September 5, 2013

Paleo/Gluten Free Meal Planning

A few weeks ago I wrote about a new lifestyle/diet change for my husband and I, after meeting with a Naturopathic Doctor and talking about ways to heal my psoriasis and other autoimmune and hormone issues I was having. It's been a very interesting, difficult ... but rewarding journey so far, which I will talk about in another post.

For now, I wanted to share one of the most helpful tips I can think of for starting something like this - PLANNING. I can't stress enough how important it is to be prepared. To do research, figure out what you can eat, look up recipes, buy cookbooks, plan all your meals and have snacks available.

Right now I cannot eat any gluten, dairy, added sugars (except for natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup) or highly processed foods. My ND is trying to get my body healthy, then slowly introduce foods back in and see what triggers my symptoms.

I plan 3 meals a day for both my husband and I for 2 weeks at a time, so I only have to grocery shop every other week. I have to drive 50 minutes to Annapolis, Maryland to get to the closest Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. It's actually something I look forward to now. My sister and I go together, so it's nice to have some time with her. And it gives me accountability to plan and shop for everything I need.

So here is an example of my meal plan for 2 weeks:

This might be hard to read, but I'll highlight a few things.

For breakfast, we really like Against All Grain's banana pancake recipe. We also eat bacon and eggs, corn tortillas with beans and eggs, and an egg/chicken chorizo hash. For lunch, we pack chicken sausages, hard boiled eggs, rolled up lunch meat, nitrate free natural hot dogs, veggies, fruit or leftovers. Check out NomNom Paleo for helpful lunch ideas. Dinner is usually meat and veggies, like lime grilled chicken, sundried tomato stuffed chicken breasts, sweet potato "chips", corn, green beans, etc etc. Doesn't really sound like a diet, does it? :) We have really tried to find ways to add flavor to our food by using fresh ingredients.

Here are some helpful tips highlighted:

1. Plan every meal for two weeks! It's so helpful to know what you're going to be making and know you have enough food in the house to feed your family. Obviously leave some flexibility if you have an unexpected dinner guest or are just feeling like eating something other than what you have planned. Swapping meals around works, because you still have the same about of meals planned.

2. Do your research! I have spent so much time reading food blogs, cookbooks and other articles trying to learn how to cook this way. It's totally new for me - using almond flour instead of regular flour, using coconut oil instead of canola oil. It's helpful to know what's really healthy for your body and why, so when it gets hard you can remember that you're giving your body fuel.

3. Experiment! I have had so many total failures since starting this diet. One time I tried to make "alfredo" sauce with coconut milk and blended cashews. Yea... not good. I've also wasted 1 whole cup of really expensive organic olive oil trying to make my own mayonnaise. But now I'm at the point where I really know what my husband and I like to eat, and feel so much better having figured that out by just trying new things and experimenting.

4. Read labels! This is probably obvious, but it's so important when you're trying to eat minimally processed foods. Even foods labeled with all kinds of healthy marketing gimmicks can be loaded with preservatives or artificial ingredients. There are good products out there that will help you save time in the kitchen. I recently found a chicken broth that has only the following ingredients: chicken, sea salt, honey, vegetable stocks (carrot, onion, mushroom, celery), bay, thyme, pepper. Nothing I can't pronounce, nothing crazy. Just simple, wholesome ingredients.

August 9, 2013

Cleaning Up

(Side note - I have my photography reputation to uphold here, and would like to note that these photos are just from my phone :) Also, this post is the start of a pretty big difference in this blog. I understand if you come here for yummy cookie recipes, but you might not be seeing that for awhile. If you'd like to follow me as I try to eat healthier, I hope you continue reading this blog!)

Sometimes you get to a point in life when you're just stuck... and you know you need to make some serious changes. Those changes seem impossible, so you wait for awhile. Maybe you wait days, weeks, months, even years, putting off something that's just not very convenient.

But then you realize that your health is more important than anything - for me, it was realizing that I was more important than food. I am in the process of starting to view food differently, as a way to fuel my body instead of just something I crave. It's not about walking into the grocery store at the beginning of every week and thinking, "What do I want to make this week? What am I hungry for?" Instead, I need to train myself to think, "What does my body need this week? What are things I can eat that will give me energy and good health?"

I have had psoriasis for about 15 years, and probably longer than that. Basically as long as I can remember I've been itching my scalp, being embarrassed as I watch little pieces of my skin fall all over my clothes, the floor, everywhere. I also have it on my elbows, chest, knees and back. It's painful, itchy, embarrassing and something I've been living with for a very long time.

Of course I've tried many things to get rid of it - I've been to dermatologists, doctors, endocrinologists... and no one has been able to make it go away. Nothing has worked.

A few years ago, I experienced some hormone imbalances as a result of the topical steroid lotion I used on my psoriasis for years. As a long term side effect of the medicine, my thyroid and adrenal gland functions were totally out of control. I had many blood tests done to diagnose the problem. I decided to stop using the lotion and haven't used it again in years. That was a really big step for me, because it was the only thing I found to control my symptoms. But it was working from the outside in, and ended up making me really sick. I needed to heal myself from the inside out.

My sister has been telling me for years that a big change in my diet could help me. I just didn't listen until recently, when psoriasis wasn't the only symptom I was experiencing. I starting having big problems with my energy levels, I was tired all the time, gained a large amount of weight in a very short time, had problems with my fingernails (a sign of malnutrition) and began having signs of anxiety such as chest pains and heart palpitations.

So after encouragement and support from my husband and family, I made an appointment with a Naturopathic Doctor/Nutritionist. A few weeks ago, I met with Rhonda Ehrgood from Tree of Life Health Ministries in Gap, Pennsylvania. She ran a lot of tests and found out that my kidney and liver functions were congested, and there was protein in my urine (sorry that's gross) which means I'm not digesting my food properly.

She put me on a 2-3 month dairy, sugar and grain-free detoxification program, with a 7-day intensive detox called Core Restore, focusing on the liver (I start that in about a week). I can only eat organic fruit and as many vegetables as I want, and grass-fed hormone free meats and eggs. The goal is to totally clean my body out of all processed food and make it healthy again. She suspects that I have some food allergies or intolerances, so after the 2-3 month detox, she wants to slowly introduce some foods (like milk) back into my diet to see how I react to them. From there (with a lot of patience and work) we should be able to pinpoint the foods I can't eat.

It's difficult, because I'm not sure what the rest of my life is going to look like in terms of what I can eat. It's hard for me to live in the unknown, but I also think right now it would be overwhelming for me to think I can never eat bread or ice cream again. It's comforting to know that I'm working with a professional, and we're taking this day by day, trying to give my body the nutrients it needs to heal itself.

I'm on Day 3 of the new grain-free dairy-free eating plan, and I can't say it's been easy. It's been a struggle, and I will elaborate in future posts. I like the idea of journaling/blogging this experience. I think it will help keep me accountable, hopefully help someone else, and also be encouraging to look back someday and see how far I've come.

I am so thankful for everyone's support. I have an incredible husband that doesn't care how much money all this costs, or what we have to do. He just wants me to get better. He has been helping me with food prep, cleaning the mountains of dishes and general calming of nerves and anxiety. His encouragement has been my strength when I have none, and for that I am so thankful. My parents have been a strong support system for me. My sister sat down with me for hours to help me plan meals and make a grocery list. She helped me clean out my kitchen and go grocery shopping. She has been amazing. My boss sat with me for an hour while he listened to everything about what's going on, and has been supportive of me missing work to drive 2 hours to my nutritionist appointments. Everywhere I look, I have support. And it's a bigger blessing than I can even write into words.

Thank you for coming on this journey with me!

May 1, 2013

chicken burrito egg rolls

I've had egg rolls wrappers sitting in my fridge for a few days and didn't really know what to do with them other than my usual vegetable egg rolls (wow... looks like I had a white balance issue back then!) As I was baking some chicken breasts and rice, I thought it would be good to make a burrito. Then I remembered the egg rolls and HELLO great idea! Chicken burrito egg rolls!

I just put the usual burrito ingredients inside the egg roll wrapper - chicken, black beans, rice and cheese. I added shredded cabbage (aka cole slaw mix) for crunch and really liked the texture it gave.

Just pan fry these for a few minutes on each side until they are golden brown and crispy. I added a little lime juice, fresh cilantro, salt and pepper to the rice to give it more flavor. I wasn't trying to copy Chipotle's cilantro lime rice... because let's not talk about how many times I've tried to recreate that and failed. I'm convinced they put crack in it.

You're left with this totally yummy treat and a filling dinner. It would be fun to make a dipping sauce from sour cream, lime juice and maybe a little honey. If you try it let me know!

Chicken Burrito Egg Rolls

serves: 2 people (2 egg rolls each)
Jenna Laughs Original

1 chicken breast fulled cooked (I baked mine then shredded it)
1/4 cup black beans, drained and rinsed in a colander
1/4 cup shredded cheese (I used Mexican blend, but Colby Jack would be good)
1/4 cup shredded cabbage (cole slaw mix, this is optional)
4-6 egg rolls wrappers (just keep making them until you run out of ingredients!)
1 cup cooked rice
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup canola or vegetable oil

Heat oil (you want about 1/2 inch depth of oil in the pan) in a large skillet over medium heat until it reaches about 350 degrees. You want bubbles to form when you put the egg roll in the hot oil, but not bubble up too quickly and burn. Mix the cooked rice, lime juice, cilantro, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Taste to make sure it is seasoned correctly and has good flavor.

Lay one wrapper down in front of you. Put about 1 tablespoon shredded chicken, 1 tablespoon black beans, 2 tablespoons rice, 1 tablespoon shredded cheese and a little shredded cabbage (you can just estimate all this.) You want the wrapper to be full, but not too full. You can reference my photo above. Fold the bottom up over the fillings, then fold in the sides and roll it up like a burrito. Set aside as you make the rest.

Once all your egg roll burritos are made, put them in the oil for a few minutes on each side until they're golden brown and crispy. Let them dry on paper towels, then enjoy!

April 19, 2013

grilled chicken salad with orange segments and dressing

We're not going to talk about how long it's been since I've updated my happy little food blog. It's embarrassing. But I hope you will welcome me back with open arms and empty stomachs!

My husband and I are trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle which includes better meals and being more active. Nothing crazy, and we will certainly splurge every once in awhile because I can't live my life without ice cream. But we just want to make healthier choices and move our bodies, if you know what I'm saying. Exercise!

We have been playing tennis, working out and Michael is biking to work and even competing in a bike race next month. We've got a long way to go but we are moving forward, and that's all that matters.

This recipe was one of those moments where I had no clue what to make for dinner. I had chicken defrosted in the fridge and some salad greens, and I didn't really know what else to do. I'm not a huge fan of salads but there are a few elements that make me want to eat them: a warm ingredient (like grilled chicken), sweet dressing and something crunchy.

This salad has a delicious dressing made with fresh orange juice, honey, vinegar and olive oil. It's simple but so tasty and perfect. The crunch comes from homemade tortilla strips.

To segment an orange, you just peel it and run your knife along the side of each membrane. Do this over a bowl to save the juice for the dressing. For detailed instructions, watch this video.

For this salad, I like to dress just the greens and orange segments, not the chicken or tortilla strips. The tortillas will keep their crunch if they aren't covered in dressing.

Enjoy! And lots of hugs for coming back :)

Grilled Chicken Salad with Orange Segments and Dressing

Serves: 2-3
Jenna Laughs original

For the Salad-
1 bag of pre-washed lettuce (I used butter lettuce but you could use spring mix)
1 large orange peeled and cut into segments (do this over a bowl and save the juice)
2 corn tortillas (the taco size, 6 inch)
1 cup vegetable or canola oil (for frying tortilla strips)
6 chicken tenders
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste

For the Dressing-
Juice of one orange (from your segments)
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (you could use apple cider vinegar)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut tortillas into strips (about 1/2-1/4 inch) and heat oil in a small saucepan until it reaches about 350 degrees, or when you drop a strip in the oil it starts to bubble around the edges. You don't want it to start browning immediately, then your oil is too hot. Fry your tortillas in small batches, the strips from one tortilla at a time should work. Use tongs to stir them every minute or so, then when they are golden brown remove them from the oil onto a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Once all tortilla strips are fried, set aside.

Season your chicken tenders with salt and pepper, then saute them in the butter for 3-5 minutes per side or until chicken is cooked through. Set them on a plate to rest while you prepare the salad.

To make the dressing, combine orange juice, honey, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper into a small bowl and whisk until well blended. Arrange lettuce on plates, then add the orange segments. Pour half the dressing on each plate and toss the lettuce and orange segments with the dressing. For this salad, I like to just dress the greens and not the chicken or tortillas. Top each salad with half the chicken and tortilla strips. Serve immediately.

(NOTE - Taste the dressing before you put it on the salad, if if tastes too sweet to you add a little more vinegar. If it tastes too acidic, add a little more honey.)

June 18, 2012

lemon cheesecake cups

My husband is a sucker for cheesecake and anything flavored with lemon, the more tart the better. So when I found these light versions of mini lemon cheesecakes, I knew I had a winner. They're made with cream cheese, mascarpone cheese and plain greek yogurt. Lots of lemon zest makes them fresh and delicious.

 The "crust" part of these cheesecake cups is just one Nilla wafer dropped in the bottom of the cupcake liner. It gets soft and lovely during the baking process.

The only problem with these beauties is that the recipe only makes 12. I made them for Fathers Day, and they were gone before everyone got to try it! Double the recipe if you're feeding a crowd, or if you're really hungry.

Lemon Cheesecake Cups 

Serves: 12

12 vanilla wafers (I used Nilla wafers, is there any other kind?)
6 oz cream cheese, softened
2 oz mascarpone cheese, slightly softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
6 oz fat-free plain Greek yogurt (I used Chobani)
2 large egg whites
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp lemon zest (about 3 lemons)
1 tbsp all purpose flour

Heat oven to 350°. Line cupcake tin with liners. Place a vanilla wafer at the bottom of each liner.

In a medium sized bowl, beat cream cheese, mascarpone cheese, sugar and vanilla until smooth using an electric mixer. Gently beat in yogurt, egg whites, lemon juice, lemon zest and flour. Do not over beat. Pour into cupcake liners (I just used a spoon) filling about half way. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until center is almost set. Cool to room temperature. Chill a few hours in the refrigerator before serving.

Recipe adapted from: Skinny Taste