Drastically cutting sugar from my diet has been easier than expected. What has not been so easy is the cutting of the processed carbs, primarily breads. For the most part I’ve managed, but with the stresses of life and especially when I’m hormonal, I still find myself occasionally looking for comfort in the form of food.
I don’t want to be one of those people who stands on a soapbox and looks down, telling people how they should and shouldn’t eat. It’s true, I have some pretty strong opinions on what passes for healthy eating in western culture, but I also believe that there is accurate information on the Internet available to someone truly wants to know how certain foods affect the mind and body, and possesses a modicum of common sense. I write this because I want to clarify that anything you read on this blog is written from my perspective and pertains to how it will affect me. If it helps anyone else along the way, anyone who might be feeling the same way that I do, or who is sharing similar struggles as mine, then I am ecstatic. But I respect the notion of free will, including everyone’s right to feed their bodies in the way they desire.
With that out of the way, let me share with you another simple and healthy take on a classic comfort food: Grilled Cheese! I have been a fan of grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato since I was a child. I still have fond memories of heading to Friendly’s Ice Cream Shop in my teens with my grandfather and grabbing a quick lunch of grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches with crinkle fries and a Coke.
As it’s become evident that I absolutely cannot lose weight without omitting bread from my diet, grilled cheese has been something I’ve had to give up as well – until now. I’ve recently discovered that while my body cannot handle bagels, pasta, crackers, waffles, cookies, cakes, or any other foods that contain flour, it seems unaffected by breads made from sprouted grains. In doing research to figure out why, I discovered that most sprouted grains on the market are made from ancient grains, grains that have not been genetically modified and have not changed for thousands of years. These include spelt, quinoa, amaranth, millet and sorghum. When the grains are sprouted and then ground to make the bread, you’re essentially eating vegetation, not flour! In many cases – not all, read your labels carefully(!) – these breads may be preservative and gluten free.
Admittedly, the texture is much rougher than your average soft-fluffy white bread, so I find that toasting or grilling the bread adds tremendously to the enjoyment of it.
In my local grocery stores, Food for Life sprouted grain breads is the brand most commonly available. At nearly $5.00 a loaf it’s not cheap, but the composition of the bread gives you the advantage of being satiated on less product, unlike conventional breads. The Food for Life brand also comes in a variety of flavors including sesame or cinnamon-raisin, and even different forms, such as English muffins. My favorite is the 7 Sprouted Grains loaf that comes in a red package but on my last trip for bread, I was only able to find the Ezekiel 4:9 loaf in the orange package and that’s what I had on hand for this recipe.
Additionally, I chose to use organic grass-fed butter from Ireland, Kerrygold brand being my favorite; and Kerrygold aged cheddar cheese. I’m enjoying these products immensely and still losing weight. There is a good amount of information available online to support the benefits of using organic butter from grass-fed cows to aid in weight loss. Here’s a link to just one source for this information.
The tomato in my header pic might look a bit off, but is actually a Kumato tomato, which originated in Spain, is brown in color and packed with flavor! But feel free to use any tomato you have on hand, or even omit if you desire.
The method for putting together the grilled cheese sandwich is no different than your classic one. Heat a nonstick pan (I love the porcelain-coated) to medium, thinly slice your cheese and tomatoes and put together your sandwich, liberally buttering the outsides of the bread slices. Grill the sandwich on one side until the bread is browned and crispy. Flip the sandwich over and cook the other side as well. When the outside of the sandwich is your desired texture and your cheese inside melted, your sandwich is ready to eat!
When I’m in the mood for a good comfort food that doesn’t involve pasta or cheese, I automatically think of Indian. The warmth, as well as the vibrant colors and pleasant aroma of the wide array of herbs and spices really make my mouth water and awaken my taste buds long before I take that first bite. Additionally, when I’m looking for a meal that is really filling but don’t necessarily feel like eating meat, Indian food is the perfect choice. Anyone who has had the chance to peruse an Indian lunch buffet can tell you that the variety of vegetarian options is quite impressive, from Palak Panner or Vegetable Jalfrezi to Naratna Korma, Baingan Bharta or Dum Aloo, just to name a few.
Fortunately the Internet is teeming with variations of recipes for all of these dishes specific to region of origin, and the availability of the many different spice blends makes it possible for you to duplicate them right in your own home.
It is with respectful humility that I offer the following recipe into the pool. Please note that I make absolutely no claims of authenticity with regard to this recipe. It is simply my own take on a dish that I regularly order in my local Indian restaurant. My modest copycat is quick to assemble and cook, hearty and full of flavor, and smells amazing. So if you’re looking for something different for dinner tonight; something with minimal effort after your challenging workday; pick up some Garam Masala (a spice mixture containing ground cumin, coriander, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg) at your local grocery store, along with a few other common inexpensive ingredients and prepare yourself for a real treat.
Additionally, this recipe can be put together in the crock pot and cooked on low throughout the day, waiting to warm and comfort you as you unwind.
This recipe can’t be any simpler. Measurements can be approximate and you can feel free to delete or add any ingredients that you might have around your kitchen. Get creative!
I had on hand:
1 medium yellow onion
6 cloves of garlic
4 large Russet potatoes, cleaned and chopped
1 can of chick peas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
1 25-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon of raw coconut oil – olive or vegetable oil will work if you don’t have coconut – I love the flavor the coconut imparts to the dish
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon ground ginger – fresh ginger can be used instead, but I just had the dried
2 tablespoons of Garam Masala seasoning (alternatively, you could put together your own version by combining ground cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves and nutmeg, to taste)
1 teaspoon of turmeric
2 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Melt butter and oil in large pan (with lid) on medium low.
2. Mince onion, garlic and – if using – fresh ginger and cook in the oil, sweating the vegetables for about 3 minutes. For some heat, feel free to add in chile peppers. I didn’t have any on hand, otherwise I would have.
3. Add your chopped potatoes and chick peas to the pan, increase temperature to medium high and stir, cooking for about 3 minutes.
4. Add spices – Garam Masala, turmeric, and ground ginger – to the pan, stirring to coat the potatoes and chick peas.
5. Open and add in can of crushed tomatoes and stir.
6. Add 2 cups of water and stir (I also had half a can of coconut milk left over in the fridge from a recipe earlier in the week. I replaced some of the water with the coconut milk – the added richness was divine!). Place lid on the pan and let it cook until boiling. If you need to raise the temperature, feel free to do so. Once the mixture is boiling, turn on low, put the lid back on and just let it go, returning every 15 minutes or so to stir.
Cook until potatoes are tender (I like my potatoes starchy and falling apart). If you like it thicker, take the lid off and continue cooking until some of the liquid evaporates and it’s more like a thick sauce (That’s how I like mine!) Salt and pepper to taste.
Eat as a stew, or put over some Basmati or Jasmine Rice – or whatever you have on hand! There’s no real wrong way to make an Indian-inspired dish; the spices really do the work for you. When you’re tired and hungry and want something comforting but don’t feel like ordering takeout, this recipe will definitely satisfy.
Try this recipe out and let me know what you think! Make any changes? Feel free to share! Enjoy!
We’ve already established my love of cake and baking, right? Well, I’m coming at you with another great recipe. This one is a bit exotic though, and not for everyone. Are you ready? Here goes: Fluffy, moist, lemony cupcakes with delicate lavender-infused buttercream icing. Can you handle it? If so, read on!
This very simple recipe starts with a delicate white cake flavored with real lemon juice and lemon zest, then topped with a basic American buttercream infused with perfumy lavender. Now admittedly, I am not a huge fan of lavender in food, but my husband and daughter just can’t get enough. What we can agree on, however, is that the contrasts in flavors between the zesty cake and the sweet icing perfectly compliment each another.
Here are the ingredients:
For the cake:
Helpful Hint: For optimal results, please let all of your ingredients come to room temperature. This allows everything to mix well without separating, and really helps your cakes to get a good rise!
• 2 cups of cake flour (the low gluten content of cake flour makes this cake super fluffy, so for best results, cake flour is necessary)
• 1 ½ cups of sugar
• 2 ¼ teaspoons of baking powder
• ½ teaspoon of salt
• 2 large eggs
• ¼ cup whole milk
• ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
• ½ cup unsweetened coconut milk
• The juice and zest of one large lemon
• One tablespoon organic dried lavender (I got mine at Whole Foods Market) and/or good quality food-grade lavender essential oil (I get mine at Vitamin Shop or Whole Foods Market or my local co op)
I use a stand mixer, but you could certainly use a hand mixer if that is what you have.
After lining your muffin tins with muffin papers and preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, start by combining flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a large bowl.
Add in your butter and coconut milk and beat for a good 2 to 3 minutes in your stand mixer (or with your hand mixer). After 3 minutes, your mixture should be smooth and fluffy.
In a separate bowl, whisk eggs and whole milk together, add in your grated lemon zest and lemon juice. Make sure your lemon is also room temperature to get the most juice. I also like to roll my lemon firmly on the counter a few times just to release the juices and oils to get the most from it.
Add your milk, egg and lemon mixture into the fluffy batter and mix just until well incorporated. The less you mess with eggs, the softer and fluffier your cupcakes will be. Just make sure they are well incorporated into your batter.
Use an ice cream scoop to fill your muffin tins ¾ of the way full. I’ve made the mistake of overfilling my muffin tins before and the mess is a pain to clean up.
Once filled, tap muffin tins gently on the counter to release air bubbles, then place in preheated oven and bake.
I managed to get 17 cupcakes from this batter and they took 12 minutes to bake, but I highly suggest relying on your eyes than a timer to tell you when these cakes are done. Their little domed tops should still be fairly white with barely a hint of color around the edges and the top should spring back when you gently press with your fingertip. This batch pictured was a little overcooked, resulting in an almost crunchy top, while the cake underneath was perfectly moist, tender and fluffy. I should have pulled them out at 11 minutes, maybe even 10. A mere minute can make a huge difference, so really keep an eye on your cupcakes.
After letting them cool completely on a rack, mix up your favorite buttercream frosting. I didn’t include a recipe in this post simply because I’ve experimented with several different icings, they all work, and everyone has a favorite. For the classic American buttercream icing, simply warm your whole milk or cream (whichever you use) gently with the dried lavender. Then pull off of the stove and let the lavender steep for 20 minutes. Strain the milk/cream through a fine sieve to get rid of the lavender bits and incorporate into your buttercream mixture. If you prefer a stronger lavender flavor, put a drop or two of the essential oil into the mixture. A little goes a long way, so always start out with less and incorporate more as you need. I ended up using the lavender-infused cream and the essential oil. I would have been fine with one or the other; my family loved the stronger flavor.
I also made a version with a Swiss meringue buttercream and just used the essential oil. Both versions were a hit with my friends and family.
If you desire, you can put a drop of lavender food coloring (or combine a drop each of red and blue) to give your buttercream color.
Top your cupcakes and enjoy!
With all of the bonfires my family has been attending this fall, it’s been a challenge coming up with something different to bring to each one, so as not to bore our friends.
As the bonfire we had gone to about a month ago had included mostly teenagers, it seemed only fitting to bring something that would cater to their incessant desire to be standing close to the blaze, sticks in hand and continually poking aimlessly into the alluring flames. What better than roasting marshmallows to give them a sense of purpose whilst fulfilling their innate pyromania?
Now I’ve made marshmallows before (and let me confess, I’m really not a fan of the things), but these marshmallows were such a hit that well before the kindling had ever been lit, the packages of Hershey’s chocolate bars and boxes of graham crackers I had piled on top of the giant plastic container full of these fluffy chocolatey, hazelnut wonders were discarded early on, and children and adults alike were snacking on my marshmallows with their chips and dip. Can you blame them? I mean who doesn’t like Nutella?
Admittedly, my intention initially had been to make these ‘mallows solid Nutella, but after the first batch were spread in the pan, I was disappointed by how thin and flat they were. That’s when I got it into my head to make another batch of plain vanilla ‘mallow “batter” to see if spreading it on top of the Nutella batch was feasible. I didn’t want to risk wasting any precious Nutella on a hypothetical. But as it turns out, adding a layer on top of another works splendidly, and so for the sake of aesthetics I simply made an additional batch of the Nutella batter, layered it over the vanilla, and Voila! My Nutella-vanilla-striped marshmallows were born!
I was not only surprised by how much everyone loved them, but also how nicely they toasted and melted, making the gooey s’mores the highlight of the evening. Best of all, they’re so easy to make! Let’s get started!
Each recipe makes one layer of the marshmallow. I suggest doing each sequence three times if you are planning on layering as I did.
**For the second layer, the vanilla, Simply omit the Nutella.**
If you’re feeling really confident, I suppose you could simply triple your recipe and stir the Nutella by hand into 2/3 of your batter, but work quickly! The batter begins to dry pretty speedily and may get too rubbery to spread. I found that it was just easier to repeat the recipe for each layer.
You will need (for each layer):
3 packets of plain gelatin
1 cup cold water, divided in half
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla paste (or extract. I love the appearance of all the vanilla bean bits in the paste)
4 tablespoons nutella
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
Place the gelatin in a clean bowl of your stand mixer and cover with half a cup of cold water. Let it sit.
Place the rest of the water, the granulated sugar, salt, and the corn syrup inside of a medium saucepan with a lid. Place over medium high heat, cover, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.
After 4 minutes, uncover the mixture, place your candy thermometer on the side, and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees.
Once mixture reaches 240 degrees, immediately take off of the heat.
Place your whisk attachment on your stand mixer and turn on low.
While mixer is going, slowly pour the sugar mix into the bowl.
Once all of the sugar syrup is added, turn the mixer to high, and let it continue to mix for about 12 minutes until thick and glossy. While stand mixer is running, mix together the corn starch and powdered sugar.
Spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray and dust it with some of the powdered mixture. Make sure all sides are covered. Place the leftover powdered mixture to the side to use for later.
Place the 4 tablespoons of Nutella in the microwave and heat for about 10 seconds to soften.
Pour in the vanilla and let mix for 1 minute, then add the Nutella and and let it swirl into the marshmallow mixture for about 1 minute.
Turn off mixer, and with an oiled rubber spatula, pour the marshmallow mix into the prepared pan. Put in refrigerator while next layer is being mixed.
Repeat the above steps for each layer, simply spreading on top of the previous. (For vanilla layer, simply omit Nutella).
Once the final layer is spread in the pan, lightly dust the top with your corn starch and powdered sugar mixture and place pan in fridge to set. Some recipes day to let set overnight, while my marshmallows took only an hour to set.
Alternatively, you could just triple the recipe, including the Nutella and just make them straight Nutella flavor. Nobody would complain!
After the marshmallows are set, turn them out onto a cutting surface and cut them into your preferred shapes and sizes, and store in an airtight container at room temperature. Be sure to put the remainder of your corn starch-powdered sugar mixture in with the marshmallows to prevent them from sticking to one another.
Recipe time! I’ve got cake on the brain, can you tell? In fact, I think it would not be a stretch to say that I am smitten with it – obsessed. My nearest and dearest know this and hence, I’ve been the go‑to when it comes to making cakes for their events, including a wedding cake for a dear friend next month.
Fall is in the air! Well not really here in North Carolina, not yet anyway. We’re into September; it’s not even noon, it’s already 86 degrees and we’re anticipating some really muggy weather in the low 90s but a girl can dream, right?