01 December 2014

Thanks and giving!

Hello strangers! We've had a busy couple of months hence my complete lack of upkeep on the blog, but more on that another time.

For now, this. Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and we spent the afternoon with my in-laws and husband's family at his Grandmother's house. It was a lovely evening full of family ranging in age from 11 months to 90-something! And Great Grandma (to the little ones) was, as always when the family is gathered, a hoot. We, like so many other families, take turns going around the table sharing our reasons for being thankful. Grandma's sharing wins. She says, without missing a beat, "I'm glad I had children." We asked if there was anything else. She says "I'm thankful for myself!" Hah! It was wonderful. Something we were all thankful for is the amazing meal we shared.  There is nothing like a family laughing together, sharing remarkable food made for everyone to enjoy, from the carnivores and omnivores to the vegans and vegetarians.

Speaking of vegan food, as the cousins are vegan, we usually bring at least one vegan dish and/or dessert and this year we decided to take on both, plus traditional stuffing. My son has been begging to make a trifle of late, so he asked if we could make a vegan trifle for Thanksgiving, and of course I said yes! He was beyond thrilled. We came up with what each of our layers would be, I adjusted a vegan cake recipe to include his request of pumpkin and lots of cinnamon and spice, yesterday morning we got it going. He was an excellent helper and we both had a blast in the kitchen, as always! It is well worth noting, this dessert was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone, and will likely please even the most meat-loving of folks. You don't even have to mention the v word when serving! 

And now, it is my pleasure to share with you this wonderful recipe, easy to make with little kitchen helpers, and is great for potlucks and crowds, or for smaller groups who adore leftovers like we do. This is a multi-step recipe to create all the layers, so we'll begin with the cake!

One note: As soon as you have bought your canned coconut milk for this recipe, put it in the fridge and do not shake or move it. You want all that cream to stay at the top and stay firm!
West and his creation just before
serving to the family!

Westley's Spiced Apple Vegan Trifle (Cake layer)
Oven at 350º
All ingredients at room temp

Mix well in large mixing bowl:
¾ c. olive oil
1 ½ c. dark brown sugar
¾ c. pumpkin
1 c. applesauce (I used homemade but unsweetened store bought works just as well)

Sift together:
3 c. ap flour
3 tbsp. pumpkin pie spice 
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
1 scant tsp. sea salt

Set aside:
1 cup non-dairy milk of your choice (we used almond-coconut milk)

With a whisk, gently incorporate dry ingredients into wet in batches, alternating with the milk, starting and ending with dry (dry-milk-dry-milk-dry) making sure everything is mixed in, but not over-mixing.

Pour batter into greased (we used avocado oil spray) and floured 9x13 pan

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pan on a rack. Do not refrigerate to cool unless you are prepping the day before, and if you do refrigerate, take out of fridge to allow cake to come to room temp before cutting and layering.

NOTE: If you want to stop here and bake this cake to enjoy simply, without the rest of the trifle components, it is completely divine when dusted with a bit of confectioner's sugar or topped with a spoonful of fresh whipped cream! Makes a lovely and light dessert on its own! 

Next up, the roasted apples! 

Chop into half inch cubes, 6 or medium or 8 small ("lunchbox" sized) Granny Smith apples with the peel on. You can, of course, peel the apples, but I don't mind the peel and it's a time saver to leave them on. 

Toss chopped apples in a baking pan with:
⅓ c. brown sugar
1 tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
¼ cup olive or avocado oil
juice of ½ a lemon
½ tsp. sea salt

Roast apples for 30 minutes at 350º, stirring once during roasting to ensure even coating, and set aside to cool. As with the cake, do not refrigerate to cool unless you are prepping the day before, in which case, take them out to come to room temp pre-assembly.

Whip it good!

For our final layering element, which should be prepared just before assembly, we're going to tackle our whipped coconut cream! You'll need:

2 cans full fat coconut milk from the fridge (if you want more whipped cream, go with 4 cans as two provides very thin layers)

1 tbsp. powdered sugar
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
½ tsp pure vanilla extract

In a medium mixing bowl, add only the firm white cream top from the canned coconut milk. Just open the can and carefully scrape the top cream layer (careful not to get the clear coconut water underneath as that with hinder the whipping process by thinning the mixture) then add in the rest of your ingredients as you would with any whipping cream and, with a hand mixer, stand mixer or whisk, whip until light and fluffy.

Assembly time!

To keep the cream fluffy, it really is best to assemble just before serving but you can have everything except the cream ready to go the morning of service, or even the day before!

To create your trifle layers, cut your cooled cake into 1" cubes and in the bottom of a tall glass bowl, place half of your cake cubes. On top of that, spoon on half of your roasted apples with the sauce made from the juices during roasting. At this point, we added a sprinkling of chopped nuts (pecans, almonds, walnuts, any favorite nut) for a bit of crunch, but you can omit that step if you wish. On top of your apple layer, spread half the whipped coconut cream. Repeat all layers using your remaining ingredients and top with a sprinkle or cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice and chopped nuts! 

This recipe, at first glance, may seem a bit daunting, but each step really only takes a few minutes to prepare, and this is a great way to get kids in the kitchen with them helping mix the cake batter, learning about precise baking measurements, chopping the apples with close supervision and a small knife, and of course, putting it all together! When you hear your child say "Best day ever! This has been the most fun of my life!" it's so worth it, even if there's a little more of mess from the making, even if it took a little longer getting things done just right. Things like time in the kitchen with my family, watching my son enjoy cooking and baking as much as I always have, and sharing our culinary gifts with family are things for which I am always so thankful. There is no better gift to give to those you love than something from the heart and, in my humble opinion, from the kitchen! 

We had to use a punchbowl for serving, but this
 goes to show any glass dish with good height will do,
to show off your own beautiful, delightful dessert! 

29 July 2014

Chilin' out!

This is a quick post, but I will be doing a LOT more posting soon, and have some great new things to share, all from a new home office!

Because school and an autumn full of activities and busy evenings is just around the corner, I give you this incredibly easy, but also tremendously tasty, chili recipe! It's very paleo-friendly and can be easily adapted to your personal tastes, if you'd like to add beans or other veggies, or take out the corn, use different meat or protein source, etc. I've also given some ideas to go vegan with this!


Paleo-esque Chili!

Into the pot of your 7 quart (or bigger) slow cooker goes:
1 lb. 85/15 or 80/20 ground beef
1 large green bell pepper, diced small (1/4” dice)
3 medium carrots, diced small (1/4” dice)
4 ribs celery,  diced small (1/4” dice)
1/2 large white onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, seeds and "guts" removed, chopped (or 1 15oz can petite diced tomatoes)
(I also added a cup of frozen corn, not paleo, but YUM!)

1 small can tomato paste
2 cups beef stock

2 tsp. each of the following:
Chili powder
Smoked Paprika 
(add more chili powder and paprika for more heat)

1 tbsp. each:
Sea salt

A few dashes Worcestershire sauce

Mix everything gently to incorporate.
Cook on high for 4-5 hours, salt to taste if needed and serve with a little sprinkle of queso fresco or finely grated sharp cheddar and thinly sliced green onion, or small-diced raw red onion, on top.

Ground turkey can be used in place of beef, along with turkey or chicken stock, or even veggie stock, in place of beef stock. You could also take out the meat, use beans or a meat-substitute of your choice, omit the Wochestershire sauce and use vegetable stock, for vegan chili!

This recipe is created for a slow cooker, but you can do this on the stove top as well, by using a large (8 quart or bigger) pot with a lid, and following the same instructions. Cook on a medium heat for 30 minutes uncovered and stirring often, then turn down to low and simmer covered for another 30 minutes, only stirring occasionally  to really develop the flavors of your spices. 

I hope you and your family enjoy this chili as much as we do around here! Please give it a try and let me know what you think!

28 March 2014

Elegance with ease!

After falling off the wagon a bit,  as far as sugar and grains go, it feels great to get back to more home cooking and less settling for things that make us feel a little blah, and for no good reason. Here are a couple of incredibly simple recipes for anyone who wants an easy, but hearty, meal complete with a rich, scrumptious dessert!

These recipes are both ideal for the whole family, and while the soup is a little more time consuming (about an hour total, with prep and cooking times) the ingredients are few and the effort needed is minimal, and the flavors develop beautifully giving the illusion of you slaving over a hot stove for hours. This divine dessert, on the other, quicker hand, is especially perfect for last minute guests, or a late night treat to share with your love! It looks and tastes as if it took all day to prepare, so no one has to know it takes mere minutes to prep and make!

Butternut Squash Soup with Ham

In a large pot (8 quart is good, but bigger is fine, too.) sauté:
1 small yellow onion, diced small
½ stick unsalted butter
until the onions start to become translucent.

While the onions are cooking, rough chop:
2 cups ham
and add to the onions. 

Season with pinch of sea salt (not too much because the ham adds a nice amount of salt) and a few pinches of fresh cracked pepper.

Let the ham and onion mixture cook for a few minutes, then add:
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed then chopped into about 1" cubes
4 cups low sodium chicken stock
2 tsp garlic powder 
2 tsp dry dill 
2 tsp cracked black pepper

Let this mixture simmer about 15-20 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until squash is softened. Once softened, use an immersion blender to blend the soup for a couple of minutes, keeping in mind it doesn't need to be completely smooth. Just blend to your personally desired consistency. If you don't have an immersion blender, just use a potato masher to break up the big chunks of squash. I like to keep the texture of the squash while the little bit of blending gives a creamy texture as well. 

Once you've blended/mashed the squash, add:
1 small bag of frozen peas and carrots, or just peas if you prefer.

Let the mixture cook on medium-high for 15 minutes or until the peas are cooked through, but not overdone. Taste to ensure your seasoning is all set, add salt or pepper if needed and enjoy! This recipe will serve 4-6.

This is a very filling meal for those nights when you've been out on the soccer field on a cold night, perfect after that long evening commute. This would also be a great starter, or lovely served in a lunch portion with a salad on the side. 

And for the easiest dessert, that is completely from scratch, ever!

Microwave Dark Chocolate Cake

Grease and flour a microwave-safe 8" square dish

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together:
1 cup almond flour
1 ½ tbsp coconut flour 
1 ½ tbsp tapioca flour
⅔ cup coconut sugar or granulated honey
⅓ cup cocoa powder
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp sea salt

After whisking the dry ingredients together, add and mix well:
2 eggs
3 tbsp olive oil
½ cup full fat plain yogurt

Mix well, making sure all the dry ingredients are completely incorporated. Pour into the greased pan and sprinkle on top:
¼ cup mini or regular dark chocolate chips

Cook in microwave for 5 minutes. 
Done. Really! It's that easy! You can serve warm as is, or add fresh whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream. For a little extra indulgence, add a little warm caramel or some fresh berries. 
This recipe makes 4 servings. 

A couple of notes about the recipes: 
For the ham in the soup, I used a great find which was a package of cut ends from spiral ham, found right along with the other ham in the grocery store meat case. You could use regular chopped ham, turkey ham, thick cut bacon or pancetta in place. Also, I used butternut squash that was in my freezer. I bought a few when they were a great deal, peeled, seeded and cubed them and put them in the freezer for things like this!

With the dessert, if you have nut allergies, or prefer to use regular flour, you can sub 1 cup regular baking flour for all the flours listed in my recipe. Also, you can replace the coconut sugar with brown sugar, and the yogurt can be replaced with ⅓ cup of buttermilk.

I hope you enjoy trying these tasty recipes! I certainly enjoy creating and trying them out, and my family loves that part too as they're my best taste-testers. 

Hopefully, I'll get around to that sharing that chili recipe next post!

08 February 2014

Paleo? Primal? Protein, oh my!

Hello friends!

Yes, once again I've had a long absence but I'm back with some fantastic new information and a few great recipes for you!

My family has, for the past couple of months, gone "Paleo" with our food choices. What's that mean, you ask? Well, the simple explanation is that a paleo "diet" (we call it a lifestyle since we are sticking with it and it does affect our daily lives) is heavy on animal proteins, seafood, nuts, fruits and vegetables. That also means there are no grains, dairy, sugars or legumes. The thing is this is something that, for any trying it, can be customized to fit into your needs and your tastes. Many of friends who eat the same way do what we call 80/20. 80% of what they eat is strictly meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts. The other 20% can be a little more free. I won't get too into the specifics and origins of the current diet. I will say that some people are calling this a fad, but it's one of those things has had many incarnations over the past 30-40 years even. There have been a number of high protein low/no carb diets that all go by different names and are hyped by different companies, celebrities, chefs, but they essentially all have the same guiding principals; low carbohydrate intake with high protein intake makes for leaner, heart-heathier living.

We did not go into this because it's a popular thing to do. We read up, spoke to friends who've been doing it for years, and really investigated how and why we might go about this new way of life. If this idea, this way of eating intrigues you, I recommend doing a lot (A LOT) of research on the benefits and things that may be of concern, as well as how this choice can be varied to suit and your family. So far, having been eating this way about 80/20 since Sept. 1st, we've noticed a number of changes. My husband and I have both lost weight, he has a lot more energy, we're breathing easier, and we are enjoying food more than ever because almost everything we eat is incredibly fresh. I've also notice my joints, especially my knees, have not been inflamed or in pain since we started. I have dealt with knee pain since my freshman year of high school. That was 24 years ago. It's nearly gone now. Seriously.

So did we cut out everything called for by the strictest of paleo plans? No. But we did change some things up. We do include dairy in our diet, but we drink organic pastured whole milk, aged cheeses and goat's milk yogurt and softer cheeses. We buy canned tuna, but only if it's canned in olive oil. Do we stick to it when we eat out? Mostly, but we'll go for a burger on a bun now and then, or pizza with regular crust. We might go out for frozen yogurt and go crazy with toppings! We do notice a difference in how we feel when we have the grains and breads, so it's nothing we do on a regular basis. Have we cut all sugars out? No, but we don't use white refined sugar! There are some incredible substitutions out there nowadays like granulated honey and coconut sugar, but you're going to pay more for them. We're okay with that because we know they are so much better than the over-processed stuff. I still use butter but it's grass fed Kerrygold brand butter (unsalted, from Trader Joe's) or organic butter, at least, and for other fat options there are oils like coconut and avocado, and of course olive oils. One thing to note is that when we do treat ourselves, especially when it comes to breads and pastas, we do…pay for it, shall we say. My knees may ache a bit and my tummy is less happy. This is why it's rare to do a wheat-laden treat. The treat has to be well worth the suffering.

More than a few people have asked "What do you eat all the time? Chicken and Kale?" Heck no! You all know I love experimenting and I've been lucky enough to know how to sub out nut flours for traditional whole wheat or a.p. flour, but when I hit a roadblock and am not sure how to sub something, or what ratio to use, the internet comes to my rescue with loads of paleo-friendly websites and recipes that have been well tested. It's definitely worth doing a little e-hunting to see what treasures you can find! And if you have specific questions, feel free to leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to help you out. Baking has been my biggest challenge by far. I'm still learning what works and what doesn't, and accepted long ago that there's zero chance of paleo recipe tasting anything like a "traditional" recipe for cookies, cake, muffins. But different can be good. Very good!

If you decide to give paleo a try, get ready for a lot of prep work. It makes an incredible difference in your cooking and meal planning overall. I try to start the week prepping veggies for munching (peppers, carrots, celery) and hard-boiling a dozen eggs to go with our muffins for breakfast. You can roast a pot roast or turkey breast and cut it up for lunches. You'll want to make sure you are especially well stocked with things that you can grab-and-go, so the temptation for a quick easy bite out is one you can avoid. I'll include a list of my new favorite pantry items at the end of the post, to give you an idea of what we always keep around. I'm including my stock "recipe" as well since it is a wonderful, ridiculously easy thing to make yourself, and it's very easy to store right in your fridge and freezer! If you have stock at the ready, chop some veggies and throw in a handful of rice, boil it for 20 minutes or so and you have a wonderful, healthy homemade meal you can feel fabulous about eating!

One more thing about the specifics is that if you aren't a label reader now, you must become one if you go paleo. Because soy is not part of this diet and something we have, for the most part, kept out of our home for quite some time for a number of reasons, you will want to check everything from vegetable soup to mayonnaise to canned tuna. Mayo is a big culprit that I was surprised by. Vegetable oil is often soybean oil re-named. Same for vegetable broth in canned tuna. Again, it's all about research and knowing that there are amazing recipes to DIY your beloved mayo and homemade stocks and broths are ridiculously simple to make on your own. (If you're on it, Pinterest is a great resource and you can follow my "Paleo" board for well-tested recipes and recommendations! The link to my Pinterest page is here with the rest of the Swinging good links! at the top left of the page.

I want to share these couple of recipes with you all because whether or not you are eating like a caveman, so to speak, you and your family are sure to love them. I am also including some great breakfast ideas and make-ahead tips seriously helpful for any busy person or family! Enjoy!

Good Morning Muffins 
(Makes 12 muffins)
Oven at 350º

Whisk together:
2 cups almond flour
⅓ cup coconut flour
2 tbsp tapioca flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
2 ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice (can sub cinnamon) 
½ tsp sea salt

In another bowl, mix well:
⅓ cup Olive oil or melted coconut oil
1 large egg
1 ¼ cup unsweetened applesauce (can sub pumpkin puree)
⅔ cup coconut sugar or granulated honey

Incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet until mixed well. At this point, you can add a handful  of frozen blueberries, or dried cranberries/raisins/currants, and a handful of chopped pecans or walnuts.

Once everything is well mixed, scoop into prepared muffin tin (greased or lined with paper liners) and bake for 23-25 minutes until firm, test with a toothpick for doneness. Add another couple of minutes if needed. Cool on a rack and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Heat up in the microwave for 30 seconds or so for a warm treat in the morning! Perfect with a hard-boiled egg and some goat's milk yogurt flavored with some raw honey or pure maple syrup and fresh fruit. 

Yogurt Marinated Chicken
Oven at 375º
Ready for the oven!

For the marinade, combine in a large bowl:
1 cup plain full fat yogurt
1 ½ tbsp Kashmiri Masala (can sub Garam Masala)
1 tbsp each: sea salt, smoked paprika, ground ginger
1 tsp each: white pepper, dried cilantro

add 10-12 boneless and skinless chicken thighs, making sure they're all coated well, and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
Ready for the dinner table!

Bake on an over safe rack over a sheet pan for 20 minutes, turn chicken over and bake for another 15-20 minutes or until done (will depend on size of pieces, best cut to check) and serve with steamed or roasted, buttered veggies and basmati rice. NOTE: You can also use this marinade for bone-in chicken like legs, as I've shown in the pictures, but you'll need to increase your cooking time to 50-60 minutes total, still turning pieces halfway through cooking. 

Easy Stock

This will start with you freezing chicken bones, turkey bones, beef and hame bones. Decide on which stock you want to make and put the frozen bones into a large stock pot (8 quart or larger is best, with a lid that fits) I tend to throw the bones in freezer bags and usually use about 2 bags worth of bones for around 4-5 quarts of stock which is what this recipe would make. You can cut this down if you have less bones, or just make it more veggie rich by using less bones and these same quantities of veg.

Add to the pot the following:
4 large carrots, rough-chopped
8 celery ribs, rough-chopped
2 yellow onions quartered with peel on
8 garlic cloves, smashed with peel on

You can also throw in some tomatoes and bell peppers if you have some that need to be used up

Throw in some fresh herbs if you have them (parsley, basil, oregano, whatever you like)
season generously with sea salt, a few peppercorns

Fill with water making sure the bones and veggies are just covered. Put on high heat and bring to boil for a few minutes and then turn to medium-low heat, cover and let simmer for a couple of hours. Yes, hours. The flavors that will develop are incredible. If you do this with turkey bones from your Thanksgiving bird, the stock will taste "just like Thanksgiving soup" as my husband said. 

Once you've cooked it down for a few hours and you have that beautiful golden color developed, you'll want to strain the liquid off of all the bones and veggie pieces. I remove all the big pieces with a large slotted spoon and toss them, then strain with a ladle directly into clean freezer-safe jars with a small sieve right over the wide-mout jar opening. You can also put a large sieve over a smaller pot and strain into that, then ladle into jars, or freezer bags. Cool before freezing. Oh, and I don't skim the fat off of my stock, but you can do that, once it's cooled and separated, if you prefer. 

You can use this as you would any other stock or broth, in soups and stews, you can cook rice or potatoes in it. Just put your desired quantity in the fridge the day before you want to use it. Enjoy alone, too! Makes a wonderful cold and flu reliever, warms you on those frosty winter nights. It's just good! 

My Paleo Pantry and Fridge Additions:
(Remember, we do our best to have these at all times, but get as close as we can when we have budget restrictions or trouble locating a specific item)

Tuna canned in olive oil (Read those labels! Not all oil canned tuna is created equal! Skip any that list vegetable oil) 
Almond, coconut and tapioca flours
Coconut sugar
Canned coconut milk
Lots of eggs (we buy the 5-dozen package)
Organic whole milk
Goat's milk yogurt and/or Greek yogurt (not non-fat)
Uncured Bacon
Pastured and/or Organic Butter
Dried cranberries and banana chips (try to find with little or no added sugar if possible)
Extra dark chocolate
Pure maple syrup
GF Bread since it's never easy to give up toast and, for the man and our boy, sandwiches
GF Rice and nut crackers (perfect for lunches with roasted meat or tuna, and some aged cheese)
As always, tons of fresh fruits and vegetables, meats in the freezer, raw honey…

Main things we cut out:
Legumes (Beans and peanuts)
Grains (mainly wheat breads, pastas)
Processed/pre-pacakged foods (exceptions are made, but very carefully!)
Refined sugars
Canola/Vegetable oils
Soy anything

I hope you've enjoyed this little, crazy peek into what has been going on in my keen kitchen, and as soon as I get myself organized again, I will post more recipes and tips for staying on track. Most important things to remember are to start slow if you need to, and do a lot of research, experimentation with recipes and don't be afraid to try new things! I have a great chili recipe (actual chili, with no beans!) and a chocolate chip cookie recipe I look forward to sharing next time. Thanks for following along!