Browsing Category: tips & tricks

Make-ahead roasted sweet potato

Whole30 Paleo breakfast: easy with make-ahead prep!

One of the biggest challenges in eating clean and healthy is putting together meals. And one of the most important tips/tricks for making healthy meals super easy is to have some food “building blocks” ready in your fridge and freezer at all times. I plan to do a complete post on this soon, but for now, here is one of my favorites: sweet potatoes. They’re easy to prep, keep well in the fridge, and very versatile at playing well with other foods.

Plus, when you’re looking for nutrient-dense foods, sweet potato is a super-hero source of Vitamin A! This chart shows amounts for a whole 5″ potato, but even half this is good! (nutrition data source)

sweet potato nutrition chart

I learned this prep method from the ladies at Layers of Happiness, but their recipe was for a complete dish. I’ve just borrowed the method, and adapted it for the ready-t0-go-ingredients tray in my Whole30 compliant fridge. (A post for another day.)

I start with a medium-sized sweet potato. What I’m calling “medium”  is about 5 or 6″ long and roughly 3″ wide at the widest point. Give it a good scrubbing with a vegetable brush under running water, then pat dry. Poke several holes in it with a fork. I usually make three or four pokes on one side, then turn it over and repeat.

Then I put it in the microwave on high for one minute and 45 seconds; turn it over and repeat. (Please note that all microwaves are different and you will probably need to experiment to find the timing that works with yours.)

If you learn better by watching, here’s a short video:

Next, I take it out and cut it in half. It should be somewhat soft all the way through. It doesn’t need to be thoroughly soft, and you really don’t want it to be. But if it’s still hard in the middle, you can put the halves cut-side-down on a microwave safe plate and zap it for another 30 – 45 seconds.

Then, using a sharp paring or steak knife, cut the flesh of the sweet potato into cubes of about 1/2″ — but don’t cut all the way through to the skin. You may go ahead and cut all the way through the middle, if you like. (Note/update: I used to leave them semi-cut, like this, but I found that I usually use them diced, so now I just cut all the way through the skin and store them diced.)

cubed roasted sweet potato - whole30, paleo

Just stash this in an airtight container in the fridge, ready to deploy for all kinds of easy Whole30/Paleo meals. Such as…

A breakfast stir-fry with eggs, sausage, spinach, and sweet potato.

whole30 paleo breakfast eggs sausage sweet potato spinach

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Another breakfast option — and one reason you don’t cut all the way through the skin. Scramble your favorite eggs and meat combo, and serve it on top of a reheated sweet potato half or quarter. Add snipped chives, if you have ’em, for color and flavor:

whole30 paleo easy meal: egg + bacon scramble on sweet potato

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A super-easy side dish: Spread some bacon fat (or other healthy fat of your choice), salt, and pepper on top, and reheat. Sweet potato and pork were made for each other:

whole30 paleo dinner: pork, sweet potato + cauliflower

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Another easy meal is to top a prepped, reheated sweet potato with some pulled pork or carnitas — then top it all off with some caramelized onions. I haven’t shot a photo of that exact dish, but here’s a similar combo from Free the Animal:

carnitas on sweet potato, by freetheanimal.com
image by freetheanimal.com

 

(Mashing your sweet potatoes is another option.)

One of my favorite easy lunches is to throw some leftover pork or sausage in some bone broth — either chicken or ham — and some veggies from my make-ahead tray; here, I used sweet potato, onion, and zucchini:

sausage, sweet potato, zucchini soup - make ahead paleo whole30

 

This soup is thickened with an egg yolk. On this particular day, I was lucky enough to have some local eggs from a friend. The yolks were almost orange, and it gave the broth a lovely golden color!

The healthy breakfast and soup options are really endless — even within Whole30 restrictions! Once you have some mostly-cooked, mostly-diced sweet potato in the fridge, you’ll find all kinds of new ways to use this flavorful, healthful, versatile veggie!

Like this post? Please pin it!

whole30 paleo sweet potato tips

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New to eating gluten-free? Or thinking of going Paleo?

Check out my 20-Day Countdown to a New Way of Eating!

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3 hours on the weekend, 10 meals for the week

meals-for-the-week

Don’t be impressed by me: this isn’t my meal planning! This is a Columbia University student who has this concept completely nailed.

So impressed by this guy. He’s pursuing a PhD in Electrical Engineering, which has got to keep his schedule busy. But every weekend, he takes a few hours to prep and package five lunches and five dinners for the upcoming week.

meals for the week, ready to go

And this is no tuna casserole or hamburger surprise! His meals feature things like lemon tilapia, roasted carrots, mashed sweet potatoes with honey and cinnamon, Cajun rice.

I have got in the habit of keeping my freezer stashed with healthy homemade burritos. I love how easy and thought-less it is to just grab one and pop it in the microwave. And it’s been part of the bigger effort that’s enabled me to lose more than 20 pounds in the last few months!

But for now, check out Sean’s plan. Get the whole story (and a couple recipes) here.

P.S. If this kind of meal planning makes your head hurt, you might prefer my “Meal plan for people who hate to meal plan.”

7 ways to make lemons last longer

530ccbdc697ab036f0003b89._w.540_s.fit_
how to make lemons last longer
The Kitchn featured a post on how to keep lemons from drying out before you can use them. Their solution? Sealed in a ziplock bag in the fridge. But there were so many interesting notes in the comments, I’ve edited and compiled the best tips to make lemons last longer here.
  1. I have another solution which works for me when I’m not too lazy: when I have several lemons, I zest them all in one go and keep it in a plastic container the freezer. I also freeze the juice in ice cube trays. That way I always have lemon juice and zest on hand.
  2. I keep all citrus in my crisper drawer (humidity set to low).
  3. For lemons I want to keep whole, for an extended period, I dip into very hot water (120 to 125F) to kill any surface mold. I then put them in a bowl of fresh water, submerged completely by using a plate and other weight, in the fridge. Changing the water daily or every other day seems to be enough. I can keep fresh lemons in the fridge for up to two months.
  4. I had a problem with moisture accumulating in the sealed bag, but solved that with a tip I read on another site: chill the lemons first in the fridge, then put them in a sealed plastic bag. Nowhere near the moisture you’d get putting them in the plastic bag at room temperature. Dunno why, but it makes all the difference!
  5. I have discovered by accident that, since I’ve put lemons into an apothocary type jar (not tight fitting lid) on the counter out of direct sunlight, the lemons have stayed for months.
  6. Lemons that have become hard while sitting in the fridge can be brought back to life by a day of soaking in cold water.
  7. I wipe them clean to remove any wax or dark spots, and then freeze them whole in a bag. When I need the zest (yellow part of rind) I just pull one out of the freezer and scrape it directly into the recipe mixture. In this way, no pith (the bitter white part of rind) will find its way into the recipe. Another benefit that I found was that I don’t lose any lemon rind oils, which defrost straight into the recipe mix and not spray all over the kitchen counter. If I need to use the juice, I’ll let the lemons defrost for a couple of hours and them squeeze them. Unfortunately, once totally defrosted, the lemons will be squashy and not good for slicing and decoration.

 

Three weeks of week-night menus

3-week-menu
Note: These days, I use my sort-of meal plan (explained in my ebook “The meal plan for people who hate to meal plan“), but in a different season of life, this three-week plan was a life-saver.
When my kids were still living at home and evenings were crazy-busy, I used a three-week rotation to save me the trouble of having to figure out day-by-day what we were having for dinner. And I created a grocery list for each week that I kept on the computer. I resisted this level of planning for a long time (I’m an artist, man!), but once I started using it, it freed up SO much brain-space and simplified life so much, I loved it.

Here’s kinda what three weeks looked like for us, but for you, I’ve chosen recipes that are less carb-heavy than what we were eating when our kids were small, and dishes that I think most people would like.

(Later note: they pre-date my Paleo days, so they’re not all wheat-, sugar-, or dairy-free. But they are pretty whole-food focused.)

A few notes to make it easier:

Every Monday is a salmon dish; I try to eat salmon at least once a week for health reasons. I like to do it on Monday, because I’m usually not on top of things most Mondays, I always keep individual portions of salmon in the freezer, and it cooks in 10 minutes! If fish on Friday is part of your routine, feel free to switch it up.

Every Tuesday, you make extra chicken to be used later in the week.

Once you’ve tested these recipes and decided which are keepers, you can make up the seasoning mixes in bulk to streamline that part of weeknight cooking.

Note that some recipes can have part of the prep work done the night before, or earlier in the day, to further simplify your evening prep time.

Many of my recipes incorporate vegetables so I don’t have to make a side dish, but for those that do need one, my side dish usually consists of this: pulling a bag of frozen vegetables (green beans, cauliflower, mixed veggies) or pre-sliced carrots out of the fridge, steaming them, and adding some butter and salt. Other possible additions: cheese, for broccoli or cauliflower; pine-nuts, almonds or pecans for green beans; orange marmalade or cinnamon for carrots.

Week 1:

paleo whole30 real food main dishes, entrees, meat

Tues: Super easy shredded chicken tacos  (start early; uses a slow-cooker. make extra for tomorrow’s salad)

Wed: Tex-Mex salad 

Thurs: 10-Minute French dip (Or freezer burritos. Gluten-free option included.)

Fri: Asian lettuce wraps

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Week 2:

Almost-Panera's Asian Chicken Salad

Mon: Ancho-crusted salmon (Substitute an off-the-shelf BBQ dry rub if you don’t want to make your own. But I highly recommend this one!)

Tues: Honey-mustard grilled chicken * (make extra for tomorrow’s salad)

Wed: Almost-Panera’s Asian salad

Thurs: Chipotle pork tacos

Fri: Salsa verde chicken

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Week 3:

curry-chicken-salad-be2-500

Mon: Herb-crusted salmon

Tues: Easy roasted chicken breasts (make extra for tomorrow’s and Friday’s salad)

Wed: Caesar salad with leftover chicken; here’s a recipe for easy homemade Caesar dressing without raw or coddled eggs.

Thurs: Herb-roasted pork tenderloin

Fri: Orange-cranberry chicken salad

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For Fall and Winter meals, I would substitute the following soups for the Wednesday night salads:

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*These recipes have not been tested by me, but they’re highly rated on AllRecipes.com.

Timetable for roasting vegetables

roasted vegetables
I have previously posted this in recipe form, but since I work out a detailed timing schedule for all of my cooking on Thanksgiving and keep it in a file on my computer,* I thought I’d share my schedule for making a large batch of roasted vegetables for a crowd.

This schedule assumes you’ll be serving the meal at about 12:30. Adjust as needed.
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Roasted vegetables cooking schedule

earlier** – chop carrots, onions, peppers and zucchini
10:30 – preheat oven to 400 F; cut potatoes
10:50 – put carrots and potatoes in oven; snap the asparagus
11:10 – turn carrots and potatoes
11:35 – take carrots and potatoes out; put onions and peppers in
11:45 – turn onions and peppers
11:55 – take onions & peppers out; put zucchini in
12:05 – add asparagus to zucchini; toss; put back in
12:15 – take veg’s out of oven

The full recipe.

Make-ahead tip: The vegetables can be roasted and kept at room temperature up to 2 hours in advance or refrigerated up to 1 day in advance. Reheat from room temperature at 350° F to 400° F. Do they taste as amazing as roasted veggies fresh out of the oven? Not quite, but still delicious!

*This makes me sound super organized in the kitchen. Ha! The REASON I spell all this out carefully and keep record of it is because, while I can (and do) get by with winging-it in the kitchen for daily cooking, holidays and parties require more organizing than I can do in my head. And I find that the less info I try to store in my head, the less wigged-out I get trying to stay on top of it all!

**For all the veggies except the potatoes, you can chop them earlier that morning, or do them the day before and store in the fridge, grouped according to what goes into the oven together.

Truly the best & easiest way to cook bacon!

best way to cook bacon

I’ve tried ’em all — stovetop, grill, microwave, and oven on a slotted broiling pan — but this method makes crispy, evenly-done, flat bacon with substantially less mess than any other method.

Here’s the summary:

  • use good quality, fairly thickly-cut bacon (I like Wright brand, at Dillon’s)
  • preheated 400 F oven
  • good quality cookie sheet: half sheet for 8 oz of bacon; full sheet for 16 oz.
  • cover the cookie sheet with aluminum foil completely; up the sides and around the edge, for the easiest clean up
  • lay the bacon on the foil, close but not touching
  • bake for 12 minutes, pour off excess fat (save it for another use), return to the oven
  • check every two minutes till done to your liking, minus a bit (it will continue to cook a bit after being pulled from the oven)

Clean-up consists of carefully draining off the rest of the grease, wadding up the foil and tossing it in the trash!

For more details, check out the original article from The Kitchn. (Photo from The Kitchn.)

How to quickly thaw meat without a microwave

thawing-meat-550

This simple trick defrosts steaks, chops, chicken breasts and other small cuts of meat in 10 to 12 minutes, without the microwave. And it’s approved both by the FDA and America’s Test Kitchen. (But it shouldn’t be used on larger items like roasts or whole chickens.)

Place each individual cut of meat in a zip-sealed plastic bag. Heat a large pot of water on the stove till the water measures 140 F. If you don’t have a thermometer,* the water will be steaming, with just a few small bubbles on the bottom.
Remove the pan from the burner, and place the meat in the water. According to the Test Kitchen, chicken breasts should take about 10 minutes, and cuts of pork or steak about 12. They recommend not leaving any cut it the water more than 45 minutes (I’d recommend even less).
*P.S. If you don’t have a cooking thermometer, you really should get one. Learning the proper temperature for different cuts of meat will improve your cooking like nothing else! It can also be used for making sure water is the right temp for meat, green tea, or yeast doughs, or even to make sure a loaf of bread is done in the middle. This is the cooking thermometer we use. It’s handy because it has a remote, so you can put your food in the oven or on the grill, then go do whatever you need to do elsewhere, but still keep an eye on the food’s temp. Love it!

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Meat image and info from America’s Test Kitchen.

 

Two handy apps for comparing food nutrition info

nutritiondata-graham-color-charts
Have you ever wondered how two foods stack up against each other, nutrition-wise? Here are a couple handy online tools that will help you do just that.

Self Magazine’s Nutrition Data

This is an extensive database with great depth of nutrion info on a wide variety of foods. Looking at a single food you can find out how filling it is compared to how nutritios it is, as well as showing you a calorie breakdown for carbs, fats and protein:

Or how complete its nutrient (vitamins and minerals) or protein profile is (i.e, how many essential amino acids its contains). 
There are also detailed lists on where the calories come from, how the carbs break down, info on fats and fatty acids, and more.
You can access all this information for free and without registering. You can also choose to compare two or more foods, but for that, you will need to register. (You will be able to opt out from getting emails sent to you.)

Two Foods

While TwoFoods.com gives you limited control and limited data, it is super simple to operate. Simply type in two food names, and you can find out how they compare in calories, carbs, fat and protein. Say, Wheat Thins vs. Triscuits, for example…

And which is healthier for topping your cracker, low fat cheddar cheese, or low fat cream cheese?

Now you have no excuse for choosing the least healthy between two snack options. (Sorry!)