Happy April folks.  I am trying to catch up on posting my recipes as my photos are gathering digital dust.  I’ve embarked on a new workout program – Insanity – and it’s run me ragged.  I hate cardio and this is all cardio, dang it.  I’m in the first week of the second month and it’s absolute foolishness.  Insanity, or as I lovingly refer to it as “torture”, is hard.  It makes me tired.  And sweaty.  Hungry, too.  Need more carbs.  Less typing.

Just kidding.  Not about the crazy workouts though as they are, hands down, the toughest cardio exercise I’ve ever done.  But I am starting to see some results.  My abs are tighter and my core and back are stronger.  I’m hoping to be a tight little package of muscle and strength at the end of this.  I need to be.  We’re going on vacation in May and my bikinis are coming with us.  Enough said.

So all this working out makes me want to eat more and, I don’t know about you, but when I’m tired and hungry, I WANT CARBS.  Raw egg shooters a la Rocky Balboa, while perfectly acceptable forms of protein delivery, are not really my style.  So I’ve opted for a more palate pleasing dish.  Sweet potatoes are a great source of natural carbs and make a comforting meal after a workout.

Sweet Potato Hash

Serves 2 – 3

2 medium sized sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped

1/2 of one onion, chopped

1/2 of one red bell pepper, chopped

6 – 8 slices of uncooked bacon, chopped

1 tablespoon of 21 Seasoning Salute (or your favorite herb blend)

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Par boil sweet potatoes for about 5 minutes. Do not overcook or potatoes will become mushy.
  2. Drain potatoes and set aside to cool.
  3. Fry bacon pieces in skillet over medium-high heat until brown and crispy and fat has rendered.
  4. Move bacon to side of skillet and cook onion and bell pepper in the bacon fat until softened.
  5. Add sweet potato to skillet and toss everything together.  Season with 21 Seasoning Salute, salt and pepper.
  6. Cook another 5 minutes or until potato is crispy.
  7. Serve with a fried egg on top.  Enjoy with a side of toasted coconut flax bread.

Mark Sisson offers his take on sweet potatoes and yams in a primal diet here.  The crispy starchiness is just enough to get me through the rest of the day and ready for another monstrous workout tomorrow.

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Growing up, my mom would make ox tail soup regularly in the winter.  While I liked the soup enough, the ox tail itself was not that memorable.  There was a little bit of meat and lots of bone.  It was a good way to make flavorful broth for not a lot of money.  Fast forward a few years and I have rediscovered the ox tail.  Except now I enjoy it as a stew that can be made in either the oven or on the stove.  Like the pulled pork or brisket recipes, this one requires a longer cooking time but it’s very much worth it in the end.  The ox tail I get is pretty meaty and also fairly fatty and I would definitely recommend trimming the fat before cooking.  While I typically like keeping some fat, having too much of it just makes the whole dish oily.

Braised Ox Tail

Serves 6

4 pounds grass-fed ox tail, cut into 2-inch sections
1/2 to 3/4 cup red wine
2 to 3 tablespoons Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 – 6 roma tomatoes, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
4 to 5 ribs celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup frozen peas
2  teaspoons himalayan salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 bay leaf

Rinse and pat dry ox tail pieces.  Trim fat if necessary.  Sprinkle ox tail with a couple pinches of salt and a pinch of black pepper.

Oven

  1. Set oven to broil and place ox tail on roasting pan or baking dish.
  2. Broil ox tail for 5 – 6 minutes.  Turn pieces over and broil another 5 to 6 minutes, until exterior looks crispy and brown.
  3. Remove from oven and transfer to plate.  Drain excess fat from pan or dish.
  4. Turn oven down to 375 degrees F.
  5. Mix tomato paste, red wine, salt and pepper and set aside.
  6. Place tomatoes, onions, carrots, celery, garlic and bay leaf on the bottom of the pan or dish then add the browned ox tail.
  7. Sprinkle the 21 Seasoning Salute ( or your favorite mix of herbs) over the meat and pour the wine mixture over everything.
  8. Roast covered for 2 1/2 hours.
  9. Uncover and stir in peas.  Cook for another 30 minutes.

Stove top

  1. Heat cast-iron dutch oven over medium heat with 1 tablespoon coconut oil or grapseed oil.
  2. Place ox tail in dutch oven to brown and sear for about 5 minutes.
  3. When meat releases from oven bottom easily, turn over and sear another 4-5 minutes.
  4. Add onions, carrots, and celery and cook for a few minutes until vegetables begin to soften.
  5. Deglaze pot with red wine and add remaining ingredients, except peas, to pot and cover pot.
  6. Cook for 2 1/2 to 3 hours on the stove over low heat. Check periodically and add 1/2 cup water or beef stock at a time if mixture looks dry.
  7. Ox tail is done when the meat separates easily from the bone with a fork.
  8. Add peas and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes.
  9. Remove bay leaf and serve.

If you’re looking for an ox tail recipe with Asian flavor, check out Sunday Nite Dinner.  There are any number of ways to cook ox tail and they all end with a hearty and satisfying meal.

You’ve probably figured out from the title and photo that this post is not going to be about food.  It’s not.  But the idea was worthwhile enough that I want to share.  I was reading about the Johnson family of The Zero Waste Home and was spurned to act.  Yes, we recycle and, yes, we compost, but what my family consumes and throws away is quite shameful when I see what the Johnsons have done.  (Case in point, it’s Sunday and our recycle bin is already full and the next pickup isn’t until Friday!)  So I decided on the spot that I would start with something small and keep working at it.  I came up with replacing our paper napkins with cloth ones.  We have been cloth diapering our almost-2-year old since she was born and it stands to reason that if we could do that, the napkin switch should be a piece of cake (and much less stinky).  It also seems to be in line with the whole primal way of living.  Eating whole, natural foods means going back to the basics.  The ingredients require little packaging and, with some creativity, can be used almost entirely without much waste.  Shouldn’t the rest of the household dealings follow suit?  I’d say so.

Having decided to go with reusable napkins, the next decision was whether to buy them or make them myself.  I went with the cheaper option of  making them.  Now, I’m not the craftiest person – I don’t scrap book and I don’t make my own baby clothes.  I do own a sewing machine, though, and know enough of the basic functions to operate it safely.  So I bought some pretty, 100% cotton fabric that was on sale and settled in for a DIY weekend.  I had no template or pattern, I just folded the fabric over on itself enough times to get a size I wanted and cut to size.  Then I pressed and hemmed the edges and threw them in the wash.  What you see is what came out of the dryer and folded.  They’re a bit wrinkly but perfectly fine for casual dining.  Once used, I store them in a little container under the sink and I’ll wash them once a week with the kitchen towels.  For 3 yards of fabric, I got 24 cute napkins and the freedom from buying a gargantuan package of disposable napkins at Costco.  That’s a pretty good trade off to me.

Until a couple of years ago, I knew nothing about the different types and cuts of meat.  I didn’t know what brisket was.  I had always associated it with pastrami or corned beef or something like that.  For someone who was a vegetarian for ten years, it didn’t concern me a whole lot.  But now that I am meat eater, and a happy one at that, it wasn’t until I stopped at the Whole Foods meat counter that I entertained the thought of cooking my own brisket.  The butcher gave me a sample of some that was slow cooked the night before and, holy moley, was it GOOD.  It was tender and flavorful and I wanted more.  So I bought myself a good sized hunk of brisket and set about the task of reproducing that succulent piece of meat.

The friendly butcher gave me some simple but useful tips on cooking brisket – keep the temperature low and cook it for a long time.  A long, long time.  Like 12 hours long.  So that’s what I did.  I rubbed it with some love and threw it in the oven before I went to bed.  (Now if my mother were to read this, she’d probably sieze up with worry that I would ever leave a heat-producing appliance unsupervised while her child and grandchild slept, but I figured that my smoke detectors and, more importantly, my husband would alert me before the house burns down.)

When I woke up the next morning, the house smelled like meat heaven, if there is such a place.  As I mentioned before, I am a big proponent of hands-off cooking and I was really happy with the results.  The long and slow process breaks down all the connective tissue and yields a rich and moist brisket.  Check it out. 

Low and Slow Brisket

Serves 6 (with plenty left over)

One 3 – 4 pound organic, grass-fed brisket

3 – 5 tablespoons dry rub (recipe below or use your favorite)

  1. Preheat oven to 225 degrees F.
  2. Rinse and pat dry brisket.
  3. Sprinkle dry rub, salt and pepper over the brisket and give it a nice rub all around.
  4. Place meat on baking sheet and roast for the 10 to 12 hours.
  5. Optional: Brush brisket with barbeque sauce and return to oven for a few more minutes.
  6. Let meat rest for 20 minutes before serving.

Dry Rub Seasoning (adapted from here and here)

3 tablespoons coconut sugar

4 tablespoons paprika

1 1/2 tablespoons salt

1 1/2 tablespoons ground black pepper

2 teaspoons onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

Mix all ingredient together and store in air tight container.

The butcher has offered to trim the fat from the brisket but I asked him to leave it on.  I thought having too little might make the meat dry after all the cooking.  Because my family and friends like barbeque sauce, I did the optional step, extra sugar and all, and served some more sauce on the side as well.  Yum, yum!

For all you fellow happy carnivores, I hope you’ll try this.  If you like slow cooking, let me know how and what you cook.

This is one of my favorite cookies courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa.  It’s sweet, buttery, and crispy and so, so good.  I’ve been making it for years now, usually around the holidays, but it’s good any time of the year, really.  Like when you’ve scrubbed the floors and washed the dishes and wished you have one more thing to do, bake these.  The dough itself doesn’t require eggs and comes together very easily.  I didn’t mess with the recipe too much other than to switch out the flour and size the recipe down a bit.  I normally make it with fruit-sweetened raspberry and apricot jams but this time opted for a fig preserve.  Mmm…

Jam Thumbprint Cookies

Makes 24 cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/4 cup Zsweet

1/4 teaspoon stevia

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups blanched almond flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

3/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut

Jam of choice

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cream together butter and sugar then add the vanilla.
  3. Combine the almond flour and salt and add it to the butter and sugar.
  4. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls.
  5. Dip each ball into the egg wash and roll it in coconut.
  6. Place the balls on cookie sheet and press a light indentation into the top of each with your thumb.
  7. Drop 1/4 teaspoon of jam into each indentation.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes, until the coconut is a golden brown.
  9. Make a cup of tea and eat some jammy cookies.

Unlike the original recipe, I did not chill the dough before baking, I just proceeded to form the cookies and bake.  I didn’t notice any difference from skipping this step but if your dough gets too soft, it will probably help to stick it in the fridge.  Also, when pressing the center of the cookie with your thumb, be careful to make a well without any cracks, or you may end up with jam escaping the center during baking.  Enjoy!

This cake came about when I was on Amazon searching for a patio umbrella.  Makes total sense, I know.  As most of my searches turn out, I take massive detours and end up at an entirely different place than I had intended.  I found myself at This Is So Good… and realized I had all the ingredients for this pound cake.  Off to the kitchen I went and an hour later, tada, I had pound cake.  Except it’s not really a “pound” cake.  There isn’t a pound of anything in it and the texture is quite moist and spongy, not at all like a traditional pound cake.  For a coconut flour recipe, this has relatively few eggs and lots of liquid, which I think account for how moist the cake is.  But it’s good and not too sweet.  The fresh cranberries are pretty tart and I prefer them here over the dried, sweetened version. I had a slice right after it cooled but I think the flavors would be even better after a day or two.

Cranberry Orange Pound Cake (adapted from This Is So Good)

Makes one 8 1/2 x 4 3/8 loaf

5 eggs

1 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup butter, melted

2/3 cup orange juice

1 tablespoon honey

1/2 teaspoon stevia

1 cup coconut flour, sifted

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

zest of one orange

1 cup fresh cranberries

1/2 cup pecans, chopped

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease loaf pan.
  2. Mix wet ingredients together.
  3. Combine dry ingredients with the orange zest in a separate bowl.
  4. Add dry ingredients to the wet and beat well.
  5. Stir in fresh cranberries and pecans, reserving a small handful of each.
  6. Pour batter in loaf pan and artfully sprinkle remaining cranberries and pecans on top.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
  8. Let cool to room temperature before slicing.

In the middle of the photography session, my kid decided that she could wait not a second longer and went for it.  That’s why you see her pudgy mitt in the picture.  Oh, well.  I still don’t have a patio umbrella but at least now I can eat cake while I keep shopping 🙂

Happy new year!  I know it’s the third week of January and my greeting is a little late but I have to be honest – the holidays wiped me out.  I must have fallen into the old age time warp or something because time is speeding up on me.  Once Halloween hit, Christmas was right behind and before I knew it, it was time to take down the tree.  It doesn’t help that the Santa Ana winds are blowing right now either.  One day it’s a frigid 55 degrees outside (don’t laugh) and then all of a sudden it feels like summer.  I’m quite happy with the  warmer temperatures, though, it suits me just fine.  All the rain we’ve had this year has kept us indoors a lot and made us a little cuckoo.

So now that I’m back to do a bit of blogging, I want to first say thank you.  THANK YOU!  2010 was a good year for my little webdom.  I managed to post some stuff people actually wanted to read and got many more visitors than I could have imagined.  Thanks for checking out “What I Crave” and giving me your feedback – keep ’em comin’!

My first recipe for the year is a simple one and requires no cooking.  I’m sure there are a ton of people out there who’ve not yet fallen off the new year’s resolution health wagon, so this is one food that can keep them on for a little while longer.  I’m a big fan of chia and I created this for my husband who is a cereal junky.  He was getting a little burned out on the Nutty Granola, so this was a good change of pace.  There are chia-based cereals that you can find in the health food stores but they’re kind of pricey and contain more sugar than I’d want to eat.  You can add cold milk and enjoy it right away, like hubby does, with some crunch.  Or, if you prefer, and I do, you can add warm milk, let it sit for a few minutes and have something more akin to a pudding.

Chia Cereal

Makes 5 1/2 cups

2 cups chia seeds

1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut

1 cup sliced almonds

1/2 cup pecans, chopped

1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped

1/2 cup dried cranberries or raisins

pinch of salt

Toss everything together and store in an air tight container.

The cereal will keep for at least a couple of weeks.  You can add any type of nuts or fruit and flavor it with any spices you crave.  I kept it simple and didn’t add any sweetener because the dried fruit was plenty sweet for us but a tablespoon of coconut sugar with some cinnamon would probably taste really yummy.  Try it out and let me know how you like it.

Over the weekend, my sister, brother-in-law and their two kids came up to stay.  We wanted to have our cousin Elsie, resident family photographer, photograph the kids so that we could surprise my parents for Christmas (shhh..).  I see my sister fairly often and when we get together, it’s a zoo.  I always imagine that the mornings will be leisurely, where my sister and I lounge around with our coffee cups and chit chat about this and that.  In reality, the kids go nuts and run around in circles until someone barfs or drops from dizziness and we get to clean up the mess.  But it is fun.  And we do get to talk a bit over coffee.

Knowing it would be a little chaotic to whip up a big breakfast the next day, I made a cream cheese coffee cake the night before.  I served it at room temperature the next day and it was good but it would be great warmed up.

Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

Makes one 8-inch round cake

Filling

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1 egg

1 teaspoon maple syrup

1/8 teaspoon stevia

Cake

6 eggs

3 tablespoons butter, melted

1/2 cup yogurt

3 tablespoons maple syrup

1/4 teaspoon stevia

1 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon coconut flour, sifted

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup pecans, chopped

1 tablespoon coconut sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Grease one 8-inch round cake pan.
  2. Beat together all ingredients for cream cheese filling.  Set aside.
  3. Combine wet ingredients for cake then add the dry ingredients through the salt.  Mix well.
  4. Toss pecans, cinnamon and coconut sugar together in a separate bowl.
  5. Pour cake batter into pan and drop bits of the pecan mixture throughout batter.
  6. Top with cream cheese filling and use a knife or tooth pick to swirl it around.
  7. Bake for 25 minutes and let cool slightly before slicing.

I made a cake the other day with the ripening pears on my counter to serve as a quick snack.  It was pretty good but the whole time I was eating it, I thought it needed more pear and less cake.  Pears are plentiful this time of year and whether they are fresh and crunchy or ripe and juicy, they are full of flavor and taste great cooked.  So I decided to change the fruit-to-cake ratio and turn the recipe into one for a cobbler.  Mmm!  The result was lots of chunky, baked fruit with the cinnamony pears and the tart blackberries, and just enough cakey topping to complete the ensemble.  I served this dessert after dinner with my in-laws and parents and no one could tell that it did not contain any wheat.  My dad, who isn’t big on sweets had a second helping.

Pear and Blackberry Cobbler

Makes one 9 x 13 dish

Filling

6 pears (8 – 9 cups)

10 ounce bag of frozen blackberries (1.5 cups)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons honey

1/4 teaspoon stevia

2 tablespoons arrowroot

1/3 cup water

Topping

2 1/2 cups blanched almond flour

1/4 cup coconut sugar

1/4 teaspoon stevia

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup butter, cold

2 eggs

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter a 9 x 13 baking dish.
  2. Wash, peel and core pears, then cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
  3. Combine pears, blackberries and cinnamon in the baking dish.
  4. Mix honey, stevia, arrowroot, and water together and pour over the fruit.
  5. In food processor, pulse almond flour, coconut sugar, stevia and salt just until combined.
  6. Cube the cold butter and add to processor and pulse to a coarse meal.
  7. Add the eggs and pulse again just until combined.
  8. Spoon the batter over the fruit and smooth slightly.
  9. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 to 40 minutes until pears and blackberries are bubbly.
  10. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes until the top is golden brown.
  11. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.

The fruit takes center stage in this dessert so not much sweetening is needed.  Either the coconut sugar or the stevia can be omitted if you have really ripe pears.  Other fruit can be used also, like apples or peaches, or any combination of berries.  There’s just something so homey and comforting, though, about baked pears that I’ll keep making it this way for a while.

For me, Thanksgiving is THE feasting holiday, more so than Christmas, because all the attention is focused on the food.  I am really looking forward to having some turkey come Thursday.  Lots and lots of turkey.  And let’s not forget all the side dishes, most of which are pretty carby.  So my compromise is this herb dinner roll.  I used my coconut flax bread recipe as the base and added some fresh herbs.  These rolls are made in muffin tins and smell like Thanksgiving when they are baking.  I will also be making croutons for stuffing using these rolls.  The original bread recipe is so versatile – throw in some cheese, add bacon bits, mix in fruit and nuts – it will all come out tasty.   

Herb Dinner Rolls

Makes 8 rolls

1/2 cup coconut flour, sifted

1/2 cup ground flax seed

1 /2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped

1 teaspoon fresh sage, finely chopped

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped

5 eggs

1/2 cup butter or coconut oil, melted

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. 
  2. Mix all the dry ingredients together.
  3. Combine all the wet ingredients.
  4. Add the dry ingredients and herbs to the wet and beat well. 
  5. Pour into muffin tins and bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
  6. Serve warm with lots of butter.

The rolls freeze really well so you can make a big batch, store them in the freezer and take out as many as you need for a meal.  Reheat in the oven at 200 degrees F.  I don’t use the microwave but if you do, you can defrost them in there, too.