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!