Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Almond-crusted pesto chicken breasts [low carb]

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Because I've been trying to follow a low-carb diet for the past year, I have spent a lot of time with almond flour. Almonds and almond flour are a staple of the low-carb high fat (LCHF) way of eating.

I've used almond flour for baking. I've made pancakes and waffles out of it. And I've used it as "breading" for vegetables, fish and chicken. It doesn't act quite the same as breadcrumbs or flour, but it's a very good substitute.

Following any healthy eating plan requires advance preparation. On the weekends, I often cook a large batch of chicken so I have something to pack in my lunchbox every day before I head to work.

This week I made almond-crusted pesto chicken breasts. Sometimes I make my own basil pesto, but I was pressed for time and used store-bought pesto. Which is totally, completely fine in a dish like this.

I packed the almond-crusted pesto chicken in my lunchbox with some oven-roasted tomatoes. One day I ate them cold. Today I warmed them in the microwave. I think I prefer it warm, but it was pretty darn good cold. I'll be making this again soon.

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Almond-Crusted Pesto Chicken
Chicken breasts brushed with basil pesto, coated in almond flour and grated cheese, and oven-roasted. An easy low-carb dinner recipe.
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup basil pesto sauce
  • 4 large chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a sheet pan or baking dish with nonstick cooking spray or brush it with olive oil.In a shallow bowl or on a plate, mix together the almond flour, grated cheese, garlic salt, and pepper. Put the basil pesto sauce in another bowl.Dip both sides of one chicken breast in the pesto sauce, then roll it in the almond flour mixture to coat. Place the almond-coated chicken on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining three chicken pieces.Bake the chicken about 50 minutes, until it is cooked through. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 4 servings

Monday, June 27, 2016

How to change your life: Actions and consequences

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How to change your life: Actions and consequences by Erika Kerekes
A random selfie in May 2016, about nine months into my new lifestyle

Author's note: This is the first post in a series on how I improved my health by making some pretty big changes to the way I cook, eat, and take care of my middle-aged body. Nothing in this post is intended as medical or nutritional advice - it's my own experience with my own body. I listen to and consult with my doctors, and you should too. 

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Almost a year ago, I decided to change my life.

It started with a call from my doctor. Some numbers had crossed the line, moving from "we should watch it" to "that's not good and it's time to do something about it." I'm not going to get more specific than this. Let's just say that these were numbers I knew my lifestyle habits were affecting.

Actions and consequences

As a parent, I have thought a lot about actions and consequences. I've tried to teach my boys to think about the results of their choices.

But when it came to my own life and my own health, I was in denial.

I have always struggled with my weight. I have had an on-and-off relationship with exercise. I have always hated and rebelled against dieting, being told what I can (or can't) eat, and how much I can (or can't) eat, and when I can (or can't) eat.

When I'm under stress, I eat whatever I want and I stop exercising. Self-destructive behavior, to be sure.

I started Not Ketchup, my condiment business, in 2014. Starting a new business is stressful on all fronts: You worry about money, you worry about sales, you dig deep for superhuman strength and try to create 27 hours in every day.

Combine that with normal family dynamics and you get stress. Which, for me, meant a lot of the wrong kinds of food and little to no exercise.

Not Ketchup demo at Central Market in Texas
Giving out Not Ketchup samples at Central Market in Texas, June 2014

What did I think was going to happen?

The doctor's call wasn't a surprise. But it made me feel sad, and angry, and most of all guilty.

I brought this on myself. I ate badly, and too much, for too long. I sat on my ass and didn't move my body. Yes, there was probably some genetic predisposition involved. But my actions had developed into very predictable consequences.

The good news: I was not powerless. I could make different choices.

I could fix it.

The first day: Desperation and determination

As it happened, I was alone in my house the day my doctor called. My husband and both kids were away all week. Which meant I had seven days without anyone else around to get used to the idea that I was going to have to make some changes, decide what I was going to do, and get on with it.

That week was hard. Really, really hard.

The first thing I did was put on my sneakers and go for a walk. A long walk. That day, and the next day, and every day that week. Getting back in the groove when it came to exercise actually turned out to be the easiest part of my new lifestyle.

The second thing I did, and the much harder thing for me, was to decide to change my attitude about food.

Act as if

I am a big fan of the "act as if" approach to change. Act as if you're happy, and eventually you will be happy. Act as if you're extroverted, and eventually you'll feel comfortable making small talk at a party.

Act as if you want to eat like a healthy person, and eventually...you will be eating like a healthy person. And then, at some point, you'll be healthy. Or healthier, at least.

But my first step wasn't about acting. It wasn't in my body.

My first step was in my head. It was about thinking.

My first step was to think about food like a healthy person.

The unhealthy Erika thought about food as reward, as comfort, as compensation. The unhealthy Erika craved carbohydrates, particularly the white ones: bread, rice, potatoes, pasta. Craved them all the time, in any quantities, without restriction, without balance.

The unhealthy Erika thought about food with absolutely no consideration for the consequences.

No gray area

On that first day, I decided that I had to be able to look at food and think one of two things:

"That will make my body healthier."


"That will make me sick. Maybe not today...but someday."

I realize this is extreme. This is black and white.

But this is the way I have decided to approach it. This is what works for me.

Because it's not an exaggeration to say that, for me, at this point in my life, a large bowl of pasta or a piece of cake is going to make me sick. My doctor has the numbers to prove it.

And I have never been good at having a small bowl of pasta. Or "just a bite" of cake.

I made changes. I took action.

First action, then consequences

My actions over the past year have led to (mostly) very good consequences.

All the numbers that were scary a year ago are now normal, without medication.

I've had to replace every piece of clothing in my closet with a smaller size, including my underwear.

I've lost weight. I don't know how much, because I don't weigh myself and I don't own a scale. (More on that choice in another post.) And to be clear, losing weight was never my goal. My goal was not to be sick.

But most important: I feel better. I didn't realize how awful I was feeling until I made changes and started to feel better. I have more energy, my body hurts less, I sleep better, and I'm happier.

(The one negative consequence: I've lost three full bra sizes. My boobs have gotten smaller at twice the rate of the rest of my body. I guess I'm not complaining...but...seriously?)

In the following posts in this series, I'll share the details of the changes I decided to make: cutting out carbohydrates, eating more fat, finding healthy substitutions, and forming new habits.

These changes have worked for me. That doesn't mean my approach will definitely work for you. We are different people, you and I, with different body chemistry, different metabolisms, different shapes. Take it all with a grain of salt and understand that I am not preaching. My way is my way. You will find your way.

For anyone who wants to make changes but feels like it's just too hard - know that I have been there. For almost 50 years, I felt like becoming a healthier person just wasn't possible for me.

But I'm doing it. Because I want to. And I decided it was time.

Erika Kerekes in March 2016
Me in March 2016. Not perfect. But better.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Strawberries stuffed with goat cheese

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Ripe seasonal strawberries stuffed with a mixture of goat cheese and cream cheese with lemon zest and fresh rosemary

Have you ever stuffed strawberries with creamy fresh goat cheese? Wait until you see how easy this low-carb appetizer is. It's perfect for summer entertaining, whether you're hosting a backyard barbecue or throwing an elegant dinner party. If you have any guests who are following a low-carb diet or are gluten free or vegetarian, they will really appreciate this simple snack.

This hors d'oeuvre shows off the savory side of strawberries and brings out their natural acidity. I love the combination of sweet, fragrant strawberries and creamy cheese flecked with minced rosemary and lemon zest. All you need are five ingredients, a paring knife, and some practice with a piping bag.

California strawberries filled with fresh goat cheese make a delicious low-carb appetizer

I made a batch of these stuffed strawberries for the June meeting of Food Bloggers Los Angeles, our local blogging network. They were good, but then I had a flash of inspiration and sprinkled them with a tiny bit of salt. Sounds weird? It totally worked. Don't skip the sprinkle.

Note: You may have extra filling. It's delicious spread on toast, or you can use it to fill hollowed-out cucumber cups, cherry tomatoes, roasted mushrooms, or grilled zucchini boats.

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Strawberries stuffed with goat cheese
Ripe strawberries stuffed with a combination of fresh goat cheese and cream cheese flecked with rosemary and lemon zest. A wonderful summer appetizer that's low-carb, gluten free, vegetarian and grain-free.
  • 2 pints fresh strawberries (about 2 dozen)
  • 4 ounces fresh goat cheese (chevre)
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 lemon, zest only
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, plus more for garnish if desired
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Equipment: food processor, piping bag with decorative tip
Wash the strawberries. With a small paring knife, remove the hull (leaves). Cut a small circle into the top of each berry to make a small cavity. Place the berries upside-down on a paper towel to dry while you make the filling.Put the goat cheese, cream cheese, lemon zest and rosemary into the bowl of the food processor. Add a pinch of salt and a generous grind of pepper. Blend until smooth. Transfer the cheese mixture to the piping bag.Carefully fill each strawberry with goat cheese, creating a decorative swirl on top. Sprinkle with a tiny bit of additional salt. Garnish with the additional rosemary springs. Serve immediately.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 12 servings

Ripe California strawberries stuffed with fresh goat cheese

Monday, June 20, 2016

New free ebook: The Not Ketchup Burger Book

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The Not Ketchup Burger Book, a free new ebook with 10 delicious burgers for summer entertaining

This new free ebook is about to turn your summer grilling and entertaining up to 11.

(Yep, that's a Spinal Tap reference, I'm dating myself.)

Introducing The Not Ketchup Burger Book. This book has 10 of the most delicious burger recipes you've ever tasted. My sweet and tangy Not Ketchup sauces make every burger something truly special.

The recipes:

  • Cherry Chipotle Breakfast Burger
  • Citrus Crab Cakes with Tangerine Dressing
  • Blueberry Bison Burger
  • Cherry Chipotle Southwestern Turkey Burger Bowl
  • Smoky Date Banh Mi Pork Burger
  • Spiced Fig Lamb Sliders
  • Spicy Salmon Burger
  • Smoky Date Veggie Burger
  • Classic Cherry Chipotle Burger
  • Tangerine Shrimp Cilantro Burger
I was lucky to have my friend Laura Bashar, who writes the gorgeous blog Family Spice and is co-author of Cooking Techniques with Olive Oil, do all the styling, photography and graphic design. I'm telling you, these are some of the most beautiful burger photos I've ever seen. (If you're looking for an ebook for your business, I highly, highly recommend her and would be happy to put you in touch.)

Buy Not Ketchup grilling and dipping sauces on Amazon.com
Buy Not Ketchup on Amazon.com - free shipping with Prime!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Meyer lemon chicken thighs

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Meyer lemon chicken thighs. This is one of the easiest chicken dishes I have ever made, and I love it beyond all others.

It uses four ingredients, and that's counting salt and pepper. 

It's made in one pan (a heavy, ovenproof skillet).

It's fancy enough for company. 

It's paleo, gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, whole 30, low-carb, and probably ticks a few more boxes as well.

Oh. And it's delicious.

If you can't get your hands on Meyer lemons, any old lemon will do. I like Meyer lemons because they have an almost floral aroma and are less acidic than standard lemons. Also because they grow in my backyard. But seriously, use whatever lemons you have.

Ready? Time to cook.

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Meyer Lemon Chicken Thighs
A simple, delicious, stunningly beautiful chicken dish you will serve again and again. You need four ingredients, one hour, and a hearty appetite.
  • 1 Meyer lemon (or regular lemon)
  • 4 large chicken thighs, bone in and skin on
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.Using a sharp knife, slice the lemon into very thin rounds. Set aside. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken thighs with the salt and pepper.Heat a large, heavy, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Lay the chicken thighs in the skillet, skin side down. Cook without moving for about 6 minutes, until some of the fat has rendered and the skin is golden brown and crisp.Turn over the chicken thighs so the skin side is up. Lay a thin lemon slice on top of each chicken thigh. Tuck the remaining lemon pieces into the skillet, around the chicken pieces. Put the skillet into the oven. Roast about 45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. If the lemon slices haven't started to caramelize (turn brown around the edges), turn on the broiler for no more than 1-2 minutes, watching the chicken carefully so it doesn't burn.Remove from the oven and serve immediately.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 4 servings