Category Archives: Healthy Recipes

Chicken Tortilla Soup

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Maybe I’m the minority here, but honestly what is up with summer vacations these days? They barely last six weeks! Mid June to mid August is nonsense. Summer should be a full three months, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. School is not everything.

Of course, I envision a life where everyone spends the summer season growing food, working the land, taking it slow, and being outside. With plants, with animals, with each other. None of this “constant TV and boredom inside air-conditioned houses where the kids drive both working parents crazy (and vice versa) and maybe they go on a couple expensive vacations”-type summer. I firmly believe each season should have its own specific activities, its own mood, its own flavor that is savored as much as possible while it lasts.

City life has dulled my senses and stolen, I think, much of life’s quality. I crave a life that is slightly less predictable but also less stressful. I know it exists. Right now we do the same tiring things every day, every week, every month no matter what time of year it is. There is no variation. Do everything every single day because rest is bad, bad, bad! We are busy or busier — nothing less. We work on computers in offices and make just enough money to pay for the homes we stay cooped up in. That’s no way to live your whole life.

There are lots of good things and comforts that come with living in a city or suburb. I appreciate the fact that probably more than half the world thrives on the hustle and bustle of densely populated areas.

But not me. I am too sensitive to the noise, the motion, the demands. I dream of a simpler life out in the country where it is quiet and slow.

Anyway, the summer weather is not over even though kids are going back to school/sports and parents are going back to work. Therefore, you may not be craving hot meals like soup (unless you’re a regular bone broth drinker and you naturally crave soup no matter what time of year). However, this soup recipe has lots of fresh, cooling flavors if the right toppings are used and you don’t serve it too hot. I found it to be a great meal to prepare after a busy day because it is minimal effort. And it’s light and delicious.

There are a million chicken tortilla soup recipes out there, and I’m not saying this is anything special. Add beans or corn or more tomatoes if that’s what does it for you. I try to emphasize the meat and vegetables in all my meals, limiting the grains and nightshades.

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Chicken Tortilla Soup (serves 2)

2 C chicken or beef stock

2 C favorite red enchilada sauce (I use a brand with real, healthy ingredients and no preservatives)

2 corn tortillas, cut into strips (optional)

salt and pepper, to taste

1 C chicken, cooked and shredded

cheddar cheese, shredded

sour cream

avocado, sliced

cilantro, chopped

green onions, chopped

Bring the stock and enchilada sauce to a simmer in a small saucepan. Add the tortilla strips, if using, and cook until softened. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste (and why not throw in a little ground cumin, garlic powder, and/or onion powder if you have them?).

Divide chicken into two bowls and pour hot soup mixture into both (keeping your meat separate from the soup until serving is a good way to make sure it doesn’t get overcooked and dry). Top with cheese, sour cream, and green things. The sour cream will slowly mix in to the broth and make it creamy as you eat. So good.

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Chicken Groodle Soup

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I don’t know why it took me this long to discover that green beans make a great substitution for noodles in chicken noodle soup. I highly recommend trying it out if you are sticking to a grain-free, gluten-free, or paleo diet.

This soup is incredibly comforting. Be sure to squeeze a lemon wedge into your bowl before you slurp it up. No matter how you eat your chicken soup, you are eating it incorrectly without the lemon. Trust me.

Chicken Groodle Soup (serves 4)

1 qt (4 C) homemade chicken stock

1 qt (4 C) filtered water

1 onion, finely diced

3-4 carrots, washed and chopped

2 stalks of celery, washed and chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb fresh or frozen trimmed green beans

unrefined salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 C cooked, shredded or chopped chicken

lemon wedges (don’t skip these!)

Dump chicken stock, water, onion, carrots, and celery into large stock pot and cover. Heat over medium-high heat until boiling; bring heat to low and simmer, covered, until vegetables are softened (check every 20 minutes). Add green beans and garlic to pot; bring back up to a simmer and cook until green beans are very soft like noodles. Remove from heat. Taste soup and add salt and pepper as needed.

When ready to serve, divvy up chicken into individual bowls and then ladle the soup over it. You can just throw the chicken in the pot too, but that dries it out pretty quickly. Keep them separate if you won’t eat all the soup at once. Squeeze a lemon wedge into your bowl to taste, and enjoy.

Tom Kha Gai (Thai Coconut Soup)

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Now that the weather has finally cooled off, we’ve been hungry for hot, comforting meals. Our daughter caught a nasty cold a couple weeks ago, which the hubby and I never caught, thankfully, but I guess it didn’t take long for the diseases to start spreading with the change of seasons. Caught something too? Sorry. Need a soup that basically heals souls and raises the dead? Look no further.

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Packed with many of the most powerful superfoods out there, this soup is not only soothing and nourishing, but is also incredibly delicious, “going down easy,” as my mother-in-law would say. It is as cheap or expensive as you’d like it to be. The only problem is it’s not very filling — good for those who are sick or who have tender or healing guts, but a little hard on, say, hungry grown men who prefer meat and potatoes. I know someone like that. He nonetheless savors this soup when I make it, having a palate for more exotic flavors every now and then. The solution for extra-hungry family members: ramen or rice noodles thrown in.

My “recipe” is more like a soup base with a list of optional things that, in any combination, will make a great meal depending on your family’s tastes. I don’t really buy many cuisine-specific ingredients because of budgetary reasons, so if this isn’t authentic enough, too bad. You can change it.

Tom Kha Gai (Thai Coconut Soup) (serves 4-6)

Basic Soup:

2 quarts homemade chicken, beef, or fish stock

8oz ramen or rice noodles (optional) plus an additional 2 C water

8oz button mushrooms, sliced

several handfuls of baby spinach, washed and roughly chopped

2 cans additive-free, full-fat organic coconut milk (or 1 quart homemade coconut milk)

several cloves of garlic, minced

2 C pre-cooked chicken or shrimp

unrefined salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste

fresh lemons or limes

Optional Add-Ins:

fresh cilantro, chopped

turmeric, fresh or powdered (be sure to pair with black pepper to get the full benefits)

1 sheet of toasted nori (seaweed), broken into pieces

fresh ginger, minced

coconut oil

lemongrass

chili paste or hot sauce or sriracha, though I’ve never tried it*

fish sauce*

Bring stock to a gentle boil; add the mushrooms and spinach, boiling until tender (if using noodles, add them and the water here too, cooking until slightly underdone). Stir in the coconut milk and garlic and bring to a simmer. Turn off heat and add salt, pepper, chicken/shrimp, and fresh-squeezed lemon/lime juice to taste. Add in your favorite extras to send the soup over the top. My favorites are cilantro, turmeric, and lots of fresh ginger.

*Check ingredients carefully if being healthy is your goal!

Lazy Cook’s Spaghetti Squash

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I balk at every Pinterest pin that touts the “easiest” way to cook a spaghetti squash, because it usually involves cutting the uncooked squash. Have you ever taken a knife to an uncooked winter squash? It’s straight-up dangerous (that is, if you, like me, don’t really ever sharpen your knives). I’ve let squashes sit in my pantry for weeks only because I didn’t want to commit the effort — unfortunate, really, because squash is delicious.

The first time I tried a spaghetti squash was about five years ago when I had a slight obsession with what remains my favorite food blog to this day, Smitten Kitchen. I wanted to try every recipe I could within my budget, and the author, Deb, had shared a very tasty spaghetti squash dish that I have since made several times. Her cooking method, cooking and then cutting, was my only frame of reference for dealing with spaghetti squash.

Let me tell you, having tried both ways, my way is easier. You’re going to be scooping out of a hot, steaming squash at the end regardless of which method you use, so why not put off cutting it open until it’s soft?

First preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Prick your squash all over with a sharp knife so steam can be released as it cooks.

Set your squash in any oven-proof dish or pan with sides. Sometimes liquid drips out of the punctured parts.

Bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Jab with a knife or fork to test doneness. It’s done when the knife makes it to the middle with little resistance. The outside may be lightly browned.

Turn off heat and, using hot pads or thick towels, set squash out on a heat-proof cutting board. Slice it in half lengthwise and let cool for 15-20 minutes.

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It will still be pretty warm, so be careful when handling. Use a spoon to scoop out the guts in the middle, but don’t fuss over that too much. You won’t be able to tell the difference between the flesh and any stringies later. You just don’t want any surprise seeds in your meal.

Discard the guts unless you think of a better use for them.

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Then use a fork to break up and shred the yummy part. Serve in your favorite recipe, as a pasta substitute, or store it for several days in the fridge to dish out when needed. I like to add at least butter and salt while it’s still warm.

P.S. Deb’s delicious recipe is here if you need a more original way to serve this delicious vegetable. So yummy with poached eggs on top… but then, again, I eat poached eggs on lots of things.

Molasses Iced “Latte”

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Happy First Day of Fall! Now if only the weather matched up with the calendar. My daughter spotted all the miniature pumpkins at Trader Joe’s the other day, and I couldn’t resist letting her get one… and it won’t be the last time. She carries it everywhere, almost like a tiny fall elf spreading autumn cheer wherever she goes.

Speaking of summers that just won’t. let. go., here is a delicious, refreshing, appropriate beverage for the times.

I once gave up chocolate for a month as a dietary and hormonal experiment. And I felt great — so great that my chocolate dependency was permanently cured. I still crave it now and then, but I’m usually so finicky with my chocolate standards that it ends up being long periods of time between indulgences. Plus, I’m really trying to avoid all kinds of refined sugar. Avoiding sugar basically means no chocolate at all ever unless you make it yourself (which I did at one point, but meh).

During this no-chocolate phase, I started craving molasses of all things. Molasses? What kind of weirdo craves sticky, stinky molasses, all you uncultured palates ask. Probably the same weirdo who needed a non-caffeinated source of minerals and antioxidants and (once) housed a ferocious PMS monster.

It was fall, I think, and I did have a hankering for warm and spicy fall/winter flavors like gingerbread and pumpkin. Bet you can guess the next part: I rushed as fast as I could in my UGG boots to the nearest Starbucks for my tenth PSL in the last three hours, and I immediately made sure everyone on Instagram knew how basic perfect and beautiful I and my coffee cup looked.

No, actually I came up with my own “latte,” brilliantly (if I do say so myself) combining two healthy ingredients, with some festive accent flavors. It is superb for those rare breeds who consume neither chocolate nor coffee but still want something creamy and smooth with a dark, bitter edge. I always drink this cold like an iced latte — so satisfying on a warm, stuffy late summer or early fall day — but I’m sure it would be delicious as a hot drink, maybe with a touch of ginger and cloves, when it gets chilly. Heck, add chocolate or coffee. I’m sure it would taste delicious.

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Maybe those of you (females) still in bondage to your PMS might try out giving up chocolate too, at least for a time. Replacing it with molasses will supply trace minerals that your hormones need to find balance, easing the cramps and mood swings. You won’t be making the problem worse with the nutrient-less sugar, caffeine, and indigestible phytates that might be in your cheap chocolate, not to mention other non-food, processed ingredients that keep your hormone imbalance in a vicious cycle (pun!).

After a while I stopped craving molasses completely. My body got whatever it needed, I suppose.

Molasses Iced “Latte” (serves one)

10 oz raw organic whole milk (add a splash of plain kefir for the added probiotic benefit if you want)

1 tsp organic blackstrap molasses (start out with 1/2 tsp until you acquire a taste for it)

splash of vanilla

sprinkle of cinnamon

ice cubes

Add molasses and a small bit of milk to a tall glass and mix with a small whisk or fork until molasses dissolves. It may take a long minute, but if you let it sit, it will dissolve more easily. Mix in the vanilla and the rest of the milk. Drop in some ice cubes, sprinkle top with cinnamon, and enjoy.

True Coconut Cream Pie

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Did you know you can make a whole pie — crust, filling, and topping — out of coconut? To heck with those wussy diner “coconut” cream pies that are basically sugar pies with a little coconut flavor (maybe) and shredded coconut sprinkled on top. This dessert lives up to its name and leaves you satisfied. That’s the only kind of treat worth indulging in, in my opinion.

Check out the ingredients —  healthy too! My hubby likes his (real) coconut cream pies extra sweet, so this recipe calls for more coconut sugar than I think is necessary. I use real whipped cream because we prefer it, but you can substitute whipped coconut cream just as easily.

This pie is not too complicated if you have the right appliances. It does require forethought for the separate baking and chilling times, however. The coconut flavor here isn’t like what you smell in shampoos and candles; it’s warmer and toastier with smooth vanilla notes. The filling makes a great coconut pudding on its own, cold or warm. But if you hate the texture of coconut, move on to a different dessert recipe.

True Coconut Cream Pie (serves 8+)

Coconut Flour Pie Crust

1/2 C melted unsalted butter, coconut oil, or a combination of both

2 eggs

3/4 C coconut flour

1 Tbsp coconut sugar

1/2 tsp unrefined salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 9″ pie dish with butter or coconut oil.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl or food processor (a stand mixer is easiest). Press evenly into bottom and all the way up the sides of the greased dish. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Crust is finished when toasty brown along the edges and middle is stiff (though it will remain slightly soft). Cool on countertop and store in the fridge.

Sorry I don’t have pictures of this. Scroll down for how it should look when pouring the filling in.

True Coconut Cream Pie Filling

Two 14.5oz cans full-fat coconut milk (just under 4 C)

1 C coconut sugar

3 large eggs

5 Tbsp arrowroot starch

1/4 tsp unrefined salt

4 Tbsp unsalted butter

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/4 C unsweetened finely shredded dried coconut

Combine coconut milk, sugar, eggs, arrowroot, and salt in your blender or food processor and blend it all up real nice. It should look like a thick, foamy latte. Have your butter, vanilla, and shredded coconut ready to go nearby, for you’ll be standing at the stove for a while. Pour the coconut milk mixture into a large saucepan and whisk constantly over medium heat.

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Do NOT leave it sitting for more than 10-15 seconds without whisking, especially as it warms up and gets hotter. The eggs will scramble and you’ll have nasty runny-but-lumpy pie filling. My old recipe called for a complicated series of steps to make a traditional custard by tempering the eggs and everything, but this way is so much easier.

Before long, the foam will suddenly disappear and your custard will thicken considerably. It should be bubbling and steaming. Keep stirring and turn off the heat. Add your butter and gently mix it around as it melts.
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Then stir in the vanilla and shredded coconut until it is all incorporated.

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Pour the filling into the prepared coconut crust.

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Then stick it in the fridge uncovered to chill for a few hours. When ready to serve, prepare the topping.

Coconut Cream Pie Topping

1 C heavy whipping cream (not ultra-pasteurized)

1 Tbsp coconut sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 C unsweetened finely shredded dried coconut, toasted

2 Tbsp sliced almonds, toasted

Combine the cream, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl and whip until stiff peaks form. Spread all over the completely chilled pie. Sprinkle the toasted coconut and then the almonds all over the surface. It’s ready!

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Here is a slice. The filling is a thick, caramelly, delicious coconut pudding. Between the layers of a coconut cookie-like crust and sweet, foamy whipped cream with crunchy morsels on top, this pie makes a great special-occasion treat for health nuts like me.

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I once used a natural coconut extract in the filling when I could find it, but it didn’t really add much more flavor than the pie already had. I’ve never tried fake coconut flavor, but feel free to try if you’re comfortable with those kinds of things.

I will admit I have wondered what it would be like to coat the inside of the baked pie shell with a thin layer of dark chocolate or chocolate ganache. The filling would have to be chilled before scooping out into the crust (an extra step), but how delicious does that sound?

Enjoy!

Kombucha

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Brewing kombucha has boomed in popularity in the last decade. I figured I’d add to the collection of online resources and tutorials.

I first started brewing either in 2009 or 2010, and I’m still using the same strain of cultures that I started with. My SCOBYs have gone everywhere I have gone; they are members of the family. I’ve transitioned from black tea to green tea back to black tea. I used to brew it so strong and sour that nobody who tried it would drink it again. Yeah, I was a little neurotic about sugar content. This was bad for my hubby, because even though I have since refined my methods and results, he only just recently tried it again, and only because I made it extra sweet and fizzy with lots of fresh strawberries on the second ferment. However, he drinks a small glass of it daily now because it controls his gout.

I’m not going to review all the health benefits and detailed whys and wherefores of what kombucha is and why you should drink it. If you are new to traditionally fermented, living foods, remember these universal rules for all of them, kombucha included:

  • Don’t use metal to prepare the food or beverage (unless you boil your water in a stainless steel saucepan).
  • Use only organic/unrefined foods; clean, filtered water; and sterile fermenting equipment/containers.
  • Living, probiotic-rich foods are affected by the environment; don’t be surprised if they do not behave consistently.

So here is my process. I do this on average about once every two weeks.

1. Get about 4 C of filtered water boiling in a glass or stainless steel container. This glass kettle was my Christmas gift to my (unfermented) tea connoisseur hubby.

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2. Assemble your ingredients. On the left is my big vat of finished kombucha that I’m going to bottle while the water heats up. In the middle are my five organic black tea bags (I buy a big box at Sprouts), ready for their hot bath in my Pyrex measuring cup. Also present is 1 C of organic cane sugar.

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3. While waiting for the water to boil, I first ladle out maybe 2 C of finished kombucha from the top of the undisturbed liquid and set aside in my smaller Pyrex measuring cup. The most probiotic-rich part of the drink floats to the top while the more yeasty parts sink to the bottom. Reserving the top liquid for starting the next batch keeps the bacteria-yeast ratio at a good place.

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4. I have my (reused) clean, open bottles all lined up and ready to go here. Yes, I have an addiction. You could pour the kombucha into your bottles as it is and put them straight into the fridge for drinking. But my family likes our kombucha flavored with fruit, so I do a second, shorter ferment with fruit added in smaller batches. The three bottles on the left have fresh raspberries and lemon slices, while the three on the left have fresh blackberries inside. You only need a few pieces of fruit per bottle. I ladle all the kombucha evenly into the bottles, filling them all the way up, and then screwing the lid on tightly.

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5. Then they all hang out in my pantry for a couple days to be infused with the fruit and to get fizzy. After a day or two, they’ll go to the fridge and we drink as needed. The liquid at the very bottom of my fermenting jar doesn’t usually get bottled because it’s so yeasty. It is probably best to discard it or find another use for it after every batch; that will keep your big batch from getting too yeasty — too much yeast and too little bacteria will make your kombucha flat and cloudy (unpleasant to drink) and can perpetuate internal yeast issues (which the majority of us have). You’ll also need to find a place for one of the two SCOBYs in the jar. I usually keep the prettier one; our dog likes to eat the other.

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6. By now the water should be boiling, so pour it into the Pyrex dish with the sugar and tea bags. Stir and let steep for several minutes. Remove the tea bags and let sit until it is cooled enough to keep your finger dipped in. If you use a bigger dish or bowl, you could add cold filtered water or filtered-water ice cubes to it and speed up the process. Pour this concentrated tea and the kombucha you set aside into the big jar. Fill up with an additional 2 quarts (approximately) of room-temperature filtered water and gently mix it all up.

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7. Cover with your towel, secure with a rubber band, and put the jar in a dark place where it won’t be disturbed. Let sit for at least a week. When you see a new SCOBY growing with bubbles forming underneath it, that’s your sign of success. Start tasting it when the new SCOBY pancake is about 1/4″ thick. When it’s tart and fizzy with just a hint of sweetness left over, it’s ready to bottle.
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You can always delay the bottling at the beginning, which would mean boiling the water and steeping the tea before doing anything else. Then, to maximize the hands-on time you’re spending on this, you’d bottle the finished batch while the concentrated tea cools down. For me it just depends on what other demands need to be met in the moment.

Our favorite flavor so far is strawberry. You can use frozen fruit too, which saves money and gives you more options out of season. Enjoy!

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