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.

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 

Crock Pot Greek Chicken (for pitas & salads!)

Like many of you southern readers, we’ve been snowed in the last couple days! Thankfully neither my husband nor I got stuck overnight in the horrendous traffic that ensued. Instead, we have thoroughly taken advantage of our snow days by building fires, baking these banana chocolate chip muffins, watching movies, and enjoying these easy Greek chicken pitas!

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To make the chicken, I threw it in the crock pot with chopped onion, garlic, and Greek seasoning. I made a homemade Greek seasoning blend and used only about 1/4 of it for this recipe, so I saved the rest for another use. (Tip: make sure to put it in a sealed container and label it with what type of seasoning it is and the date you made it!) After everything was cooked, I shredded the chicken in my kitchen aid mixer, but using 2 forks would work too. Here’s what it looked like after:

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This made a quite a bit of chicken, so if you have a big family you can rest assured there will be enough for everyone. And probably leftovers. But that’s a good thing, right?! Because it does make more than a couple servings, one day I piled some chicken on a Greek salad while my husband enjoyed it in a pita. Instead of dressing I used tzatziki sauce. So much flavor! Here’s my recipe for fat-free tzatziki sauce if you’re interested in trying it. You could also switch things up by using hummus as well. Play around with it and see what you like best! Add olives, feta, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, or any combination of those ingredients as you like.

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If you do NOT own a crock pot (or if you’re low on time), you can also make this by mixing the chopped chicken/onions with 1 tbsp EVOO and the seasoning in a baking dish. Bake it for about 40 minutes at 350F, like the picture below! This recipe is really versatile!

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Crock Pot Greek Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 1.5-2lbs skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup Greek seasoning

For the Greek seasoning (this makes MUCH more than you need; only use about 1/4 cup of this!):

  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1 Tbsp onion pwder
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp parsley
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp thyme
1). Mix together the seasoning ingredients. Reserve a scant 1/4 cup of seasoning.
2). Spray crock pot with cooking spray. Layer chopped onions, garlic, and chicken. Sprinkle evenly with seasoning and add water. Set on low for 5-6 hours or on high for 3-4 hours.
3). Once chicken is cooked, remove the chicken/onions from crock pot and shred chicken using 2 forks or my kitchen aid mixer method. Add some of the cooking juices to keep chicken moist.
4). Serve on pitas or on a Greek salad with tzatziki sauce or hummus. Enjoy!

Serving size: 4 oz shredded chicken. Approximate Nutritional Information per Serving: Calories: 184 Carbs: 0g Fat: 3g Protein: 34g WWPoints+: 4
Recipes adapted from: http://www.heandsheeatclean.com/2013/06/clean-eat-recipe-make-your-own-greek.html 
Adapted recipe courtesy of Audreysapron.wordpress.com.

Autumn Chopped Salad

I love salads that you get at restaurants; they always include a variety of ingredients, textures, and flavors. Somehow I always have a hard time mustering up the energy to create fancy salads at home. Until this salad. This salad is awesome!

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From the picture you can’t even see all the ingredients because some are tucked away, but let me tell you about everything going on here. In addition to the chopped romaine, you add a chopped apple, pear, a handful of peanuts, a sprinkle of cooked bacon or prosciutto, crumbled feta, and some dried cranberries. What makes this combination even more unique is the dressing. I had never previously combined poppy seed dressing with balsamic vinegar, and turns out it is amazing! I used Panera’s fat-free poppy seed dressing (which apparently they sell in the stores now…woot!) and loved the result. Definitely tangy from the balsamic vinegar but there’s still a hint of sweetness from the poppy seed dressing. I’ve already made this salad 3 times, each time for guests, and everyone has raved over it (even my husband!). I’m a huge fan myself!

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As always, feel free to adjust the recipe to suit your needs. The bacon is completely optional and I still thought the salad was delicious without it. If you have a peanut allergy, feel free to omit those as well. If you love fruit in salads as much as I do, though, you’ll want to make sure to include both the apple and pear. So, so good!

I am honestly considering using this recipe as our salad for Thanksgiving this year. Yes, it is THAT GOOD! And, it makes about 8 servings from the recipe, so it is perfect for feeding a crowd.

Go make this salad!

Autumn Chopped Salad

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups chopped romaine lettuce
  • 2-3 slices center-cut bacon
  • 1 pear, chopped
  • 1 apple, chopped
  • 1/4 cup peanuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 3-4 tbsp Poppy Seed Salad Dressing (or more or less. I used Panera’s fat free dressing)
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (or more or less)
  1. Cook bacon according to preferred method (microwave, stove top, or oven). Allow it to cool and then chop up.
  2. Add cooled bacon, romaine lettuce, pear, apple, peanuts, dried cranberries, and feta cheese into a very large bowl, then add salad dressing and balsamic vinegar to taste. Toss well then serve immediately.

Servings: about 8. Nutritional Information per Serving: Calories: 75 Carbs: 11g Fat: 3g Protein: 4g Fiber: 2g WW Points+=2

Recipe adapted from: http://iowagirleats.com/2012/09/24/autumn-chopped-salad/

Crock Pot Baked Beans (No-Soak!)

A couple months ago I refused to follow the typical recipe instructions of soaking dried beans overnight and successfully made delicious pinto beans in my crock pot. This week I decided to use the same principle. I rebelled against the overnight soaking directions and made baked beans in the crock pot. I actually had never made baked beans (the ones in the can seemed to do the trick until now!) and I wanted to make them from scratch for a cookout.

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I learned a few things through this process:

1) Truly, you do not have to soak dried beans overnight if you are cooking them in the crock pot.

2) You really do have to put bacon in baked beans for them to taste right. I think I have only purchased bacon twice in my entire life.

3) There’s a lot of sugar in baked beans and if you attempt to eliminate those sugary ingredients, they don’t taste right.

4) You will seriously waste your time if you soak your beans overnight (see lesson #1). I tried them both ways and the cooking time was, surprisingly, the same.

Aside from not needing to soak the beans, I was most amazed at how much cheaper it was to make my own batch of baked beans than to buy cans of them. This is especially true for feeding a large crowd (which we were).

We had some leftover and a quick Google search led me to the realization that you can actually freeze baked beans in Ziplock bags! So, if you have some leftover, feel free to freeze them.

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The final product was soft (but not mushy) beans, covered with a thick, sweet, smokey sauce. We were really pleased with the results and I would definitely make them again!

This recipe is perfect for the upcoming holiday and cookouts!

Crock Pot Baked Beans

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb bag white navy beans
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 6 slices of bacon, chopped
  • 1/3 cup real maple syrup or molasses
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup bbq sauce
  • 2 Tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 4 1/2 cups of hot water (may need to add more depending on your crock pot)

1) Spray your crockpot with cooking spray for easy clean up later. In a medium bowl, combine molasses, brown sugar, ketchup, bbq sauce, dijon mustard, cloves, and hot water. Whisk to combine.

2) Place beans at the bottom of your crock pot. Add the chopped onions and bacon. Pour the sauce mixture on top and stir to combine.

3) Cook on HIGH for 8 hours. Check on them after about 3 or 4 hours to see if you need to add water. You don’t want them to burn!

Servings: 18 1/2 cup servings.

Nutritional Information per Serving: Calories: 148 Carbs: 29g Fat: 1g Protein: 6g Sugar: 15g Fiber: 6g

WW PointsPlus: 3 Old points: 2

Recipe adapted from: http://lmld.org/2013/06/03/slow-cooker-baked-beans/

 

Summer Pasta Salad with Baby Greens

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Fresh baby greens tossed with whole wheat pasta noodles, sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan cheese, and a homemade balsamic vinaigrette! This salad is perfect for summer and a great option to take to a potluck or cookout because it can easily be doubled to feed a crowd. It is vegetarian friendly, and can be made gluten-free by substituting brown rice pasta. The original recipe called for capers, but my husband and I are not fans of that ingredient so I omitted them! You can absolutely add them if you’d like.

There are so many ways to serve this salad. It can be the perfect side dish to a grilled chicken breast or fillet of fish, but it can also be a meal in itself! The vinaigrette is perfect and after making this salad, I made extra to be able to serve on top of other salads throughout the week. It is delicious!

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Summer Pasta Salad with Baby Greens

Ingredients:

  • 3 oz (about 4 cups) baby arugula and baby spinach mix
  • 5 oz high fiber or whole wheat pasta (use brown rice pasta for GF)
  • 1/3 cup sun dried tomatoes, sliced thin
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and fresh pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

1) Boil pasta in salted water according to package directions. When done, drain and rinse under cold water.

2) In a large bowl, combine the pasta, baby greens, sun dried tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Toss well, then just before serving top with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Makes about 6 cups.
Servings: 4

Nutritional Information per Serving: Calories: 169 Fat: 5g Carbs: 29.5g Fiber: 4g Protein: 6g Sugar: 4g Sodium: 271 mg without salt Cholest: 2mg

WW PointsPlus: 5 Old points: 3

Recipe adapted from: skinnytaste.com