Sunday, June 16, 2013

Chilled Cucumber-Greek Yogurt Soup

Today was my favorite kind of Sunday, started with a leisurely trip to my farmers market. In addition to a ton of other great produce (and of course the requisite bacon and eggs for breakfasts), I picked up a pile of cucumbers so that I could make a chilled cucumber soup I had at this year's Zoofari. The soup was made by one of my favorite DC restaurants where RJ Cooper is chef and owner, Rogue 24 and they just happened to be passing out recipe cards, win!

I modified the recipe a bit to make it more paleo friendly, but I should caution you that it's technically neither paleo nor primal due to Greek yogurt and a small amount of sugar respectively. If you don't mind the yogurt, you could probably sub honey in for the sugar in a slightly smaller quantity. Personally, I'm not gonna' stress about a small amount of refined sugar once in a blue moon, especially since with this recipe it comes out to significantly less than a tsp per serving. With that said, here's what you need:

8 English cucumbers or some equivalent (I used a mix of 2 varieties), peeled,seeded & roughly chopped
1 sweet onion, diced
1 T fresh dill (or 1 t dry)
1 7 oz container full fat Greek yogurt
4 T rice vinegar, split
2 T champagne vinegar, split
2 T sugar
1 T salt, salt & white pepper to taste

Chop the cucumber and onion and put in a bowl, toss with half of the vinegars, the sugar, and salt. Place in a colander over a bowl and let macerate for 2 hours.

Using a blender, add the cucumber-onion mix, pulse the machine to start to break down vegetables. Add the yogurt, remaining vinegars, and dill. Puree to emulsify completely. Adjust seasoning with salt and white pepper (I used some of the liquid that had drained through the colander in place of salt - taste it and use sparingly at first as it is very salty).

Strain the soup through a fine mesh sieve and cool in the refrigerator before serving. The resulting soup is incredibly refreshing, perfect for a hot summer day with the coolness from the cucumber and the zippy acidity from the vinegars.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Unexpected Benefits of Paleo

When I started my Whole 30 in January I don't think I ever expected that I would stay paleo for the long term. But, as more time has passed and I've had more opportunities to experiment, it's become obvious that the benefits are overwhelming. There was however, one totally unexpected benefit of my switch to a completely paleo diet that I've been holding off on sharing, mostly because I wanted to first be certain that the issue had completely resolved, but also because it's a bit embarrassing to talk about.

Many years ago (maybe 5 or 6?), I started developing a patch of plantar warts on the bottom of the heel of my left foot. I saw a specialist, who recommended I try over the counter treatments, which did nothing. From there they continued to grow, albeit very slowly, which made them pretty easy to ignore. Eventually, about 2 years ago, the mosaic had grown a lot in size (about 1" in diameter with other smaller warts scattered around it) and started to become painful, especially when I accidentally stepped on something with that part of my foot. I told myself that I needed to go back to the specialist, but after doing as much research online as I could, I didn't want to because all I saw were painful options like freezing and surgery that often didn't resolve the issue.

I started to look into holistic options, which mostly seemed bogus and/or painful, and then read about using Cimetidine, which is the drug in the OTC antacid, Tagamet to get rid of them. The information online seemed to support it being more effective as a treatment in young adults, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to try. I picked up a few bottles of the stuff, then balked at starting the treatment because much higher doses were indicated than what you would take as an antacid. I decided I would be better off finding a specialist who would be on board with me trying the treatment so I could do it under a doctor's supervision. In the meantime, I noticed that a new wart had started to grow on the ball of my foot, closer to my toe - not good!

And yet, partly due to a busy schedule and partly because I was embarrassed I had let it go so long, I never made the appointment. And then I started my Whole 30 in mid-January.  About 2 months later, it dawned on me that I hadn't been noticing pain from the warts for a while so I took a closer look and realized they were going away! Now, 4 months later, they are completely gone. The entire mosaic has resolved, as well as the smaller warts around it, including the one on the ball of my foot. There is no other explanation for them resolving after all of this time, except for the changes to my diet. And, it makes sense. In theory, eating a biologically appropriate diet means my immune system is in better shape and able to tackle the virus responsible for the warts. Yay paleo!!

If you've gone paleo, what's the most surprising benefit you've seen?


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Asparagus with Butter & "Soy"

I have been eating asparagus like it's going out of style. Oh wait, that should probably read "like it's going out of season" (heh). You recall that dinner I made for my friend's 40th birthday? That night I made asparagus 2 ways, the Asparagus with Butter & Soy from (you'll be shocked) Cooking In the Moment and with my own creation, Asparagus with Fresh Maryland Lump Crab and Hollandaise:

Excuse the poorer than usual photography - it was dark and I didn't want to make my friend wait while I took 80 odd photos to get a single one I could edit and post on this blog :P
Aside: I used the Hollandaise recipe from the Primal Blueprint Healthy Sauces cookbook, which has you use a blender to create the emulsion - genius!

In any event, when I made the soy & butter dish originally, I did follow the recipe exactly. Later in the week however, I took the opportunity to use the leftover asparagus to test out a paleo version and I dare say while it lacked a tiny bit of richness from the soy sauce (you could use wheat free soy or tamari if you're comfortable with that), it wasn't a huge difference and the dish was still outstanding.


Here's what I did:

First, I prepped my water for poaching an egg (I use a smaller saucepan with about 1/2-1 t of white vinegar per cup of water). Once the water was simmering, I blanched a bunch of trimmed asparagus in boiling water for about 30 sec (the few really thick stalks got dropped in about 45 seconds earlier), then drained them and set them aside.

While the asparagus were blanching, I heated some sunflower oil in my cast iron skillet over nearly high heat (high end of medium high). When it was piping hot, I dropped the asparagus in, shaking them around occasionally until all sides were blistered. At the same time, I dropped my egg into the simmering water to poach and set the timer for 3 minutes (it's easier to avoid breaking the egg if you crack it into a small bowl or cup, then slowly lower the bowl into the water. If you need to, swirl the water with a knife for a few seconds to get the egg white to form around the yolk after dropping it into the water).

When the egg white was firm I used a slotted spoon to pull the egg out of the water and set it aside. Then I added 1 T of coconut aminos to the pan with the asparagus and shook it until the liquid had evaporated. Finally I added about 2 T of ghee and tossed again until a sauce had formed. I plated the asparagus with the sauce, set the poached egg on top and ground fresh black pepper and sea salt over it.

There is very little more satisfying than cutting into your poached egg and seeing the still runny yolk pour out

The resulting dish is rich, salty, and full of umami flavor. Even though I've had this twice already in one week, it's going to be made again very soon!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Rhubarb-Strawberry Sorbet

I've been taking advantage of the quickly fading spring weather by spending as much time as possible sitting on my deck in the evenings. Often this involves a cocktail, but sometimes a glass of seltzer with some bitters and a stack of cookbooks will do the trick.


As I took this photo, I thought about how well this group of cookbooks actually represents me, especially at this time of year when the seasonal markets and CSAs are starting back up and spring produce is abundant. I certainly feel blessed to live in a place where there is such a diversity of food and great access to organically farmed produce and sustainably raised meat!

In any event, on to today's spring produce turned tasty dish. My mom was in town this weekend and I had offered to make her dinner one night as a belated mother's day present. In preparation, I decided to use the leftover rhubarb and strawberries I had to make sorbet. I had already made a strawberry sorbet for my friend's birthday using the instructions from the Zuni Cafe cookbook (technically not paleo since I used plain old white sugar to make his). This time, I used a recipe from my favorite ice cream & sorbet source, David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop replacing the sugar with a lesser amount of honey.

Here's what I did:

I sliced up about 3/4 of a lb of rhubarb and put the slices into a medium saucepan with 2/3 c of water and 1/3 c of honey and simmered until the rhubarb was tender, then stuck it in the fridge to cool. While the rhubarb mixture cooled, I hulled and sliced about a quart of strawberries and put them in the blender, then added the rhubarb mixture, a pinch of kosher salt, & 1/2 t of lemon juice and pureed. Try tasting the puree both before and after you add the lemon juice if you've never done this before; it's amazing how much it brightens the flavors!

I let the puree chill overnight in the fridge, then put it in my ice cream maker the next day until the sorbet had thickened. One thing to note, your sorbet will still be fairly soft when you pull it out of the ice cream machine so plan to chill it in the freezer for a few hours before serving. Also worth noting that sorbet gets really hard in the freezer so you'll want to pull it out and let it sit for 5-10 minutes before scooping. This makes a fairly tart sorbet that showcases the rhubarb so add a bit more honey in the beginning if you want yours sweeter.

I served scoops of both the strawberry-rhubarb sorbet and the more intensely flavored and sweeter strawberry sorbet alongside paleo coconut macaroons from the baker at my market and my mom was in heaven:


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fresh Peas with Lettuce, Spring Onions, & Garlic

Today's dish is a modification of another one of my favorites from Andrea Reusing's Cooking In The Moment cookbook. Fresh peas are another one of springs delights (yes, I said delights) and the shelling can be enjoyable if you sit outside with a cocktail nearby (or in our technological age, you can just do it in front of the TV, which is what I did tonight :P).

Once you've shelled them, make this quick dish and serve it with your favorite protein. For my friend's birthday, I served it alongside grilled Pork Chops with a Rhubarb Cherry Sauce:


Here's what you need:
  • About 2 cups of shelled fresh peas (you can use frozen if you can't get fresh)
  • 1 small head of leaf lettuce washed, dried and torn into pieces
  • 2 very large or 4 medium spring onions
  • 1-2 medium cloves spring garlic depending on how much you like your garlic
  • 2 T ghee
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
Slice the white and light green parts of the spring onions into thin discs and saute them over medium-low heat in 1 T of ghee in a large pan. While they soften, mince your garlic cloves and when the spring onions are soft and beginning to caramelize, add the garlic and stir. After 1 minute, add your peas and a sprinkle of kosher salt and cook until tender (depending on size, somewhere between 3-6 minutes). Once the peas are soft, add the remaining tablespoon of ghee and remove from the heat. Toss the lettuce on top, sprinkle with salt & pepper and toss so that the lettuce wilts and the butter melts. Serve immediately.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Grilled Broccoli with Garlic & Anchovies

A friend of mine turned the Big 4-0 this Memorial Day so I offered to open some nice wine and make him dinner. In preparation, I bought up every spring vegetable and fruit that looked the slightest bit appealing at the market the day before figuring I'd sort out the rest of what I was making (asparagus had to be on the menu) once I got home.

I came home with strawberries, rhubarb, asparagus, spring onions, peas, leaf lettuce, broccoli, leeks, and mushrooms, many of which were served in some form at dinner. I couldn't cook it all though and one thing that didn't get made until tonight was the broccoli.

One of the first cookbooks I reach for for inspiration when the farmers market is in full swing is Andrea Reusing's Cooking In The Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes. Her cookbook epitomizes what I love - a few high quality ingredients cooked simply to make a beautiful dish, and her recipes never fail to produce delicious food.

So tonight I set to making the grilled broccoli with parsley, garlic, & anchovies from her cookbook, minus the parsley since that did not make it on to the gargantuan list of things I brought home. I cut the broccoli into long thin florets, tossed them with olive oil and put them on the grill. While they were grilling, I mixed together some anchovies, mashed garlic, lemon zest, and chile flakes. When the broccoli was done, I tossed it in the sauce and served:


The dish was delicious and packs a real flavor punch. Maybe not something to make for a hot date, but definitely something I'd serve to guests at a dinner party. I had it alongside a grilled ribeye and mushrooms and spring onions with balsamic that I cooked in foil packets on the grill.

Stay tuned, we have a lot more produce to get through and since I haven't blogged in over a week, I feel like I've got to make up for lost time! :)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Grilled This & That & This &...

Look, let me tell you how it's gonna' be. I bought a grill. I love grilled food. It's the right season for grilling. So I'm going to grill a lot of shit and post pictures of it here. You good with that? Okay then, read on...

I had in my head that I was going to make one of my favorite repeat spring dishes to use the spring onions and asparagus I scored at the farmer's market, but I changed my mind at the last minute and decided it would be a great idea to add a steak and grill it all, so that's what I did! But first, I stopped by my CSA farm earlier today to pick some strawberries and immediately knew that I wanted to have a spinach salad with them. I tossed the spinach and sliced strawberries with some shaved red onion, pecans, black pepper and balsamic vinaigrette:


After the salad, I got to grilling. If there is any one thing that is better than grilled meat, it may be grilled onions. The two together, well heaven:


I'm sure I've said this before, and I'm sure I'll say it again, but if there is one thing I can do properly in the kitchen it's do justice to a good steak by cooking it the perfect medium rare. This particular steak is a ribeye I picked up at a "new" (really it's old, but I've only just discovered it) family owned meat market called Boarman's. The steak isn't local, or completely pastured, but it is from small family owned farms and cut in house and it was delicious.