30-Minute Shortcut Beef and Vegetable Ragu. (GF, DF, Paleo)

The most flavorful ragu ever! Perfect for a weeknight meal, and a great way to sneak in some veggies!

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I had NO idea how amazing this meal was going to be when I made it.
So. Much. Flavor!!
My husband proclaimed it one of his favorite meals ever. So simple, but seriously amazing.

You know it’s a winner when you genuinely look forward to the leftovers, and this sauce reheats beautifully–it’s almost better the second day! You can serve it over pasta, gluten-free pasta, or spaghetti squash (my favorite!).

Speaking of which, click here to learn how to cook spaghetti squash!

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Okay, so what makes this sauce so wonderful?

  • From start to finish, you can have dinner on the table in 30 minutes. Always a win, especially on busy weeknights. Thanks, food processor, for making this so quick and easy!
  • Everyone loves spaghetti and meat sauce, right? Right. Gotta love dishes that will appeal to your entire family.
  • The ingredients are simple. Humble, even. But, when they come together, they create a rich, cozy sauce. The key is using high quality beef (grass-fed), and marinara sauce.
  • The “shortcut” in this shortcut ragu is the marinara sauce. It’s (gasp) store-bought. Normally I’m all about making everything from scratch, but sometimessssss life gets crazy and you need a quick meal. Find a high-quality marinara sauce and it will make this meat sauce taste like it has been simmering all day.
  • My favorite –> Hidden veggies! In order to sneak some vegetables into the sauce, I threw them in the food processor first until they were chopped up teeny tiny. My husband hates mushrooms but didn’t even know he was eating them!

Hooray for adding nutrition and making a meal go further in a healthy, cost-effective way! I love it.

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Quick tip: double this recipe and freeze it!

30-Minute Shortcut Beef and Vegetable Ragu

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb grass-fed ground beef (I used 90/10)
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped (I used a handful of baby carrots!)
  • 1 rib of celery, roughly chopped
  • 4oz sliced mushrooms
  • 24 oz high quality tomato-basil marinara sauce
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • cooked pasta (regular or GF), or spaghetti squash
  • salt and pepper

1). Heat a large skillet or pot over medium heat and add the ground beef. While it is beginning to brown, add the onion and garlic to the food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper.

2). Add the carrot, celery, and mushrooms to the food processor. Pulse until minced. Add to the skillet and season with salt and pepper.

3). When the ground beef is no longer pink and the vegetables are tender, add the marinara sauce and chicken broth, stirring to combine. Reduce heat slightly and place a lid partially on top of the skillet. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4). Stir in fresh basil. Taste and re-season with more salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve over cooked pasta or spaghetti squash.

Servings of sauce: about 6. Approximate Nutritional Information per Serving: Calories: 203 Carbs: 16g Fat: 7g Protein: 18g Fiber: 3g Sugar: 8g Points+: 5 Recipe adapted from here

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Caprese Quinoa Salad.

A healthy, easy side dish filled with bright mediterranean flavors!

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Tomatoes + basil = perfection, am I right? I never get tired of that flavor combination.

I know adding mozzarella to the mix is the most traditional option, but I decided to use feta instead. It’s still very mediterranean, but more flavorful in my opinion. Feta is slightly more tangy and salty than mozzarella, and I think it worked great here. If you prefer mozzarella, use it!

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If you have a garden, this is the perfect way to use up a lot of fresh tomatoes and basil. It’s amazing how such simple ingredients can be so good, am I right? Complicated recipes have their time and place, but this is not one of them, making it perfect for a weeknight meal. Toss all the ingredients together in a bowl and you’re good to go!

I served this with grilled chicken breast, but this would be great with fish, pork, beef, whatever! And, if you’re vegetarian, this could become a main dish. You can eat it warm, at room temperature, or cold from the fridge. The leftovers were great, too!

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Do you like caprese salads? Tell me your opinion in the comments section below!

Caprese Quinoa Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 10-15 basil leaves cut chiffonade
  • 3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese (or mozzarella)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3-4 Tbsp lemon juice or rice wine vinegar
  • Generous amount of sea salt (about 3/4 tsp) and freshly cracked black pepper (about 1/2 tsp), to taste

1). In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken broth and quinoa to a boil. Cook according to package directions, about 15-18 minutes or until all the broth is absorbed. Move the quinoa to a large bowl to let it cool.

2). Add all the remaining ingredients to the bowl of quinoa, tossing to combine well. Taste and re-season, if necessary. Enjoy immediately or cover and refrigerate.

Servings: about 8 1-cup servings. Approximate Nutritional Information per Serving: Calories: 157 Carbs: 17g Fat: 7g Protein: 7g Fiber: 2g Sugar: 2g Points+: 4.
Recipe courtesy of Audrey’s Apron.

Southwestern Grilled Sweet Potato Salad

Last week we went on vacation, and it was glorious! After spending all day in the pool, I wanted to make something light, healthy, nutritious, and colorful. This southwestern grilled sweet potato salad was just the ticket. There are a LOT of textures and flavors going on in this one, folks. It’s a definite winner!

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Let’s deconstruct this giant rainbow bowl, shall we?

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The focal point of this salad is the grilled sweet potatoes. Yum. I cut them in big rounds to make them easy to grill, and then quartered them after grilling. Do you have to grill them? Absolutely not. It’s hot here in the south, so grilling means the heat stays outside the kitchen, which is important when it’s in the 90’s! I actually think roasting the potatoes would be equally good (if not better), so if you don’t have a grill I would recommend trying that option. If you do that, you can go ahead and quarter the sweet potatoes before baking. IMG_0945
Bright yellow corn, tasty black beans, and a crisp red bell pepper provide a nice contrast in texture to the grilled sweet potatoes. Top all that off with vibrantly green onions, creamy avocado, and fresh cilantro, and you have a bowl full of color. The last step is to toss it all together with fresh lime juice, salt, and pepper, and you’re ready to eat!

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Simply put, this is an awesome side dish (or main dish for the non-meat eaters!) that will definitely make another appearance in our home. My husband, who does not like avocados, loved this dish. When it all comes together, it’s just that good!! Take this to your next cookout or picnic!

Southwestern Grilled Sweet Potato Salad
Ingredients:

  • 4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch slices
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 can corn, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 avocados, pit and skin removed, chopped
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

1). Pre-heat the grill. Toss the cut sweet potatoes in olive oil, salt, and pepper. Grill them over medium-high heat until they can easily be pierced with a fork (about 8 minutes each side).

2). In a large bowl, combine the corn, black beans, red pepper, green onions, cilantro, and avocados. Once the sweet potatoes are cooked through, quarter the rounds and add them to the bowl. Add the lime juice, salt, and pepper. Toss to combine. Taste and re-season, if necessary.

Servings: 4 as a main dish, 6-8 as a side. Approximate nutritional information for 8 servings: Calories: 234 Carbs: 34g Fat: 9g Protein: 8g Fiber: 10g Points+: 6 

Recipe adapted from: http://www.twopeasandtheirpod.com/southwestern-grilled-sweet-potato-salad/ 

Karen’s Soft & Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies — The Best!

Ok, this may be a really bold statement, but…I’m about to share with you the recipe for the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had. IMG_0708 Chocolate chip cookies are my favorite dessert. If given the option between a really great chocolate chip cookie and just about any other dessert, the cookie will win. Not all chocolate chip cookies are the same, however. My #1 requirement to win my seal of approval: they must be extremely soft. Crunchy cookies? No thank you. I really prefer for the whole entire cookie, even the edges, to be soft. IMG_0709 And then there’s the chocolate chip ratio. I like a 50/50 split between chocolate chips and batter. Too many chocolate chips and you may as well be eating a chocolate bar, too few and you might think you’re eating a blondie. Another requirement to add to the list? No chocolate chunks, just chips please. (That goes back to my “too much chocolate” issue.) I’m saying all of this to impress upon you the fact that I am very picky with my chocolate chip cookies, and this recipe is the real deal. IMG_0716

So, the recipe. Karen, a dear friend of mine at work, had borrowed a tupperware container from me. Several weeks later, I found it sitting on my desk, filled with a few chocolate chip cookies. A hand-written note said “thank you!” and explained she was taught never to return tupperware empty. I made a mental note of this because it was so thoughtful. She loved to bake, so I knew they were homemade. I tried one, and immediately flew over to my laptop to email her. I HAD TO GET THIS RECIPE. They were shockingly good! Insanely soft, but still chewy! Chocolate-y, but not too much! Hands down, they were the best homemade chocolate chip cookies I ever had. I emailed her right then, frantically trying to convey to her just how much I loved these cookies, hoping she would be willing to share the recipe with me. Sure enough, a few minutes later I had a response back with the recipe to these amazing cookies. I saved the recipe to make at a later date, and now, a year later, I finally got around to it.

Karen passed away unexpectedly earlier this spring. She was a very special lady and I will always remember her, especially every time I make these cookies (which will be often now that my hunt for “the” chocolate chip cookie recipe is over!). IMG_0701 If you love chocolate chip cookies, you need to try this recipe. At first glance, it is a bit unconventional, but I believe that’s what makes the flavor so unique. Let’s look at what’s different about it. (Nerd alert: baking science ahead!) 1) It calls for only brown sugar. Most cookie recipes call for both white sugar and brown sugar. Brown sugar has molasses in it, which adds moisture to the dough. In cookies it also adds chewy-ness. You can thank the brown sugar for helping every bite of the cookies be chewy. 2) It calls for butter-flavored shortening, not butter. Weird, right? I was so skeptical about this. I always use butter in my baked goods, and to be honest, shortening kindof grosses me out a little bit, but I decided to follow the recipe and use it anyway. Turns out, using shortening instead of butter to make cookies is great because it is already at “room temperature”, so unlike butter, you do not have to plan ahead and leave it out for hours in order to be able to cream it with sugar.  Likewise, because butter has a lower melting temperature, it makes cookies prone to spreading, resulting in really thin cookies. To avoid this, many recipes call for chilling the dough anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours before baking. Honestly? That’s too much planning for me. Using shortening solves both of those issues and helps make a perfectly soft batter. IMG_0699 In her email, Karen gave me 2 awesome cookie-baking tricks: use an air-bake pan, and slightly under-bake the cookies. I took her advice and purchased two air-bake cookie sheets. For years, I always found my cookies to be slightly overcooked on the bottom and I thought I was doing something wrong. I couldn’t believe the difference using the air-bake pans! Problem solved. As for the 8 minute baking time, I was a little apprehensive to remove the cookies from the oven when they looked underdone, but they continued baking while I allowed them to rest on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes. By the time I moved them to the wire rack they were perfect. Under-baking the cookies helped ensure they stayed soft for days to come, so that is a key piece to making these cookies perfect! IMG_0700
Karen’s Soft & Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies — The Best!!

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 stick Butter Flavor Shortening Baking Stick
  • 1 1/4 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk (I used skim)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 3/4 cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1). Pre-heat the oven to 375F. In a large bowl, cream together the shortening, brown sugar, milk, and vanilla with a hand-held mixer on medium speed until well-blended. Add the egg and blend again.

2). Add the flour, salt, and baking soda, using a spatula to fold the ingredients into the batter. Add the chocolate chips and mix.

3). Using a cookie-scoop, drop rounded tablespoons of the dough on air-bake pans, about 2-3 inches apart. Bake for 8-9 minutes. Cookies will appear under-done. Remove from oven and allow them to cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes before moving them to a wire cooling rack. Store in an air-tight container.

Yield: about 3 dozen cookies. Nutritional Information per Serving: Calories: 130 Fat: 8g Carbs: 16g Protein: 1 g Sugar: 10g Fiber: 1g Points+: 4
Recipe adapted from: http://www.crisco.com/Recipes/Details.aspx?recipeID=2102

Homemade Sausage Balls (No Bisquick!)

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Sausage balls are a super easy appetizer that everyone loves…especially my husband! They’re a Christmas tradition in his family, and I must admit they are really tasty! What’s not to love: sausage + cheese is a tasty combination. Not healthy, but tasty. : )  They really are usually a Christmas-only indulgence, but I wanted to make some for a party a few weeks ago. I found the traditional recipe but did not want to go buy Bisquick, so I went on a hunt for a completely made from scratch recipe. As it turns out, it is SUPER easy to substitute Bisquick! This made me very happy because I now did not have to purchase another ingredient, and we could eliminate another processed food from our kitchen. Win-win!

IMG_20140201_164035454_HDRTo substitute bisquick, all you need is flour, baking powder, and salt. Do you have those 3 ingredients in your kitchen? I bet you do! It’s actually more cost-effective to mix them up yourself than to buy them already combined, plus there’s no added MSG or hydrogenated oil. Once you have that mixed up, you add the cheese, sausage, onion, and butter until really well combined. Form the mixture into little balls, bake them, and enjoy!  These will definitely be a crowd pleaser!

Homemade Sausage Balls (No Bisquick!)

Ingredients:

  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 16 ounces bulk breakfast sausage
  • ½ large yellow onion, grated
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1). Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray.

2). In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cayenne pepper and black pepper. Add the cheese and toss to make sure it is evenly coated in flour. Add sausage, onion, and melted butter. Use your hands to mix until thoroughly combined.

3). Roll mixture into 1 inch balls and place them on the parchment paper, about 1/2 inch apart. Bake for 25 minutes at 400F. Enjoy!

Servings: 45 balls. Nutritional Information per Serving: Calories: 63 Carbs: 3g Fat: 4g Protein: 3g Points+:2

Recipe adapted from: http://www.marthastewart.com/326848/sausage-cheddar-balls 

Classic Guacamole.

Oh, guacamole. It’s great as an appetizer by itself, perfect on tacos or other Mexican fare, and even delicious on a salad. I LOVE a good guacamole, and it’s so good for you!

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Making homemade guacamole is easy: chop, mash, mix, season. Finding the right recipe, however, can be a challenge. Some are too tomato-y, some are too spicy, and some just have no flavor at all. The recipe I’m about to share with you came from Alton Brown, and (not surprisingly) was just right! It has nice thick chunks of avocado and tomato while still being creamy. I opted not to make mine spicy because I prefer it that way, so I omitted the jalapeño, but you can definitely add it if you like your guac with a kick! 

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Want to know a way to avoid your guacamole from turning brown if you decide to make it for a party ahead of time? Press the guacamole into a bowl, making sure there are no air holes. Then, using a measuring cup, carefully pour cold water over it until there is about an inch of water over the guacamole. Before serving, simply pour out the water and give it a stir! Just make sure to use a measuring cup to gently pour the water in the bowl. Don’t use the sink. Trust me. : )  

Now go grab a few ripe avocados and get mashing!

Classic Guacamole

Ingredients:

  • 3 hass avocados, seeded and chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • 1  garlic clove, minced
  • Optional (I omitted): 1/2 jalapeño, seeded and diced

1). In a large bowl place the avocado pulp, lime juice, salt, cumin, and cayenne pepper. Use a potato masher and mash to your preferred texture.

2). Fold in the onion, tomatoes, cilantro, garlic (and jalapeño, if using). Taste and season accordingly. Allow it to sit at room temperature for 1 hour for the flavors to combine before serving. 

Yield: About 4 cups, or 16 servings of  1/4 cup (4 tbsp) each.

Nutritional Information per 4 tbsp: Calories: 64 Fat: 5g  Carbs: 4g Protein: 1g Fiber: 3g WWPoints+: 2

Recipe adapted from: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/guacamole-recipe.html 

 

 

Creamy Cauliflower Alfredo (No Cream!)

When I first stumbled upon this recipe, I thought there was NO way a cauliflower sauce could even come close to tasting like alfredo. But then I read the reviews. And then a few weeks later, a friend of mine at church made it and raved about it. And then I made it, and fooled my husband into thinking it was alfredo sauce. A demolished bowl and a half of pasta later, he kept going on and on about how good it was, never once suspecting the main ingredient to be cauliflower. Folks, this recipe is pretty unbelievable. Cauliflower CAN in fact become a delicious alfredo sauce!

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Traditional alfredo sauce is notorious for being really unhealthy. Full of butter, cream, and lots of cheese, it’s just not friendly to your waistband. Although there is a little bit of butter and cheese in this recipe, it is greatly reduced: only 2 tablespoons for 10 cups of sauce! It’s enough to add that great flavor that will fool your family into thinking it’s regular alfredo sauce, but not enough to derail you off your healthy eating. By the way, did you catch that…this makes 10 cups of sauce!! It’s perfect for large families, but if you’re cooking for 2 like I am, you can freeze as much of the sauce as you want! Win-win.

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I served this over pasta for my husband, but I added it to brown rice and it was so good. It’s an easy way to add a lot of flavor for little calories…in fact, just 58 in a half cup serving! You can also use this to replace any recipe that calls for jarred alfredo sauce.

I used my immersion blender for this but I am including directions for a regular blender as well. The steps are basically the same, but depending on the size of your blender you may need to do this in batches.

Creamy Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 8 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 5-6 cups cauliflower florets (I used one large head of cauliflower)
  • 6-7 cups vegetable broth or water (I used a little of both)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
  • ½ teaspoon pepper (more to taste)
  • ½ cup milk (more to taste)
  • 2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese (optional, can also add more)

1). Heat the butter in a large non-stick pan over low heat. Add the garlic and cook for several minutes until soft, but not brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

2). In a large pot, bring the vegetable broth or water to a boil over high heat. Add the cauliflower florets and cook, covered, for about 7-10 minutes or until the cauliflower is fork tender. Carefully drain the cauliflower, reserving about 2 cups of broth!

If using an immersion blender: Add 1 cup of broth back to the pot with the cauliflower, sauteed garlic/butter, salt, pepper, and milk. Puree with immersion blender, adding more broth/milk depending on how thick you would like the sauce to be. Stir in parmesan cheese (if using), and season with salt and pepper to taste.

If using a regular blender: Add the cauliflower, 1 cup of broth, sauteed garlic/butter, salt, pepper, and milk. Blend for a few minutes until the sauce is very smooth, adding more broth/milk depending on how thick you would like the sauce to be. Stir in parmesan cheese (if using) and season with salt and pepper to taste.

3). Serve hot over pasta, brown rice, or use in lasagna, etc. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers. Enjoy!

Note: original recipe mentions adding additional olive oil to smooth out the sauce. I did not find this necessary but you can add it if you’d like!

Yield: 5 cups. Serving size: 1/2 cup. Nutritional Information per 1/2 cup: Calories: 58 Carbs: 6g Fat: 3g Fiber: 3g Protein: 2g WW Points+:2

Recipe adapted from: http://pinchofyum.com/creamy-cauliflower-sauce