Cherry Almond Torte

Happy Fri Yay, my friends!!

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It’s getting to be the weekend, so it seems like the perfect time to talk about dessert…noms! When I started Whole30, I was really hoping to break my sugar addiction. What I realized instead, I think, is that I actually just really like desserts, without any addiction. I love coordinating different flavors to create something amazing, I love finishing a meal with an outrageous creation, and I love how happy people get when I make them dessert.

Also, let’s be real- cutting desserts entirely out of one’s life seems impractical, and certainly unpleasant. So instead of eliminating sweets entirely, I’m hoping to concentrate on eating sweets really intentionally- only when they’re really, really worth it. Fortunately, I seem to have a healthy amount of self control in determining when those times are 🙂

For me, I think desserts are really worth it when the recipe focusses closely on flavors and high quality ingredients. That means that I’m not trying to eat things that have tons of sugar merely for the sake of being sweet, or cream cheese merely for the sake of being rich. I’m trying to avoid excess in sugar and fat, when those things don’t do anything to enhance the flavors of the ingredients. If this seems like a lot of effort to put into a dessert- it is. But it all paid off this weekend, when I the most ridiculous recipe- a Cherry Almond Torte.

Cherry Almond Torte

Now, the inspiration for this recipe came from Smitten Kitchen, because Deb is a culinary goddess to whom I bow down. In 2013, she posted a recipe for Hazelnut Macaroon Torte, which looked amazing. I finally got around to making it a few months ago and it was so. damn. good. The ‘cake’ layers are actually macaroons, which are made without butter or flour. When I was searching for a decadent, but lightened up, dessert to make over the weekend, I recalled this torte and knew it would be a great jumping off point.

Evan works a Sunday shift at the firehouse every three weeks, and I like to come visit on Sunday nights and bring dessert. I know that the firefighters love dessert, but particularly almond flavored things, and cherry cordial seemed like a perfect flavor profile. I followed Deb’s methods, with some ingredient adjustments, and my torte came out perfectly. It was definitely a hit at the station (Evan said guys were finishing the leftovers for breakfast) and I’m sure it will be a hit at your home, too!

***reading this recipe might make it seem complicated. There are, admittedly, a few steps, but none of them are challenging, I promise! I even eliminated the need to frost the outside of the case, because that’s not in my wheelhouse. For me, this came together in a little under an hour- really!

Cherry AlmondTorte

Macaroons

  • Nonstick spray
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 12 ounces almonds
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6 egg whites
  • 1 tsp almond extract or emulsion

Heat the oven to 325. Next, drawn 4 8 inch circles on parchment paper (wax paper is not a good substitute, sorry!) and cut them out, leaving some margin. Spray your cookie sheets, and smooth down the circles, 2 to a tray; set aside. In a blender or food processor, grind the almonds with the sugar and a pinch of salt until the texture resembles sand. In a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer and a clean, dry, glass bowl) beat the egg whites until they are stiff, pausing to add the almond extract when soft peaks form. Use a spatula to fold the almond mixture into the egg whites in three batches—you want to be a little gentle with this, to avoid extra deflation, but they also need to be well incorporated. When everything is mixed, divide the batter into four and spread evenly on the parchment circles. A warning- when you make these the batter shouldn’t move, so make sure that they are as smooth and even as you can get them. Bake for about 21 minutes, until the edges start to brown and the top is dry. (While these are baking, wash and dry your mixing bowl and beater, but no need to rinse the blender just yet.) Remove to the cooling rack, and peel off the parchment paper after about five minutes.

Ganache

  • 6 oz chocolate (I used dark chocolate with almonds and sea salt, because that sounded good to me. You can choose anything from chocolate chips to a nice, bittersweet bar- find your own path!)
  • 2 tbsp milk (of heavy cream from the pint you’re about to whip)

Place the milk and chocolate in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for about 30 seconds, then stir until the chocolate melts into a satiny dream. If the chocolate doesn’t melt, microwave for another 15 seconds. If it seems too thick to spread, add another tablespoon of milk. Divide the chocolate evenly among the layers and spread over the surface of the macaroon- edge to edge, or as thin as possible.

Whipped Filling

  • 1 jar maraschino cherries
  • 1 pink heavy whipping cream (very, very cold)
  • 1 tbsp almond extract or emulsion

Drain the cherries, but reserve ½ cup of the syrup. Place the cherries in your blender or food processor and pulse a few times- you want them chopped, but still chunky. Add the cream to the mixing bowl and beat until you get to a point past soft peaks (they fall over) but just before you get to stiffer peaks (standing up). At this point, slow down the mixer, add the almond extract and start drizzling in the cherry syrup. If the cream has been well whipped, it should retain its volume pretty well. Once the syrup has been incorporated, you can also add the shopped cherries and mix well.

Assembly: place one chocolate covered macaroon layer on a platter, and spread ¼ of the cherry whipped cream on top. Repeat with all of the other layers, and sprinkle on some chocolate shavings if you’re feeling festive. You can definitely serve this immediately, but I find that its really, really good if it sits in the fridge for a few hours- the macaroon layers start to absorb some of the cream and it gets a lovely texture. Either way, its delicious!

 

 

Thai {inspired} Chicken Meatballs with Spicy Peanut/Cashew Zoodles

Ohhh friends—today is a great day! My alarm went off at 5:45 this morning, and I was not feeling it. I rolled out of bed, though, put Howie in my warm spot, and pulled on some workout clothes. An hour later I had crushed my ab workout, which was nice. Even better, though, is when I was getting ready for work, I tried on a dress that was too small for me last month…and it fits. And it’s awesome 🙂

If you’ve been reading along for a bit, you know that this year is my ‘Year of Wellness’ and I just finished a Whole30 last month, designed to get me back on track. Well, things are happening my friends- the more I honor my health commitments, the more happy returns I’m experiencing. I was in a size 8 at Banana this weekend, for heavens sake! It’s a good feeling.

Zoodles and meatballs2Anyway. So I’m not strictly adhering to a Whole30 diet for now (there’s a cake coming up later in the week that confirms this) but I’m still pretty addicted to how much better I feel when I’m eating pretty clean. To that end, I’m really motivated to adjust a lot of the meals and flavor profiles I love to fit in with my new preferences. Thai food is some of my favorite, so I’m excited to share Thai {inspired} Chicken Meatballs with Spicy Peanut/Cashew Zoodles.

When I tried Plated last summer, one of the recipes they sent was for Thai chicken burgers, and they were so full of flavor!! I modified that recipe a bit and changed them into meatballs. Another dish I adore is spicy peanut noodles, and most of the flavor in that recipe is in the sauce, not the pasta. To update that, I traded cards for veggie noodles, and made a version of spicy peanut sauce that could accommodate cashew butter instead, with enough other flavor that you don’t notice the soy is missing.

zoodles and meatballs3Together, these meatballs and veggie noodles pack a ton of flavor and still maintain a pretty clean profile! They’re also really simple- both dishes come together in about 30 minutes, making them a perfect weeknight meal. For more options, you could also omit the zoodles and pass the sauce on the side, to make a perfect healthy appetizer for any party. Or reshape them into patties, use a lettuce wrap instead of a bun, and the peanut sauce instead of ketchup or mustard. Anyway you shape them, though, these are a delicious addition to your Whole30 recipe collection.

Thai {inspired} Chicken Meatballs with Spicy Peanut/Cashew Zoodles

For the meatballs

  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • handful cilantro
  • 3 green onions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 inch piece of ginger
  • 1 tsp hoisin sauce (omit if Whole30)
  • 1 ½ tsp sriracha or chili garlic sauce (or more, depending on your flavor preferences!)
  • ½ lime
  • salt

For the zoodles

  • 2 tablespoons nut butter (most people do peanut butter, but I use cashew
  • 1 ½ tsp sriracha or chili garlic sauce (or more, depending!)
  • ½ lime
  • Salt
  • 1 medium or 2 small zucchini
  • ½ bell pepper
  • 1 cup carrots (I use the shredded kind, but you could zoodle those, too!)

Ingredient prep: chop cilantro so you have about ¼ cup; place half in a bowl for meatballs, and reserve half. Finely slice the green onions, and put half in the meatball bowl and half with the reserved cilantro (that will be used for garnish at the end). Grate or finely mince the ginger; add half to the meatball bowl, and half to a small bowl for the dressing.Grate or finely mince the garlic, and add all of that to the meatball bowl. While you’re prepping, shred the carrots and the zucchini (I LOVE this zyliss julienne peeler) and finely slice the pepper- you want these veggies to all be about the same size.

Meatballs: In a bowl with the cilantro, onions, garlic and ginger, add the chicken, hoisin, sriracha, a generous pinch of salt, and juice of ½ lime. Use your hands to incorporate everything really well, then give the mixture a few minutes to ‘settle’. Chicken mixtures can start off a little loose, and giving them a minute to rest allows to proteins to reorganize so they feel more substantial and keep their shape better. In the meantime, preheat a flat skillet over medium heat, and add some oil. Shape the chicken mixture into walnut sized meat balls—I like to make chicken a little smaller than I would beef, because I really, really, want to make sure it cooks through. Also, I used a medium cookie scoop and got about 16 meatballs, for reference. Move the meatballs around so they brown on all sides (about ten minutes), then cover and cook for another ten minutes, stirring occasionally. At this point, if you think they’re done, cut one in half to check. If they’re all done, remove from the pan. Otherwise, keep going for another few minutes until they’re not pink at all (or, until they come up to temp on your handy meat thermometer).

Dressing: start with the ginger you set aside, and add the nut butter, sriracha, juice of ½ lime, and generous pinch of salt, and whisk together with a fork. Taste test, and adjust with more sriracha or salt as needed. Note: this mixture may look thicker than normal dressing- that’s okay! The veggies will give off some liquid, so it will all work out.

Zoodles: You can definitely use the same pan that you did for the meatballs- no need to even wipe it out, since we’re working with similar flavors! Heat to medium high (nice and hot) and add the carrots and red peppers. Move those around the pan for about two minutes, then add the zucchini. Salt the veggies lightly, and cook for only another minute or two- you want the zucchini to lose its raw-ness, but retain its texture. When the zucchini is just slightly wilted, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the dressing. Toss to coat, then plate it up with the meatballs, and the reserved cilantro and green onions on top.

Wellness Wednesday: I finished my Whole30!!

Happy July, my friends! Today marks the first day of the second half of the month, and also my first day post- Whole30. In light of that little accomplishment, I thought it would be a good time to share my outcomes, and to talk a little bit more about the program and my experience. (A brief background: Whole30 is a 30 day (or longer) program where you give up known inflammatory food groups (legumes, including soy, grains, alcohol, added sugar, and dairy) to help reset your body and eliminate unhealthy food relationships. See here for more info!)

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First, and most interestingly—my results:

  • I lost 14 pounds, which feels amazing!
  • I didn’t take pictures or measurements, sorry, but I’ve dropped a pants and a dress size and things fit so much better know that I don’t have a weird bloated tummy situation.
  • I had been popping Tums multiple times a week before, and that need was eliminated immediately.
  • I had a painkiller free period, which is a miracle considering I had previously relied on a combination of pain killers, muscle relaxers, and hours at a time with my heating pad.
  • My knee pain is so, so reduced! I had debilitating inflammation, which is usually at its worst when it’s raining. This rainy June was so, so much better than I could have expected, in terms of pain and swelling.
  • Sleeping is so much better! I fall asleep easily and sleep soundly through the night, and wake up refreshed.
  • I feel so good, in fact, that I’ve started a fitness program and I know that part of my success there is because I’m actually fueling my body appropriately.
  • My skin is so, so clear. I hesitate to give Whole30 credit for this because I started a very interesting skin regiment a few weeks before I started the program, but it sure didn’t hurt!

My experience

I don’t think I intended to embark on a Whole30 journey in June. A few of my friends were talking about it, and I was sort of thinking about kind of doing my own take on a Whole30 type thing. On June 1, though, something clicked and I realized that I needed to just jump in and do the entire program, no exceptions. From there I read the book (so helpful!) and I realized that this was a great strategy for breaking some terrible habits (of which I was well aware) and just gaining a better relationship with food.

Whole30 was much easier for me than I thought it would be. For one thing, I was sick of feeling awful and I knew that I was eating so. much. junk. I was crabby the first few days, but wasn’t strongly tempted to cheat. After that first week, I knew that I had the ability and I was pretty committed to seeing it through. I think part of my success is that I am a creature of habit—I ate eggs every day for breakfast, usually with sauted greens (or hard boiled, if I was running late) and added fruit if I was still hungry. For lunch, I always have a salad with some protein and, ignoring Whole30 rules, I frequently took two hours to eat it due to my schedule. (I want to note here that I sometimes don’t want a salad for lunch, but I have it anyway. My preference is for food creativity, but my schedule and my health goals really keep me on track.) Dinner was a great time to experiment with food and flavors. I always started with a protein and a veggie, and just plugged in whatever sounded good. Zoodles and meatballs with red sauce, chicken and veggie kebabs, steak with roasted broccoli, porkchops and baked sweet potatoes, taco lettuce wraps with guac- the list goes on and on, and I found tons of variations on that basic formula.

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My Helpful Hints

  • Tell people who regularly eat with you, so they can be supportive and respectful. My husband wasn’t on board for doing Whole30, but he was on board for making dinners without bread and accepting my substitutions. He was also great at talking me out of any of the times I wanted to slip.
  • Anytime that you start to feel like you want to quit, eat something. As the Snickers commercials remind us, you’re not you when you’re hungry. Have a piece of fruit, (TJs has great peaches right now!) or some bacon, or a few nuts, and really ensure that you’re not hungry. Every single time I thought about quitting, it was because I needed to fuel up.
  • Establish some fallback meals and snacks, and keepthoseonhandat all times! Here are some items that I could put together without stressing:
    • Snacks: cashews, apples with cashew butter (perfect for breakfast, snacks between work and class, after a too-early dinner), carrots dipped in mashed avocados, watermelon after meals (we went through so much watermelon)
    • Meals: grilled chicken, roasted veggies (anything in my fridge tossed in a cast iron skillet, with spicy seasoning), zoodles (there is always zucchini in my fridge), red sauce on anything, bacon (whenever I couldn’t think of what to eat, I started cooking bacon)
  • Think about what you’re eating. I keep seeing people mentioning that they’re eating a ‘monkey salad’ with breakfast, but getting discouraged not to lose weight. The ingredients in that salad are whole, sure, but bananas, cashews, and coconut are also all kind of high in fat and calories. That’s not bad, but be mindful of how you’re combining food as it relates to the results you’re hoping to see.
  • They say not to weigh yourself during the program, but it was so helpful for me to weigh in after one week and see the progress I’d made. Seeing that number was awesome, especially since I wasn’t seeing any physical changes, and really energized me and encouraged me to keep going.
  • Lastly, get in a good headspace before you start. People are really attached to food—the idea of food, the memories and feelings associated with food, and actual food itself. Whole30 can help you develop a healthy relationship with food, but its also a struggle to break all those bad habits! Remember that 30 days will pass no matter what kind of food you eat- Whole30 will help those 30 days pass while you make some positive changes! Also, after you get past the first day, stop focusing how many more you have to go. Instead, remind yourself how awesome you’ve done so far. If you want to, you can do it—I promise!

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My Future

This is a little unclear. I don’t really have a healthy relationship with food just yet- I know that if I started to add back in chocolate, and ice cream, and salty snacks, I likely wouldn’t be able to set my own limits. For those groups, I’m planning to continue to avoid them until I can develop a better mindset. For everything else, I’ll plan the reintroduction that to plan recommends- each food group that was eliminated will be gradually reintroduced, so I can evaluate how my body responds. To be honest, I’m pretty sure that dairy is a no for me, and equally sure that alcohol is just fine (and I have a very healthy relationship with it), so I’ll likely just add alcohol back in for a few days. Then maybe grains, and then legumes (really, just soy and black beans), then maybe dairy, if I really need it. I hope that my positive experiences stay top of mind, so I can keep up my results. I can absolutely see myself doing a strict Whole30 every few months to get back to this stage– I love the results and I feel great!

Let me know if you have questions, or want any support– I’m a great cheerleader, and I think everyone can do this! Have you done a Whole30? If so, how was your experience and what were your results? I want to hear more success stories!