California Walnut’s Virtual Dinner Party {& Giveaway}

A few weeks ago I was contacted by California Walnuts, a group I connected with a few years ago when I was more of a healthy living/food blogger.  I have now kind of stepped away from the food blogging, but when they offered me the opportunity to join a virtual dinner party and make a dish with their walnuts from one of 4 amazing chefs, I jumped at the opportunity.


Immediately when I was making my decision on which chef to choose, Aida Mollenkamp stood out to me.  She had a number of recipes that were already gluten free and dairy free friendly, and when I saw the Kale, Apple, Pancetta, and Walnut Salad with Creamy Walnut Dressing I knew I had to make it for the Virtual Dinner Party.

For the most part I followed the recipe above, but I made a few substitutions based on what I had in the house, and what I could find at the local grocery store: (1) I couldn’t find endvies, so I subbed in sunflower sprouts, (2) I didn’t have white wine vinegar, so I subbed in rice vinegar, (3) I couldn’t find pancetta, so I used bacon.  I do wish I could’ve tried it with the endives, since I’ve never had them, but sometimes you have to make do and adjust.


The recipe came together so quickly — the longest portion was the frying of the bacon (which took all of five minutes), and it was a delicious, fairly healthy meal that filled me up.  The only requirement is that you have a food processor for the salad dressing, but if you don’t mind it a little chunky, and more of a ‘spread’ I think a blender might work in a pinch.  And speaking of the creamy walnut dressing, I can’t wait to use on other salads, and possibly even as a dressing for meats!  Soooo good!


Aida Mollenkamp and California Walnuts for the win, that’s for sure!

I am so happy I had the opportunity to join the virtual dinner party — check out some of the other food bloggers who joined Aida’s Virtual Dinner Party here.  It felt great to get back in the kitchen and do some cooking again!  Thanks California Walnuts for this fantastic opportunity!

As a part of the Virtual Dinner Party, and on behalf of California Walnuts, I was also sent TWO copies of Aida Mollenkamp’s recipe book: Keys to the Kitchen.  What does that mean?  That I have ONE copy to giveaway to one of you!

Although I was disappointed the recipe I made wasn’t in the cookbook, I still loved Keys to the Kitchen at first glance.


Its got a great set of recipes, a number of which I’m really excited to make, but one of its greatest aspects I think is the informational and instructional information the first two chapters have.  And it has photos, which is always a bonus in my book.


It gives you great instructions on mastering grocery stores, knife skills, and etc, before diving into the delicious looking recipes.  I mean, if the Kale, Apple, Pancetta and Walnut salad I made says anything about what’s in her cookbook, it should be pretty fabulous.

The Giveaway

One lucky winner will receive a copy of Aida Mollenkamp’s Keys to the Kitchen.  The giveaway will be open through Friday, March 8 at noon PST, and I will announce the winner later that afternoon, and get the cookbook sent out asap.

How to enter?

You must do one of the following to enter:

(1) Take a look at Aida Mollenkamps’s recipes used for the Virtual Dinner Party and leave a comment on which recipe (from the Winter or Spring menus) you’d like to try.


(2) Leave a comment telling me about your favorite way to eat walnuts (in a recipe, raw, candied…etc).

For an extra entry:

(3) Tweet about the giveaway, and leave a comment back here saying that you did so.  example tweet: “I just entered to win an @aidamollenkamp cookbook from @phdstrides virtual dinner party giveaway″

*California Walnuts provided me with the walnuts for this recipe and the cookbook for the giveaway.  However, all opinions are my own.

Hyde Park Beef Stew

I got back on a cooking & cleaning kick recently, and while going through my cupboards today I discovered some spice mixes my good friend Lara had sent me from The Spice House in Chicago a few months back (okay it might have been close to a year).

I also remembered that I had some grass fed beef stew meat in the freezer I had picked up from WF about a month ago when it was on sale.  Badabing-badabang, I pulled out my crockpot and got to work.

It actually turned out incredibly good and is Paleo (except for the fact I added cornstarch to thicken it because I got really hungry, it was too soupy and I had added a little too much broth).  As such, I thought I’d share it with you, as its a quick, delicious, hearty meal that will definitely fuel you well and keep you warm as fall weather starts rolling in.

Hyde Park Beef Stew (4-5 servings)

  • 1 pound beef stew meat
  • 3 carrots, sliced
  • 3 celery stalks, sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 3 small-med sweet potatoes, sliced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 3-4 c broth (I used chicken because that’s what I had, but I think beef would be richer)
  • 1/4 c Hyde Park Seasoning (or more…I love a lot of flavor, so I added a lot)

Slice everything to be bite size, and put all ingredients it in the crockpot.  Turn on high for 4-6 hours.  Add only 3 cups broth if you want it to be thicker (if it ends up too soupy and you’re not strict Paleo you can always add in cornstarch to thicken it a bit, which is what I did).

Then, ladle it into bowls, serve and enjoy.  There’s a little kick to the stew, but that’s what I love about it.  Its full of flavor and definitely reminds me of the Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago.

Its a fast, easy way to get a delicious, home cooked meal.  And one I plan on making again and again…once I replenish my spice stash.

Have any spice mixes you recommend?  Recipes to accompany them?

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

There hasn’t been a recipe on here in a while, but this is one close to my heart.  And one definitely worth sharing.

Ever since I was a little girl, at all holidays, most importantly my birthday, our good family friends C&M (and my third set of grandparents) would bring over what I dubbed ‘the most delicious bars in the world.’  I mean they were TO DIE FOR.

Well, those little gems, as I recently found out, are stock full of dairy – a no-no, for me for over six years – so I recently embarked on a journey to recreate these bars.  And what did I find?  A gluten free, dairy free, gift from heaven.  And so, I give you:

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars (vegan, gluten free)


  • 1/2 c earth balance
  • 1/2 c packed brown sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 1/3 c Bob’s Red Mill GF All Purpose Flour (or regular AP flour if you’re not GF)


  • 2/3 c granulated sugar
  • 2/3 c brown rice syrup (or light corn syrup)
  • 6 oz semisweet chocolate chips (I use Guittard)
  • 1/2 c chunky peanut butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 c cornflakes (make sure you get GF certified if you need to)


1. Preheat the oven to 350.  Grease an 8.5×12 glass pan.

2. For the crust, cream earth balance, brown sugar, salt.  Slowly add in the 1 1/3 c flour.  Once its all creamed, press it into the pan.  Once the oven is preheated, bake the crust for 10-15 minutes (for the GF version I recommend all 15 minutes, possibly a few more depending on your oven)

3. Once the crust is in the oven, combine the granulated sugar and brown rice syrup in a medium saucepan, over low-medium heat until its boiling.

4. Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the chocolate chips until melted.  Then add the peanut butter and stir well.

5. Once combined, stir in the vanilla, and then the cornflakes (they will break up, and that’s okay).

6. When the crust comes out of the oven, put the filling on the crust immediately or the filling and crust won’t stick together.  Work the filling onto the crust with either a silicon spatula or slightly greased hands.  The filling is sticky, and hands work the best (though it can be a little hot).

7. Let stand in pan several hours.  Then use a very sharp knife as the bars are hard.  Best results to prevent marking up the pan is to removed them from the pan and cut on a cutting board (with the GF version, parts of the bottom of the crust may flake off, but its not the end of the world — just be more careful :))


Then, serve and enjoy.  You won’t be disappointed.