CHICKEN, ARTICHOKE & KALAMATA CASSEROLE (low carb, gluten free)

casserole&kale

Happy new year!  I hope you enjoyed the holidays and that you’re off to a healthy 2017.  We stayed home over the boys’ winter break, just relaxing, playing, and Ben and I even got to sleep in a few times!

Although the holidays often go hand in hand with overindulgence, I thought I had been pretty good about not veering too far off of my usual eating plan.  Then last week I realized that I was always craving carbs, and my belly just looked and felt way bigger than it should.  Why? Because I had been eating more starches and sugar than usual, which make me so bloated that sometimes I look 5 months pregnant by the end of the day.  This is not normal!

I’ve been working with a functional diagnostic nutritionist for the last 6 months, and various testing revealed several gut abnormalities, which was not surprising at all.  I have struggled with digestion since I was 9 years old (I’m 40 now), and even though I know how to keep my stomach problems at bay, I’ve yet to fully heal my gut.  I’ve made major strides in the last 6 months, though, so I’ve been able to be a little more liberal with what I eat. Rice, brown rice noodles, gluten free pizza, chocolate Kind bars… these are all yummy treats for me, and once in a while is okay, but I had gotten to the point where I was eating one of them almost every day over the holidays.   And that resulted in a big old bloated belly.

So last week I decided it was time to make a change and kick my carb cravings to the curb.  I committed to doing a very low carb diet for 2 weeks to get rid of the bloat, cravings, and maybe even burn some belly fat (that’s where it loves to accumulate on my body). The first 3 or 4 days were not that fun, but now on day 7 I’m feeling pretty good.  I’ve figured out how much healthy fat, protein, and veggies I need to feel satiated, and unlike the more extreme low carb diets, I am still eating organic berries and a little banana here and there, to keep my energy levels balanced.  I was amazed to see that after a couple of days, my bloating reduced by 50%, and by day 5, my carb cravings had really subsided.  I’m not saying that this is going to be my long term food plan, or that it’ll heal my gut, but it’s helping me get back to a healthier way of eating.  When the two weeks are up, I’ll add in more fruit, low starch veggies like carrots, beets and winter squash, and some high quality extra dark chocolate as a treat.

It has also provided some insight into the extent of my starch intolerance.  I’ve discovered that I can tolerate moderate amounts of dairy in the form of organic butter and full fat cheese better than I can handle starches like rice and sweet potatoes. This validates my suspicion that I might have SIBO- Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth, which is what makes me so darn bloated when I eat starches.  A healthy small intestine doesn’t have a lot of bacteria, but in the case of SIBO, the overgrown bacteria go haywire when you eat starches, and other fermentable carbohydrates.  They start digesting the food before your body gets a chance to, which can result in abdominal bloating, distention, gas, pain, belching, and other IBS symptoms.  I won’t know for sure if I have SIBO until I do the testing for it in a month or so, which is my next and possibly most important step in healing my gut.  Is it weird that I can’t wait to find out?  I’ll keep you posted!

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this absolutely delicious chicken and veggie casserole.  It’s creamy and comforting with a little kick, and I could eat it all day long.  I hope you enjoy it!

INGREDIENTS

serves 6

1 medium onion, diced

5-6 cloves garlic, minced

3 1/2 cups finely chopped cauliflower (about half a medium head)

3 tbsp Irish butter

2 small zucchini, cut into 3/4 inch cubes

2 cups cooked chicken thighs, chopped or shredded into bite size pieces

1 cup chopped artichoke hearts, about 8 (I used canned, but frozen works too)

2 cups grated organic white cheddar (I used Kingdom cheddar from Costco)

1/2 cup organic crème fraiche

2 tsp sea salt, more or less to taste

Black pepper to taste

1 cup pitted Kalamata olives, roughly chopped

3/4 cup chopped Italian parsley

10-20 dashes of Tabasco, more or less to taste

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DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven or saucepan over medium low heat, then add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add in the garlic and cauliflower, and 1/2 tsp salt, and continue to sauté until the cauliflower is just fork tender.  Add the zucchini and sauté for another 3 minutes or so.  Turn off the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients.  Give it a taste to check for seasonings, and make any necessary adjustments.  Grease a large casserole dish with butter (ceramic or Pyrex works best), then pour in the chicken and vegetable mixture.  Smooth out the top, then bake for about 30-35 minutes until golden and bubbly.  To keep this dish low carb, serve with a green salad or sauteed greens.  

To make the kale and carrot salad in the photo, follow the recipe for my Lemony Kale & Apple Salad, but use one grated large carrot instead of the apple.  Bon apetit!

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