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Last updated: Wed. May. 21, 2014 - 05:03 pm EDT

Diet helps couple focus on cooking healthy meals

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I still want to learn …

A. What I'm gonna do with that rutabaga in my fridge. I've had it for a week and I don't know what to do with it.

I can't wait to …

A. Get all my fresh herbs out of the garden. Then I won't have to get them at the store.

Fort Wayne — Aja Michael was seeking structure and guidelines in her diet and wanted to improve her overall health.

So at the suggestion of a friend, Michael of Fort Wayne began Whole30, a diet that eliminates foods thought to cause inflammatory responses in the body. The diet cuts out sugar, dairy, grains and legumes.

“It's designed to be 30 days of clean food. Theory is that you'll reset your body to your metabolism, craving, tastes and your approach to food,” she says.

Before the Whole30 plan, Aja and her wife, Michele Keller, would plan meals “by the seat of their pants,” cooking three meals a week. Most meals now are prepared at home, 31-year old Michael says.

“Now we focus on the type of food and what you're planning to use to nourish your body for the day,” says Michael, who is a community engagement and special events coordinator at Ivy Tech Community College-Northeast.

The current diet plan is the first step in the way the couple plans to eat. She says if they decide to continue, they may start following the paleo diet, which is similar to the Whole30 diet.

While the couple says the original reason they went on the diet was to eat healthier, they're now seeing the added benefit of losing weight.

“My body had to shift from carbs and coffee for energy and now it's burning fat stores. Happy side effect is weight loss,” says Michael who adds that they are not allowed to weigh themselves for the 30 days.

“It's not about weight loss,” she says matter-of-factly.

Keller, who is an EMT, says, “I work in an ambulance, and snacking is something that you do. I'll snack on carrots or apples. It's a mindset.”

Michael finds recipe ideas online, visiting and She says most people that follow the paleo diet have re-created many recipes.

The recipes included here, “I'd made often and adapted. The apples and sweet potatoes we made up one morning. It's (Keller's) new favorite thing. Every day, we're learning. When I cook for us, I don't worry. She'll eat my flops,” she says.

Q. What's your favorite vegetable?

A. Brussels sprouts. I love sweet potatoes, too. Tomatoes, but that's a fruit.

Q. Who's your cooking idol?

A. I like Jacques Pepin. We like Lidia (Bastianich). We love PBS Create.

Q. What's your favorite piece of cooking equipment?

A. My food processor. You couldn't pry that from my hands. I use it for everything – ice cream, ricotta cheese, to chop vegetables.

Q. What's something people would not find in your refrigerator?

A. We don't have cow's milk (or) butter, and no alcohol. All you'll find in there is fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen organic meats and free-range eggs. Oh, and some mustard.

Q. What one word describes your cooking style?

Michael: Entertaining. People like to watch me cook.

Keller: We have friends that will ask when supper is and we say 7 p.m., they'll show up at 6:30 p.m.

Asian Lettuce Wraps with Red Cabbage Slaw


1 pound ground free-range chicken

1 (8-ounce) can water chestnuts, chopped

1 cup chopped mushrooms

1 small onion

2 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon fresh ginger

2 tablespoons tahini

2 tablespoons coconut aminos

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste

Red Cabbage Slaw:

3 cups shredded red cabbage

1 carrot, julienned

1 apple, julienned

1/2 cup bamboo shoots, julienned

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar, or to taste

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

1 head Boston, butter, bibb or romaine lettuce

1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Sauté chicken, water chestnuts, mushrooms, onion and garlic in large skillet. Drain grease. Add remaining ingredients. In another large skillet, sauté cabbage, carrot, apples and bamboo shoots; add vinegar a little at a time to desired flavor. Season to taste. Fill lettuce leaves with chicken mixture, top with slaw and roasted almonds. Serve with extra coconut aminos. Makes 2 to 3 servings.


Meat sauce:

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 pound grass-fed ground beef

1 onion

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce

1 (8-ounce) can tomato paste

8 ounces water

1 bay leaf

Sea salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon oregano

1 tablespoon fresh basil

Eggplant “noodles”:

1/2 cup sunflower oil

1 egg

1/4 cup water

1 eggplant, sliced lengthwise into thin strips

1 cup coconut flour

Cashew “ricotta”:

1 1/2 cups raw cashew halves

2 cups water

Juice from 1 lemon

1 free-range egg

1 handful fresh basil leaves

Pinch of salt

Put cashews in a bowl of water and soak for at least 2 hours. They will puff up a little.

For the meat sauce: Brown ground beef, onion and garlic in a large saucepan with olive oil. Drain grease and add tomato sauce, tomato paste, water, bay leaf, salt, pepper and oregano. Bring to a boil; simmer for 45 to 60 minutes. Add basil at end.

For the “noodles”: In a large skillet, heat sunflower oil to medium-high. Mix egg and water to make an egg wash. Lightly dredge eggplant slices in flour, dip in egg wash, dredge in flour again. Immediately pan fry in sunflower oil. Fry all slices and allow to drain on a rack.

For the “ricotta”: In a food processor, place drained cashews, lemon juice and egg; process until the consistency of ricotta cheese. Add basil leaves and pinch of salt. Pulse to chop basil.

To assemble: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking dish with aluminum foil. Lightly brush with extra virgin olive oil. Place fried eggplant along bottom of pan completely covering pan. Spoon ricotta on top of eggplant and spread evenly. Place another layer of eggplant. Cover with meat sauce. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until bubbly. Makes 4 to 5 servings.

Fried Apples and Sweet Potatoes

2 tablespoons coconut oil

2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced

2 honey crisp or gala apples, peeled and sliced

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced

Cinnamon to taste

Heat coconut oil in large skillet to medium-high. Sauté potatoes in coconut oil until slightly brown. Add apples and sprinkle with cinnamon. Cook until all ingredients are soft and browned. Makes 4 servings.

Cook's Corner is a weekly feature. If you know of someone to be profiled, write to Cook's Corner, The Journal Gazette, P.O. Box 88, Fort Wayne, IN 46801-88; fax 461-8648 or email

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