Sunday, March 18, 2012

our paleo comfort breakfasts

hash-browned cauliflower is great with scrambled eggs
Weather is funny. Sometimes I barely notice it, but it's always a factor, a major backdrop to everything else that's going on. Today, we have rain, lots of rain. We've had almost none this year, so this is a big deal. I've spent so much time marveling over the rain, enjoying heavy drops on my kitchen skylight that I forgot to cook breakfast. I always wake up hungry. We always eat breakfast. On weekends, it's usually a big breakfast because, well, because it's the weekend. It's also usually an early breakfast since we run lots of errands in the morning before GK's standing lunch date with the guys. Only today, mesmerized by the rain, I forgot. How do you forget breakfast? It's his favorite meal of the day, so trust me, he did not understand.

Though I always wake up hungry, breakfast is not my favorite meal. Breakfast foods have never been my favorites, at least not the traditional breakfast foods I've been around. I hear people mention liking or not liking foods based on what they had in childhood. I'm sure that must be true of me in some ways, though it's overwhelmingly the opposite in most cases. When I was a child breakfast was cold cereal, oatmeal, cream of wheat, pancakes, waffles, bacon, eggs, and toast. Not all at the same time, certainly. Breakfast sometimes meant only toast with a little jelly, very little jelly, just enough to make the surface shimmer. When my mother discovered refrigerator biscuits in those cans that were prone to explode when opened, they became a staple on non-cereal days. It was much later that potatoes entered the picture. I'm not sure when I was introduced to breakfast potatoes like hash browns or potatoes O'Brien or country fries. I may very well have been an adult. I really don't remember them at all during childhood.

My favorite breakfast when I was young was never cereal for sure. I've never been a fan. I was an egg girl. My mother would fry bacon, then scramble or fry eggs in the same pan and without removing any of the fat. Now, those I liked. Eggs completely soaked in and dripping with bacon grease were my idea of the perfect breakfast. Sometimes she made omelets: eggs whipped with milk and seasoned with dried mint, then cooked quickly in butter. Nah, it was likely margarine, then, and lots of it. Interestingly, I started high school weighing 86 pounds and graduated weighing almost 96. That fat was clearly not making me fat, much as I longed to put on weight. Then along came the low-fat era, and my pleasure in eating those eggs quickly vanished. I have been health conscious, though admittedly misguided from time to time, most of my adult life. The bacon was out; the bacon fat was out; even the eggs were deemed practically life-threatening.

If I could safely eat anything I wanted, which I cannot for sure, breakfast would be either Eggs Florentine or softly poached and piles of hash browned potatoes, extra crispy, with either choice. Or maybe eggs fried and in butter. Most of those options are totally out of the question for me. But I've found what (almost fully) fills the bill. These days, one of our favorites when we long for an old fashioned breakfast is hash browned cauliflower with eggs. My eggs are usually over easy to medium, while GK prefers his scrambled. Sometimes his become an omelet or a scramble with veggies and aromatics, but mostly he prefers plain scrambled eggs in either olive or coconut oil. I'm not a big fan of eggs in coconut oil, but butter is not an option for me, and olive oil is a bit scary for cooking. Often I cook my eggs in beef tallow or bacon fat.

If you haven't yet tried hash browned cauliflower, you must---even if you're not sure about cauliflower. It's not potatoes; I'll grant you that. But it is a truly satisfying alternative, considering all the drawbacks of potatoes---nightshades in general, for that matter.

For starters, they are one of the quickest and easiest dishes around. After much trial and error, I now always start with raw cauliflower. Trust me on this one. Though some suggest using a food processor to chop cauliflower into small, rice-like chunks, I prefer to use a knife. It gives you much more control over the size you ultimately end up with. Sometimes I want tiny little pieces, and sometimes I want larger chunks, more like country fries. Other times, I go for something in between.
This step is so simple. Just place your rinsed cauliflower on a board or chopping block and, avoiding your fingers, slice through the head of cauliflower. Turn the cut pieces 90 degrees and chop again. Do this as often as you like until the pieces are a size that looks good to you. There is no right size.
Melt some coconut oil, or the healthy fat of your choice, in a saute pan. The quantity is a matter of personal preference. I like to use enough to cover the bottom of the pan generously. Fat is what will make your hash browns crisp and, well, hash browns. Don't skimp. I own only two non-stick pans. Neither is Teflon. Teflon is good for tossing in the trash, little else, in my opinion. For sauteing cauliflower, either non-stick or standard pans work great. Today I was feeling a little lazy, hence the non-stick.
Add a generous layer of cauliflower to your heated, well oiled pan, and resist the temptation to stir constantly. Add a generous sprinkling of salt, I prefer sea salt, and pepper.
As your cauliflower begins to brown, turn or stir. Add another sprinkling of salt, as you stir.
Continue to cook until they reach a beautiful toasty brown color or to your preferred depth of color. I like them a dark brown, but you should be the judge when you're cooking.

If you'd like, add onions, bell pepper, or other aromatics to the cauliflower at the beginning of the cooking process for an almost unlimited number of variations.

Please give this a try and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

an (almost) paleo birthday party

When I decided to start the Whole30 on March 1, it was partially because March would be an easy shot. I saw nothing ahead that would throw a wrench into the works.

We have a huge, really huge, party on Easter with dozens and dozens and dozens of eggs to be hidden and found, more food than eggs, a sacrificial lamb (cake), Champagne and wine. This is not a kids-only kind of party or egg hunt, clearly, though the little ones are well represented, usually. It's a fun day. I want to fully participate. And it's in April this year. March looked great.

In the past, too, I've loved to simmer corned beef and cabbage in Guinness and make black and tans for St. Patrick's Day. That's not happening anymore for lots of health-related reasons. No conflict there.

March 11 is my son's birthday and March 14 is his son's. Sometimes we get together on his birthday but not every year. Sometimes he has a kids' party for the little one, not always. This year we invited Jeff over here for his birthday. I was thinking small family Bar-B-Que. I always seem to forget, however, we don't have a small family. As his birthday approached, I finally realized we weren't really talking small BBQ; we were talking party. Birthday party. The reason you can handle being a year older party. And with Adam's birthday only a few days later, it was also a child's party. Kids live for their birthdays. Yikes!

BBQ to me meant steak, maybe chicken or salmon, on the Big Green Egg. We'd toss a salad, add a veggie. Easy. Kristen offered to make some cupcakes for the little one, complete with Angry Birds. No biggie.

Not Paleo, the only exception in fact, but too darned cute.
Party meant PARTY. Lots of choices, probably a buffet since people would come and stay awhile. Goodbye BBQ. That's way too much hands on during the PARTY.

Fresh veggies piled on a platter lined in lettuce leaves looks fancy and is SO easy.
My current go-to where parties are concerned is a meat and veggie buffet that is becoming more and more Paleotized with each event. A year ago I would have been scrambling to find something I could eat in the mass of food I presented as party fare. This time, other than the cakes, we only had one item I skipped, the marinated mushrooms. They were perfectly Paleo, but the bare pinch of sweetener in the marinade kept them out of Whole30 status. No problem. Mushrooms are not leaving the planet.

One of the easiest party foods for me is a big, bright, beautiful platter of fresh vegetables. Virtually all of these can be cleaned and trimmed in advance. I like to blanch some like the French green beans and asparagus. Carrots and cauliflower do well with a quick blanching, too, but it is not required. When I say quick, I mean 30 to 60 seconds in boiling water---no more, followed by a dip in ice water. We usually wrap each type in paper towels and store them in plastic bags or storage containers in the fridge. A large platter, like a turkey platter, or even a cookie sheet works beautifully when lined with fresh, leafy lettuce. This is a great use for those big, heavy leaves from lettuce that has begun to bolt. It isn't great in a salad, but it's perfect for a lining. I'm always looking for uses for lettuce in this condition because that's what I usually get in my farm box. It's too tough and bitter to be a good salad option, but neither of those qualities are a problem here. Veggies look a bit artistic, too, in piles showing off their color, shape, and textures.

Without rare meat, no one would know it was our house.
Crudites is fine, but prime top sirloin, grilled in large chunks and sliced, is just plain fun party food. We also had a small platter with well-done meat for those who prefer it, including one of the birthday boys.

In addition to the beast, I grilled lemon chicken, which we served in half inch slices on skewers, and my take on Ginger Lime Shrimp from Melissa Joulwan's Well Fed. Also from Well Fed came baba ghanoush, ranch dressing, and the inspiration for adding sun butter and coconut milk to the base of our (formerly peanut) sauce.

Mixed olives and two types of almond flour crackers inspired by Elana Amsterdam's Elana's Pantry rounded out the food. Oops, almost forgot our marinated mushrooms---a hit at every party.

Our buffet just needs a few finishing touches and we're good to go.
It turned out great. It turned out Paleo (if we ignore the adorable cupcakes.) It turned out comfortably Whole30 safe for me. I never eat everything at a party, anyway.

I'm pleased with the direction my party planning is going. I'm getting closer and closer to serving only good, healthy, great tasting food. I love it, too, that my guests are expecting just that.

Happy birthday Jeff and Adam.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

my favorite whole30 words

"Start now. Today. This minute."

Those are the words that prompted me to start the Whole30 for the first time. I see that morning clearly, amazingly so, really, in my mind. I was lying in bed on a Saturday morning, being lazy and reading whatever caught my eye on Facebook. I followed a link to the Whole9 website and started reading through comments and then the specifics of the Whole30. I'd heard about the Whole30 but never really examined it before that morning. It was mid-morning early last October. I'd already eaten a very unusual breakfast, unusual for me anyway since I almost never do sweet: fresh Paleo apple crisp with an almond crust, sweetened with stevia and topped with whipped coconut milk. It was certainly not Whole30 approved. But it didn't matter. I followed their directions. I started right then. Right after reading the detailed description on their website.

No fanfare. No big prep. No worrying. I walked into my bathroom, weighed myself one last time, and just started. And I am so glad I did.

Of all the delightful things they have to say, and they are excellent writers, those words remain my favorites.

"Start now. Today. This minute."

Sunday, March 4, 2012

parents, aunts, uncles, kids at heart

Eat Like a Dinosaur is coming to a bookstore near you this month, and the authors, Paleo Parents, are celebrating in style. Enter their colossal contest at Eat Like a Dinosaur.

It's easy. It's fun. And you'll want these books.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

stews and my whole30

Stew is one of my favorite dishes. I like to cook it and eat it. I like to think about it. Though I've certainly made lots of vegetable stews, I like the moist, tender, flavorful meat best of all. In years past, potatoes were always a component of my stews. These days I don't use them and don't miss them. I think the almond flour used in the cooking adds a starchy feeling, and I don't miss potatoes in the least.

Stews are easy, versatile, they make the house smell great, and they can be SO forgiving. While doing this round of the Whole30, I'm keeping stew or ingredients that can quickly become a stew in the fridge. I have two distinctly different approaches to stew and use one or the other depending on which ingredients I have handy. One starts with cooked meats and vegetables, while the other starts in the raw state. Both are easy.

This week for quick lunches, I've been simply pulling roast and veggies from the refrigerator, cutting them into large bite size pieces, and combining them in my cool little warming Crock Pot, which I then take to work and plug in at my desk.

Stew Re-purposed from a Roast

This method is so easy it doesn't really warrant a recipe. When I cook a pot roast, which for me usually means grass-fed chuck roast because I love the flavor and texture, I add extra carrots, celery, and onions. Often, but not always, I'll throw in turnips, cauliflower, or parsnips. I don't use potatoes. I also usually throw in a handful of almond flour, quite unceremoniously, to slightly thicken the cooking liquid. This is an ideal combination for me to use later in impromptu stews.
baby veggies are a nice addition
Stew for Stew's Sake

The other method is almost as easy and a little more fun. The directions work for boneless beef, chicken, oxtails, short ribs, turkey thighs---any meat that can handle or benefit from long, slow, moist  cooking.
turkey hindquarter ready to become stew
Start by browning your meat of choice. Though we're looking at turkey here, this method works well with all sort of meats. I often brown turkey, oxtails, lamb shanks, and other large cuts under the broiler, watching it very closely as it browns. Boneless and smaller pieces, I brown on the stove top in coconut oil or rendered fat, often with a sprinkling of sea salt, ground pepper, and almond flour. Whether you've used the broiler method or the stove top method, the next step is the same. Slowly brown chopped onions in the fat rendered from browning your meat until well-caramelized but not burned. This adds a real richness to your stew. Next add garlic and cook for about 30 to 60 seconds, just to ever so slightly brown. I use dried granulated garlic in a lot of my cooking, but for a roast or stew that's going to cook for an extended period of time, I like whole or sliced cloves of fresh garlic. To slice or not to slice the garlic is totally a personal choice. Lazy cook that I am, my usual practice is probably pretty obvious.
start with chopped onions, then brown in coconut oil or beef or chicken fat
As soon as you begin to smell the garlic, remove the pan from the heat.

I'm a big fan of a slow cooker for stews, but I sometimes use a heavy French or Dutch oven, like Le Creuset, on the stove top when I'll be at home for a few hours. The advantage to the slow cooker is that you can leave and come back to perfect stew. The stove top advantage is that you can play with it all day. Given the option and the free time, I want to touch and taste and stir. I'm also likely to decide to add a bit of thyme from the garden or a little tomato because it looks good as the stew simmers over the course of a few hours.

Whichever method you choose, layer your browned vegetables with 1" to 3" pieces of carrots, celery,
tomatoes are optional, go with your mood
turnips, parsnips, cauliflower---the veggies you personally like in a stew. Put the meat on the top if it's a large piece like the turkey above, or stir it in if you've used smaller chunks. Top with sprigs of fresh parsley, about 2 ounces of almond flour, a tablespoon salt and a teaspoon of black pepper. Finally, add 1/2 to 1 cup broth or water.

Simmer, covered, for several hours. Meat should be tender and vegetables cooked through but still intact. Taste, adjust seasonings if needed. You may also remove the lid to allow the liquid to continue thickening, if desired.
If you're using a large piece of meat, you'll, of course, cut that into pieces a little larger than bite size after simmering. You'll notice very few quantities list here. This is really more of a template than a recipe. Thyme is a great addition with almost any meat. Half a lemon is nice simmered with lamb, if that's your meat of choice. The possibilities are (almost) endless.

Stews in general are better the second day or third. If you can, refrigerate overnight and reheat to serve. You can remove any fat that has solidified on the surface, especially if you're not using grass-fed beef or lamb.

One thing that makes the Whole30 so much easier is having good food, food you love and don't tire of quickly, on hand and ready to go. The great thing about both this stew and its primary ingredients is that they're easy to keep on hand, fresh or frozen. We have two versions in the fridge much of the time during cooler weather.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

day 1, round 2

Somehow this seems so much easier this time. I weighed myself this morning for the last time this month. Interestingly, to me at any rate, my weight is precisely two pounds less than when I completed my first Whole30 in early November 2011. I meant to do measurements, but I am simply not that organized.

The food has really been easy. Inspired by Carrie, Ginger Lemon Girl, who has posted about pantry meals for a few days, I decided to eat as much from what we already have in our kitchen as possible, even as I'm starting this Whole30. I'm a bit of a pack rat where food is concerned, and we pretty much eat this way routinely, so it's not as big a stretch as one might think. GK is not doing the Whole30 with me, but he has been making gradual changes for some time now that are bringing our eating styles closer together. That is darned near miraculous in my book. It sure makes meals easier, since I do almost all the cooking.

My breakfast, today, was a small top sirloin steak from the freezer. This time I remembered to thaw it first. That is not a given. I browned it in a pan as I got ready for work this morning, seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. After the steak was out of the pan, I threw in a couple of thickly sliced mushrooms. When it cooled, I cut the steak into strips and took it and the mushrooms to work with me along with a cup or so of sauteed Napa cabbage. I am a notorious breakfast-at-my-desk person. It helps me ease into the day.

For lunch, I filled my trusty warming Crock Pot with leftover beef stew from a few days ago. This was possible since I rarely eat anything non-compliant, anyway. Note, I did not say never. For me the Whole30 is not a major change; it's a tightening of the reigns. That is, of course, where food is concerned. Wine is a different issue. I enjoy our wine ritual, but I'm fine without it. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Dinner tonight was simple, mostly because I was pooped after a frustrating work day. GK had the rest of the chocolate chili with an egg, avocado, grape tomatoes, and scallions. I had three scrambled eggs, a bit of avocado, and a few bites of the chili. I couldn't resist. I'm hoping I can handle just a bit.

I'm comfortably collapsed on my bed right now, and as soon as I can drag myself away from my trusty MacBook, my plan is to pick out a few new recipes to try from Well Fed.