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!