Getting My Groove Back

Ok, after a couple more weeks of emotional upheaval, I’m finally getting my groove back.  I went for a run this morning, did some yard work, and ran some errands with my favorite National Guardsman that will be leaving me in another week and a half for a 3 week school in the north east.  I’m expecting the next few months to be a roller coaster ride to say the least, but I am at least trying to stick with the diet basics and lose that last 5 elusive pounds since the vacation.  I made a small bit of progress again this last week, and I’m hoping to keep it going.

We also had a couple of real winners in the new recipe department that E.J. really wants me to share, so here you go:

  • Pressure Cooker Ropa Vieja – normally I struggle to enjoy roasts.  I’m not sure why, but I just don’t love them the way EJ and my mom do.  But this one is absolutely AWESOME.  I actually used the alternate slow cooker method instead of the InstantPot, but the meat was tender and the sauce was phenomenal.  This could easily have been something from a fancy Cuban restaurant and will definitely be going on the favorites list.  I paired it with tostones (fried plantains) and guacamole
  • Cajun Salmon with Strawberry Salsa – I had been looking for a savory recipe to use some of the incredibly fragrant strawberries that we’ve been getting in the stores this season.  This was a total winner and I plan to make it again.
  • Sweet Potato Seafood Chowder – although the heavy sweet potato content means lots of carbs, this was a very tasty version of the classic soup.  I practically doubled the seafood that it calls for, just because I like a chunkier chowder, and would highly recommend it.

Hope you all are enjoying the summer!

Summer Fare

Hey guys, I don’t know if the rest of the country is feeling it, but we’ve had a steady run of highs in the mid to upper 90’s down here in Houston since E.J. and I returned from vacation.  I’m not generally a fan of the heat – my idea for surviving June-September is simply moving between A/C and the pool, but warmer temperatures do mean it’s time for grilled meats and fresh summer produce.  The strawberries we’re getting in the stores this year are amazing, and I’m looking for new ways to incorporate fresh fruits and veggies into some lighter dishes.

Here are some of the summery dishes we’ve really enjoyed recently:

  • Sweet Potato Salad – this one has been on my Favorites page for awhile, but it continues to be a crowd pleaser.  I broke this out for EJ’s National Guard leaders when they came over one evening during their Annual Training and they all loved it.
  • Asparagus Basil Salad – As a Whole30 compliant side dish, this one is amazing.  I served it as a side for Prociutto wrapped Cod.  The dijon mustard and spices blend well with the avocado and tomatoes, and I’m sure this will be making several more appearances this summer.
  • Coconut Lime Chicken – I used the Instant Pot method for this recipe and was pleasantly surprised… the flavors are a bit different than what I’m used to, but with enough salt to balance the sour and spicy, it’s really, really good.  I will definitely make this again.
  • Spinach and Strawberry Salad – I’ve been making this one for awhile, and it’s a great use of those fresh strawberries I mentioned. I like to top it with pecan or walnut oil and a blueberry or date balsamic vinegar.

Enjoy!

Better now.

Ok, last week’s post was definitely borne of sheer frustration, but like all things – patience pays dividends.  I stuck with the plan – Whole30-focused meals with an emphasis on portion size.  This seems to be the magic combination for me.  I’m down 7 of the 12 lbs I gained on the trip, so I just need to keep on keepin’ on.  For me, the quantity of food is every bit as much a challenge to my weight goals as the quality, and I know I’m doing it right when I’m starting to get hungry about an hour before each meal.  It’s not exactly the most pleasant hour, but I’ve borrowed one of E.J.’s tricks and have a cup of coffee or a glass of lemon water during those hours to calm the hunger pangs.

E.J. posted this morning on the variations on the Paleo diet that he’s experimented with.  What I discovered is that while Keto may work well for some folks, my body does not do well with cheese & other dairy products, even when lactose free.  I get really bad swelling, terribly painful constipation, and honestly I have a harder time eating proper portions because I really love the taste of cheese with meat.  Paleo/Whole30 focus on veggies and healthier root vegetables works better for my digestive system, and as long as I cut out the dairy, my rings and clothes fit so much better.  Fortunately E.J. and I are able to agree on a strategy, and so far it’s paying off for both of us.

Since I know many of you are following me for some new recipes, here is a new one I’ve stumbled into recently:

Easy Paleo Pecan Crusted Salmon – This one is super simple to put together and can easily be made into a one-pan dish by adding asparagus, broccoli, or another veggie to the pan, drizzled in oil and sprinkled with spices for a healthy roasted side.

Now that we’re back into the swing of things, I’m hoping to try a few more new recipes this week and I’ll be sure to share the ones that turn out well!

Easter Goodness

I can’t believe spring is already here – well, here in Houston, at least.  I think it was 50 degrees in Dallas today, but a high of 81 here…

Anyway, we had a lovely Easter break, complete with some relaxation with a fishing trip out in Galveston Bay on Friday, and a good old fashioned fish fry on Saturday.  If you’ve ever wanted to try some paleo fried fish, we’ve pretty much decided the perfect recipe is a half & half mix of cassava and almond flour, dredged in egg (or not, still works), and served with this tartar sauce.  We managed to catch some black drum fish during this trip, so I also made some of the pecan butter sauce from this recipe to top the fish, and it was fantastic.

Then of course, we shared an Easter meal with our friends and family on Sunday, which is another opportunity to try out some new recipes (and feature some old ones).  Fortunately, Easter is a little easier than some of the winter holidays since we’ve all pretty much settled on ham as the main course (and I can serve it cold).

Here are the rest of the dishes we served for the big meal:

  • Green Bean Casserole 2 – This is the most recent paleo version of the classic recipe I’ve used, and this time I took even more shortcuts by skipping the blending step on the mushroom soup and just sauteeing the bacon and onions without the messy battering and frying.  Fortunately it still got rave reviews even with my cut corners
  • Creamed Spinach – I used this recipe as a starting point, and subbed out the regular flour with a smaller amount of coconut flour for a keto-friendly side dish with tons of flavor.
  • Sausage Cream Cheese Dip Mushrooms – Ok, this dish was just heavenly.  I’m a big fan of stuffed mushrooms any way I can get them, but this cheesy version is just out of this world.  I used coconut flour (small amount) as a sub for panko to keep it keto, but I think you could use almond flour or crushed pork rinds also.  I’m adding this one to the favorites list.
  • Cheddar Garlic Biscuits – this one is still awesome.  We discovered it several weeks ago when we made these to go with a lobster dinner with friends.  Total new favorite – so easy to make and so delicious
  • Paleo Lemon Tart – OMG, this one is amazing.  It has quite a bit of honey in it, so it’s definitely a “special occasion” sort of dessert, but is quite pretty and got 2 thumbs up by everyone who tried it.

We rounded out the meal with deviled eggs and a paleo sweet potato casserole provided by my friend Anita, and enjoyed every bite.  It’s funny – now that I’ve gotten used to paleo/keto cooking, I really don’t miss the old favorites anymore.  There’s no doubt that it’s easier to whip together the old Campbell’s green beans and some sugary desserts, but everything that was served had so much flavor, I just can’t see myself ever going back.

The danger here, of course was still in quantities on my plate and the glasses of wine I managed to enjoy throughout the weekend, but all in all I came out ok.  I got my workout in this morning (Monday) and plan to get in 3 full running sessions this week and watch my carbs more closely to compensate.

New Keto Favorites

This Keto cooking is a whole different animal from Paleo… but I’m starting to get the hang of it.  The trickiest part for us is lactose intolerance.  While I LOVE cheese, and am really enjoying it in abundance on this run of keto, I’m having to be very careful to make sure I’m using lactose free dairy wherever possible to avoid swelling and abdominal discomfort for both E.J. and I.  The good news is that most aged cheeses are naturally lactose free, and our local Sprouts store carries lactose free cream cheese, sour cream, and half & half (which I use instead of cream in recipes).

The other oddity with keto is the allowance of some processed food items like condensed soups as bases for casseroles and sauces.  After more than 2 years avoiding these items, I just can’t bring myself to go completely back to the dark side, so I’m making my own cream sauces and thickening with xanthan gum.

That being said, I have made a few dishes lately which really are pretty awesome that I’d love to share:

Crock Pot Bacon Mushroom Chicken – This one is actually pretty simple if you simply stick with the condensed soup that it calls for.  I made my own with half & half, chicken broth, spices, and xanthan gum, and finished in a casserole dish in the oven instead of the crock pot, just because I was doing a double-batch and wanted to make sure there was plenty of cheese and bacon on each breast.  E.J. and I both really liked the flavors in this dish, especially since I used gruyere cheese instead of a basic Swiss.

Low Carb Hamburger Buns – With last week’s pizza crust success, I ended up extending my “fat head” dough experience and made these buns to go along with some beef patties on the grill crowned with bacon and a fried egg.  We enjoyed it so much, we had it twice.

Low Carb Bagel Dogs – This was another similar version of the keto dough, this time wrapped around sausages…. we had this for lunch today and it was amazing.  Being from Texas, I can say I missed my kolache fix, and this dough opens up all kinds of possibilities again.

Keto Cinnamon Swirl Bread – Though keto generally tries to steer you away from sweets, they do allow for them if you use sugar substitutes that don’t spike your blood glucose.  I admit right off that none of these substitutes are as delicious as raw honey or maple syrup, but so far I’m finding that powdered Swerve (erythritol) is the least offensive when it comes to aftertaste.  This recipe uses liquid stevia in the dough, which isn’t too bad once you get used to it, but is not so great when you still remember what regular sugars taste like.  After a few days of having slices of this bread, though, I’m finding I really like it and it satisfies the sweet tooth.

Low Carb Peanut Butter Chocolate Bars – When you need a keto treat with minimal effort that curbs the cravings, this recipe delivers.  I used to make a similar dessert for my family when I was younger using graham crackers and powdered sugar.  This one is similar enough that it takes me back to happy places without tanking my ketosis.  Because of my Paleo tendencies, I substituted almond butter for the peanut, and used melted Lily’s dark chocolate chips (sugar free) for the topping (without anything else added).

So far, I’ve seen some minimal weight loss, but I’m feeling it in how my clothes fit, so that makes me happy.  Any diet that allows me to keep losing weight and allows cheese and chocolate can’t be all bad…

Another Keto Detour

The first time I tried shifting from Paleo to Keto, I tried it while E.J. was deployed with the National Guard so I was on my own.  I struggled with energy levels and stomach aches, and it kind of fizzled out after about 2 weeks.  Though, in that 2 weeks, I did lose a couple of pounds.

This time, E.J. is driving the keto bus, and he’s done a lot more research on strategies and supplements to help make it work better. So, today is day 2, and I’m looking forward to enjoying some cheesy goodness, even if I can’t have my beloved honey and maple syrup sweetened treats…

Here are some of the recipes we’ve got on the menu this week:

Green Chicken Enchilada Casserole – E.J. had a craving for enchiladas verdes, one of his favorite mexican dishes, so I made this casserole which brings all of the flavors without the pain of tortilla making and rolling.

Low Carb Quiche Lorraine – this is a favorite from the last keto experiment.  It’s so good that my mom (who does not follow our diet) fell in love with it and asks me to make one for her every other week or so.  I use Jarlsberg Swiss cheese for this recipe and the flavor is outstanding.

Three Cheese and Broccoli Casserole – Mom tried this one last night also and gave it 2 thumbs up.  I added some chopped sausage to the dish to make it hearty enough to stand as an entree, but otherwise kept to the recipe.

E.J. also made a Hungarian stuffed cabbage and sauerkraut dish as well as smoked ribs to round out our weekly meals.

Yesterday for lunch we tried fat head dough for the first time as a pizza crust – and can you say Yum!?  We haven’t had pizza in forever, so E.J. was particularly excited about being able to have a slice now and then again.   This recipe from Ditch The Carbs is the one we used.

Happy Monday, Everyone!

Rocking the Whole30

So here we are, a week and a half left of our 4th whole 30, and still hanging in there.  Last week’s ice storms sent my work life into a tailspin for a few days, and I was really wishing for a glass of alcohol at one point, but otherwise I’m doing ok.  The cold and rainy weather has put a damper on my regular running schedule, but I was able to get out there this morning and complete a 5k before work, which always seems to help not only with the weight loss, but also my general well being.  On the days I run, I feel lighter and more confident, like I’ve already accomplished something, so the rest of the day should be cake.  Of course it doesn’t always work out that way, but it’s a nice start anyway.

Last week, I added a few new favorites to the list – you might have seen E.J. rave about the Butter Chicken and the Spaghetti Squash Jambalaya – both were fairly easy to make and reheated well for lunches and weeknight dinners.   I made the Jambalaya a little too spicy though – I think I’ll cut back on the cayenne and red pepper flakes – I’m sure I went a little overboard from what the recipe called for.  (which is one of my secrets of Paleo cooking btw.  I often double spices in recipes to intensify flavors)

This week, we’re trying these Ground Beef and Plantain Bowls from Real Simple Good.  I’m a big fan of plantains any way I can get them, and certainly appreciated the baking approach rather than the traditional fry method.  I couldn’t settle for just seasoning the meat with chili powder, so I mixed a number of my favorite Penzey’s spices to get some extra dimensions in there – Chili 9000 + Smoked Spanish Paprika + Ancho Chili Powder.  The result was pretty good, though honestly I think I should have put more of everything in there.  Ground beef is just so bland if you don’t spice it heavily enough.  And the green sauce is good, but subtle.  I think maybe it needed a more cilantro, or something to amp up the flavor since the avocado just kind of mellows everything.  All in all, I enjoyed it, but would like to do a little more tweaking to get it to the “awesome” list.

Tonight we’re having Bacon Wrapped Cod with asparagus for dinner… let the jealousy begin… 🙂