Sunday, November 30, 2014

pork magic

Pork is my favorite meat. Shocker, I know. There's just something about pork, though. Something delicious. I could never be a vegetarian, because pork. Any other type of meat, I could easily do without - but take my pork away and I would be a sad panda indeed.

Last weekend I did a bone-in pork rib roast slow and low, and it turned out fantastic. I didn't take any pictures of it because I wasn't in a blogging mood (doing some work getting my brain-meats sorted out lately, hence the absence), but it was good enough that I was quite happy with the idea of a repeat performance today. When I found a blade-portion roast all ready to go AND on sale at the meat counter during my shopping trip, I did a little happy dance.

 I was thinking about doing some sort of cumin-crusted application with the pork, but one of the things I managed to forget whilst shopping was, in fact, cumin. Standing in front of my spice rack, I was starting to scheme about another rub to do when it hit me - I had a tub of ras el hanout, which is cumin-based, still sitting on the shelf from a previous spice-mixing venture. Hooray! I gave the roast a good rub of the spice mix, plus a little extra sprinkle of kosher salt, then popped it into a 250 degree oven. I checked the temperature after an hour, and down by the bone it was registering 90 degrees. Definitely not done, but that was to be expected. I bumped the oven up to 275 and left it for another 45 minutes. When I came back to check it again, it was reading at 140 by the bone. I pulled the roasted, tented it with foil, then let it rest for about 35 minutes while I roasted off the veg for my side.

When I went to carve the roast, I knew I was on to a winner. It was ridiculously tender, and the little rind of fat on top of the roast had crisped up beautifully. The rich, spicy, orange-y smell of the ras el hanout combined with pork fat was fabulous. Such a good combination!

Mmm, roasty.

The veggies on the side are a combination of roasted parsnips, Brussels sprouts, shallots, and a few carrots I had hanging around that I wanted to use up. The Brussels sprouts, for the record, were ENORMOUS. The largest one was almost as big as a lightbulb, and they were all bigger than an extra large egg. I was a little worried that they'd be bitter, but they weren't at all, which was a relief. I roasted the veg very simply - I just tossed them with salt, pepper and olive oil and spread them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (makes a big difference in terms of things not sticking). They went into a 425 degree oven for 30 minutes, then I stirred them a little and put them back in for another five minutes or so just to brown a little more. If you've never had parsnips, this is the way to try them, seriously. I grew up in a non-parsnip household because my mom hates them, but I've grown quite fond of them since my husband talked me into cooking some for him a few years back. Roasted parsnips have a sweetness to them - their astringency melts away and they end up mellow, almost fruity tasting. The more brown, crisp and caramelized they get, the more delicious they are.

For anyone playing along at home, this dish is not only completely gluten-free, but also Paleo- and Whole30 compliant. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

fridge-emptying Paleo breakfast bake

I am not a morning person. That's not to say that I don't LIKE mornings, because they're actually my favorite time of day - but I do not like being expected to function in any sort of productive manner before about 10am. Trying to feed myself and my husband a decent breakfast tends to be at odds with my desire to maintain a sloth-like morning agenda.

Most mornings lately, I've been having a pumpkin smoothie for breakfast because a) it's fast and b) it fills me up. There's also some nutrition in there somewhere I'm sure - but the simple fact is, dumping things in the food processor doesn't take a whole lot of mental fortitude. That's key in the blurry pre-10am hours around here, trust me.

However, this coming week we're going to be traveling, which means two things (well, more than two, but for the purpose of this blog post, I'm saying two) :

 1. I need to use up some leftover food in the fridge, and

 2. I want to create as few dirty dishes as possible, because the less dishes I have to wash the night before going on holiday, the better.

To be fair, the less dishes I have to wash EVER, the better...but you know what I mean, I'm sure.

This breakfast bake checks both those boxes. Not only did it use up all the leftover bits in my fridge, but since I did the washing up directly after making it, it becomes very un-dish-intensive. Also, it gets bonus points for me not having to do anything TO it in the morning except put it on a plate and warm it up. BREAKFAST LAZINESS GOLD MEDAL! Literally the only thing lazier would be, like, cracking raw eggs into my mouth,

So, what I had hanging around was:

half a red bell pepper
half an onion
half a box of mushrooms
about 3/4 of a pound of pork sausage
nine eggs
one large Russet potato

Aside from the chopping involved, this could not be easier. I browned the sausage, then scooped it out to drain on paper towels while I sauteed the chopped veg in a little bit of the leftover fat. I washed the potato, poked it with a fork a few times, then stuck it in the microwave for about nine minutes. While the veg was getting soft in the pan, I cracked the eggs into a bowl and whisked them up. When the veg was read, I scooped it and the sausage into my baking dish (which I had swiped with olive oil just to ensure things wouldn't stick). When the potato was almost done, not quite cooked through, I pulled it out of the nuker, chopped it up (HOT POTATO, be careful, learn from my mistakes), tossed it with a little kosher salt and then threw it into the frying pan with the rest of the leftover pork fat. I cranked the heat up and let the potato get kind of brown and crispy in the pan, then scooped that into my veg and sausage mix. The egg got dumped over the top, dish got a little shake, then it went into a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

Ta Dahs:

It's like a craggy landscape of nom.

As long as you use a sausage that doesn't have added sugar, gluten or processed weirdness, this is a Paleo- and Whole30-compliant dish. If you don't like sausage, you could use bacon, ham, ground bison, really whatever floats your canoe. There's also no saying that you have to eat it for breakfast - you could stick some in your facehole when ever...I don't judge.

Friday, September 26, 2014

brussels sprout curry, aka: colon-blow curry

Truth time. I had a pumpkin smoothie for breakfast, rather a large amount of broccoli at lunch, and then washed this curry down with a glass and a half of porter. I predict things are going to start getting musical (and fragrant) around here in about, hmmm...let's say four hours or so. The effect will of course be doubled because the Ginger Beast had the same dinner as me (and is generally far more prone to flatulence in general). So basically what I'm saying is, you're probably not going to want to visit any time in the next 8-12 hours. You have been warned.


This curry was very much an on-the-fly thing. We had company coming for dinner and all I had for protein was a package of defrosted meatloaf mix (ground beef, pork and veal combination). Trying to come up with what to do with that, a box of shredded Brussels sprouts and a can of fire-roasted tomatoes (I love you, Muir Glen!)  made for an entertaining ride home, but then it occurred to me that curry could in fact be the answer to my problems. Well, some of them...possibly the root of others, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Mmm. Fiber.
Basically, this is just a standard mince curry with a few cups of shredded Brussels sprouts added when I added the tomatoes. I also used a can of coconut milk, but I only used the solidified cream from the top of the can, not the watery part. And yes, that's a little bit of rice at the bottom of the bowl there. This is the first rice I've had in...I can't even remember how long. Many months. It was just there for filler because I was feeding a non-Paleo-eating person who is accustomed to a starch with dinner. My portion size was about 1/4 cup of the rice with about a cup and a half of the curry over top.

Minus the rice, this is Paleo compliant. The glass and a half of porter I drank with it , of course, are not. Is not? NOT. Beer am good. I wonder if there's any left...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

guacamole all the things

Sometimes the rest of your dinner has nothing to do with guacamole, but you just have to say fuck it, and make the guacamole, because it's delicious.

This was that dinner.

Look at that guacamole, hiding in the background. Sneaky.

Pretty simple - seared chuck steak, sweet potato mash, sauteed baby kale with mushrooms, and the aforementioned random guacamole.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How Bad Can It Go? Emergen-C

I've decided I'm going to try doing a series of food / drink experiments. I'm calling it "How Bad Can It Go" because I like to tempt fate, and because it's kind of my default mode of operation. Because I decided to do this while I was at work, and being of a very impatient constitution, I had to find something immediately accessible to use as my first experiment. That something ended up being a packet of Emergen-C that came into my possession as part of a "care package" that one of our vendors sent us all in preparation for our busy season. Yes, they send us some random stuff. I don't ask, I just squirrel the random stuff away for occasions like this.


So, if you're not familiar with the Emergen-C product, you can Google it, but the basic gist is that it's a powder loaded with vitamins and other good shit. It comes in a cute little .3 oz packet that you're meant to rip open, dump into 4-6oz of water, let fizz for a minute or so (the fizzing is a big selling point to me, not gonna lie), then imbibe and thus refresh your body with wonderful goodness. Or something. The packet does say that it's a dietary supplement, and it does point out that it contains "24 Nutrients with 7 B Vitamins, Antioxidants and Electrolytes", but it does not actually claim anything else, like "gives you energy", or "makes your hair curl", or "cures the common cold". Because it doesn't actually claim to DO...anything...(well, aside from fizz!), it doesn't really open itself up to a whole lot of criticism on the "does this shit really work" side of things...which is by design, I'm sure.

Since there's no way to judge the product on efficacy (because who really knows if that rush of 1000mg of vitamin C actually did anything for me or not. My vitamin C meter feels..fuller, maybe?), that leaves me with only taste to judge.

Funnily enough this, I feel, is where Emergen-C has some issues.

My packet was the "Super Orange" flavor. The ingredients include "natural orange flavor" and "orange juice powder", so I was certainly expecting something orange-y. Pouring the powder out into my cup, I got a weak waft of a Tang-like fragrance. I added about 6oz of water, and to my delight, the mixture started to fizz immediately! I love fizz. Unfortunately, the fizzing stopped after about two seconds. Bummer. I also noticed that while the powder was dissolving, the color of the drink changed from palest orange to, again, a very Tang-like bright unnatural orange. The color seemed to be encapsulated in bigger particles in the otherwise super-fine powder, because they kept floating to the top and kind of popping / disbursing. It was all marginally interesting to watch (more interesting than the accounting I should have been doing, anyway).

Once the powder had dissolved, I gave the drink a sniff. It still smelled like weak Tang. Which...if you drank Tang as a child, you understand the utter depressing nature of weak-assed Tang. It's just...ugh. So much promise, and so little delivery.

Anyway - so finally I screwed up the tits to taste the drink. It tasted like an unholy mixture of heavily watered down orange Gatorade and citric acid (which, surprise, was the second ingredient on the list - and if you've never tasted straight citric acid, it tastes like the coating on Sour Patch Kids or other super-sour candies. It's like, punch-you-in-the-jaw sour), with a strong background chalkiness akin to Alka Selzter (so possibly the fizzing agent is to blame?). It was unpleasant, certainly...but not unbearable. I could envision knocking a cup of it back if I for some reason felt desperately deficient of vitamin C or B vitamins, or more likely if I was the type who really got a lot out of the placebo effect.

As an aside, there was far less fizziness to the drink than I was hoping there would be, which was a disappointment. Somehow, despite the lack of fizziness, the drink has been causing me to have intermittent Tang-scented burps for the last 20 minutes. Go figure.

So, there you go. Thus concludes my first "How Bad Can It Go" experiment. If there's anything you'd like to see me try out and rant about, feel free to leave a comment here or on the OneGirlCooks Facebook page. I will consider all suggestions (within reason. I am not eating poop. Or brains. Or bugs, OMG).

Sunday, September 7, 2014

pumpkin spice smoothie

It's that time of year again - PUMPKIN SPICE ALL THE THINGS!

I, for one, welcome our new pumpkin spice overlords not only because their arrival is a harbinger of my favorite season, but because pumpkin stuff is just plain GOOD. Plus, it can be good for you, too - pumpkin is packed with vitamin A, potassium and fiber, hooray!

There was a can of pumpkin on my shelf left over from something else I'd been making back before the weather got insane this summer, and it was right in my line of sight every morning as I was making my coffee and my normal berry-banana smoothie. Because I am incapable of actual full-blown coherent thoughts before coffee, my thought process always went something like, "Mmmm...pumpkin. Piiiiie. Pie good. Pie too cook, very hot, much sugar. Mmmm...pumpkin."

Eventually, the idea of doing something besides making a pie with the can of pumpkin trickled down into my brain meats and started showing up AFTER coffee, which is when things become actionable in my world. I had been turning the idea over in my head for a few days when, this morning, dun dun DUNNNNNN...I realized I was out of bananas for my normal smoothie. This could not stand, and I wasn't about to put pants on to go buy more bananas, so an alternative smoothie had to be created. Enter pumpkin, stage left.

I didn't take a picture of the smoothie for you looky-loos, but just imagine liquid pumpkin pie filling in a Barking Squirrel pint glass, and you're there.

This recipe makes a BIG smoothie (see: pint glass reference above), but I like big smoothies since that's usually the entirety of my breakfast. If you want less smoothie, half the recipe - or put half in the freezer, maybe?

Pumpkin Spice Smoothie

3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup milk
1 scoop protein powder (mine is non-sugar sweetened. If you're using totally unsweetened powder, you might want to add a little maple syrup to the mix to sweeten it up)
spices to taste - I used a combination of ginger, clove, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Blend everything together in a blender or food processor, dump into a glass and enjoy!

Because of the dairy, this is obviously not strict Paleo- or Whole30-compliant. I personally have done dairy-exclusion periods in the past and found that I have no problems with digesting it when I reintroduce it, so I no longer exclude it from my diet. If you can't have / aren't eating dairy, you could easily use almond milk or coconut milk in this recipe instead. Coconut milk tends to run sweeter though, so you may want to start with about half a cup and taste to make sure you're not ending up with something really cloying. Unless cloying is your thing of course...then have at it.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

lazy broccoli salad

I really like broccoli salad. You know, the kind with bacon and cranberries or raisins and nuts and bacon. Mmm, bacon.


Oh, yeah. Salad.

So, broccoli salad is kind of a pain in the ass to make. There's a lot of chopping involved - more chopping than I want to do on most nights after work, frankly. I decided to try using a bag of shredded broccoli slaw instead, and it worked very well. Plus it took about a tenth as long to prepare.

The rest of the plate is pretty self-explanatory - leftover chicken thighs and sliced tomato. Ta-da! Quick, lazy Whole30 compliant dinner (if you use olive oil mayo and make sure your dried cranberries don't have any added sugar, anyway).

Monday, September 1, 2014

fancy fish bags

Hehehehe. Fish bags. It's fun to say, try it! Fish bags, fish bags, fish bags. I'm not high, I swear to you.


Whilst grocery shopping yesterday, I spied with my little green eye some parchment bags made for steaming shit in the oven. Well, not shit, but you know. I was immediately entranced with the pretty picture of perfectly cooked fish and veg on the box, and I had to have them. HAD TO. I am weak. It is known, khaleesi.

I've done "en papillote" fish preparations before and enjoyed them - all except the part where you have to fight with the parchment paper to stay crimped, while evil Alton Brown's voice keeps ringing in the back of your head, maniacally laughing and saying, "IT'S SOOOO SIMMMPLE!"  Maybe he's right - maybe it IS really simple and I just fucking fail at parchment origami, I don't know. What I DO know is that what's even easier than farting around with parchment for 20 fucking minutes while your stomach rumbles and you see stars from hunger? PRE-MADE PARCHMENT BAGS, bitches.

Mystery baaaag...are you ready for your mystery baaaag? It's not full of dog poop. OR IS IT? (it's probably not)

Told you.
You guys. I can't even. These bags? Are my new favorite thing. All I did was lay a couple pieces of cod over some asparagus, green beans and sliced red pepper, add a little poorly-cut basil on top, seal the bag with a couple folds over, and it was ready to roll. I did two bags (because the Ginger Beast needs to eat, too) on a cookie sheet, stashed them in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, and lo, the fish, eet was done!

The asparagus is being a tease in this one.
Now...I will be completely honest with you here. First of all, I really like the taste of cod, so I don't usually fuck around with it much. You could easily gussy this up with all kinds of fancy herbs and citrus and whatever, but...I really like cod. Second of all, the next time I do this, I will NOT lay the fish directly on the veg unless I have significantly thinner pieces of fish. These were some big, manly cod pieces (see what I did there? Manly? Cod pieces? OMG, somebody stop me. No, really...), and the veg underneath didn't cook as much as it could have. We like our veg pretty al dente here at Chez OGC and that asparagus was borderline even for us. So, yes - next time, I'll spread the veg out around the fish for more even cook-en-ings...or maybe even just steam it separately...although honestly, that would take like half the fun out of the whole dinner-from-a-bag thing.

If you care, or even if you don't, this meal is Paleo and Whole-30 compliant, and as gluten-free as the day is long. Tra-la-la, healthy food.

pan-fried chicken thigh amazingness

Have you fully accepted the amazingness of chicken thighs into your life? If not, you should. Yes friends, I am here today to preach the gospel of chicken thighs. They are cheaper and more forgiving than your mom, and they taste better too.

Seriously, though. Chicken thighs are hardly ever more than $1.89 a pound at my local Hannaford. That's for the bone-in ones, mind you. The boneless ones are more pricey, and they also have the skin removed. In my opinion, there's no point in eating chicken if you can't have the crispy, delicious skin as well, so just buy the bone-in ones and be done with it. Unless you like sad chicken. You don't like sad chicken though, right? I didn't think so.

De-boning chicken thighs is actually really easy. I would have done a little picture tutorial for you, but I don't have a tripod for the camera and I don't want to get it all smegged up with chicken juice, so...yeah. Anyway - it's really easy. You just take a good sharp knife and zip down one side of the bone, then the other, pull the flesh away to the end and then give it a twist to remove. Tra-la-la, de-boned chicken thigh...with bonus skin! Well, not BONUS skin, because that would be weird..but you know. Sorry, I'm tired.

So, yes - what I did with these lovely chicken thighs after I de-boned them was as follows:

- pat dry with paper towel
- sprinkle with kosher salt
- put them in a hot pan SKIN SIDE DOWN for about ten minutes, then flipped and cooked on the other side until cooked through (took about another seven minutes for mine).

So simple. So delicious. Thank you madam, may I have another!

They look small because they're far away, but trust me, they were not.
 The majesty that is pan-fried chicken thighs was complemented on this plate by slices of the best damn tomato I've had in YEARS, which came from just down the road at Long Wind Farm, and a variation on this salad - I say variation because her recipe calls for snap peas but I used green beans, and it calls for lemon juice but I used white wine vinegar. And I didn't measure anything. So it probably tasted totally different, but whatever, it was delicious and I never would have thought to put that combination of things together had I not read her recipe first.

"But the bones," you say..."what about the bones you took out of the chicken thighs?" You may not actually be saying that but I'm putting words in your mouth so that I can make a point. You could chuck the bones if you wanted. You could throw them out for the wild animals. You could string them onto a necklace and wear them as a fashion statement, but they'd probably get kind of rank after a couple days. What I do is put the bones in a freezer bag, scrawl the date on it, seal it up and stash it in the freezer. Later on, when it's not 2073 degrees outside and I feel like making soup, I use the bones to make stock. It's just a suggestion.

Also, for anyone playing along at home, this meal is Paleo compliant, Whole-30 compliant, gluten-free, and all kinds of tasty.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

a post about brain-meat. Not the eating there-of, don't worry.

Have you ever wondered why I seem to post for a few months pretty regularly, then disappear for months, then kind of pop back in here and start posting again? No? Well, tough tits - I'm about to explain it anyway.

I suffer from an anxiety disorder and depression. I've struggled with them for as long as I can remember, but "officially", as in, known by my doctor, since about 2004. I have been on medications, off medications, I've done therapy, I've read self-help books, I've tried vitamins, meditation, name it, I've probably dabbled in it at some point in the hopes that it would help. And honestly, all that stuff HAS helped a little, on and off...but the one thing I've learned above all others in this process so far has been that there are no magic cure-alls, at least not for me. That sounds like such a fatalistic statement, but really it's the opposite, honestly. It's not that I don't believe there's anything out there that will help me, it's that I know myself and my condition well enough now to understand that it's never going to go away. It's like my green eyes or my brown hair. Try as I might to disguise them, they are a part of me and there's no real way to permanently change them.

My depression is cyclical. I'm not bi-polar - I don't have phases of extreme high and low. What I have are periods of feeling basically ok interspersed with periods where I have a really hard time dealing with just about everything. During those "down-swings", I tend to also get very anxious and I also have a hard time doing all the tiny normal things that healthy people do every day: stuff like cleaning my teeth and brushing my hair, for example. It's not that those things start to feel optional to me when I'm depressed, it's that they just kind of get removed from my automatic to-do list. Bigger things, like washing the dishes or doing the laundry, go from being odious little tasks that take up a little of my knitting time to gigantic tasks that I literally need to plan ahead and prepare myself for hours ahead of time..and then I'm mentally exhausted afterward. Even cooking or knitting, things I truly love to do, turn into tasks that take monumental force of personal will to accomplish, and so I pretty much just stop doing them when I'm depressed.

Depression is also a teller of lies. It convinces me that even if I COULD muster up the energy and enthusiasm to cook a really good meal, nobody wants to fucking see it or hear about it. Hell, half the time it tells me that the food isn't even good, that I've just deluded myself into thinking it is because I want it to be. All of my friends' and family's assurances to the contrary don't amount to a piss-hole in the snow (there's a classic Vermont-ism for you, by jeezum) when compared to depression's overwhelming declaration that I am, in fact, not good at anything at all, ever, to infinity and beyond. Depression weighs in with these lies about everything, not just about whether or not I should bother to blog a particularly nice roast or salad. It tells me I am stupid, that I am ugly, that I am a failure, that I am worthless and unworthy of love. Through my normal, every-day lenses, I can see that those statements all amount to a steaming hot pile of bullshit...but through the fogged-up, iced-over lenses of my depression glasses, everything looks a whole lot different and it becomes very difficult to know what to believe anymore.

My down-swings can last anywhere from a couple days to a few months. Sometimes they come on gradually, insidiously changing my brain in little ways here and there until weeks later I realize what's going on. Other times they hit me like a freight train and leave me sitting in the dark sobbing over a bag of clean laundry while my husband tries to comfort me without knowing what the hell is going on, and with me unable to articulate (thanks, baby. And sorry if I scared you). I also spend a lot of time in the kind of in-between limbo of not-full-on-depressed-but-not-really-ok. I can function pretty convincingly at this level - it's where I am today, in fact - but I still have kind of a hard time with some things, and one of those things is writing. So even if I'm over here making amazing food and taking decent pictures of it, I'm still having a hard time actually getting down into words anything about it other than, "I are am roast pork thing. Potato r gud. Blueberry pie forevar".

So that, dear readers, is why I am sometimes gone for months at a time...because sometimes I just literally do not have the spoons to even cook for myself and my husband, let alone make it pretty and then write about it. You don't have to pretend to understand or even care, I mostly just had to get this out of my brain today for me. Like I said in the beginning, I've finally accepted that there are no quick fixes for my brain-meats. Learning how to deal with this fuckery is part of my life's work, and as we all know, work isn't generally meant to be fun...otherwise it would be called fun and everyone would do it.

If you made it this far, then by god you deserve a cookie. Gluten-free, of course. ;)

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 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 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!