Salsa Love ❤

Two types of salsas

Let’s talk Salsas. Some salsas are red. Some salsas are green. Some are black. All salsas are great!

I came back from Punta De Mita, Mexico totally excited about my new addiction. The following day, I took all my cookbooks out, pulled out my laptop and started research. That day was a busy one for me – I was making dinner for 17 people in celebration of my 12-year-old’s birthday. Yet I was way too excited not to also try my hand at salsa making.

Here are the two that I made that day. These are the two I’ve been making regularly now. They are spicy, flavorful and, have I already said, spicy? Make at your own risk (or reduce the amount of chiles by half.)

Salsa Verde

Two types of salsas

Smoky Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Loosely based and highly altered recipe from Authentic Mexican by Rick Bayless

Ingredients

  • 3 medium fresh tomatillos, husked and washed (about 4 ½ ounces total)
  • 2 large cloves garlic, un-plealed
  • 2 chipotles peppers in adobo
  • ½ small white onion
  • 1 tsp salt

Directions

  1. Roast the tomatillos and the garlic on a rimmed baking sheet about 4 inches below a very hot broiler until soft and blackened in spots, about 5 minutes per side. Cool, then scrape into a food processor.
  2. Drain the chiles. Place the chiles, tomatillos, un-peeled garlic, salt and 3/4 cup water in a food processor. Blend until nearly smooth.
  3. Chop the onion and add to the blended salsa. Stir in enough additional water to give the salsa an easily spoonable consistency.
  4. Season with more salt if needed. If a smokier flavor is desired, stir in a teaspoon or two of the sauce from the chiles chipotles.

Avocado Salsa Verde

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces fresh tomatillos, husked and washed (about 9 ounces total)
  • 2 Serrano chiles
  • 1 large ripe avocado, pitted, flesh scooped from skin and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup packed cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 1 tsp salt

Directions

  1. In a food processor, combine the tomatillos, garlic, chile, cilantro, lime juice, salt and ½ cup water. Process to a coarse puree.
  2. Add the avocado and pulse until nearly smooth.
  3. Season with more salt if needed.

Two types of salsas

Drink Pairing

I have one word – Clase Azul Tequila!

Taquila

SAlsa Verde

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Low-Carb Meatballs Mole

Mole

Lets just all admit that Mexican food rocks! All those impossibly fresh ingredients, bold flavors and textures… and, of course, tequila! Feed me Mexican for lunch and dinner every day, and I’m your best friend for life. Guac, fajitas, carne asada – I don’t discriminate, as long as it is fresh and low in carbs.

And since we are on the subject, I want to share with you one of my favorite Oaxacan recipes  that will literally blow your mind. Yes, it is made with a scoop of chocolate, a sprinkle of chile, and a dash of creativity.

So without further ado, let me introduce you to your newest obsession – a low-carb, totally cuceelicious Mole. Just so you know THE SAUCE is the center of attention here. So go ahead, make the sauce and smother meatballs in it. If you make extra mole, save some for tomorrow’s grilled chicken or baked tofu – I promise you will want to try it with every protein on the planet.

Making meatballs

Making meatballs

Meatball prep for Mole

Mole

Low-Carb Meatballs Mole

Adapted from Well Fed Weeknights: Complete Paleo Meals in 45 Minutes or Less

Ingredients 

 

Mole Sauce

 

Meatballs

 

Directions

 

Mole Sauce (can be made in advance)

 

  1. Warm the oil in a nonstick saucepan over medium-high heat, 2 min
  2. Add the onion to the pan and saute until soft, 5-7 min
  3. When the onion is soft, add the garlic, chili powder, salt, cinnamon, cloves and pepper to the pan and stir for 30 seconds
  4. Add the tomato sauce, water and almond butter; stir to combine
  5. Simmer over low heat while you prep the meatballs, about 10 mins

Meatballs

 

  1. Mix meat, chili, salt and pepper with your hands
  2. Roll the mixture into small balls
  3. Add the meatballs in the pot
  4. Add the sauce
  5. Cover the pan and cook for 10 mins
  6. Stir gently to coat the meatballs in sauce
  7. Cook 5 mins more, remove the lid and cook for 5 more mins

Mole

Mole

Drink Pairing

Did I say tequila earlier in this post? My favorite tequilas are Clase Azul Reposado and Fortaleza Anejo

Mole

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Eggnog Smoothie

Eggnog Smoothie

Eating new foods is always an experience; sometimes it goes really well, and other times – not so much. For example, after my friend from Columbia made me taste a couple of Chocolate Covered Ants (a delicacy in his country,) I had to excuse myself for a few minutes. But when I tried PB&J sandwich a few years back, I surprised myself at how much I liked that combo.

So I decided to challenge myself again with a never-before-tried Eggnog. I was born in a country that has never heard of a sweet-tasting cocktail of whipped raw eggs and so I stayed away from the Holiday Drink for about 25 years.

Actually, it was exactly 24 years and 9 months after first stepping my foot in America, that I received a new cookbook. On page 208, there was a recipe of an Eggnog Smoothie. Okay, I thought. Even though this isn’t a real Eggnog, the author claims that it tastes like one, uses kefir as a base and contains NO raw eggs  – I can do that. Finally, my chance to know what this cocktail tastes like.

I liked it. It tasted creamy and rich. Like custard, but thinner and smoother. Not overly sweet. And it smelled like holidays, family and joy.

Eggnog Smoothie

Eggnog Smoothie

Adopted from Little Bites

A perfect recipe for this Holiday Season, the smoothie is fresh, light, totally addicting and completely guilt free.

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Blend all ingredients together in a powerful blender
  2. Pour into 2 glasses and enjoy

Eggnog Smoothie

It is always 5 pm somewhere

To add a bit of a special touch to the smoothie, add a little Hennessy to the mix. A shot or two will do the trick :)

Eggnog Smoothie

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Eggplant Sandwich Tacos (GF, LC, P variations)

1

Do you ever come up with an incredible recipe idea that you just HAVE to share with the rest of the world, so you create it and you photograph it and everything is perfect, but right before you post you realize that the photos of the delicious dish are all terrible? And no matter how many times you make this dish, the photos still do not turn out?

Well, this is that recipe.

So I was faced with a decision to make. Do I post a great recipe with bad pictures to my trusting epicurean readers or let my fear of judgement get the best of me and keep the recipe all to myself?

I, clearly, decided to go with the first option.

This recipe is pretty simple. Bake the eggplants in coconut oil, sandwich them together with a filling of cheeses and egg, add the toppings and serve on tortillas as tacos or on their own. Not much to it. Simplicity is key sometimes!

Eggplant Sandwich Tacos

Eggplant Sandwich Tacos

Eggplant Sandwich Tacos

I am calling for soft-boiled eggs here. You know, the ones with the fully cooked egg white and the runny and custardy yolk? When you crack into a beautifully soft-boiled egg, the yolk oozes out of the eggplant sandwich, mixes with the cheese and the pesto, turning into a perfect sauce for the dish.

Ingredients

  • 1 regular eggplant or 3 Indian eggplants
  • Corn tortillas (skip if going low-carb)
  • Filling (see below)
  • Toppings (see below)

Filling

  • ½ cup ricotta or farmer’s cheese
  • ½ cup of cheese of your choice, grated by hand  (i like Jack here)
  • 3-4 soft-boiled eggs, cooled and peeled (number of eggs depends on the number of eggplant slices)
  • Coconut oil

Toppings (pick one more)

  • Grated cheese of your choice
  • Sauteed bell peppers
  • Pesto sauce (dairy-free for paleo)
  • Homemade mild salsa

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F . Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
  2. Cut the eggplant into 1/3 inch thick slices
  3. Place the eggplant onto the baking sheet. Generously brush each piece with melted coconut oil on both sides and season with salt and pepper
  4. Bake until golden brown for about 40 minutes, turning halfway through. Cool for 10 minutes
  5. While the eggplants are cooling, make the filling (if using) by mixing the two cheeses together
  6. To assemble the Loaded Variation (see below), start with a tortilla, add one slice of eggplant, a tablespoon of pesto, a tablespoon of the cheese mixture, an egg, ¼ cup sauteed peppers, another tablespoon of the cheese mixture, another slice of eggplant, a tablespoon of pesto and a tablespoon of grated cheese
  7. You can broil these to get the cheese to melt or serve them as is. Broiling will cook the egg a little more

Suggested variations

  1. Loaded Variation: Tortilla: Eggplant > Cheese Mixture > Pesto > Egg > Sauteed Peppers > Cheese Mixture > Eggplant > Pesto > Grated Cheese
  2. Paleo, Low-carb and Ketogenic Variations: Eggplant > Dairy-free pesto > Sauteed Peppers > Egg > Eggplant

 

Eggplant Sandwich Tacos

Drink Pairing

When anyone mentions tacos, I imminently think of Clase Azul Reposado Tequila. Maybe it is because the first time I ever laid my hand on the gourmet tacos at Tacolicious, they were nicely paired with a double shot of this exquisite tequila. No going back for me!

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cookie

I love Sundays! No gym in the morning, no after-school activities to schlep my kids to. Zero commitments… On Sundays, it is ME time from the moment I wake up!

I spend most of my ME time either in the kitchen or the art room… Concocting extravagant breakfasts, making cards and jewelry, painting, sketching, photographing my favorite peeps, coming up with new recipes, writing Cucee posts…

This past Sunday, I woke up with nothing but cookies on my mind.  Which is a problem, because all the common baking ingredients, such as flour, sugar and dairy, are strictly prohibited on my gut-healing diet. So, if I really wanted those darn cookies, I had to get uber creative and think outside the high-carb cookie jar.

Which I did.

I crept into the kitchen, trying to stay quiet so as not to wake anyone up, and started experimenting. An hour later, the family (including the dogs) was neatly assembled in the kitchen, drawn by the scent of sweet vanilla. They all waited hungrily and impatiently for me to finish assembling the fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies.

The cookies did not have the longest lifespan. Most of them were snatched off the cooling rack before they even had a chance to get comfortable (or photographed.) Everyone got a bite of them, even the dogs; the crumbs, dropped on the floor, had their names written on them in bold letters.

cookie

cookie

Lemon Curd Almond Sandwich Cookies (vegan & gluten-free)

Ingredients

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 tsp Stevia Original Liquid Extract (or more, depending on how sweet you like your cookies. If you feel adventurous, add ½ cup of sugar instead)
  • 1 tsp almond liqueur or ½ tsp almond extract
  • 1.5 cups sliced almonds
  • Lemon Curd (see recipe below – you will have some leftover)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites, stevia and almond liqueur/extract until foamy
  3. Fold in the almonds and mix until well coated
  4. Spoon 1 tbsp of batter onto prepared baking sheet and, with a spatula, spread into a 2 to 3-inch circle. Spoon the rest of the batter on baking sheet with each cookie at least 1-inch apart
  5. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until pale gold in color. Cool on a cooling rack
  6. To make sandwich cookies, place a teaspoon (or more) of the lemon curd between 2 cookies and serve

Lemon Curd

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Fill a medium saucepan with 1 – 2 inches of water and bring to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat to low and keep the water at a low simmer
  2. Place egg yolks, lemon juice, zest and stevia in a large heatproof bowl and whisk to combine. Set the bowl over, but not touching, the simmering water and whisk continuously until the yolks thicken and the mixture forms ribbons when the whisk is lifted from the bowl, about 5 to 10 minutes
  3. Remove the bowl from the simmering water; whisk in the butter one piece at a time, until each piece is completely melted before adding the next
  4. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the curd to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour

cookie

Drink Pairing

Kefir and freshly baked cookies go hand in hand. The tangy fermented drink really balances out the vigor of the sweet cookie flavor.

cookie

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Low-Carb Paleo Bread

Low-Carb Paleo Bread

My daughter spent 3 weeks at a sleep-away camp and came back home with lots of beautiful memories and one major stomach upset! After weeks of listening to her camp stories and trying to get her stomach issues under control, it was time for a more aggressive medical intervention. So, in a blink of an eye, out went all inflammatory foods such as gluten, grains, legumes, prebiotics, caffeine, chocolate, sugar and dairy.

Needless to say, my girl was no longer a happy camper! A cheese lover, a chocolate addict, she was miserable on a new uber-restrictive diet. And on top of all that, the school has already started and my High-Schooler’s lunches were so pathetic and embarrassing that she would intentionally forget them at home.

So I had to come to the rescue and research the heck out of my Paleo books and Facebook groups. I collected a dozen or so unique lunch ideas that a kid her age would not mind being seen with. Her favorite one was a bread recipe that made my daughter go from :( to a big wide :) in a matter of a bite.

This IS that bread recipe and it is so flexible and forgiving that you can make a new unique loaf of bread each time you bake it, by mixing in the nuts, olives, even roasted garlic! You can also turn it into a sweet delicacy without affecting the carb count by adding a bit of stevia, freeze-dried strawberries or bananas. See more fun ideas, following the recipe.

Low-Carb Paleo Bread

Low-Carb Paleo Bread

If you don’t finish the whole loaf in one seating (I dare you), slice and freeze it. It is even better toasted.

Ingredients for the basic recipe

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°
  2. Grind chia seeds in a coffee grinder or a Magic Bullet Blender (or purchase them already ground)
  3. Pulse almond flour, coconut flour, ground chia seeds, sesame seeds, salt, and baking soda in a food processor
  4. Pulse in eggs and vinegar, until combined
  5. Transfer batter to a lined 7.5 x 3.5 loaf pan (you can use a regular loaf pan but your bread might not rise as much)
  6. Sprinkle with poppy seeds
  7. Bake for 30-40 min
  8. Cool on a cooling rack for 30 min

Low-Carb Paleo Bread

Variations

Breakfast Bread

Rosemary Olive Bread

Garlic Bread

  • Basic recipe 
  • 10 cloves of  Roasted Garlic, halved

Italian Bread

Low-Carb Paleo Bread

Low-Carb Paleo Bread

Low-Carb Paleo Bread

 

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Cultured Cream Feta

Sour-cream Feta

I love getting out of my bubble, traveling the world: learning new cultures, enjoying different experiences, feeling alive.

My favorite part about traveling, though, is trying new cuisines and then bringing home ideas for future recipes.

An idea for this post came out of the airport in Romania. My first time in the business class lounge, I picked up a small plastic container of crema de branza cu smantana. A mixture of salty feta and tangy cultured cream had a flavor that instantly brought me back to my favorite childhood dish: pasta with lightly salted farmer’s cheese and sour cream. After finishing it in less than 5 minutes, I instantly knew that I have to recreate it in my kitchen and share a recipe with you.

This dish is wholesome and healthy – low in carbs, high in protein and good fats. But if you haven’t jumped the high-fat, low-carb bandwagon with me yet, you can replace the sour cream (smetana) with greek yogurt. For a kick, add some chopped onion to this dish.

Sour-cream Feta

Crema de Branza cu Smantana

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Place feta in a small bowl; mash with a fork
  2. Mix in sour cream
  3. Add green onion (optional) and give it one last mix
  4. Spoon into a small soup plate and season with salt and pepper
  5. Serve on its own or with cheese crackers or vegetable slices

Sour-cream Feta

Food Pairing

Serve on its own, with veggie slices or these Chia Cheese Crackers. The Sour Cream Feta is also great as a dressing, thinned out with some water

Sour-cream Feta

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Coconut Milk Kefir

 Coconut Milk Kefir

If there’s one food I’ve missed since starting my newest diet, it’s Kefir. The last time I got to enjoy it was during the summer of 2015 at Pine Mountain Lake—the same time I came to accept that the delicious dairy beverage would never touch my lips again. My stomach had been flaring up each and every time I had it, but not wanting to give it up, I practiced an instinctive out-of-sight-out-of-mind habit and pretended nothing was wrong. After being unable to eat dairy for the better part of a year, I’ve finally healed my stomach enough to tolerate cheeses and butter, but not the acidic low-fat dairy products. That doesn’t mean my desire hasn’t gone away, though; every once in awhile, I dream about the tangy homemade Kefir I still love so much.

Then, a few weeks back, an ingenious idea popped into my kefir-craving mind. Why not make the same drink with other products? The next morning, I marched into my makeshift kitchen, armed with a can of coconut milk and some live kefir grains I had gotten from a friend. I mixed the two ingredients together and carefully monitored my concoction every morning, the fear of failure constantly lingering in my mind. By the fourth day, the familiar taste I’d missed for so long had been created—and was safe for me to drink! Although it was a bit milder in flavor and slightly thicker in texture than the milk kefir I have been used to, it definitely was kefir.

And I was definitely excited. So excited that my first response was to grab my camera and photograph it so I could write up my next post. I took my fermented creation to the backyard, where the lighting was perfect to take pictures of delicious things. Once I was done capturing the true beauty of my Kefir, I went back into the kitchen—only to see the glass container, previously full of Kefir, now empty and laying sideways on the table.

Instantly, I knew who the culprit was, but all I could do was laugh as I saw Blake emerge from under the tablecloth, his nose stained white from the coconut. So if the kefir taught me one thing, it’s that you should never leave your most prized possession alone with a dog—especially if your most prized possession is edible.

 Coconut Milk Kefir

Coconut Milk Kefir

Created by Cucee Sprouts

Ingredients

Directions

  1. In a non-reactive glass dish, mix the milk kefir grains with coconut milk
  2. Cover with cloth or paper towel, secured by a ribbon or a rubber band
  3. Leave it alone for 24 hours
  4. After 24 hours, stir and taste. If it does not taste like kefir yet, leave it for another 24 hours. Repeat the stirring and tasting. My kefir tasted ready after 4 days but yours might start fermenting faster if you live in a warmer or colder climate
  5. Remove the milk kefir grains once the coconut kefir is ready. Keep the grains in a glass jar, covered in milk in a refrigerator

 Coconut Milk Kefir

Pairing

Serve Kefir with homemade granola or spoon it onto a waffle with a drizzle of honey over it

 Coconut Milk Kefir

 

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Baba Ganoush

baba ganoush

After living in our Foster City home for over 11 years, we have finally decided to remodel our kitchen! In just a few months, I’ll be stirring a pot of Swiss Chard stew atop my brand new stove. And storing Sesame Salmon Balls inside a brand new fridge. Toasting Spicy Coconut Chips inside a brand new oven. But most importantly, I won’t have to worry about any more cupboard doors falling off their hinges.

Unfortunately, during construction, my family and I have had no access to a proper kitchen—or a tidy house. Our living room is currently being occupied by a fridge, dining table, and rickety cabinet that’s nowhere near big enough to store all our non-perishables. A hideous plastic sheet stretches from the ceiling to the floor, guarding the war zone that used to be called our kitchen. The window facing the driveway is completely blocked off by pots, pans, and paper plates. Not exactly cooking (or cucee-ing) conditions.

Though our kids have never lived under such harsh conditions, this situation is painfully familiar to me. Back in 1990, when my parents and I were refugeeing from Moldova, we spent a few months in a miniscule Italian town called Passaskuro, patiently awaiting a warrant to enter the states. The three of us, along with our rescued belongings, occupied one tiny room in a communal house. There, our bedroom also served as a kitchen and storage room, and I can still remember my mother boiling turkey soup inches away from our bed.

We survived that tedious time then, and I have faith that we will survive now. Soon, all this chaos will be behind us and I’ll be standing in my shiny, squeaky-clean new kitchen, concocting new low carb creations. In the meantime, it might get a little quiet at the CuceeSprouts.com land. The recipe I’m about to share with you is likely to be my last post for a month or two. But please be patient—there will be lots of other deliciousness coming your way in the spring, fresh from my new kitchen.

Baba Ganoush is not new to me. I order it every time it is on the menu, but for some reason, I’ve never really attempted making it myself. That is, until one day, when I brought home a bag full of fresh eggplants from the farmers market.. After a bit of grilling, mashing and mixing, I produced a creation that proved I didn’t need a kitchen to cook and eat well.

baba ganoush

Baba Ganoush

Adapted from Paleo Home Cooking

I make my own tahini for this dish because it is super easy to make. However, you will also have success if you purchase high quality Tahini online or at Wholefoods.

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Preheat a grill to high heat
  2. Prick the eggplants with a fork in several places and place them directly on the grill. Cook for about 30 minutes, turning often, until the skin becomes crispy, charred, and loose and the eggplants look like deflated balloons
  3. Remove the eggplants from the heat and let them cool until they can be handled safely. Scrape the pulp with a spoon into a fine-mesh sieve and let it drain for about 5 minutes
  4. Transfer the drained pulp to the bowl and mash with a fork
  5. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with pistachios or finely chopped red onion, then drizzle with olive oil

Wine pairing

If you’d like to sip on something while indulging in this fresh Mediterranean eggplant dip, I suggest a crisp light Chateau La Tour de L’Eveque “Petale de Rose” Cotes de Provence Rosé.

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Spicy Coconut Chips

Toasted Coconut Chips

I am all for trying new recipes that are high in good fats. Because when you do not eat carbs, you need to raise your fat intake. And coconut, being so low in polyunsaturated fat and high in antibacterial, antifungal and antioxidant properties, is really my most preferred source of that good-quality fat.

That is why I love coconut and cook with it all the time.  I use coconut oil to fry eggs, make pancakes, in desserts. I use coconut chips as salad sprinklers and in a grain-free granola. I also roast them and eat them on their own.  

Toasted, they are so are like crack! Totally addicting! Crunchy. Salty. Spicy. Sweet-tasting. And make your house smell like a bakery.

Spicy Coconut Chips

Spicy Coconut Chips

Adapted from The Whole Coconut Cookbook

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a large baking sheet with unbleached parchment paper
  2. Put the coconut flakes in a medium bowl and mix in the coconut oil and lime juice. Sprinkle over the fleur de sel and paprika and mix well. Spread the coconut on the prepared baking sheet and bake until golden brown, 6-8 minutes. Watch carefully toward the end so they don’t burn. Transfer them immediately to a plate lined with paper towels to cool completely. They will crisp up as they cool.
  3. Serve immediately, or store in an air-tight container for a few days.

Wine Pairing

My dad loves sweet wines, but unfortunately, those are really hard to pair with food. These Chips, however, go really well with my dad’s favorite Gewurztraminer. I finally found a nice food and wine pairing for him :)

untitled-7013

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