Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve -- Delicious Beef Fajitas

Happy New Year's Eve!!!  This evening I decided to make beef fajitas for dinner.  I didn't want to use a pre-made seasoning packet or marinade so I decided to make my own so I would know exactly what was in it.  Beef fajitas are frequently made using flavorful, but sometimes tougher skirt steak.  Since I only planned to marinate my beef for a couple of hours rather than overnight, I decided to use sirloin steak instead since it's also very flavorful as well as much more tender than skirt steak is.  It was a simple marinade to put together and the meat turned out so tender and flavorful.  These were the best fajitas I have ever had, hands down -- even better than Mexican restaurant fajitas.  Tonight's meal will go down as one of my top 10, most delicious meals of 2012.  I decided to use a mixture of several beautiful colorful sweet peppers for my fajitas along with some sauteed onions.  I sliced orange, red and yellow bell peppers and a dark green and mildly spicy Poblano pepper to give it a little zip -- I sauteed the peppers in a little olive oil.  We grilled the marinated sirloin steak to give it that delicious char-grilled flavor that fajitas are famous for.  The one thing I needed to create though was a grain free fajita wrap to hold all the delicious fajita meat and veggies.  I would like to report that I successfully did so!  I wanted it to be flexible and not crack when rolled around my fajita filling -- and they turned out beautifully flexible and flavorful -- "mission accomplished".  I served the beef, pepper and onion fajitas with fresh salsa, tomatoes, sliced avocado and fresh queso fresco white cheese that we crumbled on top.  The fajitas were "out of this world" delicious!  :-)   I snapped a few photos below for you to see as well as the recipes for my marinade and fajita wrap.  Enjoy!


Maybe these should be called "rainbow fajitas"   :-)
Tex-Mex Fajita Wraps


First side down

Flipped -- side two cooking now


These were as delicious as they were beautiful!

Fajita Marinade


2 pounds of steak or boneless chicken breasts
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 3 limes
1 tablespoon Tamari sauce
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon Chipotle Chili powder
1/4 teaspoon Smoked Paprika


Mix all ingredients together and pour into a gallon-size Ziploc bag; add steak or chicken.  Refrigerate and marinate 2 hours or overnight.  Grill until done; cover and let sit about 10-15 minutes to allow juices to absorb back into the meat.  Slice into thin strips.

***Note:  The Chipotle Chili Powder and Smoked Paprika help add a smoky flavor to the marinade and both really compliment the fajita's flavor.  


Tex-Mex Fajita Wraps


1 cup golden flaxmeal
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon psyllium powder
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1/4 teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/4 teaspoon Chipotle Chili powder
2 tablespoons salsa
1/2 cup Egg Beaters (or 2 whole eggs)


In a medium bowl, mix all dry ingredients together; add salsa and eggs and mix until a somewhat sticky dough forms.  Let the dough sit and rest for about 3-5 minutes.  Lightly spray a piece of parchment paper with olive oil.  Divide the dough into 4 even pieces and roll into 4 balls.  Place ball of dough on the greased parchment paper; top with another lightly oiled piece of parchment paper and begin pressing with your hands to flatten the dough into a hamburger shaped disc.  Using a rolling pin, begin rolling the dough out until it's thin (about 1/4 inch thick).  Carefully remove the top parchment paper and set it aside.  Heat a non-stick skillet to medium-high and lightly spray with oil.  Carefully pick up the flattened dough circle along with the parchment paper and flip over into the skillet; using a rubber spatula, gently edge the wrap off of the parchment paper into the pan.  Your first couple of wraps might not be perfect, but it does get easier to do once you get the hang of it.  Cook for a few minutes until lightly browned and then flip and cook the other side until lightly browned.  Slide the wrap off onto a plate and repeat the process with the remaining dough balls.  Makes 4 8 to 9-inch wraps.  

***Note:  I made my wraps a couple of hours before using them and reheated each one for about 15 seconds in the microwave before using.  They remained flexible and rolled beautifully.  My wraps were not 100% perfect circles but each one I made looked better than the one before and they all worked well, imperfections included.  (Only a couple bad words were uttered while making these wraps)   :-)


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Tonight's Wacky Dinner!

Today was my daughter's birthday, so we took her out for lunch today to celebrate since she was having dinner with friends.  We ate at a place she wanted to go where you select from a large variety of raw meats, raw veggies, sauces, spices and  a "starch" and then they stir fry it for you while you wait.  I reviewed the menu before we went and decided I would eliminate the "starch" as well as take my own sauce -- so I took a little container of organic Tamari sauce so I didn't have to chance consuming either wheat or fructose that might have been in some of their sauces.  I explained to the guy cooking my meal that I was allergic to wheat and instead of rice or other starch, I wanted to substitute shredded cabbage instead and have them use the sauce I brought with me -- he was more than happy to accommodate me.  I was able to enjoy a delicious plate of beef, chicken and fresh veggies with no worries.

Since we ate late and it was more than we typically ate for lunch, we weren't very hungry for much of a dinner tonight.  I also had 5 eggs that I needed to use up because when I was making my cookies yesterday, I happened to drop 1 dozen organic cage free eggs all over the floor!!!  :-(   I felt like such a dummy.  Several of them surprisingly didn't break...a couple of them were a total loss and the 5 that were broken but still salvageable, I cracked into a bowl to save to use today.  Because I needed to use up the eggs, I decided that hubby and I would have scrambled eggs w/ cheese, uncured bacon and the leftover brussels sprout hash w/ shallots that I made a couple nights ago.  I know -- its a pretty weird dinner, but it made me feel better using up the eggs I dropped as well as the leftover brussels sprouts.  I added a piece of Asiago bagel toast that I made a couple days ago as well as a few fresh blackberries and raspberries to our plates to make it a REALLY weird dinner!  :-)   I snapped a picture below so you could see how weird it really was!   P.S. -- Happy Birthday to my daughter!!!  Enjoy!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookies w/ Toasted Walnuts & Ricotta

Happy Saturday!  It's a gray, damp and overcast day here and only 37 degrees outside.  It looks and feels like snow, although I believe we only have some cold rain in our forecast.  I decided it was a perfect day to finally bake some cookies.  I've been wanting to bake some for a while now but unfortunately got the flu and missed out on 10 days of my usual holiday baking time.  So, I decided that today I would take a stab at making grain free cookies.  Since I couldn't find a recipe that really suited me, (although many I reviewed looked pretty good), I decided to create a new one.  I have made my share of traditional chocolate chip cookies over the years and for the most part they are pretty similar with only minor differences.  Chocolate chip cookies are one of those kind of treats that people usually have strong personal preferences about -- some like them crispy, some like them chewy...but I prefer mine soft and moist with the chocolate a little gooey like they are when they first come out of the oven.  Some like them with nuts and some without nuts.  I prefer mine with walnuts that are lightly toasted to bring out their flavor as well as make them crispy -- I like my cookies soft and my walnuts crispy!  To further moisten and produce a tender cookie, I added some whole fat ricotta cheese to the cookie dough batter.  I intentionally did not over sweeten the cookie dough because my sweet tooth is now significantly blunted after 5-1/2 months of not eating sugar or grains.  If you prefer your treats a little sweeter or are making these for kids, I would probably increase the sweetness just a little bit.  For my taste though, these are perfectly sweetened and delicious with a cup of hot coffee.  For the chocolate chips, I chopped an 85% cacao chocolate bar to use as my chips, but if you prefer yours a little sweeter, you may want to bump that up to a 70% cacao chocolate bar instead.

I would also like to share with you that I have now lost a total of 52 pounds in just 5-1/2 months simply by eliminating grains and sugar.  I have eaten extremely well during this time and have not been hungry whatsoever while following Dr. William Davis' Wheat Belly program.  I can't say enough about how awesome and effortless this plan has been to follow.  I have made it a point to celebrate the foods I can eat rather than to dwell and pine for the foods I can no longer eat.  I have re-learned how to cook delicious meals without using grains or sugar as well as adapt old recipes that used to be favorites to allow me to still enjoy them.  I can honestly say that I want for nothing and my hope is that by posting my meals that it might help inspire others to see that their days of eating delicious foods are not over -- but instead, have really just begun.  Rather than eat foods that are delicious but not good for your health, it is possible to enjoy foods that are both delicious AND good for your health too and to be able to do so shamelessly and without any guilt.  Below I snapped a few photos of my Chocolate Chip Cookies w/ Toasted Walnuts & Ricotta as well as the recipe.  Enjoy! 

Chocolate Chip Cookies w/ Toasted Walnuts & Ricotta


2 cups blanched almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder (aluminum free)
1/4 teaspoon Celtic sea salt
1/4 cup butter, softened (1/2 stick or 4 tablespoons)
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup Swerve sweetener (add additional 1/4 cup if more sweetness is preferred)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted in a 350 degree oven
3/4 cup 85% cacao chocolate bar (3.5 ounces), chopped (or use 70% cacao for sweeter chips)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Cream butter, ricotta and Swerve sweetener in a medium mixing bowl using a hand mixer until light and fluffy (about 1 to 2 minutes).  Add egg and vanilla extract and beat another minute or so.  Add almond flour, baking powder and salt and mix into wet ingredients using a rubber spatula, stirring until the dough is mixed well.  Fold in toasted walnuts and chocolate pieces and mix just until blended.  Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet; and very lightly tamp down -- the cookies do not spread much while they bake.  Bake at 350 F for 15-18 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool on wire rack. Makes about 20 cookies.


Friday, December 28, 2012

Grilled Steaks & Brussels Sprout Hash w/ Caramelized Shallots

This evening we decided to grill steaks for dinner.  Hubby ran to the store and picked up a couple of filet mignon steaks that I lightly seasoned with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper before grilling them.  I also sauteed some fresh sliced mushrooms to top my steak with (hubby is not a mushroom fan).  For our sides, I made 2 different veggies.  I halved some ripe cherry tomatoes and marinated them in extra virgin olive oil, pomegranate vinegar and salt and pepper.  I also had a bag of rather large brussels sprouts that I wanted to make, so I looked for a different recipe to use them in.  I found a delicious sounding recipe from Bon Appetit Magazine's November 2007 issue.  It was for Brussels Sprout Hash w/ Caramelized Shallots and the recipe looked and sounded really good.  It called for thinly sliced brussels sprouts that were cooked with caramelized shallots along with a little sugar and apple cider vinegar.  I substituted 4 teaspoons of Swerve sweetener for the 4 teaspoons of sugar called for in the recipe.  It turned out really good and it was a great way to use the larger brussels sprouts. Below are a couple of pictures as well as the easy brussels sprout recipe from Bon Appetit. Enjoy!

Brussels Sprout Hash with Caramelized Shallots
Bon Appétit | November 2007


6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, divided

1/2 pound shallots, thinly sliced

Coarse kosher salt

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

4 teaspoons sugar (I substituted Swerve sweetener)

1 1/2 pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup water


Melt 3 tablespoons butter in medium skillet over medium heat. Add shallots; sprinkle with coarse kosher salt and pepper. Sauté until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add vinegar and sugar. Stir until brown and glazed, about 3 minutes.

Halve brussels sprouts lengthwise. Cut lengthwise into thin (1/8-inch) slices. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sprouts; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until brown at edges, 6 minutes. Add 1 cup water and 3 tablespoons butter. Sauté until most of water evaporates and sprouts are tender but still bright green, 3 minutes. Add shallots; season with salt and pepper.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thursday Night's Big Fresh Chopped Salad Bowl

This evening I was ready for something totally different for dinner.  We have eaten lasagna for the last 3 nights and I am so over it!  :-)   Don't get me wrong, it was really good...but I just couldn't handle the thought of having it one more night!!!  While watching "The Chew" on television this afternoon...they made a main dish salad that looked really delicious -- it had chicken, candied walnuts and apples in it and was tossed in a fresh honey mustard vinaigrette.  Mine isn't exactly the same as theirs, but it is really close!  For whatever reason, a big colorful crisp salad just sounded really good after all that lasagna.  I poached some boneless chicken breasts and sliced them.  I had a bag of Asian chopped salad mix that I dumped into a huge salad bowl and then added a chopped head of romaine lettuce in as well.  I diced some cherry tomatoes and 1/4 of a Fuji apple for a little sweetness.  

To make it similar to the salad I saw on The Chew...I made some candied spiced pecans to toss into the salad.  I melted a few tablespoons of unsalted butter in a small pan on the stove and then added about 1/4 cup of Swerve sweetener and stirred until the Swerve melted and dissolved into the butter.  Then, I added 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, a few shakes of cayenne for a little spice and about 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt and then tossed in about 1-1/2 cups of lightly toasted pecans and stirred until the nuts were evenly coated with the spicy sweet butter.  I poured the pecans out and spread them in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with non-stick foil to let them cool and allow the coating to harden. 

The vinaigrette was almost identical to the one they made as well, except I substituted "sugar free" honey for the regular honey that they used.  In my little Magic Bullet, I added 4 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon of dijon mustard, 1/2 of a finely minced shallot, 2 tablespoons of sugar free honey and a pinch of salt and few good grinds of black pepper and then whizzed it for a minute until it was well blended and emulsified.  I tasted it for seasoning and then poured it into a small bowl to drizzle over the salads.  I topped the salad greens with the sliced chicken breast, diced tomatoes and apples, spiced candied pecans and then drizzled the vinaigrette over our salads.  It was fresh tasting and really good with the different combination of flavors and textures.  It was just what I needed after a 3-day long lasagna marathon.  I snapped a few photos to share below.  Enjoy!

So fresh, colorful & pretty

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Eve Dinner 2012 (Re-posted)

Tonight is Christmas eve and I am making my traditional Christmas eve dinner of lasagna along with fresh green beans w/ toasted almonds and diced red bell peppers to make sure we get our annual dose of red & green.  I prepared my lasagna last night because the homemade meat sauce I make takes a couple of hours to cook.  I used both hot Italian chicken sausage and ground sirloin in my meat sauce.  I made 2 casseroles of lasagna; one with traditional noodles as well as one using zucchini noodles instead of wheat for me and anyone else that wants it.  The only difference between the two lasagnas is the noodles (one with wheat and one with zucchini) -- everything else is exactly the same.  I also baked some cookie bars and picked up some chocolate cheesecake for the rest of the family.  For myself, I made some small individual no-bake cheesecakes using Swerve Sweetener (instead of sugar) and put them in lightly baked hazelnut cinnamon crusts that I made.  I bought some beautiful fresh raspberries that I sweetened with a little Truvia to top the little cheesecakes with.   Unfortunately, I lost about 8 days of holiday preparation while being down sick with the flu this past week, but I worked extra hard these last couple of days trying to make up for lost time.  This is the first real meal that I have prepared and will eat since the flu struck over a week ago.  Christmas is one of my absolute favorite holidays.  I love the decorations, the cooking, the gift giving...but most of all I love having my family around and being able to just sit back and relax and enjoy each other.  I am happy to be back here posting again too!  I want to wish all of you the Merriest Christmas and most joyous holiday season.  I am truly blessed...sometimes more than I probably deserve to have health, happiness and my family and friends.  May there be peace, love and joy throughout the world.  I've posted the lasagna recipe as well as a few photos.  Enjoy!

World’s So Much Better than Best Lasagna


1 pound Italian sausage (use sweet, mild or hot depending on preference)
1 pound lean ground beef
1 cup finely chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28-oz can) crushed tomatoes
1 (12-oz can) tomato paste
1 (15-oz can) tomato sauce
1/2 cup water (or dry red wine)
1 tablespoon sugar or Truvia, optional
1/2 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced (or substitute 1-1/2 teaspoons dried basil)
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt, optional
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
2 tablespoons fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 boxes Barilla no boil lasagna noodles (extra to accommodate your pan size)
   OR 6-8 large zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/4” slices, baked until done
1 16-oz bag fresh spinach, wilted and coarsely chopped (can use frozen)
2 pounds ricotta cheese (2 16-oz containers)
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt, optional
1 pound mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced in 1/4-inch slices
1 cup shredded Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (or Parmesan cheese)
Extra fresh parsley and fresh basil for garnishing, optional


1.    In a Dutch oven, remove sausage casings and brown sausage and ground beef; add onion, and garlic and continue to cook over medium heat until meat is well browned and onion and garlic are tender. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water (or optional red wine).   Add: optional sugar or Truvia, basil (fresh or dried), fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, 1/2 teaspoon salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes and 2 tablespoons fresh parsley.  Bring to a slow boil, and simmer on low, covered, for approximately 1-1/2 hours to 2 hours, stirring occasionally.  (If preferred, sauce can also be cooked in crockpot on low for 4-8 hours).

2.  In a large mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with eggs, remaining 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, and optional 1/2 teaspoon salt.

3.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly spray baking dish or pan with cooking spray or oil.  While you can use a 9x13 inch baking dish, it is likely to bubble over because it isn’t quite deep enough to hold all the ingredients.  I actually use a 3-inch deep lasagna baking dish that I bought just for making lasagna.  You could also use a stainless steel roasting pan that is approximately 9x13, but much deeper than a traditional 9x13 glass casserole dish.  (Either of these might work better and spare you extra time cleaning out your oven)!
4.  To assemble the lasagna, see the easy to follow layering order below:

§      Spread 1-1/2 cups of meat sauce in the bottom of your baking dish or pan;
§      Arrange 1 layer of noodles lengthwise over the meat sauce (approximately  
     6-8 noodles or zucchini noodles), slightly overlapping depending on the size  
     of pan/dish);
§      Layer with half of the ricotta cheese mixture;
§     Top with a third of the shredded mozzarella cheese;
§     Spread half of the fresh mozzarella slices next, breaking them up
     with your fingers as you spread them out and scatter;
§      Scatter all of the squeezed and well drained spinach next (make sure   
                     excess liquid is squeezed out so it doesn’t make the lasagna soggy);
§   Spoon another 1-1/2 cups meat sauce on top of the ricotta, mozzarella and spinach and spread out;

§      Sprinkle with 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese.   

     Next, repeat layers as follows
a)    Noodle layer (6-8 noodles or zucchini noodles, overlapped slightly);
b)    Layer with remaining half of the ricotta cheese mixture;
c)    Top with another third of the shredded mozzarella cheese;
d)    Spread/scatter remaining half of the fresh mozzarella slices (breaking up
with your fingers as you spread);
e)    Spoon another 1-1/2 cups of meat sauce over the ricotta/mozzarella layer;
f)     Add final noodle layer (6-8 noodles or zucchini noodles, overlapped slightly);
g)    Spoon 1 cup of sauce on top of noodles; spread to cover noodles;
h) Top with the remaining third of the shredded mozzarella and remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.

5.  Cover lasagna with parchment paper and foil to prevent sticking (either spray foil with cooking spray, or use Reynolds non-stick foil).

6.  Bake covered in a preheated 375 degree oven for 35 minutes. Remove foil and parchment paper, and bake an additional 25-30 minutes or until heated through and lightly golden brown and bubbly.  Cool for at least 20-30 minutes before serving to allow cheeses to set before cutting.

*Optional: Sprinkle with fresh parsley and fresh basil to garnish before serving.

Merry Christmas!

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and joyous holiday with family and friends today! 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Down with the Flu...

Just wanted to let everyone know that I am still alive and kicking (barely).  I came down with the full blown flu over the weekend and needless to say I haven't been cooking (or eating much to speak of).  Hope to be back in the kitchen soon!  :-)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saturday Morning Breakfast

It's a cold, damp and gray morning here today, but the sun is trying hard to peek out.  I woke up this morning with the same bug that hubby has had for the last few days -- congestion, coughing, etc.  I have so much to get done today that I can't afford to be down sick so I decided to start my morning with a good breakfast, despite my puny appetite.  I snapped a couple photos below to share.

Scrambled eggs w/ Red Hoop Cheddar Cheese, sausage and buttermilk biscuits
Last night, as much of the country did, we watched the coverage of the unfolding tragedy in Connecticut.  As a parent, I can't say what deep sadness I feel for the parents that lost their beautiful children a place where they should have been safe.  We also hurt for the other families that lost their loved ones in that massacre too.  They reported that one of the little girls was supposed to have played an angel in a play on Christmas eve...and now she will actually be a real angel in heaven...forever.  For all those that lost loves ones yesterday, our hearts are heavy and we share your sadness, disbelief and pain. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"Open Sesame Chicken"

This evening I had planned to season and grill some chicken cutlets for dinner when I got home.  Unfortunately, I was not able to light our gas grill for some reason.  I tried about 10 times -- even resorting to tossing in a lit match with the gas on and running...LOL.   After all my attempts...still "no can do".   When I came back inside I just sort of stood and stared blankly into my pantry, cabinets, and fridge trying to figure out what to do with these cutlets.  Then, out of the corner of my eye...I spotted some sesame seeds just sitting there on the shelf looking all cute and crunchy.  Well, that little light bulb went off in my head again...and the words "Open Sesame Chicken" began swirling around.  I decided to create the recipe as I went along (which sometimes can be a slightly scary journey not knowing what your destination is ahead of time).   ;-)   I wanted the coating to taste like sesame and have a bit of crunch to it...but I also wanted to give it some other layers of flavor as well.  I even added a very lightly sweet undertone by adding a couple teaspoons of Swerve sweetener to the coating mixture (to sort of simulate a honey-type of flavor).  I served the chicken with roasted fresh asparagus as well as buttermilk biscuits that I made a half batch of this evening.  The chicken turned out great and hubby really liked it too.  Below is a picture as well as the recipe.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Quick & Spicy Stir-Fried Chicken with Broccoli

Tonight I just threw together Quick & Spicy Stir-Fried Chicken with Broccoli.  The part that was different about this stir-fry for me is that tonight I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead of the boneless chicken breasts that I normally use.  I originally planned to grill the thighs outside after I got home -- but seeing that the temperature gauge on my car was already registering only 45 degrees at 5:00 and it was really windy too...I decided that cooking them inside instead would suit me just fine!

I really didn't follow any recipe, but just put it together as I went (my favorite kind of meal to do)!  I diced about 1-1/2 pounds of boneless chicken thighs and set them aside.  Next, I thinly sliced a couple of green onions; julienne cut 1 carrot into thin strips; and minced 2 cloves of garlic.  I also cut up about 3 cups of fresh broccoli florets and steamed them in a little water in the microwave for 3 minutes until they were crisp tender and still bright green.  I quickly stir-fried the chicken in a hot wok in a couple tablespoons of extra virgin coconut oil until it was done; then tossed in the minced garlic, stir-frying for another couple of minutes; and then added the carrots and green onions.

To make the sauce, I added a little over 1/2 cup of chicken broth to the wok; added a few tablespoons of low sodium Tamari sauce, a few good shakes of cayenne pepper a pinch of red pepper flakes and 1 teaspoon of hot Sriracha and stirred everything together.  I then pushed the chicken and vegetables towards the outer edge of the wok, making a well in the center and added about 3 tablespoons of peanut butter to melt into the spicy broth mixture.  As soon as it began to bubble a little, I stirred everything together to coat with the sauce.  If you want a thicker sauce, add additional peanut butter;  if you prefer a thinner sauce, add additional chicken broth a little at a time.  Taste sauce for seasoning and make adjustments according to your taste.  I sprinkled some roasted peanuts on top to add some nutty crunchiness that I love.  I have to say, that I really enjoyed the flavor of the chicken thigh meat in this stir-fry.  The meat was exceptionally tender and flavorful, and since I cut it up myself, it was trimmed well.  I think the reason why I never liked getting dark meat at Chinese restaurants was that it was never trimmed well and was always blubbery and grisly, so I always paid extra to have them substitute white meat for me instead.  The only time consuming part of the entire meal was cutting up the chicken and veggies which took about 20 minutes total.  That, along with the 10 minutes or so of cooking time, and dinner was ready in about 30 minutes.  I snapped a couple photos for you to see below.  Enjoy!


Monday, December 10, 2012

Hawaiian Style Milk Chocolate Coconut Nests..."Move over Russell"

This evening we had leftovers for dinner...which meant that I didn't have to cook.  This gave me a little time to play around a bit in the kitchen instead. While grocery shopping this weekend, I was looking at the Russell Stover's Christmas candy display...and thinking about what once was my favorite of theirs -- their little milk chocolate "coconut nests" that used to be filled with jelly beans. I say "used to be"...because they suddenly stopped putting little "eggs" in the nests a couple of years ago (how chintzy). Long story short...this evening I decided to see if I could create a more "milk chocolate" flavored confection in order to make them taste more authentic. Sometimes I just like to see if I can do it. They turned out great!!! Basically, these are my version of Mr. Stover's chocolate coconut nests...minus the sugar and plus the macadamia nuts!  :-)

When I got home, I toasted some unsweetened shredded coconut in the oven until it was golden brown and toasty. I mixed a conglomeration of ingredients together to help transform the super dark 100% cacao Ghirardelli chocolate bar into something more resembling "milk chocolate". I decided that the roasted lightly salted macadamia nuts I picked up at Costco this weekend would be perfect to fill my nests with. Costco had their 1-1/2 pound bags for $17.99...which is a great price for that many macadamia nuts. The only thing I would do differently when making them again would be to add a little more toasted coconut since I love it. I snapped a few photos below as well as the recipe I put together. I also think these would be great with some chopped roasted almonds or macadamias added along with the toasted coconut for some added crunch. Enjoy!

Hawaiian Style Milk Chocolate Coconut Nests


1/2 - 3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (I used 1/2 cup; add more if you like)
1 tablespoon extra virgin coconut oil
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup light cream (half and half)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup Swerve sweetener
2 oz. Ghirardelli 100% cacao unsweetened baking bar (4 squares), broken into pieces
Roasted macadamia nuts, enough for 1 per nest (or cut in half if large)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spread coconut out on a foil or parchment lined cookie sheet in a thin layer and bake for about 5 minutes, or until toasted and golden brown; remove from oven and set aside.  Line another cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside (this will be to spoon/drop the chocolate coconut nests on). 

In a small saucepan on low-medium heat, add coconut oil, cream, vanilla, salt and Swerve; heat slowly, stirring frequently until it begins to bubble and just begins to boil.  Let boil gently for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Turn off heat and whisk chocolate pieces into the hot mixture, stirring until the chocolate is melted and smooth.  Stir toasted coconut into the chocolate mixture and drop by slightly heaped tablespoonfuls onto the parchment paper lined cookie sheet, shaping them into little nests with a slight depression in the center (work quickly so the chocolate doesn't begin to cool off and set before you finish making your nests).  Place either whole or halved macadamia nuts in the center of the nests, pressing down slightly.  Refrigerate until chocolate has firmed up.  Makes approximately 10 nests.

***Note:   I used 1/2 cup of toasted coconut in these nests but it could easily be increased up to 3/4 cup if you like lots of toasted coconut in your chocolate.  I used the shorter finely shredded coconut, not the longer shreds.  Any kind of nut such as roasted almonds could be substituted for the macadamias, or you could omit them entirely if your prefer.  These nests would also be good with some chopped nuts mixed into the chocolate along with the coconut.

P.S. -- This is what the "original" nests looked like...(back when they actually filled them)!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Happy Sunday!

Happy Sunday!  It is an overcast, damp and foggy morning here today.  I enjoyed sleeping in a little bit, which I rarely do.  This morning we enjoyed omelets, sausage and buttermilk biscuits for breakfast along with some big beautiful fresh raspberries.  I made simple cheese and chive omelets that were filled with finely grated Kerrygold's Ballyshannon white cheddar cheese as well as a few snipped chives.  Our sausages were Applegate's chicken breakfast sausages and I toasted some of the buttermilk biscuits leftover from last night's dinner.  While the biscuits are too delicate to cut in half and slice, I simply popped it into the toaster whole to warm up.  It was a delicious breakfast and will give us the energy to finish decorating the house for Christmas today.  Enjoy!



Saturday, December 8, 2012

Spicy & Sweet Autumn Chili w/ Southern Style Buttermilk Biscuits

This morning I woke up bright and early and decided to make spicy chili for dinner and I wanted to give it an autumn theme.  Instead of using beans, I decided to add cubes of roasted butternut squash in at the end to balance the spiciness of the chili with the sweet and nutty flavor of roasted butternut squash.  I normally don't make my chili very spicy, but today I wanted to bump it up a few notches with heat -- and this chili definitely does just that!!!  I love roasted butternut squash and thought the combination of spicy and sweet would work, so I made "Spicy & Sweet Autumn Chili".  This chili is packed with flavor and spices and the texture from using both ground and cubed beef was really good.  When I wrote the chili recipe up below, I carefully made note of the spicy ingredients and mentioned which ones to reduce or omit to knock the spiciness down -- this chili was REAL spicy...and might be too spicy for some, although both hubby and I enjoyed it a lot -- topped with a dollop of sour cream and some freshly shredded Wisconsin Red Hoop Cheddar cheese.  The spicy ingredients that might need to be reduced or omitted if you don't like your chili spicy (and particularly if you are serving it to young children) have the "less spicy suggestions" listed beside them.  Use your judgement and if unsure, add just a tiny bit of heat until you have tasted it first -- you can always add more spice, but I haven't yet discovered a way you can take too much out!  :-) 

I had originally intended to prep the chili this morning and put it in my crock-pot to cook all day, but since I was home I just let it simmer for a couple of hours on low on the stove.  Because of the time involved chopping everything up, this is probably not a "weeknight chili recipe", particularly if you work during the day.  However, if you put it together ahead of time (chop your veggies and meat and pre-cook them) you could easily put it in your crock-pot in the morning and cook on low during the day.  You would just need to roast the cubed butternut squash when you got home.  When I've used butternut squash in the past, I purchased it fresh and already peeled and cubed.  Today I wanted to try doing that myself.  While it wasn't difficult, it definitely was more time consuming and a bit if you want to save some time, I would suggest enjoying the luxury of buying it already cubed and ready to use.  If you don't like butternut squash or don't want the extra carbs they add to this chili, you could easily omit adding it. 

I decided southern style buttermilk biscuits would go great with our chili, so I made some using blanched almond flour.  I used a combination of both butter and cream cheese in them (the cream cheese was used as a substitute for the "shortening" frequently used in traditional buttermilk biscuits).  Instead of rolling these biscuits out and cutting them, I used my small retractable trigger type ice cream scoop to portion the dough out into 12 equal sized mounds onto my baking sheet and then lightly tamp them down on top (they were about 1-inch thick).  As they baked, they spread out some and touched each other.  The batter was surprisingly very light and airy and not dense like other biscuits I've made using almond flour.  I added one full cup of thick rich buttermilk to the dough and they turned out very light, tender and moist.  Next time I make them I will see if reducing the buttermilk to 3/4 cup (and adding more as necessary) might keep them from spreading out as much.  These tasted just like regular southern buttermilk biscuits and were very delicate (these might be difficult to slice in half though because of their tenderness).  We enjoyed these lightly brushed with melted butter on top.

I snapped a few photos for you to see below as well as the recipes for the chili, roasted butternut squash and the biscuits.  Enjoy!


Spicy & Sweet Autumn Chili


1 lb. ground sirloin
1 lb. boneless beef chuck arm roast, diced into 1/2" cubes
2 - 3 tablespoons oil, to saute vegetables and brown beef
1 cup onion, diced
1-1/2 - 2 cups red, yellow or orange sweet bell peppers, diced
1 Poblano pepper, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, diced
5 - 6 cloves garlic, minced
   1 tablespoon chili powder
   1 teaspoon "chipotle chili powder" (or use regular chili powder to reduce heat)
   1 teaspoon hot Hungarian paprika (or use sweet paprika to reduce heat)
   1 teaspoon ground coriander
   1 teaspoon cumin (I used 1/2 tsp regular cumin and 1/2 tsp. roasted cumin)
   1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (use less or omit to reduce heat)
   1 teaspoon oregano
   1 teaspoon Kosher salt
   1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or less to reduce heat)
1 14.5-oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes (including juice)
1 8-oz can tomato sauce
1 6-oz. tomato paste
1 cup chicken broth
1-1/2 cups water (more or less, depending on preferred thickness)


In a large stockpot, add a couple tablespoons of oil and quickly saute onion, sweet bell peppers, Poblano and jalapeno peppers until almost tender; add minced garlic and cook a couple more minutes, stirring frequently (covering the pan for a bit helps speed up cooking the veggies).   Using a slotted spoon, remove the veggies and set aside on a platter.  Add additional tablespoon of oil and brown beef cubes well, until almost done.  Remove browned beef cubes and set aside on the platter along with the cooked pepper and onion mixture.  Add ground sirloin to the pot and brown quickly, breaking up and crumbling the beef as it cooks.  When the ground sirloin is cooked, add the platter of cooked beef cubes and pepper mixture back to the pot.   Add all the spices, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, chicken broth and water and stir well.  Bring to a medium boil and taste to adjust seasonings, if necessary.  Cover the pot and turn heat to low and simmer for 2 to 2-1/2 hours on low (if desired, at this point the chili can be placed into a crock-pot and cooked on low for 8 - 10 hours instead of simmering on top of the stove).  

Ladle chili into bowls and stir in roasted butternut squash cubes (recipe below); top with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese, if desired.  Serves approximately 6.


Roasted Butternut Squash


4-6 cups of cubed fresh butternut squash
Celtic salt or sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Line a cookie sheet with foil and place the cubed butternut squash in a single layer on it.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste; toss squash cubes with olive oil and spread back out in a single layer.  Bake at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes or until lightly browned; stirring a couple of times to evenly brown,  Remove from oven when squash is tender on the inside and lightly browned on the outside.  


Southern Style Buttermilk Biscuits


3 cups blanched almond flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon Kosher or Celtic salt
3 tablespoons chilled butter, small diced
2 ounces very cold brick style cream cheese, diced
3/4 - 1 cup cold buttermilk (start with 3/4 cup; add additional if necessary to moisten dry ingredients)\
1 or 2 tablespoons of butter, melted (to top biscuits with near the end of baking)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Place flour, baking powder, soda and salt in a medium mixing bowl and whisk to mix well.  Add diced chilled butter and cream cheese.  Using a pastry cutter, quickly cut butter and cream cheese into dry ingredients until it appears crumbly.  Make a well in the center of the mixture and add cold buttermilk, starting with 3/4 cup, stirring to mix well (add additional buttermilk as necessary to wet dry ingredients until it pulls together into a dough).  Mix quickly until a soft sticky dough forms.  The dough will be light, airy and fluffy.  On a parchment paper lined baking sheet (I used lightly buttered non-stick foil), use a cookie scoop or retractable ice cream scoop to make 12 equal sized mounds of dough on the baking sheet, spaced evenly apart.  Lightly tamp mounds down on top to approximately 1-inch thick.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes; remove and brush tops lightly with melted butter; return to the oven and bake an additional 5 minutes or until light golden brown.  Let cool about 5 to 10 minutes before serving.  Makes 1 dozen biscuits

***Note:  I used the full 1 cup of buttermilk which produced very tender, delicate moist biscuits that spread out a bit as they baked.  To help reduce the spread, start with 3/4 cup buttermilk and add just enough extra to moisten the dry ingredients and form a light, fluffy dough.