Back to Earth Tacos | Got To Be NC Beef

This post has been sponsored by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. I received both monetary and product compensation in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

Nestled along the banks of the Uwharrie River near Asheboro, North Carolina is the picturesque home of Tom and Janice Henslee. They share their home with Janice’s mother, as well as a number of bees, free-range chickens, three adorable Brussels Griffon pups, and a field of grass-fed cows. There is plenty of wildlife, too, on the 110 acres that is Back to Earth Farm.

I had the pleasure of spending a morning with the Henslees. They welcomed me into their home to chat about the history of the farm, explain how their farm operates, and share their plans for the future. As I hung onto their every word, I was excited to hear that we share similar beliefs in holistic health and nutrition.

Tom and Janice Henslee
(
photo courtesy of Back to Earth Farm)

In 2013, Tom and Janice moved to North Carolina from Texas to establish Back to Earth Farm. They wanted a place where they could regain and maintain their health: body, mind, spirit, and environment. They “walk to talk,” so to speak, by reconnecting with nature to promote a well-balanced life. Tom and Janice are passionate about renewing the health of the land through regenerative farming practices, connecting communities with a healthy food source, and offering a place for people to learn, rest, rejuvenate, and have fun.

Tom and Janice explained the details of their sustainable farm model. They focus on healthy soil, which produces healthy plants, that will be eaten by healthy animals. That combination makes for healthier people. I was fascinated to learn that Janice had acquired a microscope specifically for viewing soil samples. She explained that she would look for live microbes, which promotes a healthy environment.

These microbes are often nonexistent in farms that use artificial fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. However, the Henslees do not have a need for artificial fertilizers because they choose to utilize managed grazing. Simply put, their cows are contained to an area to feed for a certain period of time. The cows are moved before all of the grass is eaten, allowing the grass in that area to regrow before the cows return to that specific part of the pasture. Using this method allows the cattle to spread their own manure as natural fertilizer.

Did you know that grass-fed beef has 80% less total fat than grain-fed, along with more antioxidants and vitamins? Tom and Janice’s cattle are also GMO free and raised without growth hormones or antibiotics.

After our morning of great conversation, I received a guided tour of the property. There is a serene beauty the encompasses the still-growing farm.

Map of Back to Earth Farm

(image courtesy of Back to Earth Farm)

As we neared the river, the hidden gem of the farm appeared. It’s a hand-crafted cabin made from cedar and pine. The 2 bedroom, 1 bath retreat is available for rent, and includes a full kitchen, heating and air, fireplace, TV, wraparound lower porch, 2 upper-level porches, and a carport. It sleeps 6 comfortably but is not child-proofed.

BTE Cabin

I immediately fell in love with the charm of the cabin. From the gorgeous dining room table handmade by Janice herself to the hammock on the wraparound porch overlooking the river, guests are sure to fall in love with this peaceful getaway. Janice went on to share her dreams for Back to Earth Farm. In addition to their sustainable farm producing nutrient-dense food, she envisions one day offering wellness retreats and educational workshops. For now, she is focusing on growing her most recent inception – a wedding venue! [I plan to write a future blog specifically about Janice’s wonderful ideas.]

BTE Cabin Kitchen

When we arrived back to the house, it was time for me to become Farmer Tom’s chief farm hand. He and I headed out to the pasture to move fencing. The cows heard his whistle and hurried through the field to meet him at the fence line. Like well-trained pets, they knew what was about to happen; it was time for fresh grass to eat. As he reeled in the line, I removed the temporary fence posts from the ground. The cows were very interactive, and seemed just as interested to see me as I was to see them. Tom took the fence posts from me and started to reset them in their new location. I followed behind, securing the line to the posts. And just like that, I became a tiny part of their efforts to leave the land healthier than when they arrived. Restorative farming at it’s best.

BTE cattle
BTE newborn calf
(
The newest member of Back to Earth Farm, a 5-day old calf.)

Before I said goodbye, Tom filled a bag with a selection of meat, from ground beef to filet mignon. I admit that I was a little sad to leave my new friends and the amazing farm that they have created, but I was equally as excited to head home and prepare something tasty with local, grass-fed NC beef.

I love simple, whole food recipes and from-scratch meals. I decided to make tacos with organic, non-GMO ingredients to pay homage to the Henslees and the holistic philosophy that we share.

Ingredients:
1lb grass-fed beef
1/2 small onion (organic)
1/2 bell pepper (organic)
1 zucchini (organic)
3/4 cups water
1T chili powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp paprika
1.5 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1T olive oil

Additional Organic Ingredients:
1 tomato (diced)
black olives (small jar, sliced)
shredded lettuce
guacamole
non-dairy shredded cheddar cheese
gluten free taco shells and/or gluten free soft tortillas

Instructions:
Prepare by dicing the organic vegetables. I love adding fresh veggies to any main dish. They provide extra nutrition as well as offering more flavor and texture to a meal.

vegetables

Add olive oil to a medium-sized saucepan; heat on high. Then add diced vegetables. Sauté until tender.

saute

Remove the sautéed vegetables from the saucepan and set aside. In the same saucepan, add the grass-fed ground beef. Brown thoroughly.

beef

When the beef has finished cooking, drain grease (if there is any; my Back to Earth beef had very little!) and return beef to saucepan, along with sautéed vegetables and taco spices.

combine

Side note: I use spices instead of a prepackaged taco mix. However, there are several great choices available if you do not have individual spices on hand. Check out: Wick Fowler’s Taco Seasoning or McCormick Organic Gluten Free Taco Seasoning. Both are available at local grocery stores.

Add water, mixing ingredients well, and heat to boiling.

taco mix

Reduce heat; simmering uncovered 4-5 minutes, stirring often, until thickened.

To assemble taco, select preferred taco shell. I used both a Garden of Eatin’ brand yellow taco shell and an Udi’s brand plain tortilla, which mimics a soft taco shell.

Add beef mixture, then layer with lettuce, tomato, olives, guacamole, vegan cheese, [I prefer Daiya brand cheese.] or any other topping of choice.

Back to Earth Tacos

There you have it! A simple, whole food taco that is delicious, healthy, and takes less than 30 minutes to prepare and cook.

I have had so much fun learning about local grass-fed beef. There are a lot of choices for consumers when it come to NC Beef, available throughout the state in farm stores, at farmers’ markets, and online. Back to Earth Farm offers online shopping, as well as scheduled deliveries. If you’re interested in learning more about Back to Earth, or scheduling your own farm tour there, please visit their website: Back to Earth Farm

As I mentioned earlier, this post was sponsored by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. It is an honor to be featured alongside eight amazing bloggers who also toured NC farms and shared their recipes. Please check out their posts below.

Got To Be NC Beef Farm Tours

And What To Make with Your NC Beef

Red Lentil Spaghetti {with Sauteed Vegetables in Tomato Basil Sauce}

Feed A Cold, Fuel Your Body

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I started to feel under the weather. I started taking cold medication, hoping to ward off any germs but apparently I was too late. On Monday, I was diagnosed with a sinus infection – my first in nearly four years – and given a prescription for antibiotic.

I did nothing on Monday but sleep, hence the reason for the missing blog post. Apparently my body was exhausted, and the only way to slow me down was to knock me off my feet with this “crud”, as I call it. It’s Thursday, and I’m still not feeling well. (Although I am feeling better!)

I had planned to blog about another topic today, but this sickness has really be interesting to me from a food perspective. I thought I would delay the other post and share with you my cravings, and my take on them.

When 21 months pass between sinus infections, you would think that I wouldn’t remember the details. Oh, but I do! I am quite certain I picked up something on the plane to Haiti and, while I spent the week in the third-world country,  it developed into the worst double ear infection and sinus infection of my life. I knew I was sick, but I had no idea how sick until the day I flew home. The truth is, I probably shouldn’t have flown home. I was THAT sick. It took a month of strong antibiotics and lots of rest to recover. I will spare you any other details. In the next year, I developed other health problems and eventually learned of my food allergies. After learning that I had to give up dairy forever, I was told by my physician that I would likely see a decrease in sinus infections… and I did. I was actually surprised at this one. But she did say “decrease” and not “an end.”

When I learned of my food allergies, I obviously adopted a new way of eating… but it wasn’t entirely due to the elimination of gluten, casein, and whey. I started to eat more whole foods. I try sticking to the simple, natural ingredients when I can. I figure the less stuff, the less chance of worrying with food allergies. I avoid genetically modified foods and shop organic and local when I can. I now eat farm fresh eggs “right out of the chicken”, honey that is harvested and bottled by a coworker, and produce grown by farmers that I’ve built relationships with and know now on a first-name basis. I didn’t view it as a fad diet, like some who eat this way on occasion to drop a few pounds. It was my new way of life. I did see immediate changes: weight loss, more energy, and better skin, to name a few. But two years later, I am still seeing changes.

I remember when I returned from Haiti, sick and pouty, all I wanted was comfort food. My brother had picked me up from the airport, and I begged him to stop and buy me french fries & a sweet tea on our drive home. When I got home, I recall waking up from naps on the couch and eating things like grilled cheese with mayonnaise, mac & cheese, or Doritos. I was out of work for nearly a week following my return because all I wanted to do was sleep. Granted, I was more sick than I am now, but I suffered from fatigue in addition to the infections.

Jump ahead to this week. It dawned on me last night that I have only reached for comfort food once during this sickness, and it was at the very beginning on Sunday morning. And it was eggs, gf/df toast and milk gravy. One meal. One proportioned meal of decent ingredients. Comfort food doesn’t have to equate to junk food! The rest of the time, I haven’t really been able to taste anything. (My nose is so stuffy that it has affected my smell and taste.) However, I have noticed that I still crave certain things: fruits and vegetables! The only things I wanted to eat after that comfort food meal were oranges and bananas, so I listened to my body and ate those. The following day, I continued to crave the same thing but also ate small portions of rice. I couldn’t taste anything, but my tummy wanted it. By Tuesday, I had an insane craving for a giant salad. I filled it with veggies, tossed in some hard boiled eggs for protein, and topped it off with banana peppers and jalapenos, hoping their kick would offer up some flavor. Despite not being able to taste it either, I enjoyed the crunch of the fresh veggies that I wasn’t getting with the fruit. I only missed one day of work, and have had more overall energy than I expected with this sickness. I can’t help but to think that the fuel that I’ve been feeding my body this time around has played a key role in recovery. Because of that, I am planning to blog more about whole food and the benefit of food as fuel for our bodies in upcoming posts.

This morning, I woke up with one thing in mind… spaghetti with sautéed veggies! I know I must be feeling better to actually want to prepare a meal. 🙂 Luckily, this is an extremely easy meal to prepare.


I love sautéed fresh vegetables as a base for almost every meal.


Red lentil pasta has two ingredients: lentil flour and brown rice flour. It is low in carbs, sodium, and sugar, and high in protein.


Doesn’t this look delicious? I save leftovers to make homemade pizza! (I use a store-brand sauce from my local grocery store.)

Ingredients:
2 oz of red lentil spaghetti
1 medium-sized zucchini, halved and sliced
1/2 small onion, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
coconut oil
tomato and basil spaghetti sauce

Instructions:
Boil 1 qt of water in a medium saucepan
Add pasta and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally

While waiting on water to boil, prepare vegetables
Heat frying pan and add 1 T of coconut oil
Sauté vegetables in coconut oil
Reduce to low and add in spaghetti sauce
Simmer until warmed thoroughly

When pasta is cooked to desired consistency, empty saucepan into strainer. Allow water to drain from pasta thoroughly, then place pasta back into saucepan. (Optional step: add butter or vegan substitute to pasta to help spaghetti to not stick together.)

*Some people prefer to combine the pasta with the sauce and mix. I plate mine separately so that I can use leftover sauce!

Serve as is or with a simple side salad. Quick, easy, allergy-friendly, and nutritious!

Honey Veracha Chicken & Rice

This post has been sponsored by True Made Foods in conjunction with NC Blogger Network. I received compensation in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

I’m not one to use Sriracha in recipes because my tolerance for super hot sauces is a bit lower than most folks. I love spicy foods but when things are too hot, I feel like they lose flavor over the heat of the spice.

That is why, when I was ask to give True Made Foods’ Veracha sauce a try, I was a bit reluctant at first. However, I quickly learned that Veracha stands for Vegetables + Sriracha. That’s right… the secret to True Made Foods sauces is that they contain vegetables! For a conscious eater like myself, I love the idea of products combining flavor and nutrition. The Veracha sauce contains carrots, butternut squash, and spinach. I know what you’re thinking, “But can they really hide vegetables in their sauces?” I had to find out!

True Made Foods was kind enough to send me a bottle of their Veracha sauce to sample, along with their Ketchup and BBQ Sauce. Since I was unsure as to how spicy their Veracha sauce was, I opted to make a slow cooker version of Honey Sriracha Chicken. [I’ll include that recipe below.] The combination of honey with the hot sauce cuts out some of the heat.

To my surprise, the Veracha sauce is not at spicy as Sriracha. Don’t get me wrong, it still has a kick to it, but the heat of the spices are not over-powering. It is packed full of flavor — delicious, mouth-watering flavor! There’s a hint of sweet to it just before it delivers a wonderfully spicy heat. It is incredible! And did I mention that it’s made with vegetables? This sauce is truly the best of both worlds. I will never make Honey Sriracha Chicken again. From this point forward, I only make Honey Veracha Chicken!

Since True Made Foods created such an amazing hot sauce, I knew that I couldn’t wait to try their Ketchup too. It also contains carrots, butternut squash, and spinach. Their ketchup has 50% less added sugar than most other brands! Y’all… this is amazing ketchup! It is tangy and sweet, and the perfect thickness. It makes other brands taste watered-down and bland. You have got to try it for yourself!

IMG_1165

You can find their products in a number of places. You can place an order online via their website, or you can find them in select Super Target and select Whole Foods. Their Veracha and Ketchup can also now be found in all Lowes Foods!

True Made Foods is making American food healthy, turning empty calorie foods into nutrient dense foods. Their hot sauce is pure Paleo, and their Ketchup and BBQ Sauce are also gluten free and vegan. All are non-GMO!

Fun Fact: The carrots and butternut squash used in these products come from family-owned farms in Eastern North Carolina.

Please follow True Made Foods on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

If you’re looking for an easy recipe for these products that highlights their incredible taste, consider Honey Veracha Chicken & Rice!

INGREDIENTS
3 chicken breasts
1.5 cups water
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup honey
4 tablespoons TMF Veracha sauce
1 tablespoons TMF Ketchup
salt and pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS
Place chicken breasts into the slow cooker.
In a medium-sized bowl, combine together the remaining ingredients.
Pour mixture over the chicken breasts.
Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours.

IMG_1168
When chicken is cooked thoroughly, remove from slow cooker and shred with a fork.
Remove 1.5 cups of the Honey Veracha chicken broth from the slow cooker and set aside.
Return shredded chicken to the remainder of the broth and adjust the slow cooker to warm.

ADDITIONAL INGREDIENTS
1 cup white Jasmine rice
1.5 cups Honey Veracha chicken broth
2 zucchini
small onion
coconut oil

ADDITIONAL INSTRUCTIONS
In a saucepan, bring Honey Veracha chicken broth to a boil.
Stir in rice, cover. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.
In a separate saucepan over medium-high heat, sauté diced zucchini and onion in coconut oil.
When tender, add cooked rice to saucepan containing sautéed vegetables.

IMG_1169
Serve shredded chicken with rice, and enjoy!

*Because I absolutely love the flavor and can’t get enough of it, I drizzled a small amount of Veracha sauce directly on top of my chicken for an added kick of spices. 🙂

 

Slow Cooker Creamy Chicken & Rice Soup

There are days that I plan to blog about food, and I do a fabulous job capturing beautiful photos in the kitchen. Then, there are other days that I quickly throw something together and regret later that I didn’t photograph the process with my Canon DSLR and good lighting.

Today is one of those days that I regret.

I was in the midst of juggling cleaning with crafting, and had very little time to cook. I had chicken in the refrigerator that was about to expire, and a cabbage head that needed to be eaten. It was a cold, windy day… and this quickly transpired:

SLOW COOKER CHICKEN & RICE SOUP

Ingredients

  • 1lb thawed, thin chicken breasts
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, sliced
  • 1/2 small cabbage head, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon rosemary
  • 2 Tablespoons Earth Balance Vegan Butter
  • 5 cups gluten-free chicken broth
  • 1 cup culinary coconut milk
  • 3/4 cup Jasmine rice

Instructions

Layer all ingredients into a 6-quart crock pot. I started with the chicken breasts on the bottom, topped with onions, carrots, and cabbage, and then added spices, rice, and broth/milk. Cook on low for 4 hours or until chicken breasts are cooked through. Rice should be done around the same time. (If not, remove chicken and allow rice to finish cooking before final step.) Shred chicken then stir back into soup and serve. Soup will thicken as it cools. Serves approximately 4.

Quick. Easy. Delicious.

Chocolate Coconut Cream Pie [Gluten- and Dairy-Free]

This pie is THE BEST tasting pie on earth. No, really! That’s exactly what my dad proclaimed when I made it for his birthday last week. And what Dad says, goes. At least that is what I grew up being told. 🙂

Although it may not be the best pie on earth, it is truly the best tasting gluten free, diary free pie that I have made. It is seriously so good that I can’t image ever topping this pie. If you love chocolate and coconut (think Mounds candy bar), you will want to give this pie a try. It is simple to make, and doesn’t take long to prepare.

Ingredients:

  • Mi-Del Chocolate Snap gluten free pie crust (available in most grocery stores alongside regular
    pre-made crusts)
  • So Delicious CocoWhip (available in select grocery stores beside other frozen whipped toppings)
  • 1 can coconut cream (14 oz)
  • 1/2 cup non-dairy milk
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch (this can be replaced with arrowroot powder, if you prefer)
  • 2/3 cup cashews
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil

Instructions:

Before you begin, place cashews into a bowl and cover with water.  You will want these to soak no less than 4 hours, although they can soak longer. When they’re ready, rinse well.

Shake the can of coconut cream well before opening. Measure out 1 cup and pour it into a mixing bowl. Add in the cornstarch and whisk until all lumps are removed. Set aside.

Pour the remaining coconut cream into a measuring cup. There should be approx. 1/2 cup. Pour your choice of non-dairy milk (I use cashew milk) into the coconut cream to make a total of 1 cup. So this means you’ll probably use about 1/2 cup of non-dairy milk.

Add the cream/milk to a blender with soaked and rinsed cashews, maple syrup, cocoa powder, vanilla, and salt. Blend ingredients until they become smooth and creamy.

When they’re blended well, pour the mixture into a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk continuously as it heats, bringing the mixture to a gentle simmer. When the mixture is simmering well, reduce heat to low and pour in the cream/cornstarch

Continue to whisk all ingredients for approximately 5-10 minutes until it begins to thickens. When it starts to have the same consistency as pudding, remove the mixture from the heat and add in the coconut oil. Whisk again until the mixture appears glossy.

The mixture is now ready to pour into the pies crust. Doesn’t it look delicious? Refrigerate for 4 hours.

Tip: When you place the pie into the refrigerator, this is the perfect time to also remove the Cocowhip from the freezer and place it into the refrigerator as well. This will give the Cocowhip time to thaw, which will make it easier to spread.

After 4 hours, add a layer of softened Cocowhip onto the top of the firmed pie. It’s ready to serve!

You’ll be tempted to eat it quickly because it tastes so good, but be sure to savor every bite of deliciousness. If you give this pie a try, be sure to let me know if you love it as much as I do!

 

I was not compensated for this post, and it contains no affiliate links. All opinions are my own and not influenced in any way. All photos © 2016 by jennonamission.

 

The pie filling recipe was taken in part from Natural Girl, Modern World. Be sure to check out her blog if you’re interested in a vegan option pie crust and simple whipped topping.

Lucky Casserole

I sometimes struggle with cooking because, well, it’s just me… and most recipes yield so much food that it takes me all week to consume it. Because of that, I’ve fallen into a funk and cook very little these days. However, when the mood strikes me, I don’t always have time to research recipes and swing by the store for ingredients. I’m known for opening up the fridge and using whatever is in there to create a meal. Most often, it’s a miss. Occasionally I get lucky and create a hit. I definitely got lucky with this casserole concoction and wanted to share this quick, easy recipe with you. I’m showing you a gluten-free, dairy-free option but the ingredient list is generic so that you can adjust the recipe to your liking. (Note: This is not a sponsored blog.)

Ingredients:
Chicken breasts
Italian dressing
3 medium-sized squash (any variety)
1 small onion
Breadcrumbs
Cheese
Butter
Nutritional yeast (optional)

Preparation:
Place two small chicken breasts into a crockpot.
Cover with Italian dressing. (I used the entire bottle.)
Cook on LOW for approximately 6 hours or HIGH for approx. 3 hours.
30 minutes before the chicken has finished cooking, remove and shred, then return to dressing in crockpot to finish cooking.

Dice squash and onion.
Place in refrigerator until you’re ready to assemble the casserole.

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease an 8×8 casserole with butter.
Begin with a layer of diced squash & onions, add layer of chicken, and sprinkle with yeast.
Repeat another layer of each; veggies (add a couple pats of butter to the second layer of veggies), chicken, and yeast.
Top with breadcrumbs and a few pats of butter.
Bake for 25-30 minutes.
Add layer of shredded cheese and place back in for 10 more minutes, or until cheese is melted.
Serve hot.

This makes approximately three servings.


This is just before I placed the casserole in the oven.


And this is the delicious outcome!

Again, this is not a sponsored post… but I did want to mention a few of my favorite gluten-free, dairy-free ingredients if you’re looking for those alternatives.

Daiya cheese, in my opinion, is the best cheese alternative. It melts well, and is very creamy and flavorful. I also love that it is soy-free too!
Glutino makes wonderful gluten-free products. Their breadcrumbs are a terrific alternative to wheat-based breading.
Earth’s Balance buttery spread is a plant-based product that tastes just like the real thing! Organic, non-GMO, and Vegan… it is the perfect substitution to butter.

Go ahead and give this recipe a try, then let me know if you get lucky! 😉 Happy eating.

Dairy-Free Ranch Dressing

I spent the better part of 2015 without one of my favorite condiments: Ranch dressing. When I found out that I had a dairy allergy, I panicked. Would I seriously never taste wonderful buttermilk Ranch again? The thought was a shock to my system! After all, I used Ranch as a dressing, a dip, a sauce, and anything else that I could get away with.

Ten months after I walked away from Ranch, I saw a friend post a photo on Instagram of another non-dairy food made with canned coconut milk. It (and my recent craving for fish tacos) piqued my interest enough that I went into the kitchen and started digging through my pantry. Could it be? Could I really use coconut milk as the base of my homemade Ranch dressing? There’s no way this would work. The distinct taste of coconut would ruin the flavor, right?

Who knows? I didn’t have any canned coconut milk in my house. None! {I usually always have some on hand.} What I did have was a small can of coconut cream. I was so desperate to attempt a Ranch for my tacos that I opened the can and dumped it in a bowl.

I had never worked with coconut cream before but I knew it wasn’t creamy enough to achieve the perfect Ranch texture, even though it was thick. Although rarely, I do eat mayonnaise on occasion. (NOTE: This obviously is NOT a vegan recipe.) I added 1/2 cup of mayo to the coconut cream, along with 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to give it more of a buttermilk tang.

After that was mixed well, I reached for spices. The only things that I had on hand were parsley, garlic powder, and a minced onion/onion powder mixture. I added one heaping teaspoon of each to the mixture and stirred until it was all blended well. I transferred the mixture from the bowl to a storage container, and placed it in the refrigerator for an hour to chill.

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That seemed like the longest hour of my life… but it was well worth the wait! The end result was a creamy, dreamy non-dairy Ranch substitute that tasted just like the real thing. Okay, maybe not JUST like it. Remember, I haven’t tasted “real” Ranch in almost a year, but from what I remember… this recipe is incredibly close. And there was absolutely no hint of coconut flavor!

As a reminder, I am not endorsed by any product or company… so the ingredients that I use for my recipes can be substituted with a similar ingredient of your choice. These items truly were things I had previously purchased and were already in my kitchen.

This recipe only yields approximately one cup of Ranch, with 2 tablespoons being the recommended serving size. I do plan to make a larger quantity next time since I now know how great it tastes! When I do, I will update this post with any recipe changes or ingredient adjustments. I highly recommend this smaller recipe to start. It’s the perfect amount for a taste test.

Trail Mix Bites: A Healthy Sweet & Salty Snack

If you’re like me, you’re on a mission to keep your New Year’s Resolution(s). But the later into January we get, it seems to become more of a struggle to stay on track. Am I right? One of my goals for this year is to make healthy eating choices. This goes above monitoring calories, fats, and carbohydrates. I want to choose organic, whole foods as my options for both meals and snacks. What I am finding is that there aren’t many ready-made selections available that are also gluten- and dairy-free. I have to confess… that makes it harder for me to stick to my resolution because I am guilty of wanting convenient options. Listen, I get it. Life is busy. And the longer it takes to prepare healthy meals and snacks, the less likely we are to eat them.

Fortunately, there are some natural choices that are ready-to-eat with no preparation. I keep a variety of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits in my kitchen at all times. (It’s time to restock… some of my canisters are dangerously low! haha)

I keep them in a resealable bag, too, and carry those with me in case I need nourishment while on-the-go. I love adding sprinkles of walnuts and sunflower seeds to my salads. They’re great in yogurt. Nuts make a tasty addition to stir-fry veggies. Dried fruit is a perfect compliment to a hot bowl of oatmeal. Cashews, soaked in water and then blended in a food processor, create a fantastic non-dairy cream for things like casseroles. Nuts, seeds, and dried fruit are versatile, healthy, and delicious.

Today, I want to introduce you to a great snack that combines all three with one of my favorite things… chocolate! Dark chocolate, in moderation, is healthy too! It is a powerful antioxidant, can improve brain function, and may lower risks of heart disease. Let’s face it; sometimes we just want chocolate. This quick and easy recipe will satisfy your sweet tooth and salty cravings while providing nutrition. Healthy and guilt-free — that’s my kind of snack!

Begin with chocolate. I use a gluten-free, dairy-free, nonGMO chip that I find at my local grocery store. If your local store does not stock these types of chips, they can be found at specialty grocery stores or online. For this recipe, I used all of the 10 oz bag. You do not have to use a gluten-free, dairy-free option but do look for dark chocolate that is a higher percentage of cacao, with as few additional ingredients as possible.

Next, select a variety of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. I have chosen to use dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and almond slivers. Be careful when selecting these items in grocery stores and supermarkets. Often times, the selections will contain additives or high volumes of sodium.  A great source for purchasing nuts, seeds, and dried fruit is Nuts.com. Ordering from them is easy, and the items are shipped to your door. Remember how I said that I like convenience because it keeps me on track? Nuts.com makes purchasing organic items a breeze. (They even have dark chocolate chips and pre-made snacks too, among other things! Please click here to check them out!)

The last step in preparation is lining your cookie sheets with parchment paper. This recipe will yield approximately 30 snacks, so I use two cookie sheets.

To assemble the snacks, start by heating the chocolate in the microwave. I suggest 30-second increments, stirring after each. This helps to ensure that the chocolate does not burn. You want the chocolate to be smooth but not too thin. I achieved these results after approximately 2 minutes.

Spoon small amounts of chocolate onto the parchment paper. I would say use no more than 2 teaspoons per snack; then spread the chocolate to 1″ – 1.5″ diameter. You will want each snack to be able to hold the nuts, seeds, and dried fruit… but you want the chocolate to be thin.

Add a variety of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit to the chocolate, pressing lightly to ensure they stick to one another. When you finish, slide the cookie sheets into the refrigerator for two hours. Once the chocolate has set, the snacks are ready to eat!

These snacks store well and are great on-the-go. Just keep them in a dry, relatively-cool location. I like to put a couple in a resealable bag and keep them in my purse. They’re also great in lunch boxes, and are a tasty contribution to an office potluck. (Just be cautious of anyone with nut allergies! You may want to make them with just seeds and dried fruit if that is the case.)

There you have it! A quick, healthy snack to enjoy on-the-go. This snack has it all… protein, fiber, nutrients, and flavor! It will only take one or two to curb your sweet and salty cravings, and to keep you satisfied between meals.

Veggie Spaghetti

My brother and sister-in-law recently gave me this Joie Veggie Spaghetti. I have been debating on purchasing a zucchini noodle maker for quite some time, but couldn’t decide which option to buy. There are so many! I’m glad that I waited because I love the option that they chose for me.

At first glance, it seems too simple. Will this small kitchen utensil really do the trick? To my surprise, it really is a great little tool. I love that it is compact, and I can toss it into a drawer with my other kitchen gadgets. I also love that it is safe; the blade is encased so it’s virtually impossible to cut yourself. The Veggie Spaghetti also requires little cleanup. And it’s so easy to use!

Although I’ve been out of college longer than I care to admit, the single-girl-cooking-for-one in me often reverts back to quick and easy meals for dinner most nights. I love to cook, but it is hard for me to justify the time and effort involved in preparing a large meal on a regular basis when I’m the only one eating it. And let’s not even talk about cleanup. Washing dishes has to be my least favorite chore!

It isn’t quite as easy to eat like a college kid these days. I have dietary restrictions now that prevent me from opening up the discounted, processed, canned pasta and meat concoctions that I practically lived on back then. I watch sodium intake, avoid gluten and dairy, and aim to eat as organic as possible. Plus, my taste has changed.

The Veggie Spaghetti made dinner prep extremely easy. I was able to make this delicious and satisfying meal in a matter of minutes. I wanted to share this simple recipe with you, so that you can see just how effortless it is to make healthier choices when it comes to eating!

I started with my Veggie Spaghetti and three small zucchini. I washed the zucchini, cut the stalk off of each, and inserted them – one at a time – into the gadget and twisted. It took less force to turn the zucchini than it does to open a twist-top bottle, so if you can do that… you can use the Veggie Spaghetti!

There were two small downfalls with this product. The first? If you do not trim the noodles as you go, the end will create a spiral cap that will eventually prevent the zucchini from turning any further. TIP: After a couple of turns, take a knife and trim the noodles from the Veggie Spaghetti. This will prevent the build up, and will give you the perfect noodle length.

When you’re finished, you’ll end up with a pile of zucchini like this! When you pick the zucchini up, it will begin to fall apart into individual noodles. You may have to peel a few of the noodles into individual strands, but it does not take long to separate them. I was very impressed with the precession of the cuts made by the Veggie Spaghetti.

Downfall number two, for me… I couldn’t twist the zucchini past this point. Perhaps that is a safety feature? It certainly prevents your fingers from getting close to the blades. I have seen other kitchen gadgets that come with an attachment that would stick into the zucchini and allow for a few more twists. There may be a way to alter this one (I guess I could have tried a fork?) but I’m not sure that anything will actually work. This small snafu results in some unused veggies. For some, this may not be a problem at all. For others, like myself, I don’t want to waste anything!

Once your zucchini noodles are cut and separated (even if you use something other than the Veggie Spaghetti), did you know that cooking the noodles is as simple as steaming them? That can be done on the stovetop or in the microwave!

This is a yummy-looking bowl of zucchini noodles, isn’t it?

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How do you steam your veggies? I have this Pampered Chef Small Micro-Cooker that I use for steaming anything from frozen broccoli to these zucchini noodles. I just popped them in the microwave for two minutes and they came out completely cooked. I do want to mention that it is not necessary to add water to the zucchini when steaming in the microwave. There is enough water in the veggie itself to handle the two minute steam. What I also want to recommend is that after you remove the zucchini noodles from the steamer, place them in a colander and allow them to drain while you prep the rest of your meal. If you skip this step, you may end up with some watery pasta sauce in the end.

Since I am always looking for the quick and convenient route in cooking, I do not make my own pasta sauce. Many of my friends do, but I stick to a jar of organic pasta sauce from my local grocery store. I always check the label to make sure there are less than seven ingredients, that it is low in sodium, and that it is gluten and dairy free. If you do not have dietary restrictions and are just looking for a quick meal… use any pasta sauce that you’d like. You could even grab an alfredo sauce if you prefer! [I heated a small amount of my pre-made sauce in the microwave, and then poured it on top of my steamed and drained zucchini noodles.]

Since I have a dairy allergy, I use Daiya brand cheese. I have found that this cheddar block-style cheese is great for shredding.

I grabbed a slice of my favorite gluten free bread and toasted it. While it was toasting, I softened a tablespoon of nondairy butter and added minced garlic to it. When the toast was finished, I spread the garlic butter on top to complete my meal. From start to finish, this took less than 30 minutes to make. I believe now that I know how to use my Veggie Spaghetti tool, this could easily be a 15-minute meal.

If you have a little more time on your hands, you can do so much with this meal. Need more subsistence? Brown ground turkey or extra-lean beef and add it to your pasta sauce. Want chicken fettuccine? Add grilled chicken breast (or strips of rotisserie chicken) to alfredo sauce. Be creative! Healthy doesn’t have to be boring.

Infamous Pumpkin Pie

Since learning about my dairy allergy and gluten intolerance earlier in the year, I worried how I would handle the holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas often produce some of the best food-centered celebrations, but most of my favorite recipes contained wheat, butter, or cheese.

On a whim, I decided to do a little research to see if I could make a quick and easy pumpkin pie for a work luncheon. I found several items that met my requirements, and it produced a pie that took under 15 minutes to make! The best part? It was devoured by my coworkers! To my surprise, no one cared that it was gluten free and dairy free. (Some folks are apprehensive to try gluten free/dairy free foods because they’re afraid the taste is compromised.) In this case, apparently the subtleness of the ingredients enhanced the flavor and the pie was a hit!

So I’m sure you’re asking, “Jenn… just what is in this pie?” Well, I’m getting ready to tell you, but I first wanted to disclose that I was not paid to endorse any of the following brands. These just happen to be the brands that are found in my local grocery store.

Ingredients:
Mi-Del Gluten Free Graham Style Pie Crust
Organic Pumpkin (15oz can)
Jell-o Pumpkin Spice Instant Pudding & Pie Filling (3.4 oz)
So Delicious Dairy Free CoCo Whip Coconut Whipped Topping (8-9oz container)
*Kinnikinnick Foods Gluten Free S’moreables
*Pumpkin Pie Spice

Note – You will want to thaw the frozen whipped topping in the refrigerator at least 4 hours before preparing this pie.

Instructions:
Open the pie crust and set it aside.
Open the can of pumpkin and pour it into a mixing bowl.
Open the packet of pudding and add it to the pumpkin. Stir together well.
Open the whipped topping and add to the pumpkin mixture. Fold together until everything is fully incorporated.
Add the mixture to the pie crust. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until ready to serve.
*Garnish with S’moreables (I grated some over the top of the pie) and spice.

That is it!! It seems too simple, doesn’t it? But it is completely fool proof! There is just enough spice in the pudding to compliment the pumpkin flavor, but the hint of coconut from the whipped topping gives the pie a little something extra.

I have had many requests to make this pie again, that I have now deemed it “infamous”! haha Since the Pumpkin Spice pudding is a seasonal product, I made a few of the pies with Sugar Free Fat Free Vanilla pudding as a substitution. I then added in approximately 2 teaspoons of Pumpkin Pie Spice to the mixture. The results were the same as if I had used the Pumpkin Spice pudding.

I hope that you will give this gluten free/dairy free pumpkin pie alternative a try. If you do, please comment below! I’d love to hear from you. Enjoy!

[Photos to come.]