paleo

I recently completed some housekeeping on the blog, long overdue; I redeveloped the categories on my sidebar navigation, to include specific ingredients (like shrimp and other sub-categories instead of just seafood), as well as certain types of dishes (like soups & stews) or preparations (pressure cooker recipes). I hope this makes this website a little more user-friendly, and please be sure to share any feedback in the comments below.

In the spirit of housekeeping, I recently realized that there are some very basic recipes missing from the pages of this blog. Some are obvious; I don’t expect to ever provide a tutorial on how to fry bacon, or how to slice an onion, as there are many excellent blogs dedicated to kitchen basics. But others are such a fundamental part of my everyday cooking that their absences were missed. One such recipe is today’s post, for basic mashed potatoes.

I grew up with mashed potatoes as a staple starch. Today’s recipe is very similar to my mom’s basic technique: boil some potatoes, then drain and mash them up with a bunch of butter and cream. Although to be honest, I’m a product of the 1980s (knee-deep in the low-fat craze), so our potatoes were likely made with (yikes!) margarine and (ick!) 2% milk. I’m happy to report that after spending time with my parents the other week, they’re back on real butter and cream.

Today’s recipe comes from the pages of Deep Dish: Season One, the project I released with my friend Tony Federico this past May. In it, we explore a classic American meal – Meatloaf – and build a history lesson, radio show, and comprehensive recipe eBook to explore the ins and outs of one celebrated dinner.

One last bit of housekeeping – I’m disappointed to report that the company behind my iOS/Android app will be shuttering their services, and my app will no longer work after the New Year. After spending some weeks researching alternatives, I have not been able to find a solution that fits my budget. One of my goals is to learn programming code well enough to develop my own app, but that’ll be some time from now – I still need to finish writing cookbook #3! So for now, please accept my apologies, and I hope you’ve enjoyed your time with my app.

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As I mentioned over Instagram the other day, our youngest son recently came down with a fever, the first of his life (he’s only 11 months old, but still, I like saying that). Four airplane rides over the course of seven days will do that (we traveled to my home state of Washington for Thanksgiving last week). No problem regarding the fever, though – chicken soup to the rescue, and he was back to his usual, trouble-making self the following day.

I think the Instant Pot pressure cooker craze has reached a fever pitch this year; in fact, it was on heavilty discounted during both Black Friday and Cyber Monday this past week on Amazon (I mentioned the sale in my periodic newsletter – which you’re signed up for, right?). So it seems right to share a simple pressure-cooker chicken soup recipe with you folks today.

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Scouse is a form of stew popular in Northern Europe. The English word scouse is a shortened form of lobscouse, taken from similar words like the Norwegian lapskaus, Swedish lapskojs, and Danish labskovs. The dish, which likely originated in the Baltic, is a traditional sailor’s stew consisting of salted meat or fish and thickened with ship’s biscuits. Today, the word is closely related to the port city of Liverpool, to the point where inhabitants of Liverpool are colloquially called “Scousers”.

In my research, I focused on the modern Liverpool interpretation of Scouse, and quickly found that there is a certain pride in preparing what’s known today as a “proper Scouse”. A proper Scouse, it seems, is low on ingredients, indicative of the dish’s humble origins. Today, the dish is prepared with lamb neck, onion, carrots, and potato – and not much else. In keeping with this tradition, I kept the ingredients list to a minimum; no fancy parsley here. This dish is typically served with pickled cabbage or beets, so grab those when you’re at the market, too.

My main purpose in creating and sharing this recipe was to treat it as an exercise in restraint, relying only on salt and pepper to perfect the stew’s subtle profile. To round out the flavor, many will serve HP Sauce with the finished stew (HP Sauce is a UK-based brown sauce that is like a cross between ketchup and Worcestershire sauce). As a concession, I flavored my stew with Worcestershire near the end, for those of us without access to this condiment.

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Like I mentioned last week, I’m on travel for work – right now I’m enjoying sunny (but a little chilly) Naples, Italy. And just like last week, I’m using today’s post as an opportunity to share a favorite recipe from one of my cookbooks; this time I’m sharing one from my debut, The Ancestral Table. From the book:

Borscht (Борщ) is a hearty soup most commonly associated with Russia, Poland, and Ukraine. Its name likely comes from the Slavic name for hogweed (Borschevik), which was often used to flavor soups. Although potatoes were a later addition, the foundation of borscht as we know it today dates back at least to the 9th century. This recipe is the popular Russian version, which is served hot and with meat. To cut down on the cooking time, you could make this soup with premade broth, or even make it vegetarian by using just water. Instructions for each variation are provided below.

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I’m out of town for work this week and next, slumming it in Spain, Sicily, and Italy! If you’re interested, you can follow some of my adventures via Instagram. In order to keep my “new recipes every Tuesday” theme going (something I’ve proudly maintained since 2011), I’m sharing a favorite from my second cookbook, Paleo Takeout.

Here’s what I wrote in the book about this dish:

Moo Goo Gai Pan (蘑菇雞片) is an Americanized version of a Cantonese stir-fried chicken and mushroom dish, which translates literally (“Moo Goo” = button mushrooms, “Gai” = chicken, and “Pan” = slices). I like this recipe because it’s a cinch to put together and has a light, refreshing body to it. Feel free to experiment with adding more vegetables. How about a bit of cabbage or some bamboo shoots?

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Let me start this post by acknowledging that this recipe title is a second-order misnomer. You see, combining the words “muffuletta” and “wedge salad”, at face value, is just preposterous. For those of you who know their Sicilian bread history, muffuletta is a large, round, and sturdy bread not unlike focaccia. It was brought to the United States by Italian immigrants, who created a sandwich that bears this same name.

The story goes that Italian-Americans living in New Orleans tired of having to manage a whole plate of pickled vegetables, meat, cheese, and muffuletta bread, so they started throwing it all together for the sake of convenience, and the muffuletta sandwich was born. Today, the signature traits of this sandwich include an olive salad (sometimes mixed with chopped giardiniera pickled vegetables like carrots and cauliflower) and layers of Italian ham, salami, and provolone cheese. Some versions include other meats, like mortadella (similar to bologna), or other cheeses like mozzarella.

So for today’s recipe, not only am I not sharing a bread recipe, I’m also not sharing a sandwich recipe (hence the second-order misnomer). Instead, I wanted to combine the rich and potent flavors of the muffuletta sandwich with the unmistakable crispness and convenience of a wedge salad. After all, what could be easier than making a salad that only requires minimal chopping? Another added bonus of this method: the olive oil used to flavor the olive salad doubles as a salad dressing, making this recipe a simple, two-step process. Sure, it’s not as convenient as a one-handed sandwich, but still – pretty convenient.

Coincidentally, I’m making my first trip to Sicily in a couple weeks, so I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for muffuletta bread while there.

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Around this time last year, I contributed a series of recipes to Yahoo! Food, and it was a lot of fun. As part of some company restructures, however, the website shut down in February. One of my favorite recipes from my short time there was this New Brunswick-Style Potato Stuffing, so I’m sharing it with you folks this week, just in time to nudge it into your Thanksgiving meal planning. Here’s what I wrote about it last year:

Folks who follow the Paleo diet sometimes get the short stick. For example: croissants. While solutions like “meatzas” (a pizza with a meat crust) might work in some contexts, there just isn’t a good way to create a flaky, lightly-textured pastry using nut flours, or heaven forbid, meat. Similarly, a traditional Thanksgiving stuffing (or “dressing” – more on that in a bit) is difficult to replicate. Typical Paleo reinterpretations feature (yep, you guessed it) meat, and sometimes nuts and dried fruit. All those things sound just fine, thank you very much, but not very reminiscent of stuffing.

Stuffing, as we commonly think of it, is a strange mix between crispy and fluffy, and is often overwhelmingly savory; this taste sensation expertly complements tart cranberry sauce, creamy mashed potatoes, rich gravy, and (hopefully) juicy turkey. So when conceiving a grain-free, Paleo-friendly stuffing, my mind kept returning to fried potatoes – crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside. I almost ran to my local library to do some research, but then I remembered about Google, and discovered that there already exists a potato-based stuffing, just in a seldom-visited cranny of the world (New Brunswick, Canada).

New Brunswick-style potato stuffing is characterized by two concepts: potatoes, and the use of savory (also known as “summer savory”). Savory is a defining seasoning in Atlantic Canada, and is used in most poultry seasonings in the same way that we Yanks use sage. We’re going to use a combination of both savory and sage, to make everyone happy. New Brunswick-style stuffing also typically uses bread slices in addition to the potatoes, but we’ll go ahead and ignore that fact since this is a Paleo recipe.

To get the perfect potato texture, we’re going to par-boil the potatoes to remove some of their starch and to soften them up; that way we can just blast the potatoes over a relatively high heat to crisp them up without worrying about whether they’re done on the inside. We’ll be frying them in duck fat, because it’s delicious, but lard, coconut oil, or any other high-heat oil will work just fine. In a separate pan, we’ll prepare the rest of the dish, then combine the two just before serving (otherwise, the potatoes would get mushy).

One last note: there actually is a distinction between stuffing and dressing, although the distinction is mostly ignored. Stuffing is, by definition, a dressing that is placed inside of a turkey, while dressing is not. Personally, I grew up calling it “stuffing”, regardless of its location in relation to a bird, so we’ll stick with that for this recipe.

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It’s been a couple months since my last soup post, so this one is long overdue. Soups are a vital part of my diet; they are versatile, easy to prepare, and a seamless way to integrate more homemade broth into my eating routine. Today’s lettuce soup is a nice change of pace, and a unique way to avoid the incessant crunching and chewing that comes from eating a plateful of lettuce.

There are two main cuisines with a history of enjoying lettuce in their soup. In Chinese cuisine, it is added as a finishing vegetable, much in the same way you’d add herbs like cilantro or scallions; for example, our local Vietnamese restaurant serves its Chinese-inspired Hu Tieu soup with lettuce on top. Today’s recipe favors the French preparation of lettuce soup, which is often blended (or run through a sieve) and flavored with cream.

Any lettuce will do for this recipe, with the exception of iceberg, because it probably won’t add much flavor. This dish is served both cold and hot, and we prefered the hot version. Lettuce soup has a flavor that’s hard to describe – earthy but not dirty, sharp but not biting. I’ve found that cooking down a leek in the chicken broth enriches and balances the soup; adding a few sprigs of parsley and some lemon zest help brighten its top notes as well.

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A couple months back, I posted my first sous vide recipe, this Sous Vide Salmon. Since then I’ve been enjoying this new technique as a unique way to cook food, especially lean meats, with precise results. A recent favorite has been sous vide steak, as it cooks the steak to an even internal temperature and only requires a quick sear to improve its outer texture.

I own and enjoy this Oliso SmartHub sous vide oven, which doubles as an induction cooktop for searing (and it boils water super quickly). There are plenty of other sous vide options out there, and I’ve heard great things about this Anova Bluetooth precision cooker (which is significantly cheaper than my Oliso setup, but requires you to use your own pot, and doesn’t double as an induction cooktop).

Flat iron steak comes from the cow’s shoulder, in the same region as cuts labeled as “top blade”. It is cut against the grain, well-marbled, and considered a cheaper steak cut because it quickly becomes tough when cooked beyond medium doneness; this is where a sous-vide cooking method really shines, since we can cook to a precise temperature. For today’s recipe, we’ll cook the steaks to 128F, followed by a sear which will likely raise the internal temperature to ~130F, just a hair under the definition of medium-rare.

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Paella is one of my favorite dishes to prepare at home – like fried rice or risotto, it’s an excellent way to clean out the vegetable bin. Moreover, it’s one of my favorite examples how the judicious use of white rice can in fact be very health-promoting; while rice gets a bum rap for being fairly devoid of nutrients, I think it’s just fine in the context of the broth, seafood, and vegetables used in this recipe.

This dish was a standout recipe in my first cookbook, The Ancestral Table, and here’s what I wrote about it:

Paella is a dish from Valencia, along Spain’s eastern coast. Rice was a product of Moorish influence and was a staple in Spain by the 15th century. Paella developed over the years as people began to add combinations of meats and vegetables. While water vole was one of the first meats used in paella, today’s Valencian paella includes rabbit, chicken, snails, and beans; seafood paella is equally popular and is considered a traditional dish along the Valencian coast.

Using an appropriate type of rice is important, as many varieties were specially bred to absorb liquid without losing texture. Calasparra and bomba rices are preferred and are available from gourmet food suppliers and online. Arborio, a common risotto rice, fares pretty well. In a pinch, plain calrose rice will get the job done. Paella is best made over an open flame and is traditionally prepared outdoors.

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