Thursday, May 30, 2013

Grilled Artichokes

Over the holiday weekend we made our dinner on the grill every night.  We had some good food!   Obviously you can grill proteins, we had chicken, fish and steak but you can also cook pretty much everything else on there as well.  My favorite from the weekend, a grilled artichoke!  If you like artichokes and grilled foods you are going to love this one.  I got the idea from something I had at a restaurant; it was on the appetizer menu.  I ate so much of it I didn’t want the entrée that I had ordered.  That was when I decided that I needed to do it at home, and if it worked out well, do it often.  I’m happy to report it worked out very well.

We also grilled dessert one night, pears that we sliced in half then cooked on the grill for a bit making them soft.  For the topping I cooked down some balsamic vinegar until it was a syrup consistency, I topped the pears with a little bit of ricotta and a drizzle of that balsamic syrup…heavenly!  That one is a keeper too.  I love summer; grilling out opens up a whole different world of flavors that you can’t get when cooking on your stove or in the oven.  You know what else is great about it?  Most of what you can make on the grill is naturally gluten free, that’s a good thing!

Grilled Artichoke with Garlicky Dipping Sauce
(Plan on ½ of an artichoke per person, this recipe is for 2 people)

1 large artichoke (make sure it looks healthy and the leaves are somewhat tight)
1 lemon
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 C mayonnaise
4-5 cloves garlic, grated
Black pepper

1.      Fill a large pot with water, cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the water, drop half of the lemon in as well, bring to a boil
2.      Prep the artichoke by rinsing thoroughly, cut off the stem and pull a few of the leaves near the stem off (they are usually tough)
3.      Cut off the top 1 inch and trimming the tips of remaining leaves (they can poke you)
4.      Put the artichoke into the boiling water, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes (the leaves near the center should pull out easily)
5.      While the artichoke is cooking combine the mayo, garlic and pepper in a small bowl, mix well and refrigerate
6.      Pull the artichoke out of the water and drain upside down, letting it cool a bit
7.      Cut the artichoke in half and remove the choke from the center
8.      Drizzle oil over the artichoke and sprinkle with salt and pepper then grill for a few minutes on each side
9.      Serve immediately with the dipping sauce

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Reflection and Panzanella Salad

I was going back through old posts on my blog to see where I started.  I actually started it before what you see as the first posting on here.  I started when my original goal was weight loss, documenting my thoughts and daily habits.  It was interesting but didn’t have anything to do with where I am today. 

Something I think about often is how different I am now from where I was last year.  Last year I was at the tail end of a big hyperthyroid swing, one that I didn’t even know I was on until the racing heart symptom appeared.  I still remember how it felt to be in the early part of that period though, it was awesome.  I felt powerful, strong and energetic.  Little did I know that it was rather a false “high” because of the hyperthyroid swing. 

I did learn something during that period though; I learned what it must feel like for other people to feel healthy and full of energy.  I’m not in a pity party today, at all, just reflecting back and seeing how much of a difference a year can make.  Now, while weight loss would be nice, my ultimate goal is to be as healthy as possible.  I have made a lot of dietary changes; I eat veggies at every meal, and quite a few of them, gluten is a thing of the past so my carbs have lessened (though I think they could go a little lower) and I have really knocked back sugar, though that’s as compared to a lot before, so that could likely go lower too.  I just feel great that I have transferred myself to raw agave syrup and almond milk in my morning coffee J

I don’t really have a recipe to share today, just a couple of ideas for different things to do with veggies since this is the best time of the year because they are all so fresh.  I love asparagus; it’s one of my all-time favorite veggies. During grilling season I like to throw them on the grill with a tiny bit of oil, salt and pepper then wrap them with a small amount of prosciutto, it’s so good!  Another favorite is a panzanella salad because I LOVE fresh tomatoes.  I have seen a lot of different versions out there, but mine is my favorite.  Of course, I can’t have it with great crusty bread any more but I have learned that if I cut up GF bread into big chunks, toast it in the oven before using and toss it with the remainder of the salad right before serving it works out pretty well.  If you love tomatoes, basil and balsamic vinegar this may become a staple for you during the summer.  It also works great as a topping for grilled meats!  Finally, roasted red peppers, fresh off the grill, on a skewer with some artichoke hearts and bocconcini (small balls of fresh mozzarella)….so good!

I’m making myself hungry; I guess it’s time to eat lunch.

Panzanella Salad


1 lb tomatoes, chopped (I have used roma, vine ripened, cherry and grape, it doesn’t matter as long as it they are ripe and juicy)
¼ red onion, chopped finely
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped (you can use any color, green tends to be too strong though)
Salt and pepper to taste (you need at least a little salt to get the juices in the veggies going)
Fresh basil to taste
1-2 T extra virgin olive oil
2-4 T balsamic vinegar (make sure you buy the really good stuff, it’s worth it)
5-6 slices of GF bread (I use Udi’s) cut into large chunks then toasted in the oven


  1. Seed tomatoes (if you are using larger ones) then chop into a little smaller than bite size pieces and place in glass or plastic bowl, add a little bit of salt
  2. Chop the red onion, garlic and bell pepper and put into the bowl, add a little more salt and some pepper, mix well
  3. At this point cover the mixture and let it sit on the counter for about 30 minutes to let the juices in the veggies start to mingle
  4. Add in the olive oil and vinegar, hold back on the vinegar a bit, add 2 T, taste, then add more if you need to (I love the vinegar so I usually add more than some would)
  5. If you aren’t going to eat this now this is the point to stop, cover and put into the refrigerator (just keep in mind, the fridge makes tomatoes mushy, I don’t do this but you could)
  6. When you are ready to eat the salad cut up and toast the bread, allowing to cool for a few minutes before adding to the salad
  7. Stack and roll the basil leaves then snip fine pieces into the salad using your kitchen scissors
  8. Add in the bread, mix everything well and serve right away
  9. (If you are going to use as a salsa on top of grilled meat then omit the bread steps)

I hope you enjoy the salad; it’s one of my favorites and one of the reasons I look forward to summer.  I make it at least a couple times a week when tomatoes are in season.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Shepherd's Pie - Southwest Version and Ham & Egg Cups

It’s beautiful here in Middle TN this week, the warm weather they were having out west finally got here.  I had dinner on the back patio last night, LOVE it when it’s warm and not humid; this is definitely my favorite time of the year here.

So, I’m continuing the recipe posting from the weekend cooking-a-thon, I have a couple more.  This first one is my take on a Shepherd’s Pie, one of my husband’s all-time favorites.  I make it a little different every time, the southwest inspired one seems to be his favorite.  It looks like a lot of work because the ingredients list is long (continuing on my quest to fit a lot of veggies in one dish) but it really doesn’t take very long to get it all together.

Shepherd’s Pie – Jen’s Southwest Inspired Version
Serves at least 8, likely more

1 tsp olive oil (or whatever oil you like for cooking)
1 medium sweet onion, chopped small
2 carrots, chopped small
2 celery stalks, chopped small
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium zucchini, chopped small
8 oz mushrooms, chopped small
1 lb. very lean ground beef (I used 95/5)
3 T tomato paste
½ T ground cumin
1 tsp chipotle chili powder (do this to taste, I use more, we like things spicy)
½ T chili powder
1 large can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, drained
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 C corn (I prefer frozen, less sodium), thawed
Salt and pepper to taste
3 medium sized Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped into chunks
¾ large head of cauliflower, chopped into large chunks
3 oz. reduced fat cream cheese
3 T butter
¼-1/2 C skim milk (or whatever milk you have in the fridge)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
¾ C shredded sharp cheddar cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. For the bottom portion of the pie:
  3. Heat oil over medium high heat in a large skillet
  4. Drop in the onion through the mushrooms and sauté for two minutes, allowing veggies to soften slightly
  5. Add in the ground beef and break it up into the veggies as it is browning
  6. Once the meat is browned add in the tomato paste and spices, cook for another minute giving everything a chance to meld and the paste a chance to really wake up
  7. Add in the tomatoes, beans and corn, stirring everything together well
  8. Turn down the heat, cover and let simmer for about 15 minutes, then remove the lid and simmer another 15 minutes to reduce the amount of liquid
  9. Add the potatoes and cauliflower to a large pot and cover with water, bring to a boil and cook until tender
  10. Drain potatoes and cauliflower then put back into the pot, add in the cream cheese, butter, milk, salt and pepper, and use an electric mixer to combine everything until smooth (you are looking for a thick but smooth consistency)
  11. At this point check the meat mixture for salt/pepper needs along with spices.  I find when using canned beans and veggies I often don’t need to add salt.  If you add salt let it cook for a couple of minutes before moving on to the next step
  12. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray, add in the meat mixture and spread to an even layer, add the potato/cauliflower mixture on top
  13. If you are baking the dish now, add the cheese and place in the oven.  It should only take about 20-25 minutes because everything is already hot
  14. If you are going to put it in the refrigerator for later in the week, allow it to cool then cover and refrigerate, when you take it out to bake allow to sit on the counter for a few minutes then cover with foil before putting it in the oven, bake for 30 minutes covered, remove the cover, add the cheese then bake until the cheese is melted.
The second recipe was for breakfast this week, the husband is trying to work out in the morning and he’s usually the breakfast cook during the week.  We have done quinoa cups a lot so I decided to go a little different and do ham and egg cups.  I have seen different versions over and over across the web, this was just what I came up with after seeing a bunch and deciding how to do it my way (loading up with veggies).

Ham and Egg Cups
Serves 6-12 depending on hunger levels

12 slices of deli ham (make sure it’s GF and are the right size to line the cup on a regular size muffin tin with a little extra room)
½ red bell pepper
4 oz. mushrooms, quartered
½ medium zucchini, chopped
3 green onions, cut into quarters
6 large eggs
2 oz sharp cheddar, shredded

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Spray regular size 12-count muffin tin (or two 6-count tins) liberally with cooking spray
  3. Place one slice of ham in each cup, pushing it down so that you can fill it with your egg mixture
  4. Put all of the remaining ingredients in a blender in the order shown on the list (just a hint, I have learned through trial and error)
  5. Start the blender out on a low setting and move up as things start to get chopped up, you are looking for everything to be well-blended
  6. Pour the egg mixture into the ham cups, filling all about 2/3 of the way, if you have extra when you are done just top off some that look a little less full than others
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, check around 15 minutes to test doneness, egg should be set and not runny
  8. Serve right away or let cool and store in a container in the refrigerator, they warm up really easily and quickly!

Happy Wednesday everyone..!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Basic Marinara Sauce, Zucchini Boats and Healthy Cookies!

Life speeds up and this blog suffers!  It’s a good thing I don’t do this for a living!

I have several recipes to share this time, I did a bunch of cooking over the weekend.  I have been trying to cook over the weekend for the entire week so all I have to do when I get home after work is throw something in the oven or microwave to warm up then add a salad (that I have already prepared, stored in a big container in the fridge).  So far it has worked out pretty well and the husband has been willing to chip in if he gets home before me and start the process of warming up dinner.

The first is my basic marinara sauce; I make a big batch when I make it then freeze it in portions for different meals.  I have to confess, this recipe probably changes every time I make it.  I'm big on tasting and adjusting as I cook.  This one is the base, there are often little changes here and there based on how sweet or salty things are.  When you are making it make sure to taste and adjust to your liking.  The longer this sauce sits together the better it tastes.  I often let it sit in the refrigerator for a couple of days before freezing to allow everything to really come together.

Basic Marinara Sauce

1 T olive oil (use the light stuff for cooking, you don’t need extra virgin here)
1 large sweet onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped (I love garlic, do this to your taste)
½ tsp salt
3 large cans whole stewed tomatoes
1 T dried basil
1 T dried oregano
½ T rosemary
2 bay leaves
2 C beef stock (not broth - nonfat and low sodium, GF too!)


1.      Preheat a large heavy bottomed pan over medium-high heat (I use my Dutch oven)
2.      Chop all of the fresh veggies and the garlic, set the garlic aside
3.      Add oil to the pot and let it warm
4.      Drop all of the chopped veggies into the pot, add the salt and stir well, after a couple of minutes add in the chopped garlic, cook all until the veggies are getting soft
5.      Dump the canned tomatoes, juice and all, into the pot and add the herbs and beef stock as well
6.      Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, cover and let it go for at least 45 minutes (I let mine cook for an hour or more to really let the flavors come together)
7.      Remove the lid and let it cook for another 30 minutes, reducing down a bit
8.      Cool, remove the bay leaves and put whatever you will be using during the week in the refrigerator and freeze the rest, it warms up very easily for use later.

The next recipe is one I love because it gets a lot of veggies in and it’s a good way to eat Italian-inspired food without one bit of pasta.  I got the idea watching an episode of one of Rachel Ray’s many shows; it looked too good not to try.  I didn’t go find the recipe, I did what I always do, I watched her do it then I just winged it myself.  My version doesn’t have any bread; I decided it didn’t need it.  This freezes really well for another dinner or, my favorite, leftovers for lunch!

Zucchini Boats with chicken Italian sausage
Serves 6-8 (each person gets one boat)

2 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red or orange bell pepper, chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, chopped
1 lb. chicken Italian sausage, removed from casings
2 cups basic marinara (your own or store bought)
4 medium zucchini, sliced in half lengthwise with seeds removed
1 tsp salt, divided
1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
¾ C shredded mozzarella or Italian blend cheese


1.      Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2.      Heat skillet over medium high heat, add olive oil
3.      Drop in onion, bell pepper and mushrooms with ½ tsp of salt, sauté until the onion begins to soften
4.      While the veggies are cooking remove the sausage from the casings into a bowl
5.      Once the onion has started to soften add the sausage, breaking it up as it browns
6.      Add the marinara to the skillet once the sausage has browned, turn down, cover and simmer about 20 minutes
7.      While the “stuffing” is simmering, slice each zucchini in half lengthwise (think boat) and scoop out the seeds with a spoon to make room for the stuffing
8.      Spray a baking dish with some oil then lay each of the zucchini boats in the dish with the inside facing up, sprinkle with remaining salt and red pepper flakes
9.      Spoon the sauce/stuffing into each of the boats carefully, fill them a little above the top, go back and add if you have any left over
10.  Sprinkle the cheese over the top of everything
11.  Cover with foil and bake covered for about 30 minutes, remove the foil and bake another 15-20 minutes until the cheese is melted and getting brown in spots
12.  Serve one boat with a good side salad and some GF bread (if you have a big eater plan on them having two boats, that’s what my husband always does)

For the next recipe I’m going to be lazy and just direct you to a website that I love,  I know I have sent you there before.  She just has an endless supply of recipes, all of which are really good!  The recipe is for Healthy Cookies (  I made these over the weekend and they were good, they even got a thumbs up from my husband.  I made them without any changes, though the next time I’m going to try adding some mini chocolate chips.  Try them; they are easy and really yummy!  The next recipe I will be trying from there are the Skinny No-Bake Cookies (  Great stuff!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Chicken Tenders

I haven’t been good about posting in here lately; it seems there is always something else to do.  I suppose that’s how life is; priorities vary based on whatever is going on around you.  Things are busy and stressful here so I have made a conscious effort to do only what I can without jeopardizing my sanity and my health.

I had a busy weekend, we went to a concert Friday night (The Black Keys, amazing!), did a bunch of chores Saturday, Sunday we decided to go see Iron Man 3 (pretty good, left me wondering if there will be another).  When we got home I went to the kitchen and spent the rest of the day cooking and prepping food for the week. 

Today I thought I would share a recipe I came up with after looking through several online sources for ideas for “fried” chicken strips.  A friend had them at lunch the other day; they used to be a normal thing I would get at a restaurant before I went GF because they were generally hard to mess up.  I didn’t realize that I had been missing them until she ordered them.  So, on Saturday I was determined to have fried chicken tenders and I was going to figure out how to do it.  Never mind I haven’t ever deep fried anything in my life, amazing considering I have lived in the south for nearly 9 years.  Here’s the result of my chicken tender craving:

Chicken Tenders
Servings: 3-4

1 lb. chicken breasts cut into “tenders” size pieces
½ C gluten free flour (I found the King Arthur brand at Kroger)
3 eggs
2 T milk (honestly, I used the half and half I have for coffee, I didn’t have milk)
1.5 C of ground up Corn Chex cereal (the GF kind!)
¼ C grated parmesan
1.5 tsp. salt
1.5 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. paprika
½ tsp. cayenne powder (you can omit this if you don’t like heat, or add more if you do!)
Hot sauce of your choice (I prefer Cholula)

1.      Remove chicken from the refrigerator, season with 1 tsp. salt and pepper
2.      Put the flour along with ½ tsp. salt and pepper along with the garlic powder, paprika and cayenne powder into a dish, mix well
3.      Beat the eggs in another dish with whatever amount of hot sauce you would like
4.      In another bowl add the ground Chex cereal with the parmesan and mix well
a.       Note on the Chex cereal, to get it to the consistency of a panko breadcrumbs I just throw it into my mini chopper and pulse until it is the size I want
5.      Preheat oven to 300 degrees
6.      Heat the oil to 350 degrees in whatever you are frying in, I opted for a shallow fry in my electric skillet
7.      Start breading, drop the tenders into the flour, coat, then pick them up and shake the excess flour off and drop into the egg/milk mixture, when it is coated let the excess drip off them put into the cereal/parmesan mixture.
8.      As you bread each piece lay them out on a sheet or a plate, once everything is breaded start with the ones that you breaded first (the time allows the breading to stick better)
9.      Add several pieces into the hot oil one at a time, being sure to do it away from you so you don’t splash yourself with hot oil
10.  Cook for 6-8 minutes, turning once to ensure even browning (cooking time really depends on the size of your tenders, larger ones require longer, smaller a shorter time)
11.  When you remove it from the oil place on a cooling rack on a baking sheet in an oven that has been preheated to about 300 degrees, you can keep adding the chicken as you go, the oven will finish any cooking needed and keep everything warm
12.  The result should be a brown crispy coating with tender juicy chicken on the inside….it was just what I was craving! (And I didn’t burn down my kitchen, I was a little worried about that).

Happy Monday everyone!