Sunday, March 31, 2013

Paleo: Magic Bars

Anyone who knows me knows I love coconut. Coconut drinks, coconut snacks, coconut cookies, coconut cupcakes... the list goes on. While I love Eagle Brand's 7-Layer Bars, it is definitely not Paleo friendly.

I've been following Juli's blog, and have successfully made some of her recipes. The base layer is actually made from pureed dates with some cocoa powder (chocolate layer), and the "magic layer" is made from coconut manna (which can be found on Amazon) but I was able to pick up at my local Vitamin Shoppe store for $7. I purchased a large 3# tub of medjool dates at Costco, but you can find them at your local grocery store too.
Although Juli made tweaks to follow her Paleo diet, I felt as though it didn't compromise on taste, texture, or flavor. The bars are rich, so you only need a small square, and these were made in an 8x8 glass Pyrex dish. Easy and a great alternative to the original.


Ingredients:
For the brownie layer
  • 15 dried medjool dates, pitted
  • ¼ cup coconut oil, melted
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 eggs, whisked
  • 2 tablespoons coconut flour
  • 2 tablespoons raw honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
For the magic layer
  • 1.5 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons CoconutCream Concentrate or homemade coconut butter
  • 1 tablespoon raw honey
  • 2 egg whites, whisked until foamy
  • pinch of salt
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 365 degrees. (I know, weird number, just do it.)
  2. Add your dates to a food processor and begin to pulse until you get a clumpy paste.
  3. Add your coconut oil and cocoa powder to the food processor and puree until well mixed and it has become smoother.
  4. Then add your eggs, coconut flour, honey, vanilla, baking soda and powder, and salt and puree until smooth.
  5. Grease an 8×8 baking dish with some extra coconut oil, then pour in your brownie mix and smooth out throughout the dish.
  6. Now make the top layer: Add your shredded coconut, coconut oil, coconut butter, and honey to a bowl and heat in the microwave. Mix ingredients together ingredients until smooth then add your whisked egg whites and mix well.
  7. Pour topping over your brownie batter and smooth out until covering the entire surface of the brownie.
  8. Add dish to oven and baking for 20-25 minutes.
  9. Let cool then cut into pieces. 
Source: PaleOMG

Paleo: Mexican Lettuce Cups

This was partially inspired by PF Chang's Lettuce Wraps appetizer but with a Mexican flair. D and I both love tacos, and this was a way I could eat it and still incorporate some lettuce into the meal.

I browned my taco meat using my homemade taco seasoning, topped it off with some homemade salsa, and then some sliced avocados using my new 3-in-1 avocado slicer. A cheap, quick, and healthy weeknight meal.
Mmm, everything tastes better topped with guacamole
Ingredients:
Directions:
  1. In a large nonstick skillet, add the olive oil. Once warmed, add your ground meat and crumbled until cooked through.
  2. Sprinkle the taco seasoning and water, and mix until the water has evaporated.
  3. On a iceberg lettuce leaf, add some taco meat, pour some salsa on top, and then add your sliced avocado or guacamole.
  4. Enjoy!

Slow Cooker Corned Beef & Homemade Thousand Island Dressing


What a crappy photo, but the meal was delicious! Slow cooker corned beef was definitely the way to go- it was easy and literally took my 5 minutes to put together.

In the morning, I just placed the corned beef in the slow cooker, added the spice packet, a few other herbs, and poured enough water to cover the brisket. Set it on low, and by dinner time, our meal was ready.

We also love cooked cabbage and carrots, so once I removed the corned beef, I took the seasoned liquid and added just enough water to cook the cabbage and carrots- the seasoned water was terrific! I even keep some of the leftover water (after boiling the cabbage and carrots) to use for corned beef hash.

Slow Cooker Corned Beef (Paleo)
Ingredients:

  • 3# corned beef brisket (with spice packet)
  • 12 fl-oz beer, preferably Stout beer (we used water)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/8 cup whole peppercorns
  • 1/2 bulb of garlic, separated and peeled
  • 1# carrots, peeled and cut into thirds
  • 1 small head of cabbage, cut into small thirds
  • 10 small red potatoes (we omitted)
Directions:
  1. In a small cooker, I lined my slow cooker with a crockpot liner.
  2. Remove the corned beef from its packaging, and rinse with cold water.
  3. Place the rinsed corned beef brisket into the slow cooker. 
  4. Add the beer and just enough water to cover the brisket by 1" above the meat.
  5. Add the bay leaf, peppercorns, and garlic.
  6. Cover the slow cooker, and cook on LOW for 9-10 hours.
  7. Once it is done cooking, pour the liquid into a large pot and cook your vegetables for 20-30 minutes until fork tender.
Yield: 2 servings

Homemade Thousand Island Dressing
Ingredients:
  • 3/8 cup mayonnaise (I recommend Hellmann's, no Miracle Whip!)
  • 1/8 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 tsp minced capers
  • 2 tsp sweet relish
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • Pinch freshly ground black pepper
Directions:
  1. Place all dressing ingredients into a small bowl and stir. Keep refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to use.
Yield: 1 cup

Source: Adapted from Ina Garten

Paleo: Cilantro Garlic Balsamic Vinaigrette

I have my tried and true favorite balsamic vinaigrette, but I was looking for something different to eat with my taco salads. This recipe is really simple- I just simply added a handful of fresh cilantro to my basic balsamic vinaigrette recipe, and voila!

Ingredients:
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • Handful of fresh cilantro
Directions:
  1. Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor, and blend away!

Oatmeal Butterscotch Toffee Bit Cookies

Oatmeal Scotchies are one my greatest cookie weaknesses. While I don't particularly care for butterscotch candy, butterscotch chips are fair game. There are many oatmeal scotchies recipes floating on the internet, but when I saw the unique additions of toffee bits and coconut flakes, I couldn't resist trying them. And they didn't disappoint.

The coconut flakes gave this cookie a unique chewy texture, and I also loved the slight crunch from the toffee bits. I can finally say I've found my favorite oatmeal scotchie recipe.
Ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
  • ¼ + 1/8 cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ + 1/8  cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups quick or old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup butterscotch chips
  • 1/4 cup toffee bits (I cut up a bar a SKOR bar)
  • 1/4 cup shredded sweetened coconut flakes
Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a Silpat or parchment paper on your cookie sheet.
  2. Combine flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in small bowl. 
  3. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. 
  4. Gradually beat in flour mixture, just until combined. 
  5. Stir in oats, butterscotch chips, toffee bits, and coconut flakes. 
  6. Using my medium cookie scoop, drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.
  7. Bake for 12-15 minutes (I baked mine for 13 minutes.) Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.
Yield: 2 dozen cookies

Source: Adapted from Six Sister's Stuff and Annie's Eats

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Ina Garten's Weeknight Bolognese Sauce

I have my favorite spaghetti sauce but I don't always have a few hours to let it simmer on my stovetop. Thus, when I want a delicious homemade meat sauce on a weeknight without sacrificing taste and flavor, this is my go to recipe (and Darin's favorite spaghetti sauce).

Traditional bolognese sauce includes lots of veggies, but this ones doesn't (though that doesn't mean you can't alter this recipe to your liking). Essentially, you brown the meat, then add ingredients and allow it to simmer. The recipe is finished off by a dash of heavy cream and nutmeg, which brings out a unique richness to this recipe. Another Ina Garten winner.


Topped with some Parmesan cheese


Ingredients:
  • 2 Tbsp good olive oil, plus extra to cook the pasta
  • 1 pound lean ground sirloin (used ground chuck)
  • 4 tsp minced garlic (4 cloves)
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1-1/4 cups dry red wine, divided
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1-1/2 tsp + 1 Tbsp kosher salt, divided
  • 1-1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 pound dried pasta, such as orecchiette or small shells
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, lightly packed (I used a heaping Tbsp of dried basil)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving

Directions:
  1. Heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground meat and cook, crumbling the meat with a wooden spoon, for 5-7 minutes, until the meat has lost its pink color and has started to brown.
  2. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 more minute.
  3. Pour 1 cup of the wine into the skillet and stir to scrape up any browned bits.
  4. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 1-1/2 tsp kosher salt, and pepper, stirring until combined. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt, a splash of oil, and the pasta, and cook according to the directions on the box.
  6. While the pasta cooks, finish the sauce. Add the nutmeg, basil, cream, and the remaining 1/4 cup wine to the sauce and simmer for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened.  
  7. When the pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a large serving bowl.
  8. Add the sauce, cream, and 1/2 cup Parmesan and toss well. Serve hot with Parmesan on the side.

Yield: 4 servings

Source: Adapted from Ina Garten

Jo Mama's Spaghetti Sauce

I have my favorite meatball recipe, but was still on the hunt for a good spaghetti sauce to accompany it. After taking recommendations from friends and scouring on the interwebz, I think I have finally found "the one". I wanted a simple marinara sauce (no meat since we always have meatballs to go with it), but  a recipe that was still rich in flavor but not overpowering.

With over 1,000 positive reviews, I figured it wouldn't hurt to try. Since making this, I haven't looked back. Or at another spaghetti sauce recipe.

I am not going to lie- this sauce has a long simmering time. The recommended simmer time is 2-3 hours, but I ended up cooking mine for 3.5 hours just because I had the time this afternoon. Tomatoes are acidic, so you really want to simmer it for awhile to get that acidic "talking back to you" taste out from the sauce. I did use 1/2 tsp of crushed red pepper, and it added just the right amount of "kick" to this sauce.

What you are left with is a rich, medium-thick consistency of sauce with a great end result. Next time, I will double the sauce so I can keep one jar in the freezer.

Ingredients
  • 2 medium onion, chopped
  • 5-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (28-oz) cans diced tomatoes
  • 2 (6-oz) cans tomato paste
  • 2 (15-oz) cans tomato sauce
  • 2 cups water (for a long period of simmering for flavors to meld. If you don't want to simmer it as long, add less)
  • 3 tsp dried basil (used Italian seasoning)
  • 2 tsp dried parsley flakes
  • 1-1/2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt (used garlic salt)
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes  (used ½ tsp)
  • 1/4 tsp fresh coarse ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup red wine (a good Cabernet or Merlot!)
  • 1 lb thin spaghetti
  • Parmesan cheese 
Directions:
  1. In large, heavy stockpot, brown the onions and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until onions are softened.
  2. Add garlic, tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce and water.
  3. Add basil, parsley, brown sugar, salt, crushed red pepper, and black pepper. Stir well and barely bring to a boil.
  4. Stir in red wine. Simmer on low, stirring frequently for at least an hour. A longer simmer makes for a better sauce, just be careful not to let it burn! (I simmered mine for 2-3 hours, stirring every 30-45 minutes.)
  5. Cook spaghetti according to package directions.
  6. Spoon sauce over drained spaghetti noodles and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. 
Yield: 32-oz (4 cups) spaghetti sauce

Adapted from Food.com

Gadget Rave: OXO's 3-in-1 Avocado Slicer

I hemmed and hawed about getting this kitchen gadget. I mean, gadgets are "gadgets"- they're supposed to make your life easier but in reality, it's just "one more thing" to think about getting out and cleaning.

I added this to my Amazon cart, and stared at it.
Then I removed it from my cart.
1 day later, I added it back in, and then decided to put it under my "Save for later" list.
Then, as I was in the kitchen trying to pit my avocado, I thought to myself- I really do want this gadget. And instead of adding it back to my Amazon cart, I added Bed Bath & Beyond to my list of errands to run.

And went there. And yes, I got it.

For starters, as a whole, I really like OXO products. They are affordable, quality, and their products have lasted me a long time. I generally like the weight of their products as they feel good in the palm of my hand, and don't feel cheap nor wimpy. This avocado slicer was no exception.

Retailing for $9.99, I must say I love it and use it twice a week (yes, I alone eat 2 avocados weekly).

Let's take a look at this product, shall we?

Despite it not having a sharp blade, it does have a serrated "knife" that can cut into the avocado. It does result in a clean cut:
Once you have cut your avocado in half, there is this 3-pronged feature that can remove the pit (the "prongs" are not sharp):
While holding the halved avocado in your palm on one hand, place the pronged side into the avocado pit and apply a bit of pressure so the prongs go into the pit. Then voila:
Now, on the other side of the "prongs", there is a small hole where you can place your finger through the hole and essentially release the pit safely:
With the pit being safely disposed, now you can use the end of this slicer to slice your avocado- genius, I tell you:
Look at the nicely sliced avocado:
All in all, I'm really happy with this 3-in-1 Slicer, and I faithfully use it several times a week.

I used to place the blade of my (very sharp) knife into the pit, but have had near cutting-off-my-finger knife mishaps when I tried to remove the pit from the sharp blade (those pits are slippery little suckers). Concerns no more with this 3-in-1 tool!


Skillet Sausage and Penne Pasta

What a simple, easy, and comforting dish!

D has gotten another round of the cold, and I knew the cheesy cream sauce and softness of the pasta would help soothe his throat. I love this dish because it is so easy to whip up on a weeknight and it is so delicious! And- no need to pre-make the pasta.... you dump the the dry pasta right into the same skillet as you're cooking everything else. Got to love the 1-skillet, dump it all method.

But realistically, this truly is delicious, and D had 2 (generous) helpings of this. One of our favorite weeknight meals.

Skillet Sausage and Penne Pasta

Ingredients:
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb smoked sausage, sliced (we get this turkey sausage and love it)
  • 1-1/2 cups diced onions* (we use 2 medium onions, chopped)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth or stock
  • 10-oz can Rotel tomatoes and green chiles (mild) (we also use regular 15-oz can diced tomatoes)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (we've used skim milk and it still tastes great)
  • 8-oz penne pasta
  • 1/2 tsp salt and pepper (we use 3/4 tsp Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning)
  • 1 cup Monterey-Jack cheese, shredded, divided
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions**
* As a note, I use frozen diced onions when I have them in my freezer (total timesaver!)
** If I have them, I'll add them but the dish still tastes great without

Directions:
  1. Add olive oil to a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat until just smoking. Add sliced smoked sausage and cook until lightly browned, about 4-5 minutes.
  2. Add the diced onions and sauté until semi-tender and golden in color (4-5 minutes if using frozen diced, 5-7 minutes if using fresh onions).
  3. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  4. Add the chicken broth/stock, tomatoes, heavy cream, pasta, and salt & pepper. Bring to a boil, cover skillet, and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until pasta is tender, about 15 minutes.
  5. Remove skillet from the heat and stir in 1 cup cheese until melted through.
  6. Place the skillet back over medium-low heat and cook the pasta dish uncovered until the sauce is no longer runny and has thickened. If your sauce is already thick, you can omit this step. (I cooked the dish over medium heat for another 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally so it wouldn't burn.)
  7. Once the sauce has thickened, sprinkle with scallions and additional salt & pepper (or Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning) until desired taste.
Yield: 4 servings
Source: Adapted from Kevin & Amanda, originally from America's Test Kitchen

Friday, March 1, 2013

Gadget Rave: EggGenie

D and I have been making a lot of hard-boiled eggs recently- it's an easy and portable snack that is high in protein. The only downside is that I feel like I'm slaving away every 4-5 days to make more darn eggs.

It is no secret that making hard-boiled eggs is easy- what I get tiresome of doing is peeling them. I never seem to be able to peel them easily! Despite reading about all these "tricks" (baking soda, vinegar, salt, etc), NOTHING made them peel easier. So I went to my favorite shopping site (amazon), and started reading about egg cookers... when I came across the EggGenie

4 stars with over 175 reviews? Not a bad start. I started reading about the product and then started reading reviews. I liked that it can soft/medium/hard boil up to 7 eggs at a time, but what I was mostly interested in was if this could make it easier to peel my eggs afterwards.

Well, I am happy to report that it IS so much easier!!! I've made 2 batches today so far. 1 batch this morning, and made another this afternoon. I also love that I didn't have another pot to watch- this product is electric, and the buzzer sounds off when the eggs are ready. Thus, I was able to pre the eggs into the EggGenie, and reheat chili, and wash some dishes simultaneously. Once the EggGenie buzzer buzzed 15 mins later, I placed the eggs into a bowl of ice cold water. Once the eggs cooled down, voila- EASY TO PEEL eggs!

Let's take a look at my new kitchen gadget, shall we?
Here is how easy it is to use the EggGenie:
  1. Remove the cone-shaped top from the base.
  2. Remove the middle "egg holder".
  3. Next, fill the measuring cup (provided) with cold water (the amount will depend on the # eggs, and if you want them soft, medium, or hard-boiled) and pour it on top of the aluminum plate.

4. Place the egg holder back on.
5. On the pointier end of the egg, prick a small hole using the sharp needle (this will allow steam to escape from the egg to prevent it from breaking.)
6. Plug it in, and the buzzer will announce when it is done! (It buzzed for me after 15 minutes for 7 XL eggs). (The cone-shoped top has a steam vent, so make sure not to place the EggGenie under a cabinet while cooking.)
7. Once the eggs are finished cooking, place the eggs in a bowl of ice cold water and allow them to cool completely. 
8. To peel the eggs, I rolled the eggs across my countertop to crack it, then dipped it in the cold water bowl, and peeled away.
The yolks were soft right out of the EggGenie, but once you refrigerate them, they firm up well

Some tips I've learned from reading about hard-boilding eggs:
  • Older eggs are easier to peel than fresher ones (old does not mean expired!)
  • Putting the eggs in ice cold water prevents having the yolk have a "green" film around it (look at my picture- you'll see no green ring around the yolk)
  • The 1st batch I made, I had 7 XL eggs, and filled it up with cold water to the "7 eggs" mark on the measuring cup. The egg whites weren't as firm as I liked.
  • The 2nd batch I made, I had 6  XL eggs and filled the measuring cup to the "5 eggs" mark- I knew I wanted it to cook longer (and thus the egg whites would be firmer). This worked for me!
 
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