Sunday, November 10, 2013
After a long, long wait in the holds line at the library, a copy of Against All Grain: Delectable Paleo Recipes to Eat Well & Feel Great was finally available. I read it and made two dishes out of it and have thoughts. We tried “Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos”, which begins with chicken parts cooking all day in a diced tomato and spice sauce, then the chicken gets shredded and eaten on a butter crunch lettuce leaf with Pico de Gallo and avocado. I also made “Braised Chicken in Artichoke-Mushroom Sauce”.
Both of these dishes were tasty and neither was particularly difficult. Reading through the book, though, something was bothering me about it. I emailed back and forth with one of my sisters until she zoned in on it. I think the author, Danielle Walker, is just coming in under the wire with this cookbook. The first Paleo books were all about the theory with a few of the “my favorite recipe” sort of dishes thrown in. Then came the second wave of Paleo books, with some theory up front, but mostly cookbooks. I own and have spoken about some of these here, for example Make it Paleo , Well Fed: Paleo and Paleo Comfort Foods These cookbooks were very useful in the beginning when sitting down to make up a weekly menu. Flip through and a person doesn’t have to think too hard about what is Paleo and what is not.
Our first menus incorporating Paleo were made that way. I had three one-week menus from the above three books, a one-week menu made from recipes online, and as I became more comfortable with the principles, a one-week menu from my other cookbooks.
But the rub for Danielle Walker and everyone who comes after her is that too many of the recipes in these books are for dishes already intrinsically Paleo, like both of the chicken dishes listed above, or beef/pork/meat dishes, or vegetable recipes. Recipes for replacement-of-non-paleo-favorites, like say sweet potato fries, beanless chili, or coconut-flour-based baked goods, begin to get awfully repetitious after a few of these cookbooks. And quite honestly, there comes a point where I can get a better recipe for the same dish from “regular” cookbooks by amazing cooks. Rick Bayless is on my shelf for that taco dish and Aida Gabilondo is the matriarch of Pico de Gallo, thanks. Larousse Gastronomique has five different dishes by my count that feature chicken cooked with mushrooms and artichoke hearts.
I don’t mean to be grouchy about all of this. The recipes were not flops by any means. I just think that from here on out, Paleo cookbooks are going to be re-hash for the most part, just as so many gluten-free cookbooks have become. Late to the party.
My plan for the future, when someone is considering going Paleo, is to send them to Practical Paleo for the unsurpassed collection of 30-day menus but recommend that they hold off on other cookbooks until cooking Paleo has become second nature and they can see the “holes” in their repertoire. And possibly throw in a mention that Well Fed: Paleo has an interesting take on weekend cooking for a week of meals for busy folk.
Loading a few Paleo blogs into Feedly or whatever blog feed one uses means fresh inspiration. And there will be some fresh takes once in awhile – my sister has home from the library just now Bill Staley’s Gather which is a collection of Paleo menus for entertaining, and I still mean to check out Sarah Fragoso’s Italian book .
That’s my grumpy take on the whole issue! Hope to be proven wrong :-)
Saturday, August 10, 2013
We packed their safe cooking ingredients, naturally, like safe spices, oils, etc. Which was fine for when we had a kitchen available – even all of the motel rooms we stayed in had microwaves. But the real conundrum was what to do about the days, and there were 5 of them, when we had to drive 8 or more hours of just driving. Enter my big, big, BIG recommendation – we bought this little guy off Amazon:
We picked up the butane cartridges at our local Cash & Carry – we bought three and came too close to using the last one up. Partly because there was a little learning curve for us. I’d recommend buying a cartridge per three meals if you’re doing something quick.
We took along a huge bag of frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts and potatoes and coconut oil. Plus rice – more on that in a second. We would stop at a rest stop and set up in the picnic area, chop/slice chicken breast and potatoes and fry them up with various combinations of flavorings, or the same on rice. We really lean on Coconut Secret’s Aminos, which are a “soy sauce” that is safe for many allergic people. I also learned over time to open a bottle of water for myself after I browned the chicken and toss some of that in the pan before drinking out of it :-). Kept the mess down and helped the chicken cook through more quickly.
About that rice: the second vital tool we bought was a rice cooker. We could make up a batch of rice in the morning in a motel and the little guys could have that with cinnamon and the hemp milk we’d packed, then again later with chicken (and veggies added) cooked at the rest stop. We don’t buy anything with non-stick surfaces if we can help it, especially for the youngest three with a fragile immune system, but the availability of rice cookers with stainless steel bowls is increasing as more people become aware of the issues. Ours doesn’t have fuzzy logic or even a timer (which would be nice) but hey we were trying to pay for a trip! We had no issues with sticking or clean-up or burning whatsoever. I had made sure to buy it to arrive a week or so before the trip so we could feel comfortable with its use before hitting the road, and that puppy has been in daily use ever since. Here is the one we got – smaller ones available but we have a big family:
So those are the two tools that made travel amazingly smooth. With the portable cookstove, you’ll want to remember the following (we ended up stopping at a Walmart to buy a couple of these after not thinking it through carefully enough):
- Plastic cutting board and something to sanitize it, preferably in wipe form
- Pan (try on your various pans to bring biggest that fits the burner)
- Knife and/or kitchen scissors depending on what you’re cooking out there
- Hand sanitizer of choice
- Potholder or mitt
Saturday, June 29, 2013
I snapped a picture of tonight’s meal, because it was so delicious and left my tummy so happy (and yes, I’m aware that sentence makes me sound about six). This was the simple meal from tonight:
Paleo stuffed baked squash. Two of these per person was just right for all but our 20 year old male – he added a salad. I asked Clara, “So, what cookbook was this one out of?” and she said, “Oh, I just winged it”. Heh.
I will therefore have Clara guest-blog her recipe. Try it and make your tummy happy too :-).
Clara’s Happy Meal
Take 4 acorn squashes, halve, and scoop out the seeds. Cut a small slice off the rounded side of each half to stabilize the halves so they sit upright. Rub each side with about 1/2 Tbsp butter, and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Bake on a cookie sheet (I also used parchment paper) with open sides up at 400 degrees for about 1 hour.
While the squash is cooking, prepare filling. In a medium skillet, brown 1 pound of ground turkey at medium heat. Here, you can season the meat with a seasoning blend (I used Grill Mates Roasted Garlic & Herb), or just leave it as is. Transfer meat to a medium-sized glass bowl. Next, finely dice 1 medium zucchini, 2 medium carrots, a couple cloves of garlic, and about 1/2 cup mushrooms. Put the pan back on the stove, and add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Once the oil is pretty hot, add in the zucchini, carrots, and garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes, then add mushrooms. Once the veggies are cooked, season with some salt and pepper, then add to the bowl with the meat. Place about 1/4 cup pecan halves in a small skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, until pecans are fragrant and toasted. Finely chop pecans, and add them to the meat-vegetable mixture. Stir it all together, and add a scant 1/4 cup of Parmigiano-Regianno (or plain Parmesan) to the mixture. Stir until cheese is melted.
Once the squash is fork tender, remove from the oven and distribute filling evenly between cooked halves. Grate a little more Parmigiano-Regianno on top, then stick under the broiler for a minute, until the cheese bubbles and starts to brown. Remove from oven, put 2 squash halves on each plate, and serve immediately.
~~Mama’s note: Clara noted that it was a good deal trickier to type this up than to cook it! Thanks, Clara, for both the meal and for blogging the recipe.
Saturday, May 4, 2013
These mental wanderings brought to you by the fact that I didn’t even get a blurry quick picture of the lovely stack of “Korean Green Onion Pancakes” that Sophia made last night. Think it would have been hard to get an appetizing picture, anyway, as they just looked like thick pancakes . . . you’ve seen that. In fact, when Sophia served them up there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm in the air. Until we bit into them. Oh my YUM.
From a book we had home from the library (which has promptly gone on my to-buy list) called The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen: Recipes for Noodles, Dumplings, Sauces, and More . This uses white rice flour, so is not Paleo, although I think experimenting with coconut/almond flours might work here. Peppers, green onions, Korean chili powder, and red bell peppers are included, but the soy vinegar dipping sauce (Sophia actually used coconut “soy” aminos) is what takes this dish over the top. Because of Clara’s allergy to sesame, including the oil, that was not included in the sauce, but I’ll bet it would be better yet with sesame oil added.
For years, we have used a homemade rating system which runs from one to seven, seven being, “Don’t bother making me anything else for the rest of my life, I’ll just eat this from now on”. Everyone liked it, and maybe I was just hungry, but I was all 6.75 over this dish :-). Thank you, library, for the chance to trial this book!
For example, down the left side of the Picadillo chart there are the following:
- Stir in and soften
- Add and brown
- Stir in
- Pour in and reduce before seasoning
- Cuban Picadillo
- Asian Picadillo
- Hawaiian Picadillo
- Argentinean Picadillo
- Turkey Picadillo
- Italian-Style Picadillo
- Vietnamese Picadillo
- Caribbean Picadillo
Keep your eye out next time you’re in the thrift store and grab a copy if you see one! Better yet, buy one for yourself and keep buying until you have one to hand each of your children when they grow up and leave home.
If you look at my blog background, down in the left background, you’ll see the book, Twenty-Minute Menus by Marian Burros. I bought this a million and six years ago, one of my first cookbooks, when I was a single nurse working in an NICU. I had a co-worker and dear friend who brought inspiring meals to work every evening, and I wanted to learn to make something, but my priorities did not include being in the kitchen. Hence the selection of this title. It was a random selection, so I was fortunate in selecting a good author. There are a few recipes that are good from that book, but the one that became a family staple is her recipe for 5 Spice Chicken. Who doesn’t need a 5 Spice Chicken recipe, right? Oh. Vegetarians. OK, but the rest of us need one! Those of us who are paleo throw it on a bed of greens, everyone else on rice. Perfect vehicle for soooo many vegetables lightly steamed and stirred in. Leftovers very lunchable. This is a good example of fast food, too, and making the spice blend oneself allows for slight tweaking over the years until it becomes a unique family blend.
Twenty minutes? Well, yes, I suppose, but only after we’ve made it innumerable times. Which is the point with most of these books. I’m sure the author clocks in at twenty minutes, but these chefs have knife skills and often have high pressure kitchen experience behind them.
Which brings me to Exhibit B, Jamie Oliver’s Jamie Oliver's Meals in Minutes: A Revolutionary Approach to Cooking Good Food Fast . If you know us in real life, please don’t bring up this cookbook title in Clara’s hearing :-). She really hates how the instructions are written in this cookbook. He has set up the instructions to get the complete meal to the table simultaneously, with everything warm that should be warm. So he might have you chop the onions and garlic for one dish, and set it to a low temperature, then tell you to combine ingredients for another dish and put them in the refrigerator, then come back to your first pan, add chicken broth, then chop something else. What drives The Patriarch batty about the instructions is the lack of actual times or frequently measurements. “Add oil to the pan and cook while you chop the broccoli” is not my husband’s friend. We all do get it. Especially after watching episodes of the show that went with the book on youtube, this is all meant to be enabling and instructive on how to throw together fresh, whole ingredients to make a quick meal.
Do I recommend the book anyway? Wholeheartedly, and both Clara and The Patriarch agree. Despite the fact that it annoys them both, they agree that the recipes really do produce some special food, and in a reasonable timeframe. Also, the flavors are at times a departure for us. Here is an example; we had this last Sunday. This is “Tasty Crusted Cod”, and the crust on the fish is an unusual (for us, anyway) combination: fennel seeds, garlic, anchovies, sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan, fresh thyme, rosemary, and basil, and a fresh red chile. We all bit into it and went, “Hunh” but that slowly turned into, “This is something that tastes really different for fish”, into, “I really like this!” And quick? Yes, quick. Clara and The Patriarch served it with asparagus and some lovely quick-marinated, pan grilled shrimp:
The third book that needs mentioning is Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Food: 350 Recipes Ready-to-Eat in 30 Minutes . I have discussed this book in the past. This one strikes me as a goalpost. He has a kitchen garden and his approach is the head-to-the-garden-and-the-market-and-cook-what-is-fresh approach that I think of as very European. It was much easier to cook this way when I lived in Germany – I could take a walk, not very long, through the village and pass the bakery, the butcher, and in summer the outdoor produce market, otherwise a small grocer. Here in suburbia, in our climate, this type of cooking is really only practical in, say, July through September. Still – very good recipes and we’ve never made a thing from it that we didn’t like.
Lightening food is what is grabbed on the way out the door if one has not planned ahead! I wanted to mention this, as we all have our standby grab food, but The Patriarch has found a nice one. His standby has been to take a tortilla and put Run Down, a Jamaican standby, into it. However, he has gone Paleo so tortillas are out. He does the bed of lettuce thing. The new grab food is courtesy of Costco, which now carries Bear & Wolf brand wild Alaskan salmon in a can, shown here from Amazon:
What a resource! We buy a big “Spring Mix” plastic tub, which is organic and pre-washed, and he grabs his glass container and throws in a bed of spring mix, a can of salmon, and a handful of seeds, primarily sunflower seeds. Voila! Lunch! In about 3 minutes :-).
There are so many variants of seeds and nuts and dried fruit that make good out-the-door grabs. My sister does something that I’ve stolen, which is to have a line of quart Ball jars each with a different type of seed or nut or dried fruit. Each person can grab a little bowl if they’ll be home and mix what they like, or a little bag when heading out the door.
I suppose this is sort of an endless topic, isn’t it? Just a few thoughts from the front :-)
When I started working harder on remodeling our house, my plan went by the wayside – at first we made quick menus based on books on the shelf geared to quick cooking. This is an interesting sub-genre, isn’t it? So few do it well. I’ll get to this in a minute. Anyway, then just . . . . We image dealing with cancer in war terms – “fighting”, “battling”. Do all cultures do this? Well, I am winning the war but seem to be losing daily battles. Nausea is still such a controlling factor of every day. All to say my daughters, particularly Sophia, do the lion’s share of the cooking these days. The Patriarch continues to do fish on Sundays, usually with a cooking buddy. Nigel and Clara alternate Saturdays still, and Clara pinch-hits at times when her homework isn’t heavy. But anyway, this is why this poor blog was abandoned. I’ll try to be a bit better about intermittently posting – we do continue to eat wonderful food :-).
Next post I’d like to talk about “fast” food cookbooks, but wanted to take this blog off hiatus first.