Low-Glycemic, Veggie Dense, Dairy-Free, Upleveled Shepherd’s Pie (vegan or omnivore)

Upleveled Low Carb, Dairy-Free Shepherd's Pie

In the 1700’s it is said that Irish peasants typically ate between eight and fourteen pounds of potatoes EVERY day, accounting for 80% of their caloric intake! Potatoes were easy to cultivate and required little space making it the ideal crop. And on today, St. Patrick’s Day, many Irish-Americans still practice the tradition of planting potatoes regardless of the weather (and in Colorado today it is snowing making potato planting suck!).

I have always loved Irish food for the simplicity, ease and cost-effectiveness. However, their heavy reliance on potatoes can be a challenge for those of us seeking to maintain blood sugar balance as well as for those practicing a low carbohydrate diet. Additionally, I prefer more color, variety and a heavier dose of non-potato vegetables in my diet.

That said, I’m part-Irish and don’t want to discount my history or culture and still want to make room for Irish cuisine in my life. White potatoes can easily be replaced with sweet potatoes for a similar texture, but much lower sugars (even though they taste sweeter) or with cauliflower for a similar taste, texture and look.

I don’t get fancy very often with my food, because I love food that tastes good and is easy, but occasionally I enjoy making my food real purdy and even shepherd’s pie, a traditionally entirely brown dish can be made stunning for a dinner party. What I love about shepherd’s pie is that you can use any vegetables you have on hand or even leftover meat and veggies, slap some whipped potatoes (cauliflower or sweet potatoes) on top of it and you have a one pot meal.

It is St. Patrick’s Day so integration of a lot of green is called for, but adding in green is as easy as adding in green vegetables instead of dyeing our food with strange food coloring to spike our nutrient density.

In this upleveled version of shepherd’s pie, I’ve used sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes, used a lot of produce, created individualized servings in either mini cake springform pans or using ring molds. I share what I used for produce, but you can use anything you have on hand, just make sure to cook each vegetable separately so that they can be their own separate layer and cook each vegetable prior to baking to cook out some of the moisture.

Upleveled Shepherd's Pie

Upleveled Shepherd’s Pie

Makes 4 individual shepherd’s pies or 1 large springform pie

1-1.25# sweet potatoes (I used 3 small sweet potatoes), peeled and cut into large chunks

3/4# ground beef or bison uncooked or drained, cooked beans of choice for vegan

10 ounces of mushrooms, diced

1 large zucchini, diced

1 yellow bell pepper, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

1 bunch of kale, diced

1/3 cup coconut cream (the cream not the water in full fat can of coconut milk)

1 inch of ginger, grated

1/2 bunch of fresh parsley, leaves only, diced with a couple full leaves reserved for plating

1 yellow onion, diced

cooking oil, as needed for sauteing vegetables and greasing pans/molds (I used avocado oil)

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon coconut aminos

sea salt, to taste

In a medium pot, bring 1 inch of water to boiling, add peeled sweet potato chunks, reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are “forkable.”

Sweet Potatoes

While potatoes cook, begin preparing veggies. Saute onion in a pan for 2 minutes or until translucent. Add ground beef or bison (if using) and saute until no longer pink–about 10 minutes. Add parsley. If using beans instead, add cooked onions and parsley into drained, cooked beans. Set aside.

Saute each vegetable (except the sweet potatoes and ginger) separately in a small amount of cooking oil and salt each of them. Do not cover with a lid as we are trying to remove most of the moisture from each vegetable. Cook each vegetable minimally except for the vegetables. For the mushrooms cook at medium-high heat until mushrooms squeak. Instead of using salt, use the balsamic vinegar and coconut aminos with the mushrooms. Cook until liquid has all absorbed evaporated. Set aside each vegetable into a separate bowl.

bowls of veggies

For the mashed potato topping, add cooked sweet potatoes without the water to a blender or food processor with the coconut cream and ginger. Process until fully blended. If using a food processor, stop part-way through and using a spatula, push down the sweet potato. Add sea salt to taste.

Ring molds are preferable to springform pans as they can be removed cleaner. If using mini springform pans, do not use the bottom. If using mini springform pans without a bottom or ring molds (which don’t have a bottom) place on top of parchment paper that extends beyond the pan. Grease all pans or molds, especially the sides.

For layering, add a layer of the beans or ground meat mixture and press firmly down, making sure to fully cover the base. On top of that add green bell peppers, top with mushrooms, top that with zucchini, top that with yellow bell peppers, topping that with kale and with each layer before adding the next, press firmly down. Top the final layer with the sweet potato mixture, not going too far above the top of the ring/mold.

Filling for each ring mold

Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree F. oven for 20-25 minutes or until top is firm and browning slightly.

Shepherd's Pie in individual molds

Using a knife or offset spatula, circle each pan or ring mold. For ring molds or mini springform pans without the base, lift the parchment and slide onto individual plates. Carefully open springform pans or slide off ring molds. The ring molds easily slide off as long as they were greased.

Top each shepherd’s pie with a few parsley leaves. Serve immediately while hot.

0317161903[1]The pie on the left was created using a ring mold and the one on the right by using a mini springform pan. The ones I used the ring molds for came out cleaner on the edges. Also, I learned to not use the bottom of the springform pan which is not removable, as you can see in the picture above.

What are your favorite Irish dishes? Please share below in the comments.

If you are interested in learning to cook without recipes and honing your creativity in the kitchen, please join me in Denver for one or more of my cooking classes.

Sugar-Free Coconut Peppermint Patties (I mean Peppermint Paddies)

Inside-Out Peppermint "Paddies"

St. Patrick’s Day is tomorrow so I think it only fitting to share one of my favorite desserts which I’ve never considered Irish before, but I’ve been informed by my non-Irish colleagues who celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with green beer that it is!

My take on the peppermint patty is sugar and dairy-free, but still full of chocolate-mint goodness.

So why do us Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with peppermint patties?

Peppermint is green and we celebrate with all things green. After all, Ireland is known as the Emerald Isle.

Mint is an herb relished in Ireland. Garden peas with fresh mint is commonly enjoyed as a Christmas dish in Ireland and mint is often enjoyed with potatoes, pudding, combined with sugar and sprinkled on pineapple (as though pineapple wasn’t sweet enough) and of course just drank as tea. So therefore adding mint to anything makes the dish automatically Irish (and the consumer Irish to, obviously).

In the US we like to shorten St. Patrick’s Day to be St. Patty’s Day and therefore peppermint patties are quite fitting. Unfortunately, the proper abbreviation is St. Paddy’s Day as Paddy is a version of Patrick and Patty is a version of Patricia as emphatically explained on http://paddynotpatty.com/. Therefore I present you with my Naturally Sweet Coconut Peppermint Paddies(?)!

Peppermint "Paddies"


For the chocolate layer/s:

1 cup melted coconut butter (purchased or home-made)*

2 tablespoons melted coconut oil

1 cup cocoa powder or carob powder (for chocolate free). Use raw cacao to keep it a raw dish.

1 tablespoon of vanilla extract

1 teaspoon sea salt

For the mint layer/s:

½ cup melted coconut butter*

1 tablespoon melted coconut oil

¼ teaspoon peppermint extract

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/16 teaspoon spirulina or chlorella, optional for green color

Inside-Out Peppermint "Paddies"

*Preparation for store-bought or coconut butter that was made previously and hardened:

Artisana’s coconut butter is probably the most expensive but is raw and organic in a glass jar or you can purchase Let’s Do Organic’s which is not raw and in plastic within a box, but is a more reasonable price and still organic.

Melt the coconut butter and coconut oil in a double-boiler. I don’t have an actual double-boiler, so instead I bring a small sauce pan filled half-way with water to a boil, turn down the pot to low and then I add ingredients into a small glass bowl that fits on top of the pot with the bottom of the glass bowl not touching the bottom of the pan but touching the water.

Add the chocolate or carob and the vanilla extract and sea salt. Whisk or use a hand blender until fully incorporated. Do not overheat the mixture as it will be more likely to separate in your chocolate molds.

*Preparation for home-made coconut butter

I go through coconut butter pretty quickly so I often will make another batch of coconut butter when making chocolates so that I don’t have to go through the process of melting it. Any leftover coconut butter, simply goes to snacking and melting on top of dishes. It will get used… It’s delicious and it lasts so you can always make more! I leave leftover coconut butter out in the cupboard.

To make coconut butter, simply blend in a Vitamix or a Blendtec on low a blender full of loosely filled full-fat shredded coconut (defatted coconut will not work and is a bizarre and wrong creation!) and gently using the tamper, push down regularly until it starts to emulsify and then turn-up the blender slowly eventually reaching full power. Blend on high until it is fully liquefied. 7 cups of shredded coconut will make about 2 cups of coconut butter. Do not use a different blender for this as it will burn it out! If you don’t have a high powered blender, it can be done in a food processor, but I hear it takes about 20 minutes to make because you have to keep shutting down the machine so it doesn’t burn-out. I’ve never tried making it in a food processor. I think it’s possible to add coconut oil into the shredded coconut to make blending/processing easier though the texture will be a little different and chocolates will melt quicker the more coconut oil you use. OR you can buy coconut butter and follow directions from above.

Make sure to pour out and set-aside some of the homemade melted coconut butter for making the peppermint layer—I know it’s tempting to add chocolate to all of the remaining coconut butter!

You can add in the coconut oil while blending the coconut butter to make the coconut butter creation go faster or after making the coconut butter, add in the coconut oil into the blender, it will melt on its own.  Add the cocoa powder or chocolate, vanilla and sea salt directly into the blender. Blend completely and pour into a bowl while nice and liquidy as opposed to leaving it in the blender where it will cool and become more challenging to remove.

Continuing on, the same for both:

Taste your chocolate!!!! Or rather, slather yourself in it, swim in it and pretend you will leave some to make your paddies! The coconut butter very well tempers the bitterness of chocolate and in my opinion needs no sweetener added, but if you disagree, by all means, add in a couple tablespoons of honey, maple syrup or coconut nectar, to taste.

Pour half the chocolate into chocolate molds, greased silicone muffin pan liners, greased ice cube trays or a greased sheet pan and place in the freezer for 20 minutes to set. If you plan on making on chocolate being entirely on the outside of the molds or muffin liners, only use 1/3 of the chocolate.

While your chocolate is setting in the freezer, prepare your peppermint layer in the same way that you prepared your chocolate layer. If using firm coconut butter (store-bought or previously made), melt in a double-boiler with the other peppermint layer ingredients. If using still liquid coconut butter reserved from freshly making it, pour it into a bowl and whisk or use a hand immersion blender to incorporate the other ingredients. If it needs to be melted more, put it over a bowl of hot water.

Once the chocolate in the freezer has set, add your layer of peppermint-coconut on top, if you want to chocolate to be on the outside layers, only add the coconut to the middle of the mold. Return to the freezer for 20 minutes.

Re-liquify chocolate if necessary using double boiler. Add remaining chocolate to the top of the coconut layer, making sure to completely cover it and return to the freezer for another 20 minutes to set. If using a sheet pan, after it is set, bring it to room temperature before cutting it into pieces.

The amounts provided are for “regular” peppermint patties/paddies, but you can also make Reverse Peppermint Paddies by preparing more of the peppermint “batter” and using the peppermint layer on the outside instead of the inside. I had to do both of course! I did not use spirulina to color my peppermint layers green, but it is a great, natural option for creating a more traditionally green layer for your chocolates.

If you are interested in learning to cook without recipes and honing your creativity in the kitchen, please join me in Denver for one or more of my cooking classes.

Allergen-Free, Low Glycemic Colcannon and a Bit of Irish History for St. Patrick’s Day (or Halloween)

Colcannon Pic

Maybe because I am Irish (and Scottish, German and a whole mess of other things) I love me some potatoes. In fact, in grad school, I pretty much lived on them. I would buy huge bags of potatoes and “borrow” pads of butter from one of the school cafeterias and call it breakfast, lunch and dinner. This was prior to my health crisis that changed drastically how I ate and lived! So I never really needed an excuse like St. Patrick’s Day to load-up on potato dishes.

I still love potatoes, but only rarely eat them with reckless abandon these days, because if I’m going to choose something to eat that I know will spike my blood sugar crazy high, it will probably be chocolate cake not potatoes (and even then, my home-made chocolate cake is pretty darn low glycemic)! An ounce of the carbohydrates in potatoes contain twice the glucose as an ounce of white, processed crack sugar! The starch in potatoes is made of long chains of glucose which are very rapidly digested. Now of course that said, potatoes are healthier than white sugar because there are some nutrients in potatoes that aren’t processed out like they are in white sugar. And if you are very physically active, potatoes can be a great post-intense workout food (though I still prefer chocolate cake for that too).

Enter St. Patrick’s Day 2016. And what does my mind go to? Potatoes. Well, actually to colcannon, a dish that is traditionally white potatoes, cream, butter and cabbage OR kale. Colcannon is traditionally eaten in Ireland at Halloween not on St. Patrick’s Day, but as Americans we don’t really know much about St. Patrick’s Day or seem to care so I’m making colcannon darn-it! St. Patrick’s Day in America is simply used as an excuse to drink a lot of alcohol, be loud and obnoxious, wear green and get in people’s personal space if they aren’t wearing green!

Colcannon now days often has bacon or ham added to it, but traditionally Halloween in Ireland was a day when meat was not consumed, which made colcannon a great option. Colcannon comes from “cal ceann fhionn” which translates to white-headed cabbage though is also made with kale and Irish folks are quite haughty as to which is the correct and therefore only way to make it—with cabbage or with kale. There are even two versions of the well-known colcannon song—one focused on kale and the other on cabbage (referred to as greens):


  Did you ever eat colcannon

  when ’twas made with yellow cream

  And the kale and praties blended

  Like the picture in a dream?


  Did you ever take a forkful          

  And dip it in the lake               

  Of heather-flavored butter           

  That your mother used to make?       


  Oh, you did, yes you did!            

  So did he and so did I,              

  And the more I think about it        

  Sure, the more I want to cry.        


  God be with the happy times

  When trouble we had not,

  And our mothers made colcannon

  In the little three-legged pot.



Did you ever eat colcannon

when ’twas made with thickened cream

And the greens and scallions blended

Like the picture in a dream?


Did you ever scoop a hole on top

To hold the melting cake

Of clover-flavored butter

Which your mother used to make?


Did you ever eat and eat, afraid

You’d let the ring go past,

And some old married sprissman

Would get it at the last?


God be with the happy times

When trouble we had not,

And our mothers made colcannon

In the little three-legged pot.


Colcannon is a famous fortune-telling device as traditionally hidden in it would be a gold ring, a sixpence, a thimble and/or a button (hence the second song version). Finding the ring foretold marriage within a year for the finder, finding the sixpence ensured coming into wealth, the thimble indicated spinsterhood and the button foretold bachelorhood. All in all, a fun game, well, unless you are the unlucky soul who ends-up finding the ring. Also, perhaps we can credit colcannon with mindful eating practices in which a person is careful to take small bites, chew very slowly and to not swallow without fully chewing! I wonder how many people broke their teeth on colcannon!

If I’m going to break with tradition and eat colcannon on St. Patrick’s Day, I might as well also change-up the recipe a bit! Instead of using mashed potatoes, I use mashed cauliflower, instead of cream I use coconut milk and instead of kale or cabbage, I use kale and mustard greens in my recipe, but any of the greens from the brassica family work fantastic. Have questions about the cruciferous or brassica family greens, visit my collards green recipes for info on the thyroid and nutritional info. Now of course, if you want to replace the mashed cauliflower with potatoes, go for it; if you want to add some bacon to it, please do; if you want to use other greens, be my guest; and if you can tolerate dairy feel free to use cream and butter instead of coconut milk! I’ve also used cashew cream and I’ve used pine nut cream instead of coconut milk, both exceptionally delicious. Coconut milk is just super easy and nut-free for my nut allergic friends, but if you don’t like the taste of coconut make it with dairy cream or a nut cream instead.

Colcannon Pic

Allergen-Free, Low Glycemic Colcannon

1 bunch of washed kale, de-stemmed and sliced into thin ribbons

1 bunch of washed mustard greens, de-stemmed and sliced into thin ribbons

1 medium-sized head of cauliflower

1 yellow onion, diced

1 can of full fat coconut milk (you will only use the cream)

¼ cup diced fresh parsley

3 green onions, diced

Sea salt and pepper, to taste

Cooking oil, as needed (coconut oil, avocado oil or bacon grease)

Sauté onion in cooking oil until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add kale, mustard greens and a sprinkling of sea salt. Sauté until mixed into the oil and onions, add a lid and let steam in own liquids for about 10 minutes or until well-wilted. While greens are softening, prepare the mashed cauliflower.

Cut off outer leaves and cut out core of cauliflower. Add cauliflower florets to a steaming basket with water and steam until soft, about 10 minutes. Food process the softened cauliflower florets with the cream from coconut milk, sea salt and pepper (reserve remaining coconut water for another use).

Add mashed cauliflower to the greens mixture in a bowl. Add parsley and green onions to the bowl and mix together. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if needed.

Do you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day or have any favorite Irish foods? Please share below in the comments.

If you are interested in learning to cook without recipes and honing your creativity in the kitchen, please join me in Denver for one or more of my cooking classes.

Collard Burritos Save the Day and the Leftovers (with Video Tutorial)

Collard Burritos Image

Living in Los Angeles for some time with several Hispanic roommates created a love affair for me with tortillas. We ate tortillas with every meal—for breakfast we stuffed them with eggs or tofu and potatoes and for lunch it was usually beans, potatoes, salsa and avocado. Every meal we ate, from salad to stir-fry ended up wrapped in a tortilla. Oh and of course, peanut butter and jelly wrapped in a tortilla, maybe with a banana in it was also common. Everything went in a tortilla—making it the ultimate leftovers game-changer.  I was in grad school at the time, and the ease and portability of the tortilla was without competition.

This of course was before I ever tested myself for elevated antibodies to my own thyroid and this was before I discovered that gluten was the cause of my hypnagogic hallucinations. It was before I made any connection at all to how what I chose to eat affected my health.

There is something so primal, so basic to touching our food. It creates a connection with our food that I crave. A wrap is meant to be picked-up. A wrap is meant to be touched, to cradle our food as it cradles our love for our food. Tortillas connect us to our food in a way that eating food off a fork never can. Everything tastes better in a wrap—even or especially leftovers.

We have it easier these days as the gluten-free. Those hard, dense, breakable, inflexible brown rice tortillas I used to pretend I liked have been replaced by more flexible models, more similar in texture to the real thing.

The problem is that as gluten-free products have improved in texture, my relationship to my body and my willingness to just eat anything that “I can” has also changed drastically. I notice now how my energy, my skin, my digestion, my blood sugar and my overall vitality changes based on what I feed myself and gluten-free is no longer good enough.  To read the ingredients on the now flexible gluten-free tortilla takes some time, because the list is long and filled with many high glycemic starches, many difficult to digest gums, a number of preservatives that aren’t actually food or pronounceable and usually even corn syrup. No thanks. I’m good. Where is my fork?

But sometimes the answer is so obvious, so simple and so easy that we overlook it.

Of course, there are lettuce wraps, which work, but aren’t usually very portable or easy to work with—they don’t usually provide a full cradle for our food.

Enter the collard greens wrap. They are flexible and portable, and wrap-up just like a burrito, but add a bonus dose of health! They even give you the option of a small wrap, a medium wrap or a large wrap depending on the size of the collards with often all three sizes in one bunch!

Collard Burritos Image

Once again, my leftovers have a place to hide and no matter the ingredients, they can easily be cradled in their green bundle of hospitable joy. Once again, grab and go meals can be prepared with ease and all without sleepless nights, brain-fog, thyroid inflammation or insulin surges!

You are the artist of your own wrapping palate, so what you fill your collard green “burritos” with is irrelevant (sunflower seed butter and unsweetened jelly, anyone?), once you learn to soften the greens and wrap them like a pro. Hence the quick video tutorial:


Interested in joining me for a cooking class? Expand your vegetable cooking repertoire and more so that you can easily and deliciously introduce more health into your kitchen and family. Vegetable cooking should be fun, nutrient dense and introduce pizzazz and excitement to your meals. Enjoy vegetables as they are meant to be enjoyed. Never use a recipe again. Fall in love with food, eating and healthy cooking! Check out our cooking classes.

Why Collards?

Cruciferous  vegetables (sometimes referred to as the brassica family) are often considered the most essential vegetables for supporting our detoxification processes. You know these vegetables as kale, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kohlrabi, turnips and collards. Kale tends to steal the limelight most of the time, but collard greens are just as beneficial if not more so than kale!

All of the cruciferous vegetables decrease cholesterol by binding to bile acids (which are made from cholesterol) so they can be removed from the body. When excreted, the body has to make more bile acid, lowering cholesterol by utilizing it. In studies, collard greens outperform all of the other cruciferous vegetables in doing this. And steamed collard greens are more effective in doing this than raw collards.

The cruciferous vegetables are considered protective against development of cancer because of their support of our detoxification system, being anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidants. Collards are considered especially beneficial in protection against cancers of the bladder, breast, colon, lung, prostate and ovaries. Collard greens are especially anti-inflammatory because they contain the omega 3 essential fatty acid, ALA (although it does need to be converted to a more useable form which not everyone’s bodies succeed at doing).

Additionally, 1 cup of cooked collards provides 858% (WHAAAT!) of our daily recommended value of vitamin K which is an anti-inflammatory powerhouse! A 2014 study of over 7,000 people at high risk for cardiovascular disease found that people with the highest intake of vitamin K were 36% less likely to die from any cause at all, compared with those having the lowest intake. Additionally, numerous studies have found that vitamin k prevents cancer and increases cancer cell death.  In a study of 510 elderly subjects at high risk for cardiovascular disease, increasing vitamin K intake decreased inflammation markers by 30%! An analysis of 1,381 participants in the Framingham Offspring study found that dietary intake of vitamin K1 is associated with lower levels of 14 different inflammation biomarkers.

Too much of a good thing if hypothyroid?

The cruciferous vegetables are goitrogenic (in addition to soy, sweet potatoes, millet, wheat and some other foods) which does not mean they cause goiters, but does mean that they can disrupt the production of thyroid hormones by interfering with iodine uptake in the thyroid gland. The cruciferous vegetables are incredibly healthy, as indicated above, so to reduce the goitrogens to a safe level, simply make sure to cook these instead of eating them raw and to limit consumption to no more than a few servings a day if you have hypothyroidism. Whereas, if you have hyperthyroidism, increasing your consumption of raw cruciferous vegetables can be beneficial. If you have no thyroid issues, feel free to continue to eat the cruciferous veggies plentifully, raw or cooked.

Other considerations… Sticky and stinky!

The sulphur in the cruciferous vegetables is a sticky substance that attaches to toxins and drags them out of our body kicking and screaming during Phase 2 of detoxification. This is great! However, not only is sulphur sticky, but it’s also stinky. If you cook these veggies too long, a lot of the Sulphur is released and you get that not so lovely sulphur smell. For collards, I would suggest limiting the cooking to at least 1 minute to decrease goitrogens but not longer than 5 minutes if you are worried about the sulphur smell!

Buy Organic!

The Environmental Working Group has found that conventional collards and other big leafy greens when tested for pesticide levels were high in organophosphate insecticides which are toxic to our nervous system! That means, this is one of those veggies you should buy organic.

Kidney Issues?

Collard greens are high in oxalates, which is normally not an issue, but if you have kidney disease or are prone to kidney stones, you may want to limit those foods that contains high amounts of oxalates.

Please Share!

Now it’s your turn… Please share below in the comments how you like to take your leftovers from boring to renewed. Do you like collard greens? How do you prepare them?