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Shut Up and Eat Your Vegetables

August 9, 2013 Leave your thoughts Print this page

Vegetables. Some of you may have jumped for joy, while others may have thrusted your spinny chairs backwards in disgust.

I’ve volunteered as a counselor-in-training for a couple summers now, and one thing that’s been consistent is the lack of vegetables these kids are eating. On occasion, I’ll see someone’s mom has packed him or her some baby carrots, but other than that, I’ve seen NOTHING. Some of them will have fruit, but it’s usually dwarfed by a mostly-bread sandwich and some kind of chip and/or processed sweet.

“But they’re kids! They’re picky!”

Sure, kids’ taste buds are largely defined by the fact that they haven’t fully developed yet, but part of the reason they’re not eating vegetables is where their influence is coming from. I know there are plenty of adults out there that dislike vegetables just as much as five and six year-olds do.

This is part of the reason why SAD (the Standard American Diet) fails: people aren’t eating enough vegetablesInstead of having a big salad or a sauteed spinach omelette for breakfast, people are downing non-fat “fruit” yogurts (trust me—it’s mostly sugar and chemicals in there, not fruit) and bowls of carb-dense cereal. Tell me, where are the plants? How is a crunchy pellet or flake considered food and chosen over a delicious, nutrient-packed vegetable?

It’s time to change. We need to stop avoiding vegetables and replacing them with “healthy” substitutes, like “veggie” chips and juices. I challenge you, whether you’re a newbie to real food eating or an old-timer, to aim to eat at least a serving of vegetables with every meal.

Daunted? Lost? Lazy? I’m here to help with four of my favorite vegetables and two different ways to prepare each of ‘em.

1. Cauliflower

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Before going paleo, I barely ate cauliflower. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it…I just didn’t know what to do with it. Now that I’ve incorporated so many vegetables into my diet, cauliflower has become one of my best friends. It’s not only high in Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and fiber, but also makes the perfect canvass for a plethora of spices and seasonings. It’s the marriage of broccoli and potatoes in the best way possible.

So, how do I prepare it?

  1. Roast it. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Toss 4 cups of cauliflower florets with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, pepper, and a bunch of seasonings. I like using about 1/2 tablespoon each of paprika, garlic powder, tumeric, and cumin, plus a tablespoon of nutritional yeast for a slightly “cheesy” flavor. Roast until the tops are a dark shade of brown and the cauliflower is tender to the touch, about 30 to 35 minutes.
  2. Rice it. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse 2 cups of cauliflower florets at a time until the size of rice grains or cous-cous (depending on the texture you’re going for), about 30 seconds. In a pan, melt 2 tablespoons of ghee or butter over medium heat, then add all of the cauliflower. Add your seasonings of choice, then saute until softened but not squishy, about 5 to 6 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover tightly with a lid until you’re ready to eat.

2. Tomatoes

Technically, tomatoes are a fruit, but today, I’m ignoring science. So take that. Anyways, when they’re in season, cherry tomatoes are my favorite food—hands down. Sweet, juicy, and just a bit crunchy, it’s like eating a piece of nature’s candy. If you’re not eating many tomatoes, now is a great time to get started: tomato season is end of July through end of August, at least where I live, so these little guys will be at their freshest and tastiest. Tomatoes are also an excellent source of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and lycopene, which contributes a boatload of antioxidants as well as the bright red pigment.

So, how do I prepare them?

  1. Sauce them. Got squishy and/or overly ripe tomatoes lying around? Make a quick sauce! Heat up a tablespoon of olive oil or butter in a skillet over medium heat, and add 2 large or 3 small cloves of minced garlic. Saute until fragrant, then add in 2 cups of chopped tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of red chili flakes, and let cook until the tomatoes have mostly broken down, about 6 minutes. During the last minute or so of cooking, add in 1/3-1/2 cup of finely chopped fresh basil. Serve over grilled chicken or roasted spaghetti squash.
  2. Sandwich them. I love the combination of tomatoes and balsamic vinegar, and avocado makes it even better. In the bowl of a food processor, blend 2 very ripe avocados with a generous pinch of salt until smooth, about 2 minutes. Cut a fat heirloom tomato into 1-inch wide slices, then lightly drizzle with some good balsamic vinegar. (No glucose syrup here!) To assemble, spread a heaping tablespoon of avocado onto a tomato slice and top with another of about the same size. Finish with a crack of black pepper, if you’d like.

3. Kale

Kale is amazing. If you don’t like it, I don’t like you. Sorry, that’s how I roll. Out with the kale haters.

I’m kidding! Chances are, if you have terrifying memories of kale, it’s because it hasn’t been fresh and/or prepared in the right way. I must admit…bad raw kale is pretty disgusting. Even if you have an emotionally-scarring back-story, I highly recommend you give this leafy green another try. It has a mind-blowing amount of Vitamin K, Vitamin C, and Vitamin A, plus some calcium, which can be hard to come by if you’re staying away from dairy. My favorite type is Tuscan kale—the kind with the big, thick leaves bursting with crunchiness.

So, how do I prepare it?

  1. Massage it. Yes, I said massage it. Massaged kale salads are insanely tasty; so tasty, in fact, that they were the number one dish I missed while I was in France. Oddly enough, my favorite time to have one of these salads is at breakfast, but it’s perfect for a light lunch, dinner, or even snack. All you do is wash and dry a BUNCH of chopped kale, drizzle on some good olive oil and a bit of vinegar/citrus juice, and massage the liquids into the kale with your hands. The kale is ready when it’s turned dark green and feels considerably softer in texture. It’s best if you let it sit for at least 15 minutes before digging in.
  2. Crispify it. Kale chips are sweeping the nation. You don’t need a mandolin or a dehydrator to make them: you just need some olive oil, salt, a big baking sheet, an oven, and some kale! Simply toss your choice of kale with a scant teaspoon or two of olive oil (you don’t want a lot—it’ll weigh it down), salt, and some spices, if you’d like. (Paprika, chipotle chili powder, and garlic powder are my go-tos.) Lay the kale on the sheet, and bake at 400 degrees until dark green and crispy, about 15 to 20 minutes. Do not stir. Serve immediately and resist eating the whole batch.

4. Carrots

I was a rabbit in a previous life. I am OBSESSED with carrots. I usually eat them every day, sometimes twice a day. I swear, I will eat carrots over almost anything. It’s a good thing they’re fantastic for you: plenty of Vitamin A (I guess I really like Vitamin A, don’t I?), fiber, and beta-carotene, which like lycopene is chock-full of antioxidants as well as natural pigments. Carrots are also a great kid-friendly choice: they’re bright, crunchy, and sweet, perfect for packing in lunchboxes and dipping in nut butter.

So, how do I prepare them?

  1. Mash them. If you like mashed sweet potatoes, you’ll love mashed carrots! Either boil them in water until soft (about 10 minutes) or roast them in the oven at 400 degrees until browning and tender (about 35 minutes), then transfer to the bowl of a food processor. Blend with 1/3-1/2 cup of full-fat coconut milk (depending on how creamy you want it), a tablespoon of butter or coconut oil, a good pinch of salt, and about 1/2 tablespoon each of paprika, turmeric, and cumin. Process until smooth, then taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary.
  2. Slaw them. Grate enough carrots to amount to 4 cups or buy them already prepared. Toss with 1/4 cup of mayonnaise (I always make my own—you can use this recipe), a tablespoon of maple syrup, a generous pinch of salt, a good crack of black pepper, and either 1/4 cup of red raisins OR a chopped apple. Let sit in the fridge for half an hour before serving.

So, have I convinced you now to give vegetables a try? If you didn’t see one you liked here, you could try…

…asparagus, beets (golden and red), broccoli/broccolini/broccoli rabe, brussel sprouts, butternut squash, cucumbers, eggplant, fiddlehead ferns, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, parsnips, rutabegas, spaghetti squash, spinach, sunchokes, sweet potatoes, or zucchini, just to name a few of my favorites.

What’s your vegetable of choice and what do you like to do with it? Leave me a comment on Facebook and let me know! 


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Finger-Lickin’ Sesame Spareribs (gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo, nut-free)

June 30, 2013 Leave your thoughts Print this page

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They’re sticky. They’re tender. They’re pleasantly salty with gentle notes of unami. And, best of all, you don’t have to go to an Asian restaurant to get ‘em.

Living in rather bland suburbia, the primary takeout options are pizza and “Chinese” food. I use Chinese in air quotes becomes really, what we’re eating is NOT Chinese food…it’s some misconstrued fantasy of typical American food mixed with some Asian ingredients. Although these greased, sugared, and sodium-heavy dishes are initially very satisfying, they feel awful going down. Can you say food hangover?

Using the basic technique of a Mark Bittman recipe, I recreated this takeout favorite in a much more healthful manner. I’ll bet even picky eaters will be happily gnawing away on the bones.

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The first thing you’ll need is a BIG, DEEP skillet to cook the ribs in. My cast iron was the largest thing I could find…and it was a little on the small side. 

Place 3-4 pounds of spare ribs, cut into individual sections (you can ask your butcher to do this for you, or do it yourself), into the skillet. It should be snug but not suffocating.

Add 2 cups of water to the skillet and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat slightly so everything just bubbles, and cook until the water is completely evaporated, about 20 minutes. Flip the ribs over every 5 minutes or so to make sure there’s even coverage.

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Once the water’s gone, let the ribs sear in the pan until brown on both sides, about 5 to 7 minutes. Flip them over once or twice before proceeding.

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To the pan, add 5 minced cloves of garlic, a 1-inch thumb of ginger, sliced into 6 thin rounds, 1/2 cup of coconut aminos or organic tamari (gluten-free soy sauce), 2 tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds, 2 tablespoons of coconut sugar OR your sweetener of choice, and 1/2 cup of water. 

Bring to a bubble, then reduce the heat so the liquid is at a gentle boil. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, turning the ribs once or twice. Add 1/2 cup of orange juice, re-cover, reduce the heat slightly, and cook until tender, about 20 to 30 minutes longer. Flip the ribs over every 5 to 10 minutes.

Toss the ribs with the sauce, garnish with some additional sesame seeds, and dig in! I made these with roasted brussel sprouts, but they’d also be excellent with sauteed cabbage, cauliflower rice, or zucchini noodles.

One thing I can promise? You’re going to need some wipes for this one.

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Watch out, dumplings and chicken lo-mein: YOU’RE NEXT.

What’s your favorite “Chinese” food dish? Leave me a comment on Facebook and let me know!


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Crab Cakes and Citrus-Infused Mayo (gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, paleo)

June 23, 2013 Leave your thoughts Print this page

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Friday was officially my last day of school, and I couldn’t be gladder. No more geometry. No more boring-as-heck marketing class. No more finals or projects or tests. I’m relieved…for now. I still have two books to read and annotate, two French workbooks to complete, and three chapters of an AP Euro textbook to complete before school starts again.

Oh well. For now, I’m just enjoying the fact that I don’t have to return to my “favorite” institution for two months. 

I spent my first few hours of freedom at a pool party with all of my friends. We’re teenage girls, so of course there were a few rounds of truth or dare and some Disney sing-alongs. I also had quite a good time eating fruit and flaunting my new swimsuit that I’m a teensy bit obsessed with.

Enough about me. Onto the food!

In the summertime, both my family and I prefer to have lighter, less meat-dense meals. Don’t get me wrong—we love our pork, lamb, and beef—but when the weather gets warmer, you don’t necessarily want to be digging into a rich, saucy stew every night.

If you’re looking to mix up your weekly dinner rotation, these crab cakes are a great addition. They took me maybe forty or so minutes to prepare and tasted DELICIOUS. There were also plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day, an added bonus.

So, without further ado, let’s get started!

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You’re going to need some mayonnaise for this recipe to help hold the crab cakes together. I really dislike the way the store-bought stuff tastes, so I always make my own. This mayonnaise is EXTREMELY easy to prepare and takes less than ten minutes to whip up…and the difference in taste is unbelievable. 

In the bowl of a food processor or blender, process 2 large egg yolks, the juice of two limes, 1 1/2 teaspoons of red wine vinegar, 1 1/2 teaspoons of dijon mustard, a good pinch of salt, and a large crack of black pepper until smooth, about 1 minute. 

With the machine running, SLOWLY drizzle in 3/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil OR liquefied coconut oil. It should take 3-4 minutes to get all of the oil from the measuring cup to the machine, so make sure you keep your pouring at just a trickle. This will really help to emulsify all of the ingredients and make it super creamy.

I like my mayonnaise on the lighter, creamier side, so I only add 3/4 cup of oil. If you like a denser, thicker mayo, add more oil as necessary.

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To make the crab cakes, preheat the oven to 300 degrees and line a baking sheet with tinfoil. You’ll be cooking the cakes in batches, so you’ll need to keep the first batch warm while the second batch is going. 

In a medium-sized bowl, break up 1 lb of lump crab meat into small chunks and remove any shells if you find ‘em. 

Pour the crab into a large bowl and add 1 chopped yellow bell pepper, 1 chopped scallion, 1 whisked egg, 6 tablespoons of the citrus-infused mayonnaise OR 6 tablespoons of store-bought mayo and the juice of a lime, 2 tablespoons of creole seasoning (for the recipe I used, click here), a generous pinch of salt, and 3 tablespoons of coconut flour. With your hands, squish and squeeze all of the ingredients together, really making sure to get everything well-incorporated.

Form the crab mixture into 6-8 cakes, depending on how large you want them.

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In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 1/3 cup of organic palm shortening. If you don’t have or don’t like palm shortening, you can use regular coconut oil, ghee, or even avocado oil in its place. Whatever you do, DO NOT use olive oil. Its low smoke point will lead to oxidization and lots of splatters.

When the fat is completely melted and shimmering, add half of the crab cakes to the pan. Cook undisturbed until dark brown on that side, about 6 to 8 minutes, then flip to cook for 5 to 7 minutes longer. 

Once crisp and darkened on both sides, transfer the finished crab cakes to the prepared baking sheet and pop in the oven. Add more fat to the pan if necessary, and repeat the same steps with the remaining crab cakes.

Serve with some of the citrus-infused mayo or a generous slice of ripe avocado. 

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What are you most looking forward to this summer? Leave me a comment on Facebook and let me know!


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The Legs Make the Bird (Easy Weeknight Dinners)

May 4, 2013 Leave your thoughts Print this page

I’ll admit it—I was once a chicken breast fanatic. I ate several ounces of that dry, tasteless white meat daily…and even with the amount of seasonings I’d put on it, boy, was it bland.

Since going Paleo, I almost always opt for the dark meat, which has more fat as well as vitamins and minerals. I love the juicy meat and crispy skin, then gnawing on the bones when I’m done.

Legs—both those of chickens and ducks—are also pretty easy to cook. All you need are some basic ingredients and a cast iron skillet! Although these dishes are a little time-consuming, most of the process is hands-off, so you can feel free to do other things while dinner cooks.

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For this first dish, Cinnamon Chicken with Cauliflower Couscous, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a large baking sheet and set aside.

Put your chicken legs in a large plastic bag and add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon of ground ginger, and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon. Seal the bag and shake to distribute the spices. 

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of duck fat or refined coconut oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the chicken skin-side down and cook until brown and crispy, about 8 to 10 minutes. If your pan is smaller, brown the chicken in two batches to prevent over-crowding. Place the chicken on the prepared baking sheet, skin-side up, and bake until just cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes longer.

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While the chicken cooks, add 1 large onion, chopped, to the remaining chicken fat in the cast iron skillet. Cook over medium heat until softening and light brown, about 6 to 7 minutes, then add 2/3 cup of chopped dried fruit. I used a combination of apricots, prunes, and dates, but you can also try figs, raisins, or even cranberries.

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Cook for another 2 or 3 minutes, then add about 4 cups of riced cauliflower. (To make cauliflower with a couscous-like texture, process on high with about 1 teaspoon of water for approximately 15 to 20 seconds.)

Sprinkle the mixture with another 1/2 tablespoon of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of ginger, 1 teaspoon of paprika, and 1 teaspoon of garlic powder. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then cook over medium-low heat for another 5 to 7 minutes.

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This next recipe, Crispy Duck Legs, is a great dish for those just beginning to cook with my favorite water fowl. Just be prepared for the amount of fat you’ll render: I got almost 2 cups out of 4 legs!

First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and stick a cast iron skillet in there to get nice and hot. With a small, sharp knife, score the duck legs and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

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Remove the hot skillet from the oven and place on the stove top over medium-high heat. Add 2 of the duck breasts, skin side down, and cook until brown and crispy, about 6 to 8 minutes. Every 2 minutes or so, rotate the legs about 90 degrees so you’ll get even coverage.

Flip the duck legs over, cook for an additional 2 minutes, then remove to a cutting board. Follow the same procedure with the other 2 duck legs. Your goal is not to cook the duck legs through, but to crispify the outside.

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Pour off almost all of the accumulated duck fat, reserving 1 to 2 tablespoons in the skillet to saute the veggies. Add 1/2 of a chopped red onion, 1 chopped carrot, 3 stalks of chopped celery, and 1/2 of a chopped apple. Sprinkle with just a pinch of salt and cook until soft and golden, about 12 minutes.

Return all 4 duck legs to the pan and pour in between 1 1/2 and 2 cups of stock (I used my homemade duck stock). The liquid should cover the veggies but not submerge the legs.

Slide the skillet into the oven, and cook at 400 for 30 minutes. Then, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and continue cooking until the duck legs reach at least 175 degrees, about 30 minutes longer.

Broil on low for an additional 3 minutes to get extra crispy skin.

I served up the duck legs alongside some roasted golden beets and a wild mushroom medley. To add simple bursts of flavor, try a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice or a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. If you have the time, a fruit-based sauce (like my cherry sauce) is excellent on top.

Have any suggestions for what I should cook next? Leave me a comment on Facebook and let me know! 


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Savory Steamers with Sweet Potato Chips (gluten-free, dairy-free, Paleo)

May 1, 2013 Leave your thoughts Print this page

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I am very fortunate to have many food lovers in my life. One of those people is my awesome band director, whose specialty is…you guessed it, seafood.

Using his tips, I created a lick-your-bowl-clean dinner that was both satisfying and really easy to make. You don’t have to be a five-star chef to turn out this delicious meal!

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Before you start cooking, chop up 1 large onion, 2 stalks of celery, plus a handful of their leaves, 1 large carrot, and 4 cloves of garlic. Don’t leave out the celery leaves—they really help the dish shine.

Heat about 2 tablespoons of ghee or butter in a big pot over medium heat. Meanwhile, scrub off some Littleneck clams in the sink. I made 24 for 3 people, so figure about 8 per person. 

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Once the ghee or butter is hot and melted, add the onion and saute until soft, about 4 minutes. Then, add in the celery, celery leaves, carrot, and garlic and continue cooking until beginning to brown, about 6 to 7 minutes longer. Do not season with salt, or if you do, only add a little bit.

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Turn the heat down to medium-low and pour in 1 cup of stock (I used my homemade duck stock) and about 3/4 cup of white wine. Bring to a boil before adding the clams, covering the pot with a lid, and steaming until the clams have just opened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Don’t overcook them!

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Scoop up the clams and a bunch of the broth into a bowl, and dig in. It’s as easy as that!

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In French-style bistros, French fries are usually served with steamed shellfish. My sweet potato fries haven’t been turning out too well lately, so I decided to make sweet potato chips instead. They were fabulous, if I do say so myself.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and grease two large baking sheets with olive or coconut oil. Allow yourself plenty of time for baking to ensure maximum crispiness. 

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Peel and thinly slice two large sweet potatoes into 1/8-inch rounds. You can use a mandolin, but I personally prefer my trusty kitchen knife. 

Toss the rounds in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, place on the baking sheets, and sprinkle the tops with salt and pepper. If you want to add some extra flavorings, like chipotle chili pepper, garlic/onion powder, or dried herbs, feel free to do so!

Bake until beginning to discolor on one side, about 10 to 12 minutes, then flip over and bake until crispy, anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes longer depending on oven rack position and evenness of temperature.

Allow to cool for at least 5 minutes before serving so the chips have time to harden a bit.

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What’s your favorite bistro or pub dish? Leave me a comment on Facebook and let me know!


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