A Weekend Away

Usually I only have to worry about food for myself when we go away for the weekend, but thanks to this year’s Whole30, we spent an entire day prepping food for both of us before heading out of town to visit family. I know I’ve written about traveling with freezer meals before, but I always love sharing recipes that are easy to make, and freeze/travel well. I’m sure it makes me a little selfish, but it was nice to have someone else that could only eat food brought from home for a change. I’m sure it was extra difficult for my hubby, since he doesn’t usually have to restrict himself so much.

Trying to keep things simple, we chose three meals to make in larger quantities. This ensured we had enough food for our planned three days away. We also decided we’d stop at Chipotle on our drive home, so we wouldn’t need to worry about reheating food. That meant cooking and freezing each of these so all of our meals were set!

The first thing we got cooking was Chicken Masala. Trying to minimize our efforts, we chose this since it’s a crock-pot meal and always turns out perfect.

 

 

  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons curry
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala (usually in the international aisle of the grocery store)
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 (15 ounce) cans coconut milk, unsweetened
  • 5 large chicken breasts, boneless & skinless
  • 1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes (no sugar added)
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste (no sugar added)
  • Fresh cilantro for garnish
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Best part of crock-pot recipes, getting to throw all the ingredients in and leave it alone!

After getting that going, we riced a head of cauliflower to go along with the chicken. It was only enough for two servings, but there was plenty of chicken for at least six meals!

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Finished product….Chicken Masala

Our next major task was to get the chili going. This recipe was one we found a while ago, and loved it so much that it’s now a regular in our menu.

Sweet Potato Chili

  • 2 lbs lean ground beef
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 1 large can (29.5 oz) tomato sauce
  • 1 small can (15 oz) fire roasted petite diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 5 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • Dash oregano
  • Dash red pepper flakes
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Cooking the beef and onions before adding the remaining ingredients

In a large pot, brown the beef, onions, and garlic. Drain the fat when browned. Add remaining ingredients to pot, mixing well before bringing to a boil. Simmer for 30-40 minutes. By the way, that little green thing in the pot below actually belongs there! It holds the bay leaves, so you can easily pull them out of the pot when it’s cooked.

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Simmering the pot of chili

While the chili was simmering, we started chopping up sweet and red potatoes for our usual morning side dish. Along with eggs, we start every morning with sauteed potatoes. My go-to spices are chili powder, turmeric, smoked paprika, and a little salt and pepper to taste.

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Looks tasty, right?!

Branching out to something new, our final task was to take on Stuffed Acorn Squash. This was a completely new recipe for us, and thanks to the ease of the crock-pot chicken and simmering chili, most of our efforts were focused on this.

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Acorn squash, ready to be frozen for the trip

We really lucked out with the temperatures for this trip too! Go figure, we managed to see the coldest temperatures I’ve ever seen while we were up in New York that weekend…all the way down to -20°F!!! Thankfully, that meant we could leave the cooler in the car and not worry about anything thawing too quickly. As we bounced around visiting everyone, all we had to do was bring in the cooler to start defrosting and cooking our next meal 🙂

 

Kitchen Confessions

We all have that one go-to source when it comes to the kitchen. A lot of my recipes and inspiration come from Pinterest, but there’s one source I just can’t live without! Years ago, I can’t even remember when, my mom bought my sister and I the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. Seriously. I don’t often use actual recipes from the book, but the reference and cooking basics it includes are invaluable. Each section in the binder style book includes cooking references based on the section (fish, poultry, meat, vegetables, etc). I can look up whatever we’re making for dinner, and get the oven temperature and cooking time needed for just about everything! Even if I already know approximations, this gives me the comfort that I’m doing it right. I know, I know, Google is faster, but there’s something so comforting about knowing just where I can find the information.

The other night, I stumbled into the easiest recipe I never knew existed. We were making a tomato soup with chicken, but I wasn’t willing to wait the time required to slow cook the soup (recipe loosely followed from here). We’d just gone grocery shopping, and hunger was hitting hard. I quickly threw together all of the ingredients, except for the chicken, and went to my trusty cookbook to see what options I had. Flipping to the poultry section, I realized I could broil chicken breasts in a casserole dish, giving the soup plenty of time to simmer. I covered the chicken with olive oil, salt, and pepper, cooking it for a total of 30 minutes (flipping halfway through). As I took the chicken out to chop, I was surprised by how much moisture it had retained. Why had I never done this before?

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Our finished chicken tomato soup

Using this new found way to cook our chicken, I gave it another shot last night. This time, I opted for more spices to dress it up, including smoked paprika and a barbecue rub from Salt Lick BBQ in Austin, TX. For our sides, I roasted broccoli with salt and pepper, and mashed potatoes with ranch seasonings. I have to say, this is one of the most “normal” and delicious meals we’ve had since starting the whole30 this year. Take a look for yourself 🙂

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Broiled chicken, broccoli, and mashed potatoes

What’s your kitchen confession?

Note – we were using thicker (2 – 3 inch thick) boneless skinless chicken breast. 15 minutes per side may be too long for thinner cuts.

Super Bowl Recap

What were we thinking?! For the second year in a row, we’ve been on Whole30 during the Super Bowl. Shockingly, it’s turned out well both years. If the Steelers had been in the game (or Giants for hubby), I think all bets would have been off. Wanting to still make the day fun and full of great food, I scoured Pinterest for new ideas. Putting together the grocery list once we had our snack recipes was pretty simple, and because we weren’t buying the typical Super Bowl snacks, we had no issues buying everything the day before.

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Our Super Bowl Spread

Without further ado, here was our menu:

  • Bacon Wrapped Butternut Squash
  • Homemade Sweet Potato Chips and Guacamole
  • Bacon and Sweet Potato Jalapeño Boats
  • Buffalo Ranch Stuffed Peppers

Bacon Wrapped Butternut Squash

I can’t stress how incredible this appetizer was, and on top of that, it was easy to prepare too! The only thing that took up time was getting the squash peeled and cubed. With only a handful of ingredients (bacon, butternut squash, olive oil, chili powder, garlic powder, and salt) it was a simple yet incredibly delicious course. I will say, they flipped much easier with the bacon sealed on the bottom…so don’t take that step lightly!

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Bacon Wrapped Squash…finished and ready to devour!

Homemade Sweet Potato Chips and Guacamole

Unfortunately, I don’t really have a recipe for this one; however, I will say it’s made much easier by a couple clutch Pampered Chef tools. A couple years ago, a Pampered Chef consultant hosted a party for my Team in Training race team, with proceeds benefiting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I stocked up on a few unique tools, and have used them more times than I can count! We make our sweet potato chips by slicing the potatoes using the Simple Slicer and baking them with the Microwave Chip Maker….seriously, that’s all it takes. The slicer has multiple thickness settings, so you can make them as thin or thick as you’d like, and the chip maker quickly turns them into the perfect crispy snack.

For the guacamole, I don’t have a recipe either…it’s just the following ingredients chopped and mixed together until you get the texture you want:

  • 2-3 avocados
  • 2 vine ripe tomatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
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Guacamole…the chips didn’t last long enough for a picture!!

Bacon and Sweet Potato Jalapeño Boats

True confession…we found this recipe last year during our first Whole30. Turns out, it’s a HUGE hit with everyone on or off the Whole30. These have made appearances at Easter, The Walking Dead premier, New Years, and pretty much any other time that called for a great appetizer.

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A couple quick variations we’ve made along the way are only loosely scooping out the seeds (can’t help it…we like things spicy), and cooking the bacon first and setting it aside. This will keep it crispy, rather than leaving it in the pan while the sweet potato cooks. Trust me, it makes a difference!

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work in progress…see the seeds we left behind, and the bacon on the side

Buffalo Ranch Stuffed Peppers

The last recipe, and main dish for our Super Bowl Sunday, was this fun new recipe. It’s no substitute for hot wings, but was a great way to get that buffalo taste for the game. All of the recipes we picked were as simple as possible, but really packed a punch of flavor. We tried to minimize clean-up, and spread it out leading up to the game…that way we didn’t have to miss a moment!

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cooked chicken and onions to stuff the peppers

Learning all of the spices that go into a ranch flavor from this recipe was great…I’ve since been dressing up other veggies on regular week nights to have that ranch flavor while still sticking to Whole30.

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adding the cubed chicken to the buffalo sauce mixture

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finished product! seriously so great!

Hopefully we’re the only crazy people that do this to ourselves during such a big event, but if we’re not…hopefully these will help you plan for a Whole30 safe party!

Dining In

Very few diet plans or cleanses can truly get you excited for what you’ll be eating next…but Whole 30 never ceases to amaze me. I think it’s the lack of simple sauces or dressings we can grab from the fridge, or that we can’t make our typical easy fix meals, that get us to really think outside the box. Each time Hubby and I do another Whole 30 challenge, we get adventurous at the grocery store. Anything from the lollipop lamb chop recipe we found last year to the simple veal we had the other night. Dinner every night this week has felt like a gourmet meal out. Here are our highlights!

First off, a few tips in tracking down the right recipe. I usually start with Pinterest, and searching on major ingredients I know we have. Disclaimer, I don’t always measure, or freak out if we don’t have every ingredient on hand. Cooking isn’t always a precision science, and with a working family, you can’t make everything perfect! When something looks good, we just go for it 🙂

Dinner Day 2 – Veal and Veggies

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This was a ridiculously simple dinner! All the veal needed was olive oil, salt, and pepper. It was pan seared for a little less than two minutes on each side, and we drizzled aged balsamic vinegar on top. The veggies were a blend of eggplant and asparagus, seasoned with Italian spices. Also cooked quickly in a pan, we added tomatoes once the eggplant was soft.

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Dinner Day 3 – Chicken Pad Thai

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Like I said earlier, even if we don’t have every ingredient…that won’t scare me away from a recipe. This one called for sprouts and scallions as well, but who thinks to buy sprouts in advance? And why would I stop myself from making delicious Pad Thai (recipe here) just because we didn’t have the right type of onions?? We made ours work with carrots, mushrooms and a yellow onion…the spaghetti squash made up for the lack in additional veggies.

Dinner Day 4 – Avocado Stuffed Meatballs

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Tonight’s dinner was a nice surprise! I came home and Hubby was already in the kitchen chopping everything for a recipe he’d found for Avocado Stuffed Meatballs. We didn’t have Whole 30 compliant mustard, so we swapped it out for 2 tsp dry ground mustard. While he was getting those ready, I seasoned potato wedges with salt, pepper, onion powder, and smoked paprika. To top it off, we sauteed green beans with salt and pepper.

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Hope these give you some great inspiration…happy cooking!!

The Ghost of Gluten Future

In honor of throwback Thursday, I have a bit of a reflection to share with you. When I first found out I’d have to live gluten free for the rest of my life, I felt like a sponge trying to soak in every piece of information I could find. Gluten free labels were hard to come by, reading strangers blogs became a comfort, and it took hours of reading every label at three different grocery stores just to restock my shelves for the week. Not yet confident in sharing my experiences, I’d spend evenings scrolling through comments on popular gluten free blogs to feel a sense of belonging and camaraderie.  I remember coming across an article about what would your last meal be if you’d known you’d never eat gluten again. One of the comments spoke to me, “the ghost of gluten future.” I am absolutely haunted by the ghost of gluten future! The thought of future delicacies I’ll never be able to try wears on me in ways you can’t imagine. I’ve shared many of my travels on here, and one of the things I’m most proud of is that I’ll try most any dish at least once. I wasn’t always like that, as I child I had a very strict chicken finger diet! I spent an entire week-long family vacation finding every variation of chicken fingers on every menu. I’ve come a long way since those days, and I love seeing the reactions I get when I share some of the most exotic meals I’ve tried around the world, and in my own backyard. What’s the most exotic thing you’ve ever tried? If you could turn back time, was there something you never gave a shot that you now wish you could?

Returning to Italy

If you’ve read the About Me page, you know I found my passion for traveling while living abroad in Italy.  It’s been about eight years since that semester abroad, and I am well overdue to go back.  My husband’s family is Italian, and it’s been a goal of his to see where they’re from.  Naturally I am 110% behind him on this goal, and could not wait to go back to the spark that ignited my love for world travel.  There’s only one thing that’s been lingering in the back of my head…how on earth will I get by in the land of gluten?!

Immediately I have visions of gnocchi, pizza margherita, tiramisu, everything I can no longer indulge.  Here’s the wonderful thing I found out though as our plans begin to come together, not only do Italians have an understanding of celiac disease, but they’re incredibly sympathetic to our needs.  I found dozens of sites and travel reviews referencing the stipend that Italian citizens receive to purchase gluten free foods once they’ve been diagnosed.  Upon stating “senza glutine” restaurant owners will quickly work with you to offer gluten free meals, understanding the importance of washing their hands and paying attention to avoid cross-contamination.

I can’t speak from experience on this, but I’m excited to return and see just how accepting they are of my needs!  I would love to hear from all of my readers to see what your favorite restaurants, sites, etc. are that you consider a “must do” in Italy.  Please share your experiences with me, I love a good recommendation prior to a big trip!!

Want to know what made me fall in love with Italy the first time?  Here goes…

The old world charm of Cinque Terre

The old world charm of Cinque Terre

 

The view of Firenze (Florence) from the Duomo

The view of Firenze (Florence) from the Duomo

 

City lights in Torino (Turin) during the 2006 Winter Olympics

City lights in Torino (Turin) during the 2006 Winter Olympics

 

Eastern-most edge of Italy in Trieste

Eastern-most edge of Italy in Trieste

 

Last, but certainly not least, the view from our dorm room of Mt. Grappa in Paderno del Grappa!!!

Last, but certainly not least, the view from our dorm room of Mt. Grappa in Paderno del Grappa!!!

Anxiety in Lima

Lima, Peru is a beautiful city that I’ve been so lucky to have visited twice in the last three years.  When I found out I’d be going back last summer, I could not have been more anxious!  Not only was the trip was scheduled smack dab between Ukraine and China, but Lima held some not so great memories from my first visit.  Technology has become a wonderful thing, connecting each of us regardless of location.  Thanks to Skype, I was able to connect with my mom and sister (in the DC metro area) to call and wish my grandmother (in Florida) a happy birthday while I was gone.  I was staying a few blocks from Miraflores, and was so excited to show off my hotel room to everyone back home…it practically took up an entire city block!  Later that same week on a video chat with my boyfriend (now husband), I reached a near breaking point with what I would eventually find out was celiac disease.  We’d been catching up about my day when mid conversation I ran to the bathroom and began vomiting.  I’d only had one beer with dinner, which had been at a highly recommended sushi restaurant.  I hadn’t been drinking any local water, and could not for the life of me figure out what was wrong.  This wasn’t the first time I’d done this either, only a few weeks prior I’d had the same thing happen while I was in Charleston, South Carolina.

Fast forward two years later, I now know why the beer and sushi made me sick that night.  But how sick had I been?  Were there other meals that upset me that week?  I was excited to experience Lima again, but would I run into the same problems armed with the truth about celiac disease?  My second trip started out a bit rocky.  I’d been getting phone calls and emails from United all morning telling me my flight to Newark had been delayed.  Before even arriving at the airport, I knew there was a good chance I wouldn’t make my connection to Lima.  As I checked in at the counter, a sigh of relief came when they informed me I’d already been re-booked, and would be connecting through Houston.  My coworkers were not so lucky, I’d been given one of the last seats on the Houston flight, and United had no other options for them.  Eventually they were switched to another airline, and we were all set for our trip.

One of the great things about having to travel for work, is that you don’t always have time to go out to eat.  I know that sounds counterintuitive and normally I’d be annoyed by this, but it actually put my anxiety at ease.  Our hotel staff were great, I’d mastered the phrase “sin glooten” and they were especially careful with each room service dinner I was served.  Each morning started out on the right foot as well, our hotel offered omelets made to order (my favorite!), and freshly squeezed juice from local fruits.  When we finally got our workload under control, I took my team out to what I think is the most incredible site in Lima.  We had dinner at the restaurant overlooking the Huaca Pucllana, it is actually built on the grounds of the Incan ruins, which are illuminated after the sun has set.

Overlooking the Huaca Pucllana during dinner!

Overlooking the Huaca Pucllana during dinner!

I have to admit, I truly love trying new things when I’m outside my comfort zone.  If you’ve read my blog before, I’m sure I’ve mentioned it a time or two 🙂  Peru is one of those places where there are so many fun new things to try!!  I was a little afraid of going for the full fledged guinea pig that street vendors sell.  If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, google image search “Peru guinea pig” and I think you’ll understand.  BUT, when it’s cooked and served like any other meat, I’m all in!  I’d tried the appetizer sampler platter before at the Restaurant Huaca Pucllana and wanted to share with my coworkers some of the unique foods Peru has to offer.

Appetizer sampler at the Huaca Pucllana Restaurant - the guinea pig is in the upper right corner!

Appetizer sampler at the Huaca Pucllana Restaurant – the guinea pig is in the upper right corner!

Dinner at the Huaca Pucllana Restaurant

Dinner at the Huaca Pucllana Restaurant

Please forgive me for not remembering everything I ordered…unfortunately this trip pre-dates my blog, and I’ve now started to keep better track of everything I’m trying!! Trust me though, if you ever find yourself in Lima, Peru this restaurant is a can’t-miss opportunity.  The ambiance, menu, and wait staff make the experience one to remember.  If you love food as much as I do, I’m hoping you’ll appreciate the next two pictures of some of my other favorite meals while I was there.  As I said before, everyone in the hotel staff (we stayed at Golf los Incas) was incredibly helpful with my gluten free requests.  One of the first nights we were in town, my team and I enjoyed dinner at the hotel restaurant, where I could not get enough of this great dish!!

Steak and potatoes at the Golf los Incas Hotel

Steak and potatoes at the Golf los Incas Hotel

Any trip to Peru would not be complete without their signature dish….CEVICHE!!!  On my first trip to Lima, I tried ceviche for the first time and seriously could not get enough of the stuff!  For those new to the dish, ceviche can be any assortment of raw fish, cooked in the acid from local lemon and other citrus juices.  Talk to any Peruvian and they’ll tell you that you can’t recreate the dish anywhere else, because the local citrus is what makes the dish.

Enjoying ceviche in Miraflores

Enjoying ceviche in Miraflores

The last two pictures I want to share with you all today are from two of my favorite spots in the city.  The first is on the water in Miraflores, where you can watch people para sailing over the coast line.  Although I didn’t get the opportunity to actually try this myself, it was great to watch as everyone else flew over the hazy coast line.  The last picture is quite simply a beautiful contrast of new and old on the Miraflores water front.  This quaint home is situated between two high rise apartment buildings, and boasts the most enchanting home garden and front door!

Watching people glide in over the coast

Watching people glide in over the coast

Beautiful juxtaposition of old and new :)

Beautiful juxtaposition of old and new 🙂