Pumpkin and Beetroot Salad

One thing that is very important to me during my Whole30 is the inclusion of vegetarian meals. One of the main complaints of those trying out the Paleo diet is that their cholesterol levels go up considerably. While Paleo’s biggest supporters claim this is nothing to worry about, I tend to disagree. Am I okay with my cholesterol going up a little on this diet? Yes. Am I going to actively encourage it to go up? Of course not! I still want to include a fair number of low-cholesterol, vegetarian meals in my Paleo diet, just like I do when I’m on my standard gluten-free, sugar-free diet.

That being said, getting enough calories from a Paleo, vegetarian meal is far from a guarantee. I need to ensure that I’m still getting sufficient energy without beans, grains, and dairy, which I typically use to fill out vegetarian meals and make them more hearty.

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This Pumpkin and Beet Salad is a Paleo version of one of my favorites, and it’s quite filling. I got the original recipe from two friends when they both showed up at a BBQ with similar versions of the dish. I’m not sure which one of them came up with it first, but they had shared it with each other enough times to know it would be a crowd pleaser.

Typically when I make this dish I sauté the pumpkin in butter and sprinkle a liberal amount of crumbled goat cheese over the finished product. I do plan to go back to that version someday, but this one is a wonderful Whole30 compromise! The recipe was already vegetarian, gluten-free, soy-free, and sugar-free, but the changes also make it dairy-free and vegan, which certainly never hurts when cooking for a large crowd. You never know when you’ll be the hero of the potluck for the guest who arrived thinking he would only be able to eat his own dish.

Pumpkin and Beetroot Salad

serves 1

1 and 1/2 cups pumpkin, in 1-2″ cubes
1 large roasted beet
2 cups spinach, washed and drained
large handful raw sunflower seeds
1 tbsp coconut oil
1tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
balsamic vinegar to taste (optional)

Coat pumpkin in coconut oil and roast for 15 minutes at 400F. For last 3-4 minutes, sprinkle sunflower seeds over pumpkin.

While pumpkin cooks, chop beet into 1″ cubes. Combine in serving bowl with spinach, and mix in warm pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Serve with olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. Add vinegar if desired.

This recipe is shared on this week’s Wellness Weekend.

Asian Roast Chicken with Carrots and Red Pepper

I’ve always enjoyed pan-Asian cuisine, but even more so since moving to Asia. Since I wasn’t raised in an Asian kitchen, most of the Asian-inspired dishes I come up with don’t subscribe to just one of the food traditions. I know what flavors I enjoy, and I often throw them together in ways heavily influenced by Western cooking.

20130706-223027.jpgThis dish is the perfect example. It’s a fairly simple meal of chicken baked in the oven, but instead of the typical Western herbs and spices, I’ve prepared it with coconut aminos, coconut oil, garlic and ginger. And in place of the usual potatoes, this chicken sits on a bed of carrots and red pepper, cooked right alongside the meat. The result is a healthy, refreshing, Paleo meal bursting with Eastern flavor. I’m definitely making it a staple in my kitchen!

I didn’t plan ahead to marinate the chicken, but I definitely will next time. It was plenty flavorful, but some extra time to soak everything in will give it even more zing!

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One note: Although the cilantro might seem like just a garnish, it contributes tremendously to the flavor of this meal. I highly recommend including it in your version of this dish, unless you’re one of those crazy people who think it tastes like soap. 😉

Asian Roast Chicken with Carrots and Red Pepper

Serves 2

4 meaty chicken wings
2 large carrots
2 medium red bell peppers
4 tbsp coconut aminos, tamari, or soy sauce
1 tbsp coconut oil
2 tbsp olive oil
1 inch piece freshly ground ginger
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tbsp fresh cilantro
salt to taste (optional depending on saltiness of your chosen aminos/soy product)

Combine coconut aminos, coconut oil, olive oil, ginger, garlic powder, and salt in a large zip lock bag. Cut 2-3 small slits in each chicken wing to expose more meat to the marinade. Place chicken in bag and marinate, refrigerated, for at least one hour.

When ready to cook, preheat oven to 400F. Add chopped carrots and red peppers to the bag, covering well with marinade. Pour contents of bag into a baking dish and cook for 20-25 minutes.

Sprinkle with cilantro leaves before serving.

This recipe has been shared on this week’s Slightly Indulgent Tuesday and Allergy Free Wednesday. Check them out for more creative, healthy recipes!

Whole30 Beef Stew

Once a week, I get to leave work in the early afternoon. I usually head into the city for yoga, but every now and then I come home and have a lazy afternoon reading, watching TV or movies, and relaxing. On those days, I love making beef stew. Hanging out at home while the aroma of slowly cooking meat and veggies fills the room is such a blissful escape from the usual routine.

I started my first Whole30 this week, so I’ve been spending a lot of time planning meals that will be hearty and filling even though they don’t contain any grains,legumes, or dairy. I tend to get a lot of my calories from those sources, and since weight loss is not one of my Whole30 goals, I have to make sure to plan substantial meals! Beef stew seemed like a great place to start.

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Typically, I make my beef stew with carrots and celery as the main vegetables and have a piece of gluten free bread or some rice on the side. Since that’s off limits during my Whole30, I decided to add pumpkin to fill out the stew a little more.

If you are making this stew while doing a Whole30 and decide to use store-bought broth, make sure it doesn’t contain added sugar!

Whole30 Beef Stew

Serves 2

.75 lb stew beef (I recommend chuck roast)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 small onion, roughly chopped
2 whole cloves garlic, peeled
1 bay leaf
1 cup water, divided
1 cup beef broth, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 large carrot, chopped
1 large celery rib, chopped
1 cup cubed pumpkin

Brown beef in hot olive oil in medium-large saucepan. Once beef is browned on all sides, add 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup beef broth, onion, garlic, bay leaf, salt, pepper, and paprika and bring to a boil. Cover and lower to a simmer for 1 and 1/2 hours.

Add additional 1/2 cup water,1/2 cup broth, carrots, and celery. Return to a simmer and cover for 20 minutes.

Add pumpkin, cover, and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.

The Dreaded A-Word

I had to do something today that I really didn’t want to do: start a two week course of antibiotics. The good news is there’s a small chance the medicine will help with some of the chronic health issues I’ve been dealing with for the past year. If there’s even a small chance, I figure it’s worth a try, so I’m going for it.

The bad news is this is happening after I’ve worked with a naturopath for five months to undo some of the damage that antibiotics have caused me in the past. I’ve had a ton of success with a sugar-free diet and a new supplement regimen and I don’t want the next two weeks to throw me totally off track!

In order to go into this process as informed as possible, I’ve done a little bit of research on how I can stay healthy while taking antibiotics. This article over at Whole9 gives a great run-down on probiotics and how and why to take them. I’ll definitely be keeping up with my probiotic regimen over the next two weeks and beyond.

Whole9 also happens to be the site behind the Whole30 program, in which you follow a very strict version of the Paleo diet for a month. I am considering doing my first Whole30 to help combat the negative effects of the antibiotics. Apparently the medicine has pretty severe gastrointestinal side effects, so I am starting off on the Whole30 plan today, but may end up postponing it if I find it difficult to stomach the type of food I need to eat while on the medicine.

Even more important than keeping my body in balance though, is keeping my mind in balance. The chances of this new strategy working are slim, and I don’t want to feel too disappointed if it doesn’t work, especially after I’ve done such a great job getting used to my new lifestyle. And if it does work – well – I’ll certainly go back to eating oranges, tomato sauce, chocolate and tons of other foods that I currently have to steer clear of, but I hope I’d have the willpower to stay away from all of the processed food I’ve learned to avoid over the past several months.

As I go through the next two weeks, I’ll continue to post as usual and share my life with you, but in the back of my head I’ll probably spend a lot of time wondering whether the treatment is working. Good vibes, prayers, wishes – whatever you have to offer is much appreciated. Regardless of how this turns out, it will be just another step along the path of a fulfilling life.

Cooked Spinach and Salmon Salad

Some of the recipes I post on this blog are created with the blog in mind. I’ll know from the get-go that I’m going to write a post about the meal, so I’ll take pictures along the way and generally try to keep my cooking space neat and clean and my ingredients well measured.

This recipe is not one of those! This “salad” happened totally on accident while I was making some curried spinach and salmon for dinner tonight. Instead of putting the spinach and salmon on a plate, I put them in a large bowl, and the idea of a cooked spinach salad took hold. I threw in half an avocado and a big handful of sunflower seeds and all of a sudden I had an awesome new dish.

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This salad reminds me of my Curried Shrimp and Avocado Salad, but the cooked spinach and curry powder throughout gives it a much heartier feel. Even though it’s light, this is the kind of dish that could satisfy me even when I’m having a major urge to stuff my face!

Cooked Spinach and Salmon Salad

Serves 1

1 salmon fillet
2 cups spinach
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 tbsp curry powder, divided
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
half an avocado, cubed
handful raw sunflower seeds
Salt and pepper to taste

Season skinless side of salmon fillet with salt, pepper, garlic powder and 1/2 tbsp curry powder. Sauté over medium-high heat in 1 tbsp olive oil, skin side down, until mostly cooked through. Flip toward the end to cook the seasoned side.

While the salmon cooks, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat and add garlic. Wash and drain the spinach, but leave some water clinging to the leaves. When the garlic becomes fragrant, add the spinach, 1/2 tbsp curry powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir frequently, cooking for 3-5 minutes until spinach is considerably wilted.

Put spinach in a bowl, and top with the salmon fillet, chopped into several large chunks. Add avocado and sunflower seeds.

Mesquite Cinnamon Smoothie

One of my favorite parts of blogging about my “fulfilled” lifestyle is discovering new ingredients on the blogs of like-minded eaters. On my last trip to the health food store, I came across mesquite powder. I’d read about this superfood, which has a nutty, caramel-like flavor, on a few blogs, and decided to give it a try.

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Since I’ve never had it before, I wasn’t exactly sure what type of recipes I wanted to create with it. I decided to start with a smoothie this morning.

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I used coconut milk, banana, yogurt, ice, mesquite powder, and ground cinnamon in my smoothie. If you want to make a vegan or dairy-free version, you could do it easily by leaving out the yogurt and adding a little extra banana. If you want a thicker smoothie, start with cold coconut milk so you don’t need the ice!

The end result was creamy and satisfying, although I wasn’t able to completely pick out the flavor of the mesquite. I may just have to try a small taste of this stuff straight-up so I can figure out what else I want to use it in!

Mesquite Cinnamon Smoothie

1 cup coconut milk
1 large banana
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 tbsp mesquite powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, plus more to top
4-6 ice cubes

Combine ingredients in blender. Serve topped with additional cinnamon.

The View from Up Here

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Here are a couple of photos from yesterday’s activities with the family! We went up to Victoria Peak yesterday to soak in the views and have lunch at The Peak Lookout. Although I find the food to be somewhat average, I love the sophisticated, yet relaxed feel of the restaurant- it seems a million miles away from the tourist madness right outside.

20130630-212742.jpgBefore we got a view from above, however, we took the Star Ferry across the harbor and soaked in the skyline from a lower angle. No matter how many times I take that trip, it never ceases to amaze me how beautiful Hong Kong is when the weather is nice.

Today I took them for dim sum and brought them to work with me! My family went to Walt Disney World so often growing up and it’s always fun to explore a Disney park with them.

We’re completely exhausted and sure to get a great night’s sleep. Till next time!

Southern Style Grits with Bacon

My siblings and I have been enjoying some great restaurants, but one of my favorite parts of their visit has been cooking breakfast for them! On their first morning I made scrambled eggs and smoothies and yesterday I made oatmeal with banana, blueberries, and toasted nuts. This morning I decided to pay homage to Country Boy, a breakfast spot in our home town, by making Southern Style Grits with Bacon.

If you’re used to making grits from a little paper packet, here’s a great secret: quick cooking grits are just as fast and easy to make as the ones in the envelope! The toppings might take a little longer to prepare, but that’s a small price to pay to have your bacon or cheese grits sans preservatives.

To put together the grits, I started by putting 1 and 1/2 cups milk and 1 and 1/2 cups water in a pot and bringing it to a boil. While that heated up, I sliced three strips of bacon into small pieces and put them in a skillet over medium-high heat.

Once the liquid came to a boil, I poured in a cup of quick cooking grits, covered the pot, and turned down the heat.

The grits only take a couple minutes to cook, so very shortly I had this:

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I mixed two tablespoons of butter and the bacon (with some, but not all of it’s grease :)) into the grits.

I decided to make fried eggs to serve with the grits, so I wasn’t able to serve them immediately. Grits can become somewhat gummy if they’re left to sit around, so I stirred in a little extra milk before I plated them.

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It was a fantastically rich breakfast, and so easy to put together! If I had a stove top with four burners, I reckon the entire meal would be ready to eat in less than 10 minutes.

Southern Style Grits with Bacon

serves 4

1 cup quick cooking grits
1 and 1/2 cups milk, plus more to taste
1 and 1/2 cups water
2 tbsp butter
3 slices bacon, cut into small pieces
salt and pepper to taste

Bring milk and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. While the liquid is heating up, sauté bacon pieces in a skillet over medium-high heat. Once boiling, add grits to the liquid, cover, and turn heat to low. After three minutes, add butter and bacon with some of its grease, to taste. Salt and pepper to taste and stir well. Serve immediately. If grits are too gummy, add more milk before serving.

Cooking for the Family…and a Trip to Macau!

Today was my brother and sister’s second day in Hong Kong and we had another day jam-packed with activities! We started with a walk along the Ping Shan Heritage Trail which runs through some of the old villages nearby where I live in Tin Shui Wai. I love that these ancient structures are so near the modern high-rises of my town!

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Some of the buildings had really beautiful carvings and painted woodwork inside. I would love to incorporate elements of these designs into my home someday.

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After our morning stroll, I whipped up a quick lunch. I love having the chance to cook for my siblings family-style! I’m also enjoying feeding them my super-healthy food; I guess like trying to convert people to my way of life. 😉

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I made regular chicken, avocado, and spinach sandwiches for the two of them, but put my sandwich filling in a red pepper instead. It’s such an easy way to put together a meal when only some of the diners are gluten-free.

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After lunch, we headed to Macau where we did some sightseeing and went to Fernando’s, one of my all-time favorite restaurants. It’s a super casual Portuguese eatery with generous helpings of messy, delicious food. They have their own garden in mainland China where they grow all of the veggies used in the restaurant. You can tell from the taste that a lot of care is taken at every step from the garden to the table.

We are totally beat from our day as tourists! I’ll definitely be sleeping well tonight. Until next time!