Cheese Crackers

Posted By on April 22, 2014

My mom has a knack for finding addictive snack foods for Nolan. His latest obsession is the cheddar cheese crackers from Outside the Breadbox, a Colorado Springs gluten-free bakery. They are very tasty, but he can go through a $5.99 bag of them in an hour or two if permitted, and I don’t think they are made with organic ingredients, which concerns me with regard to the dairy products particularly. So after he polished off the crumbs of his last bag this weekend, I set about making a grain-free organic alternative.

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I’ve been making a lot of crackers with flax meal and/or almond flour lately, so it was time to mix things up. The recipe I chose this time uses high-protein chickpea flour, and I adapted it to include a percentage of carrot flour as well–I have started making this by dehydrating carrot pulp from juicing and then blending it to dust in my Vitamix. I had heard that the high fiber content makes pulp flours an adequate substitute for coconut flour in many baking recipes, and figured that this would be as good an opportunity as any to test it out.

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Turns out, the carrot flour works great, and the taste it imparted to this recipe was very subtle compared to the dominating flavors of chickpeas and cheese. As a bonus, the color of the carrot flour reinforces the “cheesiness” of the crackers, which could be a trick in your arsenal if you have a picky eater who only likes orange-looking cheddar cheese.

The finished crackers are somewhat nutty and savory from the chickpea flour, but their main flavor will come from the cheese you select, so make sure it is one you really love! Since the process of baking will destroy any beneficial enzymes and the majority of fat-soluble vitamins in the cheese, you may want to prioritize the organic quality aspect for recipes like this one, and save the spendy raw grassfed cheeses for snacking plain.

Cheddar-Chickpea Crackers

8 oz sharp Cheddar cheese, preferably grassfed (shred or cut in small cubes)
2/3 C garbanzo bean flour
1/3 C carrot flour (or use all bean flour)
4 T grassfed butter
3/4 tsp unrefined salt
2 T cold filtered water

Preheat the oven to 350F. Combine all ingredients except water in a food processor; pulse until crumbly and uniform. Add the water 1 tablespoon at a time and pulse until the mixture comes together into a dough ball.

Turn out from the processor onto a silpat or parchment paper sheet and roll out until as thin as you can get it. (I found this dough forgiving and not overly sticky, but best to roll gently and watch for tearing.) Score with a butter knife into squares, or cut into shapes with a cookie cutter if you are feeling fancy.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until light golden brown around the edges and mostly firm. (They will firm up more slightly as they cool.) Break apart into individual crackers if you scored them, and store in an airtight container–assuming they don’t all get eaten right off the tray!

Source: Adapted from The Jolly Tomato.

Easter Meal 2014

Posted By on April 21, 2014

I hope you all had lovely Easter celebrations. We kept things very low-key at our house because Nolan doesn’t really understand holidays yet, and Theo was teething and feverish–he spent nearly all day sleeping on either Jeremy or me.

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Fortunately, the dinner plan was a relatively simple one: boneless lamb shoulder dropped in the clay cooker, served on a bed of carrot-parmesan risotto. The lamb went off without a hitch. I used finely chopped preserved lemons and juice in place of fresh zest and juice, and oregano in place of rosemary. The lamb was falling apart tender after just 3.5 hours in the cooker, which is one of the really nice aspects of the VitaClay.

The carrot risotto turned out to be problematic, however… As it happens, we had no arborio rice in the pantry, so I had to improvise. Rather than switch to a different grain, I took a different approach and went grain-free, adapting the method for making sweet carrot halwa to a savory “risotto.” I grated and then chopped carrots in the food processor until they were about the texture of rice, and cooked them down with onions and garlic in a mixture of chicken stock, white wine, and coconut milk. Enriched with grassfed butter and a pile of shredded Parmesan at the end, none of us were missing the rice, and the flavors made a nice complement to the subtly sweet and lemony sauce for the lamb.

Just like its sweet cousin, this savory carrot dish makes for fantastic baby food. Theo enjoyed a large portion of carrots with finely shredded lamb for his first Easter meal, and even Nolan ate quite a bit of lamb as well as some bits of carrot stirred into his standard noodles.

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Grain-Free Carrot-Parmesan “Risotto”

I find that adding a small amount of homemade carrot flour to this recipe helps give it a thick, smooth texture like risotto. If you don’t have any, you could easily omit it and just cook the carrots down more.

6 large carrots
2 T coconut oil
1/2 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 C white wine
1/2 C coconut cream (solidified from the top of a refrigerated can)
About 1 quart of homemade chicken stock
1/4 C carrot flour (optional)
4 T grassfed butter
1 T ume plum vinegar (optional, adds a subtle sour and salty flavor)
1 C shredded Parmesan (plus a 2″ piece of rind, optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Using a food processor shredding disc, grate the carrots; then remove the disc, put in the S-blade, and chop the grated carrots coarsely to approximate the size of rice grains.

Heat the coconut oil in a large saucepan or saute pan over medium heat, and add the onions and garlic; saute until soft and fragrant. Add the white wine, and cook down until fully reduced. Dump in the carrots, and add enough chicken stock to cover; bring to a boil, add the coconut cream and optional carrot flour and Parmesan rind, and cook down until the liquid is just about completely absorbed, stirring frequently. You may need to turn down the heat as the mixture thickens; this process should take 30-45 minutes.

Once the carrot mixture is thickened to resemble a risotto, turn off the heat and remove the Parmesan rind. Stir in the butter, shredded cheese, ume vinegar, and season to taste.

Plantain Banana Bread

Posted By on April 20, 2014

A short post today, so I can get back to my miserably teething, feverish baby and my nudist 6 year old. I felt like making banana bread this morning as an Easter treat, and improvised this recipe to use up some super-ripe plantains. You would never be able to tell that the resulting loaf is grain-free or barely sweetened: it is moist, has a crumb that holds together better than gluten-free varieties I’ve tasted, and takes just minutes to make the batter. Nolan likes it so well that he just tried to walk off with the entire loaf rather than wait for me to cut him a slice. Enjoy!

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Plantain Banana Bread

1 very ripe (black-peeled) plantain (about a cup)
1 small ripe banana
4 eggs
1/4 C maple syrup
1/2 C coconut oil
1/2 C coconut flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
2 t vanilla extract
1 C soaked walnuts, chopped (optional)
1/2 C chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Place all ingredients through vanilla in a food processor and blend until smooth. Stir in walnuts and chocolate chips by hand, and pour batter into a 9×5 loaf pan greased with coconut oil. Bake for 1 hr or until a knife inserted comes out clean.

Source: Freely adapted from Ditch the Wheat.

The Farmer in the Hazel Dell

Posted By on April 19, 2014

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Image courtesy Jandee Camozzi

In preparation for our bed-raising project last weekend, my parents took a trip up to Hazel Dell Mushrooms in Fort Collins to procure some mushroom mulch along with a friend who swears by the stuff for her own gardens. Hazel Dell grows organic wild mushrooms on a mixture of steam-sterilized hardwood sawdust, wheat bran, rice bran, gypsum, and limestone, and you can pick up a truckload of the used substrate for $30 as a soil additive.

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I wish I could have come along to ask some questions about mushroom growing! My parents were able to take a little tour and purchase some mixed bags of fresh mushrooms while they were there, and they were kind enough to bring back a bag for me. I think this was about a pound of mixed wild mushrooms for $10, which amounted to something like three meals’ worth for us: mostly king oyster and shiitake, with a few cremini and lion’s mane.

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I want to highlight the lion’s mane mushrooms, and not just because they have such a unique look and flavor. These mushrooms have actually been studied for their neuroprotective effects and ability to stimulate nerve growth factor–in other words, lion’s mane mushrooms can actually promote nerve regeneration, and may have tremendous therapeutic value for a whole range of neurodegenerative conditions, including Alzheimers, Parkinson’s, diabetic neuropathy, multiple sclerosis, and many others–perhaps even for autism!

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I cooked the mushrooms in several different ways throughout the week. Here you can see dill-dijon baked salmon with a mixture of roasted cauliflower and mushrooms, based on this recipe. I very successfully mixed some of the leftovers into my breakfast egg scramble the next day also.

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The big winner this week for showcasing wild mushrooms was this paleo jaegerschnitzel, which I served with melted caraway-scented Napa cabbage. The pork schnitzels were double-dipped for an extra-crispy coating that actually stayed on, contrary to most nut-crusted recipes I have tried in the past. I fried them up in a mixture of lard and bacon grease, and then held them in a warm oven while preparing the mushroom gravy and cabbage.

I should also add that Theo adored this mushroom gravy and made a whole meal out of the leftovers–cooked mushrooms are a good finger food for older babies because they are soft and savory and full of nutrients like vitamin D, B complex, selenium, iron and zinc, as well as a decent source of non-animal protein and even some phytonutrient antioxidants. Additionally, many mushrooms are immune boosters among their other benefits.

Paleo Jaegerschnitzel

Like cacciatore, the name jaegerschnitzel refers to a cutlet prepared “hunter-style,” preferably with wild mushrooms and game meat like boar or venison. Pork or chicken may be easier to find and is just as tasty prepared using this method.

1 lb pork loin or tenderloin, thinly sliced and pounded into cutlets
1/2 C ea arrowroot powder and potato starch
1 egg, well beaten with 2 T filtered water
1 C almond flour
1 tsp sweet paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
Lard, bacon grease or other stable saturated fat for frying

1/2 sweet onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb mixed wild mushrooms, cleaned and chopped into 1/2″ pieces
1/2 C red wine
2 C chicken, beef or pork stock (preferably homemade)
1/2 tsp dried thyme or 1 T fresh
2 T potato starch
1/4 C sour cream

Start preheating a large cast-iron skillet over medium high heat with your frying fat of choice, and heating the oven to low. In a bowl, combine the arrowroot and potato starch; in another bowl, beat the egg with the water. Season the cutlets on both sides with salt and pepper, and dredge each one thoroughly in the arrowroot mixture–use it all up, then mix up the almond flour and paprika in the same bowl. Next, dip the cutlets one by one in the egg wash, then coat with the almond flour mixture until well coated.

When all the cutlets have been dipped in the coatings, fry them up in the hot grease in batches, about 2 minutes per side or until golden-brown. As they come out of the skillet, put them on a sheet tray in the oven to stay warm and crispy while you prepare the rest of the meal.

Once all the meat has been cooked, use the same cast iron skillet with all the drippings to make the gravy: Saute the onion and garlic until soft and fragrant, then add the mushrooms and cook them down until slightly browned. Add some extra lard or butter if need be, as the mushrooms really tend to drink up that fat. Deglaze the skillet with wine, then add the broth and thyme, and allow to simmer until slightly reduced. Pour off about half a cup of the hot liquid into a measuring cup and blend in the potato starch, making sure not to leave any lumps; when it thickens up, pour this mixture back into the gravy over low heat and stir until it reaches a thickened consistency; stir in the sour cream and serve immediately over the warm schnitzels.

Source: Adapted from The Domestic Man.

Raising Beds

Posted By on April 12, 2014

I grew up in Littleton, Colorado with soil that was all clay. I literally remember picking up chunks of clay from our backyard as a child and molding shapes out of it. Clay soil is a pain to cultivate in because it is so dense and sticky that even turning the soil is an exhausting process. Fortunately, that is not our problem at the new house in Colorado Springs.

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Theo was born on Mother’s Day last year, which is the frost-free date for planting in Colorado. Needless to say, I did not get any yardwork at all, much less gardening, done last summer. So this year I have my hands full. The big challenge with the soil here is that Colorado Springs is considered a “high desert”–my backyard literally looks like a sand box! Also, because of the high elevation, we have a relatively short growing season. For me, these factors suggested that raised beds would be the way to start if I was to have any hope of successful vegetable gardening.

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My backyard slopes down and faces north, and the sunniest spot in the yard is unfortunately taken up by several large pine trees, so I had limited options for placing beds. I calculated that I would be able to put in two 4′x12′ beds in a sunny corner of the yard that gets about 8 hours of direct sun daily. I recruited my dad’s help putting together the beds. Notice all the lovely dead grass turning to dust.

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This weekend, with gorgeous 70F weather and the promise of snow in a few days, we set about finishing the raised bed project. My parents took a trip up to Hazel Dell Mushrooms in Fort Collins with a friend of theirs to pick up a load of mushroom mulch, which amounted to enough to share between 3 home gardens for $30. But more on that in a post to come. We also had a pile of garden mix soil (topsoil, humus, cow manure, perlite and a few other components) delivered to my driveway from Don’s Garden Shop on Platte. Then it was a matter of filling the beds with layers of soil and mulch, watering as we went to make sure there were no dry spots in the beds. This represented several hours of wheelbarrow trips, after which the pile of dirt was still disconcertingly large. We started looking around for more places to put all that soil.

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Our backyard is full of random piles of landscaping rocks and bricks that were never used by the previous owners. After filling our two big beautiful raised beds, there was easily enough dirt to fill another bed, so I had the brainstorm to outline one in brick and make a low bed in a partially shaded area for growing greens like lettuces that would be likely to bolt in full sun. This worked out great except that there turned out to be a rock pile buried under half the bed, so we spent the end of the day not only carting bricks but digging up huge rocks like so many potatoes.

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After all that, there was still a ton of dirt left, so I decided to amend the soil along the fence on the other end of the yard, which gets morning and mid-day sun, and was currently a terraced bed of dirt and rock with no purpose.

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After raking up yet more rocks, we amended the beds with soil and mulch, and I hope to use these plots to grow zucchini and rhubarb.

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After all of that, at least a quarter of the dirt pile was still in residence on our driveway.

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We fished more rocks out of a mostly empty bed at the base of the back porch and added some dirt to that. Then we finally called it a day. I spent the night dreaming about putting in an herb spiral, and when I got up the next morning, I realized that the bed by the back porch was probably the best I could do for location.

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By this point, my parents had gone back to Littleton, so I ended up tackling the herb spiral project all my myself. I expanded the shape of the bed farther out into the yard and built up a wall of rock in order to start with a flat bed surface instead of a hill. The cardboard visible there is a weed barrier; the bed was full of tiger lilies, which seemed to be the only thing anyone had ever planted in our yard, and although I dug up as many as I could, I think I still missed a lot of bulbs. I also had to dig out an aspen weed tree, but I left the bigger stump and figured I would just build it into the inner spiral.

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This is the finished bed, after pretty much a full day of labor. It isn’t perfect and the location isn’t ideal, but I am pretty pleased with it on the whole. Definitely used up a lot of soil and rocks!

It is supposed to snow tomorrow, so I finished all of this just in time. While the weather is not cooperating, I can start mapping out where all the plants will go in my new beds, and I should be able to start planting a few cool season crops like greens and peas and potatoes next time we have a warm spell. The herbs will mostly have to wait for the frost-free date.

And now I am going to go move as little as possible for the next couple of days!

Egg Drop Soup for Babies

Posted By on April 11, 2014

Theo loves long noodly foods and has been enjoying practicing his slurping skills this month. Since he is still almost completely grain-free, I have had to be creative in coming up with foods that mimic spaghetti in shape. Kelp noodles, shredded vegetables, spaghetti squash, and egg yolks cooked in pancakes and julienned are among his favorites right now.

But ever since watching Marina make that nifty Portuguese egg thread dessert on The Taste this fall, I have been wondering if I could use the same technique to make a savory version of egg yolk threads.

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The answer to that question is a resounding YES! I just heated some homemade chicken stock, separated an egg yolk, and put it in a sandwich baggie. When the stock was steaming and on the verge of simmering, about where you would want it for poaching eggs, I snipped the barest corner of the baggie, and squeezed a thin thread of egg yolk into the liquid. It set up immediately into long tender “noodles” that Theo was delighted to slurp up. I honestly think this is easily the coolest baby food I have ever made!

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I gave him about half of the noodles for finger food, and broke the rest into smaller bites to feed him on a spoon with some stock. Then I made myself a bowl of egg drop soup with spinach and joined him. :)

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A Day on My Plate, 4-9-14

Posted By on April 10, 2014

I thought it might be helpful to show you the types of meals I eat on a given day, and how I try to work real, nourishing food into my crazy schedule while accommodating all of my family’s differing dietary needs. I certainly won’t be doing this every day, but it may become an occasional series on the blog. This post describes my meals yesterday.

I eat breakfast on weekdays after Nolan heads out on the school bus. I always offer to make breakfast for Jeremy too, but lately he has been preferring to fend for himself with a protein bar or Greek yogurt. One of my personal food goals is to emphasize savory breakfasts that are high in protein and fat, and preferably incorporate a serving or two of vegetables. This isn’t always easy, because I love sweets and pastries, and sometimes the usual basted eggs or hashes start getting old. When that happens, I turn to ethnic egg inspirations like migasTurkish eggsFrench bistro salads (!), or the huevos rancheros I mentioned the other day.

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Yesterday’s breakfast had a Mediterranean spin that also happened to take advantage of leftovers. There was leftover polenta from a previous night’s shrimp dish, as well as a small amount of tomato-leek sauce from a meal of meatballs and spaghetti squash. I fried up two slices of polenta in the cast iron skillet (still freshly lubricated with bacon grease from cooking Nolan’s breakfast) and piled up another skillet with baby greens (a mix of organic spinach, kale, and chard that I get from Costco), cooking them down quickly in butter and a few tablespoons of tomato-leek sauce. I scrambled up some eggs (adding in the extra white so as not to waste it), and piled everything up with a dollop of very soft fresh chevre and a drizzle of olive oil.

The baby’s breakfast was gently cooked, julienned egg yolk “noodles” (a great finger food for older babies, incidentally) with a few tablespoons of chevre, a small taste of my polenta, and some banana. While he was eating, I started seasoning my new granite molcajete from Costco by grinding some white rice into flour.

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That particular breakfast was very filling, and a good thing too, because Theo ended up needing to nurse right around the time I was trying to put lunch together. Lunch foods are always really hard for me, which makes leftovers optimal, so I have been trying hard to plan ahead and make extra food at dinner time. I am fussy about reheating food, however, especially meat–so for me, the best option is really just to have extra cooked meal components like vegetables on hand, and put together something new using those prepared elements. Hashes and scrambles are good either for breakfast or lunch; sometimes I make quick soups in the blender with leftover cooked veggies; and fried rice is a nice change sometimes also.

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For this lunch, I stuck with the Mediterranean theme and made a variant of salade Nicoise. The potatoes were boiled from dinner the previous night (I specifically set some aside before mashing the rest to go with roasted chicken), and there were also leftover roasted green beans with chevre. I had just enough time to whisk up a red wine vinaigrette with Dijon and finely chopped Kalamata olives and toss that with the vegetables to marinate before Theo had his meltdown and needed to nurse. Once Jeremy came home for lunch and was able to distract the baby for a few minutes, I added some chunks of tuna packed in garlic olive oil, and there was lunch.

For dinners, I like to put in more effort and make some really thoughtful food, but very frequently I end up running short on time because Jeremy is generally not home until close to 6pm, and taking care of the kids keep me distracted. As much as I would prefer to eat earlier in the evening for purposes of digestion, we usually don’t sit down to dinner much before 7pm.

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The kids actually gave me a chance to get a jump on dinner last night, studding a grassfed rump roast with garlic slivers and popping it in the oven. Unfortunately, the reason Theo was so cooperative turned out to be that he had discovered the joys of the toilet paper dispenser; and the reason that Nolan was so cooperative was because he had taken off all of his clothes, climbed into Theo’s old co-sleeper, and had a big messy bowel movement (you can use your imagination on that one… I was not about to provide photographic documentation!).

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Once all the messes were cleaned up and the kids were occupied with bouncy seats and Sesame Street respectively, I was able to finish off cooking. Onions and red wine went in the cast iron skillet around the roast while it finished cooking. I mixed up batter for an easy paleo version of Yorkshire pudding, ready to pour in a preheated, lard-greased muffin tin as soon as the meat came out. Finally, I quartered some big Brussels sprouts, browned them in a stainless skillet with plenty of butter, and  braised them in a cup of fresh stock (still hot in the clay cooker from the bones of the previous night’s roasted chicken).

Simple flavors, but delicious. Jeremy raved over the Brussels sprouts and went back for more Yorkshire pudding (the leftovers of which will also make delicious breakfast “bread” tomorrow with some jam and butter). Theo gobbled down the braised onions along with his other foods (stewed apricots, full fat cultured cottage cheese, and tobiko, if I’m remembering correctly). Nolan had some leftover chicken, as well as drippings from the beef on noodles after rejecting the Yorkshire pudding. And now we will have leftover roast beef and onions for the next several days of lunch options.

Primal Popovers (aka: Yorkshire Puddings)

These may not have the dramatic puff of traditional popovers, but the light eggy texture and crisp crust are just right. I left them unseasoned except for salt so that we could have them savory with dinner and sweet with breakfast, but feel free to add herbs or cheese; I might test out a variant of this batter for Dutch babies with fruit some weekend also!

3 eggs
1 C full-fat coconut milk or heavy cream
1 C almond flour
2 T arrowroot flour
1/2 tsp salt
6 T lard

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Put about half a tablespoon of lard (or another saturated fat (bacon grease, roast drippings, duck fat, coconut oil, etc) in each well of a 12-muffin tin, and put in the oven while it is heating.

In a medium sized mixing bowl (I use a 4 C measuring bowl with a spout), whisk together the eggs and coconut milk. Add the almond flour, arrowroot, and salt, and stir with a wooden spoon to combine.Pull the hot muffin tin carefully from the oven and fill each cup 3/4 of the way full with batter. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Allow puddings to cool, and then remove from the pan; they may be difficult to remove while hot.

Source: Slightly adapted from Primal Palate.

Carrot Halwa

Posted By on April 8, 2014

Since going gluten-free, my palate has opened up to a variety of cuisines that I once disliked. Indian food used to be at the absolute bottom of my list, with all those strong flavors and mushy sauces full of unidentifiable ingredients; I used to deride it as looking too much like baby food. But in the last few months, we have occasionally been ordering in from a local Indian restaurant, and I have to admit that as long as it isn’t too spicy, I’m liking it a lot, even the carrot halwa that Jeremy likes to get for dessert sometimes.

This week we ended up with a surplus of organic carrots when Jeremy stopped at the grocery store and misheard my request for onions. So I decided to take a shot at making carrot halwa at home. Even better, one recipe I found made use of the pulp from juiced carrots, which I always have in abundance. So one day, after making myself a big glass of carrot-orange-golden beet and greens juice, I put all that carrot pulp to use and made a pot of halwa, much to Jeremy’s delight.

The recipe I selected is flexible and can be made with or without dairy. I used a can of coconut milk, and added a bit of raw milk when the consistency seemed a touch too thick. I cooked the pulp in grassfed butter, adding a few extra tablespoons for good measure; I also boosted the amount of spices and added a little shredded coconut at Jeremy’s request. The finished halwa had just a touch of sweetness but lots of flavor, at least as far as I could tell from the small amount I tasted. Jeremy gobbled the rest down in less than 24 hours and suggested that if I want to make a bigger batch next time, it’s okay if I use regular shredded carrots in addition to juicer pulp, lol.

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Carrot Halwa

This faintly sweetened carrot pudding not only makes a delicious dessert, but could also easily serve as a grain-free paleo breakfast porridge, and, I might add, it goes over very well as baby food also. :)

1 can full-fat coconut milk (or 1.5 C whole milk, almond milk, etc.)
1/4 C coconut sugar (or Sucanat or honey; the latter will be somewhat sweeter)
1-2 tsp ea cinnamon and cardamom
1.5 C finely shredded carrots or pulp from juicing
1/4 C unsweetened finely shredded coconut
6 T grassfed ghee, butter or coconut oil
Toasted pistachios, almonds, or cashews for garnish

In a large saucepan, combine the coconut milk, sugar, spices, carrots and coconut, and simmer very gently over low heat until the mixture is cooked and thickened like pudding, about 35-45 minutes. Stir in the ghee, butter or oil; serve warm or cold and garnish with toasted nuts if desired.

Source: Freely adapted from Small Footprint Family.

Update 4/10/14: Jeremy has been scratching his head forlornly at breakfast-time looking for inspiration, so I offered to make him a pot of halwa. I went ahead and used carrots shredded in my food processor and made a larger batch, as follows:
4 C shredded carrots
1 can (1.5 C) full-fat coconut milk
2.5 C whole milk
2/3 C sucanat
1 T ea cinnamon and cardamom
1/4 C carrot flour (dehydrated ground carrot pulp)
6 T butter (would have used more, but the rest was in the freezer)
I just threw everything in the pot together and kept it at a decent simmer over medium-low heat for probably at least an hour until it cooked down to a sufficient thickness. According to Jeremy, the first batch of halwa was good, but this one tasted “right.”

Persnickety Progress, 4-3-14

Posted By on April 3, 2014

Every so often in my journey as a picky eater, it is important for me to step back and appreciate just how far I have come.

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To that end, I ate huevos rancheros for lunch the other day: Homemade corn tortillas; cooked salsa of organic crushed tomatoes, green chiles, and black beans; leftover grilled organic onions and bell peppers from fajitas; fried slices of nitrite-free ham; pastured eggs cooked in grassfed butter; grassfed raw organic Cheddar cheese; cultured Kalona sour cream. (We were out of avocado or there would have been some on this plate as well.) Served with a glass of local raw grassfed milk and an organic Valencia orange.

The photo doesn’t do the meal any justice. It was delicious, but the real victory here is that, a decade ago, I would have rejected literally 75% of the foods on that plate, and the quality of the rest of them (egg, cheese, and maybe onions and peppers if I was feeling adventurous) would have been far lower, all conventional products. In fact, I would have avoided the whole concept of the meal because I disliked the entire category of Mexican food.

  • I disliked corn tortillas and would have chosen flour.
  • I despised tomatoes, and would have eaten only a token bite. I would find the chiles too spicy, and I would have eaten around the beans.
  • I would never have touched the ham, which has a texture I disliked.
  • I hated sour cream, and wouldn’t eat anything it touched on my plate. (I also hated the squishy texture and grassy flavor of avocados and anything made from them, like guacamole.)
  • I disliked whole milk at the time because I was so used to the taste of 1%; raw milk has a flavor with much more character than even whole pasteurized milk, and the unhomogenized cream would have freaked me out.
  • Eating the whole orange (and not a clementine, at that!) is a particularly recent victory for me, because oranges pose so many textural challenges. 

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(This photo is amazing because Nolan almost never plays on equipment without prompting.)

And while I am celebrating victories in picky eating, I have to mention Nolan’s recent progress in this area as well! We have been fighting back from extreme picky eating habits that developed while he was sick and would only eat chocolate-hazelnut Zing bars or noodles with nutritional yeast and olive oil. Since his diet was already so limited and he was having bowel irregularities from a round of strong antibiotics, I went ahead and moved him back onto a gluten-free diet. He does not like any of the gluten-free noodles as well as their durum relatives, but he was eating far too much pasta anyway.

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After several weeks on the gluten-free diet, we have not yet seen improvements in his bowel movements, but his appetite has recently picked up significantly, as has his willingness to eat a few more foods, most notably meats, but a few other items as well. Some of Nolan’s recent food victories include:

  • Eating chicken, turkey, steak, meatloaf, pork, chicken-apple sausages, lamb, buffalo, ham, and even mahi mahi willingly: By this I mean that he didn’t run away or otherwise avoid it when offered, took bites every time I held it up to his mouth, and didn’t spit it out afterwards. This is huge!
  • Eating Epic bars in addition to Zing bars: These are paleo protein bars made from high quality meats and fruit, with a texture like soft jerky. Nolan has successfully tried the buffalo, lamb, and turkey bars.
  • Eating vegetable chips and other non-potato root veggies willingly. This started with Terra exotic vegetable chips: Before his sickness, Nolan would eat these but pick out only the ones that most resembled white potato chips, avoiding the sweet potatoes and beets especially. Now he will eat any color chip from that brand, and also likes my homemade sweet potato skinnies (whenever I peel organic sweet potatoes for a mash, I fry up the long skinny peelings in bacon grease for a snack!). Last night, he graduated to eating chunks of roasted Japanese sweet potato (pictured above in all its violet glory!).
  • Using incentives: I can sometimes get Nolan to eat non-preferred foods of his own volition using a first/then model with a highly preferred food. Right now bites of Zing bar, chocolate chips, potato or other veggie chips, and gluten-free cheese crackers (from Outside the Breadbox, a local GF bakery) are his most highly preferred items; I have gotten him to independently take bites of apples, carrots, and Epic bars with this method, although sometimes he tries to cheat and take tiny bites or else shove the whole thing in his mouth and then try to spit it out after I hand him the reward.
  • I saved the best for last. Last weekend we were out of town until just before dinnertime, so Jeremy offered to get Indian food for dinner. I sat down with my plate while I was trying to work out what to make for Nolan, and he came over and started stealing bites of rice around the edges. I shared bites of plain rice, then started offering bites with a little korma sauce on them, and he ate it. Then he ate rice with saag (which is green–this is impressive all by itself!), then he ate rice with sauce and chicken, then rice with sauce and lamb. He ended up eating half of the food on my plate, and I made him up his own little plate afterwards too. This was such an unexpected miracle that I could not stop talking about it, and it still amazes me to this day. I would never have touched Indian food at his age (and for nearly 30 years after his age, come to that!).

upsidedown040414

The baby, who is now nearly 11 months old, is still an excellent eater who gobbles down everything I offer him. However, he is beginning to assert preferences in terms of how the food gets into his mouth: he wants to feed himself everything with his own little hands. I have had to be creative about finger foods for him because he only just cut his second tooth this morning, but here are a few ideas that have worked for us recently:

  • Pastured egg yolk, cooked like a little pancake over low heat until just set, and cut into “noodles”
  • Kelp noodles, cut in bite-sized pieces
  • Jello made from grassfed gelatin and freshly extracted juices, or reduced bone broth (if you reduce it enough, it basically turns to meat jello upon refrigeration)
  • Stewed dried fruit, cut into bite-sized pieces (this works well with prunes, apricots, raisins, and other fruits that are not in season or are hard to find frozen; make sure they are organic and preservative-free)
  • Salmon roe (make sure it is free of coloring and preservatives)
  • Olives cut into bite-size pieces (make sure they are high quality, free of chemical additives and omega-6 oils)
  • Bits of gently cooked chicken liver, braised meat, and fish
  • Peas or diced well-cooked veggies (cooked in bone broth or sauted in grassfed butter, marrow, or coconut oil is great; I just introduced golden beets cooked in lamb stock)
  • Shredded/spiralized cooked veggies
  • Bits of fermented veggies and fruits (like sauerkraut)

Gold Nuggets

Posted By on April 3, 2014

I don’t have a whole lot of extra time to experiment with fancy dinner recipes these days. Most nights I am not even free to start working on dinner until Jeremy comes home to entertain the kids at 5:30 or 6pm, so I tend to keep things pretty simple, and most of our side dishes are roasted, mashed or sautéed vegetables. A few nights ago, the dinner plan was just chicken-apple sausages browned up in the cast iron skillet, so I decided to make our side a little more interesting and found a recipe for grain-free sweet potato gnocchi.

sweetpotato_gnocchi

These gnocchi actually didn’t take all that long to make, and would have been even faster if I had had leftover roasted or mashed sweet potatoes to start with. Better yet, one large sweet potato yielded enough gnocchi for 3 dinner servings and a whole sheet tray to freeze for a quick fix later on. I was a little concerned about the texture becoming gummy from the arrowroot, and they did tend that way a little bit, but nothing that pan-frying in grassfed butter couldn’t fix! Perhaps next time I will use a higher proportion of almond flour to arrowroot and see if that helps.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

To freeze these for later, just place the uncooked gnocchi on a sheet tray lined with parchment or a silpat (make sure to keep them separate for easier portioning) and throw them in the freezer. They can be boiled without thawing when you want a quick meal.

1 large or 2 medium sweet potatoes, totaling about 500g
Approx. 2 1/2 C each of almond flour and arrowroot powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 egg white, beaten until frothy (make sure to save that yolk for something else, like baby food!)

Poke a few holes in the sweet potatoes and bake them in a 400 F (200 C) oven for about an hour (or until soft and done). Remove from the oven and cool completely.Peel the sweet potatoes and then mash them in a large mixing bowl. (If you don’t have time for this, they can also be peeled, diced, and boiled until tender; after draining, put them back in the pot with the burner turned off, mash them up, and then give them a few minutes to dry out slightly.)

Add each of your flours in 1/2 cup portions, stirring well between each addition. After you have a whole cup of each flour added in, stir in the salt and baking soda, followed by the egg white. Resume adding flours half a cup at a time until you reach a dough consistency that you are able to roll into a ball without too much sticking. You may need a little more or a little less than what is called for, depending on the moisture in your sweet potatoes and the air.

Take a handful of dough and roll it out into a long snake shape with your hands, about an inch in diameter. If it sticks to your hands or the countertop, dust with some of the arrowroot powder. Cut the snakes into segments about half an inch each. You can leave them in that shape or groove them like traditional gnocchi by rolling them off a fork using gentle pressure with your thumb. 

Once all of your dough has been shaped and cut, drop a batch into a pot of boiling salted water; don’t crowd the pot too much! Within about a minute, they will float to the surface. Let them continue cooking for about 30 seconds after they float to the top and them remove them to a colander with a slotted spoon.

I highly recommend frying the boiled gnocchi in plenty of grassfed butter, lard, or coconut oil with a pinch of salt. Let them brown well before flipping them over, because they can be sticky and we liked them much better with a good crust.

Remove to a serving plate and top with the sauce of your choice. I let the flavor of the sweet potato shine through on ours (and saved myself some time) by just throwing some frozen peas in the skillet with the frying gnocchi. However, sage and brown butter with shavings of Parmesan would be lovely, or perhaps something with ginger and a hint of sweet and sour, like a brown sugar-sherry gastrique; they would also hold up well with marinara or pesto.

Source: Swiss Paleo

pork_roulade

Update 4/5/14: Dinner was a pork tenderloin roulade, stuffed with shiitakes, leeks, dandelion greens, and cream cheese. I served it alongside some sweet potato gnocchi from the freezer; the gnocchi took just a minute or two longer in the cooking water, and held their shape perfectly for frying up in butter.

 

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