Flash sale: The Primal Blueprint and Paleo Girl are just a dollar!

I’m sort of going to play the town crier role here today, but just wanted to write a quick post letting you all  know that today The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson and Paleo Girl by Leslie Klenke (the teen version, in a sense) are on sale on Amazon today at 99 cents each for the Kindle version! How awesome is that? If you’re curious about paleo or primal eating, this is a great way to get started. I’ve linked the pictures below to the Amazon page for quick access. Hooray for deals!

P.S. If you do get Paleo Girl, try the Better Than Oatmeal recipe for a great breakfast staple. Happy paleoing.

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Spatchcocking for Friendsgiving, inter alia

Yesterday we had an amazing Friendsgiving feast! It was a huge success, due largely in part to my husband’s approach to cooking the bird this year: spatchcocking. This was the fourth time we’ve cooked turkey and I must say, this method has been by far the fastest and best method he’s tried so far. Just look at the delicious results:

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If you’re interested in learning how to try this method out for Thanksgiving, check out Martha Stewart’s how-to.

You should also brine the turkey overnight accordingly, rubbing your preferred salt under the skin and letting it stand overnight in the fridge for maximum flavor. We had an 18 pound turkey, 14 guests and practically zero leftovers (aside from a little breast, which we will be reheating tonight, for sure). I’m telling you, this method is legit.

I made a couple of sides, which were a hit. They were based on Food and Wine magazine recipes, but with a couple of tweaks:

Sausage and Apple Stuffing Muffins

Based on a recipe from Food and Wine Magazine

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Ingredients:

  • Olive oil cooking spray for greasing the muffin pan- but I prefer just using silicone muffin cups (on sale at Crate and Barrel!), no oiling needed
  • 8 ounces french bread cut into 1 or 1/2-inch cubes (3 cups)
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 4 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1 1/3 cups finely chopped onion
  • 1 1/3 cups finely chopped fennel
  • 1 pound mild Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 12 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1 medium Granny Smith apple, peeled and finely chopped
  • 8 large eggs, beaten
  • 4 tablespoons chicken or turkey broth
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease two 12-cup muffin pans with cooking spray OR I prefer using silicone muffin cups for even cooking and non-stick awesomeness. See below for a comparison of the results. The best part, you can just put the silicone cups on regular baking sheet, no need to buy a separate muffin pan!
  2. On a baking sheet, toss the bread with 4 tablespoons of the oil; season with salt and pepper. Bake for about 10 minutes, until toasted. Transfer the croutons to a bowl.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt the butter in the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil. Add the onion and fennel and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage, garlic and sage and cook, stirring and breaking up the meat, until no trace of pink remains, 5 minutes. Mix the sausage, apple, eggs and broth into the croutons; season with salt and pepper. Let stand for 5 minutes.
  4. Pack the stuffing into the muffin cups and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden. Transfer to a rack and let stand for 5 minutes. Loosen the muffins with a sharp paring knife and lift them out. Serve warm.
"Non-stick" muffin pan, never again!
“Non-stick” muffin pan, never again!

See the difference in the baking method? Silicone cups are much better, and they are also the environmentally conscious choice!

Another hit came from Food and Wine Magazine’s Maple-Roasted Brussels Sprouts recipe.

The only changes I made were to use bacon fat instead of canola oil, omit the walnut oil and use hazelnuts instead of chestnuts. I also roasted the Brussels sprouts in the skillet for about 10 minutes on 400 after finishing off with the apple cider vinegar and nuts, then transferred the skillet to the stove top again to reduce the sauce before serving. It was a maaaajor hit.

I did unfortunately have a slight burn incident when making these little guys.

IMG_0015Word to the wise, DO NOT plop Brussels sprouts in searing hot bacon fat willy nilly. Be sure you are close to the skillet and drop them in slowly.

Luckily, we had plenty of wine and prosecco, so I quickly forgot all about these nasty battle wounds.

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I am now enjoying leftover pie and pistachio cranberry scones, and can’t wait to use the leftover gravy for all kinds of sauces. As you can tell, paleo takes a back seat this week. All worth it!

Kelp Noodles and Kombucha

I’m feeling a bit exotic this week…in terms of my food choices, that is.

On Tuesday I made myself a kelp noodle stir fry for lunch.

I used the recipe in the back of the bag!
I used the recipe in the back of the bag!

They were actually pretty good! A bit crunchy, but very tasty. At 12 calories per bag, 4 grams of fiber and pleasant taste, I think these are a winner! Just scramble them up with some sauteed veggies and broth and you are good to go.

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I threw in a bit of Raspberry Chia Kombucha for good measure:

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This drink is a powerhouse in terms of nutrition:

IMG_7363And it’s all thanks to those wonderful little chia seeds. It’s probiotic, of course, so it has excellent digestive benefits. This is good if you’re lactose intolerant and can’t get these probiotic benefits from yogurt or kefir, and you are wary of fermented veggies (like me). I must say, while kombucha is rather tasty, I do feel a little woozy after I drink it. I was feeling a  bit concerned about this, so I went over to the Synergy website and alas, it turns out their kombucha actually has a measurable amount of alcohol.

Woops.

I am, all in all, trying to keep healthy in light of this weekend being our first Friendsgiving! I’m very excited. Any activity that involves pies and friends is just swell in my book. As I mentioned before, we are doing Thanksgiving in Arizona, so we won’t have an opportunity to really prepare a turkey ourselves that day. That’s why this year Friendsgiving is where we will really go all out in our culinary experimentation. It will be a Christmas test run, for sure.

Apologies for today’s short post, but the days have been shorter with all the holiday prep and business a work.

There’s always enough time for a good throwback Thursday memory:

Who didn’t love this game?? I’m bringing it to Thanksgiving, for sure.

Until next time.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love my Kitchen

I remember the days when I used to go to Trader Joe’s and just buy ALLLLL the frozen Indian meals. And the pre-made refrigerated dinners. And then probably a few snack bars here and there. And cereal, oh yes, lots and lots of cereal and Almondmilk.

Honey Nut O’s!

That was my grocery list and while, I tell you,Trader Joe’s has some amazing frozen food, I really didn’t feel like I understood what eating right was all about. I just looked at calories and tried to get some veggies in, but I felt pretty clueless about the whole thing. And I didn’t feel great and I was constantly hungry.

The first time I really got my hands dirty in the kitchen was during my second year of grad school, when I decided to try out Jillian Michaels’ online fitness program. Little did I know it would really change the way I thought about food and eating and cooking. Jillian Michaels really places an emphasis on eating clean and unprocessed foods, and getting good food into your body, as opposed to processed crap.

It seems silly when I think about it now: Jillian Michaels’ was my cooking guru. Of course, I had help from a dear friend, Katherine, who patiently explained how to properly mince a clove of garlic (thanks Kath!) and my husband (then boyfriend) who experimented with me in the kitchen and put up with a lot of fails. Now, just a few years later, I really feel like I’ve gained an understanding of what eating right is sort of about. I’m not calling myself an expert, but there are a few practical tips that are guide my meal planning now.

1. Plan your meals
The first tip is actually meal planning. When you take a minute or two on Sunday to plan your meals, you really take control of what you are eating throughout the week. I like to use Wunderlist and have a “Meals” list, a new item is one day and a subtask is a meal. This helps me share the meals I’m having with Alex, who can get started on the cooking if I can’t get to work on time.

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2. Love your leftovers
Oh, I have heard it all before: I hate leftovers, they’re gross and soggy and tasteless. Whatever- the problem is that you are choosing to make the wrong foods that will make for terrible leftovers. Things that are meant to be crispy or fluffy are most likely going to make terrible leftovers. Meats that dry out because they have no sauce are another bad choice.

If you’re short on time, make a big batch of stew, chili or soup on Sunday, food that is meant to taste better the more it sits and the flavors blend. Choose sides that will hold for the next day, like roasted root vegetables (sweet potatoes, parsnips) or squashes (butternut, acorn, etc.).

Roast for 30 minutes at 350 degrees with butter and salt!

3. Invest in a few good tools:

  •  A  good knife: Yes, you just need ONE. This is the one that I own:
Cutco French Chef Knife

It will make allllll the difference in the world. Cooking will just be a breeze and a pleasure. Trust me. I’ve also heard great things about Wusthof.

  • A food processor: I own a Cuisinart mini food prep, but would seriously consider investing in a larger food processor because I firmly believe in cooking in big batches to save time and money. This tool is really a must, as you can’t make certain things without a food processor (for example, pesto. Not sure how you’d pull that one off easily)
  • Silpat: those French people know what they’re doin’. Silpats are basically a plastic liner thing for your cookie sheet which makes sure that things you cook on them don’t get burned onto your baking sheet and cook evenly (cookies, veggies, etc). It’s cheap on Amazon and also environmentally friendly (say goodbye to wax paper, parchment paper, aluminum foil, etc.), as it is reusable.
  • Cast iron skillet: Will make your food taste MAGICAL. You can buy pre-cured ones too: I’m very happy with my Lodge classic skillet. Pro-tip: if you want delicious pizza and also an enormous vegetable roasting pan, also get the cast iron pizza pan:
  • A grill. Any grill, even an indoor one. Or a cast iron griddle. Your meats will thank you.

4. Focus on quality protein (and food, for that matter). You’ve heard this before, but it’s all true. Protein will keep you satiated and energized. Quality makes a difference in nutrition and taste. Honestly, people complain that meats and organic veggies are too expensive- well maybe they should spend less money buying crap they don’t need (I’m looking at you, Sephora and Amazon!) and invest more in the quality of their comestibles! You will be living in this body a long time…

Some of my favorite proteins include:

  • Fresh salmon wait until it’s on sale at the market, then buy a couple of pounds to freeze. Wild-caught rocks the house.
  • Chicken breasts and thighs I don’t buy pre-frozen ’cause I think they taste less awesome. I’ll also wait for a sale on the refrigerated breasts and then individually wrap them in Saran wrap and freeze them up for later use.
  • Eggs- guys, cholesterol (in eggs or otherwise) is not primarily what causes you to have high cholesterol levels (you can read about it here, or you can just google “eggs and cholesterol level correlation”), that has more to do with your consumption of saturated fats and trans fats. Eggs are good for you! And, if you purchase good quality ones, they are delicious and versatile. You can use them to make an omelet or frittata out of anything that’s going bad in your fridge, too!
  • Grass-fed meats. You can taste the difference, trust me. And your body can tell the difference.

5. All (or at least most) veggies taste good roasted. Check out this roasting guide, buy up whatever veggies are on sale that week, toss them in olive oil, salt and pepper, roast and you are good to go! Make sure you are roasting them long enough, though, or they will just not taste as good (especially brussels sprouts!).

Image from Foodness Gracious

Tie it all up:

Plan your meals each week (usually at least four dinners big enough to leave you with leftovers for lunch, some breakfast staples like eggs, and fruits to snack on), buy what’s on sale and preferably in season as long as it’s high quality and fresh, and cook in big batches.

Your meal should consist of: half a plate of veggies (mix of root veggies and non-starchy veggies, preferably) and 6 oz of protein. I tend to eat medjool dates for dessert once in a while. Yummmmm.

Drink with a delicious glass of wine (or coffee, if it’s morning, unless it’s brunch!), and enjoy!

 

Good Morning, Monday

Chicago is having itself quite the cold snap! It’s been windy and frigid out here with some snow showers. While many a Midwesterner would get excited about such an event (snow! magical!), for me it’s just a reminder of what’s just around the corner- more snow and deeper cold snaps. Shudder. I can be a negative Nancy sometimes.

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I’m originally from Argentina and then we moved to California when I was a kid (when I was around 7). I lived there most of my life, until I made the move to Chicago in 2010. Needless to say, I’m not exactly used to intense winters, or even a little snow for that matter. While the past 4 winters in Chicago have at least better prepared me for a fifth, I can’t exactly say I’m looking forward to it. It’s wearing me down, guys.

Can you see the little snowflakes?
Can you see the little snowflakes?

To balance that out, luckily, we have the holidays coming up! There are only a few days left until Thanksgiving, when I will be heading to beautiful Phoenix, AZ to spend turkey day with my husband’s family at their timeshare. It can’t come too soon, I already need a break from the cold. We’ll be staying at the Desert Ridge Resort for Turkey Day:

 

Then we will be driving out to Pittsburgh for Christmas, where my husband’s parents live, to spend time with the in-laws.

I’m super sad I won’t be able to spend Christmas with my family in California this year, but alas, the moving expenses have burned a hole in our pocket. I usually go see my sister Laura and the kids:

My sister, nephew and niece, Christmas 2012.
My sister, nephew and niece, Christmas 2012.
That was Diego and Isabella two years ago. Can't believe it!
That was Diego and Isabella two years ago. Can’t believe it!

They grow up so fast!

For now, just need to stick it out another week, which will be especially tough since Alex is doing the night shift rotation in pediatrics. So, it’ll just be me and this fella:

It is I, Fred.
It is I, Fred.

And this little lady:

I'm buckets of fun.
I’m buckets of fun.

Onward, ho.

I’m a Coffee Snob

Hi, my name is Vicky, and I’m a coffee snob.

Let me qualify that statement. I enjoy my coffee every morning and while I don’t think I need more than a cup or two to start my day off right (in contrast to the coffee addict)

I won’t settle for a regular old cup of Maxwell House. Oh no, my friends, I need the good stuff. Not watered down or burnt tasting muck, but delicious, shade-grown Arabica harvested by our good friends in Guatemala, Ethiopia, Kauai.

And where do I get this delicious stuff? Why, my local Trader Joe’s, of course! Check out this awesome guide to see what kind of “coffee character” you prefer!

They always carry some of my very favorites including:
-Peaberry (from Ethiopia is the best but all their varieties are winners for the most part)

and

100% Kauai Whole Bean Coffee

Another fantastic coffee roaster is La Colombe. I’ve tried their Haiti coffee and was very, very pleased:

True story, I walked into La Colombe today for a delicious cappuccino and they were all “cleared out” of Haiti! Instead I’m giving this Guatemala Tomastepec variation a try, with notes of tangerine, butterscotch and violets, per their suggestion, and I will let you all know how it goes:

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If you’re looking for something a bit more accessible or you’re not near a Trader Joe’s (but really, if you’re not near a Trader Joe’s you should consider moving…), I also really enjoy Gevalia coffee.
Traditional Roast:

and
Mocca Java:

Make no mistake, coffee preparation is a serious business: we buy the whole beans and grind them at home in our little Cuisinart grinder for optimal taste. Do not buy ground coffee at the store and then store it in the refrigerator! That’s asking for rancid coffee; just ask the National Coffee Association:

“It is important not to refrigerate or freeze your daily supply of coffee because contact with moisture will cause it to deteriorate.  Instead, store coffee in air-tight glass or ceramic containers and keep it in a convenient, but dark and cool, location. Remember that a cabinet near the oven is often too warm, as is a cabinet on an outside wall of your kitchen if it receives heat from a strong afternoon or summer sun.

The commercial coffee containers that you purchased your coffee in are generally not appropriate for long-term storage. Appropriate coffee storage canisters with an airtight seal are a worthwhile investment.”

Check the oiliness of the beans if you’re buying in bulk at the store: the more oil you see on the beans the darker the roast. I am not a huge fan of super dark roasts, as they can be too bitter for my taste.

And there you have it! Serve with yummy cream or half and half to taste and savorrrrr.

CHEERS!
CHEERS!

A Chicago Hiking Overview (and when I say hiking I probably really mean nature walking)

An added bonus about going on a hike on the trails around the Chicago metro area is seeing scores of hikers using professional grade hiking sticks:

Now, I’m not sure how much you guys know about Chicago, but it’s in the Midwest and for miles and miles and miles there’s nothing but FLAT terrain. It’s the prairie. There are zero mountains- maybe the occasional hill here and there, but nothing you wouldn’t encounter walking down the street to catch the bus or a cup of coffee. So, why one would feel the need to use these ridiculous things to go on what is essentially just a walk in the well-manicured forest trails of Chicago is beyond me. Do yourself a favor: if you decide to go hiking in Illinois, leave the sticks at home, or I will laugh at you. Maybe even to your face.

Now, on with the show!

I love to get out and walk or run in the trails that surround Chicago, and I’m not talking about the lake shore path. I’m talking about the little preserves scattered about the Chicago metropolitan area, and there are plenty. I like to take the pup there too, so she can get exposed to all the natural wonders of our great state. Especially before it’s too cold for her delicate hide.

Some of the most serene places to go hiking, and bring your baby puppy with you are listed below.

1. Swallow Cliff– This one is very accessible from the city and has very well kept trails, as well as some popular stairs that people climb as an added challenge.

Cooling off by the stream!
Cooling off by the stream!

2. Red Gate Woods– a nice hike, but bonus points for the added creepiness stemming from its history as a nuclear reactor lab and burial site. Shudder.

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3. Spears Woods– Very close to Red Gate, but excellent for leaf-peeping. Last time we were there, which was right before Halloween, a Santa Claus on horseback gave us two full sized candy bars and a Milkbone. Illinois residents are just the friendliest!

On the trail
On the trail
Leaf peeping!
Leaf peeping!
With her hiking pack.
With her hiking pack.

4. Prairie Wolf Slough– For all you real dog lovers, this one is an off-leash park. Skye dove head first into the lake with her buddies and they had a blast.

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5. Salt Creek Forest Preserve–  This place has a ton of trails, and also a quaint little mill if you are into quaint.

My husband by the mill.
My husband by the mill.
The woodsy trails
The woodsy trails

As our hiking adventures develop, hopefully this list will continue to grow. Stay tuned, all.

Scenes from Paradise

This is seriously one of the suckiest things about having an adult job: I have to come in to work on Veteran’s Day. Womp Womp. No better way to honor those who served our country than to champion that puritanical work ethic that keeps our ‘Merica great.

America.

I celebrated this morning by making myself a variation on the Swirly Quiche from Practical Paleo and created a patriotic frittata, which consisted of two eggs, rosemary, sun dried tomatoes, shredded zuchhini, salt and pepper. I cooked it on a frying pan for about a minute (buttered up of course) before transferring the pan to the broiler for about another minute, and voila:

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I paired it with some Simply Balanced Spinach and Garlic Chicken Sausage from Target. Check out the simplicity of these ingredients. I’m impressed… who said rampant capitalism would lead to a deterioration in the quality of our consumables?

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I was basically trying my darndest to make this morning a little more special since it is a holiday after all, and it is like beyond super gloomy here in Chicago. So for today I decided to share some scenes from our honeymoon in Punta Cana where we went this past September. We stayed at Secrets Royal Beach in a beautiful ocean front suite

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View from our cabana by the beach.
View from our cabana by the beach.
Hello ocean.
Hello ocean.
HOLA!
HOLA!

The best part: all inclusive. We just sipped mojitos by the beach for a week straight. It was fantastic. Highly recommend.

Making a workout schedule

Happy Monday world. The day in which we all resolve to make this one a “better week,” especially after the overindulgent Saturday and inevitably lazy Sunday. Of course I did my share of overindulging- dinner at Green Street Smoked Meats on Friday night before watching Interstellar. I love the Texas BBQ theme, so cozy and yummm

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Las Palmas in Wicker Park on Saturday night, which was delicious, although I wasn’t a big fan of the Tempranillo wine (a bit sour for my taste). I had the Cochinita Pibil (sans the beans), and it was scrumptious. So tender and juicy

I would have included my own photo, had I remembered to take one after having that second glass of Tempranillo wine. I did attempt to take a picture at Nick’s Beer Garden, and here are the results:

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That was the blues band that was playing, except you really can’t see much in this half-lit, half-selfie. I say, when in doubt (or when inebriated) leave the photo magic to the pros.

The Mike Wheeler Band, playing that night at Nick’s (a different venue is pictured)

After a thoroughly lazy Sunday (I did work a little, to be fair, but I was on the couch), I started thinking about my workout schedule. I think most people who are not already accustomed to a regular workout schedule struggle with putting one together. I’m not a fitness professional, and while I do meet with a trainer once a week (most weeks), I think I have done a fairly good job of figuring out what types of workouts are best for me and how to time them correctly throughout the week.

Here’s a few simple rules I use to guide my workout schedule planning:

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) for 20-30 minutes two to three times per week, but not on consecutive days

-cardio (for me, it’s running, but it can be cycling, elliptical, any cardio class, etc.) in between my HIIT workouts- typically one long, steady state run (45 min) and one short recovery run (30 min).

-walking to and from work every day (a little over a mile each way)

-one flexibility day (I’m working on making sure I incorporate this, but I’m not always super successful)

That means that a typical schedule could look like this:

Monday- HIIT

Tuesday- 30 min easy cardio

Wednesday- HIIT

Thursday- flexibility (foam roller, yoga, stretching)

Friday- HIIT

Saturday- 45 min run

Sunday-rest

Of course, work being unpredictable as it is, sometimes I can only do 2 HIIT workouts, or I can go on a nice hike instead of a 30 min recovery run. It’s important to do what feels good for you. Since one of my goals, however, is fat loss I try to incorporate as many cardio and HIIT workouts as possible, since these are most conducive to my goals.

HIIT workouts include moves that also build muscle mass, which is necessary to prevent injury. I used to be that girl that only ran on the treadmill five times a week. Then I really did a number on my hip flexor for not building proper muscle support and always working the same muscle groups. HIIT workouts have an “afterburn” effect (EPOC), increasing your metabolic rate (= burning calories long after your workout is over), also great for fat loss.

Some studies apparently suggest that an effective HIIT workout consists of 30-60 second bursts of all out intensity followed by a minute of recovery, done four times through. This is roughly the formulation I follow.

Some great sources for weekly schedules and HIIT workouts include:

  • Nike Training Club app– on the go, ready-made workouts that always, always kick my butt. And it’s free!
  • The Fitnessista– her entire blog is awesome, but here I’ve included a link to her Winter Shape Ups… Choose any one of these and there will be a schedule for workouts for a week, including HIIT videos. You can also just go to her general Fitness page for more workouts.
  • Tone It Up– these girls are great! You can also follow along their schedule, but they have a different formulation than the one I suggest above. Maybe this one works best for you.
  • Blogilates– these HIITs are killer. You’ve been warned!
  • Peanut Butter Fingers– this is a fun blog in general and it also has some great routines!
  • Jillian Michaels Ripped in 30– an awesome DVD, although, with all the free resources out there on the net, I doubt you even need to buy exercise tapes anymore.

If you’re a beginner, just modify. Do simple moves, like squats, push ups, planks, lunges with bicep curls for the 60 seconds, then rest, and repeat.

Get sweaty, guys.