Kale-Sausage-Butternut Squash Soup

Yesterday was one of those days where all I could think about making was soup.  The crisp, fall air always has me craving pumpkin (duh, I’m a white girl) and butternut squash.  Earlier in the week, I had stumbled upon this recipe from the sisters over at Spinach 4 Breakfast and I knew I had to try it.  Typically, my favorite go-to fall soup has always been a kale-white bean-sausage combo, but lately I’ve been making an effort to avoid foods that are difficult to digest (ahem, white beans).  So I had already been planning on a kale-sausage combo sans beans or lentils.  Butternut squash seemed like the perfect substitute.

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On a side note, it seems massively unfair that as we’re cruising into fall, my favorite season of the year, I am STILL sitting here with major allergies, like the kind that are usually gone as we go from spring to summer.  I mean, hello, it’s two seasons past spring!  And my nose is still all stuffy and itchy.  Stupid California drought.

Anyway this is basically the fastest, easiest soup you could hope to whip up if you’re feeling lazy.  All you need to do is chop up some sausage (I used an organic, mild Italian chicken sausage here, but you could switch up the flavor), onion and lacinto (dinosaur) kale.  If you’re feeling extra lazy like I was here, you can even buy pre-cubed butternut squash like I did.  Although I did chop the cubes up a little smaller than they came from the store, so it’s basically like I prepared it myself.  Right?

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Throw the sausage in a medium saucepan and sautee for a few minutes.

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Then add the onion and continue to sautee until translucent.  Add the butternut squash, kale, broth, and water, and bring to a boil.  Then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or so, until the squash is tender.  Add salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste.  And viola, you’re done.  Told you it was easy!  And my husband gave it his stamp of approval.

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If you have trouble digesting beans like I do, this soup not only because it’s super clean, but it also includes all foods that are easily digested.  No troublesome things like gluten, beans or legumes.  The sisters at Spinach 4 Breakfast gave this soup the Clean Gut Cleanse stamp of approval for its lack of dairy, processed foods, sugar, gluten, etc.  So you can enjoy this soup knowing you’re also being good to your gut!  (Check out the cleanse for more info on how to support your gut by giving it a break from foods that feed yeast and unhealthy bacteria while providing healthy probiotics and nourishing your gut flora.)  Not to mention it’s super light and healthy with no oil, cream, etc.  Clearly by the photo, I was not personally worried about the gluten, as I enjoyed my bowl with a slice of warm, crusty bread.  Mmmmm.

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I’m off to pack… the husband and I are heading to Vail, Colorado today for a long weekend!  I can’t wait to explore the town, hike, eat, and get some much needed down time with him.  We have plans to rest, connect, and discuss our goals for our businesses and our future.  So important to get away from the daily grind and get a fresh perspective on how life is going, right?  Anyway make sure to include this soup as part of an easy, healthy meal plan for next week.  Perfect for a busy weeknight!  And have a great weekend.

Kale-Sausage-Butternut Squash Soup

Ingredients

4 cups vegetable broth

2 cups water

12 oz. mild Italian chicken sausage, chopped

1 1/2 cups diced butternut squash

1 bunch chopped lacinto (dinosaur) kale

1/2 onion, diced

sea salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste

Instructions

Sautee the sausage in a medium saucepan for 4-5 minutes, until slightly browned.  Add the onion and continue to sautee until it softens and starts to become translucent.  Then add the butternut squash, kale, broth, and water.  (Amount of water may be adjusted to personal preference of soup’s thickness.)  Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and simmer for 20-25 minutes, until squash is tender.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, and top with red pepper flakes if desired.

Quick and easy protein banana pancakes

This morning I woke up to the gorgeous sound and smell of… RAIN!  We are in a drought here in California, and we’ve had hardly any rain at all this year.  Everything is so dry and to have some rainfall as we were sleeping last night was so perfectly wonderful.  I love sleeping with the window open and listening to the rain, feeling it’s damp air while I’m all snuggled up with my husband and our great dane.  Pure bliss, I tell you!

And you know what rain makes me think of?  Banana pancakes.  I make some mean banana pancakes, and this morning seemed like the perfect time to make them.  Except that, I’m not going to just indulge in some unhealthy stack of pancakes all alone, on a weekday, you know?  So I decided to make a quick, healthier version and guess what?  I like them even BETTER than the “real thing!”  They have a nice, light and spongy texture that doesn’t leave you feeling stuffed like a regular pancake would, plus they are low in calories and high in protein.  Win-win!

While I was making these, the usual doggie chaos was ensuing all around me.  Puppies are a lot of work, people.  If you’re thinking of getting one, I would just warn you that your life will change drastically for a while.  This morning, for example, was Daphne’s first time to see rain!  How exciting, right?  Yeah, until you need her to go potty outside… and then… not so much.  She has absolutely refused to go for the last 15 hours, and I know she needs to.  Which causes me to have to take her outside and stand around in the wet, cold rain for minutes at a time trying to coax her into going.  And then giving up, bringing her back in, and trying to watch her every move while trying not to burn the pancakes… you get the picture.  The bottom line is, this puppy is a little princess who doesn’t want to expose her booty to the wet cold.  I suppose I can’t blame her.

Anyway back to the pancakes!  And please forgive me for the segue into puppy potty training… probably not the best mix of topics.  Hopefully you’re a dog lover and you understand.  🙂

These are super easy, guilt free, and will satisfy your craving for a warm, sweet breakfast treat!  IMG_1615

Best of all, they use ingredients you probably have on hand.  Take some oats (I used quick cooking, but regular oats would work just the same).

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Throw a cup of oats in the blender with egg whites, an overripe banana, a dash of cinnamon, stevia, baking powder, and a dash of salt.

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Please excuse the crooked blender picture… I’m including it because of the humor of taking this photo with two great danes underfoot, causing me to have to lean over at weird angles while photographing… real life!  Blend for 30 seconds on medium-high.  Heat a non-stick skillet and coat with cooking spray, then just cook these like regular pancakes, on medium-high heat.  Wait for the bubbles to show in the top of the pancakes, then flip!

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Top with a dollop of plain, organic yogurt,

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and one teaspoon of real maple syrup.  Mmmmm…..

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I love the light, springy texture of these pancakes, so light that you can eat a whole stack and feel no guilt!

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Meanwhile, Sunday waited patiently for her bite.  She got the first one, which was a dud, but of course she doesn’t care what it looks like.

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This is Sunday, and I approve of these pancakes.  🙂

Quick and Easy Protein Banana Pancakes

Ingredients

1 cup oats (quick cooking or regular)

1 overripe banana

6 egg whites

1 1/2 tsp. stevia

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp baking powder

dash of salt

plain, organic yogurt for topping

1 tsp real maple syrup

Instructions

Combine oats, banana, egg whites, stevia, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt in a blender and blend on medium-high for 30 seconds.  Heat a nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray, and cook pancakes two or three at a time, allowing bubbles to form and pop before flipping.  Top with a dollop of yogurt and 1 tsp of maple syrup.  Enjoy your guilt-free indulgence!

Finding balance with your “bounce back” muscle

I’ve had several conversations with clients recently about how difficult it can be to feel like you’re always starting over.  You know what I’m talking about — you get super psyched to start a new, healthy routine, you make a ton of positive changes all at once, and for a week, two weeks, or even a month, you’re killing it!  You have all this momentum, you’re seeing progress in your health and physique, you have so much energy, and then, WHAM!  Something comes up.  Maybe it’s a social event.  Maybe it’s work.  Maybe it’s hormones.

Whatever it is, something throws you off course, and you have an “off” day.  You miss your workout.  You eat a bunch of crap.  You feel lethargic all day.  You think, “I’ll make up for it tomorrow.”  Only, when “tomorrow” comes, you still feel crappy and you are still busy, and you have a MILLION reasons why you deserve another day off.  “Two days off is no big deal,” you think.  But then the next day, you have to work early, and then you have that thing after work you had forgotten about.  By the fourth day, you completely forget about working out at all.  Day five rolls around, and you remember again, but it’s Saturday and you’re meeting up with some friends to go wine tasting.  “Oh well,” you think.  “I’ll start again on Monday.”  By Monday, you’ve been “off” for a whole week, and you’ve basically undone all the hard work you put in the previous “good” week.

This ever happen to you?  Well guess what — in all my recent conversations with peers and clients, I’m realizing that I’m not alone here.  In fact, this seems like one of the most common issues people come to me with:  How do you stay consistent?  Getting started is no problem, right?  At least, not when we are taking on something new, interesting, and we’re in the mood.  We start when we have a natural energy upswing, we feel ready, or we’ve reached a point of feeling so low that we are excited to turn it around.  But give it a little time, and most of us tend to fall off the wagon.  We miss a couple days, that somehow turns into a week, then two weeks, and sometimes it’s even much longer before we get the energy to get back on the horse.

Over the past few years of my life, this is something I’ve worked pretty hard on equalizing.  Anyone who knows me knows that I tend to be very driven in my professional life, or with any goals that I set.  I’ll work hard to get there, sacrificing my own health and balance to do so, and then when I get a break, I’ll play hard to kind of rebel against the rigid structure I had in place, or balance out.  But in the past few years, while dealing with a significant amount of stress, I really put effort into finding a balance while working hard.  To not live life with such extreme shifts.  To not take on so much at once that it was unsustainable.

This does not come naturally for me!  It shows up in my health and fitness goals too, which is where many of you have been talking to me about it.  Isn’t it true that when we think about making changes and “getting in shape,” we tend to want to take on the most ambitious workout schedule, cut out all sugar and refined carbs, count calories, and make meal plans, all at once?  I know I fall into that trap, because I’m an overachiever!  I would feel so motivated and want to see big changes fast!  But inevitably, I would burn out and then my mind would trick me into thinking I “deserved” a break from the rigidity.  Therefore I would find myself essentially “on vacation” from healthy living, eating whatever I wanted and not getting any exercise.  I remember really finding a sense of escape during these times, but also, as time went on, I would just end up feeling super disappointed in myself and my self-esteem would take a hit because I would think there was something wrong with me for not being able to maintain.

Two lessons can be learned here!  The first is, when you are looking to make positive changes in your health, BE PATIENT.  Take on what you actually CAN do.  For example, if you’re new to exercise, don’t tell yourself you’ll hit the gym for an hour every single day.  You might do it for a while, but life will inevitably get in the way, you’ll miss a day or two, and then going back to the every day routine will seem like too much and you’ll give up altogether.  Set an achievable goal.  Commit to 30 minutes, three or four times a week.  You might feel like that’s not enough, but it is PROGRESS.  And it’s sustainable.  That’s what counts!  Once you have that routine in place, then assess whether upping your time in the gym is realistic.  Adding a moderate amount at a time gives you the time to adjust to your new routine.

The second is a concept I like to call your “bounce back” muscle.  Just like any muscle in your body, you can actually exercise, or practice, your ability to get back on the horse after a slip.  We are all human.  We all miss days for one reason or another.  Every time you return to your healthy routine, you are using an inner strength. That strength is your bounce back muscle!  Starting over is hard.  Going back after a month off, a week off, even two days off is always hard.  It’s easiest to keep going when you have momentum, because you’re in the habit of healthy behavior and it starts to feel natural.  It takes extra strength to start again after a break, but when you do that, when you get yourself back to your workout, or back in the kitchen cooking healthy food, you strengthen that muscle.  You build a memory of what it feels like to return to healthy behaviors.  Over time, you will find that you are not as likely to let a day become a week.  That you have positive memories of getting right back into it, because the longer you let it go, the heavier the lifting you have to do to get back on track.

I encourage you to keep this in mind next time you slip in your healthy routine!  First, ask yourself if your routine is realistic for your schedule and your life.  If it is too rigid, you are unlikely to stick to it.  Adjust your expectations of yourself so that you challenge yourself, but you also set yourself up for success.  Next, remember that each time you slip you have the opportunity to keep your bounce back muscle in shape!  The sooner and more often you use it to right your course, the easier it will become to view a day off as just that — a day off.  Not a failure, not an excuse to make it a month — Just part of a healthy life balance.  Eventually, you’ll bounce back from a slip with ease and beat the cycle of mental anguish.

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End of summer watermelon radish salad

For a long time, I didn’t cook.  In previous relationships, long ago, my partner always seemed to be the better cook.  When I lived alone and worked crazy hours, I didn’t see the point of cooking just for myself.  It wasn’t until the last few years that I really started to embrace cooking.  And then somehow, what was a forced, awkward embrace at first became a true love.

Yet I still had lots of insecurities about cooking, sticking strictly to recipes and refusing to experiment or trust my own creativity in the kitchen.  Creativity was always a sore spot for me, something I just didn’t feel good at.  As a kid, I played piano quite well, but never wrote my own song.  I learned Japanese calligraphy, but wouldn’t draw anything that I didn’t have a model to copy from.  In school, I could ace every test, but had a hard time applying the knowledge to real life challenges.

As cooking has become more and more familiar to me, I’ve started to trust myself.  The kitchen has become a judgment-free zone where I feel comfortable experimenting and trying new things, without fear of failure.  Well, okay.  I still have a little fear of failure.  But it’s gotten much better and as I’ve loosened my grip on recipe books, I’ve enjoyed this creative outlet more and more.  I’ve even started going to the grocery store without a list (gasp!) on occasion.  What I love about doing that is challenging myself to choose a vegetable I haven’t worked with before and creating something with it.

So the other day, as I was cruising through our local grocery, a watermelon radish caught my eye.  A sample one was sliced open so it’s beautiful, pink flesh showed, and I knew I had to have it.

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Watermelon radishes are high in Vitamin C and antioxidants, and they also contain folate, Vitamin B-6, and important minerals.  Plus, they are among the lowest calorie foods, at only 16 calories per 100 grams!

 

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I picked up some green beans, heirloom tomatoes, and basil to go with it, because that’s what seemed like the right combination of textures and color.

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My husband was grilling some chicken, and this was the perfect complement.  I sliced the radish up into thin half moons and then cut those into quarters.  Sliced up the tomatoes, and steamed the green beans until they were just al dente, rinsing them in cool water after draining to stop the cooking and retain their crispness.  I whipped up some whole grain mustard vinaigrette, sprinkled some pine nuts on top, and we were in business with the perfect, end of summer salad.

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The watermelon radish has a little kick to it that complemented the sweet, juicy heirloom tomatoes perfectly, and the green beans had the perfect texture to bridge the soft tomato with the crispy radish.

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The pine nuts and basil give this a Caprese salad kind of feel, but it’s cleaner with no cheese.

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If you need a side dish to bring to a party or barbecue, this is perfect.  It holds up well in the fridge even after it’s dressed due to the crispiness of the radish and beans.  And its lively color makes you seem extra fancy, too.  🙂

 

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Pair this with something from the grill and have an easy, colorful, nutritious meal that’s ready in just a few minutes!

 

End of Summer Watermelon Radish Salad 

serves 4

Ingredients

1 watermelon radish, sliced into rounds and then quartered

2 large heirloom tomatoes

2 large handfuls green beans, lightly steamed

1 bunch basil, julienned

1/4 cup pine nuts

2 Tbsp. whole grain mustard

2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

3 Tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil

splash of lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

 

Instructions:

Combine sliced radish, steamed green beans, sliced tomato, and basil in large salad bowl.  In small bowl, combine mustard, vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Whisk together until smooth, then toss vegetables in desired amount of dressing.  Sprinkle with pine nuts and serve.  If making ahead of time, reserve dressing and pine nuts separately and add just prior to serving.

 

 

 

 

 

Coconut Banana Walnut Muffins

All this fog we’ve been having really makes me crave muffins.  As you probably know from my previous post, I love the combination of muffins and fog.  🙂  I don’t know about you, but I’m SO READY for fall!  

Fall is definitely my favorite time of year.  For one thing, if I could get paid to be a student forever, I would be.  I miss the feeling of new school schedules, a sense of excitement about the upcoming school year and the things I would learn.  I’m not a student anymore, but I think fall still gives me a sense of new beginnings.  I love watching the vineyards change color, and the refreshing feeling of the fog that rolls in every evening and doesn’t clear until mid-morning.  I love butternut squash, pumpkin and sweet potatoes.  And last but definitely NOT least, I LOVE BOOTS.  I treat myself to at least one pair of new boots every fall, and it is my most favorite treat of the year. I wear boots with just about everything I can, and I was so excited when skinny jeans and boots came back into style!  I’m already trying to rock mine, even though it was like 90 degrees by mid-day yesterday and I almost died.   

There’s just nothing like the smell of muffins in the oven on a foggy Saturday morning.  

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We’ve been working super hard the last few weeks, so it was so nice to take it easy this morning and enjoy breakfast together.  I’ve been Paleo-curious lately, which is perfect for our household because my husband just started doing CrossFit, and they encourage a Paleo diet.  So my first intention here was to experiment with a Paleo muffin recipe.  I used a recipe for Banana Nut Chocolate Chip Muffins, from Paleo Newbie, as a springboard, although I made several changes that caused them not to be strictly Paleo.    

For one, the recipe called for almond flour, which I didn’t have on hand.  So I substituted sweet white sorghum flour instead.  

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Sorghum is a cereal grain that was initially domesticated in Ethiopia and Sudan.  It has a neutral, slightly sweet flavor and is gluten free.  It is definitely much more dry than almond flour, though, so I had to add extra banana and egg to this recipe to compensate.  Sorghum flour is not strictly Paleo, because it is still highly starchy.  However, it is considered slightly “primal” and is much better, according to The Paleo List, than eating gluten-packed grains.  

I opted out of using chocolate chips in these as well, and instead used unsweetened, shredded coconut along with walnuts, honey, bananas, and cinnamon.  Yum.  

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While you’re baking, don’t forget to make yourself a cup of coffee, or if you’re like me, black vanilla tea with a little milk of your choosing…

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Mix up your wet ingredients, separate from your dry, then combine in one big bowl of deliciousness.  

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Then pop these in a 350° oven for 22-25 minutes.  

While I baked, Daphne napped…

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And after they were done, we sat down to enjoy breakfast at the table.  A rare treat!  Of course, Sunday watched intently for her inevitable bite of scrambled eggs.  

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She’s so irresistible that we always give in and share.  

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Bad parenting, we know.  But we figure, Danes have shorter lives, so shouldn’t they just be spoiled?  🙂  Speaking of spoiled, it’s time for you to spoil yourselves and get some of these baking during this holiday weekend.  Especially if you live where it’s foggy in the mornings, like me.  

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You will most certainly not regret it!  Now that I’ve had this treat, next on my holiday weekend list involves a dinner date tonight, and my annual boot shopping.  (YES!)  What are you cooking up this weekend?  

 

Coconut Banana Walnut Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients

3 ripe bananas, mashed

1 1/2 cups sorghum flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. cinammon

pinch of salt

4 eggs, whisked

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

2 Tbsp. raw honey

1 tsp. vanilla

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°.  In a medium bowl, combine the mashed bananas, melted coconut oil, whisked eggs, honey and vanilla.  In a larger bowl, mix the sorghum flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix well.  Fold in the coconut and walnuts.  Pour into a nonstick cupcake baking pan and bake for 22-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into muffin comes out clean.  

 

 

 

 

Why I’m no longer a vegetarian (and a Comforting Stuffed Pepper recipe!)

My diet has changed pretty drastically lately, and I feel it’s worth mentioning.  Recently, I was eating mostly vegan.  Well, all vegan for a period of time.  I did this several times but could never sustain it longer than 30 days or so, at the most.  I would start feeling off and craving chicken, and so would eventually give in.  

This is a bit of a struggle emotionally for me, which needs a back story.  When I turned 14, I was introduced to PETA by a friend, and subsequently watched every horrifying video of the way animals are treated in factory farming operations.  Mortified, I didn’t touch meat again until I was 24, but I was just a vegetarian, not a vegan.  

When I did start eating meat again, just fish and chicken, I lost eight pounds within a month without trying.  I remember being really startled by that and noticing that I felt much better.  I knew, though, that I hadn’t been a healthy vegetarian at that time, mostly subsisting on bread, cheese, and pasta.  In my mid-twenties, I worked in fine dining, and fully embraced eating meat again, while always trying to be conscious that the meat I was eating came from a local farm where the animals were treated humanely and not a factory farm.  Luckily, where I live it’s easy to do that, as there is a big farm-to-table movement here.  

In the last three years or so, I revisited my connection with vegetarianism and veganism when I started doing yoga regularly.  I found that I still carried a deep desire to abstain from doing harm to animals in any way.  I embraced veganism a few different times, always saying I was going to do it for a while to see how I felt and go from there.  I read tons of vegan cookbooks and blogs.  I felt really excited, like I had found the way of eating that was going to work for me!  I became pretty good at vegan cooking and wanted to focus my health coaching on helping people transition to veganism.  For a while, I felt good too, although in retrospect I think it was my emotions that felt good about eating that way, not my physical body.  

See, every time I would be vegan for a while, I realized I was putting up with some pretty uncomfortable symptoms.  Fatigue and extreme bloating being the primary discomforts.  (And you know what comes with bloating — gas.  Ugh.  The ugly truth was that I was constantly plagued.)  I kept thinking it was just the transition to being vegan and that my body would adjust.  But it never did.  I realized that I simply cannot process beans, soy, and most grains efficiently, and I constantly had a stomach ache.  Constantly.  It seemed that no matter what I ate, I felt immediate pressure and I often got headaches.  Without soy and beans, it was pretty hard to get adequate protein.  And without grains, I was basically left with vegetables.  

At Integrative Nutrition, where I’m studying to be a certified Health Coach, we talk a lot about the concept of bioindividuality, which basically means that one person’s perfect food is another person’s poison.  Right around the time I was suffering a lot of discomfort, we studied the more Paleo style, traditional diet of eating animal protein in its cleanest form — organic, grass-fed, pasture raised animals only.  I also read a lot of studies indicating that healthy animal foods are beneficial for fertility, which is definitely important to me.  

So I decided to back off, listen to my body, and change the way I was eating.  Within the first two days of eating lean animal proteins and veggies, and eliminating all soy, beans, and grains, my stomach felt 100% normal again.  My digestive issues disappeared.  I had significantly more energy and no headaches.  I was shocked.  It’s still a little difficult for me to fully embrace this way of eating, because I care deeply about the way animals are treated.  But I can vote for the small, humane, organic farmer with my dollar, and still refuse to purchase factory farmed meat.  So that is a healthy balance for me.  Sometimes to find our own, individual, optimum health, we need to really listen to ourselves rather than a diet book, or the latest trend.  And sometimes, our bodies may not even agree with what our mind wants!  I learned it’s important to honor that, though, and to give myself the type of food that is most nourishing for me as an individual.  

On that note, on to the peppers!  It had probably been years since I had cooked beef prior to making this.  As I was wandering around in Whole Foods pondering what to do for dinner, though, I suddenly CRAVED stuffed peppers.  Which is weird, because I don’t think I’ve had them since childhood.  And they certainly don’t look pretty in pictures!

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Nevertheless, I picked up some grass-fed, pasture raised, lean ground beef (it felt so weird even getting it from the shelf!).  Got some peppers, and headed home.  

First I hollowed out the peppers.  

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Then I chopped up a red bell pepper, some cilantro, garlic, and spinach.  I mixed the beef up with the cilantro, spinach and red peppers, and added some salt, pepper, cumin, and chile powder.  Tossed the garlic into a pan and sautéed for a minute before adding the beef mixture.  

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Cooked that until the meat was done, then added ricotta cheese to the mix.  All while sipping on my latest favorite meal-prepping beverage, gingerade kombucha by GT’s.  

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While the meat was cooking, I heated up some marinara sauce on the side and preheated the oven to 350°.  When the meat mixture was cooked, I stuffed it into the peppers, topped off the peppers with marinara, and sprinkled a little parmesan on top. Then stuck in the oven for an hour, uncovered.  Stuffed pepper perfection!

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Sorry guys, like I said, they don’t look that pretty.  But they tasted AMAZING.  You could easily substitute ground turkey for the beef, if you prefer!  Eating beef was a feat for me and I expected to not like it.  But you know what?  It was absolutely delicious and I felt healthy afterward.  I highly recommend this recipe if you are a meat eater (but please, support your LOCAL and preferably organic, farmer, and remember that grass-fed is much healthier for you in that it has the right balance of Omega 3 healthy fats!).  Remember to tune into what your beautiful, individual body’s needs are in regards to all food choices you make.

To your health, 

Rachel

xo

Comforting Stuffed Peppers

Serves 2

Ingredients: 

2 large green bell peppers, tops removed, washed, and deseeded

1 lb. lean, ground beef (preferably organic, grass-fed)

1 red bell pepper (diced small)

1 bunch spinach (2 cups, chopped fine)

1/3 cup chopped cilantro

3/4 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp chile powder

2 cloves garlic

1 tsp. coconut oil

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

salt and pepper to taste

1 jar marinara (use as much or as little as desired to top peppers)

parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350°.  In mixing bowl, combine beef with chopped cilantro, spinach, red bell pepper, chile powder, cumin, salt and pepper.  Saute garlic in a teaspoon of coconut oil for one minute on medium high heat, then add the beef mixture and cook, breaking meat apart as much as possible, until meat is cooked through (about 10-12 minutes).  While the meat is cooking, heat a jar of marinara sauce (your favorite) in a small pot.  

Once meat is cooked, at ricotta cheese and stir until evenly combined.  Turn off heat.  Spoon meat into peppers until fully stuffed and place in lightly greased (with coconut oil) baking dish.  Spoon marinara sauce over the top of the peppers and sprinkle with parmesan if desired.  

Bake, uncovered, for one hour.  Then pull those suckers out and serve, preferably on a chilly night with warm, cozy socks on.  🙂

Turkey-Ricotta Eggplant Rotini over Zucchini Noodles

Happy Saturday, lovelies!  Need an idea for a fancy yet healthy dinner this weekend?  I’ve got you covered!

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For days now, I’ve been thinking about eggplant.  I’m not sure how, against all odds, I became an eggplant lover.  I suppose it has something to do with being an adult and broadening my horizons, but I used to think it was a barely edible ball of slime.  As a kid, my mom made an eggplant recipe that she found in the newspaper, and…ahem.  Let’s just say my whole family, my mom included, decided that we were not eggplant eaters after that day.  My mom is a decent cook, don’t get me wrong, but whenever she pulled recipes from the paper, they never seemed to work out.  I don’t trust newspaper recipes to this day!

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But back to the glorious eggplant.  I have learned to love it for its gorgeous, deep purple color, its versatility, its ability to replace meat in sandwiches and add texture to casseroles.  Not to mention its nutritional benefits.  Eggplant contains powerful antioxidants, Vitamin A, B vitamins, folate, and vitamin C, and is also rich in minerals.  

For last night’s dinner, I wanted to make something that felt like comfort food, but was also light and healthy.  It was the perfect time, I decided, to pick up a spiralizer!  I have been wanting one of these babies for a long time now, and it did not disappoint.  I was so excited to make zucchini noodles for the first time!  

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As someone whose knife skills leave something to be desired, I took great pleasure in the perfectly uniform, colorful noodles.   

 

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Having never made zucchini noodles, I headed over to The Clothes Make the Girl and followed her directions for Basic Paleo Zucchini Noodles.  It’s so easy!  Simply toss the noodles lightly in salt and leave to drain in a colander for 30 minutes.  Then, rinse and pat dry.  You can choose to let them dehydrate a bit longer in the fridge (1-2 hours), or simply cook them right away, depending on how “al-dente” you want them to feel.  When you’re ready, throw them in a pan and sautee for 1-2 minutes, then toss with a little olive oil.  

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Since the noodles have to sit for a bit, I would start by spiralizing them (why not start with the fun stuff!), so they can sit while you work your magic with the eggplant and filling.  Preheat the oven to 400°.  Slice the eggplant lengthwise into 1/4-1/2 inch thick slices.  This is pretty challenging for knife-novices like myself, so just watch your fingers!  And don’t worry if the slices aren’t perfectly even — I prefer to think of my uneven slices as “rustic.”  🙂

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Brush the eggplant with olive oil and throw it in the oven for eight minutes or so, until it is soft and most of the water is cooked out.  Set those aside to cool while you make the filling, with lean, organic, ground turkey, ricotta cheese, fresh oregano and basil, salt and pepper.  Mix the turkey in a bowl with oregano, basil, salt and pepper.  Sauté a diced shallot and garlic, then add the turkey mixture and cook until juices run clear and turkey is cooked through.  

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Then add the ricotta cheese and some more fresh basil and mix until well blended, continuing to break the turkey up as small as possible. 

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Meanwhile, have some marinara sauce going.  You could make your own, but if you’re like me and need dinner to get ready a little faster (start cooking at 9:00 p.m., anyone?), you can also totally use a jar.  However!  Not all jarred sauces are the same, my friends.  Most of these sauces have added sugar.  No one needs that!  In fact, this is one of the ONLY sauces I could find that doesn’t have added sugar in some form.  And, it’s delicious:

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I got it at Whole Foods.  When the filling is done, spoon a couple tablespoons onto each eggplant slice and create little rolls.  Then nestle them into a baking dish and spoon marinara over the top.  Sprinkle with a little parmesan, cover with foil and poke holes in the top for air.  Then stick those back in the oven at 400° for 20 minutes.  

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While those were baking I had a few minutes to play with the family.  

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All eagerly awaiting the fruits of my labor!  (And no, we don’t give the dogs people food.  Well okay, sometimes a little chicken or something.  But I know not to give dogs tomatoes.)  

When the rolls are almost done baking, sauté your zucchini noodles and toss in a little oil.  Then plate up each dish with noodles on bottom, two rolls on top, and garnish with a little “Italian salsa” — diced roma tomatoes with fresh basil, salt and pepper, and a sprig of basil.  And there you have it!  

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I loved this dish because the flavors are nice and light but oh so complementary.  It feels like eating an indulgent, comfort-food type dinner but with none of the heaviness of pasta and minimal oil.  I never expected to like zucchini noodles this much.  They really are an acceptable substitute for pasta, as far as that noodle-in-your-mouth feel.  The light flavor adds a refreshing touch, and you have zero guilt.  This dish is super healthy, being almost all vegetables.  If you want to lighten it up, you could use part-skim ricotta and/or lessen the amount of cheese used.  You could also easily make this Paleo by omitting the cheese, and it is naturally gluten-free.  Perfect for late summer since it’s still warm during the day, but the fog is rolling in at night.  

We paired this dish with a glass of Paradise Ridge Cabernet (the winery where we got married!) and it felt like fancy yet cozy date night at home.  

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Tonight we have a real, outside the house date night to see Chelsea Handler!  I am so excited for this.  A couple of years ago I saw her in San Francisco, and laughed until I cried.  I’m off now to start reading her latest book, “Uganda be Kidding Me,” to get ready.  Hope everyone has a fantastic weekend, and make sure to impress someone you love with this beautiful dinner soon!  

xo

Rachel

Turkey-Ricotta Eggplant Rotini over Zucchini Noodles

Ingredients:

For Zucchini Noodles

4 zucchini, spiralized

1 Tbsp olive oil

pinch salt

 

For Filling:

1 lb. lean ground turkey (preferably organic)

2 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped

1 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped fine

1/2 tsp. sea salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1 shallot, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 tsp. olive oil

 

For Rolls:

2 eggplants, sliced lengthwise to 1/4-1/2 inch wide

1 jar marinara sauce (I used Dave’s Gourmet Red Heirloom Organic Pasta Sauce)

parmesan cheese (to sprinkle on top; optional)

 

For Italian Salsa:

4 roma tomatoes, diced

2 Tbsp fresh basil

salt and pepper to taste

 

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400°.  Lightly salt spiralized noodles and let sit in a colander for 30 minutes.  Rinse, drain, and pat dry with paper towels.  Stick back in colander and place in refrigerator for additional 1-2 hours (optional).  

Lay eggplant slices on baking sheet and lightly brush with olive oil on both sides.  Bake for eight minutes or until soft and pliable, and when most of the water has cooked out.  Set aside.  

In mixing bowl, combine ground turkey with basil, oregano, salt and pepper.  Heat a skillet with a teaspoon of olive oil over medium high heat.  Sauté shallot for 1-2 minutes, until it starts to sweat.  Add garlic and sauté another 30 seconds.  Then add turkey mixture and cook until juices run clear and turkey is cooked through.  Add the ricotta cheese and blend, breaking up the turkey bits as small as possible.  When evenly mixed, turn heat off.  

While turkey is cooking, heat marinara sauce in separate saucepan over low heat.  Dice your roma tomatoes and combine in a bowl with basil, salt and pepper.  You could also add garlic or olive oil to this mix, but it’s not necessary.  (I’m sensitive to raw garlic so I left it out.)  

Place a couple tablespoons of filling onto each eggplant slice and roll up.  It takes some finesse to keep it together, but just kind of prop it up against the walls of the baking dish you place it in, and allow the rolls to support each other in the dish, it’s okay if they touch.  Once you have all your rolls, cover the top with marinara sauce (I used half the jar here.)  Sprinkle some parmesan cheese over the top if desired.  Cover the dish with foil, wrap tightly and poke a few ventilation holes in the top.  Place in the 400º oven for 20 minutes.  

When your rolls only have a few minutes left, toss the zucchini noodles in a pan and sauté over medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes, just enough for the color to brighten.  Then turn the heat off and toss in a tablespoon of olive oil.  

Plate up your beautiful creation by placing noodles on bottom, two rolls on top, and garnish with some Italian salsa and a sprig of basil.  Then stuff your face!  🙂