What’s for dinner? Adventures in Paleo cooking.

Stuff I ate. Yum.

Okay, so don’t freak out. I’m still a foodie. I did not choose this diet, it seems to have chosen me, but I will find whatever wiggle room my system allows for. I will eventually go back to enjoying cheese and ice cream, if not doughnuts and cake. But for the time being I’m making the most of this thing, and discovering some new techniques and deliciousnesses that I didn’t know about before. I have found that I don’t really need rice or grains with dinner, but I do love me some root vegetables.

This dinner is a mash-up from Well Fed, a blog and cookbook series by another Austinite. I didn’t modify her recipes much, but these are the ones I used:

The Best Chicken You Will Ever Eat–This is a recipe for chicken breasts that involves first brining the meat for a couple of hours, rinsing it, and then rubbing it with a spice mix and grilling.  It also includes a dipping sauce recipe.

My mods: cut down on the amount of chili powder in the spice mix because my chipotle is pretty hot; added a little olive oil to the brined, rinsed meat before rubbing the spice powder in, and grilled on my panini grill which is basically a fancy George Foreman grill…or maybe that is cheap panini grill. Whatever. On high, chicken breast cooks PERFECTLY in five minutes. Don’t mess with perfection.

I used some of the spice mix on a cubed butternut squash and roasted on a cookie sheet with olive oil, salt, and pepper at 375 until it was soft on the inside and browned and crisp on the outside.

The Moroccan Dipping Sauce is really great, my only mod is I pulse it in my blender instead of chopping because I’m lazy that way. It forces the oil and lemon juice to emulsify and turns a lovely shade of green. I drizzled it on top of the chicken and used it to dress some lactino kale sautéed with garlic, onion, and a little olive oil.

So how did it come out? Oh so very good. I wasn’t convinced at first that the brining was worth the effort, but when I got into the chicken, it was insanely moist. Chicken breast has that five second window between raw and rubbery, and the brining makes a huge difference. Delicious. The spice mix was awesome on the squash, but a little heavy on the cumin for my taste. I was, however, using a high oil cumin (it turns out that’s a thing) so maybe that’s why it was overpowering.

I’m getting used to the idea of switching out sauces, meats, and veggies. The CSA is even easier to use up, as I do a fair amount of veggies at usually two meals a day. This foray into Paleo cooking was a success!

Coconut Butter Chocolate Spice Tea Latte

coconutbutterteaI’m under the gun with a research paper, so I’ve decided now is a good time to start food blogging again. As I mentioned, my diet has undergone a major overhaul over the last few months. I’ve been gluten-free for about two months, dairy free for around three.

A little background: I saw a doctor who works with this kind of stuff, and he said I needed to go gf, but get way more protein and fat in my diet–especially coconut oil. I’m also coffee, dairy, and oat free until further notice, but my doc says I should be able to ease back into those things once my body has healed up a bit.

So how does one eat 2-4 tbs of coconut oil per day without using it to cook or fry (I dislike the flavor of it in savory foods)? Make it into a latte!

The “bulletproof coffee” is all the rage in Austin right now; it’s coffee blended with grass-fed butter and some other stuff. I’ve had it, but coffee is too harsh on my system right now so I’m sticking to tea.

However, one of the suck things about living dairy free is having to eschew whole milk or half and half in my tea. I’ve tried just about every milk sub, and most of them are okay to meh, and few of them have enough protein or fat to be worth the amount of sugar they pack (and I’m supposed to stick with low glycemic-index sugars like agave). I’ve also tried making my own nut milks, but that was a hot mess, quite literally. You haven’t lived until you’ve sprayed nut pulp all over your kitchen.

Soooo, I basically make my own cream by adding coconut oil to my tea latte (sometimes known as a London Fog) and then punch it up with some cocoa powder and spices. It’s groovy!

Coconut Butter Chocolate Spice Tea Latte

  • 1 bag earl grey tea (or tea of choice)
  • 1/2-2/3 c boiling water
  • 2-3 tsp organic coconut oil
  • 1-2 tsp cocoa powder (I like Callebaut)
  • dash cinnamon
  • pinch turmeric
  • pinch chile powder or drizzle of siracha (optional)
  • 3/4 – 1 cup milk or milk sub of choice (I like Tempt Unsweetened Coconut Hempmilk – it’s creamy, higher fat and protein but is neither hempy nor coconutty in flavor)
  • agave nectar to taste

Directions:

  1. Steep the tea in the boiling water. I just nuke it in the microwave in a small mug for about 1-2 minutes. You want it good and strong.
  2. Dump the tea in your blender along with the coconut oil, cocoa, and spices.
  3. Put the milk or milk sub in your now empty mug and nuke it in the microwave for about a minute or a bit more.
  4. Blend the hell out of the tea, cocoa, oil, and spices. Add the milk and blend a bit more until it has a nice froth.
  5. Pour into a large mug or two normal mugs and sweeten to taste with agave.
  6. Bliss out.

The way things are

Buhbye. Sniff.

Buh-bye. Sniff.

So hi! It’s been a while. Between teaching, working on my PhD, research, and the kid, it’s been a wee bit busy. I kind of ran out of time for thinks like cooking, blogging, sleep, eating…stuff like that. But then something odd happened.

My digestive system started acting up. I thought it was stress, then age-induced dairy intolerance, then whatever else I could come up with. Turns out, it’s gluten. So now I’m re-learning how to cook without wheat. It was hard at first, but it’s getting easier. I’ve got a doctor who works really well with intolerances and is helping me re-balance my diet. So it’s back to mostly cooking, very limited sugar, and very little eating out. My nights of take-out pizza are, alas, over. At the moment I’m also off dairy, but will hopefully be able to re-integrate it over time. I’m calling my current diet “Paleo-lite” meaning it’s light on carbs, heavy on protein and good oils. I feel ever so much better, but it’s been a struggle having to cook for myself when I just want some damn takeout. And take note: Disneyland is not the place to buy food if you have intolerances. Just sayin’.

You may notice that I’ve gone through our existing database of recipes and coded them for gluten free (GF) and dairy free (DF) recipes. This is largely for my own benefit. I’m gradually developing new recipes, but I’m using quite a few of my old ones, as well. Nothing wrong Ye Olde Sausage and Root Vegetables, what what? Smoothies work, too. I’ll post my new chocolate butter-tea recipe this week. Can’t have cream? Try something better…

Becoming an Italian Grandmother: Spinach pasta and Almond Cookies

I decided to try spinach pasta using the same method as the previously mentioned beet pasta.  It was a success.  I was rewarded with beautiful, bright, green noodles.  The same day these sat drying on my counter, I went to the store and examined the commercially available spinach pasta.  It was drab and barely green at all.  My husband shook his head sadly and said “yours is much prettier.”  The recipe and method are exactly the same except 1 lb fresh, raw spinach was substituted for the 3 oz of beets.

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This was also my first attempt at drying the pasta in nests rather than straight.  Usually I string pasta over clothes hangers which then get hung up on every available ledge in my kitchen, making it impossible to open several cabinet doors for an hour or so.  This time I separated the strands, floured them, and let them sit out separately on the counter for about half an hour.  Then I gathered them up in little bundles and carefully placed them on the drying rack.  After a couple hours, I flipped each bundle over to dry the other side.  Eventually they were transferred to a plastic bag and put in the freezer.  I’ve cooked one meal of the nests and it was a success!  The nest didn’t completely separate until the last minute of cooking, leading to some very tense moments where I thought I’d be serving a globby mass of pasta.  But eventually the noodles freed up and dinner was saved.  I like the nests, they’re much easier to keep in the freezer, and less delicate.

While we’re on the subject, I took a sweet culinary trip to Sicily, thanks to David Lebovitz.  He recently posted a very beautiful collage of his trip to Sicily.  I sent it to my Sicilian colleague who rewarded me by calling me 10 minutes later and cursing, annoyed, “Damn it, Tiffany!  Now all I can think about are almond cookies.”

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Well, when the he posted a complete breakdown of the almond cookies the following day, I had my marching orders.  I got to work.  I followed the recipe exactly and was rewarded with beautiful, rich, delicious, almondy cookies.  I brought a few into work and sent my colleague a cryptic “come see me” e-mail.  She found her way up to my desk and quickly spotted the cookies sitting in the corner.  She instantly started dancing around giggling.  “Oh, they look perfect!” she told me.

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If I’m any judge of her reaction, they tasted pretty perfect, too.  It made her day, and seeing her so happy made my day as well.  See, the heart of an Italian grandmother.  Making people happy with food!  Big kudos to Mr. Lebovitz for this recipe.  It’s easy, it’s fairly fast, and it yields an awesome, not-too-sweet cookie.

Becoming an Italian Grandmother: Beet Noodles with Garlic Cream Sauce

Having moved past squid ink noodles, we’ve now approached beet noodles.  I decided to make these after we got a small bunch of beets in our box this week.  Like the squid ink pasta, beet pasta is mostly just pretty.  The flavor of beet was pretty much gone by the time the pasta was cooked and sauced.  But they were so pretty!  If you’re rolling pasta and setting it aside, it would be so much fun to make beet pasta, spinach pasta, or other colored pastas and collect the colors in a single meal.  I could also see a really good argument for making beet pasta to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  Or combining beet and spinach pasta for red and green Christmas feast!

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Beet Pasta

3 oz beets

2 eggs + 1 egg yolk

3 c AP flour

Pinch salt

Wrap the washed beets in aluminum foil and roast in a 400 degree oven for 30-45 minutes, or until the beets are fork tender.  This can be done a couple days in advance.

Peel the roasted beets and remove the stems.  Place the beets, eggs, and egg yolk in a food processor or blender and process until the mixture is completely pureed.

Mound the flour and pinch of salt in a large bowl.  Make a well in the flour and pour in the beet mixture.  With a fork, begin slowly incorporating the flour from the inside of the well out.  This can also be done on a counter top, but the bowl helps prevent staining.  As the dough gets stiffer, switch to kneading the mixture by hand.  Transfer to the counter and continue kneading the dough until it makes a smooth ball – about 5 minutes.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set aside for at least 30 minutes.  Once the dough has rested, use a pasta machine to roll the dough to your desired thickness and cut.

Yield 4 generous servings.

Pasta in Garlic Cream Sauce

8 oz pasta of your choice, or half of the beet pasta made with the recipe above

2 T butter

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 c heavy whipping cream

Salt and pepper

Shaved Parmesan

Cook the pasta in salted water until the noodles are al dente.

Meanwhile in a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the garlic to the melted butter and cook until the garlic is fragrant and softened (3-5 minutes), but do not brown.  Browning will make the garlic bitter.  Add the cream and the drained pasta.  Continue cooking until the cream thickens and coats the pasta.  Generously salt and pepper and top with the shaved Parmesan.

Swiss Chard Phyllo Pie

This recipe started life as an attempt to use up some frozen phyllo I had hanging around, but it ended up being something the husband and I fought over the last piece.  This is great for a light lunch or supper, or as an addition to a brunch.

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Swiss Chard Phyllo Pie

1/2 c onion, diced fine

Olive oil

1 lb Swiss chard or similar green, stems removed, chopped

1/2 c Parmesan cheese

8 oz cream cheese, softened

2 eggs

1/2 c parsley, minced

2 t dill

salt and pepper to taste

8 oz phyllo dough, thawed

1/4 c unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In skillet over medium heat, saute the onion in a drizzle of olive oil until the onion is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the chard and continue cooking until the greens have wilted and reduced significantly, about 2 minutes.  Transfer the greens to a bowl and add the cheeses, eggs, herbs, salt, and pepper.  Mix thoroughly and set aside.

Brush the inside of a 9″ springform pan with a think coating of the melted butter.  Lay one sheet of the phyllo in the pan and brush with butter.  Continue laying the sheets of phyllo in the pan until the sides and bottom are completely covered.  Reserve about 10 sheets of phyllo for the top crust.  It is not important that the phyllo be neat, just that the sides and bottom be covered.  Layer it at different angles as necessary, it’s not a precise science.  Pour the filling into the pan.  Cover the filling with the remaining sheets of phyllo, brushing each sheet with butter after it’s arranged on the pie. Fold the phyllo from the sides into the center of the pie to seal in the filling completely.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Cream of Sweet Potato (or any kind of winter squash) Soup with Bacon

Cream of sweet potato soup
This is my version of this Cooking Light recipe. I’ve changed some techniques and ingredients a bit. It is also no longer light. I have to admit I find creamy soups kind of bland after a while. Tasty, but just not enough variation. Enter, bacon!

  • 2.5 pounds sweet potatoes or winter squash, peeled and cubed
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
  • 4 -6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 6 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 ounce shaved Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil; toss. Roast in oven until soft and slightly browned, 20-30 minutes. Cook bacon until crisp and drain on paper towels. Drain bacon grease through sieve. Measure 1 tbs of grease into soup pot and add onion, cooking until softened and slightly caramelized. Add cumin, salt, and chipotle power. Add 4 cups veggie stock and heat until simmering. When sweet potato is cooked, add in batches  to blender with seasoned broth. Return to pot and add cream. Heat, and re-season with salt and pepper if desired. Serve with crumbled bacon, shaved Parmesan, and chopped parsley.

Next time I make this, I’m going to try roasting some oil-coated sage leaves with the sweet potatoes and crumble those on top instead of the parsley. I’ll post the results!