The Smell of Muffins in the Morning

IMG_20140715_110921_333~2A rainy day outside, Diana Krall on the stereo & homemade blueberry muffins in the oven = a pretty perfect little morning.

It has been a beautiful rainy morning here in Birmingham, ideal for a blueberry muffin breakfast. Perhaps it seems more wonderful than normal as we are finally settled into our new place! Having been in transition since our December wedding, it feels so good to wake up in the morning and walk into my very own kitchen.

Yesterday I brought home some fresh blueberries which looked too tantalizing to pass up (not to mention they were on sale!) This immediately got me thinking breakfast…

With nothing scheduled this morning, I took the time for a baking endeavor and came up with this yummy morning treat. You will love the blueberries that pop in your mouth as you bite into the sweet crust laced with coconut sugar.

If you try anything new this week, let this be it! They are well worth it and pretty simple at that. And hey– if blueberries aren’t your thing, any fresh berry will do! Think outside the box.

Blueberry Vanilla Almond Muffins

Makes 12 Muffins

  • 1/2 C. of Coconut Oil (Melted)
  • 1/4 C. of Honey
  • 1/4 C. Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk (Can also use rice milk)
  • 1/4 C. Coconut Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 tsp. of Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 tsp. of Pure Almond Extract
  • 1 C. of All Purpose GF Flour
  • 1 1/2 C. of Almond Meal
  • 1/2 tsp. of Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp. of Salt
  • 1 C. of Fresh Blueberries (or preferred fruit)
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease a muffin pan with coconut oil (or use liners! I would recommend it 🙂 )
  3. Add all wet ingredients together, as well as coconut sugar.
  4. Beat well.
  5. Add all dry ingredients.
  6. Beat well.
  7. Add your blueberries and gently fold into your muffin batter.
  8. Spoon into muffin pan.
  9. Pop in the oven for 15-18 mins.
  10. Enjoy the scrumptious smell that fills your home (oh, and taste, too!)

Note: You can also use frozen berries if you wish; however, it will leave your batter a different color. If you want pretty muffins, use fresh. If you don’t mind greenish-blue muffins, then frozen works great, too!

 

Beating the Heat

IMG_20140618_143539_482~3

Pineapple Cooler with Strawberries and Mint

I am an adopted southern woman. Having grown up in Colorado, it has been a beautiful adventure, not only falling more in love with my husband, but my new State of Alabama. It will be a year next month since moving to the Heart of Dixie. I can hardly believe it. Where does the time go!?

However, with the charm of southern living also comes one other little thing: the heat. And when I say heat, I don’t mean slightly warm. More like absolutely sweltering, I think I’m gonna pass out, why did I even shower? kinda heat! Since setting my heart on refinishing some furniture this Summer (for our new place), there is only one spot to do all that refurbing: outside. (Did I mention it’s almost July?)

As much as I love being creative and trying new things (thank you Pinterest!), the timing for this endeavor may not have been the best. Haha. Needless to say, after several hours of sanding and painting in the sun, I was ready for a thirst quencher!

A friend of ours, Ms. Esther, told us about using the rinds of a pineapple to make pineapple water (brilliant). What a savvy thing to do! Who wants to waste all that flavorful, liquid gold? Well, this made a perfect base for today’s new concoction: a Pineapple Cooler with Strawberries & Mint. Wanna beat the heat? Give this little baby a try!

Pineapple Cooler with Berries and Mint

Single Serving

  • 1 C. of Pineapple Water
  • (For Pineapple Water: The Remaining Rinds of 1-2 Pineapples & Water For Boiling)
  • 1 Tbsp. of Honey
  • 1/2 C. of Sliced Strawberries
  • Fresh Mint (Spearmint, Apple Mint, Peppermint, etc. Any will do!)
  • Ice
  1. Bring a pot of water to boil. Add pineapple rinds and boil for about twenty minutes.
  2. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  3. Remove rinds.
  4. Store in the fridge until cold.
  5. Fill half a glass with ice.
  6. Top with sliced berries and honey.
  7. Pour pineapple water over the top.
  8. Cut fresh mint into glass and stir.
  9. Garnish with a whole strawberry and mint leaf.
  10. Be refreshed!

Note: You can mix everything together in one large pitcher if you prefer (great for parties!) I just made mine in a single glass today. This ensures lots of berries and mint for each one! If making in a pitcher, consider adding more berries and honey than recipe calls for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Troops Behind Our Troops

My husband and I at our wedding. December 28, 2013. Photo Credit to Zach Yokum with Yokum Pictures.

My husband and I at our wedding. December 28, 2013. Photo Credit to Zach Yokum/Yokum Pictures.

The sky poured down rain this afternoon, as tears poured from my eyes. I am not sure whether it was me or the heavens that watered the ground more, as today was filled with difficult goodbyes amidst the thundering storms.

My husband, who is a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army National Guard, left for 4 months of Signal Corps training this afternoon. While it is only a season and I know it will probably end before we know it, somehow it feels like he has left for an eternity. The smallest window of time, when separated from the one you love and adore, can feel like a lifetime. Tomorrow is our four month anniversary. Perhaps the thought of being separated after only four months of being married makes things that much more challenging.

While I count my blessings that we can visit one another in June, my heart is heavy in not having him here tonight. He is my other half. The thought of him being deployed for a longer period than this one rivets me with both grief and pride. The sacrifice of our soldiers, their spouses and families is one of great burden and most of all, great love. It is one of the noblest positions on the planet. My family has a long history of military personnel and I am honored to have known and loved them. Thank you to all of those who have served and continue to serve.

As I sit here thinking on the subject, I want to personally thank each and every military spouse who has ever felt the pain, hardship and pride of loving an American soldier. It is unlike anything in this world. Truly. It takes a special kind of love, strength, patience, trust and faithfulness. It takes nights of loneliness and days of worry; it takes a heart of unfailing love and a patience only granted by our Creator; and it takes a beautiful strength that is often veiled by a reassuring smile.

While I have yet to endure a lengthy deployment, I am already given a taste of what it means to say goodbye and am being taught to be the military wife that Brett needs. After all, Brett and I were long distance five years until we were finally able to tie the knot in December. Between my family’s military past, Brett’s Basic Training, ROTC and now SBOLC, I am constantly learning what is required of me to be the encouragement and support he needs. Unfortunately, even with experiences, saying goodbye never seems to get easier.  This, however, is a good thing. It means that I am madly in love with the man of my dreams. Of course it won’t get any easier!

As husband and wife, we now face new sets of challenges between present training and future deployments. Already, I am being taught how to best serve him as he steps into a different world than the civilian one we are so accustomed to, to be the Lieutenant and leader he is created to be. With this in mind, I think I can go to sleep tonight without soaking my pillow through. I know he is where he is meant to be.

If you or someone close to you is serving, I would love to hear about your own stories. Feel free to comment and tell me about the soldier(s) you love and support.

Goodnight to all and God Bless,

Jessica Jo

Let Her Eat Cake

IMG_5561Living without chocolate can make a girl go crazy! A woman needs her fix, that marvelous indulgence to calm her need for something sweet (and I don’t mean a Fiber One bar). As you may have found, there is a comforting addiction in the rich goodness of Ghirardelli chocolate. Whether it be in cake or candy form, it’s simply magical.

As my birthday approaches, I need a good old-fashioned chocolate cake recipe. One that not only LOOKS like a genuine cake, but one that TASTES and FEELS like the real stuff, without all the sugar and dairy. And while we’re at it, why not melt a Chocolate Ghirardelli Bar into the mix? While the bar is 100% Unsweetened Cocoa, you won’t know the difference! When all is said and done, you’ll never guess this cake is good for you. Yes, it’s true. Now let the woman have some cake! After all, life is like a box of chocolate cake… (or something along those lines.)

Chocolate Indulgence Cake w/ Whipped Coconut Cocoa Frosting:

Serves 10-12

For the Cake:

2 C. of Gluten Free Flour (King Arthur’s)

1 1/2 C. of Coconut Palm Sugar

2 tsp. of Baking Soda

1/2 tsp. of Cream of Tartar

1/2 tsp. of Sea Salt

1 C. of Earth Balance Butter (Soy Free)

1 1/2 C. of Almond Milk

1 Tbsp. of Apple Cider Vinegar

3 Large Eggs

1 1/2 tsp. of Vanilla

1 Ghirardelli 100% Cacao, Unsweetened, Chocolate Baking Bar (Melted)

 

For the Frosting:

2 Cans of Refrigerated Coconut Milk

1 1/2 tsp. of Vanilla

2 tsp. of Honey

3-4 Tbsp. of Cocoa Powder

1 Tbsp. Coconut Sugar

10 Drops of Liquid Stevia English Toffee Flavor (optional, but recommended)

15 Drops of Liquid Stevia Chocolate Flavor (optional, but recommended)

 

CAKE INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a bowl or stand mixer, combine Earth Balance butter, eggs, vanilla and coconut sugar. Beat on medium speed for two minutes.
  3. Add almond milk, apple cider vinegar and melted Ghirardelli bar. (If melting in microwave, stir every 30 seconds as to not scorch the chocolate.)
  4. Beat for 1 minute.
  5. Add flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and sea salt. Mix on low to medium speed until well combined.
  6. Spread into greased and floured cake pans.
  7. Bake 18-20 minutes.
  8. Cool completely in pan.

 

FROSTING INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. In a standup mixer with whisk attachment: empty the solidified coconut milk into your mixing bowl (set aside the coconut water which has separated in the can. This is great for adding to smoothies!)
  2. Add vanilla, honey, cocoa powder and liquid stevia(s).
  3. Beat on medium/high until peaks begin to form.
  4. Add coconut sugar (melted, with a tsp. of water in the microwave.)
  5. Continue to beat until the cream is peaked and fluffy!
  6. Store in the refrigerator until ready to frost cake.
  7. Frost between cake layers, as well as the outside, using a spatula. Spread liberally!
  8. After frosting, refrigerate cake until ready to eat.
  9. Indulge!

Notes: Liquid Stevia can be purchased at your local health food store or here http://sweetleaf.com/products/sweet-drops-products. This cake is delicious with toasted walnuts and bananas, served alamode with Vanilla Coconut Bliss Ice Cream!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clean-Eating Comfort

IMG_5520Comfort food reigned supreme the other night, as I pulled from the oven a hot and gooey dish of chicken lasagna. It was not only a hit with my taste buds, but those of my husband and mother-in-law, who both agreed, “This doesn’t taste paleo! This tastes real.”

There’s nothing like the satisfaction of good old comfort food. It is hands down one of THE BEST forms of eating. It’s remarkable how a hearty, warm and cheesy bite can make everything better in life, isn’t it? Unfortunately, finding recipes that are good for the BODY and SOUL can be challenging. But let’s defy the odds, shall we?

Ladies and gentleman… say hello to clean-eating comfort food. (Yes, it’s possible!)

Chicken Lasagna Rolls

Serves 6-8

  • 1 Yellow Onion
  • 1 Yellow Squash
  • 1 Zucchini
  • 1 tsp. Minced Garlic
  • 1 tsp. Sea Salt
  • 1 Tbsp. Fresh Basil
  • 1/2 tsp. Ground Thyme
  • 1 tsp. Dried Oregano
  • 1 tsp. Dried Basil
  • 1 8 oz. Can of Tomato Sauce
  • 1 8 oz. Can of Diced Tomatoes (drained)
  • 2 Tbsp. Honey
  • 1 Tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 Lb. Ground Chicken (Hormone, Antibiotic Free)
  • 1 Box of Brown Rice Lasagna Noodles
  • 1-2 C. of Shredded Mozzarella (from Goat’s Milk)
  • Parmigiano Reggiano for garnish (from Sheep’s Milk)
  1. Heat a skillet with olive oil on Med/High heat.
  2. Sautée chopped onion, squash, zucchini and dried spices (about 15 mins.)
  3. Add sautéed veggies, garlic, sea salt, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, honey and balsamic vinegar into a blender or food processor.
  4. Blend until smooth. This will be your sauce!
  5. In the meantime, boil 1 box of lasagna noodles (I used brown rice noodles).
  6. In the same pan used for veggies, cook up your ground chicken. Season liberally with salt and pepper.
  7. Drain your noodles, rinse and lay out flat on a clean counter or cutting board.
  8. Layer with shredded mozzarella, chicken and sauce.  Roll, top with more cheese and sauce, and place into a greased baking dish.
  9. Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 min. Broil to brown cheese; garnish with fresh basil and parmigiano reggiano.
  10. Taste the comfort.

LAMB: The Other Red Meat

IMG_5496There is a uniquely robust and earthy flavor that can only be found in the taste of lamb. For the first time, I tried my hand at making the deliciously lean meat this afternoon, paired with roasted garlic potatoes and carrots. The vegetables were a lovely complement to the rosemary lamb shoulder chop.

Lamb is certainly not common American fare, making it a more foreign and undervalued main course in the standard American kitchen. However, this particular cut is quite inexpensive, yet incredibly satisfying and simple when prepared. While it appears and sounds a bit fancy, it is quite effortless. Try it for yourself! It definitely breaks the chain of ordinary weeknight meal planning.

Note: Lamb is a wonderful source of protein, as well as vitamins B2, B3 and B12. Vitamin B2 is beneficial for healthy skin and vision, aids in producing red blood cells and even supports in breaking down calories. B3 is essential for lowering cholesterol and B12 helps promote a healthy nervous system. Even more reason to make this savory dish!

Rosemary Lamb Shoulder with Roasted Vegetables

Serves 2

For the Lamb-

  • 2 Lamb Shoulder Chops (preferably hormone, antibiotic-free)
  • Olive Oil
  • Sea Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. Fresh Rosemary

For the Vegetables-

  • 2-3 Red Potatoes
  • 1 Bag of Baby Carrots
  • Olive Oil
  • Sea Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1-2 tsp. Minced Garlic
  1. Take your lamb out of the refrigerator and let sit in room temperature while preparing vegetables.
  2. Thinly slice your potatoes. Fill a glass baking dish with cut potatoes and baby carrots.
  3. Liberally coat vegetables in olive oil, salt, pepper and minced garlic.
  4. Bake at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes. For additional texture, broil until golden brown after baking
  5. Meanwhile, prepare your lamb. Rub each chop vigorously with olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh rosemary. No need to finely chop your rosemary.
  6. As the vegetables finish, turn your oven’s broiler on HI.
  7. Broil lamb on HI 10-12 minutes, turning each chop over half way through cooking time.
  8. Let your meat rest for about five minutes before serving.
  9. Plate and garnish with fresh rosemary.
  10. Enjoy the beautiful meal you’ve made!

Now THAT’S Good

IMG_5485Why is it, that when we think of a snack that’s good for us, we automatically think it’s going to taste bad? That’s because in many cases, that is EXACTLY what happens. Health foods are often missing two key ingredients: flavor and satisfaction.

So often I find myself wanting for more. While it may technically be good for your body, health food has a bad rap for sometimes leaving your tummy and taste buds suffering.

For instance: the other day I picked up two new granola bars from my local health food store. To have them on hand is great for on-the-go snacking, as well as for an afternoon pick-me-up. However (to my dismay) they absolutely screamed health food bar. When I bite into a snack bar, I don’t want to feel like I just ate bird seed with an essence of dirt. I think we’ll leave that for the birds!

This weekend, my husband and I camped out in our new tent. In need of some good fuel, I set out to make a snack bar that’s not only nutritious, but one that we actually want to eat! Thus, the Cocoa Crunch Bar came to be.  And let me just say… you will want more. Brett and I were like two little piglets, gobbling up their sweet & salty goodness. We almost felt naughty, like we were chowing down on snicker’s bars. The kicker: we didn’t have to feel a single bit of guilt. It’s all good.

Try for yourself! It’s well worth the effort.

Cocoa Crunch Bars:

  • 2/3 C. Salted Cashews
  • 2/3 C. Walnuts
  • 2/3 C. Raw Sunflower Seeds
  • 4 Dried Figs
  • 4 Dates
  • 10 Prunes
  • 1/3 C. Shredded Unsweetened Coconut
  • 2 Tbsp. Cocoa Powder
  • 1 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. Sea Salt
  • 1/4 C. of Honey
  • 1/3 C. Coconut Oil
  • 1/2 C. Almond Butter
  1. Crush your cashews and walnuts until broken into fine pieces. (I put mine in a bag and used a meat tenderizer. You can also use a processor.)
  2. In a mixing bowl, add all ingredients together except for the Coconut Oil and Almond Butter.
  3. Next, melt your Coconut Oil and pour over the mixture.
  4. Then, do the same with your Almond Butter.
  5. Mix everything together.
  6. Pour into a greased casserole dish.
  7. Bake at 300 degrees for about 30 minutes.
  8. Let cool.
  9. Put in refrigerator until fully set.
  10. Cut and eat!

Note: if you don’t have figs, dates or prunes on hand, that’s okay! Get creative! You can easily substitute with raisins, dried fruit, etc. You can also use different nuts like pecans or almonds. Do what you like and make them your own!