Tag Archives: cooking

Paleo Freezer Meals

Prior to starting my January Whole30, I spent a day doing some food prep to stock my fridge and freezer with Whole30 meals to help the month go smoothly.

One of the things I did was prepare some crock pot-ready freezer meals.  In about 1 hour, I had prepared 6 bags to freeze that could be taken out of the freezer later and popped into the crock pot to cook.

I made 3 bags of beef stew and 3 bags of African chicken stew.

You can do this with any recipe that you’d normally cook in the crock pot.  Just prepare all the ingredients and add them to a freezer bag instead of the crock!  After you freeze the bag, make sure to pull it out of the freezer the day before you want to cook it to allow it to thaw.  Dump the bag into the crock pot and BOOM…dinner is made.

My beef stew was made with beef, onions, carrots, sweet potatoes, a can of diced tomatoes, and a mix of spices with garlic, parsley, paprika, thyme, salt and pepper.  Sorry, I’m too much of a freestyler when it comes to things like stews to be able to have a specific recipe!

The African chicken stew was adapted from the recipe in Well Fed 2.  Here’s another blogger’s adaptation that you could use to guide you in making this delicious dish if you don’t have Well Fed 2 (I left out the vanilla for the Whole30).  Just add your raw chicken thighs and onion to the bag.  Mix the crushed tomatoes with all the spices and the sunflower butter and add that in too.  For my bags of this stew I also added cubed sweet potatoes, which I highly recommend.

To make the freezer bag prep lightening fast, put all your bags together assembly line style.  Get all the bags out and add the meat to each one.  Keep the open bags lined up and handy on the counter.  Then chop all the onions at once, adding them to the bags as you go.  Do the same for the sweet potatoes or other common ingredients.  If you’ve got a willing helper, they can do the tasks such as adding the meat to the bags, measuring spices or opening cans while you chop!

A quick and simple way to build up a little “freezer pantry” of bags like this would be to just double up the next time you’re prepping something for the crock pot.  You would make your one batch for the crock pot that day as usual, but as you’re prepping everything, you’d also be making one batch in a bag to freeze for later.

Having these pre-made bags really helped the Whole30 go smoothly.  It was nice to have them handy to pull out each week for a nearly effortless meal!  Don’t be afraid to experiment with different recipes for this…the crock pot is amazingly forgiving!

 

Whole30 – Days 0-10

On January 1 I started a Whole30.  This is actually the first time I’m completing the program, however this really is not too far off from how we eat year-round.

As an added challenge for myself, I decided to photograph and share all of my food intake for the duration of the Whole30.  I want to show a real-life glimpse into eating this way and hopefully give others some inspiration for their own food choices.  Below are all the meals I ate on days 1-10, along with some added information on the recipes used.

“Day 0”

Planning and preparation are key!  I’m calling the whole preparation phase “Day 0”.

A few days prior to starting, I sat down and planned out our meals for the entire month.  I did this via a Google Calendar so I could also see what other things we have going on that impact meals.  I didn’t worry about coming up with 30 distinct dinners, rather I filled the month with stuff that I’ve made before, we enjoy eating, and fits with our busy weekdays.  I also tried to plan meals that would make the most of the freezers we have freshly stocked with beautiful, pastured pork and grass-fed beef.  Keeping it simple!

Also a few days prior to starting I did a big food prep day (with some major assistance from my husband) to stock the freezer with things like pre-cooked meatballs and pre-mixed bags of slowcooker meals.  Within a few hours, I had about 10 meals already stocked in the freezer and ready to go!  I’m going to post separately about how I prepared 6 crockpot bags in 60 minutes which will each feed us for 6 servings.

Heading into the first few days of the Whole30, the fridge and pantry were stocked with everything needed for the first few days of meals.  I made a batch of compliant mayo and some vinaigrette to have quick and easy salad dressings.  The meal plan for the week was posted on the fridge (like always around here).

Day 1

Breakfast: Eggs, spinach, avocado, tomato. Black coffee and banana on the side.  I have black coffee every morning, even though it’s not mentioned.

Lunch: Pork casserole inspired by stuffing. My recipe is here.  Dinner: Meatloaf and broccoli salad with homemade mayo, sunflower seeds, red onion, and raisins.  Snacked on almonds.

Day 2

Repeat of yesterday’s breakfast, leftovers for lunch, fruit and unpictured almonds for snacks, Moroccan chicken stir fry from Everyday Paleo for dinner.

Day 3

Egg salad and an apple with almond butter. Grapefruit I forgot to photograph. Leftover Moroccan stir fry. Chocolate chili and salad. Cashews and grapes.

Day 4

Breakfast – leftover chili. Lunch – egg salad and blueberries. Snack – veggies and homemade ranch. Supper – smoked paprika chicken thighs and sweet potato.

Day 5

Breakfast: salad and leftover chicken thighs. Lunch: egg salad and veggies. Dinner: pork chop, roasted beets, and veggies. Snacks: grapefruit, chia pudding made with coconut milk and banana, macadamia nuts. A very snacky day.

Day 6

This was the first day back to work after vacation. I noticed how being at work made me feel like snacking more throughout the day.

Breakfast: egg salad and veggies and an apple. Lunch: pork chop, beets and a pear. Snacks: almonds and grapes. And finally…dinner brought to you by the letter P: pork, parsnips, and peppers. And salad to combat the beige/brown of the plate.

Day 7

Breakfast: leftover pork and parsnips with unpictured veggies. Lunch: roasted chicken salad with guacamole. Dinner: beef stir fry. Snacks: grapes and spicy sweet potatoes.

Day 8

The day I really started struggling to remember to take the photos during the day at work!

Breakfast: boiled eggs, pear, unpictured snap peas and cucumber (so much tougher to remember these photos for the meals I eat at work). Lunch: leftover beef stir fry and a mandarin. Pre-workout: apple. Dinner: meatballs, sweet potato, carrots and broccoli. Almonds for a snack.

Day 9

Day 9 photos were just not meant to be… Breakfast: leftover meatballs and carrots. Lunch: spinach salad with chicken breast, eggs, tomatoes, and guacamole. Dinner: crockpot beef stew (one of my pre-made bags from the freezer) and roasted cauliflower. Snacks: orange, grapes, macadamia nuts, and a special evening treat of fried plantains.

Day 10

Had much better success with remembering photos today! Breakfast: 4 boiled eggs, a bunch of veg, almond butter on celery. Lunch: leftover beef stew with yams. Snack: blueberries. Dinner: the best chicken wings ever…Eleanor’s Wings from Quick and Easy Paleo Comfort Foods (recipe isn’t online…just go buy the book. It’s worth it, I swear!) Snack: grapefruit and some almonds.

Reflections

Overall I’m feeling GREAT.  As I mentioned, our regular food routine really isn’t too far off of the Whole30 standards, so this is getting us back into the normal swing of things after Christmas indulgences.  Just a few days in I really felt the extra energy kick in!

It’s also been interesting to see how my food habits differed from the days spent at home on vacation versus the days when I returned to work.

One way our regular diet deviates from the Whole 30 is that we usually include white potatoes and white rice for some additional carbohydrate as both of us tolerate these foods well.  I’ve been making a conscious effort to keep our carbohydrate intake up through things like the yams, plantain, parsnips, beets, and fruit.  So far I’ve felt like my performance in the gym has been stronger in all areas with the cleaned up food after Christmas, but that’s to be expected with returning to fueling myself with real food instead of gluten-free cookies.  I am curious to see how I feel in the gym for the remainder of the Whole30.

weekly cooking WOD

One of my favourite ways to stay ahead of the meal planning and prep is to do a big “cooking WOD” on the weekend to stock my fridge with prepared meals and make the week’s cooking go smoother.  I just finished up this week’s cooking WOD (Workout of the Day) and thought I’d share what I made and how I managed to prepare 4 days worth of meals in under 2 hours.

First, the meal plan.

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  • Saturday – beef stir fry (no recipe)
  • Sunday – meat and salad for lunch (no recipe needed), dinner out
  • Monday – smoked paprika chicken thighs, corn on the cob
  • Tuesday – carne asada taco salad, homemade grilled corn salsa (I’m freestyling, but that recipe is similar)
  • Wednesday – buffalo chicken “pasta”
  • Thursday – lazy cabbage rolls (basically just ground beef, cooked rice, diced tomatoes and shredded cabbage in a casserole…perhaps a recipe post in the future)
  • Friday – homemade burgers (Curtis’ special secret bacon jalapeno burger recipe) and sweet potato
  • Saturday – leftover burgers

I took a look at the whole week and what we had going on.  We plan to train Monday through Thursday evenings (after work and before dinner) so I need these dinners to be super fast and simple because we’re usually pretty hungry as soon as we get home.  These are the dinners that I’m preparing for with my cooking WOD.  The dinners are all double servings so they make our lunches for the following day.  This meal plan also had to account for some backlog of veggies from our weekly CSA bag (hence the odd stir fry combo on Saturday, which turned out to be delicious).  After making the meal plan, I did a rough list of what could be done in the cooking WOD.

Once I had that all figured out, I pulled all the meat for the WOD out of the freezer to thaw and did my weekly shopping.  I usually do the planning and shopping on one day, and the cooking WOD on another to spread out the work.  By this morning, all my meat was thawed and the fridge held everything I needed to cook.

3…2…1…GO!

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  • Put spaghetti squash and chicken breasts/thighs in the oven to bake.
  • Make marinade and put steaks in.
  • Start rice in rice cooker.
  • Put eggs on to boil.
  • Shuck and boil corn cobs.
  • Brown ground beef.
  • While beef is browning, chop onion and cabbage.
  • Assemble lazy cabbage rolls and pack into freezable dishes. Label and freeze.
  • Once the squash and chicken are out of the oven, prepare smoked paprika chicken thighs and put them into the oven to bake.
  • Chop onions, jalapenos and tomatoes for corn salsa.
  • Chop and store cooked chicken breasts and thighs, spaghetti squash.
  • Pack and store any finished and cooled items still left out.

It’s tough to make a nice linear list of what I did because there are so many overlapping tasks.  Rather that just standing by the stove watching my beef cook and poking it with a spoon continuously, I’m over at the counter chopping up the next ingredients I need or putting away a cooked item.

Start to finish, that list took me about an hour and 40 minutes to complete.  I still have to grill the carne asada steaks and corn to finish up the prep for those items, but that will only be about 15 minutes more hands-on time later today.

Now thanks to my cooking WOD my weeknight meals are super fast to prepare after we get home from the gym.  Here’s what needs to happen each night to finish off dinner along with my estimate of how long it will take…

  • Monday – grill corn plus steak for Tuesday (10-15 min)
  • Tuesday – slice cooked steak, assemble salads (5 min)
  • Wednesday – reheat chicken and squash, make immersion blender mayo (10 min)
  • Thursday – put thawed casserole in oven and set the timer before leaving for the gym (1 min…I mean, how long does it really take to turn the oven on and put something in??)

Pretty darn quick dinner prep times during our busy weekday nights!

Investing the time on the weekend to plan and prepare for my week ensures that the whole week goes smoother.  It means that we’re fueling ourselves with delicious and healthy foods all week long and not getting stuck in the “I dunno, what do you want for dinner?” trap.   A small time investment on the weekend makes nutritious, real food more convenient than convenience junk food.

It is not even an option for me to not make the time in my week to plan and prepare my meals.  I value my health and fitness enough to make this a valuable way to spend my time.  I hope this has shown you that real food can be quick and simple with a little planning.

Spinach and Cheese Pasta

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with spinach.  Sometimes I find it so tasty and delicious, but in some recipes I want to pick it out of my food.  Baby spinach, however, is a sure bet for sweet, tasty spinach flavour.  This is one recipe where I definitely love the spinach!

This recipe was inspired by Giada De Laurentiis.  I find her dishes relatively easy to build upon and expand because they’re simple and straight-forward.

Here’s what you need:

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I didn’t notice at the time of taking this that not a single one of the ingredient photos for this recipe were clear and sharp.  You need a bag of baby spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, ricotta cheese, cream cheese, garlic, salt and pepper.

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This is the whole bag of spinach.  Remove about 3/4 of the spinach for the sauce.  We’ll get to this soon.

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Set aside about 1/4 of the spinach to wilt and toss with the pasta.

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Put your favourite pasta on to boil.  I usually choose penne for this dish.

While the pasta cooks, make the sauce.  I use my stick blender and the tall canister that came with it to blend everything.

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Take a couple of tablespoons of the sun-dried tomatoes and rinse the off the oil.  Put the tomatoes and about a tablespoon of minced garlic into the blender container.  Add 1 cup of ricotta cheese,  1/2 cup of cream cheese and 3/4 of that bag of baby spinach.  Grind in some black pepper to taste.  Blend until all the spinach is broken down and the mixture is smooth.

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Your finished sauce will be a vibrant green colour and should be the consistency of a thick pasta sauce.

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When the pasta finishes cooking, drain and add to the remaining spinach.  Those baby spinach leaves will wilt with the heat of the pasta.

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Toss the pasta with the spinach and cheese sauce and some kosher salt to taste.  Look at all that spinachy goodness!

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I like to serve this pasta with grilled or baked chicken.  Here we had a pancetta and sage wrapped chicken breast.

This pasta keeps well for left-overs, so I usually make a bigger batch for lunches.

Spinach and Cheese Pasta Sauce

170 gram / 6 ounce bag of baby spinach
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup cream cheese
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes (oil-packed, drained and rinsed)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Black pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste

Reserve 1/4 of spinach to toss with pasta.  Combine remaining spinach, cheeses, tomatoes, garlic and pepper in blender.  Blend until smooth and creamy.  Toss with cooked pasta, reserved spinach and salt to taste.

Good Food Box

Weeks after signing up, my first Good Food Project box was picked up today!  I am thrilled I was able to sign up for this Community Supported Agriculture project.  This is an 8-week program where bins of fresh, local produce are delivered to a central location and available for pickup there by subscribers.

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I could hardly wait to see what was waiting for me inside.  It was seriously feeling like opening a present!

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Oooh, at this point I could see some hints of what was inside.  Can you see that hint of new potatoes?  Everything was in this over sized plastic bag because the veggies had been packed on a bed of ice to keep the fresh through the day.

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Finally I opened up the bag and was immediately pleased to see the beautiful radishes.  I was a slightly displeased to see many of the veggies packed in their own individual bags.  So I started pulling everything out and surveying my produce.

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Here’s the whole box.  There’s a bag of mixed greens, red potatoes, zucchini, green beans, carrots, a head of garlic, a bunch of dill, 3 onions, a bundle of radishes and (what I was fearing) a big bag of beets.

Why was I fearing beets?  Beets are not something I’ve ever cooked with at home, but have cooked with and preserved too many times at work.  There was one week (yes, week) where I spent every day blanching, peeling, cutting and bagging beets from the gardens at work.  Since that week, I’ve tended to avoid beets outside of work.

The beet situation is one that highlights a major reason why I’m so excited for these weekly surprise boxes.  I feel like I’ve fallen into a bit of a cooking rut lately, and having no control over what produce is coming into my kitchen via this box I’m going to have to get creative and use things I’d normally shy away from.  Hopefully this means I’ll have a chance to discover some new wonderful things.  This week, however, is all about rekindling my friendship with the beets.

Speaking of new and unusual things, I arrived at my desk this morning to find a pile of wild hazelnuts waiting for me.  You see, it was only a few weeks ago that I learned that these things even grew around here.  My coworker was walking in the river valley last night, found a large patch of hazelnuts and picked some for me to try.

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Now I’ve got this small pile of fresh, raw hazelnuts waiting patiently in my kitchen to be turned into something wonderful.

Do hazelnuts go with beets???

Mostly Grilled Pizza

Note: before embarking on the adventure of grilled pizza, one should always ensure they have enough propane to last through the entire cooking process.  You’ll likely burn through a fair bit, and if your tank is low, you’ll likely run out mid-cooking.  Just sayin’.

Last night Curtis and I decided to make grilled pizza for supper.  This is the second time that we’ve tried this process and we were hoping to improve on the technique based on lessons learned last time.

Why grill pizza?  Because it’s better than firing up the oven inside during the heat of summer!  The grill also adds a great smoky flavour to the crust that just can’t be achieved in the oven.

While Curtis biked down to the grocery store for toppings, I got started on the dough.  I’ve only ever used one recipe for pizza dough, and I think it’s just perfect.  The recipe comes from the “America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook” and is very simple to make up.  The recipe has only 5 ingredients: flour, instant yeast, salt, olive oil and water.  Does water even count as an ingredient?

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I recently picked up some Sunny Boy flour at the local Safeway.  I was very pleased that it’s both organic and local (milled in Camrose).  Check out how creamy and natural-looking this flour is.

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This is the flour, salt and yeast hanging out in the bowl together.  The Sunny Boy flour looked, smelled, felt, and worked up differently than a regular white flour.  In short, it was wonderful to work with.

But back to the pizza…..while the dough was rising, I prepped the toppings.

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The dough recipe makes enough for 3 10-12″ pizzas so we made a fresh tomato and basil with basil from my container garden, a hawaiian with grilled pineapple, and a barbecue chicken with some leftover chicken breast.  If you’ve never grilled pineapple before, I encourage you to try.  It caramelizes and becomes extra sweet, while the tangy and tart flavours are tamed.

For this to work, you want to preheat the barbecue to a smokin’ hot temperature.  Somewhere around the face-melting level (500 degrees F).

Stretch out your dough to a fairly thin crust and brush one side with olive oil.  You’ll notice Curtis is doing this on the back of a cookie sheet.  This high-tech device is essential to grilled pizza success, as you’ll soon see.

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Once you have one side of the pizza well-coated in olive oil, put the dough on the grill with the oiled side down.  At this point, it’s easiest to just pick up the dough and flip it on to the grill.

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Now close the lid and let the dough “bake” for about 3-6 minutes.  You can peek.  In fact, I encourage some peeking to avoid charred crust.

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This is what the crust will look like after a few minutes on the grill.  At this point, pull the crust off, place it on the back of your cookie sheet, and close the grill lid to keep it hot.

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Now you want to put your toppings onto the already grilled side of the crust.  As you can see here, we ended up with a little bit of charred crust because I made Curtis wait an extra minute so I could get my camera which I left inside.  Also, Curtis didn’t peek at the grilling crust.

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Load up that crust with all the toppings you want.  Keep in mind that you don’t want a terribly heavy load of toppings, as the crust is on the thin side.  Once you have all your toppings on, open the grill and slide the pizza back on to the grill.pizza  011

Close the lid and let it cook for another 3-5 minutes, just long enough to toast the bottom of the crust and heat the toppings.  When you declare it done, pull it off the grill using your cookie sheet.

The tomato and basil pizza had come off the grill and the second crust had just gone on when Curtis came back into the house and informed me that he had run out of propane.  We had to quickly throw the pizza stone into the oven and switch cooking methods for the last two pizzas.

When all was said and done, we dug into a delicious meal of the tomato and basil pizza…..

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…..Hawaiian with grilled pineapple and fresh oregano from the garden…..

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…..and barbecue chicken with caramelized onions.

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Even though the grilling didn’t quite work out for us this time, the upside is that next time we’ll be grilling with a full tank of propane!

We also got to taste the grilled and baked crusts side-by-side to compare the two methods.  The grill provides a crisper, smokier crust, but the crust is not always evenly browned/charred (as seen in our first crust above).  The pizza baked on the stone had an evenly brown crust that was slightly chewier, due to the slower baking.  Thanks to a great dough recipe and yummy toppings, it was all delicious!

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monkey bread

I’m on vacation!  I just started a much-needed 2 week vacation from work and have already plowed through a few todo’s on the list.

I knew that I wanted to do a fair bit of cooking and baking during my vacation.  I don’t always have the motivation to do so during the work week.

First up – monkey bread! I remember having this when I was a kid (my mom also made a wicked garlicy version).  I know the basics of the recipe, but I was curious if people are using a dough other than a basic bread dough.

My search lead me to Michael Smith/Chef at Home’s version.  His dough calls for brown sugar and vanilla right in the dough.  Madness, I say!  But I knew I had to give it a try, as Michael Smith has never lead me astray.  I decided to simply follow his recipe this time around.

I didn’t bring my camera into the kitchen until most of the messy work was done.

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All the little doughy morsels have been rolled, dipped in butter, coated in the sugar/cinnamon mixture, packed into the springform pan and risen as directed.

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Am I the only one who likes to watch things bake through the foggy oven window?  The smell of cinnamon filled the house at this point and was making me very hungry!

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After a couple of minutes in the oven (right after I finished trying to take photos through the oven door) I realized that this could make for a messy oven.  I put a baking sheet under my monkey bread.  Good thing – two balls and a some goo made their way out of the pan.

The monkey bread cooled for a few minutes on the counter.  Then spurred by an impatient Curtis, we de-panned and dug in.

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Passable lunch for vacation, no?

This was Curtis’ first monkey bread experience.  His review: “This is the best thing since…EVER!”

Next time – garlic and herb monkey bread!