Thursday, 19 December 2013

Paleo Nachos with "Re-Fried Beans"

Is it just me or is the paleo-recipe world expanding at the speed of light?  I can't say enough how many awesome recipes and food ideas are out there nowadays--really smart ideas that make me wonder; why didn't I think of that?!

This is one of those things.

I did not think up this idea.  Any of these ideas.  I first saw it here.  And as soon as I saw it, I knew it would work--multiple ways.  So then I just went about the business of adapting the ideas I saw to work with what I had on-hand.

I used to think that nacho platters and re-friend beans were a thing of my past...

I mean, how can you replace nacho chips, right?

Rainbow peppers--sweet rainbow peppers.  That's right.  Because the chips are just a vessel to hold the chili, cheese, re-fried beans and guac.  Brilliant, right?  Yea, I'm not that brilliant.  But I know delicious when I taste it.

And yea, you did hear that right.  I said re-fried beans.  Only without beans.  Bean-less re-fried beans.  Sometimes you gotta throw all the food rules that you think you know right out the window.  Really, what is the dominant taste in re-fried beans? Certainly not the bean, again, that's just the vessel.  It's the right blend of seasoning and spice, and the stick-to-your-ribs creaminess.  Well, you can get that without the beans. Honest.  So lets start with re-fried beans.  I basically took 2 recipes and adapted it the way I wanted it (see them here and here)...


You will need:
1 small squash--butternut or delicata squash is best
1/2 onion
bacon grease for frying
1/2 Tbs chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp oregano
1-2 tsp juice from pickled jalapenos
a few pickled jalapeno rings, minced
a dash or two of cayenne
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1 Tbs tomato paste

Cook your squash however you want--I cook mine in the microwave.  While that's cooking, whip out your magic bullet or food processor and finely mince your sun-dried tomatoes.  Chop your onions.  In the bacon grease, cook your onions and spices in the bacon grease until they begin to turn translucent.  Add dried tomatoes, tomato paste, jalapenos and juice and cook for another minute or two.  Transfer cooked squash and cooked onion and spice mixture to food processor or magic bullet and blend until smooth.  Chill--this will thicken in the fridge.

That's 7 small rainbow-coloured sweet peppers
Alright, now let's talk nachos.  Yes, you totally need a whole lot of rainbow peppers (about 6-7 for a cookie sheet, so do this when they're on sale, ok?).  And some leftover chili.  But in my house there's no such thing as leftover chili.  It just never happens.  Let me tell you a little secret--taco meat.  It makes totally fine nachos (and this recipe has the best blend of spices to taste just like that spice packet we're all used in the past....). To a pound (or 1 1/2 lbs) of ground beef, add spices, cook until no longer pink, then add 1/2 cup water and let simmer for a few minutes.  It will sauce up just like those spice packets do.  What, you want your taco meat a little more...chili-like?  How about adding a couple of tablespoons tomato paste and an equal part water at the tail end?  You're welcome.  It's really that easy.
Took 2 hands to get this beast in the oven...

Ok, so you made your re-fried beans, you made your taco meat.  You chopped peppers until your wrist hurt (I'm kidding--it takes about 5 minutes...).  Layer the nacho peppers on a cookie sheet with the meat mixture, then with grated cheese (if you do dairy) and green onions, and bake at 425 degrees for about 12-15 minutes.  Enjoy with guac, salsa, and plain full-fat yogurt.
And voila.  That's the re-fried beans up front.  I pigged out.  There's was Frank's Hot Sauce involved.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Chicken Divan


Do you remember, pre-paleo, that chicken and rice and broccoli and cheese casserole that called for a can of mushroom soup?

I do.

Don't you miss canned mushroom soup?  I do.

It was the canned mushroom soup that was the most troubling to replace, in my opinion.  I'm dreaming of a paleo-ified version of mushroom soup that can be made ahead of time, and frozen, so my teen can heat-and-serve it when she wants it.  I'm almost there.  Almost.  The "freezer-friendly" is the part that's holding me up.

But meantime, do you know how to make a paleo-ified cream of mushroom soup?  At least a primal one? Boil regular mushrooms-and a few chopped dried mushrooms- in good beef broth for about 15 minutes, then add a bit of whole fat cream mixed with a bit of tapioca starch into it to thicken it at the end.  Seriously. That easy.  Who'da thunk it?

But as for paleo-ifying the casserole dish?  Nailed it.  One big happy comfort-food-fed family the night I made this.  And not too complex, either.

A couple of notes on this recipe--the dried mushrooms really intensify the mushroom-soup flavour.  I think they're critical to the recipe so don't skip this step.  As for the broth--home made beef bone broth makes the most authentic-tasting mushroom soup flavour, but who puts beef broth with chicken?  Apparently I do, but I understand if you want to use chicken broth here in this recipe.  If you do, you may want to add garlic powder and onion powder to the soup while you're simmering it for extra flavouring, and increase the dried mushroom amount a bit.

Feeds 5-6

Ingredients:

1 onion, chopped
1 lb chicken breast or thighs, de-boned and de-skinned
2 bunches broccoli--I like to peel and use the stems, too
1/2 pkg mushrooms, chopped fine
2-3 dried mushrooms, any flavour you like
1 c broth, any flavour (but beef is best)
1 c cheddar cheese, divided, optional
1 Tbs tapioca starch or arrowroot flour
1 Tbs butter, for onions
approx 1/4 - 1/3 c whipping cream or coconut milk
1 tsp butter and 1/4 c almond flour/meal for topping (optional)

Method:

Ok, prep everything--chop onion, mushrooms, broccoli and chicken.  Grate cheese, if using.  Grind your dried mushrooms with a food processor/coffee grinder/spice grinder, or chop finely if you don't own any of these.  Pull out a frypan and heat it on medium.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Butter a large casserole dish--or make things REALLY simple and use an oven-proof skillet.

Saute your onions in butter until they begin to turn translucent.  Add chicken, mushrooms, dried mushrooms and broth, cover and poach over medium heat until chicken is no longer pink--about 15 minutes to let mushrooms develop flavour.  While chicken is poaching, dissolve tapioca in about 1/4 c cream.  Add slowly to simmering chicken, stirring constantly as it thickens.  Add more cream if more liquid is needed, you want it to be about the thickness of cream soup.  Turn off the burner and add in half of your cheese.

Meanwhile, either microwave or steam your broccoli until just al-dente.  For mine, this meant 6 minutes in a microwave with a splash of water.  In a small bowl, mash together remaining butter, almond meal and cheddar.

Stir the cooked broccoli into the chicken mixture, then move it all into the buttered casserole dish.  Crumble your almond meal mixture over top.  Bake, uncovered, about 20 minutes until bubbling through and golden ontop.



Saturday, 7 December 2013

Creamy Dark Chocolate Fudge


As a kid, my grandma made fudge.  Now, maybe she wasn't Molly Homemaker--she made the kind that uses a can of sweetened condensed milk, a package of semi-sweet chocolate chips, a splash of vanilla, and voila, awesomeness happened.

So, forgive me for this, but THAT is what I think homemade fudge should taste like.  I've tried a bunch of the paleo fudge recipes that are out there, and they rely on coconut oil as the base, or thickener, which, excuse me, does not make anything resembling what I remember fudge tasting like.  It makes for healthy snacking food, and is certainly a healthier choice than this recipe, but THAT AIN'T FUDGE!  

Note:  This recipe can be fed to non-paleo peeps who will never know that you made something healthier than traditional fudge.  And once you've made this version of sweetened condensed coconut milk, just imagine the possibilities that will follow......

Of course, the real issue was the sweetened, condensed milk.  Have you read about the Pottenger's Cats Study? Avoid that crap like it's the plague incarnate.  Seriously.  But google/pinterest search condensed coconut milk, and you'll see--the answer is OUT THERE!

So...  Replacing the sweetened condensed milk was the main change here, and just because we paleo-types like us some dark chocolate, I made this fudge into an 85% Dark Fudge.  You are welcome.

So here's what you do:  First make your own

Sweetened Condensed Coconut Milk

You will need
1 can full-fat coconut milk
1/4 c honey

Over high heat (I used the highest heat setting below MAX), combine coconut milk and honey, bring to a boil while stirring constantly and continue to cook for about 10-15 minutes.  You will see it begin to turn slightly light yellow and thicken.  The key is to keep stirring the whole time.

Now, while the condensed milk is still warm, even, you can move onto the fudge.

Creamy Dark Chocolate Fudge

You will need
approx 300g chocolate--I used 4 squares of unsweetened chocolate and 5 squares of semi-sweet chocolate
sweetened condensed coconut milk (recipe above)
1 tsp vanilla

Alright, so remove your condensed milk from the element and turn it down to medium-low, allowing the element to cool.  Take out an 8x8 dish and line it with waxed paper, making sure the paper comes up over the edges.  Measure out/weigh out your chocolate.

Put your pot of condensed milk back on the element and add your chocolate.  Stir constantly until melted and smooth.  Remove from heat, add vanilla, then immediately pour into prepared dish.  Smooth out and chill in fridge for 1 hour.  After the hour, remove the fudge from the pan and cut it up and move it into a storage container.  Keep this fudge in the fridge.  It should keep for up to 2 weeks, though we'd eaten all of ours within the first week.  (I'd cut mine into 1/2" cubes and only allowed us all to have 2-3 cubes after dinner each day....)

Try this with:

  • added peppermint extract
  • a but of sunbutter melted, then marbled through after pouring into the dish
  • a bit of coconut butter melted, then marbled through after pouring into the dish
  • toppings!  Go ahead, I challenge you to find organic honey-sweetened candy canes to crumble ontop!  They exist!
And remember, folks, this ain't health food, it's just healthier than the original non-paleo-ified versions.  

Saturday, 16 November 2013

BBQ Chicken Enchiladas

I am in love with Mexican food.  Really, truly, deeply in love with it.  I clip and save recipes for Mexican foods that I can in no way ever eat--not just a few recipes, but rather, hordes of them.

And every now and then, I am tempted to convert them into a more paleo-appropriate version because very few of the Mexican foods I crave are in any way appropriate to eat.

This is just one attempt.  And yes, it IS delicious.  Or WAS delicious, because we ate it all up.



Now, you can make any kind of paleo-ified tortilla you want.  I've tried them all--thin omelettes, plantain tortillas, cauli-bread tortillas--but by far, the tortilla that Orleatha Smith at LvlHealth.com makes are THE BEST.  Her tortillas are one of the absolute best paleo-converted foods I've eaten to date--and one that helps me to stay away from corn and grains when these Mexican cravings hit.  The recipe I've linked to makes 4 tortillas--so I had to triple it.  If you've never made a tortilla from scratch before, and do not own a tortilla maker (I don't)--divide the dough into 4 balls and cover them with saran wrap to keep moist until you roll them.  Roll them between 2 pieces of parchment paper--remember to always work from the middle of the dough outward, just like pastry.  Loosen the top piece of paper, putting the top piece back on, flip and loosen the bottom paper, so that when you flip the whole thing into the frypan, it comes free without tearing apart.  There's a knack to it that you'll get quickly, trust me.  Fry them up and set them aside until it's time to assemble this dish.  If you're smart, you'll prep these on a Sunday and slide them into a ziplock bag and keep em in the fridge until you're ready for them.  If you're not inclined to make this recipe tripled, you could easily make one batch of the tortillas, dividing the dough into only 3 balls (making 3 larger tortillas) and bake up a bbq chicken enchilada pie, like my original Beef Enchilada Pie here, or you could double the tortilla recipe and make a bbq chicken lasagna casserole.  No one will judge you.

This recipe was inspired by a recipe I saw in Kraft, here.  They do take such nice pictures, don't they?

The recipe took me about 1 1/2 hours total.  That includes de-boning the chicken (and making me some cracklin's with the skin), making quick tomato sauce and bbq sauce, and tortilla-making time.  If you're tortillas are already assembled, it takes about 40 minutes.

Serves 5-6.

Here's what I did...



Ingredients:

1 1/2 c tomato sauce (see cheat #1, below)
1/2 c bbq sauce (see quick recipe cheat #2, below)
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken
2 green peppers
1 onion
1 Tbs chili powder
1 tsp cumin
12 paleo tortillas (here)
1 cup cheddar cheese, optional

plain yogurt, salsa, and guacamole for garnish

Method:

First, make your sauces (instructions below).  Debone and chop your chicken.   Chop your onion and green peppers.  Heat your large skillet to med-high and saute the onions in a bit of fat.  When the onions are translucent, add your chicken, spices, and both the sauces.  Turn the heat to medium and cover, poaching the chicken for about 15 minutes or until cooked through.  Stir in peppers and half the cheese, then set aside.

While your chicken is poaching, heat up a non-stick skillet (preferably ceramic) and cook up your tortillas, rolling the next one as the first one is cooking.

Heat your oven to 350 degrees.  Pull out your lasagna dish.  Spoon a bit of the sauce from your chicken enchiladas into the bottom of the dish and spread it around.  Just a bit.  Now, ladle about one heaping spoonful into each tortilla, roll, and place seam-side down in the casserole dish, pushing them tight against each other as you go along.  If you have extra meat and filling when you're done assembling, spoon it around the tortillas.  Spoon any excess sauce overtop of the tortillas and spread it around.  Top with remaining cheese.

Bake in oven 15 minutes until heated through.

Serve with garnishes!



Cheat #1:  Don't have tomato sauce in your cupboard or tomatoes in your freezer?   Take 1 5-oz can of tomato paste, add 1 1/2 cans water, a couple of shakes garlic powder, onion powder, and oregano.  It will seem watery, but as you cook it, it will thicken quickly.

Cheat #2:  Easiest bbq sauce ever!  I saw this recipe on Practical Paleo, here, and can't get over how easy and tasty it is!  I basically took 1 can tomato paste and added an almost equal amount of balsamic vinegar to it, a few shakes garlic powder, onion powder, and chipotle powder, and threw it in the fridge (where it will thicken up quite a bit).  It makes roughly a cup worth, so you'll have some leftover to experiment with after this recipe.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Ham & Cheese Soup

See that bread?  Link at end of this post...

I seem to be on a real soup faze lately.   Just like how in the summer I could eat salad-with-meat for all 60 days of summer, and when it starts to get cold, I could eat pumpkin in every single meal and beverage for 60 days straight, I have now slid over into soup season.

Yea, I say there's a soup season.  It comes after pumpkin season and it may stick around for a while because around here winter can last from November to April.

So it is that I have an entire Pinterest Board dedicated to soups.  Not just MY soups, of course, but all kinds of hearty, filling paleo/primal friendly stick-to-your-ribs soups.  And if that isn't alone enough to satisfy you, I also have several paleo biscuit recipes throughout the boards.

This soup idea came after I'd boiled down a ham bone into a crazy-thickly jelled broth, then asked my helpful husband (cough, cough) to pour it into ice cube trays to freeze.  He did that, and when he ran out of ice cube trays, he poured a whopping 3-4 cups into a giant tupperware container and froze that, too.   What the heck does one do with such a large container of ham broth?  I mean, the ham cubes make great flavour-boosters, but several cups of it?  Ham soup, I say!

Now, typical ham and cheese soup is full of potatoes--and I'm not totally against potatoes, and you can totally use potatoes, but it just so happened that I had a bag full of sunchokes in my fridge (ever tried sunchokes?  See my note after the recipe).  I'm still using up all the odds and ends that came in my final CSA boxes.  I think I have enough radishes and beets to last an entire year now...

The creamy part of this cheese soup is a simple roux that gets thinned back down, it's so easy-peasy and yes, I DID use real cheese.  Not a lot.  But no milk or cream (you could totally use cream if you wanted to).  And you could probably get away with chicken stock if you needed to, too (but you'd have to add seasonings because it has a lot less flavour than ham broth)--but I wanted to use up some of my ham broth (which is the tastiest, I must insist) and leftover ham.  Because soup is all about using up leftovers, and basically making something from nothing.

Do not skip the roux.  Do not just add tapioca to the coconut milk to thicken this soup.  Browning the butter first makes a HUGE taste difference.  You CAN, however, skip the cheese and still have a pretty nice soup, just saying, but real cheese totally makes it awesome.  Imagine Swiss, or Gruyere cheese, even.

Alright, so here goes...

Ingredients:

2 cups ham broth
2 cups water
1 cup leftover ham, chopped
1/2 leek, rinsed and chopped -white part only- (or 1 medium onion)
2 stalks celery, chopped
3-4 sunchokes (peeled and cubed) or 1 medium potato
3 Tbs butter, divided
1/2 can full fat coconut milk (or full-fat real cream)
1 Tbs tapioca starch
1/2 c grated cheddar cheese, or cheese of choice

Method:

First, pull out a heavy-bottomed soup pot or dutch oven.  Heat to medium.  While it's heating, chop your leek, celery and ham, and peel and chop your sunchokes.  In pot, melt 1 Tbs butter and saute leek and celery until tender and leek is growing translucent.  Add your broth, water and sunchokes and bring to a boil.  Let it simmer until sunchokes are tender.

While that's simmering, make your roux--Heat a frypan over medium heat and add butter.  (Measure out coconut milk, cheese and tapioca, have it ready since this part goes fast) Let the butter sit in the pan, stirring occasionally, until it just barely begins to turn amber-brown.  Then, stirring constantly, sprinkle your tapioca starch in, and keep it moving in the pan.  It will immediately begin to thicken.  Be ready to thin i back down with the coconut milk, still stirring.  It will thicken A LOT.  You may want to remove it from heat halfway through to slow it down while you keep mixing it.  Remove from heat if you haven't already, and stir in your cheese.

When sunchokes are tender, stir in your ham and cheese sauce.  Don't worry, as you stir it will mix in and become thick and smooth.  Do not boil at this point.

Voila!

Honestly, ham broth is so flavourful (and often salty) that I didn't need any spices whatsoever.  It was perfect.  I kid you not.



**So, what are sunchokes AKA Jerusalem Artichokes?...  They are not even related to artichokes.  The somewhat ginger-root-like knobby beige tubers, sometimes with a slightly pink tinge, have stark white flesh inside.  They are very low in starch, almost flavourless, and incredibly versatile.  Sunchokes can be eaten raw, something like jiicama--but where they really excel is boiled and mashed as a potato replacement--or at least, as an addition to potato to reduce the amount of starch.  Because sunchokes are VERY high in inulin--that "pre" biotic that they put in yogurt these days (and pretty much everything else) this high-fiber food can cause some (ahem) gas and bloating when your body isn't used to it.   Introduce it slowly to your diet (this soup is a relatively small amount).

Sunchokes can be grown right here in Ontario--and in fact, all over North America, even though most of us have never heard of them before.  They are not only rich in inulin, but also iron, potassium, phosphorus and vitamin C.  So don't be afraid of them.  I think you'll learn to love them.

And the bread?  That's a paleo sweet potato bread from Wholefood Simply.  She's got some great stuff on her site, so check her out!



Sunday, 6 October 2013

Pumpkin Cake with Real Cream Cheese Icing

It's been a while, huh?

Yea, I know.  Summer came, and with it, a desire to be no where near my kitchen, so we totally ate as simply as we could.  Fast and easy, and frequently, only tried-and-true recipes.  I had no desire to create my own recipes--there are so, so many great paleo-friendly recipes out there these days!

But it was inevitable.  Seasons change, and so returned the desire to once again taste all the familiar comfort foods of my pre-paleo days, which means I've started to paleo-ify up recipes again.

Hey, it's Pumpkin Season!  Yes, that's a bona-fide season!  I swear!  Seriously, Google pumpkin recipes and you'll see--us pumpkin lovers cook with the stuff all season long.  Pumpkin goes with EVERYTHING!

Thanksgiving is almost here.  At least, for those of us in Canada, it is.  And in my family, everyone brings food to Thanksgiving dinner, almost pot-luck-style.  Whoever hosts it makes the turkey, stuffing, potatoes, squash, and sometimes even a pumpkin pie.  When we host it, that pumpkin pie is totally paleo, but we're not hosting it this time.  And it would be rude to bring an identical food item that is paleo-ified to compete with the host's food.  So...what is there left to bring?  Oh, sure, a green veg of some sort.  Or maybe a  sweet potato casserole (because I hate plain mashed squash--weird, right?  Totally contradicts my love of pumpkin....)

I make an awesome gingerbread cake, sure, and everyone loves it--but some variety is nice, you know?

So with pumpkin season here, I've been fantasizing about converting this old recipe clipping I have.  I think it came as a hand-out with my Good Food Box more than a decade ago.  It had a recipe for a microwave-cooked pumpkin cake that was just awesome.  I know, I know, microwave, right?  I do still use my microwave, and it's not likely I will stop anytime soon, so to those of you who feel that microwaves are unsafe, go ahead an bake this in the oven.  Don't ask me how, because I'm cooking mine in the microwave since it makes the cake soft and fluffy--maybe I'll try to bake it in the oven soon (probably at 350 degrees for 30 minutes would do just fine), but first I'm gonna try the microwave.  Life is hard enough already with all this eating grain-free, legume-free, processed-food-free, and refined-sugar-free. Sorry, but it's true.  A little dose of reality.  This is where I choose to draw the line.  My microwave is my friend.  Until I read enough to definitively say otherwise--because the info out there right now is completely contradictory so I'm not going to sweat it until then.

So, back to the cake!



Pumpkin Cake


Ingredients:

1 c pumpkin puree, either your own or canned pure pumpkin
1/4 c coconut flour
1/3 c coconut sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 c melted butter or coconut oil
pinch salt
handfull raisins, optional

Method:

Mix all ingredients except raisins with standing mixer or hand-held electric mixer, making sure to break up all the coconut flour (that stuff doesn't dissolve easy in recipes).  Stir in raisins.  Spread in greased glass, microwave-safe 8x8 casserole pan (I greased with coconut oil).  Place a microwave-safe saucer or small plate upside-down in the microwave.  Place pan with batter ontop of saucer.  Microwave at 50% power for 8 minutes.  (If you don't have a turn-plate, turn it now), and return for another 5 minutes, again at 50% power.  You may need to cook it a bit longer--at 3 minute intervals--as microwaves vary.  I ended up baking mine for 20 minutes at half power, checking on it frequently.  It will still look a bit wet in the middle, but will be pulling away on the sides by now and will look cooked through if you look at the underside of the pan.  Let it cool completely.

This cake is nice as-is, (and my teen and my husband would gladly eat it plain) but I love a great cream-cheese icing with pumpkin.  Either way, remember that this is treat food, even if it is paleo-ified.

Simple Cream Cheese Icing:

4 oz (1/2 pkg) cream cheese
2 Tbs coconut milk
2 Tbs coconut sugar, to taste
dash vanilla

Whip cream cheese until fluffy, add all else, mix until combined.  Try not to eat it off the eggbeaters.


So let me finish with a small note on organic coconut sugar--I always try to add as little of any sweetener as I can when I create/alter any recipe.  Coconut sugar is, in my humble opinion, one of the best sweeteners out there to use.  Did you know that it causes only half the insulin response as white sugar, honey, or maple syrup?  And with an intensely sweet and caramel-like taste, I find you never need much.  Give it a try, if you haven't already.  It is becoming popular enough to find just about anywhere--you can even buy it at Costco (which is the best price I've found so far)

Let me know what you think!



Sunday, 14 July 2013

Things I Do On My Stay-cation...

Last year I spent a week digging a hole.  Seriously.
So here's the newest project that I worked on finished.


I spent my stay-cation laying stonework on the front walkway and finished that seating area that I started last summer when I moved the entire garden and dug a huge hole in my front yard...  which I had started and then just kinda left that way for a year.  Yea, that project.  Finished it.
Nothing cooler than chairs on bricks in a hole...


I know, I know--a big hole in my front yard. For. a. year.  I am SUCH a great neighbor to have in the suburbs with all the perfect Stratford Wives-esque yards.  But don't worry, we put the furniture up on bricks in the hole, so from the street, it looked right.  For. a. year.

Lol, I know what you're thinking.

So anyhow, this blog isn't really about food today--so my talk about food will be brief(ish).

It's summertime here, and even though we've had the most insanely wet and rainy summer ever known, I still want a lot of free time to be outside enjoying the short hot season we get around here.  I want to be in the garden, or in the pool, or hiking in the woods and not tied to my kitchen home-making mayonnaise and almond flour from scratch and two-bite raw paleo brownies (though I would enjoy eating one...)  So I've been cooking very simple lately.  There haven't been any exciting recipes to post.

It's no secret that I have been getting a vegetable CSA box delivered to my front door every week (thank you Zephyr Organics), which I am absolutely loving it.  Because they only give you what is in-season at that moment, so far my CSA box at first had a lot of tender greens, but now we're getting into the more robust greens (kale, chard, turnip and mustard greens).  I expect as the season goes on, those greens will slowly be replaced with the orange vegetable kingdom and all kinds of root vegetables.  Ever since the boxes started arriving, my meals have been entirely planned around using up those veggies before the next box arrives.  It has been a game of extreme veggie gluttony to get through it all, and I've been loving it (has all that excess eating caused me to gain weight?  Hell no.  Green veggies will never do that no matter how many you eat--take THAT, my keto-friends!!).

So right now my fridge is bursting with fennel, zucchini, cauliflower, turnip greens, 2 pks snow peas, garlic scapes, parsley, swiss chard, purple kale, spinach, romaine, a regular leaf lettuce, and a package of radishes.  I have been drinking a ridiculous amount of green smoothies lately to get through all those leafy things. Every recipe is geared to using up more of those leafy green veggies.  At some point in the next few days, this will end up on my family's plates so that I might see the back of my fridge for an hour or two before the next CSA box arrives.  Ah, the problems I have....
Before:  Rotting wood and sagging stairs

So onto today's topic:  The walkway.  What was wrong with the old walkway?  Well, for starters there was no where to sit out front under all of our shady trees.  But more importantly, whoever did the original walkway decided to use pressure-treated 4x4 wooden posts, bolted to the original concrete stoop, to hold the stairs up.  Not a great long-term solution.  Wood rots, and stairs sag and slope.  The walkway was narrow, the step was narrow, and the stoop was so small that you couldn't swing the screen door open while more than one person was standing on the stoop.

It's funny what you find when you rip something apart.  Although it looked like it had been done professionally enough, upon ripping it apart I found all kinds of scraps of not-pressure-treated 2x4's that they'd shoved into small spaces here, there, and everywhere, to full holes where they'd mis-cut the wood.  C'mon people, pressure treated wood is the cheapest stuff you can put outside--scraps of leftover garbage pieces of 2x4 are JUST NOT APPROPRIATE!  Anyhooo...

Before--with some wood scraps.  They were everywhere. 
Ever laid stonework?  Whew, THAT was an entire week of heavy lifting.  (WOD, thy name be reno project!)  It poured rain all week, and I worked through most of it (and it was hot and humid the whole time--hello crazy hair).  That meant that the ka-jillions of buckets I hauled from driveway to walkway--in 20L metal pails--were full of not just limestone chips, but WET limestone chips, and when I was done with those, then there were buckets of soaking wet sand.  Followed by a thousand trips up and down the driveway for the actual cobblestones; 2, 3, 4 at a time, until my hands refused to hold them in a grip anymore.  And then some more sand.  This was a project we thought would take us about 4 days, but it took us 9 days and I didn't get any downtime whatsoever on my holiday, and returned to work needing a holiday from my holiday.  But it does look rather fabulous now, right?


So, some notes about this project...  We replaced the pressure-treated 4x4 framing around the garden and framing the whole thing--but chose to go with wood again because of the  cost.  The stones cost us about $1300, and that was enough money already.  I didn't want to go over $4/sq ft.  I'd found ugly stones at the Home Depot, that I was prepared to settle on,  but a trip to the local landscape supplier for limestone  and sand turned up a hundred stone choices that were a hundred times better quality for the same price.  The cobbles cost us $4.13/sq ft.  So there, always check out the local landscape supplier first.

For the new stairs, I ended up picking very large stacking stones (designed for building a stone wall), and matching giant capstones.  We laid cobbles under the stone wall so we could glue the stones into place, and back-fill them limestone.  They would have been fine dry-stacked, but we didn't want any shifting.  Ever.  So it's all glued down around the steps.  The whole walkway was sloped away from the house, both for drainage and to meet the driveway smoothly.  The seating area is sloped too, but less so.

Maybe next year's stay-cation will involve finally building that walkway from my new patio to the side gate.  You know, that place on your property where the grass never, ever grows anyways.  And maybe I'll add some more gardens, because no on can ever have enough gardens.  You know, my ex-husband used to always say that it was like living in the Brazilian Rainforest (his words, not mine) where every year, so many square feet of lawn disappear.  I think that my current (and final for-keeps) husband might agree.  I hate grass.  I tolerate it only because I believe it is a necessary evil of living in the suburbs, and to completely get rid of it would make me THAT house on the block.  Lawn-less yards can either go really well or really bad.  I don't want to be THAT house that went really bad that people whisper about and despise.  There are certain RULES to living in the burbs....


The worst irony about the reno project was that we received too much limestone and sand, and so even after finishing hauling all of that stuff, I still have to haul more to be able to park in my driveway again.  I've been filling new rubbermaid garbage bins and placing them around the side of the house--well, ok, I placed the bins, then hauled stone and sand by bucket-loads to those bins--and only stopped because I ran out of bins and places to put those bins.  Another paycheque later, and some more bins, and off I go again.  Its beginning to feel like it isn't ever going to end, but it will, and then I'll have a few minutes to turn to my gardens where I can dig some things up and move things around and generally get dirty because that's what I do best, and maybe, just maybe, if I can still stand up and walk, I might waddle around back to the pool for some sun, some reading, and some general floating around in circles--and there might even be a can of beer in my hand.  Or Perry.  Whatever the beer fairy brings me.

So if you need me, I'll be outside.

Come for a swim.

See you there.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Clam Chowder

Photo courtesy of thewellseasonedcook.blogspot.ca--sorry, loaned my camera to one of my teens...


I thought I hated clam chowder when I was younger.  Of course, I had only ever tasted the canned versions which were sweet and full of corn and red pepper chunks.  Ewww.

So of course, more than a decade ago now, when visiting a friend over a lunch hour and she offered me clam chowder I said "no thank-you" as politely as possible.  But she looked me square in the eye and called me out on it, saying, "That's because you've only ever had the canned soup kind of chowder.  That stuff is pure crap.  Try this,"  And I did, because she was my friend and I was a guest and all that, and....she was right.  Her chowder was creamy but not sweet, smooth and silky and did not have a hint of corn in it.  The secret, she swore, was bacon.  Yup.  She said that it helped to mask the texture of the clams, for those who weren't used to it's slight...chewiness.  I was sold.  And, she added, don't add the actual clams until the very end, or you'll get a lot more chewiness than you can handle.  Fair enough.  Don't need to tell me twice on that one.

It took me a while to wrap my head around how I was going to make this one a little more healthy--that chowder I'd fallen in love with (and had converted the rest of my clam-chowder-hating family into loving) had both white potatoes and navy beans.  Let's just say there were some disappointing early attempts.

But the other day, when my CSA veggie box arrived with Jerusalem Artichokes, I finally had an idea...  This was going to work out after all.  And it did.  It was awesome.  (The box also included parsnips and fresh sage, so into this recipe they went...)

Ever cooked with Jerusalem Artichokes/sunchokes?  Me neither.  Never even seen them before this.  That's one of the things I love about getting a food box--you get things you have never cooked with, and you have to Google them just to know what you can do with them.

So I learned that sunchokes are related to sunflowers, that they are tubers (like potatoes are), that they can be eaten raw or cooked, peeled or unpeeled, that they are slightly sweet, mild-tasting, and waaay less starchy than potatoes.  They can be boiled and mashed, made into french fries, roasted, shredded and served in coleslaw or over salads.  But more importantly--they are full of the prebiotic inulin.  In plain English, that means that they can cause a bit of extra gas.  Yup.  So at first, a little can go a long way.  That is why I used a blend of sunchokes and cauliflower for the base of this soup.  If it weren't for that gassy side-effect, I'd say they were a perfect substitute for white potato for the starchy-carb-adverse population out there.  Don't let that one thing put you off trying them, though.  They are tasty little gnarly things.  And this is pretty awesome chowder.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 c Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and chopped
1/2 head of cauliflower, chopped small
3-4 slices bacon
3 c chicken broth
1/2 c parsnips or carrots, chopped into coins
1/2 c onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cans baby clams
1 tsp ground celery seed
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbs fresh sage (or 1 tsp dried)
1 c full-fat cream (can substitute coconut milk, but will effect flavour a bit)

Method:

First, chop all your veggies.  Open your can of clams.  Saute bacon until crispy.  Chop bacon into bits.

While bacon is frying, pull out your dutch oven or large heavy-bottom pot and heat it up over medium heat.  In fat of choice (I used butter), saute onions, parsnips, and celery.  When onion is translucent, transfer veggies to a plate and set aside.

Add broth and juice only from canned clams.  Add celery seed, garlic powder, and sage IF using dried sage.  Add sunchokes and cauliflower and bring to boil.  Simmer over medium heat until cauliflower and sunchokes are tender.

Use either an immersion blender to puree, or move carefully to a food processor and puree until smooth.  Return to pot, reduce heat to med-low.  Add sauteed veggies back into the pot now, add canned clams, bacon, fresh sage and cream.  Stirring frequently, heat through but do not let it come to a boil.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Fermented Hot Honey Dills

I know, I know--crazy, right?  Hot and sweet.  In this case--hot peppers and honey.  Yes, they ARE fabulous together.  Especially with dill.  If you don't believe me, try it yourself.

My son keeps eating my pickles.  He doesn't know what I mean when I say "fermented".  All he knows is that they're home made, and more than a little bit spicy.  Which is good enough for me--as soon as I start to talk to my teens about beneficial bacteria and healthy gut flora, they get all grossed-out and think I've finally gone off the deep end into crazy-town.  So we'll keep that little secret to ourselves, ok?

Now, these pickles started out only a little bit spicy.  The taste is a little kick of heat at the tail end.  You could double the hot peppers in this--but be careful--the fermenting really brings out the heat in peppers, and the longer they sit in the  fridge after the initial fermentation  the hotter they become.  You might want to also increase the honey, to keep the flavour balanced.  Or not.  Up to you.

Making fermented pickles is one of the easiest things you can try to ferment.  An old pickle jar, some sea salt, a handful of spices and some cucumbers, and you're good-to-go.  It really is that easy.  I find that kosher pickles and these kinds of fermented pickles are never even close to as crunchy as, say, Bicks Pickles--you can  get SOME crunch in these pickles, but to get that store-bought pickle crunch, you'd need to add a chemical storm of ingredients, so this is the trade-off.  To get the fermented pickles as crunchy as possible, use the freshest cucumbers that you can find, slice off the blossom end of the pickle, soak in ice-water, and pickle them whole.  I don't mind my pickles just a tiny bit soft, so I sliced mine lengthwise before fermenting them.

So, for this recipe I used hot peppers that I'd already fermented several months ago.  I fermented them and then didn't have a clue what to do with them.  I meant to make sriracha sauce with them, eventually, but I didn't.  You don't have to use fermented peppers--any hot peppers  will do.  Using foods like the raw honey and fermented peppers in your pickle ferment will help act as a "starter", getting your pickles going faster, but even if you use regular peppers and regular honey, fermentation will still happen, so don't sweat it.  Pickles are pretty simple that way.  Just be patient and don't forget to taste them along the way.

Ingredients:

(for a 2L jar)

2 pkg pickling cucumbers
4 cups (1L) filtered water
3 Tbs fine sea salt
2 Tbs raw, unpasteurized honey
1 Tbs pickling spice
1/2 Tbs dried dill
3 hot peppers (I used fermented ones, but that's optional)
1/4 cup raw apple cider vinegar + extra for after fermentation (optional)
cabbage leaf or weight to hold down

Method:

Soak cucumbers in ice water for at least an hour.  This helps keep them crunchy after pickling.

Dissolve salt in filtered water.  Cut off both ends of cucumbers.  Slice lengthwise (or leave whole--up to you).  Add spices, hot peppers, honey, and vinegar to jar.  Arrange cucumbers in jar, packing tightly.  Pour water solution over top, making sure it covers everything.  Use cabbage leaf (or weight) to pin everything down under the saltwater solution.

Let sit on counter for 1 - 4 weeks to allow to ferment, tasting after about 5 days, until it reaches desired level of sour for your tastes.  Keep an eye out for mould.   If you are using fermented peppers, and raw honey, fermenting may go faster.  Mine only needed 6 days to reach the desired level of hot and sour that I like.

The longer they sit, the cloudier the water will turn.  They will become more sour, and more soft, the longer you let them sit.  I personally add a bit more vinegar--maybe 2 Tbs, after they're done fermenting and leave them in the fridge for 24 hours before eating.  It just adds a touch of that vinegary taste that I'm accustomed to with pickles.  They will still continue to develop flavour (spiciness and sourness) even after being moved into the fridge.

Refrigerate when done.  They should last 6 months to a year once they're in the fridge.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Chicken Chili Verde



I finally got it right!

This is one of those recipes that pre-paleo, my family ate often--which is saying a lot since we rarely ate the same dish twice.  Of course, pre-paleo, this recipe required that I fry the cubed up boneless chicken in italian salad dressing, and it was chock-full of white navy beans.

When I first switched to a paleo-type diet, I tried really hard to convert this recipe to something I could still eat.  I tried to "paleoify" it several times, several ways, and each time the results were less-than-great.  Without the salad dressing, the flavour was flat.  Without the beans, the chili was thin and watery--not very sustaining at all.  But when I tried to fill the chili out with turnip or celery root, the taste of root vegetables overwhelmed the delicate flavour of this dish.  When I filled out the dish with green peppers, the texture went all wrong.  Everything about it just went wrong.

Until the other day.

It suddenly dawned on me to try it one more time--and this time I think it tastes just like the old recipe, only without all the crap that I no longer eat.

There's something really delicious about green chili.  Even though it is much more mellow than traditional chili, it can still be quite fiery, and is much more about the unique flavour of cilantro upfront.  The flavour is so delicate that only chicken will do, as far as I'm concerned.

So give it a try, and let me know what you think.  I use bone-in chicken in the recipe, but you could just as easily de-bone the chicken first.  I just find that wasteful, personally, since boiling the meat off of the bone gets the bones cleaner, and allows you some of the benefits of the minerals in the bones, too.

You will notice that I use salsa verde and canned green chilis interchangeably.  While I slightly prefer the taste of salsa verde in this recipe over canned green chilis, the two taste close enough to be used the exact same...

So here's what I did.
Serves 5-6

Ingredients:

1 onion, chopped
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
2 large parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 lbs bone-in chicken (skinless--fry that chicken for cracklin's instead!)
2 cups chicken broth
1 green pepper, chopped
1 Tbs zesty italian dressing spice mix
1 tsp cumin
2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
1 cup salsa verde (or 2 cans green chilies)
1/3 cup fresh or frozen cilantro

optional garnishes:  cheddar, yogurt, olives, avocado

Method:

On medium heat in heavy dutch oven, saute onion, celery and parsnips in fat until onions are translucent.  Add spices and cook 1 minute more.  Add chicken to pot, along with broth, salsa verde and vinegar.  Add green pepper.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 1/2 hour until chicken is cooked through.  Using tongs, carefully remove chicken from pot and de-bone it, returning chicken to pot to heat back through.

Remove from heat and stir in cilantro.  Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary.  Garnish with cheddar, avocado, and plain yogurt, if using.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Easy Tomato Soup


Alright, so now that my husband has declared this is "favorite soup right now", I guess I have to post the recipe, right?  I mean, it DOES totally taste like Campbells "Healthy Request" Tomato soup, after all.  And it takes all of 10 minutes to prepare.  And it is so rich and creamy tasting that you could just eat the soup as-is for a light meal--but imagine it with crumbled bacon and some shredded swiss, if you eat dairy at all.  Or bacon and green onions, if you don't.  This stuff is amazing and versatile and uses basic staples that you probably already have in your kitchen all the time.

But I can't take total credit for this recipe.  This recipe was originally posted by Canadian Living Magazine, and can be found online here.  And as you can easily see, all I've changed is the fat I use (I love it made with butter) and I use home made chicken bone broth in place of the stock they suggest.  And I add a bit of cream at the end.  Because when I was a kid, and ate Campbells' Tomato Soup quite often, we always added milk to the can instead of just water.  I find that adding cream to this recipe takes me right back to that memory. 

So here's my version
Serves 4

Ingredients:

1/3 of a Spanish onion, or 1 cooking onion
large pat of butter, for frying
4 cloves minced garlic
1 28-oz can of chopped tomatoes
1 5-oz can tomato paste
2-3 cups bone broth (I use chicken)
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup heavy (35%) cream, optional
bacon, green onions, sour cream, yogurt, cheese for garnish, all optional

Method:

In large Dutch oven (or heavy-bottom soup pot), over medium heat, sauté onions and garlic until onion is translucent.  Add tomatoes, tomato paste and bone broth, and simmer for about 10 minutes.
Using hand blender, remove from heat and blend until smooth.  If you don't have a hand blender, pour (carefully) into food processor and puree until smooth.  (Be careful to add it slowly--you don't want to crack the casing, now, do you?).  Return all to pot.  If using cream, add it now and heat through, if necessary.  Add garnishes after serving.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

DIY Pallet Love Project #2--The Bookshelf


And so my love of the humble skid/pallet continues.  Yes, this IS a bathroom that we put a bookshelf in.  Don't try to tell me you never read in the bathroom.  It's quiet in there.

But our bathroom was really boring:  It needed some creative decor.  (This thought only dawned on me after visiting a friends' place, needing to use the bathroom, and finding myself in the coolest, craziest, most whimsical bathroom ever--and wondering why didn't I think of that?  It's a bathroom, people, why not have fun with it???  

So this is really only the beginning...

This pallet project was really simple.

See the curve in the wood on the top image?  They cut those curves into the back of the side supports on the pallets--don't ask me why--but most pallets have those curved notches.  So all I did here was cut the top of the pallet off to the height that I wanted the back of the bookshelf.  What you are looking at is the pallet turned backwards.  I didn't even try to re-space the slats that became the back of the bookshelf--I liked the wonky way they were nailed into place.  I did, however, add screws just to hold everything together better.  I couldn't fit the whole width of the pallet into where I wanted too hang the shelf, so I cut it in half just past  the middle supports.  I pulled off one extra piece of wood and cut it to fit the bottom and screwed it into place.  
I used the top of the back skid--see the uneven and mis-coloured slats?

In it's raw and splintery state, I grabbed an old can of white latex paint--it was actually primer--and barely touched a paintbrush to paint, brushed most of the paint back off on a scrap of wood, then "dry-brushed" a bit more patina onto the pallet bookshelf.  I basically whitewashed it very lightly.  I didn't want to cover the existing patina  of the wood, I just wanted MORE patina.  

This was such a small project that I sanded it by hand.  I just sanded it enough to take all the rough splinters off and round down the worst spots.  I did not sand it until it was perfect.  The sanding helped to make the paint look like it had always been there, too. 

And then I added a latex clear-coat (yep, more of that Benjamin Moore Stays Clear--that single pint can has been used in more projects around here...)--2 coats of it with a very light sanding in between coats with a sanding sponge (you could use 000 steel wool).

And that was it.  Used 2 wall plugs to hang it.

Done.

And yes, that was what I was reading at the time of the bookshelf photos.  




Saturday, 4 May 2013

Taco Salad Pizza


You can never have pizza too often, not in our house.

I think that since switching to a paleo-styled diet, we may have it a bit less than we used to (pre-paleo), but we do still have it regularly--generally, as often as I am "on" with eating cheese, lol.

So, back to my love of pizza!  There are just a million ways to make it--paleo has liberated me into experimenting with just about everything I can get my hands on.  For pizza, there's the toppings--pepperoni or hamburger-style or many veggies ontop (with pesto!), or tandoori chicken or buffalo-wing-flavored chicken, with any type of cheese you could imagine.  And there's also crusts to consider:  The almond flour thin-crust pizza (here), there's cauli-crust pizza (here), there's meatza, and if you're especially lazy, you can serve pizza toppings over a baked sweet potato (here).   I even had a fabulous cauli, kale, and carrot crust, thanks to fresh4five here.  The variations continue with this post, too!  (And I have more variations on this one in the near future, so just wait and see!)

I recently received my quarterly edition of Kraft's What's Cooking Magazine (Spring '13 www.kraftcanada.com)....  And this (below) is what I saw on their front cover.  I know, cruel, right?  Not as cruel as their dessert issues, let me tell you.  I saw this one and immediately thought I could paleo-ify this!  It combines two staples from our household--the taco salad, and pizza.  What's not to love?

It was easy, really, and I already owned all the staples in my house to make this with.  (Don't let the list of ingredients fool you, it's not hard at all).  So here's what I did:

Ingredients:

Taco Meat
The magazine image at Kraft....
1 - 1 1/2 lbs ground meat--I used beef
2 Tbs salsa
2 Tbs tomato paste
1 Tbs chili powder *
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt

Crust**
1 cup almond flour
1/2 c coconut flour
1/4 cup tapioca starch
2 eggs
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp garlic
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs water

Other
2/3 c cheddar, grated
1 plum tomato, sliced
spring greens lettuce
ranch sauce (recipe here) ***

Method:

First, cook your meat; brown beef in skillet and when almost cooked through, add spices.  When meat is no longer pink, add tomato paste and salsa.  Turn off and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375F.

While meat is cooking, make pizza dough:  In large bowl, mix dry, add eggs, oil, and water and form into dough ball.  Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet or perforated pizza pan.  Slightly flatten dough with hands, then place another parchment over top of it and slowly roll out into a circle (or rectangle).  Bake crust for 8-10 minutes, until set but not browning.  (Prep your cheese, tomato, lettuce and ranch sauce here if you haven't already)

Remove crust from oven and spread with taco meat, grated cheese, sliced tomatoes, and place back in oven for 8-10 minutes more, until cheese is completely melted and crust is just beginning to brown.  Remove from oven, sprinkle immediately with lettuce and drizzle with ranch sauce.

Eat up and enjoy!  You can totally hold this crust in your hands to eat it.  I like mine with extra hot sauce, but you could top it with extra salsa, too.


A couple of notes:

* This spice blend comes from Mark's Daily Apple (here).  I don't make his taco shells, but the spice mix is PERFECT and I've used it a thousand times.
**  Because almond flour is expensive around here, I altered the usual thin-crust pizza for this recipe.  If you can afford it, go for the original.  This one is cheaper for me to make, though, and holds together just as good.
***  This ranch sauce is perfect, but if you don't have yogurt, just add a splash of lemon juice to the mayo and add the spices.  It's just as good that way.  And thin enough to drizzle.





Saturday, 27 April 2013

Something from Nothing--Asparagus and Broccoli Soup


Sometimes you just gotta stick your head in the fridge and make do with what you have.  And sometimes you just gotta make soup.  That's how this happened.  While in my frugal state of mind, I saved both the broccoli hearts and the asparagus ends after Easter dinner.  I really wanted to kick myself, though, because I'd thrown out a ham bone a couple of days before this.  I was thinking, well, if I don't eat split peas, or navy beans, well, I'm just totally not going to try to make any kind of imitation of those to go with that ham bone--I could not wrap my brain around making anything but split pea soup with that ham bone.

Image from www.thedeliciouslife.com
So I threw it out.

And immediately regretted it.

Because no sooner was it touching the compost garbage, then I thought--wait, I could use to to seriously flavor ANY kind of vegetable soup!  Just like bacon makes it better, ham flavor makes things better, too--ham goes with everything, doesn't it??  Well, next time, my clean-out-the-veggie-crisper-soup is going to involve a ham bone, dang-it!


The biscuits come from Satisfying Eats.  They totally rocked.  See note at bottom.

Now, on with the recipe!

Ingredients:

Image from www.eatingrichly.com
1 cup (roughly) asparagus ends, PEELED
2 cups broccoli stems, hearts (PEELED) or crowns
1/2 cup onions, chopped
2 cups broth--ham, turkey, or chicken preferably
1 ripe avocado
1 - 2 Tbs lime or lemon juice
butter or fat to saute
garlic powder, salt and pepper (optional)
1 cup leftover ham, or bacon (optional)

Method:

In large heavy-bottom pot or dutch oven, saute onions in butter until translucent.  Add broth, broccoli and asparagus, cover and simmer on medium-low heat until broccoli and asparagus are very tender (about 20 minutes).  Remove all to blender or food processor and puree until smooth, adding avocado and lime/lemon juice here.  Return to pot along with ham, if using, heat through, and taste.  Add garlic, salt and pepper if necessary.  Add bacon, if using, right before serving.

*These were the best paleo biscuits I've eaten, to-date!  Voted on by my whole family; actually tasted like flour had been used.  They were fast, and easy.  I only added about 2 Tbs of the Parmesan  and skipped the stevia altogether.  Awesome.  I will be serving these with every soup from this point on...




Sunday, 21 April 2013

DIY Pallet-Love Project #1: The Shoe Rack

Are you on Pinterest?  I am, finally.  I'm actually on it twice--first as My Primal Adventures, and second as Paleo Toronto.  The two accounts have totally different angles, though, just like how the MPA blog, and the PT website, have totally different purposes.  Check them both out, and feel free to suggest things for me, because being new on both, I haven't pinned very much so far.

Along that note, though, if you check out the MPA boards, you'll see I have a pin-board dedicated to DIY projects, and I've pinned a whole bunch of ideas for re-purposing wooden pallets.  I LOVE all the ideas that are out there.  Old pallets have this amazing patina to them that remind me of reclaimed barn-board or old milk crates.  I've found pallets made from soft woods, sure, but I've also found pallets made with maple, cedar and oak.  It is important to know, though, that they treat pallets with chemicals to keep them from rotting.  Kind-of like how they pressure-treat wood for fences and decks, but without the green hue.  These are pretty ugly chemicals, so I highly recommend doing any sanding of this wood in a well-ventilated area or using a dust mask.  Wash your hands after sanding.  And clear-coat the entire project when complete with a water-based urethane product to seal it in  (I'm a huge fan of Benjamin Moore's Stays Clear; it was used on every gym floor throughout the Toronto School Board--this stuff is tough, dries in about an hour, and barely has any odor whatsoever).

I also happen to love reno projects and making stuff myself.  My hubby and I have this beautiful dining room table idea we've fully drawn plans to build, but I want to make it from Douglas Fir which is not a common wood in Ontario (unless you have a really old barn to tear down) so we haven't been able to get out and get the lumber to make it.  But at some point, that will happen.  And until then, I'm building some of these weekend projects using pallets that I can get hold of for free (which fits my budget perfectly).


So, the pallet in the front is the one I chose for the shoe rack.  It doesn't have a nice patina at all, but that doesn't matter if its going in the closet.  I think it's actually spruce, so it's pretty crappy lumber, but the width of the slats and the spacing between them was already perfect.

This is such a simple and genius project.  We measured the space we had in the closet, decided we didn't want the shoe rack to go up above where the coats hung, and cut the top off to the right height.  We used a skilsaw for this.  Then I dragged it out onto my driveway and used a palm-sander with 80-grit paper and sanded all the rough fronts of the slats, the ends, and got between the slats as best as I could.  I didn't want rough splinters marking anyone's shoes.  I took a sanding sponge to it after that, just to get between the slats a little bit better.  It wasn't perfect, not by any means, but it was better than it was before.

Now, it was a bone-chilling 2 degrees Celsius outside and I was just freezing my @$$ off outside, so I dragged the whole thing into my front hallway to seal it with the clear coat (and hopefully seal in some more of the rough edges). Like I said, the Stays Clear has almost no smell whatsoever and dries fast, so why not?

Two coats of Stays Clear (with a light sanding between coats), and the project was done.  It took less than a half day.  My cost?  $4 for more wall plugs to mount it in the back of the closet.  We were out of them.

Voila!


Saturday, 13 April 2013

Shrimp Creole



I got shrimp on sale a couple of weeks ago, and wanted to try something different.

I found this idea on Pinterest-- (original recipe here) but it wasn't yet paleo--and I preferred to make my own cajun spice blend (I've tasted some pretty horrible store-bought blends...).  A few changes...and voila--delicious and perfect!  My whole family loved this one--and it was done in about 45 minutes, which I love, too.



Ingredients:

5 Tbs butter
2 Tbs tapioca starch
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp dried thyme
1 cup celery
1 cup red, yellow, or orange peppers
1/2 cup onion
2 cups chicken broth (whatever you have)
1 cup tomatoes
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs cajun/creole spice blend (below)
1 lb raw shrimp
1/2 cup green onions

1 head cauliflower

Method:

First, prep everything because this doesn't take long:  Make your spice blend.  Chop onions, peppers, celery, tomato.  Thaw shrimp under lukewarm water, peel and de-tail.  Rice your cauliflower with a food processor.

In heavy-bottom skillet over medium heat, melt butter and continue to cook until butter turns a medium brown (takes about 10 minutes).  Sprinkle tapioca starch over butter and stir to dissolve and allow to thicken for a couple more minutes.  (You are making a roux).  Add onions, celery and peppers and continue to cook until onion is almost transparent.  Add garlic and thyme and continue to cook for 1 minute.

Add tomatoes, broth, Worcestershire sauce, and cajun spice.  Simmer for about 20 minutes.

While this is simmering, cook your rice; I prefer to cook mine for 8 minutes in the microwave with NO added water.  Set aside.

Once you broth and tomato mixture has simmered for 20 minutes, add shrimp, and continue to cook just until shrimp is pink and cooked through.  Sprinkle with green onions and remove from heat.

To serve this up like I did; spoon liquid into wide-mouthed bowls.  Using a half-cup measuring cup, press cooked cauli into the measuring cup, packing tight, then invert over middle of bowl.  Arrange shrimp around perimeter.

Can add hot sauce if you like things spicy.

Enjoy!

Cajun Spice Blend:

1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt

Combine in small mason jar.  Goes with everything....


Saturday, 6 April 2013

Frugal Paleo--and Scotch Broth Soup

Since making the big change to paleo, do you ever look at your bank account and just totally have a heart attack?

Happens to me a lot.

Too much.  I seriously, seriously stress over food costs.  And money in general.  On the one hand, I want to do the right thing (buy local, buy organic), on the other hand, I want to keep my house.  And my car.  And my kids.

Sure, good food is important to health--pay for it now in healthy food, or later in medicine bills, all those sayings that justify the crazy food costs of a paleo diet.  Whoever coined all those phrases obviously didn't have a household full of teens, large-breed dogs, a mortgage, cars and debt.  All of these things came before learning about Paleo.

Is it just me???

Ok, I'm going to say something that is going to make me extremely unpopular.

Ready???  It is ok, and still totally Paleo, to shop at the grocery store, to buy food when it's on sale, to skip the organic and the grass-fed and finished meats.  Honestly.

Alright, let me finish.

Because you see, there is "optimum", and there is also "acceptable".  It is optimal to eat grass-fed and finished, and optimal to eat organic produce.  If you are diligent, you can find grass-fed beef for under $4/pound, and grass-fed free-range poultry and Tamworth pork for under $5/pound--and you can even find organic CSA's that are very reasonably priced.  But it doesn't always happen that way.  And not everyone has the large lump of money upfront to buy 250 lbs of pork or cow, no matter how reasonably priced it is.  or the $550 to shell out for a CSA, months in advance of receiving the food.

Don't get me wrong, I am 100% in support of both of those things, of buying local, of getting to know and supporting your local farmers.  But the truth is, if you are on a truly tight food budget, cost matters more than anything else out there.

When money is that tight, it no longer matters what the paleo-perfectionists have to say (or at least. it shouldn't matter).  You can only do what you can afford to do.  Did you know that stress is twice as bad for your body as grains are?  So don't sweat it.  Stretch the almighty dollar as far as you can--in fact, I challenge you to find new and innovative ways to do it!  Anything you do or try is still better than your old diet that used to include grains, soy, legumes, processed foods and refined sugars anymore.  That's a pretty big thing.

And for just one minute here,think about this, how much food do you throw away?   (North) Americans throw out more food than any other nation.

So it is with all of this in mind, this week, and well into my overdraft even after just getting paid, that I am being as frugal as I possibly can, while still eating as well as I can.  I'm making do with what I have, and I'm on a mission to waste nothing.  Oh, how I wish that all the food I need would just materialize in my house, that I didn't have to shop for it.  Food is expensive, but food should also be simple and stress-free.  Open fridge, combine ingredients found in fridge.  Make sure you use every last bit of that giant head of cabbage, use those broccoli stems and the bottoms of the asparagus (but peel them--I learned that one the hard way).  It is all food.  If you only knew what to do with it.

So on with the recipe, right?? ...

I didn't want to waste the bone from the lamb we cooked at Easter--so I threw it in the crock pot for 2 days (with water, apple cider vinegar, dehydrated onions and a bay leaf).  Bone broths are very high in protein, gelatin, they're full of minerals and gut-healing properties--and I don't have to tell you that, right?  You all know that.  And you know what else?  Lamb bones cooked into soup are far less gamey than the actual meat is when you roast it.  It's a good way to start your non-lamb-eating family on the road to enjoying it.

After 2 days of slow-cooking, I found that almost 2 cups of meat, marrow and fat came off the bone.

This is more of a guideline than a true recipe.    You can adjust or sub in anything you want to.


Scotch Broth Soup

Ingredients:

4 cups lamb bone-broth
2-3 cups leftover lamb meat
3 cups cabbage, chopped fine
1 cup carrots, chopped fine
1/2 cup onion, chopped fine
1/2 can  tomato paste
2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
butter or other fat for frying

Method:

In a heavy pot or Dutch Oven, on medium heat, melt fat and saute onions until almost translucent.  Add carrots and  saute for a few minutes more.  Add cabbage, tomato paste, vinegar, broth, and remaining meat, turn down to med-low, and simmer or half an hour.

Serve with these awesome biscuits...

(This recipe originally came from HERE with a couple of substitutions--the recipe was fantastic as-is, but I didn't want to spring for bacon this week, so  instead I used up some cheddar cheese).  If you eat dairy, cheese is a pretty cheap source of protein.  Just saying.....



Cheddar-Spinach Biscuits

Ingredients:

1/3 cup coconut flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
4 eggs
1/2 cup cheddar
1/2 cup spinach
1/4 cup onions
1/4 cup fat (I used bacon grease--cheap and available)

Method:

Preheat oven to 400F

Saute onions on medium heat in fat until translucent.  Remove from heat and let cool a bit.  In a bowl, mix coconut flour and baking soda.  Add eggs to dry mixture, stir well.  Add onions, all the melted fat from the pan, cheese and spinach.  Form into balls and place on parchment-lined cookie sheet.   I got 12 of them out of this recipe.

Bake 15 minutes until golden but still slightly tender to the touch.

Eat up.

All I needed to buy to make this recipe was a head of cabbage.  I already had everything else in my fridge.

$1.49.  Done.

I think I'll be making a lot more soups in the future.




Friday, 15 March 2013

Fermented Ginger Beer



Home made ginger ale?  Really?  And it's easy?  And if I ferment it long enough, it becomes alcoholic???  Bonus!!  Why didn't I hear about this before??

Of course, ginger is just full of good stuff; it has cancer-fighting properties, settles the stomach, reduces pain and inflammation, reduces heartburn, helps with migraines, menstral cramps, reduces cold and flu symptoms and just about a gazillion other things.  And as an added bonus, fermented ginger ale/beer is chock full of probiotics and beneficial bacteria.

Alrighht, so all that aside, I'm sure what you really want to know is--does it taste good?

At first, I had no idea.  It sounded like it would taste good.  I was still reading Sandor Katz' newest book and loving it, but the problem was... it wasn't a recipe book.  It was a book about fermentation, but more about understanding it than actual recipes, so he gets your taste-buds all watery...and then leaves you hanging.  So I thought, no problem, I can google it.

..Apparently not.  There is an alarming lack of recipes on the internet with really clear instructions on how to a)  make a Ginger Bug, b)  make Ginger Ale from it, and c) how long it takes to become an  alcoholic beverage.  So I had to wing it.  Great science is discovered through the act of "winging" it, let me tell you.

So, how did it turn out?  Freaking awesome.  Spectacularly bubbly and smooth.  But what about alcohol?  Turns out, after 5-6 weeks of secondary fermenting, it still does not have the alcohol content of American beer.

So, feeling like trying it?  THIS is the drink to give to your kids if they don't like kombucha but you want to get fermented foods into them.  Skip the water-kefir-soda and go for this stuff.  Our teens LOVED it.  All you really need is fresh ginger, and some raw, natural sugar.  Seriously?  Yep.

So here's what you do...

STEP 1

First you need to make yourself the 'starter', which in this case, is called a ginger bug.  It's not a bug.  Don't worry.  Even I'm not THAT crazy.  Yet.
Ginger bug on day 2

Ginger Bug:

  • fresh ginger root
  • raw sugar or white sugar
  • filtered water
  • starter (optional)*


Cut off about 1" of the ginger root and coarsely grate it or chop it fine.  Do not bother peeling it.  Throw it in a glass jar that holds about 2c water.  Dump in 1 Tbs sugar.  Add 1 Tbs starter of choice.  I used whey* the first time because I had some in my fridge.  Add about 1 c filtered water.  Stir well.  Cover with a cloth and elastic band.  Store on counter out of direct sunlight.

Stir twice a day.  Once each day, add 1 tsp more ginger and 1 tsp more sugar.  Stir it thoroughly each time.  The idea is to keep bringing air into the mixture.

In about 3 days, it should be actively bubbly before you even stir it.  That's when you know it's ready to move onto making ginger-ale/ginger beer.

*use any active ferment liquid you want; whey, home made kombucha, water kefir, liquid from another ferment like a fruit kimchi, etc.  Next time, I'm trying kombucha.

STEP 2

So, 3 days have gone by and your ginger bug is fizzy.  Perfect.  Now you will need:

  • 2" fresh ginger root
  • 2 litres water
  • 1 cup raw sugar or white sugar
  • juice of 1 lemon (optional, but good)
  • a glass container that will hold at least 2 litres
In a large saucepan, boil water with chopped ginger and sugar for about 5-10 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  When cold, add lemon juice and transfer to large glass container.  Add in your ginger bug.  Same as before, cover with cloth and a rubber band.  Let it sit out of sunlight for a couple more days until it is actively bubbling once again.

STEP 3

I know, I know, it takes time!  Patience, you will be rewarded.  

Strain your ginger beer into lock-top bottles (I bought mine at Ikea and they hold 1 litre).  At this point, it is ready to drink, so you can refrigerate them and drink whenever you want to.  But if you want to try to make them even better, and maybe a little tiny bit alcoholic, store in a cool, dark place for at least 5-6 weeks.  For the first 3-5 days, check in on them to make sure they haven't exploded, and please burp them.  They fizzing action will settle down enough to not be dangerous after a few days.  


After that, it's up to you.  If you truly want the alcohol content, you could try adding champagne yeast or brewers yeast before bottling, but if you do, pour it into a carboy and use a water-seal for 7 days before straining and bottling.  Let me know how it goes.  I haven't gone that far yet.  The first bottle was so fantastic, we gobbled it up in one sitting.  The second bottle is coming with me to the next Symposium planning meeting.  I should have made more.  There's no time like the present.  I own ginger.  And raw sugar.  And 'booch to activate it.  Hmm.....