Food

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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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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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!

 

Five Reasons You Should Consider an Elimination Diet (plus the most AMAZING Chicken-Apple Sausages)

E DietOk so I know the title of this post contains the word “diet,” and that’s likely to send at least a few of you running for the hills. I, myself, have a tendency to rebel against things that are limiting, so I feel you, I really do. But if there’s one thing I would encourage every person I care about to do in this lifetime, it’s to try this Elimination Diet, even just once.

I could go on and on about its benefits, and at its most basic, the diet will cost you two weeks of your life. That’s a small commitment to exchange for feeling better than you ever have in your time on this earth, no?

Just in case you need a push, here are five reasons you should consider picking up Tom and Ali’s book The Elimination Diet and giving it a try today.

1) Sometimes–maybe not always–but at least part of your life is spent dealing with any of the following symptoms: bloating, cramping, constipation, diarrhea, migraines, skin problems, joint pain, foggy thinking, anxiety, depression, sinus and lung problems, unexplained weight gain, low energy, insomnia.

Hey guess what? It’s not normal to feel bloated and gassy after you eat. You may have gotten used to it, but there is nothing more liberating than discovering that you can eat a meal and feel nothing but amazing afterwards.

Or maybe your digestive tract feels like a well-oiled machine, but you deal with severely dry skin or eczema. I’m willing to bet you my firstborn that two weeks of following this eating plan will reduce that inflammation.

Think it’s way too farfetched of a notion that your diet can affect how moody or anxious you feel? Okay, that’s fair. But aren’t you willing to try just about anything to get those feelings to go away, if such things are possible? Wouldn’t that include eating whole, organic foods combined into some of the most delicious meal combos to ever alight upon your palate?

Thought so.

2) Food allergies have increased 50% from 1997 to 2011—said the CDC in a 2013 study.

And no, this doesn’t just mean that people whine more now. For one, more people are starting to realize that constantly being miserable after eating is not a normal state of being. More and more doctors are recognizing the legitimacy of food allergies—especially those with backgrounds in Eastern medical theory—and are suggesting an approach to health that embraces the philosophy that “what you put in, is what you get out.” This is totally different from the Band-Aid approach we’ve become accustomed to, where your doc scribbles out a scrip for yet another “magic pill,” in an attempt to cover up your symptoms.

We have learned that 60-75% of the world’s population doesn’t have enough lactase after the age of 4 to digest the lactose in milk, so that probably means you. And if this urges you to go get a “scratch test” and discover your allergies that way, just know that food sensitivities and intolerances (as opposed to full-blown allergies) are less well known, often undetected, and can’t be tested for. They usually create a subtler, simmering sort of distress that leads to chronic symptoms.

When you can’t process a type of food, you lack an enzyme, nutrient, or organism to properly digest or metabolize. Each time you eat this food, more of the undigested particles build up in your body, feeding harmful bacteria and yeast in your digestive tract. Your body views these particles as foreign invaders and attacks them, putting your system on alert and causing inflammation. If you are constantly inflamed, your body is poorly equipped to handle actual foreign invaders—things like seasonal allergies, colds, or even cancer.

3) Maybe you’re like my roommate and you have an iron stomach, are vital as a stallion, and claim you’d gain no benefit whatsoever from doing an Elimination Diet. Okay, fine. Do you crave cheese? Caffeine? Sugar? Would it be hard to give these things up completely because the cravings would be too intense? After two weeks on the E-Diet, you will have completely reset your system, and the bacteria in your gut that leads to cravings for the afore-mentioned foods will be completely wiped out.

Don’t suffer from food cravings? Then you, my friend, are far stronger than I. But do you drink? A little? A lot? If that’s the case, your liver could use a detox. Trust me, your liver sent me a letter begging for it, and it thanks you in advance for your consideration.

4) Calories (and fats) don’t count!

Say what? Every time I pour coconut milk into my coffee, my mom cringes. “It’s so full of fat!” she proclaims. And that’s completely accurate. But! Coconut is one of the most heart-healthy fats out there, and this diet embraces these types of fat in spades. Extra virgin olive oil, coconut butter, coconut milk and oil, avocados and nuts (once reintroduced) will become staples of your diet.

Mom is coming from the perspective of years of diet advice claiming that counting calories or fat grams is the best way to lose or maintain one’s weight. But the E-Diet embraces clean, whole foods that come from the earth, and is therefore low in additives, sweeteners, coloring and preservatives, so it follows that you can literally binge your face off on these things and worry not one iota about your waistline. In fact, this diet is almost assured to cause you to lose weight. I can’t imagine anyone following it strictly and not seeing similar results. Personally, I simply love that I can eat to the point where I am almost uncomfortably full and still wake up the next day looking slender and lean with absolutely zero tummy bloat.

5) You get to eat things like Butternut Squash and Sage “Stuffing,” Chickpea Curry with Potatoes and Kale, and Mustard-Herb Lamb Burgers. This isn’t just a bunch of rabbit food here people. No boring iceberg salads drizzled with lemon juice, yeuuck! In fact read my post here about how I ate like a food champ during my last E-Diet.

The recipe below, for example, had me at hello. After tasting these little nuggets of deliciousness, I vowed to never eat store-bought, highly-processed breakfast sausage ever again, especially since processed meats have now been linked to cancer. 

Chicken-Apple Breakfast Sausages
  • 1 medium tart apple, cored, peeled, and chopped
  • 3 green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 T fresh sage leaves
  • 1 ½ tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 ½ lbs organic skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • Extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil for cooking
  1. Place the apple, green onions, sage, salt and pepper in a food processor fitted with the “s” blade and pulse a few times. Then add the chicken and process until the chicken is ground and the mixture starts to form a ball, about 30 seconds.
  2. With oiled hands, form the mixture into about 8 patties and set them on a plate. Heat a large skillet of medium-low heat and add 1 T oil. Place four of the patties in the pan and cook for 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Repeat with the remaining patties.
  3. These keep in the fridge for about 5 days or can be frozen and reheated in a 350-degree oven.

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Now trust me when I tell you making these bad daddies–and just embracing the Elimination Diet in general–is inarguably doing something delicious! And just because I love you so much, I’m even including a link to an awesome guide to shopping for the right ingredients to support your E-Diet. You’re welcome!

 

 

 

 

Fruit Tart with Lemon Cream and Spiced Almond Crust (Vegan, Dairy- and Gluten-Free)

 

fruit-tartI love ANYTHING that has that many words in parentheses and still tastes as good as this does. I’ve got some stubborn eaters in my extended family, and this stunning dessert satisfied them all. If I hadn’t already made it for her this season, I would shape the crust like a heart and serve it to mom for Mother’s Day brunch. Awww…

Fruit Tart with Lemon Cream and Spiced Almond Crust (Vegan, Dairy- and Gluten-Free)
Author: The Wellness Chef
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 1-9″ tart
Ingredients
  • 1 can coconut milk (without guar gum)
  • 1 1/2 cups almond meal or flour
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 T coconut oil
  • 1 T maple syrup
  • 1 T water
  • 1/2 cups 100% all fruit apricot preserves
  • 2 T water
  • 1/2 cup agave nectar
  • 1/4 cup arrowroot starch
  • Generous pinch of sea salt
  • Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
  • Juice of 5 lemons (about 1 cup)
  • 2 T coconut oil
  • 1-2 T organic powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp Madagascar Vanilla Bean Paste
  • Mango, peeled and sliced thin
  • Pineapple, peeled and sliced thin
  • Kiwi, peeled and sliced thin
  • Clementines, peeled and separated
  • Assorted berries
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. To prep the whipped coconut cream, pour coconut milk into a bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour.
  3. To make the crust, stir together the almond flour, sea salt, baking soda and cinnamon in a small mixing bowl.
  4. In another bowl, stir together the vanilla, oil, maple syrup and 1 T water. Add the oil mix to the flour and combine well.
  5. Turn the dough onto a 9-inch pie plate or tart pan. Flatten the dough slightly with your fingers or a rubber spatula to spread it towards the edges of the pan, making sure to press it all the way up the sides of the pan. Try to make the dough a uniform thickness across the bottom and edges.
  6. Place the tart on a sheet pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is an even golden brown. Don’t overbake!
  7. While the crust is baking, make the glaze by heating the preserves and 2 T water to boiling in small sauce pan.
  8. Strain through a sieve to remove lumps.
  9. Remove the tart shell from the oven and let it cool completely to room temperature before brushing with glaze.
  10. In the meantime, make the lemon curd. Heat agave nectar, arrowroot, salt, lemon zest and lemon juice In a small saucepan over medium heat.
  11. Cook, whisking constantly, until thickened to a pudding consistency.
  12. Whisk in coconut oil.
  13. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Curd will get very thick the longer it sits. Still tastes great spread on toast though!
  14. Once crust is cool, use a pastry brush to lightly brush interior of tart shell with thinned preserves. Let “dry” for 15 minutes.
  15. In the meantime, make whipped coconut cream. Drain off liquid (should look like thin coconut milk) and reserve for another use.
  16. Whip cream with a mixer on high until thick and frothy.
  17. Fold 1/2 c coconut cream into chilled lemon curd.
  18. To remaining whipped cream, add 1 tsp vanilla bean paste and organic powdered sugar, to taste. I like mine not too sweet. Reserve to use as garnish.
  19. Fill crust with lemon cream, spreading in an even layer.
  20. Channel your inner artist and layer slices of fruit and berries in whatever pattern makes you happiest.
  21. With remaining apricot glaze, brush fruit lightly until evenly coated and shiny. This will keep your tart looking beautiful for days—not that it will last that long!
  22. Serve with big spoonfuls of whipped coconut cream.

 

Now that’s the definition of doing something delicious!

 

Three Reasons To Eat More Chocolate (That You’ve Probably Never Heard Of)

chocolate-968457_1280Perhaps justifying our lust for chocolate is the reason scientists have spent so much time studying it. After all, we like to be told that dark chocolate improves blood flow, lowers bad cholesterols, and elevates mood while reducing stress.  But it turns out there are more reasons why you should help yourself to some of the good stuff.

Throw Out Your Cough Drops

Seriously, I’ll take a creamy truffle over a menthol-flavored cough drop any day. And now it sounds as if you can. In a small British study conducted in 2005, participants were asked to inhale capsaicin, the stuff that gives chili peppers their sting. A variety of proposed remedies were tested, and the most effective one turned out to be hot chocolate. Researchers found that theobromine, a compound found in cacoa seeds that acts like caffeine in the human body, was more effective than codeine to stop coughing. So next time you’re under the weather, test this theory by taking two (squares of chocolate, that is) and calling the doc in the morning.

chocolate-1402017_1280Leave the Sunscreen At Home

Just kidding. Although scientists in Germany discovered that ingesting the cocoa solids and flavonoids present in dark chocolate can defend our skin against the effects of UV rays, effectively staving off skin cancer. Not only that, but the study participants receiving cocoa every day noted smoother, moister skin with fewer rough patches. This caused researchers to speculate that there might be benefit to adding the ingredient to beauty products. So if you’ve ever eaten a death-by-chocolate dessert and thought, “I could absolutely bathe in this,” it sounds like maybe you should.

Add Chocolate to Your Diet Plan

Now the founders of Weight Watchers might not agree with us on this one, but research conducted by an associate professor of medicine at UC San Diego suggests that healthy adults who eat chocolate more frequently tend to have lower body mass indexes than those who snack on it less often. This result occurred despite the fact that those who ate chocolate more often did not eat fewer calories or exercise more than other participants. The theory is that the metabolic benefits of eating modest amounts of chocolate might lead to reduced fat deposits and potentially offset the added calories. Are you excited yet?

Develop X-Ray Vision

That would be cool, wouldn’t it? But chocolate won’t make that happen. What it will do, however, is improve your ability to read light-colored words on a light-colored background, called “visual contrast sensitivity.” Furthermore, it an improve your ability to detect moving dots on a moving background, known as “motion sensitivity.” Study participants ate both white and dark chocolate at separate times and then took similar vision tests. Relative to white chocolate, testing the dark resulted in higher performance in both categories, as well as improved spacial memory. Think about it like this: driving at night is low-contrast, and images are hard to distinguish from one another. Increasing your ability to make out those objects also increases your safety, so we think what we’re hearing here is that chocolate can save your life.

chocolate-1202606_1280And Did You Know…

Sixty percent of women in a recent British poll ranked chocolate as the most smile-worthy experience, ranking higher than the sight of other smiling people and even loved ones!

Tips for Finding the Chocolate That’s Actually Good for You
  • Pick the chocolate containing the fewest ingredients possible.
  • Cocoa solids or cocoa mass should be first one listed.
  • Sugar should not be. Nor the second.
  • Choose one that’s both 72 percent cacao or above.
  • Buy organic, since chocolate is a heavily-sprayed crop. In fact, seek out fair-trade, and locally-sourced dark chocolate to get maximum health benefits.
  • Dutch processed cocoas have alkalized the chocolate, removing some of the beneficial flavonols. It’s fine for baking but not as good for sipping.
  • It sounds as if soy lecithin in chocolate is not so scary. Unless you’re allergic to soy, that is. We’ll talk about this more soon.
 Oh, and FYI

Portion control is paramount to making a chocolate obsession work for you, so aim for half to one ounce per day, which is about a two-inch square of most chocolate bars.

Now aren’t you just dying to go do something delicious with chocolate?

 

Gluten Wars

 

angry-mobI’ve noticed a lot of backlash recently towards people with gluten sensitivities and towards “bandwagoners” who appear to be adopting a gluten-free lifestyle, allegedly because it’s trendy. Because let’s face it, here in LA, food trends are kind of our jam.

A lot of this weird aggression comes from my food industry friends—chefs and servers alike—who get unbelievably up in arms due to situations like this: Person A is gluten-free and orders a gluten-free meal. But Person B, with whom Person A is dining, orders something that ISN’T gluten-free, and the two proceed to share.

Okay, I understand that cooking gluten-free isn’t exactly easy—I do it every day of my life. And I see how choosing to eat a meal that is half gluten-free and half NOT seems a bit pointless. But this notion that the only people who “deserve” to have food service workers accommodate them are the ones who nearly die when they eat gluten is ludicrous. For one thing, we have been accommodating special food requests for decades—just look at airlines offering vegetarian meals on flights, or scope out how many restaurants now make note of which of the menu items are vegan.

So someone who doesn’t die when they eat gluten—but is nonetheless trying to limit her consumption of it—is not a jerk. She is not necessarily just a blind sheep following some evangelical anti-gluten guru. She likely ordered her gluten-free meal because that’s the only thing she can control about her experience dining out. Until you eat Gfree, you have no idea the pressure people put on you to “just taste a bite,” or how much less fun it becomes to go out with friends when everyone is preoccupied that your weirdo food allergies may mean the group can’t go to the restaurant it prefers.

Taking a “cheat bite” or sharing the meal with a friend because its easier than making a big deal about it is just like a person on a diet taking a bite of her friend’s chocolate soufflé. It’s called being human. You don’t hate the gal on the diet for her moment of weakness, or slam her back in the kitchen to your work compadres for having the gall to order a low-calorie dinner and then sneak a bite of dessert. And if you do, then I hope you enjoy the view from that pristine glass house of yours.

Our gluten free gal, whom the rest of the world assumes just can’t think for herself and has succumbed to the hype, probably understands this. Human beings cannot properly digest gluten. That’s right. I can’t and you can’t. In fact, the only mammal that can digest it has four stomachs and chews its own cud. And get this: besides gluten, there are 23,000 different proteins in modern wheat that can produce inflammatory reactions in the body!
gluten-free

Now you personally might not have any symptoms whatsoever when you eat gluten. Good for you. I hope you’re eating a pizza while you read this. Or you may have some sort of health problem for which you take medication, but because the problem is not “digestive” in nature, you haven’t made the connection between it and your gluten consumption. Gluten has become known as the great masquerader; it can create over 300 symptoms and conditions you wouldn’t think to attribute to it—from skin issues, infertility and depression to headaches, liver disease and cancer.

I’ve also had people scoff at the idea that I diagnosed myself. That’s because people who self diagnose are usually called hypochondriacs. But because a perfect test for gluten sensitivity or celiac disease does not yet exist, an elimination diet is the one way that even people who test negatively for celiac, but still don’t feel good, can attempt to get to the root of their health problems.

During an elimination diet, common allergenic foods are removed and slowly reintroduced. A modified version of this diet can take place over the course of 10-14 days. I did mine for 71 days. You can read about it here Challenge 2013: Elimination Diet a.k.a. Food Allergen Cleanse and here An Elimination Diet-Friendly Chinese “Chicken” Salad: Debunking the Deprivation Myth. And yet the way I felt after only two weeks of not eating gluten did more to convince me of the power of this crazy little protein strand to make or break a person’s health than any doctor-approved scratch test ever could.

An elimination diet isn’t easy, but it can be life changing. It takes discipline and it absolutely requires planning ahead. When caught off guard without a meal plan, falling off the wagon is nearly inevitable. But fortunately help is out there. If you’re in the LA area, you can make use of Wellness Chef Jennie’s weekly meal delivery services. I specialize in customized Elimination Diets of all durations and will provide prepared meals, recipe ideas and shopping lists to accommodate any client’s needs. I’ll also provide you with resources if you’re simply interested in learning more.

In the meantime, be kind to your gluten-free friends. Those of us with dietary restrictions certainly have an obligation not to be a**holes, running around expecting the world to bend to our needs, but if the person with whom you’re dealing isn’t acting like that, well then it really shouldn’t matter one iota whether her reasons for eating the way she does make sense to you.

In fact, I think we’d all get along better if we just went and did something delicious.
keep-calm-eat-gluten-free-3