Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Vanilla, Coconut, Chocolate Paleo Bars

If you're looking for an alternative to eggs for breakfast (a likely possibility if you follow an ancestral approach to food) try these simple and scrumptious paleo "dream bars."

Yields 12 bars

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 cup crushed pecans, divided
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 dates, pitted and roughly chopped
1/2 cup coconut oil (in solid form)
1 vanilla bean, scraped3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
2 tablespoons cacao nibs (optional)
  1. Combine the cocoa powder, 1 cup of the pecans and sea salt in a food processor, and pulse until it resembles coarse sand. Add the dates and pulse until the mixture comes together. 
  2. Press mixture into the bottom of a small baking dish, about 8x5". 
  3. In a separate dish, combine the coconut oil, vanilla and maple syrup. Stir in 1 cup of the shredded coconut. Spoon this mixture over the cocoa-pecan crust and smooth with a spatula or the back of a spoon. 
  4. Top with the remaining pecans, coconut flake and cacao nibs. Cut into 12 portions and top with parchment paper.
  5. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pickled Beets

This is our first year spending Thanksgiving in Los Angeles. Our dinner guests, Gideon and Carina, are from Germany and it is their first Thanksgiving ever. We met them over the summer while surfing. When Rich asked if they had plans for the holiday, Gideon said, "Zat's when you eat ze chicken, yaa?"

Ja wohl!

So, I guess there's no pressure or expectations. That's kinda nice, actually. Maybe we'll spend the morning surfing and then cook the bird spatchcock. Don't worry, I'm not serving chicken. I have a 12-pound turkey defrosting in the refrigerator now awaiting its brine bath.

I planned the dinner menu a few weeks ago but realized that the appetizers are generally not something I even think about. Ideally, an appetizer platter provides just enough food to keep your guests from eating their napkins but not so filling that they're not hungry for dinner and not so time consuming that it distracts you from the main meal.

Enter beet pickles.

You can make them a day or two ahead of time, and they are perfect with some Marcona almonds and cured olives and herbed goat cheese. Simple and delicious... okay, and a little addicting.

yields 1/2 pint 
1 medium beet, peeled and halved horizontally
2 tablespoons maple syrup
pinch sea salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  1. Steam the beet until cooked through but not mushy, about 15 to 20 minutes. 
  2. Slice it in 1/4-inch slices horizontally, then slice in matchsticks. Place the beet spears into a small clean mason jar. 
  3. In a separate measuring cup, whisk together the maple syrup, sea salt, and 1/4 cup of the vinegar. Pour this mixture over the beets, adding the remaining vinegar until nearly filled. 
  4. Screw on the lid and invert the jar to ensure the contents are well distributed. Store upright in the refrigerator for up to one week. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Paleo Herbed Stuffing

When it comes to Thanksgiving, I am very traditional. Taking a bite of dark meat turkey slathered in cranberry sauce instantly transports me to my childhood when cousins and aunts and uncles would all descend on my parents' house for the holiday weekend.

The rhythm of making the same dishes year after year is comforting to me.

One of my favorite foods of the holiday is stuffing or dressing. (I'll admit I haven't stuffed a bird since I took a food handler's course while waiting tables in college and realized how ridiculously easy it is to send all your guests home with food poisoning!) But, whatever you call it, it's basically toasted bread cubes, herbs, onion and celery cooked in a moist heat.

Some folks like to make cornbread stuffing or add sausage or more esoteric ingredients. But, like I said, I crave familiar flavors. And those flavors translate so easily from the bread-based side dish to this paleo-friendly dressing. It's so spot on, there were moments that I forgot it wasn't my mom's recipe.

You can easily double the recipe; simply use two baking sheets and increase the cooking time slightly. Bonus, if you don't eat it all, you can make a delicious breakfast hash the next morning. It's one of those leftovers that's worth fighting over. (Sorry, honey, I got there first!)

Serves 4
1 very large white sweet potato, peeled
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 yellow onion, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup chicken broth*

*feel free to use vegetable broth if you have vegetarians on the guest list.

1. Preheat the oven to 375F. 
2. Cut the sweet potato into 1/2-inch dice. Toss with herbs and 3 tablespoons of olive oil and arrange on a rimmed baking sheet. Season generously with salt and pepper.

3. Roast for about 40 - 45 minutes, or until browned.
4. During the last 10 minutes of cooking, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet and saute the onion and celery until slightly softened.

5. When the sweet potatoes are finished baking, remove about 1 cup of them to a baking dish and mash gently with a potato masher or the back of a fork. This replicates the slightly smashed texture of traditional stuffing surprisingly well.
6. Add the remaining potatoes and the sauteed onion and celery, tossing gently to combine.
7. Pour the chicken broth over the dish, cover and bake for another 15 minutes, or cool completely and bake until heated through when you're ready to serve.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Roasted Chicken with Sautéed Zucchini and Wine Reduction

I spent the last weekend in October in the Bay Area for a photo shoot for my upcoming fitness book, Psoas Strength and Flexibility. I had all day Sunday to blow and enjoyed the morning with my friend Cristina who took me down to the wharf where we found lunch in the courtyard of The Cannery building, which originally housed a Del Monte peach canning plant. I enjoyed the delightful company, but, as is the case with restaurants with epic locations, the food was just okay.

Dinner, on the other hand, was superb. A block from my hotel in unassuming Old Town Oakland, I found Desco, which offers seasonal, ingredient-driven regional Italian cuisine in a warm and inviting, modern space. I sat at the copper-top bar and waited for my roasted spring chicken with wine reduction and sautéed zucchini. I took my food to go and enjoyed it in my hotel with Anthony Bourdain on television and a bottle of wine. Yum.

This past weekend, I recreated the dish at home. It was my first time roasting a chicken prepared spatchcock, but I will definitely do it again. It cooks more quickly and because more of the skin is exposed, browns beautifully. It would certainly decrease turkey cooking time on Thanksgiving as well.

I’m usually less than enthusiastic about serving zucchini as a side dish, but once I tried it sautéed, I fell in love. Cooking over high heat in a small amount of fat browns the exterior without breaking down the cell walls of the interior. So, you can enjoy a crisp, flavorful vegetable.

I paired the dish with a bottle of Bordeaux, at the recommendation of Julia Child in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I also made a quick wine reduction to pour over the finished dish.

Okay, enough talk… let’s get to the food.

Serves 2
3 to 4 pound organic chicken
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 firm zucchini, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup dry red wine

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Remove the backbone from the chicken by placing it breast-side down on a cutting board. Cut down one side of the backbone and then the other. Remove it and save for making stock or another use. Flatten the bird with the heel of your hand. 

2. Whisk the herbs and oil in a ramekin. Season with salt and pepper. Dry the bird gently with paper towels and set it into a roasting pan. Schmear the herb mixture on it to coat. Update: I have cooked the chicken this way a couple times since the original post and it is advantageous to turn the bird so the breast side is up. It looks prettier too, since the incision will be on the underside.

3. Roast for 45 minutes or until juices run clear.
4. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for about 15 minutes.
5. Spoon some of the fat from the roasting pan to a large sauté pan set over high heat.
6. Cook the zucchini for about 5 to 7 minutes, or until browned and hot. Lower the heat and add the garlic, cooking for about 30 seconds. Remove the zucchini and garlic to a serving platter. Season with salt and pepper.  

7. Return the pan to the heat and add the red wine. Simmer until thick and syrupy. Season with salt and pepper.
8. Set the chicken atop the zucchini and pour the wine reduction over the vegetables. Enjoy with the remaining wine. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Spicy Bacon Mayo

I have made my own mayonnaise and it's hot cousin hollandaise many times, but since adopting a primal approach to food and forgoing industrial oils and butter, I don't make either anymore. I have tried using extra virgin olive oil to make mayo but found the flavor grossly offensive, the edible equivalent of a greasy used car salesmen in a plaid suit.

There are other primal-friendly fats, such as macadamia oil, but they're crazy expensive. And, I'm cheap. Ahem, frugal. Fortunately, my frugality is paying off big time because it led to this recipe using leftover bacon drippings. I thought that perhaps the bacon flavor would overwhelm the mayo, but surprisingly it was just right.

Well, it was just right...

Then I added some hot sauce I received from the Brooklyn-based Sunny Bang Private Label Probiotic Hot Sauce and was blown away. The bacon and Red Holland chile peppers in the hot sauce married perfectly, neither overpowering the other, both distinct and recognizable.

On its own, the hot sauce has a good balance of heat, fruitiness and acidity. Bonus, it is made using lactic fermentation, so it's rich in probiotics for a healthy gut microbiome. I can't wait to try it in my Puerto Rican recipe for Mofongo and Eggs.

For now, here's spicy bacon mayo. We enjoyed it with sweet potato fries, but it would also be impeccable with fresh veggies, such as carrots or blanched broccolini.

yields 1/2 cup
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar 
pinch sea salt
1/3 to 1/2 cup bacon grease, melted but not hot
1 1/2 tablespoons Sunny Bang Private Label, or other artisanal hot sauce

1. Whisk the egg yolk, lemon juice and salt in a small bowl until thoroughly integrated and thick.
2. Add the bacon drippings a few drops at a time, whisking vigorously. It helps to place the bowl on a towel or use a stand mixer.

3. After all of the bacon fat has been integrated, stir in the hot sauce 1/2-tablespoon at a time until it reaches your desired level of heat.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Paleo Chocolate Almond Butter Cups

I made these yummy chocolate almond butter cups yesterday with no intention of putting them here on the blog (the recipe is based on Practical Paleo's primal fudge recipe) but I posted a picture to Instagram and received a lot of interest.

Halloween is tomorrow and I am that mom who doesn't take her children out to trick or treat, so I thought I should make something delicious for them that resembles one of my favorite candies, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. So here's a paleo version that's healthy enough for breakfast. What? No, of course I didn't feed it to them for breakfast this morning. Psshhh.

yields one dozen
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1 cup creamy almond butter, divided
1/4 cup honey 
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, divided
  1. Pour the coconut oil, 1/2 cup of almond butter, and the honey into a blender. Pulse to combine. 
  2. Add the cocoa powder and 1/4 teaspoon of the sea salt. Blend until thoroughly combined.
  3. Divide about half of the mixture between 12 lined muffin cups. An easy way to do this is to use measuring spoons to dole out about 2 tablespoons per cup. Place in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes to firm slightly. 
  4. Divide the remaining almond butter between each of the chocolate cups. If you use a measuring spoon, it will be about 2 teaspoons. Sprinkle each with a small pinch of sea salt, then pour the remaining chocolate over the top. 
  5. Refrigerate until set, about 30 more minutes. Store in the refrigerator in a covered container.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Oolong Tea with Maple Syrup and Almond Milk

Although you wouldn’t know it here in Los Angeles, being in San Francisco over the weekend reminded me that it is in fact fall. This comforting drink is perfect in the afternoon when you want less caffeine than coffee and less sugar than cocoa but are inspired by the crisp sweater weather to drink something hot. 

Until fall does finally descend on Southern California, I'm enjoying this drink iced, which is how I first tried it thanks to my best friend Marcella. It's delicious either way! 

yields four 6-ounce servings

2 oolong tea bags
2 cups boiling water
1 tablespoon maple syrup 
1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  1. Pour the boiling water over the tea bags and allow to steep for about three minutes. Remove the tea bags and stir in the maple syrup. 
  2. If serving hot, warm the almond milk before adding it to the tea. Otherwise, combine them and refrigerate until read to serve. 

Meal Planning with gatheredtable

When my first son was born, I discovered that he couldn't tolerate many of the foods in my diet, particularly dairy, wheat and soy. With virtually no support from his doctor and very little knowledge about cooking around these dietary restrictions, I gave up breastfeeding.

Three years later, I was pregnant with my second child. I planned menus ahead of time so I could avoid the ingredients that had triggered my oldest child. But in those first few weeks of chaos, I set the menus aside. That's when I discovered the joys of colic. Again, his doctor said the problem couldn't possibly be my diet, but with the support of a lactation consultant, I decided to eliminate the allergenic foods. Not surprisingly, the endless crying ceased. The baby slept. He felt so much more peaceful and relaxed in my arms. It was clear to me that these foods were not agreeable to him!

But there I was, with a whole family to feed and only a couple weeks of menus with no grocery lists. Rich offered to drive to the store, but I didn't even know what to suggest he buy. So, I cooked a lot of separate meals and, well, we got by. I wished we had had a meal planning or delivery service and even thought about starting something that would help new moms.

Recently, I learned about a company that's doing just that. It's called gatheredtable and while its concept is broader than mine had been, it would have been perfect for us as we navigated tricky dietary restrictions.

I learned about gatheredtable when the company contacted me to serve as a recipe contributor to its paleo recipes library. What an exciting opportunity with a vision so close to my heart!

Here is a sneak peek of some of the exciting features of gatheredtable. The website is simple, easy to use and has a beautiful modern aesthetic and you can choose which kinds of foods you want to enjoy and how often:

Gatheredtable will build a menu for you, or you can select recipes from its library or import your own. Here's one featured on the site now that I just added to my library:

If you want to add your own recipes from websites, it's surprisingly easy. You simply drag and drop gatheredtable's cabbage into your bookmarks bar and then click on it whenever you're on another site that features a recipe you like (yes, just like Pinterest). The system automatically imports all of the ingredients and instructions and calculates the prep time. Here's one I brought from my site. It took just minutes.

Right now, gatheredtable is offering six months of its menu planning service for FREE without even having to enter your credit card. So, check it out! I'm eager to hear what you think. They also offer grocery delivery in select cities, so all you have to do is unpack the ingredients and get cooking!

By the way, no one paid me to say this. I'm just super excited to participate in this new venture and empower more people to enjoy meals together, especially those who are working with special diets! 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Paleo Blueberry Pancakes with Blueberry Cinnamon Compote

I have heard it said that a pancake is a pancake, regardless of the ingredients. I understand the spirit behind this stance; if you try to recreate all of your favorite baked goods with paleo ingredients, you're missing the point, not to mention the myriad benefits, of embracing the lifestyle.

I get it, really, I do.

But, the statement rubs me the wrong way. First, pancakes made with almond flour and loaded with pastured eggs knock the socks off anything Bisquick could come up with. Just because they're poured in a skillet doesn't send your blood sugar skyrocketing and double you over with gut pain. (Now that would be some kitchen alchemy!)

Second, a primal lifestyle is not a list of rules but a framework, or as Mark Sisson calls it, a "blueprint."

Whatever, I'm going for it.

These pancakes are so fantastic as a weekend breakfast (I should know, we eat them every weekend) and they easily serve the four of us, though last weekend, I also cooked up a few pieces of bacon. I think the boys are growing... yeah, like for the next 15 years.

serves 4

2 ripe bananas
6 eggs
1 cup almond flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch sea salt 
2 tablespoons potato starch*
1/2 cup blueberries
2-4 tablespoons palm shortening, coconut oil or ghee 
  1. Combine the bananas and eggs in a blender. Add the almond flour, soda, salt, and potato starch. Pulse a few times, then scrape down the sides and blend again.  
  2. Stir in the blueberries.  
  3. Heat a wide skillet over medium heat. Melt a teaspoon or two of fat in the pan, enough to coat. 
  4. Pour about 1/4-cup of the pancake batter into the pan. 
  5. Cook until small bubbles form, then using a thin metal spatula, carefully flip them. It will get easier with subsequent batches. 
 *Potato starch is a good source of resistant starch, but if you prefer to avoid it or don't have it in your pantry, you can use about 1 tablespoon of coconut flour.

Blueberry Cinnamon Compote
1 1/2 cups blueberries
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon coconut palm sugar or honey 
  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat until thick and fragrant.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Grilled Salmon with Caper Raisin Gremolata

We love salmon and enjoy it at least once a week, so I'm always looking for creative ways to prepare and serve it. This gremolata provides a bright, interesting flavor combinations. The sweetness of the raisins and grilled lemon marries perfectly with the briny capers and grassy parsley.

If grilling season has passed in your region, you can certainly still make this dish by cooking it under the broiler for 4 to 6 minutes (this will depend on the thickness of your fillet and how close the oven rack is to the element). Broiling may actually intensify the flavors of the gremolata, though you'll lose the smokiness imparted by grill. Enjoy it with glass of semi-chilled Sauvignon Blanc.

serves 2 
1 tablespoon raisins
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
zest of one lemon
1 tablespoon capers
1 small shallot, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
12 ounces wild salmon
1 lemon, halved 

1. Soak the raisins in hot water until softened. Drain and mince.
2. Combine the raisins, parsley, lemon zest, shallots, and oil in a small ramekin. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Dry the salmon gently with paper towels. If it has skin, plan to put it skin side down on the grill. If not, place it on a sheet of aluminum foil.
4. Schmear the gremolata on the salmon with your hands.

5. Place the salmon and the lemon halves on the grill. Close the lid and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. The salmon is done when it is still dark in the middle but flakes with a fork. It will continue cooking after being removed from the heat, so be careful not to overcook it.
6. Serve with a lemon half and squeeze over each fillet.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Paleo Energy Bars

While some people choose the paleo diet for weight loss, many more choose the lifestyle for improved performance in sports and recreation. For the latter, getting enough calories from ancestral foods can be challenging. I mean, how many chicken thighs can you eat? Okay, don’t answer that one. The point is, nutrient and energy density are desirable when you’re expending a significant amount of calories in a CrossFit box, paddling out to the lineup, or wrestling with rambunctious kiddos.

Yesterday we took the boys up to Zuma to surf. The thing about surfing is that you don’t really feel like you’re exercising, but it burns through so much energy… especially if you spend more time paddling for waves than actually catching them.

Fortunately, I planned ahead and made these amazing paleo energy bars adapted from Dannielle Walker's Against All Grain: Delectable Paleo Recipes to Eat Well & Feel Great. By the way, this cookbook was instrumental in helping me transition to a grain and dairy free lifestyle. I highly recommend it.

The kids love these bars and they kept the hunger gremlins at bay until we got home and enjoyed salmon and kale salad for dinner.

Yields 12 bars
½ cup almond butter
1/3 cup maple syrup
Pinch sea salt
2 tablespoon coconut oil
1 cup almonds
1 cup pecans
½ cup raisins
¼ cup shredded coconut, unsweetened
3 ounces roughly chopped dark chocolate, 80 percent cacao preferred

1. In a small saucepan, bring the almond butter, maple syrup, salt, and coconut oil to a gentle simmer. Stir until well combined. Remove from the heat.
2. Combine the nuts and raisins in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is roughly chopped and thoroughly integrated. Add the shredded coconut and pulse one or two more times.
3. Dump the nut and raisin mixture into a mixing bowl. Pour in the sweetened almond butter and stir to combine.
4. Add the chocolate pieces and stir just to combine. The residual heat of the almond butter mixture will slightly melt the chocolate, but should leave some pieces intact.

5. Dump the mixture into a baking dish lined with parchment paper. Use another sheet of parchment to press down on the mixture.
6. Place it into the freezer for 30 minutes. Remove to a cutting board and slice into squares. Store in the refrigerator.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dairy Free Chocolate Ice Cream

Julia Child once said that French cooking was the most important cuisine to master because the techniques could be transferred to any other global cuisine. Since I read that over two years ago, I have found it to be profoundly true. 

Recently, I have been experimenting with dairy-free ice cream making. Most dairy-free recipes dictate a custard preparation: eggs whisked with sugar, tempering with hot almond milk, cooking until thickened, and then chilling for several hours. Unfortunately, this method is both time consuming and grossly ineffective and yielding a creamy rather than icy dessert. Plus, it never really thickens like a dairy-based custard would.

So, I decided to experiment with the method for mayonnaise, egg yolks whisked with oil, as the base for my ice cream. Julia was right. It worked like a charm for producing a viscous, creamy dessert. Bonus, it was much faster than the custard route. And, if you think about it, traditional dairy-based ice creams are often made with half and half. The fat is so important for yielding the tongue-coating creaminess and soft texture characteristic of dairy ice cream.  

Using coconut oil yields a German chocolate flavor. However, if you prefer a more straightforward chocolate taste, use macadamia or another relatively flavorless oil. You may also choose to substitute vanilla extract in place of the coffee. 

Yields 1 pint
4 ounces dairy-free dark chocolate, at least 75 percent cacao
2 egg yolks*
1 tablespoon brewed coffee
¼ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup coconut oil
2 tablespoons coconut palm sugar
1½ cups unsweetened almond milk
*if consuming raw eggs concerns you, choose pasteurized eggs

1. Melt the dark chocolate over very low heat in a heavy-bottomed skillet until nearly melted. Remove from heat. 
2. In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks, coffee, and sea salt until slightly thickened. Slowly pour in the coconut oil a droplet at a time, whisking constantly.
3. Continue adding the coconut oil until it is completely incorporated. The mixture should beautifully thick by now.
4. Add the palm sugar and ½ cup of almond milk to the chocolate and whisk until thoroughly integrated. It will also be fairly thick.
5. Slowly incorporate the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly.
6. Pour in the remaining cup of almond milk.
7. Immediately, pour the mixture into the ice cream maker and allow to churn for about 20 minutes, or until thick and voluminous. 

8. Enjoy immediately, or freeze in a covered container.