Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Simplicity

http://bit.ly/16wos1c

I think at the heart of it, we're all creatures of habit. We generally like routine. Maybe some of us like to live on the edge, live spontaneously. But at the end of the day, we still probably prefer to take a shower at a certain time of the day, or eat foods in order on a plate or conversely mix everything together... We do things that we've grown accustomed to doing. 

Sometimes this works in our favor. When we jump on the paleo bandwagon, we get into the habit of eating meats of all kinds, nuts, fruits, veggies and healthy fats. We get into the habit of avoiding grains, legumes, dairy, processed foods and added sugars. We are seriously, if not literally, on a roll. And when we are faced with hunger and traditional eating times, we begin to make it a habit of choosing paleo things over nonpaleo things. Yay for us! Whoo!!!

Sometimes, though, we get stuck on these habits and we get into a rut. The same chicken breast and green beans, or eggs and bacon for breakfast, every day, for weeks.... It can get pretty old. Very quickly. Typical ways to get past this hurdle are to try out new recipes, eating things and parts of animals we never thought possible. In fact, this is what I do with my blog. I go out, buy weird animal parts like oxtails and beef cheeks, and then scour the internet for a gazillion recipes on how to cook these interesting bits. Then, I find my favorite and post them here. I love cooking new things. It's a challenge that I enjoy and I encourage you all to do the same.

But sometimes, we can get burnt out on the new just as easily as the old. And one piece of advice that I can happily pass on to other paleo newbs is this: buy what you would normally buy and cook what you would normally cook 80% of the time, and spend 20% of your time finding a little something new to add to your tool belt of cooking.

http://bit.ly/TQHYAb
These percentages work for me, the majority of the time. When I shop, I typically buy the same exact things at the grocery store. Same cuts of meat (with some exceptions, although buying weird cuts is now more habit than exception to the rule...), same vegetables, same spices and herbs. At the end of the day, when hubby gets home from work, and I have 1 hour to cook before crossfit, and simplicity wins out. Habits come in to full effect. I know what's in my fridge, and I know how I want to cook it. I'm going to grill some kind of meat. I'm going to pan fry or even (gasp!) microwave some veggies. I'm going to sit down and inhale what I just made. And then it's time to clean up and move on.

Because thinking so much about every meal you make is tiring and impractical. For day to day eating and living, we need something simpler. We need something habitual enough, but tasty to get by and avoid boredom. Crazy dishes like boiling cornish hens and making pickled relish are for weekends and free time. The daily grind is where the majority of our eating and our commitment to paleo falls into place. And rather than make it more difficult for ourselves, we should stick with our 80% habits and 20% new stuff ratio for the best result. 

So that being said, sometimes easier is better. I posted yesterday about my spicy mango barbecue sauce. Today's "recipe" isn't so much a recipe than it is a method recipe. Because sometimes barbecue is just barbecue. And that's more than enough.

You will need:

1/3c. Spicy Mango BBQ Sauce
4 Chicken leg drumsticks
1 pot boiling water
1tsp salt
3 zucchini, sliced long ways in uniform thickness (makes it easier to grill them)
Salt and pepper to season.

  1. Heat up your grill and make sure it's properly seasoned. I like to brush my grill with the wire scrubber when it's hot and then take a paper towel with bacon grease or beef tallow and wipe it over the grate. It helps keep food from sticking.
  2. Put your zucchini slabs on to cook, seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove when both sides have dark grill marks and the slabs become floppy, maybe two or three minutes per side depending on how hot your grill is.
  3. While they're grilling, put the tsp of salt into the water and bring it to a boil.
  4. When it's boiling, throw in your drumsticks. They can be frozen or partially thawed. Poaching them in seasoned water helps defrost and cook them so time on the grill is focused on crisping the outside instead of torching them to ensure the middle is cooked.
  5. Boil these suckers on medium boil (don't boil the daylights out of them) for about 7-10 minutes. You want to cook them until they're almost done. Time will depend on the size of the legs. The drumsticks I had were like three times the size of a chicken wing drumstick.
  6. When done, remove them and let them drain for a minute or two over the sink.
  7. Now transfer them to a dish and baste them with the bbq sauce. The best part of poaching them first means that you don't have to worry about gross chicken bacteria getting into your sauce. You can literally baste them with the sauce until you eat them because they're already cooked. So way to save on sauce! Waste not, want not.
  8. Grill these suckers until the outside skins are crispy and they want to fall off the bone with tenderness. Feel free to baste a few layers of sauce on the outside of the drumsticks. Again, you've eliminated your risk of salmonella by cooking them in the water first. I love this method of cooking...
  9. Now, admire your handiwork with the grill. And slap some butter on your zucchini, preferably Kerry Gold because that sh*t is delicious. 
Admittedly, this has hollandaise sauce. But I had the time to make it.
Sometimes paleo is just grilling. It's not magical and mysterious. It's not a bunch of crazy substituted ingredients. It's not crazy cooking methods known only to elite chefs and paleolithic people. It's just real food, some nifty seasoning and a grill. And that's maybe the best part of paleo in the first place.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Beef Tallow and Spicy Mango Sauce (but not together)

Grass fed beef fat/suet. It smelled kinda gross to be honest.
I did something really gross today. I rendered beef fat. This is definitely as gross as it sounds, but very much worth the time and effort. Let's talk about why.

As I've mentioned before, Mark's Daily Apple is one of my favorite blogs. It likes to throw science at the paleo wall and see what sticks, so we can all be more knowledgeable about our awesome way of eating when the haters come a'hatin... (which is often). Mark has written a WONDERFUL article (linked below) that describes in easy to read detail all about fat. What kinds we should be consuming and why. What ratios of fatty acids we ought to consume to prevent inflammation. Why grass fed animal fats are far, far better for us than any canola oil could ever hope to be. And why, most importantly, not all saturated fats are evil and going to kill us. In fact, animal fats will do more to save us than kill us. About half way through the article, Mark says:
I’ve been brazen enough to recommend saturated fats, found in animal products and some tropical oils, as part of a healthy diet, and I’ll say it again. Saturated fats serve critical roles in the human body. They make up 1/2 of cell membrane structure. They enhance calcium absorption and immune function. They aid in body’s synthesis of the essential fatty acids and provide a rich source of fat soluble vitamins.

Read more: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/fats/#ixzz2T9LWlXzf
This is me, loving tallow.
This is why I did something icky like render beef tallow today. Because unlike most fats out there, good GMO free, grass fed, hormone free, antibiotic free and pasture finished beef is a wonderful source of fat that will keep my body in shape and most definitely not kill me.

I purchased my amazing beef fat today from a great store on the North Shore of Oahu. Sadly, the military run commissary has very little to offer in the way of organic or grass fed meat. In fact, they don't have any. And lots of the local grocery stores don't seem to sell things like this either. Am I shopping in the wrong stores? Sometimes I wonder. To combat my lack of meaty options, I started a search for a butcher here. I found this great place called VJ's Butcher Shop and read up on what they're all about. They provide great meat that's never eaten junk in its life. They've currently got all different cuts of beef and lamb, as well as local chicken and eggs, and a slew of other tasty critters coming down the pipeline in the near future (see what I did there? I made a surfing reference for the North Shore... one day I WILL be a real writer). I've been following them on facebook since they opened a few months ago and I'm glad I finally made the trip to see them.

In addition to pounds of pure beef fat, I also purchased ground beef, kosher short ribs, osso buco ("bone with a hole"), oxtails, a ginormous t-bone steak, neck marrow bones, and a "neck roast" of lamb. When I first arrived, the butcher (I assume VJ himself?) told me that the popular cuts like NY Strip and Filet Mignon were in the front meat case. I told him those were for people who weren't interested in creative cooking. I wanted the weird, cast-off cuts like osso buco, beef cheek, fat to render for tallow and oxtails. His face light up like a Christmas tree, clearly recognizing a fellow foodie or at least someone who knew their cuts of meat. I would bet it's refreshing to find someone who is interested in eating the whole animal rather than just the popular steaks. Besides, I can't afford those cuts of meat... Cheap, weird cuts for me and mine! Sadly he was out of beef cheek, and there wouldn't be any pork until summer time, but that's just another reason to return in a month or two. Thanks VJ's Butcher Shop for some awesome stuff!!!!

I literally cannot wait to eat all of these things in one beefy rush. If only it hadn't been a bit expensive (but totally worth every stinking penny)... I'd eat all of it in a day. And then die of beef overload... That sounds so wrong...

Let's talk about a recipe that has literally NOTHING to do with everything I just composed. Let's talk about another perk of living in Hawaii: I have access to four (FOUR!) mango trees, all of which are producing big juicy mangoes right now. So what to do when those trees are droppin' 'em like they're hot? Make Spicy Mango BBQ Sauce! You too can make this sauce to slather on pork tenderloins or chicken thighs for your summer barbecue! In fact, tomorrow we'll see how to grill up some juicy chicken drumsticks with this sauce. So let's get cracking.

You will need:

Mangoes straight from the tree! So awesome.
1 shallot, sliced
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, 2tsp crushed garlic
2tbsp coconut oil (or fat of choice, look I chose something other than bacon fat!!!)
3 ripe mangoes, peeled and chopped into chunks
5 thin chilis (I used the thin kung pao ones from my garden), seeds removed for less spicy, seeds of two or three kept for much spicier
2 inches of ginger slightly bigger than your thumb, cut into tiny squares
1c water
2tsp Worchestershire sauce (I put this in everything)
2tbsp vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)
3 cloves
1/4tsp fennel seed
1/2tsp cumin
1/2tsp salt
1/4tsp ground pepper, or about 10 peppercorns
1/4tsp mustard seed
6 cardamom pods, seeds reserved and green pods discarded

  1. First, fry the shallots, onions and ginger pieces in the coconut oil over medium heat. When the onion is translucent, throw the garlic in and fry until fragrant for about a minute or so. 
  2. Then add the diced mango and chilis. The chilis can be kept whole or chopped into small pieces. All of this goes through a blender or food processor later, so it won't matter in the end. 
  3. Add the water and Worchestershire sauce and reduce the heat a bit. 
  4. Simmer this mixture over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes until it starts to boil. Stir it often as it gets hotter to prevent the sugary mangoes from sticking to the bottom and burning. 
  5. In the meantime, put the remaining whole spices in a spice grinder (aka. repurposed coffee grinder - just don't go back to using it for coffee... your coffee may taste like tacos or chai if you do) and grind to a powder. If you don't have a coffee grinder to use for mixing spices, you should. Go to Target. Spend the $15. I can't function in a paleo kitchen without mine. You're welcome. Now, grind those spices and add them to the simmering mixture. 
  6. After about 15-20 minutes on the stove, your sauce should be thick and very fragrant. 
  7. Add the vinegar and mix well. If it's still liquidy and the mangoes haven't broken down and turned mushy, keep it simmering on the stove for another five minutes. 
  8. If you're not feeling 100% paleo, add 2tbsp molasses for a deeper flavor and/or if your mangoes weren't sweet enough for you. 
  9. Now. In batches, blend this in a blender or food processor until smooth. 
You can leave some chunks if you want a more "chutney" texture. Originally I called this a chutney, but really it should have big chunks to be a chutney. And I liked this smoother so I could brush it on like a barbecue sauce. So, spicy mango bbq sauce it is! You could also add other spices like star anise or cinnamon. But I hate cinnamon. So there you go. This makes about 3-4 cups of sauce, so make sure you have a big container or a few small ones on hand to store it. Put it in glass jars and stick it in the fridge for up to a month. You can use this on meat, like I said above, OR you can use it as a spicy and tangy dipping sauce. Good grief this stuff is yummy...

Do you like my numbered list of steps better than non-numbered lists? Does anyone even read my recipes??? Comment below and let me know what you think! Tomorrow we'll look at some of this sauce on the grill! Mmmmmm.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Holy New Template Batman!

Well, instead of cooking, I decided to cook up a new template for my blog! And isn't she pretty? I'm not done fiddling with it. I don't know CSS or PHP or any of these languages (I taught myself HTML back in the stone age when you could still write a website in HTML and get by), so I'm still working all this out. But in the coming days, everything might look all kinds of crazy and wonky as I try out different templates. It's my blog, so I can eff it up however often I like!

So stay tuned. Change is a-brewin! Just like my kombucha....

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Accidentally On Purpose


 You know what I love? Cornish hens. They're just mini chickens! And as humans, we're biologically programmed to love miniature baby things. So it makes perfect sense to love these tiny chickens and want to eat the crap out of them (maybe not literally). Except for the part where they require so much work to dismantle and consume... But I got to use my hands to eat, so for me, I broke even in the end.

I'm not sure if you know, but I've mentioned before I'm an enormous dork. I watch entirely too much scifi and fantasy stuff. I would probably hug you if you told me to go frak myself. And then after we hugged, we could talk about how we both would switch sides for Lee Adama/Kara Thrace. If you told me you were sick of my goram attitude, I'd call you ching-wah TSAO duh liou mahng. And if you tell me the greatest love story ever was between 10 and Rose, we might make out on the spot. I don't care who you are.

But what does this have to do with cornish hens and paleo cooking? Among the many great things that these kinds of universes provide in terms of entertainment, they also give some great cooking advice believe it or not. The hubby and I just got Amazon Prime, and in the list of the instant free streaming is a little show called Falling Skies. It's dark (aliens attack and steal our children) and kinda creepy, but there's one nutty character, John Pope, who used to be a chef. He's kinda crazy, and in the third episode of the first season, he's captured by the good guys and kept in a makeshift prison in their high school hideout. As you can imagine, food is short in post-apocalyptic alien-inhabited Earth. But Pope? He literally gives no sh*ts about the scarcity of food, much less good food. He kind of freaks out when he's given chicken, with paprika on it, and proceeds to tell us that a chicken should be lightly poached before it's grilled or broiled so it retains the juiciness of poultry. We're not living with crazy aliens called Skitters, but far be it from me to ignore the advice of a crazed lunatic on a scifi show.

With this in mind, and two cornish hens thawed in my sink, I got to work. For this recipe, which was totally a shot in the dark, you will need:

2 cornish hens
1 stock pot of water
1tsp sea salt
1tsp tuscan seasoning (or italian seasoning, or you know, whatever tastes good to you)
1 piece of pork skin (I know we all have this in our freezers... or some chicken broth/boullion for those that don't)

Put your thawed cornish hens in the water with the seasonings and bring the water to a light boil. Total time in the hot water should be about 15 minutes, being sure not to cook the snot out of it. You want to poach it just enough to cook the inside of the hen, but not enough so that it falls off the bones. When this is done, take the hens out of the boiling water with tongs (save that broth! let's use it for something else!) and let them rest for a minute or two. Then transfer them to a hot grill. Or broil them if you like. The grill is better as it crisps up all sides and who doesn't love crunchy chicken skin. Communists, that's who. When they're on the grill, I like to sprinkle a little salt on the skin. I was probably a deer in a past life because I could have a salt lick in my living room and not be embarrassed.

Once they're grilled up on the outside, take them off the grill and let them sit for a few minutes. One of the worst abuses when cooking meat is scarfing it up right away. Let that sucker sit. If you cut it open too early, all the good stuff leaks out instead of staying in every bite. So leave it! For at least five minutes.

Now. When I was starting this dish, I was wondering what I was going to eat with it. I already had boiling and seasoned water, so I figured, let's throw some potatoes in that hot mother and make a mashed potato puree. So now. I give you, Sweet Potato and Coconut Cream Puree with Capers. It sounds weird, and kinda gross, but hot damn is it yummy.

You will need:

1 shallot
1tsp crushed garlic
2tsp coconut oil
2 sweet potatoes (we have white ones here, but I guess you could use yams)
1/2c. coconut cream (I got some kind in a tetrapak from Indonesia at my local health store)
1/3c. coconut milk
1/2tsp salt
2 sprigs fresh oregano (maybe 1tsp dried?)
Fresh ground pepper
Capers for garnish (sounds weird, but GOOD! trust me)

Slice the shallot thinly and fry it in a pan on medium heat with the coconut oil and garlic. Set it aside to cool once the shallots are translucent and the garlic is fragrant, about 5 minutes. Cut up the sweet potatoes into 1 inch sections and put them into your poaching liquid you used for the hens. Boil them on high until they're done, or soft when you skewer them with a fork. Drain the liquid and throw your potatoes into a food processor. Add the coconut cream and milk, salt, pepper and oregano. Add the fried shallots and garlic. Blend this together until it's smooth, or lumpy I guess if you like that texture. Feel free to add any other seasonings you might like. This is what I had on hand, like pretty much everything else in this recipe...


Now, put some potato puree on your plate, sprinkle it with capers and grab a hen. The sour salt of the capers is a nice accompaniment to the sweet creamy texture of the potatoes. And all of it goes well with the poached yet crispy cornish hen. This was actually super yummy, and entirely on accident.  Well mostly on accident. Some of it was on purpose... Sometimes I think I just get lucky when I go out on a limb and throw things together, but I'd be happy to pass along my successes to you. Like this dish!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Everything is Broken, But There's Kombucha

Today, everything gets a big pouty face from me. I feel pretty awful, achy, sore, grumpy. Apparently my hubby has been nauseous and feeling pukey all day. My worst fear when that happens is that something I cooked has given him food poisoning, even though I'm always careful with cooking and cleanliness. To top things off, yesterday I was so busy I didn't have time and energy to post by the time I remembered and NOW my main power outlets that power up my hot plate and oven are overloaded and thus dead (I don't have a full kitchen, technically it's a sink and a counter... with some fancy counter top appliances). I had the fans, lights, oven and hot plate on, which was too much for the outlets to bear. So now I can't cook. Which gets an extra super pouty face. :-(

It's also about 85 degrees in my kitchen because it's hot and humid today and we don't have air conditioning. I'm mostly melting. In fact, I'm sitting on the couch with a fan hooked up right next to me so I'm not a sweaty, gross mess. TMI? Too late...

So, instead of cooking, I thought I'd show you a little bit about another one of my fermented favorites: kombucha. Are you addicted to soda, regular or diet? Do you crave something fizzy and slightly sweet to cure your sweet tooth? Do you wonder how you can fit these things into your paleo diet? Well worry no longer, because kombucha is here to the rescue.

What is kombucha? It's fermented tea, is the short answer. Basically, with the help of a starter culture, sweetened black tea sits out in the air and ferments for 7 to 21 days (depending on what the climate is like where you live). It turns from sweet tea to a tart, fizzy, and slightly vinegary drink, full of health benefits and detoxifying qualities. It's also a raw beverage, so it has all the benefits of adding good bacteria to your gut biome, aiding in digestion and general gut health.

Like most things, I love kombucha because after thirty minutes of work and a week of Mother Nature, you get an extremely versatile and tasty beverage. Bottling it and keeping it fizzy is another hour or so of work, but that's because my batch produces 24 bottles of kombucha to keep me and my hubby (and a few lucky friends) knee deep in 'booch until the next batch is ready.

The recipe is simple, but one essential ingredient is hard to come by. In 2010, it was "discovered" that kombucha sold commercially sometimes contains alcohol (it is a fermented substance after all) and therefore must be regulated like all alcoholic beverages. This put major kombucha companies like G.T's Kombucha into hot water since its traditional recipe fell into this category. But rather than go under, G.T.'s changed its formula by adding a special kind of bacteria to the brew towards the end of fermentation that would keep the vinegary taste but prevent any sugar from turning into alcohol. Even their "original recipe" kombucha which is sold in brown bottles (as opposed to clear ones which are the new formula) contains some of this bacteria. Why is any of this important? The addition of this bacteria prevents growing the main kombucha ingredient: a SCOBY, or a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. The SCOBY, sometimes called a kombucha mother or a Manchurian Mushroom (despite the fact that it's not a mushroom at all), is a filmy squishy thing ("zoogleal mat" is the technical term) that sits atop the kombucha as it ferments. Since you can't just grow your own anymore from any bottled kombucha, you have to order one from a brewing company like Cultures for Health or GetKombucha.Com. If you are lucky enough to have a small cafe in the area that makes its own 'booch, you can snag a glass of theirs and use it to grow your own SCOBY. But you really can't use the kind in the bottle.  Believe me. I've tried multiple times.

What you need to make kombucha:
1 Gallon filtered water
1c. sugar*
4 black tea bags (or 2 black 2 green, depending on what you like. just use some black tea)
1c Kombucha
SCOBY
enough glass containers to hold all the liquid

Boil the water, add the tea and sugar, and then cool it down in the fridge or freezer until it's room temperature. Then put the kombucha and the sweetened tea into the container, placing the scoby on top at the end so it sorta floats. If it sinks, it's no big deal. Sometimes they sink, sometimes they float. I'm sure science would tell me why, but I'm not concerned enough to find out. Whoo!! Science!!

Now, cover the glass container with something to let the air in but keep dust and funk out. Leave it in a warm place for a week at minimum, maybe longer. Test your kombucha until it reaches your desired level of sour/tart. Then put a tight cap on the container. Wait a few more days, say two or three, and when you open the container again, you'll have a slightly fizzy sweet drink! Yay Kombucha!!!!

*You can try Sucanat or "natural" sugar, but don't use honey which has antibacterial properties, and molasses and maple sugar don't work as well, I've tried those too, though it may be possible to use them. I know, I know. The evil added and processed sugar. But this is pretty much completely eaten by the yeast and turned into all the good stuff. You won't actually be consuming the added sugar itself. You can use unbleached sugar in the raw if it makes you feel better. But my pocketbook can't support that habit right now.

You can halve, double, triple the recipe depending on your needs and abilities to contain that much kombucha. The general rule of thumb is to use a 10%/25% kombucha to 90%/75% sweetened tea ratio when brewing. Your sweetened tea also can't be hot, or even slightly warm, or else you risk killing all your happy yeasts and bacteria. Let's not kill the little guys right away, ok? And, unlike fermented vegetables, the inherent acidic quality of the kombucha keeps it from molding unless contaminants get in, but if you get green or fuzzy mold on your SCOBY, you should throw it out and start over. No sense in risking your health when you can start over and be certain. If you want a more in depth how to, check out Food Renegade's FAQ on kombucha. They have a ton of good resources on eating real food and fermented foods for health. Definitely worth your time to check it out if you're interested.

23 bottles! Jackpot!
Lime and mint, my fave mmmmmmm
This is the brief and easy version of events. You can make it as complicated or as easy as you like. I like to add juice and other flavorings for the second ferment (the part where you seal it up tight so it naturally carbonates). Some of my favorites are ginger slices or ginger syrup, lime juice and fresh mint leaves, and lemon juice with a sprig of fresh thyme. I've tried blueberry juice, cranberry juice and fresh strawberries, all of which were yummy but not my favorite. Or you can leave well enough alone and drink the lovely elixir plain.

I have a whole system of bottles, one has a spigot so I can easily bottle large amounts of the stuff with little effort. I use both stock pots when making more, because I can make so much of the stuff.  And if you live in Hawaii and you have any spare glass receptacles you'd like to donate to my cause, I'd be glad to take them off your hands. You can't ever have enough of this stuff.

So that's it for today. I'm going to be drinking kombucha and grilling something for dinner so I don't turn into a puddle. Stay frosty my friends.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Paleo Awesomesauce and Ribs (or Chicken, or Whatever)

Shredded chicken thigh in awesomesauce.
When you immerse yourself into the paleo world, you realize just how much crap companies put into processed foods. Everything has HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) or sucralose or soy lecithin or any number of preservatives that literally no one can pronounce. All of these things are not real food. You don't recognize them. Your body won't recognize them. It switches your system into high gear to deal with these chemicals and junk and you're slowly poisoning your body and your health. To be paleo is to strive to eat real food, containing only things you recognize and preferably know where they came from.

But this gets a bit more complicated when it comes to condiments. Mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, relish, barbecue sauce... We could make a long list of things in our fridges that persist long after we throw away all those other "nonpaleo" foods. If it weren't for the fact that perishable foods don't ship across the ocean very well, you'd probably find some Hellman's mayo and French's mustard in my fridge from living in Syracuse. They never seem to go bad and you never know when you might need some mustard for a recipe or some ketchup for a burger. But don't be fooled. All of these condiments have those evil fake ingredients above. So what's a paleo person to do?!

One website, the Paleo Diet Lifestyle blog, created by Sebastian Noel, gives all of us a bit of hope. If you've got some time and you like tooling around in the kitchen for some of the more involved recipes, you can have paleo versions of all the things mentioned above! Love ketchup? Make your own! Like relish? Bust that sh*t out! Hell, I even gave you my own recipe for that one. So you literally have no excuse. This particular post is great because it puts all of the recipes for "condiments" in one place. I was happy to see that barbecue sauce was also on this list. I did not go so far as to make paleo versions of things like ketchup and Worchestershire sauce (though I might, because I do so love typing and saying that word), but I didn't strictly follow this recipe either...

Then I found another great barbecue sauce recipe from ANOTHER great blog, that I hope to reference again in the near future because it's a literal treasure trove of awesomeness, The Domestic Man created by a guy with a crazy story (but apparently no name). I more or less followed this recipe, but of course I changed a lot of things. I'm so bad at planning ahead for recipes. I pretty much get an idea of something I want to make, then I check to see what I have on hand to make it, and substitute the sh*t out of it so I don't have to go shopping just for one recipe. Maybe I'm lazy. Maybe I'm just super effing creative and like to problem solve. Either way, check out his recipe first, then come back and we will chat.

Sauce in progress. My house smelled amazing.
Here are a few of my substitutions: Instead of whole tomatoes I used diced. I used regular apple cider vinegar instead of Braggs. I used regular molasses and chunks of fresh pineapple (I live in the land of pineapple so it seemed silly not to use up the one in my fridge) instead of honey and date molasses and orange juice. I skipped the dijon and added regular German style whole seed mustard and left out the allspice all together (because I didn't have it at the time). I used smoked paprika instead of regular... And I think that's pretty much it. Everything else is sort of the same. I say sort of because I don't measure very well. Teaspoons and tablespoons and cups are all great and whatnot... but meh. I made some damn sauce. And it worked. End of story.

Check out those recipes and decide which one sounds best to you. Since I substituted a lot of stuff, neither recipe is really the one I made, so I can't say which one tastes better having made neither. But the sauce I did make was freaking awesome. Thick and smokey and tangy. DEFREAKINGLICIOUS!

This lasted all of two seconds after this picture was taken.
I took that sauce and put it in my crock pot. Then, after baking a rack of pork ribs in the oven for about 1/2 hour at 400 degrees, I put the ribs into the sauce and cooked it on high for 6 hours with the lid ajar to let the moisture out (baking them first also helps release excess moisture that would boil your ribs rather than cook them in the sauce). The result was an amazing rack of ribs (that I ate with my hands! squee!!!) that went well with a goat cheese salad and half an avocado. You could probably have paired it with some really weird and gross sounding vegetables, like day old mushrooms cooked in a used Chuck Taylor hightop, and the meal still would have been awesomesauce. Maybe instead of barbecue sauce, I should just call it awesomesauce. Let's go with that.

So test out making your own barbecue sauce sometime. It's pretty easy, if just slightly time consuming. But on a weekend when you need time to relax and unwind, grab a glass of wine (or tequila, since we're all paleo and sh*t even with boozing) and make up some awesomesauce. Even if the sauce sucks (which I very much doubt would happen), you'll have been drinking wine or tequila and won't care either way. It's a win-win.

New Job and Spice

Today was a busy day for me. After only one hour of sleep (seriously mind, stfu) and driving my hubby to work at 5:15am, I had an interview at a local health facility for a job. I must have done well because they offered me a job on the spot! I know how lucky I am to have snagged a job so quickly in this awful job market. So I'm pretty pumped. Any job that lets me buy grass fed meat and a whole pig for my stand alone freezer is okay by me.

The biggest blunder made by paleo newbs is eating the same stuff for lack of knowledge of the variety of things to make. When you stop eating literal crap and start eating real food, your taste buds become much more sensitive and receptive to flavors, so in the beginning, lots of folks get tired of paleo because they truly need more variety to keep the palate engaged. If it wasn't for bacon I would have given up long ago. But once I stopped eating chicken breasts and green beans night after night, I realized my love for fresh toasted and ground spices on less common cuts of meat paired with equally seasoned vegetables. And I haven't turned back.

This brings me to a post by another awesome paleo blog called "The Clothes Make the Girl" by Melissa Joulwan. She is the author of a cookbook called Well Fed, which is one of few cookbooks on my wish list (that really says something, since I'm not into cookbooks). Apart from great recipes, her blog also has posts about her travels and this gem about spices. This short and sweet post highlights a recent article from the New York Times about how the right blend of spices can trick your mind. Your palate sends your brain signals about taste, but certain mixtures of spices can, for instance, bring to mind lamb when it's actually beef. You might not be able to buy the best or tastiest cuts of meat (if you're a broke chick like myself), but invest in the right seasonings and you stand a chance that your brain won't even notice.

In a post from two years ago, Ms. Joulwan shows us exactly what's going on in her spice cabinet, and I can only say I am green with envy, not just for her wonderfully nerdy organization of her gazillion spices, but also of the sheer number of things she has to choose from when cooking! She puts some of the dark alley spice merchants I encountered in India to shame! Read this article to see what I'm talking about.

With these great articles in mind, I went shopping and was quickly routed by A) forgetting that today was technically payday and that the commissary would be full of all kinds of crazy-that-shall-not-be-named (kinda like Voldemort), and B) the fact that the spice selection there is mostly a joke. They certainly know their audience with their sugar filled ranch dressing sachets and soy lecithin packed taco seasonings, but for those of us on the quest to eat clean, they have so little to offer. In the end I bought some Mediterranean Spiced Sea Salt and Tuscan Seasoning, whatever that may be. I definitely learned my lesson.

My plan is to hop online and see what spices might be lurking out there in the Hawaiian wilds... or at least what Whole Foods has to offer. I need a revamp of spice in my paleo life. I've become a bit bored again like I was at the beginning. And with such highly attuned taste buds in my mouth, it's a damned shame not to make those guys happy.

So look in your cabinet. What is there to spice up your palate and your life? There is no legit reason to eat bland food when the right spice is out there waiting!

Once I find a great place to source some spice mixes, I'll post them here. In the meantime, read The Clothes Make the Girl and see what she suggests. Maybe you'll find what your tongue is looking for.

(Ew, don't be that guy and make what I just said weird. This is a family blog.)

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tomato Soup with Meatballs

A few days ago, my hubby forwarded me a link in an email to a recipe from Mark's Daily Apple. Usually when I say "What would you like for dinner?" I get "Oh I don't know, whatever" as the response. So when I got the email, I knew it must have sounded good to him. And I'm always down to try something new. Today I'll be taking a look at Mr. Sisson's yummy recipe, and including my own little tweaks here and there. And I was recently informed that this soup is a winner. Hubby not only said he loved it, but he went back for seconds and kept eating the meatballs as I made them. So it must be good...

This is the original recipe. And rather than cut and paste it here, I suggest checking it out over there first. His recipe is perfectly good. I have no issues with it. Other than I don't have oregano and I like my tomato soup creamy. To combat those two things, I added a few things to an otherwise great recipe.

For the soup, you will need:

1 medium onion, sliced
1 shallot, sliced
2 cloves of garlic or 2 tsp of crushed garlic
2tbsp butter or coconut oil (or your choice of fat)
2 to 3 sprigs of fresh basil
1 sprig of fresh parsley (flat or curly, I used flat from my garden)
7 whole tomatoes
1c water
1c coconut milk (from a carton, the canned stuff will be a bit thick)
2-3 tbsp tomato paste (I used the other half of the can from the shrimp recipe)
1tsp salt
1tsp Worchestershire sauce
ground pepper to taste

Put your sliced onions and shallots into the bottom of a stock pot with your butter or fat of choice. I like to use butter. It's a family tradition. And it makes things taste creamier to me. Whether that's real or the placebo effect, who knows. But still, my vote is for butter. Cook them for about 5-10 minutes, like Mr. Sisson suggests. You want them to be fully cooked. In the many cooking lessons I learned from my family, I was taught that adding tomatoes to a soup would stop the cooking process of other vegetables, an important consideration when making chowder in a ginormous drum in the garage. That's how we roll in Western New York. Again, maybe an old wives' tale, but I wasn't about to put it to the test with this freaking amazing soup. When the onions/shallots are almost done, add the garlic. My garlic always burns, so I put it in last. 
Then add your basil, parsley and whole tomatoes. Mark's recipe uses canned tomatoes, which rocks. I'm all for making things easier and quicker. But I bought the tomatoes before reading his recipe, so I used fresh ones. Then add your water. Put the lid on the pot and let this cook down for 30 minutes or so on medium heat. In the last ten minutes, add your coconut milk, salt, Worchestershire sauce and ground pepper. You could probably throw the spices in at the beginning, but whatevs. It's your soup. Make it your way. Add other spices or not as you choose.

Now, after the tomatoes break down, shedding their skins and turning less vibrant in color, your soup is pretty much done. Put it through a blender or food processor in batches and return it to the pot to simmer, or put it in tupperware for the freezer when it cools.

The best part of this soup is probably the meatball. Little bite sized chunks of flavored meat. AND this probably is the one and only recipe I've made in forever that could potentially be kosher friendly. You could use just ground sirloin, ground chicken or turkey... pretty much any other meat other than pork. And that's really saying something, because I literally make EVERYTHING with pork or pork products (or shellfish, all of which are so not kosher...). So, for my Jewish friend(s), bon appetit!

For the meatballs, you will need:

1 sliced shallot
3tsp crushed garlic or 3-4 cloves minced
2tsp coconut oil
1lb ground pork (optional!)
1lb ground sirloin (you can use regular ground beef, but I'd suggest ground sirloin if you can get it)
1tsp Worchestershire sauce
1tsp salt
ground pepper
1tsp fennel seed, chopped roughly or ground to powder
1/4c chopped basil
2 eggs

Fry the shallots and garlic (at the same time if you can stand and watch it so the garlic doesn't burn) in the coconut oil (or fat of your choice). Cook until the shallots are translucent. Then, when that mixture is completely cooled, put all the ingredients together into a big bowl. Mush them around with your hands, kneading it like dough or squeezing it like it insulted your mother, making sure to incorporate everything. I love eating with my hands and playing with my food, so this part is pure heaven for me... Now, when everything is mixed up nice and good, make tiny bite sized meatballs. Like smaller than you think you should make them. You can't really make them too small, I guess. You're meant to scoop one up with a spoonful of soup, so they shouldn't require multiple bites to eat them. Anyway, if you make them ginormous, good on ya. Again, it's your damn soup. Make them however you want and own it. Fry those baby meatballs in a pan until they're browned on the outside. I found you don't need extra fat because the pork fat pretty much keeps everything coated. If you use ground chicken or turkey or a lean meat, you may need some fat of choice to fry them. I wouldn't suggest olive oil. I think it's gross to cook with. But if you like it, knock yourself out.

Now, put some meatballs in your soup. Take fancy pictures for the internet. Then tear into that bowl like you've never eaten. And voila, you have a fantastic soup that is surprisingly refreshing even in 80 degree heat. 

You could also chill the soup, and put the hot meatballs in it, like a gazpacho (talk about an awesome word). There are any number of ways you can take these recipes and make them your own. Like it spicy? Add ground chili powder, red pepper flakes, chopped up peppers of your choice, to pretty much any part of this recipe and BAM that sh*t is on fire. I am a big wuss and cannot eat spicy things. My husband could probably use sriracha toothpaste and be a happy camper. So season it to make yourself happy. The ingredients above are like the Pirate's Code: they're really just guidelines.









Saturday, April 27, 2013

Shrimp in Garlic, Bacon, Mushroom Tomato Sauce

I love wilted greens. For some reason, something about slightly limp lettuce warmed by some kind of sauteed meat in a sauce appeals to me. I think it's a texture thing. I also love shrimp. So it would only make perfect sense in my head to put these two things together. Check out this recipe for something quick and refreshing as the weather gets warmer (or stays exactly the same here in Hawaii).

The lower left corner is my homemade bacon!
And tomato paste and coconut milk are not pictured.
The lemon just showed up there, uninvited.
You will need:
1/4c. chopped up bacon, or some other meat like steak or a pork chop (not cooked)*

3/4c. chopped up mushrooms (also tiny squares)
1tbsp butter (more if using non-fatty meat like steak)
Three sprigs of fresh basil
1.5 tsp crushed garlic, or 2-3 cloves finely minced
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1lb. shrimp, shelled and cut into chunks
3tbsp (roughly half a can) tomato paste
1/2c coconut milk (in a can or in a carton, but none of this "lite" junk)
fresh greens or other vegetables like zucchini noodles

*If you use steak or pork, make sure you get a fairly marbled or fatty cut, leaner cuts will dry out and become too chewy. Try a porterhouse steak or a pork shoulder blade steak.

Take your chopped up bacon and put it in a pan over medium heat. When the bacon is about half way cooked and on its way to being nice and crispy, put in the mushrooms and the butter. Mushrooms seem to suck up a ton of oil when they cook, so rather than have your pan dry, add the oil. If you are some kind of lunatic and you don't like butter (especially the good stuff from Kerry Gold, they probably give their cows Guinness over there too, luckiest damn cows), you can use coconut oil instead.

When everybody is crispy in the pan, add half the basil. As you can see in this picture, I have some crazy basil plants, and I haven't harvested them like I should. Technically you should trim the basil before it flowers. All of the energy and flavor stored in the plant goes into making it bloom rather than producing green and flavorful leaves. So technically, these basil leaves will be kind of bland. I don't use basil often enough to warrant doing this, so I just use the flowers like I would basil leaves, and voila. Defreakinglicious. Add the garlic and ground pepper and continue to toss around the pan.

Throw the shrimp into the mix. This is starting to get good. Fast.

Now you can add the coconut milk and tomato paste. Turn the heat down low, whisking in the tomato paste so it begins to thicken the coconut milk and make a sauce. Simmer this for five minutes or until your sauce is thick enough to make you the happiest person ever. I'm easily amused so it only took five minutes.

Put some lettuce on a plate and spoon your mixture over it. The heat of the sauce will wilt the lettuce but keep it crunchy. A great mix of flavors and textures, this dish is probably the best thing I've made in a long time. And it's ridiculously easy. Sometimes I amaze myself. And I already know I'm pretty awesome.

**UPDATE I checked on my pickles. I didn't weigh them down, and they molded. Overnight. So, make sure you keep your cucumbers sunk, or they will be moldy, and you will throw them away lest you get food poisoning.**

Friday, April 26, 2013

Roasted Garlic Pork Belly

I gave you my two cents about bacon in a recent post. Is it paleo? Is it not? Will either response keep me from eating bacon? The answer to the last is a resounding no. I will gnaw someone in half to get to bacon. In fact, if Denny's wasn't so horribly nonpaleo in pretty much everything it serves, I'd consider going there just to take part in its holiday Baconalia (and yes, I chuckled when I heard this ad on the radio... because it's like Bacchanalia, get it? Oh Denny's, appealing to the nerds among us...). Not surprisingly, since you can make bacon out of any cut of pork, conversely you can do any number of things with a side of pork belly! Today I'll show you my recipe for roasted garlic pork belly. Admittedly, this particular batch was a little too fatty, even for me. But you can find portions of pork side that have higher ratio of meat to fat than this one did. Sure made some amazing eating though... despite feeling a little ill afterwards...

So! You start off with raw pork that looks like it should be bacon (the picture shows about 1.7 lbs of pork belly). You may or may not be able to find this in your grocery store. Since Oahu (and Hawaii in general) has such a high population of people from different parts of Asia, and pork in its various cuts is a dietary staple, I easily pick it up at the commissary. Elsewhere, you may have to check out Whole Foods or a local butcher. If they don't have it, they can definitely order it. And it's well worth it.

First, use a very sharp knife and slice the skin in a cross hatch pattern. It not only looks pretty, but allows you to get nice crispy edges on the skin as it roasts. Yes you should leave the skin on. No it's not weird to eat real pig skin. If you've never been into sports, throw it about your kitchen and pretend you played football once. Now, mix 1 tsp garlic salt, 1 tsp dried sage or fresh sage, 1/2 tsp ground pepper, 2 tsp chopped garlic or two to three crushed and chopped cloves of garlic and pretty much whatever the hell else you want. You might be able to see the small spice jar without a lid on the right. That's Wegman's BBQ seasoning mix, which is perfect for this. If you are a sad human being and you don't have a Wegman's nearby, find some other BBQ or similar seasoning mix and douse your pork belly with that too. Trust me, it can only make it better. Once you've rubbed the pork down with your spice mixture, making sure to get it into all the crosshatches in the skin, put it and any remaining or additional spices you want into a casserole dish. This will release a lot of juice and fat, so make sure you have enough room for this to cook (e.g. don't put it on a cookie sheet or in a shallow pan).

We have a midget grill...
Put this in an oven at 450 deg F for about a half hour to get it nice and hot and crispy, then reduce the heat to 350. Now slow roast this to perfection for at least 1.5 to 2 hours. If you're like me and don't care about added sugar in the form of maple syrup or molasses, drizzle some on top when you reduce the temperature to 350. It adds a great sweet flavor but also gets gooey on the pig skin for the grand finale. Time consuming? Yes. Incredibly delicious? You bet your sweet bippy.

Now, if you're like me and slow roasting just isn't enough, you can finish cooking this masterpiece on the grill. Besides, if you're working on a painting, you don't just slap on paint when you're almost done just to put an end to it. You finesse it. And grilling pork belly is definitely the right kind of finesse. So, after the two hours are up, slap the strips on a grill for a few minutes on each side to crisp it up. It shouldn't fall apart as would a pot roast, but be gentle. You don't want to ruin the most amazing thing you're going to eat all week.

Like I mentioned above, I was a bit ill after eating all this, because it had SO much fat. Did that stop me from eating it? Of course not. But in retrospect, I would get a leaner cut next time. But nothing beats that first crispy, sweet, gooey bite. And from there, it's all downhill. I paired this with some butternut squash and (of course) bacon roasted in the oven on the rack below the pork belly. Dave was doing some serious work between crossfit and PT so the extra carbs were necessary for him. I'm sure meals like this are why I only maintain weight... But I'm okay with that. Good, real food is hard to come by these days, and I'm not about to ignore the fruits of my labor when they take so long to produce. Admittedly this recipe is not for those who don't have hours on end to cook. BUT! I would recommend for the temporally challenged to put their pork belly and seasonings into a crock pot, turn it on low all day, and then come home and grill or broil the end result. Same idea, just less work! The pork will cook in its juices just the same as it would in the oven! Problem solved!

I am not a recipe genius. I will be the first to admit. My recipe is inspired by the countless other posts when googling "paleo pork belly," and especially this post from Modern Paleo Warfare. **WARNING this website is full of obscenity and references to sexy meat. Don't say I didn't warn you.** I'd love to meet these guys across the pond. Their posts are hilarious if infrequent. Check out their blog for other great recipes of the paleo persuasion.

So that's it for today! Two posts in one day! I'm spent! Let me know what you think in the comments!

A Day Late, But Not Short on Pickles.

Time got away from me yesterday, so today we'll be looking at dill pickles. Not quite so different from the relish recipe I went over yesterday, homemade lactofermented dill pickles are pretty amazing. Especially if you can throw in a few cloves of garlic. My grandmother, the Swedish one (who doesn't threaten to cut off extremities over butter), uses vinegar to can her pickles, but they are probably the best things on the planet.  She once made a case of quart jars full of hot and garlic pickles for Dave for Christmas. We would still have a jar or two if we hadn't moved across the freaking continent and ocean. They keep for a loooooooooooong time. Unlike their canned counterparts, these pickles have a shorter shelf life, but once you get them to pickled perfection you can refrigerate them and keep them for a few months, even adding a bit of vinegar for longevity. Let's make some pickles folks.

You will need two pint jars, wide mouthed or regular. One regular sized cucumber, scrubbed to get all the wax and gross stuff off, and local or organic is much better since pesticides are icky and carcinogenic. A mandoline slicer, or a steady hand and a sharp knife. I got this particular mandoline on sale at TJ Maxx in Syracuse about 6 months ago. They usually have some kind of slicer on sale there. It was $16 and worth EVERY PENNY. I use it for everything. Fresh dill, dried in a container just won't cut it. I like to use the flowers and stems from the dill plant too. A little known fact is that in many herbs, the most flavor is found in the stems, not the leaves or flowers (especially in the case of mint). So throw dill pieces in, stems and all, since you can fish them out later if you like. You can add a few whole cloves of garlic if you want. Sadly my husband smashed to pieces the glass container of chopped garlic I had in the fridge this very morning, so these will be garlic-less pickles. He likes to break things made of glass frequently. He once broke three quart sized mason jars. I haven't forgiven him yet. This was three months ago. You also need some salt and filtered water and *whey.

So, to make these babies, slice the cucumber into uniform pieces. You could get smaller cucumbers that are actual pickle sized. You could cut this cucumber into spears too if you like. Hell, you could crack out a cookie cutter and make butterfly shaped slices if you felt like it. They're your pickles, you do what you want.

Once you have cut the cucumber, arrange the slices in a jar until it's about half full, tucking some of the pieces of dill around the cucumber. Stems, flowers, dill pieces, all go in the jar. Now is when you would add some garlic too if you felt so inclined and it wasn't smashed into your kitchen floor. Not bitter I swear.

*Now is the aforementioned weird part. I am a fermenting freak. I love leaving food to sit out and cure in its own juice, as mother nature intended. The smell of sauerkraut makes me think of home, not so much because my grandmother and mother made it, but because I grew up in a place where cabbage was a common crop and the smell of it rotting brought up endless fart jokes on the bus ride home. No lie. So, I have home fermented sauerkraut at home in my fridge, which probably would keep for years if I let it. I poured some of its juice into each jar. As in the previous post, you can use whey from soured milk or yogurt if you don't have sauerkraut. I'm not sure if store bought juice would work since it's heat treated, killing all the active bacteria you need to start a ferment. You can purchase vegetable cultures too online, but I'm way to cheap and lazy for that. Those are your options. Add about two tablespoons or so of whey/juice to the jars to kickstart the fermentation process. Don't worry, your pickles won't taste like milk. I promise.

Now, top of the jars with filtered water or distilled water, making sure you cram the cucumbers and dill down far enough in the jar so they're completely submerged. Remember, water makes a barrier to keep food from molding. There will likely be a film that is white that gathers on the top after a few days. This isn't mold, this is a natural part of the fermentation process. If it's green or furry, then yeah, that's mold and you should chuck the project into the garbage so you don't get food poisoning. But the slimy white stuff, gross as it sounds, means your pickles are... pickling.


 Now we've got pickles ready to go. Put something porous on top, like a paper towel or coffee filter paper, and screw the lid on top. This lets air in but keeps bugs and stuff out. Air is a necessary part of the fermentation process, so don't think that just covering it with a normal jar top is a good idea. If you don't have the top, you can put a rubber band on this as well. Anything to keep the top on while it ferments. I use the rubber bands from asparagus bunches. I save everything almost like I was a child of the Depression.
Finished product!!! Gorgeous right!? I can't wait to test these babies out! They should be ready next Tuesday or Wednesday. To test, take one out, see if it's crunchy and as tart/vinegary as you like. If not, cover it back up, making sure everything is submerged, and leave it for another day or two. Ferment time will depend greatly on the temperature in your area. Things ferment very quickly here, because I live in freaking paradise and every day is 80 some degrees (cue evil snarky laugh at all my NY friends). When I used to make kombucha in Syracuse, NY in the winter, it took 3 weeks to ferment. It takes 10 days here. Keep your pickles near a TV or appliance that's on a lot of the time to give it a warm place to do its thing. 

Technically you could ferment any kind of vegetables like this (especially if you add a ferment culture like yogurt whey or sauerkraut juice): asparagus, whole peppers, carrots, celery, whole garlic heads, cauliflower, broccoli, beets, anything relatively solid that you would eat uncooked or raw. I doubt tomatoes would work (they're too gushy and fleshy) and eggplant would probably be gross. But apart from that, knock yourself out.

Do you ferment things? Are you gonna give this a try? Do you have other suggestions for fermentation newbs!? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments! Thanks for reading!!!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pickles and Relish and Peppers, Oh My!!!

One of my most favorite things in the world is fermentation. Wine. Beer. Kefir. Kombucha. Pickles. Sauerkraut. All of these things can be made in your home, each imparting their own valuable qualities to your diet. You can buy many kinds of relishes and pickled things at your local store these days, but most are made with vinegar as the pickling agent instead of lactofermentation over the course of days or even months (as is the case of traditional sauerkraut). These items are also heat sealed in jars or cans, a process which kills all the good fermented probiotic qualities it may have had.

None of that is necessary. You don't need vinegar. You don't even have to can your ferments in a pressure cooker like my Swedish grandmother. Letting your veggies sit out in salt water for a few days may sound kinda gross, but that's how everyone's grandmother used to do it. All you need are veggies, clean water, glass jars, salt and time. Like many of the things I make at home, this recipe takes a week or longer. But for only 30 minutes max of work and letting nature do the rest, you can have pickles and relish straight from the kitchen, no preservatives and no ingredients you can't pronounce. Let's do this.

Here we have my very happy red pepper plant. There's a kung pao pepper plant and two Hawaiian pepper plants. They've been on my lanai for three months and they grew from tiny little plants into towering and abundant bushes producing more hot peppers than Dave or I can eat. So rather than try to dry them and make chili powder (I doubt they would dry well without a dehydrator in the warm humidity of Hawaii), I decided to make a hot pepper relish. Maybe some day I'll be adventurous and try to make my own sriracha sauce. I'd call it rooster sauce... or some dirty variant of that.

Let me tell you how I made the relish. Making your own lactofermented dill pickles will be in the next post! You can see the step by step process there.

For this relish you will need 2 cucumbers, scrubbed and roughly chopped into chunks. 10 or so thin peppers. You could probably use poblanos, jalapenos, serranos, even habaneros if you're feeling dangerous. I used what you can see grows on the plant above. They are about four to five inches long but maybe only as big around as a thumb tack, so they're kinda small. Use your best judgment. If you want it hotter, use more, if you want it only slightly hot, use less. Put the cucumber pieces in batches into a food processor or food chopper. Ultimately you want cucumber chunks the size of relish like you'd put on your hot dog at a ball game (the thought of ball park hot dogs makes me vom a little...). Next, cut up the peppers into thin slices. Put all of the cucumber chunks and pepper slices into a large bowl. The cucumbers are pretty liquidy, but don't throw that away! Keep it! Add some garlic (1tsp or a few cloves) if that's your thing, add some fresh dill chopped up if you want. Then, add 1tbs sea salt or non iodized salt, sprinkle it all over so it mixes in well. Now, for the weird part. Add three or four tablespoons of sauerkraut juice* or whey*. Mix this all together in the bowl with your hands or a spatula. I recommend hands. It's much more fun that way. 

Once it's all nice and mixed, scoop out the mixture and start putting it into jars like you see here, filling them about half full. Then take another glass jar that is smaller and will fit into the top of the container and mush down the relish. You might want to do this over the bowl, because a ton of liquid will fly out of the top if you're not careful. Remember keep the liquid. It's got all the good stuff. Once you fill the jars about two thirds full with compacted relish, put a regular sized jar top on the mix. The jars above are wide-mouthed pint jars, so the regular sized lid fits perfectly inside. If you don't have one of these, or you're using your old glass peanut butter jar instead, find something (like a circular piece of plastic cut from those cheap plastic cutting boards or even a plastic baggie full of water) to put on top of the relish to keep it completely submerged. Floaters and non-sunken relish can mold on the top, which will make you very sick. As long as water maintains a barrier over the food, it'll be fine. Take the liquid left in the bowl and pour it over top of the lid slowly, making sure not to rustle up the pieces of relish and ruin your perfectly mushed mix. There's about an inch of liquid in my jars as you can see in the picture. If you don't have enough liquid, add some filtered water to give a good liquid barrier between the air and the relish. Now, cover the jar with something porous enough to let air in and out, but keep dust and bugs (and fur) out of the relish. Coffee filters, paper towels and clean kitchen towels work well. Toilet paper and kleenex do not. Put it in a warm place like near your TV or computer so it can do its fermenty thing. After a day or two you will notice bubbles forming, which is exactly what you want. Things are happening in there! Creating oxygen and fermenting your food! Whoo! Science! 

Give your ferment five to seven days before moving it or testing it. Then, when the time seems right and your cucumbers went from bright green to olive relish green, fish out the lid and test your relish to see if it tastes good to you. If you like it a little more tart and vinegary, mush it back down and cover it back up for another day or two. If you like it the way it is, drain some of the liquid and slap a real metal lid on that puppy and stick her in the fridge. 
Now you have relish. 
You're welcome.

Stay tuned for post #2 for the day, which will be a step by step of how to make dill pickles!

*I, as you will see in my next post, make my own sauerkraut, so I had this readily available. If you're a normal person and don't hoard fermented cabbage in your fridge, there are other options. First, you could use double the amount of salt and double the amount of time. Cucumbers ferment like cabbage, something about naturally growing bacteria on these veggies that allows them to ferment without help from other sources. Second, you may not yet be 100% on the paleo wagon and have some yogurt sitting in your fridge. If it's plain, take that baby out and strain it over a cheese cloth or a fine sieve to separate the whey from the yogurt. You can use that liquid. Third option is to curdle some milk with lemon juice or vinegar, scoop out the curds and use the leftover whey to start your lactoferment.  So many options! Who knew you could even do stuff like that??!? Your grandmother's mother, that's who.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Because. Bacon.

One of the best parts of paleo to the uninitiated has to be the focus on meat and cooking with animal fat.  The taste of duck fat, beef tallow or bacon drippings as the base for sauteed shallots and asparagus is unparalleled. Something about the richness that animal fats impart to food outpaces their vegetal oil counterparts. I most certainly jumped on the animal fat cooking bandwagon of paleo from the beginning. My mother always had a can of bacon grease under the sink in an old coffee can, back in the day when Maxwell House came in an aluminum can not plastic. She never used it to cook, but she got the practice from my grandmother, who I swear to gods is Paula Deen's long lost sister. She often asks for extra crackers to go with her butter.... Anyway, my old school Polish grandma drowns her pierogies in butter and fries her eggs in all the bacon fat she can get. I once attempted to put a paper towel on a plate to soak up the butter after frying the pierogies. I almost lost a hand.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NCI_bacon.jpg
But really, let's think about cured meat. Bacon. Side of pork or pork belly or whatever cut of pork you want to call it (you can truly make bacon out of any cut of pork, for instance Canadian bacon from a pork loin instead of side, or back bacon which is two cuts of pork cured together) cured in sugar and salt and usually smoked. Sure, cured meat doesn't require sugar to be considered cured, but you would be hard pressed (pun only slightly intended) to find a sugarless bacon. The bacon you find in stores is not traditionally cured, though.  That would take time and effort, and why do things the traditional way when you can create a machine of tiny needles to inject your pork with these very ingredients and liquid smoke then package it and sell it as "bacon"?

So if it's cured in salt, and more importantly sugar, can we really call bacon "paleo." There are varying opinions on what is and is not paleo: dairy, sugars like agave and honey, sprouted grains. But added sugar is almost always a no-no. I cannot find any kind of bacon cured with honey. I'm not sure I'd even want to eat it. Clover tasting bacon... does not sound appealing. Even if you make bacon yourself (like I do), you still cure it with brown sugar, which is just regular processed cane/beet/white sugar with some molasses thrown in for color and taste. So if we're looking at the paleo commandments, thou shalt not eat added sugar ranks fairly high on the list. Which would leave bacon out in the cold and definitely not in your paleo frying pan.

On the flip side, cured meat has enjoyed a long and valued history across the globe. This website claims the Romans ate a cured cut of pork called "petaso." I can't seem to verify that claim anywhere else, but the Romans were indeed into indulgence from time to time, and I'll bet cured pork goes great with an amphora of wine. This website claims even the Chinese in 1500 BCE ate salted pork. Smoked and cured meat remains a delicacy in so many countries, like the Nordic specialty gravlax (and a favorite of mine to make and eat). So, if we've been preserving our meat with smoke and salt and probably something sugary for a long time, that would fall in line with the general gist of the paleo/primal guidelines. I'm sure no one would argue that a side of bacon cured in boiled figs would be much more paleo than the stuff in a plastic package on the shelf, but then again the relative "recentness" of the Romans in the grand scheme of human history would probably not satisfy the paleo fundamentalists either...

Regardless, the focus on bacon as a paleo friendly meat is not nearly as clear cut as most paleo folks should believe. It's got added sugar, and not any happy substitute like agave nectar or honey. It's also incredibly fatty, and unless you're buying pastured and grass fed pork bacon (which is ridiculously expensive), the animal fats you're consuming come from an animal that eats the same junk that you wouldn't want to put in your body yourself (e.g. corn products, soy products, pieces of other humans...). Studies have shown that people who eat cured meats of any kind have higher rates of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as well as heart health issues and diabetes.  Most of these concerns are linked to things cured with sodium nitrate, which not all cured meats use, but still. The health concerns should make you think twice about buying a slab from the store without question.

Feel free to make up your own mind about bacon. I hate to be Debbie Downer to the bacon party. I myself make my own bacon out of pork from the local store which is most definitely not pastured or grass fed at all. We do what we can with the resources available to us, and if I win the lottery, I will buy my own pig farm and give them lots of organic grass and treats and give all of you bacon until your insides explode. But until then, I do what I can to avoid nitrates and bring home my own bacon.

This has been quite a long post full of things that are no doubt making you question your allegiance to all things paleo if it's remotely possible that BACON of all amazing things could be unpaleo... So let me give you my insanely quick recipe for making your own bacon.

Take 1.5 - 3 pounds of pork belly/pork side/pork loin (if you want a leaner cut). The pork could be one giant slab or inch thick slabs, it doesn't really matter. Put it into a large ziploc bag. Throw in about 3/4 c. brown sugar and 1/2 - 3/4 c. sea salt and mix it together to coat all the pork. Then add about a teaspoon of liquid smoke. My favorite is hickory. But really, use whatever you want. Then add two tablespoons of molasses. Something about the liquid smoke and the molasses makes this particular wet brine for bacon defreakinglicious. Put it on top of something like a plate or plastic container to make sure the bag doesn't leak all over your fridge. Now, leave the pork in the bag in the fridge for five to seven days. Flip the bag from side to side once each day to make sure both sides get equally brined and cured. After its time in the fridge is up, take it out and rinse it off in the sink. Then put it on a cookie sheet or in a casserole dish and bake it at 200 degrees F until the internal temp reads 150 degrees. DONE! BAM! You officially have bacon. Now cut it up in more manageable chunks for cutting and put it in a different bag in the freezer. Take it out as you need it to keep it fresh for a long time. If you have a super sharp and thin knife and your freezer doesn't keep things as cold as the arctic, you should be able to cut through it while frozen.

Hope that blows your mind with how easy it is to make your own nitrate free bacon... And if I've scared you away from bacon, I'm sorry. Well. No. I'm not. It just means more for me....