What to Make When You Have No Idea What to Make

I once watched a show about the “kitchen of the future” in which your kitchen would track everything you have at any given time and then tell you what you could and should make with it.  This concept is such a regular part of my daydreams that it’s actually embarrassing. Especially given that I’ve based my career around thinking, talking, teaching about and making food.  

I figure if I have trouble figuring out what to make on any given night and I live, breathe, and sometimes even eat food, then everyone else must have the same challenge and maybe even more so.  So today I’m breaking down my simple, sure-fire formula for making a delicious meal when you have a fridge or pantry full of ingredients and no idea what to make.

Don’t have ingredients – well that’s another post for another time. For now, we’ll focus on cleaning out the fridge!

Basically this is an easily customizable stir-fry that can be personalized based on what you have or what you’re eating at any given time.  It goes a little something like this:

AROMATICS

What’s that you say? You’re Paleo or don’t eat grains? Then it should go like this:

PALEO FORMULA

 

Oh wait, you’re vegan?  Cool! Then it goes like this:

VEGAN FORMULA

Great, you say. You’ve listed a lot of ingredients but what does it all mean? What I hope it will mean is that you can make a quick, nutritious meal anytime that strikes your fancy. One night it might be a curry chicken bowl and another it might be Italian white beans with sun-dried tomatoes and orzo.  The beauty of cooking like this is that you can make it your own based on whimsy and practicality and it’s truly something you don’t need a recipe for.

BUT…just in case you do need a recipe to get your self started, check out the one I made below! It was for a quick Indian inspired chicken and rice bowl that was a hit with both the adults and kiddo (see below for evidence).  It also was easy enough that I made it with minimal equipment in our new downtown Seattle abode. But more on that another day.

DSC_0144

Curried Chicken Rice Bowl
Yields 4
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
15 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
15 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 Tbsp coconut oil
  2. 1 diced yellow onion
  3. 1 inch minced, peeled ginger
  4. 2 cloves minced garlic
  5. 2 chopped bell peppers
  6. 2 Tbsp curry powder
  7. Big pinch salt
  8. 1 lb ground chicken thigh
  9. 1 cup cooked brown rice
  10. 1 head broccoli, chopped into florets
  11. 3 big handfuls of spinach
Instructions
  1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add coconut oil, garlic, onion, and ginger. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring every once in a while.
  2. Add bell peppers, curry powder, and big pinch salt. Cook about 2 minutes then push everything to the edges. Add ground chicken thigh to the middle of the pan. Brown about 2 minutes, then chop up with spatula and allow to continue browning, moving it around to cook all sides. As it starts cooking through, you can stir the veggies in too.
  3. Then at the very end I stirred in about 1 cup brown rice, 1 head of chopped baby broccoli (cut small), and a handful of spinach. Cover with lid (loose fitting is fine) if you want veggies to steam a bit and everything to cook through.
  4. Serve with hot sauce! Makes great leftovers too!
Make it ahead
  1. - Store in refrigerator: Eat within 3-5 days
  2. - Store in freezer: Divide into single portion sizes and freeze. Should keep about 6 months. Defrost overnight or just throw it in a pan or in the microwave to warm up when you want to eat.
Delicious By Nature http://deliciousbynature.com/

A Superbowl Treat That’ll Fill You Up On the Good Stuff

Pssst – did you know there’s something big happening tomorrow? I think it’s a game of some sort, but all I’ve honed in on at this point is that it’s going to clog my beloved San Francisco roads with traffic and there will be lots of food! 

Listen, I’m a huge advocate of enjoying food experiences as they present themselves and not being overly restrictive in the name of “health”.  That said, the gorging on huge amounts of processed, questionable ingredients is a bit mystifying to me, even as I do it myself.  Like “do I really need to eat thirty of these bright orange, cheese-flavored chips to know that they’re just ok”?

So while you won’t find me listing “all the healthy football recipes you need” because you’re not fooling anyone with that cashew kale dip or carrots cut in the shapes of chips, I do solidly stand behind the strategy of making at least one tasty and healthy thing for your viewing party so you can fill up on that before chasing it down with a reasonable portion of chips, onion dip, and brownie bites. That’s what you’ll find below.

DSC_0158

This picture isn’t pretty or staged, but I stand behind it because it’s Super Bowl food made in a crockpot. No one is going to be watching your food anyways!

I found a buffalo chicken chili online somewhere ages ago and have made it over and over again, so much so I don’t even know the original recipe or where I found it, to rave reviews.  Plus it’s easy and you can throw it in your slow cooker in the morning so you can focus on making your favorite chocolate dipped potato chips (is that a thing people make? I was struggling for an example) in advance of your guests’ arrival.

Buffalo Chicken Chili
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Ingredients
  1. 1 onion, diced
  2. 4 carrots, diced
  3. 4 stalks celery, diced
  4. 1 bell pepper, diced
  5. 1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts
  6. 2 cans white beans, drained
  7. 1 container (4 cups) chicken broth
  8. 1 bottle buffalo wing sauce
Toppings (optional)
  1. Crumbled blue cheese
  2. Sliced scallions (green onions)
Instructions
  1. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add all of the diced veggies and saute about 5 minutes until starting to soften. Add in chicken, white beans, broth and wing sauce. Set slow cooker for 4-5 hours on regular heat (a couple longer on low or a couple shorter on high). Check for doneness by shredding the chicken apart with forks in the broth.
  2. Serve with desired toppings.
  3. Now go forth and eat chili!
Delicious By Nature http://deliciousbynature.com/

 

What to Cook Today to Eat Healthy All Week

Our Whole Life Challenge group is up and running! In order to help all of us who are making some pretty whole-scale lifestyle changes, I put together a list of things that you could make ahead of time to have nutritious and delicious food to eat all week.

Since I know it’s not just those of us in the challenge who could use some inspiration and guidance, I’m sharing this here as well.  Feel free to check out the attached PDF text guide that will tell you: exactly what to buy, how to make the food, and ways to make great meals out of it.

I also made a video that you can cook along with! In here you’ll find lots of tips, guidance on what to do when, and lots of speed-ups so you don’t have to watch for the full couple of hours that it takes to put it all together (but just think, you don’t have to cook for the rest of the week!).  Feel free to pause it as you do each step and then start again when you’re ready to move on.

 

Make a Fast Breakfast Faster with Pre-Made Smoothie Jars

 

SmoothieJarTop

The other day while browsing the internet, I received an ad for pre-made smoothie mixes that are shipped to your door. At this moment, a few things crossed my mind:

  1. Wow, they know me well! Ads sure are effective (and creepy these days)
  2. That’s a great idea! But why wouldn’t I just do that at home
  3. Hey! I’m going to just do that at home!

So thank you random smoothie company whose name I’ve already forgotten for paying for those ads and inspiring me to level up my prep ahead game just in time for starting the Whole Life Challenge.

If I haven’t sold you on this concept yet, here’s the cool thing about making your smoothie mixes ahead of time to make a fast breakfast (or snack!) even faster:

  • You get to make something cute and useful using mason jars: Always my number one factor in deciding what to do. Read no further if that’s also enough for you. Or if you came here from Pinterest (see comment about also enough for you).
  • There are less barriers to making a healthy food choice in the moment: This is a major strategy that I use in both healthy eating and workouts. I have bought many  workout plans online despite the fact that the internet hosts countless free workout content because I highly value having an expert I trust tell me what to do each day so that I’m not left both deciding whether to workout and what to do, my role is just to do it. The same holds true with eating healthy – if there are healthy things ready to go in my fridge, it becomes a lot harder to make the “worse” choice in the moment. Even more importantly, it discourages me from eating crap out of convenience when I’d rather save my indulgences for things that are super tasty and totally “worth it”.
  • These smoothies taste delicious: Here’s the thing, there’s no one right way to eat healthy. And for each strategy or diet you read about, there are hundreds of people who disagree or have another answer. For me, the most important thing to consider is whether or not you enjoy the way you’re eating or can find ways to enjoy it in the long term. When focusing on eating healthier, smoothies fill an important gap for me – the one where I’m looking for something kind of sweet and indulgent without all the junk! This recipe and strategy fit the bill.
  • Smoothies like these are jam packed with nutrition: There are lots of ways to pack nutrition into your diet, many of which I’ll be covering in the coming weeks and months or you’ve heard me talk about in person in the past. Smoothies are not necessary, but they sure are an easy way to make sure that your breakfasts or snacks have a giant dose of the nutrients your body needs to function optimally.  Just in this little mason jar of goodness you’ll find things like:
    • Omega 3s and other healthy fats from the chia or flax seeds
    • Iron and calcium from the spinach or kale
    • Antioxidants from the fruit
    • Potassium from the bananas

The Anatomy of a Smoothie Jar

The smoothie recipe I’ve outlined in this post? It’s freaking delicious. It strikes just the right balance of creamy, smooth, bright green goodness and it’s one that I’ll continue making over and over. But if you, like me, tire of the same thing day after day, I’ve outlined the magical “smoothie jar” formula just for you so that you can take this technique and make it your own.  Here’s what it comes down to:

  • Build your jar:
    • Start with a wide-mouth pint size mason jar
    • About 1 cup “creamy” element: Fool proof options here are bananas. Avocados (or half bananas and half avocados) work well too. In a pinch, I’ve also used home-roasted pumpkin puree, which is both labor intensive and not as sweet, but good if you have to avoid the other two for some reason.
    • 1/2 cup “flavoring” fruits: These are the things that really give your smoothie character. For this purpose I like using pre-frozen fruits because they hold their “separateness” a bit better in the jar. Think: pineapple, mango, strawberries, blueberries.
    • Fill to top with frozen greens: Whole Foods Market sells this awesome frozen curly blue kale that I used, but frozen spinach is a great option too. I’d stay away from the collards for my taste, but to each their own!
    • Sprinkle on some seeds: Did you know chia and flax seeds are actually best stored in the freezer anyways? So why not ad them to your smoothie jar ahead of time and keep them super fresh? I use a tablespoon of whole chia seeds, but a tablespoon of ground flax would be equally good.
  • When ready to make your smoothie:
    • Pour contents of jar into blender. Using a butter knife to run between the jar and fruit helps separate things.
    • Grab your favorite milk option (I like Pacific Foods Coconut Milk and Califia Almond Milk – both of which are carageenan free). Add 1 cup to the blender.
    • Blend
    • Add more milk as needed (mine took about 1 1/4 cup plus tamping in the Vitamix)
    • Enjoy!

Start with this recipe, then make it your own!

 

Smoothie Jars
Serves 1
Make these ahead to have healthy options on hand any time!
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Prep Time
5 min
Prep Time
5 min
For jar
  1. 1 banana, sliced
  2. 1/2 cup frozen fruit (I used 1/4 cup pineapple and 1/4 cup mango)
  3. 1 Tbsp chia seeds or ground flax
  4. Fill the rest of the wide-mouth pint mason jar with frozen greens (spinach or kale)
For smoothie
  1. 1-1 1/2 cups alternative milk
Instructions
  1. Layer ingredients in mason jar. Cover with lid and freeze until ready to make smoothie.
  2. Once you're ready, dump ingredients into the blender, separating them from the jar with a butter knife as needed. Add 1 cup milk. Blend. Stir as needed. Add more milk, up to 1/2 cup more, until you reach desired consistency. Serve back into the mason jar to serve.
Delicious By Nature http://deliciousbynature.com/

The One Thing to Do Now to Take Better Food Photos

The Number 1 Thing to Do Today to-

First, full disclosure, I am a terrible food photographer. I have next to no interest in spending my time styling and taking food photos because what I want to be doing is making and eating delicious food. That said, I’ve realized that in order to convince people on the internet that your food is in fact delicious and not some non-descript brown blob on a plate, at least decent pictures are key.

I’ve tried all kinds of things to take good photos: better cameras, brighter flashes, strange combinations of lights, but as it often goes, I’ve found that the best solution is truly the easiest (and the one you’ve probably already heard).

If you want to take great photos of your food: get outside!  No home light setup can really compare to the power of stepping outside and letting the sun do its work.

This weekend I had the pleasure of playing the role of Chef Instructor at Bauman College and worked with the students on capturing some photos of their outstanding food.  They used my DSLR outside and then I took a few follow-up photos inside to show a comparison. Check out the results below:

pumpkin pie (1)

 

And just to show you how forgiving natural light can be, check out the photos that some of the students captured, all with little to no food photography experience:

Bauman Collage

Spicing up 2016

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Welcome to the first full week of 2016! Whether this year brings with it big changes for you or you’re resolute in not setting resolutions, I think we can all agree that either way you have to eat. And if you’re going to be eating anyways it might as well be delicious.

I’m easing into the new year with some extended family time, ongoing treats, and healthy meals sprinkled in.  The other night, I made a meal that worked for 1 1/2 to 60+ year olds, so I thought it might be worth sharing with you as well.  It meets some of the major criteria I look for when selecting or creating recipes:

  • Tastes great
  • Packs a nutritional punch
  • Isn’t too complex to make
  • Stores well – in the fridge or freezer

What recipes are you starting the new year off with? Any favorite ones that you think we should try?

Spicy Thai Sweet Potato and Lentil Stew
Serves 6
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 15 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 15 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 Tbsp coconut oil
  2. 2 large yellow onions, peeled and diced
  3. 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  4. 2 serrano chilis, seeded and minced
  5. 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  6. 2 tsp grated ginger (about 1/2 inch ginger root)
  7. 3 Tbsp Thai red curry paste
  8. 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  9. 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  10. 4 cups vegetable stock
  11. 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes (about 4 cups cubed)
  12. 1 cup black lentils (sometimes called beluga)
  13. 2 limes, 1 zested and both juiced
  14. 1 1/2 cups canned coconut milk (about 1/2 of 1 can)
  15. Salt and black pepper to taste
  16. 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Instructions
  1. In a large stock pot or Instantpot, heat coconut oil over medium heat until melted. Add onions and carrots and cook, stirring regularly, about 10 minutes until cooked through.
  2. Stir in chilis, garlic, ginger, curry paste, coriander, cumin and 1/2 cup water. Cook about 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add the vegetable stock, sweet potatoes, and lentils. If cooking on stove: Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook about 30 minutes, checking to ensure that sweet potatoes and lentils are cooked through. If cooking in Instantpot: Cover with lid and select "Slow Cook". Set to "More" and adjust timer to 1 hour 30 minutes. OR Cover with lid and select "Soup" setting and allow to cook until time is up and pressure is released.
  4. Once the sweet potatoes and lentils are all cooked, stir in the lime zest, juice, and coconut milk. Top with chopped cilantro to serve.
Adapted from Inspired by Forks Over Knives - The Cookbook
Adapted from Inspired by Forks Over Knives - The Cookbook
Delicious By Nature http://deliciousbynature.com/

Is it healthy?

“Is this healthy?” I get this question a lot. Like every time I teach a class or share a recipe or eat out with a friend. I thought I might share it today because the new year and all its associated resolutions are nigh and I know that at least a few of you might be considering eating “healthier” in 2016.

This is an unsurprisingly complicated question when you consider that we live in a world in which there’s a new diet or study or recommendation out on a daily basis and few of us have the time or inclination to sort through all of them in detail.  Now before I tell you my criteria for deciding if something is “healthy” I want to be very clear that I’m a fan of whatever helps people find the style of eating that works best for them. If being paleo or vegan or gluten-free or {insert other diet style here} helps even one person find a classification and community of support for the way of eating that makes them feel good then I’m thrilled!

That said, I think that these latest trends and studies and diets can distract us from finding what really works for our individual constitution if we’re not careful. This is why after trying all the trendy diets and latest and greatest trends I threw it all out and came up with my own set of questions that helped me answer that question “is it healthy?”

Will these work for you? Maybe. Maybe they work with a caveat or with certain foods excluded or with a certain category of foods emphasized (hey there veggies!). If they don’t work for you, I encourage you to think carefully about what your core questions might be so that the next time you’re staring down a new diet or meal or recipe you can answer the question “is it healthy” for you.

So without further ado, here are the questions that I ask myself to hone in on the health of something:

  • Is it real?
  • Is it whole?
  • Is it unprocessed?

If I can answer yes to all of these questions then it is likely that I can feel good about that food being a solid base for a healthy diet.

As you can imagine, yes is an easy answer to these questions when looking at something like apples, broccoli, or brown rice. But it gets infinitely more complicated when you start looking at packaged foods, which is why I added in one more question:

  • Could I make this myself at home if I was so inclined?

What the heck does that mean? For me it means that while time and inclination don’t result in me making everything myself, I like to focus on buying packaged foods that I could easily get or make the ingredients for if I really wanted to. Some examples:

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  • Larabars – they’re just a mix of dried fruit and nuts. With enough of these two things and my trusty food processor I could easily make them at home if I wanted and, you know, had more time
  • Whole grain sourdough bread- water, a starter, and whole grain flour combine to make this magical bread. If I could keep a dang starter alive I could totally make it myself
  • Unsweetened applesauce – throw some apples in the Vitamix et voila. If the homemade stuff had a longer shelf life I might actually make this at home
  • Frozen brown rice – I know I could make this myself (and even freeze it) but sometimes the hour of cooking time is just too much to ask

Some examples of things that wouldn’t fit:

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 9.14.36 PM

  • Anything with high fructose corn syrup – you can’t buy that crap for home use
  • Powdered cheese – I’ve seen what cheese looks like and it’s not dry or powdery usually
  • Anything brightly colored – if it isn’t a color that naturally occurs in food (I’m looking at you Flaming Hot Cheetos) that’s usually a pretty good tip off

Obviously, this isn’t a perfect science, but by combining all of my questions together I usually feel pretty confident in making healthy choices. And when I’m not, at least I know I’m not, which is really all I ask for. After all, healthy living is a huge handful of healthy eating with a generous pinch of delicious indulgence.

The Cure for What Ails You

Veggie Curry

In case you’ve missed the memo, Thanksgiving in almost here. Like right around the corner, don’t blink or you’ll miss it, here.  In fact, basically Christmas is already here if the big box stores are to be believed.

What does this mean for you?  Maybe nothing, if you are the all-planned-out knew what I was going to make for Thanksgiving a month ago type.  If that’s you, well then congratulations, but sorry we can’t be friends anymore.

If cooking inspiration is what you’re looking for, then there are lots of places to find it. Here are a few of my favorites:

And please send some of your inspiration my way. My current mantra is “cold veggie sides and don’t forget you need to make stuffing”.

Needless to say, I’m a bit behind.  But my biggest problem isn’t figuring out what to make; inspiration always manages to strike and I know I’ll pull something together for my party of 20. 

No, my biggest problem is that I don’t have room to start making anything because my fridge is packed! Despite my best efforts those condiments never seem to budge, the homemade limoncello bottle is never empty, and my CSA veggies keep on piling up.

So last night I struck out to make good use of some of that veggie and condiment abundance with a slow cooked, hands-off veggie curry.  I’m sharing because in the event that you find yourself in the same incredibly fortunate predicament, this is a really flexible meal template that can help you use up whatever you might have overzealously bought before remembering that pesky fridge space issue.  Cook it tonight and you’ll be fed for the ever diminishing days leading up to Thanksgiving, which means you’ll only have to clean-up the holiday cooking tornado and not the nightly meal mess as well.

Clean Out the Fridge Veggie Curry
Serves 8
An easy slow-cooker meal that can use up the abundance of veggies and leftovers lurking in your fridge.
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
2 hr
Total Time
2 hr 15 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
2 hr
Total Time
2 hr 15 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 Tbsp coconut oil (olive, ghee, another neutral oil, or even a water saute would also work)
  2. 1 onion, diced
  3. 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  4. 1 Tbsp good quality curry powder
  5. At least 3 types of leftover veggies: I used a head of sliced cabbage a bunch each of chopped cauliflower, baby bok choy, and spinach
  6. 1 can beans or about 2 cups cooked beans or 1 package tofu or 1 lb chicken
  7. 1 can coconut milk
  8. 1 can water
  9. 1 Tbsp sour element: tamarind paste or lime juice or light vinegar
  10. Salt and pepper to taste
  11. 1/4 cup cashews (leave out if you don't have)
  12. A couple Tbsp chopped herbs (mint, basil, dill, cilantro, parsley will all work) for garnish
Instructions
  1. In a pan or directly in a slow cooker with a saute function (like the Instant Pot), heat up coconut oil. Saute onion and garlic about 3 minutes until softened. Add in curry powder and cook another minute. Stir in hearty cut up veggies (like cabbage and cauliflower), hold more tender green veggies to stir in towards the end. (Note: if you're using chicken for the protein element, I recommend adding it here to brown quickly and be coated with curry powder before adding the liquids)
  2. Add everything to the slow cooker if it isn't already in there. Next, add in coconut milk and then fill the can with water and add that to the slow cooker as well. Your ingredients should be mostly covered by liquid.
  3. Stir in beans (or other protein) and set slow cooker to cook at its regular level for 2 hours. At the end of 2 hours test for flavor and stir in your tender greens (like baby bok choy and spinach), a Tbsp or more of sour element, and salt and pepper. Taste again and adjust flavors as needed. If you want your greens to cook down a little, put the cover back on and allow to cook with residual heat until ready to serve.
  4. Meanwhile, heat up a small skillet and lightly toast cashews for about 5 minutes over medium heat until just fragrant and starting to brown.
  5. Top each bowl with fresh herbs and toasted nuts before serving.
Delicious By Nature http://deliciousbynature.com/

Don’t roll your eyes at me when I tell you that I made my own curry powder for the recipe. Or do. I’d totally do the same to you. That said, the reason I undertook yet one more project was in hopes of using up some of the spices floating around my pantry that were running low. While I wasn’t able to eliminate them entirely, I did end up with a totally delicious result and a few less stray bags. I used this recipe by Amy Chaplin from her book At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen which has quickly become a staple.

Slow-Cooked Vanilla Bean Oatmeal

VanillaBeanOats

I am convinced that these oats are exactly what you’ve been looking for.  They’re indulgent but nutritious, easy to make and cleanup, and perfect for making in bulk to feed a party or yourself throughout the week (and longer – see notes in recipe).

I use my Instant Pot, which is a slow-cooker / pressure-cooker combo, to make these while I sleep.  If you don’t yet have a slow cooker, don’t skip this recipe. You can make it on the stove top in less about 20 minutes.  Make extra and heat it up with a little milk of your choosing later!

Slow-Cooked Vanilla Bean Oatmeal
Serves 8
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Ingredients
  1. 8 cups water
  2. 4 cups rolled oats
  3. 10 medjool dates, pits removed
  4. 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  5. 1 pinch salt
  6. Toppings of choice: alternative milk, nuts, shredded coconut, dried fruit
Instructions
  1. Slow cooker method: Place the water, oats, dates, vanilla bean (scraped seeds and split bean), and salt to slow cooker. Stir, place lid on, and set to cook for 8 hours on low. When you wake-up in the morning, remove vanilla bean pod and serve oats with desired toppings.
  2. Stove top method: Place the water, oats, dates, vanilla bean (scraped seeds and split bean), and salt in a large pot. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring intermittently to keep bottom from burning. Remove vanilla bean pod and serve with desired toppings.
Notes
  1. These pre-cooked oats will keep well for up to 5 days in the fridge. Just reheat them with a little water or milk right before enjoying. You can also freeze the pre-cooked oats in muffin tins in the freezer then remove and store in a freezer bag for easy breakfast for months to come.
Delicious By Nature http://deliciousbynature.com/