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.