Sunday, November 12, 2017

What to Cook this Week

Artichokes are strange-looking things and are in fact, thistles. Spiky, thorny plants, actually. They are not well-known in Germany and so I didn’t grow up with them. It wasn’t until I was introduced to them through my husband that I really started eating them. One of his family’s favorite appetizers is an artichoke dip that we’d see every year at Thanksgiving. There was MAJOR disappointment in fact if it didn’t appear on the table at every family gathering! Although I found them rather weird in the beginning, I took to them and have loved them ever since.

The artichoke is mentioned as a garden plant in the 8th Century by Homer and Hesiod. In fact, the naturally occurring variant for the artichoke, the cardoon, is native to the Mediterranean area. In its wild state it can also be found in Northern Africa. Improvements in the cultivated form appear to have taken place in the Medieval period in Spain, France, Italy, Holland and England. From Europe they were taken to the United States in the 19th Century; to Louisiana by French immigrants and to California by the Spanish.

There are several cultivars that consist of either green, purple, white and spined varieties. In the U.S., large globe artichokes are typically boiled or steamed. Each country prepares them differently: some in stews, some eaten as appetizers, as we typically do, by pulling off a leaf and dipping it into mayonnaise, butter or hollandaise sauce. In many countries, artichokes are served stuffed with fillings. In Northern Africa, the Middle East, Turkey and Armenia a favorite filling is made of lamb, spices, onions and raisins, each leaf acting as a scoop to get to the filling. I’ve never tried making them this way but am intrigued and have to give that a try some time. You just have to pry them open a little after lightly steaming them, I imagine, to get all that stuffing goodness in there.

If you do steam them plain, as most people typically do, here’s trick to keeping them green. Due to oxidation, artichokes can turn brown once cooked. To avoid this, place them in slightly acidified water with vinegar or lemon juice added to prevent discoloration. This helps them maintain that bright green color. Brown artichokes are not very pretty!

So, today I have an artichoke recipe I’d like you to try. This makes a great weeknight dinner that you can get on the table fairly quickly.

Chicken with Artichokes and Olives

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
1 tsp olive oil
2/3 cup chicken broth
1 can artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup pitted nicoise olives*
2 Tbsp drained capers
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp dried organo
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
Lemon wedges

Rinse chicken and pat dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place each breast half between sheets of plastic wrap and with a flat mallet or rolling pin, gently and evenly pound chicken to 1/4” thick. Peel off plastic wrap.

Pour oil into an 11-12” non-stick fry pan over high heat, and when oil is hot, add chicken in a single layer, without crowding. When edges begin to turn white, turn pieces and cook until no longer pink in the center, 3-4 minutes total. As chicken is cooked, transfer to a platter and keep warm. If you’re working in batches, cook the next batch.

Add broth, artichoke hearts, olives, capers, lemon juice and oregano to the pan; stir, scraping browned bits free, until mixture boils. Stir in parsley, and then spoon sauce evenly over chicken. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with lemon wedges.

If you eat noodles, this works over hot cooked capellini (angel hair pasta), otherwise lightly cooked zucchini “noodles”. Serve with a green salad with slivers of fennel.

I would serve this with a chilled Sauvignon Blanc or Fume Blanc.

* You can use kalamata olives, but they are a bit too strong for this dish. The Nicoise olives are a bit more subtle.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Deconstructing Meal Planning

When it comes to cooking, one of the most challenging things for many people on special diets to do is to plan a weekly menu. It can be overwhelming. (In fact, even if you’re NOT on a special diet, it’s too much sometimes.) So many restrictions to remember; so many food combinations possible. A lot of people struggle with this.

When creating a menu plan it’s important to remember to vary your food choices from week to week and make sure you’re rotating things, to ensure a broad intake of nutrients while avoiding the foods that cause you digestive trouble. Many people fall into the trap of eating the same things over and over again because a) they know what dishes work and don’t make them sick so they stick to what they know, or b) they are hesitant to venture into the “unknown” and try new things because their cooking skills are limited.

When things are overwhelming, the solution is to “chunk it down”. Just like with any problem we may face, when we take what seems monumental and break it down into its component parts, it becomes much more manageable. No different with meal planning. Despite being fairly organized, it’s become too much for me to have to plan a whole week’s worth of meals, so I'll do 3-4 days at a time and just shop once more each week. I like this better anyway because I’d rather my produce be super fresh than sitting in my fridge all week before I get around to eating it.

So let’s chunk it down and go step by step in creating a meal plan for you!

First: take out a sheet of paper and write the days of the week down the left hand side.


Next to that add a column for your protein. Feel free to put down whatever you like here. If you don’t eat beef, obviously replace that with something you do eat. If you’re a vegetarian, make it lentils one night, tofu the next, beans and rice the next.

Mon               Chicken
Tues               Beef
Wed               Eggs
Thu                Pork
Fri                  Fish

Next, add a column for a vegetable or 2 that you think goes well with that protein.

Mon               Chicken      Greens beans, cauliflower, carrots
Tues               Beef            Broccoli, green onions
Wed               Eggs            Zucchini, eggplant
Thu                Pork            Butternut squash, sweet potato
Fri                  Fish             Spinach

Then think of a dish that would marry those veggies and protein together nicely.

Mon               Chicken      Greens beans, cauliflower, carrots        
                                          Result: Curry chicken & veg
Tues               Beef            Broccoli, green onions                          
                                          Result: Chinese beef & broccoli
Wed               Eggs            Zucchini, eggplant                                
                                          Result: Veggie frittata w/tomato sauce
Thu                Pork            Butternut squash, sweet potato              
                                          Result: Roasted pork & veggies
Fri                  Fish             Spinach                                                  
                                           Result: Fish & sautéed spinach w/garlic

It really helps to do all this planning at home. If you try to “wing it” and do it at the grocery store in your head, you run the risk of being sidetracked by the overwhelming number of choices there. You’ll probably end up buying random stuff and not being able to put a cohesive meal together. Plus, you will probably end up spending more money than you would have if you had a list and kept to it. So, plan it out at home first. This way you can also take stock in what you already have. Maybe you have some veggies that need to be eaten or herbs or spices you want to use. Start there and build your meals around those things. Sometimes I even plan a dinner around a seasoning. For instance, I have some rosemary plants in my yard that needed trimming, so I pruned them back and dried them out for a few days. What can I do with rosemary? It goes well with lamb, beef, chicken and pork. Let’s say we choose chicken. I chop my dried rosemary really fine, add salt and pepper and sprinkle that mix over both sides of my chicken breasts. I roast them in a 350° F. oven for 30 minutes. And because the oven’s already on, I would roast sweet potatoes and butternut squash together as well beforehand (they take longer than the chicken).

Or maybe I’m in the mood for curry. Do I want green curry or curry powder? Let’s say I want green (big surprise. I’m a lover of all things green). I think chicken and veggies go well with curry. Since a combination of vegetables is nice, I choose cauliflower, carrots, snap peas and red bell pepper to make it colorful and contain a variety of nutrients. I need green curry paste and a can of coconut milk for that and presto, I have dinner. So all that gets written down on my meal planner and after taking stock of what I have (I always have green curry paste in the fridge and about 4-5 cans of coconut milk in my pantry), all I need to buy are the veggies and chicken. This is a super healthy, super quick dinner to make, by the way. If you eat rice, you can make that as a bed for your curry stir fry, or you can buy some ready-made and just reheat it in the microwave. If you don’t eat grains, you can put it on a bed of cauliflower “rice” instead.

Hopefully you see now how simple it can be to put a meal plan together. Don’t stress over it. Use the internet, your cookbooks and this blog for inspiration. Chunk it down into manageable steps, and feel free to email me at if you have any questions.

Good luck!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

What to Cook this Week

Where I live, it was just 108 degrees last week and now it’s 68. Crazy. And very much welcome, I might add. So, it’s official: Fall is here! And as you may know, Fall is my favorite time of year. I love the transition (albeit a fast one this time) from the heat of summer, to the cool, crisp evenings and mornings of Autumn. I especially love the way the light changes. I just noticed this the other day, while I was out for my daily walk. Where the light is harsher and brighter in summer, ambient light becomes warmer and richer and more golden in Fall. The sky is just different. Clouds are different. It’s an amazing transition.

With the shorter days now, Fall is the time to start making stews and nourishing broths for soup, for casseroles, braising vegetables and meat, and of course baking!

At some point, despite all the recipes on the internet, we can sometimes find ourselves fresh out of ideas. So I’m here to help. “What to Cook this Week” is a new feature, meant to provide you (and me) with a few ideas for things to put on the menu this week.

I look to what’s currently in season to help inspire me. This time of year it’s not hard to come up with the usual fall-themed ingredients: apples, artichokes, broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts, grapes, kale, parsnips, pears, pomegranates, pumpkins, rutabagas and winter squash, to name a few.

Today I want to cover apples and I have 2 recipes for you to consider.

Apples are good so many different ways. They can be, and usually are, made into something sweet (like the apple oven cake that I simply love), but they can also be used in savory dishes, like alongside a pork loin. In fact, fruit is often used with pork. I’ve seen apricots, as well as berries, used. Fruit tends to offset the gaminess of the meat a bit. If you’ve never had this combination and think it might be weird, try it anyway. You might be pleasantly surprised.  Here is a recipe I usually make this time of year.

Pork Loin with Apples, Prunes and Mustard Cream Sauce

1 (4-lb) boneless pork loin roast
1 3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Granny Smith apples
1 Tbsp butter
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup packed dried pitted prunes, quartered
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp coarse-grain mustard
1/2 cup dry white wine


Preheat oven to 375F.
Heat oil in an oven-safe heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot, then brown the pork on all sides, 6-8 min per side. Transfer skillet to oven and roast the pork until the thermometer inserted diagonally at least 2 inches into the meat registers 150F, about 40-50 minutes.

While pork roasts, peel, quarter and core apples, then cut into 1/4 inch thick wedges. Add a little butter to a pan and cook onion over moderate hear, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3-5 minutes. Add apples, prunes, broth and water and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally until apples are tender and prunes have plumped up and softened, 10-12 minutes. Stir in cream and mustard and simmer until sauce is slightly thickened, 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and keep sauce warm, partially covered. Transfer pork to a cutting board, cover with foil, and let stand 10 minutes. Add wine to skillet, stirring and scraping up brown bits, until reduced to about 1/4 cup, 2-3 minutes. Stir pan juices into cream sauce along with remaining 3/4 tsp salt and 3/4 tsp pepper and heat sauce over moderate heat, stirring, until hot.

Serve the pork and sauce alongside potatoes, ideally mashed, but you could also roast them if you wish, and tender green beans or roasted broccoli. Serve with one of the following wines: Dry Riesling (not a sweet one, a dry one), Viognier, Malbec, Grenache or Nero d/Avola.

Now for something else with apples. Next time you head to Costco, or buy a ton of apples at the farmer’s market because they simply looked so good, make applesauce. This is a super-healthy version, without sugar, and honestly 100% better than anything store-bought.

Applesauce makes a great snack, and if you have a baby or toddler to feed, you’ve gotta try this sometime. It’s soooo easy! And what’s nice is you can control the spices that go in. Let’s say you want to add the complexity of pumpkin pie spice, or any of those spices individually, like maybe just the cinnamon and nutmeg, you can do that. Experiment each time you make it until you dial the spices in just the way you like ‘em.

Cinnamon Applesauce

4 pounds tart apples, cored, peeled (optional) and sliced
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup water

Place everything into a slow cooker bowl and stir. Cook on low for 6 hours.

For a smooth applesauce, place in a blender or food processor and, in batches, puree until smooth.

That’s it for this week. I hope you make the pork and applesauce and feel free to leave a comment below with the results, or how you changed it up, if you did, and what you thought.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The joy of Summer Picnics

Every summer I look forward to the free concerts our local parks offer. It’s a wonderful gift from our local cities. They are a great way to get outside in the fresh air after a day of working, hang out with friends, listen to good music and have a picnic! Nothing says summer better.

Picnics are fun, especially when everyone brings something to share. Since it’s difficult to make and bring everything on a “school night", supplement your homemade dishes with some things that you can buy.

While you could certainly go out and buy everything, and many people will just grab a pizza or some fast food to eat at the park, I think making a few homemade items to bring along makes it more special and certainly healthier and more delicious.

Make your stuff a night or 2 before your concert picnic. Then, that evening, pack everything that needs to stay cool into your cooler with plenty of ice packs. Put your unopened jars and things that don’t require refrigeration into your picnic basket. Grab your plastic plates, utensils, cups and paper napkins, some bottles of water, sodas or ice teas, (your alcoholic beverages hidden from view somehow) and head out early to get a good spot on the lawn! Enjoy your dinner and catch up with friends and family while you wait for the music to begin.

What to bring? Below is a list of some ideas to get you started. Many of them contain links back to their original posts on this site. I realize I have a little bit of a Mediterranean thing going on with my food choices. It just fits with summer, I guess.

So let’s start with some munchies:
Baby carrots and/or other raw veggies with garlicky red lentil dip

For the main event:
Roasted or baked chicken wrapped in foil (if you had time to cook it before you head out), otherwise, you can turn it into a traditional chicken salad with mayo, or a super fantabulous curried chicken salad
Sweet potato salad or Italian potato salad with lemon and thyme or Green bean and potato medley
Grilled vegetable salad with a balsamic dressing, and/or items from the olive bar of your supermarket

Drinks and misc:
Sangria (in incognito containers, so as not to draw attention!)

Cookies for dessert, maybe the thumbprint variety filled with raspberry jam

One important thing to remember is to keep your food safe. You don’t want anything sitting out at room temperature for too long or bacteria will form and someone (or all of you) might get sick. So read up about food safety here:

Food Safety at Picnics
Food and Drug Administration

So, go online and search for a local free summer concert to enjoy and get out there!


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Mexican Pickled Carrots

You’ve probably seen Mexican Pickled Carrots at the salsa bar of your favorite Mexican restaurant.  I always get happy when I see them because not all Mexican restaurants make them. I always envisioned some little old Mexican grandma standing in the kitchen for hours making their homemade recipe of these carrots.

I love them, but since I don’t see them often enough and am eating out less anyway, I decided to look into making them myself at home. Turns out, they are super easy and fortunately last a pretty long time in the fridge so I can take ‘em out and enjoy them whenever I’m in the mood.

They are perfect to take with you on picnics and to the beach, or eaten in the backyard with some tacos or carne asada you just grilled. You can eat them as a low-calorie snack between meals or alongside your chips and salsa as an appetizer before a meal.

The jalapeños might turn some people off. But here’s the thing: I am not a fan of anything really spicy. I don’t like destroying my tastebuds’ ability to identify the other flavors I’m eating. So trust me when I tell you that it’s completely safe to eat the sliced jalapeños after they’ve had some time to pickle. They mellow out considerably and end up tasting just a tad spicier than a bell pepper. Do try them.

Mexican Pickled Carrots

2 lbs large carrots
2 large jalapeños
1/2 medium white onion
5 cloves garlic,  sliced
1-1/2 cups white vinegar
1-1/2 cups water
6 bay leaves, whole
10 peppercorns
2 tsp dried Mexican oregano (regular oregano will work too)
1 tsp kosher salt

Peel and slice carrots and onion into 1/4 inch thick pieces, slicing the carrots on the diagonal. Cut the stems off the jalapeños and slice thin on the diagonal. Set aside.

In a large stock pot add the garlic, vinegar, water, bay leaves, peppercorns, oregano. salt. Bring to a boil and add the carrots, onion and jalapeños. Lower heat to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes, uncovered.

Allow to cool completely and store vegetables and cooking liquid in clean, sterile, glass containers with lids. Keep refrigerated.

Ready to eat after 3 hours but best pickled for at least a day or two.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Parmesan Crisps

Being on a grain-free diet, the one thing I miss is having my “cheese and crackers” in the afternoons when I get home from work. Or I like to have it to munch on with a glass of wine, as I’m making dinner on weekends. I can still have the cheese, but the cracker part is certainly out.

I was pining away at my lack of crackers, feeling sorry for myself,  when I recently read about Parmesan Crisps. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t made them sooner. They are ridiculously easy to make and if you’re a fiend for Parmesan cheese, as I am, you will absolutely LOVE these.

Although crackers are “out”, I find that these little Parmesan Crisps have actually taken the place of the cracker! Brilliant. Problem solved. Eat them as is, or pile something on top of them. More on that later. Let’s make these things.

Parmesan Crisps

Parmesan cheese, grated

That’s it!

Ok, so you could add some more things to it, if you wanted to. Like dried basil, black pepper, or red chili flakes for those of you who like things a little spicy.

And then here’s what you do:
Take a cookie sheet and line it with parchment paper. No need to grease anything. There’s enough fat in the cheese, after all. Get a teaspoon and pile a small mound of grated Parmesan cheese on the paper, as if they were little mounds of cookie dough. No need to flatten them - they will melt into a nice little round on their own.

Bake in a 350 degree F oven for about 10-12 minutes. At the 8 minute mark, start looking in on them every minute or so. Your oven may run cold or it may run hot so we don’t want them to undercook or burn. In my oven, I find 10-11 minutes works best. Allow them to cool on the tray.

I like to eat them with a slice of roasted red pepper on top, or with a little piece of tomato.

You can also, as they are melting and before they get too stiff (so maybe at minute 8-9), take them out of the oven and drape them over a handle of some kitchen utensil to make a pretty Parmesan Roll. These would look nice in a salad or alongside a wintry soup.

If you make them large enough, you can can drape them over the bottom end of a mug or a Mason jar to shape them into a bowl as they are cooling. They make a delicate little basket in which you can serve a small salad or something.

I have yet to make these fancy shapes. For now, I am content to eat them as “crackers”. I do have a tendency to eat a few too many at one time. They are just so darn good. Hope you enjoy them as well.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Pizza by any other name...

When you first start any kind of elimination diet, the first thing you think about is all the foods you have to give up. You’re disappointed and think you’re going to have to eat the same 5 things over and over again. Fortunately, once you get over that initial bump, you realize that all you need to do is be a little creative. And there’s always the Internet!

When I started SCD, I was excited to learn there was a pizza crust alternative to conventional dough. Cauliflower crusts were all the rage, and all over Pinterest, as many people were embracing a gluten-free diet or were Low Carb. While it is a good option (I just shared a blog post about it!), making a cauliflower crust is pretty labor-intensive. It’s really critical to squeeze as much moisture out of your dough as possible, or it won’t crisp up. Soggy pizza crust is no fun! (Actually, one way around this problem is to reduce the amount of cauliflower a bit and add some coconut flour, which is a great moisture absorber).

However, to make life even easier and more flavorful, I’ve moved past cauliflower and have embraced THE MEATZA. Yes, meat as the base. Think of it as a true Meat Lovers Pizza. It’s so much easier to prepare, provides enough filling protein for the dish, and can just get piled on with vegetables and cheese. Voila. You’re done in less than 30 minutes.


1 (1 lb) package ground chicken, turkey or beef
Olive oil
1 tsp each of your favorite Italian seasonings: oregano, basil, rosemary, salt and pepper, garlic and onion powders, for instance
Pizza sauce
Assorted fresh vegetables and typical pizza toppings you like
Cheese of your choice


Mix meat and herbs well, with your hands, to incorporate the seasonings. Grab a 9x12 lasagne pan or sheet pan, and grease with a very thin layer of oil. Press the meat down to a thickness of about 1/2”.

Bake in a 350 F. oven for 10-15 minutes. Drain the liquid from the pan and perhaps dab a little with a paper towel to get more liquid off the top. Spread on your pizza sauce and add some cheese. Add whatever vegetables your heart desires and the rest of the cheese and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. For the last few minutes you could place it under the broiler if you like.

I pile on a mountain of fresh spinach, sliced tomatoes, mushrooms and olives and maybe some red bell pepper rings that I sauté a little ahead of time because I don’t like mine raw on the pizza. I actually do the same thing with the mushrooms. I use a sugar-free pizza sauce and Jack cheese.


Monday, May 15, 2017

What is “real” Chili, anyway?

There has been much debate over what constitutes real chili for about as long as there’s been chili. Officially, it’s called “Chili con Carne” which refers to the peppers, and “carne” (which is Español for meat) so it’s probably safe to assume that’s how the dish started, as simply chilis and meat.

But chili aficionados continue to debate if it should it be all beef, or if it's okay that it contains beans? What about vegetarian chili - can we really even call that chili? And what about all those other versions out there? While beans have been associated with chili as far back as the early 20th Century, they have been a matter of contention among chili cooks for a long time. While it is generally accepted that the earliest chilis did NOT include beans, proponents of their inclusion contend that chili with beans has a long enough history so as to not be considered “inauthentic”.  Tomatoes are another ingredient on which opinions differ. Some would even argue that no vegetable belongs in chili at all. Frankly I think tomatoes are essential.

So where did this thing called chili come from? There’s this cuisine in the American Southwest called TexMex and many people think “Chili con Carne" has some connection to Mexico, probably because of the Spanish-sounding name. But according to this website, there is nothing Mexican about chili. If there is any doubt about what the Mexicans think about it, the Diccionario de Mejicanismos, published in 1959, defines chili (roughly translated) as: “detestable food passing itself off as Mexican, sold in the United States from Texas to New York.” Wow!

Chili con carne actually hails from Texas and seems to have first appeared in a recipe dating back to the 1850’s. This version was made into a dried brick that could be reconstituted in pots out on the trail. The San Antonio Chili Stand, in operation at the 1893 Expo in Chicago, helped popularize chili by allowing a greater number of people to appreciate its taste. San Antonio (Texas) was a tourist destination and helped Texas-style chili con carne spread throughout the South and West. In fact, chili con carne became the official dish of the State of Texas in 1977.

Before WWII, hundreds of small, family-run chili parlors could be found throughout Texas and other states, with each establishment claiming to some kind of secret recipe. And there are countless recipes for this stew containing a broad range of ingredients: ground turkey or chicken, of course beef stew meat, vegetarian soy crumbles, Italian sausage, kidney beans, onions, garlic, tomatoes, red or green bell peppers, spices like chili powder, and of course then there’s the chilis themselves: hatch, jalapeños, habaneros or serranos, depending on the level of heat you prefer.

Like most people, I’ve had it lots of different ways. But lately, I’ve been interested in eating it more authentically Texan, using beef stew meat, adding some spices to flavor it, and a mild degree of heat so I can still breathe! Beans don’t really agree with me anymore, so I’ve had to adjust my chili.

Here’s a beef chili I’ve made a few times that we really like. It’s adapted from Danielle Walker’s “Against all Grain” cookbook. She adds chocolate to hers (as in unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 oz) but I didn’t find it added much to the stew and have since decided to leave it out. If you want, give it a try, but don’t add it until the very end.

The slow cooker is essential for this one, but to add flavor to the dish, you should brown the meat beforehand. The rest happens while you’re at work. You need the slow cooker for stewing beef, or beef chuck, because the longer cooking time really helps break down the muscle fibers and tenderizes the meat, making it fall-apart tender when you eat it.

Slow-Cooker Beef Chili

2 tsp coconut oil
2-1/2 lbs beef chuck, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 red bell peppers, seeded and diced
1 small yellow onion
1 28-oz box or jar of chopped organic tomatoes
1-1/2 cups beef broth
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
2-1/2 Tbsp. chili powder
3 tsp sea salt
2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
Garnishes: chopped fresh cilantro, red or green onion

Place the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the meat and brown on all sides, about 8-10 minutes. The meat doesn’t have to be cooked all the way through - it will get cooked in the slow cooker. For now, all you want to focus on is getting a little color on the meat, to add flavor.

Drain half the fat off, the pour the remaining fat and meat into the slow cooker.

Add the remaining ingredients, stir well, and cook 6 hours on low. At the end adjust the salt to taste (here’s where you’d add the chocolate, too).

Serve garnished with cilantro and finely chopped red onion, or green onion if you better tolerate that.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Homemade Snack Bars

They are the perfect in-between food. In the mid-afternoon when you need a little something to hold you over until dinner, or when lunch is still a ways off and you’re dying of hunger, or maybe you need a little energy during or after a workout. That’s where snack bars come in handy.

And there are so many to choose from, aren’t there? Heavens, it’s kind of overwhelming. But if you’re the label reader I am, you hesitate to buy most of them because nearly every one of them has something in there that you really shouldn’t be eating. Here are some of them:

Soy Protein Isolate

This is, unfortunately, one of the most prevalent protein sources you’ll find in protein bars, especially those marketed to women. The marketing would have you believe that soy is an excellent protein source for women because of the isoflavones found in it. In reality, studies have indicated that these soy isoflavones can actually be toxic because of how the soy is processed (fermented soy products such as tofu and miso are fine, just fyi).

In addition, it was actually considered a waste product in soy processing until recently, when it was discovered that money could be made by passing it off as a protein source. It’s cheap and definitely NOT a high-quality protein. It should be avoided.

High Fructose Corn Syrup

This is an easy one.....the adverse health effects of HFCS are well-documented (contrary to what the commercials from the Corn Growers Association claim). It’s one of the WORST things you can eat and yet there are still bars that use it as a primary ingredient.

Palm Kernel Oil

Palm Kernel oil is a cheap, unhealthy fat. Unlike plain palm oil, palm kernel oil can’t be obtained organically. Instead, the oil must be extracted from the pit with a gasoline-like hydrocarbon solvent. The fractioned form is the most processed...if you see this in the ingredients, definitely avoid it.

Sugar Alcohols

This includes ingredients like maltitol syrup, xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol and erythritol.  Sugar alcohols are included in bars for sweetness, especially in those that are “carb controlled”. Sugar alcohols don’t impact blood sugar as much as regular sugar because they are not well absorbed in the digestive tract...and when things aren’t well absorbed in the digestive tract, you get gas, abdominal cramping and bloating. In small amounts, they aren’t a big problem, but if you start getting into the double digits of grams of sugar alcohol (and many low-carb bars are in the 20 gram range) then you can start to see unpleasant digestive issues.

Artificial Sweeteners

These include saccharin, sucralose (Splenda), and aspartame (Equal). We pretty much know by now that these are unhealthy and should be avoided.

So, what’s out there that we can safely eat?

Well, there are more and more good ones coming out, thankfully. A relatively new one on the market is from Rx and is marketed as a Paleo bar, and they are “ok” but I don’t love them. My favorite bars for many years now have been those from Larabar. They used to be marketed as being raw, but their website once explained that since the term “raw” means so many different things to different people, they decided to remove the term from their packaging. But in my opinion, they are raw, and thankfully gluten-free and best of all, made with a minimal and simple ingredient list.

But buying a bunch of them can get pricey and if you have a household to feed, it’s cheaper to make them yourself. One of my favorites is their Coconut Cream Larabars.

Coconut Cream Larabars

1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup cashews
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
12-15 Medjool dates, pitted
2 T coconut oil
2 T coconut milk

Mix the nuts together in a food processor until finely ground. Then add the coconut and pulse once or twice. Add the dates, oil and milk and pulse just until a dough forms.

Ground nuts with the coconut
Line an 8x8 pan with parchment paper, leaving enough room for some to come up and over the sides. That way the bars will be easy to remove and cut with a long knife or better yet, a pizza cutter. Press down the dough so that it is packed well and place in the fridge to set for an hour or 2. Slice and eat. Alternately, you could form the dough into balls and roll them in more shredded coconut. This way they can be stored together without sticking together. They should be kept in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. They do taste best at room temperature, though, so get them out a little before you want to eat them.

Press into a pan

Apparently their Key Lime Larabars are really popular, although I have only tried the Lemon. I’m going to make these next:

Key Lime Larabars

1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup cashews
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
12 Medjool dates, pitted
Juice of 1 lime
1-2 T of water if needed

Process the nuts and coconut until finely ground. Then add the dates and lime juice until a dough forms. Follow the rest of the instructions above.

Pecan Pie Larabars

1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup pecans
12 Medjool dates

Same process as above.

For alternative flavors, try experimenting: adding mini chocolate chips, dried cranberries, cherries or other dried fruit, seeds, spices, whatever floats your boat. Add these to the “dough” of crushed nuts and coconut after processing, but before pressing into the pan.

They are super delicious, 100% natural, raw, gluten-free, vegan, and sugar-free. You can eat these with a good conscience!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Seared Ahi Tuna with a killer Ginger Lime Vinaigrette

Did you know that there are over 60 kinds of tuna fish in the sea, but only about 14 of them are well known to us?

The 4 most common tuna fishes we see, at least here in the Western U.S., are bluefin, yellowtail, albacore, and skipjack. What you want for this dish is “sushi-grade” ahi tuna. Ask your fishmonger if you don’t know which one that is.

I’ve previously blogged about yellowfin and how it’s an excellent replacement for the albacore tuna that we usually use for tuna fish sandwiches.  You know, the stuff we usually get in a can? Yellowfin is a very delicate and delicious fish and is also known as ahi. And ahi makes for some very nice eating. Something that you see a lot of in restaurants is seared ahi, which means that the outside is quickly seared (cooked) while the inside will remain uncooked.

Seared Ahi with Sesame Crust

Until recently, I was never a fan of raw fish and avoided sushi and seared ahi for that reason. Even though seared ahi isn’t completely raw, it mostly is, so it wasn’t something I was going out of my way to make. But the thing about ahi is this: it doesn’t taste as good when fully cooked. It’s tough and chewy, but when it’s only just seared on the outside, the meat is tender and melts like butter on your tongue.

Tyler Florence
Recently I sent my husband out to get some fresh fish for dinner and he came home with ahi. A little disappointed, and not having made it for quite some time, I had to look up a recipe for it. I wasn’t going to overcook it again because I remembered how tough it was last time I did this, so I was going to have to get over this raw fish phobia and pretty quick! I decided to go with a recipe I found on the Food Network from cutie Tyler Florence. I mean, with a face like that, how can you not but trust him? While the fish is certainly the centerpiece, I have to say that the sauce he makes for it is even better! It really is “to die for”.

Start making the sauce as soon as you get home. Let the flavors blend for as long as you can. Then, get the fish out of the refrigerator about 45 minutes to an hour before you want to cook it. Here’s why. Since you aren’t cooking it through all the way, if it’s not brought to room temperature before you prepare it, the fish will be ice cold in the middle and that’s no good.

Because the sauce is super flavorful, what you want to do is season the fish very conservatively. All you need is salt and pepper. Start with some coconut oil on your cooking surface (I used the griddle down the center of my new stove, but you can use any good sauté pan or skillet that you have). You could use your grill, but you’ve got to stay with it because this takes only a matter of a few minutes and if you walk away from it, it’s toast. Frankly, I don’t recommend the grill for this.

Get the cooking surface very hot and then lay the tuna on it, cooking it until you see a layer about 1/16" or 1/8” deep turn white. Flip it over and do the same on the other side. Go a little more if you must, but don’t overdo it! That’s it, take it off. Spoon over some sauce, and the sliced avocado, serve it with some rice if you like, place some steamed bok choy along side it (make sure to spoon some sauce over that as well) and go to town. You’ve got a restaurant-quality dinner right there!

Here is the link to the recipe. The only substitution I made is that I used coconut aminos because I avoid soy sauce.

I have made this ahi a few times now and really enjoy it. Needless to say, I seem to have gotten over my fear of raw fish and have even ventured out into the world of sushi! If you’re still on the fence about raw fish, this is a good dish to start with. Or, you can just make the sauce and serve it over vegetables. I especially love it on the steamed baby bok choy.  Add tofu and turn any veggie dish into an Asian-inspired affair.

Tyler’s killer Seared Ahi Tuna

I hope you try it. It’s such a quick dinner to make on a week night. It literally takes less than 15 minutes to make the sauce and sear the fish. If you do make it, I’d love to know what you think.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Flavor Profile: Coconut Aminos

Soy sauce is so obiquitous. It’s in every Asian restaurant and probably in everyone’s refrigerator. For anyone wanting, or needing, to stay away from soy, there is an alternative!

Soy doesn’t work for everyone. It is considered a common allergen and will appear on labels as such. When doing a detoxifying diet or anything of that sort, you’ll typically be asked to give up the usual suspected allergens: gluten, soy, eggs, dairy, nuts, etc. Some people do find that they are allergic to soy, while for others it causes digestive upset. Of course, I’m in the latter camp.

As I’m sure you know, soy comes in various forms: tofu, edamame, tempeh, miso, natto, soy sauce, and soy lecithin, just to name a few. Soy, and especially soy lecithin, is in nearly everything these days. Why is that? Because it’s cheap. And it’s not as benign as they make it out to be. And unfortunately, over 90% of the soy in the U.S. is genetically modified. Something to rethink, isn’t it?

For as many articles as you read about the wonders of soy and how good it is for you, there are just as many that claim it the work of the devil. What’s clear is that soy is a phytoestrogen, a plant-based estrogen that mimics estrogen in the body. If you have uterine fibroids, for instance, which are the result of an abundance of estrogen, you’ll probably be wise to avoid consuming more. Anything that stimulates more estrogen has been associated with other conditions such as breast cancer and endometriosis as well. There is also some research on soy messing with the thyroid, and that it contains phytates that are enzyme-inhibitors, blocking mineral absorption in the gut, etc. etc.

Soy Beans
Many nutritionists, however, feel that organic soy, especially fermented soy, can actually be an important addition to our diet. Tamari, for that reason, would be a far healthier choice than regular soy sauce, as it’s made from the brine of fermented miso and is chock full of lactobacilli and other good bacteria.

You do the homework and decide for yourself. I’m not here to tell you to avoid it or consume it, but do some reading and make an informed decision. Again, for many of us, it’s not the best choice.

Although I always liked the taste of soy sauce I eventually found it too salty. Eventually I chose the low sodium variety and then thought I was doing myself a favor by switching to a "health food alternative” called Bragg’s Amino Acids. Recently a devoted reader of mine sent me some information on this stuff and I was appalled at how it is manufactured. The fact that it calls itself a health food is really laughable. Shows you how you really need to read up on everything! Don’t make assumptions that what you are eating is healthy. If it’s in any way processed, check it out.

An alternative to soy sauce that I have only in the last year come to try is something called coconut aminos. It tastes really good, is a bit lighter than soy sauce, and is made with only 2 ingredients, coconut sap and organic sea salt. It’s perfect for that soy-y flavor needed for Asian dishes, but also any dish for which that umami flavor really calls out for.

This is the brand I typically get, but there are a few. As usual, read the labels and pick one that has only 2 ingredients. You can find coconut aminos at most health food stores and Sprouts Farmers Markets, if you have one near you.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Smӧrgåsbord to ring in the New Year

Spanish Tapas
Sorry this is a little late. I meant to post this right at the new year but got a little side-tracked with a car accident and a fall from a bike. Oops.  So allow me to go back a few weeks.

This year my holidays were marked with food from distant lands. Christmas “dinner” was served Spanish tapas style, with a wonderful assortment of salami, ham and Manchego cheese, olives, skewers of lamb, chicken, and shrimp, bacon-wrapped asparagus, and a veggie dish of marinated artichoke hearts with peas and red peppers.  Positively divine. New Year’s was celebrated early (by one day) and was welcomed with food from Scandinavia.

Planning meals around a theme or ethnic cuisine can be a lot of fun. I like the research involved - combing the Internet for ideas, looking for what’s typically served at an event like the one I’m interested in, reading the history behind the dishes and culture, finding recipes for those dishes, and figuring out what beverages go best with everything. It’s all part of the adventure!

The Julbord
Like the dinner I just planned with my Norwegian friend, Lorine. We put together what we commonly refer to in the U.S. as a Smӧrgåsbord, which is called Koldtbord or Kaldtbord in Norwegian. She referred to it as a Smorbord. It goes by a few variations  throughout Northern Europe.

The word Smӧrgåsbord is of Swedish origin and regardless of the country or word for it, it is a traditional Scandinavian meal served at special occasions, with multiple hot and cold dishes on a table. The word Smӧrgasbord breaks down as Smӧrgås (open-faced sandwiches) and bord (table). At the holidays it’s called the Julbord (yule + bord = Christmas table).

On a traditional Smӧrgåsbord you’ll obviously find the obligatory bread, butter and cheese, but there is also fish, especially herring and salmon, as well as baked ham, meatballs, pork ribs, head cheese, sausages, potato, beetroot salad, boiled cabbage and kale.

Fresh, clean herbal flavors like dill, fennel and caraway, along with mustard and lemon, make up the sauces and accompaniments. Here’s what we did:

Lorine had prepared the open-faced sandwiches which we simply assembled at my house.

They consisted of shrimp and seafood salad garnished with lemon slices and tomato, ham and a salad topping of carrots and peas in a creamy sauce on another, one sandwich of deli meats with crunchy fried onions and tomatoes, and then my absolute favorite: crispy bacon over a delicious sautéed apple and onion medley. Yum-my!

These were each served on a different type of bread: rye or white.

Following these we enjoyed “frikkadeler" or meatballs, sweet and spicy pickles, red cabbage, boiled potatoes with butter and parsley, and a cucumber dill salad. The hubby smoked salmon on the smoker for a few hours beforehand.

Crispy bacon over sautéed apples and onions

Everything was washed down with Aquavit (a traditional Norwegian liqueur), wine or beer, and later some coffee. For dessert, anise biscotti, leftover from Christmas.

It was indeed a feast, and lots of fun. We had a chance to enjoy some cultural foods that we had never had before that have been a part of our friend's holiday experience since she was a girl.

Planning a dinner party around a theme is enlightening and fun, especially when prepared with friends. Put a few of these kinds of events on your list of New Year’s resolutions this year and gather some people around you to share them with.

Happy 2017!

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