Better Beef

Cows Grazing

It's been a busy month since my last post and completion of the AutoImmune Protocol diet. Without going into our family drama, I will simply press on.

The first few reintroductions (post-AI Protocol) came naturally and without incident. As I was asked this many times by friends and family, the first food I ate (post-protocol) was tomatoes. A few days later I ate potatoes. I felt good and moved on. Since then, I have learned that beans and lentils make me very uncomfortably bloated and gluten-free grains seem to give me a headache + brain fog. And the experiment continues...

I was reminded during the AI Protocol that food quality is really important. Especially when you feel your choices are limited, they really need to count (best nutrition for your buck). A few key components here are locally grown, probably organic, and as unadultered as possible. We are regulars at the Farmer's Market (FM), so I feel that we've got high quality produce covered. Also, we are able to buy amazing fresh seafood at the FM. Where we lacked, though, was in the grass-fed and organic meat department. I buy organic chicken, ground beef, and frozen steaks at Trader Joe's and a few other specialty items at SPROUTS...but I'd like to get closer to the source.

So after a little research, our family recently joined a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program for beef through J&J Grassfed Beef. It's a once a month pick-up of frozen, grass-fed beef. You pick a base "pack" and then select additional cuts if you choose. Although I'm not crazy about ground beef, it's versatile and part of eating "nose to tail" if you want some of the other delectable cuts. The first order, I bought the smallest base pack and then a couple additions. The 2 pound top sirloin was stellar. I also made stock with knuckle bones, tomato sauce with garlic basil sausage, and hamburgers on giant oven-roasted portabella mushrooms. This time I bought a larger pack that came with: flat iron steaks, ground beef, eye of round (roast), sirloin tip steaks, and another jumbo top sirloin steak. I wanted to be challenged by a "grab bag" of cuts. My goal is to use it by our next pick-up.

I can almost hear it now...should you be eating that much beef? Beef will be on the menu six times in the next month. I feel ok about that because it is organic and grass-fed. It is leaner, lacks the toxins in traditionally raised cattle (antibiotics and hormones), and has a better fatty acid profile due to it's pasture-based diet. And, honestly, as a person who has had 6 iron infusions in the last few years, one of my top nutrition priorities is to keep that iron level where it needs to be...beef is a great way to accomplish that goal.

Weekend Extras

Life feels hectic these days. I am constantly looking for shortcuts to make weekdays easier and weekends more relaxing. I find that spending some quiet hours around the house helps me recharge before the week.

As I mentioned, last week was a busy one. Weeknight entertaining plus weekend guests. When Sunday arrived, I was ready for some peace and quiet. I remembered that a bunch of frozen chicken bones were piling up in the freezer. It was the right time to make stock.

Chicken Stock

Although making stock takes a few hours, it mostly happens while you are doing other things. Perfect for my day of tidying, doing laundry, making shopping lists, and even just sitting. Making your own stock also saves time and money at the store. Plus it makes the house smell amazing!

Try it, I think you will be happy with the results. Start by saving the bones of whole chickens. (If they are raw bones, they will yield broth, and roasted bones will yield stock.) We eat a whole roasted chicken several times a month. I toss the uneaten parts in a zipper lock bag, put it in the freezer, and forget about it for a while. Or you can save the necks and backs you cut out of chickens. When you have 2-3 birds worth of bones, gather the other ingredients for the stock, including a large pot.

Stock Ingredients

At a minimum, you need 1-2 onions, 2-3 carrots, and several stalks celery. It's also nice to have leeks, parsley and thyme. A couple garlic cloves won't hurt either!

Place chicken bones in a large pot. Cover with water. Place pot over high heat and check back occasionally. When you see small bubbles, reduce heat to medium. You do NOT want it to boil vigorously. Also NO lid. Simmer chicken bones about 2 hours. During this time, check that the pot is simmering nicely (small bubbles). If you see any scum forming (off white/grey brown bubbles) scoop it off with a spoon.

TIP: Make sure you have enough water for the bones and veggies to "swim" comfortably.

Add veggies and continue simmering 1-2 hours. My picture demonstrates that I should have used a bigger pot. :-)

You can decide when the stock is done. Three to four hours is about right. Then strain the bits and pieces out (pressing to release tasty juices), cool at room temp before transferring to the frige. You want to use large shallow containers so that the stock cools quickly and safely. Then move to freezer storage containers (like the ones pictured). I get a bunch of these pint and quart containers and lids at Smart & Final. Just don't put anything hot in plastic containers...be patient and wait until it cools first.

So, yes, it's a process. But it yeilds delicious goodness that keeps giving back to you. It's safe in the frige for 2-3 days and will freeze for 6 months or longer. So, stock up! (Sorry I couldn't resist the pun)

Entertaining Paleo Style

Entertaining can be nerve-wracking, especially when you are on a "special diet". Unfortunately, when you get too worked up about choosing and prepping the food, you tend to lose sight of the whole reason for having people over...to relax and enjoy one another! So take a deep breath and come up with a plan.

We had company Thursday and Friday night last week...seven people both nights. We don't get to see either group very often, so I needed to be present and available. It was also important for me to stick with the AutoImmune Protocol and serve tasty food.

Tip 1: Unless you are very confident in the kitchen, stick with something you've made before. I turned to an expert for a tried and true recipe (which I've made before). Fiona's Green Chicken Thursday night's menu:

  • Fiona's Green Chicken from Nom Nom Paleo's Food for Humans cookbook. Prep and marinade ahead. Bring to room temp; grill.

  • Green Salad (from a previous post) made with chopped romaine, green apple, celery, persian cucumber, and lemon vinaigrette. Wash and chop lettuce, celery and cucumber ahead of time. Prep dressing too.

  • Grilled Onions and Sweet Potato Wedges with olive oil, salt & pepper

  • Organic Strawberries dipped in Coconut Cream (and shaved dark chocolate for those who could partake)

  • Plus, our guests brought wine (which was tough to avoid drinking, but I did!)

Tip 2: Share responsibility...delegate! Yes, this is easier with some groups than others. Our little guy helped set the table, and my honey helped with the grilling. Hopefully there is one person at your get-together that you can ask to toss a salad, or pour water, or schlep food to the table.

Grilled Grass-fed Steaks Pan Fried Trout Fillets

Friday night's menu:

  • Surf & Turf (grass-fed steaks and trout fillets rubbed with olive oil, salt & pepper). Bring to room temp; grill.

  • Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad with April Bloomfield's Lemon Caper Dressing with slight modifications. I followed the recipe, but left out the dijon and replaced the 1/2 tsp sugar with 1 tsp honey (both to take the lemony edge off and thicken the dressing without the mustard). Prep the dressing ahead.

  • Grilled Sweet Potato "Chips" with olive oil, salt & pepper (this was a last minute addition by "the griller".

  • Oven Roasted Broccolini, Carrots, Parsnips, and Onions with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt & garlic pepper

  • Organic raspberries and/or dark chocolate. It took me a long time, but I finally found a dark chocolate that does not contain soy lecithin: Alter Eco has only 4 ingredients...can't wait until I can chomp some too!

    Tip 3: Unless it comes up, keep your dietary restrictions to yourself. Your guests probably don't want to hear about all the stuff you "can't eat" or the restrictive diet you are "making them eat". Just share tasty, simple food and it'll all work out. Cheers!

Flexibility is Key to Kitchen Success

Life is messy and unpredictable, especially in the kitchen. Although you will have days where things just don't go smoothly, staying flexible can help you pull out of a kitchen crisis.

Last night was one of those nights. I didn't add quite enough oil to the carmelized onions, they began to stick and over-brown. My kale chips didn't fit on one sheet pan, so I moved the roasted veggies to a pan on the stove and put two trays of kale in the oven. Then I pulled the grass-fed kobe burgers out of the frige, and there were only 2 in the package, not 3, as needed. After some re-working, I grilled the burgers to perfection, but my husband came home 15 minutes later. Ugh.

But look what emerged, even after all that chaos!
Kobe Burger on Greens with Avocado & Carmelized Onions served with kohlrabi, carrots and leeks

Kobe Burger on Greens with Avocado & Carmelized Onions

These hiccups can send almost anyone into a tail spin. However, when you are trying to get dinner on the table, you have to take a deep breath and press on. Unless you've scorched something to charcoal briquette status, the meal is probably salvageable.

Problem 1: Food is sticking to your pan.

You probably didn't use enough fat/oil. Or your food isn't ready to stir/flip. As Chef used to tell us "it'll let go when it's ready" (he was talking about cooking proteins...meat, chicken, etc.). Fix these problems by adding more fat to the pan and waiting a bit to see if the food "let's go" of the pan.

Problem 2: You are running out of kitchen real estate.

Planning usually helps solve this problem. For instance, if you have one cutting board, prep salad and veggies first, and then cut meat. Also, try to divide your dinner prep between appliances or cooking methods. Don't put three different pans on the stove...this increases this risk of burning & triples your dishes. Put one thing in the oven for 20-30 minutes, so that you can cook another item stove top. Occasionally I break this rule by cooking a whole dinner on the BBQ.

Problem 3: Dinner is ready, but no one else is ready.

This is a tough one. Unless you have those handy heating lights like restaurants, you often serve cold or overcooked food in this case. If your plates are oven safe, you can stick them in a low oven (200°) for 10-15 minutes without affecting the quality too much. Another technique is to microwave a plate on a lower power level(5), so that you don't cook the food twice.

And with the kobe burger incident, when in doubt, add more veggies. I broke the patties down, added grated red onion and carrot, black pepper, and garlic salt. Then I formed them back into three patties. Fantastic!

Remember, meals should be enjoyable. No sense in messing it all up (and your digestion too!), by getting in a tizzy right before sitting down to eat. Bon appétit!

Fresh Food

Several years ago my sweet little niece asked me if I go to church...I responded "no honey, I go to farmer's market". I feel like this is my way to commune with Mother Nature or the Guy in the Sky, or however you want to describe what's "bigger than us". So every Sunday we are home, we go to the Farmer's Market as a family. It's a delight to the senses; we taste, smell and touch as we move through the market and look for the best items to bring home.

Here's part of this week's haul:
Roasted Veggies

There is nothing quite like a crisp, juicy apple from Mr. Ha's Orchards, especially during those first few months of Fall. They are heavenly. Or the delicate, juicy Satsuma tangerines in January. These days, I'm obsessed with the mindblowing perfection of Romanesco. I could go on and on, but the point is food this fresh, tastes different, tastes better.

I can already hear the naysayers mounting their excuses...I don't have time, there's no farmer's market nearby, I'm busy, I don't like vegetables. Well, if it's important to you, you may be able to find a way. No farmer's market nearby? Try a Community Supported Agriculture program or have a box of organic produce delivered to your home. When you ditch processed foods, you won't believe how amazing fresh food tastes. (And, hey now, even our 3 year old eats this stuff!)

We are fortunate to have J & P West Coast Seafood at the market too. The fish is amazingly fresh and delicious. This weekend my parents were visiting, so we splurged on jumbo shrimp and red fish.

Jumbo Shrimp with California Chimmichurri Jumbo Shrimp with California Chimmichurri

I tossed the shrimp with the rest of the California Chimmichurri in the frige, and threw them on the BBQ for an appetizer. After 5-6 minutes and a squeeze of lemon, ooh's and ah's filled the kitchen.

This week, red fish made a debut on the menu board. I had never heard of red fish, so we tried it. Unfortunately, Red Snapper, a relative, appears on the "Avoid" section of the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Buyer's Guide, so this may not be a sustainable choice.

Cedar Plank Red Fish Cedar Plank Red Fish

Nonetheless, you could cook another, more sustainable fish this way with fantastic results. Soak a cedar plank in water for several hours. Place sliced lemons and a handful of herbs (thyme & parsley are nice) on the plank in the shape of the fish. Place fish fillet on top of the aromatics. Rub with oil and sprinkle with salt & pepper. Grill on medium high heat for about 20 minutes. No need to flip. Serve with lemon wedges if desired.

Served with farm fresh roasted vegetables and a colorful salad. This is restaurant quality food at home...enjoy!

AutoImmune Protocol - 2 weeks in review

I am grateful to have 2 weeks of the AutoImmune(AI) Protocol under my belt. And although I don't feel good persay, I don't feel as bad. Progress, right?

I'm not going to lie, Week 1 sucked. I felt tired and slow the first few days. I was uncertain about what to eat and breakfast and snack felt really awkward. Then I was grouchy about all the "can't haves".

Fortunately, Week 2 was a different story. It seemed to glide by more gracefully. I felt better and more confident about what to eat. I also got in a groove in terms of shopping, cooking, and eating leftovers.

Oven Roasted Veggies

Almost every night I put a sheet pan of veggies in the oven to roast at 350° or 400° while I worked on the protein. A few of our favorite combinations are:

  • broccoli + cauliflower + carrots
  • brussels sprouts + shallots + parsnips
  • butternut squash + red onions + romanesco
  • purple cauliflower + romanesco + parsnips

Just toss uniformly cut pieces (to ensure the same cooking time) with 1-2 Tbs of your choice of fat plus salt & pepper and about 30 minutes later, you have deliciousness! (Check it after 20 minutes, just to make sure.)

Lemon Vinaigrette

I also tried to squeeze in several salads each week. Having a jar of homemade dressing in the frige really helps. This week I made Lemon Vinaigrette. At lunch, I would have a salad with leftover protein and veg. At dinner, I kept side salads simple with greens plus 2 or 3 toppings. One of my new fav's is romaine + green apple + celery + persian cucumber + lemon vinaigrette...tasty!

Lemon Vinaigrette makes 1/2 cup

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (or part juice part white wine vinegar)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp honey
pinch herbs (I used thyme)
pinch salt & pepper

Assemble in a jar. Shake vigorously before each use. Store up to a week in the frige.

As I mentioned, a few times I felt down about following a "restricted diet". However, I came out of the 2 weeks feeling confident, emboldened and actually inspired by the narrower field of choices. I read that grocery stores have 40,000-50,000 products. Who needs that kind of choice? No wonder people are paralyzed by indecision and end up with a cart full of crap!

I can't wait to go to the Farmer's Market tomorrow and refill our coffers with colorful goodness. Tune in for more!

Warm from the Inside Out

It's cold (for us So Cal wimps). My son is sick and grumpy. I needed a pick-me-up. After trolling through the cabinets for something warm and comforting, I decided to make a simple pumpkin soup.

Gingery Pumpkin Soup

If you have a can of pumpkin left over from the holidays, this is the recipe for you. Easy, tasty, nourishing. Need I say more?

Gingery Pumpkin Soup makes 3 servings

1 Tbs olive oil* or coconut oil
1 medium shallot, peeled and chopped
1 Tbs peeled, chopped ginger root
2 tsp chopped or pressed garlic
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree*
1 (14 ounce) can light coconut milk*
1/4 tsp salt
Coconut chips (optional garnish)

Heat oil over medium. Add shallots and stir ocassionally. Cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add ginger and garlic, stirring rapidly to prevent browning. Cook 1 minute. Add pumpkin puree and coconut milk. Stir or whisk to combine. Simmer over low heat until flavors combine and soup thickens slightly, about 10-15 minutes. Salt and taste for seasoning. The salt should help highlight each flavor independently: ginger, pumpkin, coconut. Yum.

I like the soup silky smooth, so in the blender it goes. (This part is optional.) Hold a towel over the blender container to prevent splashes.

To fancy it up, you can toast coconut chips in the toaster oven or in a dry skillet. Watch them because they burn easily! The soup would also be tasty with bacon crumbles or toasted nuts (if you are not doing the AI Protocol).

*Ingredient Notes: not extra virgin, but the more robust and heat tolerant "olive oil"; preferably organic pumpkin puree and coconut milk in a BPA-free can; Trader Joe's has all three.

California Dreamin'

It's been a delightful winter so far in Southern California. We've had several weeks of near 80 degree temps, but now it's starting to feel like winter. The days are cooler and it even rained the other night. Nonetheless, I'm still in the mood to BBQ, so that's where my mind's been lately.

I bought some beautiful double cut lamb chops yesterday. I immediately thought about the BBQ. And although I don't mind the "gamey" flavor of lamb, I do like it with a tasty accoutrement. Enter my California Chimichurri.

The Farmer's Market fresh herbs, garlic, and the tang of red wine vinegar in this recipe sends me over the moon. Plus, if you have a food processor, it's a cinch to make.

California Chimichurri

California Chimichurri makes about 1 cup

2-4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 small to medium shallot, peeled & quartered
2 packed cups fresh parlsey (mostly leaves)
1 packed cup fresh cilantro (mostly leaves)
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

Put garlic and shallot in the food processor. Process until finely chopped. Scrape down sides. Add parsley and cilantro. Process again until finely chopped and blended. You may need to scrape down the sides and repeat. Move chopped goodness to a bowl or container. Add vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Stir well to combine. Prepare for your mind and tastebuds to be blown!

Grilled Double Cut Lamb Chops with California Chimichurri

Grilled Double Cut Lamb Chops with California Chimichurri

6-8 double cut lamb chops (two bones per chop)
1/4 cup or so California Chimichurri

Pull chops out of the frige about 30 minutes before grilling. Coat with chimichurri sauce and let sit at room temp. Preheat grill to medium high (about 425-450°). Cook about 7 minutes the first side, flip and cook about 5 minutes more for medium rare. Let rest at least 5 minutes (if you can stand it). Serve with a generous spoonful of chimichurri on the side.

Side Dish: That burst of color peaking through the chops is Nom Nom Paleo's Kabocha Wedges from Food for Humans. I got a little wild and crazy and threw some Magic Mushroom Powder on them. (FYI - The recipe for this flavorful Powder is only available in her book...totally worth it) Tasty!

Dedication

On Saturday, I went to a cooking class hosted by Food Forward in the truly amazing Mariposa Creamery at the Zane Grey Estate in Alta Dena, CA. Food Forward's mission is to rescue fresh local produce that would otherwise go to waste, connect this abundance with people in need, and inspire others to do the same.

Kevin West, author of Saving the Season: A Cook's Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving and Joseph Shuldiner, author of Pure Vegan: 70 Recipes for Beautiful Meals and Clean Living led us through a fun, informative and humorous hands-on cooking class. While I was surprised by the gorgeous no-knead 21-hour boule (bread) part of the class (gluten, yikes!), I was blown away by his passion and dedication to the craft. Same with Kevin West, and his tireless desire to create food that would make his grandma proud. Both are self-taught experts in scratch cooking, bread on one hand and preserves on the other hand.

Not only did I walk about with a burning desire to make marmalade from the oranges on our plentiful tree at home, but also I was inspired by the way both men really applied themselves to something they love.

It turns out, on that same Saturday, I had some doubts about the AutoImmune Protocol. While I decided to add eggs back to my diet early (I can't lose anymore weight), I saw some parallels between the amazing food these two gentlemen created and the health that I am trying to nurture in myself. Dedication...it pays off. (Check out their cookbooks, I'm sure you will agree.) And even if the AI Protocol doesn't work with me for some reason, it was worth working at it for 30 days. I hope to be healthy for the next 30 years. It seems a fair trade off, don't you think?

Keep at it. I'm sure "the experts" would agree.

Fantastic Finds

I'm not going to lie...it's been a tough week. Today I decided to welcome the weekend with a delicious meal.

Sunset Magazine's January 2014 issue had a feature called "25 All-Time Favorite Test Kitchen Recipes". I've been meaning to try one featuring crab and boy, did it deliver!

I tweaked Sunset's Cracked Crab with Lemongrass, Black Pepper, And Basil recipe to meet the needs of the AutoImmune Protocol. See our version below.
Southeast Asian Crab Legs

I went to buy whole crab for the recipe and it was going to cost $49 for two cooked crab...yikes! I quickly decided to buy cooked crab legs instead. They were attached to the bodies anyway, so it seemed like a good trade off. I paid less than $20.

Also, I was unable to find lemongrass at the store, so I substituted lemon and lime to mimic the citrusy (albeit more subtle) flavor of lemongrass.

Southeast Asian Crab Legs Serves 2-3

2 Tbs chopped fresh ginger
1 Tbs chopped garlic
1/2 tsp lime zest + 1 Tbs lime juice
1/2 tsp lemon zest + 1 Tbs lemon juice
1/4 cup coconut aminos
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 Tbs coconut oil
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1/2 cup basil leaves, sliced
2 pounds cooked, cracked crab legs or 2 whole crab, broken down into pieces

Combine ginger through black pepper in a zipper lock bag. Gently add crab legs so that you don't tear the bag. Shake to cover crab with sauce. Refrigerate 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Heat coconut oil in a wok or saucepan with high sides over medium heat. Add crab legs, but not marinade. Cover and heat 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add marinade and raise heat to medium-high. Cook another 5 minutes while stirring to cover crab in sauce.

Remove from heat and stir in cilantro and basil. Serve crab with sauce. Get your bibs out for this messy treat! This was the tastiest dinner I've had in a while.

In addition to roasted veggies (purple cauliflower, romanesco and parsnip), I threw together a green salad. The salad was an unexpected hit.

Fresh & Tangy Green Salad: chopped romaine lettuce + chopped green apple + chopped persian cucumbers + parsely leaves + my Tangy Lemon Herb dressing (from another post). Simple and delish.

Brilliant Breakfast!

One of the hardest meals for me in adopting Paleo eating and especially the AutoImmune Protocol has been breakfast. Sometimes, especially during winter, I crave a hot bowl of...something. I used to be a big fan of oatmeal or warm muesli on a cold morning. I have been searching for something to fill that void (and empty stomach!), and I finally think I've found it.

Sweet Potato Porridge

Sweet Potato Porridge

This humble concoction warms your belly with good for you carbs and many other nutrients. Delicious with just three ingredients, but also fun to fancy up a bit. It goes a little something like this:

2 small or 1 large sweet potato, peeled*
1 cup coconut milk*
Dash cinnamon

Shred the sweet potatoes with the grating disk of the food processor. You can use a box grater too, just watch those fingers!

Combine shredded sweet potatoes, coconut milk, and cinnamon in a small saucepan. Stir and put a lid on it. Cook 10 minutes, stirring once half way through. Breakfast is served!

Other tasty toppings or stir-ins: 1 Tbs raisins, leftover bacon crumbles, and/or toasted coconut. If I wasn't doing the AI Protocol right now, I would add some toasted almonds or hazelnuts...yum!

*Ingredient Notes: Trader Joe's has a bag of small organic sweet potatoes that work great in this recipe.
I used Trader Joe's light coconut milk because it was available (easy!) and comes in a BPA-free can.

Got more sweet potatoes? Another winner this week was sweet potato hash with chopped onions, diced sweet potatoes, leftover chopped chicken, and leftover crumbled bacon. Tasty!

Cook Once, Eat Twice (or three times)

I have to admit...I love to cook. I also like to meal plan, shop for food, and spend time in the kitchen. Nonetheless, whipping something up morning, noon and night is not going to help me get through this challenge. I recognize the need for more batch cooking and using leftovers creatively.

Yesterday, I wrapped some leftover Vietnamese Pork Balls with veggies in nori (dried seaweed). It was a tasty little hand roll!

Here's how:
Line up your ingredients on the diagonal, from the upper left corner to the bottom middle of the nori.
Then take the lower left hand corner and pull it tightly over the ingredients to the top middle of the nori. Roll it up to create a cone shape.
Tada!

Want more "do overs"?
Tuna Niçoise-ish Salad Last night I olive oil poached some Ahi Tuna given to us by a friend (caught & shared by a neighbor!). The tuna was fantastic, but I wasn't crazy about the cooking method. Anyway, I saved the leftovers and turned them into a AI-friendly version of a Tuna Niçoise Salad. The traditional components are tuna, potatoes, green beans, olives, tomatoes, and eggs. Mine had cucumbers, avocado, beets, olives, and tuna. Ok, it's a stretch, but it scratched the itch, as they say. Plus, I have tasty salad dressing for the rest of the week.

Tangy Lemon Herb Dressing Tangy Lemon Herb Dressing makes 1 cup

1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 Tbs white wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large shallot
2 cloves garlic
1 Tbs capers, rinsed
salt & pepper to taste

Whirl in blender. Delicious on salads, roasted veggies, and as a marinade for chicken or fish. Enjoy!