Thursday, February 28, 2013

Burgers with Avocado-Bacon-Cilantro Salad

As I mentioned in my last post, my husband has been really craving burgers lately.  Luckily, burgers are totally Paleo- as long as there is no bun or fries.  So for this meal I decided to make burgers, only these would be wrapped in lettuce instead of a bun, and I would try something more Paleo for the side.  I came across this recipe idea on Pinterest (of course), and it looked really delicious and definitely Paleo friendly (once I swapped out the sugar for honey). I thought it would be a nice accompaniment for burgers, and I was right- super delicious!  For the burgers, I wanted to add some flavor to the meat since I would have to forgo the cheese, so I put together a little spice mixture for the ground beef.  Instead of cheese, I topped the burgers with tomato.  All-in-all, this was a fairly easy and quick meal to make, and very healthy & Paleo!  Here is what I did:

Burger Spice Mixture
(I won't lie, I didn't measure perfectly- just threw stuff in and mixed it with a lb of ground beef- so these are estimates)
  • 1/2 T paprika
  • 1/2 T salt
  • 1 t garlic powder
  • 1/2 t chili powder
  • 1/2 t cumin
  • 1/2 t black pepper
I cooked this on a grill pan on the stove since it is freezing outside, but they would be great on the grill too!

Avocado-Bacon-Cilantro Salad
(serves 2)
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 1 avocado, cut in half then into thick slices
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons honey
  • salt & pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Preparation
Fry up the bacon in a skillet until crisp.  Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.  Keep about 2 T of the bacon fat in the skillet, and turn the heat to medium-low.  Add garlic, water, lime juice, and honey and simmer for about a minute, while stirring.  Add salt & pepper and the cilantro and stir. Crumble the bacon into the pan and give it a final stir until it's all combined. Plate the avocado slices, and then pour the bacon mixture over top.  Serve while warm!

This was another delicious meal, and I encourage you to make these recipes together or even individually as a part of another Paleo meal.  Gotta love bacon!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Two Weeks Down and Going Strong

We have been living Paleo for 2 weeks now!  Time has actually gone by pretty fast- probably because I keep trying out new meals and every day is a new exciting challenge.  We have successfully been moving forward towards 100% Paleo, but there are still some difficulties that we are facing.  Here are some things I have been thinking about this past week:

-I started to notice about a week ago that I was getting really bad stomach aches whenever I was eating a lot of almond products.  I looked it up online, since the internet always has a diagnosis for health problems, and it turns out that a lot of people have these problems with almonds.  Something about digesting whatever almonds have in them...  Well this started to freak me out!  Almonds have been my go-to substitute for almost everything that I used to inhale.  Almond flour, almond butter, etc- I have been eating almond products multiple times a day. So, the fact that my stomach may be rejecting them kind of freaked me out.  Luckily, the past 2 days have been a lot better with little to no stomach pains.  Perhaps my digestive system has gotten used to them?? I hope so.  It may just be a sign that I need to branch out even further and eat more meat & veggies rather than just hiding behind my almond crutch, and I think I am going to work on that.  Hope the pains stop for good!

-In related news, I have realized that I have been eating mostly fruits rather than vegetables, which isn't the BEST way to do Paleo.  The problem is, I have a strange aversion to the most common/easy veggies to snack on during the day: carrots and celery.  I cannot explain it- I wish I liked those veggies, and I have tried to like them.  I just can't do it.  I'm going to have to find a way to bring the veggies that I DO like into work for lunch and as snacks, and I will try to do that in the coming days.  I love cucumbers and bell peppers, so I may try to go that route... I'll keep you posted!

-We have both had occasional MAJOR cravings for certain foods that are off limits.  The other night, I had trouble falling asleep because I couldn't get the thought of cheese out of my mind.  My husband has had similar problems thinking about things like burgers & fries (not the Paleo version- like, the processed stuff).  I have been hoping that after many days without these foods, my body would stop craving them, but that has yet to be the case.  Maybe it needs to be a full 28 days to break my cheese/pasta addiction.  We'll see...

-We've still been consuming some of the "forbidden" items minimally.  Mainly, finishing up the dairy products (especially milk) that were still in the fridge.  It will all be gone in the next few days for sure.  We have also been drinking alcohol a bit, but primarily red wine which you know, I've already decided is legit- grapes, of course!  I know we will never fully get rid of alcohol (I mean I already gave up pasta, cheese, sugar, and my other favorite things), but I do think we have done well to cut it down.  The various Paleo experts out there disagree on the issue, but many say that alcohol is fine in moderation, so that's what we are going with.  One of our biggest problems with Paleo is that there are so many gray areas, and so many foods that are being debated as to their Paleo-ness.  There are only a few hard steadfast rules, but the "iffy" things are difficult to navigate...  I am proud to say, though, that I have not touched any grain or cheese for 2 weeks!  Crazy.

Well, there you have it.  14 days down, many more to go.  We are still really enjoying trying out new meals and eating natural foods, and it makes me feel better knowing that we aren't eating anything processed (as hard as it might be).  We are hoping it gets easier the longer we stick with it... so keep reading for more recipes and thoughts about Paleo!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Paleo Chicken Pad Thai (with Spaghetti Squash)

A few days ago when I was on the hunt for Paleo-friendly recipes,  I came across this one on Pinterest for Pad Thai using spaghetti squash.  It looked intriguing and definitely meat and veggie packed.  Perfect!  The only problem was that Pad Thai uses peanut butter and is usually topped with peanuts.  So of course, I went to my trusty peanut butter replacement: almond butter.  I was worried that this substitution would change the taste too much and possibly ruin the dish, but it was actually really delicious!  We couldn't tell that it was almonds and not peanuts.  The spaghetti squash was a great replacement for noodles, and overall we really enjoyed our Paleo Pad Thai.  I am sure you could add other veggies and increase the heat-level if you wanted, but this was perfect for us.  Here is what I did:

Paleo Chicken Pad Thai (with Spaghetti Squash)
(served the 2 of us with some leftover)
  • 1/2 spaghetti squash, cooked and shredded (I used the leftover from another recipe that I had frozen- if you need instructions, check out this post)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 c bok choy, diced
  • 1 c carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1/4-1/2 c chicken broth
  • 2 T almond butter
  • 1 T rice wine vinegar
  • 2 T tamari sauce
  • 1 t red chili flakes
  • 1-2 cooked chicken breasts, thinly sliced or chopped (your preference)
  • green onions, chopped
  • cilantro, chopped
  • lime wedges
Preparation
Cook spaghetti squash, or defrost if you had some frozen like I did.  Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Saute the garlic for about 1 minute.  Add the bok choy and carrots to the skillet and saute for another 3-5 minutes, until tender.  Remove the veggies to a plate.  Add 1/4 c chicken broth, almond butter, vinegar, tamari sauce, and chili flakes to the pan over medium or medium-high heat.  Stir it around until it is all combined.  It will likely thicken up a bit, so add more chicken broth if needed (I did).  Add the veggies back to the pan and throw in the spaghetti squash. Give it a good stir.  Add the chicken and allow it all to heat up and cook for another few minutes.  Serve it up garnished with green onions, cilantro, and a lime wedge.

If you are a pad thai fan, you will really love this recipe.  It is definitely one of the more interesting Paleo meals I have made, and it's nice to know that you can still eat some of your favorite foods while living Paleo!  Hope you enjoy it!


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

Oh, another slow cooker meal?  Yes!  Better get used to it.  I love cooking pork in my slow cooker- BBQ pork, carnitas, all of it.  Pork just cooks so nicely in a crock pot and gets so tender and flavorful and shred-able.  I love it.  This is a recipe that I have made before and it has always been a big hit.  I got the inspiration from this recipe, but I adapted it a little bit, mainly to make it easier with more accessible ingredients.  It is super delicious, and tastes amazing served with my Cucumber Melon Salsa, which I also made tonight.  Here is what I did for the carnitas:

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas
(serves 2 with plenty leftover)
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 1 or 2 chipotles in adobo sauce (more if you love spicy food)
  • 1/2 medium white onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • salt & pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 lb pork shoulder, cut into chunks (I buy a whole 4-5 lb shoulder, slice it in half, and get 2 meals worth out of it)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
Preparation
Blend together garlic, jalapeno, onion, chipotles, 2 T olive oil, honey, vinegar, 1 T salt, and oregano in a blender (or use a handy blender immersion stick like I did).  Heat 1 T oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, then add the blended mixture to the pan.  Fry it up for a few minutes until it thickens and gets really fragrant.  Add the chicken broth and reduce for a few more minutes.  In the meantime, season the pork chunks with salt & pepper and place them in the slow cooker.  Add the cinnamon stick and bay leaves to the cooker.  Pour the liquid over top of the meat. Turn it on low for 7-8 hours, or high for 5-6 hours.

Here is what it should look like once the meat is ready to shred:



When you are ready to serve, carefully remove the pork chunks to a cutting board and use 2 forks to shred the meat.  I like to dump out most of the cooking liquid (leave about 1/4 cup in there), and then add the shredded meat back into the slow cooker to keep it warm and moist.  Serve it atop my Paleo Almond Flour Tortillas with your favorite toppings (like my salsa)!

This is so delicious, that I could just eat the meat plain, as is.  It's a great Paleo-friendly meal and since it is cooked in a slow cooker, it's easy!  I hope you enjoy it!



Cucumber Melon Salsa

I love making atypical salsas, especially sweet & savory ones.  I have made a regular tomato-based salsa, but for tonight's meal of Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas, I decided to go with something different.  This meal really goes great with a sweeter/fruitier salsa, and I love the combination.  It is super easy to make- all you need is some time to dice up some fruit & veggies!  Here is what you do:

Cucumber Melon Salsa
  • 1/2 c cantaloupe, finely diced
  • 1/2 c cucumber, peeled and finely diced
  • 1/4 c red onion, finely diced
  • handful cilantro, chopped
  • salt & pepper
  • juice of 1/4 lime
Preparation
Combine all the ingredients, give it a stir, and you are ready to serve!  Make it ahead and keep it in the fridge to give the flavors more time to meld if you wish, or eat it right away.  

Eat this with tortilla chips, or to top any meal that you want!

Paleo Almond Flour Tortillas

Last time I made a Mexican-inspired meal, I used lettuce wraps instead of tortillas, and it was just okay.  I really missed the texture of a tortilla, though!  So I decided to try to make some Paleo tortillas to wrap my Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas in tonight.  Basically it is the same recipe as the tortilla chips I have made before, you just don't bake them as long so they stay softer.

Almond Flour Tortillas
(makes 8 small ones)
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix ingredients together to form a dough/paste.  Divide the dough into small balls (or 8 equal parts). Take 2 pieces of parchment and roll out the small balls of the dough between the layers until the tortillas are about 1/8 inch thin.  Peel off the top layer and transfer the unbaked tortillas (on the parchment) onto a baking sheet.  Bake for 4-5 minutes or until cooked but still soft (the longer they bake, the harder they will become).  Remove them carefully with a spatula.  Serve right away warm, or refrigerate them and reheat when you are ready!

Homemade Almond Butter

So here's what happened to me today:  I was planning on going out to the store to pick up a few things for lunches/dinners this week.  One of those things was almond butter- I wanted some to pack with apple slices for lunch tomorrow.  Unfortunately, I live in Wyoming.  This means that all of the sudden the weather decided that we would have a bit of a blizzard today that would prevent most of us from leaving our homes (or work, sadly, if you are my husband).  So, after looking outside and considering my options (I do not do well out in the snow), I decided to put off the trip to tomorrow and see if I could make the critical grocery item (almond butter) myself at home.  I found some instructions online that made it sound pretty easy, and luckily I already had some almonds in the house.

So here's what I learned: It actually is really easy to make your own almond butter!  All you need is:
  • a food processor
  • almonds (usually whole but I only had sliced so I used those)
That's it!  Oh, and about 20-30 minutes of your life.  Here is what you do:

Add your almonds to your food processor.  Turn it on high and watch them turn into tiny little almond bits. 

You will want to stop every few minutes to scrape down the sides to make sure it all gets processed evenly (I probably did this about 10 times), but other than that, the processor does it all. Keep going for what seems like a really long time, and after about 15-20 minutes it will start to look creamier and butterier like this: 


But you aren't done yet!  Keep going for 5 or so more minutes until it eventually turns into smooth almond butter. This is what it should look like when it is just about done:

Finally, you will have some delicious almond butter to dip your apple slices into! Crisis averted!


Okay, now some notes from my experience:  I only had a mini food processor, rather than the big one, so it was a bit annoying for me in that 1)  I had to hold down the button the whole time and 2) It was so loud that I am pretty sure my dog thought I was murdering someone.  If you have a full size processor, this will be super easy and way better, I would guess.  Also, if it seems like it has been processing forever and you are wondering when it will ever become butter, you are on the right track.  It will feel like it's never going to happen, but then it will, I promise!  Finally, the amount of almonds you do at once depends on the size of your processor.  I only had about a cup in my house to use anyway, but if you have a mini processor you could probably do 2 cups.  If you have a big one, probably 3 or 4. 

I am excited to know that I can do this now- it will save some money (almond butter ain't cheap!) and I will know that it is truly fresh!  Once I finally make it out to the store I plan on picking up more almonds so that I can make another batch this week.  Can't wait to try it again and I am glad I learned this trick.  At least there was one good thing that came out of this snow storm for me... 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Steak Fingers & Sweet Potato Fries

For tonight's dinner, I took another meal that we have made and loved before and attempted to Paleo-ize it.  I knew it might be a challenge because steak fingers (courtesy of my idol the Pioneer Woman) is one of those meals that my husband begs me to make, so I really didn't want to mess it up.  I had to make some significant changes, since two of the most important ingredients are flour and milk, neither of which we can eat!  I replaced the flour (which serves as a breading for the steak) with almond flour, which actually gave it more of a texture that I rather enjoyed.  The less-than-perfect swap I made was using coconut milk for regular milk.  This was not ideal, since coconut milk has a bit of a sweetness to it, and it is also thinner than say, 2% milk.  So when it came time to make the gravy (which usually thickens with flour and milk), it wasn't as gravy-like as the original version.  Perhaps almond milk would be better, but I've never tried it.  Even though I ended up with more of a thinner sauce than a gravy, it still tasted great, at least!

For the side, I decided to make sweet potato fries.  Now, sweet potatoes are one of those controversial food items within Paleo.  Technically they are a root vegetable and nomadic tribes would have eaten them, so they should be allowed.  However, some argue that they are so carb-heavy that they are not ideal if you are trying to lose weight.  Well, lucky for us, we are just trying to eat like cavemen, so I decided they were fine.  I've done sweet potato fries before, and they turned out pretty well- not exactly crispy (since they were oven baked, not fried), but still tasty.  So, check out what I did:

Steak Fingers with Gravy
(serves 2)
  • 1/2 pound cube steak, cut into 1-inch strips
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 egg
  • 1-2 cups coconut milk
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Preparation Instructions 
Combine almond flour, seasoned salt, pepper, and cayenne in a dish.  Whisk together the egg and a splash of coconut milk in a separate dish.  To bread the meat, dip a strip into the egg mixture, then immediately into the almond flour mixture. Flip it to coat both sides. Repeat with every strip. Heat 1 T olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry steak strips 3 or 4 at a time, turning midway through (after about 3 minutes). When golden brown, remove from the pan to a paper towel-lined plate. Continue until all the meat is done.  You will likely want to add another 1 T of oil to the pan before each batch.  Cover loosely with foil to keep warm.

To make the "gravy," sprinkle on 1-2 tablespoons of the almond flour mixture (or whatever is left). Whisk mixture until it becomes deep golden brown (It won't really be pasty since it's not regular flour). Pour in coconut milk, whisking constantly.  Allow the gravy to cook and thicken (as best it can), whisking regularly and adding more milk if needed.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve the "gravy" as more of a dipping sauce if it is too thin like mine was.

Sweet Potato Fries
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • olive oil
  • honey
  • salt & pepper
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Peel the sweet potato and slice into thin fry-like strips.  Spread them flat on a roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil and honey.  Sprinkle on salt & pepper.  Give it a little stir to coat all the fries, but make sure they are in a single layer when they go in the oven.  Bake for 15 minutes, but take them out and turn/stir them every 5 minutes or so. 

Well, this probably wasn't the most Paleo meal we've had, since it was a little low on vegetables, but it was still delicious and grain/dairy-free.  I encourage you to try it out, and look for more of my Paleo versions of some of our favorite meals!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Silver Dollar Banana Pancakes

Last week I made those delicious Apple Cinnamon Almond Butter Pancakes which were a big hit, so today I decided to try another type of Paleo pancakes that a lot of people have recommended to us.  These are super easy and are really made of just 2 ingredients (though I added a little extra), so they are a great breakfast.  I mean, bananas + eggs = pancakes??  Who wouldn't want to try that?

Here is what I used:
  • 1 banana
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
Preparation
Mix the eggs until blended, then add the banana and mix it all up until incorporated.  I used my handy little Cuisinart immersion blender stick which was really fast and easy. You could also use a blender, or even just stir it up really well by hand.   Add the vanilla and cinnamon and give it a final mix.

Heat the skillet over medium heat and add the coconut oil.  Once the coconut oil is melted and hot, spread it around to coat the skillet.  Use a sweet batter-pourer like I have, or just a scooper to pour a small amount of batter into the skillet to make silver dollar-sized pancakes.  My large skillet could fit 4 at a time.  HINT: the smaller they are, the easier they will be to flip. Once they start to bubble like regular pancakes, flip them and let them cook another minute. Remove them to a plate and continue with the rest of the batter.

I served these with strawberries and honey, but they are even delicious plain.  It may take you a few tries to get the heat level right or to get the flipping down, but eventually they will turn out great.  I am glad I tried this recipe and I will definitely be doing this again.  Thanks to all those who hooked me up with this idea!

Slow Cooker Cashew Chicken & Cauliflower Rice

I know I have mentioned my love for my slow cooker before.  Well, I will say it again.  I love it!  Have I also mentioned my love for Asian-inspired meals?  Well, I love those too.  So when I found a recipe on Pinterest that combined both of those things, I had to try it.  I have made this recipe before and we really enjoyed it.  I probably served it with rice.  So this time, I made some changes and substitutions to make a great Paleo meal!

Here are some of the changes I made: I omitted flour since it wasn't really a crucial part of the dish- it was just for coating the chicken.  I substituted olive oil for canola, tamari sauce for soy sauce, tomato paste for ketchup, honey for brown sugar, and of course my trick of using cauliflower instead of grain rice.  Finally, I added a few more vegetables just to add some Paleo-ness to the meal- mushrooms and zucchini (and I usually would add red bell pepper too, but I tragically didn't have any in my house today...).  So here is what I did:

Slow Cooker Cashew Chicken & Cauliflower Rice
(this served the 2 of us with leftovers)
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken tenders OR breasts, cut into tender sized pieces
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1/4 c tamari sauce
  • 2 T rice wine vinegar
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 2 T honey 
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup cashews
  • 1/2 cup zucchini, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced (I didn't have any to include tonight, though)
  • 1/2 cauliflower, grated (I used the leftover half from last week's meal)
Preparation
Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Season chicken with salt & pepper, and brown it in the skillet for about 2 minutes on each side (just until there is no more pink).   Transfer the chicken to your slow cooker.  Combine tamari sauce, rice wine vinegar, tomato paste, honey, garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes in a bowl, and then pour over chicken.  Cook on low for 3 to 4 hours.  About 10 minutes before you are ready to serve, add mushrooms, zucchini, and peppers and stir.  Let that cook up for a few minutes.  The chicken may start to shred a bit when you stir, which is totally fine- if you want to shred it all, go for it, but I like to keep mine partially intact.  In the meantime, cook your cauliflower rice: Heat a bit more olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, and then throw in the grated cauliflower and cook for a few minutes (for more info, check out this post). Finally, stir the cashews into the chicken and you are ready to eat!


Serve your cashew chicken over the cauliflower rice and enjoy! We really liked this meal, as usual, and would recommend it to others. Feel free to add any other vegetables you might like, change up the spice level, or whatever else suits you.  Get creative with your Paleo meals and it will make everything much more enjoyable!  Come back and see what we will be cooking up next...

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies

We are obsessed with chocolate chip cookies in this house.  Like, we pretty much have homemade cookies in our kitchen at all times.  I know, that is kind of ridiculous, but we love them!  So my husband has been a little desperate for me to try out a Paleo recipe so we can get cookies back in our lives! There are a million versions of Paleo chocolate chip cookies out there, but this one seemed the most doable.  So I went for it.  Overall, they turned out well.  They taste delicious!  They were just a bit messy when trying to get them off the cookie sheet... okay actually really messy... but don't worry, I've included some suggestions for how to limit the mess and just get great cookies!  I can't wait for the hubby to try them. Here's the recipe:

Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies
(made 2 dozen)
  • 1 cup almond butter
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (I used regular old dark chocolate chips which isn't 100% Paleo I know- most recipes call for these Enjoy Life chips which I guess are the best to use.  Maybe one day I'll get that hard core...)
Preparation
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line your cookie sheet with parchment if you have it (it's a good idea to...).  Combine all the ingredients except the chips until mixed thoroughly.  Mix/fold in the chocolate chips.  Use a spoon or a cookie scoop to drop the batter onto the cookie sheet.  I found it best to use about 1 T worth of batter for each one- smaller cookies will be easier to manage at the end.  Keep them about 2 inches apart too, just in case they spread. Bake for 10 min until they are slightly firm and turning brown.  IMPORTANT: Let them cool for another 10-20 minutes on the cookie sheet. If you don't, they will make a huge mess.  Once they are removable, allow them to finish cooling on a cookie rack. Enjoy them while they are warm and gooey, or seal them in a container.

Important Notes
Like I have hinted, these can become a huge mess.  They are super gooey/chewy which is great, but will be messy when removing them from the cookie sheet.  Here are some ways that this might become less messy:
-let them cool ON the sheet for 20 or more minutes- the longer the better
-carefully loosen them with a spatula, and then flip the cookies upside down to cool- this sounds weird, but the bottoms/undersides will be gooey and will drip all over the cooling rack unless they are flipped over
-use parchment- I didn't because I have nonstick cookie sheets but I wish I had... have I mentioned they are super gooey??
-make sure you bake them for at least 10 minutes- if you don't they will likely turn into gooey messes

Well I hope I haven't scared you off from making these!  They really do taste GREAT and they are really chewy and yummy once they have cooled.  I will probably be trying other recipes (maybe if they include flour, I won't have this problem...), and I'll keep you all posted on the results!

Pumpkin Muffins

I'm always looking for more breakfast/snack ideas, and I definitely always love pumpkin.  So I found a recipe for these pumpkin muffins here, and I knew I wanted to try it.  Since it's snowing and cold outside today, I figured it was a good time to bake! I modified these a bit, mainly in that I cut down on the batch size, since I wanted to make sure they were good before I used a lot of my most precious commodity these days- almond flour (hey, it is pretty pricey...).  Well, they turned out to be great tasting little bite-sized muffins, and I am satisfied with my first attempt.  Here is what I did:

Paleo Pumpkin Muffins
(makes 12 bite-size muffins)
  • 1 c almond flour
  • 1/2 c canned pumpkin
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp  ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 c honey
  • 2 tsp almond butter
Preparation
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a muffin tin with coconut oil.  Mix all ingredients together and divide batter evenly into the muffin cups.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then use a knife to loosen the muffins. They should pop out pretty easily.  Cool on a rack for a few more minutes and enjoy!  Or store them in an airtight container. 


Some notes: Like I said, my turned out pretty small and they didn't really "rise" like regular muffins often do- if you want them to be bigger, just double the amounts, or pour more batter into each cup.  Once I tried them, I realized they would also be really good if you threw some sliced/chopped almonds into the batter.  I will likely try that next time!  I think this was a successful first attempt at Paleo muffins, and I will likely be trying again with some modifications- stay tuned!


Apple & Onion Topped Pork Chops with Asparagus

We had pork chops a lot growing up, and one of the sides we typically paired with them was apple sauce.  They just seem to go so nicely together.  So lately I have been making a more "sophisticated" version I guess you could say.  I've made this before, and it really is easy and delicious.  I decided to make asparagus as a side rather than my typical rice/noodles/something grain.  Asparagus is one of those vegetables that I refused to even touch until probably last year, but once I tried it, I realized that I really liked it, and it's really simple to make.  So here's what I did:

Apple & Onion Topped Pork Chops
(Served the 2 of us with a bit leftover)
  • 3-4 pork chops (I used bone-in, but boneless work too)
  • 1 apple, thinly sliced (I used Gala)
  • 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 T olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/4-1/2 c chicken broth
  • 1 T honey
Preparation
Heat a skillet over medium-high heat, and add the olive oil.  Once it is hot, season the pork chops with salt and pepper and place them into the skillet.  Cook them for about 4 minutes on each side, or until they have browned up a bit.  Remove them to a plate and keep warm.  Use that same skillet, but turn the heat down to medium-low.  Toss in the onions, apple slices, and the thyme.  Season with more salt and pepper if you would like.  Stir occasionally and allow them to soften and cook down, at least 5 minutes.  If you have more patience than I do, turn the heat down low and allow them to caramelize for 10-15 minutes.  Once they are cooked to your liking, add the chicken broth and honey and stir it around.  Add the pork chops back into the pan and cover.  Allow it all to cook together for about 5 more minutes until chops are cooked through.  To serve, place a pork chop on the plate and top it with the apples/onions mixture.  Serve it up with roasted asparagus!

Roasted Asparagus
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper
(feel free to add any other variations you want: lemon, garlic, parmesan if you eat dairy, etc)

Preparation
Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Trim off the bottoms of the asparagus stalks and arrange them flat on a roasting pan.  Drizzle olive oil over top and sprinkle salt and pepper all over them.  Roast in the oven for about 12 minutes.   



This meal was delicious and we will definitely have it again!  Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Musings from Week 1

Well, it has been a week since we started our Paleo journey!  Here are some of our trials and tribulations:

- The first 2 days were really rough.  For me at least.  I actually felt like my body was going through withdrawals on the first day, which I know sounds extreme, but I was VERY used to eating carbs.  And dairy.  Like I have said, I typically eat cereal, crackers, cheese, yogurt, and so forth every day.  So completely shutting that out of my life all of the sudden was difficult.  Plus, I had yet to come up with good meal alternatives, so I ended up feeling starved.  Luckily, after a few days now it seems like my body has figured it out and I am feeling fine again.

- I thought the hardest part would be replacing my favorite dinner meals with Paleo friendly ones, but it turns out the hardest part is what to eat during the rest of the day.  Really for dinner I have just been swapping the typical carb component for an extra veggie, so it hasn't been a big deal.  Plus it has been nice to try out new dinner options!

- I won't call it "cheating," but we have made a few exceptions in this first week.  Mainly in the form of dairy.  Silly me still had a fair amount of milk in the fridge from the pre-Lent days that we didn't want to waste, so we've been having a glass here and there.  In terms of "unhealthy" things we have been eating, we did indulge in some alcohol.  There are so many mixed-messages about whether or not alcohol is allowed with Paleo, and the consensus we came to is that is is okay in moderation.  We have cut our consumption level down and drank mainly wine since I still maintain that it's got to be Paleo-friendly (it's just grapes, right?).  Finally, we've been eating a bit of dark chocolate as a sweet treat.  I know there is still a little sugar in there, but since it is mainly cocoa, which is allowed, I have been okay with it.  But I think in the next week or so we will be moving forward towards 100% Paleo (or at least what the majority of the Paleo-community considers 100% Paleo to be...).

- So how do I feel?  Well as of now, I feel pretty healthy.  It's hard to tell any major difference in my body or internal organs or anything, but I feel good, which is a positive!  I even felt motivation to add a little run after my usual workout yesterday, which may or may not be a result of the food I've been consuming.  I wonder if this lifestyle will dramatically change my health in the next few weeks... we will see!

At the end of the day, I won't lie- I miss my carbs.  I love that we are eating all natural/non-processed foods and that we are cutting down on sugar.  But I could really go for some pasta covered with mozzarella cheese right now! Maybe after 40 days of this lifestyle, my body will stop craving that stuff, but for now I am still working hard to stick with it!  As my husband says, it has been "rewarding but challenging."  Keep following along with my updates to see how we are doing!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Paleo Turkey (No Bean) Chili

Tonight for dinner we had chili.  Now, I have had some ups and downs in my life with chili.  I went through a period of time in college where I made/ate it a lot, but then I think I was satiated and I had trouble eating it for a while.  Alas, I decided to go for it again, but this time with a Paleo twist.  Under Paleo guidelines, legumes (beans) are not allowed.  I am still waiting for a good explanation as to why cavemen would not have been able to find beans but they would have found broccoli and cauliflower.  I would love to get some real explanations from the experts.  Regardless, because of that, this chili is bean-less, which is actually fine with me.  I also decided to use ground turkey instead of ground beef.  Mostly because I had it on hand in the fridge, but I guess it is also considered to be one of the healthier meat options.  So I went for it.  You could do a million variations on this recipe (different meat, peppers, spice levels, etc), but here is what I did tonight which can hopefully serve as a jumping off point for your own meals:

Paleo Turkey (No Bean) Chili
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced (most people use green but I only had orange so I went with it)
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 10 oz can Rotel diced tomatoes & green chilies
  • 2 T chili powder
  • 1 T paprika
  • 1/2 T cumin
  • salt & pepper
Preparation
Heat a skillet over medium heat, and pour in the olive oil.  Toss in the onions, garlic, and peppers and allow to cook until the onion looks translucent, about 5 minutes.  Transfer the veggies into a slow cooker.  Return the skillet to medium heat and brown the ground turkey until all the pink is gone.  Drain off any fat and transfer the meat into the slow cooker.  Crack open your cans of tomatoes and Rotel and pour them in.  Add your chili powder, paprika, and cumin, and season with salt and pepper to your liking.  Give it a good stir to get it all mixed together.  Turn the slow cooker on low and let simmer for 2-4 hours, or as long as you want.  Serve when you are ready!

This recipe was really great and was just the right spice level for us (we are kind of wimps, and this was mild-medium heat).  If you want less heat, replace the Rotel can with another can of plain tomatoes.  If you like more heat, add some cayenne or jalapeno peppers.  The possibilities are endless!  If you don't have a slow cooker, first of all, go buy one.  My slow cooker is probably my favorite kitchen appliance ever.  I love it.  But if you can't go buy one, just simmer the chili in a big pot on the stove for a few hours.  This recipe has gotten me back to the point of enjoying chili again, and I hope you will enjoy it too!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Tilapia, Brussels Sprouts, & Butternut Squash

This dinner was nothing really new since I have made all these components before.  The difference was, I usually have some sort of carb with tilapia instead of 2 vegetables.  But this is Paleo, people!  This meal is really easy- the most time consuming part is cutting up a butternut squash (which I won't lie, is kind of annoying).  Regardless, it tasted great and was super healthy!  Check out what I did:

Baked Lemon Chili Tilapia
(could serve 4)
  • 4 tilapia fillets
  • olive oil
  • lemon juice
  • salt & pepper
  • chili powder
  • paprika
  • fresh parsley, chopped
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease a baking pan/sheet with oil, or cover with parchment paper.  Place tilapia fillets in the pan.  Drizzle with olive oil and squirt some lemon juice over top of each one.  Sprinkle salt, pepper, chili powder, paprika, and parsley over top.  (If you like more heat, use a lot of chili powder or even add some cayenne).  Bake for about 10 minutes or until they become white and they flake when poked.

Simple & Delicious Brussels Sprouts:
  • 1 lb sprouts, trimmed and sliced in half
  • 1/4 red onion, cut into large slices
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1 T olive oil 
  • salt & pepper
Heat a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add olive oil and allow to get hot.  Throw in the onion and brussels sprouts and stir them around for about 10 minutes.  The sprouts should brown up, but stir them enough so they don't burn.  Once sprouts are browned and you are ready to serve, pour in the chicken broth and stir for one more minute. 

Butternut Squash:
  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 T olive oil
  • salt & pepper 
  • chili powder
Slice up the butternut squash: chop off the ends and peel the skin with a vegetable peeler.  Then, slice in half and cut into thinner slices.  Chop the slices into little cubes.  They should be no bigger than 1 in x 1 in.  Heat a large skillet to medium-high and add the olive oil. Throw in the squash cubes and season with salt, pepper, and chili powder.  Add as much chili powder as you like- I just give a little sprinkle for a pop of flavor.  Stir occassionally and allow squash to cook up for about 10-15 minutes, until they start to brown and soften.  Then you are ready to serve.  NOTE: I typically cook the entire squash at once, but I save about half of it for future meals.  You can eat as much and/or save as much as you want.

So there you have it!  Make any of these components together or with another favorite meat or vegetable item.  It tasted great and was "very Paleo" as my husband noted.  Enjoy!


Avocado Chicken Salad (Mayo-Free!)

I decided I need more Paleo lunch options, so I was surfing the web and came across some recipes for things like chicken salad on some Paleo sites.  Now, let me be clear: I have never liked chicken salad for one reason and one reason only: mayonnaise.  I hate mayo.  It grosses me out.  I cannot even have it in my house.  If there is a recipe I want to make that calls for mayo, I sub something else in its place.  So I thought, why not do that in this case?  A typical substitute for mayo would be sour cream or Greek yogurt, but clearly those are not Paleo options.  I could make my own "Paleo" mayonnaise, but that still has the word "mayonnaise" in it, which makes me squeamish.  So I went a whole other route: Avocado.  Why not mash it up to make it the base for a great chicken salad?  Well that's what I did, and it tasted great.  I will definitely be trying this again!

Here's what I used:
(This makes 2 servings)
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 cooked chicken breast (I poached mine), cut into chunks
  • 1/2 apple, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup grapes, sliced in half
  • handful of sliced almonds
  • dash of salt (sea salt if you are hard core Paleo)
  • splash of lemon juice
Most people also use celery, but it's another one of those foods I randomly just hate.  I can't explain it, sorry.  It's weird, I know.  So, use it if you like it.  Actually, throw in anything else that sounds good to you!

Anyway, to make it, just mash all the ingredients together, and it's ready to eat!  Simple and delicious.  I think I will make this ahead of time and bring it to work for lunches and such.  And the best part is, I can finally say that I like chicken salad!  Mayo-free is the only way for me.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Chicken Cacciatore with Spaghetti Squash

Last night I finally decided to make something Italian.  After all, just because I can't have pasta doesn't mean I can't have all the other delicious flavors of Italian food!  I went with a recipe that my mother has made ever since I can remember.  Now, there are tons of versions of Chicken Cacciatore out there, but this is the one she has always made.  When I was a kid, I didn't like this meal very much since it is jam packed with vegetables and I was NOT a fan of mushrooms until I was much older.  But now, I can appreciate and enjoy it!  The only change I made from her original recipe is that I used spaghetti squash instead of pasta.  Typically we would eat this with linguine, so I figured spaghetti squash would be a decent substitute.  It definitely was.  This was really delicious and healthier than the original.  If you are like me and searching for Paleo versions of your Italian favorites, give this one a try!

Chicken Cacciatore with Spaghetti Squash
(Makes enough to serve 4)
  • 2 large chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 8 oz. package white mushrooms, sliced thick
  • 1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes 
  • 1 T olive oil
  •  salt & pepper
  • 1 tsp dried basil (or use fresh if you have it)
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano (or use fresh if you have it)
  • 1/2 large spaghetti squash (I only used half for this recipe, but I roasted the whole thing and saved half for another meal)
Preparation:
To make the spaghetti squash, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.   Slice the squash in half length wise so you have 2 halves that look like little boats.  Place them on a baking sheet or roasting pan, cut side up, and sprinkle some salt and pepper onto the flesh of the squash.  Bake for about 1 hour, until the flesh is soft.  (Alternatively you can microwave it for about 10 minutes instead).  Once it is done, remove and let it cool slightly (so you can touch it) as the rest of the meal is cooking.  To make the "spaghetti," take a fork and shred the flesh all along the inside of the squash half.  Fluff it up to make it look like pasta!  (Ideally, do this right before you serve it).  Again, you will likely only eat half of the squash for this meal, so save the rest in a Tupperware or Ziploc and refrigerate/freeze it for another meal. 

While the squash is baking, get started on the rest (though this part will only take about 20 minutes, so you can give the squash a head start).  Heat a large skillet on the stove at medium-high heat.  Add the olive oil and allow it to get hot.  Throw in the garlic and stir it around a bit to add flavor to the oil.  Add the chicken and season with some salt and pepper.  Stir the chicken around a bit and allow it to cook until it all turns white (about 5 minutes).  Next, toss in the onion, peppers, and mushrooms.  Stir this around for about 3-4 minutes until the vegetables look cooked.  Crack open your can of tomatoes and pour it into the pan.  Turn the heat down to medium-low.  Stir the tomatoes around until all the yummy goodness is incorporated and mixed together.  At this point, add your basil and oregano and taste it to see if you need more salt or pepper.  Let it simmer for about 5 more minutes to allow the flavors to meld.


To serve, scoop some spaghetti squash onto your plate and top it with the chicken mixture.  I like to get some of the extra tomato juice from the pan and pour it over my squash too.  If you are eating dairy, top it with some Parmesan cheese!  (Oh how I miss Parmesan already).  I encourage you to try spaghetti squash with all of your regular Italian favorites.  It could never completely replace the joy that is pasta, but it is a great alternative.  Enjoy!

Apple Cinnamon Almond Butter Pancakes

The other day my sister sent me a recipe for almond butter pancakes, and it looked so good that I knew I had to try it.  So this morning, after drinking a couple beers last night (I know, I know, that's not Paleo...), I decided we needed some pancakes.

I used this recipe as a basis, but I changed it up a bit.  I decided to add apple chunks to the pancakes because I love things that are apple-cinnamon and why not add more fruit to the mix?  I opted to cook these on the stove in a skillet, but I may rethink that for next time.  The batter is a bit thinner than traditional pancake batter, and it was hard to get the heat at the right level.  I used coconut oil to fry them, when I usually would use butter, so it took a few tries to get the proper level of heat to work with coconut oil. They didn't come out as the prettiest pancakes you've ever seen, but they still tasted great.  The original recipe calls for baking them on parchment paper in the oven at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, and I think that may work better.  Oh well, gotta experiment!


So here's what I used:
(This served 2 of us)
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 1/2 cup applesauce (all natural)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 apple, cut into small chunks
Preparation
Mix all ingredients together until batter is smooth.  Heat a large skillet at medium heat.  Add coconut oil to the pan. Pour batter into the skillet to form small pancakes and flip when they start to bubble.  Repeat with rest of batter.

OR pour batter onto parchment-lined baking sheets and bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

These are sweet and delicious enough that you won't need a topping, but I poured some honey on top since I love syrup on my pancakes.  They tasted great!  I served them with scrambled eggs and it made a great meal.  Next time, I will try them in the oven.  I look forward to experimenting with even more Paleo breakfasts.  Stay tuned!


UPDATE: I made these again today (3/9), but I used the baking method.  This was SO MUCH EASIER and made the pancakes a lot fluffier and better cooked.  After trying both, I would HIGHLY recommend baking them- as long as you have parchment paper!  Check out how much different (better, I think) they look after being oven-baked:



Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lettuce (or Cabbage)-Wrapped Tacos

One of my favorite quick & easy meals to make is tacos.  I love Mexican food- tacos, fajitas, enchiladas- you name it, I love it.  So I decided to try out a Paleo version, and it really didn't require much change.  The only real modification was that I couldn't top mine with cheese, and oh yeah, I served them in lettuce rather than a tortilla.  I have to admit, I did miss the taste and texture of the tortilla... I always eat my tacos in soft tortillas, and it was hard to match that chewy, warm, yummy wrap.  However, if you want a taco while living Paleo, a lettuce-wrap is the best way to go.  I served these with my Paleo Chips, Salsa, and Guacamole and it was a great meal!

Lettuce-Wrapped Beef Tacos
(Served the 2 of us with plenty to spare)
  • 1 lb Ground Beef
  • 1/2 Green Bell Pepper, Diced
  • 1/4 Onion, Diced
  • 1/2 Cup Water
  • Taco Seasoning (see recipe below)
  • Iceberg Lettuce OR Cabbage (Pull off Large Leaves)
  • Homemade Salsa
  • Avocado Slices
Taco Seasoning:
  • 1 T Chili Powder
  • 1 T Onion Powder
  • 1 T Garlic Powder
  • 1 T Cumin
  • 1/4 T Cayenne Pepper (more or less depending on your spice preference)
Preparation
Heat a large skillet to medium-high heat.  Brown the ground beef along with the green peppers and onions until all are cooked through.  Drain off any excess grease if necessary.  Lower heat to medium-low and add water and taco seasoning.  Stir until combined.  Let simmer for a few minutes to allow the flavors to meld.

To serve, take a large lettuce leaf "wrap" and fill it with some of the meat mixture.  Top with salsa and avocado slices.  Wrap it up and enjoy!

*UPDATE 4/6: I made these again last week, but used cabbage leaves instead, and I DEFINITELY preferred the cabbage!  I pulled off some big leaves and let them soften one at a time in a pot of boiling water for about a minute each, and they were perfect.  They were a lot sturdier than lettuce, and had much better texture.  Plus, they have more nutritional value than iceberg lettuce.  I would recommend you use cabbage for sure!

Paleo Chips, Salsa, & Guacamole

Since I was planning to make tacos for dinner tonight, I decided to see if I could make some sort of Paleo "tortilla" chips to accompany the meal.   Since I was going to make my homemade salsa and guacamole, I felt like chips would be crucial.  I found a recipe for "tortilla chips" here, and it sounded simple enough!  I adjusted some spices and amounts, and it worked out really well.  Check out my recipes for Paleo Chips & Dip:

"Tortilla" Chips:
(This recipe could serve 3-4 people as a side)
  • 1 cup Almond Flour
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder 
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
Preparation
Preheat the oven to 325.  Mix all ingredients together to make a paste/dough.  Roll out the dough between two pieces of parchment as thin as you can get it.  Peel off the top layer of parchment and cut desired chip shapes.  Transfer the dough on the parchment onto a baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes, or until they turn light golden brown.  Remove from the oven and use a spatula to remove the chips from the parchment/baking sheet.  Serve with Paleo salsa & guacamole!
 
 Guacamole:
  • 1 Avocado
  • 1/4 Red Onion, Finely Diced
  • 1 Clove Garlic, Minced
  • 1 T Lime Juice
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 T Cilantro, Chopped
  • Jalapeno, Finely Diced (Optional)
Preparation:
In a bowl, mash the avocado. Add all ingredients and mash/stir until combined.

Salsa:
  • 2 Medium Tomatoes (or 1 Large), Diced
  • 1/4 Red Onion, Finely Diced
  • 1 Clove Garlic, Minced
  • 1 T Lime Juice
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 T Cilantro, Chopped 
  • Jalapeno, Finely Diced (Optional)
Preparation:
In a bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well.

HINT: If you are making both guacamole and salsa at once, prep all the ingredients at the same time, since they have the same basic ingredients.  Divide the ingredients into 2 bowls, and then add the respective avocado or tomato.

So there you have it!  Make these as a side for a Mexican meal, or even just a snack.  The "chips" have a lot of spice and taste great- just don't expect the crispy chips you would get in a bag.  They are a little more like crackers, but still taste great with the dips.  An all-natural, delicious, Paleo snack!

Peachy Pineapple Smoothie (with a Twist!)

When I was a first year at UVA, I would go to the AFC (Aquatic & Fitness Center) to work out a lot of mornings.  After my workout, I would stop by the cafe and get a smoothie, and my favorite flavor was the Peachy Pineapple.  I would watch them make it, and it seemed pretty easy: orange juice, ice, peaches, and pineapple.  So delicious and simple enough.  Since then, when I think of smoothies, I think of the AFC and those Peachy Pineapples.  So I decided to do my own spin on it!


First, I have to mention the fresh pineapple.  I love fresh pineapple, and I have found the BEST tool for slicing it.  You can find this gadget at Bed, Bath, and Beyond and it will literally change your life if you like fresh pineapple.  It will slice/chunk your pineapple in about a minute with little to no mess.  Get one!  They are like $15.  Worth it.

So for this smoothie I used:
  • Ice
  • 1/2 cup of Orange Juice 
  • A handful of Pineapple Chunks
  • 1/2 can of Peach Slices (you could use a real peach if you want)
  • A handful of Spinach

I decided to once again add spinach because really, why not?  It doesn't change the taste and you get a lot of nutrients from it!  So there you have it- my twist on an old favorite.  I will definitely be making this one again!

Before and after:


Friday, February 15, 2013

Chocoholics Rejoice: Paleo Brownies!

The one shining light of living Paleo is that you can actually eat chocolate! Now this doesn't mean you can indulge yourself on 5 lbs a day, but eating small amounts of (dark) chocolate is fine.  Since it has been Valentine's Day, I may have been eating a few pieces here and there for the past few days... but if I am not going to give up chocolate for Lent like usual, I will definitely help myself to some. 

In my house, we love dessert.  I think I have pushed my sweet-tooth onto my husband and we both love a good after-dinner treat.  So I immediately began researching Paleo dessert options.  There are actually a bunch out there, and I am excited to try them out!  The first one I experimented with last night was Paleo Brownies.

I found a recipe here and I decided to try it.  I had taken a trip to Natural Grocers earlier in the day and I was stocked with almond flour and coconut milk and ready with all the ingredients I needed.

Here's what I used:
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil (which is actually solid and reminded me of wax)
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 2 tbs honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup almond meal
Preparation
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine the coconut oil, cocoa powder, and cinnamon in a bowl (I used my KitchenAid).  Add the coconut milk, honey, egg, and almond meal and mix until combined.

Line a 9 x 9 pan with parchment paper OR grease it with coconut oil (which I did).  Spoon the brownie mixture into the pan and smooth the surface of the mixture.  Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove and allow to cool to room temperature before cutting into squares. I cut mine into 16 brownies.  Here they are:


So how did they turn out?  Overall good.  They taste like brownies for sure.  The biggest issue was that they were a little thin and crumbly.  So it was kind of hard to get them out of the pan.  I put them into the refrigerator in hopes of firming them up a bit.  In terms of taste, they are VERY chocolatey.  I may not have added enough honey, and I may add more next time to sweeten them up a little.  Luckily, I like dark chocolate, but if you prefer less intense chocolate flavor, add more honey.  Let's be clear- I enjoyed my Paleo brownie and all, but I would still take a REAL brownie any day.  Maybe that will change at some point...

I plan to try out more Paleo dessert recipes over the next few weeks, and I will keep posting about our favorites!  In the meantime, try this one for yourself!

Bacon & Egg "Muffins"

I've seen this idea of making bacon & egg "muffins" on Pinterest a lot, and I've always been interested in trying it out.  Well, now that I am desperate for a cereal alternative for breakfast, I guess it's as good a time as any!

I found some general guidelines online and then did my own spin.  Typically, I would load these bad-boys up with some cheese.  Sadly, not an option right now. So instead I went with other add-ins that will make them more delicious and nutritious!

Here's what I used:
  • 12 slices of bacon (1 per cup)
  • 10 eggs 
  • sea salt & pepper
  • a handful of mushrooms, chopped
  • a handful of spinach, chopped
So how do you make these? Easy.  First, grab a cupcake pan.  Some people grease the pan, but I feel like with all the bacon grease that will develop, it seems unnecessary.  Next, place a bacon strip into each cup to kind of outline the "muffin."  Next, mix up the rest of the ingredients and pour some into each cup!  Hint: I used a batter-pourer that you would use for cupcake batter, and it made pouring really easy.  Finally, pop them into a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes.

Once they are out of the oven, let them cool in the pan for a few minutes.  To remove them, I took a knife and cut around the edges of each one to loosen them, and most of them popped out pretty easily.  (If you grease the pan they will likely slide right out).

Since I am going to use mine for daily breakfasts, I froze them.  First, I put them all on a plate (you could use a cookie sheet) and popped it in the freezer to freeze them individually for about 10-15 minutes.  Then I put them all into a Ziploc bag and stashed them away in the freezer.  Now all we need to do is grab one in the morning, heat it in the microwave for about 2 minutes, and have a nutritious Paleo breakfast!

I think they look pretty good!  Things never live up to their appearance on Pinterest, but I am happy with them:






Thursday, February 14, 2013

Beef Stir Fry & Cauliflower Rice

For our first Paleo dinner, I decided to take a meal that I've made before and adapt it to our new dietary ways.  It actually wasn't very hard, and it was still delicious!  My meal inspiration came from this recipe, from my favorite blogger in the world, Pioneer Woman.  FYI: If you are NOT doing Paleo, you should definitely check out her recipes because they are some of the best ever.  But not exactly on point with this new lifestyle.  For that reason, I made some changes to the recipe.  Nothing major, but here are some things I had to do:  First, I decided to swap out the soy sauce for Tamari sauce- now, Tamari is not strict Paleo, but it is gluten-free which makes it a better option than traditional soy sauce.  Good enough for me.  Next, I used honey instead of brown sugar, since refined sugars are frowned upon.  I used olive oil instead of canola, since olive oil is approved on Paleo.  Generally I don't use olive oil with Asian flavors, but it didn't seem to matter with this recipe.  I added mushrooms mainly because I felt like it, and because it gave the dish more vegetables and made it a bit heavier.  I omitted corn starch, which is used as a sauce thickener, and I found that it really did not make much of a difference anyway.  Finally, the biggest change was using cauliflower instead of rice/noodles.  I was pleasantly surprised and it really did taste a lot like rice.  Can't wait to try that trick again soon!  I would definitely eat this again with these substitutions, and I recommend this meal to everyone, even non-Paleo-ites!


Beef Stir Fry & Cauliflower Rice:
(This served 2 of us with a bit left over for tomorrow!)
  • 3/4 pound Flank Steak, Sliced Very Thin Against The Grain
  • 1/2 cup Tamari Sauce
  • 3 Tablespoons Sherry*
  • 1 Tablespoon Honey
  • 1 Tablespoon Grated Fresh Ginger (Keep it in the freezer and it's super easy to grate!)
  • 2 cloves Garlic, Minced
  • A few shakes of Red Pepper Flakes (More if you like heat)
  • Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Medium Yellow Onion, Sliced Thin
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper, Cored And Sliced Thin
  • Handful of Mushrooms, Sliced (Cremini or White) 
  • 1/2 Head of Cauliflower 
*If you are hard-core and/or are going without alcohol, feel free to omit the Sherry.  I decided that since it is a very dry wine, it was legitimate to use as a flavor agent.

Preparation
Beef Stir Fry:
Mix together Tamari sauce, sherry, honey, ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Place sliced beef in the mixture and toss to coat.  Let sit while you prepare the rest.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high to high heat. When it is very hot, throw in the onions and cook for less than a minute. Remove to a separate plate. Return skillet to heat and add bell peppers.  Cook for a minute, tossing, until peppers have brown/black bits but are still firm. Remove to a plate. Return skillet to heat, add oil if necessary, and add mushrooms.  Cook for 1-2 minutes and remove to a plate. *If you have a giant skillet/wok and want to do this all in one batch, go for it.

Return skillet to heat and allow to get hot. Add another tablespoon of oil to the skillet. Add 1/3 of the meat mixture, evenly distributing over the surface of the skillet. Allow to sit for 20 to 30 seconds, then turn with tongs. Cook for another 30 seconds, then remove to a separate plate. Repeat with remaining meat until all brown.

Reduce heat to low. Add all meat, onions, peppers, and mushrooms to the skillet and toss to combine. Pour in remaining sauce (meat marinade) and stir. Allow to simmer on low for a few minutes.

Cauliflower Rice:
Wash and dry the cauliflower head and slice in half (use full head for more servings).  Remove leafy greens.  Grate into tiny bits using either cheese grater or food processor.  *I used a cheese grater because I feared that my processor would pulverize the cauliflower too much.  The grater method was fast and easy and left me with rice-size pieces.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Throw in the cauliflower and stir it around in the pan for a few minutes.  Once it starts to brown a bit and it is heated up, turn off the stove and it is ready to serve!

To serve, scoop some "rice" onto the plate and pile all the yummy beef and veggies on top.  Delish!  I hope you enjoy this as much as we did, and feel free to make your own substitutions/additions as well!

Stay tuned to see what other Paleo meals I have in store for us!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Breakfast/Lunch Challenge

Other than the whole no-pasta thing, the biggest challenge for me (well, both of us) is what to eat for breakfast and lunch.  For as long as I can remember, I have had cereal for breakfast.  Other than weekends/special occasions when my family or I would make a deluxe breakfast, I would have cereal.  So what do you do when you aren't supposed to eat grains or dairy??

Lunch is a similar problem for me.  I typically have something involving cheese, crackers, an apple, a sandwich, yogurt, or something along those lines.  So most of that is now out.  My husband typically just has dinner leftovers, so he doesn't have such an issue.

Today (our first day of Paleo), has already been a bit difficult.  I made a big batch of hard boiled eggs yesterday so we could have an easy breakfast of eggs and fruit.  That actually kept me reasonably full all morning.  Yay, protein!  Once I have more time on my hands, I plan to try some other easy make-ahead breakfasts.  Stay tuned!

For lunch today, we both had some leftovers of meals that were primarily meat and veggies.  I admit though, my leftover chowder did have milk and cheese in it, but hey- remember baby steps!  So when I was still hungry 3 hours later, instead of going for the string cheese or crackers, I tried out a smoothie!  I was on a smoothie kick for a while this summer, so I decided to break out the blender and try again!  I am hoping to make large batches of smoothies as another option for a ready-made breakfasts or lunches.  So, here is what I used today:
  • Ice
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Banana
  • Spinach (going green!)
  • A squirt of Honey (not pictured)
  • A splash of Milk (I realized I needed some sort of liquid to make the blender work and this was the best I came up with... I wish I had orange juice- I'll try that next time!)
That squash on the side did NOT go in, it just wanted to be in the picture...

 The smoothie ended up tasting great and as I had heard- you can't taste the spinach.  It just adds nutrients and turns it....
 
GREEN!


Stay tuned for more smoothie varieties and my attempts at figuring out breakfast and lunch.  And of course our first Paleo dinner tonight!  If you have any B/L recipes/ideas, please share!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My First Paleo Shopping Trip

Well I am off to embark on my first grocery trip with my new Paleo shopping list.  I am pretty much prepared to just buy every item in the produce department, and I guess some meat too.  We actually have a ton of meat/poultry in our freezer since I always buy in bulk at Sam's Club, so we are pretty well stocked in that area.  Chicken breasts, pork chops, ground beef, etc.  We have it all.  The thing I am most worried about with this diet is that I will have to take more frequent trips to the grocery store to get fresh produce- I try to keep my trips to once every 2 weeks if I plan things out well enough- just because I am working and taking grad school classes, and I'd rather not add daily errands into that mix.  So, we'll see how it goes!

Before I provide my grocery list, I feel the need to share a disclaimer:  I am not, nor do I claim to be, a Paleo expert.  I know that we will not be able to jump in 100% and do the pure Paleo diet that the masters can do.  This means we are not going to go all-Paleo with everything.  I'll try to make substitutes for my usual items like condiments, but in small quantities I may keep things like Soy Sauce for marinades and whatnot.  For now, I don't think that will kill us.  We are also keeping dairy, just cutting down the quantities.  I maintain that since milk comes out of animals and humans, even cavemen would have had access to it.  Shoot me for it, but I can't eliminate dairy entirely.  Maybe one day.  Finally, we are not cutting out alcohol altogether- just cutting down.  I mean, if we can have vinegar, shouldn't we be able to have wine?  Fermented grapes seem like they could have been found by cavemen...  Maybe this is selfish, and I know this makes me a half-assed Paleo-ist, but alas.  Baby steps are better than no steps!

So here goes- this is what I will be shopping for today:
  • apples
  • bananas
  • oranges
  • berries (whatever looks good)
  • avocados
  • zucchini
  • spaghetti squash
  • butternut/acorn squash (whatever they have)
  • asparagus
  • brussels sprouts
  • cauliflower
  • peppers (stoplight colors)
  • lettuce (iceberg/green leaf)
  • spinach
  • pineapple
  • onion (red and white)
  • garlic
  • mushrooms (white and crimini)
  • jalapenos
  • peaches
  • applesauce
  • almonds
  • cashews
  • ground turkey
  • flank steak
  • pork butt/shoulder
  • deli turkey
  • bacon
  • eggs (1.5 dozen to add to the dozen at home)
  • milk (yes, I know, I can't get rid of it!)
And what I HOPE to find but may need a special trip for:
  • almond flour
  • almond butter
  • coconut oil
  • tamari sauce
So there you have it!  We have less than a day until our Paleo lives begin- stay tuned to see how the first few days go!

UPDATE: Take a look at the (partial) results of my trip!  I think I wiped the produce section clean...  In other news, I will need another special trip for the almond flour/butter.


Monday, February 11, 2013

40 Days is Nothing, Right?

This whole experiment started 2 days before Lent when my husband suggested to me that instead of my usually act of giving up chocolate for 40 days, I try something new: going Paleo.  I won't lie, this sparked a legitimate panic attack in me once I realized that this meant I would be cutting out my favorite things in life: pasta, cereal, bread... carbs.  I live for pasta.  No, really.  I am part Italian and I grew up with most of my meals containing some form of pasta/rice component.  And I loved it.  I could eat pasta every day of my life and be happy.  I want to live in Italy and eat nothing but fresh pasta.  Ahhh my dream...  So you can imagine my horror at the thought of eliminating this glorious food from my diet.  Why can't I just stick to the norm and give up the same thing I have given up for the last 10+ years- which also happens to be something I can hardly live without- chocolate? Why did he have to introduce this new challenge to my life?  Well once the panic died down a bit, I started doing some actual research...

I found some sites that detailed the Paleo lifestyle, and I also found some recipes for all types of meals.  Slowly, things started to seem more doable.  I love to cook, and I am pretty skilled at coming up with delicious dishes every night for dinner- I would just need to buy more produce and hit up the local Natural Grocery store, but I thought... I can make this work.  So here goes nothing!

We are starting with Lent: 40-some days of Paleo.  If it doesn't kill me, maybe we will continue this longer.  We'll see...  At the end of the day, neither of us needs to lose weight, but we are hoping that eating this way will make us feel healthier and happier.  It will be an interesting challenge to see how I do with cooking carb-free, but I am confident that I can make it happen!  Join us on our journey as we go 40 (or more) days From Pasta to Paleo!