Tag Archives: Recipes

Eatin’ la vida Whole30

Now comes the post I know you’re all waiting for–the one with all the food! As interesting as it is, I’m sure, to read about why we decided to give the Whole30 a whirl and what we felt while adhering to said Whole30, at the end of the day what matters most is the food, right? Well, wait no longer…just read on! Before you do, though, a little note: To save time and space, not every meal or recipe is recounted. This post focuses largely on our successes. I didn’t take pictures of the meals that didn’t work, after all. Who wants to remember those with a photograph? For recipes that correspond with the images, follow the links–most will take you out into the world wide web where we found inspiration. Others will transport you directly to recipes of our own, right here on happy food.

Moroccan Chicken & Vegetable StewDinner, Day 1: Since we hadn’t yet stocked the kitchen with compliant ingredients, Bryce found inspiration in the cupboards and online. He threw together one of my favorite dishes of the month, an amazing Moroccan Chicken, substituting thighs for whole chickens, replacing non-compliant ingredients with acceptable ones, and adding capers, artichoke hearts, and a can of diced tomatoes. The picture barely does the meal justice–it filled the house with warm aromas and tasted even better.

Day 2: Let’s go shopping! After enjoying some leftover Moroccan Chicken Stew for breakfast, Bryce and I ventured out to conduct the shop of all shops and stock our stores with Whole30 compliant ingredients. Almost $400 later and we were set for the month (and beyond). Yes, Whole30 required an initial monetary investment that was quite considerable–but what better investment than one’s own health? Besides which, the money we saved by not eating out all month helped us gradually recoup that investment. Hindsight being, you know, 20/20, I should have taken a photograph of the goodies we bought that Saturday: unrefined coconut oil, avocado oil, light tasting olive oil, unsweetened coconut flakes, eggs for days, pork shoulder, grass-fed organic ground beef, coconut aminos, spinach, sweet potatoes, jicama, grapefruit…the list goes on, and I am rambling.

To help make our first week as successful as possible, Bryce conducted a lot of Internet research the month beforehand. One of the blogs he discovered, Melissa “Melicious” Joulwan’s The Clothes Make the Girl, offered a lot of great tips and recipes, including a Whole30 week 1 meal plan. Bryce figured, and I quite agreed with him, that having prepared Whole30 foods at the ready would increase our chance of success, and because we went shopping, we could get down to business.

Curried Tuna Salad Lettuce Wrap

Lunch, Day 2: While Bryce started cooking, I whipped up some Curried Tuna Salad Lettuce Wraps for lunch. I mixed together some tuna, homemade mayo, onions, celery, sunflower seeds, salt, pepper, and hot curry powder, serving the mixture in leaves of crispy romaine lettuce. The refreshing snap of the lettuce served as an excellent vessel for the spicy goodness of the tuna salad, and we didn’t even miss bread. What started as an experiment turned out to be a recurring Whole30 recipe.

TIP: The homemade mayo recipe from The Clothes Make the Girl (follow link above) is simple to make and quite easily the best mayonnaise I’ve ever tasted. We will never go back to store bought mayo again.

Chocolate Chili, recipe courtesy of The Clothes Make the Girl blog.Dinner, Day 2: The crux of the Week 1 plan suggests spending an afternoon in the kitchen cooking up foods you can eat all week long. It involved creating specific meals (like the amazing Chocolate Chili, pictured) but also focused on prepping piece-meal items (like Italian pork roast and roasted veggies) that you could mix-and-match come meal time. At the end of our first cooking day, we enjoyed the savory Chocolate Chili mentioned earlier, spooned over roasted spaghetti squash.

Spinach & Onion FrittataBreakfast, Day 3: With a fully stocked kitchen, Bryce and I were back in business for breakfast (read: we had eggs). Having made a broccoli scramble on Day 1, I thought I’d mix things up on Day 3 with a spinach & onion frittata. In theory, the plan was solid–sautéed onions and fresh baby spinach floating in a pillowy blanket of eggs. But, as we dug in, Bryce and I found that the iron flavor brought by the fresh spinach was far too intense and frozen spinach would be better for future recipes.

Italian Pork Roast with Green Beans & Mixed BerriesLunch, Day 3: One of the many upsides to spending an afternoon preparing food for the week is the numerous options the spread provides. Take this Slow-cooker Italian Pork Roast, another excellent recipe from The Clothes Makes the Girl’s week 1 meal plan, for example. The melt-in-your-mouth pork, flavored with garlic and Italian seasonings, centered meals like the one pictured while also inspiring several other dishes later in the week (more on those later).

Modified Chinese Take-out Beef with BroccoliDinner, Day 3: Bryce, having spent most of Day 2 in the kitchen, tasked me with putting something together for dinner. Challenge accepted! Using available ready-made ingredients and our new wok (yay!), I threw together a Whole30 version of Chinese Take-out Beef with Broccoli. You may wonder, how do you make Chinese take-out without soy sauce? It’s not as hard as you might think. I combined date paste (sweetness) with coconut aminos (umami) and Frank’s Hot Sauce (spice).

Banana Nut Breakfast BowlBreakfast, Day 4: To prevent myself from getting tired of eggs, I sought alternatives online while bouncing from Pinterest to Instagram. I eventually ran across a breakfast bowl consisting primarily of sliced bananas and almond butter. Eureka–a tasty way to break up day after day of eggs! My favorite combination = bananas + crunchy almond butter + toasted & salted pecans + unsweetened coconut flakes + blueberries + a dusting of ground cinnamon. So yummy, I still make them.

Spinach & Avocado SaladBreakfast, Day 5: Another exercise in egg alternatives grew out of the Whole30 program’s invitation to rethink meals entirely. Why does breakfast have to fit a prescription? Truthfully, it doesn’t, which is partly what makes Whole30 life changing. So, I started day 5 with a salad: spinach topped with cherry tomatoes, diced onion, sliced avocado, and cilantro–dressed with fresh lime juice, kosher salt, and fresh-cracked pepper. I enjoyed this dish so much, I added it to my morning rotation.

Sweet Potato Shepherd's PieDinner, Day 5: Staring into the abyss of the refrigerator at dinner time and wondering what to make, inspiration suddenly struck–Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie! The best part? The baked sweet potatoes and ground beef browned with onions were ready to go! I adjusted the recipe by taking out the cauliflower (we didn’t have any), replacing the beef stock with chicken stock (we couldn’t find compliant beef stock), and using individual serving crocks. So delicious…and filling.

Spinach with Fried Eggs & BaconBreakfast, Day 6: Eggs were back on the menu, and one of the many wonderful things about them is versatility. I thought, why not combine eggs with a spinach salad? So, I crisped up some sliced bacon and fried two eggs to serve over a handful of fresh baby spinach. No oil or vinegar needed! The warm, runny, rich yolk created a creamy dressing of its own, seasoned simply with salt and pepper. With a half grapefruit and cup of black coffee, it was a true, Whole30 breakfast of champions.

Sweet Potato Hash with Fried EggsBreakfast, Day 9: There seems to be a theme developing with a heavy focus on breakfast. Not surprising, considering Whole30 completely upended my morning routine. Always looking for new egg dishes, inspiration struck once again when I saw sweet potatoes, Italian pork roast, onions, peppers, celery, and eggs in the fully stocked fridge. Let’s make hash! The sweetness of the potatoes combined perfectly with the savory pork and rich eggs to start the day off right.

Chicken Salad Lettuce WrapLunch, Day 9: After watching his students graduate from James Madison University, Bryce came home and made the two of us another delicious lettuce wrap lunch. Using chicken breasts prepared according to The Clothes Make the Girl (“The Best Chicken You Will Ever Eat. Ever.“), he stirred together diced chicken, raisins, cilantro, red onion, and homemade mayo before serving it in bibb lettuce. The seasoning from the chicken provided plenty of flavor–another Whole30 win.

Ina Garten's Lemon-Garlic Roasted Chicken with Root Vegetables and Green BeansDinner, Day 9: By the ninth day, Bryce and I had been through a few ups and downs but really began hitting our Whole30 stride. In celebration, I went all out and turned to one of our favorite Food Network personalities, Ina Garten, for her Perfect Roast Chicken recipe. We didn’t have any fennel, so we compensated by adding extra carrots, onions, and potatoes. Eating roast chicken with lemon and garlic over roasted root vegetables with a side of green beans on the deck…how bad could that be?

TIP: There are many great recipes out there that are pretty darn Whole30 compliant to begin with that require only minor tweaks, much like Ina’s Perfect Roast Chicken recipe. The only substitution we needed to make was swapping the butter out for ghee, otherwise the recipe is wholly Whole30 (Batman). If you’re considering Whole30, I recommend flipping through your favorite recipes. You might be surprised to find some that can easily be adjusted to fit within the program parameters.

Spinach & Turkey Sausage Egg BakeBreakfast, Day 10: If you read my previous posts about our Whole30 journey, you know that by week two I had grown frustrated with breakfast. I despised spending 30-45 minutes preparing and cooking my first meal of the day. The awesome answer to my morning meltdown came in the form of a Whole30 Breakfast Casserole. Once cooked and properly cooled, it made for an easy breakfast. Pictured is the original, chock full of eggs, homemade pork sausage, mushrooms, onions, and spinach.

TIP: The breakfast casserole remains one our top five Whole30 meals, not only because it tastes great but also because it lends itself to endless possibilities. Once you get the hang of recipes like this one, play with the ingredients. Experimenting provides variation and a certain amount of fun while also preventing tastebud boredom. We tried numerous versions of the breakfast casserole, each of them scrumdiddlyumptious, but none quite as good as what Bryce affectionately calls the Most Amazing Breakfast Casserole.

Coconut Shrimp CurryDinner, Day 11: As you most intelligently derived from my blog, Bryce and I enjoy the Food Network and gravitate toward several of its stars when researching meal ideas. Enter Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond and her Coconut Curry Shrimp. Of course, slight modifications were necessary–date paste instead of honey and roasted spaghetti squash instead of basmati rice. And we prefer cilantro over basil. Talk about flavorful! Another one of my top five Whole30 meals.

Prosciutto Topped MeatloafDinner, Day 14: Our good friend Dianna came from Minnesota to visit us and graciously tolerated our Whole30-ness. With recipes like Easy Paleo Homestyle Meatloaf topped with fully acceptable Prosciutto (Bryce’s idea), I think we succeeded in honoring our guest as well as the stipulations of the program. We kept things appealing, compliant, no-nonsense, and tantalizingly tasty. Who wants to spend all day in the kitchen when the Shenandoah National Park is calling?

Whole30 food fail: I attempted to make some coleslaw to pair with the meatloaf, leaving out the sugar and adding apple juice in addition to the apple cider vinegar. I don’t care who you are, you cannot make a successful coleslaw without sugar! Apple juice as a substitute just doesn’t cut it.

Happy Food Chili topped with Avocado, Onion, & CilantroDinner, Day 15: Happy birthday, Dianna! Let’s celebrate with Turkey Chili, using my own tried and true recipe (sans any off-program ingredients like beans, brown sugar, and alcohol, of course). Oh, and let’s top it with sliced avocado, diced onion, and fresh cilantro instead of Fritos corn chips, shredded cheese, and sour cream. You know what? I didn’t miss those contraband toppings one bit. Turns out cheese is often used to add salt to recipes–so why not just use salt?

Tumeric Lime Chicken with Sautéed Veggie NoodlesDinner, Day 21: Facebook feeds can be annoying. Every once in a while, though, a featured post piques my interest and I click that link. Such was the case with this Turmeric Lime Chicken recipe from The Splendid Table, one of our favorite NPR programs. It could not have appeared at a more opportune time, as Bryce & I were constantly looking for new recipes. Served with a side of noodled zucchini sautéed in cherry tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil, we were certainly glad we tried this one!

Sausage with Sautéed Onions & Potatoes and SauerkrautDinner, Day 22: What is my #1 favorite Whole30 meal, you wonder? The answer may surprise you as much as it surprised me: Oven Roasted Potatoes, Onions, and Boar’s Head Kielbasa with Sauerkraut. (I mention Boar’s Head here because of its compliance.) The combination of the salty sausage, heartiness of the potatoes, sweetness of the onions, tanginess of the mustard sauce, and sour bite of the sauerkraut married to form a most perfect union. My mouth is watering (again).

Roasted Capon & Vegetables with Mashed PotatoesDinner, Day 23: While traversing Whole30 it’s fun to meet up with fellow travelers. No one better understands the rocky path, and you get to swap stories both triumphant and tragic. Such was the case when Bryce and I enjoyed a four-course dinner with our friends, Ian and Katie. The kingly meal included guacamole with jicama, Caesar salad, roasted capon & potatoes with multicolored carrots & mashed potatoes, and peach cobbler. Over the top? No question. Worth it? Definitely.

SIDE NOTES On capon: Never having eaten rooster before, I found Ian & Katie’s version deliciously decadent–the crispy skin in particular. The recipe they used was simply fantastic, and I look forward to having it again in the future.
On mashed potatoes: To be completely honest, I never truly loved or even liked them as they typically tasted bland and had a paste-like consistency. While on Whole30, though, I developed a newfound appreciation for mashed potatoes. The trick? No cream or milk needed…just boil some cut up potatoes and then blend them with garlic, ghee, salt, pepper, and a little of the cooking liquid until smooth using an electric hand mixer. I don’t even peel the potatoes…the skins are where many of the nutrients are, anyway. For amped-up, back-of-the-nose spiciness, stir in some prepared ground horseradish. Yummy!
On the peach cobbler: The Whole30 guidelines specifically state not to recreate compliant versions of non-compliant baked goodies, because it completely misses the point of the program. But we wanted to end our special meal with something sweet, so we went ahead and bent the rules anyway. Yet, even when taking out the vanilla extract and a sweetener substitute, the end result left something to be desired. Lesson learned!

Hot and Sour SoupLunch, Day 25: Chinese take-out food proved quite an obstacle as it’s usually laden with forbidden fruits. We kept looking for adapted recipes to try, though, since it’s a favorite cuisine of ours. Bryce, the ever resourceful researcher, found an excellent Hot and Sour Soup bursting with umami that satisfied our cravings. To keep it Whole30-approved, the only correction Bryce made was replacing the honey with apple juice and extra vinegar. We also opted for water chestnuts instead of bamboo shoots.

Grilled Balsamic Mustard Salmon with Mashed Potatoes & Tomato SaladDinner, Day 25: Memorial Day means summer, and summer means grilling & eating out on the deck. What better way to start the season than with Grilled Balsamic Mustard Salmon, Ina Garten’s tomato salad without the feta cheese, and mashed potatoes (I’ll have mine with horseradish, please)? I couldn’t think of any better ways to kick summer off, either. Well, okay, maybe a gin & tonic and some ice cream could. Only a few days left to go, though, so we just said no to temptation.

Almond-Crusted Fried Chicken Thighs with Roasted Squash & ZucchiniDinner, Day 26: The dinner of Pan Fried Chicken Thighs and Roasted Zucchini & Yellow Squash that Bryce prepared near the end of our journey rounds out my top five favorite Whole30 meals. The fried chicken thighs felt like a guilty treat, but dredging them in well-seasoned almond flour and skillet-frying them in coconut oil proved a much healthier alternative to fast food. My sense of guilt was therefore (mostly) unfounded. Buffalo style with Frank’s Hot Sauce? Yes, please! Absolutely craveable.

Whole30 food fail: On day 28, Bryce spent the better part of an afternoon making Anne Burrell’s amazing bolognese sauce, complex and layered with flavor. It is intense and lip-smackingly delicious, the real deal. But when we served it over squash that just wouldn’t cooperate with the noodler and some leftover roasted spaghetti squash, we set ourselves up for nothing but disappointment…kind of like going to a Fleetwood Mac concert where Justin Bieber had replaced Mick Fleetwood. Not okay.

In the six weeks or so since our Whole30 adventure officially came to an end, Bryce and I have reintegrated some formerly forbidden foods and old favorites but adhere by and large to the plan guidelines. So, I drink my coffee with a little cream and sugar every morning, but no more Fruity Pebbles. The breakfast casserole tastes so much better and keeps me going strong until lunch time. I avoid most soy products but not peanut products. I occasionally indulge in ice cream and cocktails. I wrap tacos in crunchy, yellow corn shells instead of lettuce and serve guacamole with jicama AND tortilla chips. Burgers with cheese? Sure, but still no bun. On that note, Bryce and I went to Red Robin not too long after day 30, and we both wondered what the heck we used to love about the food so much. It was just tasteless and unsatisfying. Turns out pizza isn’t as good as it once was, either. Probably because it provides little nutritional value and therefore results in over-consumption (and therefore uncomfortable bloating). Freshly popped popcorn drizzled with melted butter and salt is a different story, though, and still one of my favorite foods, one I’ll probably never give up entirely.

Well, there you have the rather lengthy run down of the great meals and delicious foods we ate while livin’ la vida Whole30 (and even a couple failures). This post has been a labor of love, taking nearly an entire month to complete, and I hope it was worth the wait.


The Perfect ‘Coffeeness’

Well, I mentioned on Facebook towards the beginning of the year that I had perfected Coffee Ice Cream and promised a recipe would follow shortly thereafter. Days flew by. Then weeks. And now, nearly four months have passed, and I am finally getting around to spilling the beans. May is still ‘soon’ after January, right? I guess that’s what I get as a grad student. Now that the first year is said and done, I am looking forward to blogging a little more consistently and hope to find a way to keep up more regular postings once grad school starts up again at the end of August.

Anyhoo, back to the topic at hand – Coffee Ice Cream and perfecting the recipe…

Late last fall, Bryce whipped up some delicious coconut bars that used only half of a can of sweetened condensed milk. Pondering what we should do with the remaining half of a can got me thinking about ice cream, as is typically the case. What better use for sweetened condensed milk than an ingredient for my next ice cream making adventure? I thought it could serve multiple purposes – as milk, as sweetener, and as a thickening agent. Why I chose coffee ice cream for the trial run I could not tell you, but I was suddenly struck with a craving and went with it.

My previous attempt at making coffee ice cream turned out to be rather uninspiring. I had not yet tried the whole egg yolk tempering thing and therefore had no need to heat up the milk and cream mixture prior to freezing. As a result, the instant coffee only partially dissolved into the liquid and the undissolved granules ended up speckling the ice cream. Just not in a good way. Heating up the sweetened condensed milk, cream, milk, and instant coffee did wonders for the mixture. I also thought to myself, “Hey, Food Network chefs are always adding instant coffee to chocolate recipes, commenting that the coffee helps to make the chocolate flavor more intense. I wonder if the same is true in reverse?” So, on top of the sweetened condensed milk and egg yolks, I added a teaspoon of cocoa powder to my new coffee ice cream mix. Even before freezing, I knew I had stumbled upon a great combination. I mean, I had to taste test throughout the cooking process, right? And the resulting ice cream proved even better than expected. It was thick, creamy, and smooth with the perfect balance of milkiness, sweetness, and coffeeness. That’s right, I just made up a new word. That’s how good the ice cream was, and the recipe will be my go-to whenever we’re craving a little coffee ice cream.

Bowl of coffee ice cream.
Coffee Ice Cream

2 c. heavy cream

1/2 c. sweetened condensed milk

1 c. whole milk

3 packets of instant decaffeinated coffee

1 tsp. cocoa powder

2 egg yolks

1/4 c. sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

Add the heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, whole milk, instant coffee, and cocoa powder to a medium-sized sauce pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. While the cream/milk/coffee mixture is heating, beat the egg yolks and sugar with a mixer on medium speed for approximately two minutes (in a medium-sized mixing bowl). Once the mixture on the stove reaches a simmer, reduce the heat and get ready – it’s time to temper the eggs! In a slow, steady stream (to prevent scrambling), add the heated cream mixture to the egg yolks while running the electric mixer to blend all ingredients together. After incorporating the eggs into the cream mixture, return the ice cream base back to the sauce pan and heat until the custard thickens, stirring constantly. This step takes approximately 5-7 minutes. You will see and feel the ice cream thicken. For a foolproof way to check if the ice cream base is thick enough, dip a spoon into the liquid and run your finger along the backside of the spoon. If your finger leaves a clean trail, it’s done. If the liquid is thin and runny, cook for a while longer. Transfer finished ice cream base to a bowl, stir in the vanilla, and refrigerate overnight. Freeze the cooled ice cream in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturers instructions. Enjoy! (Pictured above with a Timtam cookie.)


C is for Cookie

‘Tis the season for holiday treats. And, incidentally, a little extra winter insulation. Every year my family goes all out with the cookies – two kinds of sugar cookies, Ting-A-Lings (chocolate covered corn flakes), cream wafer sandwiches, Russian Tea Cakes (or Mexican Wedding Cakes or whatever your family calls the ball-shaped shortbread cookies speckled with nuts and dipped in powdered sugar), and Ritz cracker cookies. An unoriginal name to be sure, but I have yet to hear of or invent a more imaginative name for these annual favorites of mine.

What makes them so dang good? Mainly two ingredients – peanut butter and chocolate, the greatest culinary couple since peanut butter met jelly and macaroni found cheese. As an added benefit, they are exceedingly simple to make. You only need four ingredients, and the process involves no baking. So if Santa devoured your remaining stash of Christmas cookies, leaving only crumbs for your New Year’s Eve soiree, I recommend whipping together a batch of these tasty treats. Guests of all ages will enjoy them, and depending on your New Year’s resolution, you can send party goers home with left overs. Just be sure to save a few for yourself. I mean, you’ll have an entire year to tackle that resolution.

Ritz & Peanut Butter Sandwiches

What you’ll need:

Ritz Crackers (or similar buttery crackers)

Peanut butter, creamy or chunky – your choice

Chocolate bark

Flaky sea salt (i.e. Maldon)

Melt the chocolate bark according to package directions. I like melting the chocolate in a glass bowl fitted over a pot of simmering water. The chocolate melts evenly, remains viscous, and does not burn. While the chocolate is melting, make peanut butter sandwiches with the Ritz crackers. You can either spread the peanut butter with a butter knife or use a 1 oz. cookie scoop to plop the peanut butter onto the bottom cracker. Then use the top cracker to press down the peanut butter and make a sandwich. SUGGESTION: Only fill the cookie scoop half full of peanut butter or you’ll have too much (if there is such a thing). Once you have an inventory of sandwiches, use tongs to dip them into the chocolate bark. Place completely covered cookies onto wax paper to cool. Every 10 or 12 cookies, sprinkle the top with a few flakes of sea salt before the chocolate sets. Enjoy after the chocolate hardens. Repeat the process until you run out of crackers, peanut butter, and/or chocolate. NOTE: You can speed up the setting process by putting the cookies on a cookie sheet and sliding them into the fridge or freezer.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ritz Cookies

I Love the Chili Weather

It’s hard to believe I haven’t blogged in four months! There have been many foods and experiences I wanted to write about, and I snapped quite a few photos. My first semester of grad school intervened, however. Reading and writing for school took priority over blogging. My goal going forward is to find a balance with school work that allows me to keep up my blog. Only time will tell how successful I am with that goal.

Back in October, I started writing a post that has been patiently waiting for my return. Now that I’m on winter break, I can finish it up! While the seasons have changed since, the sentiments and feelings remain. Perhaps even more as the chill of winter sets in.

I love the autumn time of year – leaves are bright red, orange, and yellow. Days are shorter. Warm afternoons give way to chilly nights. Smells of  burning wood and baking apples fill the air. Carved pumpkins pop up all over the neighborhood. Fall is in full swing, and as much as I look forward to summer, I eagerly await autumn’s arrival even more. Especially because it’s a prelude to winter, but that’s another story for a different post.

The greatest things about fall are the seasonal foods that help create those warm, cozy feelings I wait for all year long. You know which culinary creations I’m talking about – soups, stews, roasts, pumpkin pie, apple crisp, hot cocoa. The list goes on. Perhaps my favorite fall- and winter-time food to whip together is a great big pot of homemade chili. Both the spicy aroma and flavor warm the soul from the inside out, the perfect remedy for overcoming chilly weather. Another great thing about chili is that you can kind of make things up as you go. Screwing up the classic soup is quite difficult to do, because there are no hard and fast rules. For example, if you don’t like or have beans, the chili will be just as scrumptious without them (despite what some chili purists may say). I find a sense of excitement in the liberation from a recipe, and chili is one of the best dishes with which to experiment.

That being said, over the years I concocted a foolproof base for chili through many tests and trials. While I start every chili off with core ingredients and seasonings, I often vary their amounts – particularly when it comes to seasonings. As a result, no two pots of chili are ever the same. So, instead of thinking of my tomato-based chili recipe as an exact one, use it more as a guideline. In fact, to encourage creativity, I replaced some measurements with TYL (to your liking). Play around. Change things up. In addition to warming the home and body, making chili should be what cooking is all about – fun!

Pot of chili.


Extra virgin olive oil, 1 Tbsp

Tomato sauce, low sodium (28 oz. can)

Tomato Paste (TYL – used for thickening)

1/2 onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

Jalapeño pepper(s) (TYL – for spiciness)

1 tomato, chopped

Garlic, minced (TYL – I use 1 or 2 cloves)

1 lb ground meat (beef, pork, chicken, turkey) – optional

Beans, 1 can drained (white, red, or dark red kidney beans OR, if you’re feeling particularly saucy, use 1 can of Hot Chili Beans including the liquid in the can – choose your own adventure!)

Bonus! Try a little tequila or vodka. I mean, why not, right?


Kosher salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

Chili powder

Ground cumin

Ground cayenne pepper


Brown sugar

Celery salt

Hot sauce (use your favorite)

Bonus! Ground cinnamon adds a sweet, spicy warmth. Sounds weird, but it works.


In a large Dutch oven, sauté onions, carrots, celery, peppers, tomato, and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat. Sprinkle with chili powder, salt, and pepper. When the carrots, onions, and celery are softened*, add the ground meat. Season again with chili powder, salt, and pepper. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until meat is cooked through. Once the meat is fully browned, pour in the tomato sauce, tomato paste, and beans. Stir. Season with all spices, including another round of chili powder, salt, and pepper. I typically season lightly this round. It’s always easy to add more seasonings if necessary. Correcting for over-seasoning proves rather impossible to achieve. IMPORTANT: Taste your chili. Adjust seasonings according to what you want more of. (I usually end up adding more chili powder and salt, but not always.) Bring the chili to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 2-4 hours. Enjoy topped with your favorite shredded cheese, corn chips, sour cream, and green onions. Leftovers taste even better, and if you feel like you have chili coming out your ears, it freezes well.

* If you’re willing to try the tequila or vodka, dump it in now and cook for a few minutes before adding the ground meat to the pot.


Get Stocked!

Do you ever notice how the Food Network chefs recommend using homemade chicken stock when possible? If you check out Ina Garten’s cookbooks or watch Tyler Florence, you’ll quickly discover their recipes calling for ‘chicken stock, preferably homemade.’ Even if you’re not a fan of the Food Network, you may have heard the praises of homemade stock sung by non-celebrity chefs or family cooks. At first, if you’re like me, you may react with general indifference. Who really has the time? Who really has the chickens? The store-bought varieties must be close so why bother with ALL that work?

Well, you may be surprised just how simple making chicken stock is and how much better the taste can be. Sure, it takes a commitment upwards of four hours or more, but the resulting product really makes the simple work worth your time and effort. Okay, you might still be wondering about the chickens. The recipe I use (Alton Brown’s) calls for 4 chicken carcasses, and that’s a lot of chicken bits and pieces you may not have sitting around the house. There’s an easy solution to this problem! Do you ever buy rotisserie chickens at the grocery store? At our house, we love a rotisserie chicken. It’s quick, easy, and provides multiple meals fresh from the container or repurposed into chicken salad, soup, or enchiladas. Bonus! They can also fulfill the chicken stock base requirements. Once you’ve exhausted the chicken’s usefulness (ie. all that’s left are skin and bones), wrap up the leftovers in some aluminum foil and toss them in the freezer. Repeat this process until you have collected 4 chicken carcasses, about two months of grocery shopping for us.

Now that you have your chickens, all you need is a few vegetables, herbs, a bunch of water, and a big stock pot. I typically wait until I know I’m going to be around the house all day to make the stock because you do need to skim the film off the top of the boiling goodness every 15-30 minutes throughout the cooking process. I would post the recipe I like in my blog if I wasn’t concerned about copyright infringement and breaking the law. So, just pop on over to Alton Brown’s recipe (courtesy of the Food Network) for specific ingredients and instructions. I will say in advance that I have altered Mr. Brown’s recipe slightly. Before plopping the chicken carcasses into the stock pot, I roast them in the oven for 30-45 minutes at 350-degrees to wake up the bones and juices. I can’t really say what kind of difference this makes if any, but I figure the extra roasting can’t hurt. And don’t let the 14-hour and 30-minute time scare you off. I’ve successfully made chicken stock in as few as 4 hours using the same recipe.

When all is said and done, you will be stocked (ha, ha – very punny, I know). What might you do with a gallon or more of chicken broth? One of the obvious choices is to make chicken noodle soup. Believe it or not, a quart of homemade chicken stock also makes a great gift. Think about using chicken broth in place of water, too, because as Alex Guarnaschelli often says, “water does not add flavor.” This proves especially true in recipes where any extra bit of flavor helps, such as with any form of rice or rice-based dish. There are even recipes for French Onion Soup using chicken stock instead of beef stock. The possibilities are endless, and with a freezer full of such homemade yumminess, you may never go back to store bought chicken broth again.


Garlic and Spinach and Mushrooms, Oh My

Garlicky Mushroom & Spinach Pizza

Another meatless Monday has come and gone (successfully I might add). Inspired by a Lean Cuisine Pizza I enjoyed a couple weeks ago and our recent grocery shopping trip, I went to work creating a pizza powered by the flavor of garlic and topped with caramelized onions, mushrooms, spinach, and cheese. The idea for this dinner formed when we found garlic naan at our local Target store. Bryce suggested the flavored Indian flatbread would make perfect pizzas especially when paired with the button mushrooms which also found their way into our cart. Once home I discovered spinach in the very back of the freezer after rearranging things to fit all our frozen food purchases. Soon the creative cooking wheels in my head really started turning and continued throughout work the next day. I planned exactly how I would transform the naan, mushrooms, and spinach into a delicious meatless dinner – it was Monday, after all. As soon as I got home, I excitedly went to work concocting the recipe I formed in my head – full of garlic and spinach and mushrooms (oh my). The resulting Garlicky Mushroom and Spinach Pizza certainly won over our taste buds.

  • 2 garlic naan
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced and separated
  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (plus a little extra for drizzling)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 3 Tablespoons cream cheese
  • 1/2 white onion, sliced or diced
  • 1 package sliced button mushrooms (8 oz.)
  • 1 cup frozen spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • Salt and fresh-cracked pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet (large enough to hold the two pieces of naan) with parchment paper or a silicon baking pad. Drizzle one side of each naan with a little olive oil and brush to coat entire crust with oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and place oiled/seasoned side down on lined baking sheet.

In a large skillet, heat 2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and butter over medium heat until the butter melts. Add the onion, season with a pinch of salt, and saute for roughly 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the onion is translucent but not brown, add one clove of minced garlic, the rosemary, and crushed red pepper flakes. Stir and cook for two minutes before pouring in the mushrooms. Season with another pinch of salt and a few twists of cracked black pepper. Saute the mushrooms with the onions until the mushrooms brown, approximately 5 additional minutes. Stir in the drained spinach and cook mixture just enough to heat the spinach through. Remove from heat and set aside.

Stir together the cream cheese, parmesan cheese, one minced garlic clove, a drizzle of olive oil, a dash of salt, and a twist or three of cracked black pepper. Heat in a small skillet over medium heat just long enough to soften the cream cheese, about 2 minutes. Spread the flavored cream cheese on the two naan as you would a pizza sauce. Top each naan equally with the heated mushroom/spinach mixture and cover in the shredded mozzarella. Bake in the oven for twelve minutes or until the cheese is melted. I like to broil the pizza for a minute or two at the end to make the cheese all melty and brown. Enjoy!


Holy Guacamole!

Sorry for the horrible pun/cliche – I couldn’t resist. Fitting, I suppose, as I also have a relatively new lack of resistance to a bowl of freshly made guacamole sitting before me. This has not always been the case. Not too long ago I used to loathe avocados – something about their bland taste and thick texture turned me off. Honestly they reminded me of another of my least favorite foods in both taste and texture – hard boiled eggs. So much so, in fact, I often contemplate experimenting with recipes that utilize eggs (like ice cream, for instance) and replacing them with avocados. Hmmm, I think I need to add that to the to-do list…

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Pinpointing when my feelings for avocados changed is near impossible, but I know guacamole stands at that pivotal moment. Prior to that time, avocados bored me because I found them to be fairly tasteless, even when transformed into guacamole. Somewhere in my food journey, however, I discovered a guacamole bursting with flavor. Holy guacamole! How could that pasty, uninspired avocado morph into something so dang delicious? Suddenly justifying my hatred toward avocados became downright difficult. I realized all they really needed was a little help from their friends, and I set out to perfect homemade guacamole. Pulling inspiration from several different Food Network stars and my personal proclivity for Mexican flavors, I built guacamole after guacamole until I stumbled upon my ultimate favorite combination of ingredients and seasonings. Now, I can get behind avocados, though I struggle with not consuming an entire bowl of guacamole. (And on a related note, I’ve also learned how to enjoy a hard boiled egg – deviled eggs solved that problem! I wonder about deviled avocados…)


  • 3 large, ripe Hass avocados
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 tomato, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, diced*
  • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 5 dashes hot sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Cut the avocados in half. Remove the pits by using a sharp knife to hack into the pit. Once the knife is securely fastened within the pit, turn the pit using the handle of the knife and pop the pit out. (To help slow the process of browning, save one of the pits and return it to the finished guacamole.) Scoop the meat of the avocado out with a spoon into a medium sized mixing bowl. Add the juice of one lime and mix with a fork, making sure to mash up the avocado as you stir. The lime juice not only enhances the flavor of the guacamole but also helps to slow oxidation. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. I like my guacamole on the salty side and never measure, but I would estimate I typically add 1-2 teaspoons of kosher salt, maybe a bit more. I recommend salting a little at a time and tasting your guacamole at each step – more salt can always be added if needed, but if you over salt, there’s little to be done to correct that situation. Return the pit to the mixture, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and allow the guacamole to sit at room temperature for 2-3 hours so the flavors get the chance to mingle about a little better. Serve with your favorite brand of tortilla chips and enjoy! Just try not to eat the whole bowl.

* Depending on your desired level of spice, include some or all of the jalapeno ribs and seeds when dicing. Usually I cut the jalapeno into four, leaving the ribs and seeds in only one of the quarters.


It’s Sweet! It’s Salty! It’s (Another) Ice Cream!

I know, I know. Another post about ice cream. Don’t worry, they won’t all be ice cream-centric, but if you read my first ice cream related blog, The Ice Cream Blogs Are Made Of, you probably pieced together quickly that I like ice cream. A lot. Really, who doesn’t? A dish or cone of ice cream satisfies my sweet tooth afternoon, evening, or night all year long – even in the dead cold of winter. I’ve tasted many different types of ice cream from scoop shops, fast food joints, and grocery store freezers. My all-time favorites include Haagen Dazs’ Pralines & Cream, Ben & Jerry’s Coconut Seven Layer Bar, Grand Ole Creamery’s Heath Bar, and Coldstone Creamery’s Cookie Doughn’t You Want Some. Frankly I’m surprised I’m not 400 pounds. Inspired by my ice cream shop favorites, I aimed to recreate some flavors at home. As already blogged, I recently produced my own interpretation of Heath Bar Ice Cream to great success. Before Heath Bar, though, there was Salted Caramel Ice Cream – one of the greatest treats featuring that amazing combination of sweet mixed with salty.

I encountered my first salted caramel ice cream at one of Sebastian Joe’s Ice Cream parlors in Minneapolis. The flavor hit me square in the mouth, surprising me in the best possible way. Immediately hooked on this new taste sensation, I got home and searched online for recipes and stumbled upon quite a few. I decided to give Andrea Albin’s highly-rated one at Epicurious.com a whirl even though the directions appeared somewhat above my amateur ice cream making skills. Turning granulated sugar into caramel? I wasn’t too sure about making that happen, but realized I needed to be game in order to replicate salted caramel ice cream. Tempering eggs, too? That I couldn’t bring myself to attempt. At least not quite yet. I soldiered on without the eggs, hoping the omission would not compromise the flavor and to my delight the recipe alteration worked. Rather splendidly, I might add.

Never content to stick to the status quo, I yearned to try my hand at other recipes I could find. As a fan of Food Network’s ‘Barefoot Contessa,’ I found a salted caramel ice cream recipe by Ina Garten and knew I needed to attempt her version. Since I mastered tempering eggs by the time I found her recipe, I enthusiastically went to work creating Ina’s salted caramel ice cream. (I guess ‘mastered’ may be a bit strong – perhaps the best way to describe my egg tempering ability was competent.) Anyhoo, I expected the outcome to be just as good or better than the earlier effort. I mean, the recipe is Ina Garten’s after all! Sadly I experienced no such luck. I either read her recipe and instructions wrong or the sum of the parts just failed to add up to their whole. Many of the procedures were identical to Albin’s recipe; however, Ina’s recipe called for nearly twice as much sugar. This produced an ice cream that while tasted sweet and salty never quite froze completely. The consistency more closely resembled a thick, syrupy goop. Not the best ice cream. I realize the blame fell on the increased sugar content and not the egg yolks, but because the earlier success altering Albin’s recipe skipped eggs, I returned to that recipe. After tinkering with the successful recipe a little, I arrived at the recipe I now use. Perhaps in the future I will be inspired to try adding eggs again, perhaps not. Why mess with an ice cream that tastes SO good! It’s sweet! It’s salty! It’s Salted Caramel Ice Cream!

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1  1/4 cups sugar
  • 1  1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt (like Maldon), though kosher salt works, too
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a heavy-bottom skillet (I use a 12″ stainless steel skillet), heat 1 cup of sugar over medium heat. Stir with a fork so the sugar heats evenly. As soon as melting begins, stop stirring with the fork. Using the handle of the pan, swirl the caramel occasionally to ensure the sugar continues to melt evenly. When the caramelized sugar turns a dark amber color, carefully pour in 2 cups of heavy cream and stir with a wire whisk. Adding the cream will cause the sugar to bubble, splatter, and seize up. The first time I made I made this ice cream, I thought I had done something wrong because the recipe from epicurious.com explained nothing in regards to the seizing of the caramel. Just continue to whisk until the hardened caramel dissolves. See images below for visualization of this process.

Once the liquid is homogeneous, remove from heat and pour into a heat-proof bowl. Stir in the sea salt and vanilla extract. Set aside. Meanwhile, combine the whole milk and the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Allow caramel to cool 5-10 minutes before mixing in the whole milk/sugar. I then transfer the ice cream base to another bowl, pouring the mixture through a fine mesh sifter to remove any hard chunks of caramel that simply refused to dissolve. Place in the refrigerator over night to cool completely before freezing.

The next day, pour the ice cream base into your maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you prefer ice cream with soft-serve consistency, enjoy immediately upon completion of churning process. If you like a firmer consistency, store in the freezer for a few hours or overnight. Trust me, the final product is worth the wait.


Swirl the melting sugar in the skillet until it turns dark amber in color.
When you add the heavy cream to the melted sugar, the caramel will seize up.
Whisk the caramel and cream together – the cream will bubble and splatter.
Continue whisking the caramel/cream mixture until the hardened caramel (that’s stuck to the whisk) dissolves completely.

The Ice Cream Blogs Are Made Of

In my very first post, I alluded to the homemade ice cream that transformed me from a wanna-be blogger to an actual one. And though my culinary adventures began much longer ago than I like to admit, this recent experiment produced the best ice cream I have created to date. I knew sharing my success must happen. Thus my blog was born.

The path to making this ice cream truly sprouted a couple years ago when a good friend of mine invited me over for dinner. Having developed a number of food allergies over the years, she was forced to create an arsenal of homemade goodies free of the offensive allergens. Armed with a CuisinArt ice cream maker, she once again could enjoy the tasty treat. On that fateful evening a couple summers ago, I tasted my first homemade Mocha Chocolate Chip ice cream. I instantly established a new obsession for homemade ice cream. Imagine the possibilities! I waited – patiently, I might add – until Christmas 2010 for my very own CuisinArt ice cream maker. Thank you, Santa!

From that point onward my experiments with ice cream began. At first I strictly stuck to the easy recipes provided in the ice cream maker’s instruction manual. You cannot get much simpler than equal parts whole milk and cream, a little sugar, and a scant teaspoon of vanilla extract. Stir the ingredients together and freeze in the CuisinArt. Voila – you have homemade ice cream! I ended up making simple versions of  vanilla, banana, chocolate, and coffee flavors during the first few months of ice cream making. I even made a great salted caramel ice cream (a mouth-watering recipe I intend to share in the future).

While those recipes produced adequate results, I wanted a better quality product – one that more closely resembled the high quality treats you find in premium ice cream parlors. You know the kind – thick and creamy, frozen hard without the ice crystals that form in the quick recipes. Then, at the suggestion of my partner, I decided to give the premium recipe in the instruction booklet for vanilla bean ice cream a try. I previously avoided these recipes because they called for a larger time commitment and required more intensive steps. They included egg yolks and added the daunting task of tempering, heating, and allowing time for the ice cream base to cool. Now to be completely honest, the tempering of the yolks scared me at first. I did not want to make scrambled egg ice cream, but following the recipe closely proved to be less difficult than I had imagined. And I found what I was looking for – the resulting vanilla bean ice cream matched the desired consistency and quality I desired.

Since the discovery that the addition of egg yolks produced the premium quality ice cream I enjoyed so much, I concocted a couple great recipes and also a less-than-stellar salted caramel that failed to match the greatness of the version without egg yolks. A successful experiment in creating an amazing cinnamon ice cream convinced me future ice creams (except salted caramel) will follow the premium recipe, tempering and all. But what to make next? One of my all-time favorite flavors happens to be the Heath ice cream you can occasionally find at Grand Ole Creamery in St. Paul, Minnesota. More than just vanilla speckled with crushed Heath bars, Grand Ole Creamery’s Heath masterpiece tastes like toffee ice cream with Heath bars. I decided to attempt the replication of this favorite flavor. The results were beyond even my  recently hightened expectations. The Heath ice cream I created transported me back to Grand Ole Creamery, becoming my favorite homemade ice cream yet and the ice cream this blog is made of.


Heath Ice Cream

  • 2 cups heavy cream*
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk*
  • 1/2 cup Heath toffee bits, without chocolate (available at Target near the chocolate chips)
  • 4 egg yolks*
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar*
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract*
  • 3 Heath candy bars, crushed

In a medium sauce pan, mix together the heavy cream, milk, and Heath toffee bits. Heat over medium heat until the mixture begins to bubble. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for approximately 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove pan from heat.

Side note: The toffee bits will dissolve in the heated milk mixture leaving behind small chunks of almond…not to worry, though – we’ll deal with that pesky almond shrapnel later.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks and sugar with a hand mixer for 2 minutes on medium speed. The yolks will turn pale yellow. Transfer half of the heated liquid to a container which will allow you to easily (and slowly) pour the heated liquid into the egg yolks and sugar. This tempering must be done in a slow, steady stream WHILE the hand mixer is running to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Scrambled egg yolks do not a good ice cream make. Now, I know this step seems scary for egg-tempering virgins. Heck, I was nervous the first time I tried it, but believe me when I say tempering is easier than you think and adding egg yolks is essential for thick, creamy ice cream. Also, confidence is key – you can do it!

Once you’ve finished mixing the separated milk/cream/toffee to the egg yolks and sugar, add the now tempered egg cream back to the sauce pan with the remaining milk/cream/toffee mixture. Return pan to heat  (back to medium), stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. This can take 3-5 minutes. You will see and feel the liquid thickening while stirring, and when you can drag your finger across the back of the spoon, leaving a clean path with no bleeding liquid, your ice cream mix is ready. Pour into a bowl through a mesh strainer (good-bye almond shrapnel), stir in the teaspoon of vanilla, and cover with plastic wrap. (Make sure the plastic wrap is pressed down into the bowl and touching the custard to prevent a film from forming.) Place in the refrigerator overnight to get nice and cold.

The next day, pour the ice cream into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions, adding the crushed Heath bars during the last five minutes of churning. For soft-serve consistency, enjoy immediately upon finishing. If you’re like me and like your ice cream a little more, for lack of a better word, hard, store in the freezer for a few hours. Just an FYI – because of the extra sugar from the toffee, I did notice that this ice cream does not harden completely, so don’t be surprised if it retains some of its soft-serve attributes.


* In my opinion, these five ingredients form the ideal base for most ice creams…at least as of today.