Carrot, ginger, and tahini dressing

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Salad! Do your kids eat it? M will inexplicably stuff his face with raw kale sometimes and then turn around and gag on anything leafy or green. The dressing is a factor. Also, if he gets to mix the salad, he is much more likely to eat it. I recommend putting your salad bowl on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any greens that escape (read: all of the greens) and letting the little ones have a go.

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Since M is currently SO PASSIONATE about sushi, we've eaten at A LOT of Japanese restaurants lately. Sometimes that ubiquitous carrot and ginger dressing is a revelation, but more often, it's watery or too acidic. This version is neither of those things. There's a fair amount of liquid and acid in this recipe, but the load of carrots and the little bit of tahini mellows the vinegar just enough and adds a touch of creaminess.

I won't lie: It's a little chunkier than your average salad dressing, but it coats the lettuce beautifully and instead of just being oil, you're sneaking in some extra goodness in what is essentially a condiment. So if your toddler deigns to eat a mouthful, they're eating EVEN MORE VEGETABLES.

Also, this dressing is sweet and tangy, but happens to be free of gluten, dairy, and sugar. And it lasts FOREVER. Pretty sure I'm still eating a batch that I made three weeks ago. But, you know, use your judgment.

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Creamy carrot and ginger tahini dressing

¼ apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp white vinegar
2 Tbsp tahini
2 extra large carrots or 4 medium/small carrots
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
¼ white onion
1 large clove garlic
2 Tbsp lemon juice
½ cup olive or avocado oil
salt
pepper

Place all ingredients (except the oil) in a blender or food processor. Start blending and slowly pour in the olive oil while the machine is running. Blend until you've reached your desired consistency. If the mixture feels too watery, add another tablespoon of tahini. If it feels too thick, add one tablespoon of water and blend.

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Instant pot chicken mole

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That's right. Mole. In an instant pot.

Now, hear me out. I don't claim that this mole is in ANY WAY authentic, but what is an authentic mole anyway? It seems to me that there are characteristics that qualify a sauce as mole, but that there is no one recipe to rule them all.

Now, I also realize that this dish is usually made with a huge list of spices and chiles, most of which you have to toast or hydrate, and that traditionally, these spices are ground by hand with a mortar and pestle.

But, WHO HAS THAT KIND OF TIME? Surely not parents of toddlers. 

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Instead, you can toss everything into an instant pot and have a really complex dinner on the table in about an hour (with most of that time being hands off).

The most time consuming part of the process here is reducing the sauce after the chicken has been pressure cooked. You'll want to saute the liquid until it reduces by about half and when you scrape the bottom of the pot, the sauce doesn't re-cover the metal right away. That will be a good indication that the sauce is thick enough.

 The sauce before thickening.

The sauce before thickening.

 The sauce after being reduced. See how the sauce doesn't cover the metal right away?

The sauce after being reduced. See how the sauce doesn't cover the metal right away?

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This dish is great over white rice, brown rice, cauliflower rice, in a taco, in a lettuce cup: you get the picture. The ingredients all comply with Whole 30, which means it's gluten, dairy, and refined-sugar free. You can also swap in seed butter for the almond butter if you need to avoid nuts.

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Instant pot chicken mole

1 cup chicken stock
1 cup chopped tomatoes in liquid
1 Tbsp chili powder
1.5 Tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
½ red onion, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp chipotle in adobo
¼ cup golden raisins
2 Tbsp almond butter
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Place all of the sauce ingredients in your instant pot and whisk to combine. Add the chicken breasts and scrunch them around to make sure that there is liquid surrounding the pieces.

Close the instant pot and cook on high pressure for 15 minutes. Release the steam manually and remove the chicken. Check the doneness of the chicken with a thermometer (it should read at least 165).

Turn the Instant pot off and then back on with the sauté function on medium. Saute until the remaining liquid has reduced by half and thickened significantly, about 20 minutes (you should be able to scrape the bottom of the pot and see the metal for a second before the sauce covers over it). Let cool slightly.

Add the liquid to a blender and blend until smooth.

Serve the chicken with 1/4 of the sauce and any other garnishes and accessories that you want.

Yield: 4 grown-up servings

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Sheet pan dinner: Chicken, potatoes, poblanos, and scallions

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Guys, this is one of the fastest, easiest dinners you can make. As long as the chicken is defrosted (always dicey in our house as I am notorious for leaving things in the freezer), this can be on your table about 30 minutes. Ready...go! 

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I love a sheet pan dinner for so many reasons. It's fast. The cleanup is easy. Roasting is a simple way to add flavor and texture by using heat to crisp and caramelize everything. And obviously, wrapping things in a tortilla and serving it in a taco truck like this one is a surefire way to get my toddler to eat anything.

AND, this sheet pan is customizable for any dietary need. Want gluten-free? Choose corn or gluten free tortillas. Doing a Whole 30 or following a Paleo diet? Forget the cheese and tortillas altogether or eat this as a hearty salad over greens with avocado and an olive oil and lime dressing. Vegetarian or vegan? Swap in tofu for the chicken or increase the veggies and put the spices directly onto the potatoes. See? Something for everyone.

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A couple of notes:

  • I've listed two tablespoons of oil in the ingredients, but use the second tablespoon sparingly. The fat that renders from the chicken when cooking is usually enough for the potatoes and other veggies. I spray the parchment with olive oil before adding the potatoes to prevent sticking and then let the chicken fat do the rest of the work.
  • The poblano peppers and chili powder that I've used in this recipe are really mild and fine for my almost-3-year-old. If you're concerned about spiciness, feel free to sub a can or two of roasted poblano peppers that are marked "mild" and don't cook them; just stir them into the hot veggies and chicken at the end. Also, taste your chili powder before using it to gauge its heat. If it feels too hot for your kiddos, swap in an equal amount of paprika or skip it altogether.
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Sheet pan chicken with potatoes, poblanos, and scallions

2 lb skinless boneless chicken thighs
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp Mexican oregano (or regular oregano)
½ tsp mild chili powder
½ tsp coriander
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp kosher salt
1 lb Yukon potatoes
2 large poblano peppers
1 bunch scallions

Preheat the oven to 425. Cover a large sheet pan with parchment paper or tin foil and set aside.

In a large plastic bag, combine the chicken, 1 Tbsp of olive oil, and the dry spices. Close the bag tightly and shake and squish around to combine and distribute. I like to mix the spices together in a small jar to avoid any pockets of one flavor, but that’s not strictly necessary. Set aside.

Chop your potatoes into medium-small cubes. Mine are about 1 inch long and ½ an inch wide, but every potato is shaped differently. You want your cubes to be small enough that they’ll roast quickly, but large enough that they won’t turn to mush.

Lightly oil the parchment and then spread the potatoes in a single layer on the parchment-covered pan (see note above). Sprinkle the potatoes VERY lightly with salt. (There's a fair amount of salt and spice on the chicken that will transfer to the veggies during cooking, so don't go overboard.) Remove the chicken from the bag and place the pieces on top of the potatoes.

Roast for 12 minutes.

While the chicken and potatoes are cooking, slice the poblanos into thin sticks. Trim the hairy bottoms and any yucky bits from the scallions. Set aside.

After 12 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and scatter the scallions and peppers evenly over the pan. Using tongs, carefully fish out the chicken pieces and place them on top of the scallions and peppers. Put the whole shebang back into the oven and cook for 5 more minutes until a thermometer in the thickest part of the chicken reads at least 165.

Remove the chicken with tongs and set aside. Continue to cook the vegetables for 5 more minutes or as needed to reach your desired doneness. We're usually set after 5 minutes.

See serving suggestions above, but however you eat this roasted goodness, first SPRINKLE ALL OF IT WITH LIME JUICE!

Yield: 4 servings

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Purple kale pesto

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This recipe is really just an excuse to make tomato hearts. Because TOMATO HEARTS! (See the easy peasy tutorial below.)

As always, scroll to the next photo to skip the life update coming at you: I've been with my mom in the hospital for the past few days, hence the long pause in posting. I'll spare you the details, but it was pretty brutal for my mom and will continue to be a rough course of treatment in the coming weeks and months. 

Seeing someone I love be so sick brings out competing urges in me. On the one hand, I want to be optimistic and wait to freak out until we see what happens in the next few weeks. On the other hand, I want to mentally prepare for the worst, or, as I usually do, talk about/worry about "the worst" as though somehow saying it out loud or thinking about it constantly will keep it at bay. Like the Scheherazade of cancer.

Anyway, as always, I can only control what I can control. I'll try my best to carry on and eat well and get veggies into my child and not let him watch all the television though I mostly want to curl into a ball and stare at the wall.

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This pesto is so vibrant and delicious. And purple feels on brand for Valentine's day, no?

Though I'm always in favor of shortcuts in recipes and against dirtying unnecessary dishes, you really must blanch the kale before making this sauce. But I sometimes go straight from the pot to the food processor (shaking off the excess water in the process) and skip the post-blanch ice bath that is supposed to stop things from overcooking. I find that the blending does the trick and a little excess water doesn't hurt the mixture either.

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This guy is Whole 30 compliant but adding in some Parmesan wouldn't hurt one bit. This is also a great way to get vegetables into your child since they're blended into the sauce. I find that the purple color is fascinating to small people and some of it comes out in the blanching water, turning it a gorgeous shade of lavender, which is also compelling to the wee ones. If nuts are a no-go for your kids' lunchboxes, try swapping in tiger nuts (they're not actually nuts) or pumpkin seeds for the cashews.

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Here's a quick tutorial for the tomatoes:

A couple of tips: Look for tomatoes that are longer than they are round and cut them on the diagonal, but toward the middle, leaving a little bulb on each end. When you've cut the tomato in half, flip the right side over so that the two fat parts and the skinny tips meet. Stick a toothpick or skewer through the middle like an arrow. Done.

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Purple kale pesto

6 oz purple kale, stalks removed (1 large bunch)
1/3 cup basil
1/3 cup tomato paste
2 large cloves garlic
½ cup roasted, unsalted cashews or cashew pieces
½ cup olive oil
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
salt/pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Rinse the kale and rip the leaves from the stalks into large chunks (this part is cathartic). Put in the boiling water and blanch for 1 minute. Give it a few stirs to ensure that all of the kale is submerged. Add directly to the blender or food processor.

Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until you've reached your desired consistency. If too thick, add more water or oil by the tsp to thin out.

Yield: 18 oz or about 3 cups (This recipe makes a good amount of pesto and was more than enough for a lb of pasta.)

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Whole 30 snacks and a recap

Today is the day! Last day of my Whole 30! This was my hardest round of Whole 30 eating so far. I blame world events for my extreme wine desire throughout the month. I'm sure the plan's founders would blame my "sugar dragons" and suggest that I stay the course and keep Whole 30ing until I truly didn't want it anymore, but...that's not happening. Mostly because it already happened. I caved a few days ago. I think that, as much as January is a great time to clean up your eating, perhaps this January was an exception.

No matter, I made it for most of the month and I feel pretty good, all things considered. Something I did out of some desperation was to pick a meal every day and make it a little special. This happened at breakfast with extra herbs and salmon roe. And often, a little extra effort with a snack made a difference to my motivation later in the day. Here are some of the "treats" that got me through the winter of my discontent and ALL are toddler-approved. There was a day last week when M refused anything other than the kale smoothie below and homemade pickles.

Strawberry and Cherry energy bites

1/2 cup dried strawberries
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup pitted dates, roughly chopped
1/2 cup raw almonds
1 Tbsp water

Put everything in a food processor and pulse until desired consistency, adding 1 Tbsp of water if needed to bring everything together.

Recipe notes: Give your dates a rough chop because I've never had a batch of "pitted" dates without any leftover whole pits or pit shrapnel. Nuts.com is the only place I've found dried strawberries that were Whole 30 compliant, but Trader Joe's carries dried cherries and dates without added sugar.

Yield: About 16, 2-3 bite snacks

 

Deviled eggs

2 hard-boiled eggs
2 tsp avocado oil mayo
1 tsp dijon mustard
pinch paprika
s/p
pickles, salmon roe, capers, olives, leftover bacon

Hard-boil your eggs. I like to use Martha's method and find that it leads to a very clean peel. However, I almost never peel the eggs right after cooking them. If making these for a larger crowd or just care a lot about aesthetics, hard boil your eggs one day in advance and store in the fridge. Peel cold.

Slice your eggs in half length-wise and pop the yolks into a bowl. Add the mayo, mustard, paprika, salt, and pepper and mash with a fork. Add back to the egg whites and top with your choice of accoutrements.

Yield: 1-2 servings, depending on your hunger level

Persimmon with coconut cream and pepitas

1 fuyu persimmon, peeled and sliced
2 tsp coconut cream
2 Tbsp pepitas, roasted
pinch cinnamon

Peel and slice your persimmon. I like to toast a bunch of pepitas ahead of time and store them at room temperature, but if you don't have any on hand, roast in the oven or toaster oven at 350 for about 5 minutes or until they begin to smell nutty. Add the pepitas, coconut cream, and cinnamon. Eat immediately.

Yield: one serving
 

Kale smoothie

Adapted from Minimalist Baker
1 cup kale, packed
1 cup frozen peaches
1 apple
1/2 inch piece of peeled ginger (about the size of your thumbnail)
2 Tbsp lime juice
2 Tbsp water

Add everything to the blender and process until smooth.

Yield: 1 adult smoothie and 1 toddler smoothie, or 1 very large adult smoothie, or 2 toddler smoothies
 

 I realized too late that I had a huge smudge on my lens!

I realized too late that I had a huge smudge on my lens!

Bananas with cardamom and pistachio

1 banana
1 tsp coconut cream
1 Tbsp shelled pistachios
pinch cardamom
pinch sea salt

Slice or mash a banana and add the coconut cream, pistachios, cardamom, and salt. Eat.

Yield: 1 serving

 

Babaganoush

I like Epicurious's recipe, but I halve the amounts, use the smallest Japanese eggplants I can find so that I can use the whole thing (peel and seeds included), add 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, and add 1 Tbsp of avocado oil mayo for some added creaminess.

Yield: about 2 cups

Happy snacking!