Tuesday, April 1, 2014

beef short ribs

Beef short ribs are something I've always wanted to try cooking but either couldn't find them, couldn't AFFORD them, or was intimidated by them. The stars aligned today, though - short ribs were in stock, they were on sale, and I wasn't afraid to throw them in the crock pot and see what happened!

What happened was this, and it was so, SO good:

mmm, beef!

The fact that I was ever intimidated by short ribs is really kind of laughable, given how dead easy these were to make and how well they turned out. I guess I was thinking they'd be sinewy and tough, but they turned out fall-apart tender and full of amazing beefy goodness.

I started by seasoning the ribs with salt and pepper and searing them off in a hot pan. The ribs then went into the crock pot with a large onion, a couple carrots, a couple stalks of celery, and five or six cloves of garlic, all chopped roughly. I added a bay leaf, a little allspice (like half a teaspoon), and about a quarter cup of dried porcini mushrooms that I crumbled. I deglazed the searing pan with some beef stock, then dumped that into the crock pot along with a couple more cups of beef stock. I probably ended up using about 3 cups of stock plus a cup or so of water. It all cooked on low for about six hours, then sat on "warm" until I got home a couple hours after that.

When I got home, I steamed some green beans, fished the ribs out, and took a stick blender to the liquid and softened veg left in the crock to make a velvety sauce to spoon over the ribs. Super quick, really easy, and OMG YUMMY.

Also, a side-note - you may notice the bottles of Shed Mountain Ale in the background. If you're somewhere where it's available and you like brown ale, you should definitely try it. It went with my short ribs wonderfully and I can definitely see it being a compliment to any kind of roasted or grilled beef or pork. It's kind of heavy-duty with an ABV of 7.4%, but it doesn't taste "boozy" like some higher-alcohol beers tend to. I don't usually write about beer here, but I enjoyed the Mountain Ale enough that I'm giving it a shout out...so that should tell you something.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

braised ox tail

Today I was talking about how excited I was to get home to my slow cooker full of oxtail, and a friend mentioned that she found oxtail quite intimidating. I totally understand - oxtail is pretty weird-looking, and thinking about eating...well...a tail...squicks some people out. Plus, I think many people worry that like other offal, oxtail needs to have a lot of stuff done to it in order to make it edible That's happily not the case, though! Oxtail is VERY beginner friendly - you can braise it in a slow cooker, on the stove-top or even in the oven with very little effort at all. 

When oxtail is braised or roasted, the connective tissue running through the meat and cartilage between the bones eventually melts down. All that collagen gives the meat a silky, luxurious texture and a wonderful boost of umami. Plus, the gelatin that results from the melted collagen is full of natural glutamates, which are essential for healing a leaky gut and keeping a NON-leaky gut healthy, among other things.

A bowl of yum.
If you Google "oxtail recipes", you'll see some very Italian recipes, some Chinese ones, Jamaican ones, and plenty of others if you want to dig. It's good with the meat shredded and served over mashed potatoes, noodles or polenta (if you eat those things), but it's also wonderful just scooped out of the slow cooker in stew fashion. I cooked these oxtails for about seven hours on a bed of leeks, onion, carrot and garlic, then blended up the softened veg with the braising liquid and used that for the stew base. Easily my favorite iteration of oxtail so far.

This recipe is Paleo and Whole30 compliant. Enjoy! 

Slow Cooker Oxtail Stew

2 pkgs oxtail (my pkgs were about 1.5lb each)
2 large leeks
1 medium white onion
2 medium carrots, chopped or shredded
2 tbsp tomato paste (I like Cento, because it has no added sugar or weird stuff)
4-6 cloves of garlic (or more, if you're a garlic fiend like me)
1 bay leaf
2 cups of beef stock (if you're not doing a W30, you could use red wine to great effect! Water also works just fine)
1 tbsp bacon fat
salt and pepper to taste

1. Rinse oxtail segments and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper. In a large pan over medium-high heat, melt bacon fat. Once fat is melted, add oxtail segments and sear for a few minutes each side. You may need to work in batches - you don't want to crowd the meat in the pan too much because it will start to steam. 

2. While meat is searing, clean and chop the leeks, onion, carrot and garlic. Add all the veg to the slow cooker crock. Add in the tomato paste and give a stir to combine. 

3. When meat is seared, add the segments to the slow cooker, right on top of the veg. Using a little of your chosen cooking liquid, deglaze the pan you seared the meat in, being sure to scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom. 

4. Add the deglazed pan juices to the slow cooker along with the rest of the cooking liquid and the bay leaf. Set slow cooker to low, cover and allow to cook for 6-7 hours. Meat is done when it starts to fall off the bone / fall apart with gentle prodding.  I usually start checking mine at 5 hours...slow cookers vary!

5. When meat is cooked, use a slotted spoon to pull it out of the slow cooker. There will be some little round bones, about nickle- to quarter-sized - make sure you get them all out! This part can be a little painstaking, but it's worth it. Remove bay leaf and discard.

6. If you'd like, use a spoon to skim off some of the fat from the braising liquid (or use a fat separator thingy if you're fancy). If you've got plenty of time before you want to eat, the easiest way to do this is to put the liquid in the fridge or freezer for a little while to let the fat solidify, then just pop it off all in one layer. If you don't have time for that, just skimming with a spoon will do. Once you've got the liquid to your desired level of un-fattiness (technical term), spoon into a blender or food processor, or use an immersion blender (this is what I do) to puree the cooked veg and braising liquid. You could even skip the blending and just eat the cooked veg as-is, but I like the texture of the puree.

7. Spoon desired amount of puree into serving bowls. Add chunks of oxtail meat - it should pretty much fall apart when you take it off the bones, but if it doesn't (or if you want it finer than chunks), you can always use two forks to shred it. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

weekend cooking - chicken wings, all the cabbage and pork!

This weekend we had some pretty horrible weather here in Vermont. It was warm, for one thing. It's not supposed to be warm in January. Then it started raining. Then it didn't STOP raining for like an entire day. Needless to say, our driveway and lawn are now skating rinks with a nice layer of water on top, just for extra added terror when trying to walk around. Hurrah!

Combine epic bad weather with NFL play-offs, and it basically made for an entire weekend of cooking, eating, and sitting on our duffs. Hubs was jonesing for some football munchies but of course the standard junk food was out because of our Whole30. Instead, I decided to see if I could knock out some W30-compliant chicken wings. One batch ended up legit compliant - they were just rubbed with garam masala, salt and garlic powder. The other batch was...iffy. I made traditional Buffalo wings - the sauce is a combination of butter and Frank's Red Hot. Frank's, surprisingly, has nothing weird / crazy in it - just cayenne, vinegar, salt, garlic and water. The butter is dairy and therefore not technically compliant...but in the grand scheme of things, I decided that it was probably about the least detrimental cheat I could do. Plus it was yummy and worth it.

Buffalo wings

Garam Masala wings

Chicken wing feast with two dips - garlic aioli and curry mayo
The dips for the wings were a garlic aioli and a curry mayo, both made from a base of home-made olive oil mayo with a little bacon fat added in. If you've never tried making your own mayo (or never had it with bacon fat added in), you're TOTALLY missing out. So delicious.

Friday night I had made this pork with braised red cabbage and mustard sauce for dinner:

Braised red cabbage, pork with mustard sauce
Those are actually boneless pork ribs - I seared them in a hot pan with a little bacon fat, then cooked them through in the oven at 350 for about 20 minutes. They stayed very moist and tender, which was awesome. For the sauce, I just deglazed the pan I seared the meat in, using a little chicken stock. I whisked in some brown mustard, and a little sherry vinegar. The mustard played well with the sweet / sour flavors in the cabbage.

Anyway - I had a bunch of braised cabbage left over from Friday night's dinner, and I'd been slow-roasting a pork butt all day Saturday (seriously, all day - 250 degrees for eight hours), so for Sunday lunch we had MORE pork and MORE cabbage:

MORE pork and cabbage, you say?!
The funny (scary?) thing is, I could happily eat another plate of this pork and cabbage for dinner tonight, and probably some more for lunch tomorrow. It's that tasty. I used NomNomPaleo's recipe for Chez Panisse's braised red cabbage, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Also, for anyone looking specifically for Whole30-compliant recipes, this cabbage fits the bill, as do my pork recipes and the garam masala chicken wing recipe.

Friday, January 10, 2014

pumpkin chili

We started a Whole30 on January 8th at Casa De Ealachan - our first ever, in fact! We have been eating mostly Primal (basically, Paleo with dairy) for a few years now...minus vacations and a few, errrm...extended trips off the wagon, shall we say. The holidays this year were one such extended trip off the wagon for us. We pretty much went back to the Standard American Diet from Thanksgiving right through Christmas. My birthday is right after New Years, so I wanted to give us some leeway in terms of being able to celebrate that as well (read: I wanted my damned birthday cake!). Therefore, we decided that January 8th would be a better time to start our Whole30 expedition, and so far it's been good.

While planning menus and grocery lists ahead for my first week of W30-compliant cooking, I looked through a boatload of recipes to get some inspiration. One recipe I found that looked really interesting was one for chili with pumpkin in it, done in the crock pot. I'm all about tossing stuff in the crock pot to cook while we're at work, and I had a can of pumpkin left over from the holidays to use up, so I figured I'd give it a try. The only reservation I had was that the recipe called for the ground beef to be added to the crock pot raw...meaning you can't drain out the fat that renders from it. That seemed like an invitation to an epic grease-fest to me, and I ended up deciding to do the chili on the stove top rather than in the crock pot. I also used the leanest ground beef I could find (which at the time was 90/10), and in the end I didn't have to actually drain it anyway...huzzah!

Here are my recipe and notes. You'll notice the distinct lack of picture, and I apologize for that. We were so hungry and the chili smelled so good that the camera didn't even enter my mind at the time. Plus, chili doesn't exactly have a ton of visual appeal...so there's that.

This recipe is Whole30 compliant the way that I made it. Do your own due diligence - check labels for added sugar, MSG, sulfites and other nasties.

Pumpkin Chili
makes 6-8 servings
2lbs ground meat - I used 90/10 ground beef
2 x 14.5 oz cans fire-roasted tomatoes with juices
2 x 14.5oz cans plain organic pumpkin (don't get pie filling! Bad!)
1 large onion, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic (or to taste), chopped
1 sm. can roasted green chiles
1/2 cup water, stock (or beer, if you're not worried about W30 compliance)
1/4 to 1/2 cup strong coffee (optional, and to taste - I actually used about a tsp of instant decaff coffee granules because it's what I had on hand and it worked just fine)
1 tbsp bacon fat (you can use another fat but bacon fat will lend a bit of smoky flavor)
Spice blend (all subject to taste - measurements are approximate anyway):
1 rounded tbsp chili powder
1 rounded tbsp ground cumin
1 rounded tbsp cocoa
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground coriander seed
1/2 tsp oregano

Note: I used a very lean ground beef so I didn't bother draining any fat that rendered. If you are using something with higher fat content, you may want to brown the meat separately, drain the fat, then add it to the pot before you proceed with the recipe. Also, the reason I cook the onions and spices in the fat first rather than just adding the spices to the meat is because the heat and fat help the spices to bloom and cook out a little bit - it just gives better depth of flavor more quickly. If you're planning to simmer your chili for hours (or if you can't be arsed to follow directions, slacker!), feel free to just chuck everything in the pot together.

1. In a large pot over medium heat, sautee chopped onion and garlic in bacon fat until somewhat softened, about 3 minutes.
2. Add spice mixture to pot, stir well, let cook until fragrant, 1 minute or so.
3. Add ground beef to pot, stir well to combine, and cook (stirring frequently) until beef is browned. It doesn't have to be cooked completely through at this point because the chili is going to simmer for a while anyway. You want to brown the beef without burning the onions / garlic, so don't leave this unattended for too long.
4. Add rest of ingredients - chiles, liquid, tomatoes, and pumpkin. Mix well to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes to 1 hour (or more, depending on how much time you have).
5. Top with your favorite chili fixings and serve. We like chopped avocado, and if you're not worried about dairy then a little shredded jack or cheddar cheese would make this super fine indeed!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

the squash chronicles: curry

Sometimes I throw random vegetables into my curry, just to see how it tastes. I've yet to do this and end up with something I didn't want to eat, which is a plus...but sometimes I hit on a combination that's not just edible but actually really tasty. This was one of those instances.

I had a bunch of kabocha squash hanging around that I needed to use up. It was all cleaned and sliced, but I only got around to roasting half of it last week, so I decided to chop it up and chuck it into my chicken curry. It makes sense, really - I often roast kabocha with all the same spices that are in my garam masala anyway.

This was the result:

chicken coconut milk curry with squash
I used half a can of coconut milk in the sauce so the color turned out a little less than spectacular, but the smell was divine and the end product was very yummy. And yes, we do in fact eat bowls of curry like stew around here! Every once in a great while we eat rice with it, but for the most part we choose not to have the extra starch.

Also, for anyone curious about whether this recipe is Paleo-compliant, the answer is yes! Ingredients were as follows: ghee, onion, garam masala, garlic, chicken breast, kabocha squash, tomatoes, coconut milk and a little water. This curry is full of healthy fats, protein, fiber and potassium!

 UPDATE 11/14/2013

I have been asked for an "actual recipe" for this - you guys and your wanting me to measure things and keep track of cooking times, sheesh!

Chicken Coconut Milk Curry with Squash
serves 4-6 in a stew-like application. Can easily be stretched for more servings if you eat it over rice.

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups chopped kabocha (aka: buttercup) squash - NOTE: you could easily sub butternut or acorn here - if you use butternut, make sure you peel it. Acorn and kabocha don't need to be peeled
1 28-oz can of organic diced tomatoes, undrained
2 tbsp ghee or coconut oil
2 tbsp garam masala
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup water

1. Heat the ghee or coconut oil over medium-high and add chopped onion. Cook onion until golden with some dark spots / edges (you don't want it straight-up burnt, but a little charring is good).

2. Add garam masala to onion / fat mixture and stir. Let this cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds - 1 minute.

3. Add diced tomatoes WITH their juice, chicken, squash, coconut milk and water, stir well to combine.

4. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered about 15 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and squash is tender, then serve.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

chicken thighs with tomato olive tapenade

Last week when chicken thighs were on sale, I bought a whole bunch and froze some. This week when I was menu-planning, I was trying to think of something quick and yummy to do with the chicken thighs and decided I'd try them with the tapenade that I usually make for fish. If it works for fish it ought to work for chicken, right?


It actually worked really well. The greens are braised collards, and the tapenade is my standard shallots / grape tomatoes / capers / kalamata olives / splash of balsamic vinegar mixture. For the chicken thighs, I wanted to try something different so I seasoned them with sea salt and then put them skin-side down in a pan with a little olive oil and let them sear for about 5 minutes until they were golden brown. I flipped the thighs over and gave them another 5 minutes or so in the pan, then put the whole pan (oven safe handle, yay!) into a 375 degree oven for another 20-ish minutes. When the thighs were done, I just added them to the beds of collards and spooned some tapenade over the top.

Easy, relatively quick, and delicious!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

meatloaf porn

Husband's birthday is Tuesday and I told him that I would either take him out for dinner, or make him a meal of his choosing. He decided that rather than go out, he'd like meatloaf. Since meatloaf is fairly labor-intensive, he was amenable to the idea of having his birthday dinner a few nights early. Thus, this is technically husband-birthday-meatloaf-porn.

I've now said "porn" twice. I'll just sit back and watch the hits roll in...


Anyway - this meatloaf is my standard "green meatloaf" recipe - I don't put breadcrumbs in it, but instead use minced mushrooms and spinach for fillers. Sounds weird and like it wouldn't work, but I've yet to have a meatloaf fail to hold together since switching to this method. What you want to do is saute the minced mushrooms for just a few minutes to get them to release their liquid, and squeeze the excess moisture out of the spinach (I use frozen chopped spinach - I just defrost it and squeeze the bejeezus out of it before adding it to my mix). A couple eggs, some salt and pepper, grated onion, garlic and carrot, a little dry mustard, a 50/50 mix of ground beef and ground pork, and all it needs is some serious squishing together and a nice bacon jacket.

Yes, bacon jacket. Come on, if you could wrap yourself in bacon you know you would.

Bacon jackets for all!
That is also real-deal mashed white potato, for the record. Birthdays call for indulging in a little extra starch, at least around here.