Last month, I wrote about how I wanted to take my blog in a new direction by visiting and writing about food producers around the world, in order to better understand how the food we eat gets onto our plates. Off the bat, I knew that one of my first destinations needed to be where the whole “food” thing starts. At a farm.
Choosing a farm to visit was easy. Last summer I met David Maren, founding farmer and general manager of Tendergrass Farms, and we quickly became friends through our mutual love of languages and our mutual disdain for our country’s rampant, negligent farming practices. We’ve also been working together over this past year; he sends me samples of food to cook and eat, and I take pictures of that same food for his website. It’s a pretty sweet deal for both parties, hearkening back to humanity’s bartering days: he gets free photography and my family gets free food.
David’s small farm is located near Floyd, VA (about 4 hours from us), so we made the drive down a couple weekends ago to check out and talk about his company. Here is what I found out.
Chicken Kiev is a Ukrainian dish, possibly influenced by the French roulade (I’m a big fan of roulades – check out my German Rouladen recipe). This dish is characterized by rolling herbed butter into chicken cutlets. To me, this is an ideal meal; chicken breasts tend to be bland without some added fat or spices, and Chicken Kiev has both in spades. To make the butter easier to roll, my recipe calls for freezing the butter for 30 minutes before rolling – it makes a huge difference.
As a Russian linguist and teacher in my day job, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the spelling of the word “Kiev” in my recipe. The Ukrainian government officially changed the romanized spelling of their capital city’s name to Kyiv in 1995, mostly due to the fact that Kiev is the Russian pronunciation of the word. But in truth, Kiev is the original, Old East Slavic pronunciation of the city (technically it’d be spelled Kyev today). I think it’ll be interesting to see how the world spells and pronounces the word for this important city in the future – especially given the amount of attention this corner of the world has received recently. Personally, I like Kiev, but not as a slight to the Ukrainian people or government; I’m just a fan of Old East Slavic.
It’s hard to believe, but my cookbook, The Ancestral Table, has been out for nearly four months. I keep finding myself surprised whenever someone tells me they have and enjoy my book; for some reason I keep assuming that only our little family regularly uses it as a reference. So I thought it would be fun to take a week off from my regular recipes and share one from The Ancestral Table, as a gentle reminder to myself that there are other people out there who could use these recipes.
Deciding on a dish to share was really easy; we make this roasted chicken recipe at least once every two weeks. Simply put, it’s one of the easiest chicken recipes you’ll find, and it’s deliciously crispy and juicy. Cooking the bird directly in a skillet also makes it a cinch to whip the drippings into a flavorful gravy. Finally, we like to throw the bones and carcass into our electric pressure cooker for a couple hours to make some tasty and calcium-rich broth.
I’m also giving away a copy of my book this week, signed by me and Paul Jaminet (who wrote the foreword of my book). There are only a few copies like this one, so be sure to enter to win (instructions at the bottom of this post).
Let’s talk about Sweet and Sour Chicken for a second. It is probably not surprising to read that while this dish is served in Chinese restaurants in many Western countries, it doesn’t really exist in China. There are several sauces in China that incorporate both sweet and sour tastes, the most common being from the Hunan province, but they’re still a far cry from what you can get at your local Chinese-American restaurant. The reality is that this dish is now nearly more of an American dish than Chinese. On the flip side, the Chinese have their own interpretation of Western tastes – like flying fish roe and salmon cream cheese stuffed crust pizza (Hong Kong Pizza Hut).
But at the end of the day, it’s still a unique and comforting meal, and I thought it would be fun to try and replicate it using Paleo-friendly ingredients. My first order of business was figuring out how to make the sauce without resorting to ketchup as a base; instead, I used a combination of chicken stock, tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, tamari, honey, and spices. For the chicken, I used my new breading technique highlighted in Tuesday’s chicken nugget recipe. Lastly, I found that gently simmering the sauce while I cooked the chicken helped the sauce ingredients to perfectly marry, resulting in a balanced, delicious flavor.
For this recipe in particular, I teamed up with the folks at Vitacost; they offered to have me experiment with their online store and see what I could come up with. I had been thinking of trying out this Sweet and Sour Chicken recipe for a while now so it seemed like a good fit. I was surprised at how easy and cost-effective it was to use their shop; many of the items in their store were comparable or even cheaper than what I can find locally. Not only that, they had many of the brands we already buy. It was a lot of fun to conceive an entire meal using only their store items (minus the produce and meat). I think Vitacost would be a great resource for three types of people: (1) those who don’t live near a gourmet or international market, (2) those who have a high cost of living (big cities, for example), and (3) those who don’t have time to rummage through the aisles of several stores to find the right ingredients.
Okay, let’s get cooking.
I have always been proud of my Paleo “Chick-fil-A” nugget recipe from a couple years back, and it has definitely been a hit with readers. If fact, I’m sure a few of you stumbled upon my little blog because of them. But to be honest, I’ve never been satisfied with the texture of the nuggets themselves; while they are very similar to the thin coating that you’ll find at Chick-fil-A, I personally prefer a spongier breading around my chicken nuggets. So while experimenting with breading techniques for a different recipe (I’ll post the results of that one on Thursday), I happened upon my eureka moment – something I like to call “reverse battering.”
You see, I’ve always been taught to bread meats using a liquid-then-flour (or flour-liquid-flour/breading) method. Sounds logical, right? It’d be just crazy to not put flour or breading on nuggets before frying them. But after some YouTube surfing for Chinese recipes, I noticed that sometimes people would bread their food with starch and then egg before throwing it in the oil. Turns out it’s a genius idea for getting a light, crunchy, and satisfying texture for nuggets without having to deal with that whole pesky “wheat flour” or “breadcrumbs” stuff. The trick is in not heating the oil too hot, so as to keep the egg from burning; medium heat works perfectly.
I’m a big fan of Thai curries, and Green Curry is one of my favorites. It’s been a couple years since I tackled my last Thai curry (Panang Curry), so I thought it was time to share another recipe. Like in my Panang Curry recipe, this recipe is a template for you to adjust as you see fit; directions on how to change the protein or add vegetables are provided below the recipe.
The Thai word for Green Curry (แกงเขียวหวาน) actually translates to “Sweet Green Curry”, but that doesn’t imply that this dish is sweet. Instead, “sweet green” means “light green” in Thai.
While the idea of making curry from scratch may be initially daunting, nothing could be further from the truth. My curry paste has quite a few ingredients, but all you do is basically throw them all together and purée; the paste will keep for a month in the fridge and there’s enough paste to make three curries. Making the actual curry is even easier – it’s a 20-minute meal, if not less.
We follow some very simple guidelines when it comes to making meals. First, we really only cook one big meal a day, dinner. Breakfast is usually eggs/meat and berries or fruit, or in my case during the week, I’ll often eat canned or smoked fish and berries or fruit. Lunch is leftovers from previous dinners. On many weekends I’ll cook a bunch of dishes at once (usually for the blog) and we can also use those leftovers throughout the week. That’s it – super simple, and definitely cuts down having to spend long hours in the kitchen.
But to be fair, there are some drawbacks to the type of recipes I often post on this site: they require a sizable time commitment. Not everyone has time to braise a hunk of meat for several hours, or the inclination to thaw and marinate something overnight. I try to combine some of my involved recipes with other, faster recipes (my Maldivian Fish Curry recipe comes to mind). I’m also very thankful for other like-minded sites that come up with quick, delicious creations using both ingenuity and talent (see: The Clothes Make the Girl’s Turkey & Cranberry Meatballs and Nom Nom Paleo’s Paleo Sausage Egg “McMuffins”).
Along those same lines, I still appreciate the use of pre-made sauces when in a hurry, like tomato sauce and Thai curry pastes. So when Steve from Steve’s Paleo Goods offered to send me a sampling of their PaleoChef sauces and marinades, I was intrigued.
Last September we met up with our friends Matt and Stacy, the Paleo Parents, for dinner at P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, a popular Asian-themed chain restuarant here in the U.S. that sports a gluten-free menu. It was our first time visiting the restaurant, and Stacy strongly recommended (demanded?) that I try to re-create their famous Chicken Lettuce Wraps. Never one to turn a challenge down, I accepted, and then promptly forgot all about it.
But lucky for you, Stacy didn’t forget the promise I made that fateful day. In fact, she did one better, and corralled a bunch of Paleo-friendly bloggers together this week to re-create some favorite dishes from the restaurant chain. Here is a link to the round-up.
For my version I made a few minor adjustments. I used honey instead of what I assume is gobs of sugar (we taste-tested the original dish again last week and I was surprised by how sweet it was), and made fried noodle sticks using sweet potato noodles instead of rice or mung bean noodles, which I assume is what they use in the original recipe.
It’s somewhat surprising, but Pad Thai, despite being one of Thailand’s national dishes, is from Vietnam. Originally influenced by Chinese cuisine, the dish was relatively unknown in Thailand until the 20th century. It actually was part of a Thai government campaign in the 1940s to create a national dish that both reflected the Thai spirit and also increased rice noodle production to help propel their economy. There’s a really interesting history of the dish to be read here.
This recipe is a long time coming, and something we’ve been cooking for years. For a while I was content with pre-made sauces like Mae Ploy’s, but I was never happy with its high sugar content and the fact that it has MSG in it. So I decided to work out how to make it from scratch, and I couldn’t be happier with the resulting product. This is the real deal.
And to make things even more interesting, for this particular photo session I thought it would be neat to try out Cappello’s gluten-free, grain-free fettuccine noodles instead of our usual rice noodles, and I was surprised by how well they worked! Instructions on how to make them with traditional rice noodles and zucchini noodles are included as well.
While researching some Italian pasta-based chicken dishes, I came across a dish called Chicken Francesca more than once. I loved the name, and all it implies: the Italian word Francesca literally means “from France”, so to me the name Chicken Francesca means it’s an Italian dish that is cooked using French culinary methods. The problem is that the recipes I found that carried the name were vastly different from my initial impression: some were baked using breadcrumbs and cream, others were mushroom-intensive and served over rice, and still more were linked to a restaurant in Boston known for breasts sautéed in a skillet with artichokes and parsley.
So I decided to take my favorite elements of some of those recipes to make something even more unique: an Italian pasta dish that borrows heavily from French culinary methods! Namely, I focused on creating a heavily-browned skillet in order to deglaze it to serve as the base for my pasta sauce. I also used a milder shallot instead of the traditional onion found in many Italian pasta dishes, and added fresh parsley right at the end of the dish, which is so often found in French cuisine.