Easy One-pan Meal: Low-carb Green Bean Casserole

My mom is famous for her Italian green bean casserole. Not to be confused with anything involving cream of mushroom soup or fried onions, she layers canned green beans, Italian breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, Lawry’s seasoned salt, and olive oil, in a pan, puts it in the oven, and that’s it. Simple, delicious, full of flavor and childhood nostalgia. 

healthy green bean casserole low carb one-pan mealFresh Green Beans

As a general rule, I try to minimize canned foods and maximize fresh veggies, and since we’ve been super lucky this season with our green bean yield in the garden, I decided to create my own one-pan meal inspired by my mom’s famous recipe. 

If you’re like me, you want dinner to be easy prep and easy clean-up. Since my food-making workshop is a 1950’s kitchen with zero upgrades (no dishwasher, no disposal), I like to dirty as few dishes as possible with one-pot or one-pan meals. 

This recipe works great for a low-carb lifestyle full of flavor and joy without the hassle of exact measurements and tons of dishes.

I like to call my no-measure style of cooking “intuitive cooking” because it involves trusting your instincts and going with what looks and feels right. That being said, I know that intuitive cooking isn’t for everyone, so I will give some estimates so you can get the hang of it. 

healthy green bean casserole low carb one pot meal

Ingredients for this recipe are super simple (serves 4):

  • Fresh green beans (enough to line a large plan without really stacking them on top of each other)
  • About 1 lb of your favorite ground meat (beef, turkey, chicken, pork, loose sausage)
  • Extra virgin olive oil (to avoid a greasy dish, use very sparingly if you choose loose sausage, which tends to have a higher fat content)
  • Your favorite hard cheese (Parmesan, Romano, and asiago all work great), shredded or grated
  • sliced almonds
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • Lawry’s Seasoned Salt (affiliate link)
  • Water and a pinch of salt

Healthy Low-Carb Green Bean Casserole one pot meal

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Rinse and snip the ends of the beans
  3. Place a layer of beans in a baking pan and add 1 inch of water and a pinch of salt
  4. Braise in the oven for 10 minutes
  5. While the beans are in the oven, warm a skillet and add your ground meat, browning completely
  6. Drain off any liquid in your skillet and set cooked meat aside
  7. Once the beans have been in for 10 minutes, remove from the oven and drain remaining water from the pan
  8. Layer the remaining ingredients on top of the braised beans in the following order:
    1. ground meat 
    2. garlic powder (light sprinkle over the entire surface of the dish)
    3. onion powder (light sprinkle over the entire surface of the dish)
    4. shredded almonds
    5. shredded cheese
    6. Lawrys seasoned salt
  9. Bake at 350F for 12 to 15 minutes until the cheese turns a golden brown

 greenbean casserole

Easy Japanese Cucumber Salad – Sunomono Recipe

If you’ve been to a Japanese restaurant, chances are you’ve had the Japanese appetizer sunomono. If you haven’t, then I’ll tell you that it’s a simple cucumber salad lightly dressed with oil, vinegar, soy sauce, and a little sugar and allowed to sit in its own juices for a while for enhanced flavor. I love ordering it with chopped octopus — as long as I know that the restaurant cooks the octopus well and doesn’t give rubbery grossness. Rubbery octopus is a bummer, but perfect octopus is divine!

cucumber salad sunomono

I’ve made this dish a couple of times out of a need to use up the giant cucumbers sprouting endlessly in our front yard. They aren’t Japanese cucumbers (which are smaller, so if you use those you might want to use 2 or 3), but they’ve done just fine every time I’ve made this dish. And when I say giant, I mean giant — I used one and made a massive bowl that Loren and I split and still had leftovers (split as an appetizer … I’m known to cook a lot of food). Also, the variety I have growing out front is “burpless” for those of us out there who find that cucumber “repeats” on us. This variety doesn’t do that, so if you’re into gardening, consider growing them.

cucumber salad sunomono

Anyway, this recipe is simply the easiest thing to whip up you could imagine. I literally measured nothing to make it, so the following instructions might not be for everyone. If you want exact measurements, you might want to find another version of it somewhere on the interwebs. I can promise you that this is very hard to screw up though, so go with me down the path of intuitive cooking this one time and see how it turns out. This could be the first step you take toward trusting your own instincts in the kitchen! You won’t be sorry that you didn’t dirty your measuring spoons.

Also, as you’re slicing in the kitchen, I suggest saying “sunomono” to the tune of the Muppets singing in this video. I can’t help it and do it every single time I make or order it. It might be compulsive but I’m not sure. Either way, it’s fun! Or you might hate me for putting this song in your head.

Easy Japanese Cucumber Salad (Sunomono)

Ingredients (serves 3 or 4):

  • 1 giant burpless cucumber or 3 Japanese cucumbers
  • Unrefined expeller-pressed sesame oil — check out my Ultimate Guide to Cooking Oil to find out why “unrefined” matters (about a 5 second pour)
  • Maple syrup Maple Syrup (about a 3-second pour)
  • Gluten-free Tamari (just a dash, maybe 5 shakes through the plastic filter on sunomono Japanese cucumber saladthe spout of the bottle)
  • Black sesame seeds (black ones are more nutritious than white ones, but white works too — use as many as you want)
  • Rice vinegar (about 10 shakes through the plastic filter on the spout)
  • OPTIONAL: fish sauce (2 or 3 shakes, only a 1-second pour if there’s no plastic filter)
  • OPTIONAL: sesame chili oil (start slow with this so it doesn’t get too spicy and add what you want for your own taste)

Directions:

  1. Slice the cucumbers as thin as possible into a large sunomono Japanese cucumber saladbowl. (I use a stand-up grater that has a mandolin-style blade on one side. It’s super simple and safe to use)
  2. Drizzle in all the liquid ingredients
  3. Toss using tongs and make sure everything mixes thoroughly
  4. Add in sesame seeds and do another light toss
  5. OPTIONAL BUT RECOMMENDED: Let sit in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving

 

japanese cucumuber salad sunomono


FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains an affiliate link, which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. I only link to products that I USE and LOVE. All opinions are my own.

Best Stuffed Squash Blossom Recipe Ever

vegan gluten-free squash blossom recipe grain free

This year we decided to plant pumpkins in our newly created front yard edible landscape, and as a result, we’ve had a boon of squash blossoms to eat (on the left in the picture above). In years past, I’ve seen tiny baskets of squash blossoms in booths at the farmers’ market and been curious as to how people eat them. Every time I’d ask a farmer, the answer would be, “stuff ’em with cheese, bread ’em, fry ’em.”

MMMM, healthy! (sounded like gas and pain to me)

As a result, we never bothered buying them, but once we found ourselves with a front yard full of squash blossoms, I decided to experiment. The first batch I picked ended up getting chopped up and thrown into scrambled eggs, because I never found the time to do anything with them before they started to shrivel. Little did I know, squash blossom petals are like little magical yellow silky spider webs — much stronger and stickier than you’d imagine, which means they are great for stuffing, even if they shrivel a little bit. The eggs were good, but I wouldn’t say the blossoms added much to them besides color.

vegan gluten-free squash blossom recipe grain free

I was prepared for the next round I picked, which I used for this recipe, and which will undoubtedly redefine what you think of a gluten-free, grain-free, vegan ANYTHING, much less a version of something that’s typically stuffed with cheese, battered, and fried.

Seriously.

I’m talking about stuffing squash blossoms with vegan cheese and coating them with grain-free batter. This is a vegan, gluten-free squash blossom recipe that will have you pinching yourself in disbelief. One bite of these little nuggets of joy and you’ll be singing the praises of vegans and “glutards” (a new term I just learned that completely cracks me up and apparently describes me) everywhere! Maybe you won’t be singing their praises, but you might be singing mine for sharing this with you. This recipe is not only gluten-free, it’s grain-free, lending itself to an even greater audience of restricted eaters.

 

While I’m not the most humble of people among us, I don’t generally endorse the singing of my own praises, but with Loren as my witness, these things are THE BOMB, and you won’t regret making a special trip to the grocery store for garbanzo bean flour to make them. That’s a promise.

A word on which squash blossoms to eat

vegan gluten-free squash blossom recipe grain-free

example using a zucchini plant

There are two kinds of blossoms you’ll find in your garden if you’re growing squash of any kind. Some of the blooms are male and some are female. The male ones just look like a regular flower with a regular stem. Those are the ones you want to pick for a recipe like this one. The female ones have a little mini-fruit at the base of the blossom. Check out this article for more photographic examples and some great info on squash gardening. The take-home message is that you shouldn’t pick the female flowers because you will likely be preventing the fruit from forming. The bees move the pollen from the males to the females, and that “insemination” gets the fruit going. If you take the flower off before that happens, the fruit won’t mature. 

Squash Blossoms(1)

Gluten-free Vegan Squash Blossom Heaven

Ingredients:
  • 20 male squash blossoms
  • 1/4 cup garbanzo bean flour

    vegan gluten-free squash blossom recipe grain free

    basil herbalea super globe in my garden

  • 1 cup water (you want the mixture to be pasty — thinner than hummus, thicker than soup)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt to go in the batter + a little extra to sprinkle right after they come out of the oil
  • Cashew cheese (I left out the cilantro this time. Linked recipe makes more than is needed for 20 squash blossoms)
  • Fresh basil (any kind will work — typically smaller leaves are sweeter. I used basil herbalea super globe from the garden.)
  • Sunflower, sesame, or coconut oil for frying (you want about half an inch of oil in your fry pan)
 Directions:
  1. Make the cashew cheese following the instructions this recipe leaving out the cilantro
  2. Carefully open each squash blossom to stuff the cashew cheese and small basil leaf into the blossom and twist it shut (the petals just stick together like magic yellow mesh)
  3. In a wide shallow bowl, mix the garbanzo flour and salt and slowly incorporate about a cup of water, until you get the desired consistency — not too thick, not too runny
  4. Heat your skillet before adding the oil, then add 1/2 an inch and heat to 330F
  5. Dip the blossoms into the batter, covering completely, and then place into the oil
  6. Cook each side until golden brown
  7. Salt immediately
  8. Drain on some paper towels and allow them to cool before devouring

vegan gluten-free squash blossom recipe grain free

 

 

Vegetable Pasta: Ditch the Gluten-free Pasta Box

Pasta Love

If you know me at all, then you know that between the ages of 2 and 6, pasta was just about the only food that I would eat. It was first on a very short list of beige foods I would allow in my mouth during early childhood. You could forget about anything green, and as a Sicilian American, I was the black sheep of the family refusing all red pasta sauces and demanding that my pasta be rinsed if (god-forbid!) a spoon was used in both the plain pasta and the red tomato sauce. I would venture to guess that my subsequent gluten intolerance might have something to do with excessive wheat consumption as a developing child, but who knows really?

Gluten-free Pasta Love

Like most people starting out on a gluten-free diet, when I ventured into that territory a few years back, my first step was to replace all

the wheat products in my pantry with gluten-free ones. Pasta was first on the list of priorities – I might have dramatically expanded my diet by then, but pasta was still a big deal, and I wasn’t quite as creative in the kitchen as I am today. Not that my pasta dishes weren’t AWESOME!

“Whole Grain” Flour

Delicious as it may be, eating pasta all the time isn’t without its drawbacks. Even the highest quality gluten-free whole-grain pastas are loaded with quickly digestible carbohydrates that can lead to a spike in blood sugar and eventually weight gain. Remember, “whole grain” flour is still flour with a much higher glycemic load than it’s actual whole grain counterpart. Brown rice pasta will turn to sugar in your system more quickly than whole brown rice, for example. As such, I try to keep my processed carbohydrates to a minimum, treating starchy, flour-based foods like bread and pasta as “treats” instead of daily staples.

–> Learn more about Healthy and Delicious Gluten-free Eating <–

Through years of experimenting with variations upon low-carb eating (grain-free, legume-free, potato-free, dairy-free, and combinations thereof), my dependence on pasta has ebbed and flowed, and I’ve tried just about every “healthy” version of pasta in the marketplace. To be honest, some of the low-care varieties like shirataki noodles are great for Asian-style dishes, but they are downright gross as a substitute for Italian-style spaghetti and tomato sauce or pesto.

vegetable pasta

Have you been missing Dexter cameos? I have. Here she is!

Vegetable Pasta Love

I’m excited to share two excellently delicious and nutritious vehicles for your favorite pasta sauce! After bowls and bowls of gluten-free pasta made of every grain imaginable, I think it’s safe to say that these two vegetable pastas take the cake. They’re less expensive, low-glycemic, easy to prepare, tasty, and FAR more nutritious than anything you’ll find in a box in the grocery store. Drum roll please…

vegetable pasta

Shredded Collard Green “Fettuccine”vegetable pasta

Directions:

  1. Rinse your leaves well and find a really sharp straight-edged knife
  2. Taking care of your fingers, use one hand to stack up and flatten out two or three leaves on top of a cutting board
  3. Run the top 1/2 inch of your very sharp knife parallel to the rib in as thick or thin a slice as you’d like to eat, and repeat on both sides of the rib (I chose a “fettuccine” thickness)
  4. In a large saucepan, bring about 1.5 inches of water to boil with a pinch of salt
  5. Place the collard green “fettuccine” into the boiling water and stir for one minute, ensuring that all the “noodles” are slightly wilted
  6. Strain in a colander and either plate with sauce on top or toss in to mix – optional to add in extra veggies (stay tuned for a post with this winning tomato sauce recipe!)

vegetable pasta

Zucchini “Spaghetti”

 

Now’s the time for me to shamelessly plug an infomercial product (I’m not being paid to do so by the way!) that makes this beautiful veggie transformation possible.

The Veggetti.vegetable pasta

This little $14 kitchen gadget works better for this particular culinary task than the $50 mandolin I replaced it with.

Directions:

  1. Veggetti your zucchini – estimate about 2 per person (here’s a video to show you how)
  2. In a large saucepan, bring about 1.5 inches of water to boil with a pinch of salt
  3. Place the zucchini “spaghetti” in the water and boil on low for 3 to 5 minutes, making sure it doesn’t get too soft. You want it to be al dente, just like regular pasta – don’t let it get mushy
  4. Strain in a colander and toss in your sauce – optional to add in a meat and extra veggies (stay tuned for a post with my delicious pesto recipes!)

 


 

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Spring Sugar Snap Pea Salad |Cultivated Wellbeing

I’ve had a very busy week running around 4 work sites and propagating health and wellness information to the masses of employees at my day-job. It’s wellness fair season, which means I’m halfway through two weeks of back-to-back events.

Cra-zy.

This time of year might be the most exciting but it’s also the most stressful, which means that eating well and sleeping as much as possible are the objectives to meet for my life outside of work. (I successfully slept 10 hours a night all three nights of this long weekend, by the way. I’d call that a SUCCESS!) I will not be getting sick or wearing myself thin. Not while I’m telling everyone else how to be healthy all day. This week’s recipe is one of sheer joy for me to share with you, and it hits the spot where “eating well” is concerned — especially if your definition of “eating well” involves a delicious requirement just as much as a healthy requirement. Both are equally important. sugar snap pea recipe

I’ve recently started listening to an NPR show called Splendid Table, which alluded to a variation upon what I’m about to share, and (like always), I encourage you to be creatively inspired to make this recipe your own. I’ll give you some suggestions at the end to spark your imagination. I served this dish at a backyard BBQ last weekend, and even guests who weren’t all that into sugar snap peas went back for seconds and thirds. We had zero leftovers, much to my disappointment. (I LOVE leftovers!) It really is mind-blowingly good.

Sugar Snap Pea Salad

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs snap peas
  • 2 lbs red grapes
  • 1 large red shallot sliced
  • 1/4 medium sweet yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 4 to 6 chopped green onions
  • 6 to 10 sprigs of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/3-1/5 lb pecorino romano, coarsely grated
  • 1/3 cup slivered almonds
  • Dressing: 1/3 cup EVO and 1 tbs raw apple cider vinegar mixed well
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Snap off the tough ends of the sugar snaps where necessary. I just use scissors and do a few at a time. It saves time and prevents accidental pea mutilation.
  2. Rinse the peas and grapes and drain very thoroughly. I let them sit in a colander for a few minutes and then toss a few paper towels into it to soak up the extra.
  3. In a large bowl with room to toss, add all ingredients (dressing last) and toss

This dish is absolutely fabulous, because it marries the natural sweetness of the peas and grapes with the salty umami of the pecorino romano. And the fresh herbs give a boost of not only flavor complexity but trace minerals and antioxidants too! Healthy and delicious — it’s heaven in your mouth! Seriously. sugar snap pea recipe

Sugar Snap Pea Recipe Variations

A few variations I can’t wait to try that might help get your juices flowing in your own kitchen:

  • swapping peaches, nectarines, or a berry combo for the grapes (UPDATE! Just did this with white nectarines for another BBQ this weekend and the whole salad was gone before the last guest arrived!)
  • swapping out other potent hard cheeses for the romano like parmesan or asiago
  • trying a Mexican cheese, lime, and a TON of cilantro with the peas only, or maybe even with peas and mandarin oranges
  • adding garlic to the onion mix or swapping it for the shallots
  • trading chopped pecans for the slivered almonds

The possibilities are endless here! I encourage you to choose your own adventure with this sugar snap pea recipe — and then share your results with me below! I’d love to hear about it!

Creamy Vegan Cauliflower Soup

cauliflowersoupcwb1

‘Tis the season for fresh veggies and light fare. As the days get longer and warmer, we can stow away our crock pots, press the pause button on our heavy sauces and stews, and pull out our salad spinners and steamers. Now’s the time for fresh salads and light soups, lean meats and fresh seafood. It’s spring!

This recipe replaces the heavy starchy potato with the fresh and light cauliflower — but not just any cauliflower, the ORANGE cauliflower. This awesome, vibrant orangey-yellow breed of cauliflower makes for a beautiful bright yellow soup rich with extra micronutrients like carotenoids, vitamin C and selenium.

Of course, you can make this soup with regular cauliflower, but I make no promise that it will be as beautiful upon completion. (I bet it will still be delicious though!)cauliflowersoupcwb

The Fresh Herb Quandary

One of the best things about having a small herb garden is that you only pull what you need for your meal, leaving the rest to grow and flourish until your next visit. I used to waste herbs all the time before I started my garden. I’d buy fresh herbs, use them for one recipe, and then forget about them until I found them in a nasty soupy plastic bag in my produce drawer three weeks later. I’ve found a solution to get them to last at least a bit longer, which helps a ton in those months when cilantro and basil won’t grow.

herbs

I say all this because I chose the herbs in this soup not only for flavor, but because I had an abundance in my garden. If you don’t have an herb garden or other recipes planned for the week to use up the herbs I call for in this recipe, don’t sweat it.

Be creative.

Use a combination of dried herbs instead, or use only sage and see what you think. (Sage keeps for a pretty long time in the fridge too.) OR, even better, plan your week around using the rest of these yummy herbs in your meals. (I’d recommend trying a parsley pesto — you’ll use the rest of that bunch right up and it will keep much longer.)

Creamy Cauliflower Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 large yellow cauliflower
  • 2 to 3 cups veggie broth, water, or chicken broth
  • 1.5-2 cups full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 tsp EVO (extra virgin olive oil)
  • 1 tsp raw apple cider vinegar
  • OPTIONAL: butter or ghee
  • 1 whole medium yellow onion, chopped coarsely
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
  • 2 to 3 sprigs fresh parsley, sage, and oregano
  • 1/2 tbs REAL salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper

Directions:cauliflowersoupcwb2

  1. Gently warm a large pot on the stove
  2. Add EVO, keeping heat below smoking point
  3. Add chopped onion and garlic (if using dried herbs instead of fresh, add them here as well)
  4. Lightly saute until soft and onions are translucent
  5. Add in chopped cauliflower and saute 3 minutes more, adding in small amounts of broth or water to make sure nothing burns
  6. When the cauliflower is almost soft, add in the rest of the broth the salt, the apple cider vinegar and the pepper — here’s where you add the fresh herbs if you use those
  7. Let simmer for a good 10 to 15 minutes
  8. Add in coconut milk and optional butter or ghee and turn off the fire
  9. Using an immersion blender, blend until completely smooth (you could also pour the whole thing into a blender, but that can get messy if you’re not careful — make sure you have someone holding the blender still, especially if your pot is heavy!)
  10. Serve in a shallow bowl and garnish with fresh parsley and a swirl of EVOcauliflowersoup1

 

Coconut-crusted Delicata Squash

coconutdelicata1I love winter squash. It can go sweet or savory, light or heavy, creamy or chunky. I love that I can buy winter squash on a whim with no plan, and it can sit on the counter for weeks until I’m ready to use it, remaining just as fresh as it was the day I bought it. With all its versatility, I could find a use for winter squash at every meal — if only I had the time to prepare it.

I fell in love way back in college when I found myself eating at the first home-grown restaurant I’d ever been to. Eastside Cafe (in Austin, TX) grew its own produce right outside the back doors of the building (and I hear now they have chickens!). I’ll never forget this dish — baked acorn squash with a sesame ginger glaze — it was like dessert as a side dish. At the time, I had never even heard of acorn squash, much less did I have any confidence whatsoever that I’d be able to replicate something resembling this dish at home.

Fast forward 10 years and here I am, still in love with winter squash and trying new healthy recipes with the different varieties all the time. (Check out this super thorough round up of all the winter squashes and the easiest and best ways to prepare them.) 

I have to be honest though. Sometimes preparing winter squash can feel like a lot of effort — pumpkins can be hard to cut through, butternut squash takes forever to cut and peel (and it rolls all over the cutting board), and you always have to clean out the seeds, which can be a mess. But this year, I discovered a new variety of winter squash: the beautifully easy-to-work-with delicata squash provides all the wonderful pleasures of a winter squash with virtually zero hassle. No need to peel, easy to slice open long-ways and chop into pieces, and easy to clean by simply scraping a spoon down the center — I love this squash! You can do a lot with it, although before this exciting creation, I’d only tried a simple roast in the oven.

coconutdelicata5

In 5 easy steps, I give you a healthy recipe for a side dish that will impress your palate and that of the guests you host: slice, scrape, chop, season, toss, roast, DONE!
coconutdelicata3 Ingredients:

  • 1 medium-sized delicata squash
  • 2 tbs EVO (extra virgin olive oil)
  • 3 tbs finely grated dried unsweetened coconut
  • 2 tsp dried tarragon
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp pinch red pepper flake
  • 1/2 tsp ground pink Himalayan salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
  2. Cut the squash in half long-ways and scoop out the seeds
  3. Slice 1/2-inch thick pieces all the way down (it make sense to cut the smaller ends thicker and the larger ends thinner for even cooking, so that they’re all about the same mass and bake evenly)
  4. In a large zip-lock freezer bag, toss squash and all other ingredients until well-coated (make sure there are no holes in the bag … you’ll be sad if there are)
  5. Lay squash flat on baking surface (I used a ceramic baking dish, but I’m not sure if it makes a difference)
  6. Bake on 400 for 30 minutes. No need to turn them over
  7. Enjoy — and eat the peel, it’s good for you! (more fiber, more phytonutrients)coconutdelicata2

Fatty Doesn’t Equal Fattening

I named this recipe Cranberry Brussels Sprouts with Turkey because the Brussels are the featured ingredient — the turkey is delicious and turns this into a one-pot meal (which I love for weeknights — easy setup, easy cleanup), but you can do this without the turkey and it will be just as wonderful as a side (and totally vegan if that’s your thing). I promise.

This combination of ingredients might seem weird (it did to my husband), but I can promise you that it’s delicious and totally not weird! We both wolfed it down for dinner last night, and I happily ate leftovers for lunch today. cranBrussels3I happened to already have ground turkey cooked in the freezer for this dish (a great versatile ingredient to have on hand, by the way!), but in case you don’t have cooked ground meat ready to go, I have quick instructions right before the main recipe to help you out. (it will add about 15 minutes to your total cook time).

You might read this recipe and think to yourself “This sure seems fattening.” It’s true that there’s a lot of fat in this recipe. Between the coconut oil, macadamia nuts, and the olive oil, it adds up. However…

Fatty doesn’t equal Fattening

Dietary fat doesn’t necessarily lead to body fat. In truth, excess carbohydrates (especially the refined, high-glycemic ones) are more likely to lead to fat storage over time, according to a number of studies. It’s also true that some fats are better than others, and this recipe is jam-packed with some of the best fat there is. In fact, coconut oil has been shown in a host of studies to promote fat LOSS. And macadamia nuts are rich in Omega 3s, the heart healthy fat that most of us don’t get enough of. Olive oil is a delicious, monounsaturated fat that brings another awesome set of nutrients into your system to promote fat loss.

Of course, adding excessive calories to your diet won’t help you maintain your weight, but replacing refined carbohydrates, sweets, and/or grains with highly beneficial fats, proteins, and veggies most certainly will. (And please note that I add the extra virgin olive oil after cooking, not during. Avoiding the heat keeps all the healthy attributes intact.)

As someone who has trouble moderating sweets, I have noticed that I often crave them right after a meal. It’s almost this primal feeling within me that I won’t be satisfied until something sweet hits my tongue. Fat is a great source of satiety in food. I’ve personally found that when I replace carbohydrates with healthy fats in a meal, my need for sweets at the end is all but gone. This is, in part, due to a hormone called leptin, which tells the brain that we have had enough and our fat stores are sufficient. Don’t just take my word for it though, Dr. Ron Rosedale and Dr. Mercola have a good bit to say about leptin that reflects the advice I’m giving here:

“The solution is to … eat a diet that emphasizes good fats and avoids blood sugar spikes — in short the dietary program … [that] emphasizes healthy fats, lean meats and vegetables, and restricts sugar and grains.”

After this meal, I didn’t even think about dessert. And coming from me, that’s a pretty big deal.

cranBrussels4

Cranberry Brussels Sprouts and Turkey

Serves 4 or 3 very hungry people

If you need to cook your turkey, start here:
  1. Heat your skillet
  2. Add ghee or coconut oil
  3. DON’T salt the meat, just throw it on (about 1 lb)
  4. Cook until browned and most of the liquid has cooked off, then add in whatever herbs, spices, and salt you’d like – for this particular batch, I used garlic powder, onion powder, and fresh parsley and oregano from the garden.
Ingredients:
  • 1 lb Brussels sprouts, roughly chopped and rinsed
  • 1 lb cooked ground dark meat turkey (as always, shoot for organic here)
  • 1/4 cup fresh cranberries (this is the part Loren thought was weird)
  • 1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts (I just pulsed them a few times in the food processor to break them up)
  • 1-2 tbs coconut oil
  • aged balsamic vinegar
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
  • REAL salt or sea salt
  • black pepper
Directions
  1. Preheat your oven to 500F
  2. Heat a large skillet
  3. (Cook meat here and then remove if you haven’t already done that, no need to clean the pan, just go to step 4)
  4. Add coconut oil and cranberries and cover on medium high until they soften
  5. While that’s cooking, chop and rinse your Brussels
  6. Add in the Brussels, stirring until coated
  7. Drizzle the aged balsamic over Brussels and stir in (shouldn’t be more than a tablespoon, but use your judgment) until coated
  8. Cover for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally
  9. Stir in salt, chopped nuts, and cooked meat (if you’ve already salted the meat, go easy on the extra salt)
  10. Place skillet in the oven for about 15 minutes
  11. After removing from the oven, drizzle 2 to 3 tablespoons EVOO over the top
  12. Serve piping hot

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Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Pomegranate Bacon Sauté

So it’s the new year, and we’re officially deep in the winter months. Though the last few days in the Bay have started to get a bit warmer, we’ve had some of the coldest days I’ve experienced since living here in the last couple of months. Our garden froze over – destroying some of our succulents and tipping over my baby brassicas (don’t worry, they’re mostly fine now), and each morning every blade of grass in the yard sparkled with ice.

mmmmmm! Dexter loves soup!

mmmmmm! Dexter loves soup!

When it’s cold out, I personally can’t get enough soup. I love soup at almost any time of year, and I often joke that I could have soup for every meal. But in the winter sometimes I’m serious, and I do have it at every meal! That being said, soup isn’t limited to just cold weather.

Have you ever noticed that even in parts of the world that remain warm year-round, soups and stews are staple foods? Thailand has coconut curry, tom yum, and tom kha; Vietnam has pho; India has stewed legumes and meats; nearly everything in Ethiopia is stewed with rich sauces; Mexico has menudo, tortilla soup, and pozole, and the list goes on and on.

Why is this?

Soups have greater function than just warming the body — in fact, in warmer parts of the world, not only are they hot in temperature, they’re often extremely spicy, causing the eater to sweat, thereby cooling the body instead of warming it as the sweat evaporates off the skin. Soups also function as an ingredients-stretcher. Maybe there’s a bit of meat, a bit of veggies, some fresh herbs, and that’s it. Soup! Maybe there’s a bit of way too many things, and they all need to be used before they go bad. Soup! (I call that particular model “Kitchen Sink Soup.”) With just the right touch, you can make nearly anything delicious in soup form. Last week’s recipe focused on the health benefits of broth. Well guess what broth’s great for!

I love this recipe, because it’s sweet and salty with a healthy dose of umami.pumpkins2

It’s easy to associate pumpkins with fall, but they’re actually in season for quite a while afterwards. I absolutely love using winter squash in cooking, especially when I’m making a lot of food at once. Whether its kabocha squash in a thai curry, spaghetti squash quiche, butternut squash soup, roasted acorn squash, or stuffed delicata, cooking with winter squash is a good way to ensure that you’re getting a nutrient-dense source of carbohydrates in a delicious package.

Fun facts about pumpkin:

  • Rich in both vitamin A and beta carotene, (which can convert to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is great for cardiovascular health, skin health, and eye health)
  • Full of healthy antioxidants and phytochemicals to help ward off harmful free radicals
  • Full of fiber, which keeps you full longer and helps you go #2 as long as you’re well-hydrated
  • Easy to cook and freeze for later
  • Absolutely delicious in a post-workout smoothie, and great for replenishing the body for muscle recovery
  • Find out more about pumpkin and other winter squash in this awesome post at Health Perch

Looking for even more pumpkin-y goodness? Guess what, I have a whole eBook filled with recipes dedicated exclusively to pumpkin! DOWNLOAD IT NOW.

Here’s the recipe!

serves 4 as a main 6 as an app

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Ingredients:

  • 1/2 medium pumpkin – roasted and peeled – or 2 cans/boxes (roasting a pumpkin is simple: cut half, remove the seeds, place in a pan face down with about 1/2 and inch of water and a table spoon of olive oil or butter, and roast on 375 for 30 to 40 minutes)
  • 2 cans broth or water
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 2 tbs ghee
  • 1 tbs rendered bacon fat
  • 2 large sprigs fresh oregano, chopped
  • 2 large sprigs fresh sage, chopped
  • large pinch ground clove (a few shakes into the pot)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp REAL or sea salt
  • fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • 1-2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • seeds of 1 pomegranate
  • 4 to 6 slices cooked pasture bacon, chopped into small pieces

Directions:

  1. Heat ghee and bacon fat in a large pot until gently melted
  2. Add in pumpkin, stirring in and breaking apart the large chunks into smaller ones
  3. add in the stock or water and let simmer for a few minutes until it looks like the pumpkin is quite soft (~5 minutes)
  4. add in clove, cinnamon, salt, pepper, and vinegar and let simmer a bit longer
  5. Using an immersion blender, begin to puree the mixture, slowly adding in the can of coconut milk and maple syrup
  6. Continue to pulse with immersion blender and add in fresh oregano and sage, incorporating them completely without cooking all the flavor out.
  7. Serve hot with bacon pomegranate sauté and/or a dollop of full fat organic greek yogurt

For the Sauté

  1. Reheat cooked bacon pieces, pomegranate seeds, and a pinch of salt
  2. Cook until fully incorporated, but don’t let the seeds get mushy (feel free to add in a little extra bacon fat or ghee if you want it to be more cohesive)
  3. Portion it out with the soup and serve warmpumpkinsoup1

Looking for even more pumpkin-y goodness? Guess what, I have a whole eBook filled with recipes dedicated exclusively to pumpkin! DOWNLOAD IT NOW

Grain-Free Crab Cakes with Spicy Olive Dipping Sauce

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It’s Dungeness crab season! Since moving to California, nearly every Thanksgiving has included Dungeness crab alongside the turkey and casseroles. We’ve also hosted at least one crab feast nearly every year as well — sometimes 2 or 3. The season lasts through the winter, and this year, we tripled the celebration — 2 birthdays and a crab feast, all on the same day. Yum!

Growing up in Texas and then moving to Maryland, I’m very well-versed in blue crab. I can pick them and dunk them into butter (or ghee) all day long, never tiring, never getting full. It’s heaven. 🙂 But since moving to California, I’ve discovered the blue crab’s boss — DUNGENESS CRAB! Nearly every bit as delicious, with 5 times the meat in chambers 5 times the size, these monsters are far more bang for your buck. You can eat every single leg (not so on the blue crab unless they’re exceptionally big), and even the joints have little morsels of goodness. Perfect for a party if someone is new to crab picking, and perfect for the hungry!

Due to an awesome deal we got through our friends at Cassis Catering, we went a little overboard on our crab order, and ended up with 2 extra enormous crabs. This is where these beautiful crab cakes come in!grainfreecrabcake1

Crab Cake Ingredients:

  • cooked meat from 2 whole Dungeness crabs (We boiled ours with onion, garlic, Old Bay, bay leaves, lots of salt (more than you might think), cracked red pepper, and lemon juice. We also had corn, carrots, and potatoes boiling in with them for the party)
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 2 to 3 green onions, chopped into thin slices
  • 1 to 1.5 tbs dijon mustard
  • 1 tbs coconut flour
  • 1 tbs ground flaxseed
  • 1 tsp Old Bay
  • 1/4 tsp celery seed
  • 1/2 tsp lemon pepper
  • (optional) red pepper flake to taste
  • sea salt to taste

Directions: Add all ingredients in medium mixing bowl and incorporate with fork, taking care not to completely shred the crab (I prefer large chunks of crab meat instead of shredding it into mush. In my mind, you aren’t searching for the crab amid tons of breading in a good crab cake. The crab is front and center.)

grainfreecrabcake

Spicy Olive Dipping Sauce:

  • 4 tbs mayo (I was too lazy to make my own, but would recommend it if you’re going strict paleo)
  • 1 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp wasabi powder or paste
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp EVOO
  • 2 tbs chopped green olives
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • pinch of garlic powder

Directions: Whisk all ingredients except olives until well incorporated and smooth, then stir in olives.

Enjoy!

grainfreecrabcake2

 

Black Sesame Cabbage Cups

Poor Loren (my husband) spent his entire 33rd birthday traveling. We started the morning with a drive to the airport, had a layover in LA, arrived at the airport shuttle, which took us to a train, which dropped us at a bus stop so that we could walk 4 blocks home from there.

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Then he got in his car to drive 30 minutes away to take a test for his new certification at work. He didn’t get home until late. What a day! Feeling terrible for him, I decided to make something special for dinner the following evening. And in declaring this week his birthday week, I opened up a nice bottle of wine from our new wine club at Truett Hurst. This 2011 Zinfandel was delicious and the perfect complement to the lamb in our meal.

For dinner, unless we’ve had a particularly grueling day at the gym, I try to keep our meals limited to meat, veggies, and fat, leaving out complex carbs, since it’s so close to bed time and we won’t have time to use them up. When I make dinner this way, the only way Loren will stay full is if I load up on the fats. For this meal, I didn’t drain off the lamb fat before throwing in the veggies, but that’s up to you. I also used high quality palm oil (sustainably harvested), a healthy saturated fat, to sauté the onions before adding in the meat. (This is the palm oil I like.)

As for the black sesame seeds, these little nutrition powerhouses boast a healthy dose of calcium and magnesium, as well as a lot of other valuable trace minerals (check out more at Livestrong.com). I added these in mostly for flavor, but also for the relaxing quality that magnesium can have on our muscles and our minds. The wine helped with that too. 🙂

We’re really lucky to live where we do with access to wonderful farmers’ markets that feature local ranchers selling the meat of happy animals. I say “happy animals” as a tribute to my favorite high school teacher in Houston, TX. She was a lacto ovo vegetarian (not an easy thing to be in Texas back then) who insisted that she only ate eggs from happy chickens, which, at 18, we all thought was equally hilarious and ridiculous.

14 years later, I know what that means — do the animals roam freely? Are they given a diet they were meant to eat? Are they healthy and vibrant? Are they free of hormones and antibiotics? Do they spend time in the sun every day?

This meal is made with ground meat from a happy lamb, and that makes me happy too. It’s full of plenty of healthy fats, as pastured animals have the proper ratio of omega 6 to omega 3s in their body fat (feedlot animals have far too much inflammatory omega 6).

Black Sesame Cabbage Cups

cabbagecups3

Ingredients (serves 4)
  • 2 lbs ground lamb
  • 2 tbs red palm oil or ghee for sautéing
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 big bunch of broccolini, chopped
  • 3 small bunches tatsoi or a few fistsful baby spinach
  • 12 large raw leaves green cabbage (for the cups)
  • 1/4 cup black sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp – 1 tbs lemon pepper to taste
  • red pepper flake to taste
  • REAL or sea salt to taste
  • OPTIONAL 1/2 tsp sesame oil (for drizzling)
  • OPTIONAL hard cheese for grating over the top
Directions
  1. Warm your skillet over medium heat
  2. Once hot, add 2 tbs palm oil or ghee
  3. Add in diced onions and let them sweat for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly (you don’t want them to get brown, just translucent. Turn down the fire if you need to to avoid burning them)
  4. Once the onions are translucent, add in ground lamb and the minced garlic
  5. brown the meat completely, allowing the water to evaporate before adding veggies
  6. Add broccolini only, and cook until it softens slightly
  7. Add in salt, spices, and black sesame seeds
  8. Once the broccolini is just about as tender as you like it, add in the tatsoi just to wilt it. You want all the veggies to retain their vibrant green color.
  9. To serve, place 3 large cabbage cups on your plate and fill to the brim with the mixture from the pan. Drizzle a bit of sesame oil and top with your favorite dry cheese (we used Pecorino Romano)

cabbagecups2

Chicken Soup for the Sick

I think I might have crashed and burned after few weeks of being a little manic — and completely swamped at work. Around two weeks ago, I went on a totally overboard baking spree, got the winter garden going, made a giant crock of turkey chili, reignited my sewing adventures, started a new morning routine, and committed to a new fitness goal (more on that in a follow-up post!). I was on fire! Then after a huge two weeks at work of being exposed to all sorts of people who work with all sorts of other people during cold and flu season, I finally succumbed. I’m sick. Yuck.

When I’m sick like this (stuffy nose, rattling chest cough, sneezing), all I want is hot liquid — tea, soup, a hot bath, anything hot and liquid. I woke up at 3am on Saturday morning unable to stop coughing, so I decided to start a soup in the slow cooker, knowing I’d be happy to wake up to a nourishing hot liquid in the morning. (I also made herbal tea to drink right then, gargled some warm salt water, took some ibuprofen, and made an onion-honey concoction for my throat.)

Luckily, I had everything I needed for the soup and could basically just throw it all into the pot with little effort (at 3am, easy is the name of the game). All the ingredients in this soup are chosen with healing purpose and intention, so bookmark this post for the next time you get sick. You’ll be happy you did.

Cook time should be a minimum of 6 hours on the low setting, but you can let it go longer to make it work with your sleep or work schedule.

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Organic Pasture Chicken, bone-in:
Chicken broth made from boiling bones has been a home remedy for centuries, but today we know that it’s more than folklore and wives’ tales. The nutrients that are leached out of the bones and into the broth have active healing properties that aid in gut repair and therefore immune system health. 80% of our immune system lives in our gut walls, and the cartilage and collagen (gelatin) from the chicken bones aid in keeping that system healthy and vital. They also provide amino acids and minerals to help nourish the body and encourage healing. (source) I started my broth with a bag of bones from the freezer (we collect our bones every time we eat chicken), two whole chicken legs (which I browned on the stove first, mostly for flavor enhancement in the soup), a tablespoon or so of raw apple cider vinegar*, and pure water.

*It’s important to include the vinegar or some other form of acid, because it aids in extracting all the good stuff from the bones. Lemon juice works too. 

Soffritto:
From a culinary perspective, nearly everything you cook in a pot should start with a soffritto (onions, carrots, celery, sautéed in an oil — I use ghee) or some variation upon this theme. It makes for multi-dimensional flavor, but in this case, we’re packing a healthy punch as well. Onion acts as an expectorant that helps mucus flow. Carrots are a powerful antiseptic and great for respiratory infections. Celery works to relax muscle and promote restful sleep (and we all know that good, restful sleep is the fastest way to heal from just about anything). (source 1source 2source 3I had some prepared soffritto in the refrigerator so I threw that into to the soup, but the next morning, I also chopped up an additional 1/2 onion, 3 carrots, and 4 or 5 stalks of celery and threw them in to make the soup more substantial. It works just fine to start with the loose chop for a soup like this without doing all the work to prepare a proper soffritto.

Garlic:
Also important for flavor in a huge number of pot dishes, garlic is among the most well-studied natural remedies. In the case of a cold, it’s a great antiseptic and stimulates the immune system to help fight invaders. (source) I coarsely chopped 4 cloves for this pot.

Jalapeno:
Capsaicin is the chemical that makes chilis hot. I chose jalapeno because I don’t like too much spice, but I wanted the health effects of capsaicin — thinning mucus and pain relief. Peppers are also rich in vitamin C. (source) I used 2 peppers — de-seeded 1 and left the seeds in the other (personal preference for not making it too spicy)

Ginger:
Also a bit of a spicy ingredient, ginger acts as an antiseptic, an expectorant, and a fever reducer (source 1, source 2). I coarsely chopped a piece of ginger about 3 inches long and then fished it out after the soup was finished cooking.

Herbs:
Savory, Bay Leaf, and Thyme: All three of these herbs are great for thinning mucus and ridding it from the lungs. Thyme specifically also helps fight infection. (sourceI put about a tablespoon of savory and thyme and 3 bay leaves.

REAL Salt:
Rich in trace minerals, a good quality salt like REAL salt helps replenish electrolytes, which is especially important if a cold or flu is causing a fever with sweating or vomiting. About a tablespoon for a pot this big, but better to err on the side of too little so you can add more later. 

Eventually I went back to sleep and woke up on Sunday morning to the wonderful aroma of slow-cooked chicken soup. My throat was very thankful, and I’m on my way to recovery!

 

** I am not a doctor. This post is not intended to treat or diagnose illness.