Elena’s Salad

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This salad has become a mainstay in my diet lately. It is inspired by my friend Elena, who has me truly energized about my fitness and food. The plan is working: I feel better, and my clothes are fitting differently. I’ve really made small changes to my diet. It wasn’t terrible in the first place. But eliminating sugar and wheat have made important differences for me.

Now that I am eating this way, I crave foods in this salad: creamy avocado, peppery arugula, delicious citrus dressing. Here’s how to put it together for 2:

2 large handfuls of arugula (you could use any mixed greens to taste)
4 radishes
1/4 of a large, red pepper
1/4 c of white raisins
1/2 of a cucumber, seeded and chopped
1 avocado, halved
small bunch of cilantro
sea salt & pepper
protein of your choice

Citrus dressing
juice of 1/2 orange, freshly squeezed
juice of 1 lime, freshly squeezed
3/4 c of extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Combine the juices in a bowl. Using a whisk, slowly pour in the olive oil while whisking. The juices and oil should be completely emulsified together. Continue whisking until they combine smoothly. Season with salt and pepper.

For the salad, divide each of the ingredients between two dinner plates.

Start with a large handful of arugula, and give it a coarse chop. Your plate should look like this:

Chop about this much cilantro:

At this point, sprinkle the greens with about this much sea salt (it’s the secret ingredient)

Cut 4 radishes into paper slices. A word about this – your knife makes all the difference. I got a pair of Shun knives for Christmas. They make me look forward to chopping and slicing.

Dice the red pepper and sprinkle over both salads. It make such a pretty contrast against the greens.

Slice the avocado in the skin, then scoop out. Like this:

Peel stripes off the 1/2 cucumber with a vegetable peeler. Then cut lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon. Finally, cut into strips and dice. Like this:

Finally, coarsely chop the raisins. This little bit of sweet makes this salad special.

Drizzle with citrus olive oil dressing, and add a couple grinds of fresh pepper. Top with your favorite protein. I’ve tried albacore tuna, but I love this salad with cold salmon burgers.

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BBQ Chicken Wings

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I just posted the recipe for my husband’s beloved Honey Garlic Chicken Wings, and now I must include another favorite: BBQ Chicken Wings. If chicken wings are your thing, the possibilities are really endless. Use this method but change up the flavors. I should note here however, that I wouldn’t use this method for making Buffalo wings. For whatever reason, I think Buffalo wings are best when you dredge them in a flour/cornstarch mixture and deep fry them before coating them in sauce. But that’s another recipe for another time, yes?

Leave it to me to start talking about a different recipe instead of the one I’m posting. I just didn’t want to lead you astray. You’re welcome.

Back to the BBQ Chicken wing goodness…

BBQ Chicken Wings
2.5 – 3 lbs chicken wings
1/2 c. to 3/4 c. bbq sauce (see below for recipe, or use your favorite)
2 t. kosher salt
2 t. freshly ground pepper
1 t. smoked paprika
1/2 t. onion powder
1 T. canola oil
1 T. olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with aluminum foil and coat with cooking spray. Put the wings in a bowl or gallon sized ziploc bag. Drizzle equal amounts of canola oil and olive oil – about a tablespoon of each over the wings. Stir or seal the bag and toss the wings with the oil, making sure each one is covered. Place wings in a single layer on the cookie sheets skin side up if at all possible. Combine the salt, pepper, smoked paprika and onion powder in a small bowl, then sprinkle mixture over wings. Roast in the oven for 40-45 minutes*, turning once.

While wings are roasting, make the barbeque sauce or if you are using bottled sauce, sit back, relax and put your feet up for a bit.

Remove wings from oven. Place wings in a large bowl and drizzle 1/2 c. of BBQ sauce over wings. Use a large spoon to gently toss the wings and coat them with the sauce. Drain any excess fat off of the cookie sheets and put a cooling rack directly on the foil lined cookie sheets. Spray racks with cooking spray. Put the chicken wings on the racks, spoon some of the sauce over top and return them to the oven for 15 minutes. Stir them up a little or flip them over with tongs and then spoon more sauce on top. Roast another 15 minutes, or long enough to get the sauce baked in and looking tasty! Remove from oven and enjoy.

*Roasting time varies somewhat…at this point, you want them to be slightly crispy, about 3/4 of the cooked through.

If you like a wetter, more sloppy wing, add more sauce at the end, putting back in the oven just long enough to warm the sauce.

My Favorite BBQ Sauce (adapted from Pioneer Woman)
1 T. canola oil
1/4 c. onion, diced small
2 cloves of minced garlic
1 c. ketchup
1/4 c. + 2T. packed brown sugar
4 T. distilled white vinegar
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
1/3 c. molasses
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oil in a saucepan and add onion and garlic. Saute for about 5 minutes until soft – be careful to not let them burn. Reduce heat to low and add remaining ingredients. Stir and keep at a simmer while wings roast. Give it a taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Honey Garlic Chicken Wings

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It’s that time of year again…time for the Superbowl! I don’t know about you, but around here the Superbowl might as well be Christmas or Thanksgiving with as much attention as we give to planning and preparing the food. There are several must-haves each year and as tradition would have it, I wouldn’t miss making Honey Garlic Chicken wings. This recipe is Erik’s very favorite – that guy loves wings. Not surprising because I think most guys do. What is surprising, or even strikes me odd is that the men types that I typically watch the Superbowl with prefer varieties of wings other than Buffalo wings or Hot wings. Weird. At least it’s weird to me anyway. I thought for sure this year was my year to make Buffalo wings but Honey Garlic won out yet again. They’re just that good.

Honey Garlic Chicken Wings

2.5 – 3 lbs chicken wings
2/3 c. soy sauce
1/3 c. honey
8 garlic cloves, minced
3 T. fresh ginger, minced
1 t. dried ginger
olive oil
canola oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with aluminum foil and coat with cooking spray. Put the wings in a bowl or gallon sized ziploc bag. Drizzle equal amounts of canola oil and olive oil – about a tablespoon of each over the wings. Stir or seal the bag and toss the wings with the oil, making sure each one is covered. Place wings in a single layer on the cookie sheets skin side up if at all possible, and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 40-45 minutes*, turning once.

While wings are roasting, mix soy sauce, honey, garlic, and all ginger in a large bowl (big enough to hold all of the wings).

Remove wings from oven. Place each wing in the bowl with the sauce. Use a large spoon to gently toss the wings and coat them with the sauce. Drain any excess fat off of the cookie sheets and put a cooling rack directly on the foil lined cookie sheets. Spray racks with cooking spray. I actually piled all of the wings (they shrunk a bit after roasting) on one cookie sheet – at this point they don’t need to be in a single layer – but feel free to use two if you’d like. Put the chicken wings on the racks, spoon some of the sauce over top and return them to the oven for 15 minutes. Stir them up a little or flip them over with tongs and then spoon more sauce on top. Roast another 5-10 minutes, being careful to not let garlic or ginger burn. Remove from oven and enjoy!

*Roasting time varies somewhat…at this point, you want them to be slightly crispy, about 3/4 of the cooked through.

Each year I attempt to perfect the method and I may have nailed it this time. No more wings stuck to foil for me!! This method might seem a little fussy, but I don’t mind. It’s fun to see how much everyone enjoy devouring the little bits of chicken goodness…makes the effort totally worthwhile. Enjoy!

Thai Shrimp & Chicken Soup

This soup is smooth, light and so delicious. I love its subtle heat, and even though I didn’t grow up having this soup, it still speaks comfort to me. Maybe because I tend to crave it when I have a cold and then feel so much better after eating it? I don’t know. I’ll stop attempting to reason why I like it so much and purely accept the fact that I love it – that’s all there is to it!

Thai Shrimp and Chicken Soup
3 c. chicken broth
1 c. bottled clam juice
1 T. fish sauce
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 t. freshly minced ginger
3 or 4 T. red curry paste (I used pretty much the whole jar, but 3 or 4 T. is a good starting point)
8 oz. baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1/2 lb. uncooked, peeled and deveined shrimp
2 c. cooked chicken, shredded to bite sized pieces
3 oz. snow peas, cut into bite sized pieces (I forgot to do this! Trust me, you want these cut smaller!)
1/3 c. fresh lime juice
1 T. sugar
4 sliced green onions
4 T. cilantro, chopped (or as much as you like)
1 (13.5 oz) can coconut milk
Sambal Oelek or Sriracha for garnish (and a little extra heat!)

Combine the chicken broth, clam juice, fish sauce, garlic, ginger and red curry paste in a large soup pot, stirring together with a whisk. Add the mushrooms and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 4 or 5 minutes. Add the shrimp, chicken and snow peas and return to a boil again. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. You might want to check it at 3 minutes to make sure you aren’t over cooking the shrimp. Stir in lime juice and remaining ingredients. Continue to simmer until thoroughly heated. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. (I have also added 1 t. organic chicken bouillon at the end to give a deeper flavor, but it isn’t always necessary. It depends on how flavorful your broth is. Just taste it and go with what you like!) Ladle into bowls, top with Sriracha or Sambal Oelek and enjoy!

Nom Nom Energy Bars

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Ok, here we go. Day three.

Skipping the workout tonight only because I’m not feeling well. I’m sure I’ll be ready to resume tomorrow. Jillian awaits. Meanwhile, wheat-free, grain free diet is intact.

I found this recipe from Mark’s Daily Apple, and I’ve revised it to my liking. The first taste I had of these made me smile as though I had eaten a Reese’s. Sugar against salt. Crunchy against soft. These are outrageous. Truly as good as candy. I’m not joking.

Here’s how I made them:
1/2 c walnuts
1/2 c pecans
1/4 c almond meal (I made this with my food processor. Just pulse until the almonds have reached a fine, crumbly state.)
1/4 c almond butter (I made my own in my food processor too.)
1/4 c coconut oil
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp raw honey
1/4 tsp sea salt (this takes it over the top)
1/2 c golden raisins

Toast nuts until golden. Chop finely in a food processor. Melt oil and almond butter in microwave for about 20 seconds. Stir until smooth. Add vanilla, honey, and sea salt to mixture. Stir. Fold into nut mixture. Fold in raisins. Line an 8 x 4 in loaf pan with waxed paper. Or you could press the mixture into a small sheet pan like this:

The bars will be too thin if you spread the mixture across the entire pan. Spread the mixture and press evenly. Chill about 20 minutes or until firm. Cut into about 6 bars, depending on the size of your pan.

These are high in calories, but very healthy. A perfect pre-workout snack.

Arugula Salad with Lime Dressing

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Sometimes the simplest things in life are best. This salad only has a couple ingredients and all the flavors sparkle. I love the contrast of the peppery arugula against the sweetness of the raisins. It is so very yummy. There really is no need for croutons for a salad this special. A few sliced almonds give it the perfect crunch. If you’re lucky enough to have marcona almonds on hand, all the better.

Ingredients for an individual serving
large handful of arugula
1/8 c of golden raisins
sprinkling of sliced almonds
dash of sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tb of lime dressing (or to taste)

Lime Dressing
Squeeze the juice of one lime into a bowl. Blend with 1/2 c of extra virgin olive oil until it is emulsified.

Drizzle the dressing over the arugula. Toss well. Sprinkle with almonds and raisins. Top with a dash of sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

That’s it. This salad is simple, but special enough to serve to people you really like.

My 30 Day Wheat Free / Shred Journey

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Today I made a decision: something has to change. I’ve always thought of myself as fit, active and healthy. I run. I walk. I use weights. But I have been slowly getting thicker. Not even gaining weight. Just “rearranging” as my mom would say. It doesn’t feel good.

I talked to my friend Elena this weekend. It was like a therapy session. She has transformed herself in just one year, by following a Paleo lifestyle and doing crossfit workouts like a fiend. I’ve tried to be strict before and I’ve never stuck to anything long term. Elena totally took the pressure off: “This is only a template,” she said. “Do what works for you.”

As we ended the conversation, I knew one thing: I was going to give up wheat. At least for 30 days. Then I’ll see what happens. I thought about how I would fit the Paleo template over my lifestyle, and here is what I came up with for my 30 day trial:

First, the no no’s:
1. No wheat. That is not going to be exactly easy, but I know I can do anything for one month.
2. Minimize dairy. I don’t intend to eliminate it entirely, but I certainly don’t have to eat as much as I have been.
3. No processed foods. I didn’t think I ate processed foods, but when I really stop and think about it, I’m more guilty than I expected.
4. No refined sugar.

What I will do:
1. Eat good fats – nuts, olive oil, avocados, and coconut oil.
2. Eat unlimited fruits and vegetables. (That’s the easy part.)
3. Eat lean meat and seafood. I don’t like red meat. Life would be easier if I did. But I can certainly eat more chicken and fish over salads, and far fewer sandwiches on whole wheat bread.
4. Combine with Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred. I smiled to myself as I sat on the couch and fast forwarded through level one. Easy peasy I thought. Those are totally light weights and the cardio looks like a breeze. Ha! Put 3 circuits together back to back with no break, and you’ve got yourself one high intensity workout. My butt is still burning from 30 minutes.

I am ready to do this. I can do this. Michael’s been eating like this for years now, and bikes 21 miles every day over two bridges. He smiled at me when I said I was taking this leap. Yes I can!

Chocolate Cranberry Cookies

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This is a delicious cookie that is fun and festive during the holidays, and also a little different from some of the normal cookie fare you might see in the month of December. The oatmeal gives a crunchy texture and the cranberries make the cookie wonderfully chewy. And the chocolate drizzle? What better way to top off this yummy cookie?!

Chocolate Cranberry Cookies
1/2 c. butter
1 c. flour
3/4 c. sugar
1 egg
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. baking powder
1 c. quick-cooking oatmeal
1 c. chopped cranberries
1/2 c. chopped walnuts
chocolate for drizzling (I melted 1 c. of semi-sweet chocolate chips)

Beat butter until creamy. Add next 5 ingredients and beat until combined. Stir in oats, cranberries and walnuts. Drop on greased cookie sheet and bake @ 375 for 10 to 12 minutes and let cool. Melt chocolate chips in 30 second intervals in microwave until almost completely melted. Be careful not to burn the chocolate! Spoon the chocolate into a ziploc, and snip a tiny section off a corner. Drizzle over cooled cookies and let set.

Makes about 36 cookies.

Snowball Cookies

These cookies represent Christmas to me. I’ve made them for years. Their wonderfully, buttery, melt-your-mouth goodness take me to the best of the holidays. These are a classic. They’re just a simple shortbread mixed with pecans and rolled in sugar.

But could it get any better than this?

2 cups flour
2 cups finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
powdered sugar for rolling

Heat oven to 325. In a large mixer bowl, combine flour, nuts, granulated sugar, butter and vanilla. Beat at low speed, scraping bowl, until well mixed. Shape rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into 1 inch balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 18-25 minutes, or until very lightly browned. Remove immediately from the cookie sheet. Roll in powdered sugar while slightly warm and again when cool.

Breakfast Fried Rice

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I’ve always known that Erik grew up eating fried rice with eggs for breakfast. I grew up eating warmed rice with milk, cinnamon and sugar for breakfast. So the thought of fried rice in the morning never really appealed to me…until I saw this recipe in Everyday Food. The first time I made it, we both were hooked (it didn’t take much for him, obviously). Not only is it full of delicious garlic-ginger flavor, but it also is now my favorite way to use up leftover cooked rice.

This dish has become so loved; I always make sure Erik has it for his birthday breakfast, and numerous other times throughout the year as well. It comes together really fast and is simple to make. So go ahead, think outside the box (I know I had to), and give it a whirl!

Breaskfast Fried Rice
2 T. vegetable oil
1 thick slice ham (8 oz.), cubed*
1 bunch green onions, sliced in 3/4-inch pieces (separate green and white parts)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 t. finely grated peeled fresh ginger
coarse salt and ground pepper
1 1/4 c. cooked white rice (I’ve used as much as 2 cups of rice)
2 T. rice vinegar (I usually use seasoned, but unseasoned is fine too)
2 T. soy sauce
4 large eggs

In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add ham, scallion white, garlic and ginger; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 or 4 minutes.

Add rice, scallion greens, vinegar and soy sauce. Cook, stirring, until heated through, 2 to 4 minutes. Divide fried rice among two bowls.

Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel, heat 1 T. of oil over medium and crack eggs into skillet. Season with salt and pepper, cook until set. Top each bowl of rice with 2 eggs.

*In the recipe shown in the photo, I used bacon. Bacon or ham work really well; I usually just use what I have on hand. When using bacon, I microwave several slices, crumble it into small pieces and stir it in at the end before topping rice with eggs.