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I’m officially shutting this blog down and moving it over to “the haute blog” on my new Haute Life website.  Check out my latest post, “Haute Review: Why I love It Starts With Food.”  Go and “Like” my new “Haute Life” Facebook Page  for your chance to win a copy of “It Starts with Food!”  Contest ends Midnight on Friday July 27th!  Go go go!!!

I received my shiny new copy of the cookbook Well Fed by Melissa Joulwan of The Clothes Make the Girl fame about 4 weeks ago and I can say with confidence that my eating experiences have been upgraded from Holiday Inn to Four Seasons. This recipe book has made me happier than I was when they came back with Degrassi the Second Generation.

I received the book near the beginning of the GET REAL Challenge at Quantum Crossfit and immediately took to our forum to tell everyone how awesome it was.  2 of my friends and fellow GET REAL’ers, Amanda and Elizabeth, both jumped on board and ordered their copies.  In no time the 3 of us had an email thread going where we were gossiping about our cooking adventures and having a full-on lovefest with these recipes.  This is all we talked about at the gym and I felt like we were 12 years old again, goo’ing over pictures of Luke Perry (or Jason Priestly in my case….I was a nerd) in the latest issue of Teen Beat.

Thus, rather than writing this review in isolation I asked them to contribute by giving me some testimonials on the recipes that they tried.

Before we review some of the individual recipes, let me tell you why this is the best damn cookbook ever:

1)  There is not one recipe in this book that I don’t want to try and that is a rarity.  This recipe book is like Pearl Jam’s Ten album…from start to finish it is phenomenal.

2)   FLAVOURS!!  I think Melissa has some kind of super human tongue that gives her this ability to create the most amazing and unique flavours I have ever tasted.

3)   You feel like your taste buds are travelling to far away places and you can have any worldly adventure that you choose….want to go to Morocco? No problem…try the Ras El Hanout spice blend (which I now put on EVERYTHING).  How about Thailand?  Whip up some of the Pad Thai and you’re good to go.  No wait, I want to go to Ina Garten’s house in the Hamptons and make a fancy brunch for Jeffery while Miguel sets the table….Totally do-able!  You can do that by making the Scotch Eggs.  The flavour adventures are endless.

4)   The recipes are easy to follow and most of them use ingredients you probably already have.  BONUS!

5)   The plate ideas at the beginning of the book and the many different alternatives to the recipes that Melissa provides gives you a never-ending repertoire of meals to choose from.  Pure genius.

6)  Melissa’s passion for food oozes out of each description for the recipes and you get so excited about making them.  Julia Child would be proud.

The 3 of us used phrases such as “Did you hug your copy of the book?”,  “This made me hump the air”, “Jazz hands”, “Best meal EVER”, “Can we become her best friends in the whole wide world?”, “I already flagged the book with sticky notes (after only having it for 24 hours)” and the list goes on….I would write more but I’m already seeing this coming off as possible stalker material.

Between the 3 of us, we made a good chunk of the recipes in the book….here is our rundown on most of the ones that we tried.  S = Summer (me), A = Amanda, E = Elizabeth:

Char Siu:
S: There are no words for this one….only moans, grunts and squeals.  The flavours in this recipe are like nothing I have ever tasted from a Paleo meal.  Fully Primal Husband declared this to be the best meal he has had in a long time and that says a lot since we live in a city with some pretty kick-ass restaurants that we frequent.  My only piece of advice would be to ask your butcher to cut the meat into the 8 slices because if your knife is a bit dull (like mine), you will end up feeling like you just hit a solid 20 minute shake weight workout whilst trying to butcher the meat.

A: Whoa. I’m having trouble coming up with actual words for this. A series of moans and the occasional grunt accompanied by a fist pump would probably best describe it. Or some high kicks and jazz hands. It’s pretty clear that this recipe was created by someone who really loves food and understands flavours. And I appreciate it a whole lot!

Sheppard’s Pie:
S: This is sooooo rich and creamy and wonderful.  Each bite makes your eyeballs roll into the back of your head with pleasure.   This is the quintessential comfort food.  You must heed the warning that you need to wait for it to cool because I lost at least 5 layers of skin on the top of my mouth eating this too soon out of the oven.  I just couldn’t wait…it smelled so damn delicious.

Cinnamon Beef Stew: 
S: 3 S’s come to mind….Sweet, succulent and savoury.   It made me soooooo happy.  I highly recommend making this in advance and having it in your fridge waiting for you after a long day at work….It’s like being greeted by unicorns and rainbows.

Salmon L’Afrique Du Nord:
S: This makes you kick yourself for not realizing that you could make plain old salmon taste SO MUCH BETTER by taking 5 minutes to make this deliciously sweet marinade.

The Best Chicken You Will Ever Eat:
S: You feel so skilled making this because brining is something you only see chefs do on the Food Network.  It’s so simple to do and it makes for some pretty juicy bird meat.  Finger lickin good.

Spice Market Kale:
S: I did not think it was possible to love Kale this much and want to inhale it like a rabid herbivore.   I think this kale could turn me vegetarian.  Ha!  Silly, that would never happen because that Char Siu would always lure me back to the omnivore side.  The amazing thing about this recipe is that you can pretty much use the spice/coconut milk combo to kick anything up.

E: We all know greens are good for us but they can be tedious to wash, bitter and sautéing with a little butter or coconut oil can get boring. This takes greens to a whole other level. Before I even finished my plate I was foraging my fridge to pull out any and all vegetables on hand I could prepare this way. In a week I have done this recipe 5 times. You could say I binged on greens. Make this for everyday and for special occasion. It really is that good.

Mashed Cauliflower: 
S: Looooove theeeese!!  FPH said that you could serve this to anyone and they would think it is really mashed potatoes. This is our new favourite side dish to go with our weekly steak feast.

Sunshine Sauce: 
S: This is a your one-way ticket to a mouth-gasm.

A: This stuff is dope. Zippy and zesty and dope. My favourite use thus far was: ground pork and shredded cabbage in the frying pan, once cooked, mix a blob of SS and a handful of cilantro. Five minutes well spent!

Best Stir Fry Sauce Ever:
S: Yes, yes it is.  Why did I never think to make a sauce this awesome??

Peach Almond Crisp: 
S: Often I will bake some fruit to have as a treat with some coconut cream.  This takes my standard (read: amateur) recipe to the next level by adding a crunchy crust.  This dessert is such a treat and it is so refreshing to see that you can make a dessert taste like a dessert without adding ANY sugar (not even maple syrup or honey!).

Ginger-Lime Grilled Shrimp over Zucchini Noodles Aglio et Olio and drizzled with Sunshine Sauce (3 recipes in one!):
A: I subbed the parsley for cilantro and omitted the almond flour ‘bread crumbs’. I ate that bowl of awesome cross legged on the couch in my sweatpants and said out loud (to my dog?) “I’m so f**king happy right now”. I’m going to make it again for friends, just so we can slurp and talk about how fantastic it is, and marvel at the fact that a big bowl of zucchini can be so darn satisfying.

Coconut – Almond Green Beans:
A: So much greater than the sum of its parts! Pretty simple ingredient list turned the lowly green bean into something so much more. Creamy, cozy and yummy. Take Melissa’s advice and make a double batch!

Citrus Carnitas:
E: Clearly this book has made me over confident and I buy a 3.5 lb pork shoulder to make dinner for a man friend & deliver the news I didn’t want to see him anymore. The recipe is easy and doesn’t require a ton of ingredients. What I like best about this recipe was her instruction not to panic mid cooking when it looks like you are just boiling pork. It takes about three hours but you only need to pay attention for the first and last fifteen minutes. I can’t think of a better review than my dinner companion had four servings, each one bigger than the last. He finished the pot while my dreams of leftovers all week vanished. It did make delivering the news much easier. Make this if you want to impress someone. Or don’t because you will never be able to meet those expectations again.
Italian Sausage and Eggplant Strata:
A: Is it moussaka or lasagna? No matter, it’s delicious. I had it for breakfast this morning. The creamy smokiness of the eggplant and the freshness of the tomato and basil are a perfect combo. And since there’s sausage in it, maybe my coworkers won’t comment on how ‘weird’ my breakfast is as they eat their ¾ cup of bran flakes with skim milk…?

E: You never forget your first and this recipe will always be remembered for sending me to bed reading the cookbook. I was excited to go to sleep so I could wake up and have it for breakfast. She promised it would be better as leftovers and it was. I would serve this for a dinner party and graciously accept compliments for creating such a simple, rustic but incredibly flavourful meal. Make it if you are missing Italian food.

Meat and Spinach Muffins:
E: Fresh from the oven they were a little spinachy for me and I immediately used the handy space to make a note to half the spinach and double the eggs but over the week, they mellowed out and I crossed out my note. Side note – I love the space on each page to write your own adjustments, it makes you feel she wouldn’t be at all offended that you tinkered with her creations. Make these if you don’t want to cook each morning.

Cocoa Toasted Cauliflower:
A: Yum! Not chocolate-y, but spicy and delicious-y. One tip: use room temperature cauliflower. I had mine in the fridge so the coconut oil got rock hard the moment it hit the bowl, making ‘tossing to coat’ near impossible. I left the bowl on top of the oven for a bit (while the Char Sui was cooking) to melt the oil and it worked out great.

Cumin Roasted Carrots:
E: Perfect for winter. These are idiot proof. I may get more adventurous and add more root vegetables to the mix next time. Make these when you just can’t bear to eat raw carrots anymore.

Velvety Butternut Squash:
E: Un-effin-believable. This had all the creamy sweetness of the traditional butternut squash recipes with cream, brown sugar and brandy but with no Haute mess ingredients. No sugar crisis this week and I think it is all down to this fantastic squash with its sweet spice mix and pecans. A little time consuming with the baking and food processing but well worth it. Make this in your weekly cookup and enjoy as a luxury side dish all week.

Cauliflower Rice Pilaf:
E: This dish is as good as picking up a biryani from a stall in Malaysia. Filling, spicy and the addition of dried fruit makes it a treat. I will add some chicken next time to make it a complete meal. Make it when you want to impress non Paleo friends and show that they don’t need grains to complete a meal.

Olive Oil Mayo:
A: Ok, why the HELL did I wait so long to make homemade mayo?!? This stuff is amazing! I made the ranch dressing with it and after one taste I had no choice but to jump around my kitchen and hump the air. What I’m trying to say is: I’m soooo happy that I get to live in a world with homemade mayo.

Thank to both Elizabeth and Amanda for sharing their reviews!  

The only things that I did not like about this book were:

1) It made me feel like my recipe creation skills are pretty remedial.  I’m going to blame the fact that I do not have a super human tongue like Melissa.

2) I had to use some serious jedi mind magic to stop myself from eating to a point of tummy explosion.  The food is that good.

So if you haven’t bought your copy of Well Fed yet, you are really missing out on some of the best damn Paleo food you will ever eat.  What are you waiting for? Go get Well Fed and start fist pumping and air humping!

Drumroll please….I am extremely excited to share with you the King and Queen (winners) of Quantum CrossFit’s GET REAL Challenge!  This year we had almost 40 competitors (our largest group to date!) and I was SO IMPRESSED by EVERYONE’s efforts and results.  It was extremely difficult for us to pick 1 female and 1 male winner because there were so many dramatic changes.  It literally came down to a photo finish to choose the winners.  I am always amazed at everyone’s dedication, commitment and group support, but this year in particular was extra stellar.  You all proved that with solid training (thanks to Quantum CrossFit) and nutrition (thanks to Haute Life…me:)) you can see dramatic changes in your health, performance and body composition in 5 short weeks.   It was a tough decision, but alas we can only have 1 King and 1 Queen.  READY?!?!  Here we go…

The KING of the GET REAL Challenge is Jason!!  Jason is a downtown corporate man who has been a member of the gym for 2 years – he took this opportunity to get his nutrition in check in order to improve his performance and get geared up for a future triathalon….in addition to bringing his abs to the forefront.  He committed to the challenge with gusto and the results are a testament to this commitment.   Dropping 11% of his body weight, he lost the equivalent of at least 1 kettlebell.  Check out Jason’s before picture here:

I am not cruel...Jason gave me this pic to use!

Here is Jason’s actual Before/After pics:

The QUEEN of the GET REAL Challenge is Mary Anne!!  Mary Anne attacked this challenge like Dr. Oz at a whole grain buffet table.  She was a HUGE contributor to the GET REAL forum and provided so much support and encouragement to her fellow GET REAL’ers.  Her commitment paid off as she lost 6% of her body weight and dropped a whole lot of inches.  Check out Mary Anne’s transformation here:

Thank you to both the King and Queen for allowing me to use their pics.  I know they will inspire others to GET REAL!

I asked the winners to answer a few questions about the challenge….

What has the challenge done for you?

J: Attempting not to state the obvious but this challenge really reinforced the value of good solid nutrition forming the base of anything else I want to accomplish in life.  From a physical perspective, I hit a bunch of PR’s –Getting my first ever HSPU (handstand push-up) was a proud moment. So proud I had to show coach KC a second time! Hitting a 205# “Jerk” PR was a nice surprise and 75 consecutive double unders  was another. Generally speaking, I just felt like my frame was thanking me for showing it a little love! In the end, the progress in performance I’ve always wanted in the gym was being held back by my lack of focus on proper nutrition. This competition opened my eyes to that and I’d encourage anyone who missed out to pick the brains of the coaches between now and the next challenge.  I mainly harassed you (Summer) and Pete but Leah, Tyler, and KC are no wallflowers either! I was no different from most coming into CFQ in mid-2010. Couldn’t do a pullup without a green band, didn’t know what paleo was, or what kipping meant. I’ve learned a ton along the way and put it all to work in this challenge . There was really nothing to lose and everything to gain by committing to this.

M: Apart from making me feel better than I ever have, it was really rewarding to commit to something and see all my hard work pay off. Resetting what I ate has given me a new consciousness of my appetite and ‘real’ hunger, and helped me separate that from more emotional eating.

Outside of your waistline, where else did you see positive changes?

J: My productivity and energy in general seemed to increase and/or stabilize. Not having to endure the morning zombi-like feeling or the 2pm energy crash was a win worth mentioning. I should note that I’m not a coffee drinker, and never have been, but I’ve always felt like caffeine shouldn’t be the answer to my energy issues.  My number one goal was to improve my sleep and although I still have my battles as someone with sleep apnea, it’s definitely progressed through this challenge.

M: My energy is up, I’m in a good mood, I feel like it’s helped me be better in every aspect of my life – at work, in the gym, with my friends and family. When you feel good, it’s contagious. I feel more positive and capable all around!  Digestive wise – I used to get “random” stomach aches for “no apparent reason” and I couldn’t figure it out… well guess what, now I know why, and it hasn’t been an issue whatsoever when eating this way. And that’s pretty great.

Did you find it easy to stick to for 5 weeks?

J: I wouldn’t call it easy, but doing this with a group of people definitely made it easier without question. I think in the past when I’ve tried to do something like this, I’ve lost the will or want or inspiration to keep going and keep cooking, and justified a bad choice (aka a trip to the drive through) with some excuse (I’m just too busy, it’s only one meal, most of it’s good for me). This time I just kept telling myself “you only eat what you kill” aka eat what you cook and that’s it. Once things got rolling about a week or so into it, it became routine and in many cases was faster than hitting up Subway or Tim Horton’s because I already had food with me.

M: It was tough at first, getting the hang of really planning things out, and with some events I had to attend. But I got the hang of it and now it feels more like 2nd nature… I don’t have to think about what would make a ‘paleo’ breakfast/meal/snack… it’s just how I eat now. And the more positive feedback I got, the easier it became because I wouldn’t want to go back to feeling crappy again. I may have had a few sweet treats after the challenge was over, but unfortunately (or not?) now I know I feel better without them

What are your goals now that the challenge is over?

J: Keeping my a$$ on the wagon would be at the top of list! I still want to see my 6th ab (oh the vanity!) and until I do, I’ll just stick with it but maybe in more of a 90/10 fashion like you (Summer) alluded to.  I’ve also set my sights on a 2nd shot @ a sprint triathlon in milton on June3rd. I did my first and only triathlon there in 2010 after one month of crossfit at CFQ, so we’ll see how far I’ve come barring any injury flare ups.

M: Get super strong! And keep on keeping it real 🙂

Any plans on how you’re going to spend the prize $?  Perhaps some new pants?

J: I choose meat and some sunshine (future vacay) over oreos…I’d consider that progress!

M: A couple of new dresses… maybe some new kitchen gadgets (I have my eye on that veggie spiral maker!) But mostly I’m putitng it back into CFQ so that I can keep this great experience going.

Congrats to you both…you both did AMAZING!  (And you made me proud….tear)

Until next time, keep it REAL!

Last week I recapped the best recipes from the first week of Quantum CrossFit‘s GET REAL nutrition challenge.  Once again, I am so impressed by everyone’s skillz in the kitchen!  People have been scouring the internet and Paleo cookbooks and posting their amazing creations.  In addition, they’ve been channeling their inner Julia Child to come up with some Haute-Ass original recipes.  Without further ado, here is the rundown of the ‘originals’  from this week (in no particular order):

Marina’s “Spaghetti” & Meat Sauce

Ok this was from Friday night and was relatively mundane but so delicious I have to post it. Basically meat sauce with zucchini spaghetti, idea I shamelessly appropriated from Jason and am keeping.

–      1 half pound natural bacon
–      1 onion
–      3 cloves of garlic
–      2 cups cremini mushrooms
–      2 lbs lean beef
1/2 can crushed tomatoes
–      chili powder
–      salt/pepper to taste
–      about 5 grated zuccchini for noodle simulation

Basically I just sauteed bacon, onions, garlic and mushrooms, added the beef and spices until cooked through, followed by tomatoes. Picture is sans zucchini. I was going to pour the sauce on top of the noodles but then decided that was too much work (I know, that lazy) and mixed it all together into one big pot of delicious.

Only took 15 minutes to put together, so will definitely be making it into the staple category.

 Jodi’s Awesome Quiche

Mmmmm (with warnings that I never measure when cooking)

About a cup of almond flour
Egg white

Dozen eggs
1 cup almond milk (approx)
coconut oil
12-15 sliced mushrooms
1-2 cups of spinach (cooked and chopped)
4-6 chopped shallots
salt and pepper


Mix together almond flour and egg white so that the almond flour is damp but not overly wet and spread over the bottom of baking dish (I used a 9 X 13 pyrex dish). Bake in oven for 8-12 minutes at 375 until crust hardens.

For the filling, I started by cooking the shallots and mushrooms together in coconut oil and then steamed the spinach and chopped it up into small pieces seasoning with salt and pepper while cooking.

Beat the eggs together and add the almond milk. Add a few spoonfuls of the veggies and mix together. I added them slowly and missed because i didn’t let them cool and didn’t want the eggs to cook before it hit the oven, but if you let the veggies cool I don’t think it would be a problem. Not sure how much of a problem it would have been anyway but the baker in me always says if you are adding hot things to egg, do it slowly.

Once everything is added together to the mixture, pour it on top of the crust and bake in oven at 375 for 40 – 45 minutes until firm.

I finished by dividing into portions and wrapped them in saran in individual servings. Cooking for one means I left a few servings out and froze the extras individually ready to be taken out as needed!


Anne’s Fav Breakfast – Ham Hock & Collard Greens
“The secret recipe for getting HUGE” 

My favourite breakfast.

Slow cook one smoked ham hock from pastured pork in broth, with a chopped onion and garlic, some Frank’s Hot sauce for a few hours. Add two bunches of chopped collards for another few hours. Remove meat from bone and if you like serve with eggs.

Jason’s Shrimp Volcano

My Gameday Submission…

–      1.5lb bag of shrimp
1/2 head of chopped rainbow chard
–      1 chopped onion
–      1 chopped red pepper
lots of fresh chopped garlic
–      2 tsp curry powder
–      1 can coconut milk
–      parsley or cilantro

Made this in maybe 20mins…toss it all together and used some spare pureed cauliflower from last night to put it in the center of.

Just finished watching a flick that was based in Hawaii (The Descendents), made me think of volcanoes I guess when I fired this together.

James’ Chinese Siu Yuk (Roasted Pork)

The best part of this is the crispy skin (crackling). That is what you are striving for when you’re cooking a slab of pork belly for Siu Yuk.

3-4 lb Pork Belly (I order from Healthy Butcher)
2 tablespoons fermented red bean curd/tofu (optional since it is not strictly Paleo)
(You can get this from T&T or most Chinese/asian specialty stores)
1 1/2 tsp Chinese five spice powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp white (or black) pepper
2 tsp finely chopped garlic
A little bit of butter or coconut oil
coarse kosher salt for sprinkling

Day Before:
1. Prepare marinade by mixing (be a curd, five spice powder, salt, honey, pepper, garlic together)
2. Boil enough water for pouring over pork belly (I use a tea kettle’s worth)
3. Put belly skin side up on a cooling rack in the sink
4. Pour boiling water slowly on top of the skin to blanch
5. Dry skin with a paper towel
6. Stab the skin all over with a sharp knife – You need lots and lots of holes … (take out your frustrations)
– Try not to stab all the way through the fat layer to the meat
7. Flip pork belly so that meat side is up
8. Every 1-2 cm’s, slide half a cm deep gashes with a sharp knife
9. Rub marinade generously into meat side
10. Flip back onto an oven tray skin side up. Wipe up any moisture or marinade that is left on skin surface. You want it to be completely dry.
11. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 12-24 hours.

Day of:

1. Preheat oven to 410 C
2. Prepare a roasting tray with a rack raised 2-3 centres. I use four small metal ingredient cups placed under the rack.
3. Oil the surface of the skin lightly with butter or coconut oil keep it from sticking to the rack
4. Place belly skin side down onto rack
5. Place in oven and roast for 30 minutes
6. Take the roast out and flip the belly to be skin side up.
7. Stab some more holes with a sharp knife.
8. Sprinkle some coarse kosher salt on top and place back in oven for 15 minutes.
9. After 15 minutes, raise temp of oven to 430 C.
10. After 15 minutes, turn your broiler on to high.
11. Watch for the skin to crackle/crisp up to a golden colour….it is ok for it to burn a bit.
– Keep an eye on this … it can happen very quickly (within a few minutes)
12. Once you are satisfied with the crackle(ness) … take out
13. Using a butter knife, you can carefully scrape off the burnt areas.
14. Let cool a bit and then cut up into small rectangular bite sized pieces.

Mary Anne’s “cure for the common cold” – Sausage & Kale Soup

Stupid cold just doesn’t want to go away so here’s what’s for dinner: a hearty sausage and kale soup.

– remove casings and brown sausage (I used the garlic farmers sausage but I like it best with a spicy Italian) then throw in onions and garlic until translucent
– throw in a can of whole tomatoes and juice, mash them up a bit. Add broth (I used chicken)
– bring to a boil then simmer for a bit, stirring in chopped kale at the end

Quick, easy and delicious! I love tomato based soups.

Christine’s Gazpacho

I teach an all boys class. 
I am tired a lot (all) of the time and like to have as many ‘sides’ ready to go as possible. There are different ways of making your own tomato juice but I used a bottle.

-1 cucumber halved and seeded but not peeled ( i have used both field and english versions)
-2 red bell peppers cored and seeded
-4 plum tomatoes
-1 red onion (small)
-garlic (i use 2 small-med or one giant clove)
-3 cups tomato juice
-1/4 cup white wine vinegar
-1/4 cup olive oil
-1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
-1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Roughly chop the cuke, bell pepper, tomatoes, and red onion into 1 inch cubes. Put each veg separately into a food processor with steel blade and pulse until coarsely chopped. Do NOT overprocess!
  After each veg processed combine them in a large bowl, add the garlic, tomato juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix well and CHILL (the mixture) before serving. The longer is sits, the more the flavah develops!

Sam’s Bad Ass Bacon & The Most Beautiful Breakfast Bowl Ever

This is less of a recipe and just more of a cooking technique. I love oven roasting my bacon. No spattered cook top and it turns out perfectly every time.

Here is how I do it:

Lay bacon on a foil lined baking sheet. Place in a cold oven and set to bake at 400 degrees. Set a timer for 16 minutes. At 16 mins. Take out and flip. Bake for another 2 mins then check on it. Cook another minute or two depending on how crispy you like it. Keep in mind it will also crisp up a bit more when placed on paper towel for a bit. It’s important to use a timer as you will get it right every time and it leaves you free to prep other food without forgetting what’s in the oven. One last note, if you usually have thin sliced bacon you may want to reduce the initial time to 14 or 15 mins until you see how it cooks.

Breakfast salad: baby spinach, cucumber, avocado, tomatoes, chopped hard boiled eggs, blueberries and raw pepitas.

Stay tuned for more GET REAL recipes next week!!

“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things….”

With our annual GET REAL Food Challenge at Quantum Crossfit under way, I figured it would be a good time to post some of my favourite pantry (and other) staples.  I know it can be daunting to ditch all your packaged foods and cook everything from scratch.  I also know firsthand that not everyone has time to cook every single thing from scratch.  While I would love to say that I make my own salsa and nut butter, I don’t….at least not while I’m still juggling 15,000 things.  Perhaps in the future I’ll have time to grow my own herbs and make coconut milk, but right now I rely on a few packaged things so that I can create amazing meals and still have a few minutes to see my husband and dogs each day.

Here are some guidelines that I use when buying something from a package:

1)   It must contain 100% real ingredients.  The only exception is my coconut milk which has guar gum in it….since I don’t have any negative reactions to guar gum, I am not going to sweat this.

2)   I aim to avoid packaging that contains BPA

3)   I pick Organic whenever I can afford it.

Here are my pantry staples:

1)   Native Forest Coconut Milk – Native Forest is one of the only canned coconut milks (to my knowledge) which has BPA free cans.  Coincidently, their coconut milk is so creamy and best to make ‘whipped’ cream.  Apparently the Arroy-D brand (which is much cheaper) is also BPA free.

2)   Eden Organic Crushed Tomatoes (and Tomato Sauces) – Eden is also one of the companies aiming to go BPA free and they are one of the only brands that offers Tomatoes in a glass container (vs canned).  It is not guaranteed 100% BPA free because there is some which coats the lid (which is then covered by another protective layer), but as you can read here it’s likely the best option available (aside from making your own).  I find it at Whole Foods for about $6.49 a jar so it’s not cheap….my chili is now a luxury meal.

3)   Wild Planet Canned Tuna and Salmon – Wild Planet also makes the list of companies going BPA free, however at this point only the canned Tuna is BPA free.  I keep this on hand in case of emergency….I rarely eat tuna anymore due to the mercury content (and when I do, it’s sashimi).  I should note that Wild Planet claims to have less mercury than other tuna brands.  In any event, I have switched to buying frozen wild pacific salmon filets when I need something in a pinch…you can bake it in 10 minutes.

4)   Whole Foods 365 Salsa (Hot or Medium) –  As George Costanza said, “salsa is now the number one condiment in America”…I tend to agree that it is definitely one of my favourites. I put it on plain roasted chicken, eggs, veggies….you cannot go wrong with salsa.  Plus it is just fun to say “SALSA!”  Pick a brand that does not have sugar or any other questionable ingredients.

5)   A few good spice blends – I have a few from The Healthy Butcher which I LOVE. It makes seasoning something so much easier…sprinkle and you’re good to go.  The ONE Rub and FIRE Rub carried at the Healthy Butcher are my 2 current favourites.

6)   Bubbies Pickles and Sauerkraut – These are not your average Snooki pickles….Bubbies are all naturally fermented, so they carry lots of the beneficial bacteria that your gut loves.  I do not eat burgers unless they are paired with a Bubbies pickle…running out of these creates an emergency situation in the house.  Bubbies Sauerkraut is also delish.

7)   Frank’s Red Hot – Yes, I would put that sh*t on everything.  In fact, I have to try not to….it’s an addictive substance.  I try to limit my Red Hot use to my weekend eggs and when I eat plain roasted chicken.  Too much of this stuff is not kind to your gut (and shouldn’t be used if you suffer from gut issues), so it should not be used liberally.  I have tried other (more premium) hot sauces, but this one is still my favourite.

8)   Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste – Add some coconut milk and you have a fast and delicious curry.

Here are a few other things that I always have stock of – you can find all of these at Whole Foods (except maybe #10 which I get at the Healthy Butcher or local farmer’s markets):

1)   Raw Organic Cashews – generally I’ll have a small handful pre-workout with a bit of meat.

2)  Cashew Nut Butter and Hazelnut Butter – Hazelnut butter tastes like Nutella….spread some on a baked apple with cinnamon and you have dessert.

3)   Kicking Horse Coffee – when you’re drinking coffee or espresso black, it’s got to be good quality.  Since I do a half-caf, I like Kicking Horse because they do not treat their caffeine free blends with any chemicals.  Running out of this would also create a major emergency in the house.

4)   Frozen Rapini – because you should never go without your greens and sometimes you just don’t have time to wash, chop and steam.  These work great in chili’s, soups and stews.

5)   Acropolis Organic Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar – I got hooked on this brand when I was introduced to it while cooking with my friend Greg Carver.  The balsamic is AWESOME…it has a wonderful natural sweetness…I swear you won’t go back to another brand.

6)   Simply Natural Organic Mustard – Much like my Frank’s Red Hot, I put this sh*t on everything too…..for dressings, with salmon, on burgers….in place of Jager shots.   This brand is my favourite.

7)  Coconut Aminos – I use this in place of Soy Sauce and Tamari….it works better in sauces than for dipping sashimi as it does taste a bit different from Tamari.

8)  Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar – I like Bragg because it is raw and unpasteurized (aka: it’s not processed).  I mix 1 Tablespoon of this with equal parts mustard and lemon juice to create a mean salad dressing that goes with just about anything.  This is also good to take diluted with water prior to eating to stimulate stomach acid secretion.

9)  Private Stock Chipotle Aioli – OMG this stuff is such a treat….on burgers, roasted veggies (especially sweet potatoes) etc.  I use it sparingly for special occasions only (because it’s not cheap)…usually with my ritual meal of bison burger with Bubbies pickle and roasted root veggies (drooool).

10)  Mad Mexican Guacamole –  This is by far the BEST guacamole I have ever tasted….I’m sorry, but it probably beats your homemade stuff.  I have yet to taste anything better.  They must inject it with crack because it is not only addictive, but it also costs quite a bit…….This is on my worth it list because it tastes sooooo gooood.  This may not be a staple, but it’s definitely something I pick up every once in a while.

Yes, I’d love to be a 100% Paleo elitist who makes every single thing from scratch including grinding up cumin in a mortar and pestle.  Perhaps one day I will achieve this Cave-Martha Stewart status.  In the meantime, I am thrilled that there are some companies that make foods which meet the real food criteria and make me very happy.

Did I miss anything?  What’s in your pantry?

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