Friday, December 28, 2012

Kicking off 2013 with some luck

As 2012 comes to a close I start to plan for the last 'holiday season' meal, one that many people may not celebrate quite the same but it is definitely tradition in my family...New Years Day.  As as kid I grew to expect black eyed peas (gasp, not paleo!) every New Years Day and as an adult, regardless of my typical diet I expect them all the same.  I always knew it was for luck in the new year but didn't really know much else, I just kind of accepted that.  Because I'm a huge nerd when it comes to stuff like this I started digging to understand why they are considered good luck, one of my favorite lists of good/bad luck foods for the new year was here on Epicurious.  It just lists out legumes (again, paleo eaters gasp!) in general as luck around the world for a few reasons but here's the reason why we consider it so in the US:
"In the Southern United States, it's traditional to eat black-eyed peas or cowpeas in a dish called hoppin' john. There are even those who believe in eating one pea for every day in the new year. This all traces back to the legend that during the Civil War, the town of Vicksburg, Mississippi, ran out of food while under attack. The residents fortunately discovered black-eyed peas and the legume was thereafter considered lucky."
Some of the other descriptions I found on the internet were a little less detailed, things like, "they look like coins" and so they are lucky...I'm not so sure I agree, black-eyed peas don't look like any coins in my pocket but oh well...they are clearly an agreed upon 'lucky' item.  So this year I'll make them the way I was taught, with a big old smoked ham hock.

New Years Day Black-Eyed Peas

24 oz Fresh Black-Eyed Peas
1 very large or two medium sized smoked ham hocks, or the bone-end of the Christmas Ham with some meat still attached
Salt & Pepper
1 clove minced garlic
2 onions, diced
1 can chopped, fire-roasted tomatoes
Springs of cilantro (optional but great for garnish)

Place black-eyed peas and ham in 8 quart pot. Add enough water to fill pot 3/4 full. Stir in diced onions, and season with salt, pepper, and garlic, add tomato. Bring all ingredients to boil. Cover the pot, and simmer on low heat for 1 to 1 1/2hours, or until the peas are tender. Garnish with cilantro.

We always start with fresh peas in our house, I think because it's something you can really always find in the south at this time of year but really they are the best way to start.   In addition to black eyed peas we always have some kind of greens, the basic idea being that greens symbolize money and wealth into the new year.   We'll be having some greens with our peas and the last (but probably my favorite part) key piece of our meal will be to have some pork.  Not only because I love pork in all of its incarnations but because pigs root forward as they move, symbolizing moving forward in the new year.  By the same token, Epicurious lists out some 'bad luck' protiens, lobster and chicken because these two move backwards...and who wants to go backwards in the next year?  We'll be indulging in a braised pork belly recipe based on Emeril's Asian Style Pork Belly.

What will you enjoy on New Years Day?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Get Local in the New Year

As I've mentioned in many posts, I'm a huge fan of farmers markets, locally produced goods and any opportunities to make getting those things a bit easier (ehem, my Farmhouse box being delivered to me).  Recently a new company reached out to me with yet another way to get easy access to locally produced produce, meats, etc., it's called CitySprout.   I have yet to try it but here's how it works, you log onto their website and join a 'community' in your area, once the community reaches critical mass and has enough members local food producers are alerted and can begin making offers for fresh food.  Then, as people accept/buy the offers the producers bring the items to you somewhere close by.   This can be anything from veggies to coffee to bakery goods to honey or grass-fed meats (just to name a few).

The part of the CitySprout mission that was interesting to me is this: "CitySprout was founded to help solve many of the problems currently facing U.S. agricultural production and food distribution. As CitySprout continues to grow and reach more and more communities, so does our ability to effect positive change on an economic, environmental, and social level."     Currently there isn't an active community near me so I started one (talk about grassroots!), we'll see how quickly it grows and what becomes available in my area.  Check it out yourself and see if you've got a community.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

It starts with one step...again and again and again

Being healthy is a long journey filled with many steps in the right direction and some in the wrong direction.  I remind myself that it's a journey on a regular basis but also stumble often enough too.  In my quest to be stronger, faster and healthier I strive to fuel my body with wholesome, healthy foods and to challenge myself many nights a week at Milestone Crossfit. I've been on this path for a while now, a year and a half, and know it's not a destination, that it's a journey you constantly walk and a for me, someone who loves food and cooking it's also a fight.  It's a fight to do what I know is best, what makes me feel best and perform best vs. doing what is easy, comforting in times of stress or what just plain looks good. 

This summer I struggled a lot, not with any one thing but with it all.  I'm the type of person that throws themselves into the things they love so when I started Crossfit in 2011 and found out that I loved it, I embraced every facet of it and jumped in head first.   Going 90 to nothing for a year and a half is a little rough, I am the girl who doesn't move a workout unless it is absolutely necessary (i.e. I have to travel for work and must accommodate that schedule), I am the girl who can empty all the "bad" food from her pantry and have the strongest will and the strictest diet without turning back.  I am also the girl who takes on misstep and says, "eh, I'll get back on track on Monday" and maybe never does get back on track.  I think it would be an understatement to say I can get derailed, I think it's more like the train flips over, rolls down the embankment and never rights itself.  I didn't go completely nuts and start eating funnel cake for breakfast and stop working out...more like it was a gradual slide into seeing crackers in the pantry, bread on the counter and having some major apathy about my workouts.

Apathy (also called impassivity or perfunctoriness) is a state of indifference, or the suppression of emotions such as concern, excitement, motivation and passion.  Thanks Wikipedia, that about sums it up. I spent most of this summer with a very large amount of apathy, don't get me wrong this only applied to my life in crossfit and somewhat with nutrition.  I still enjoyed all the other things that make me tick, spent a lot of time with family, friends, my to do a little traveling and did some fun "Austin" things.  But at the end of my summer of apathy I started to really question what I was doing and why I was failing.  Yes, I know how obvious the answer to that is...failure was a direct result of my level of giving a damn.  But for some reason that didn't quite occur to me...I felt some need to assess whether what I was doing made sense and if I should continue down the path I had been on.   Then I read a blog post by someone I have major respect for, a blogger I love to read each day, PaleOMG. (If you are not familiar with Juli Bauer's blog RUN to get there!).  Juli writes for a few sites but on the Again Faster blog she posted something that really resonated with me.  To give you some context Juli is an amazing paleo blogger but she is also a Crossfit coach in Denver, CO and a competitor.  Her post called Creating My Crossfit is all about her struggle to feel as excited about Crossfit as she once had.  Seeing someone who has infinitely more skills, has dedicated herself to training others and is clearly committed to the healthy lifestyle struggle with a similar set of feelings made me think twice about abandoning my course.

It took me some time, thinking about it all, remembering why I got involved in this in the first place and realizing how stupid it would be to truly abandon something that has given me a new view of what I am capable of and a place that has introduced me to some of the best people I could ever meet.  I realize I am very hard on myself and that my apathy came in part from my struggle to meet my own expectations.   It is very hard to do something day in and day out only to feel like you are not measuring up to what you think you should be able to do.  Ironically, I actually reached some major milestones this summer, I managed to deadlift 300lbs+, I got my first kipping pullup and I set PRs (personal records) in nearly all of the other things we did (benchmarks, various lifts and even sprint/running related things).  Somehow I ignored all of that in favor of feeling like I hadn't done enough, like I wasn't able to do more and then getting angry and eventually apathetic.   All the stuff that makes me who I am, all of my personality quirks that make me good at my job and make me pretty decent at the hobbies I enjoy turned against me to some extent to make me hate something I loved because I felt like I wasn't good enough (according to the one important expert, me).  Wow, that's absurd.  After a summer of apathy and some over-thinking I realized the only way I was going to get anywhere was to ignore the part of me that constantly told me how I was failing to measure up.  Not so easy, believe me. 

Starting the week before Thanksgiving (told you it took me a long time to think through it all) I decided to throw myself back in.  About that time our coaches decided to beat us to a pulp so in addition to my renewed effort I was barely walking that week.  So here I go, a few weeks before New Years, my resolution is to not be so hard on myself.   Besides, my dedication to and love of Crossfit has been embraced by my family too (not gonna lie, my sister started this for all of us) but so much so that our Box even laughs about it...

So I guess the path of least resistance (and most to an extent) is to keep rolling and get back on track again. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

90 degree Spring?

Somewhere the weather here took a turn for summer much faster than it should have, perfect illustration of that fact: yesterday my sister, mom and I met up with my grandmother in San Antonio for the day.  We packed a picnic, wandered some of our favorite thrift stores, a normal  spring day I could've gotten by with a t-shirt and jeans and not been sweating to, yesterday I wore a tank top and shorts and there were a few times where I think I might've been overdressed still.  It's a really good sign that it's ungodly hot here already and it's just April 2.  Needless to say cooking with a stove hasn't really been at the top of my list in this weather, lots of grilling, plenty of cold meals and salads. 

I'm kind of picky about salad, I hate iceberg lettuce, it's void of any flavor in my opinion, isn't quite as nutritious as it's pretty dark green cousins (or red ones for that matter) and frankly it's boring.  No wonder I don't love salad, iceberg, ick.  For years salad meant pasty looking iceberg lettuce to me, no my mom (who is an amazing cook) didn't force-feed us iceberg but it's just what I associated salad with.  As I've learned to expand my definition of salad I've become a bigger advocate of them, you'll see, perusing any salad recipes I post, many don't even have lettuce in them but iceberg is definitely not featured here!   This salad is no exception, a few weeks back I was getting head after head of cabbage in my Farmhouse Delivery boxes, green, napa, red, you name it, I got it.  So I made slaw, a lot. I wouldn't call this a slaw since I feel like slaw is another one of those terms with not so pretty connotations but I'd say it's a cabbage salad instead. 

Asian Red Cabbage Salad with Pan Roasted Chicken

1 Small Head Red Cabbage, Chopped
1/2 - 3/4 Cups Green Onions, Chopped
1/2 Cup Chopped Dried Pineapple (no sugar added)
2 Tbsp Black Sesame Seeds
2 Tbsp Hemp Hearts

1 1/2 Tbsp Coconut Aminos
2 Tbsp Coconut Vinegar
1 Tbsp Rice Wine Vinegar
2 Tbsp Sesame Oil
1/2 Tsp Minced Garlic
1/2 Tsp Minced Ginger

3 Chicken Breasts
1 Tbsp Sesame Oil
1 Tbsp Rice Wine Vinegar
1 Tbsp Coconut Aminos

1. Coat chicken in sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and coconut aminos, let it marinade for at least 30 minutes.
2. Once chicken is ready, head a cast iron skillet over medium high heat with 1 Tbsp Sesame Oil, once skillet is hot add chicken and brown well on each side, cooking time will vary based on thickness of chicken but mine took about 8 minutes on each side before it was cooked through.  As it was cooking I poured the leftover marinade over the chicken.
3. Once chicken is cooked, slice and set aside. 
4. To make dressing, mix vinegars, coconut aminos, garlic and ginger together.  Slowly add oil in, whisking continuously so that the oil is well incorporated and doesn't separate.
5. Toss salad with dressing, top with sesame seeds, hemp hearts and chicken.

A quick note about one of the salad toppings listed above (and shown below), Hemp Hearts.  I stumbled across these in my local Whole Foods recently, they are a great nutty, crunchy topping for things and I've just started using them.  I loved the nutty flavor and they have super healthy benefits, they are rich in Omega's with a great balance of Omega-3 to Omega-6 and also are a great source of gamma-linoleic acid which has been shown to support healthy skin, hair and nails. Tasty and good for you, double win!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

First Day of What?

Here in Austin it's been "spring" for a while...I've been working out in shorts and t-shirts and sweating to death for at least three weeks, maybe more because Texas doesn't seem to know that the first day of spring was actually today.  Ha, someone let me know when we officially hit summer too, I'd bet $10 it's summer here much earlier, ahh the pleasure of living in Central Texas.  While I moan about the heat I should stop to consider the irony of posting this recipe, who knew I'd be so behind that I would be posting pumpkin recipes the first day of spring...

So why pumpkin? Besides the fact that I'm completely obsessed with them every fall and that the seeds make tasty tasty snacks, they are hugely good for you, just a few things you should know:

  • Just like all brightly colored fruits and veggies, the gorgeous orange color of pumpkins is a key indicator that it's loaded with beta-carotene, which may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, offers protection against heart disease and the degenerative effects of aging
  • Just one half cup serving of pumpkin contains 5 grams of fiber which helps decrease cholesterol levels, control blood sugar and promotes healthy digestion
  • Pumpkin is rich in vitamins C and E which boost immunity, reduces risks of high blood sugar and promotes healthy skin
  • Pumpkin is also rich in potassium and magnesium which are extremely helpful to the body in a range of ways from promoting a healthy immune system to contributing to bone strength
Do you want to be less healthy? No, didn't think so.  Isn't pumpkin tastier than taking a fist full of pills to supplement your diet? Yes, it very much is. 

With a pretty little pumpkin that came in my weekly Farmhouse Delivery box I set to finding something to do with it.  I was a little unsure at first, pumpkin is something I don't cook with a lot, love carving them but cooking with them was a little foreign.  Inspired by the Farmhouse Table (Farmhouse Delivery's Blog) I grabbed some green curry paste and a good knife and went to work.

Thai Green Curry with Pumpkin
inspired by Farmhouse Table

4 oz green curry paste
2 14 oz cans coconut milk (full fat)
1 6 oz can coconut cream
1 Tbsp fish sauce (or to taste)
½ small pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks
1 pound cubed chicken
1 bunch basil, leaves picked

1. Place thick coconut cream in a large cast iron skillet or dutch oven, add curry paste and fry til fragrant.
2, Add remaining coconut milk, simmer for 5-10 minutes, then add fish sauce.
3. Add pumpkin cubes and meat.
4. Simmer til pumpkin is tender, then stir in basil leaves

The original recipe is served over rice, I roasted some cauliflower in the oven while the curry was cooking and served it alongside.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Post-WOD Nutrition Anyone?

Lately I find it is getting harder and harder to cook and want to eat after Crossfit, partly because I'm exhausted by that time and partly because it's been warm here and I've had no desire to eat.  Truth be told you've got to eat after working out that hard, some kind of nutrition is important so I usually give in even though I am not hungry and dig up something.  However, on those random days where the weather decides it's still winter I have a different issue, I want something warm, comforting and tasty...the problem is most of that kind of food takes time and I don't like to sit up all night waiting on dinner either.  So I search and search for things that I can pull together in a limited amount of time that will be worth eating.

After making a big batch of cauliflower 'rice' I knew this Chicken Tikka Masala would be the perfect compliment, actually I love this dish (and sauce) so much I could eat it on it's own...with just a spoon.  Yes it's that amazing.

Quick and Easy Chicken Tikka Masala - Paleo Style!
Inspired by Real Simple's Chicken Tikka Masala

1 15-ounce Diced Tomato
1 Medium Onion, Chopped
1 Tablespoon Garlic, Minced
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
1 Tablespoon Garam Masala (Indian spice blend)
1 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
1 Teaspoon Cinnamon Powder
Kosher Salt and Black Pepper
1 1/2 Pounds Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs (about 8)
1/2 English Cucumber, Thinly Sliced
1/4 Cup Fresh Cilantro Leaves
1 Tablespoon Fresh Lemon Juice
1 Cup Coconut Cream
1 14oz Can Lite Coconut Milk
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

1. In a 4- to 6-quart dutch oven, brown the chicken thighs in the olive oil.
2. In a small bowl, toss the cucumber and cilantro with the lemon juice and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for up to 8 hours.
3. Remove chicken from dutch oven, add onion and garlic, saute until onion is translucent.
4. Add chicken back to skillet, add diced tomatoes and juice, coriander, garam masala, cinnamon, salt and pepper (to taste) and coconut milk.
5. Once all of items from prior step have been incorporated, add in tomato paste and stir well. Bring up to a simmer and let simmer for 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and tender.
6. Just before serving, stir the coconut cream into the chicken tikka masala.

Serve over cauliflower "rice" with the cucumber relish.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

More Food Processor Love

The love affair with my food processor certainly isn't dying anytime soon. In fact, day by day our love grows (ha, now you know I've taken a dive off the deep end!). I've been using my new gizmo for everything, from turning my paleo cocoa bites into something even more delicious to stuffing dates with "almond cream cheese" to making paleo "rice."  Ahh the marvels of the food processor.  So, to start off (and no, there's no picture of these), two Saturday's ago we had a 1/2 way mark potluck at Milestone Crossfit, it was a little paleo celebration of being half way through our eight week challenge.  Since we've all sworn off sugar and everyone else was bringing meat and veggies I decided to do a variation on my paleo cocoa bites.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Truffles
2 6oz Bags of Pitted Dates (nothing added to them)
1 5oz Bag, Unsweetened Coconut
2 Cups Cashews
1 Cup Pistachios
2 Teaspoons Cinnamon
2 Teaspoons Chipotle Pepper Powder
1 Tablespoon Mexican Vanilla
1 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/4 Cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

This one is easy - it's really one step...throw everything in the food processor and pulse until it's chopped up nice and tiny and can be formed into balls, bars, etc. If your mixture needs a little moisture to come together, add hot water by the tablespoonful slowly (1 tbsp at a time).

These were a huge hit at the potluck, once of our coaches swore it was better than chocolate and one of my fellow challenge members told me 'bless you' for bringing them.  Ha, guess we are all surprised at how much we missed the sweet goodies!

My next feat from the food processor was to make some paleo 'rice' - using the fabulous instructions on Nom Nom Paleos' post about cauliflower rice, I  whipped up a big batch of 'rice' with one of the monstrous heads of cabbage in my weekly Farmhouse Delivery box.  I was really surprised at how simple it was to create rice.

A slightly blurry photo of just the rice:

What did I eat with my 'rice' you ask?  Well some amazing and quick Chicken Tikka Masala!  That recipe will be coming along shortly, I promise :)

Finally, to round off my food processor related creations, almond stuffed dates.  Nope it's not just an almond stuffed in a date.  In an effort to keep the book club snacks paleo, healthy and tasty I keep trying to find something interesting to take along.  With a few of the leftover dates from my truffles I searched for inspiration.  Interestingly, the vegan nut 'cream cheese' recipes I've seen provided just the right inspiration.

There are tons of variations on how to soak nuts and turn them into a cream cheese type texture, this is just the way I did it, I can't wait to experiment though to find new ways to do this and new flavors.

1 Cup Raw Almonds, soaked overnight in water
1-2 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar
3-4 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Pepper

1. Soak almonds overnight in water. After they have soaked, blanch them for 5 minutes in very hot water.
2. Pour off the hot water, pinch off the almond skin and set aside the almond meat.
3. Blend almonds with all remaining ingredients in a food processor.

*If it does not reach the texture you want, add a little bit of water (teaspoonfuls) until it does.  I added basil infused sunflower oil at this step to give it a little basil flavor.

Bacon-Wrapped, Almond Cream Cheese Stuffed Dates
1/2 Cup Almond Cream Cheese
14 Dates, Pitted
7 Strips Thinly Sliced Bacon

1. Split a date in half like a hot dog bun, leaving it intact.  Fill with a teaspoon or two of the almond cream cheese and freeze for at least one hour.
2. Remove from freezer and turn oven to 375 F.
3. Cut bacon into halves, use one half strip of bacon per date and wrap around.
4. Place dates on a baking rack (raised above cookie sheet) on a foil-lined (easier clean up) jelly roll pan.
5. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until bacon is crisp or close to done, if bacon is not yet ready feel free to crisp it under the broiler.

Monday, February 20, 2012

When A Girl Loves A Cuisinart

Like most things people tell me I need, a food processor was always a useless object in my mind.  Why on earth would I want an industrial capacity to shred things, mix things, etc. when I have a box grater, microplane, blender, immersion blender, hand mixer and stand mixer? No, I definitely don't lack for kitchen gadgets.  In fact I technically own a little 3 cup food processor, Kitchen Aid is smart and makes a cool little 'duo' that uses the same motor/base for the blender and food processor.  Until this past month I could have counted the number of times my 3 cup food processor was used on one hand...well three fingers to be exact. 

What changed?  Have I become the slaw queen of the south?  Or am I making french fries in such volume that I need to shred them in 7-cup increments?  No, not really.  I know, it's all the pie crusts I'm whipping up on my grain-free diet...again, no.  As I have gotten deeper and deeper into paleo cooking and have started looking to what all the other proclaimed paleo-types on the web do, I've noticed the food process is ubiquitous.   Want mayo that doesn't have a bunch of strange scientific-sounding ingredients in it? Food Processor.  Love coconut butter but hate the price? Food Processor.  Miss rice? Food Processor.  I suspect you're seeing the pattern.   Anyway, there are a lot of skilled paleo folks out there who do amazing things with food processors and I was tired of being left out of the party.  I started small, used my little 3 cup processor about twenty times in one week, started ogling the bigger ones online and in stores and finally made a purchase last week.

This beauty arrived on 2/13:

I'm in love.  Plain and simple, how did I live without a food processor??? (Yes mom, you were right). I've been busy whipping up all kinds of yummy stuff, soon I too will be one of the enlightened who is posting their own food processor recipes :) World beware!

Here are a few recipes I've found on the web that have made it into regular rotation:

Coconut Butter
Cold Sesame (Cucumber) Noodles
Zucchini Hummus

The first two come from an amazing blog (written by an Austin girl!) that is full of tasty as can be paleo recipes, The Clothes Make the Girl, I highly recommend it!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

When Your CSA Hands You Lemons...

Week 4 of 8 weeks of hardcore, sugar-free paleo life isn't too bad, some days I end up stretching myself creatively....but sometimes the best solution is right smack in front of you, simplicity is the best answer. When my Farmhouse Delivery box appeared with some beautiful Meyer Lemons and greens aplenty I scratched my head a little.  Normally I'd turn those amazing lemons into something sweet, a pie or tart (mmmm) but since adding sugar isn't in the plan right now I had to think of another way to enjoy their special blend of sweet and tart.  Greens, well those are easy, olive oil, crushed red pepper, garlic - boom greens solved!

After a little thought I figured I'd make a chicken piccata type dish, with my Meyer Lemons at hand there was no breading needed to make this dish sing! Come to find out, piccata doesn't actually need breading, the word piccata just simply means to pound flat, so any protein can become a 'piccata' without losing the spirit of original dish.

Paleo Chicken Piccata
4 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Dry White Wine
1/2 Cup Chicken Stock
1/4 Cup Meyer Lemon Juice (freshly squeezed)
2 Tbsp Capers (rinsed and drained)
1 Tbsp Freshly Chopped Flat Leaf Parsley
1 Cup Frozen, Halved Artichoke Hearts
Salt & Pepper to taste

1. Lay chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap or wax paper, pound out to about 1/4 inch thickness.
2. Saute chicken in olive oil and brown the outside, approximately 2-3 minutes per side. Remove chicken from pan.
3. Return pan to medium heat, add white wine and chicken stock and scrap bottom of pan with a wooden spoon to remove the brown bits. After wine has come up to a simmer, add artichoke hearts.
4. Add lemon juice and bring artichokes up to temperature.
5. Remove from heat, stir in capers and parsley, serve sauce over chicken.

Along side the chicken I served some sauteed greens and a braised eggplant dish (easiest thing on the planet!). I cut the eggplant into cubes, doused them in an entire jar of fresh marinara sauce (sugar and creepy unpronounceable ingredient free!) and let that bake in the oven at about 350 until the eggplant was cooked.

Sometime the answer is simple :)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Feeding My Inner Book Worm

I'm a book junkie, really I have more books than I could read in a year, have been known to read more than two or three books at a time and in addition to being a die hard lover of actually, physical books am also completely in love with my Nook Color.  So when my sister said she wished she could find a book club I jumped on the bandwagon with her.  Instead of finding one (because it seemed like most in our area were reading crappy romance novels and such) we just started our own.  Now what started as an excuse to read more books is an excuse to spend more time with good friends and snack on tasty treats.  I know, you're shocked that between my love of books and cooking such an event would turn into an excuse to snack :)

This was all well and good for the first few meetings, i.e. pre-paleo challenge time.  Cheese, vino and crackers, sliced fruit and veggies abounded during that time.  This past week was my turn to host and suddenly I was feeling panicked, what do you serve a mix of paleo/non-paleo folks? Well since we're in strict challenge mode I couldn't tempt myself (or my sis) with cheese or wine (sad) and serving a plate of just straight up veggies and deli sliced turkey was too boring for my inner-chef.  So off I went, searching for crowd pleasing, challenge friendly appetizers and snacks.  The results, actually pretty good.  I ended up with two paleo friendly dips (below), sliced fruit and veggies, some olives, plain plantain chips, homemade pickled veggies, nuts, smoked, peppered pork tenderloin and nitrate-free sliced turkey. All in all not too bad, might even make a reprise for some of these things come Super Bowl Sunday!

First on deck we had a zucchini hummus, many versions of that exist on the web but the one I used was:

Paleo Hummus

3 small or 2 medium zucchini
1/2 cup Tahini
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
3 Tbsp Lemon Juice
1 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Cumin
1 Tbsp Minced Garlic

1. Peel zucchini very well so that no green is visible anymore.  Chop roughly and drop into food processor.
2. Put tahini, garlic and zucchini together in food processor and pulse until smooth.
3. Add olive oil, lemon juice, salt, cumin and pulse again until well incorporated.

The second recipe was a fruit dip made with coconut butter (yummy), coconut milk, peaches and lime.  I'll be messing with this recipe further as I think the texture could be less grainy (a product of my homemade coconut butter I suspect). 

1 cup Coconut Butter (feel free to buy this but it's pricey, or you can make it easily, instructions here)
1 can Whole Fat Coconut Milk (I believe the cans are appx 14-16 oz)
2 Whole peaches, pitted
1 Lime, peeled and seeded

1. Drop coconut butter, peaches and lime in the food processor. Pulse until well blended.
2. Slowly add coconut milk, I did this in batches so that it became well incorporated.

Coconut is my newest obsession, I warn you now because it'll likely begin appearing here regularly.  Sorry all I have is a pic of the whole spread on Wednesday night, not the individual dips.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ginger: Beyond the Wasabi

As I think more about what I put into my body from a 'fuel' perspective I also have started paying more attention to the supposed benefits of some of my favorite herbs and spices.  I have always adored various Asian flavors in cooking but have more recently come to love ginger, let's just say I've been a slow adopter.  For me, ginger was just that pink stuff (not ham as I so sadly found out many years ago) that sat alongside the wasabi on my sushi order.  I have avoided it, been disgusted when large pieces of it appeared in stir fries or soups and have just ignored it for many years.   Of late though I've been adding it to marinades, sauces and stir fries beacuse shockingly (yea I know, I'm late to the party), it tastes good!

Ginger is kind of amazing, it's actually a root (if you leave it on your counter long enough it'll spout greenery and grow!), it can be yellow, white or red in color depending on the variety and has a kin that can be thicker or thinner depending on how mature the plant was when it was harvested. Ginger is sought out for it's medicinal properties from relief of motion and seasickness, anti-inflammatory properties, immunity boosting properties and there are even studies to understand its effects on fighting various cancers.  Pretty powerful stuff that you can find in your local grocery store.

The use of ginger dates back over 5,000 years where the ancient Chinese and Indians recognized it's powerful medicinal uses and viewed it as a healing gift from God.  While many think of ginger as a very eastern spice, it was actually widely-used in ancient Rome (it was exported via the spice route from India), sadly with the fall of the Roman Empire, ginger fell out of circulation.  As the Arab control of the spice trade increased, ginger became a highly prized but very expensive spice used mainly in its preserved form through the Middle Ages. At this time it was very pricey with a value equal to a whole heard of live sheep!

Ginger did not regain it's full popularity in western countries until about the 11th Century when it was again used for making sweets, cooking meats and in pastes.  In the 16th Century, Henvry VIII recommended ginger as a remedy for the plague.  It is said that later his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, invented the gingerbread man, surely the rise of Gingy helped spread ginger!

From 1585, Jamaican ginger was the first oriental spice to be grown in the New World and imported back to Europe (wikipedia).  Currently India leads the world's production of Ginger with over 30% while China, Indonesia, Nepal and Thailand rounding out the top remaining producers.   Ginger is widely used and found across the globe today.

Ok, now for the goodies...what is sure to become one of my favorite paleo stir fry recipes:

Ginger-Pork Stir Fry
2 Thick-cut Pork Chops, butterflied and cut into strips
2 Crowns of Broccoli, cut into small florets
2 Large Red Bell Peppers, or 3 Small, cut into strips
1 Tsp Minced Garlic
2 Tbsp Minced Ginger
2 Tbsp Tamari Soy
2 Tbsp Sesame Oil
5 Green Onions, Chopped

1. Over high heat, add oil to a wok, once oil is sizzling add pork and garlic, saute until pork is browning on outside.
2. Add broccoli and ginger, saute two minutes and add peppers, green onion and tamari. 

3. Heat another two to three minutes, don't over cook, you want the veggies to have crunch

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Missing the bread? Nope...

Forget the mac 'n cheese, leave the french toast behind and jettison the baked goodies.  Wow, that sounds pretty scary doesn't it?  Well, truth be told once you get away from  legumes, dairy, grains and sugars you go through some withdrawal, and then as Whole9's Robin Strathdee says, you grieve. After the grieving and the withdrawal the first time I did this I went down the path of trying to paleo-ify everything....yea another bad idea.  If you want to understand why that's a bad idea, again I'd direct you to the smart smart folks at Whole9/Whole30, they are definitely opinionated on the subject.

So this time, as I wander back down the path of another Paleo Challenge with Milestone Crossfit I am fighting some serious desires to lapse, go get a block of cheese and say forget it!  Instead of doing that I'm trying to find ways to keep making tasty and diverse meals (yes, I get bored easily).  Thank God I've got a lot of other folks around to lean on when I'm struggling, and truth is, it's early to be struggling, I'm only in day 4 of an 8 week stint!  So last night, coming out of a WOD that beat me up pretty good (yes, I'm slow like a 90 year old today) I was looking for a little good old fashioned comfort food, what's more comforting and meat stuffed with goodies, baked sweet potato and stuffing?  Nothing, that's right, nothing!

Paleo Stuffed Pork with Mushroom Stuffing

1lb Pork Cutlet, pounded until thin
1 Granny Smith Apple, chopped
1/2 Large Sweet Onion, chopped
12-14oz Whole Roasted Chestnuts, packed in water (if canned)
1/2 Cup Dried Cherries, chopped
3/4 Cup Dried Apricots, chopped
4 Portobella Mushrooms, chopped
4 Tsp Dried Garlic
4 Tsp Dried Rosemary
5 Tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Chicken Broth
Salt & Pepper to Taste

1. Mix apple, chestnuts, cherries, apricots, 2 teaspoons of the garlic and rosemary together in a medium sized bowl.  Lay pork on a cutting board and put about 1 cup of fruit/herb/chestnut mixture inside pork and wrap pork up to look like a tenderloin.  Once pork is wrapped, it's best to tie it up with twine/kitchen string.  I'm not super fancy with this step, I tie it so it won't all come out as it's cooking but there are great videos, like this one, that show you how to tie it up all pretty.
2. Place pork in an oven safe baking dish.  Drizzle remaining garlic, rosemary and 2 tsp olive oil over the top of the pork and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Bake in a pre-heated oven at 375 until cooked and brown (30-45 minutes).
3. While pork is baking, saute onion with 1 tsp olive oil until begins to caramelize, add remaining fruit/chestnut/herb mixture to pan and saute for about five minutes.  Add mushrooms and broth to pan and cook until broth has reduced to almost nothing.  Stir regularly.
4. When pork is cooked remove from pan and let it rest for a few minutes, slice and serve with stuffing and baked sweet potato.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Chilly Nights of Chili

I've ranted and raved before about what it takes to be "chili" ok so technically that was about the use of chile in chili...guess that means I can rant about the perfect Texas chili now.   What is Texas chili you ask?  Well let's see, it is not:
  • Something that contains beans
  • Served on a bun
  • Eaten over spaghetti
  • Something that has celery, rice, or other funny ingredients in it
Ok, so I'm sure you have some reason why I'm wrong, why? Because everyone who likes chili is passionate about what it contains/doesn't contain, how it's served or what you should eat it with.  How can one food inspire such strong feelings, after all it's just a meat stew right? Well it might have something to do with the fact that there are so many regional variations on the dish ranging from ingredients (the aforementioned beans, celery, rice, etc.) to how it's served, in Cincinnati for instance it's served over spaghetti ?!? (if you could only see the alarm on my face!)  Generally speaking here in Texas (aka God's Country) we've accepted there are no beans in chili, it isn't served over spaghetti, it's not a sloppy joe and really unless you're in a Tex-Mex restaurant it doesn't go over tortillas/tamales/burritos, etc. It is socially acceptable to serve it over/with Fritos and cheese or cornbread but beware, doing something else will definitely mark you as a non-Texan.

Spicy Whiskey Chili

1/4 cup good quality whiskey
4 teaspoons dried oregano
4 teaspoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons cocoa powder
4 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2½ cups beef broth
2 medium onions, cut into ¾-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
3 red or orange bell peppers, stems and seeds removed, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon Chalula chipotle hot sauce
2 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons backstrap molasses
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2½ pounds sirloin steak, ground on 'chili' grade grinder
3-4 slices of bacon (3 if it's thicker cut) cut into ½-inch pieces
salt and pepper to taste

1. Saute onions in 1 tablespoon olive oil until they are translucent in a large, heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven. Add bacon once onions turn translucent and let bacon get nearly fully crisped. Add garlic and bell peppers with bacon.
2. Add ground sirloin and let it brown, mixing in  2 teaspoons of oregano, cumin, cocoa powder, and coriander.
3. Add tomatoes with juices to pot along with 2 teaspoons of molasses and 1 tablespoon of tomato paste. Add whiskey and beef broth and let it come up to a boil.
4. Once boiling add remainder of dried spices and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon to pot as well as hot sauce.  Taste for flavoring and add salt/pepper as needed.
5. Let simmer, stirring occasionally for at least 1 hour, if chili is not at your desired thickness add tomato paste to adjust. 
6. Serve with sharp cheddar cheese, sour cream (or greek yogurt) and avocado to top.

While I usually try to stick to a pretty 'paleo' diet anyway, our crossfit box is holding an eight-week paleo challenge starting this Saturday....eight weeks is a long time so I decided it was ok to let myself enjoy some cheese and sour cream with my chili :)  If you were to leave those dairy items off the list you'd have a paleo pot of Texas Chili...quite tasty for a chilly winter night! 

Note about chili, it's tasty the day of but it gets better with a little sitting as: leftovers are worth fighting for!
Good Old Fashioned Beanless Texas Red Chili

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Duo of Resolutions

While the New Year is upon us and so many of my friends and family are resolving to be healthier and active I am renewing my commitment to my healthy lifestyle.  I am already fairly active, crossfitting (yes its a verb!) pretty much four days a week and running the other three, I found myself slipping back into bad nutritional habits over the week between Christmas and New Years.  While I don't feel guilty cheating occasionally I also know the difference between doing whatever and having a bit of discipline, which I had none of during that week!  In an effort to right myself and get back on track I decided to pull together a few salads that are combinations of my Farmhouse Delivery box goodies and my favorite Asian flavors. 

Beyond my continued resolution of being healthier I wanted to find other self-improvement type resolutions, this year I've decided to get more organized (granted I'm completely inspired by all the fun organization boards and pins on Pintrest) and second, I will get my sweet puppy Sam trained, actually trained not just haphazardly making him sit when need be.  Sam is now 10 months old and while he's really good natured and relatively well-behaved we had a scare last week that has made getting him trained all the more necessary.  Last week Sammy had to have an unscheduled abdominal exploratory surgery to remove pieces of two dog toys he had eaten along with some garbage....he's doing well now but I have since removed all plush and rope toys from the house, switched all the trash cans to the type that require you to step on them to open them and am watching him like a hawk.   Sam now is learning how to live with a nice plastic cone hat, so stylish!  He'll have that off on January 13 but until then he's busy running into things with it.
He's ok just sleeping it all off anyway!

First up, a take on a recipe that was featured on the Farmhouse Delivery blog (such a great place for ways to use the fabulous produce I get from them week after week).

Vietnamese Chopped Cabbage Salad

2 chicken breasts, bones and skin removed
1/2 head cabbage, finely shredded
1 small bunch green onion, sliced thin
1 handful cilantro leaves
1 handful mint leaves
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
1 apple, julienned
2-3 radishes, sliced or julienned
juice of 1 lime
4 Tbs. grapeseed or sesame oil
1 Tbs. soy sauce
3-4 Tbs. fish sauce
1 tsp. siracha chili sauce (substitute chili flakes or tabasco sauce)
2 Tbs. rice wine vinegar

1. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper and either broil or saute in sesame oil until cooked.
2. Whisk lime juice, sesame oil, soy sauce, fish sauce, rice wine vinegar and siracha into a dressing.
3. Toss cabbage, green onion, cilantro, mint, apple and radishes, dress with vinaigrette and top with sliced chicken and toasted sesame seeds.

The second recipe is inspired by one of my favorite sandwiches, a Vietnamese Bahn Mi.  I don't typically miss bread, etc. much but this sandwich is one of those things I do miss when I see them.  Typically featured on a baguette and stuffed with tasty meats, pickled diakon radish and carrot, lettuce, mayo and spiciness they are heavenly!  So, after seeing a recipe (thanks Serious Eats!) that looked evil and good for a Bacon Bahn Mi I decided I needed to make a Bahn Mi salad to quell my cravings.

Chicken Bahn Mi Salad

Pickled Veggies (courtesy of Bahn Mi Battle)
1/2 lb. carrots -shredded in food processor, sliced in thin rounds or thin match-like strips.
1/2 lb. daikon radish – cut same as carrots.
3 cups warm water
3 Tablespoons distilled or rice vinegar
2-3 tablespoons sugar, depending on how sweet you want your pickles
2 tablespoons salt

Salad Ingredients
1 head romaine lettuce, washed and torn
1/2 medium red onion, sliced
Broiled or Grilled Chicken Tenders
1/2 cup Cilantro, washed and chopped

4 tablespoons almond butter
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon siracha (or more to taste)
1 to 2 tablespoons water
To make veggies:
1. Mix warm water, vinegar, sugar and salt until everything is dissolved. Choose a pitcher or bowl with a lip that can be used for pouring mixture.
2. Peel, wash and cut daikon & carrots to desired size. Combine both together in bowl and blot dry with paper towel.
3. Fill carrot & daikon mixture into a tight lid jar, bowl or similar container.
4. Pour liquid salt mixture into carrot & daikon container till full. Close lid and let it pickle for about 3-5 days, or till desired sourness. For immediate use, let marinade for about 1 hour.

To make salad:
1. Whisk almond butter, rice vinegar, siracha and water together to create dressing.
2. Toss all salad veggies in dressing, top with chicken strips.