Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff

Dairy-free Paleo Crock Pot Beef StroganoffWhen I look at the history of my blog posts, I realize there are a lot of veggie recipes. You might start to think that I’m not a very good example of Paleo – where is all the meat? I honestly eat meat all the time, but for some reason, when I’m cooking and serving it, it just sort of gets eaten and the pictures don’t get taken and the recipe might not get fully developed. Most of the time, I’ll flavor something up quickly and simply and then use whatever cooking method I’m in the mood for and it’s done. Veggies and sides and salads, however, are where I tend to have more fun and play with flavors and textures a little differently. I’ll try harder to get some protein posts out there, but I actually still have a few zucchini ones waiting in the weeds…

Even though we are nearing the end of summer, it’s probably still a little early for a stew recipe. But in a previous post, I shared a recipe for Paleo Beef Stroganoff and it is consistently the top viewed and loved recipe on my site. It’s a pressure cooked meal, which makes it easy to get on the table during the week, and it’s ridiculously delicious. One lovely blog reader shared how much her family liked the recipe and asked about a slow cooker version. Then a dear friend of mine asked for one the other day too so I’ve decided to oblige, regardless of the fact that it’s supposed to be in the 90s. While I prefer other cooking methods for dishes that need to keep their distinct flavors and brightness, I’m a big fan of the slow cooker for cozy dishes like Stroganoff. You can always add some brightness with parsley, lemon zest, or zoodles as your base. I don’t like to dirty up a bunch of pots or use a lot of time browning meats ahead of time either, so as I’ve said before on this blog, if I’m using my slow cooker, I prefer to challenge myself to get the whole thing cooking in the time it takes me to scramble my eggs in the morning.

When you use your slow cooker, you don’t need to add a lot of moisture because the food you put in there will give off plenty. My slow cooker also runs fairly hot so I mention cooking it on high without the lid for the last hour. If you want this to have a thicker consistency and your slow cooker will do that, great! Otherwise, you might want to opt for the pressure cooker version where you can boil it down at the end. You can also just leave it a little soupy and serve it on top of a baked sweet potato or straight from a bowl. In either case, I hope you find the time to throw this together in the morning and love it when you get home.

Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff

2 lbs. beef stew meat

2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

1 tsp. garlic powder

2 tsp. paprika

1 tsp. thyme

1 tsp. onion powder

8 oz. sliced mushrooms

1/2 onion, sliced

1/3 c. coconut cream (scooped from the top of a refrigerated can of coconut milk)

2 tsp. red wine vinegar

Directions

1) In a small bowl, mix together all of your spices. Place meat in a large bowl and sprinkle with the spices. Mix everything together, using your hands, and coat the meat well with the seasoning.

2) Place the sliced mushrooms and onion in the bowl of the slow cooker. Lay the seasoned beef on top. Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook on low for 4 1/2 hours.

3) When the meat is tender and nearly done, add the coconut cream, vinegar, and any additional salt or pepper. Stir around and cook on high (with the lid ajar, if possible) for about an hour.

3) That’s it! Enjoy!

Serves 4-8

Approaching Balance

balancing stones 2A friend of mine was recently diagnosed with Celiac disease and it got me thinking about where I am in my journey and how other people have found their way to gluten-free or Paleo. It also reminded me of something that my dad asked shortly after I started this blog…”When does the balancing come in?” When he asked about it, I think I was probably in the middle of a Whole30 which, admittedly, is not balancing. It’s eliminating and experimenting and learning. I found it helpful to get me started and I learned many things about myself and my eating habits which serve me today, but it certainly wasn’t about navigating the many different circumstances of life.

I questioned for a while how much to share on this blog about what it’s really like for me to try to live Paleo. Even though I fundamentally believe perfection is unattainable – and over-rated – a little part of me would still like to be perfect. If you’re looking for a Paleo blog, do you really want to know that the woman behind it drank too much, ate a ton of smoked almonds, and then collapsed before a couple of s’mores? Because that happened – and it was only a month ago. A few days after that, I ate some amazing sourdough bread and shared a towering slice of chocolate cake with my son. (Incidentally, that night I slept horribly and learned a lesson…). Both of those instances were while I was on vacation, sharing special moments with dear friends, and in retrospect, I don’t regret them. What I’ve been trying to figure out lately is why? Or maybe it’s how? How was I able to off-road so considerably while on vacation and then get right back to eating the way my body functions best? That’s generally not how it goes for me.

In fact, this sense of actual balance is new and I’ll readily admit to loving it. All my life I’ve considered balance to be some elusive, magical theory or maybe something that only truly enlightened people can attain, because quite honestly, I’m a bit of an all-or-nothing kind of girl. I’m either working towards a goal or totally not. But this time feels different. I am still working towards a goal, but I am far more relaxed about it than I typically would be. I’m focused on feeling healthy and strong and giving my body what it needs. This also seems to be what my mind needs. The two are so often interconnected that it’s no wonder some of my close friends can tell how I’m eating based on my mood and energy.

What’s the secret then? Nothing really fantastic or revelatory, I guess. I think the main thing that has brought me here is time and patience. I’ve been eating Paleo more or less for two years now. I initially began with a Whole30 in October 2012, realized that my mind and body were better when I ate that way, and then floated around with long stretches of eating Paleo or NOT eating Paleo. A lot of that had to do with holidays and trying to figure out how to stay Paleo when it was a little harder to do it, but bit by bit, my stretches of Paleo became longer and it simply became the way that I eat.

It wasn’t until this year, actually, when it occurred to me that I eat Paleo nearly all the time. And for the past several months, I’m pretty clean Paleo too (meaning very little alcohol, dairy, Paleo baked goods or treats). I’m just eating meat, veggies, fats, fruits, and nuts. Within that framework, I don’t feel limited or restricted at all. The food I eat is delicious and satisfying. I’ll happily make rice or lentils or toast or whatever my family needs to supplement their meal, but I just don’t eat it, and I can tell you, I don’t miss it. I believe that really has to do with time in this lifestyle. I’ll put just about anything on a salad or use any possible veggie as a wrap. Trust me – today I used a roasted chile pepper as a burger bun and it was awesome.

Change can take a while under any circumstances, and when you’ve grown up unhappy with your body, frustrated with your inability to control your eating habits, and uncertain that you are actually capable of becoming the person you see in your mind, well…then change is also scary and there’s a lot of one-step-forward, two-steps-back involved. At least there is for me. I feel lucky that I was actually given the gift of time. My friends who have autoimmune issues, Celiac disease, and actual intolerances might not have that luxury. For them, it’s critical to make the change immediately and I just want to say to them that it gets better. It gets easier.

I have some thoughts that I want to share in another post about how I make eating Paleo easier, especially when I don’t have time to spend in the kitchen. I also have some ideas about eating out or making things to take on the go. I’ll definitely share those, but for now I’ll stop here and feel grateful for the balance that I’ve attained.

I want to live my life with passion and love and pleasure. For me, that includes sharing good food, a glass of wine, and lively conversation with people that I care about. My goal is to do that in a way that allows me to stay true to what makes me feel good inside and out and if that includes a little ice cream from time to time, I consider that an indulgence worth having and I definitely want a few of those in my life. But I’ve also learned that indulging feels a lot better when it’s followed closely by health.

Grilled Zucchini Salad

Grilled Zucchini Salad with Lemon Thyme 2014Summer is in full swing and we’ve been having very garden-friendly weather in Colorado. It’s been wet and not too hot and things are really taking off now. Zucchini has been making an appearance in more meals than I can count lately and when I’ve fired up the grill, I almost always toss some on. If I don’t use it right away, I’ll stick it in the fridge and either have it for a snack or add it to something later on. It’s such an easy veggie to have on hand for snacks, but then again, I love just about any vegetable at any time. Except okra, in case you were wondering. I absolutely abhor okra. Maybe one day someone will convince me otherwise but for now, if a recipe calls for okra, I’d probably substitute zucchini. :)

The herbs that I planted this year include basil (lots), dill, and lemon thyme. To be honest, I don’t always know what to do with thyme other than add it to soups and stews, mostly in the fall. And lemon thyme is a bit different – mine at least has a pretty big punch of lemon. I have a lot of it though, so I’ve been adding it rather randomly to see what I think. In this case, I knew that I wanted a citrusy counterpoint for the zucchini and I also wanted to add some dill, which is good friends with lemon too. The combination was bright and lively and it really felt like a summer evening by the grill to me. If you have different herbs that you need to use, by all means do that! These vegetables and the lemon vinaigrette are very friendly and would go with just about anything – basil, parsley, chives, rosemary. Whatever you have on hand would probably be delicious. I thought this salad improved with a little sitting time and was perfect next to eggs the next morning so don’t hesitate to make a bunch and save some for leftovers.

Grilled Zucchini Salad

4 zucchini

2 tsp. + 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

pinch of garlic powder

1/4 tsp. salt and pepper, plus more to taste

1 c. cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

about 8 kalamata olives, roughly chopped

2 Tbsp. sweet onion, thinly sliced

1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard

juice from 1/2 a lemon

about 1 Tbsp. fresh dill, chopped

3-4 sprigs of fresh lemon thyme, about 1 Tbsp. chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1) Slice the zucchini lengthwise into quarters. Place in a bowl or plate and toss with 2 tsp. olive oil, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Allow to marinate for about 10 minutes.

2) Grill the spears over medium heat until soft and charred on all sides. Time will vary depending on heat, etc. so just keep an eye on them and grill to your liking.

3) Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Chop into one-inch chunks and place in a bowl.

4) While the zucchini are cooling, mix the mustard, lemon juice, and Tbsp. of olive oil in a small bowl and chop or slice the tomatoes, onion, and olives. Add these to the bowl with the zucchini.

5) Add the chopped fresh herbs, the dressing, and toss everything well. Allow to sit for about 15 minutes before adjusting salt and pepper and serving. This salad can be eaten slightly warm, at room temperature, or cold. They’re all delicious!

Serves 4

Zoodle Salad with Balsamic Tomatoes and Basil

Tomato Basil Salad on Zucchini Noodles 2014Having a garden is amazing and rewarding and to actually eat things that I planted just weeks ago gets me excited every single time. There is something truly fulfilling and gratifying and I can’t wait to experiment with other vegetables next year. This year, however, the learning piece has included zucchini plants. I had a bit of a debate with the person at the nursery where I purchased my little seedlings about how many to plant together because the little stick said to plant two. My neighbors have since smiled…and locked their doors. Apparently, they don’t want to share in my bounty! ;)

I am not intimidated, though, since I have a million ways to prepare zucchini. And a spiral slicer, which helps immensely. Zoodles rule and I really can’t imagine getting sick of them so you might see a few more recipes over the course of the summer. I hope they serve as launching pads for your own ideas and that you’ll share whatever magic you are making happen in your own kitchen!

Zoodle Salad with Balsamic Tomatoes and Basil

3-4 zucchini

1 Tbsp. salt

1 c. tomatoes, chopped

6 kalamata olives

1 tsp. pinenuts, toasted

2 Tbsp. Balsamic vinegar

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

small clove of garlic

1/3 c. fresh basil chiffonade

pepper to taste

Directions

1) Spiral slice or julienne the zucchini and place in a strainer over the sink. Toss with salt and allow to sit for about 20 minutes. Rinse well and cut into shorter zoodles, if necessary.

2) In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar, oil, and garlic and set aside.

3) Place zucchini in a bowl and add the tomatoes, olives, pine nuts, and basil. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad and toss well to combine.

4) Chill the salad for about 15 minutes, then add pepper and additional salt, if desired. Enjoy!

Serves 2

*Note: The proportions in this salad are totally flexible. Use what you have and what you like!

Ripples

Ripple effectCalifornia is beautiful. Amazingly, stunningly, unequivocally beautiful. It’s no secret why so many people want to live there and every time I go back, I am stricken and inspired by its many gifts. I grew up in Southern California and have lived as far south as Carlsbad and as far north as the San Francisco Bay Area. Each region has its treasures and I still love them and miss them. This past week, my husband, son and I went there for vacation and we were lucky enough to splash in the ocean and take in the wonder of the giant sequoia trees, all in the same day. Each is a majestic celebration of earth and water, endless time, and the infinitesimally small part we play in this universe.

Sadly, California is in the midst of a severe drought and during our time we were reminded of this on many occasions. We took care during our mountain stay to shower quickly, spare dishes where we could, and treat water as the limited resource that it is. In more populated places, restaurants serve water only upon request and locals restrict their usage regularly. While the immensity of the mountains and the sea caused my thoughts to go in one direction, the importance of each tiny act led me in another.

This dichotomy of simultaneously being such a small component of the universe and yet having the ability to greatly impact a situation is an interesting place to be. If we only examine our actions on an individual basis and fail to see them as a part of the greater whole, we miss the opportunity to bring good to the world, to inspire change, or perhaps to experience greatness.

It got me thinking about a few small things that can make a big difference in the lives of others…

Smile more. This simplest of acts brings joy to the people around us. If we could each share a smile with a friend, a neighbor, and more importantly perhaps, a stranger, the lives of both people would be improved. Did you know that smiling reduces stress, boosts your immune system, is contagious, and is a universal sign of happiness? So smile away. A lot and without hesitation.

Forgive a little. I think that too often we get wrapped up in being angry or offended by someone else’s actions and, maybe, if we gave the benefit of the doubt on more occasions, we’d all be better off. I realize that there are true wrongs that need to be righted, but I also believe that harboring too much negativity can really take a toll. We can all be thoughtless or careless at times, but I truly believe that most of the time it isn’t intentional. People are busy, stressed out, overwhelmed, tired. Most of the time, we’re all just doing the best we can and if we could be a little more lenient at times, a little more forgiving, we might find our lives fill with more peace and more love.

Accept the differences. Sometimes I look around and wonder why people do the things they do or behave in a certain way. And then I catch myself. If we all did things the same way, life would not only be boring, but we would miss these moments of growth and learning, we could not treasure the unique. Differences are an opportunity to embrace, a chance to experience something from another perspective and subsequently get more out of this life. There is profound richness in the differences.

There is a concept in chaos theory called the butterfly effect, which is something I have always found beautiful and magical. Something seemingly insignificant – like the breath of wind generated by the wings of a butterfly – can change and magnify and eventually generate enough force to become a hurricane. A similar concept, the ripple effect, looks at how the smallest pebble when tossed into a pond can change circumstances and result in something completely unpredictable. The mystery – and greatness – of our smallest actions can have incredibly profound effects.

Therefore I smile. And forgive. And accept.

Avocado-Red Pepper Spread

Avocado Red Pepper CreamI had a red pepper that needed to be roasted and I had half an avocado. I wanted to do something a little different that would make everything it touched taste better – and this little sauce, spread, dip, whatever you want to call it, does exactly that. It’s super creamy and the roasted bell pepper gives it great depth, but there’s a brightness to it too from the squeeze of lemon. It is just oh-so-good. I can’t get enough of it. So far, it has topped burgers, slices of cold chicken breast, hard boiled eggs, and I dipped a couple snap peas in too. I’m thinking of tossing it with some sautéed zoodles and might have to make another batch to experiment with a few other options. I am absolutely loving it.

Sometimes people mention that they’re bored with what they’re eating or that their meals lack variety. One way to avoid that is to come up with different toppers or herb combinations that keep your staples feeling fresh. Burgers really fall into this category for me because on a Paleo journey with a budget-conscious mind, ground meat comes into play quite regularly. There are all kinds of ways to dress up a burger and not all of them include bacon either! If you’re looking for something new, consider this lovely little spread – and let me know what you think!

Avocado-Red Pepper Spread

1 roasted red bell pepper

1/2 avocado

juice from 1/2 lemon

small clove of garlic

salt to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp.)

pepper to taste

Directions

1) Preheat a BBQ over high heat (or the broiler works too) and place the whole pepper on the grill. Close the lid and let the pepper get black. Flip the pepper and continue blackening all sides. It should also be getting a bit soft. Once all sides are black, place the pepper in a container with a lid and let it cool down, steaming and continuing to soften. Once cool, peel off and discard the blackened skin. Remove any seeds but try to avoid rinsing the pepper in order to maintain maximum flavor.

2) Place the roasted pepper in a blender or food processor (I used a Magic Bullet) and add the remaining ingredients. Blend until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings and then spread it on everything!

*Note: A jarred roasted bell pepper would probably work as well, but the flavor might be a little more astringent and lack some of the smokiness. You could try countering that with a tiny pinch of smoked paprika.

White Turkey Chili

White Turkey Chili on White Sweet PotatoDo you know what traditionally goes in white chili? White beans! Dried beans are a legume and they aren’t typically part of a Paleo lifestyle. My take on beans is that they’re okay on occasion if you tolerate them and if they’ve been soaked first. They’re a plant and certainly better than a box of processed ick with an endless ingredient list of non-foods. However, they have anti-nutrients that block absorption of other important components of the foods we eat, they are difficult to digest (surely not a secret), they are fairly high in carbs which can be a challenge if you are working on getting lean, and meat is simply a more bio-available source of protein.

But I like white chili so I went to work. I am a huge fan of cauliflower’s versatility and use it quite frequently to replace other foods (think rice, potatoes, chickpeas, etc.). Not only is it a great stand-in for the white beans in this dish, but it adds bulk and nutrients and an extra serving or two of veggies. Honestly, what could be wrong with that? Since it cooks up to be fairly tender, you can even mash a bit of it in your bowl to thicken it.

This is one of those dishes that can be served in a variety of ways, too. Here I have it piled on a white sweet potato, but I had the leftovers on chopped chard one day and shredded cabbage the next, allowing the heat to soften the greens. You can eat it just the way it is too – I imagine a big mug or bowl. And remember to adjust the seasonings to your taste! I used mild green chiles but some hot ones would have been great too, just a bit too much for my family.

I hope you love this recipe as much as I do! It made great leftovers for lunch and, even though my husband mentioned that 95 degree weather didn’t really lend itself to chili, he didn’t complain once he tasted it!

White Turkey Chili

1 Tbsp. coconut oil

1 onion, chopped

2 green bell peppers, chopped

1 1/2 lbs. ground turkey

5 cloves of garlic, minced

diced green chiles, 7 oz. can

2 tsp. dried oregano, crushed between fingers

1 Tbsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. onion powder

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. cayenne

frozen cauliflower, 12 oz. bag

2 1/2 c. vegetable or chicken broth

1 1/4 tsp. salt, divided

Directions

1) Melt coconut oil over medium high heat. Add chopped onion, bell peppers, and 1/4 tsp. salt and sauté for about 5 minutes until beginning to soften.

2) Add the turkey, garlic, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Cook, breaking up the meat, until cooked through, about 8-10 minutes.

3) Add chiles, spices, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Stir to release the flavor of the spices, about 30 seconds. Add the broth, bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer the chili covered for about 30 minutes.

4) Remove the lid, add the cauliflower, return to a boil and simmer again, uncovered this time, for about 20 minutes until the cauliflower is tender.

5) Top with cilantro, avocado, tomato, and enjoy!

Serves 4-5