Monday, October 11, 2010

Chili Chili Bang Bang

     In the past few weeks, my pregnancy cravings have gone in a different direction than before--these days, I'm content to eat a bowl of chili nearly every night for dinner (and sometimes even for breakfast and/or lunch, too). I don't know what it is about it--maybe it's the season change. Or the fact that chili is so hearty, meaty, and filling. Obviously I have a thing for comfort foods.

    But hey, at least they're healthy comfort foods, right?

     Chili is one of the most well-loved and easily converted Paleo Pot-of-Goodness meals around.  There are hundreds (thousands, probably) of different chili recipes floating around the internet for you to enjoy. And with most recipes, all you need to do is omit the beans (remember that whole lectins thing?), and you're all set. People in Texas have it right from the start though: Authentic "Texas-Style Chili" is never made with beans--and chili purists there insist that beans are just thrown in for filler. Word.

     The chili I grew up eating was a lot like the type of chili you'd find in a local diner: A very mild, spiceless blend of meat, beans, peppers, onion, and tomato sauce. While I loved that chili, and it will always have a special place in my heart, the recipe I bring you today is completely different. For my recipe, I use one of my most beloved food items--bacon--and some complementary spices that really bring a deep, smoky flavor to the table, as well as some vegetables that add to this chili's beanless heartiness.

And! When I'm done, I have some tips and ideas for putting together your own Paleo Chili--just in time for tailgate season. :)

"If You Know Beans About Chili, You Know Chili Ain't Got No Beans"
Paleo Chili
Serves: 1 Hungry Man + 1 Pregnant Chick with a Very Healthy Appetite for Several Days
(6 servings, maybe more?)

6 slices of uncooked bacon, cut into small pieces
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 medium spanish (yellow) onion, chopped
3 14oz cans diced tomatoes - I used one can of fire-roasted with green chiles, and two cans of standard, "no salt added" ones from Muir Glen. Be careful which ones you buy--I was really surprised to find that almost all the more common store-bought varieties contained High Fructose Corn Syrup or added sugar. Boo.
1 15oz can tomato sauce
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
4 cloves of garlic
2 teas cumin
2 T chili powder
1 teas. smoked paprika (or more to taste)
1 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teas. oregano
3/4 c. beef broth (optional)
  • First, cook bacon in a large skillet on medium-high. You want it to be brown and slightly crispy, but not burnt to a crisp (if you don't cook it enough, it is going to be overly rubbery in the chili).
  • Remove cooked bacon from skillet, and drain on paper towel, reserving bacon fat in a separate container.
  • Toss chopped vegetables with 1 Tablespoon of greasy, delicious bacon fat and cook in separate, large skillet on medium-high. Do not overcrowd the skillet--if you have to, cook a little bit at a time. You want your veggies to soften slightly and the onions to become translucent.
  • While all of that is going on, throw another Tablespoon of bacon fat back into the skillet you cooked the bacon in, and start browning your meat along with your garlic. Again, do not overcrowd the skillet. You want to brown the meat, not steam it.
  • Remove meat from skillet with a slotted spoon and mix with bacon pieces in stock pot (mine is 6 quarts), then add cooked vegetables, along with the canned tomatoes and sauce. Then add your spices.
  • Bring the whole mess to a boil for a few minutes on Medium, then reduce to Low, partially covered, for at least a few hours to let the flavors develop. This is flavor-developing thing is kindof important, and critical in the chili-making process.
  • Depending on how awesome you are, garnish the finished product with additional bacon crumbles (the boyfriend feels that this really makes the dish. I concur.)

A few things about this recipe:

     This recipe, like many others I make on a regular basis, is different just about every time I make it. I play around with the spices a lot, so use my recommendation as a guide, altering it to suit your own tastes. The fire-roasted tomatoes with green chiles give a little bit of a kick to the chili, so if you want it spicier, go with more cans of the kind with chiles, and if you want it more mild, go with less. Or, of course, you could always add something else spicy (extra chilis, or chipotle peppers in adobo sauce would go really well with this chili for added heat)
     Also, I know it sounds like a lot of tomatoes. They cook down quite a bit, so don't be expecting huge chunks of tomatoes in every bite. If in doubt, start with two cans and see what happens. Chili is a very personal kitchen experience. Make it your own.
     Smoked paprika is completely different than standard paprika--so don't go substituting it expecting the same results. Smoked paprika is really awesome stuff with a very potent scent--it smells very much like the BBQ flavor in a bag of BBQ potato chips (Remember those? Good. Now forget them again.)--it goes well with the bacon in this recipe--and so does the cocoa. You can omit it if you'd like, but along with the smoked paprika and bacon, it really adds a deep, rich dimension to the chili, much like a mole.
    And last, with the bacon, use 6 slices as a starting point. If you're anything like me, only four of them will actually make it into the pot, so make sure you account for the 'tasting' that will go on in the cooking process. You can add more bacon if you want. :)

Ok, now that you've checked out my recipe, here are some tips to throw together one of your own:

Assuming you're going with the standard red-sauce variety chili, you're going to start with a tomato base. You can use any combination of these things:
-Canned diced or crushed tomatoes. These come in lots of varieties, namely regular and fire-roasted. Some, like the ones I used above, come with green chiles in them for a little spiciness. Some varieties even have added things like basil, oregano, or garlic. These all go well in chili, just make sure you avoid the ones with the HFCS (or even 'organic cane sugar' as some organic versions have), as mentioned above.
-Tomato sauce, tomato puree, or tomato paste. Unsure what the difference is? This link breaks it down, short and sweet.
-Fresh tomatoes - I prefer to use the canned ones, tastewise (they also have more lycopene), but fresh always works, too.

You can really go to town here. Any type of meat will do. The more the meatier (and merrier):
-Ground beef is sort of standard, but you can also go with cut up chuck or sirloin roast (or any steak, really).
-Also: Ground pork or chunks of pork, lamb, bison, venison, veal, ground turkey, chorizo, sausage, bacon, or a mix of any of these, etc.

In the absence of beans, use fresh vegetables to add some bulk to your chili.
- Onions - You can use whatever you like, it's all about personal preference here. Check out this neat visual guide to onions to help you pick.
-Peppers - Most chili contains some sort of sweet or poblano peppers, and many contain hot ones to spice it up, too. Not sure which ones are hot, and which ones aren't? Mark Sisson breaks them all down here.
-You could always add other vegetables too, if you want, such as celery (see above), carrots, or even zucchini. Just remember kids, corn is not a vegetable, it is a grain. So don't go sneaking that in!

Herbs, Spices, and Additional Additions
There are some typical chili spices and additions, and some not-so-typical ones. Here are a few more common ones:
-Chili Powder
-An array of chile powders, like chipotle, ancho, and others. McCormick has a lovely selection in their Gourmet Collection (avoid the "Cocoa Chile" blend though. While it sounds awesome, its first ingredient is sugar. Wah-wahhhh).
-Paprika or Smoked Paprika (also called Spanish Paprika).
-Cayenne or Crushed Red Pepper
-Cacao or Cocoa, or even squares of Dark Chocolate
-Beef Broth: Often used in chili, this will help thin out a chili that is too thick.
-Hot Sauce
-Adobo Sauce (the smokey, hot sauce found in a can of chipotle peppers.)
-Beer: Not Paleo, but a lot of people swear by it in their chili, including Mel Joulwan, one of my favorite Paleo bloggers.
  • Always brown meat before adding it to your chili--it helps seal in the flavor.
  • Always let chili simmer a few hours before serving. It's almost always better the next day.
  • Used to chili served over rice or pasta? Try it over cauliflower rice or spaghetti squash.

Also, chili is awesome over eggs.

I'd feel somewhat irresponsible if I didn't mention something about Nightshade consumption, in the midst of this tomato & peppers extravaganza. While it's not necessarily something you need to really worry about, if you have a lot of problems with inflammation or auto-immunity, you may want to limit the amount of peppers and tomatoes (as well as eggplants and potatoes) you eat. Here are some good links if you want to know more:
- Mark's Daily Apple - Nightshades
- Fitness Spotlight - Do Nightshades Promote Inflammation?

That's all for now. Have any special ingredients or chili recipes you'd like to share? Post them here!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Choose Your Own Green Curry Adventure

     So this is a recipe I've been toying around with for awhile, trying to get it up to 'post-worthy' standards. The only problem though, is with the way I cook: Unless I'm following a specific recipe, I'm sort of a 'dash of this, pinch of that' kind of chick--I don't really do measurements, I just add stuff until it tastes the way I like it. This doesn't really help me much in the recipe-sharing department.

     Green (or red) curry is something I make often, and it's a little different every time (not to mention, pretty much impossible to screw up). I love the balance of flavors--the rich, coconutty goodness is a go-to comfort food for me. Definitely a weeknight staple, most of the time I can throw a quick curry together in less than 20 minutes. Ever since I started making my own, my boyfriend and I no longer eat Thai Food in restaurants (which was something I used to LOVE).

     When searching for green curry recipes online, most of them use Thai basil (different than Mediterranean basil), kaffir lime leaves, galangal, and cilantro. This is all fine and good, but if you don't live anywhere near an Asian market, you're probably going to be hard-pressed to find some of this stuff. However, while these components DO add a little something to your curry, you can omit them and still be left with a tasty dish. Hey, it may not be authentic Thai, but it can be authentic YOU. You just need to play around with what you have on hand. Think of it as a "Choose Your Own Curry Adventure" story.

     Anyway, to help guide you on your way, here's what you need to make a very sexy-looking, quick (almost) everything-in-one-skillet green Thai curry like this:

Green Thai Curry with Shrimp and Vegetables Over Cauliflower Rice
Serves: 2, with Leftovers.

Curry Sauce:
1 can of Unsweetened Coconut Milk
2 T Coconut Oil
2-4 T Green Curry Paste (or more, to taste)
1 3-4" stalk of Lemongrass
Ginger - Start with 1 teas. and go from there. Fresh ginger is great, but powder works fine, too.
1/8 cup Chicken Broth*- (Usually only a small splash if I happen to have it on hand. Makes the curry slightly more savory.)
Sea Salt to taste - Most Thai curries use fish sauce, which is packed to the gills (har har) with sodium, and has added sugar. Instead, I just add some salt.
Several Thai Basil Leaves
1-2 T Coconut Butter, if I have it on hand.* - A spoonful of this added in at the end REALLY adds some rich deliciousness.

*These ingredients aren't entirely necessary, but if I have them, I usually throw them in.
  Other optional add-ins are kaffir lime leaves, lime juice, garlic, coriander, cilantro, or, if you want more heat, red chiles (the recipe above yeilds a more mild curry sauce. Spicy food isn't faring particularly well with me being pregnant!)

Other Stuff:
-Your Choice of vegetables--I used zucchini, green onion, and baby bok choy. Use whatever you like!
-Your Choice of Protein: Chicken or shrimp work well, but you can use pretty much whatever you want.

What to Do:
  • Heat Coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Add vegetables and saute for 2-3 minutes, or until they begin to soften.
  • Split lemongrass down the middle and smash with the flat side of a knife to release aromatic goodness. Add to skillet with garlic, ginger, and curry paste and give it a stir, allowing the flavors to come together for 1-2 minutes.
  • Add coconut milk and chicken broth. Then add shrimp, chicken, or whatever protein you decided to go with, as well as thai basil if you're using it. Simmer on low heat until cooked (shrimp will cook faster than chicken, so keep that in mind)
  • Optional: I like to separate my meat/shrimp/veggies from my curry sauce before serving. That way, you only use as much sauce as you need, leaving more precious leftovers for the following day. Also, you'll probably want to fish out the lemongrass stalk, since it doesn't really soften with cooking.
  • Scoop a mound of cauliflower rice (directions below) into a bowl, top with shrimp/veggies, and then pour curry sauce on top.
  • Let the Yumness commence.
- Cauliflower Rice -
I covered this once before, but if you need a refresher):

     Cauliflower rice is just cauliflower chopped up in a food processor, the end product looking very much like, well, rice. Check it out:

     To make it, place cauliflower in food processor and pulse until it looks like the picture above. Don't go too crazy or it'll look more like couscous. Unless you want it to look like couscous, that is. Anyway, I use a food processor (though a blender would work fine, too), and just put a big handful of cauliflower in at a time (doing it little by little keeps it looking more rice-y, and less couscous-y). Scoop it out, repeat.

     Then, put it in a dish with a lid, and stick it in the microwave for about 2-3 minutes, or until it is the right degree of tenderness. Do NOT add water, as this will turn it to mush. I like to make extra and keep it in the fridge--it's very versatile and good for whipping up quick lunches and dinners.

A Few Things about This Recipe:
    As mentioned above, there are lots of ways to play around with this recipe. Consider it more of a 'guide' than anything else. There are TONS of curry recipes on the internet that can be easily tweaked and made Paleo (usually the only change necessary is the type of oil used, and omitting fish sauce and/or sugar). Also, you don't have to make everything all in one skillet, you can make the sauce on its own (you may want to cut the amount of oil used in half) and serve with grilled, roasted, or sauteed anything (like I did with my Salmon with Red Curry).
     I love having extra curry sauce on hand--I wound up using it for this super easy lunch I had the following day (this time switching it up and using cooked chicken, broccoli, green onion, and shredded cabbage).

Ahh, this was some good stuff.

Have any curry tips or recipes you'd like to share? Post them here!
Now commentluv-enabled, for my fellow bloggers!  :)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Chicken Soup for the Primal Soul

     Anyone who lives in Pittsburgh knows that the early weeks of fall are scattered with rainy, miserable, curl-up-on-the-couch type days. Days like this I find myself craving simple comforts--and nothing spells comfort quite like hovering around a hot bowl of soup on an otherwise crappy day.

    Growing up, soup in my house was usually something that came from a can or a packet: Salty, bright yellow broth with noodles and little flakes of dehydrated meat. As I grew older, I discovered ramen noodles (even worse), with hardly any concept of what a real bowl of hearty, nourishing soup should taste like.

     Feeling a little under the weather this week, I decided to start playing around with making my own chicken soup, deviating completely from what I was used to and going old school--The final product I made from scratch, starting with homemade stock.

    Now check it out: Before you go and get put off by the idea of making your own stock because it sounds like too much work--trust me, it's NOT. It requires minimal effort, and, because you leave the veggies in big chunks, it also means minimal chopping. In the end you wind up with maximum flavor--way better than any boxed stock, broth, or bouillon you'll find in a store. Plus, in the grand scheme of things, it winds up being cheaper (most good, organic chicken stock goes for about $5 a quart--which is just crazypants. This way, you are left with 3 quarts of broth, plus a boatload of chicken. Sounds like a deal to me!) I encourage you to at least give it a shot one time.

     You'll "Ooh!" You'll "Ahh!"...You'll never go back.

     That being said, for kitchen-resistant people out there who genuinely hate to cook, I WILL offer some tips for making store-bought stock more flavorful at the end of this post. :)

     I've never made soup before so I really had no idea where to start. I found this recipe from Tyler Florence and it seemed pretty solid, based on the reviews (all of which said NOT to skip the homemade stock part). I added some extra vegetables and chicken to make the soup heartier (the way I like it), made a few other minor tweaks--and used shredded cabbage in place of the noodles.

Chicken Noodle-less Soup
(Makes One Full Medium-Size Soup Pot. 4 Quarts, maybe?)

First, I'll start with..

Chicken Stock, the Semi-Fast, From-Scratchy Kind.
Makes about 3 Quarts.

1 whole free-range chicken (mine was somewhere around 4lbs), rinsed. Giblets too, if you want to add extra flavor/nutrients.
3 medium carrots, cut in large chunks. For the best (and most budget-friendly) flavor, stick with regular carrots over baby carrots (which I recently learned are just regular carrots shaved down to look all uniform and pretty--with less beta carotene than standard carrots. WTF, man.)     
3 celery stalks, cut in large chunks
2 large white onions, quartered (skin and all)
2-4 cloves of garlic, cut in half (do not need to be peeled)
1 turnip, halved
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

  • Place the chicken and vegetables in a large stockpot over medium heat. Cover with Ice Cold water (about 3 quarts)- Don't add too much water, or else it will weaken the flavor. Toss in the thyme, bay leaves, and peppercorns, and allow it to slowly come to a boil. Why ice cold water? It helps draw out more collagen, which give the stock more body, as well as making it more nutritious. Hot water would seal all the good stuff in the bones--the opposite of what you're trying to achieve.
  • Lower the heat to medium-low and gently simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, uncovered, until the chicken is cooked all the way. As it cooks, add more water if needed to keep the chicken covered.
  • When it's done, use a pair of tongs or some combination of kitchen instruments and dexterity to move the chicken to a cutting board. Once it cools down a bit, pull the meat from it, discarding the skin and bones; hand-shred or dice the meat and stick it in a storage container.
  • Next, strain the stock through a fine sieve/strainer thing into another pot to remove the vegetable solids (which you can then throw away). Use the stock in the recipe that follows, or, if you plan on storing it, place the pot in a sink full of ice water and stir to cool it down. Cover and refrigerate for up to one week (you'll need to boil it again after 3-4 days to kill any bacteria if you do this), or freeze. 

A few words about this recipe:

     It's generally best to stick with low-medium/low heat to make the stock--you don't want to boil the flavor out of it, and don't mess with it/stir it once it's in the pot. If you have more time on your hands, pull the chicken out when it's done, pull the meat from the bones, and throw the bones back into the stock for another hour (or several hours) to add even more flavor/nutrients (longer simmer time=more intense flavor). Resist the urge to salt it--keeping in mind it is just your soup base, not the soup itself (which you can add salt to closer to the end).
     If you store it in the fridge for use during the week, you'll notice a layer of fat that congeals on top. That's a good, natural barrier from bacteria/refrigerator odor, so leave it on there, unless you plan on skimming and storing the stock for later use.
     Last, if you plan on freezing it, one neat idea I found is to fill up a couple of ice cube trays with the stock--that way, if you ever want to use a small amount for cooking, it's already portioned out and you don't have to waste any (every time I buy the store bought stuff I never use it in time and wind up throwing it out).

    Annnd...that's it. It may take awhile for the flavors to come together, but it's not like you need to sit by the stove for an hour and a half watching it. I used part of the time it was cooking to chop up the rest of the ingredients for the soup, which I will now present to you:

Chicken Noodle-less Soup: The Feature Presentation 

2 tablespoons grass-fed butter (the original recipe called for extra-virgin olive oil but I'm phasing out of cooking with olive oil at this point, and instead, sticking with good ol' saturated animal fats)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium carrots, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices
2 celery ribs, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
Shredded cabbage (as little/as much as you'd like)
4 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 quarts chicken stock (Ahem. Recipe above.)
1 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

  • Place a soup pot over medium heat and coat with butter/oil. Add the onion, garlic, carrots, celery, thyme and bay leaf. 
  • Cook and stir until the vegetables are softened but not browned (about 10 mins, maybe longer). Pour in the chicken stock and bring the liquid to a boil. 
  • Add the cabbage and then the chicken, simmering for another couple of minutes to soften the cabbage and heat the chicken. Season to your liking with salt and pepper. Pull out the thyme sprigs and bay leaf.
  • Sprinkle with chopped parsley before serving. 

A few words about this recipe:

     When I made it, I actually used all of the stock I made (not just the 2 quarts the recipe called for), which meant that I consequently upped the amount of vegetables, chicken (I just used all of the chicken I pulled off the bones), and thyme, and tossed in another bay leaf. I'm the kind of person who has no problem eating soup all week (Lunch: Check), so the larger amount was what I was after from the get-go.
     If you're used to soup from a can/pouch, or used to store-bought chicken broth, you may find it to be a little bland--it's because this recipe isn't packed with salt/sodium the way the store bought soups/broths are. You'll find that by simply adding the right amount of salt/pepper, it will taste every bit as awesome as it damn well should.

     Now, let's say you're lazy or lacking in kitchen skills/time, and don't want to make your own stock. Well, in that case, I can't promise that this recipe will have nearly the same cooked-from-scratch yumminess to it, (and it won't have the same chock-full-of-gelatin-and-nutrients profile) but you can make store-bought stock more flavorful by adding some cut up vegetables or the carcass/skin of a rotisserie chicken (the meat of which I assume you'd be using in the soup) and simmer for about 30 mins before straining it and throwing the final product together (if you skip the chicken carcass idea, you can just simmer the vegetables right in the stock, add the chicken and herbs, and voila! Super fast chicken soup.)

There's a bunch of other ways to prepare chicken stock though--some people like to roast/saute the chicken/bones first for additional flavor (producing a 'brown stock'), and some people like to just use bones exclusively (which is why it's a good idea to hang onto any chicken carcasses/bones you may have leftover from other dinners to freeze and use later for a stock--same goes with the ends of vegetables you're cutting up--waste not, want not!). You can make a quick stock like this in less than 2 hours, or you can make a long, more drawn-out version, simmering for more than 24. Lots of possibilities.

But basically, what I'm trying to say, is do what our ancestors did and use up every bit of the animals you eat.

Here are some additional links and resources:

Mark's Daily Apple - Cooking with Bones
Mark's Daily Apple - Homemade Chicken Stock
Wikipedia - Stock

Have any tips of your own? Post them here!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Paleo For Dummies: Part III - The Restaurant Survival Guide

Today I'm going to teach you everything you need to know about eating out.

..No, this isn't a post about how to please a woman. Get your mind out the gutter.

Instead, what you'll find here is a compilation of Paleo-Eating strategies that will help you put together healthy, tasty meals when dining out.

- The Paleo Restaurant Survival Guide - 

Here are Some of the Basics: 

1. First, keep in mind that even if you are able to put together a Paleo-"ish" meal, odds are, it's not going to be 100%. It's unlikely you'll be finding grass-fed beef or free-range chickens or organic anything on a menu (unless maybe you're from the West Coast. I hear they are more hip to that there), and a lot of restaurants use canola or vegetable oil for most of their cooking/dressings. You can never really be too sure WHAT you're actually getting, so I suppose the first tip is to avoid eating out if you can--you'll do less damage to your wallet (prime example in my previous post) and your health by just cooking at home.

2. Choose restaurants judiciously. Once you become a more seasoned Paleo eater, you will find that you can go into almost any restaurant and custom-tailor a meal to your eating specifications with ease. If you're not in the mood to turn your meal into a choose-your-own-adventure story, save yourself the trouble and try and find a steakhouse (even if it's not steak you're after, they usually have grilled shrimp, seafood, and chicken, too), a seafood place (lots of options there), or any place with "Grill" in the name--Those places will require the least amount of menu modification. Or, if you don't mind the extra cost (totally worth it) and can find one, a Brazilian Steakhouse and its meat glorification is about as Paleo as Paleo gets.

     If you want to narrow it down from there, a lot of chain restaurants now offer gluten-free menus. Longhorn Steakhouse, Lone Star, Chili's, Eat n' Park, Olive Garden, and even P.F Chang's do, and I'm sure there are more popping up all the time as the gluten-free movement builds steam (this link has some additional resources). Be sure to skip the special gluten-free bread and pasta though--these aren't much better for you than their gluten-riddled counterparts. 
If you go somewhere and you aren't sure if they offer gluten/dairy/soy-free options, all you have to do is ASK..they are usually happy to accommodate you.

    You may want to check out the menu before you go in and sit down--most places post their menus outside, or you can take advantage of the fact that a lot of places now post their menu online--especially if you have a phone with high-speed internets. Checking out the offerings before you get seated can help you decide how broad (or limited) your choices will be. Plus you won't have to waste time over dinner trying to map out your strategy: Your seemingly spontaneous Paleo entree selection will make you seem super cool to all of your friends.

3. If you have no say in where you're eating (limited choices or out with friends), you can still put together a decent meal with ease. First of all, steer clear of soda (even diet soda)/soft drinks/and juices when you order your drink with your meal. Water is good, or, occasionally maybe even a glass of red wine. This should be the easiest part of the meal for you--don't get derailed right from the start.

4. Say no to bread. Most places will bring breadsticks, bread, or biscuits of some sort fresh-baked carbage to start off the meal. Express that you don't want them right from the get-go, as they are much easier to say no to when you don't have to see, smell, or touch them (I myself am rendered powerless once I touch warm, fresh bread).

5. Forgo the deep-fried appetizers and scan the appetizer list for Paleo delights like like shrimp cocktail, peel-and-eat shrimp, meat skewers, or a bowl of gazpacho or broth-based vegetable soup if they have it. If all else fails, opt for a salad with an oil and vinegar dressing. Beware of most restaurant dressings--a lot of them are loaded with sugar and not-so-desirable oils, and DO make sure you mention "No Cheese," as they usually dump a liberal amount of the stuff on top, burying all of the green goodness beneath. You'll also want to skip the croutons, candied nuts, potato straws, french fries, or whatever other unhealthy toppings they sprinkle onto what would be an otherwise decent Paleo starter.

6. Substitute, substitute, substitute. There is a method to this madness, and once you get used to ordering this way, it becomes second nature. Avoid starch--nix the baked potato, the hash browns, the rice pilaf, the pasta.
Reject anything that says: Fried, battered, crispy, breaded, or anything that suggest it's been dipped in a steaming vat of oxidized oil.
Look for words like: broiled, grilled, roasted, pan-seared, poached, and steamed. Sauteed and stir-fried could be ok, depending on the oil/fat used. Generally speaking, your best bet is to stick with butter (I'll discuss this further in a future post), or, possibly olive oil.

Little Details, Tips, and Tricks..

In the mood for...

Breakfast -  
This should be relatively easy if you've been paying attention thus far. Stick with breakfast basics: Eggs, omelettes, bacon, and maybe even sausage. Request veggies or a fruit cup on the side and you're left with a pretty balanced meal. 
Avoid: French toast, pancakes, waffles, bagels, fritters of any sort, oatmeal, grits, hash browns, or other breakfast potatoes. Also, if you take the omelette route, be sure to specify that they make it without cheese. 
Local Favorites: Freddies on Library Road is my favorite breakfast spot around. They have a "No Carb Breakfast," which is not featured on the menu (and pretty sure they just made it for people from Crossfit South Hills), but they will serve it to you if you ask for it by name: 3 eggs, 1 sweet sausage, 1 hot sausage, bacon, 1 slice of breakfast ham, and 1 sausage patty.  No toast. No potatoes. Just meat. There is also the other gym-favorite, The Beachhouse, with it's famous burger scrambler (we omit the potatos and cream cheese). Ahh..good stuff!

Ditch the cheese and you have a tasty breakfast gem right here.
Italian - 
It may seem impossible to eat Paleo at an Italian place, since all of the bread and pasta flying around makes you feel like you're being chased by an inflammation tornado driving down the Lectin Highway..but it doesn't have to be that way.
Many Italian places offer grilled, non-pasta selections on their menu, and a decent selection of salads to choose from (just remember to specify the things mentioned above).
Still craving saucy goodness?  Whole9 suggested ordering a pasta dish without the pasta--and asking for it over wilted spinach instead. Sure, your server might look at you like you're kinda nuts, but they will usually oblige your request. For something more substantial, most places will let you add extra meatballs or sausage to your dish, or could even ask if they could put the sauce over grilled eggplant or zucchini.
Avoid: Pasta (duh.), bread, ravioli, and buttery, cheesy (hint: formaggio means 'cheese' in Italian), or creamy sauces. Also keep in mind that chicken and veal scallopini are both usually dredged in flour before they are cooked. 
Local Favorite: I know it may sound pointless to go to an Italian place and not get pasta, but Franco's Trattoria has some of the best steak I've ever had, and their menu is sprinkled with other Paleo choices (shrimp cocktail, good selection of salads/seafood). I hear their meat sauces are pretty good, too.

Mediterranean/Middle Eastern - These cuisines are big on flavor and healthy oils. Fattoush Salad (minus the pita bread) is a good start to a meal, as are most Mediterranean salads--many are tossed with olive oil, such as Aladdin's Eatery's "Lebanese Salad", or most salads that feature Lemon Oil or other olive oil-based dressings. Baba ghanoush is good too, although you might feel like something is missing if you don't have anything (like pita) to dip in it. Loubie Bzeit is green beans sauteed with olive oil, garlic, herbs, and tomato, and also fits the Paleo bill. Most places like this also feature Kabobs, Lamb and other meats, and seafood--Making it almost effortless to stay on track. 
Avoid: Hummus (lectins, boo), tabbouleh (wheat=lectins, boo), pita bread (wheat=lectins, booo), falaffel (lectins, booooo), yogurt sauces, and grape leaves (rice=lectins, boooooo). 
Local Favorites: Aladdin's Eatery and Amel's Restaurant are two top picks. If you go to either of these places, you can order their pita pockets or rolls without the wrap. And for even more Paleo options, definitely check out Amel's (my absolute favorite place to eat) - All (or most) of their seafood is wild-caught, their chickens are free-range, and they choose local, seasonal produce for all of their dishes. Right now they have a grilled beet, zucchini, and artichoke salad that is off-the-charts good, and their Salmon Mediterranean (minus the feta) is orgasmic.

Chinese - Egg Drop or Hot and Sour Soup are generally pretty harmless ways to start off a meal, as long as they don't have added cornstarch (as some do). For your entree, your safest bet is try and stick with steamed selections, or request that your entree be served without sauce. Ask for low-sodium soy sauce or wheat-free tamari if it's available. Tread lightly here.
Avoid:  Wontons, crab rangoon, egg rolls, Lo mein and other noodle dishes, and rice. Also say No to General Tso's, Kung Pao, Sesame, Orange, Teriyaki, or anything that alludes to "sweet and sour." These all usually featured deep-fried chicken/shrimp, and they usually use a hefty dose of brown sugar to sweeten. Actually, steer clear of most sauces--Most non-authentic Asian sauces found in American Chinese restaurants are loaded with sodium and MSG, and contain sugar, cornstarch, flour, or other thickening agents..No Good.
Local Favorite:  Sesame Inn in Mt. Lebanon offers a "Lighter Fare" menu, with selections that use less oil, are steamed, contain no MSG, and have the sauces on the side.

Japanese Steakhouse/Sushi Bar - There's a lot to choose from here. A lot of places offer seaweed (packed with nutrients) and other salads--If the oils used are legit (no peanut, canola, vegetable), then these could be decent options. Seared Ahi Tuna, and skewers of grilled steak, chicken, or shrimp are usually on the appetizer menu somewhere, as are lettuce wraps--just specify that they make them without the 'special sauce' (usually teriyaki), and you'll be good.
With sushi, any type of sashimi is game--it's just pieces of raw fish. Nigiri is sushi formed with rice, so you'll want to avoid that--and most maki rolls, too, unless you want to ask the sushi chef to prepare yours without rice (I'm really not sure how well this would go over--it may be frowned upon in a cultural sense--but I've heard that they usually do it, no questions asked). Get adventurous and try octopus or broiled eel (unagi). When prepared right, it's good stuff!
If all else fails, nearly everything from the Hibachi menu is good , as long as no sauces are involved.
Avoid: As mentioned above, stay away from nigiri and most maki rolls, as well as gyoza, pot-stickers, wontons, or dumplings, noodles, and "special sauces". Also avoid tempura anything--it's just a fancy way of saying 'deep-fried.'
Local Favorites: I'm not a huge sushi buff, but around here, Nakama is the cool place to go. A personal favorite is Little Tokyo in Mt. Lebanon--Both have an impressive selection of Hibachi items to choose from.
Thai - Usually you'll find a list of soups offered--start your meal off with Tom Kha (coconut broth with chicken or shrimp, lemongrass, and ginger) or Tom Yum (hot and sour soup with shrimp or chicken)--these are both good choices, and full of flavor. Chicken Satay is a very tasty option--it's skewers of chicken marinated in curry and coconut milk--often served with peanut sauce, which you'll probably want to skip (once again: Damn you, lectins! Damn yoouuu!).
The best route to go entree-wise in a Thai place is with curry--a delicious coconut milk-based sauce that appears on the menu as Red, Green, Panang, Mussaman--just ask for no rice, extra vegetables, and make sure they leave out the corn and potatoes (which occassionally show up on the menu).
Avoid: Spring rolls, Pad Thai, most sauces, and any dish that features noodles, rice, peanuts, or tofu.
Local Favorite: Thai Me Up or Thai Cuisine are my top picks. Both places have Salmon with Red Curry  on their menus, and this is pretty much my most favorite thing ever. I've never been disappointed by either. 

Chicken Satay, baby.
Misc and Etc:

Fajitas (or even tacos) are a great Paleo meal to get--just order without the cheese, without the sour cream, and without the tortillas. Ask for extra guacamole (yum!), pico de gallo, and salsa, and eat it atop lettuce like a salad. There's nothing quite like having your way with some sizzling skillets of meat and peppers.

Focus on what's important. The cheese, sour cram, and tortillas are just background static.
 Or, another suggestion from Whole9 was to take the contents of a sandwich and have it served over lettuce. A great way to get all the good stuff...without all the bad stuff.

In summary:

You should notice the theme here: take out the bad carbs and replace them good ones. Avoid most sauces, deep-fried crap, sugary sodas (sugary anything, really), and dishes with questionable ingredients--there are usually several decent options to choose from no matter where you go, so don't wing it with 'mystery' menu items if you can find more innocuous things (like grilled meat, seafood) on the menu.

And remember to take your Omega-3's..they will help to balance out whatever damage you may have done in the Omega-6 department.

Still hungry for more? Check out Mark Sisson's 10 Ways to Forage in a Fast Food Nation for some quick tips that can help you out when your only options are that of the Fast Food variety.

That's all for now--this post will probably be an ongoing project. Have any tips, tricks, or suggestions of your own? Post them here!

Primal Kitchen Chaos - Minus the Kitchen: Day 3

   So it was not my intention to drag this three-part series over the course of over a month, but I have a little bit of a tendency to be somewhat scattered in my thoughts, especially lately (I've come to lovingly refer to it as being on "Planet Pregnant"). There really aren't enough hours in the day--between work, working out, getting good meals on the table, blogging, and trying to find time to relax, usually at least one of those things get pushed to the back-burner to make time for one of the others. Didn't mean to let this post get lost in the shuffle, but I wanted to wrap it up so I can move on to bigger, better things.

     In case you don't remember where I left off, refer to Primal Kitchen Chaos - Minus the Kitchen: Day 2 and Day 1.

     Sunday morning I woke up feeling fine, despite the sugar binge I went on the night before. Normally, when I go on a carb bender like that, I wake up feeling almost hungover from it--riddled with a sense of lethargy and overall crappiness. But something I've noticed since becoming pregnant, is that carbohydrates don't seem to affect me like they did before. That came as a relief, as I wasn't paying much of a price for my cheat the night before.

    We went to grab breakfast before my last day at the certification, and I was exceptionally excited to eat it at the hotel -- upon glancing at the in-room menu the night before, I noticed that their menu boasted organic, cage-free eggs and omelettes made with organic vegetables. It sounded beautifully Paleo.

     Wandering down to the restaurant before 7am meant we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves. They had a pristine breakfast buffet bristling with heavenly-scented non-Paleo foods like waffles, french toast, 50 different types of breakfast biscuit/bread/rolls/pastries (carbs, carbs, carbs, and more carbs), bagels with lox, and things of the like. They also had made-to-order omelettes, bacon, and fresh fruits available as well. I found the buffet, with it's supply of unlimited bacon and breakfastivities enticing, but knew it would be very difficult to stay on track if i were to have ordered it (I possess self control, but only to a certain degree), so I stuck with what I'd had all week: a veggie omelette (this time with fresh asparagus, portabella mushrooms, and spinach, made with cage-free eggs), and bacon.

The waitress came by and asked, "juice? coffee?" to which I replied, 'yes,' thinking that I was only saying "Yes" to coffee, but apparently my innate grogginess made me victim of some kind of shifty waitress word trickery. I took the orange juice when she brought it, thinking it wasn't a huge deal--until I saw on the check that one small glass of OJ cost $4.50--$9 altogether for both of us. The sensation of being bamboozled over juice made my breakfast slightly less enjoyable, but it was definitely the best breakfast I'd eaten all weekend.

..And we paid the price for it. This cage-free 'designer' breakfast with swindled juice cost almost $50. I want to say something like 'you get what you pay for'..but know that, if we were at home, we could've thrown together the same breakfast, organic, cage-free eggs and all, for about $12 (and been left with 8 eggs, extra bacon, and vegetables to eat for dinner.)

    Again Mike drove me back out to the Cert, where I was slightly more awake than last time because I'd allowed myself one cup of regular coffee with breakfast. I followed a similar eating plan as the day before: lunch was whatever cherries and blueberries I had left, some celery sticks with almond butter, and jerky. An hour later, I dipped into my stash of nuts/dried fruit, and then it was WOD time again: Some kind of kettlebell swing/burpee AMRAP. It wasn't too bad (for me, at least--being pregnant, I really couldn't push it much with this one, since both movements are metabolically challenging, and can leave you out of breath fast. Big no-no.). We settled back into our seats, listened to more lecture, and then it was time to take the written test, which would determine whether or not we would be CrossFit-certified trainers, or just receive a certificate of attendence.

     Despite the fact that I didn't read the study book at all, I only missed a couple on the whole test. A huge relief.
     I are smart after all!

     At 5:30pm we headed home directly from the Cert, trying to make it back to Pittsburgh with decent time. I snacked on some orange slices and jerky in the car, but by 7:30, I was starting to feel some hunger pangs. we stopped in some obscure town near Breezewood, at some place with a generic name like 'Ed's Grill.' I ate broiled salmon and a side salad dressed with oil and vinegar, as well as a cup of vegetable beef soup. I usually steer clear of soups, but this one seemed pretty legit: it didn't have barley, corn, or noodles in it, the broth was clear (as opposed to creamy), and, well. It just sounded good!

     We'd successfully made it through our three-day weekend, only veering off track once, and only because I'd made the conscious decision to do so. Staying Paleo really wasn't hard at all--no more difficult than it is at home. Being prepared made all the difference though, and definitely saved us money that was put to better eating at Fogo de Chao. :)

So aside from being prepared, and having the what-to-eat-in-the-car situation taken care of, I've started compiling a handy list of Paleo Restaurant Tips (The original plan was to include it in this post, but I decided it deserved one of its own):

"The Paleo Restaurant Survival Guide"

Check it out!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Coconut Carrot Pecan Muffins

     Being pregnant has had some strange effects on me.

     As I've mentioned before, prior to my Paleo escapades, I was a hardcore sugar fiend--I pretty much lived off candy for most of my young adulthood (and I have the dental records to prove it).

     See this guy here?

     Yep. That was me.

     Root canals and tooth extractions aside, when I found out I was pregnant, one of my (many) fears was that I was going to be overcome with cravings for sweets and candy again--undoing more than a year's worth of good, clean eating habits. This would not only be bad for my baby, but also threatened to leave me toting a lot more extra pregnancy weight than anticipated--with the added task of building back up my sense of self-discipline in the midst of taking on the stresses of my new role as parent.

     Oddly enough though, nearly 6 months in, the only real cravings I'm having are for carbohydrates. It's not the carb cravings that are odd (those are quite typical during pregnancy)--it's the type of carbs I'm craving. I don't want ice cream, french fries, chocolate, or pizza--Instead, I want starchy sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, acorn squash, butternut squash--and pretty much any other orange, fibrous vegetable I can get my hands on.

     That being said, occasionally I do want something a little sweet, and lately I've realized that my Paleo recipe book is severely lacking in the treats department. While this is sort of a good thing (since the treats realm is sortof a slippery slope for me), it's still nice to have a bit of fresh-baked Paleo comfort food from time to time. So, between my love for orange vegetables and budding desire to create some oven-fresh treats, Coconut Carrot Muffins were born.

     What makes these a little bit different that most other Paleo baked goods is that these muffins are not sweetened with honey, maple syrup, stevia, or agave nectar. Instead, I only used fruit (applesauce and dates) to offer just a subtle hint of barely-there sweetness. I went with dates because, aside from the fact that they taste really good, they also contain a bunch of different nutrients like potassium, b-complex vitamins, iron, magnesium, and fiber--making them one of the healthiest natural sweeteners around.

It's Not My Milkshake that Brings all the Boys to the Yard.
..It's my Coconut Carrot Pecan Muffins
Makes 12
1 1/4 cup Unsweetened Coconut Flakes
3/4 cup Almond Meal
1 teas. Aluminum-Free Baking Soda
1/2 teas. Sea Salt
1 heaping T Cinnamon
1 cup Baby Carrots, shredded extra fine (I used a food processor for this)
1 single-serving Unsweetened Organic Applesauce Cup
1 teas. Vanilla Extract
2 T Coconut Oil
5 Medjool Dates, pitted
2 Omega-3 Eggs, whisked
Raw Pecans, coarsely chopped (about 1/4 cup)

*Preheat oven to 350*

  • First, combine coconut flakes, almond meal, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a medium-sized bowl.
  • In a separate, large bowl, mix together carrot and applesauce. Set aside.
  • Next, make a paste out of the dates: In a small glass bowl, put dates + 3 Tablespoons of warm water. Microwave for 30 seconds on high. Mash dates with a fork until they become paste-like, add one more tablespoon of water, and microwave for another 30 seconds. Add coconut oil and vanilla. Mash some more. It should look greasy, sweet, and delicious:

  • Mix the date paste mixture into the carrot/apple bowl, and then mix the dry ingredients in a little bit at a time, followed by the eggs.
  • Grease a muffin tin with coconut oil, then spoon mixture into pan. Top with coarsely crushed pecans.
  • Bake for 19-21 minutes. Remove from oven, and let cool in pan for about 15 minutes before trying to get them out. It helps to loosen them around the edges with a butter knife.

Warning: Putting a sock on your hand is not a suitable replacement for an oven mitt. You WILL burn yourself.

A few things about this recipe:

     There's a lot of things you could do to shake this recipe up a bit: You could add extra spices like ginger, nutmeg, or cardamom. Or, you could use walnuts instead of pecans on top--or mix them into the batter (I prefer the slightly toasted taste they get from using them as a topping). You could add some raisins or diced up apple as well, but know that this will affect the sugar content.

    These are really fast and easy to throw together, and aren't crazy bad for you, either. According to my calculations (thank you, Calorie Counter Android app), they only have about 1/3 of the amount of sugar of a Larabar, with less calories. They're actually somewhat dense, too, making them a filling, satisfying snack.

Per Muffin:                       Larabar (Carrot Cake):
171 Calories                       200 Calories
12.7g Fat                            8g Fat
13 Carbs                             32 Carbs
8.6g Sugar                          24g Sugar
3.7g Protein                       3g Protein

       Just add a little bit of protein on the side, and you'll have a well-balanced morsel of goodness to start your day. 

Nummy num!
     I messed with this recipe for three nights trying to get it right. I tried in earnest to go with sweetening them only with applesauce, but when I tasted the prototype, they were pretty bland and didn't really 'hit the spot.' I also experimented with using coconut flour for one batch--even after adding 2 extra eggs, (coconut flour sucks up any liquid you have), they turned out dry and incredibly dense--almost dense to eat (like little muffin paperweights--they probably had way more fiber than anyone should have in one sitting, too). I like coconut flour, and will probably toy around with it in the future, just not with these.

     Anyway, I'm pretty sure I got the final recipe right.

     Members of CrossFit South Hills enjoyed them, at least. :)

     Also, please keep in mind: The fact that it's Paleo means you can eat it and feel good about it--but it doesn't mean you should curl up in front of the TV with a whole tray of them and take the Treats Train to Muffin Town. A Paleo muffin is still a muffin, just like a Paleo cookie is still a cookie. Moderation is key!

     So don't expect a lot of treats from me here--however, I will be presenting a pumpkin muffin recipe in the fall. ;)

    Mmm, orange vegetables. Mmm.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Chimichurri - Not Just for the Halibut

     Summer is slowly dying--you can smell it in the air, and the near-deafening evening symphony of crickets singing and locusts screeching in the night. I figure I should try and squeeze in a few more summer meals before fall is officially here, and this recipe has a nice, summery feel to send the season off in style.
     Chimichurri is something I'd never even heard of until I began scouring online recipes sites and cookbooks for new Paleo meal ideas (not to be confused with chimichangas, the deep-fried burritos made popular by the now obsolete Chi-Chi's restaurant chain). Similar in appearance to a pesto, chimichurri is a fresh-tasting Argentinian green sauce that is often used as a topping or marinade for meat and seafood.  It's incredibly simple to prepare, extremly versatile, and only has a few ingredients--Most of which you may already have on-hand.

     For this recipe, I paired the chimichurri with halibut fillets, mini heirloom tomatoes (get them now while they're in season!), onion, and zucchini. The sauce you can make ahead--the flavors come together better when you make it a few hours in advance.

     Since I've never made chimichurri before, I let Epicurious take all of the guesswork out of it for me.

Halibut with Chimichurri and Heirloom Tomatoes, Zucchini, and Onion
(Makes enough sauce for about 4 generous servings)
For the chimichurri:
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 cup Fresh Lemon Juice
1 T Water
1 T minced Garlic
1 T minced Shallot
3/4 teas hot Red-Pepper Flakes
3/4 cup chopped Flat-Leaf Parsley
1/2 teas Sea Salt

1/4 teas fresh ground Pepper

For the other stuff (make as much as you see fit): 
Wild-Caught Halibut Filets - You can buy it fresh now (while it's in season), or frozen always works (I had some cubed up halibut from Trader Joe's in my freezer, so I went with that. Having a well-stocked freezer saved me a trip to the store. Woohoo.)
Some Zucchini
Some Mini Heirloom or Grape Tomatoes (The fish must have covered them in the pic, but mine were a mix of yellow, orange, and purple tomatoes.)
Some Onion
Salt and Pepper to taste
Olive Oil

 It's like the ball pit at Chuck E Cheese..Except without all the sweaty kids!

  • For the Chimichurri: I'm sure there's some fancy way to do this--Epicurious said to whisk the ingredients by hand, but I just threw them in the food processor and got the job done fast.
  • Transfer to a small container and let the flavors get to know each other a little bit.
         (Pause for reflective Bob Ross moment.)

  • For the fish, I drizzled a small amount of olive oil on it, then seasoned it with a bit of salt, pepper, and a pinch of extra-finely diced shallots that I had leftover from the chimichurri.
  • If you plan to grill your fish, get your grill preheated to medium-high (or preheat your oven if you're doing the broiling thing) 
  • Cut up the zucchini into small slices, cut the heirloom tomatoes in half (here is a neat way to do this), and chop the onion into little square shaped chunks. Everything should be about the same size.
  • Toss the onion and zucchini in a skillet with a drizzle of olive oil on medium-high, stirring often. Wait a couple of minutes and toss the tomatoes in, too. You may want to add salt, pepper, or a little bit of seasoning here (if you do, try and choose something that complements the flavors of the chimichurri, keeping in mind that it has a lot of flavor itself).
  • Place fish on well-oiled grill grate and cook for about 8-9 mins (mine was in pieces so I wrapped it in aluminum foil and stuck it on the grill for about 7-8 minutes) - until it is white and flakey. If you're broiling, you want to let it cook for about 7-8 mins, or until it looks done.
  • Meanwhile, back in the skillet, continue stirring the veggies until they are softened and ready to eat. Everything should finish up around the same time. We had ours over some fresh baby spinach, with the fish on top, followed by a few spoonfuls of chimichurri. It was quite tasty.

A few things about this recipe: 
     This is a very flavorful, distinctly piquant dish (with the chimichurri, a little goes a long way, so keep that in mind when you're plating up)..and by flavorful I mean: Garlic. Onion. Parsley. Lemon. Olive Oil. Halibut. An elegant polygamy of different tastes, which may not suit everyone's palate (however, I post this with confidence knowing that most Paleo people will enjoy it, particularly for it's simplicity and fresh taste).
     There are lots of variations of chimichurri out there though--some use vinegar, some use some other herbs, and some use a mix of cilantro and parsley, or even just all cilantro. Play to your own tastes - If you don't like garlic so much, cut the amount back from the start and add from there. Any version you'll find can be labeled as "Paleo" though, which makes it a definite winner in my book.

     It's usually served at room temperature, but can be kept in the fridge for a few days.

     It's also worth noting that halibut is a mild white fish--I like it here because it is a good canvas for the chimichurri to work its magic. You can also use other fish, shrimp, chicken, pork, steak (especially skirt steak or flank steak), or over vegetables - Or use the chimichurri as a marinade rather than a topping.

     This is a good recipe to play around with, is budget-friendly, and a great way to make use of ingredients you already have laying around (notice a theme here?)

     If you have any other decent chimichurri recipes or wind up with your own variation of this one, post it here!