Summertime Taco Salad

Salads are one of my favorite meals to eat. I love how light they are and it’s a great way to get in lots of vegetables. My salad craving is especially strong  during the summer when there’s gobs of produce everywhere.

But my husband isn’t a fan of salads. We’ve tried a few different things, but it’s usually a no-go.

So you can imagine my excitement when I discovered that he will eat taco salad.

Taco Salad—Taste and See

Needless to say, almost every week or so over the past month, we’ve been having taco salad for dinner. Not only is it tasty, but it’s very simple to put together.

Taco Salad—Taste and See

This salad can be easily tailored to fit what you like. I like a big bowl with lots of greens, a variety of vegetables, meat, and a simple homemade dressing (actually it’s usually just olive oil and lemon juice) sprinkled on top. Josh likes a plate with some lettuce, a few select vegetables, meat and cheese on top with no dressing. So make it your own. I’ve included an outline below that can be easily adjusted to fit any and all preferences.

Taco Salad—Taste and See

Doesn’t it just make your mouth water?

Enjoy!

Summertime Taco Salad
(3-4 servings)

  • 1 lb ground meat (I like beef or turkey)
  • Homemade taco seasoning (I like this recipe)
  • Romaine lettuce, chopped
  • Diced tomato
  • Diced avocado

Optional:

  • Diced bell pepper
  • Green onion
  • Black olives
  • Shredded zucchini
  • Salsa
  • Guacamole (in place of avocado)
  • Refried beans (omit for Paleo and GAPS)
  • Shredded cheese (omit for dairy-free)
  • Sour cream (omit for dairy-free)
  • Favorite homemade dressing (I usually just add extra-virgin olive oil and a splash of lemon juice—the seasonings flavor it so well that it doesn’t need much).

Cook ground meat in skillet over medium heat. Once thoroughly cooked, drain and place back in the skillet. Add taco seasoning and filtered water (somewhere between 1/2 to 1 cup) and simmer over low heat to warm mixture. Meanwhile, wash romaine lettuce and chop or tear into bite-size pieces. Place desired amount of lettuce in each dish and add diced tomatoes and avocado (and any other toppings). Top with warm meat mixture (and dressing, optional).

Have a favorite salad? Please share!

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Grape Slushy

When I think of summer, I think of a lot of things, but one of the top that comes to mind are cold treats. Ice cream, smoothies, snow cones—these are perfect for a really hot day.

I remember when I was little, on certain days during the summer, a white truck with really loud music would slowly chug down the road in our neighborhood. And everyone knew what that meant—SLUSHIES! We would flag the truck down, give him our money and in return, get our choice among the available flavors.

Even if you didn’t have the slushy coming to your doorstep like I did, you still don’t have to go very far to find them. Sporting events, convenience stores…they are everywhere, and especially during this extremely warm season.

But unfortunately, most slushies (like many other cold treats that are out and about) are just not healthy. High fructose corn syrup, sugar and preservatives are a few of the culprits that make these worth skipping. But on a brighter note, slushies are very easy to make at home. As long as you have access to a blender (I think even a food processor would work), then you can whip one of these up in no time.

I chose to make a grape-flavored slushy mainly because grapes are my favorite summer fruit. But you can experiment with other fruits such as watermelon, strawberry, mango or even a fruit combo. Just be sure to adjust the amount of ice (some fruits are more liquidy than others so more or less may be needed).

Grapes (which are actually considered a berry) contain many nutrients and minerals, including Vitamins C, K and A, potassium, iron, copper and manganese. Additionally, they are full of antioxidants, loaded with enzymes and high in water content (which is helpful for hydration). It’s safe to say that these little guys are pretty nutritious.

Even if that doesn’t convince you, I’m pretty sure the pictures will. So without further ado, let me introduce the delicious grape slushy.

Grape Slushy

Grape Slushy 1

Grape Slushy 2

I only have two words of caution: Brain.freeze.

Enjoy!

Grape Slushy
(makes 2 servings)

1 cup red grapes
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 to 2 1/2 cups of ice (roughly 11-12 ice cubes from standard ice tray)

Place grapes and coconut milk in blender and blend until smooth. Add in ice and continue blending to desired consistency.

What’s your favorite summertime fruit?

Sources and further reading on health benefits of grapes:
http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/8-healthy-facts-about-grapes
http://www.livestrong.com/article/509099-nutrition-benefits-of-red-grapes/
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/271156.php
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon (p 47)

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Homemade Coconut Milk

When I first eliminated dairy from my diet several years ago in order to manage some health problems that had crept up, and soon after this starting the GAPS diet, I pretty much avoided anything with milk (any kind of milk—dairy or non-dairy). Then a year or so in, I began tinkering with canned coconut milk for smoothies and ice cream and got really good results. But I still didn’t use it for anything else, mainly because I didn’t like having to open a can every time I needed a small amount of milk for a recipe.

Coconut Milk

Around this time, I tried once to make my own coconut milk. It didn’t turn out so well (a total flop), so I just gave it up and kept using the canned coconut milk here and there. Looking back, I realize I should have given it another go because it’s really quite easy and cheaper than buying canned coconut milk.

Now, I will insert here that I still like using canned coconut milk for certain things because the consistency is a bit thicker (more creamy), which works better for things like ice cream. But the homemade version is perfect to use in any recipe that requires milk and I love it in smoothies as well.

So what are the benefits of making your own? Like I mentioned above, the biggest benefit is that it’s cheaper. Secondly, you can avoid any additives that are included in many canned coconut milk brands.

And even if you still consume regular dairy, using coconut milk as a substitute every now and then is a good way to get more coconut in your diet (more on the health benefits of coconut coming soon!).

All you need to get started is 1 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut flakes, filtered water, and a blender. That’s it! Directions are listed below.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing lots of ways to use this kind of milk. But you probably don’t need any help with that…

Homemade Coconut Milk
(makes approximately 4 cups)

1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
4 cups filtered water

Combine ingredients in a blender and allow to soak for 2-3 hours (optional—can omit if time doesn’t permit). Blend on high for several minutes (usually at least 4-5). Stop in between to scrap down the sides and test consistency. When finished, strain milk through a fine sieve; discard remaining pulp (or you can dehydrate this pulp to make coconut flour). Store milk in refrigerator and use within 4-5 days.

What is your favorite way to use coconut milk?

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Garlic Thyme Turkey Sausage

Sausage is a favorite breakfast food around our house. It goes well with almost everything—and it’s really quick to cook up. But we don’t use just any sausage. Many that are sold in the store are filled with additional ingredients and aren’t made with high-quality meat. This is why I like to make my own or purchase it from local farms.

Garlic Thyme Turkey Sausage

Fortunately, making your own is really easy and is oftentimes cheaper anyway (win-win!). And the possibilities are endless! This turkey sausage has become an easy snack for us in addition to a breakfast favorite. When my husband gets home from work, he is usually hungry and needs something easy to grab. I’ll cook a batch of these and store in the fridge, so when either of us wants a quick source of protein, these are ready to go. Of course, they don’t last too long…

Garlic Thyme Turkey Sausage 2

This isn’t a spicy sausage, but the garlic and thyme provide a very distinct (and delicious) flavor that complements the turkey well. I normally use dried thyme but you could always substitute fresh thyme if you have it on hand.

Garlic Thyme Turkey Sausage 3

Enjoy this savory snack!

Garlic Thyme Turkey Sausage
(Makes 12-18 sausages, depending on size)

1 lb ground turkey (preferably free-range or pastured)
1 tsp raw honey
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbsp dried sage
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in a bowl and combine well. In a greased skillet, spoon out the mixture in small patties, flattening and shaping with spoon as needed. Cook over medium heat and flip midway through for even cooking. Remove from heat once thoroughly cooked.

Have a favorite homemade sausage recipe? Please share!

 

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Three-Ingredient Banana Nut Bites

So I was having one of those days where I wanted a quick snack that wasn’t too sweet but still tasted good and was already set to eat (but not processed—i.e., out of a bag or box). That’s not asking much, right? Well, I’m happy to say there is such a snack—it wasn’t already prepared but was so quick and easy that it felt like no time at all.

Banana Nut Bites 2

These delicious cookies are made up of banana, nut and/or seed butter and a bit of baking soda. That’s it. Of course, you can dress them up by adding chocolate chips, coconut shreds, dried fruit, etc., but they are delicious with or without additions. The cookies have a slightly sweet, nutty flavor that are easy to gobble up.

Banana Nut Bites 1

You can use any nut or seed butter that you feel comfortable with. (I normally use sunflower seed butter or peanut butter or a combination of the two.) And if you’d like something a little sweeter, you could always add a little honey or even increase the amount of banana.

Banana Nut Bites3

Delicious bite-size goodness!

Banana Nut Bites

(Makes between 20-24 bite-size cookies)

2 medium bananas, extra ripe (lots of brown spots)
1 cup nut or seed butter
1/4 tsp baking soda
honey or other sweetener to taste (optional—I usually omit)
Optional add-ins: chocolate chips, coconut shreds, dried fruit

In a small bowl, mash banana until smooth. Add in nut butter and baking soda and stir thoroughly. Roll in any optional ingredients (chocolate chips, coconut shreds, etc). Spoon out batter (about a tablespoon or so for each cookie) on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes, until the tops are slightly browned.

 

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Green Breakfast (or Anytime) Smoothie

green smoothie 1Over the past several weeks, I’ve been looking for more (and different) ways to get vegetables into my diet, preferably uncooked vegetables. I don’t have a problem with cooked vegetables, but I have gobs of ways to get those in. But raw veggies? Well, there’s salads..and more salads..and salads?…

green smoothie 2Don’t get me wrong—I’m a diehard salad lover. But I just needed a change-up. And I have to say that this green smoothie is now a go-to favorite in the morning, or really anytime of day. It’s not super original—there are a lot of green smoothie recipes out there. But it’s fairly quick, pretty tasty, and my personal favorite of the green smoothies I’ve tried.

Now this isn’t a super sweet smoothie (i.e., don’t bite into it expecting green fruit-flavored ice cream.) But it has a nice, slightly sweet flavor that isn’t super strong but crisp and fresh. Don’t worry though—if this doesn’t sound like your thing, there are ways to enhance the sweetness which are listed below.

Green Breakfast Smoothie (2 servings)

  • 1 sweet apple (Gala, Pink Lady, etc), cored
  • 1/3 cup avacado
  • 1/3 cup carrots
  • 8-10 slices cucumber
  • 3-4 cups baby lettuce mix (or leafy green of choice)
  • Splash of lemon juice (1/2 – 1 tsp)
  • 1-2 pieces of frozen fruit (handful of berries, piece of mango, etc)
  • 1 cup of water

Optional add-ins/substitutions: coconut milk (or milk of choice) instead of water; gelatin powder (for protein)

Place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Pour into glasses and serve immediately (or place in refrigerator for 1-2 hours for a colder result).

For a sweeter smoothie: add 1 to 1 1/2 cups of frozen fruit (mango, pineapple, bananas, etc) and reduce the amount of lettuce.

One additional note: I’ve found that the raw vegetables/fruit and lemon juice in this smoothie can cause a bit of a detox effect. Please keep this in mind if you plan to try this for yourself.

Have a favorite smoothie recipe? Please share!

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Chicken Veggie Sauté

We are pretty big fans of sauté/stir-fry meals at our house. These savory dishes are usually pretty simple to prepare and easy to warm up again as leftovers. And did I mention it’s my husband’s favorite way to eat vegetables? So, of course I make something like this as often as possible.

This is probably our favorite version yet.

Chicken Veggie Saute pic 5

The beauty of this meal is that it can be easily altered to match what you have on hand. I never make it the same way twice but we’ve enjoyed it EVERY time (and we’ve been eating it for over a year now). And the ingredients are very simple: vegetables, pastured chicken, sea salt and pepper. The strong flavors of the vegetables and the savory chicken complement each other so well that no other seasonings or spices are really needed.

Add a good dab of coconut oil, olive oil, ghee or fat of choice to the skillet and heat to medium. Add a coarsely chopped onion and/or bell pepper. You can substitute one for the other if needed. I didn’t have an onion this time around so I just used two bell peppers (see picture below). I wouldn’t recommend omitting both vegetables though as these add so much flavor. And make the pieces as big or small as you like. I usually opt for big because it’s quicker.

Chicken Veggie Saute pic 1

Let the onion/pepper cook for about 5-7 minutes and then add the next group of vegetables. These should be vegetables that take a bit of time to cook (ie not greens, broccoli, etc). I generally add some sort of winter squash such as butternut or acorn, and another root vegetable such as a turnip (rutabaga or parsnip would work too). Prep tip: If you are running short on time, prepare the squash the night before or see if you can find it pre-cut in the grocery store. But if neither of these are an option, you could substitute one to two sweet or regular potatoes.

Chicken Veggie Saute pic 2

Continue cooking until the vegetables are just beginning to get soft. Then add boneless, skinless chicken (breast, thigh, tenderloin—whatever you prefer) and continue cooking. You can either cut the chicken up in pieces or just separate it as you go (which is what I normally do).

After a few more minutes, add the next vegetable, which should be a vegetable that cooks more quickly. I usually add something like zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms, broccoli…this time I added zucchini.

Chicken Veggie Saute pic 3

Once the chicken is fully cooked and the vegetables are soft, turn the heat down to low and add chopped greens (spinach, kale, collard greens, chard, etc), sea salt and pepper. For added flavor and nutrients, I like to add two to three freshly minced garlic cloves, but this is optional (it will taste great either way!) Continue to simmer the mixture until the greens have fully wilted (usually five to ten minutes).

You can serve this over rice or just as it is (which is usually what we do).

Happy eating!

 

Chicken Veggie Sauté (Makes 3-4 Servings)

  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 of a winter squash (butternut, acorn, etc), peeled and cubed
  • 1 turnip (or root vegetable of choice), peeled and cubed
  • 1-2 zucchini or yellow squash, chopped
  • 1 bunch of greens, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced (optional)
  • 1 lb to 1.5 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken (cut into cubes if preferred)
  • Coconut or olive oil (or fat of choice)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional add-ins and/or substitutions: Sub sweet or regular potatoes for the squash; sub mushrooms or broccoli for the zucchini

Chicken Veggie Saute pic 4

Place oil or ghee in a large skillet and heat to medium. Add onion and pepper and cook for approximately 5-10 minutes. Add cubed squash and turnip and cover; continue cooking until vegetables begin to soften (10-20 minutes). Add chicken and cover, stirring occasionally (if chicken is not previously cut, shred with spatula as it cooks) After 5 minutes or so, add zucchini and cover, stirring occasionally. Once chicken is completely cooked and vegetables are soft, turn heat down to simmer and add greens, sea salt, pepper and minced garlic. Cover and simmer until greens are wilted and soft.

 

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Homemade Chicken Broth

One of the key discoveries I’ve made on my journey with real food was making broths from scratch. Not only are there many health benefits to homemade broth, but it just tastes good. No, I mean, REALLY good. And you can use it in so many ways—for sauces, gravies, stews, casseroles…the possibilities are endless.

chicken broth 3So, what’s the big deal with broth made from scratch? Why not just buy it from the store?

First, homemade broth is more nutritious. It just is. Here’s a quick summary of health benefits from properly prepared broth:

  1. It is loaded with minerals and electrolytes.
  2. It is full of gelatin, which greatly aids digestion and helps heal the gut lining.
  3. It helps reduce inflammation in the gut and body.

For more information, see Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon or the Weston A. Price website

Ok, you get it. It’s good for you. But it still seems like a lot of work…and time…and energy…(this was a big concern for me at first). Well, there’s good news on that front too. Yes, broths do typically have a long cook time but the part that you actually do? Really short.

And what about the cost? It’s surprisingly cheap to make chicken broth. Buy a couple pounds of bone-in chicken pieces or even just use the meaty chicken bones that were leftover from dinner last night (just stick them in the freezer until ready to prepare the broth).

Hopefully you are convinced at this point, or at least willing to give it a try, so I’ll just get on to the how-to.

This is what you’ll need to get started:

  • 1 whole chicken (or 2-3 pounds of chicken pieces, bone-in), preferably pastured, cage-free
  • 2 tbsp of vinegar or lemon juice
  • Filtered water to cover
  • Carrots, celery, onion (optional)
  • Salt and pepper

Place chicken, water, salt, pepper, veggies (if using) and vinegar in a stock pot or crock pot and let it stand for 20-30 minutes.

*A note on the water: When I first began making broth, the one thing that I found most difficult was figuring out how much water to use. I would always “cover” the chicken, but it seemed like it was too watery in the end. It took me a bit to figure out that less is more when it comes to the water. Just barely cover the chicken, or even partially cover it. You can always add more later if needed.

Chicken broth 1

Cover and bring to a boil. Once at boiling point, reduce heat to simmer. Allow it to simmer for at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours. The longer it simmers the better, both for nutrients and flavor. Once finished, drain the broth into a storable container; discard the veggies and retain the chicken to use for salads, soup, etc.

A really good broth will have a jelly-type texture once refrigerated (hence, the beneficial gelatin). However, if it doesn’t, you can add gelatin to it (here’s a good kind) and then the next time around, try using less water. This has solved the problem for me in the past.

Chicken broth 2If you aren’t going to use the broth immediately, you can store it in the freezer. I typically use mason jars (filled half way) but you could also just use ziplock bags or other freezer-safe containers.

And that’s all it takes!

What are some ways you use chicken broth when cooking? Please share!

 

 

 

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