My youngest son & me

My youngest son & me

About me

My name is Tanja (Sater) Miller and I'm excited about sharing my journey of converting my favorite recipes to gluten free! I am not a fancy cook - I prefer just a casual, fun meal. I am married with grown children (and have small grandchildren) & 3 dogs. I work full time as a registered nurse & I am a geek. Yes, I love Star Trek, Star Wars, Fringe, Firefly, Farscape and most of the other Scify shows. You will probably see a little of my geek side come out once in a while! Please join me on my journey of cooking, baking & converting every day recipes into yummy gluten free meals that everyone can enjoy (not just those with a gluten allergy!) Don't be shy about checking out my recipes....I have the gluten free version along with the regular recipe that I adapted from!

Sunday, October 20, 2013


Gluten Free Lasagna! :)  Oh Lasagna....I have missed you during my gluten free journey! Lasagna is one of my favorite Italian foods and since I have not been able to find a decent lasagna noodle until hasn't been part of my life for a couple of years. My family all love lasagna so it is something I like to make when the gang is all home. I like it because it goes together relatively quickly, feeds a bunch of people, can be made in advance and left overs (if there are any!) are even better! For those of you that didn't know....YOU DON'T HAVE TO PRE-COOK ANY LASAGNA NOODLE IN ADVANCE! Yes, that is correct! You don't have to buy the specially marked lasagna noodles that claim you don't have to cook them first. You can just layer the hard, uncooked lasagna noodles and they will cook as the sauce and cheese melt. Seriously....I've done it that way for years with all the brands! Otherwise...well, I wouldn't bother making lasagna. I hated fighting with the limpy cooked noodles that would tear.

I learned from an Italian neighbor years ago that you shouldn't pre-cook the noodles. They will absorb the flavors and liquid creating a lasagna that will be less "soupy" and it will hold together fantastically when it is cut. The photo above is taken 5 minutes after I removed it from the oven! Seriously! There are many different versions of lasagna out there. I have several friends that are from Italy and quite a few more that are first generation Italian-Americans. They ALL make lasagna differently. I have to say that I have enjoyed the variations from ingredients to sauces....but this is the one I like best. It is my own recipe that I have tweaked from several recipes. Of course you can change this up to add or delete your favorite ingredients. I used jar sauce today. Yes, I know all of my Italian friends just cringe when I say "store bought sauce"....but seriously....I really like Hunts brand in the can. I don't buy it because it is cheap...I buy it because I really like the flavor and of course it is convenient. My mom always made homemade sauce when I was younger...and canned it for future uses. I don't bother because the Hunts brand is already affordable, tasty and I don't have the mess and time involved in preparation. Plus....canning jars are not cheap these days! However....for this recipe you can either buy your favorite store bought sauce or make your own from scratch. It is a personal preference.

I also want to point out that I use BOTH cottage cheese AND ricotta cheese in this recipe. Italian friends will cringe! Let me explain WHY I do this. My mom used to use just cottage cheese in her lasagna when I was growing up. Mainly because we lived in a small town and choices were very limited. I never even heard of ricotta cheese until I got married. The first time I had lasagna with ricotta cheese....I wasn't sure if I liked it. It was too rich and had a slightly sweet flavor. It was a little too much for me. The next time my mom made her version of lasagna with just the cottage cheese....well it was too bland in comparison. I mix both the cottage cheese and the ricotta cheese together. I like the balance it provides. It has the rich sweet flavor of ricotta with the heartier more subtle flavor of cottage cheese. I also don't add eggs to my lasagna. I know a lot of my friends do....when I ask why....well the answer is always the same: "because my mom/dad did". Well...I don't add them. No one has proved to me that it makes it stick better or flavors the lasagna so I just don't add any. Until I am proven wrong...I don't add any eggs.

My kids wanted me to post my recipe on here for lasagna since it is one they really enjoy and they wanted the convenience of having access to the recipe via the internet so they can cook it anywhere, share it or gather ingredients by reading it from their smart phones. I was hesitant because....well...I am not of Italian decent and I don't claim that my recipe is "authentic" or even fabulous. I just know that my family likes and it they wanted it posted. I am sharing it in case you want to try it or tweak a basic recipe to your liking. If you don't have a gluten allergy then you can just use regular lasagna noodles. (I found the gluten free ones I used today at Walmart for about $2.19/box). However, I am noticing a lot of other name brand pasta companies are beginning to make gluten free noodles and they are also becoming affordable. Be sure to look when you go shopping because you might be surprised. I was pleasantly surprised recently finding both Barilla pasta & Ronzoni pasta have some gluten free noodle choices available now!)

Lasagna Recipe:
(I generally make my lasagna for a crowd in a heavy duty rectangular roasting pan that has quite a few layers and is enough ingredients that would make two 9x13 pans). The recipe below is just for one 9x13 pan of lasagna)
  • 1 box of lasagna noodles (I used gluten free noodles but if you don't have a gluten free allergy then you can just use regular lasagna noodles. No need to pre-cook noodles!)
  • 1 (16 oz.) container of Ricotta cheese (I used fat free today but you can use regular)
  • 1 (16 oz.) container of Cottage Cheese (I used 1% fat small curd today because I find that the fat free is runnier and I like it less runny but you can use any style cottage cheese you like). 
  • 1 can (15 oz) chopped tomatoes (I used the Italian style with basil and garlic added)
  • 1 1/2 cans of Hunts Zesty and Spicy spaghetti sauce (I save the other half of the can in case people want to add additional sauce on top when serving it. Some people like their lasagna a little more saucy and like to dip their bread in it)
  • 1-2 pounds of lean ground hamburger (I used about 1.5 pounds today because that is what I had left in my refrigerator and I wanted to use it up. Depends on how meaty you like your sauce. If you prefer vegetarian then you can substitute either the soy crumbles or leave the meat out)
  • 1 pound of ground sausage (you don't have to use this but I think it adds a little zesty flavor to the lasagna and we really like the combination. But if you don't eat pork or don't have any handy then just leave it out!)
  • 3-4 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese (or Italian blend cheese)

The ONLY thing you need to pre-cook in this recipe is the meat. Drain the grease well. You don't want grease floating around in your lasagna later. Combine the sauce and tomatoes (including tomato juice) with the meat and set aside. You don't need to heat up the will heat up in the oven. Save yourself the step! Combine the Ricotta cheese & Cottage cheese together. I don't add any salt because the sauce and sausage are usually salty enough but taste it to be sure. I lightly spray my 9x13 (or roasting pan if doubling the recipe for a huge crowd!) with non-stick cooking spray. It just makes the lasagna come out much easier. Layer the UNCOOKED single layer of the lasagna noodles in the bottom of the pan. You may have to break some of the noodles to get them to fit. That is okay. The lasagna will be forgiving if you have some broken pieces in there! I generally spoon a layer of the meat sauce onto the noodles. You need to put just enough to cover the noodles so that when the sauce heats up it will cook the noodles when baking! Top the meat sauce with a layer of the Ricotta/Cottage cheese mixture and about 1 cup of the shredded cheese. Repeat layers ending with a layer of noodles on top with a little bit of sauce and shredded cheese. You should not end up with the Ricotta/Cottage cheese mixture above the top layer of noodles. The only thing on the last layer on top should be noodles, remaining sauce and some shredded cheese. If you are finding that you are skimpy on sauce for the top layer...just add the remaining 1/2 can. Cover with foil (I spray mine with non-stick cooking spray to prevent cheese from sticking to it). At this point you can either refrigerate or freeze for a later date. I generally make mine the day before and put in the refrigerator to bake the next day or I make it early in the morning and bake it close to dinner time. I personally think that by letting it sit for a few hours allows the sauce to soften the noodles a little bit but you really don't need to do that if you want to bake it right away. Bake in 350 degree oven (with pan covered in foil) for about 70 minutes or until a knife can be easily inserted into the noodles and they are soft. Remove foil and bake additional 10-15 minutes until cheese is bubbly on top and slightly golden. Let stand at least 5 minutes prior to slicing. Serve with additional sauce on top if desired.

I will add some better photos next time I make it. I wasn't originally planning on featuring this recipe on the blog so I took photos after it was made and the photos aren't the best.

Gluten Free Casually

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pumpkin Crumb Bars

Pumpkin Crumb Bars. My kids are all pumpkin pie eaters. (I personally can take it or leave it. Unless I am really desperate and craving something sweet...pumpkin pie just doesn't do it for me!) With the holidays quickly approaching...I needed to find a pumpkin pie or similar dessert that was gluten free and tasted great so EVERYONE could it eat. This recipe is one that even I will eat! :)

I took a couple of different pumpkin recipes and tweaked them until I got the flavor and texture I was looking for with the convenience of using a gluten free box cake mix. (If you don't have a gluten allergy you can make this recipe using a regular yellow cake mix!) Although, I love baking...I also don't like to be stressed over the holidays trying to fuss with making gluten free pie dough! This recipe tastes like the inside of a pumpkin pie...the pumpkin custard is silky smooth but instead of having a bottom crust it has a lovely crumb topping. You don't miss the crust and the slightly spicy topping just melts in your mouth. I could become addicted to these. I wasn't a pumpkin pie lover but I could quickly become a pumpkin crumb bar lover! You can also add about 1/2 cup chopped nuts like pecans, walnuts, almonds or macadamia nuts in the crumb topping. I chose not to add them today. I also think an 1/8 cup of toffee bits would be delightful in the topping mixture but I didn't have any to add to the mixture today.

Pumpkin Crumb Bars:
  • 1 can (15-16 oz.) pumpkin puree (not pie filling that already has other stuff added) You can also substitute sweet potatoes if you prefer
  • 1 can (10-12 oz) evaporated milk (If you don't have evaporated milk then you can cook 3 cups of regular or non-dairy milk on low heat until it reduces to 1 1/2 cups). Evaporated milk is just a cooked down thicker version of milk. Cool slightly before using it. It is not sweetened.
  • 1 cup of brown sugar (I pack it tight in the measuring cup). You can substitute regular or raw sugar if you prefer. I like using the brown sugar because I think it gives it a nice mild molasses  flavor to the custard.
  • 3 eggs (I prefer brown eggs because I personally think they make my baked goods seem fluffier but regular eggs will work fine too!)
  • 3 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice (If you don't have pumpkin pie spice you can combine 2 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg, 1/2 tsp. ground ginger & 1/8 tsp. ground cloves)
  • 1 box of gluten free yellow cake mix (I used Betty Crocker Gluten Free yellow cake mix, 15 oz. size). If you don't have a gluten allergy then you can use a regular yellow cake mix!)
  • 1 1/4 stick of butter (I used real butter because I like the flavor but you can use a dairy free margarine or 3/4 cup oil)
  • 1 tsp. additional pumpkin pie spice or just substitute cinnamon
Cream the pumpkin puree, eggs, evaporated milk, sugar and 3 tsp. pumpkin pie spice together for about 2 minutes or until really smooth. I like to make sure it is whipped really good because it gives a nice silky texture after it is baked. Pour into a greased pan. I used an extremely deep dish 12" pie pan but you can use a 11x7 baking dish, two regular 8" pie pans or if you want slightly thinner bars just bake in a 9x13 pan. I wanted these a little thicker to get a decent layer of the silky pumpkin custard. I put mine in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes BEFORE I added the crumb topping.

While the custard was baking, I combined the dry yellow cake mix, melted butter, additional 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice together until it was crumbly. If you are finding it is too dry and powdery then just add a little extra melted butter or oil and if it is too moist then add either a couple tablespoons of sugar or GF flour or cornstarch to get it into a crumbly consistency. Remove the pumpkin custard from the oven and sprinkle the crumbly mixture on top. Return it to the oven and bake until the custard is completely set and no longer jiggly. (I have tried just sprinkling the crumb topping onto the custard prior to any baking but the crumbs sunk to the bottom and didn't give it the crumb texture I wanted. Therefore, I now bake the custard 15 minutes prior to sprinkling on the crumbs!) A knife inserted into the center should come out clean. It will depend on which size pan you use to bake your dessert but my 12" deep dish took about 50 additional minutes after I put the crumb topping on top of the custard to finish baking. Which is a total of 65 minutes of baking! (Everyone's oven temperature and altitude can vary baking times. I recommend checking your dessert after 40 minutes and check in 5-8 minute intervals until center is no longer jiggly). Crumb topping should be golden brown. I like to serve mine cooled at room temperature. It will slice much better. You can serve it with ice cream or whipped cream if desired.

The pictures don't do the dessert justice. The custard portion is very silky and not too sweet while the crumb topping is slightly spicy and a hint of butter that just melts in your mouth. I was quite surprised at how much I really liked it considering I am not much of a pumpkin person! It will definitely be on my Thanksgiving and Christmas dessert table! It is easier than preparing a regular pie and MUCH more flavor and texture than a plain old regular pie! I highly recommend this for your holiday dessert!

Gluten Free Casually