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.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

lemon parsley pork chops

Pretty much what it says on the tin.

Quick and easy week-night supper - it took me longer to prep the Brussels sprouts than it took to prep and cook the pork chops! The chops were seasoned with salt and pepper, then seared in a pan with a little bacon fat. After a couple minutes cooking on each side, I added some water and covered the pan, letting the chops cook for about 8 more minutes. The topping is a combination of minced lemon zest, parsley, chopped garlic, kosher salt and black pepper. I spooned a little bit of the pan juices from the pork chops over the whole kit and caboodle right before we ate. Yum!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

ginger-soy glazed chicken wings

The NFL is the center of our world on Sundays. Whether it's watching the Patriots play, obsessively checking our record in the picks pool, or flipping between games to cheer on our fantasy football teams (I have one, my husband has...a lot more), it's all football all the time.

Often times, I'll make a roast on Sunday because it generally takes very little attention (more time to devote to football!), and it's also good to have leftover meat hanging around for lunches or dinners. This week I wasn't really feeling the roast love though. I wanted something football-y, for lack of a better term - some kind of finger food that was fun and different. Typical football fare around these parts includes chicken wings, pizza, nachos and chili. Pizza and nachos were out (we don't need the grains), and since I'd already had a dose of chili at brunch with a friend, chicken wings were sounding like just the ticket.

Lo and behold, when I got to the grocery store they had fresh chicken wings on sale! Jackpot! I picked up a dozen and then spent some time obsessing over teriyaki sauces. They were all full of sugar, or worse, HFCS. Do not want! I know traditional teriyaki is supposed to have pineapple juice in it, but again...way too sweet, at least for me. I decided screw it - teriyaki minus the sweetness is just basically a combination of soy and ginger. I'd subscribe to my own personal motto of "how bad can it go?" and just wing it with a soy ginger marinade from scratch.

For the marinade, I used:

1 tsp dark sesame oil
1/4 cup tamari (wheat-free soy sauce)
1.5 tsp fresh grated ginger
1.5 tsp fresh grated garlic
1 tbsp white wine (I used some chardonnay I had lingering in the fridge - dry sherry would be really good here, too)
2 tsp dark brown sugar
3 scallions, green and white parts both, chopped

I whisked it all together and threw the chicken wings in to marinate for about 20 minutes. Yes, yes, I hear you screaming about how there's added sugar, but a) it's a SHITLOAD less sugar per serving than in all the bottled sauces I looked at, b) it's real sugar, not HFCS pseudo-sugar, and c) the sauce needed a little bit of sugar to cook down to a glaze-y consistency. Besides, I never said I wanted totally un-sweet wings - I said I didn't want gratuitous amounts of sugar or a sickly-sweet end product.


The wings soaked for about 20 minutes, then I put them on a rack on a cookie sheet in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes. When the 20 minutes was up, I turned the cookie sheet around to ensure even cooking and set the timer for another 15 minutes. I also took the leftover marinade and brought it to a boil for a few minutes, letting it reduce down to about 1/3 its original volume. This glaze then got spooned over the wings as they baked for their last ten minutes. I steamed some broccoli to go with, and when the wings were done it was time to eat!

Wings and football!
I was really pleased with how these turned out. I could have easily let them marinate for longer, and I think that starting them off in a hotter oven to crisp the skin up more would have been a plus, but the important part was that these had great flavor without the sickly sweetness of bottled teriyaki. A+, would nom again!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

curry burgers

I love burgers. Burgers with bacon and avocado, burgers with blue cheese and mushrooms, teriyaki burgers, pot-sticker burgers, taco name it, I will happily try to burger-ize it. So when I was making my shopping list this week and the idea of curry burgers struck me, it was on like Donkey Kong!

For these prototype curry burgers, I just added a tablespoon of garam masala, half a grated onion, some garlic powder and some salt to a pound of ground beef. I mixed it well with my hands and formed it into patties, then cooked them off in a hot pan. I served them with roasted cauliflower and a salad, thus:

I love radishes, by the way.

While the method of "grate onion, mix with meat and spices" produced a burger that was perfectly enjoyable, it wasn't quite as curry-tastic as I was looking for. Part of making a great curry is getting good color on your onions, because it gives a really nice depth of flavor. Another part of great curry is letting the spices toast in the fat with the onions briefly before adding the meat and coconut milk - that releases the essential oils and really opens up the spice flavors. The way I made these burgers threw both those elements out the window, and the dish suffered for it. Next time, I'm going to take the little extra time to brown the onion and toast the spices, THEN add them to the burger meat. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

the squash chronicles: Acorn

I've been on kind of a squash kick lately, partially because it's in season right now and partially because every time I come up with a better way of cooking / flavoring it than just the old stand-by "bake and then mash with sweet spices and butter", it makes me happy. To that end, today I decided to try something I HATED as a kid - acorn squash. There was just something about the texture of mashed acorn squash and the strange shade of tan it always ended up. Blech.

What I wanted was a way to make acorn squash likable again. I decided to try roasting it and see how it turned out. The results were quite tasty, and I think the texture would have been better had I roasted it on a larger pan so I had less overlap (less overlap means more squash touching the pan and getting all roasty-toasty. That's a legit technical term, BTW. Look it up). Acorn squash is super bland on its own - it doesn't even really have much inherent sweetness, at least not compared to something like butternut or kabocha. I jazzed it up with a little fresh rosemary and some shallots and the caramelizing there-of brought out some really nice nutty flavors.

I can safely say that I did NOT hate this acorn squash, and I'm looking forward to eating the leftovers tomorrow.

Squash! Not mashed!

The kale was quick-braised by rendering some chopped bacon in a pan, then pouring off all but about half a tablespoon of the fat, adding the chopped kale and about a quarter cup of chicken stock. I turned the heat to low, covered the pan tightly and let it cook for about 10 minutes, stirring a couple times in the middle. Crispy bacon was sprinkled over top at the very end so it wouldn't get soggy.

The pork was on sale last week at the grocery store and I got sucked in because it was a deal. I should have known better. It's a loin. See that ridge of fat across the top of the slices? That's all the fat there is on the entire roast. Some people may be into super-lean meat, but I am not one of those people. I'm pretty sure the only reason this didn't turn into a 5lb log of shoe leather is because a) it was one of the vacuum-packed ones from Smithfield and I think they inject salt solution into the meat as well as packing it in a kind of weak brine solution, and b) I cooked the meat at quite a low temperature (325 degrees). It wasn't terrible in the end - like I said, it stayed quite moist, and the dusting of thyme, garlic powder, salt and pepper I gave it before roasting gave it decent flavor. I wish I had thought to marinate it for a while, though. Loin is just so bland. Oh, well. A cheap chunk of protein for lunches for the week isn't a bad thing!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

bacon-wrapped chicken thighs

I was flipping through "Practical Paleo" the other day, looking for inspiration for this week's menu, when I came across her recipe for bacon-wrapped chicken thighs. I say involves wrapping chicken thighs in bacon and, uhhh...baking them. Not exactly complicated, which is fine by me. I cooked the thighs at 375 for about 35 minutes - they stayed juicy, but the bacon didn't crisp up how I wanted so I ended up blasting them at 475 for about 10 more minutes as well. It's times like this I wish I had a broiler! The bacon was still tasty though, don't get me wrong.

Wrap me in bacon and call me hungry.
That's actually kabocha squash there in the back. Normally I roast it in slices, but I wanted to try cooking it whole this time and mashing it, just to see if it would work. When it first came out of the oven, I was a little worried that I had created a disaster since the squash was quite dry and powdery, but the addition of a couple tablespoons of butter smoothed it right out. I had dusted the squash halves with garam masala before cooking so the resulting mash was not only nutty and slightly sweet but also had a nice spice to it.

The salad is just spring mix and halved grape tomatoes tossed with a simple vinaigrette of extra virgin olive oil, a little balsamic vinegar and about a teaspoon of stone-ground mustard.

Monday, October 7, 2013


Sometimes you just need a brownie. Or three. Yesterday was a must-have-brownie day for me. Rather than indulge my craving with a crappy store-bought brownie full of gluten and high fructose corn syrup and who knows what else, I picked up a box of King Arthur Flour's gluten-free brownie mix. I had been meaning to give the mix a try and maybe write up a review on it, so this seemed the perfect excuse. Plus, brownies!

The King Arthur mix is super easy to make - all you need are two eggs, two tablespoons of water and half a cup of melted butter or oil. I followed the directions to a T, except I added one very important step: when it came time to spread the batter in the greased baking pan, I only spread half the batter in, then topped the batter with spoonfuls of organic chunky-style peanut butter. I smoothed the peanut butter out a little bit but not enough to mix it into the brownie batter, then I spooned the remaining batter over the top and smoothed that out gently as well. After about 38 minutes of baking and another hour of not-so-patient waiting for the brownies to cool, I was rewarded with these babies:

Get into mah mouf, brownies!
They. Were so. Freaking. Good. They came out dense and fudge-y, and the edges...oh god, the edges. I am a huge fan of the corners and edge pieces of brownies because I love that chewy, slightly crisp quality that they get. This mix made brownies with seriously THE BEST corner pieces I've ever had - so chewy without being hard or crusty at all. Utterly delicious.

In addition to being gluten-free and incredibly easy to mix up, the King Arthur Flour mix doesn't contain any crazy ingredients. It's just sugar, their specialty flour mix (which is a mixture of rice flour and tapioca starch), cocoa, baking powder, vanilla and salt. That's it. I can't tell you how much I appreciate that. In this day and age of fat-free, sugar-free chemical shit-storms of fake food, it's SO nice to turn a box over and see a really short and straight-forward, all-natural ingredient list.

The mix retails for $6.95 on the King Arthur Flour website, and I call that an excellent value. I certainly couldn't concoct my own gluten-free brownies from ingredients at home for $6.95, and I doubt you could find a bakery that would sell you a dozen gluten-free brownies of comparable quality for that cheap, either.

So, as you could likely tell from the post title alone, I will definitely be buying this mix again. I want to try a batch with almond butter filling instead of peanut butter, and maybe one with some kind of minty filling for my mint-obsessed husband. The possibilities are endless!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

sunday roast: beef chuck NOT used as pot roast?!

I don't really like pot roast. There, I said it. I think pot roast is boring. I mean, it's ok once in a while, but pot roast is just not one of those things that I get a hankering for on the regular. Thus, when chuck roast inevitably go on sale at the grocery store about once a month, I spend a bunch of time trying to figure out what kind of non-pot-roast things I can do with it. Beef stew is an obvious choice, I've got a very good Texas-style chili recipe that uses chunks of chuck, and I've had great success with making beef enchiladas out of chuck.

Those three recipes all have one thing in common with pot roast: they cut the meat into chunks and braise it in liquid for ages. The General Internets would have you believe that braising is the ONLY good way to cook chuck, that if you try to roast it you'll just end up with a chunk of terrible grey shoe leather.

I am here to tell you that, in regards to chuck, the General Internets is wrong. You can dry-roast a piece of chuck in the oven and end up with delicious, rare slices of meaty awesomeness like this:

Gravy makes everything better.
There are a couple of tricks to this, though. First, you need to cook the beef "slow and low" - that's at a low temperature for a long time. The roast I did was about 3 lbs - I started it in a 450 degree oven for 10 minutes, then turned the temperature all the way down to 200 to cook for the next two hours. You could even turn the oven lower and let it cook longer, but my oven only goes down to 200 so I had to make due.

Second, flipping the roast halfway through will help make sure it gets cooked evenly. See how the bottom edge of my slices are just starting to turn a little grey? That's because I didn't flip the meat over after the initial 450 degree blast. That side of the roast got more heat for longer and started to over-cook a little bit. Probably if I hadn't been so lazy and I had seared the roast off in a frying pan first, I could have just put it directly into the low-temp oven and avoided the problem completely. I still would have needed to flip the roast halfway through, though.

Third, slicing thinly does wonders, especially if you can slice across the grain. Chuck tends to be hard to cut across the grain because it's a large, developed muscle. The muscle fibers run in several different directions depending on what part the roast is cut from. If your roast is shaped such that you CAN cut across the grain, it will make the end result that much more tender.

Lasty, gravy improves all things. For the gravy, I moved the roast to a plate and used a little beef stock to deglaze the cookie sheet I had baked the roast on. When all the brown goodness was scraped up, I added the accumulated juices from the plate where the roast was resting, dumped it all into a small sauce-pan, added some coarse-ground black pepper and let it reduce on low for about 15 minutes.

The result of all this yielded slices of meat that were fork-tender, succulent, and full of the big beefy flavor that chuck is known for. So, next time you find yourself with a big piece of chuck, a lot of time on your hands and want to branch out from the run-of-the-mill braise, give roasting a try instead!

Friday, October 4, 2013

fish friday - pan-fried haddock with broccoli raab and grape tomatoes

Fish Friday in our house was born when my husband and I decided we wanted to eat more fish, and I noticed that our grocery store seemed to have the best selection of seafood on Fridays. I'm a genius, I know. It's not like Catholics have already been eating fish on Fridays for centuries or anything. Ahem.


This week, the best-looking fish at the store was haddock. I like to crust haddock or cod with seasoned almond flour (I use kosher salt, ground black pepper and a  little bit of paprika), and do a quick pan-fry on it. It takes just a couple minutes per fillet and the almond flour crisps up really nicely. I dip the fillets in a little beaten egg before dredging them, which helps keep the coating on as the fish cooks.

Pan-fried haddock. Mmm, crispy!

For a side dish, I sauteed some broccoli raab in a little bit of bacon fat and olive oil, then added a couple handfuls of grape tomatoes near the end of cooking. I always forget JUST how bitter broccoli raab is until I take the first bite, but the sweetness of the tomatoes did a good job of cutting the bitterness of the greens.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

morrocan hot plate

One of my favorite Paleo cookbooks is Well Fed by Melissa Joulwan. Along with lots of great stand-alone recipes, it also has a section on cooking things ahead and a system for sort of throwing together things quickly when you don't have tons of time to cook. Tonight's dinner was using one of those ideas, although I have to say that I didn't do any of the prep work ahead like the cookbook's author suggests, so this wasn't exactly a ten-minute dinner endeavor. All the same, it was tasty, filling and healthy.


The "Moroccan" part of this comes from the spice mixture on the chicken (called Ras El Hanout - a mixture of cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, salt, pepper and paprika), and the sauce  which is an olive oil and lemon juice based dressing with spices and loads of parsley and cilantro. It's kind of like an Eastern version of chimmichurri. It was especially good soaked into the cauliflower "rice".

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

oh hey, I made some chicken, did you want to see it?

Sorry I've been gone for almost a YEAR. Sheesh. My camera went to hell a while back and I didn't see much point in blogging about food that I couldn't show you, so...yeah. Hubs got me a new camera for our anniversary though, so I'm back in business...and business is TASTY! 

I found this recipe for "spicy crusted chicken" in an old Indian cookbook I picked up at the Five Colleges booksale last spring. The whole book seemed to be basically variations on a theme: brown some onions! Add these five or six spices! Add some meat! Serve with rice and or bread! Which, don't get me wrong - I love me some curry (and some rice), but a) I already know how to make curry and b) I try not to eat too much rice. This recipe caught my eye, though. It looked almost like Indian spiced Shake-n-Bake in the picture. The coating looked crunchy, and the ingredient list was totally Paleo-friendly aside from the yogurt it called for. And honestly, if I'm going to make concessions, yogurt is a very fair thing to make them for.

First thing the recipe has you do is brown an onion in 2/3 cup of oil. That's...a lot of oil. Especially for just one onion. Then you toast some ground almonds and unsweetened coconut in a hot pan. That made the most epic and mouth-watering smell imaginable! Then you take some yogurt and add garam masala and some salt to it, add the toasted almond and coconut, add the sauteed onions and give a good mix.

Now - I did something fairly wrong here. I used a good stiff Greek yogurt (Fage 2%) because that's what I had in stock...but I think I would have better results with a non-strained yogurt. My spice crust mixture basically came out the consistency of Play-Doh. The recipe was all "pour this fragrant mixture of loveliness over the skinned chicken!" and I was like "Ain't no pouring this, Sandeep."  I schmeared the stuff onto the chicken instead. I molded it. I...may have made a couple into vaguely X-rated shapes. Anyway - I got it all on eventually and baked the chicken in a 325 degree oven for about 35 minutes. The chicken was cooked through but not crispy at all at that point, so I cranked the oven up to 475 and let it sizzle for 10 more minutes. The topping was starting to get a little crispy at that point, but I think it was just too thick and wet to really get crunchy. It still tasted REALLY good, though.

Next time i clearly need to use a thinner yogurt. Also, I'm going to marinate the chicken in the yogurt and spice mixture for a while, then roll it in the toasted coconut / almond mixture right before cooking. I think that will not only infuse the chicken with more spice flavor, but will also make the coating more crunchy. Definitely going to cut waaaaay down on the oil I cook the onion in because that was just silly. I might even skip the oil and just cook it in ghee to add another layer of flavor. Finally, I think I'll add more garam masala than the 1.5 tsp the recipe called for, because it just wasn't aggressive enough for my tastes. It was kind of like "indian" instead of "INDIAN!!", if you see what I mean.

Even with all the clunky parts and mistakes, it was still really damn tasty, though.

Tastes like chicken!