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.

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....

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

So Many Recipes, So Little Time

Kim (left) and I (right) in November 2012
My college roommate, Kim, who is also my sister/bff/partner-in-crime-when-dancing-to-Michael-Jackson-songs-at-2-am, has recently jumped on the paleo wagon and was interested in buying a cookbook to help her along her paleo way. She works full time and lives in a rural area, so buying tons of fancy (read: expensive) ingredients from specialty stores is not easy nor feasible for her (or for me for that matter). She also doesn't have tons and tons of free time on her hands to make all her own condiments and elaborate meals. She's, you know, like a normal person with a budget and time constraints.

To combat all these things and make going paleo as painless as possible, I referred her to a gazillion different paleo blogs that grace the internet these days. I personally am not big on using cookbooks or exact recipes.  I think cooking is more of an art than a science when it comes to making paleo food. It's about seasoning things to taste, to what tastes good to you then and there when you're cooking it, not what some recipe tells you to do. So I encouraged her to look at some of the blogs out there for recipes, rather than spend her hard earned money on a book. I'd like to show you all some of these blogs too, to make your daily load lighter and your wallet heavier.

My egg frittata muffins, not Michelle Tam's, which are far sexier.
My ALL TIME FAVORITE paleo blog has to be Nom Nom Paleo by Michelle Tam. She is amazing. She takes GREAT pictures of food. I drool every time I check out her website. Literally. Like all over the keyboard. Because her food sounds refreakingdiculous. And one of the best recipes she's got has to be her prosciutto wrapped mini frittata muffins. They changed my world. They. Are. Stupid. Yummy. As with all recipes, you can tweak this one to suit yourself. She includes spinach and tomatoes. I love them, but those veggies do not love me unfortunately. So I use onions, mushrooms, asparagus, and zucchini, all shredded on a mandoline. If you wanna throw broccoli and cauliflower or eggplant in there, knock yourself right out. You can also partially cook strips of bacon and use those to line the sides of the bacon tin like I did and they come out full of bacony goodness. And then, if you manage not to eat all of them fresh out of the oven, you can throw them into a container in the fridge and eat two or three (or all of them) for breakfast for the next few days. They travel well and survive the fridge. And of course bacon makes everything amazing...

Nom Nom Paleo also has an app for all her awesome recipes! You get super extra special stuff and recipes if you buy her app. From what I hear, it's totally worth it. I haven't bought it, because, as I said before, I'm a cheap b*st*rd and I don't usually pay for apps. But someday, when I win the lottery, or maybe become gainfully employed, I'll purchase this app and let you know how it is. I'm sure it's worth every penny.

Well! That's it for today! Check out this recipe and the other amazing foods that Ms. Tam prepares for her family. Ugh, I wish I was her kid... 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Up and running again!

Wow it's only been a few months since I last posted... Okay it's been eight to be exact. But life has thrown some epic curve balls in those intervening months, so cut me maybe a little slack. Pretty please!

In the coming weeks I plan on not only sharing some of my favorite recipes from around the internet but also throwing in my own creations and exploring all the different approaches to paleo with free resources to help you on your way. In addition, I'll be highlighting some of the haters out there and how paleo folks have responded to them. This "diet" has gotten a lot of flack lately and I think if you're going to implement a completely different way of eating into your life, you should be well equipped to inform all the haters by dropping knowledge on their ignorant... butts.

So! Without further ado, let's get this paleo party started! (That was a little lame, I'll be the first to admit. Chalk it up to not having blogged in forever...) I've been taking a few pictures here and there of what paleo stuff has been fueling my bod over the last few months since I got my nifty Samsung tablet, but none of them are in progress shots sadly. Those are my fave since they document my absolute favorite part of paleo: getting up close and personal with real food. But I'll be sure to get some next time. And hopefully soon I'll get my camera set up for video shots of fun stuff like fermenting tea (aka kombucha) or curing your own bacon... both of which are stupid easy.

Here we have a picture of my experiment with cured salmon. It was not the gravlax success story I was hoping for, but I made the best of it by treating it like salmon bacon and serving it with some gooey farm fresh eggs over easy. I tend to eat all my eggs over easy and mangled into a rather unattractive garbage plate-looking monstrosity. It's my mother's fault. 

Check back again tomorrow for a new recipe from a wicked awesome paleo blog!!! Hopefully you will love her stuff as much add I do, if you don't love her already. And no. I'm not talking about myself. I'm not quite that vapid... Close though...