If you notice the grease starting to disappear at any point, be sure to add more.
Here’s my chicken mostly seared – I accidentally flipped it breast-side down second, which I don’t normally like to do (and I’ll tell you why in a moment), but it’s cool, it still tastes the same! Searing gives not only extra flavor to the skin and meat but also makes it a bit crispy for some extra yum.
Once the sides and back are seared, flip the bird on its breast. At this point we can turn the heat down a bit and bring our trio of bacon, onion, and potatoes back to the pan, as well as the rest of the garlic cloves, maybe six or seven of them. Cover the pan and cook the chicken for about 30 minutes. This is why I like to save the breast side to sear last – we can eliminate 7-10 minutes by combining the searing step with this cooking step, since the pan will stay hot to sear for a few minutes even though we’ve turned down the heat. But if you’re like me and seared the breast before the back anyway, no worries! You just get to take in the lovely smells of this dish for an extra few minutes. Lucky us!
We are almost done – I promise! Hopefully during some of these waiting times while searing and then 30 minutes of cooking you’ve been able to do a few chores around the kitchen. Or catch up on your social networking, make phone calls, chat with the kids – whatever you can do in or near the kitchen to pass the time.
Once the chicken has cooked for 30 minutes, it’s time to flip the bird (haha) again, this time turning it on its back so it is breast-side-up. Don’t add the lid this time – this will help the chicken stay crispy by letting the steam escape. Adding the lid will save some time but the crispy skin we’ve worked for will soften up.
Now let the bird cook another 20-25 minutes until the breast is 165 degrees or the juices between the breast and thigh run clear. Once fully cooked, remove the chicken to a serving platter and surround it with the bacon, onion, potatoes, and garlic.
Let the chicken sit for about 15 minutes or so (which should be enough time to get the fixins out of the pan and arranged on the platter) so the juices mellow out and the meat cools a bit before serving. Then serve it up! Don’t plan on too many leftovers – this one goes really, really quickly.
We served ours with leftover sauteed green beans (all the bacon tonight!!). It’s the kind of meal that doesn’t need much for a side dish since the potatoes are so very filling and tasty.
French Chicken, Dairy-Free Version
half pound of bacon, about 4-6 strips
one medium onion
one large white sweet potato (or two large red potatoes or several fingerling potatoes; about a pound of taters whichever way you go)
10 garlic cloves, peeled and whole
one 4-5 pound whole chicken
salt and pepper
several tablespoons bacon grease (or other cooking fat like lard or even coconut oil)
+ Sharp knife to prep bacon and vegetables
+ Cast iron dutch oven with lid (a deep metal pan is fine but everything will cook faster so watch closely for different cooking times)
+ Small bowl for holding the bacon, onion, and eventually potatoes while the chicken is seared
+ Wooden spatula for stirring veggies and flipping the bird (hehe)
+ Serving platter
1. Heat the cast iron dutch oven over medium low and gather all ingredients. Prep the chicken (remove gizzard and neck if those were included), and rub with salt and pepper inside and out. Place three or four garlic cloves in the cavity. Set the chicken aside for now.
2. Cut the bacon into one-inch sections and line the dutch oven with bacon pieces working from the outside in. Cook the bacon for about 7 minutes on each side. Chop the onions in thick wedges while the bacon cooks.
3. When the bacon is browned on both sides, add the onions and stir to coat with bacon grease. The onions will need to cook for 7-10 minutes. While the onions cook with the bacon, chop the potatoes into about 1-inch square pieces.
4. When the onions are soft and slightly translucent, transfer them with the bacon to a separate dish. Add half a tablespoon cooking fat to the cast iron, then add the potatoes in a single layer so they can cook faster and get crispy and brown. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Flip the potatoes after about 10 minutes, then again in another 10 minutes, until the potatoes are fairly soft and brown on a couple sides. Then remove the potatoes to the separate dish that holds the onion and bacon.
6. Add more cooking fat to the cast iron, then place the chicken in the pan on its side (leg-side-down). Sear the chicken for 7-10 minutes. After the chicken is seared on one side, use the spatula to carefully separate the chicken skin from the cooking surface and flip the bird onto its back. Sear again for 7-10 minutes, then carefully flip on the opposite side.
7. After three sides are seared, flip the bird onto its breast and turn the heat down slightly. Add the bacon, onions, and potatoes over the bird, along with six or seven garlic cloves. Cover the dutch oven and cook for 30 minutes.
8. Open the dutch oven and flip the bird again so it is breast-side up. Keep cooking another 20-25 minutes, until the internal temperature is 165 or juices between the breast and thigh run clear.
9. Transfer the bird to a serving platter and surround it with the bacon, onion, potatoes, and garlic. The bird should rest about 15 minutes between being removed from the pan and being served. Carve carefully so that each piece gets a little of the crispy skin and serve to delighted dinner guests, who will likely leave no leftovers.
Why We Eat White Rice
There are basically two kinds of rice: white and brown. Sure, there’s also wild rice (not really rice), long grain, short grain, etc. But it boils down (haha) to just two kinds of rice. And there are more differences between the two than just color and texture.
In our house we eat white rice. When we started eating better last year we ate brown rice, but we could quickly tell it wasn’t working. Not only was it more difficult to get the kids to eat brown rice, but we all felt a little “bleh” afterward. Our symptoms ranged from a general sluggish feeling to tummy aches, and it was clear the rice was the culprit as we ate it with a variety of meats and vegetables.
Well as it turns out, many people find white rice easier to digest. The reason why is pretty simple.
White rice is really just brown rice that has had the wheat germ and bran removed in the milling process. This is what gives white rice the light color and smooth texture (white rice is NOT bleached like white flour). The wheat germ and bran can be pretty abrasive in some people’s digestive systems. This is the simple reason why some people can digest white rice without any adverse effects.
From a nutrition standpoint, brown rice could be considered “more whole” than white. As mentioned, brown rice has the wheat germ and bran in tact, and those pieces do hold slightly more fiber, Vitamin D, and phosphorous than white rice, which is the fact most folks rely on to make the claim that brown rice is more healthy.
Let’s look at exactly how much of each nutrient is in the two types of rice.
As you can see, neither food is very nutrient-dense at all. Honestly, who is eating rice because of its nutritional content? I doubt most people are, and I know we aren’t. We’re eating rice because starches are tasty and rice nicely complements meat and vegetables. It’s a great “filler food” with a nice texture. And it isn’t wheat or gluten!
Even though brown rice does contain a little more nutrients, the wheat germ and bran that remain on the rice contain high amounts of an element called phytic acid, or phytate. Phytic acid is a snowflake-shaped molecule with “sweeper arms” that easily attach to other minerals, such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. These are minerals that you don’t want swept away! The trouble with phytic acid is that it not only reduces the bio-availability (ie ability for your body to absorb) of these nutrients in the food you’re currently eating, but it will also take whatever calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc that it can find already hanging out in your body. (source, source, source, source, also stated in the book, Cure Tooth Decay, for which I’ll be posting a review soon). So while brown rice may have a bit more nutrients, those nutrients are not being absorbed because of phytic acid.
Another alarming fact about brown rice is its high levels of arsenic. Arsenic occurs naturally in all kinds of rice, simply because it also is naturally occurring in soil, water, and air. Rice also tends to absorb arsenic more easily than other foods, which is why it is of particular concern over most other foods. Arsenic levels tend to fluctuate regionally; places that grow rice on land formally used for another purpose where high levels of pesticides were used will typically yield rice with higher levels of arsenic. There is lots of information out there about why arsenic is in rice, so if you’re interested in more information I encourage you to do more research (because if I put all that information here this post would get crazy long!).
According to Consumer Reports, who did an exhaustive study testing for arsenic on over 600 grains, “brown rice has 80 percent more inorganic arsenic on average than white rice of the same type.” Yikes! (Of course Consumer Reports recommends eating brown rice anyway because of the higher nutrient content, but clearly their study didn’t look too closely at the actual nutrition profiles of white vs. brown rice or at the phytic acid component.) So the first step to avoiding arsenic in rice is to go with the white version.
There are more things you can do to avoid arsenic too.
- Pay attention to where the rice was grown. The southern states that grew cotton with a ton of pesticides back in the day have high levels of arsenic in their soil, so avoid rice from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, and even Missouri. California’s rice returned the lowest levels of arsenic, as well as rice from India and Pakistan.
- Look for organic rice, as pesticides are one of the leading culprites of arsenic in soil.
- Rinse rice thoroughly before cooking. This not only helps with the arsenic content but also reduces the phytates left in white rice (because the processing of white rice does not completely remove phytic acid, but does significantly reduce it). Rinse until the water is no longer cloudy.
- Eat rice sparingly, no more than a couple times a week.
Our favorite white rice is basmati rice from California that we buy from the bulk section of our local grocery store. If you can’t find basmati rice at your store, never fear! Amazon sells both single packsand 6-packsof Lundberg Organic California Basmati rice.
The Breakfast Skillet: Our Go-To Dairy-free, Egg-Free, Gluten-free Morning Food
Mmmm, a hot breakfast. Nothing wakes me up more than the smells of sizzling bacon, onions, and the seasoned vegetables that make up this breakfast skillet. Clearly this dish is one of my favorite breakfast foods. We’ve found breakfast to be one of the more difficult meals to make without eggs, dairy, wheat, and all the other allergy foods, but this skillet makes me not miss any of those foods at all!
The best part is that the ingredients can change constantly, based on what’s in the fridge, what’s in season, even what is leftover from last night’s dinner. The amounts of each ingredient are never exact so I never end up making the same skillet twice but it is always delicious. Definitely do some experimenting here – add seasonal vegetables like zucchini in the fall, squash in the winter, fresh spinach in the spring, and broccoli stem in the summer.
Here’s how I make my typical skillet. First we’ll walk through it in pictures and then the full recipe is posted below.
Start by first getting out the cast iron skillet and getting it hot on the stove. We have a 12″ round skillet that we use almost every day, sometimes twice a day (on Tuesdays I use the skillet in the morning for this breakfast and again for tacos in the evening, and cast iron is so awesome that I don’t even have to clean the skillet between meals!).
While the skillet is warming up over a medium low burner on the stove, get out all your other ingredients from the fridge or pantry (including any leftovers you want to use) and start chopping up some vegetables. I start with a base of onions, carrots, and sweet potatoes, then I’ll add green onions if we have them. I should have used purple carrots this morning for an even better rainbow of color, but sometimes the mornings are too sleepy for that kind of forethought! Another reason why the skillet it awesome – just throw in whatever and it will turn out awesome as all the flavors meld together as they’re sauted.
I make my skillet for about three people – my husband and I will eat a full plate, our middle-school-aged son will eat a small plate, and our toddler will basically just pick through for some bacon and soft pieces of sweet potato. So I don’t need too much of any one ingredient. For this skillet I used about…
- 2 stalks of green onion (I just used the green parts today but the white parts are great to use in this too, add them when the carrots are added)
- 1 carrot, sliced into rounds
- half a medium-sized sweet potato (maybe a half cup when chopped into cubes)
- quarter of a large sweet onion, rough chopped so the pieces are about half and inch to an inch (maybe a quarter cup when chopped)
- a handful of frozen spinach (it was cold out and I didn’t want to go to the garden to get fresh leaves – so lazy!)
- 3 slices of bacon, sliced into about 1-inch pieces
- 3 small/medium garlic cloves, crushed and diced (about two tablespoons)
- a couple twists of black pepper from the grinder
- a teaspoon or two of pink Himalayan salt
By now the skillet should be sufficiently warm. You’ll know it is for sure when you see a little waft of smoke rising from it. Typically this is the point at which I’d add some fat to keep food from sticking to the cast iron, but for the skillet I just line it with chopped bacon instead. The bacon will self-grease the pan with its drippings. If food starts to stick, add a little fat. As vegetables are added, especially in the case of the frozen spinach I added today, they’ll sweat out some water that will further prevent sticking.
Place the bacon slices in the pan, starting with the skillet edges and moving inward. The edges are typically cooler than the middle of the skillet, so the pieces placed first will have longer to cook. This also lets the bacon cook slowly instead of burning. Make sure not to “crowd the pan” as Julia Child would say! Give each piece space to sizzle.
The thought of sizzling bacon is seriously what gets me out of bed to make this dish. It should sizzle nicely when it’s placed in the pan. If it sizzles crazy loud, the pan is too hot so turn it down a bit and add the onions within a minute or two (the pan will take a good five or ten minutes to adjust the temp, so you’ll just want to add your veggies a little faster than I suggest here). If the bacon doesn’t sizzle, the pan isn’t hot enough yet. No worries, just wait until the sizzling starts, then let it sizzle until the bacon starts to curl a little, then add the onions.
By now you’ve guessed the next step after the bacon cooks a bit – adding the onions. Throw them in on top of the bacon.
The bacon has cooked a bit a released some grease – see it collecting there in the bottom right of the image? Stir the bacon and onions together so the onions get a nice coating of grease. Yum. Let the onions cook for a couple minutes. They’ll start to get soft and slightly translucent.
Now it’s time for our veggies that need to get soft. Today that’s carrots and sweet potato, but it could also be some broccoli stem, kohl rabi, lotus root, parsnip, the whites from green onions… whatever roots and tubers are on hand. If you have leftover veggies that are already cooked, don’t add them yet. They’re likely already a bit soft so they really just need to be warmed up, not cooked through. Also don’t add green onions (the green part) or garlic yet – those can come closer to the end.
Also add any greens that need to wilt as well (if you’re cooking with kale, blanch it first for a couple minutes so it won’t be as bitter, then drain it so the pan doesn’t get too soggy with water). In this skillet I’m using frozen spinach – whether fresh or frozen, add it with the roots and tubers so it can either thaw and warm thoroughly or it can wilt sufficiently. The spinach goes better with the other veggies if it loses its crispness and gets soft.
Right after adding the veggies, season everything with a couple turns from the black pepper grinder and a generous sprinkling of sea salt. Then cover the skillet and hang back for five or ten minutes. If the garlic or green onions aren’t chopped yet, do that now. Otherwise, pass the time by cleaning up the breakfast table, perusing Instagram, making school lunch for the kiddos, or whatever chores or distractions you prefer. I used my time to crush and chop three garlic cloves.
My husband got me this Wusthof chef’s knife for Christmas and it instantly became my favorite kitchen tool (but don’t tell that to the cast iron skillet!). We had a set of aluminum knives before that had never been sharpened and honestly weren’t that great to begin with. This knife is a breath of fresh air compared to what we were working with before! I highly recommend it to everyone in search of a new knife or kitchen tool. But I digress…
Now it’s time to open the skillet and check on our progress. Give the contents a good stiring around and test a sweet potato for softness. Once the sweet potatoes are soft enough that they mash easily with the spatula (I use a bamboo spatula) then it’s time to move to add the leftover veggies if you’ve got them, any soft veggies (like zucchini), and the green onions and garlic.
Give it another good stir and let all the garlic sink into the other flavors for a few minutes. Garlic doesn’t need to be cooked for very long, just enough to take the raw edge off.
Mmmm… it’s starting to look like breakfast! If you added some leftover veggies, you might want to put the lid back on for a minute or two just to make sure they’re warmed up all the way through. If you’re concerned about the the rest of the skillet burning, then push the stuff that’s fully cooked to the edges and pull everything that needs more time to the center. You can even turn off the skillet for some extra protection. The center will stay warm while the edges cool off first.
Now my favorite part – time to eat!! I always try to get a bit of bacon in every bite. So yummy. The soft sweet potatoes, the slight crisp from the green onions, the salty notes…
Breakfast Skillet Recipe
3 slices of bacon, sliced into about 1-inch pieces
quarter of a large sweet onion, rough chopped so the pieces are about half and inch to an inch (maybe a quarter cup when chopped)
A variety of fresh vegetables; what follows is what was used in the version above but definitely experiment!
1 carrot, sliced into rounds
half a medium-sized sweet potato (maybe a half cup when chopped into cubes)
a handful of frozen spinach (it was cold out and I didn’t want to go to the garden to get fresh leaves – so lazy!)
3 small/medium garlic cloves, crushed and diced (about two tablespoons)
2 stalks of green onion (I just used the green parts today but the white parts are great to use in this too, add them when the carrots are added)
a couple twists of black pepper from the grinder
a teaspoon or two of pink Himalayan salt
+ Cast iron skillet (can also use a stainless steel skillet, but it will heat up faster and isn’t as forgiving if you leave it covered a little too long)
+ Sharp knife for chopping veggies
+ A wooden spatula for stirring veggies around (can also use a plastic/rubber spatula; I don’t recommend using metal on cast iron)
1. Heat up the cast iron skillet on medium low and gather all the ingredients from the fridge or pantry (including leftover cooked vegetables if you’d like to throw those in later – it’s best if the warm up to room temp before being used so get them out now).
2. Start chopping vegetables as directed in the Ingredients section (or chop them to whatever size/shape you prefer – it’s hard to mess up a skillet!).
3. Slice up the bacon and line the skillet with it, leaving a bit of space between each piece. The bacon should sizzle lightly (if it’s loud, turn down the heat; if it doesn’t sizzle, turn up the heat a bit until you hear a sizzle in a few minutes – cast iron takes a bit to get to temperature).
4. After a few minutes, once the bacon has started to curl a bit, add the sweet onions. Stir them around to coat them in the bacon grease that is starting to collect in the pan. Let them cook for 3-4 minutes, until they start to get soft and a little translucent.
5. Now add any “hard veggies,” typically the roots and tubers like the carrots and sweet potatoes called for in this recipe. Leave softer veggies, like zucchini, as well as leftover veggies that have already been cooked, for a later step.
6. Also add any greens, like fresh or frozen spinach. Sprinkle everything with the pepper and salt, then cover the skillet and let everything cook for five to ten minutes.
7. After the time passes, open the skillet and check to see if the sweet potatoes are soft. If they are, go ahead and add soft veggies, leftover veggies, and, specific to this recipe, the garlic and green onions (although I always recommend adding some garlic, it’s a good seasoning flavor).
8. Stir everything together and let it cook for a few more minutes. If you added leftover veggies and they’re thick or still a bit cold, cover the skillet again for a few minutes.
9. Turn off the stove, give a veggie a quick taste to see if the spices need to be adjusted, then serve immediately.
Enjoy experimenting with your breakfast skillet! And make sure to drop your email address in our “follow” link so you don’t miss any of our new posts!