Easy Homemade Marinara

Homemade marinara has always intimidated me. While it’s so easy to buy pre-made sauce at the store, if you look at the ingredients list, the jars are often full of sugar and preservatives.  When we took a cooking class in Italy a few years ago, I discovered that making my own sauce is not nearly as difficult or time-consuming as I thought it would be.

This is not the recipe we learned how to make in Tuscany, but a variation I created one day while trying to use up some extra veggies I had in the fridge.  This version gives the opportunity to add more flavor and some sweetness by using vegetables in the sauce.  Since it all ends up pureed, this is an easy way to serve your unsuspecting kids more veggies.  I love that it makes an easy, all-in-one-dish meal.

Ingredients:

  • two 16-oz cans of organic tomato sauce
  • 1 organic zucchini
  • 1 organic red bell pepper (seeds & core removed)
  • 2-3 organic carrots (peeled)
  • 1/2 yellow onion (peeled)
  • 6 cloves of garlic (peeled)
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
  • 5-6 leaves of fresh basil

Preparation:

  1. Roughly chop the veggies, onion and garlic.
  2. Add the veggies to a deep pot with the olive oil and cook over medium-low temperature until soft.  This usually takes around 15 minutes; the smaller your veggie pieces, the faster they will soften.
  3. Add the tomato sauce.
  4. Use an immersion blender to puree the veggies into the sauce.
  5. Add the salt and crushed red pepper to taste and let simmer on low until you are ready to serve.
  6. When you remove from heat, add some chopped fresh basil.
  7. Serve over pasta or spaghetti squash with fresh mozzarella or Parmesan cheese.

To add some protein, make it a ragu / bolognese by adding cooked Italian sausage to the sauce.  I also love to add in even more veggies at this point by mixing in some chopped kale or spinach that I have sauteed with shallots.

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Beef and Snap Peas

This delicious dinner takes under 30 minutes to prepare and is perfect for a weeknight meal.  The tender steak with a sweet Asian sauce and crisp snow peas will be a crowd pleaser – both my husband and my 6 month old liked it!

Beef Snow Peas

A healthful adaptation of the Pioneer Woman’s Beef with Snow Peas recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup organic coconut aminos (say no to soy sauce with this perfect alternative!)
  • 1 tablespoon ground organic ginger
  • 2 tablespoons grass-fed beef bone broth
  • 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • Optional: you may add a tablespoon of non-GMO cornstarch or arrowroot powder to thicken your sauce, but since I was serving over rice, I didn’t feel I needed it.
  • 1 1/2 pounds grass-fed flap steak, sliced thin against the grain (can also use flank steak)
  • 3 tablespoons coconut or olive oil
  • Couple handfuls of fresh organic snap peas, trimmed
  • 5 scallions, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

Preparation:

Combine the coconut aminos, ginger, bone broth, coconut sugar and crushed red pepper in a bowl. Put the sliced steak in a bowl and pour 1/3 of that liquid over the beef, saving the rest in the bowl.  Toss the beef and let sit for a few minutes while you prepare the snap peas.

Put the oil in a large skillet and heat over high heat.  Add the snap peas for half a minute to get them bright green, then remove them to a separate plate.

Next, add half the steak to the skillet.  Spread it out and let brown for a minute. Add half the scallions, turn the meat over and cook another half minute to brown that side. Remove to a separate plate.

Let the skillet get hot again, then add the rest of the meat and brown both sides again. Once you flip the beef pieces to brown the second side, add all the ingredients back in – the reserved sauce, the previously cooked meat and snap peas.  Stir for a few seconds, then remove from the heat.

Serve by itself or over jasmine rice or quinoa!

 

Italian Lemon Farm Tour + Cooking Class

Last month, my husband and I took a two week trip to Europe to visit London and southern Italy. We had a wonderful vacation full of stunning views, delicious food and fantastic vino. One of the highlights of the trip was the Amalfi Lemon Experience

Amalfi DuomoWe stayed in the beautiful, small town of Positano on the Amalfi Coast. A short cliff-side drive or ferry ride takes you to the slightly larger town of Amalfi. The main piazza (town square) is a quick walk from the port and the star of the town – the duomo (cathedral) that is absolutely breathtaking both inside and out. We sat at the bottom of the church steps as the morning bells rung and waited for our ride up the hill to the lemon farm.

Valley of the Mills Lemon FarmsThe lemon farm is located up through the town into the Valley of the Mills – a valley lined with lemon groves and old paper mills. When arrived at the Aceto family lemon farm, we toured a small museum with the family’s collection of area artifacts. We learned about the history of the main industries of lemon farming and paper milling – lots of hard work.  This lemon farm has been in the family for many, many generations.

Limoncello ProductionNext, we saw the production room where they make small batch limoncello and then got to sample some! Their limoncello is unique, and especially delicious, because it is made with grappa – an alcohol made from grapes – while most is made with grain alcohol. We tasted regular limoncello, creme di limoncello (think a lemon version of Bailey’s) and a dark chocolate sauce infused with limoncello – all amazing!

Amalfi LemonsWe began the steep trek up each level of the lemon farm, walking through the garden terraces. The Acetos are committed to maintaining a sustainable, organic lemon farm when so many have started using pesticides. They believe in producing high quality fruit that is nutritious, delicious and healing. 

We met the 80 year old patriarch who still works daily on the family farm.  He brought down a basket full of lemons picked fresh. Salvatore, his son and our tour guide/host, pushed his thumbs right into a lemon the size of an orange and cut it into slices with a pocket knife. Each of us ate a whole slice (including the rind) and it was delicious.. soft and sweet, just barely sour. The Aceto family eats several lemons each day and he noted that it is the essential oils in the lemon that keep them healthy. They use lemon as a remedy for all ailments and keep their immune systems strong with natural vitamin C. Sal’s personal anecdote was that he went to work off the farm for several years and was always getting sick… as soon as he returned and lemons re-entered his daily diet, he has been healthy.

Lemon PergolasIt was fascinating to learn about the organic gardening process. If a tree catches a disease, they do everything they can naturally to save it because it takes a new tree 25 years to produce the amount of fruit that the mature, old trees produce.  They use other citrus trees to help graft any the new lemon trees. And the trees are planted under hand crafted wooden pergolas that support the branches and the heavy fruit; plus, it allows the top leaves to provide shade to the fruit below.

Lemonade and Lemon CakeAfter our tour of the farm, we joined the family on the outdoor kitchen terrace, overlooking the valley. They served fresh lemonade and lemon pound cake as we enjoyed the view. Then, they brought out the wine and we began our Mediterranean cooking class with Ramona.

First, we prepared Antipasto Parmigiana – a recipe I cannot wait to try out at home. Grilled eggplant slices topped with fresh tomato sauce, smoked mozzarella, grated Parmesan and basil, rolled up, then baked to melt the cheese (if you don’t eat them all before putting in the oven).

Next, we whipped up the dessert – lemon tiramisu… using the local specialty limoncello instead of traditional espresso. Those went in the fridge to chill as we moved on to making the fresh pasta. We kneaded the pasta, rolled it, cut into ravioli pieces and filled with a mixture of fresh cod and potato – unique, but good!

Once the food preparation was complete, we sat down at a long table with the whole family to enjoy our several course lunch:Lemon Tiramisu

  1. Bread with olive oil, garlic and mint
  2. Antipasto Parmigiana (recipe here)
  3. Cod & Potato Ravioli topped with cherry tomato & basil sauce
  4. Fresh tuna steaks with lemon
  5. Lemon tiramisu – pictured (recipe here)
  6. Espresso with lemon peel (delicious! also great for relieving headaches!) and limoncello as a digestif

It was a wonderful meal, made even better with the hospitality of the large Italian family… filled with many laughs, stories and glasses of wine. Thank you, Aceto family, for the perfect day in Amalfi and unforgettable experience!

Lemon Farm

AIP Cilantro Lime Chicken Soup

I recently made dinner for a friend who is following the Auto-Immune Paleo diet. The AIP diet basically removes anything inflammatory so that your immune system has a chance to heal.  It’s very restrictive (depending on what you’re currently eating, of course), but great for people with auto-immune diseases or for anyone suffering from unexplained health issues and not seeing results from anything else. Since it avoids foods that are most often problematic, it can also help people understand what kind of food allergies they may have without taking the expensive tests.   Another thing about the AIP diet is that everything must be organic to avoid reactions to pesticides, additives, hormones, etc in non-organic foods – see why organic is always the better choice here.

One of my favorite anti-inflammatory, healing foods is bone broth.  It is super easy to make and I always have some on hand to drink or make soups with. So, when I was challenged to make a meal that was AIP-friendly, I knew I wanted to start there. Today, I’m sharing the delicious Cilantro Lime Chicken Soup I concocted by taking the tomatoes and peppers (nightshade veggies are a surprisingly common allergen) out of my Chicken Tortilla Soup recipe.  Even if you’re not following an AIP diet, I promise you’ll love this one!

Ingredients:Cilantro Lime Chicken Soup

  • 1 organic zucchini
  • 1/2 bunch organic celery
  • 3 organic carrots
  • 1/2 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 organic chicken cooked and shredded (crock-pot chicken recipe)
  • 8 cups homemade bone broth (or organic chicken broth)
  • 1 tablespoon pink Himalayan salt
  • 1 tablespoon organic olive oil (my favorite brand is Kasandrinos)
  • 1/4 cup diced cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Preparation:

Prep time: about 5 minutes, Cooking time: 35 minutes

  1. Put all the veggies (first 5 ingredients above) into a food processor and blend until puréed.
  2. Add olive oil and puréed veggies to soup pot and sauté over medium heat for 3 minutes.
  3. Add broth and salt to the pot and bring to a boil, then reduce to low and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Add chicken, lime juice and cilantro to the pot and simmer for another 10 minutes.
  5. Serve with fresh avocado slices on top for added texture.

Hope you enjoy!

Heirloom Tomato and Mozzarella Bruschetta

BruschettaAs I’ve been planning our upcoming trip to Italy, I’ve found my cooking quite inspired by the cuisine. Last night, I needed a quick dinner and happened to find fresh baguettes on sale at Whole Foods for just 99¢, so I went with one of my favorite go-to 5 minute recipes: bruschetta!

Ingredients:

  • 1 package organic cherry heirloom tomatoes
  • 1 package organic mozzarella cheese
  • 5-6 basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon pink Himalayan salt
  • 1 teaspoon organic olive oil (my favorite brand is Kasandrinos)
  • drizzle of balsamic vinegar

Preparation:

  1. Put tomatoes into food processor and pulse just a couple times until tomatoes are broken up.
  2. Cut mozzarella cheese into small pieces.
  3. Add all ingredients into a bowl and mix together. That was so easy, right?!

4 Easy Serving Options:

Toasted Baguette – the most traditional way to serve… cut a baguette into 1/2 inch thick slices and arrange on a cookie sheet. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle some garlic and ground pepper on top. Put in a 425 degree oven for 3-5 minutes depending on how toasty you like your bread. Top with the bruschetta and serve.

Pasta – prepare your favorite pasta (I recommend Organic Einkorn Grain Spaghetti for a more digestible form of gluten) and toss with olive oil. Instead of a sauce, top with bruschetta for a fresh version perfect for a hot summer day!

Grilled Chicken – for a healthier, gluten-free version with some protein, marinate some chicken with balsamic vinegar for an hour and then grill. Top with the bruschetta mixture and serve.

Salad – another gluten-free option – get your veggies for the day by serving over some mixed greens; plus, you won’t even need to add dressing.

Enjoy!

Christmas Chili

Chili with TamaleIt’s a Texas tradition to enjoy fresh tamales and chili during the holiday season, and I can’t wait to make this for a cozy dinner with family on Christmas Eve.  Today, I’m sharing my super easy, go-to chili recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds of grass-fed, organic ground beef
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 16 oz can organic tomato sauce
  • 1 can organic diced tomatoes
  • 15 oz can organic kidney beans, drained
  • 15 oz can organic pinto beans, drained
  • 1/3 cup organic, non-GMO cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup bone broth (or beer or water)
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon himalayan salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Toppings: shredded raw cheddar cheese, chopped red or green onion, tortilla chips (my favorite are Jackson’s Honest brand – the only kind made with coconut oil AND organic, non-GMO corn!)

Preparation:

  1. Put the ground beef and garlic into a large pot and cook on medium heat until the meat is browned.
  2. Drain the excess fat from pot.
  3. Add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and all spices. Stir together, then reduce to low heat.
  4. Simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. If the mixture starts to look a little dry, I usually add some bone broth (or beer or water) a 1/4 cup at a time.
  5. In separate bowl, mix the cornmeal and 1/2 cup bone broth together.  Then dump into the chili. This will be your thickening agent and add that corn flavor. (Beer works really well here too!)
  6. After this, see what the consistency is and add more liquid based on your preference. Typically, I add about 3/4-1 cup of liquid in.
  7. Add both cans of beans and simmer for 10 minutes.
  8. Now it’s ready to serve with all the yummy toppings!

Wishing you a healthy and hopeful holiday!

Butternut Squash Soup

Autumn brings some of my very favorite seasonal fruits and vegetables.  Eating produce that’s in season has all kinds of benefits:

  • Full of flavor because it’s being grown naturally and locally
  • Packed with micronutrients – aka the vitamins and minerals that give your body nourishment and protect you from disease.
  • Much cheaper. If you’re trying to eat all organic, changing your meal planning seasonally will help your budget as it tends to be less expensive.

Some of the best flavors of fall are in season right now: pumpkin, apples, cranberries, sweet potatoes, beets, pears, kale, brussels sprouts, and squash. Butternut squash, for example, is full of vitamin A (helps protect your eyes from degeneration), vitamins C & E (antioxidants that boost your immune system), potassium (good for blood pressure), magnesium (good for your muscles) and fiber (helps aid digestion).  Today, I’m sharing a super easy three-step recipe for Butternut Squash Soup.

Butternut Squash SoupIngredients:

  • Medium sized butternut squash (pick one that feels heavy for its size and with thick, hard skin)
  • 2-3 cups bone broth (or chicken broth)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp sage

Preparation:

  1. Cut butternut squash in half and scoop out seeds.
  2. Place halves cut-side up on a pan covered in aluminum foil and put in 425 degree oven – roast for 45 minutes to an hour, until tender enough to stick a fork through.
  3. Scoop the roasted squash out of its skin and put in a bowl with all other ingredients. (If broth is cold, warm in a pot over the stove and you can just mix the soup there.) Use an immersion blender to mix everything together and it’s ready. You can also put all ingredients in a regular blender.

Feel free to garnish with bits of bacon, manchego cheese, or roasted pumpkin seeds.  Enjoy!