Browsing Category: real food recipes

Marinated onions

marinated onions

I’ve posted pickled onions in the past — which I still love! — but in order to work a little more healthy fat into my husband’s keto diet, I made this version that’s heavy on the olive oil.

This condiment is really quick to make up, and makes a great addition to salads and sandwiches, or a deli/charcuterie platter. It might even make a good holiday gift. (Here are a bunch of other sugar-free food gifts.)

Marinated onions recipe

In a small dish, stir together:

– 1/4 cup olive oil

– 1 teaspoon rice vinegar (or other mild vinegar)

– 1 teaspoon dried herbs of choice – I used oregano & thyme

– 1 generous pinch coarse salt

Then thinly slice onions (red onions are pretty, but yellow is what I had on hand), and add them to the dish till you have enough for what you need, but all onions are submerged.

Cover and let marinate for at least an hour. You may store this at room temp for two days. Use up the onions by then, and employ the leftover marinade to make a vinaigrette, or drizzle it over veggies or fish.

The last vinaigrette recipe you’ll ever need: 1-2-3 dressing!

steak salad with balsamic vinaigrette

Years ago, my friend Joni introduced me to a wonderful little balsamic vinaigrette recipe she called “1-2-3 Dressing.” It was just this simple:

1 part sugar (hang on, sugar-free peeps! there are options!)

2 parts balsamic vinegar

3 parts olive oil

Combine all in a jar, and shake. Done!

Easy to remember, easy to whip up, easy to adapt to any amount you need. Are you doing a test recipe to see if you like it or need to tweak the proportions? Use teaspoons as your “part.” Making a salad for one? Use tablespoons. Making a bigger batch for the family? Use quarter cups.

It keeps well in the fridge for a week or two. The oil will solidify, but 15-30 seconds in the microwave (or an hour at room temp) and a quick shake, and it’s good as new.

This recipe was great — until I went low carb. But when I subbed Splenda for the sugar (I know, I know!) I discovered that sugar plays a pivotal role in the chemical process: the sugar helps the dressing cling to the lettuce leaves. But I also discovered a simple fix: substitute mayonnaise for part of the olive oil.

This creates a creamy balsamic salad dressing, perfect over a steak salad, a club salad, or many other options!



This opened my eyes to the fact that this lovely little formula is more than a single-dressing recipe: it’s a basic template for making almost any vinaigrette-type dressing you can imagine! You can also include more than three ingredients, as long as the total of each type of ingredient remains approximately the same. (Though I have been known to eyeball it on occasion!)

So the basic vinaigrette recipe is this:

1 part sweet and/or savory

2 parts sour/acidic/tangy

3 parts oil or soft fat

And here are various ingredients that can go in each of those categories:

Sweet/savory: honey, maple syrup, orange juice concentrate, apple juice or apple juice concentrate, berry puree (using sweet berries such as blueberries or strawberries; tart berries may need additional sweetening), pineapple juice, soy sauce (or tamari sauce or coconut aminos), ketchup, sweet pickle relish. Some savory options that you’ll want to use in limited quantities, filling up the rest of the “part” with a milder flavor: mustard, sriracha, or other hot sauce.

Sour/acidic/tangy: almost any vinegar, lime or lemon juice, pomegranate juice, pickle juice.

Oil or soft fat: olive oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil, mild-flavored nut oils, mayo (try homemade!), guacamole, bacon drippings (must be warm enough to be liquid). Strongly flavored oils – such as sesame, walnut, or hazelnut – can be combined with a milder oil.

Options: Of course, you can also add minced onion, garlic, herbs, spices, salt and pepper if you wish.



Most of these can also be used as a marinade for chicken, or a quick glaze for anything pan-seared. (See my video on how to perfectly pan-sear salmon. It goes great on salad!)

Here are some dressing combos I’ve come up with, tasted, and approved:

coconut aminos bottle
Coconut aminos are a gluten-free, soy-free alternative to soy sauce. Similar but milder flavor.

Sugar-free/Paleo/Whole30 balsamic: Use coconut aminos for the sweet/savory, along with the usual balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Add some cooked steak, chicken, or salmon to your salad, and you’ve got a complete, Paleo-friendly Whole30-compliant meal! (Thanks again, Joni, for this idea!)

Creamy balsamic: Maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, a mix of mayo and olive oil.  This is great on a steak salad, salmon, or this chicken club salad.

Basic Italian: Maple syrup (about one quarter to half what you would use for other dressings), red wine or balsamic vinegar, olive oil; also, dried oregano and a little salt. Optional additions: crushed garlic or garlic powder, rosemary, and black pepper. Try this on my antipasto salad.

Creamy Italian: Same recipe as the Basic Italian, but substitute mayo for about two-thirds of the olive oil.

Champagne vinaigrette: Try this on a salad with pan-seared salmon and fresh blueberries – one of my faves! Honey for the sweet part (a third to a half less than you would use for other dressings), champagne vinegar, and a light-flavored oil such as lite olive oil or grapeseed. Salt lightly, to taste.

Bacon dressing: My husband is not a huge salad fan, but when I make this and put crispy bacon in the salad too, he’s all over it! Maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, liquid bacon drippings (warm enough to be liquid), and a little bit of mustard. And maybe some black pepper, if the bacon wasn’t peppery.

Asian dressing: Honey, rice vinegar and/or lime juice, a mix of sesame oil and a light-flavored oil (adjust depending on your love for the flavor of sesame oil); add minced garlic and/or ginger, either powdered or fresh grated. An alternative to sesame oil: use some creamy sugar-free peanut butter or other nut butter or seed butter for part of the fat. If you use a nut butter, you may need more powerful blending than just shaking the jar.

citrus avocado salad with orange vinaigrette

Citrus dressing: This is wonderful on a salad with avocado and mango or sweet orange segments.Use a mix of orange juice concentrate and honey for the sweet part, lemon and/or lime juice and/or rice vinegar or champagne vinegar for the sour/tangy part, and a light-flavored oil. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Taste for sweet-sour balance: dip a leaf of your lettuce in the dressing. If it’s too sour, add a little more honey. If your salad will have sweet fruit such as mango or tangerines, bear in mind that will help balance the sour, too.

Special sauce dressing: I use this to make a yummy cheeseburger or bacon burger salad. Use ketchup and a little bit of mustard for the sweet/savory part; pickle juice for the tart; and mayo for all of the fat.

What’s your favorite vinaigrette? Let me know what experiments you try!

Taco hash – get your grain-free, dairy-free taco fix!

grain-free dairy-free taco hash

When you’re craving tacos, but you know you feel better if you skip the tortilla and/or the cheese, this Paleo-friendly way to get your taco fix is quick and simple when you’ve got prepped ingredients ready to go.

This isn’t a recipe: it’s an assemblage of several things I keep on hand, thrown together. If you have all the ingredients ready, this will cook up in about 15 minutes, maybe less. It’s super easy! I’ll walk you through it…

diced sweet potato and onion

I’ve always got cooked diced sweet potato and diced onion on hand in the fridge. (Check out my sweet potato post for tips and a how-to video.) On this happy day, I also had cooked, seasoned, crumbled hamburger in the freezer. I don’t always have it on hand, but when I’m cooking hamburger for a recipe or immediate meal, I try to cook extra. It’s cooked with onions and maybe garlic, and seasoned with a little salt and pepper (not too much, since it’s usually added to other things that may already have salt and heat). Then I divide it into single-serving baggies, and stash those in a gallon baggie in the freezer. The small baggies are quick and easy to thaw, making meals like this much quicker.

I rarely cook dishes like this by recipe anymore. But for those who aren’t so comfortable winging it, here’s my guess, per serving:

  • onion – about half a small onion, or a quarter of a large one
  • hamburger – about 4 oz. or 1/2 cup
  • sweet potato – equal to or a little less than the hamburger

On this particular day, I added some diced bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, and kale, but those are quite optional. Another no-chop option would be to just stir in some salsa.

Then I add a generous sprinkling of homemade taco seasoning (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon; start small, taste, and add till it suits you), stir it in, and boom! – it’s done!

(Here’s my gluten-free, sugar-free taco seasoning mix recipe.)

Toppings are optional. If I’d had avocado or guacamole on hand, I would’ve used one of those. But I didn’t, so I topped it with dairy-free “sour cream” (coconut milk yogurt with a splash of lemon juice stirred in). You could use real sour cream, if you do dairy.

Yum! Tons of flavor. You won’t miss the taco shells or the cheese at all!

Taco Hash - Ready in 15 minutes, if you have some simple ingredient prep done. Paleo + Whole30 friendly, too!

Paleo pasta alla vodka (no dairy, no pasta, no vodka!)

paleo pasta alla vodka

I remember the first time I had pasta alla vodka: in an Italian restaurant in Los Angeles — La Cucina, I think. (I was traveling and eating on someone else’s dime, which is the best!) I don’t remember what seafood it had in it, but that sauce! It hooked me. All the happy flavors of marinara, plus the extra body that cream brings to the sauce, plus a subtle little tang from the cooked-down vodka. (No, it doesn’t taste alcoholic at all.) The entire rest of my trip, at every restaurant, I tried anything that sounded like that dish, never recreating that first wow! experience.

Genuine alla vodka sauce contains cream and vodka — both no-no’s if you’re eating Paleo, or any version of a dairy-free, alcohol-free diet.  And then there’s the pasta. Non buono if you’re eating gluten-free! So although I loved this dish, and had made it at home before, I thought it was just something I could no longer enjoy except for the occasional splurge. ‘Cause I do believe in food freedom!

And I didn’t really set out to recreate that dish: I was just trying to throw together a quick meal for myself with what I had on hand. Which was some homemade marinara, shrimp (both in the freezer), and some zucchini. Hmm, I thought, I can make zoodles and top them with marinara and shrimp!

CoYo coconut yogurt Then, as that was cooking on the stovetop, I thought how nice a little creaminess would be in that sauce. Then — aha! — I remembered I had some coconut yogurt in the fridge! I stirred a bit into the sauce and tasted it: the yogurt adds not just creaminess, but also that slight bit of tang you get from cooked-down vodka. And it brought back the memory of that first heavenly taste.

(Sure, you could try a different brand. I just haven’t tested any others, so I don’t know how they’d turn out. Or, if you’re not avoiding dairy, you could substitute some full-fat plain Greek yogurt for the coconut yogurt.)

And this dish really goes together quickly.  If your shrimp is already thawed and you have marinara on hand, you’ll be enjoying delicious, MOL (mmm out loud) food in less than 20 minutes!

I highly recommend using homemade marinara. It’s so simple, takes just 30 minutes, and tastes infinitely superior to store-bought. (Check out my homemade marinara recipe.) However, if you don’t have time, you can certainly use jarred marinara. Look for a sugar-free brand, if possible.

If you don’t like shrimp, you could substitute lobster or crab. Or chicken, if you must.

I’ve made a short video showing just how easy it is to make zoodles. Please note: I say that they only need to be cooked a minute or two. It will probably be longer than that, but it depends on the thickness of your noodles, the heat in your dish, and your desired texture. Just taste them every so often; you’ll learn what works for you.

Not avoiding gluten or grains? Sure: use your favorite pasta. Cook it beforehand, and add it when you would add the zoodles. (Did you know that cooking pasta, cooling it in the fridge, then reheating it changes the starch? It reduces its impact on your blood sugar, and the resistant starch is “superfood for your digestive system.” Cool, huh?!)

Whether or not you’ve tried pasta alla vodka before, I think you’ll love this dish!


Paleo pasta alla vodka recipe

serves 2


2 medium zucchini

10 oz. large raw shrimp (fresh or frozen, peeled and deveined, no tails)

salt and pepper

oil for cooking the shrimp (olive oil, coconut oil, or avocado oil)

1.5 cups marinara (homemade, if possible. here’s my recipe.)

1/4 cup CoYo brand coconut yogurt, plain flavor*

optional: a couple large leaves of fresh basil


*Note: if you’re not avoiding dairy, you may substitute full-fat plain Greek yogurt for the coconut yogurt, reducing amount to 3 tablespoons.

Prepare the zoodles and set aside. Thaw the shrimp. Pat them dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mince or julienne the basil, if using, and set aside.

Heat a medium-large saucepan over medium heat. Once it’s ready (a few drops of water splashed in the pan should sizzle a bit before evaporating), add a drizzle of oil and let it heat up a minute; then add the shrimp. Let the shrimp cook on one side until you see most of the tails starting to turn pink-white. Turn the shrimp over and cook until most of them are curled into a closed circle. You want them just barely or even a little under-done. They’ll continue to cook after you take them off the heat.

Remove the shrimp to a dish and keep warm. Add the marinara to the pan and heat through; add the yogurt and stir till well mixed.

Add the zoodles and stir to combine. Let them cook in the sauce until they’re done to your liking. Pull out a noodle to taste-test the texture. This should only take a few minutes.

When it’s all heated through and the zoodles are done to your taste, remove the mixture to a serving bowl or individual bowls or plates, and top with the shrimp and basil.

Mangia! Enjoy!

Paleo Pasta Alla Vodka -- without diary, pasta, OR vodka! 20-minute meal -- Whole30 compliant, too!

Sriracha cream sauce or dip

Sriracha cream sauce recipe

A couple weeks ago, we had a delicious dinner at Lemongrass: Taste of Vietnam in Old Town. We ordered a couple appetizers, one of which was “Crabocado” – a perfect avocado stuffed with lump crab and drizzled with a Sriracha cream sauce. All four of us — two of us spice wimps, two not — devoured it! Later, my husband’s side dish of green beans came drizzled with what looked to be the same sauce. This man is not a fan of green beans: he sort of likes them when I add carmelized onions and plenty of bacon. But drizzled with that sauce? He ate ’em all up!

So I’ve been trying to recreate that sauce. I doubt my ingredients are the same, but I think I got close in flavor.

What can you do with this stuff?

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