Almond Crusted Grouper and Sauteed Vegetables

We have all heard the health claims about including more fish in your diet, so what's holding you back?!? If you are worried about the price, shop for what's in season. It will not only be cheaper, but it will likely be fresher. Or maybe you are worried about the sustainability. Never fear, just download one of these handy guides and ease your concerns. Just because salmon reaps most of the hype, it doesn't mean that any ol' filet from the seafood counter is the best choice.

One of the nice things about fish is how simple it is to cook. Most firm white flesh fishes take on a lot of flavor (similar to chicken). You can pan sear, broil, poach, roast, grill, even microwave most fish in a matter of minutes. You can even pressure cook it to infuse flavor and keep it super moist. I do suggest staying away from using it with slow cookers, however, unless you add it in the last 30 minutes-1 hour (depending on size).


Roasted Chicken Thighs and Kale

I was recently asked if I someone could pay me to cook for them for a week. What a gig; I would love that! Regardless, the reason this questions was asked of me is because of my eating habits. I regularly eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, and several snacks throughout the day. My food intake is well rounded and whole foods in nature. I bring my snacks and lunch with me to work everyday and cook most of my own food. This baffles most people. However, it is not as daunting as it seems.


Shrimp and Sausage Salad

I love cooking, but I must admit that I enjoy the opportunity to have my meals served to me on occasion. A nice, relaxed atmosphere, where I do not have to worry about anything but picking what to have someone else prepare can be a welcome change of routine. It is even better when it is on someone else's dime! So when work sent me to a trade show earlier this week I embraced the experience of eating out. Plus eating in a whole-foods fashion can be a fun endeavor amidst the conventional American diet found on most menu's today. However, that being said, it also enforces my desire to teach as many people as possible about the faults and pitfalls surrounding that diet.

Many American's are now coming around to having good intentions about their diet. Unfortunately, many of the "conventional wisdoms" that they believe are incorrect. Or at least wrongly understood. Take this for example:


See, We Aren't Crazy!

When you tell people that your diet consists of low carbs, mainly achieved through elimination of all grains and other starchy food sources, and consists of high fat/protein, they tend to look at your funny. Especially when you are my size; 5'7" and 120 lbs soaking wet, and have the ridiculous amount of energy I have. Some are amazed and want to hear everything about it even though they have their doubts. Some will actually listen to some of my suggestions and start to change their diet. Some will down-right argue with me (bring it on!). I pray for the second group. Start with baby steps. That's what I did along with virtually everyone else I know that follows the same basic diet premise. And none of us are complaining. Why? Because we are right.

And for those of you who don't believe, who want more proof, or who want extra backup in the case for a healthier life, READ THIS. Rock on, LA Times. Spread the love.

Now, to figure out how to express this to America without another "fad" and/or extreme adaptation.... 


Non-Chili Lovers Beef "Chili"

Chili is one of those dishes that give just about everything you could need; vegetables, meat, fat, and flavor in one warm, easy to cook meal. However, I have never been a big fan of the chili flavor. But everything else this dish provides is right up my ally. I had to do something!

So I am not sure if this recipe can actually be considered chili since technically, there is no chilies or chili powder in it! But according to Wikipedia, my version it does have all of the other basics of this classic wintertime stew; peppers, onion, garlic, cumin, and beef. Additionally, my version gets its bulk from tomatoes, celery, and carrots, and flavor from paprika, dried basil, dried oregano, ground cinnamon, and a dash of cayenne pepper. For my first official pot of "chili", delish!


Kielbasa and Pineapple

I must admit, summer is my absolute favorite time of year. I was born and raised going down to the Jersey Shore just about every weekend growing up, and have made a solemn vow to myself to never be further than a few hour drive to an ocean. I thrive in the heat and highly enjoy wearing ** ahem** the least amount of clothes possible.

When at a recent company lunch party where I came across this (similar) dish, I was immediately reminded of summer. Being that it put me in such a positive mood, I knew I needed to find the recipe and whole food-ize it ASAP. And then share it with the world so they, too, could bask in the daydreams of summer.


Roasted Butternut Squash

You've been there, standing in the produce aisle at the supermarket with big, beautiful orange butternut squashes staring back at you with a can't beat price of $.79 per pound, locally grown non the less. You pick up the prettiest one without even thinking of how or when your going to cook it. Its a squash; they last forever, right? Then one day, you look down into your produce bowl at home and realize it's been a few weeks, maybe a month, and you should probably cook this baby. Oh no! you think, dinner has already been planned for the week and it totally does not include butternut squash!

Never fear, roast her up anyways. There is always use for some roasted butternut squash.


Cast Iron Dutch Oven Beef Stew

The New Year always brings me a step back. Step back and look at the big picture. What is really going on here? First off, and I happy with the way life is going? Why? Does something need to change? How can I make that change, if one is needed? What are my dreams for the next few years? Am I taking steps to achieve them? In the overall scheme of life, am I letting the little things trip me up?

Bright and early on New Years Day, my brother and I embarked on a 12 Hour Holiday Run. At the top of every hour we ran for 10 minutes. Starting at 8am, we ran for a total of 2 hours over the course of the day. During each of these 10 minute periods of time, I had plenty of time to reflect on those above questions. And I am happy to announce that yes, I am happy with life. Things always need to change. Being proactive is the way to see those changes through. I am absolutely taking steps to achieve my dreams. And finally, a little reminder of learning to live with the little things is all I needed to reset my forward motion. 14.87 miles later, I was officially ready for 2011 to throw everything its got my way.

One topic that became prominent in my life in 2010, and will continue to be prominent throughout the rest of my life, is nutrition. Stumbling on the realization in late 2009 that I had gained around 30 pounds during college, lost most of the mobility and strength I developed growing up, and was starting to buy new, bigger clothes, I embarked on a weight loss journey early in 2010. This journey lead me through many stages, starting with logging my calories and researching better ways to improve my diet. Coincidently my brother became a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, which opened the doors of the Zone Diet to me. Within 6 months, combined with a Cardio Kickboxing program and a fabulous program called Lose It!, I successfully lost the 30 pounds, regained much of my mobility, and fell back in love with my body.

It did not stop there though. Next thing I knew I was researching everything I could about nutrition and eventually found myself closely transform from Zone into Whole Foods; I have never looked and felt better. Eating and cook with real, whole, fresh ingredients is my New Years Resolution!

Cast Iron Dutch Oven Beef Stew

The Food
- 1 lb beef, trimmed of excess fat
- 1 onion
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 carrots
- 2 stalks celery
- 1 pepper (red, green, orange... doesn't much matter)
- 6-8oz mushrooms
- 2 cups beef broth, homemade if you have it! Shoot for low sodium and/or low fat if using canned
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Dried Oregano
- Savory
- Dried Thyme

The Prep

Preheat oven to 375°
Heat cast iron dutch oven on stove-top over medium-high heat until water droplets dance around 
Cut meat into 1-2" chunks, pat dry with paper towel and season with salt and pepper
Cut vegetables into smaller sizes; slice, chop, chunk... however you'd like!

The Method
Once cast iron is heated, add about 1 tbs olive oil
Brown meat on all sides, about 2-3 minutes, then set aside
Heat more oil as needed
Turn heat down to medium and add onion
Once sweated out a bit, add garlic
When onion and garlic are fragrant and soft, add carrots, celery, pepper, and mushrooms
Stir and let veggies start to get barely soft, about 4-5 minutes
Add meat back to pot
Season with herbs to taste (I used about 2 tsp each)
Add broth and red wine vinegar, stir
Put in oven
Check in about 1 1/2 hours; vegetables should be soft and meat should shred easily with fork
Remove pot from oven and let sit for about 20 minutes before serving
**keep in mind that cast iron gets very hot and is already heavy**

Enjoy :)

A few end notes on why to cook with cast iron cooking in case you have never done so before...
1. GREAT way to add extra iron to your diet
2. The pan/oven/skillet heats up thoroughly and evenly
3. Cast iron can go straight from the stove top to the oven
4. Cast iron, when seasoned correctly, is non-stick cooking at its best

A few tips on cooking with cast iron...
1. Always heat the pan first- you will know it's ready when water droplets dance on the surface (not too hot, not too cool)
2. When finished cooking, either simply wipe clean with paper towel/rag, or lightly rinse with mildly soapy water and pat dry quickly. Do not submerge cast iron in water. Also, it is a good idea to let fully dry in the cooling down oven or stove top to ensure all water has evaporated.
3. If you need to re-season your pan (food is sticking, rust showed up, general maintenance...), first preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Wash the pan with hot mildly soapy water and dry completely. Rub lard, Crisco, or coconut oil over the surface to form a light coating. Put the pan in the oven upside down for about an hour. Remove from oven and immediately spray with canola oil. Wipe the pan down and let fully come to room temperature. For best results, repeat seasoning process several times.

**1/5/2011** Notes- In eating this dish left over I have come to the decision that it is very vinegar-y. Next time I make this dish I will either a) use less red wine vinegar or b) use red wine or c) use burgundy. Additionally, I will either use a homemade beef broth or gluten free beef broth since the one I used had wheat in it (silly me! I should have known!) which made me break out :(