Paleo Plan: The first few days

So, apparently I still know how to log in here.

I needed a place to write up my thoughts about trying out Paleo Plan, and this seemed like as good a place as any.

Intuitively, I like the idea of the “paleo” diet (though I’m not a huge fan of its adherents). An emphasis on whole foods, with a side effect of being lower carb by default (and not to hard to make totally low carb) seems like something that should work for me. Nerd 2 and I gave “going paleo” a try for a couple of months last year but couldn’t stick with it, non-paleo foods are just so much easier. And so very _there_, you know? I also felt a fair bit of guilt over foisting such a drastic lifestyle change on Nerd 2 when I had no reason to believe that it would do any good.

Anyways, between trainings and deployment, Nerd 2 is going to be out of the picture for the vast majority of 2014. In addition, 2014 is looking to be a crazy year for me what with working a new job, graduating school, bar exam, then (hopefully) working an even more stressful new job and all. I tend to be a bit control freaky in the kitchen, but I think that this year is not such a bad time let go a little, and have someone else tell me what to do.

Enter Paleo Plan. The basic idea is that for $10/month, they will prepare paleo friendly meal plans for 2 adults, cross-indexed to a shopping list and their recipe database. Essentially taking the thought out of meal planning, but still allowing me the actual cooking time that I enjoy.  They have a 14 day trial period, and I figured I’d test it out while Nerd 2 is away on his first stint.

Shopping

Right now, it’s Tuesday of my first week. I went shopping last Saturday. The shopping list was _long_. Even with trying (to some extent) to size things down for 1 person and taking into account the staples that I already have around the house, it was the fullest my shopping cart had been in a long time. I probably spend 20 minutes in the produce section getting everything together. The checkout lady even complimented my “healthy eating”. All told, I spent about $136 at Cub Foods to get most of the items on the list. I needed to make another detour to Mississippi Market for tapioca flour for another $5ish. This is a pretty high grocery bill for me (especially considering that Nerd 2 isn’t eating off of this), but the plan is structured to cover breakfast and lunch and will hopefully help me kill off my nasty skyway lunch habit.

Recipes

The recipes (which are all available for free on their site here) have been hit and miss so far. They seem like they were either written by someone who doesn’t have a lot of cooking technique, or someone who does have a lot of cooking knowledge but isn’t good at writing recipes. That being said, they are simple enough to improve on the fly if you have a bit of a clue about working in the kitchen.

For example, let’s take the Teriyaki Chicken that I made last night (that was supposed to be Monday night’s meal, but I have switched some meals around in order to better plan for freezing and thawing and ripening based on a Saturday shopping day — that’s something that I wish the Plan did better by default). First, I am not sure what universe there is that this recipe counts as Teriyaki Chicken. Pineapple? Really? If it had been called Hawaiian Chicken, I could have believed that.  Next, the cooking order seemed a little broken: cooking onions at the same time as _all_ the chicken? It seemed like a recipe for overcrowding the pan and getting disappointing caramelization.  Instead, I browned the chicken in batches, then sweated the onions some before adding the rest of the veggies and returning the chicken – pretty standard stir-fry technique. The recipe is also desperately lacking in spices – if I make it again, I’ll be liberally adding garlic/ginger, but as it was I just ended up dousing heavily with sriracha after it was finished (sriracha has a fair bit of sugar, but for the 80/20 paleo that I’m trying to achieve here it’s just fine).

The Gingery Broccoli Beef was similarly underwhelming. Which is pretty hilarious if you look at the comments on the recipe complaining about how “spicy” it is. Sigh.

On the other hand, these Pumpkin Flatbreads were pretty amazingly good. Entirely worth making an extra trip for the tapioca flour, and they solve a standard breakfast time problem for me — I tend to eat breakfast on the go, and for that I usually need something wrapped in something. So tortillas or lefse or bread or other non-paleo things end up sneaking in right first thing in the morning which just throws the whole day off. They are pretty carby, but I’m not trying to go into ketosis or anything here so I’ll take it.

So, after the first few days, it seems to be going OK. I’m not blown away (except by the flatbreads), and I’m going to need to insert my brain into things more than I had hoped (but hopefully it’s just things like reordering the meals on the schedule, upping the spice level, and tinkering with technique). I’ll definitely ride this out through the 14 day trial, and maybe pay for one month while Nerd 2 is around.

and my fingernails are still dirty

I’ve never really had much luck with root vegetables (I distrust vegetables when I can’t see the important part growing), but yesterday I dug up, cleaned, and hung about 70 or so bells of garlic, so maybe my luck is changing?

Garlic

Some of the bells were smaller than I might have liked (especially the ones that I didn’t bother to re-cut the scapes on — scapes grow back… who knew?!), and I’m annoyed that I can’t find the notebook in which I carefully noted which of the three varieties that I bought from Territorial Seeds last fall were planted where.  But, all in all, I’m pretty happy with this little experiment.

Full Harvest

For now at least — I’m still a little paranoid about the drying process.

csa thoughts

I pickled radishes this past weekend.

I’ve cooked raspberries down into the best ice cream syrup ever.

I’ve made friends with sweet potatoes (that thing that people do with the marshmallows? it’s kind of gross, really).

I’ve figured out what a sunchokes, ramps, and scapes are.

I’m pretty sure that none of that would have been possible without my membership in Harmony Valley Farm’s CSA this year.

csa1

To review, CSA stands for community supported agriculture. Amber and I purchased a share of Harmony Valley’s output for the 2009 growing season, so just about every week since May we’ve been picking up a box full of veggies to share. With a CSA, you don’t get to pick and choose what you like, and you’re at the mercy of the tastes of the farmer (dude really likes radishes), and the ravages of the weather (it was a bad year for broccoli, a great year for onions).

csa3

There are dozens of CSAs that deliver to the Twin Cities area (see the Land Stewardship Project for more details). We picked our CSA farm pretty much randomly this year, though our pick seemed justified by other bloggers who seemed really happy with Harmony Valley, and they were right.

We had the Full Season, Every Week share from Harmony Valley Farm. That means that our deliveries started in mid-May, and just ended this past week. The boxes at the beginning of the season were a little light. Lots of root veggies, some salad greens. By mid-June though, things had really started to pick up. Scapes, and then garlic, zucchini, cauliflower, snap peas, edamame, amaranth. August/September brought a flood of tomatoes and peppers (sweet, hot, pimento, you name it). There were some weeks that there were definitely more than the three of us (myself, Amber, and Mr. Amber) could handle, and sadly more food than I would have liked ended up in my compost pile. But what we could eat, was generally delicious (maybe not the pea vines), definitely nutritious, and certified organic to boot.

The management of the farm has been great too. Their website is well laid out, and it’s easy to find information about what to expect in each week’s box, and they have archives of all of their weekly newsletters (with recipes and veggie features) online as well. They also make arrangements with other nearby farms to buy their excess produce to help fill out boxes that would be especially light (a problem that seemed to plague people with other Twin Cities CSAs this year). Since Amber and I were splitting a share, we thought it would be complicated, but they are well set up to handle that, invoicing us separately via email, and making sure that we each got any necessary paperwork. One caveat though: Amber and I did have differing experiences with a couple of off-season orders (my beef freezer pack order seems to be fine, but items that were promised to Amber for Christmas won’t arrive until the New Year).

csa2

Lastly, the farm encourages its members to visit, and Amber and I got a chance to drive down their for their Strawberry Picking day. It was great to meet the people who work at the farm and to really find out where our food was coming from.  They also have a small campsite near their creek, and host a Harvest Festival/Pumpkin Picking day in the Fall — both things that I’d like to do if I stayed with this farm in 2010.

So why I am thinking of switching next year?

  1. Location, location, location. I live in Blaine, and work in Shoreview. HVF is definitely light on pickup locations in the north metro, and while the Como location was mostly OK relative to Amber’s previous apartment, now that she’s moved there isn’t really a pick-up location that makes sense for either of us anymore (especially if we need to meet up to split the share).
  2. Quantity. It’s calmed down now (especially with the transition to storage vegetables), but as I said above, there were times where there was just too much food to eat in a week. Going down to an every-other-week share would probably help with this, but I’d love to find a farm that offered half-shares on a weekly basis.
  3. Curiosity. Harmony Valley Farm was amazing. But are they really the best out there?  With so many other options, it seems wrong to just stick with one out of habit.  Worst cast scenario, we have bad luck and have to switch back to HVF in 2011… at least I’d know, right?

So, there you have it.  If you have 4 adults to feed, and live within a convenient distance of Harmony Valley’s pick-up locations, I have zero qualms about recommending them.  I, however, am going to shop around a little and see what else I can find… any of you have suggestions?

at first I thought it meant “maximum zoom”

TENSO may be my new favourite brazilian portuguese meme on these here internets.  More examples here (a bunch of these are NSFW).

Canadian Thanksgiving is coming up this Monday, and I’m hosting a little get-together to celebrate it this weekend. It’s a potluck, so I’m not getting too worked up about it, but I still haven’t cooked a turkey since 2006 and I’ve had enough bad turkeys to know that I wouldn’t want to inflict that on people who I consider friends.

I also happen to be a food nerd, so I have a lot of sources for turkey advice. And just about all of them suggest brining.  And of course, every food writer has their own take on brine ingredients/time.  Dry/don’t dry. Sugar/no sugar. Etc.  It started getting complicated. I started taking notes.  Then I figured I’d brave the evils of table layout in WordPress to bring you the combined wisdom of my Personal Pantheon of Gastronomical Greatness.  Follow the jump in order to:

Learn 2 Brine, Noob

(more…)

let’s just not talk about the cornbread, ok?

Very few videogames actually have an “I Win” button.  Granted, every game that pits player against player will have an array of finishing moves, and every once in a while one of them will make it to launch in a woefully overpowered state.  If the game is patchable, you know this ability will be nerfed to the ground soon enough (especially if it benefits mages), or if it’s Starcraft, everyone will just choose the Zerg, forever.

But most of them time, what seems like a quick “I Win” was actually the result of the right ingredients, intense preparation and timing. Often (especially when I’m playing), any “I Win” scenarios are pure luck, and could never be repeated.  Luckily for us all, that doesn’t apply when the game is cooking, and I take notes.

“I Win” Button Harvest Chili

(makes 6 quarts)

The “I Win” button, here, is the second time you turn on the crockpot (yes, I said second). Sure, it will take another 5-8 hours until you can savour your victory – but once you dip your spoon in you’ll know it was worth the wait.

I should note that I have a 6 quart crockpot, and this recipe filled it.  If you have a smaller crockpot, you should buy a larger one. But in the meantime, maybe halve the recipe?

(more…)

worth doing right

breakfast of champions

Of the foods that I love a lot, that take under 10 minutes of actual cooking time, hamburgers are the one thing that I generally opt to go out for, as opposed to cooking at home 9 times out of 10.

It’s not that I don’t make excellent burgers (I do make excellent burgers). It’s just that if I’m going to be putting in the legwork myself, they are going to be made right. Dammit.

  • Right means cooking on the grill, not the stove. That right there eliminates six months of the year, here in the Snow-ta.
  • Right means a charcoal grill, not propane. Which means that it takes longer for the coals to heat up than it does to actually cook the food — even if you are a member of the Better than Briquettes Brigade.
  • Right means knowing what the hell is in your patty. Preformed, frozen blocks need not apply.
  • Right means not fearing medium-rare. This means that those pre-ground tubes of beef that have been sitting in the cooler at your place of grocery-izing for FSM knows how long are not appropriate. This means that you either have to be one of “those people” who pesters the butcher to fresh grind up a roast or steak for you, or you do it at home, with your handy KitchenAid Food Grinder Attachment.

All these caveats means that doing burgers my way… is a bit of a pain in the ass. But a worthwhile one, especially when you make more patties than you need, and freeze the rest for those “I’m-willing-to-fire-up-the-grill-but-maybe-not-hand-select-and-twice-grind-a-3-lb-roast-today” days.

While it was Alton Brown who first introduced me to the joys of grind-it-your-damn-self burgers, he is also a bit too much of a purist for me, claiming that the ultimate burger should contain only beef, salt, and maybe pepper. I can see where the man is coming from, and those pure burgers do have their place (especially when you don’t fear medium-rare),  but I do like to opt for a little more excitement. Be it the chives that are always thriving in my garden during the 6 months of reasonable grill time every year, garlic from the farmers market/CSA, or maybe, just maybe some form of anchovy by-product, I like my burgers like I like my men. Adult. err… Adulterated. Or something.

Also, when cooking for a group, I do like to err on the side of fully cooked. People are picky. People fear medium-rare (even when I explain to them that the bacteria in the average cut of beef, as opposed to chicken, only exists on the outside, so if the meat is fresh ground, the bad stuff doesn’t have time to multiply all the way through the grind the way it can in pre-ground meat). When there’s a lot of stuff on the grill and people to greet and sangria to serve, it can be hard to get the timing exactly right, so things might over cook a tad. So, I need a standby burger template that can hold up to such abuse.

So, to continue the series of things that made last Friday delicious, here are…

Adult(erated), Abusable Burgers

– makes 20, 1/4lb burgers

(adapted from Cooks Illustrated’s “Well-Done Burgers on the Charcoal Grill”, and “Grilled Hamburgers with Garlic, Chipotles, and Scallions” recipes)

(more…)

yes, i am that good

Pretty much the whole cage

Photo credit: Alex Barnes

Sometimes I need a nudge (and someone else’s photography) to remind me of it, but there it is.

In honour of Nerd 3’s1 all too brief return to the world, I hosted a little get together this past Friday.  Me being a single-woman living all alone this year, I didn’t want to go too all out, but what I did do, I wanted to do right.  So, a potluck was called for — with me handling the meat. *ahem*

Wanting to challenge myself a little (and feeling somewhat guilty that the side-box on my smoker hasn’t seen action in far too long), I figured that I should perhaps try to improve my grill-fu by learning how to make something that’s always intimidated me — pork ribs.  The plan was to do baby backs, since they are smaller and easier (shorter cooking time to get to that fall-off-the-bones tender perfection) than their spare cousins.  I’d even bought a rack a couple of weeks ago and did a test run (which while not anything to get overly excited over, was still pretty good).  So I headed to Costco to pick up a couple of chuck roasts (more on those another post), and 6 racks of baby-back ribs (I was feeding all of North Dakota, a bunch of Army Nerds, and a fair sized chunk of Brampton, ON).

Except that Costco failed me. Of the 6 racks of baby backs I needed, the Coon Rapids Costco offered up but 4.  And two of them (one of the two packages left at 7pm on a Wednesday evening) were looking mighty dodgy.  Not wanting to deal with venturing to other purveyors of massive quantities of dead animals, I rationalized to myself that spare ribs couldn’t possibly be _that_ much harder.  And variety is good, right? And worst case, I had five pounds of chuck roast that would end up as burgers anyways (plus brats in the freezer).

So, one 10 lb package of spareribs was added to the bill, along with 5 lbs of baby backs. Cooksillustrated.com and I spent some serious quality time together, and a 20 hour cooking odyssey was begun.  The results of which were some very happy bellies, and a crazy ass recipe, which out of sheer magnanimity, I share with you today:

There Is Nothing Prudent At All About These Ribs (TINPAAAT Ribs, for short)

(portions  adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s “Authenic Barbecue Pork Spareribs” and “Barbecued Baby Back Ribs for Charcoal Grill” recipes)

(more…)

monday, monday, monday

Weekends are supposed to be restful, right?

Recipe Report
I tried out the Smitten Kitchen’s Icebox Cupcake recipe (though, I made it an Icebox Cake in an 8×8 pan). This is one of those recipes that should be stupid easy — storebought chocolate wafers, layered with whipped cream. Except that it’s impossible to find the wafers that you need in any normal store, so you have to make them from scratch. Which takes this recipe from being a quick assemble/chill overnight type deal, to being a 48 hour mix, chill, slice, bake, cool, whip, assemble, chill, eat ordeal. And the results were somewhat disappointing for all that effort (though, the leftovers seem to get better every day).

In conclusion, I probably won’t make this cake again, but, the wafer cookies _are_ really yummy, and I can see all kinds of applications for them, so I’ll keep this one around.

Beer Bulletin
I brewed up a batch of Scottish 80 a few weeks back, which I really should have bottled yesterday, but my own stupidity meant that I needed to drive to St. Paul and pick up my cell phone, which meant that a.) I felt I had an excuse to not undertake a messy and annoying procedure, and b.) I was near Northern Brewer, so I might as well pick up ingredients for my next batch.

I purchased the XX Ale “kit” (they were out of kits, but one of the NB boys was nice enough to run around the store and put together the ingredients for me). It’s an Old Ale, which according to the BJCP style guidelines should be “An ale of significant alcoholic strength, bigger than strong bitters and brown porters, though usually not as strong or rich as barleywine. Usually tilted toward a sweeter, maltier balance.” Sounds yummy. And the ingredient bill includes a pound of honest to goodness treacle, which is very exciting! And yes, I do realize that I’m brewing a winter beer to be ready in July.

Continuing in my tradition of buying one beer gadget with every batch I brew, I also picked up a bottle tree…which should make the bottling that I do have to do this week that much less annoying (though probably still messy).

veggie tales

After a lunch which ,on my part, consisted of the flesh of two different species of animal (plus peanut butter!) Amber and I filled out the paperwork to purchase a CSA share for 2009.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and can take many forms: weekly boxes of vegetables, half a cow (processed), chickens, eggs, even fresh, contraband milk. Basically, a farm (or group of farms) offers to the public a number of “shares”, which entitle the purchaser to, well, a share of the output of the farm for the season.

This gives the farmers a steady and predictable source of income (no worries about over or under-planting their demand), and provides the shareholders incentives to eat more meals that actually contain green things.

Once I hear back that we actually got into the CSA that I’m hoping for (a lot of small farms will sell out by March/April, which I found out the hard way last year), I’ll post the specific details. But if you’re interested in joining one, a good place to start (if you’re in the Twin Cities) is the Land Stewardship Project’s page which lists a number of MN and Western WI farms. Another resource that is nationwide (and I wish was better designed) is Local Harvest which is a database that collects CSA Farms, farmer’s markets, and various other ways to avoid getting scurvy.

One thing I haven’t decided yet is what this means for my backyard garden. With just me to feed (the cats aren’t so big on salads), I’m looking forward to taking a year off from hardcore vegetable cultivation and letting someone else do the seed starting and the planting and the watering and the harvesting for me. I’ll probably still grow some things (not having a container of basil going all summer just seems like a waste of dirt) but maybe I’ll stick to just one interesting variety of tomato, or put all of my growing efforts into maintaining a truly epic giant pumpkin patch.

Which reminds me…it’s time to start looking at seed catalogs again…

honestly…who throws a shoe?

And who thinks it’s a good idea to run around downtown minneapolis in a skirt and high heels in December?

Well, the answer to the second question is me and my friends who decided back in October (when it was still reasonable to go outside with exposed skin) that it would be fun to dress up and act like adults for an evening. We hit Barrio for dinner (verdict: the food is good, but not worth the hassle, at least not on a Friday night), and hung out at the twin lounges at the W hotel for drinks afterwards. Nerd 2 ordered a very expensive, very large drink which involved dry ice and and much liquor, and because he was driving, I had to drink most of it…oops…thankfully I had help.

Saturday was Chele and Marshall’s xmas xperience, which was mucho fun (even if Nerd 3 and I did end up doing a tad too much grandstanding in front of GHIII).

Tonight, I need to bake for a potluck — surfer squares based on Jenni’s recipe, since most of my good recipes involve more effort/planning than my co-workers deserve — and possibly bottle a batch of beer.

BTW, I haven’t forgotten my bread related promise — I’m pretty sure I have the ingredients right and now it’s all about fiddling with the timing…maybe next weekend.