Better than Pizza…salad?

Better than Pizza…salad?

Yep, I just said that.

Did I just say that? Better than pizza salad? I definitely did. Just said it.

Because its true. One night, Christopher and I were having a cleanoutthefridgenight, which is essentially a night where we eat all the random stuff in our fridge before it goes bad, when we had this salad.

Ok, so no, the salad just didn’t appear, but I did throw it together in about 5 minutes with leftovers we had in the fridge and some dried spices from the pantry. And then, I set a bowl of it down in between a plate of pickles and some reheated pizza….and well, the rest is history.

Although to be truthful, I suppose this salad could have been called “Better than Pickles Salad”, but that just didn’t seem as catchy.

So here we are, after we both chose to eat a salad instead of pizza…which I never really saw coming. No warning. I suppose we will all be better prepared the next time this happens.

This post, I’m assuming, is also well timed, as we probably are all reallllly sick of cooking elaborate meals at very stressfully placed holidays during the year…or maybe I’m the one that’s sick of cooking.

Not that I don’t love the holidays, I think my love for holidays and the changing seasons has been very well documented at this point. Its just that Thanksgiving’s strategic placement near the end of the semester, at the start of severe weather flight delays, and less than a month from Christmas, which is less than 2 weeks away from New Years is just crazy-making. I vote to space these holidays a little bit better. Not only would there be less stress, but if we moved some of these to summer, we wouldn't have to worry about the nor'easters that always seem to cancel 5 million flights right before or after Christmas. Don't even get me started on my Christmas break last year where I was stranded in Chicago during the polar vortex. The. Worst. Ever. There were no down coats big enough for that excursion. 

So here we have it, a really impressive salad that you can make within 5 minutes, without cooking, that will impress your family and friends. It is a perfect way to use leftover chicken or turkey. (I told you this recipe was aptly timed.) It also doesn’t matter what types of salad greens you have- they all taste great. As of posting this, I have had this salad with romaine, arugula, kale, and bok choy. It is now glaringly apparent that I’ve had this salad about 10 times since its first creation.

I should note that Vegenaise isn’t exactly paleo; although far better than conventional mayonnaise, it contains safflower oil. Safflower is an industrial oil, although it has been noted that of all the industrial seed oils, this is probably the best choice as long as it is extracted without chemical or heat. Soy-free Vegenaise, however, does not contain grains, gluten, or dairy, so you’re safe there. For a truly Paleo option, I recommend making your own mayonnaise to substitute, however, this would increase the time to make the salad from 5 minutes to possibly 15. And really, You Only Live Once.  So Eat That Vegenaise.

YOLOSETV.

Or maybe we should just stick to YOLO.

And then make this salad.



Better than pizza….salad?

Makes 3 large salads, or several small salads

  • 8 cups of your favorite salad greens
  • 1 cup of Soy-free Vegenaise, divided
  • 2 cups leftover shredded chicken or turkey
  • ½ cup red grapes  
  • 2 medium sized celery stalks
  • ¼ cup chopped hazelnuts (optional)
  • 1 ½ tbsp. dried dill
  • 1 tsp. dried onion powder
  • 1 tsp. dried garlic powder
  1. Slice grapes in half lengthwise and dice celery stalks finely.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, mix leftover chicken or turkey with ¾ cup of the Soy-free Vegenaise, diced celery, halved grapes, chopped hazelnuts, dried dill, onion powder, and garlic powder. Stir until well incorporated.
  3. Add Vegenaise /poultry mixture to salad greens. Stir to incorporate, and add remaining ¼ cup Vegannaise slowly to thoroughly coat all greens. Serve immediately.*

*If you want to make this in advance, hold off on adding the Vegenaise mixture to the salad greens until just before serving to ensure that the greens remains crisp.  





The meaning behind South of Vanilla and an easy Thanksgiving Recipe You Won't Be able to Resist

Over the years, I’ve gotten several questions of where and how I learned how to cook, and the answers usually tend to surprise people.

First, my mom is a terrible cook. I mean that in the nicest way possible, and she is the first to admit it, which is why I don’t feel quite so bad announcing this statement to the general public. She just really is. She never liked cooking, and she never found joy in it the way so many others do. Now, there are a few dishes that she gets right, mainly the one I am sharing with you today, but for the most part, cooking just isn’t her thing.

What my mom is fantastic at, however, is baking. I learned how to bake from her, and I grew up alongside her on weekends baking everything from chocolate chip cookies to blueberry muffins to marshmallow-topped brownies. We baked so much that baking for me became natural, and by the time I was 10, I didn’t need to measure ingredients. I could eyeball the difference between a tablespoon and a teaspoon, a half-cup and a quarter cup. I knew when something was done baking, not by the timer, but by the type of smell coming from the oven. My mom used, without fail, more vanilla than what any recipe called for, and we went through bottles of vanilla so rapidly, that we often bought 3 bottles at a time from the grocery store. Vanilla was such an important part of my memories from learning to bake, that it became rooted in the title of the blog: South of Vanilla.

In a stark contrast, my dad was an incredible cook. I learned how to cook both through my paternal grandmother and my dad. My dad grew up with his mom in the kitchen, which is how he learned many of the things he knows today. To this day, my Grandma, who has sadly now passed, and my dad are two of the best cooks I know; the two of them have prepared some of the best meals I have ever had, which says quite a lot considering my extensive traveling and my healthy appetite for frequenting restaurants. My Grandmother grew up in the south, and her cooking reflected that sweet southern charm. She made grits like no one else I knew, and her meals were exquisite works of art that took hours to prepare. She wasn’t afraid of butter, and it was through her that I learned that a properly placed tablespoon of bacon fat could transform a whole dish. During my visits with her in Georgia, I would often watch her cook and try to figure out what the magic was behind her meals. A whole lot of it was love, but she was truly a very talented cook that took great joy and serenity through those hours in the kitchen. I would like to say that I get that same peace through her.  I credit my love and ability to cook to my dad and grandma: their southern style of cooking influenced the first part of my blog title: South of Vanilla.

In wasn’t until college when I realized that all of those hours spent watching my dad and my grandma in the kitchen had somehow, by osmosis perhaps, stuck with me. In high school I habitually burned anything from toast to mac and cheese, but I like to think that I just never really cared that much, as is the story with so many teenagers. There was a moment, while in college at Iowa, where my roommate was sick, so I made her homemade chicken and rice soup with homemade chicken stock. I had saved the carcass and bones from a chicken, and when asked how I did this, how I knew to do this, and which recipe I followed, I realized that my answer of “I don’t know, I just knew”, was atypical; most young adults away from home for the first time know nothing about cooking from scratch.

My mom, however, was able to cook several dishes extraordinarily well. This recipe that I share with you now is a twist on her original recipe: I’ve modified it to make it paleo, and have also added star anise, which I think is a nice seasonal flavor that is widely underutilized. I hope you make this recipe with love, and think of my family while you serve it to yours on this Thanksgiving.


Paleo Lemon-Anise Cranberry Sauce

Makes about 1 1/2 cups sauce

  • ¾ cup freshly pressed orange juice
  • 12 oz. fresh cranberries
  • ¼ cup raw honey
  • Zest from 1 large lemon
  • 3-4 star anises
  • 1/3 cup water
  1. In a large pan, combine orange juice, cranberries, honey, lemon zest, and star anise. Turn on high heat until mixture is slightly bubbling, then after 4 minutes while stirring frequently, reduce to low heat and let simmer.
  2. Let mixture simmer for about 30 minutes longer, stirring occasionally, and watching to ensure that cranberry sauce does not burn or stick to the bottom of the pan.
  3. When most of the thin liquid is no longer visible in the cranberry sauce, when the sauce is thick (after about 30 minutes), add water and stir.
  4. Continue to simmer for about 20 more minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and let cool. Sauce will jelly as it cools.
  6. Remove all star anise from sauce before serving.
  7. Serve or store in an airtight container int he fridge. 






So we bought a cow...

Just before I made the big move to New Mexico, my boyfriend called me:

I have a surprise for you. I bought a deep freezer….

…and a cow to go in it.”

As creepy as this probably sounds, that was one of the best surprises I ever could have gotten. Consuming organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised beef is something that is important to the both of us: in addition to the health benefits such as ensuring that we do not ingest hormones, diseased tissue, or a sick animal (umm, gross), we also are doing our part to support the small farmers of the U.S., cutting costs, AND contributing to a more sustainable environment by having a lesser carbon footprint. I call that one a win-win-win-win-win.

Christopher found this farmer through a family connection, and discovered we had the options to choose a quarter, half, or a full cow. Seeing that a quarter of a cow takes up almost a full deep freezer, we decided that that would be enough for us, especially since it is just the two of us chipping away at all that red meat. The purchase of a cow came with some preferences for what cuts we would like processed (round shank, rump roast, strip steak, ground beef, t-bone, etc.), but we also had the option to receive the bones, which we took happily off their hands. (Beef stock for days!)

All in all, the half-cow cost approximately $500 for about 200 pounds of high-quality, grass-fed, organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised beef. Roughly, this comes out to $2.50 a pound, which is a stark, affordable contrast to previously paying upwards of $8-12/pound in D.C, and $7-11/pound in the southwest. If you’re serious about the quality of your meat while staying on a budget, buying in bulk is the way to go. I never thought that half of a cow would be one of the best ever gifts from a boyfriend. Cheers, cavemen and cavewomen, cheers.  Demand cows for gifts, not flowers and chocolate.

So now, I present with you with one of my newest creations, which evolved out of an attempt to eat our 50 pounds (yes, 50) of ground beef. This meatloaf is a great weeknight meal since it is incredibly easy to make, and reheats well. It is great packed as lunch, and serves as a delicious comfort food. Most meatloaf recipes use flour or breadcrumbs, but this one is safely grain-free, as it only uses eggs and almond flour to make the mixture stick together. When I first made this, I had some guests over for dinner, including a 6 year old and an 8 year old, and they happily ate this with gusto. (I can therefore say that this is kid-approved!) I really think that what makes this dish is the paleo Worcestershire sauce that I made specifically for this meatloaf, although I can imagine that natural and organic store-bought is fine, as long as it isn’t packed with chemicals. I also have made this recipe in mini bread loaf pans, which I think are whimsical, although there really doesn’t make a difference aside from baking time.


Paleo Meatloaf

Serves 6-8

  • 2 lbs. ground beef
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  • ½ cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 4 tbsp. tomato paste, divided
  • 2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp. ground onion powder
  • ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tbsp. ghee
  • Coconut oil spray for pans
  1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix ground beef and all ingredients except for 2 tbsp. of the tomato paste and ghee in a large bowl.
  3. Spray two bread loaf pans with coconut oil spray.
  4. Fill each bread pan with ground beef mixture, pat down into pan to make sure that the meat is even in the pan. If you are using mini pans, you will need 6. 
  5. Mix remaining 2 tbsp. tomato pasta and ghee in a bowl. Once mixed, spread the tomato paste and ghee mixture on top of the meatloaf.
  6. Place meatloaf on the center rack of the oven, and bake for approximately 90 minutes. If using a mini bread pan, bake for about 40 minutes. Meatloaf is done when loaf is a dark brown on top and the sides have pulled away.










I guess I missed the memo...

Ok, so its October. I know this because despite my 24/7 access to virtual calendars on my iBook, my work computer, my ipad AND my iPhone (Whhhyyyyy?) I woke up on October 1st with a flood of emails to my inbox bombarding me with recipes for pumpkin flavored everything. EVERYTHING. Not only the typical pumpkin bread and pumpkin cupcakes, but pumpkin pasta, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin waffles. Pump. Kin. Everything. I guess I missed the mandatory pumpkin email I was supposed to send to you guys on Octobereve. Whoops, sorry guys. I’ll work on it for next year.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of pumpkin. Pumpkin season seems to epitomize fall, just as mint chocolate and candy canes summarize the Christmas season. However, as I am in my second fall of following a primal diet, pumpkin spiced foods just don’t have the same allure as they once had. Although delicious, I’ve found that lots of the store bought bases for pumpkin spice either have a lot of added sugars, or, in the liquid form, high fructose corn syrup. Thanks, but no thanks, pumpkin season.

For all of my fellow pumpkin-loving fans, I’ve decided to post the basics of any pumpkin recipe: pumpkin spice. In stores this is usually called “pumpkin pie spice”, but you can easily make it on your own for a fraction of the cost and an unbelievably higher quality.

It is my opinion that, just like buying shoes, the quality of spices is paramount to the integrity and overall product of the dish. (You know how those $400 Frye boots makes your $20 jeans look more expensive and tailored? The same concept applies here.) Just like there is a huge difference between the taste of fresh garlic and garlic powder, the difference between high quality spices and low quality spices has a vast difference in your meal, not to mention a lower probability that your dried spices contain things like mold and insect parts. Seriously.

There are a lot of really great spice stores out there, but one of my favorites, from as far back as the late 90s when I was learning how to cook in the kitchen with my dad, is The Spice House in Old Town, Chicago. Not in the Chicago area? No worries, they ship from their website. 

Another one of my favorites is the Spice and Tea Exchange in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Not only are the spices fantastic smelling, but their teas are excellent, and after you buy something from them, you can head straight to a walk on the beach. It’s a win-win.

Of course, high quality everything is the best for making this pumpkin spice blend, but if you had to choose, its best to go with high quality cinnamon and allspice. Cinnamon because it is the bulk of this blend, and allspice because it has a lot of dynamic flavors; I think these flavors of this ground berry that are lost within the cheaper varieties of the spice. (Bet you didn’t know that allspice was a berry, huh?) Anyway, once you have all your fabulous spices, this pumpkin spice blend is easy to put together. It will take under 5 minutes, will last a good while, and takes any plain pumpkin dish to a pumpkin spiced dish. You. Are. Welcome.


Primal-Friendly Pumpkin Spice Blend

  •  2 tbsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¾ tsp. ground ginger
  • ¾ tsp. ground cloves
  • ¾ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • ¾ tsp. ground allspice
  1. Combine all spices into a glass container or old, clean spice jar and shake. Spices should be well mixed.
  2. Store in in a cool, dry, place.


Bet you didn't know this paleo dessert existed

Remember how I said last week that it didn’t feel at all like fall yet since the temperature wasn’t dropping? Well, just after that, the highs of 101 dropped to 85, then to 80. Just like that. But then, the highs crept right back up to 100 and 101. Essentially, still no fall boots for me.

In the short of it, I realize that most people are begrudgingly transitioning into fall (P.S. I talked to Emily- she’s already wearing her fall boots), but here in the southwest, I am enjoying an extended summer.  So much so, that the other day, Christopher and I bought a whole watermelon because it was on super sale; the end of summer is the season for extra large melons. (Heh, heh, heh…) Someone once told me that the best way to choose a melon is to knock on it, like you’re knocking on someone’s front door, and listen for a hollow sound. If its hollow that means the fruit is ripe. Well, without Google verifying this, Christopher and I dug headfirst into the watermelon box, knocking all the melons. Every. Single. One.  We spent probably 20 minutes in this box of Watermelons, and it almost reminded me of one of those ball pits in Chuckie Cheese, but with far more bruising at the end. After deadlifting 30-pound fruit for 20 minutes, we really decided that we needed to get back into Crossfit or some sort of weight-lifting regimen. In the end, we got the hollow-est sounding watermelon of the bunch.

So there we were, now at home with a gigantic watermelon. Here’s the kicker: I don’t even like watermelon that much. (Or melons in general, really.) In college, the cafeteria filled their fruit quota as much as possible from honeydew and cantaloupe. (I’m guessing because it’s the cheapest to buy in bulk.) I ate so many melons those years, that I haven’t enjoyed them much since. Another fun fact? Cantaloupe is called Muskmelon in Iowa and the Dakotas. Muskmelon! What a funny word.

In short, I set out experimenting with watermelon to figure out a way to enjoy the fruit since I was now in possession of approximately 30 pounds of it.  I eventually decided to try creating a reduction with both blueberries and balsamic as a watermelon topping, since balsamic reductions really bring out wonderful flavors in fruit, and blueberries are also in their peak at the end of summer. I had made both berry reductions and balsamic reductions independently before, so this time, I mapped out what I thought would be a good combination of the two. The end result was a blueberry-lime balsamic reduction that pairs exceptionally well with watermelon: the tartness of blueberries balances out the sweetness of ripe watermelon, and the lime adds a little zest. Everything ties together nicely. The balsamic reduction can be used as a dip for watermelon, but my favorite way to enjoy it was as a drizzle over a watermelon round, cut into eighths to resemble a “fruit pizza”.

When making the reduction, it is important to note that the concoction needs to be watched closely and stirred frequently, as it can stick and burn easily. If you doubt your ability to correctly make a reduction, do not fret! You can take the process slower by simmering on a lower heat to ensure that there is a lesser risk for burning. Just know this this significantly increases the time to complete the task.


Paleo Blueberry-Lime Balsamic Reduction

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, or can be frozen for later use

  • 2 cups of fresh blueberries, washed with stems removed
  • 1 cup balsamic vinaigrette
  • 1/3 cup raw honey*
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • Juice from 1/2 of a lime
  1. In a saucepan, melt honey on low heat, and be careful not to burn.
  2. Add balsamic and blueberries, increase to medium heat to bring mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently.
  3. Reduce heat to medium low, add limejuice and vanilla, and then stir.
  4. Let reduce on medium low heat for approximately 30 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning or scalding. Reduction will be done when mixture is syrupy and has reduced in volume by about half.
  5. Let cool completely before handling.

*This reduction is tart, so if you prefer something sweeter, up the honey to ½ cup, or potentially even ¾ cup. (Although ¾ of a cup might be very sweet. I haven’t tried this yet, so if you do, let me know how it turns out.)


Paleo Fruit Pizza

Serves 2-5 (Varies greatly on your watermelon size)

  • ¼ cup Paleo Blueberry-Lime Balsamic Reduction
  • 1 round of watermelon, about 12 inches across
  • Berries, lime quarters, or lime peels for garnish (optional)
  1. Create a round of watermelon by cutting your watermelon first in half through the center, then cutting another piece from the half about 3 inches thick. Cutting a round directly from the center ensures the biggest diameter, however, you may choose to cut from the end to serve a smaller pizza. Note that if you slice a round with a smaller diameter, do not use as much of the reduction. If you don’t adjust this, your pizza will be much too tart.
  2. Place the watermelon round (Should just be one big watermelon circle) on your serving platter, tray, or board. Drizzle the blueberry balsamic reduction over the watermelon. For better presentation, you may choose to drizzle some reduction on your serving piece. (See below.)
  3. Using a pizza cutter, slice watermelon into pieces, like you would do to a pizza. You of course can do quarters or sixths, but I prefer eighths.
  4. Garnish with berries, lime peels, or lime quarters. (Optional)




Dog Days of Summer

I have a confession to make, and it’s a weird one. Strangely, I’ve heard of several other people who have this same problem. (Hi, Sandra!)

photo 11.jpg

Are you ready for it?? I don’t like raw tomatoes, BUT I am obsessed with homemade tomato sauces, tomato soup, cooked diced tomatoes, salsa, stewed tomatoes, and sundried tomatoes. Ketchup really isn’t my thing (It’s the Chicago in me), but sometimes my tomato cravings get so intense that I will walk to the nearest store to pick up tomato-based goodies. My tomato cravings happen especially when it comes to tomato soup. Right around 2nd or 3rd grade, my tomato-obsessed friend, Justine, and I would go over to her house after school to play. Before our playtime commenced, we would demand tomato soup and popcorn as a snack. What oddball kids we were.

Clearly, I have no problem with cooked tomatoes in any way; I think raw, uncooked tomatoes have a totally different flavor. Raw tomatoes are brighter, tangy, acidic, and juicy in a not-so-great, want-to-throw-up kind of way. So when my boyfriend excitedly showed up with 15 Roma tomatoes, because he got them all for $1, I didn’t know what to do. Roma tomatoes are notoriously great for making Salsa, but I’m not sure if gnawing on some Romas is appropriate. 

Tomatoes are in season in the heat of summer, and one of my favorite things to do is go look at the mounds and heaps of tomatoes at farmer’s markets. There’s just something about the stacks of the round, juicy, bright orbs that makes me happy. To me, they seem to signify the end of summer, the start of a transition into fall, which is arguably my favorite time of year. (Changing leaves, football, corn mazes, pumpkins, crisp mornings, and Thanksgiving all in one season.)

Sometimes there are so many tomatoes at the farmers market in August that it is not uncommon for vendors to let you take home a whole basket for only a couple bucks. They would rather them go to a happy family and get eaten than have them rot for the sake of a profit. Farmers are good people. Its one of the things I miss about living in Iowa the most.

For these Romas, I decided to dehydrate them and make them into a chip, an incredibly healthy and savory snack food. Since the dehydrator merely draws out moisture, these tomatoes are, shockingly uncooked yet extremely palatable. They’re similar to sundried tomatoes, but they can be made overnight in your home instead of drying them outside with the use of a sundial and guard to keep away pesks. ;) Please note that because of the high moisture content, these take awhile to dehydrate, so plan accordingly. These chips will also shrink in size considerably; they won’t make as much as you think, but don’t worry, they’re still worth it.



Paleo Roma Dill Chips

Makes 1 bowl of chips

  • 15 Roma tomatoes
  • 1.5 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. dried dill, or 3 tbsp. fresh chopped dill
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp. dried chili powder (I use hatch chili powder, yummmm)
  1. Slice tomatoes about ¾ inch thick and place them in a strainer or colander. Place colander in the sink and let the water/juice naturally drain away from the tomato slices for about 10 minutes. Shake occasionally to let additional juices drain.
  2. In a bowl, mix all spices with the olive oil.
  3. Add tomatoes and coat all slices evenly with olive oil mixture by stirring with a spoon or using your hands.
  4. Place slices onto dehydrator, being careful not to overlap. Turn on dehydrator and let dehydrate until slightly chewy but dried. My own dehydrator takes about 8 hours, or overnight, but follow the manufacturer directions for your particular model.