Lettuce Wraps with Tangy Asian Slaw (Gluten- and Refined Sugar-Free)

Savory meat filling in a cool lettuce wrapI’m obsessed with things wrapped in lettuce. Which seems an appropriate response to having a gluten allergy, since buns and bread are effectively off the table. Every week I eat at least one dish that uses crisp romaine or butter lettuce leaves as the vessel with which I deliver said deliciousness into my belly.

I’m also a fan of simplicity and this recipe couldn’t be easier. You can even be super lazy and just buy grocery store Hoisin sauce, although for anyone with celiac, that’s a risky proposition, as most store bought brands contain soy sauce. Also if you don’t make the sauce from scratch, you’re missing a huge part of what makes this dinner so flavorful and awesome. Moral of this paragraph? Make the sauce. In fact, make a double batch.

What makes my lettuce wraps different from the mainstream recipes out there is the addition of more veggies. The best thing about Asian cuisine, to my mind, is the ease with which all sorts of vegetables can slide into a dish all stealth-like and punch up the color, crunch and fiber quotient while making only a modest flavor difference. Typically the sauce situation takes care of that. So I say “more veggies for all!” Seriously though, add even just one additional veggie to your stir fries or your take-out from now on. Your body and your taste buds will thank you.

Savory filling in a cool lettuce wrapSince I didn’t want to monkey with the original filling recipe too much except to add bamboo shoots, I opted to veg-ify this recipe with the addition of a crisp coleslaw, reminiscent of cucumber salad. Packaged broccoli slaw is my favorite mixture to use for this crunchy condiment, although last time when I couldn’t find it, I subbed a lovely kale, cabbage and Brussels sprout slaw to which I added shredded carrot. Basically whatever shredded veggie combo strikes your fancy ought to do the trick. Toss a handful of that in a tangy dressing infused with sesame oil and chili flakes, chill briefly before serving and you have a bright garnish that almost steals the show. Almost. There’s still that dreamy sauce…

Another great thing about this recipe is that you can make it with whatever protein your heart desires. Organic, grass-fed beef makes a bomb lettuce wrap, but you’ll usually find them made with ground dark-meat turkey in my household. Even the roommate can’t get enough of these and he generally likes to eschew my healthy cooking as dramatically unsatisfying by virtue of it being gluten free.

Meaning he rarely eats my food, out of principle.

This recipe however, makes him say, “Principles be damned!” Actually that’s never happened. But since he’s happily munching away on these as I type, that must be what he’s thinking, right?

Point is, you’re going to want to make this your something delicious today.

Lettuce Wraps with Tangy Asian Slaw (Gluten and Refined Sugar-Free)
  • 1/4 cup gluten-free soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 T organic cornstarch
  • 2 T rice vinegar
  • 1 T mirin (rice wine)
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp Sriracha, adjust to taste
  • 2 T honey
  • 1 T fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 T grapeseed oil (or other neutral tasting oil)
  • 1 pound organic ground turkey, chicken, pork or beef
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (8-ounce) can water chestnuts, drained and diced
  • 1 (8-ounce) can bamboo shoots, drained and diced
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 head butter lettuce
  • 1 cup Asian coleslaw (recipe follows)
  • Chopped peanuts or almonds
  1. Make coleslaw. Place in fridge to chill for one hour.
  2. In a small bowl, combine soy sauce and cornstarch, whisking until smooth. Add rice vinegar, mirin, sesame oil, Sriracha, honey and ginger, and whisk until well-combined.
  3. In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add the ground meat,  a pinch of salt and pepper and cook, breaking it into small pieces, until no longer pink (about 5 minutes). Remove the meat from the skillet and set it aside.
  4. Add the remaining tablespoon oil, add the diced onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the minced garlic and cook until the onion is translucent, about 2 minutes more.
  6. Return the cooked meat to the skillet, add the sauce, and mix to combine. Cook until the sauce begins to thicken (1 to 2 minutes). Remove from the heat, and add the water chestnuts,  bamboo shoots, and green onions.
  7. Take a leaf of Boston lettuce and spoon in about 1/3 cup of the meat. Top with Asian coleslaw and chopped nuts.

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Tangy Asian Coleslaw
  • Half bag broccoli slaw mix
  • 1 T gluten-free soy sauce or tamari
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 T coconut sugar
  • 1 T grapeseed oil
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • pinch crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, roughly torn
  1. In a medium bowl, mix together the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, oils and pepper flakes.
  2. Add slaw mixture and stir to coat.
  3. Chill 1 hour before serving, stirring every so often to coat veggies.
  4. Add cilantro right before serving.

 

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Happy Hour: Make THIS Your 2017 Cocktail

The Bee Sting: A honey-infused libationOver dangerously smooth anise-perfumed cocktails the other night, a friend told me his mother’s tried-and-true hangover remedy just so happened to be the MVP in our cocktails–honey. I scoffed a bit—isn’t sweet stuff the reason why I hurt so badly the morning after? But four Bee Stings, six hours of sleep and no hangover later, I was convinced.

So honey can banish a hangover? No more throbbing head, dizziness or sour tummy after a night of drinking? Sign me UP!

I poked around a bit to get to the bottom of this delightful mystery, and was able to come up with the following fun facts. It just so happens that honey is acclaimed by scientists for its ability to aid the body in breaking down alcohol. This little nutritional powerhouse can neutralize booze toxins, according to an article in the US National Library of Medicine. Author Arthur Cederbaum states that because honey contains natural fructose, which helps the body metabolize alcohol more quickly into a harmless byproduct, it can end the hangover period faster. (1)

Furthermore, honey pumps us full of antioxidants that protect the liver from alcohol damage. It also contains electrolytes–like sodium and potassium–which our systems exhaust while processing the alcohol, and which need replenishing in order for us to feel better.

Not too shabby.

And I can’t help but think that the whisper of Absinthe–a spirit made from medicinal herbs–must be the proverbial cherry on top, no?

I mean this cocktail is almost…dare I say it…good for you! 

So why not ring in the new you this new year by embracing a cocktail that will love you almost as much as you love it? Now doesn’t that sound delicious?

Bee Sting
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz honey simple syrup (see recipe below)
  • 3 oz vodka
  • Splash absinthe
  • Lemon wheel, for garnishing
  1. Rinse martini glass with a splash of absinthe. Do not discard.
  2. Pour lemon juice, honey syrup and vodka into a pint glass filled with ice.
  3. Shake well and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a lemon wheel floater.

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Honey Simple Syrup
  • 1/2 c honey
  • 1/2 c water
  1. Combine honey and water in a small saucepan.
  2. Heat over medium heat until honey is dissolved.
  3. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temp.
  4. Chill for 30 minutes before using. Store in refrigerator for up to one month.

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Detoxify Everything (Health Hacks, Volume II)

It seems appropriate, in light of the fact that I have never consumed more cheese (chocolate/bacon/eggnog) than I have in the last two weeks, to do a post on detoxification. Around the holidays it’s easy to be aware of how polluted you feel, when indulgences wait around every corner, and your waistband gets tighter by the hour.

But even in our normal, mostly “healthy” lives, we are subjected to toxins on a daily basis—from pesticides on our veggies, to allergens in the air, to chemicals in our food-storage containers.

So this month’s health tip is to create detoxifying rituals to combat this constant exposure.

I’m going to start with the obvious one: drink more water. Drinking lots of water not only flushes toxins, it keeps our digestion regular and helps with weight loss. Furthermore, it makes our skin supple and allows our brains to run at maximum efficiency. Read tips on how to adopt this healthy habit into your routine here.

Then, Sweat It Out

You knew this was coming: of course exercise is on this list, because at the end of the day, strengthening your heart and circulatory system and maintaining agility is the key to vitality. But eliminating toxins is yet another bonus of working up a sweat.

A study published in Scientific World Journal (1) compared the amount of phthalates (a toxin found in personal care and household items) eliminated from the body based on the type of elimination—sweat or urine—and found that sweating was the superior method. In fact, the amount of toxin present in the sweat was twice that found in the urine. So flush your system with water, but don’t think that replaces a trip to the gym.

I’ve got great news though: even sitting in a sauna is an effective detox. As your body gets hotter and blood flow increases, toxins that are stored in body fat get released. These toxins might include pesticide residues and drugs—legal or otherwise.

Take Epsom salt baths to detoxifyThen, Soak It Away

I love any health tip that includes adding baths to the repertoire. The key here is to add 2 cups of Epsom salts, which contain magnesium and sulfate. The sulfates in Epsom salt help flush toxins and heavy metals from the cells. Your skin is highly porous, and adding the right minerals to your bathwater triggers reverse osmosis. This process actually pulls salt out of your body, and harmful toxins along with it.

As an added bonus, Epsom salt absorbed through the skin replenishes magnesium levels in the body. This helps produce serotonin, a mood-elevating chemical in the brain that creates feelings of calm and relaxation. Research shows that magnesium also increases energy and stamina. Experts believe that bathing with Epsom salt at least three times a week helps you to look better, feel better and gain more energy.

And get this! There are a gazillion more uses for Epsom salts, so please go read about them here. Then I bet you’ll want to thank me for telling you to take more baths and proving that they’re soo good for you.

You’re welcome.

Try Something Different

“So drink water, work out and take baths, that’s it?” you might be saying. “Those are things I already do!”

I know, isn’t that awesome? Just ramp it up a notch. And then check out these two things you might not be doing.

Take Activated CharcoalActivated charcoal flushes toxins

Activated Charcoal—not to be confused with charcoal used in your grill (giggle)— has a negative electric charge that causes positive charged toxins and gas to bond with it. This in turn helps promote a healthy digestive tract by removing the very toxins that cause allergic reactions, oxidative damage and poor immune system function, in addition to reducing bloating and gas. Hurray!

To optimize your health, routinely cleanse the digestive tract by taking 10 grams of activated charcoal 90 minutes prior to each meal for two days, according to Dr. Josh Axe, certified doctor of natural medicine, chiropractic and clinical nutritionist. During the cleanse, eat only organic fruits and vegetables, grass-fed meat, and wild fish.

Oh and guess what else?

Activated charcoal can prevent hangovers. Dave Asprey, of Bulletproof Coffee Fame, suggests 2000 mg after you’re done drinking, in order to feel, well, bulletproof the morning after.

I like it.

Eat Broccoli Sprouts

There is so much talk about super foods it’s overwhelming to know where to begin. So if you only add one new thing to your diet, it ought to be these babies.

Broccoli sprouts contain a chemical called sulforaphane which greatly enhances detoxification, excreting mercury, carcinogens and air pollutants, just to name a few. Compared to vitamin C, which fights free radicals directly for approximately six hours after exposure, sulforaphane prompts our cells to make antioxidant proteins that can fight for more than 72 hours. Not only are these little powerhouses thought to combat cancer in multiple ways, studies suggest they contain 1000 times more nutrients than mature broccoli, and can even cause a reduction in symptoms of autism.

With a little patience, broccoli sprouts are easy to grow in your kitchen. You can get organic broccoli seeds here. Visit Ali and Tom’s amazing Elimination Diet site for instructions on how to grow them, and start reaping the benefits today of this simple addition to your wellness routine.

For a great list of other foods you should eat after a binge, check out this article.

And Now For Something Delicious

If you’re kicking off 2017 with a cleanse, juicing is probably top of your list. For that reason, I wanted to include one of my all-time favorite juice recipes, that just so happens to have extra detox properties due to the addition of beets. Since beets tend to have an earthy flavor (I’ve been told by more than one picky eater that they taste like dirt), the addition of fennel and apple work against that flavor profile, resulting in a juice that is just slightly sweet, deliciously refreshing, and not remotely dirt flavored. During a cleanse where grass-flavored green juices abound, I consider this combo almost a dessert-like treat.

Beets contain antioxidants and minerals that have been shown to be cleansing and detoxifying. These include betaine, which helps the liver cells eliminate toxins; pectin, which clears the toxins that have been removed so they don’t reincorporate back into the body; and betalains, which have high anti-inflammatory properties that encourage the detox process.

And there’s no need to peel raw beets before juicing. Just give them a scrub, roughly chop, and juice away.

 

Beet-Fennel Detox Juice
  • 1 fennel bulb, stalks and fronds included
  • 1 small beet, scrubbed and cubed
  • 1 sweet apple, like Fuji or Honeycrisp, seeds and stem removed
  • 1 handful parsley, with stems
  1. Place all items into a high powered juice extractor and turn it on.
  2. Pour into a chilled glass, or place in freezer for 20 minutes before enjoying.

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*Of course, I should remind everyone that this blog is for information purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Because everyone is different, you should work with your medical professional to determine what’s best for you.

 

 

 

Health Hacks You Need Now (Volume I): Drink More Water

Water Trio

We all know we should drink more water. And yet I still hear this craziness to a shocking degree:

“I hate water.” 

Say what?

First of all, to my mind, that is like saying you hate air. Air is—generally—odorless, just as water is typically flavorless. How can you hate the taste of…nothing?

Unless what you really mean is that you are bored. Bored by the blandness, the simplicity, the utterly unassuming quality of water. Water doesn’t come to the party wearing bubbles, or Red Dye No. 5. It won’t give you a buzz or make your booze taste anything but more, erm, watery. When your taste buds are used to partying with the likes of Mountain Dew and Gatorade, or Diet Coke and Snapple, water is like the wallflower that’s all too easy to ignore.

If this sounds like you, I beg you to indulge me. After all, you know how we sometimes drink nasty-tasting cough syrup because it will banish our cold symptoms and restore health? Or get painful shots to prevent diseases? How about imbibing ener-G concoctions the color of battery acid in order to get a quick pick-me-up during the 3 o’clock slump? None of those acts is as pleasurable as a massage followed by a nap, but we do them anyway, in the name of increased productivity, greater health and well-being, and higher energy.

So why this resistance to water–which is surely less grotesque than some of the above scenarios–when it is just so dang obvious that it’s good for us?

Here are a few tips and tidbits designed to abolish your excuses. And if you already subscribe to the notion that water is the JAM, then hopefully these hacks will help you drink even more of it and be an even bigger badass of wellness.

Invest in a Quart Jar

And then fill it up and place it next to your bed at night. The next morning, don’t begin your day until you’ve consumed the entire thing. It’s surprisingly easy to drink that much water in a sitting (I like to challenge myself to drink a quarter at a time–and mason jars have cute little lines to help you keep track), and you’ll be halfway toward your daily water goal before ever getting out of bed.

Just don’t forget to add in eight extra ounces for everything else you consume throughout the day that acts as a diuretic (in other words, causes dehydration)–things like coffee and alcohol.

Break the Chapstick Habit

The first thing I noticed when I started using the quart jar hack was that I no longer had a need for lip balm throughout the day. I still use it (because I’m an addict) but the point is, I don’t need it. That’s revelatory! So if, like me, you suffer from chronic chapped lips, take it as a sign! Don’t waste another minute! Run–don’t walk–to the water cooler! Your skin will thank you.

Purity is King

Raspberry waterCity water is full of chlorine, which is great for sanitation purposes but bad for the beneficial bacteria in our guts. It often contains pharmaceuticals like antibiotics and antidepressants as well. With options for re-filling your 5-gallon bottles with reverse-osmosis water for as little as $2 each, it’s easier than ever to drink the stuff your body wants.

What to do on the go? Brita makes super cool, BPA-free bottles that filter up to 40 gallons of tap water, like this one here. Replacement filters are affordable too—at $4.98 for two—which makes investing in one sort of a no-brainer.

There’s An App For That

How cool is it that there exist in the universe apps that allow you to track your water consumption,  monitor your hydration in real time, upload pics of your drinking glass, and help you stick to your hydration goals? Try Waterlogged (free) or iDrated ($0.99).

Boost Your Brain

Seriously, this is one of the simplest ways you can improve your health and it can be done for cheap or free. Here’s what science is telling us:

Drinking lots of water keeps our digestive systems healthy and regular, helps to flush out toxins, and facilitates the loss of unwanted pounds. I can dig it.

But here’s the really important part:

Your brain uses 30% of the water in your body in order to function at maximum capacity. This means that dehydration has exponentially degrading effects on your brain’s performance. When you are as little as 5% dehydrated, your brain is 30% less efficient. At 10% dehydration, you are 50% less efficient. Which begs the question, have any of us ever in our lives functioned at full tilt? Wowza!

Even crazier is the fact that dehydration can actually cause your brain to shrink! I’m pretty sure I’m willing to drink a hippopotamus’ bath water to prevent that from happening.

Infuse It

If you feel the need to give water a makeover in order to fall in love, this is the move. And if you are already having an affair with the stuff, this will become your go-to way to refresh yourself throughout the day.

Grab a glass pitcher (or a Voss water bottle for on-the-go), and fill it with your organic fresh herbs and fruit. Frozen fruit works best because cell walls are more broken down and therefore infuse more readily. You can also gently muddle the fruit to get even more of that yummy flavor. Rosemary has antimicrobial properties that help maintain a healthy gut. So you can chew on the sprigs for added health points after you’ve finished your water.

I was feeling summery (what? Los Angeles is FREEZING so I’m channeling the Bahamas) so I created this Peach-Rosemary Water and declared it good enough to bring naysayers to the dark side.

Muahhhhhahhahhahha.

Ok, that’s enough. Go do something delicious!

*Of course, I should remind everyone that this blog is for information purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Because everyone is different, you should work with your medical professional to determine what’s best for you.

Pumpkin Pancakes with Cranberry-Pecan Compote (Gluten & Refined sugar-free)

Pumpkin Pancakes Cranberry-Pecan CompoteAs a person with food allergies, sometimes I’ll get lucky while traveling and find gluten-free options in places you would never expect. Recently I attended a wedding in Neverwhere, Ohio, and was delighted that the first breakfast in our historic hotel the big city–Lancaster, that is–had gluten-free bread on offer.

I can order a breakfast sandwich?! That is something that never, ever happens. I have forgone breakfast sandwiches for over three years now, so I was understandably delighted.

The irony, however, was that there was something else on the menu that I wanted way way more than a breakfast sandwich. Something that was decidedly NOT gluten free. Something that the women I was traveling with (my mom and her best friend) could not stop raving about: pumpkin pancakes with cranberry-pecan compote. Oh my YUM.

If You Love Me, Lie to Me

Allow me to digress for a moment…I once dated this guy–let’s call him *Frank*–for far longer than was sane or reasonable considering what a poor match we made.

But he did this thing that was so irresistibly charming whenever he ate something I wasn’t allowed to have, it just might have been the glue that kept us together. He would bite into said glutenous item and wrinkle his nose, before describing in detail how disappointing the meal was. Then he’d take another bite and shake his head no, as if to illustrate how lucky I was not to be subjected to such torture.

I found the game delightful. One time, he was eating a bean and cheese burrito–one of my most-missed comfort foods which sadly seem to be gone from my repertoire in the absence of GF tortillas that actually resemble tortillas. He made a face of utter disgust and proclaimed that his burrito was just “too beany.”

I’m fairly certain that this action alone made me love him.

Too Damned Honest

*Frank’s* behavior stands in stark contrast to what my family does. Now, to be fair, we are a family who loves food. We are perhaps more likely to tell you what we ate on our European vacation than which museums we visited or what friends we made. But still, it’s hard when my mom eats a warm croissant so delicate that I can hear the crunch of 100 perfect layers as it reverberates in the part of my chest that acutely feels “lack.” I watch in slow motion as parchment-like crumbs drift gently onto the tablecloth like tantalizing golden snowflakes. Then she TELLS me how good it is. As if I’m not already dying a little inside.

Sigh…This particular memory ends with my mom actually rubbing the pastry on her face in an amorous gesture meant to make her more at one with the croissant. I might be embellishing, but who can tell anymore? All I know is that she didn’t lie to me.

Is that so much to ask?

Same Sh*t, Different Day

And that’s how it began with the pumpkin pancakes. It went something like this:

Me: (getting into the car after an entire day of flying and not eating due to a lack of G-Free options). Hi moms. How’s it going?

Moms: Hi girls. You are gonna love our hotel. It has GREAT breakfasts. Today we had the pumpkin pancakes. They come with a cranberry-pecan compote that is to die for. Oh my word…

Me: Sounds incredible. I’m starving. No chance they’re gluten-free (she asks hopefully)?

Moms: No…But they were goooooooooood. Mmmmm mmmmm! Really fluffy!! So full of pumpkin spice. I’ve never had cranberry compote on pancakes before, have you Lynda? No? No, me neither. Definitely not to be missed.

Me: Ok well I’m sure they have other good things on the menu.

Moms: Oh I’m sure, but these pancakes were reaaaaaaallly something. I’m thinking they’d be great for Christmas breakfast, don’t you think so Lynda? Just marvelous, really…

Aargh.

Suffice to say, I dreamt about pumpkin pancakes that night.

My Loss=Your Gain

The silver lining to this story, my friends, is that I came home on a mission.

A delicious mission.

And hopefully you will reap the benefits of it as much as I’m getting to. We start with a crazy healthy pancake recipe–one of the pumpkin-iest pumpkin recipes I’ve made. These babies actually qualify as paleo and are only mildly sweet, so they pair perfectly with your choice of toppings. One point that is particularly noteworthy: flax seed and meal is very delicate and will only stay fresh if you keep it frozen. Your best bet is to buy a small quantity of flax seeds in the bulk bin at your local health food store and grind them yourself. I make all the pancakes at once and then freeze them in a single layer. Then take them straight from freezer to toaster for quick weekday breakfasts.

The cranberry compote is super simple to make, and is bright and tangy with the flavors of orange and pumpkin pie spice. Of course you can serve this as a condiment for poultry or pork, spread it on toast, stir it into oatmeal or spoon it over vanilla ice cream. I make it a day ahead to cut down on prep time and thin a little bit with OJ or water when I’m ready to serve. Toast the pecans and add them at the end so they’re perfectly crunchy.

Pumpkin Pancakes (Gluten-free, Refined-sugar free, Paleo)
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 2 T flax meal
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2-1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 can pure pumpkin
  • 6 eggs, whisked
  • 2 T coconut oil, plus more for cooking
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste (use extract for paleo)
  1. Whisk dry ingredients together in a small bowl.
  2. In another small bowl, whisk wet ingredients.
  3. Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until combined.
  4. Heat griddle over medium heat.
  5. When beads of water dance on the griddle’s surface, it is ready, Pour approximately 1/4 cup of batter onto the griddle at a time and use the back of a spoon to spread it into a circle.
  6. When small bubbles form on the surface, flip pancakes and cook for another 2 minutes.

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Cranberry-Pecan Compote (Refined sugar-free)
  • 1 bag fresh cranberries
  • 3 oranges, zest and juice
  • 1/4 cup + 2 T coconut sugar, or more to taste
  • 1 tsp homemade pumpkin pie spice (see below)
  • 1/4 cup raw pecans
  1. Place cleaned cranberries in a 2 quart saucepan.
  2. Add the zest of three oranges to the cranberries. Halve the oranges, and add the juice. Cook over medium heat.
  3. Stir in coconut sugar and spices. Allow mixture to come to a boil then lower heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until most of the moisture has evaporated and sauce has thickened to desired consistency.
  4. Meanwhile in a dry saute pan, toast pecans over medium low heat until fragrant and just starting to brown. Allow to cool. Roughly chop.
  5. To reheat, add 1/4 c of water or orange juice to compote and slowly warm over medium low heat.
  6. Spoon warmed compote over pancakes. Top with toasted, chopped pecans.

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Homemade Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ground clove
  1. In a small bowl, whisk all ingredients together.
  2. Store in an airtight container in a cool dark place.

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Green Tomatillo Salsa (with Avocado “Crema” Variation)

Tomatillo Salsa

My mom has a friend named Maria Garcia. She’s adorable for so many reasons, and not just because her name rhymes. She’s always dressed in cheery, colorful clothing. She’s never without a broad smile and the room is perpetually filled with her lyrical laughter. My favorite thing about her though?

She usually has a shot of tequila in her hand.

That, and she makes a killer tomatillo salsa. I’ve known Maria for most of my life and lucky for me, her signature salsa makes an appearance at most of our gift-giving occasions.

I love tomatillo salsa. Give me a choice between salsa verde and just about every other condiment known to man, and the green variety is going to win 9 times out of 10. But Maria’s is something special. She doesn’t use any onion, which I like because I’ve had too many salsas where the onion dominated the flavor.

And she doesn’t shy away from the spice–another key to my heart. In truth, I ask chefs to make dishes “spicy like you hate me,” and yet I have never, not ever, used the number of jalapeños Maria suggests in her recipe. She is far more bad-ass than I.

jalapenos

She also boils her jalapeños and tomatillos, which I like as artistic license. I’ve had salsa verde made from fresh ingredients blended in a food processor, and while delicious, that version of tomatillo salsa tastes much “greener” in flavor and less seasoned or intense. Furthermore, the addition of lime juice becomes essential, otherwise there is hardly any tang. When you boil your veggies, the spice becomes spicier and the tang comes out of the tomatillos naturally.

boiling peppersWhich brings me to tomatillos, the funny little things. They tend to be quite hard when you purchase them and enclosed in a little husk. Although I wasn’t able to find any documented reason why, I’m told the husk can be boiled with nopales (cactus) to remove the slime that nopales–and similar plants like aloe–are notorious for. Which makes me wonder if it can be used when cooking okra…And also whether this is just an old esposa’s tale…

But I digress.

Ironically, tomatillos also have a lot of pectin in them. I say ironic because the husks reportedly remove goo, whereas the fruit itself can cause your salsa to get thick and well, goo-ey, once refrigerated. If this happens to you, it simply means that not enough liquid was added to the recipe. Just stir in a tablespoon at a time of warm water until you reach the desired consistency.

tomatillos

The only thing I do differently from Maria when I make tomatillo salsa–aside from using fewer than 10 jalepenos–is to add lime zest. As stated above, I don’t really feel that lime juice is a necessary addition, but part of me was yearning for a nod to that flavor. Zest to the rescue! I looooove citrus zest–it’s just got such zing to it! Apparently I also love four letter nouns that start with “z!”

So if you’re down with the zest, go for it. But know that it’s totally optional. I assure you the results are delicious either way!

zesting limes

Oh and one last thing. This is delicious on fish tacos, where it can comingle with a little lime-crema. But if dairy is no bueno in your universe, try my Avocado Crema variation. Just blend half a ripe avocado with a cupish of green salsa in your food processor until the avocado is completely blended and the mixture is creamy. Add more or less salsa depending on how pourable you’d like your sauce to be. I’ll sometimes make it on the thicker side and dip cold, crunchy crudite into it. Yum!

Green Tomatillo Salsa (with Avocado “Crema” variation)
  • 8-10 tomatillos, husks removed
  • 1-3 jalapeños, depending on your spice tolerance
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 tsp salt, to taste
  • zest of one lime, optional
  • 1/4 c water
  • small bunch cilantro leaves, torn from stems
  • tomatoes, optional
  • half a ripe avocado, peeled and seeded (for Avocado “Crema” variation)
  1. Put tomatillos and jalapeños in a saucepan with cool water. Bring to a boil and simmer 8 minutes until tomatillos are soft.
  2. Remove from water and allow to cool to the touch.
  3. Remove fibrous stems from tomatillos and peppers (retaining seeds and pulp) and place in food processor with garlic, salt and lime zest, if using. Process until combined. Add water, beginning with 1/4 c until salsa is slightly thinner than the perfect consistency. It will thicken in the fridge.
  4. Add cilantro leaves and pulse until just combined.
  5. Taste. If your salsa is too spicy, you can add whole fresh tomatoes. Just add one at a time until you reach your desired spice level. Or you can make the crema variation that follows, since the fat in the avocado also cuts down on the spice quotient.
  6. For Avocado Crema: Pour salsa into a bowl or beaker, preferably one with a pour spout. No need to clean the food processor.
  7. Process avocado until smooth and creamy. Pour in 3/4 to 1 cup of salsa and process until combined.
  8. Enjoy!

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Better Stuffed Peppers (Gluten- & Dairy-Free, Vegan)

Stuffed Peppers with Quinoa, Mushrooms, and Black Beans

I’ve never liked stuffed peppers.

I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the notion of eating spaghetti sauce as a meal. Maybe it’s because it’s usually spaghetti sauce mixed with rice and topped with melted cheddar, which is not a flavor combination that really sings to me, you know? Or it could be the sagging, wrinkly pepper that serves as a receptacle for these weirdly blended filling ingredients.

Either way, when a client asked for stuffed peppers, I groaned on the inside.

Of course I’ll feed a client whatever they want, but it means that I have to taste that uninspired dish along the way and ultimately serve something I couldn’t be convinced to eat myself. It’s the artistic equivalent of paint-by-numbers. And nobody respects a hack.

So needless to say I was intrigued when she sent me a recipe she’d found—a version using ingredients I’d never heard of in a stuffed pepper recipe—and utilizing spices that made it more southwestern than pseudo-Italian. And it didn’t have meat or cheese, making the already gluten-free dinner option vegan to boot, so possibly…useful for me to have in my arsenal?

I was still skeptical, however. For starters, when has taking the cheese out of a recipe ever made it better? And secondly, at that time in my life, I generally ate things in spite of them being vegan, and not because of it.

But I bit the bullet and tried the new fandangled spin on the old classic. And discovered I was wrong. Deliciously so.

Turns out I DO like stuffed peppers. Damn, I love a happy accident!

Over time, I’ve made the recipe mine; adding spices, subtracting toppings. I’ve tried multiple variations—the addition of potato, for instance—great for when you’re trying to bulk the recipe up from six servings to eight. I’ve boiled the peppers for two minutes all the way up to ten. Turns out I prefer them not boiled at all. I like the tiny bit of crunch they retain after just the single bake.

mini peppers

Then I discovered what a great appetizer these make when you stuff them in tiny sweet peppers, like these.

These babies are a perfect one- or two-bite snack and are delicate enough that they don’t need to be baked at all. Serve them at room temperature or while the filling is still warm.

And since I wholeheartedly believe that food exists to be a vessel for sauce, I just couldn’t leave well enough alone. As delicious as these are topped with the traditional tomato sauce, by far my favorite flavor combo is made by drizzling these little poppers with my vegan avocado “crema.” The cilantro, lime and tomatillo marry perfectly with the cumin, chili powder and black beans in the stuffing.

Simply divine. I’ll never look at a stuffed pepper the same way again. And hopefully, neither will you.

Better Stuffed Peppers (Gluten- & Dairy-free, Vegan)
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups mushrooms, finely chopped (I like to pulse them ever so briefly in the food processor)
  • 1 T chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp fresh cracked pepper
  • 1/2-15 oz can tomato sauce, other half reserved for optional garnish
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 6 large red bell peppers, ribs and seeds removed
  • 1-15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp pure maple syrup
  • small handful cilantro, chopped, for garnish (optional)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup avocado “crema,” for garnish (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350º F.
  2. In a saucepan over medium heat, sauté the onions in olive oil for 3 to 5 minutes, until onions are translucent.
  3. Add garlic and mushrooms; sauté until the mushrooms have released their moisture and the mixture begins to look dry, about 5-8 minutes.
  4. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Sauté until fragrant.
  5. Add the quinoa, water, and 1/2 can of tomato sauce, reserving the rest. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until quinoa is cooked.
  6. For softer peppers, submerge in boiling water for 5 minutes. For tender-crisp peppers, skip this step.
  7. When quinoa is finished simmering, add the beans and maple syrup. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
  8. Stuff each pepper with the filling, and place in a baking dish. If using tomato sauce, pour the remaining over the peppers.
  9. Bake for 15 minutes.
  10. Garnish as desired.

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This is How You Know I’m Not a Crazy Health Freak

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I don’t like to hate. In fact, I think hating is an invitation to get struck by a karmic lightening bolt. Plus I now know enough about neuroscience (thank you John Assaraf) to understand that dwelling on negative thoughts only perpetuates a cycle of the same sort of energy that, in turn, affects all areas of your life.

But I am also aware that certain family members and close friends think that I have consumed the proverbial Kool-Aid when it comes to my beliefs about clean eating being linked to physical well being. I’ve been dubbed a tree-hugging, lettuce-licking hippie. Since going gluten-free, my best friend–a bonafide foodie most of the time–has refused to eat anything that comes out of my test kitchen, even if it’s meat. He’s convinced that over the past three years, I have just re-trained my taste buds to enjoy corrugated poster board masquerading as bread.

And still other friends elect to “pass” on the most mouthwatering peanut butter cookies with homemade peanut butter chips because I make the mistake of saying they are not only gluten and refined sugar-free, but also vegan.

Seriously?

Okaaay then. More sinful deliciousness for me.

So in my defense, I simply couldn’t pass up an opportunity to review a new product that I bought online at Thrive, and finally got around to trying, because it proved to me that I have not lost my culinary mind. I might snuggle the occasional cypress, but I still want my food to taste good.

Now the naysayers of anything dubbed “health food” would take one look at these raw, vegan, gluten-free wraps from Wrawp and tell me I was crazy for thinking they might be palatable.

But.

I have had delectable wrapped sandwiches from the vegan Cafe Gratitude on more than one occasion that were mind blowing and bursting with layer upon layer of flavor! So no way was I going to let appearances dissuade me. Plus, these were labeled “spicy–” vague in terms of a flavor profile, but generally one that ensures my approval.

The pack comes with three “wrawps.” Being raw while also attempting to be bread (something that is typically cooked) means they’ve been dehydrated. I know this. And yet I didn’t really know it until I pulled a wrawp out of the package and held it in my hands in disbelief. “Ready to use straight out of the package!” the label proclaims. But surely not. Surely they have to first be gently warmed? Or soaked overnight in water? Or stomped on by a herd of elephants? What I was holding in my hands was faux leather, but not as believable. A fruit roll up with kitty litter embedded in it. A substance the texture of the scratchy underside of a Persian rug and surely not pliable enough to wrap around anything.

Slightly apprehensive, I tore off a bite. It was sweet! Examination of the ingredients list solved the mystery. Apple is listed as ingredient number two,  and sandwiched between onion, jalepeno, and zucchini. Perfectly logical to have my tortilla substitute filled with savory flavors taste like dessert. Well executed!

I’m stubborn though, so in spite of all signs pointing to a culinary bust, I proceeded with my sandwich making experiment. My fillings were extraordinary: my favorite new artichoke heart and green olive tuna salad, butter lettuce, spicy cherry peppers that will burn your face off and avocado–yum! I wrestled with the wrapping of ancient & petrified faux leather around such delicate ingredients and managed to bring the whole concoction to my lips before more than half of the filling fell out. Still, I managed a bite. And it tasted like…

…patchouli!

You think I’m being cute and picking something as a flavor comparison that is universally equated to hippie-ness. Except that I’m being completely serious. The wrap, in combo with the other flavors in my sandwich, quite literally tasted like licking the surface of one of the many incense displays on the Venice boardwalk. (Cough)

So are Wrawps my suggestion when today you feel like doing something delicious? Uhh…not so much.

And for my liver and onions-loving father deep in the heart of Texas and the handful of men I still manage to find affection for in spite of the fact that nothing green has ever passed through their lips, I hope this lends me just an ounce of credibility when I tell them that I recently ate something awesome.

Live a Little: Bacon Wrapped Jalapeño Poppers Done Right!


Bacon wrapped jalapeño poppersI recently bartended a party for Adam and Eve. Yep, you read that right. The “first couple” drinks! Old Fashioned’s, apparently.

In the stressful flurry of pre-party preparations I was handed a grocery bag filled to the brim with three things: jalepenos, shredded cheese and bacon. The person who handed it to me ran away before I could ask any questions. This happens to me a lot. I must look like a problem solver.

Technically the job belonged to the gentleman who’d been hired as the Grill Master for the day, but together we tackled the seeding, stuffing, and wrapping and in no time, dozens upon dozens of poppers were grill-ready.

My colleague gave it the old college try, but sadly, the never-before-used grill that came with a jet-powered heat source and without instructions of any kind promptly rendered all our hard work charred beyond recognition. Not that I have a problem with burnt spicy-bacon-flavored-cheesy goodness. In fact, I’m sure I could have eaten the entire blackened tray myself. The party guests–properly lubed up on Old Fashioned’s–didn’t seem to have a problem with it either.

But it got me thinking, how does one make perfect jalapeño poppers on the grill without causing the wild flareups that invariably occur when bacon grease meets fire? How do you keep the filling from falling out? (Hint: don’t use store-bought cheese shreds). Must you use an entire bacon strip for each popper? Again, I’m not mad at the idea, but it means I have to stop short of eating 12 poppers all by myself because I’m quite certain that it’s ill advised to consume an entire package of bacon in one sitting.

So, I thought I’d give my healthy habits a day off an write a post that’s simply indulgent. Because sometimes hedonism makes life more delicious!

And because it’s fun to be ironic, the filling for this recipe is adapted from Cooking Light, where the use of Neufchatel, which has 1/3 less fat than regular cream cheese, makes these “guiltless.”

I kid, I kid. But every little bit helps right?

I also used a crazy delicious, extra-sharp New York cheddar made from raw milk because my body definitely likes raw cheeses better than the pasteurized variety. But the cream cheese wasn’t raw, so again, it’s all a bit tongue-in-cheek.

And did you know they make organic, nitrate-free bacon? Well, they do, and this brand is superb! Not all organic bacon is created equal though, so do a trial run before debuting these delectable apps at your next party. Nothing, and I mean nothing is sadder than bad bacon. I want to spare you the experience.

The key to jalapeño popper perfection, I discovered, is grilling them over indirect heat. Meaning if there are flames directly underneath where you place your poppers, you’re going to end up with nothing but charred remains. Instead, light only one or two burners and leave room to place the jalepenos over an area with no flame underneath. Then close the lid. Seriously, this is the biggest grilling faux pas, and I see it all the time. A grill is an outdoor oven. You would never cook your dinner with the oven door open, right? Close that bad daddy! And then be patient, it takes a while for these suckers to cook.

I found that this indirect heating method allows the poppers to cook to crispy, melty perfection without requiring flipping, which is good because the cream cheese all leaked out when I tried. Of course, these delectable hors d’oeuvres can be just as easily baked–without all the shenanigans–but you and I both know that grilled flavor is worth the extra effort.

Bacon Wrapped Jalapeño Poppers
Be smarter than the Wellness Chef Jennie and use food handler’s gloves when de-seeding the jalapeños. Your eyes will thank you for it. Threading several poppers onto a skewer makes handling them on the grill a breeze.
  • 1 pack Neufchatel, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp fresh garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup green onion, minced
  • 1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 cup raw milk extra sharp cheddar, finely shredded
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 8-10 jalepenos, halved and seeded
  • 1 pack organic, nitrate-free bacon
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
  1. Halve the jalepenos. Remove seeds and ribs. 
  2. To make the filling, combine the Neufchatel, garlic, green onion, cheddar, lime juice, and salt. Scoop enough filling into each jalepeno half so that it creates a gentle mound.
  3. Cut each bacon slice in half horizontally. Wrap bacon around stuffed jalapeño pieces, covering the filling as much as possible. Thread three or four onto a skewer.
  4. Sprinkle skewers with fresh cracked pepper and press lightly so the pepper sticks.
  5. Place skewered poppers over indirect heat on your pre-heated grill and close the lid. Grill without turning until bacon reaches desired crispness, approximately 20-25 minutes.

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It’s National Chocolate Mousse Day! How About a Healthy, Vegan Version?

rp_Vegan-Chocolate-Mousse-1024x1024.jpgApril 3rd is a noteworthy day for a few reasons. For one, it is the birthday of the woman who created the food-obsessed individual who is writing these words (love you, Mom).

But April 3rd is also remarkable because it is National Chocolate Mousse Day.

Yep, that’s a thing.

So I guuuuueeess we’ve gotta eat some!

With two cups of heavy cream, traditional chocolate mousse is obviously not something to indulge in on the regular. But what if we waved our wellness wand at the recipe and gave our mousse a makeover? Filled it with heart-healthy fats and ditched the refined sugar? How about if we made it dairy- and egg-free too for our food-sensitive friends? Then we all could eat it often.

Every day, even.

Maybe it won’t come as a surprise that avocado is the base for this rich rendition of the classic. Avocado is used in a lot of healthy desserts because it’s so creamy and its mild flavor goes virtually undetected. I’ve made this for clients whose minds were blown when I told them what they were eating. And the ultimate test: kids! My favorite “little” had just finished devouring a bowl when I told her what it was made out of.

“But I hate avocado,” she insisted.

“Not anymore,” I replied, tap dancing just a little.

Score one for the grown ups.

Vegan Chocolate Mousse (Dairy/Egg/Refined Sugar-Free)
This luscious dessert is so rich, no one will ever guess it’s healthy. Serve small portions (1/3 to 1/2 cup) at room temperature for maximum fluffiness, and garnish with unsweetened, whipped coconut cream and fresh berries.
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 4 ounces dark chocolate ***check that it’s dairy free for vegan
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla bean paste
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 can coconut cream, chilled
  1. Using a heat-proof bowl over a pot of boiling water, melt the chocolate and coconut milk. Stir until smooth.
  2. Place avocado, vanilla paste, maple syrup and salt in the bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth.
  3. Add chocolate mixture. Process until combined.
  4. Open coconut cream. Spoon thick cream cream off the top and reserve the coconut water for making smoothies. With a handheld mixer, beat the coconut cream on med-high until creamy.
  5. Gently fold chocolate mixture into whipped coconut cream.
  6. Spoon into dessert dishes and garnish as desired.

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Now that you know, I hope you’ll use them to make something delicious!