Fruit, whether fresh or dried, is a great way to sweeten a dish without adding refined sugar. The dried apricots and Deglet Noor dates add a unique rustic sweetness to this chicken. Throw it all in a slow cooker and just let it go! 

I like to serve this pulled chicken topped with fresh garden salsa (fresh tomato + onion + jalapeño + salt + lime) and sometimes a crumble of cheese on top. This is great on top of brown rice or thinly sliced cabbage tossed with cilantro and lime, or just by itself with a side of roasted veggies or plantains. 
I have been using Made in Nature brand dried fruits for quite a while (available at Fresh & Natural Foods in Hudson if you're local!). I am always pleased with their products; they are organic and don't contain chemicals, added sugar, or sulfuring, which are common things in a lot of dried fruit. They recently sent me a bag of Organic Deglet Noor Dates to try, and I immediately fell in love with them...they are really light and caramel-y tasting, very pleasant for sweet and savory cooking. 

AND, if you like this recipe (and share it through social media) and  THEY  like my recipe, they will provide me with dates to giveaway to my great readers and patients! I hope you give this recipe a try and love it!

1/2 cup chopped Made in Nature Organic Unsulfured Apricots
¾ cup chopped Made in Nature Organic Deglet Noor Dates
1 cup chicken broth
1 small onion, chopped
2 small jalapenos, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped or grated
2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
3 Tbs tomato paste
½ tsp sea salt
1 Tbs chili powder
2lbs boneless skinless chicken breast
pinch of red pepper flakes, if you like spice

Very finely chop the apricots and dates and measure to equal 1/2 cup apricots and ¾ cup dates. Place them into the bottom of the crockpot along with chicken broth, onion, jalapeno, garlic, vinegar, tomato paste, salt, and chili powder. Mix everything around and then nestle the chicken breasts into the mixture.

Cook for 8 hours on low, stirring once or twice during cooking if you around. When the chicken is tender and falling apart, move it to a cutting board and use two forks to pull it apart and shred it. Return the meat to the slow cooker and toss it around in the sauce/juices and then serve. 

Don't know how to make plantains?! Find them in the fruit section, usually next to the bananas...they are like a banana's mutant cousin- much bigger, usually appearing over-ripe and slightly brown. I like to select the ones that are teetering on very ripe: a peel that is green/yellow with some brown (about 25% brown). Heat a little coconut oil or lard in a cast iron pan, and working in batches pan-fry sliced plantains for several minutes on each side and then season with sea salt. 
Plantains are a great side-dish for anyone who is gluten and/or grain free!

These got rave reviews from people who aren't even gluten free or dairy free! And they really couldn't be easier to make. This  recipe is also fully customizable- don't have green tea powder, leave it out. Add a tsp of fresh orange zest instead. Add extra vanilla, add a pinch of cayenne pepper, add some toasted nut pieces.
Plus, look at that list of power-house ingredients. These are the very definition of a healthy treat!

Matcha tea is a fine ground green tea leaf (a special kind, I think) and is available at many natural food stores. I have even seen it sold in individual serving packs at some tea shops (if you don't want to commit to a $10+ jar of it). I used Republic of Tea Brand Matcha Powder, which I found at Fresh and Natural Foods in Hudson, WI. It is grassy and adds a unique and interesting hint of earthiness to an otherwise ordinary chocolate. 

1 can of full fat coconut milk
3 tsp matcha green tea powder, divided
5oz unsweetened chocolate
1 Tbs coconut oil
¼ cup honey
1 tsp vanilla
¼ cup natural cocoa powder

Be careful not to shake or jostle the can of coconut milk (in fact, I often put mine in the fridge overnight just to ensure that it will harden up nice); open the can and measure out ¾ cup of the thick cream from the top. Place the coconut cream in a small saucepan along with 1 tsp of the green tea powder; heat over low-medium, gently stirring, until it starts to just boil around the edges.  

Meanwhile, chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a heat-safe bowl along with the coconut oil. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate in the bowl, let sit for one minute, and then stir with a fork until well combined. Add in the honey and vanilla and stir again until very uniform. Pour the mixture into a shallow pan (like a bread pan), cover, and chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

To make the truffles, use a tablespoon to measure out a portion of the chocolate, quickly roll it between your palms to form a ball and then roll it around in the cocoa powder to cover. Or if you aren't feeling so fancy that day, just scoop out a spoonful of chocolate and put it right into the cocoa powder, no need to make them into balls....they will just look, well: rustic. 

Place the finished truffles close together and use the reserved two teaspoons of matcha powder to sprinkle over top of them. 

Stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, these will keep for over a week. 
Shredded coconut and coconut oil are both great products, but when was the last time you had freshly cracked coconut?! If you never have, you must try it! Fresh coconut makes a really great snack; it is meaty and contains a fair amount of healthy fat, which makes it very satisfying. 

I can’t say enough about coconut and it’s great health benefits. And I think that fresh coconut might be one of the most overlooked foods available. Why? Well, it takes a little work to get into one….

The length of this coconut instruction manual may make it seem difficult but please know that it really is not. If you are like me you want to know every detail possible, so that is what I am giving you.

After reading this you will be considered somewhat of a coconut expert!
Feel free to comment with any additional tips or tricks you use if you are already a coconut expert!

1. Picking Your Coconut:
Most major grocery stores will have conventional ones. If possible go organic (usually at natural/health food stores).

Be choosy, not all coconuts are created equal. First look at the three dark “eyes” at the end of the coconut. We are looking for two things here: there should be no white/blue discoloration on or near the eyes- if there is that means it is moldy and you don’t want that one. (I almost always find several at the store that are moldy, so watch out.) Use your finger and press on the eyes. My perfect coconut usually has a little “give” to one of the eyes and will cave in a little with more pressure, but it is not mushy. 

Next give it a good shake, you should hear water sloshing around on the inside. No sloshing = bad coconut.

Now if you are faced with a stack of good, fresh, sloshy, non-moldy coconuts, of course go for the biggest and heaviest one (they usually charge per coconut, occasionally some stores charge per pound- so do be conscious of this).

Also note that despite taking all these cautions in picking out a good coconut, if you crack it open to find that it is moldy or sour, TAKE IT BACK- get a refund or a new coconut.

2. Draining the Water
The water inside is wonderful. It is pure, it is lightly sweet and full of vitamins- use it in a smoothie, as a cooking water to make coconut quinoa, or just drink it straight up. 

You will need to puncture the eyes to get the water out first so you don’t have a coconut water balloon explosion when you crack it. I like to use a wine corkscrew or a Phillips head screwdriver for this. 


Two easy methods of draining the water:
A. One hole then shake method
I use this when only one of the eyes is soft enough to puncture easily.  Making only one hole creates a sort of vacuum in the coconut and you have to gently keep shaking it over your glass to get the water out. It isn’t difficult, but you do have to aim a little. 

B. Two hole then drain method
If two of the eyes are soft enough to easily puncture the water will drain right out in a nice stream when you tip it upside down.


3. Crack that Baby Open!
Fresh coconut is not only nutritious, but also doubles as a stress reliever! And again there are two good methods to do this, both require a striking device; I prefer a simple hammer. 


Two methods of cracking the coconut:
A. The man method: 
This is the way my dad always did it, and it is quite effective and quick. Put the coconut in a towel in your hand. Strike the coconut hard several times right in the center and then give it a quarter turn and strike several times again…keep doing this and once you get all the way around it should have cracked right in the middle (if it didn’t you probably are not hitting it hard enough and you might want to move on to method B).

B. The woman method: 
Wrap the coconut up in a hearty towel, take it outside to the concrete driveway, set it down, and give it a couple good hits with the hammer. This should do it. 

After it is broken in half, I usually then take each halve, wrap it up again and hit it more to break it apart further. The more you break it up now, the easier it is to get the meat out. I usually aim to break it into four pieces.  


4. Releasing the Meat
Take the coconut shell pieces and place them in a towel in your hand and use a butter knife to pry between the meat and the shell to loosen the meat. Be careful. It should come fairly easy once you have loosened it.

That’s it! I like to reserve the previously drained coconut water to store the coconut pieces in. After I use all of the coconut, then I use the juice. If you want to use the juice right away, store the coconut in enough water just to cover it; otherwise it dries out fast. It will usually last about 4-5 days in the refrigerator. If I know I won’t use/eat it all, I wrap it up (not in water) and throw it in the freezer, or else I shave it and dehydrate it. 
I am both a ranch lover and a ranch snob; read: I would put that stuff on almost anything and I am picky about it! This recipe is something I make almost weekly and I use it on salads, and also as a veggie dip. I like raw fresh vegetables, and I like them even more dipped in this stuff. You won’t miss the bottled Ranch at all once you start making this! 
This is really easy. And it definitely tastes like a homemade ranch and not hidden valley ranch. I normally encourage improvising and substituting when cooking, but not with this recipe; I have worked hard at perfecting the flavor! 

And if you have never bought or used fresh parsley before, spring for the $.99 and get some! 

1 cup plain greek yogurt
1 Tbs mayonnaise (I use Vegenaise)
¼ tsp black pepper
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp granulated garlic
1 tsp onion powder
½ tsp dried dill
1 Tbs fresh chopped parsley

Mix the yogurt and mayo together first and once they are blended add in everything else.

If you want it runnier, like for a dressing, add in some milk or cream, or buttermilk, whatever you have on hand. 

This will last in the fridge almost all week!
This is by far the favorite breakfast in my household. And up until last year if you would have told me I would be eating tomato products on my eggs, I would have said "yuk, I don't think so." But after having this one time, I was hooked! It is delicious, healthy and will certainly keep you full way past lunch. And it couldn’t be simpler. Also makes a very quick and easy dinner!
2/3 cup black beans (rinsed and drained)
4 eggs
1/4 cup cheddar cheese (optional)
Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper
½ cup+ salsa*

1. Divide the black beans between two plates. Just pile them right in the middle of the plate!

2. Cook your eggs however you like them, we prefer fried for this recipe. If you are including cheese, right after you flip the eggs, top them in the pan with the cheese so it has time to melt. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Place the cooked eggs  on top of your beans and top the eggs with as much salsa as you like. Garnish with fresh cilantro or parsley to make it pretty. Serve and enjoy!

*I think homemade fresh salsa is by far the best choice for this recipe (combine roma tomato, red onion, jalapeno, fresh lime, and cilantro; or try my Winter-in-Wisconsin Salsa!).

I will never buy pre-made store bought salsa again, not even in the dead of winter!

Salsa is so versatile and so good for you too! And although nothing beats the fresh homemade stuff with garden tomatoes, it isn’t very practical during winter in Wisconsin; tomatoes from the grocery store, even organic ones often have little taste and are expensive.  

Store-bought jarred salsa usually contains preservatives, lacks flavor, and is quite expensive- especially the good quality stuff. I don’t care much for the consistency either. Enter: the simple canned tomato; clean and inexpensive, and when you pair it with a few fresh ingredients, you won’t be disappointed!
2 jalapenos, seeded and roughly chopped
½ cup roughly chopped red onion
2 cloves garlic, grated with a microplane
½ tsp salt
1 Tbs fresh lime juice
1- 15oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes*
2 Tbs fresh chopped cilantro

1. In a food processor or blender combine jalapeno, onion, garlic, salt and lime juice: pulse several times until ground finely but not quite pureed. 

2. Add in the tomatoes with their liquid and the cilantro and pulse until the desired consistency is reached. I usually run it for about 10-15 seconds; I like it smooth.

*My favorite brand of canned tomatoes is Muir Glen Organic. Get the “fire-roasted” style: it really adds a lot to this recipe. 

This is a pretty flavorful salsa, add less jalapeno and garlic if you like less flavor. But I will say that I think the amounts indicated are needed to fully get rid of the "canned tomato" taste. 

Boneless skinless chicken breast = vehicle for flavor. 

This recipe was quick and really really good. It even got rave reviews from a picky eater who “doesn’t like honey mustard.” 
Feel free to adjust the amounts of maple syrup and mustard if you like it a little more maple-y or mustard-y.  I think the Dijon is a keystone to the sauce, but you could sub the yellow mustard for a different variety, like whole grain mustard. Also, I always either pound out or slice in half lengthwise my boneless skinless chicken breasts, especially if they are larger; this ensures that they cook evenly and don’t dry out. If you are looking for a good meat-pounder, this is the one I have, which I love. 

This chicken goes great with a big, Italian-style salad.

4 small boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 Tbs yellow mustard
2 Tbs Dijon mustard
¼ cup pure maple syrup
pinch of salt
fresh ground black pepper

1. Sauté the chicken breasts in Grape Seed Oil (this is a healthy oil that can handle high heat without burning and creating free-radicals in your body, and it has a neutral and light flavor), or other heat-safe cooking oil. 

2. Let the chicken cool for several minutes and then slice into strips. Put the chicken on a plate and then drizzle it with the maple-mustard sauce and top with fresh ground black pepper. 

Thousand Hills Cattle Company Uncured Beef Sticks
I picked these up today at Fresh & Natural Foods in Hudson, WI. I needed a quick snack- and these were sooo good that I had to write about them right away! 

I got the “Minnesota Spice” variety (there was also “Original” available). These were $3-something, not on sale, which I thought was a great price.  They are made from 100% grass-fed beef, and are uncured so they don’t contain added nitrates or nitrites. One beef stick (0.8 oz.) contains 60 calories, 4 g protein, and no carbs. 

Also important: they taste awesome! If you like a good beef stick/beef jerky, you will like these a lot. And the “Minnesota Spice” wasn’t hot-spicy at all, just a pleasant mellow spice blend; the only thing I could actually discern was just a hint of garlic. The texture was soft and easy to chew and they were not over-salty.  They are gluten-free and the ingredient list is short and pleasing. I ate two sticks and that satisfied me just fine. Highly recommended. 
This is what I call a use-up-what-you have kinda dish. What that means is that although I did specify specific ingredients and amounts that I used, they are extremely flexible. You will need about a cup of “white”- so, ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, cream cheese, sour cream, plain yogurt, or anything similar that you have on hand... A few side notes: I think it is best to use at least two different whites, and definitely don’t use ALL yogurt. And for the shredded cheese, use whatever you have. 

This recipe makes a lot! But it reheats really well, so you can enjoy the leftovers for several days. I like to serve this with venison tenderloin steaks, but it will go good with just about anything!
½ cup ricotta cheese
½ cup cream cheese
1 egg
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp onion powder
1 head fresh broccoli
1 head fresh cauliflower
2 cups shredded cheddar
1 small onion, diced
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
2/3 cup toasted sliced almonds (optional)

1. In a bowl combine ricotta, cream cheese, egg, garlic, salt, and onion powder. Mix vigorously (I like a hand mixer but you can use a whisk if that’s all you have) until everything is smooth. 

2. Cut broccoli and cauliflower into bite-sized pieces and toss into cheese mixture; gently stir/fold until all are evenly coated. Add the diced onion, red bell pepper, shredded cheddar and stir/fold everything together again.

3. Dump the mixture into a 9X13 pan and cover the top with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the veggies are tender. I like to stir it right in the pan after it comes out of the oven in order to release some of the steam and water- which I think makes it the perfect consistency in the end. Top each serving with sliced almonds, if desired. 
Guacamole is an often-overlooked powerhouse food. It is so good for you, loaded with avocado, lime, and fresh garlic. And whats not to like? The problem many people run in to is that they usually eat it on tortilla chips and aren't sure what else to do with it. 

It is so very simple to make, but we'll start with the basics for anyone who has never ventured into the world of avocados... 
Selection: if they are to be used within a day or two, go for the ones that are dark browny-black-green colored and not bright green. Pick one up and give it a gentle squeeze, it should give a little to the pressure of your fingers; this is the one you want. I have been know to squeeze every one in the bin looking for the ones with the best texture! FYI, occasionally there are not any ripe ones available. Of course you can buy green ones and let them ripen on your counter at home, which will take several days. 

Guacamole Ideas to Try:
-a great topping for your grilled chicken breast
-cucumber, celery, and bell pepper slices dipped in it
-fajita bowl: sauteed steak, peppers and onions topped with a big dollop
-a great sweet potato topping
-great for a salad: lettuce + black beans + tomato + grilled corn + shredded carrot + guacamole + vinaigrette dressing
-hardboiled egg cut in half and topped with a spoonful of guacamole (beats mayo any day!)
-fancy appetizer: radicchio or endive lettuce cups filled with guacamole and topped with cheddar cheese
1 Roma tomato, seeded and finely chopped
 1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
 ½ cup finely chopped red onion
 1 Tbs fresh lime juice
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped or grated 
½ tsp sea salt
 2 Tbs fresh chopped cilantro
 3 Haas avocados, very ripe*

1. In a bowl combine the tomato, jalapeno, red onion, lime juice, garlic, cilantro, and salt.

2. Cut the avocadoes in half and remove the pits. Scoop out the flesh with a spoon. If it is very ripe/soft you can put it in the bowl with the other ingredients and just vigorously mix everything up. If it is slightly under ripe/hard I will pile it up on my cutting board and use a potato masher to mash it into bits.  

3. Add the avocado to the other ingredients and mix to combine. Enjoy! 

Guacamole doesn’t store too well, so I recommend making only as much as you will use in a day or two. Store it in the fridge and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the guacamole in the bowl that it is in. 

*If you have good ripe ones it should form a uniform mash, if they are a little under-ripe they will form mashed up little pieces, which are fine. I do think that very ripe avocados make the best guacamole.