The Whole30 (or 45)

We did it! The milestone of 30 days without alcohol, sugar, dairy, legumes, and grains came with surprisingly little fanfare, because we weren’t as desperate for the foods we gave up as we expected to be. In fact, by the time we reached 30 days we were saying, let’s just keep this going. We didn’t have cake or ice cream or pizza to celebrate. It’s a crazy thing, and certainly not what I expected, but Whole30 can make you feel so good that you don’t want to give that up.

What do I mean by feeling good? Lots of things. I sleep better and more deeply. I am more awake in the morning. I have higher and more sustained energy. I feel clear-headed. I feel motivated. I feel switched on. I have more social energy. I feel social without alcohol (an important distinction). I want to exercise. I want to be outside. I started new activities. I feel more productive. My stomach is flatter. I’m less bloated. My skin is smoother, softer and clearer. I can speed read the hell out of food labels. I am super aware of and more educated about what’s in my food. Things taste sweeter to me naturally. I don’t have strong sugar cravings. I feel less dependent on coffee. My hunger is not hanger. My hunger is less desperate. My stomach never hurts after compliant meals. I never feel like I’m in a food coma.

The feel-goods are good. Really good. Good to the point that I now have a fear of losing them! Ack, I don’t want junk food or sweets, what if it takes away all the good feels I earned?? I even felt a little fear having my first drink in a month. Is it worth it, my little inner voice of reason wondered? And it kind of wasn’t. I had 2 glasses of Prosecco that didn’t taste great to me, and I felt like absolute crap the next day. Headache, stomach ache, so so tired. This is not what a celebration should feel like!

Also, reminder: Whole30 food is GOOD! I do not feel punished or like I’m going without or hungry. In fact, I was hungrier before with all those empty carbs and sugars. One thing I learned right away is that something I’d been eating was really making me bloated, to the point where I would feel huge even if I didn’t look it. Just a few days into Whole30 and I noticed that feeling had gone away, and it stayed away. After 30 days, there was a noticeable visible difference. That alone is motivation enough for me to complete the reintroduction process to evaluate the food groups one by one to find out which type of food did that to me. (Is it cheese? I hope it’s not cheese. It might be cheese. Ugh I’m so sad already.)

The reintroduction phase is what takes the “Whole30” to actual Whole45, but I guess that doesn’t have as nice a ring to it. You have a day of eating things from one category (such as dairy or grains) and then go back to the Whole30 food for 2 days while you evaluate any symptoms that might pop up. Many people seem to skip this part, but I am just as interested in this phase as the first 30 days. When else will I have this clean slate to work with? I mean I really need to know…is it cheese?! I have to get to the bottom of this.

So far, we’re still eating (delicious) Whole30 for the most part, and dabbling in wine and legumes. Let’s see how this goes! Cheers to the Whole30, and onward into the Whole45!

Here are some of the recipes that carried us through:

Sweet Potato & Caramelized Onion Frittata

Coconut Curry Sauce for Chicken, Veggies, or Fish

Sweet Potato Chili

Squash-Stuffed Peppers

Advertisements

Whole30 Sweet Potato & Caramelized Onion Frittata

When I first dove into the super supportive and informative Whole30 community on Instagram, I came across a video from one of the coaches saying “when it gets tough, clean your house and make a frittata.” I didn’t totally get it at the time, but from my new vantage point on Day 29, I definitely do!

First of all, my tiny kitchen is in a constant state of madness because of all the meals going through it, and because of my lack of a dishwasher. (Insert no-dishwasher pity party here.) So the first step for me accomplishing anything is to clean up so I have room to make something new. Secondly, making a frittata is helpful because it’s easy and you can throw in whatever you already have, it will last you through a couple days, it’s highly portable, and can be eaten for any meal of the day. It’s oddly comforting to know you have one in the fridge ready and waiting for you!

I like this particular frittata because it includes caramelized onions and a sweet potato crust. That may sound complicated but it’s really not, and just makes whatever else you put in it taste extra awesome. Caramelizing onions does take a while, but you can mostly leave them alone while you’re doing other stuff, and I think it’s worth it.

The “crust” is just thinly sliced sweet potato pieces arranged to mostly cover the bottom and sides of a baking dish. Bake it on its own first. Don’t worry too much about how it looks, it will be completely covered with other ingredients.

Then you add in your caramelized onions and whatever other veggies you have on hand, and top with whisked eggs.

Back in the oven, and done. I was concerned about it not tasting good the next day, but it keeps really well. And is extra yummy when topped with (compliant, of course) hot sauce. More detailed instructions below!

img_0724.jpg

Whole30 Sweet Potato & Caramelized Onion Frittata

2 Tbs Ghee, Coconut Oil, or Olive Oil, divided
1 Sweet Potato, peeled, halved, and sliced thin
2 Small or 1 Large Onion, sliced thin* (yellow, white, or red)
1 Red Bell Pepper, sliced thin*
1 Zucchini, sliced thin*
1 Handful Mushrooms, sliced thin*
1 Handful Baby Spinach
12 Eggs (approximate, may change based on the size of your dish and size of your eggs)
S&P
Whole30 Compliant Hot Sauce for serving

*If you have a food processor with a slicer attachment, it works great for a nice thin slice on your veggies. If not, just go small and thin so that they’ll easily cook through.

Preheat oven to 400F. Add 1Tbs of the cooking oil to a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the sliced onions and stir to coat. Turn down to low heat and continue to stir occasionally for about 45 minutes, until caramelized. Meanwhile, add the remaining 1 Tbs of cooking oil to a baking dish, coating the bottom and sides. Arrange the sweet potato slices in the bottom and along the sides of the dish, overlapping slightly for more coverage. This is your “crust”. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes, then set aside. Keep stirring those onions. Add remaining vegetables to the baking dish, and top with the onions when they’re ready. Whisk the eggs together with salt and pepper in a large bowl, then pour over the veggies in the baking dish. If the eggs don’t quite cover the whole dish, whisk together a couple more and add in until covered. Return to oven for 25-30 more minutes, until cooked through in the center and slightly browned on top. Serve with hot sauce and enjoy!

Note: This recipe is very flexible on the additional veggies you use. Feel free to use whatever you like best and have available. Only thing to keep in mind is the size of your slice, ensuring that they’ll cook through with the eggs.

© Cook it Pretty 2018

Whole30 Coconut Curry Sauce

I’m married to someone who realllyyyyyy likes sauces and condiments, which I knew would be a challenge when we started Whole30. Spoiler alert: most store-bought condiments, dressings, and sauces contain sugar, sweeteners, wheat, and other weird stuff you don’t want on your salad. I figured hey, I’ve always thought about making my own mayo and ketchup…now’s the time! I’m also not above going to dinner with compliant mustard in my purse (a thing that has actually happened this month).

img_0674

Making mayo is a lot harder than anticipated (that’s probably for another post…), but I’ve found a few easy and tasty sauces that I keep falling back on to literally spice up our healthy AF meals. 25 days worth of them, OH BY THE WAY!

This Coconut Curry sauce, which is inspired by a recipe from the Whole30 book, is an easy add-on for fish, chicken, and veggie bowls. So you might as well go ahead and make a big ol’ batch of it to keep on hand for flavor emergencies. The sauce lover in the house heartily approves this message!

Whole30 Coconut Curry Sauce

3 Tbs Coconut Oil
1 White or Yellow Onion, diced
4 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 1/2 Tbs Curry Powder (yellow works, try what you got!)
1 1/2 Cups Canned Diced or Crushed Tomato
3/4 Cup Coconut Cream*
Juice of 1 Lime
S&P to taste

*You can buy cans of coconut cream, or refrigerate a can of coconut milk for a couple hours, which allows the cream to collect at the top to be easily scraped off.

Heat the coconut oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and stir about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 30 seconds. Add the curry powder and quickly stir with onion and garlic, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes until slightly thickened. Puree mixture with a hand blender (or transfer into a food processor or blender). Transfer to a mixing bowl and let cool 10 minutes. Stir in the coconut cream, lime juice, and salt and pepper. Serve over grilled or roasted salmon, chicken, or veggies and keep the remaining sauce refrigerated in a jar for the next meal in need of a flavor kick. Enjoy!

Whole30 Sweet Potato Chili

There are a few key ingredients that I feel deserve a lot of credit for getting us halfway through Whole30 successfully: avocado, sweet potato, and coconut milk. They make everything better. This sweet potato chili recipe employs all three. It was such a hit, I even ate it for breakfast the next day.

img_0580

Weird things happen to your appetite on Whole30, and one thing for me is that I no longer care if something is “breakfasty” just because I’m eating it in the morning. I was eating nonstop egg breakfasts the first week or so, and then I had this switch and I just started eating whatever was available from the previous day’s dinner.

My hunger also feels much different from what it used to be — I was a constant grazer, snacker, and packer of granola bars in my purse, because I would often feel crazy hungry out of nowhere. Now, when I feel hungry it’s a calmer version where I just feel like “ok I should eat something soon, let’s see what I can make.” Whereas before it was like panicky FEED ME ANYTHING NOW hunger. The difference is before my body was running on sugar sources, which are no longer available. Now it’s learning to burn other stuff instead. Crazy, right?!

Whole30 or not, this recipe is hearty, healthy, and delicious and can be enjoyed for any meal of the day! If made with vegetable broth, it could be vegetarian and vegan. (I used home made chicken broth because I worked hard to make it and it was oh so tasty.) It’s gluten free, grain free, sugar free, and dairy free. Enjoy!

Whole30 Sweet Potato Chili
Double batch for lots of leftovers.

2 Tbs Olive Oil or Coconut Oil
2 Onions, finely chopped
6 cloves Garlic, minced
2 tsp Cumin
2 tsp Chili Powder
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Sea Salt or Pink Salt
1 Red Bell Pepper
2 handfuls Baby Spinach
4 cups Sweet Potato, peeled and cubed
2 cans Diced Tomatoes (check labels to make sure there’s no added sugar)
4 cups Broth of your choosing (as long as it’s Whole30 compliant)
1/2 – 1 cup Coconut Milk (canned organic is good, always check for added sugar)
1/2 cup Cilantro, chopped
1 Avocado (at least!)

Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 more minute. Add the spices, salt, and pepper and stir. Add the bell pepper and let cook 1 minute. Add spinach and cook down for 2 minutes. Add the sweet potato and mix well. Mix in the tomatoes and then add the broth. If there isn’t enough liquid to just cover the potatoes, add a little water. Bring the heat up to high until the liquid begins to boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer covered for 1 hour.

Make sure that the sweet potato pieces are soft all the way through. Add more salt or seasoning if necessary. Stir in the coconut milk to your preferred consistency. To serve, top with fresh cilantro and avocado slices or cubes. Enjoy for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

Whole30 Squash-Stuffed Peppers

When someone is on Whole30 you’ll definitely know it, because all they can talk about is Whole30 and what they’re eating and how they’re feeling. Sorry. We can’t help it. Because the program injects you with newfound energy and motivation, I’m actually writing blog posts again for the first time in almost a year. I’m not here to convert anyone, I’m just feeling inspired to cook and to write, and finding some pretty good healthy recipes along the way. If you’re interested in a little more what/why/how, read my Halfway to Whole30 post.

img_0480

This stuffed pepper recipe is the first one I made for Whole30, and definitely the cutest. I was inspired by a recipe in the actual Whole30 book, but that one included ground meat. I didn’t have any and kinda didn’t want it anyway! So I did a veggie version with butternut squash as the staple of the “stuffing” part. Because Whole30 doesn’t allow dairy or any grains, this recipe is vegan and gluten free. It’s also sugar free, which sounds like a no-brainer but most tomato sauces contain sugar!

I was very happy with my very first Whole30 recipe! It was flavorful, filling, cute, and colorful. I usually make a “southwest” version of stuffed peppers but that included beans and corn so that was out…and this was a very yummy alternative. You could use a similar process for all kinds of different fillings, either veggie or carnivorous. And because the presentation is so nice, this would be a good choice if you happen to have guests to serve while you’re on your crazy health kick. Enjoy!

Whole30 Squash-Stuffed Peppers

4 Large Red Bell Peppers
3 Tbs Olive Oil
1/2 Onion, finely chopped
3 Cloves Garlic, minced
Handful Baby Spinach
2 Tbs Tomato Paste (double check that yours doesn’t contain sugar)
1/4 tsp Cumin
1/4 tsp Chili Powder
1/2 tsp Sea Salt or Pink Salt
1/4 tsp Ground Black Pepper
1 cup Butternut Squash, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350F. Slice the top of each pepper, and remove the white pith and seeds, keeping the pepper intact so that you can fill it with goodies later. If they don’t stand upright, slice off a thin layer along the bottom to make it flatter, being careful not to make a hole in the bottom of the pepper. Place the peppers and tops in a deep baking dish lined with parchment paper (or drizzle the pan with oil if you don’t have parchment paper). Roast for 10 minutes, then set aside.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook about 3 minutes while stirring. Add the garlic and cook one more minute. Add the spinach and cook until leaves are wilted. Add the tomato paste, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Add the squash and cook 5 minutes until softened.

Spoon the veggie mixture into the bell peppers and return to the oven, roasting for 10-15 minutes, until the peppers look wrinkly. There may be extra filling, which you can reserve to eat later. (Leftovers are always a win on Whole30!)

Optional: Top with Tahini Sauce like this one. It goes well with everything!

Halfway to Whole30

It’s January, so I’m sure all of you have a friend doing a new fitness class, a dry month, or a social media cleanse. I’m your friend doing a weird new food program thing, and the thing is Whole30. I have never been this friend before; this is new territory for me. In fact, I’ve always been pretty anti-diet and pro-balance, pro-everything in moderation, pro-winging it, and definitely pro-baked goods. Whole 30 — which is no sugar or sweeteners, no dairy, no grains, no legumes, and no alcohol for 30 days — is not really something I was ever interested in before, but here I am, halfway there, in the thick of it all, amongst all my dirty dishes and compliant ingredients and daily notes and meal plans. So…

img_0426

Why are we doing it?

Recently my husband has had some weird reactions that we suspect are related to food sensitivities. We’ve been doing a lot of food and health research, and have definitely hopped on the “food is medicine” train. It just makes sense that what you put in your body has effects beyond making you heavier or skinnier or less hungry. There’s MUCH more to it than that. So we kind of tried gluten free and sort of tried cutting down on sugar and halfheartedly skipped drinking a few times. When we were good, we would see results. But, as is our way, we were kind of just winging it and broke the rules whenever it was the more convenient thing to do. Especially over the holidays. Because pie.

Enter Whole30, which is an elimination protocol (don’t call it a diet or the Whole30ers will come for you). Elimination is important in order to learn how certain types of foods are affecting your system, and Whole30 takes into account categories I hadn’t considered as possible culprits, like dairy and all grains. I felt that we needed something structured like this to really get to the bottom of things, and liked that it was only for 30 days, after which there’s a reintroduction phase. That just sounds more doable to me than “never eat sugar again!”

Then, on New Year’s Eve, I just happened to notice that my mother in law had the Whole30 book sitting on her shelf, and I asked if I could borrow it.  Then a good friend said she was doing it. Then my husband said he wanted to go aggressive on the no sugar thing after the holiday. So, pretty much the stars just aligned with a little New Year’s motivation and we committed. But…

What can we even eat?

I think it’s normal to focus on all the things you can’t have, and in the beginning it feels like what the hell am I supposed to eat then?! It was hard for me to let go of things that I’ve always considered “good for me” that I also really like, like yogurt (dairy), honey (sweetener), quinoa (grain, ancient or not), and chickpeas (legumes). The only way to get over that I think is just to commit and remind yourself that it’s only a month, and focus on what you might get out of just trying it.

So we focus on what we can eat, broadly: meat, seafood, eggs, fruit, vegetables, and healthy fats. Specifically, you can still drink coffee, but you have to hold the sweetener and the cream (coconut milk is my friend). You can have eggs and meat and all the veggies you want (including potatoes!), but cook them in olive oil or coconut oil rather than butter. You can have avocados all day long, but you’ll have to hold the toast part. You can have sauces and dressings, but you’ll probably have to make them yourself to avoid all the sweeteners and weird additives out there.

Side note: This part has been very educational, and if we get nothing else out of this experiment, we have learned a lot about reading labels. I was already somewhat into this, but my eyes have been even further opened to all the gross stuff that gets put into your food when you’re not making it yourself. In short, you’re probably being tricked into eating a LOT more added sugar than you think, and wheat, soy, and corn are in nearly everything that comes pre-packaged. There’s sugar in bacon and lunch meat and sausages and ketchup and mustard and mayonnaise…it’s not just desserts you need to be aware of.

What are we actually eating?

All of the eggs.
Poached, fried (in olive oil or coconut oil), over medium, scrambled, with veggies, with spinach, with (compliant) hot sauce, with avocado, repeat.

Veggie Stuffed Peppers
Find my post with the recipe here.

Roasted Chicken with Tahini Sauce
Tahini (made from sesame seeds) is compliant, so I found a simple tahini sauce recipe and made a big batch to put on everything! We’ve had it on the stuffed peppers, chicken, and salmon.

Sweet Potato Chili
Chili with no beans? Avocado makes everything work. Find my post with the recipe here.

Coconut Curry Salmon (and chicken)
Much like the Tahini sauce, this sauce makes everything taste special! Find my post with the recipe here.

Turmeric Ginger Butternut Squash Soup
Find the original recipe here – I swapped the type of squash for butternut and used fresh turmeric rather than powder.

img_0684

In short, we’re eating a lot. I’m cooking a lot, buying a lot of groceries, and washing a lot of dishes. Because I enjoy cooking, the program has so far been a great inspiration in the kitchen. Finding ways to “Whole30 something” can be fun and creative. Documenting it all helps me stay into it. And feeling positive results and seeing them in my husband is super motivating.

At the halfway point, we are feeling good and not really missing much other than maybe the occasional wine and cheese night, or the ease of reaching for a pre-packaged crunchy snack. I’m seeing now how convenience tends to drive a lot of our food choices. But I feel lighter and more energetic, I’m sleeping better and I get out of bed more easily in the morning. I’m excited to see how the second half of the experiment goes.

Any other Whole30ers out there?

Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies: Comfort Food Calling

img_2954
Life in Dubai means traveling a lot, exploring as much as possible within a direct flight radius. I started 2017 in California, and since then visited the Taj Mahal in India and went skiing in Kazakhstan. It’s only February. I love our adventures and trying local specialties wherever we go. I can’t say I loved the fermented horse milk in Kazakhstan, but hey, I tried it. Whenever I come home, I unavoidably go through a powerful comfort food craving phase. Usually that means allll the pasta, and a lot of baked goods.

img_2939

Which brings me to these cookies! Soft, chewy, sweet, pumpkin spicy cookies. This recipe is based on a good friend’s famous oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. She makes them every time my college girlfriends get together, or we make them together. They’re always amazing, and I can only speculate that they’re the magic glue of our long term friendships!  So she gets all the credit for introducing me to this magic formula. Also she’s a doctor so she knows what’s good for you. I just made a few tweaks to put pumpkin and spices in the mix. I was skeptical at first about keeping the chocolate chips in with the pumpkin, but you’ll just have to trust me that pumpkin apparently goes with everything.

img_2946

Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 48 Cookies

1 cup Butter
1 cup Sugar
1 cup Brown Sugar
1 Egg
1 cup Canned Pumpkin Puree
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
2 cups Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Ginger
1/2 tsp Cloves
2 cups Whole Oats (not steel cut or quick cooking)
12 oz (1 bag) Chocolate Chips
Sea Salt for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Allow the butter and egg to come to room temperature. Cream the butter and combine with the sugar, egg, pumpkin and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, spices, and oats. Add dry ingredients gradually to the butter mixture, mixing well to combine. Finally add in the chocolate chips and mix together.

Usually by this point I’m nearly full because I’ve tasted so much dough…but I shouldn’t recommend that because of raw eggs being bad or some such nonsense…

Spoon the dough into evenly sized balls on a cookie sheet, pressing them slightly flat into, you know, cookie shape. If desired, sprinkle the dough with a bit of sea salt before putting in the oven. Bake at 375F for 8-10 minutes. If I’ve learned anything by moving so much lately, it’s that ovens vary wildly. Start low on the timer and check for doneness.

Let cool and enjoy with milk (of the non-horse variety)!

©Cook it Pretty 2017

Make Thanksgiving Easy Again: Easy Turkey

Easy Turkey | Cook it Pretty

Two years ago I hosted my first Thanksgiving without parental supervision, and I did a lot of research on turkey roasting techniques. The combination of all the tips and tricks I found resulted in a successful approach that I’m ready to confidently share with you.

Easy Turkey | Cook it Pretty

You’ve probably seen blogs and magazine articles telling you to do everything from turning the turkey upside down to cooking it straight out of the freezer. Cover it! Don’t cover it! Baste it! Basting is over! Stuffing will kill you! Flip it! Change the temperature 10 times! Buy a million gadgets you’ll only use once a year! Hosting a big meal is stressful enough without all this conflicting information. I’ve boiled everything down to one tip for you: DO LESS.

Easy Turkey | Cook it Pretty

The only thing that is difficult about being in charge of the turkey is that you have to do some pre-planning. If you’re hosting Thanksgiving, my guess is you already know that you have some planning in your (very near) future. In Dubai I only have access to frozen turkeys so I do not get a lot of choice in the matter and the following tips and techniques are for frozen turkey. Some thoughts to get you started:

  • Buy your turkey as early as possible. If your turkey is frozen, you’ll need to allow for 3 days of defrosting in the fridge. But people, this isn’t hard! All it does is sit there and take up all your fridge space for a few days.
  • Don’t double-brine. Did you know that most frozen turkeys are already in brine? Check the labels and you’ll likely see something about the ingredients including salt or salt water – that means it’s been in brine. So lucky you, you do not need to brine it again.
  • No special equipment required. As long as you have a roasting pan that is big enough for your turkey, you’re good to go. While things like roasting racks can be nice, you don’t have to have one. My method doesn’t require a baster either. One thing that’s nice to have is a meat thermometer, in case you’re anxious about things like serving your loved ones undercooked meat (raises hand).
  • Plan around oven space. Turkeys take a long time to cook and will dominate your oven on Thanksgiving day. Plan any other dishes you’re making around the idea that your oven will be in use most of the time. Things like pie can be easily made the day before to avoid conflicting oven time. Stuffing can be prepped the day before and baked after the turkey comes out. Consider vegetables cooked on the stove top, such as sauteed green beans, rather than a roasted dish that requires oven time. Or farm out your other oven dishes to guests, potluck style.

So you have your turkey defrosted and your suitably sized pan, your other holiday dishes under control, and you’re ready to go. Where to begin? Read on!

Easy Herb Roasted Turkey

Defrosted Turkey
2 Onions, halved then quartered (you want big pieces)
3 Celery stalks, chopped into 2-3 inch sections
Butter, softened
S&P
Herbs of choice (I like rosemary, sage & thyme)
1/2 Orange, quartered

Calculate your cook time
Cook time = 15 mins x #lbs. For example, a 15lb turkey will take 225 mins or 3 hours 45 mins. Preheat your oven to 325F.

Prep the pan
Place the onion and celery chunks in the bottom of the roasting pan, reserving some onion to be later placed inside the turkey. These will serve as your roasting rack, raising the bird off the bottom of the pan. They also provide a nice flavor to your drippings, which you can later use for gravy.

Prep the bird
Check the neck cavity and main cavity for little bags of gizzards, removing everything. Keep them if you like to include them in your stuffing or stock or if you’re like my mom and cook it up for the dogs. Toss them if you’re like me and get grossed out by everything I just said (it’s hard for me to even type the word gizzards). Place the turkey in the roasting pan on top of the chopped onion and celery. Fold the wings underneath the body of the turkey – this prevents them from getting dried out or burned, and it just looks better.

Give it a rub
Take the softened butter in your fingers and rub it all over your turkey, including the legs. Sprinkle everywhere with generous amounts of salt and pepper, including some inside the cavity. Add your herbs, like rosemary, sage, and thyme everywhere as well.

Easy Turkey | Cook it Pretty
Get aromatic
Put remaining onion and orange pieces inside the cavity. I’ve seen this called “aromatics” – you won’t be eating them, but they add juice and flavor to the meat from the inside. Don’t stuff it too full or it may affect your cook time, a few pieces of each will do.

Tie the legs, or don’t
This is a purely aesthetic choice. If you want a pretty picture, there’s something that makes the tied up legs just look better. But if you don’t care and just want it easy, skip this because you’ll just be removing the tie later. I skipped it last time and it looked a little awkward, but who really cares because it tastes the same!

The do-nothing part
Now put it in the oven and set your timer according to the cook time above. THEN DO NOTHING. Don’t baste it or change the temperature or use tin foil on anything. Just ignore the turkey for the next 3 hours or so. Do your other prep and stove top cooking. Have a glass of wine. Study up on making gravy so you can put the pan drippings to use. (I can vouch for this method from The Kitchn).

Check the temp
Many frozen turkeys have a pop-up plastic thingie that tells you it’s ready. I’ve heard it’s best to double check this with a meat thermometer inserted into the thigh. Make sure it’s in the 165-180F range. The skin should be browned and crispy. Then it’s done! You roasted a whole turkey all by yourself!

Let it rest
Let the turkey rest at room temp for at least 30 minutes before carving. This is a good time to make your gravy, in which case you’ll need to remove the turkey from the roasting pan and transfer it to a cutting board. Put gallon-sized ziplock bags over oven mitts in order to safely grab the hot turkey without ruining your mitts. Be careful, turkeys are heavy and hot!

Carve it up
I’m lucky because my husband is amazing at breaking down the bird. I have never attempted this myself. But here’s the video from NYT that he watched before doing it the first time, and he knocked it out of the park. I like this method because it’s much easier to serve than carving it at the table, and you can break it up into dark and light meat platters.

You did it! Wishing you a juicy and delicious turkey to share with loved ones this Thanksgiving.

© Cook it Pretty 2016

Fall Squash Quinoa

Fall Squash Quinoa | Cook it Pretty
Cutting right to the chase, you need this dish in your life. This recipe is full of fall flavor bombs: squash (or pumpkin), dates, dried cranberries, almonds, balsamic, and warm spices. It’s also healthy (because spinach), gluten-free, and vegetarian. I have made it with acorn squash, butternut squash, and gem pumpkins. You can impress guests by stuffing the quinoa mixture in a roasted acorn squash. It looks really cute. But this deconstructed method tastes the same. I’ll leave it to you to decide if you want to go the extra mile in presentation. I know this looks like a lot of ingredients but that’s ok because they’re all bringing something to the table.

Fall Squash Quinoa
1 Squash of your choice (butternut or acorn), halved and scooped
1  cup uncooked Quinoa
2 cups Water
2 Tbs Olive Oil
1 small Red Onion, diced
2 cloves Garlic, minced
S&P to taste
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar
1/4 cup Honey
1/2 cup fresh Spinach
1 tsp Red Pepper flakes (more to taste)
1/4 cup chopped raw Almonds
6 Medjool Dates, pitted and chopped
1/4 cup dried Cranberries
1/4 cup crumbled Feta
1/2 cup fresh Cilantro, chopped

Roast the Squash
Preheat the oven to 400F. In a roasting pan, drizzle the squash halves with 1 Tbs of the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place them cut side down and roast for 20-25 minutes. Turn the halves over and return to oven for 10 more minutes. They’re done when you can easily stick a fork all the way through the flesh of the squash.

Cook the Quinoa
While the squash is roasting, bring your quinoa and water to a boil on the stovetop. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking the quinoa covered for 15 minutes, until all water is absorbed. Set aside.

Ready the Flavor Bombs
Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet. Add the chopped onion and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the garlic and stir. Add a dash of salt and pepper, cumin and cinnamon. Add the balsamic and honey and allow it to reduce for a couple minutes. Add the spinach and stir until the leaves cook down. Turn off heat. Add your cooked quinoa and mix well. Add red pepper flakes,  almonds, dates, cranberries, crumbled feta and cilantro and mix well. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Combine Forces
If you’re going for presentation points, spoon the quinoa mixture into the roasted squash halves. If your halves aren’t so pretty or you just don’t care, go ahead and scoop the cooked squash out of its skin and add it to the quinoa mixture.

Enjoy!

© Cook it Pretty 2016

Southwest Quinoa Salad

Southwest Quinoa Salad | Cook it Pretty

My Dad is a nutritionist’s, personal trainer’s, and doctor’s dream. He follows instructions and has admirable levels of will power. Over the past several years, he has gradually lost weight and completely changed his lifestyle, all under professional guidance and with no extreme diets or fad exercise routines. He’s definitely the healthiest septuagenarian I know.

When I visit him in California, I benefit from all this because all I have to do is wake up and get dressed and I have a ride and a gym buddy every morning. We usually do some grocery shopping afterwards, for lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and the occasional pre-made dish from the Whole Foods salad bar. One day his favorite one of these, a quinoa salad with corn and black beans, was no longer available. It had become one of my faves as well, and I was disappointed to not see it in the fridge when I was home in June. I decided to recreate it myself, and Father’s Day seemed like just the occasion for it.

Southwest Quinoa Salad | Cook it Pretty

Shopping for produce in California is AN ABSOLUTE JOY. I never really appreciated this before moving to Dubai. The availability of local produce in California is exceptional, and the summer haul is hard to beat. I still come across some California fruits in Dubai, but it makes me sad to think about how long they must have been sitting on a boat to get here. Not exactly fresh from the farm. Not to mention the sticker shock of all the imported goods, and by imported goods I mean nearly everything.

Enter this fresh sweet corn from Northern California! I admit, it’s been a very long time since I’ve actually shucked corn and cut it off the cob myself. I tend to just keep frozen corn stocked and had convinced myself it “tastes the same.” NO it does not! The extra effort is definitely worth it. That said, of course you could still make this recipe with good ol’ frozen kernels.

Southwest Quinoa Salad | Cook it Pretty
I roasted the corn on a cookie sheet with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. This was definitely the star of the dish. Of course, the local avocados also helped. Lately it seems I don’t eat much without adding avocado to it. I can’t help it, I’m Californian. It’s what we do.

I made a pretty huge batch so that Dad (and I!) could enjoy the leftovers for the rest of the week. Good thing it was a hit, because we sure did have a lot of it! That day I served it as a side for some roasted salmon, along with some truly special heirloom carrots. It’s also great on its own for a light and healthy lunch (Dad-approved, vegan and gluten free, btw) and would be the perfect dish to bring to a summer BBQ. In Dubai we can only have winter BBQs, but you get the idea.

Southwest Quinoa Salad

Big Batch of Salad
2 cups uncooked white Quinoa
3 ears of Corn, cut off the cob
2 large Avocados, diced
1 red Bell Pepper, diced
1 medium Red Onion, diced
1 can Black Beans, rinsed
Handful Cilantro, chopped or cut with shears
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper

For the Dressing
Juice from 2 Limes
1/3 cup Olive Oil
1 Tbs Honey
1/2 to 1 tsp Chili powder
Salt & Pepper to taste

NOTE: This is a big batch, but you can easily reduce amounts of everything if desired!

To cook the quinoa, bring the 2 cups of quinoa plus 4 cups of water to a boil in a sauce pan on the stove. (If you are cooking for fewer people, try 1 cup quinoa and 2 cups water. Just remember it’s always a 2:1 ratio of liquid to quinoa). As soon as it’s bubbling and boiling, cover and reduce the heat to low. Let cook for about 15 minutes, until all water is absorbed. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool for a bit before adding other ingredients, as the salad should be served room temp or slightly chilled.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Add corn kernels to a cookie sheet or shallow roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil, and a bit of salt and pepper, tossing to coat. Roast in the oven for about 15 minutes. Let cool.

Combine cooked quinoa with prepared vegetables, beans, and cilantro, adding the corn when it has cooled. In a separate bowl, whisk together ingredients for the dressing. Treat the given measurements as a guideline, adding more or less of what you like to suit your tastes. Skip the chili powder if you’re averse to spicy (like my Dad!). Taste it to make sure it’s not too tart or too spicy, and add a little more honey and/or salt and pepper if needed to balance out the flavor. Drizzle over the salad and lightly toss together.

If you want to garnish with some pretty avo slices like in the photo, this is how to do it:
Slice the avocado in half lengthwise and remove the pit. Gently peel off the skin, which should be easy if it’s ripe. Lay the avocado half flat-side down and slice lengthwise in narrow strips. Pick a few pretty bits to fan out and place on top of your salad so when you enter the party everyone says OOOOOOH briefly before eating it all and telling you how awesome you are.

Enjoy!

© Cook it Pretty 2016