Every Food in Moderation

NutritionIf you grew up in the United States, it’s very likely you were raised on the conventional nutritional wisdom, “everything in moderation. ”

Throughout my years of transitioning toward a healthier lifestyle, I interpreted this phrase in many different ways.

As a kid, my family followed this mantra to a T, having treats for special occasions and on weekends every once in awhile, but sticking primarily to a wide variety of foods, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables and meats. All in all, it really was pretty healthy (if not in line with the way I eat today for optimal health).

In college, I took this conventional wisdom to mean that on days when I planned on going to a party and drinking beer, I should probably eat only egg whites for breakfast, and lettuce for lunch and dinner. Not the best plan, actually. And honestly, I spent most of college periodically eating as little as possible, to make up for the times when I drank beer and ate pizza and candy. While I must say the junk was delicious, the times I spent trying to make up for those treats was anything but.

In the lifestyle I follow currently, I have been doing a lot of thinking about “everything in moderation” In theory, I like the message it is sending: to not go too crazy with one’s diet in any direction (obsessively healthy or overly junky). Still, the more I learn about the foods that the human body really doesn’t need (or, in many cases, tolerate), the more I’ve begun to think the phrase should read something more like, “every FOOD in moderation.”

Let’s face facts, people. Cheetos and doughnuts, they’re not food. They are factory-made food products that offer absolutely no nutrition. No, they fill our bodies only with chemicals and sugar. Nearly nothing else. Am I saying I will never, ever eat a Cheeto or a doughnnut again? God now. They’re freaking delicious!

What I am saying is that suggesting everything can be eaten “in moderation” often leads people to be eating way too many of such things. The fact is, these processed food products are not food, and should not be eaten in moderation. If you’re looking for optimal health, these things should be eaten as infrequently as possible.

When it comes to real, whole foods found in nature (things that have ALWAYS been food), however: moderate the hell of out that sh**!

Like I said, I am not perfect in this sense. At Christmas, I ate my weight in cookies, candy and other things I normally wouldn’t eat. And I do believe there are times when such gorging is not a big deal. But, I’ve also gotten better and better at satisfying cravings with gluten-free, sugar-free, made from scratch treats, and I feel SO much better for it.

I’ve found that those times when I do give in to a craving for “real” junk- the kind of junk you can only find in a vending machine- I always regret it. I always feel like crap after. And to me, that’s just proof of what I put in my body: crap.

So that’s how I feel about that. What do you think about this idea? Do you eat the occasional gluten-filled, sugary treat? Or are you a super human with willpower the size of Texas?

Spreading the Good Food

NutritionI’ve been thinking a lot lately about my overall mission for this blog. Am I aiming for internet fame, leading to a book deal, leading to appearances at book stores across America? Well, duh. Who isn’t?

But I realize the chances of that happening are slim. For all of the food bloggers out there sharing their passion for food and health, there are very few who take their message beyond their site and social media.

So what is the real mission of this blog? The one that will always make it worth writing even if it’s only my family, friends and a few followers reading? It’s the message I share in my site’s tagline: “Spreading the good food.”

A paleo lifestyle is not for everyone. But I believe so strongly in this way of life. And I want to share my reinvigorated passion for food, fitness and health with anyone who will listen. I truly believe this way of life can change people and change their health for the better. And if I can help someone find more happiness and find better health it will mean the world to me.

Already this goal is materializing. Two people at work last week asked me about the blog and to tell them about the paleo diet. My parents have been over for meals a few times and have loved the paleo food I’ve made (they’ve even borrowed my copy of Practical Paleo!). My hubby is joining me in following a paleo lifestyle more and more every day, giving up dairy with me for Lent and working hard to rid gluten from his diet as much as possible.

A few of our friends, many of whom have long been looking for a new path to health, are also trying to go paleo. We’ve been sharing tips and favorite products, and having each other over for delicious paleo meals. It makes me so happy to know that I have already been able to share this lifestyle that I am so passionate about.

I know there are some friends and family members who will never consider following this kind of lifestyle. And that’s OK. I firmly believe that everyone should take responsibility for their own health, whether they do that through paleo living,  a vegetarian diet, a standard American diet, or through marathon running, yoga or CrossFit.

All I know is that the paleo lifestyle works for me. It has given me such peace of mind, greater health and fitness, and has inspired a love of cooking I never knew I had.

And though I won’t reach everyone, nor influence all of those I do reach, I am going to keep spreading the good food– shouting my love of paleo living from the rooftops as loudly as I can.

RECIPE: Coconut Curry Paleo Stuffed Peppers

One of my favorite ways to create new recipes is out of necessity. This is something that often happens to me on a Friday night when my last Sunday morning grocery store trip is a distant memory and my fridge is becoming bare.

Typically, I’ll have random ingredients left over from other meals made throughout the week, perhaps some meat in the freezer, and some pantry staples to work with. Using what I have left creatively is something I not only love to do, but has also been the source of some of my favorite recipe creations!

Tonight was not different. A look inside my nearly bare fridge revealed an open can of coconut milk, some ground beef, two bell peppers, the insides of two zucchini left over from a night of zoodles and some beet greens. What to make with this? Coconut curry paleo stuffed peppers, of course!

This recipe turned out really great and it was so easy to make!

Here’s how to make it in your kitchen:

  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 2/3 cup zucchini, chopped small
  • 2 cups beet greens, chopped
  • 3/4 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1-2 tbsp arrowroot powder
  • chopped green onion (optional, for garnish)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 medium size bell peppers

1. Preheat the oven to 350.

2. Cut the tops off the peppers and scoop the seeds out from the inside. Set aside in a small baking dish (the smaller the better, as the peppers may want to topple over later as they are cooking if the dish is too large).

3. In a saute pan over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the ground beef to the pan and cook, breaking the meat apart, until slightly browned, about 2 minutes. Once the meat begins to brown, add the garlic and zucchini to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is cooked through and the zucchini has softened slightly, about 3-5 minutes. With about one minute left, stir in the beet greens.

4. Reduce the heat to medium and add in the coconut milk, curry powder, coriander powder fresh ginger, cumin powder, salt and pepper, stirring to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer and allow the mixture to thicken, cooking for about 2-3 minutes.

5. Slowly add 1 tbsp of arrowroot powder to the pan and stir, helping the sauce to thicken. (More arrowroot can be added if you want the filling to be thicker.)

6. If you’re using them, add in the green onions. Then, scoop the mixture into each of the waiting bell peppers, filling them completely.  Place the baking dish with the peppers into the preheated oven to bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until the peppers have softened.

7. Remove from the oven, allow the peppers to cool, and then serve! We ate these with a side of spicy roasted tomatoes.

Let me know if you try this recipe! We really enjoyed it but I would love to hear what the readers think!

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Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Salted Caramel Bourbon Bacon Brownies

Nutrition-3Every year I give up something (or a few things) for Lent, as the (occasionally) good Catholic that I am. This Lent, I decided to give up sweets and dairy (my one non-paleo vice). On Tuesday, the hubby and I decided to make one last incredible dessert before embarking on 40 days and 40 nights without dessert.

So where do you turn to find an amazing grain-free, paleo dessert? To Brittany Angell, of course! If you’ve never checked out her recipes, go now. Seriously. Stop reading my blog and go to hers (but then come back to mine…please?).

We made her Salted Caramel Bourbon Bacon Brownies, and they were super good. Definitely not the moist brownie I am used to (we might try adding eggs next time since both of us can tolerate eggs), but the flavor was incredible. We didn’t eat them all (though it was tempting), so we’ve got half the batch in the freezer to enjoy after Easter.

Visit Brittany’s blog for the full recipe, and then try it out for yourself. They were seriously amazing!

Bourbon Bacon Brownies

Steak, Roasted Beet & Fennel Salad with Orange Tarragon Vinaigrette

Nutrition-3If you live in the Northeast you know that these last few weeks have been filled with almost nothing but clouds, wind and snow. SO. MUCH. SNOW. If you live in the Boston area, you’re likely going stir crazy. And if you’re like me, you’re doing anything you can to get a little summertime in your life.

To me, nothing says summertime like a great salad. I find that I eat far more salads and fresh veggies in the summer than in the winter (when all I want are mashed potatoes, meat, carbs and other foods to keep my poor, shivering body warm and full).

So to bring a little summer into our lives, the hubby and I decided to turn away from the sweet potatoes and turn toward a delicious steak salad with roasted beets, sliced fresh fennel, toasted pine nuts and avocado, with an orange tarragon vinaigrette.

It was awesome. And for the brief 10 minutes it took me to eat (read: inhale) this salad, it was my own personal summer! Better still, this was a super easy meal to make.

Here’s what you’ll need to make this in your own kitchen:

  • your choice of prepared steak (we cooked up some sirloin, but flank steak, steak tips, etc would also work)
  • 3 large beets, peeled and chopped into about 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • mixed greens
  • 1 bulb fennel, sliced thinly
  • pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/2 avocado, diced

For the dressing:

  • juice of one orange
  • 2 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
  • salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Place the peeled, chopped beets on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast the beets in the oven for about 40 minutes. Set aside while cooking your steak.

2. Cook your steak. I’m not going to provide instructions for this part, because it will all depend on the kind of steak you choose and your personal preference on done-ness. We simply added salt, pepper and ground adobo to the steak to add a bit of spice before cooking it on the stove.

3. To make your dressing, place all of the dressing ingredients into a small container with a cover. Cover and shake vigorously to combine.

4. To assemble your salad, simple plate the mixed greens and top with the steak, sliced fennel, roasted beets, toasted pine nuts and diced avocado, adding as much of each ingredient as you please. Add your dressing.

5. EAT. EAT IT ALL.

Let me know if you try this recipe- I’d love to get your feedback!

Roasted Beet Salad

RECIPE: Lamb & Fennel Scramble with Roasted Garlic-Tarragon Hollandaise

Nutrition-3If you read my post from earlier today, you’d know that the hubby and I had an amazing Valentine’s Day dinner at home last night, featuring braised lamb shank, fennel salad and roasted fingerling potatoes. IT. WAS. AWESOME.

But the best part was the fact that there was so much meat leftover! I knew before dinner had even ended last night that I wanted to make a lamb scramble for breakfast this morning. It was a GREAT decision!

Our leftovers transformed into a lamb and fennel scramble with sweet potato home fries and topped with roasted garlic-tarragon hollandaise.

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While this meal works best if you have leftover lamb, you could definitely just sauté some ground lamb to make this if you don’t already have cooked lamb shank sitting in your fridge.

Here’s how you can make this breakfast of champions in your own kitchen:

  • 1 sweet potato, chopped into small pieces (about 1/2-inch)
  • 1/2 tsp seasoned salt
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 3 tbsp cooking fat (we used bacon fat, but butter, ghee or even olive oil would also work)
  • 1/4 cup fennel, diced finely
  • 2/3 cup cooked lamb, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 tbsp. butter, melted
  • 2 cloves garlic, roasted (we did this the night before and just kept them in the fridge)
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees (this will serve to keep your food warm as you make all of the pieces of this dish).

Place your 3 tbsp. of cooking fat into a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, and once the fat is hot add the sweet potatoes to the pan. Stir the sweet potatoes until they are evenly coated with the cooking fat. Add in the seasoned salt and paprika, stirring to combine, and then cook the potatoes, stirring only every minute or two, until they are cooked through and crispy on the outside (about 5 minutes). Place the sweet potatoes in a baking dish, oven-safe plate or tinfoil packet and put the oven to keep warm.

In the same pan used to cook the potatoes, cook the diced fennel until softened slightly over medium-high heat, about 2-3 minutes. Additional cooking fat can be added to the pan if needed. Then, add in the cooked lamb and sauté with the fennel, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, or until warmed through. Add in the spinach leaves and cook, stirring, for about  one minute. Turn the heat down to low, to keep the mixture warm while preparing the eggs.

Separate three of the eggs, placing the yolks of these three eggs into a small glass bowl. Place the three egg whites into another small bowl. The remaining two eggs can be added to the bowl with the egg whites. Set this bowl aside.

Over medium heat, boil about an inch of water in a small pan. Note: The bowl of egg yolks needs to fit on top of this pan without touching the water. To make the hollandaise, place the bowl of yolks on top of the pan with boiling water, whisking continuously until the yolks begin to thicken, about 2 minutes.

Once the yolks begin to thicken, remove the bowl from the pan of water (keep the pan of water on the hot stove, but turn the heat down to low). In a small dish, mix the melted butter and the roasted garlic until well-combined. Slowly add the garlic butter to the egg yolks, whisking continuously. Add the lemon juice and half of the chopped tarragon to the hollandaise, continuing to whisk. If the mixture seems too thick, you can add a bit of water to the sauce. Place the bowl of sauce back on top of the pan of hot water to keep the sauce warm.

Returning to the pan of the lamb and fennel mixture, turn the burner back up to medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add in the egg whites and egg mixture, scrambling with the lamb mixture until cooked through, about 2 minutes.

Remove the potatoes from the oven and split the potatoes between two plates. Top the potatoes with the lamb scramble, then pour the hollandaise on top of everything. Lastly, sprinkle the remaining chopped tarragon on top of the pile of glorious food.

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This was definitely a breakfast that took awhile to make, but with another blizzard making its way through New Hampshire, the longer I spend making breakfast, the longer I get to wait to shovel. #WorthIt

Hope I inspired you to turn your dinner leftovers into amazing breakfasts! What’s your favorite way to use leftovers? I’d love to hear your ideas!

A Paleo Valentine’s Day Dinner

Nutrition-3Did everyone have a happy Valentine’s Day? I know I sure did, and when you read this post you’ll know why. Here’s a hint: lamb shank!

While I firmly believe Valentine’s Day (and nearly every other holiday) is a time to treat yo self,  I also think it’s great when you can find ways to make paleo-friendly treats that won’t make you feel crappy later. Treats are so much better when you can eat them and feel great eating them, too!

And that’s why this Valentine’s Day was especially amazing. Not only did my amazing husband spend hours making us a romantic dinner at home, he made one of the most delicious, paleo-friendly meals I’ve ever eaten! Isn’t he awesome?!

On my plate when I was finally allowed into the kitchen yesterday evening: a massive lamb shank, roasted fingerling potatoes and mixed greens with shaved fennel, toasted pine nuts and orange-tarragon vinaigrette. It was glorious. My mouth is watering so much right now just writing about it.

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While I don’t have a specific recipe for this meal, I can definitely provide some tips on how you can make this meal yourself.

To make the lamb shank, the hubby seared the meat in a pan to get a nice brown crust on the outside. Then he put it in a pot with some beef stock, red wine, carrots, onions, celery, garlic, cinnamon sticks and other herbs, and braised it in the oven at 300 degrees for a few hours.

Once the meat was cooked and removed from the pot, he strained the liquid from the veggies, and added a slurry of arrowroot powder to the cooking liquid (a slurry is made by mixing arrowroot powder or a similar thickening agent to some water, and mixing it together until well-combined). This thickened up the cooking liquid and made an amazing gravy that we poured all over the lamb shank.

The fingerling potatoes were roasted very simply, with olive oil, salt and pepper. They were awesome.

The salad, however, was the super star of the whole show. The hubby shaved raw fennel and added it to some mixed greens, then toasted pine nuts in a pan on the stove to garnish the salad. He made a dressing for the salad out of the juice of an orange, red wine vinegar, fresh chopped tarragon, honey and salt and pepper. It was SO GOOD.

The best part of the whole meal: there was a ton of meat leftover, providing some great inspiration for this morning’s breakfast! That breakfast recipe will be posted soon 🙂

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40 Days and 40 Nights…Dairy-Free

NutritionI am by no means a regular church-goer (sorry, Mom), but if there’s one piece of organized religion I can really get behind, it’s Lent. I love the idea of sacrifice and of challenging yourself.

I’ve been giving up something for Lent for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, I gave up watching TV or playing on my computer. (My younger brothers, meanwhile, didn’t seem to have the same grasp of the concept, often giving up things like hand lotion and Kleenex…making the whole 40 days a lot worse for everyone.)

But as I’ve gotten older, Lent has become more of a short-term diet, with God on its side! For the last 10 or so years, I have given up sweets for Lent, including literally every sweet food (except for fruit) you could think of: muffins, cookies, candy, brownies, ice cream, dessert-flavored yogurt, gum, sugary cereals, etc. In the last four years or so, I’ve added in any fried foods.

You may have read in my About Me section that it was a Lenten sacrifice last year that actually kick-started my transition to a paleo lifestyle. Needless to say, while I am not perfect in my food choices, I eat far more healthfully this year than I did just last year. And so, Lent is presenting itself as more of a challenge. The more processed foods and junk I don’t eat, the more challenging it is to choose something else to give up!

In the end, I decided to go with the old standby (sweets, including paleo treats), but add in what I think will be one of the hardest Lenten sacrifices I’ve ever made: DAIRY.

Now for all of you hard-core paleo peeps out there, please try not to be alarmed that I eat cheese. We’ve been over this so many times (like here, and here, and here).

Still, I have been feeling like I’m overdoing it in the dairy department lately and have been wanting to try cutting it out completely. A year ago this time I never would have dreamed I could happily cut out grains, so I figure I should try going without dairy and see what happens.

Maybe nothing will change and I will go back to my normal cheese-loving life. But maybe I will feel better, maybe I will drop those last few pounds, maybe my fitness level will improve, maybe my headaches will go away. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

The way I see it, I might as well try.

From now until Wednesday, when Lent begins, I plan on devouring every cheesy food I can think up. Today, for example, I ate some gluten-free Annie’s mac n’ cheese. My tummy is not happy, but heart SO IS. My “eat so much cheese you don’t even want it for the next 40 days” plan seems to be working already!

Wish me luck- and prepare yourself for more than a month’s worth of dairy-free recipes!

Pork Ginger Meatballs & Zoodles!

Nutrition-3Back before I began my paleo lifestyle, I loved me some spaghetti. I ate it with tomato sauce, with pesto sauce, even just with butter and cheese. It was a meal at least three times a week, often more than that. And the only thing that could make the spaghetti better? MEATBALLS!

Now, I don’t eat pasta anymore (except for two times on my honeymoon this December…both of which were amazingly delicious, and amazing painful later!), but I still can’t get enough of meatballs. The pork ginger meatballs the hubby and I made for dinner this Wednesday are some of my current favorites.

Full of delicious Asian flavor, these glorious balls of meat are made with ground pork, freshly ground ginger and sesame oil. The recipe is borrowed from Liz Wolfe (of Balanced Bites podcast and Baby Making and Beyond fame) and her Real Food Liz blog. She pairs the meatballs with carrot noodles, which I’ve never actually tried. They look amazing, but I’ve paired these with zucchini noodles (cool people call them “zoodles”) each time and have really loved the combination.

I make up my own sauce for the zoodles, making it a little differently each time depending on my mood. But no matter how you make the noodles, I’m sure this meal will be a great addition to your week-night rotation. It’s super easy to make and doesn’t require many dishes.

Find the full meatball recipe here.

For the zoodles:

  • 2-3 zucchini (this serves about two people)
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tsp. mirin
  • 2 tsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. coconut aminos
  • 1/2 tbsp. chili garlic paste
  • 1 tbsp. almond butter
  • chopped scallions, for garnish
  • salt and pepper to taste

Using a mandolin, julienne cutter or peeler, carefully cut your zucchini into zoodles. Depending on the tool you use, your zoodles will vary in shape and size. I like the way the mandolin/julienne cutter work best (making a zoodle that is shaped like spaghetti), but a plain old peeler works fine, too (making more of a fettuccine shape).

Once your zoodles are prepared, toss them in a sauté pan over medium heat with the sesame oil, garlic and ginger and stir to combine. While the zoodles begin to cook, mix all other ingredients (except for scallions) together in a small bowl. Pour the sauce into the zoodle pan, turn the heat up to high and let the zoodles simmer for about 2-3 minutes, or until the zoodles are soft and the sauce has thickened slightly.

Top the delicious zoodles with the prepared meatballs, sprinkle on some scallions, and then bon a petit!

Zoodles and Pork Ginger Meatballs 3 Zoodles and Pork Ginger Meatballs

Let me know how you like this meal. I think it’s delicious!

 

Recipe: Pesto Caprese Salad

Nutrition-3As you may have read in yesterday’s post about making paleo pizza for the first time, I have a ton of leftover pesto sauce on my hands. Now this is the kind of “problem” I can get behind.

I don’t know about you, but I LOVE pesto sauce. I think it is amazing and have been trying to come up with ways to eat it every day since making a batch of it homemade over the weekend. On Monday, the hubby suggested we use fresh mozzarella (also leftover from pizza night) to make a pesto caprese salad. Clearly this was a prime example of why I married him.

Yes, this meal includes dairy, but it’s also great without cheese! On Tuesday I made the same salad, but exchanged the cheese for avocado. It was not only a healthy dose of fat, it was the perfect non-dairy, creamy alternative to mozzarella.

If you’re in the mood for something cheesy, however, the recipe below is for you! To be honest, I don’t think you can even call it a recipe, that’s how simple it is!

Here’s what you need to make this in your own kitchen:

  • Pesto sauce (recipe for homemade sauce here)
  • 2oz. fresh mozzarella
  • 2 plum tomatoes

There are a few different ways you could assemble this salad (you could dice the tomatoes and cheese, for example, and toss with the pesto), but I love a caprese salad that I need to eat with a fork and knife, so we sliced both the tomatoes and the cheese into thin, round pieces (about 1/3 inch thick). Then, simply make small stacks of salad on the plate of your choice: tomato, cheese, and then a smear of pesto. How much pesto sauce you use is completely up to you.

Finally, eat those little stacks of veggie-cheese heaven! We paired ours with some shredded chicken thighs (also leftovers), tossed with some homemade balsamic vinaigrette.

This is such a simple salad that is SO delicious and satisfying. This is a great way to use up some leftover pesto sauce, and can easily be taken to work for lunch (just prepare each ingredient and pack in separate plastic baggies or small plastic containers). All your coworkers will be jealous!

Caprese Salad Closeup Caprese Salad