The Half-Crunchy Mama

Trying to live a natural life with balance


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Zasta with Tomatoes and Goat Cheese

Zasta with tomatoes and goat cheese | The Half-Crunchy Mama

My garden has been very productive this year. I’m quite proud of myself as each year I have learned something new that has led to this year’s success. I’m picking 1-3 dozen cherry tomatoes every day. I’ve had eggplants, zucchini, lots of jalapenos, and plenty of crookneck squash. This has led to some very delicious meals! And mostly free ūüôā

Zasta with tomatoes and goat cheese | The Half-Crunchy Mama

This was two weeks ago…it’s even fuller now!

While I’m still waiting for cucumbers and bell peppers to emerge, I’m enjoying the literal fruits of my labor. Most of the time, I’m throwing a bunch of fresh veggies into my breakfast, but not the other night. Two large zucchini, a ton of cherry tomatoes, and a stalk of basil, all from the garden, were sitting on the counter calling to me. So I listened. And ate them up.

Zasta with tomatoes and goat cheese | The Half-Crunchy Mama

As a cheesemonger, nothing makes a meal better than adding cheese. In this case, it was goat cheese. I love the depth of flavor that goat cheese adds to dishes. The Russian and I ate the entire thing between the two of us. So fast, and of course my other two favorite dinner adjectives, cheap and easy, make this one a keeper and one worthy enough of blogging. After all, it’s been over 6 months since my last post! Obviously, life has gotten busy and with summer almost over here in Georgia, I’m ready to have time to start dedicating to this space. Can’t wait! Although it’s bittersweet…the increase of available time to dedicate comes with the fact that Sugar Bee is off to kindergarten in 2 1/2 short weeks. Time flies.

Before I get to the recipe details, short as they are, I need to give proper credit to the term “zasta” that I’m using. The daughter of friends of mine had the same thinking as me and didn’t care for the term “zoodles” so she came up with “zasta.” I love it and will forever refer to zucchini noodles as zasta. I hope you enjoy this meal as much as we did!


Zasta with tomatoes and goat cheese

Super fast and easy with very little cost, especially if you have a rockin’ garden this year, this vegetarian meal will be a keeper!
INGREDIENTS
  • 1-2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 dozen or more cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 roasted red pepper, diced small (jarred okay)
  • 2 zucchini, spiralized into noodles
  • 4 oz crumbled goat cheese
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • Fresh basil, 1-2 Tbsp chopped
DIRECTIONS
  1. Heat EVOO in large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional minute or two until fragrant.
  2. Add tomatoes and cook 3 minutes or until skins start to wrinkle. Add red pepper and simmer 2 more minutes.
  3. Add zucchini, salt, pepper, and a bit more EVOO, tossing to coat evenly. Don’t cook too long or all the water will release from the zucchini. You want a little bit of juicy, saucy goodness, but not soup! (See last picture below. We loved the sauce!)
  4. Add almost all of the goat cheese (reserve 1-2 Tbsp for topping when serving) and stir to toss completely and melt the cheese.
  5. Divide between two plates and top with basil and remaining goat cheese. Serve immediately. Enjoy!
Zasta with tomatoes and goat cheese | The Half-Crunchy Mama

Sweet, saucy deliciousness

 

 

 


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Mexican Squash

IMG_20151207_204651It’s Day 7 of this kick I’ve been on over at my Facebook page, sharing recipes to help you get hot meals on the table during these busy holiday weeks. Monday night, I made up one of my own to share. I dug around and just used what I had in the fridge and pantry, and I will offer other ingredient ideas below that you can include depending on what you have on hand. I also tailored this a bit to Sugar Bee’s tastes as she was the one that chose between Mexican and Italian as options for the spaghetti squash that The Russian had cooked up for me the night before. (I ran out of steam to finish cooking dinner Sunday night, so I stashed it in the fridge to use the following night.)

It was actually even faster to make this dish than it usually would be because the squash was precooked (but not pulled into threads). I just put it in a closed container and popped it in the fridge that night. It was all set to get spaghettied and thrown into the pan when the time came the following night. Even better was that I didn’t have to worry about burning my hands off after the squash came out of the oven because I’m too impatient (and often pressed for time) to allow it to properly cool off. And it’s amazing as leftovers because the flavors have time to meld together. Play around with this one. I’m sure it will be slightly different every time I make this!IMAG7154


Mexican Squash

After purchasing a spaghetti squash and 1-1.5 pounds of ground beef, sift through your pantry and see what you come up with. You could use diced tomatoes (I would have included a can of fire-roasted, but Sugar Bee is on this “no tomatoes” kick these days and I’m picking my battles), taco seasoning instead of the spices I used, enchilada or tomatillo sauce in place of the tomato sauce, sliced black olives (again, Sugar Bee or they would have been in there), or kidney beans. Then from the fridge, you could add shredded carrots (when you start the onions), sliced scallions (when you top with cheese), or sour cream to mix in. The possibilities are endless! You could even swap the beef for shredded chicken or lose the meat completely and triple the beans instead. This one-pan meal is perfect for a busy weeknight, especially if you cook the squash earlier in the day or even the night before!

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INGREDIENTS
  • 1 medium-large spaghetti squash
  • 1 Tbsp bacon fat/lard/ghee/EVOO
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1.35 lbs ground beef
  • 2-3 Tbsp of chili powder, depending on desired spice level (I used 3)
  • 2-3 Tbsp of cumin
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp garlic powder (I was actually out of garlic or this would be 2-4 cloves of minced garlic)
  • 4-oz. can of diced, fire-roasted green chilies (I use Ortega as there’s not a lot of junk in their stuff)
  • 15-oz. can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 8-oz. can of tomato sauce
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (I prefer a Mexican blend)
DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 375¬įF. Cut squash in half and scoop out seeds. Rub insides with a little olive oil and place cut side down onto a cookie sheet. Bake for 25-35 minutes. Squash is ready when skin gives slightly when pressing on it. Try not to overcook or you will get mush instead of spaghetti strands. Remove and allow to cool.*
  2. When squash is finished cooking and is waiting to be pulled into spaghetti, melt fat or oil in large, oven-safe skillet (broiler proof, preferably) over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute for a few minutes until softened.
  3. Add ground beef and spices to pan. Cook until meat is almost finished and you can’t see any pink. Preheat broiler on high.
  4. Add chilies, beans, and tomato sauce, stirring well to combine.
  5. Shred the squash into spaghetti strands with a fork and add to meat mixture. You may want to taste and see if you need to add more spices once everything is coated and combined. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Even out the squash and meat mixture so it’s flat. (If you don’t have a pan that can be used under the broiler, transfer to a broiler-safe baking dish.) Top with shredded cheese and place under broiler for 3-4 minutes until top is golden brown. Serve with some sour cream, chopped fresh cilantro, and/or sliced scallions. Enjoy!

* You can do this the night before and store in the refrigerator in a sealed container until ready to use. Just don’t shred it until you are about to throw it into the pan!


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Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili

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Rain. We have seen enough rain this fall in Georgia to last us all winter. Once the rainy days turned cold, it got worse. I knew yesterday was supposed to be the last day of this dreary weather until next week, but there was such a chill in the air that I knew that soup was what was needed for dinner. So here’s a down-and-dirty, super-short, no-frills post with the recipe.

This was originally inspired by a recipe in the magazine that I receive from Kaiser Permamente as an insured member (they actually have some good recipes in there!), but of course I have made several changes to it, improvements, if you will. It’s hearty and full of vitamin A thanks to the sweet potato, while the black beans fill you up with fiber and deliver almost all of the magnesium and iron that you need for the day. Between the two, you get 100% of your daily intake of potassium in a serving of each (one cup of each).

The best part? Fast, cheap, and easy (my favorite things) and only one pot to clean. Sure, there’s a cutting board and a knife, but that’s really it. This honestly does only take about 30 minutes, start to finish. Yippee!


Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili

Super fast, cheap, and easy meal for any day of the week, especially a cold one. Almost no mess and very little prep time, this one is sure to be a keeper! Even Sugar Bee likes it ūüôā

INGREDIENTS
  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, butter, ghee, or other oil of your choice
  • 2 cups of peeled and diced sweet potatoes; 1 large or 3 small
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp smoked paprika
  • 2 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp tumeric
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2.5 cups vegetable broth (or chicken stock if not vegetarian and you want a richer taste)
  • 2 15-ounce cans of organic black beans, rinsed
  • 2 14.5-ounce cans of fire-roasted diced tomatoes (I use one can of regular dice and one can of petite dice)
  • Juice from 2 limes
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Shredded cheese for topping (optional)
DIRECTIONS
  1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sweet potato and onion and cook, stirring often, until the onion softens, about 4 minutes.
  2. Add spices (garlic, paprika, cumin, tumeric, chili powder) and cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds.
  3. Add the broth and bring to a simmer. Cover and reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook until the sweet potato is tender, about 10-12 minutes.
  4. Add the beans, tomatoes, and lime juice. Increase heat to high and return to a simmer, stirring often.
  5. Reduce heat and simmer until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes.
  6. Top with cilantro and cheese, if desired. Enjoy!

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Baked Cheesy Cauliflower Tots

Baked Cheesy Cauliflower Tots | The Half-Crunchy MamaTater tots. We all used to look forward to them that one day out of the week when the cafeteria would serve them up for lunch. Of course that deep-fried goodness isn’t particularly a part of my family’s current eating lifestyle and I actually have no means (or clue) on how to deep fry anything. Sorry, South. Guess I’m still a Yankee.

I don’t have anything against potatoes and I love a few good french fries once in a blue moon, but when I first heard about swapping white potatoes out with cauliflower in tot form, I was definitely excited about trying them. I have been making different varieties of mashed cauliflower for years now, so this seemed to be the logical next step. So far, I have made two batches of cauliflower tots from different recipes on the web, but both times, The Russian was far from enthusiastic about the taste and Sugar Bee wouldn’t even try one. She’s the cauliflower freak (raw with hummus, of course) and I thought she was going to be the perfect tester. Nope. I ended up eating both batches (these were two very separate instances) and I felt like there was a thing or two missing from each recipe. Which brings me to last week when I finally decided to play around and create my own version of cauliflower tots. They are so fast, cheap, and easy (my three favorite things) that you will hit yourself on the head as to why you haven’t tried any of the many recipes out on that Pinterest thing.

Take out food processor, chop cauliflower into rice-like pieces……Baked Cheesy Cauliflower Tots | The Half-Crunchy Mama …put in bowl with all of the other ingredients and mix thoroughly…Baked Cheesy Cauliflower Tots | The Half-Crunchy Mama…spoon into greased mini muffin pan and bake.Baked Cheesy Cauliflower Tots | The Half-Crunchy MamaSeriously so freaking easy. Just try it tomorrow. Or maybe even tonight.Baked Cheesy Cauliflower Tots | The Half-Crunchy MamaDid I mention that they are delicious?? The Russian easily ate a third of the batch after tasting his first one. Not only did Sugar Bee try one, she ate three of them at dinner. And I could have eaten the whole batch. This version has cheese and I am going to work on a dairy-free version next, inspired by a comment from my Instagram of this success.Baked Cheesy Cauliflower Tots | The Half-Crunchy Mama


Baked Cheesy Cauliflower Tots

Ditch the deep-fried potato goodness and give these healthier baked tots a try. Extremely high in Vitamin C and a great source of B-6, magnesium, iron, and calcium, a head of cauliflower also offers you around 11 grams of protein. After you make these, it will be easy to eat half of a head in one meal as you fill your belly with this kid-approved tater tot replacement.

INGREDIENTS
  • One small head of cauliflower (or 2/3 of a large head)
  • 1 cup shredded cheese of choice (I have used both a Mexican and an Italian cheese blend)
  • 1 egg
  • ¬ľ cup almond meal
  • ¬Ĺ tsp ground mustard
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • a few grinds black pepper
DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 400¬ļF. Lightly grease a mini muffin tin with cooking oil or spray.
  2. Remove main stem from head of cauliflower and break into pieces. Place in food processor and pulse until finely shredded. Smaller stems are okay to include.
  3. Place the shredded cauliflower in a kitchen towel to remove excess moisture. (Note: I let mine sit out and get room temperature before working with it and I find that there is less moisture released, so this step can be avoided if time allows.)
  4. In a large bowl, combine the shredded cauliflower with all of the remaining ingredients, stirring well to distribute evenly.
  5. With a spoon, scoop the mixture into each muffin cup, pressing down firmly with your fingertips as you go.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes until golden. Enjoy!

 


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Southwest Black Bean Soup

Southwest Black Bean Soup | The Half-Crunchy Mama

It’s that time of year when all I want is warm soup. Even if it’s not that cold in Georgia, it’s still winter. And the temperature swing from midday to midnight can easily be 30 degrees. I’m really trying to lower our food budget, so soups are also budget-friendly and you end up with several meals worth when it’s done. Sugar Bee, my three year old, loves beans, especially black beans, so¬†she’ll pretty much eat any soup now that has beans. I have even been known to add some beans to my chicken soup for her eating enjoyment. Here is another winner for her.

This one is also a time-saver. I usually make bean soups in the crock pot since I try to¬†cook my own beans as much as possible. Not only is it a lot cheaper to soak and cook dried beans yourself (and you get to control the amount of salt), it also helps make them a less musical fruit if they are freshly cooked. Freshly soaking the beans loosens the skins, and releases the gas causing agent (oligosaccherides). When you dump that gassy water from the overnight soak and cook them with fresh, clean water, you end up with less gas. (Here’s a great post about how to cook and soak your own beans.) That aside, because I used canned beans for this recipe, I can see being able to throw this together for a last-minute dinner on a weeknight. Cheap, fast, and easy…just how I like my meals.


 Southwest Black Bean Soup

Cheap, fast, and easy. That’s how I like my meals. Soups are a great way to get more out of your food budget. Bean soups are even more thrifty. This recipe uses canned beans, but you can easily swap the cans for a pound of presoaked beans, throw everything in the slow cooker, and set it for 8 hours on low. Either way, this is a perfect meal for a winter’s night.

INGREDIENTS
  • 2 Tbsp oil (I used expeller-pressed coconut oil)
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 generous Tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 generous Tablespoon cumin
  • Four 15 oz cans black beans
  • 32 oz broth (I used vegetable broth)
  • 2 large roasted red peppers, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • Juice of one lime
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped
DIRECTIONS
  1. Heat oil in large stock pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook for 5-7 minutes, until softened, but not browned. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute.
  2. Add cumin, chili powder, and beans, stirring to coat everything in spices.
  3. Add broth, peppers, tomato paste, bay leaves, and pepper, and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes. Add fresh lime juice and stir.
  5. Spoon into bowls and garnish with fresh cilantro.

Southwest Black Bean Soup | The Half-Crunchy Mama

(Optional: Add spoon of sour cream like The Russian did)


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What’s the best thing you can do for your liver?

EAT¬†LIVER, of course! If you are like me and have a sluggish liver that ends up causing all sorts of issues from hormonal imbalances to very stubborn belly fat, it might be time for¬†you to give this organ meat a try. The initial response from most people is, “YUCK,” but I have realized that such a response is usually because they have never actually tried it.2014-12-21 18.52.52

I am fully aware that I am way more adventurous than a lot of people when it comes to trying new foods. In fact, I pretty much live for it. Traveling to new places means I get to experience new foods and dishes that I have never been exposed to. Kind of like my obsession with drinking at least one local beer for any city/state that I’m visiting, even though I can hardly tolerate the wheat in beer anymore {sigh}. If you want me to try something that I might not “want” to eat if i know what it is first, just don’t tell me. I prefer to try it first and then decide how I feel about it. Sweetbreads are one of my favorite things to order at a classy restaurant…also an organ that acts up on me occasionally. I’m so glad that my father encouraged me to order it for the first time a few years ago and that he didn’t tell me what it was until after my second bite when I proclaimed how delicious it was. Once I knew that I loved them, it didn’t matter at all.

Diets today are a hot mess, especially in this country. We lack so many things in our fast-food, over-processed, carbohydrate-laden lives. Similar to my opinion about the instant gratification we obsess over with medications, it seems like we are always looking for a quick meal. Quick can equal healthy, but most often it results in a meal that serves our bodies up very little actual nutrition. Everyone would benefit from more greens in their life, and I don’t mean lettuce. Real leafy greens, like kale, chard, and spinach. Many people are mineral deficient and have no idea, resulting in a myriad of stresses in their body that manifest in ways that conventional medicine often lets go undiagnosed. We are also vitamin deficient, and not in a way that taking some store-bought, garbage vitamin is going to fix (although there are now some of great products in places like The Vitamin Shoppe). Not only do we need to supplement our bodies with whole food supplements, we need to eat FOOD.

Before the Western diet turned into what it is today, people never wasted any part of the animal. Organs, bones and marrow, and of course every single piece of meat itself were used to stretch the budget. The Depression-era folks still used everything despite the shift in how Americans ate. Gram would make chicken livers (I admit at first I thought, “How gross!”…until I tried them) and her soups were made with broth from bones. These days everyone talks about bone broth and its healing properties and health benefits. This seems “new” to us, but I’m sure previous generations would laugh at this. There were no cans and boxes of broth back then, everyone made broth. And there were not all these GI problems, allergies, psychological disorders, etc., that we are now seeing connected to gut health. Bone broth repairs the gut. This is just one small reason why I can’t help but believe that it is our dietary changes that have caused so much dis-ease to surface and run rampantly throughout our population. Perhaps it’s not that these diseases never existed, but maybe that we have brought them all to the surface with our poor diet and lifestyle. They existed, but were rare. Now they are the norm.

Throughout my journey, my liver issues would rise to the top, and my liver still appears with regularity when having a nutrition check at my naturopath’s office. It’s a powerhouse organ that regulates so much of our bodies,¬†playing a major role in metabolism and having a number of functions in the body, including glycogen storage, storing vitamins (especially B12 and A) and minerals (including iron and zinc), decomposition of red blood cells, hormone production, detoxification, and breaking down insulin, hemoglobin and other hormones. If your liver is sluggish, your body can’t function properly.¬†Without a healthy liver, a person cannot survive. No one can live without one, unlike some other glands that people get surgically removed. Maybe it’s time to pay attention to it.

Some of the supplements that I have taken in the past to help support, clean, or heal my liver have been pretty pricey as they also often include desiccated liver pieces. If I’m having a bad flare of one thing or another, I might need more than one bottle over the course of a few weeks. I was looking to cut some of the cost of my supplement intake, so I discussed with Doc about what foods I could make sure that I’m regularly eating (or avoiding) in order to help my body out even more naturally than I already was. It was amazing how much adding liver into my diet became such a game changer. Not only was my supplement list getting smaller from visit to visit, everything was improving. I hadn’t seen my body respond like this since I first did the Liver Enhancement Diet. WIN!

As it turns out, The Russian is very good at cooking liver. He has made me dishes with both beef and chicken liver, but chicken liver is a lot easier to find and it’s also cheaper. He has made two dishes that taste just like Gram’s and I was in heaven. He has experimented with a few other ways, but his new favorite is making pate. This is the one I’m going to share first. It’s the easiest way to get some in your body since you can spread it on bread or crackers, dip raw veggies in it, or do whatever you want, and it’s so creamy. It is so much cheaper to make your own than to buy the premade stuff in the store and this has no preservatives or additives. It’s always best to try and make your own food so that you can control exactly what is in it. Here’s The Russian’s pate for you to try out. You can use either beef or chicken livers, but this particular post is about the chicken. And it’s delicious!

(He made this double batch for me last night as I have not been feeling as good the last few weeks as I had been for the past few months. We hadn’t been eating liver, so here’s hoping I feel back to my old self by the end of the day! For more reading about liver, google it and also check out these two links: Liver: nature’s most potent superfood¬†and Health Benefits of Eating Organ Meats)

Heat about 2-3 Tablespoons of EVOO (or whatever oil/lard/ghee) in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add two medium onions, halved and sliced, along with about a cup of shredded carrots. Cook for 7-9 minutes, stirring very frequently. You want them to soften and caramelize, but not get super brown or burn.

2014-12-21 19.21.33While the onions are cooking (or before if you’re like me and prep everything first), trim up the livers. According to The Russian, beef livers require a little more cleanup, but what’s important with the organ meat is to remove the ducts that connect the tissue. (Yes, it’s even gross for me to type that. There is a reason that The Russian is the only one that cooks the livers in our house!) You also will want to cut up any larger pieces so that they are around the same size for even cooking. That is a good habit to get into in case you want to try out any future liver recipes that I will post. Those recipes are not as forgiving with overcooking these delicate pieces of meat. (Note that you should be buying organic chicken liver whenever possible and always grass-fed beef liver.)

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Once the onions and carrots are finished, add the livers and cook until outsides are no longer shiny. Think about when you are cooking meat and you are browning the outside or making ground beef no longer pink. Same concept, just look for no more shiny parts.2014-12-21 19.25.40

 Next, add the spices and a cup of water. The spices consist of crushed bay leaves, coarse ground pepper, and some kosher salt. Stir and bring the mixture to a boil. Then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Once the 20 minutes is up, remove the lid and cook an additional 5 minutes over medium heat to let some of the liquid evaporate and allow the sauce to thicken.

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Remove from heat and let it cool to room temperature. Once cooled, pour the mixture into a food processor. Add about 3 Tablespoons of sliced, room temperature butter/ghee (we use Kerrygold) and blend until smooth.2014-12-21 21.13.39

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator, but eat it within a week. Remember, there are no preservatives!


Chicken Liver Pate

You can use this recipe with any kind of animal liver; beef, goose, or chicken. We purchase chicken most often as it is easier to find and more economical. You can easily cut this in half or double it. The yield from this recipe is about three cups of pate. Make your liver happy!

INGREDIENTS

  • 2-3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (or oil of choice)
  • 2 medium onions, halved and sliced
  • 1 cup of shredded carrots or 1 – 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 lbs of organic chicken livers (2-16 oz containers), ducts removed and large pieces divided
  • 1 tsp crushed bay leaves (or one bay leaf)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp coarse ground fresh pepper (to taste)
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp kosher salt (to taste)
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 Tbsp Kerrygold butter (or ghee)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and carrots and saute until soft and slightly caramelized, but not browned, about 7-10 minutes.
  2. Add livers to vegetables and cook until no longer red and shiny.
  3. Add the bay leaves, salt, pepper, and water, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Remove lid and raise heat up to medium, cooking for an additional 5 minutes until some of the liquid evaporates and the remaining liquid thickens.
  6. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
  7. Once cooled, place mixture in food processor. Add butter and blend until smooth.
  8. Place in airtight container and keep refrigerated for up to a week. Enjoy!


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A Twist on Gram’s Tuna Salad

A twist on Gram's Tuna Salad | The Half-Crunchy Mama

Me and Gram in her kitchen – circa 2003

Gram was a Depression-era kid. She knew how to make the best and most delicious things out of anything and wasted nothing. Her soups, egg sammies, applesauce, chicken paprikash (BEST. EVER.), and her tuna salad are the first ones to come to mind. As I mentioned in the post for my Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Frittata, I often feel like she’s with me in the kitchen. As the anniversary of her passing is coming up (has it really been 5 years?!), I thought this would be a good time to share my Gram-inspired tuna salad recipe. She always made the best tuna salad and I was privy to a few of her “secret”¬†ingredients. Through the years I have made some of my own twists to the recipe, but I always think of her when I’m making a batch. The Russian loves when I make it, often asking for it, so I usually make 2-3 cans at a time. It still doesn’t last and I’m lucky to see half of it. But that is what makes me happy…content bellies full of my food.

A word about the tuna I use. I no longer splurge on the white albacore filet kind. What I have learned is that you should look for the cheap stuff that is made from baby tuna. They have had less exposure to the environment, so the theory is that they will have less toxic things in them, like mercury(1),(2).¬†So I get the huge pack of cans from Costco of regular old Chicken of the Sea chunk light in water. Or whatever is on sale at the supermarket.¬†It’s best to pick up tuna in water in order to retain most of the naturally occurring omega-3s in the fish. When it’s packed in oil, the omegas can leach out into the oil (oil to oil) and you end up pouring this down the drain, but when packed in water, the omega oils stay with the fish – oil and water don’t mix.

On to the recipe. I vary this off and on based on my mood, but this is a good base recipe. Leave out anything you don’t like and add in things that you think would make it better. I love to play around with canned tuna and salmon, switching things up now and then to play around. Here are the basics: tuna, celery, onion, mayo, Dijon, horseradish, parsley, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Gram used to add pickle juice (one of the “secrets”) and I do the same if I have some in the fridge. The veggies are the key. Gram always used fresh vegetables in everything and what a difference they make to the flavor. In a pinch, I have added celery flakes and dried onion pieces from the spice cabinet along with some pickle relish, but¬†fresh is always best.

A twist on Gram's Tuna Salad | The Half-Crunchy Mama

Celery is one of those things that I only buy organic. Because of this, it doesn’t always last as long and it sometimes looks a little uglier than the rest at the store. If there are some ugly spots, I just shave the celery with a peeler and then it’s perfect and ready to use.

A twist on Gram's Tuna Salad | The Half-Crunchy Mama

 Take the cans, drain them, and put them in a large bowl to flake with a fork.

A twist on Gram's Tuna Salad | The Half-Crunchy Mama

I LOVE my mini chopper that I have shared with you in the past. This cuts down chopping time and makes the celery and onions come out so finely diced that they blend perfectly with the tuna. Chop up 2-3 stalks of chopped celery (don’t forget the leaves as they add lots of extra flavor!) and a good half of a onion. Add them to the tuna and combine. I like to combine a few things at a time because I feel that it mixes better.

A twist on Gram's Tuna Salad | The Half-Crunchy Mama

Then add a few tablespoons of chopped parsley. Stir again.

A twist on Gram's Tuna Salad | The Half-Crunchy Mama

For three cans, I add about 2-3 teaspoons of horseradish, 2-3 teaspoons of Dijon mustard, and several tablespoons of mayo…maybe 4? I’m sorry, but in case you haven’t learned by now, I am not much of a slave to measurements while I’m cooking. This is why I don’t care much for baking. It’s too rigid and I can’t be free to play. And this picture was the first round of condiment additions…I pretty much doubled what you see here after tasting. Then came the garlic powder, salt and pepper, also done to taste. I would guess a good 1+ teaspoon of each. Taste and find what works for you.

A twist on Gram's Tuna Salad | The Half-Crunchy Mama

So many ways to eat tuna salad. You can put it on a salad of greens, in a wrap, on bread with tomato and cheese and then broiled…mmm…I love tuna melts. Or try one of the following options. I ended up putting a slice of cheese on this oversized tuna cracker because cheese is my downfall.

A twist on Gram's Tuna Salad | The Half-Crunchy Mama

Served on one of Gram’s plates. I inherited the set ūüôā

The next day, I hollowed out this amazing tomato form the market, filled it with the tuna salad, put a slice of cheddar on top, and baked it in my toaster oven, finishing it off with a quick broil at the end to brown the cheese a little. Yum!

A twist on Gram's Tuna Salad | The Half-Crunchy Mama

Another serving option


¬†A Twist on Gram’s Tuna Salad

Following in the footsteps of my Gram, I whip up some pretty darn good tuna salads. Here is one of my many versions that I wanted to share. So many variations and different ways to eat tuna. This recipe is for three cans, but you can easily cut the quantities if you are only making one or two cans. I hope you like it!

INGREDIENTS

  • Three cans of chunk light tuna in water, drained and flaked
  • 2-3 stalks of finely chopped celery, including leaves
  • Generous half of a sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 2-3 tsp of horseradish
  • 2-3 tsp of Dijon mustard
  • 4-5 Tbsp of mayonnaise
  • 1+ teaspoon garlic powder
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a large bowl, combine flaked tuna with celery and onion. Then add chopped parsley and stir to combine.
  2. Add the horseradish, Dijon, and mayo, stirring well until evenly distributed.
  3. Add garlic, salt, and pepper, tasting to find what works for you.
  4. Make a melt, a green salad, a wrap, or whatever comes to mind. Enjoy!


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Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Frittata

I love channeling my Gram in the kitchen when I use her old cast iron skillet. In fact, there are a lot of times¬†that I’m cooking when I feel like¬†she’s with me, especially around the holidays. I have several of her pans and skillets, but this cast iron one is by far my favorite. I miss her a lot (she passed in 2009, just shy of her 93rd birthday), but I feel her presence every time I use it. My mom says that my fried egg sandwiches taste just like Gram’s and that is the best compliment ever. I don’t use this skillet as often as I should and would like to, but it’s the best thing for frittatas, frying foods (not that I do that very often), and cooking/braising meat. It’s 10.5 inches across and 2 inches deep. Made in the USA, as was almost everything back then.

In case you missed my Cheesy Broccoli Egg Muffins post, breakfast is my favorite type of food and I would eat it all day long if I could. My favorite way to eat breakfast for dinner, or brinner, is in the form of a frittata. To me, frittatas are so much tastier than an omelette and way healthier than a quiche. And you can make up any kind of frittata combinations you want! Trust me, I do it all the time. This combination was created based on what was in the fridge since I was feeling too lazy to get to the store. We love all salmon, especially lox, and I usually have a thing or two of goat cheese in the drawer. Easy peasy.

The easiest way that I have found to deal with packaged lox (the pieces can be very sticky to each other) is to take the slab of slices and cut them all in long strips.

Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Frittata | The Half-Crunchy Mama

Then I loosen them up and separate them as best as I can. I hate when they all clump together in the egg mix and you are left with huge bites of smoked salmon in random places of the frittata and nowhere else.
Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Frittata | The Half-Crunchy Mama

¬†The same thing goes for the goat cheese. I have struggled a few times with how to handle the brick of cheese that I usually have in the fridge.¬†Of course if you buy or have goat cheese that is already crumbled, this next part won’t apply, but it’s cheaper to purchase this way and now I have a trick to share.

Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Frittata | The Half-Crunchy Mama

I cut it up while it’s still in the package. Goat cheese is so soft and very difficult to cut no matter what way you want it to be, so I have learned to do it this way if I want it to be close to the size of crumbles. I make cuts both vertically and horizontally in the package, and everything stays in the plastic until I’m ready to dump it in. It still isn’t as perfect as prepackaged crumbles, but you never know what else might be included in those packages to keep the cheese clumps all nicely separated.

Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Frittata | The Half-Crunchy Mama

Now I’ll talk about my butter. Unless I’m about to do a bunch of baking for a party or something that will involve a lot of butter, I usually only purchase¬†Kerrygold from the store. If you have time and patience to make your own or spend extra pennies on something better, by all means. For me and my cheap, half-crunchy bum, I’ll go with this one. And I swear it tastes different than the rest of the ones in the dairy case at your regular supermarket. When using cast iron, I don’t bother with anything of low quality. My pan is perfectly seasoned and I’m afraid of using anything that isn’t close to what it has been used to its whole life. You know, like food. Not “organic,” not “non-GMO,” not “grass-fed,” “free-range,” or “rBGH-free” because these things never existed back in Gram’s day. Animals and crops were naturally raised and we dealt with bugs and disease. People still ate. Farmers were respected. People didn’t have all sorts of crazy allergies to food and the environment, and the general population was not nearly as sick as we are today. Okay, I’m getting off my soap box now. Sometimes I just have to rant and get this stuff out.

Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Frittata | The Half-Crunchy Mama

Back to the recipe. After prepping the salmon and cheese, it’s time to get going on the onion and garlic. Chop a small onion finely and mince two cloves of fresh garlic. Melt 1 Tablespoon of butter in the skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, and saute about 3 minutes.

Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Frittata | The Half-Crunchy Mama

¬†While they are sauteing, whisk 10 eggs in a large bowl with 1/4 milk, if you do dairy, sea salt, and fresh ground pepper. If you don’t do milk and have nothing else to add in its place, use a tablespoon or two of water to help make the eggs fluffy. Add the sliced smoked salmon, the goat cheese, and 2-3 Tbsp dried dill (fresh is WAY better if you have it, but I was all out) to the egg mixture. ¬†Pour egg mixture over the onions and garlic, slightly stirring to combine.

Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Frittata | The Half-Crunchy Mama

 Turn the heat up to medium high and cook until the edges start to firm and climb up the side of the pan a little and bubbles start to appear.

Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Frittata | The Half-Crunchy Mama

¬†Transfer it to an oven preheated to 350¬ļF and bake for about 25 minutes. It should look nice and golden on the top when finished, and a toothpick should come out clean from the middle.

Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Frittata | The Half-Crunchy Mama

Slice and serve! It goes well with a nice green salad with a mild dressing.

Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Frittata | The Half-Crunchy Mama

 One last shot to show how well a wonderfully seasoned pan can work. It helps that this pan is older than me and that I have loved on it just as my Gram did. Once you get used to using one, you will be in love as much as I am.

Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Frittata | The Half-Crunchy Mama


 Salmon Goat Cheese Frittata

This simple recipe can help you get dinner on the table in about 35 minutes with very little prep work. It goes well with a small side salad for dinner, and the leftovers are great for any meal!

INGREDIENTS
  • 6 ounce package of smoked salmon, sliced into small strips
  • 4 ounce package of goat cheese, cut into small pieces (or packaged crumbles)
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp butter, lard, or oil of your choice
  • 10 eggs
  • 1/4 milk (or other liquid, I’ve only used water)
  • 2-3 Tbsp dill (dried, but fresh would be better)
  • 1/4+ tsp sea salt
  • 1/8+ tsp fresh ground pepper
DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 350¬ļF.
  2. Heat 1 Tbsp butter in a deep or large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Once melted, saute onions and garlic for about three minutes.
  3. While onions and garlic saute, whisk together the eggs and milk/liquid, salt, and pepper. Add salmon, cheese, and dill to the eggs and stir to combine.
  4. Pour egg mixture over the onions and garlic, give a quick stir, and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook until the edges start to firm and climb up the pan and bubbles start to form.
  5. Transfer pan to the preheated oven and bake for about 25 minutes until golden brown on top and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  6. Serve with a lightly dressed green salad. Enjoy!


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Cinnamon and Spice Sweet Potato Chips

I have two very good friends of mine that have embarked on their own healing journey after (finally) listening to me and going¬†to my naturopath. ¬†I have some stubborn friends…that I love to death..and their stubbornness is working in their favor. My voodoo doc is really so incredible and I’m beyond thankful for all she has done for me and my family, and now I have been witnessing theCinnamon and Spice Sweet Potato Chips | The Half-Crunchy Mama transformation within these two fantastic and important women in my life.

Their journeys are very different from mine, yet I have tried to give them all the support that I can. My journey was difficult for very different reasons and I didn’t have anyone aside from The Russian (who thought I was even crazier for a bit) and my mom who was all the way back in New York to lean on for support and understanding. I hope that I have helped raise these women up to¬†meet their challenges as they are both very dear to my heart. For some, the natural path can be extremely difficult to walk. Especially when there are serious things to deal with.

Even though I have dietary things to follow (and¬†I’ve been slacking lately and feel like crap), nothing compares to what these two have been dealing with. Interestingly enough, they¬†are ridiculously similar in the way they need to eat, probably for the rest of their lives. I’m used to eating and making strange things for meals and snacks, so I always look forward to getting together with either of their families because with all of our dietary restrictions, we all eat the same way and there are no stupid questions asked like, “What are you eating these days?” or “Why can’t you eat (insert whatever)?” when trying to plan the menu and who is bringing what. No embarrassment, no feelings of needing to explain ourselves, just feelings of acceptance and a level of comfort that puts us all at ease.

So the reason for my post. These two can’t eat much these days. One of them is a lot farther along in her healing and has started adding some foods back in, but there are lots of things that will probably never re-enter her diet. And for my other friend…what a trooper she is trying to be. She keeps testing the limits of her “new” body, but finds out rather quickly that she needs to cut the crap out and find other ways to fulfill her cravings. This is where I come in. Or at least I’m hoping to.

Cinnamon and Spice Sweet Potato Chips | The Half-Crunchy Mama

This past May, my gym had a contest going called “The Biggest Mover.” It was to see who attended the most classes for a month or something, I really don’t remember the rules, but all you had to do was have your instructor initial a paper and then you drop it in a box on the way out. Sure, why not? The first week (I think it ran for 6 weeks), I won that week’s prize. I think that was a random drawing, but I won a nifty gym bag that I have been using since.

I ended up winning the whole damn thing and my prize was the basket in this picture. I was actually pretty excited about it. The loot was 4 cans of coconut water (I don’t like plain ones, but whatever), a bag of goji berries, a bag of golden berries, a bag of shelled hemp seeds, a bag of chia seeds, and a great little cookbook. I have been playing around with the recipes when I have time, and have been hopeful to give my friend some snacking ideas. This one was a big hit with my other friend’s family, and mine.

So I thought she could eat sweet potatoes, but as I was writing this, she tells me she’s going to try and pull them. WTH? I’m putting this out there for her and all my Paleo folks as they are allowed sweets, as I like to call them. I literally told her in our Facebook message, “Maybe with the spices and chia seeds, you can handle them as those additions should handle the inflammation that it casuses. Just my uneducated-i’m-not-a-doctor-but-know-some-things opinion.” Then she reminded me that she can’t do ANY seeds. BULLSH#T! So of course she will leave them out, as will any of you that need to follow the AIP (Autoimmune Protocol for anyone that doesn’t know what that means) diet. Regardless of her leaving them out, at least she can quickly and easily make a potato chip that will satisfy both the need for sweet and salty, with a crunch!

There are a few other recipes from this book that I will be sharing as I work through the book and tweak ones¬†as I see fit. One in particular has been a BIG hit with my other friend’s family and my own, and another I have fixed up a little to be easier to work with and enjoy. Stay tuned for more tasty recipes that can be traced back to this book.

Why chia seeds? Rich in fiber, omega-3s, antioxidants, and amino acids, and almost all the carbs in them count as fiber.

A 1 ounce (28 grams) serving of chia seeds contains:

  • Fiber: 11 grams.
  • Protein: 4 grams.
  • Fat: 9 grams (5 of which are Omega-3s).
  • Calcium: 18% of the RDA.
  • Manganese: 30% of the RDA.
  • Magnesium: 30% of the RDA.
  • Phosphorus: 27% of the RDA.
  • They also contain a decent amount of Zinc, Vitamin B3 (Niacin), Potassium, Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) and Vitamin B2.

Chia can aid in weight loss¬†as they can help reduce food cravings¬†by preventing some of the food that you eat from getting absorbed into your system. This blockage of calorie absorption makes them a great diet helper. They can help you¬†feel fuller faster¬†because they absorb 10 times their weight in water, forming a bulky gel. They are often used as¬†hydration for athletes because the “chia gel” can hydrate the body. They may reduce your blood pressure¬†as evidence has suggested that they can reduce blood pressure. They are rich in¬†Omega-3s, and¬†are the richest plant source of Omega-3 (the vital fats that protect against¬†inflammation‚ÄĒsuch as arthritis‚ÄĒand heart disease). In fact, they contain more Omega-3 than salmon! They can also be beneficial for diabetics¬†because chia seeds slow down how fast our bodies convert carbohydrates into simple sugars, and studies indicate they can control blood sugar,¬†leading scientists to believe chia seeds may have great benefits for diabetics. And they are easier to digest than flax seeds, and don’t need to be ground up. Give them a try! Add them to yogurt, smoothies, baked goods, anything that you can think of. They are annoying and a pain to clean up (not to mention they can hang out in your teeth – pet peeve!), but they are worth it!


Cinnamon and Spice Sweet Potato Chips

This is a great sweet and slightly salty, crunchy treat to replace store-bought potato chips. I go a little overboard on the spice quantities because we like flavor in this house. Figure out how spicy you want to make them. These are cheap, fast, and easy to make, and barely make it through the day in our house!

INGREDIENTS
  • 3 medium sweet potatoes (about 1 lb)
  • 3 Tbsp EVOO
  • 2 Tbsp chia seeds
  • 1-2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • Few pinches of sea salt
DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 300¬ļF.
  2. Peel the potatoes and slice into paper-thin disks, or however thin you can get them. A mandoline would probably be best for this. (I had success using the flat blade from my spiralizer after using a hand-held mandoline slicer last time that made the chips a little too thick and chewy.)
  3. In a large bowl, coat the potato disks with the EVOO and chia seeds. In a small bowl, combine all the spices.
  4. Spread the chips out in a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet(s) and sprinkle the seasoning over them, and then sprinkle with salt.
  5. Bake for 20-25 minutes until crisp, flipping about halfway through. (I seem to end up baking between 30-35 minutes, so the time depends on your oven and how thick they end up being.)
  6. Store in an airtight container, if you don’t eat them all before nightfall. Enjoy!

Cinnamon and Spice Sweet Potato Chips | The Half-Crunchy Mama


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Creamy Veggie Tagliatelle (yes, it’s gluten free!)

How I came up with this recipe is twofold. It was partially due to what I was craving and knew I had in the house, and the rest was inspired by¬†a recipe used for the photo on this box of pasta. I had found myself scoping out the egg pastas as I was craving some egg noodles, hoping to find some gluten-free ones so that Sugar Bee would be able to eat whatever I ended up making. All of the ones at the particular store I was at contained wheat. This was my very first time trying this brand (whether egg or plain pasta) and the success from this meal was the reason I ended up using this brand for my Eggplant Ragout one night. My thoughts that I shared in that post about choosing the spaghetti are identical to when I first picked this box up. In fact, I’m pretty sure that this was my first experience with Jovial pasta, but egg pasta IS different from regular (as regular as GF can be), so I think those thoughts are still valid here. I took one look at the box and between the “100% organic” and “Product of Italy” on the label, I was sold. Italians know what they are doing with pasta, glutened or not.

Creamy Veggie Tagliatelle - The Half-Crunchy Mama

Upon further inspection of the recipe on the box, I realized I had most of the ingredients at home and I could make a dish like this with minimal investment during this trip to the store. I was getting close to payday, so of course I was short on funds and looking to maximize my spending. This was so cheap, fast, and easy…just how I like my weeknight meals to be.

I took a large zucchini and julienned it, giving me about 3 cups of shredded zucchini. Then I sliced a sweet onion into pieces that mimicked the shreds. That was the extent of my prep work.

I melted 3 tablespoons of Kerrygold butter in a pan over medium heat. I threw in the onion and about 2 teaspoons of minced garlic from a jar, and sauteed for about 2 minutes. I threw in the zucchini shreds and about a cup and a half of  matchstick organic carrots from a bag (no prep!), tossing everything in the butter to coat. After adding some sea salt and fresh ground pepper, I let this all cook for about three minutes until the veggies started to soften a little, but kept their bright colors. I removed the veggie mixture from the pan with a slotted spoon, leaving behind any leftover butter drippings.

Creamy Veggie Tagliatelle - The Half-Crunchy Mama

 I cooked the pasta according to the directions on the box and then returned the saute pan to the stove over low heat. I added 3/4 cup of regular whipping cream and a cup and a half of grated Parmesan-Pecorino cheese, stirring until the cheese had melted. I then returned the veggies to the pan, tossing to coat them well in the creamy cheese sauce.

After cooking and draining the pasta, I returned the noodles to the pot and poured the creamy veggie sauce over them, combining well to plate a perfect summer pasta dish.

Creamy Veggie Tagliatelle - The Half-Crunchy Mama

 The absolute best part? This dish reheated PERFECTLY, unlike a typical Alfredo or cream sauce that you would make for a pasta dish. Bonus!

Creamy Veggie Tagliatelle - The Half-Crunchy Mama

 


Creamy Veggie Tagliatelle

A jazzed-up version of a recipe on a box of pasta, with extra cheese, added garlic, and lighter cream. I would think you could serve this over spaghetti squash, too, in case you are living completely grain free.

INGREDIENTS
  • 3 Tbsp butter or ghee
  • 1 onion, quartered¬†and thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp minced garlic (I used jarred)
  • 1 large zucchini, julienned (about 3 cups)
  • 1.5 cups matchstick carrots (bagged is perfect)
  • 3/4 cup whipping cream (heavy cream not necessary)
  • 1.5 cups grated Parmesan-Pecorino cheese
  • Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
DIRECTIONS
  1. Melt the butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, cooking for 2 minutes.
  2. Add the zucchini, carrots, salt, and pepper, and toss well to combine and coat in butter. Cook for 3 minutes. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  3. Cook the GF tagliatelle according to package directions. When finished, drain and return to pot.
  4. While the pasta is cooking, return the saute pan to stove over low heat. Add the cream and grated cheese. Heat until the cheese is melted. Return the veggie mixture to the pan and toss to coat in the sauce, heating until warmed through.
  5. Pour creamy veggie sauce over the cooked pasta and stir to combine well. Serve and enjoy! (Even leftover!)