Za’atar Scented Carrot Fries

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you have undoubtedly heard me rave about the Foodie Penpals program I participate in each month. Well, I found a Paleo version hosted by Tarah over at What I Gather and Brittanie over at Three Diets One Dinner. How perfect! Paleo Penpals is very similar to Foodie Penpals. Each month you are paired with another participant and you exchange Paleo-friendly items with them. Then, you create a recipe using the items you received from your pen pal. Tarah and Brittanie will put together a roundup post with all of the recipes that were submitted and post it on their blogs at the end of each month. I thought this would be a really great way to expand my Paleo pantry and get some inspiration for new recipes.

This month I was paired with Amanda from Kentucky. She sent me two different spice mixes; one was her own “super secret” pork rub and the other was a spice mix called za’atar. Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice mix that is a mixture of dried herbs, sesame seeds, and sumac and it used on pretty much everything in the Middle East. It can be used to season root veggies or you can add it to olive oil to make a dip for bread. Some people eat it straight from the jar.

Sumac has a slight citrus taste so my original thought was to make za’atar spiked marinara sauce; however, after adding nearly three tablespoons of it to the pot and finding it didn’t have the punch I was looking for, I gave up that idea. I’ve seen pictures of carrot “fries” floating around various Paleo blogs and decided to give that a try. Success!

Carrot fries are awesome! They have a consistency that is similar to sweet potato fries. The sweetness of the carrots and coconut oil pairs nicely with the tartness of the sumac. You can purchase za’atar online or you can make your own from scratch. If you can’t get your hands on any, you can substitute the za’atar in the recipe below for your favorite all-purpose spice blend or season with plain old salt and pepper.

By the way, have I showed you my method for melting coconut oil?

How to Melt Coconut Oil | Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

We don’t own a microwave so I had to get creative!

Yup. That’s my bathroom. That’s my hairdryer. Laugh all you want, but it works like a charm! 🙂

Za'atar Scented Carrot "Fries" | Via Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Served alongside homemade mayo

*NOTE: This recipe makes a single serving of carrot “fries.”

Ingredients:

  • 2 carrots, peeled and quartered
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil, melted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon za’atar

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 425˚.
  2. Peel and chop carrots into quarters. You want them to be roughly the same size and thickness.
  3. In a bowl, toss carrots in melted coconut oil for a few minutes to make sure they are well coated.
  4. Add za’atar to the bowl and toss the carrots for another few minutes making sure to distribute the spice evenly.
  5. Spread the carrots onto a baking sheet lined with foil and bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Flip and bake for an additional 8-10 minutes. Watch these as they have a tendency to burn quickly! It may take a few more minutes or a few less depending on how thick you cut your “fries.”
  6. Remove from the oven and let sit on the baking sheet for 2-3 minutes before serving.
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Prosciutto, Asparagus, Egg “Muffins”

This weekend I experimented a little in the kitchen by attempting to make Prosciutto Egg Cups for breakfast. Rather than following a tried and true recipe for the first go-round and tweaking to my liking, I tried to make up the recipe from the start. The result didn’t turn out quite as I had hoped. Prosciutto Egg Cups are supposed to look like this:

Or, like this:

But, my version looked more like egg muffins. Whoops!

They were still pretty yummy and I think the main problem was that I scrambled the eggs first rather than dropping the whole egg into the Prosciutto. That’s what happens when you don’t follow a recipe. 🙂

I made two, ate one, and stuck the other in the fridge to see if it would hold up overnight. It did, which is exciting because now I feel like I can make a few of these on Sunday afternoon and have breakfast taken care of for the first few days of the week! If you are going to use this as a grab-and-go breakfast item, I’d recommend heating it up. Cold eggs aren’t very tasty. In fact, they are pretty gross.

Prosciutto, Asparagus, Egg “Muffins”
Makes 2

Prosciutto, Asparagus, Egg "Muffins" | Cucina Kristina cucinakristina.com

Yum!

Ingredients:

  • 2 stalks of asparagus, roughly chopped
  • 2 baby bella mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 4-6 slices of Prosciutto

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375˚.
  2. Roughly chop asparagus and mushrooms and set aside.
  3. Line 2 ramekins (you could also use a muffin tin) with Prosciutto slices until the bottom and sides are completely covered.
  4. Add the asparagus and mushrooms to the ramekins.
  5. In a small bowl, whisk eggs. Add eggs to ramekins.
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes. (I did mine for 27 minutes because they were still a little runny looking at 25 minutes).
  7. When finished cooking, let stand for a few minutes. Slide a knife around the edge of the ramekins to loosen the “muffin.” Serve warm.

I’m Going to a Pin It Party!

Lindsay over at The Lean Green Bean is hosting a Pin It Party today! She is also one of the founders of the Foodie Pen Pal program that I have been participating in each month. Her blog is great! You should check it out. By the way, are you following me on Pinterest? 🙂

Below are some of my favorite posts over the last year. After you are done pinning these awesome recipes, you should head on over to the Pin It Party and check out some other awesome bloggers!

1. Mason Jar Salads
Preparing my salads on Sunday evening for the entire week has been one of the biggest stress relievers of my life. It is so nice being able to wake up in the morning, open my fridge, grab one of these jars and head out the door. The lettuce stays crisp all week too!

Mason Jar Salads. Stay fresh for up to a week in the fridge. Layer hardier ingredients on the bottom and more delicate items on top. Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

.

2. Waldorf-Inspired Tuna Salad
Remember when I made mayonnaise from scratch? This is one of my favorite ways to use it! My husband routinely asks me to make this which has to account for something since he likes practically nothing!

Waldorf-Inspired Tuna Salad. 2 cans tuna, 1 medium apple, diced; 1 cup grapes, sliced in half; 1/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped; 1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped; 1/2 cup celery, diced; 2-3 tablespoons mayo | cucinakristina.com

Homemade Mayo, ftw!

3. Mediterranean Zucchini Cups
These have become a staple appetizer at parties around my house. People RAVE over them and always ask for the recipe. They are so simple and healthy. They are a great in the summer, but are an even better on a gloomy winter day. One bite of these and you feel like you are enjoying lunch on an island in the sun!

Mediterranean Zucchini Cups - Great healthy appetizer or mid-day snack. Under 300 calories | cucinakristina.com

Under 300 Calories!

4. Wonton Pizza Pockets
I am trying, trying, trying to eliminate processed foods from my husband’s diet. He is quite stubborn and refuses to give up his frozen pizzas and his Totino’s Pizza Rolls. Based on the way he gobbled these down, I am pretty sure he liked these more than Totino’s (even though he won’t admit it :)).

Wonton Pizza Pockets. Great party appetizer or kid-friendly snack. Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

5. Lemon & Rosemary Roasted Chicken
Ummmm…. YUM! That is all I have to say about this recipe! Make it tonight and make it often!

Lemon & Rosemary Roasted Chicken. Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

So tasty!

Happy pinning!

Green Juice Boost (of Energy!)

I’ve been intrigued by juicing ever since watching Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead on Netflix a few months ago. The film follows a man who was 100 pounds overweight with all kinds of autoimmune disorders. He starts juicing in an attempt to jumpstart a healthy lifestyle. It was an interesting film and inspired me to start using the juicer that was collecting dust in my basement.

One of the main motivations to start juicing was the fact that I had to wake up at 5:30 a.m. in order to be at school by 7:30. It was hard for me to eat a full breakfast that early; nothing sounds appetizing when you are still half asleep! But, since I didn’t want to leave the house on an empty stomach, I decided to give juicing a try.

The results were amazing! I had a ton of energy and didn’t experience the harsh crash in the afternoons that I usually get with coffee.This is one of my favorite juice recipes. I stuck to this one almost religiously because it wasn’t overly sweet. The lemon gave it a nice tartness and the parsley added a refreshing finish.

Green Juice Boost (of Energy!) - 1/2 cucumber, 1 small apple, 1 lemon, 1 small handful of parsley (about 1/4 cup), 3 stalks kale, 2 handfuls of spinach (about 3 cups). Roughly chop apple and peel lemon. Run all ingredients through a juicer. Enjoy immediately! | Cucina Kristina cucinakristina.com

No mid-afternoon crash!

Green Juice Boost (of Energy!)
*This recipe requires a juicer.

Green Juice Boost (of Energy!). No mid-afternoon crash! Run all ingredients through a juicer. Enjoy immediately. | Cucina Kristina cucinakristina.com

Green Juice Boost (of energy)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cucumber
  • 1 small apple
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 small handful of parsley (about 1/4 cup)
  • 3 stalks kale
  • 2 handfuls of spinach (about 3 cups)

Directions:

  1. Roughly chop apple and peel lemon.
  2. Run all ingredients through a juicer.
  3. Enjoy immediately!

How To: Cut a Pepper

This is a pretty typical Sunday night dinner in our house. We love fajitas. I make them by sautéing garlic, onions and peppers in olive oil then adding chicken flavored with and marinated in fajita seasoning from the Spice House. Simple and quick.

From left to right: chicken fajitas, tortillas, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, sauteed mushrooms, pico de gallo, and grilled green onions.

From left to right: chicken fajitas, tortillas (for hubs), cheese, sour cream, guacamole, sautéed mushrooms (for me since I don’t eat the tortillas), pico de gallo, and grilled green onions.

I usually make a double batch of the chicken and peppers along with a boat load of guacamole and pico de gallo so I can have the leftovers the next few mornings with eggs. Fajita omelette? Yes, please!

I can’t convince my husband to try Paleo with me for even two weeks so that’s why the tortillas are pictured here. However, this is Paleo-friendly as long as you eat everything a la carte. You could also serve this as a salad over a bed of lettuce greens with a bit of olive oil and fresh lime juice. When you make fresh pico and guacamole, you don’t even miss things like sour cream, cheese, or tortillas. I have to admit that even though cheese isn’t technically Paleo, it is the one item that I cheat with at times.

I have found that people really struggle with slicing and dicing peppers for meals like this. I can’t even recall where I learned this technique, but it is the best way to cup up fresh peppers. It’s makes it super easy to slice them into strips or dice them into cubes and you never have any of the little seeds flying about.

How to Cut a Pepper

Step 1

How to cut a pepper

Step 1

Step 1.5

Slice down the side of the pepper as close to the stem as possible.

Side view of step 1

Step 2

Now that you can see the inside, slice the other sides off avoiding the seeds.

Step 2

Avoid the seeds as you slice

Side view of step 2

Step 3

Notice the seeds are intact around the stem

Step 3

Repeat around the entire pepper

Step 4

Step 7

Discard the seeds

Step 5

Step 6

Slice into strips or dice into cubes

Easy peasy!

Mason Jar Salads

Mason Jar Salads. Stay fresh for up to a week in the fridge. Layer hardier ingredients on the bottom and more delicate items on top. Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Great time saver!   

I do my grocery shopping and food prep for the week on Sunday afternoon. It the single best time saver and stress reliever that I have discovered to date. It takes a bit of planning in the beginning to get the hang of it, but it is so worth it once you figure out the odds and ends!

I typically spend anywhere between 5-6 hours shopping, prepping, and cleaning up on Sunday, but it totally eliminates any work I have to do for meals during the week. At any point during the week, I can whip up breakfast, lunch, or dinner with zero prep time and minimal clean up. Mid-week clean up is reduced to the pots/pans I use to cook and the dishes we eat on.

For the past few months, I have been eating salads everyday for lunch and storing them in mason jars. I make 6 at a time and the mason jars keep the ingredients fresh for the entire week. Any airtight container would probably work, but I like mason jars because they fit in the door of the fridge. If I were to make the salads only, shopping, prep, and clean up would probably take 2-3 hours.

A few weeks ago, I posted a picture of my mason jar salads on Instagram and it sparked a ton of questions from people. I originally saw this idea floating around Pinterest so I thought everyone already knew about it, but it turns out they do not. I never actually “pinned” the original idea onto one of my boards so, unfortunately, I can’t credit the place that I first saw this.

I don’t add any dressing into the mason jars because I dress my salads with olive oil and vinegar only. If you want, you can add the dressing to the bottom of the jars. Just make sure that you always layer sturdy veggies at the bottom (like carrots or radishes) so they stay crisp throughout the week.

Mason Jar Salads
Time: 2-3 hours which includes shopping, prep, and clean up
Makes 6 salads

Make a week's worth of salads ahead of time and store them in mason jars. They will keep in your fridge for up to a week! Layer hardy ingredients on bottom and more delicate items (like lettuce or sprouts) on top. Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Example of the items you will need

Ingredients
You can use any ingredients that you want. For the above salads I used the following:

  • 3 green peppers – 1/2 pepper per salad
  • 12 radishes – 2 radishes per salad
  • 6 carrots – 1 per salad
  • 3 small apples – 1/2 apple per salad
  • 6 celery stalks – 1 per salad
  • 3 shallots – 1/2 shallot per salad
  • 3 heads of romaine lettuce – 1/2 head per salad
  • 3 small cucumbers  – 1/2 cucumber per salad. Note: Pictured above are 6 small cucumbers because I planned on using 1 per salad. As you can see in the picture below, it was way too much so I ended up using half of the original amount I bought.
  • Sport peppers

Directions

Mason jar salads will keep fresh and crisp in your fridge up to a week. Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Layer your ingredients

Start with your sturdy ingredients and layer each ingredient. Add the lettuce last. I layered in this order. Radish, carrot, cucumber, celery, green pepper, apple, shallot, sport peppers, and lettuce.

Mason Jar Salads - They will keep fresh and crisp in your fridge up to a week. Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Shake the jar to create more room

Don’t worry if your jar starts to look like it is getting full. You have tons of room left and you can push the items down when you add the lettuce. Before adding the lettuce, shake the jar to settle the ingredients and fill in the gaps between layers. The jar on the left has not been shaken, the jar on the right has. See the difference?

Make salads for the week ahead of time and store them in a mason jar. They will keep in your fridge for up to a week. From: Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Finished salads

Lastly, add the lettuce. Really pack it in there. You can fit a lot more than you think in these jars!

When you are ready to eat them, dump them out into a large bowl. At this point you can add a protein source like hard-boiled eggs, grilled chicken, or shrimp. Add nuts or seeds if you are keeping it vegetarian or vegan. You can also add homemade pickled banana peppers.

Store vegetable trimmings in a freezer bag and use them to make homemade vegetable broth. Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Use these to make homemade vegetable broth

Make sure you save any veggie shavings or trimmings. Just throw them into a plastic bag and store them in your freezer. When the bag gets full, dump the contents into a large pot of water and make homemade vegetable broth.

Guilt-Free Zucchini Pizza Boats

I have a quick low-carb, low-fat meal that you can make in a jiffy if you are craving pizza. It’s also a great way to sneak in some veggies if you live with a picky eater. It may even be kid-friendly, but I have not tested it on kids so I can’t say that with certainty.

I try to avoid pizza altogether because I have absolutely no portion control when it comes to pizza. A large pepperoni with mushrooms and olives can disappear in 20 minutes if placed in front of me. I could never consume an equal amount of pasta, burgers, burritos, or cakes, but you put a pizza near me and I just can’t stop! I LOVE pizza, and am happy I can now get my pizza fix guilt-free.

For this recipe, I used 1 pound of group beef added to store-bought Marinara sauce and served it over regular pasta for my husband. Since pasta is on the “No” list when it comes to Paleo eating, I had to change it up a bit for myself. Technically, cheese isn’t Paleo either, but I had to cheat a little bit. Don’t tell. 🙂 If you do not have a pasta eater in the house, I would suggest making the same amount of sauce and serving the leftovers with spaghetti squash.

Guilt-Free Zucchini Pizza Boats
Makes 4 boats (with leftover sauce)

Try these the morning after you make them and enjoy cold "pizza" for breakfast!

Try these the morning after you make them
and enjoy cold “pizza” for breakfast!

Ingredients:

  • 2 zucchini
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Your favorite brand of pasta sauce – I used about half of a 24 oz jar of Marinara
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Cut the zucchini in half and use a spoon to scoop out some of the flesh. You want to leave at least 1/4 inch thickness so that your zucchini boats hold up when you pick them up to eat them.
  2. In a pot, cook the onions and garlic for 3-4 minutes or until fragrant. Add the ground beef and brown. Add the pasta sauce and heat through.
  3. Fill the raw zucchini with meat sauce and bake in a 325˚ oven for 8 minutes.
    Note: Do not cook the zucchini beforehand. I did this the first time around and while it still tastes great, it can’t be eaten as a “boat.” Zucchini has a high water content so if you cook it too long it gets flimsy and will need to be eaten with a knife and fork.
  4. AFter 8 minutes, top with cheese and bake for an additional 3 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbling.
  5. I did not have any fresh basil on hand, but if you happen to have some lying around, garnish with fresh basil!