Sunday, March 30, 2014

Cornish Game Hens (No Oil & No Sticking!)



Would you believe me if I said you could cook these little Cornish game hens (or even a full size chicken) directly on a pan with no added oil or butter? Why so skeptical? It's not like you have to rub them down with unicorn blood or anything. Even a novice chef can learn this secret (but simple) method for cooking poultry without added fat. I was first introduced to this method by Chef Paul and Chef Sui Lon of the Miette Culinary Studio in NYC during a team-building cooking class my office hosted. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I might not have believed it either. I was determined to repeat the experiment in my own kitchen and voila - worked like a charm!

Now, I used my cast iron pan because I don't think it gets enough love, but at the cooking class we used a stainless steel roasting pan. Either would work fine. Keep reading to learn the secret!

Ingredients: 
  • 2 Cornish game hens
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 4 sprigs sage
  • 8 sprigs thyme
  • 1/4 of a whole lemon (sliced lengthwise into two wedges)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • garlic powder
  • paprika
  1. Preheat oven to 375F. When it comes to temperature, place your empty cast iron skillet or stainless steel roasting pan on a middle rack and let heat for at least 20 minutes.
  2. Prepare your hens by removing any package of giblets from inside the cavity and patting them dry with paper towels.
  3. Split all the fresh herbs evenly in two piles and group together to form little bouquet garnis. No need to tie with string.
  4. Stuff the inner cavities of each hen with two garlic cloves, one small lemon wedge, and one of the herb bouquets. There should still be a little wiggle room inside so that the hen will cook completely through. If there isn't, your lemon might still be too big.
  5. Sprinkle the outside of the hens generously with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika and rub the spices into the skin with your hands. The bird should be covered on all sides. Set aside on a plate (or this can be done the night before and stored in the fridge).
  6. AND NOW FOR THE BIG SECRET! When the pan in the oven has had at least 20 minutes to heat up, you're going to dry the crap out of the bottoms of each hen by wiping vigorously with paper towels. This is not the tentative patting of meat, this is a full on RUB DOWN. The bottoms of the hens must be COMPLETELY DRY or you risk them sticking to the pan. Rub those babies hard. Don't worry about rubbing off the seasoning, remember, this is just the bottom of the hen you're wiping. Once you are CERTAIN they are dry you're going to quickly remove the hot pan from the oven and place the hens inside (bottoms down, breast-side up). They should make a loud sizzling sound the minute they touch the hot pan. You may be tempted to lift them to see if they have stuck. Don't. Leave 'em alone and quickly get that pan back in the oven. This whole process should take less than 30 seconds from the moment the pan comes out of the oven.
  7. Let the hens roast in the oven for 45 minutes. If you're unsure if the hens are done, test the meaty part of the thigh with a meat thermometer to verify they've reached at least 165F. Or slice through the thigh and ensure the meat is cooked through and juices run clear. If you have a reliable oven, though, 45 min should be sufficient.
  8. Let the meat rest at least 10min before carving/serving. You can serve 1 whole hen per person, or take some sharp kitchen shears and cut clear through the back bones and breast bones to serve one half chicken per person (after removing the stuffing).
  9. Tip: If you want to cook a large amount of hens at once, follow the same method and still cook for 45 minutes. If you have more than one pan, though, rotate the pans (which is on top versus which is on bottom) every 15 minutes to ensure even cooking.
We fancy, huh!


This is all you need to stuff two hens. Remember to keep the lemon wedges small.
Hello ladies
Rub the crap outta them to get all the water off. If you think you are rubbing hard, rub harder.
QUICKLY get them into the hot pan...
...and back in the oven.
So... beautiful... should have sent a poet...


See - no sticking!
You can easily cut down the front and back of each hen to create
individual half-portions to serve laying on their side on the plate.

Or serve whole!




Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Paleo Snack Packs


Having healthy and readily available snacks for those impromptu cravings is the best way to avoid falling off the Paleo wagon. I put together these little Paleo snack packs on a Sunday that will last me the entire week. I make little containers of fruit/hard-boiled eggs for my breakfast at work, baggies of fresh raw veggies for a snack as well as baggies of raisins and nuts. It's such a simple thing, but it really does help - especially when you suddenly have a craving and want something immediately. It's such a relief to be able to just grab one of these baggies out of the pantry or fridge and go to town. These little snack-sized baggies are perfect for portion control so you don't eat an entire tub of raisins in one sitting. I am constantly changing up the food content of my snack packs so I don't get bored - feel free to try it for yourself and experiment with some of your favorite foods!

Breakfast Pack (examples)

Fruits
  • Cherries
  • Grapes


When spring and summer roll around, I LOVE getting farm fresh berries (strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, etc) and mixing it up.

Eggs

My Egg Muffins travel really well and re-heat easily.

When I'm in the mood for hard-boiled eggs, I will typically boil an entire carton and store them in the fridge (labelled boldly, of course). Then I just take what I need each morning in a separate baggie or container. If you want to store your cooked eggs with raw ones, you can write directly on the shells of the eggs with a magic marker.



Veggie Pack (example)
  • Sugar Snap Peas
  • Grape Tomatoes
  • Sliced Bell Pepper



Dry Fruit and Nut Pack (example)
  • Raisins
  • Dry Roasted, Lightly Salted Cashews



They all fit perfectly in the meat drawer in the fridge.


What fun combinations can you come up with???




Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Hand-Crushed San Marzano Tomato Sauce

Just because we're freezing our butts off here in the Northeast and there's not a tomato crop in sight doesn't mean we can't still enjoy beautiful homemade tomato sauce. If you missed the boat last summer of storing enough fresh tomato sauce to last through the winter it's not too late! Believe it or not, you can still achieve a beautiful pot of sauce from canned whole tomatoes. In this particular recipe, I chose to use a large piece of pork to add to my sauce pot, but you could throw in anything. Try meatballs, sausages, braciole, or even calamarri and shrimp!

Ingredients
  • Large piece of pork, about 1-2 lbs
  • Coconut oil
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 1 6oz can tomato paste
  • 3 28oz cans whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes (if you have trouble finding them in the regular grocery store, try an Italian grocery or Italian meat store)
  • 1 tsp salt (plus more to taste, if needed)
  • 1/8 tsp pepper (plus more to taste, if needed)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Fresh basil leaves
  1. Prepare the canned tomatoes by pouring them into a very large bowl. Crush the tomatoes by squeezing them in your hands until all the large pieces are broken up.
  2. In a large 6qt saucepan, sear the pork briefly on all sides on high heat with 1-2 Tbsp coconut oil. Remove the meat, reserving the juices in the pan, and put the pork on a plate off to the side.
  3. In the same pan, saute the carrot and onion until soft on medium-high heat. Add the garlic and continue to saute another 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the can of tomato paste and saute another 30 seconds.
  4. Add the bowl of crushed tomatoes along with the salt, pepper, oregano, and bay leaves. Don't put the basil in just yet. Stir the pot well and then nestle the pork back in. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat to simmer on low 3-6 hours. The longer the sauce cooks, the thicker and more fragrant it will be. You want to at least cook it long enough so that the meat falls apart when pulled with a fork. Taste regularly and add more salt/spices as needed.
  5. Tear apart 2 - 3 large handfuls of basil leaves and stir into the sauce right before serving to maintain the freshness and flavor of the herb. Serve over zucchini noodles, or spaghetti squash.
Not a fan of getting my hands dirty. Gloves for the win!


Growing up, my mom and grandmother always added white sugar to their sauce to cut the acid of the tomatoes, but carrot actually does the same thing and is a much healthier alternative! Grated up small like this, you can't even tell it's in there.

All ingredients prepped and ready to go!
The Italian grocery store actually sells packaged pork labelled "for sauce". Perfecto!




Nestle the pork back into the pan

Fin! Bellissimo!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Dirty Dozen / Clean 15 (2013)

It's that time of year again! The Environmental Working Group published the findings for the 2013 Dirty Dozen and Clean 15.

The below are in no particular order, and you'll notice the Dirty Dozen once again has a "plus category" for crops that did not meet traditional Dirty Dozen criteria but were commonly contaminated with pesticides exceptionally toxic to the nervous system.

If you're new to this, what does it mean and why do you need to know this? Well, the Dirty Dozen are the 12 fruits and vegetables that test for the highest amounts of pesticide residues that are harmful to the human body. It is recommended to purchase these as "organic" where possible to avoid such residue from traditionally-farmed crops. Will you drop dead if you eat it anyway? Nope. And many times, the benefits of eating the fruit and veggie outweigh the risk of it having pesticide residue. Just ensure if you do purchase an item off the Dirty Dozen list that isn't organic that you thoroughly wash it prior to consumption.


Conversely, the Clean 15 are the 15 fruits and veggies with the lowest traces of pesticide residue. Unless you prefer the taste or have the bucks to spend on it, no need to purchase these babies as organic. Good to know when you're working on a tight food budget.


Here are my posts from previous years in case you want to read more about how I use these lists for my own family.
2012's Dirty Dozen and Clean 15
2011's Dirty Dozen and Clean 15

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!!!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Perfectly Poached Eggs

My husband and I took a trip to London last January and one of the best parts of the trip was the full English breakfast. This thing is massive - 2 poached eggs, 2 sausages, 2 pieces of bacon, fried mushrooms and tomatoes, beans, toast, and of course, tea. I behaved myself and didn't "tuck in" to the beans and toast, but the feast of protein was amazing. The surprising thing for me, though, was that I loved the poached eggs.
That's the glow of someone with full English breakfast in their belly.
As a child, I had an aversion to runny yolks. My brother would get his eggs sunny-side up and actually let the yolk run all over everything else on his plate... toast, bacon, didn't matter. I'd want to throw up just watching his egg yolk bleed all over everything. My eggs had to be WELL DONE or not at all.

But going back to my full English breakfast - the eggs arrived and I saw they were poached. Adopting the old "when in Rome..." attitude, I dug in. And could not believe the velvety deliciousness of the runny egg yolk. It's like believing Santa Claus isn't real, and then discovering he actually is. It was that kind of magical. It turned my world upside down because I was sure I HATED runny yolks. I don't think I can explain how truly life-altering this is.

Well, getting back home I now had to figure out how to poach my eggs myself because I'm not a breakfast at the Waldorf everyday kind of girl. It took me a few tries to get it down but now I can make myself this classy breakfast in no time.

Ingredients
  • 2 eggs (the fresher, the better!)
  • Dash of apple cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
  • Salt, pepper, and parsley flakes, to taste
  1. Crack your eggs into a small bowl (like a custard cup or prep bowl)
  2. Set about 2 inches of water on the stove in a large non-stick skillet or stock pot over medium heat.
  3. The water should heat until large bubbles form along the bottom, but should not simmer or boil. If you can stick your finger in the water without burning yourself, it's just right. (Be careful about testing this out, though.)
  4. When the water is ready, add the splash of vinegar and stir vigorously with a slotted spoon. It creates a little vortex so when you drop in the eggs they wrap around themselves to make the little pouch. The vinegar is to help the eggs stick to themselves easier. I've tried it without and still got my eggs to adhere, but I noticed my water was extremely cloudy so it was hard to see inside. I do think the vinegar helps.
  5. Using the cup, lay the eggs into the swirling water gently, but quickly. Don't drop them into the pot or else they'll come apart. It's kind of like putting a goldfish in a tank. Nice and easy. Unless you're some kind of sadistic fish torturer.
  6. Set a timer for 5 minutes and DON'T TOUCH THE EGGS. In fact, don't even THINK about touching those eggs. Just let them sit and do their thing. Even if it looks like the yolk is having an out of body experience, I promise it will poach itself.
  7. When the timer goes off, use your slotted spoon to gently lift an egg at a time from the water. You may have to lightly detach it from the bottom of the pot, which is why it's handy to use non-stick. If you're not sure if they're done, the yolk should have a little jiggle to it and the white should be completely cooked. You can test the yolk by lightly tapping with your finger. I sometimes leave them in a minute or two longer just to have a nice blend of texture with a thicker liquid yolk. You'll figure it out over time what you like best.
  8. Arrange eggs on a plate. You could blot the egg on a tea towel if it's too watery. If any little tendrils are left hanging on the egg just slice them off to make it look neat and pretty. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and fresh cracked pepper (and parsley flakes for some visual pizazz) and enjoy!
Keep the eggs in a separate small bowl so you can gently lay them into the pot
Water is just about ready when large bubbles form all along the bottom. Remember - no boiling!

Swirl the water around with your spoon

Sorry for the poor quality, but there was a lot of movement here.

Don't touch!

Still don't touch! Even though it looks like the yolks left the pouch, they really didn't. Put on your acid washed jeans and have Faith.

BOOM! Poached eggs! Jiggly yolk = perfect

If these eggs could grow arms, they'd be giving jazz hands right now.


C'est Magnifique!


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thanksgiving Round-up

It's almost time for Turkey Day!!! There's no reason to panic about the food we eat around the holidays. As you can see, there are plenty of Paleo options to serve on your table for a full and bountiful Thanksgiving!

The Thanksgiving bird usually takes center stage. It's your headliner. Your star. Your pièce de résistance. I get a juicy and flavorful bird every time by this fail-proof citrus-herb stuffing method. Here is my recipe using a chicken, but just adjust accordingly for the size of your bird.


So if the turkey is the star, then the side dishes are the back-up dancers. Let's call them, the Fall Favorites. Try any combination of these dishes for a balanced and colorful table.

Acorn Squash Halves
Autumn Salad
Caramelized Brussel Sprouts
Orange Vegetable Mash
Roasted String Beans with Cherry Tomatoes and Shallots
Sauteed Cremini Mushrooms with Lemon, Capers, and Garlic
Stuffed Artichokes

By the time you finish all this, who the heck has room for dessert? Instead of stuffing yourself full of almond or coconut flour dessert knock-offs, try serving some fresh fruit instead. Like these Dairy-Free Berry Parfaits. Instead of the almond flour cream cheese, whip up some fresh coconut cream for a light and delicious treat you won't feel guilty about later!

Wishing you and your family a very happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Stuffed Artichokes

It probably sounds weird, but artichokes remind me of the holidays. My mom or grandma would stuff a batch and serve them with our Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas feast and I always looked forward to it. I didn't realize until I was much older that most families don't cook up a batch of stuffed artichokes for their celebrations. My husband had never eaten one until he came to one of our holiday events. Really. So if you are an artichoke novice, fear not. They are delicious and a cinch to prepare.

The edible part of the artichoke is disproportionate to its actual size. There's a teensy bit of meat on the bottom of every leaf you pull off, which we all toil away to scrape off with our teeth. Then once all the leaves are peeled away you get down to that succulent treasure trove at the bottom - the heart. There are these little fiber-y hairs encasing the top of the heart which pull off easy. Then it's go time. It's your reward for making it to the end of the journey. And what a pleasant journey it was.

The classic recipe uses breadcrumbs and even some Parmesan cheese. By swapping breadcrumbs with a deliciously seasoned almond meal you go from a carb-loaded dish to one with more protein. Artichokes by themselves are an antioxidant superfood and rank among the highest for total antioxidant capacity. So why ruin it with all those irritating gluten-y breadcrumbs? Need I give you another reason to eat a darn artichoke?


Note, you'll need 2 cups seasoned almond flour (see post: Italian Seasoned "Bread" Crumbs, or the below recipe).

 ITALIAN SEASONED "BREAD" CRUMBS
Ingredients
  • 2 cups almond flour/meal
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl until thoroughly combined.

---------------------

ARTICHOKES
Ingredients
  • 4 large artichokes, trimmed
  • lemon juice (optional)
  • 2 cups Italian seasoned "bread" crumbs (see recipe)
  • 8 cloves garlic, smashed with the flat of your blade and minced
  • 4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • boiling water
  1. Prepare your artichokes. Cut off the stems so they will stand upright. Slice off the top third of the artichokes and pull off some of the tough outermost leaves. Trim off the pointed tips of the remaining leaves with kitchen shears. Turn the artichoke cutside-down, and with a firm grip on the base, bang the artichoke against your cutting board to open the leaves. Rub cut parts with a little lemon juice, if desired, to keep from turning brown. Use your thumbs to open the leaves the rest of the way to make room for stuffing and set aside.
  2. Heat oven to 425° F and set a small stock pot of water to boil. 
  3. In a large bowl, combine bread crumbs and garlic. Stuff one artichoke at a time by scooping out 1/2 cup of stuffing, placing the artichoke in the bottom of the bowl and sprinkling with the 1/2 cup of stuffing. Use your fingers to work the stuffing in between the leaves. You may not have to use the entire 1/2 cup for each artichoke because the size of your 'chokes may vary. Just ensure you get a bit of the stuffing between each of the outer leaves and in the top.
  4. Transfer stuffed artichoke to a baking dish. Continue until all artichokes are stuffed and placed in the baking dish. 
  5. Drizzle each artichoke with 1 Tbsp oil. Pour in boiling water from the stock pot to fill the dish about an inch high. Cover securely with aluminum foil and bake about 45 minutes. Check for tenderness by sliding a knife easily through the base of the artichokes. Once tender, uncover and broil for about 3 more minutes, or until the artichokes turn golden brown. Serve warm.



Cut off the stems to create a nice flat base and pull off some of the tougher outer leaves.

Trim off the top of the 'choke (about a third of the way down)

Snip off the pointed tips from each leaf

Knock your 'choke against a hard surface to get it to open up

Use your fingers to separate the rest of the way

If you don't already have your "bread" crumbs, mix up 2 cups' worth

Pour about a 1/2 cup crumbs over each artichoke and use your fingers to work it into the leaves


Drizzle each with 1 Tbsp olive oil

Almost ready to go!

Don't forget to add about 1" of boiling water to the pan

Cover tightly with foil and bake about 45 min

After a quick broil, them 'chokes is done!

Mmmm... artichokes