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Yes, I am less than a week away from completing my whole30. I haven’t blogged since Day 2 because, at times, I’ve actually forgotten about this challenge all together. I’ve been so consumed with bringing all the creations in my head to life! When making the decision to participate in this challenge, I was somewhat afraid that I would run out of ideas and run out of energy to make the journey seem new and exciting every single day.

It’s funny how eating cleaner has not only cleansed my body but has also rejuvenated my perspective on life. I have always loved cooking and experimenting in the kitchen. But comfort food to me used to equate to lots of rich, buttery, and likely cheesy fattyness I don’t even really regret eating because I can’t deny it was good. Within the past 22 days, I have redefined what comfort food means to me. And, dare I say, I have surprised myself along the way.

People have a lot to say about paleo/whole30. I agree that there are negative aspects, like cutting out milk– as it is a good source of calcium. However, for the most part.. the grain, the starches, and anything with added sugar.. I realize I can really do without. I’ve learned that fresh produce can be equally as satiating when cooked well. If I’m craving something sweet, I immediate think fruit.. dessert.. yes! I’ve grilled, sauteed, baked, boiled, steamed, and Magic Bulleted my way through every meal and I’m absolutely loving how something as simple as careful and conscious preparation can make food taste better!

Let me update you on some of my creations:

Day 3: open faced omelet with sauteed peppers and onions, cherry tomatoes, avocado, cilantro, fresh lime juice, s+p

 

 

 

 

 

chicken salad (roasted chicken breast, avocado, lime , cilantro, onion) on a bed of romaine with apple slices drizzled with cashew butter

 

 

paleo blueberry muffins- made with almond flour, almond butter, and coconut oil

 

 

 

 

zucchini ribbons with mushrooms, coated with a light garlic sauce and topped with chopped almonds

 

 

 

 

smashed strawberry, peach, mango, pineapple, lime filled with pellegrino and finished off with some blueberries

 

Day 4: mixed greens salad with apple, avocado, tomato, green onion, and almond flour and coconut encrusted chicken

Day 5: homemade real fruit popsicle

 

Day 6: paleo pancakes with warm blueberry syrup and bacon on the side

Baked salmon with lemon pepper, steamed veggies, and zucchini bacon scallion fritters

Day 7: grilled burger with lettuce, tomato, homemade guac, and crispy bacon

 

Day 8: salmon with basil and walnut pesto.. And maple glazed sweet potato fries.

Sliced banana, almond butter, blueberries, and toasted coconut

 

Day 9: Zucchini boats with sausage and vegetable marinara filling

Day 10: Egg scramble with bell pepper, salmon, and green onion. And banana and almond butter drizzled with honey

Personal paleo pizza.. leftover sausage marinara, bell pepper, onion, mushrooms, olives, arugula, tomato, and basil

Apple sauteed with orange juice and topped with warmed slivered almonds, cinnamon and a drizzle of honey

Day 11: Fried “rice” made with cauliflower.

Day 12: Frozen fruit blended with banana.. nice and thick and refreshing. Better than ice cream!

Day 13: Paleo waffles with warm strawberry syrup

Day 14: BBQed chicken over slaw.

Day 15: Asparagus and sausage frittata

Day 16: Paleo banana pancakes topped with almond butter, warm strawberry syrup, and cinnamon

Day 17: Fish and chips– white fish battered with almond flour and coconut flour, baked sweet potato chips, and roasted red pepper and garlic dip

 

Day 19: Homemade trail mix– almonds, walnuts, dried cranberries, dried blueberries, and toasted coconut. Great snack! I make a big batch so I always have some on hand!

Grilled zucchini, bell pepper, onion, cherry tomatoes, and chicken

Day 20: BBQed pork chop with grilled vegetable, avocado, cilantro, and lime slaw

Frozen mashed banana with toasted coconut mixed in.. topped with warm strawberry sauce, slivered almonds, and extra toasted coconut

Day 21: Fried egg with mixed greens salad drizzled with balsamic

Personal portobello pizza with homemade sauce, hot Italian sausage, caramelized onions, and olives. Also, simple arugula and seasoned sweet potato salad

Day 22: Turkey and spicy sausage meatballs baked and then simmered in homemade marinara sauce.. on top of a sweet potato and roasted red pepper mash.. and arugula salad with avocado, tomatoes, olives, and red onion

Clearly, I had to make up for all the posts I never wrote. As you can tell, most times I’ll use the same ingredients over and over.. but I do try to prepare them differently each time. For some things, like the paleo waffles, pancakes, muffins and almond flour pizza crust, I did search the web for a good recipes to follow. But that’s about it.. for the most part, I’ve been cooking based on my instincts and it’s worked out well so far.

Each day, I’m learning more and more about food and expanding my palate to tastes and food pairings I’ve never really tried before. Since I started my whole30, I have not used any processed foods. Everything, including all the sauces and dips, have been made fresh.

I’m finding that now when I go grocery shopping, I’m usually walking in without a real plan– which is so unlike me. Usually, I make a list and check it twice. But I truly believe that clean eating is really about how food inspires you. I spend the most time in the produce section, circling around a few times to scan all the fresh goodies. Not relying on a list is actually a very freeing experience. I also scope out multiple grocery stores to grab ingredients.. Whole Foods for the freshly ground almond butter, almond and coconut flours, and coconut oil.. Trader Joe’s for just about everything else.. And a few trips to Safeway just because it’s closer.

I hope some of my whole30 creations have made the 30-day challenge a little less intimidating for those of you who are interested. Paleo/whole30 is not difficult at all. But, like all good things, it does take time. I do have lazy days where I contemplate just eating the same meal for a few days in a row. The key to staying motivated and sticking to eating clean is avoiding those lazy moments. I literally open all my cabinets and stand in front of my refrigerator for a few minutes at least once a day– sometimes more when I feel like my creativity is fading– and asking myself “What will I make today?”

 

I’m shocked that I’ve completed Day 22 already. I’ve really never felt better! I’m definitely appreciating and enjoying food so much more and I have also established way more confidence in the kitchen. I know I have a lot more paleo/whole30 left in me! Stay tuned.. it’s not over yet!

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The gusty wind and the countless holiday-themed movies already dominating the main television channels officially declare that the holiday season has arrived. So, to commemorate this time of the year, I’m going to share a few of my favorite holiday things (and by things, I mean treats). During this time of the year, my baking goes into full drive.. Some recipes are super easy while others require a little more time, patience, and attention. But all are wonderful! For your convenience, I will list the recipes in order of difficulty (beginning with the easiest). Prepare for a plethora of tasty options to try for yourself!

Chex Muddy Buddies

INGREDIENTS

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup butter or margerine
1 teaspoon vanilla
9 cups Chex cereal (any variety)– about one 12-13 oz bag
1-1/2 cups powdered sugar

DIRECTIONS

1. In 1-quart microwavable bowl, microwave chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter uncovered on High 1 minute; stir. Microwave 30 seconds longer or until mixture can be stirred smooth. Stir in vanilla.

2. In large bowl, place cereal. Pour chocolate mixture over cereal, stirring until evenly coated. Pour into 2-gallon food-storage plastic bag.

3. Add powdered sugar. Seal bag; shake until well coated. Spread on waxed paper to cool, about 30 minutes. Store in airtight container in refrigerator.

*Recipe courtesy of General Mills Chex cereal

As you can tell from eyeing the ingredients, this recipe makes hardly a small batch. The little dish in the picture is only a tiny sample of what the actual recipe yields. Chex Muddy Buddies are a great snack for entertaining.. an easy, sweet crunch of a snack. But, I know what you’re thinking.. How much of these little guys can you eat? Honestly, I’m a one handful type of person. I think it’s tasty but–as much as I love making sweets– I’m a true fan of savory dishes.. Surprising, right? But Chex Muddy Buddies is one of my favorite recipes for sharing purposes. I personally find it messy to pass around a big container full of Buddies.. and it’s also flu season. However, a great idea is to get some cute containers or bowls (perhaps just cellophane wrap with a nice bow) and give them as token holiday gifts to friends, family, or neighbors.

As far as simplicity.. this is a no brainer. You can use the saucepan method, but the MICROWAVE in less than 2 minutes!!.. Well, I think that says it all. I did not have the 2-gallon food storage plastic bag. We only have 1-gallons in this household. No big deal. I just split the Chex mixture into two 1-gallon food storage plastic bags. Don’t try fitting the whole batch into one 1-gallon bag. That is forcing it. Trust me. Not a good idea. As for the powdered sugar, use just enough that will coat the Muddy Buddies. Don’t stress about measuring the powdered sugar, especially if you decided to separate the batch into a couple bags. Just have fun and enjoy!

Best Seller Caramel Corn

INGREDIENTS

1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon vanilla
8 cups popped popcorn (1/3 cup unpopped)

DIRECTIONS

1. Pop popcorn

2. Preheat oven to 275F; have ready jelly roll pan.

3. Placed popped corn in a very large bowl.

4. In a large saucepan over high heat, combine the sugar, butter, and corn syrup and bring to a boil; let boil for two minutes, stirring continuously.

5. Remove from heat.

6. Note that it is IMPORTANT to use a large saucepan, as this mixture will bubble up. (I don’t know why this is stressed so much in the recipe. A good-sized medium pot works just fine!)

7. Add baking soda and vanilla to sugar mixture and combine well.

8. Pour this mixture over popped corn and combine, then spread mixture out onto jelly roll pan.

9. Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes, stirring well every 10 minutes.

10. Let cool before eating.

*Recipe courtesy of RecipeZaar


For me, it’s hard to trust the Internet. Especially when I want to try out a new recipe, I’m always skeptical about following one from an unfamiliar source. Even after examining reviews and comments, how am I supposed to know if they’re lying? Well, you are hearing it firsthand from me.. Whoever posted this recipe on RecipeZaar was not lying about this recipe being “Best Seller Caramel Corn”. This is possibly the BEST (yes, THE.. BEST) caramel corn I have ever eaten.. including all of the store bought brands and holiday tins. If you have 40 minutes to spare, I guarantee you can successfully execute this recipe.** And then you’ll probably end up doing what I did and devote another 40 minutes to making another batch! I believe the response I received was: “You know what? It melts in your mouth.” It’s true. Somehow, even though you know that that plain low-calorie popcorn is covered in brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup.. it still seems light.

This past summer, my family invested in a Cuisinart popcorn maker. Not a very expensive kitchen appliance but I can understand how it may seem like an unnecessary one. However, after hearing some pretty terrible things about microwave popcorn and trying to cut back on chips, freshly popped popcorn sounded like a good alternative. And the popcorn maker has proven to come in handy. A little bit of corn kernels goes a long way (1/3 kernels makes 8 cups of popcorn!). My personal opinion is that freshly popped popcorn makes a big difference. I don’t mind plain popcorn but if I want some melted butter and/or salt, I can control how much to use. Carmel corn is a great treat to mix it up! I say ditch the big tin and make a batch of this caramel corn.. Oh yeah, and share.. if you want. If you really miss the big tin, then do what I did and put a batch into a tin. Like the Chex Muddy Buddies, you can also package this up as gifts. Just don’t forget to save some for yourself! You’ll regret it!

**SIDE NOTE: At the end of the 40 minutes, I suggest immediately transferring the pan of caramel corn onto parchment/wax paper to cool. Allowing the caramel corn to cool on the pan will make it difficult to remove when you are ready to eat. You don’t want to eat this in crumbs! Once the caramel corn is cooled (about 2 minutes), you can sift through the batch and gently break apart the clumps of corn so that every piece is a bite sized piece!

Peanut Butter Cookies

INGREDIENTS

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup pack brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

DIRECTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Stir together flour, soda, and salt.

3. In a mixer bowl beat butter for 30 seconds. Add peanut butter and sugars; beat till fluffy. Add egg ad vanilla; beat well.

4. Add dry ingredients to beaten mixture; beat till well blended.

5. Shape dough into 1-inch balls; roll in granulated sugar, if desired. (I don’t roll the dough in the sugar.. It really doesn’t need it!!)

6. Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet; crisscross with the tines of a fork.

7. Bake in a 375 degree oven about 10 minutes. Cool about 1 minute before removing to a wire rack.

*Recipe courtesy of Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook

When I was in high school, I used to make cookies at least once a week. Especially during this time of the year, I had tons of extra gift boxes (probably from all of that holiday shopping). So in the large clothing boxes meant to wrap up the ‘Christmas gifts’ I bought for myself, I neatly packed as many cookies as I could fit inside.. tied a bow on the box.. and safely brought them to school.

I always go overboard during the holidays, so I usually made at least 2 or 3 different types of cookies. One chocolate chip, one snickerdoodle.. and then there is peanut butter. This peanut butter cookie is terribly wonderful. It is, indeed, terrible that they are so wonderful because I always do my best to avoid packing on the dreadful holiday weight. Since I like baking more than eating sweets, I’ve never had a problem. However, there is something about these peanut butter cookies that do it for me.

The cookies bake in the most amazing– surprisingly perfect– way. Uniform circles. The lovely criss-cross pattern. The slightly crisp outside with a chewy inside. These are by far the best shaped cookies you will ever make. I am sure that if I ever parted with my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (but let’s hope it never comes to that), I can whip these up on the spot with no problem. If you take a look at the ingredients, you’ll notice that more than half of the ingredients are “1/2”. 1 egg. And the dry ingredients all require a “1/4” cup or teaspoon. These little tidbits have made it easy to remember and certainly an easy cleanup.

Somehow, I haven’t yet found a plain chocolate chip cookie recipe that I have fallen in love with like I have with this peanut butter cookie recipe. So, these days, I’ve been adding some chocolate chips into the equation (about 1/2 cup-1 cup.. use your own judgement). Don’t let that fool you.. this cookie can stand on it’s own. I haven’t had any complaints.. and I don’t think I ever will.

Clementine’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield: 5 dozen 2-inch cookies

INGREDIENTS

12 ounces Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips (2 cups)
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup unsifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
3 cups oats, uncooked
1 cup walnuts, chopped

DIRECTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 375F.

2. In a large bowl, beat butter with sugar and brown sugar at medium speed until creamy and lightened in color (about 4 minutes). Add vanilla and egg, and mix on low seed until incorporated.

3. Stir flour with baking soda, salt, and spices; add to creamed mixture, mixing well. Stir in oats.Fold in chocolate chips and walnuts.

4. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheets.

5. Bake 8-9 minutes for a chewy cookie, 10-11 minutes for a crisp cookie. Cool 1 minute on a cookie sheet; remove to wire cooling racks. Store in tightly covered container.

*Recipe courtesy of Ghirardelli Chocolate

You know my favorite shaped cookie.. this is my favorite drop cookie of all time. I believe it was one fine day during my senior year of high school. Well, now that I think about it, it could have been my junior year.. Yes, junior year..

First of all, I would like to say that I am very loyal to my favorite recipes.. especially when it comes to cookies. However, one night, I stumbled upon this Clementine’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe on the back of a package of Gharadelli Semisweet Chocolate Chips. Simply because it was different than my usual repertoire of cookies and it was a recipe with such a large yield (don’t forget I was baking for the mass.. well, kind of), I decided to try it out for fun. Quite possibly one of the best decisions I have ever made.

You may think.. What’s so great about an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie? Once you take a bite of this cookie.. you will know exactly why. Everything about this cookie is, well, everything a cookie should be and more. The very buttery and sugary paired with the combination of cinnamon and nutmeg. Good. Then you have chocolate chips and chopped walnuts. Good. The oatmeal that keeps the cookie nice and moist (I go with the bake time of the chewy cookie!!). Good. And, as if all that isn’t enough, I add Craisins! mmm.. Yep, that’s the topper. I have been adding Craisins to this cookie recipe since my first batch (as a substitute for chopped nuts because I didn’t have any at the time). Now, I never make these if I don’t have Craisins. Whenever I’m dealing with the works (chocolate chips, walnuts, and Craisins), I cut the walnuts down to a 1/2 cup and add a 1/2 cup of Craisins. You can certainly ration them out any way you like or stick with the original recipe. There really is no way you can go wrong.

There are small reasons why I rate this recipe with more difficulty. Large yield means lots of time. It takes 8-9 minutes (for the chewy cookie).. but the time adds up. So, if you are baking the whole recipe batch, it requires patience. Secondly, the batter is a bit sticky.. It’s not too bad, but I suggest keeping the bowl of your batter in the refrigerator while you are waiting for the sheet(s) baking in the oven to finish. By chilling up the batter (even just a little bit), it will be easier to work with when you are ready to dish out more spoonfuls to be baked. Thirdly, there is a lot going on in this cookie batter. I know that when I give the batter the works it seems like the amount of dough disappears and the extras (chocolate chips, walnuts, Craisins) seem to overpower my spoonful. Try your best to get those even spoonfuls (with a good amount of extras but enough of the dough to hold up the cookie). Definitely not too difficult. And lastly, the number of ingredients.. you had to know it was coming. For someone who looks for simplicity, this is one busy cookie. Although, to be fair, I can’t say it’s not worth it.

Overall, as much as I can appreciate the uniformity displayed by my favorite peanut butter cookie, drop cookies tend to look fancier for some reason. The time and effort really does show. I have received so many compliments because they taste and look so “professional”. I think I have been given a lot more credit than I really deserve. These cookies are just some type of magic; they turn you into a baked goods GENIUS overnight.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Red Velvet Cupcakes

INGREDIENTS

2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 oz. red food coloring (2 bottles)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda

DIRECTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake papers.

2. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl; set  aside. In a small bowl, mix food coloring and cocoa powder to form a thin paste without lumps; set aside.

3. In a large bowl, using a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then beat in vanilla and the red cocoa paste, scraping down the bowl with a spatula as you go. Add one third of the flour mixture, beat until well combined. making sure to scrape down the bowl with a spatula.

4. In a small bowl, mix vinegar and baking soda. Yes, it will fizz! Add vinegar mixture to the cake batter and stir well to combine. Using an ice cream scoop, fill the cupcake cups with cake batter (they shuld be 2/3-3/4 full). You may not fill all the cups. Place muffin tins on the middle rack of a preheated 350 degree oven. Bake for approximately 20-22 minutes, rotating pans halfway through. Cupcakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Check early and don’t overbake!

5. Cool the cupcakes in their tins on a wire rack for 10 minutes then remove and allow to cool completely before frosting. frost cupcakes with cream cheese icing (recipe below) and decorate with red sprinkles if desired.

Cream Cheese Frosting

INGREDIENTS

16 oz. cream cheese (2 cups), softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
pinch of salt

DIRECTIONS

1. With an electric mixer, blend together cream cheese and butter until smooth.

2. Turn mixer to low speed and bend in powdered sugar, salt, and vanilla extract.

3. Turn mixer on high and beat until light and fluffy.

4. Use immediately or refrigerate, covered, until ready to use. If refrigerated, the frosting will need to be brought to room temperature before using (after frosting softens up, beat with mixer until smooth).

*Recipe courtesy of Pinch My Salt

I tend to end most things in my life with a cupcake. In high school, I ended the school week with Happy Friday Cupcakes. As I was driving back to school with a carful of my friends from NYC, I ended Thanksgiving break with Red Velvet Cupcakes from Buttercup Bakery. So here it is.. the finale to a few of my favorite holiday things.. coincidentally, Red Velvet Cupcakes.

I have sifted through more Red Velvet Cake recipes than I would like to openly admit. Was the Red Velvet Cupcake with Vanilla Frosting from Buttercup Bakery more memorable than their Banana Pudding? ehhhhh.. not really. When it comes to any dessert, pastry, baked good– sweets, in general– I am somewhat hard to please. Call me a tough critic, but if I’m gonna indulge in some sugary bliss.. let it be bliss.

The cupcakes came out beautifully. I even made JUMBO cupcakes.. JUMBO cupcake liners and used a muffin tin to accommodate the extra large size. They were big enough that I had to use a knife to cut my cupcake to eat like I would cut a slice of a cake. The cream cheese frosting is delicious. The frosting is the perfect balance of sweet but with a distinct and enjoyable tanginess of the cream cheese, which pairs well with this cake. After making the frosting, I put it into a gallon-sized sealable plastic bag. To frost the cupcakes, I used the age old trick of cutting a corner of the plastic bag to create a disposable piping bag. My mom reminds me that we have piping tips somewhere in the kitchen.. but if you have a plastic bag, it works just as well. A very easy, very clean way of frosting a cupcake.

So, yes, let’s hear it.. Did these Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting make the cut? Truthfully.. for me.. not exactly. I realized that perhaps my attraction to the bright deep red color of the cake has confused me for loving the cake itself. BUT it certainly has nothing to do with this recipe or any Red Velvet Cake. In fact, when my dad brought these to work, everyone raved about how much they enjoyed them! Hmm.. I think it is just me.. Again, I stress to you, try it for yourself!

As far as difficulty.. this is the most difficult one out of the 5 I have presented to you today. Though, you can’t expect to make a homemade cake without it being a bigger challenge than if it came from a box. Making this cake– sifting the flour and then all the dry ingredients together, the separate bowls to the side, the alternating buttermilk and dry ingredients– does take work. The process really made me appreciative of cake-in-a -box (4 ingredients and less than 5 minutes to prepare the batter) that make cupcake-making so fast.. easy.. convenient. Attempting a cake from scratch is none of those things. That is a big warning. But, if you are someone who really loves baking (like me), you will love the challenge. And now, after this experience, I will probably bake many many more cakes from scratch until I find just the right selection of favorites.

For a cake without Betty or Duncan to credit, this cake is great. The festive red color is appropriate for the season, so it does make the cut for a one of my favorite holiday things. Because I do believe there is a Red Velvet Cake/Cupcake that will WOW me one day.. it will be my side mission to find it. I think I’ll try that Buttercup Bakery Red Velvet Cupcake recipe.. banana pudding was quite the distraction last time. As much as I liked the cream cheese frosting (and believe that people love Red Velvet for the cream cheese frosting), maybe a simple vanilla will make a difference for me.. or the cider vinegar instead of the white vinegar. I’ll let you know.

For now.. nom nom nom.

B

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