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I used to be a vegetarian.  For ten years.  Between graduating college and getting married, I ate no meat.  Well, not real meat.  I ate lots of meat substitutes and soy meats, stuff that I won’t touch today.  Today, I eat lots of real meat and whole foods and my diet is unrecognizable from the one I had a decade ago.  I went from an omnivore to a vegetarian overnight but the transition back was much more gradual.  Once I realized that I wasn’t getting the nutrition I needed, I started to incorporate animal proteins one at a time.  First came fish, then chicken, then beef.  I refrained from eating pork for a long time because I didn’t like where most pork came from.  Having worked for a large grocer, I’d seen first hand where the spoiled deli meats and produce went – the hog farms.  Pretty nasty.

We’ve since found a reliable source of quality pastured pork and are enjoying all kinds of piggy products now.  Just a few nights ago, we had some juicy pork chops.  Because the chops I get are usually thick, I’ve learned that brining is the best way to get a lot flavor and keep them moist.  I found a great site on preparing and cooking meat and I used the basic brining recipe that is very adaptable.  I didn’t have any chicken stock on hand, so I used water and increased the apple cider vinegar.

Brined Pork Chops (adapted from How to Cook Meat)

Serves 4

4 loin pork chops

2 cups water

1/4 cup sea salt

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 teaspoon ground sage

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 cups ice water

  1. Combine everything except the ice water in a saucepan and heat on low just until the salt dissolves.
  2. Remove from heat and add the ice water.  Let brine cool.
  3. Place cooled brine in gallon-sized zip top bag and add chops.  Place bag in a large dish in case bag leaks.
  4. Refrigerate for 2 to 8 hours.
  5. Remove chops and pat dry.  Discard brine.
  6. Grill chops to desired doneness then let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

I always ask hubby, the in-house grill master, to leave the chops just slightly pink in the middle.   Unlike steak, we don’t eat our pork underdone but to have a dry, overcooked piece of meat is criminal.  The great thing about brining is that even if you leave them on the grill a bit longer, you’ll find that the brine really helps keep the chops tender and juicy.  Hope you’ll try it.

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When October rolls around and the weather cools, I get a recurring condition for which I have not found a cure: buy-too-much-pumpkinanitis.  I see the displays in the stores and drive by the pumpkin patches and my BTMP flares up and becomes uncontrollable.  I start to collect pumpkins in all forms – fresh, canned; green, orange; jack-o-lanterns and sugar pies.  Then the BTMP spreads and I get the pumpkin cousins – butternut and acorn and kabocha squashes.  I have cans and cans of pumpkin in my pantry and I have cooked squash in my fridge and I’m seriously running out of storage space.  Luckily, I like pumpkin and so does hubby and the munchkin, so I’ve been trying to keep up with the madness and using the orange stuff where I can.

Today, I give you creamy pumpkin custard.  I love custard in all forms and my all time favorite dessert is creme brulee.  This pumpkin custard tastes like a cross between creme brulee and pumpkin pie.  The heavy cream and egg yolks make it rich and smooth and there’s no crust to get in the way.  For another pumpkin recipe, check out my pumpkin biscuits.

Creamy Pumpkin Custard

Makes 6 servings

1 cup pumpkin puree, fresh or canned

2 eggs

2 egg yolks

2/3 cup heavy cream

1 1/3 cup milk or coconut milk

1/2 cup coconut sugar

1/4 teaspoon stevia

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Boil some water for a water bath (or bain-marie if you speaka zee frrrench)
  2. Whisk all ingredients together until smooth.
  3. Divide custard into 6 6-ounce ramekins or oven-safe cups.
  4. Place cups in large baking dish and fill the dish half way with hot water.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes or until center of custard is set and not jiggly.
  6. Let custards cool to room temperature then refrigerate for 2 hours or more.

I don’t know if BTMP is a unique affliction or if there are others out there like me.  If you are prone to hoarding pumpkin, let me know what you do with all that excess squash.  I need more ideas!

This is my version of the green protein smoothie.  Green because of the spinach – no surprise there – but the protein is not from a protein powder.  I use two great sources of natural protein – gelatin and chia seeds.  There is a ton of information on the web regarding chia seeds’ nutritional benefits so I won’t be delving too much into it here.  Gelatin on the other hand, is something that I am learning more about and am really liking what I find.  Besides the artificially flavored and sweetened box variety, plain gelatin is a nutritional powerhouse and is a pure protein.  I buy the Great Lakes brand of unflavored gelatin because it’s derived from grassfed animals and is a hydrolyzed collagen so it’s easily and quickly digested by the body.  Great Lakes makes both a beef and a porcine gelatin.

I started taking chia when I had acid reflux years ago and the little purple pill wasn’t working for me.  I found that taking chia gel helped with the discomfort and offered so many other benefits, like protein, anti-oxidants and omega-3 fatty acid.  Because of its gelling properties, chia seeds help to thicken drinks.  The seeds can also be ground into meal and used in baking.

Green Powerhouse Smoothie

Serves 3

1 1/2 cups kefir (or yogurt or coconut milk)

2 cups baby spinach, tightly packed

1 cup frozen fruit (I use mangoes and banana)

2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin

2 tablespoons chia seeds

stevia to taste

  1. Combine all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.
  2. Smoothie will thicken as it sits.

The taste of spinach is unnoticeable and the smoothie is thick from the frozen fruit, gelatin and chia.  You can certainly use fresh fruit but if you use fresh or frozen pineapple, the gelatin won’t come together because of the enzymes.  In that case, just use more chia.  This is a really filling drink and so tasty, too.

I’ve been making this cocoa banana cake ever since I saw these cocoa, hazelnut, banana muffins earlier this year.  Honestly, the photographs alone are bananas but the actual muffins are even better.  I love me a moist muffin or cake and these definitely are.  As I mentioned in my post on espresso banana muffins, I love to use bananas in all kinds of goods, so this has become one of my favorites.  I have yet to try these with hazelnuts but I think it would be fairly easy to do by making some meal out of whole hazelnuts.

Cocoa Banana Loaf

Makes one loaf (7¾” × 4½” × 3″) or 10 muffins

1 cup blanched almond flour

2 tablespoons coconut flour

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1/4 cup maple syrup or honey

1/4 cup grapeseed oil (or melted coconut oil or butter)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 banana, mashed

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Grease loaf pan or muffin cups.
  2. Mix dry ingredients together.
  3. Mix wet ingredients together with mashed banana.
  4. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and mix well.
  5. Fill loaf pan and bake for 50 – 60 minutes.  For muffins, bake 20 – 25 minutes.

As good as a slice of this cake is when served warm, the flavors are even better the next day because the cocoa and banana have had time to become friends.  Best friends.  BFF.  LOL.  JK.

Great with some tea in the afternoon or scoop some vanilla ice cream on top and go bananas.  TTFN.

One of the things I used to eat all the time was a bagel.  Whether it was a blueberry bagel with plain cream cheese or an onion bagel with lox and tomatoes, I relished them equally.  The local bagel shop near my college campus churned out fresh bagels non-stop and was very friendly toward cash-strapped students.  Bagels in all forms were a staple of mine.  And the more I ate them, the more I craved them.  The last time I had a traditional wheat bagel, though, is nearly two years ago when I was pregnant with my daughter and my third-trimester cravings ruled all dietary decision making.  I haven’t really thought about them much since I gave up grains and I don’t crave them as I did in my former student/gestating days.  That is until I saw the ones from the Spunky Coconut.  Would these be as good?  Could they be better?  I headed straight for the kitchen to find out.  The first batch became cinnamon and raisin bagels and the second batch were made into savory onion poppy seed bagels.  Both variations turned out well.  And while they can’t really be compared to a chewy, yeasted New York-style bagel, they were quite good in their own right.

Wheat-Free Onion Poppy Seed Bagels (adapted from the Spunky Coconut)

Makes 4 bagels

4 eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

4 tablespoons coconut oil, liquified

3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

1/4 cup coconut milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup coconut flour

1/2 cup tapioca starch

1/2 cup blanched almond flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

poppy seeds and sesame seeds

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Mix all wet ingredients together with the xanthan gum.
  3. Mix all dry ingredients together.
  4. Combine the wet and dry ingredients to form a dough.
  5. Use oiled hands to split the dough into 4 equal portions and shape into a ball then poke a hole in the middle.   Flatten slightly.
  6. Place on baking sheet lined with parchment or silicone.
  7. Sprinkle poppy seeds and sesame seeds on top.  Gently pat seeds into dough.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes.

The original recipe calls for the dough to be refrigerated for an hour before shaping but I didn’t find that it made much of a difference for me.  The dough does rise quite a bit in the oven so next time I would probably shape them into smaller or even mini bagels.  Once it’s cooled, the bagel can be sliced and toasted which is how I like it.  Smear some cream cheese on them and they are good to go.  I don’t plan on having these all the time, but these bagels will definitely make a few more appearances on our breakfast table.  I hope you’ll try them.

What is an accidental pumpkin biscuit?  Well, it’s what you get when you are reworking your pumpkin cookie recipe while talking to a friend and suddenly realize, half way through baking, that you forgot to add the sweetener.  That sort of mishap, my friends, occurs on a fairly regular basis in my kitchen and doesn’t normally make it onto the blog.  But this one had some redeeming qualities.  Enough so that it became something altogether different. What makes this a terrible cookie is what ended up making it a pretty good biscuit.  Out of the oven, it’s tender, a little crumbly and ready for some butter slathering and honey drizzling.  The pumpkin and spices were a nice departure from the standard buttermilk variety.  As for the pumpkin cookies, that post will come a little later.

It’s a good thing that this became a biscuit recipe because, for once, I didn’t use room-temperature eggs.  When the melted coconut oil was mixed in with the cold eggs, I got little solid lumps of fat.  That cold fat and a hot oven are what make steam during baking to provide a tender and almost flaky biscuit.  The biscuit is not exactly flaky and is a little dense because, after all, this is grain-free so the texture won’t be the same as that of a wheat one.  No matter, though, this cookie endeavor was destined for biscuitdom.

Accidental Pumpkin Biscuits

Makes 13 biscuits

1 cup almond flour

1/4 cup coconut flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup coconut oil

1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree

1 egg, cold

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Mix dry ingredients together.
  3. Mix wet ingredients together.  Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix well.
  4. Alternatively, cut cold coconut oil into the flour mixture, then add the wet ingredients, so that there are lumps of cold coconut oil throughout the dough.
  5. Use cookie scoop to portion out the dough onto a cookie sheet.  Flatten the top of each scoop.
  6. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes.
  7. Serve while warm.

The dough does not spread so you can place them fairly close together.  The biscuits are crumbly and hold together better if kept on the smaller side.  Next time I might try adding some xanthan gum or an extra egg and perhaps increase my oven temperature to see what difference it makes in texture.  These are best served warm and any leftovers can be reheated slightly.  Make sure to have plenty of butter and runny honey on hand.

We use to frequent a little local Vietnamese restaurant that, sadly, is no longer in business.  It was a favorite of ours because we really enjoy pho and banh mi and it was the only Vietnamese restaurant around us that didn’t use MSG.  The ingredients were always fresh, everything was prepared to order and they served some things that were unique.  One of those items was a chicken and apple salad that the owner created just for their menu.  Now that the restaurant is closed, I tried to recreate the tangy, sweet salad with this recipe.  It’s crunchy from the fried shallots and the crisp apples.  I especially like the dressing that goes with it.  It can be used for salads or as a dipping sauce for veggies and rolls. 

Chicken and Matchstick Apple Salad

Makes 2 servings

1 cup cooked chicken, shredded

2 medium sized apples

4 shallots

Coconut oil for frying

  1. Preheat pan or skillet with oil.
  2. Thinly slice the shallots.  I leave them in rings and separate them.
  3. Fry shallots until crispy and browned.  Don’t do what I did and leave them in there for too long.
  4. Core and julienne the apples.  I used a mandoline.
  5. Combine shredded chicken, apples and dressing (recipe below) and toss well.
  6. Top with fried shallots.
  7. Extra shallots can be refrigerated for about a week and reheated in the oven.

The restaurant served the salad with just the chicken and apples but I usually put my homemade version on top a bed of greens.  Either way, it’s delicious. 

Vietnamese Style Dressing (adapted from this one)

Makes about 1 cup

1/4 cup fish sauce

1/2 cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

2 – 3 tablespoons water

1 – 2 shallots, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

  1. Combine everything and mix well.
  2. Left over dressing can be refrigerated for up to a week.

Fish sauce is quite salty and I found I had to reduce the amount from the original recipe.  You can always use a little less fish sauce and a bit more water.

I’m sure that this salad has been done before but it’s one of my favorites.  I always have the ingredients on hand and I get my meat, eggs and fresh veggies all in one great big bowl.  Yes, technically there is no egg in a BLT but I like having hard boiled eggs in many of my salads so I toss them in.  If I have a ripe avocado, I’ll chop that up and throw it on top.  So depending on what you’re in the mood for, you can have a BLET or BLAT.

BLT Salad

Makes 2 servings (or 1 really big one)

2 large handfuls baby spinach

3 large handfuls lettuce mix

6 – 8 grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

4 slices crispy bacon, chopped

2 eggs, hard boiled

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon sriracha hot sauce

2 – 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1/8 teaspoon stevia (or 1 teaspoon honey)

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Combine the mayonnaise, hot sauce, vinegar, stevia or honey, salt and pepper and mix until smooth.
  2. Toss all other ingredients in a large bowl.
  3. Drizzle enough dressing over salad mix to coat.
  4. Grab two forks (or just one) and dig in.

My daughter is a year and a half old now and has become a picky eater.  Unlike her infant days where she eagerly gobbled up any type of baby food I made her, she is much choosier about what she will try.  The likeliest target to end up on the floor is vegetables.  Even the ones she will eat today will not get the same treatment tomorrow.  So to make these green beans more enticing, I cooked it with bacon.  Because, let’s face it, everything tastes better with bacon.  And the bacon I had on hand was one I purchased from Applegate Farms’ website.  I got a discount by purchasing a case over individual packages.

Garlicky Green Beans and Bacon

1 pound of green beans, washed and trimmed

4 pieces uncooked bacon, chopped

5 cloves garlic, chopped

salt to taste

approximately 1/4 cup water

  1. Over high heat, cook bacon pieces until some of the fat is rendered.  I used a wok but a cast-iron skillet or saute pan will work, too.
  2. Add the green beans and garlic and continue to cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Add the water, in increments if necessary, while still cooking over high heat to create steam.  If the pan is not hot enough, you’ll end up stewing the beans.
  4. Season with salt and remove the beans once they are cooked through but still crunchy and bright green.

I served these along side the rib eye steaks I wrote about previously and it was a simple and satisfying meal.  Best of all, my daughter started off by eating the green beans before she had any of the steak, and my little meat eater loves steak.  I was super excited and looked at my husband who said matter of factly, “Of course she likes it, it tastes like bacon.”  So eloquently put.  The excitement was short lived, though, as I found moments later that bits of green beans were the only things left in her bowl with no trace of bacon or beef.

Sigh… I’ll keep trying.

In the past I have always enjoyed my morning coffee with a healthy dose of half-and-half or heavy cream but lately I’ve been favoring a great coconut milk based creamer (So Delicious).  But since I just ran out of my creamer and didn’t want to go to the store, I came up with my own.  It’s super simple and quick, if you don’t count the soaking time.  Cashews have a very creamy, smooth texture when blended so it makes a nice dairy substitute.

Cashew Creamer

Makes 3 cups

1 cup cashews, soaked several hours or overnight

2 cups water

1/8 teaspoon stevia (or 1 -2 teaspoons honey), optional

tiny pinch of salt

  1. Rinse and drain soaked cashews.
  2. Blend cashews with water, stevia and salt.
  3. Store in airtight container in the refrigerator.

There is no need to strain as you would with other nut milks.  This can also be made into cashew milk by increasing the water to 3 or 4 cups.  Other than coffee, cashew creamer can be used in smoothies and soups.  So, if you are avoiding dairy or just want to try something different in your next cup of joe, give this a whirl.