The Ultimate Decadence: Baked Brie Bites

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One really decadent food kept coming to me while we were on Whole30 – I’m sure everyone while on this journey has something of the kind. I wanted baked brie: I wanted the flaky crust, toasted but still buttery, with the pooling, near-liquid cheese on the inside, with it’s characteristic sweet and strange tang. I knew this wasn’t something I wanted twice; I knew one time would be enough to put it to bed. As we were shopping for veggies at one point, I saw a prepared baked brie with a heart shape on top that you could take home and bake for valentine’s day – it was 15 dollars. It was in my mind this weekend as I shopped.

Instead of a 15 dollar perfect brie, Husband and I improvised: a small wedge of brie for 2.50 and a pie crust on sale for 50 cents. we cut pieces of crust, heated up the oven, and cut lumps of brie to wrap up in the crust. After this weekend, we’re returning to near-Whole30 for a lot of our meals, trying to jam-pack our lives with veggies and fruit, but this was our splurge (among a lot of others): these perfect little bites.

We tried them with three toppings: I put a tiny pat of almond butter on one, a smear of crystallized honey on another, and a dusting of rosemary and garlic on the last. I like savory, so that last one thrilled me, but the others were delightful too, and fully satisfied my craving. Sometimes that’s what you need – a long week and a long, lingering head cold left me there, feeling nothing but gratitude for cheese and crust, even as I know that I’m about to dive back in to the piles of celery and cucumber and bell peppers. I recommend wrapping bits of brie in pie crust any day you need this too!

6 Recent Kitchen Staples

I haven’t been very innovative in my cooking lately, but these 6 things get me through the busy weeks with my sanity intact. What 6 things make your kitchen function?

  1. frozen chicken breasts – It’s simple, no-bone meat, but it tastes good quickly or in a crockpot recipe, which saves me when there’s no time to develop something or choose a meat with finicky needs for cooking.
  2. canned tomatoes – I love the bounty of fresh summer tomatoes, but in the winter, I just have to stock more cans of tomatoes and tomato paste than I expect to need, because making up a pasta sauce or a curry is a fast way to add a lot of veggies, warmth, and spice into my life.
  3. Cut cucumbers, celery, carrots, and peppers – The amount of good veggies I eat is pretty much proportional to how many I have on hand, washed, and cut. This means taking some time at the beginning of the week to get them into shape, but it definitely pays off when the veggies are handy at the vulnerable, late-afternoon moments when I’m trying to decide whether to get fast food or wait for dinner.
  4. Sparkling water – I never thought I’d be a flavored sparkling water fan, but I really like it – it’s not sweet, and doesn’t even have artificial sweetness, but it is just different enough from drinking plain water to feel special. I’ve substituted it for most of my idle wine, soda, and juice consumption, saving those three for special occasions instead.
  5. Whole bean coffee – It just goes without saying that having a tasty hot beverage at the ready is important, but Husband has convinced me that it’s worth the minutes of grinding the beans to have a cup of coffee that just explodes with flavor.
  6. Kale – for kale chips! They crisp up so fast and I can eat a whole bundle of kale in a sitting this way, with little more than a dash of olive oil and salt to season it.

There are obviously many other things in my kitchen, but these are the basics on which all the others depend. What are yours?

Tasty Snacks – Match Made Coffee!

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I love the idea of taste-testing these snacks that came with my Match Made Coffee subscription box, sharing bits and bites with Husband, but that’s not how it ended up happening this week. Instead, since Husband is easing out of Whole30 slower than I am, they became quick breakfasts with my cups of coffee each day, which was lovely and meant that I got to try 3 new sweet treats but without having a whole box of each kind to tempt me!

Walker’s Shortbread with Guatemala Antigua: Shortbread is one of my favorite sweet/salty combinations, so this one would have been a winner regardless. This snack was perfect for the person who cannot stomach cloying sweet treats but who likes a rich addition to a cup of black coffee.

Tunnock’s Real Milk Chocolate Caramel Wafers with Organic French Roast: These caramel wafers have been compared to a Kit-Kat bar with a thick stripe of caramel down the middle – super sweet and perfect with a cup of milky french roast. This combination works well but I wouldn’t sweeten your coffee too much – the snack does that trick well.

Nature’s Bakery Peach Apricot Fig Bar with Espresso Roast: This was the only snack that felt wholesome and healthy (nothing wrong with butter and chocolate, though!) – it includes three kinds of dried fruit with whole-grain crust to make a decadent, more-than-average-fig-newton kind of fruit bar. Unlike the others, this gave me a sustained energy level and tasted delightful alongside another Aeropress coffee cup.

It was nice that the snacks appealed to the sweet tooth, the person who wants a rich but less sweet morsel, and the health side! They were well chosen for dark roasts too; the espresso and french are among the darkest available, and the Guatemala Antigua tasted on the dark side of medium to me. With slight bitter notes in the coffee itself, a selection of sweet notes was the perfect counterbalance!

 

Want to do your own coffee and snacks taste test? Check out Match Made Coffeeย and see for yourself the fun surprise of treats in the mail!

Match Made Coffee 3 – Espresso Roast!

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We don’t have an espresso machine (probably the only piece of coffee related paraphernalia that we don’t own…) but there was some ground espresso in the Match Made Coffee box, so I rooted out the old Aero Press to make an espresso-like pressure.

I first tried Aero Press at my friend M’s house, where it made small but velvety cups of coffee basically by sticking coffee and water in a filtered syringe and pressing the water through the coffee. When we were dating, Husband and I did a coffee themed Christmas where I bought him the electric coffee grinder we use every day, and he bought me the aero press. It’s a lot to wash so we don’t use it all the time, but it is fast and does make a delicious cup of coffee.

The San Diego Coffee Company espresso roast reminds me of drinking syrupy little espresso shots in Italy and Spain, and how quickly they disappear, almost sweet just because they are so concentrated! That tinge of caramel and sweetness is one of my favorite qualities of an espresso roast.

If you want to try your own roasts from Match Made Coffee, they have their whole bean and ground varieties at www.matchmadecoffee.comย – I noticed recently that you can save money if you order the 6 month subscription as a gift. I was shopping for hotel nights so that Husband and I could have a night away for Valentine’s, and I realized that for the same price as one night in a downtown hotel, you could have coffee breaks together for 6 months! Maybe more exciting for a girl who has had a “coffee-themed Christmas” in her past, but still. ๐Ÿ™‚

 

Match Made Coffee 2: Organic French Roast

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One Sunday afternoon, Husband and I were trying to get the motivation to power through the 2pm slump and somewhat failing – blame potatoes and chicken-and-apple sausage from lunch, I suppose, or the swim we took after church. So he suggested we try the Organic French Roast from Match Made Coffee’s subscription box.

If their Guatemala Antigua was smooth, this roast was deep – with a caramelized side that was almost carbon-like, just a little tiny bit of burn that characterizes dark roast coffee. French roast is, after all, on the very darkest end of coffee roasts, and instead of tasting like the bean it originally came from, it’s going to be sugary, chocolatey, and delicious.

It’s also nice to be drinking organic coffee; while you might not taste it, the organic coffee bean contains far fewer of the pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers that conventional coffee contains, and it doesn’t contribute to climate change or deforestation nearly as much as conventional practices. Sure, these choices make the coffee a little more expensive, but when it’s included in your $29.99 a month box, you are just getting added value for no extra cost.

I appreciate the dark roast because Husband tends to pick out light and medium roasts, and French roast is a special treat that my mom and I used to share at home. Drinking it this afternoon and writing, I feel like I’ve been given the permission to remember good coffee times as snow drifts lazily outside. It’s a lovely feeling.

Match Made Coffee was recently featured on NBC San Diego here, and you can check out their product online here.

Quinoa Salad – a Post-Whole30 luxury!

IMG_4521Today, I am making quinoa salad for the first time in a long time; it qualifies, in my mind, as a very healthy food, but it was forbidden based on the no-legumes-or-grains part of the Whole30 experience. My favorite part of it is the fact that, as a person who doesn’t crave meat with every meal, it’s a way to keep getting protein and keep myself full for many hours while still eating something “lighter” than a serving of meat.

Here’s my approach, which stays new to me because I vary up the different ingredients:

  • Start the quinoa: I make about a cup of quinoa at a time unless I’m entertaining other people, because it’s fast and easy to make.
  • Pick the veggies: My favorites, in no particular order are: chopped cucumber, diced tomatoes, cooked spinach, chopped bell peppers, or cooked cubes of squash or zucchini. Husband likes it with broccoli, but that kinda ruins it for me… I cannot help it! Broccoli isn’t my veggie, it seems.
  • Pick the spicing: with tomatoes, I always add basil; with most veggies, I always give a dusting of garlic, pepper, and salt. Lately, I’ve been really entranced by chipotle seasoning, so that gets thrown on anything when I’m feeling like I need a good kick from the salad.
  • Add the garnishes: To add crunch, a few toasted pecans or walnuts are wonderful. I like crumbled goat cheese or feta (don’t overdo it with the salt if you add these though; they seem to add saltiness on their own) to make the salad a little creamy, and if you have enough veggies relative to the quinoa, you can dress it with your favorite ranch or balsamic vinaigrette, though that can be weird if there’s mostly quinoa and not so much on the veggies.

Regardless, this salad is delicious warm when you first make it, and then can either be eaten hot or cold later as a lunch at work. I’m hoping to create one that I enjoy for breakfasts now that I’m trying to not make all my breakfasts pastry-centric (it’s a problem!). It’s not Whole30, but it definitely makes me feel ready to face the day.

Whole30 in the books

Husband and I have completed Whole30! He’s been more committed than I have to the process of reintegration, whereby you add a single item back to your diet (legumes, sugar, dairy, etc.) every 3 days to see how those things make you feel. I went a little overboard and tried a lot of things in only two days and ended up feeling TERRIBLE. I’ve gone back on mostly veggies and fruits and meats, and I cannot tell you how much better it makes me feel.

I think I got lulled into the month long change and figured that my iron-stomach would return instantly after the break from gluten and cheese, but I was incorrect. It turns out, my body thrives on whole foods, and my mood and energy level is so dependent now on eating well! I am realizing that I cannot go back to the doubt and disappointment in myself that came with eating whatever looked tastiest. It’s a hard decision, but I think I’m going to become basically all-Whole30 for the meals in my life that I have control over, be they at work or at home.

With restaurants, parties, and social events, it’s worth a little languor to participate, to not be fussy, and to sample the wonderful foods that others make and share with me. However, that doesn’t mean that I won’t aim myself toward the healthiest options, because I’m realizing that the full-life feeling I’ve been having lately, where there seem to never be enough hours in the day, is only sustainable if I’m also aiming to feel 100% whenever I can. I don’t have time for a mid-afternoon slump, and no amount of coffee can create the clear head that a good, veggie and protein rich lunch can.

I’m still not convinced that everyone needs Whole30 (lots of people seem to have the moderate-consumption-of-unhealthy-food thing down!) but I have been convinced that it is working for me. The one deliberate add in I’m excited about is alternate proteins, including beans, quinoa, and tofu, because I am a little sick of meat at so many meals! It’s a little more sustainable and I never seem to overeat on quinoa, so it’s an adaptation that works quite well for me. ๐Ÿ™‚

Crispy Hash Browns

When I make hash browns, they tend to be sorta soggy and fall apart, so I looked at a lot of online suggestions for avoiding this problem, and I came to this strategy:

  • I grate the potatoes onto a big paper towel.
  • I squeeze them out, trying to get as much water out of them as I can.
  • I put them on a big plate that is microwave-safe, and microwave them for 2 minutes while heating oil on the stove.
  • I fry them without moving them until I can peel up the edge and see that they are getting brown. I try to keep a wide, thin layer and if possible, flip them all together.
  • Once both sides are getting crispy, I try to scatter them so that more of the middles get a crispy edge on them. This part is my own choice though, so you totally don’t have to!
  • On Whole30, you can serve them with onions, tomato, avocado, etc. and of course some bacon if you are into that.

Hashbrowns bring me back to my favorite meal, and make me feel pretty normal in the midst of a very clean-eating month!

Essential Prep for Whole30 Life

I’ve now survived my 3rd weekend of Whole30, which means I feel like I know what I need to make a successful week. It does require work, but I’ve been really satisfied with my habits.

1st, I chop snack veggies – my favorites are bell peppers, celery, and cucumbers, all of which are watery and crunchy and not intense in flavor, but which can sit on my desk and be my absent-minded eating. They are also easy to add to a meal later in the week if I don’t feel like cooking a veggie.

2nd, I crockpot some chicken breasts with a little olive oil and some light seasonings. This usually goes overnight for me, but if you have the awareness to do it in the morning for the evening, that’s even better. They pull apart like a dream, and with 7 or 8 minutes in a frying pan you can make one meal worth of crispy chicken to be added to a salad or a soup or anything! We’ve been eating off about 10 breasts I cooked last week, and it’s so satisfying and quick.

3rd, and I don’t do this every time, but chopping some sweet potatoes and grating regular potatoes for hash browns can be really nice. Starchy veggies make a nice counterpoint to the two salads a day that we tend to eat.

Last, arrange for breakfast. Egg bakes are great, but keeping fruit and sweet potatoes around for when you don’t feel like eggs is not a bad idea. I know they recommend 3 even meals, but I just cannot desire food at 6 in the morning when I’m getting ready, so keeping small alternatives to a full meal has been essential for me.

This is much less than most Whole30 folks meal prep, but January is a pretty quiet month for us, so we really have time to make two trips to the grocery store each week, and the grocery store is between the gym and home for us, so in the end, we go and buy what we need if we need it. I’d also recommend frozen veggies and fruits if you can’t hit the grocery store often, because I’ve been having to hustle to use all the veggies we buy before they are old!

Pistachio Crusted Salmon

We were craving crunch – something that I think is pretty common on Whole30. I think for long stretches of time about the combination of soft and crispy that bread does so well and so few other foods can imitate. Even crispy cooked cheese compares… but we cannot have that either!

So when we got some salmon fillets on sale (check your grocery store – we were surprised by how reasonable they were frozen!), I looked up recipes that used nuts as a “crust” on salmon. I already knew I liked salmon pretty much just with lemon, salt, and pepper, so I had a feeling this would be a decadent and wonderful dish. I drew on this recipe, but I think that almost any herbs, oils, and nuts would make a savory and crunchy crust.

Husband and I felt like we were in a fancy restaurant, and I realized that the portions that we have been eating – one or two veggies in substantial quantity, a small amount of really good meat, and maybe a sparkling water to drink – are so much like restaurant meals. Sure, we don’t fill up on bread and butter, and there’s no dessert, but the food we eat this month is high quality.

I’ve been really thinking about how to incorporate what we’ve learned into our daily life after this month, and I’ve realized that I love having these rules to keep me in check. I know I can change them whenever I want, but I think I want to still have intense rules. Maybe I’ll reincorporate honey, or beans, or something, but I want to save the most craved foods for really special occasions. How do you keep your appetites for unhealthy foods in check enough to really savor the best things? I’m certainly still learning.