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Monday, June 24, 2019

Cajun Chicken Pasta

Jumping back in like I've been here all along! Sharing recipes has always brought me joy. Even if no one reads my posts, and even if no one cooks my recipes, it's worth it! I like to come back to this sweet little space of mine and reflect on the yummy meals I've cooked as well as find dinner inspiration when I'm feeling uninspired. Inspiration from my SELF...how cool is that?!

Here's a delicious and very experimental pasta dish that I made last week. Along with being out of touch with blogging for a bit also comes totally SUCKING at documenting this exact recipe. I tried my best. Honestly, I'm going to make this again in another few weeks and if needed, maybe make a few tweaks by testing it out with regular flour. Seriously though, this was delicious AS IS and I'm going to share it because it deserves a chance to shine! 
Ingredients:
2 boneless/skinless chicken breasts - sliced into bite size pieces
2 bell peppers - sliced - I used 1 red and 1 orange
1/2 red onion - sliced
1 small zucchini - diced
1 cup of sliced button mushrooms 
1 box of pasta - I used gluten free brown rice quinoa rotini - but just use whatevs you want
2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil (separated)
2- maybe even 3 tbsp of cajun seasoning (depending on how spicy you want it)
2-3 tbsp of arrowroot powder (or regular flour)
3/4 cup chicken stock
1.5  cup of unsweetened/unflavored almond milk
Salt & pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat and cook chicken, season with salt, pepper and 1 tbsp of cajun seasoning - set aside when it's cooked .
2. Cook the pasta.
3. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat, cook veggies....stir often (lower heat if needed). When they are cooked down (I like to leave the peppers with a slight crunch) set veggies aside and use the same pan to prepare the sauce.
4. Whisk 2 tbsp of arrowroot powder with the chicken stock and then heat in the pan over medium heat. When it starts to bubble and thicken, season with salt, pepper and 1 tbsp of cajun seasoning. Add that last tbsp of arrowroot powder if you feel like it needs to be thicker - I did. 
5. Add chicken and veggies back in and lower heat to a simmer for 10 minutes...taste it! Add more cajun seasoning if you're feeling adventurous.
6. Combine chicken/veggie/saucy mixture with the pasta.

YUM! EnJoY!!!!! 

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Monday, February 18, 2019

Sheet Pan Chicken with Brussels and Sweet Potatoes

Here's that recipe (finally) that I've been meaning to share! Another positive takeaway from completing a round of Whole30 in January, was renewing my love for simple sheet pan dinners! This meal wasn't Whole 30 because of the addition of honey, but you could easily leave that out and I bet it would still be delicious!
Ingredients
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts - cut into large chunks
2 large sweet potatoes - cut into cubes
Brussels Sprouts - halved
Onions - cut into thick slices ( I used yellow onions because that's what I had, but I bet purple onions would be even better)
EVOO - 1/3 cup
Spicy Mustard - 1 tbsp
Balsamic - 1 tbsp
Honey - 1 tsp
Oregano - 1 tsp
21 Season Salute (from Trader Joe's...but any seasoning blend that you love would be great) - 1 tsp
Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions
1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, combine chicken, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts and onions.
3. Whisk together the EVOO, mustard, balsamic, honey and all the spices and then pour it over the chicken and veggies - mix together to make sure it's all coated.
4. Spread the chicken and veggies out evenly on a large baking sheet.
5. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes....it really depends on how large you cut your chicken and sweet potatoes.  After 20 minutes I flipped the chicken and veggies, and then put it back in for 5 more minutes. Since I like to eat everything crispy I actually cranked my oven up to 425 for the last bit!

*Remember, this recipe can be Whole30 compliant just by leaving out the honey!

Enjoy!!!

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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

My Whole30 Experience #LevelUp

Dear El + Em,
In January 2019, Mama gave up eating your leftovers for the entire month. It was a very eye-opening experience. Lots of wasted crusts and half eaten chicken nuggets. It's no way to live, but the lesson is that anyone can do anything....especially for 30 days!
XO, Mom
My decision to start Whole30 on January 1st was somewhat spontaneous.  I had considered it, but didn't actually commit until a few days before. I try not to hop on the "New Year, New Me" bandwagon, because I do believe you can make the decision to make positive changes whenever. Like clockwork though, the indulgences from the holiday season were weighing on me in more ways than one...a change had to come, and what better way than to do something drastic, that had rules, and LOTS of support! 

I thought back to my Beachbody days and the fact that I had started 21 Day Fix in January of 2015. After Ella and before Emmy was the most fit I'd ever been in my life. I considered taking that route because "if it ain't broke"... but I LOVE trying new things and my friend Mal had peaked my interest in Whole30 during most of 2018. She was also prepping to do another round this January so I knew she was the one to ask! When she spoke about it being a way to set up for success in 2019... it was all I needed to hear!
From my research it was clear that this was not intended to be some "crash diet". Honestly, if my only goal was weight loss then this is not the route I would go. I'm careful to fully explain that it's also more than just a way to clean out your system and eliminate anything that may disrupt your digestion. It's also about your relationship with food, your dependencies on certain food groups, and your emotional ties to eating. 

The more I learned about the ideology behind Whole30, the more it peaked my interest.  I never really suspected that I had any sensitivities to certain foods, but after spending most of December feeling awful...it was worth exploring the possibility. PLUS...no counting calories and no measuring (sign me up)!!!! All of these reasons made it obvious that this was the way to go. My only concern was my birthday being SMACK in the middle. I put it in my head from the start that it would suck, but I'd just have to power through and have a part 2 celebration in February. Dragging my birthday into a second month kind of appealed to me on a whole different level. 

I had a little bit of knowledge on the rules but still there was a lot to learn! I decided to spend Sunday prior to NYE soaking it all in. I had grabbed the book and cookbook from the library, and went Pinterest crazy. My meals were planned, I stocked up on the basics, joined a Facebook group, and discovered a bunch of new Instagram accounts that quickly became favorites. This was happening, I was prepared for Monday to be the last "hurrah". A few peeps thought this was a little crazy, but not in an un-supportive kinda of way. Maybe just because they know how much I love food!? It was about the get interesting....
-No Sugar
-No Dairy
-No Grains
-No Legumes
-No Alcohol
Before I get into my actual experience though, let me just address one major thing....ALCOHOL. Soooooo, to me, this was the hardest part to commit to. I realize that may sound like I have a problem, but I l do love my wine! In fact, I probably loved it a little too hard in December especially. When I stopped and really thought about it potentially being a dealbreaker....it was obvious that maybe giving up alcohol for a month would be on the list of reasons why I should do Whole30 after all! Plus the whole concept of "Tiger Blood" had me wondering....how good is good? How good could my body possibly feel? Is it worth the hype? 

Okay, now let's get into it!
This timeline is actually VERY accurate! The book also goes into more detail on what to expect day by day. Here's a recap of my experience....

Week 1: The first two days were easy-peasy! I looked forward to sharing my meals on my instastory. My apologies for making you all endure a higher than average amount of food pics via my social media! By day three though, my stomach was not very happy and the cravings were INSANE! I don't even know what I wanted, but I kept going to the fridge and standing in front of all the non-compliant food that I couldn't eat. After a few days of this I knew that I'd have to plan even more ahead and make sure I had more options in those moments of desperation. My friend Lisa reminded me about Tazo Glazed Lemon Loaf tea. YES! This is just what I needed for when I thought I needed something sweet. Weird considering, I do not have a sweet tooth at all, but it helped A LOT! Another crazy thing I learned early on...the amount of times that I eat my girls food in just one day is SCARY. I was catching myself constantly! This was made even more noticeable because of the fact that I was home all week with them. It is very unnatural to make a cheese sandwich and not eat a slice of cheese! 

Week 2: Back to work! In a way this was great timing because it kept my mind off of the fact that the excitement of trying something new has totally worn off. By this point I'm totally noticing the absence of cheese in my diet. Breakfast was usually one or two hard boiled eggs with "Everything But The Bagel" seasoning from Trader Joe's and some sort of fruit. Lunch was always leftovers and then whatever snack I maybe needed to get me through to dinner. I tried to keep raw veggies on hand but it didn't always do it for me. You're not really supposed to snack, and even though I'm not a "snacker" to begin with I did make sure that everyday I had some emergency foods on hand if I needed. I had bags of raw almonds and dates. I also had some RXBars. I tried to space these things out and only have them as a last resort. By the end of this week I noticed that my pants were noticeably looser and I had lost about 4 lbs! You're not supposed to weigh yourself, but I did just to check in from time to time. I felt the changes happening and just HAD to know!

My birthday was GREAT! Everyone around me was totally supportive and was very careful to make sure they weren't tempting me with non-compliant food. My fruit bowl "cakes" really were delicious! If there was anything I was missing throughout all the celebrating, it was WINE and definitely not cake! 
Week 3: Tiger Blood is definitely a thing! By week three I was feeling pretty awesome. My energy levels were way up. Despite the increased energy it was at the end of this week that I really started to get a little bored! This is the point when I was definitely looking forward to this little adventure of mine to come to an end. It's not that I was being tempted by anything in particular, I was just over eating the same few things over and over. When prepping the meals and grocery list for week 4, I was VERY careful to make sure that the things I was planning included all of the things that I loved. It's possible that I spent too much time planning and was really over-thinking these things but at this point it was the home-stretch. 

Week 4: Something REALLY weird happened this week that I'm not sure how to explain. I just totally stopped caring about food. I realize that sounds pathetic, but I don't really mean it negatively. It just seriously stopped being the HIGHLIGHT of the day. In a way this is very freeing. I can now say that the term "food as fuel" makes total sense. The cravings were gone, even the little ones that were still creeping up from time to time. I also started to realize that I no longer felt hunger. My "snacks" weren't a temptation, in fact I sort of had to remind myself at times... "hey, you should probably eat something". If you're rolling your eyes at this point, believe me I would be too. It sounds crazy, I know. By the end of this week I did experience hunger for the first time in a while on Saturday when I was at a friends daughter's birthday party picking on raw veggies all day. Even though I was hungry it wasn't anything major which still struck me as odd. I did cheat that weekend and had some wine. I was perfect the whole time...it was almost over, what would be the harm if I had just a tiny bit. I did feel guilty, but still I have no regrets....the fact that I even made it this far was crazy to me. 

Last few days: I stepped on the scale again and realized I had officially lost TEN pounds! That's definitely more than I expected. I spent the last couple of days freaking out a bit about "what comes next". I had read up on techniques for food re-introduction but still was unsure about which foods I really couldn't live without. Beyond the re-introduction stage though, I was worrying about what my diet will look like post-Whole30. The truth is that I'll learn as I go. There's no set plan anymore...there are no set rules. What I need to do, is focus on all the "take-aways" from the program. 

-I can do anything for 30 days
-Food DOES affect my mood....increased energy is a game-changer
-Not feeling bloated is kind of awesome
-For the month of January I felt more mindful, present and just overall clear-headed
-There are so many wonderful clean recipes I've tried that I'll now include in the rotation, and I've also learned many ways to "clean up" a recipe to make it more Whole30 friendly
-READ LABELS
-Sugar is really in everything - it's horrifying
-There are so many Whole30 compliant foods that are already faves of mine (example...avocados, pickles & olives)
-Frank's Red Hot on all the things
-Ghee, almond flour, and coconut aminos...all new staple items that I'll continue to use
-I don't NEED a glass of wine to decompress after a tough day at work 
-Eating the kids leftovers and picking on food as I'm cooking, reallyyyy adds up...so STOP mindless eating
-My KICK-ASS meal planning skills were KEY in my success

These are a few things I've learned throughout the month. I'm sure I'll have more "take-aways" as I continue to introduce foods back into my diet. At this point I've re-introduced everything except for legumes. I'll save those for next week. So far, I'm not noticing any sensitivities. After the Super Bowl, I felt a little crummy - but I also loaded up on alcohol and cheese, so there's no shocker there! I'm back on the Whole30 train this week as I try to figure out what the new normal will be. Seems like an 80/20 lifestyle is definitely more in my range. Paleo intrigues me, but I'm not much of a meat-eater. Maybe I should go more plant-based?! See...I'm ALL over the map!!!!! I'll figure it out. I do want to keep up with a lot of the Whole30 principles as much as possible, and then not feel guilty when I do choose to indulge! We'll see how that goes! Here's the dreaded before and after...thought it was worth sharing!  
If anyone asks me if I recommend Whole30...first I'd say YES...and then I'd probably ask what their intentions/goals are just to make sure they have a solid understanding of the program and whether or not it's a good fit for them at the time. It's a commitment, but I definitely think it's worth it just to see how good your body is able to feel!

As cheesy as it sounds, I also have to mention how this experience also helped me realize how truly amazing my whole TRIBE is! Thankful for you all! 
Thanks for the inspiration, Mal!!! You're the best! :)
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