Monday, March 26, 2012

Better than plain baked chicken

A friend recently said to me, "Don't you ever just throw a chicken breast in the oven to bake, microwave some frozen vegetables, and call it a meal?" The answer is yes...sort of. I had two working parents as a kid, so I ate a lot of plain baked chicken with plain microwaved veggies. While I rarely cook anything that has no spice or flavor, I do sometimes take a recipe and change certain elements so that I can get it on the table a little faster. Tonight, I cooked took this awesome recipe for Almond Strawberry Stuffed Chicken and switched it up a little. First, as I'm trying to use up some of our older frozen meat, I used two pork chops and two chicken breasts. Instead of marinating, I just sprayed them with my misto, doused them in balsamic and lemon, and then sprinkled them with salt, pepper, and cinnamon before putting them into the oven to bake. Then, I made the stuffing into more of a topping, just throwing it on top of the protein when it was done. Tasty!

Oh, and it was accompanied by steam-in-the-bag green beans fresh out of the microwave. My mother would be proud.

This week's menu:

Monday - Almond Strawberry Chicken/Pork

Tuesday - Southwestern Chorizo Burgers

Wednesday - Salmon

Thursday - Crockpot BBQ Chicken

Friday -A special grain-free version of a comfort food that I'm trying to keep a surprise

This post is part of Menu Planning Monday and Monday Mania.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Random thoughts on a Friday

I've had a million ideas for posts swimming around in my head this week, but none of them developed into full-length items. But it's Friday, so I figured a post with a bunch of random thoughts would be appropriate pre-weekend fare.

1. That picture up there is the leftover lunch I am having today after making these ribs, but paleo-ized by substituting almond meal for the bread crumbs. I also realized that I was out of cayenne so I used some cajun seasoning - not as spicy, I bet, but pretty tasty! The cabbage was simply dressed in some olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.

2. My husband has been away all week for work and I've been home alone with a nearly-one year old. I did a menu plan for this week and just assumed that I'd never actually cook all that stuff because I'd be swamped. But I did it! A steak, a lemongrass pork stirfry, stuffed chicken breasts, and ribs. I did it all on my own, made enough for lunches the next day, and prepared breakfasts/coffee to take to work too. One convenience tool that I bought for this week was a microwave omelet maker. That thing has changed my life. We had a microwave egg poacher, but it never really worked very well and almost always exploded egg gunk all over my microwave. I'm the worst omelet maker in the world, and not a huge fan of sweet breakfasts, so this thing will get used a ton. As I type this, I am noshing on a delicious omelet with spinach and mozz!

3. I'm going to save most of the mommy-related stuff about my solo week for my column at The Shopping Mama, but I'm still sort of amazed at how I kept our kitchen relatively clean and tidy this week. Usually my husband does dishes and feeds pets while I feed the kid dinner and prep our meal, but this week, I fed kid and I fed pets and I loaded the dishwasher with the day's bottles and food stuff. After kid was asleep, I put my own dinner on to cook and while it was cooking, I prepped mine and the kid's food for the next day and cleaned up a bit. I even managed to get into a habit of making the kiddo's dinner for the next day so that he didn't have to wait for it! This is a life-changing revelation, people.

4. I wore a dress this week that was skin-tight when I tried it on a couple months post-partum but fit like a dream this time around. This grain free thing is working. Like, really.

5. There's no way I could afford to get a culinary degree at this point in my life, but I'm wondering if there are ways to pick up specific skills that you learn in cooking school. I'd love to take a short course on knife skills, for example.

6. A friend asked if I've ever considered being a personal chef, specializing in grainfree cooking. I never considered it, really, because I just assumed no one would want a personal chef who's never actually been...a chef. And I've only been grainfree for a couple months now, so I'm far from being an expert although I'd have much more time to do my research and develop recipes if I was cooking for a living. I don't know, much do personal chefs make? Can you make more by cooking for more than one family? How do you do that? So many interesting little questions to consider...just for fun, for now.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


So last week was sort of nightmarish for me in the kitchen. First, I put a coffee-rubbed brisket in the crockpot and forgot to add water. The roast was delicious but sort of dry. And then there was the chicken recipe. While standing in the Whole Foods cheese section, I sampled an amazing olive tapenade and was inspired to create a chicken dish. The ingredient list for the tapenade included cream cheese and feta, so I grabbed a hunk of feta from the cheese fridge and decided to substitute mascarapone for the cream cheese.

Big mistake. HUGE.

I stuffed chicken breasts with a gloppy mix of mascarpone, feta, raw spinach, and olives. It was awful. I mean really awful.

I wanted a rematch, however, and this week I simplified the whole dish. The result is a dish that tasted delicious and probably delivered less calories and fat than the gross original version. I also peeled and chopped some black salsify, and sliced up some kale, doused them in olive oil, salt, and pepper and let them cook on the same tray as the chicken for the first 10 minutes. Then I removed the roasted kale and salsify and let the chicken continue to cook. Tasty!

Chicken stuffed with feta, spinach, and olives

2 large chicken breasts
2 tbsp crumbled feta
3 cups of fresh spinach
1/2 cup kalamata olives
2 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil spray or a misto
Salt and pepper

- Preheat oven to 375
- Spray a baking sheet with olive oil cooking spray or a misto
- Butterfly the two chicken breasts and salt/pepper both sides
- In a skillet, heat up a little bit of olive oil and saute the garlic before adding the spinach. Cook until all spinach is wilted.
- Stuff each chicken breast with half of the spinach and garlic, feta, and olives. Use toothpicks to keep the breasts closed.
- Bake for 10 minutes, then carefully flip and cook for another 15 minutes or until breast meat is fully-cooked.

My new eating habits in a pretty pictures

I found this info graphic today at my new favorite blog, FitChutney. While I still hate using the word paleo, it describes what I'm doing pretty well. (Although I am still eating dairy. Never been lactose intolerant so I'm not about to give up cheese!)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Single moms just need steak

No Q&A this week, although I suppose this post does answer the questions I often get about whether I'm sure that going grain free was necessary. My body is punishing me for a weekend of bad eating...and maybe some drinking, too. I was home in NJ and the naughtiness started with a sloppy joe - the kind whose praises I have sung on this blog before. And before I even took a sip of alcohol, my body rebelled. But I ignored and proceeded to have a burger (with bun) for dinner, loads of margaritas and Irish car bombs (it was St. Patty's Day, be nice), and late night pizza slices. And I might have had a bagel the next morning but I refuse to confirm or deny. My gut has been in a painful twist ever since, but seems to have relaxed a bit after a couple leafy salads and tonight's dinner of steak and veggies. I'm almost grateful for this experience because it has confirmed that going grain-free was the right choice for my digestive health.

As if my stomach wasn't tied up in enough knots, I'm spending my first full week alone with Charlie while the husband attends a conference at Brown. I was pretty nervous about how I'd manage to feed cats, feed baby, do dishes, pack bags for tomorrow (mine and his), and hopefully make some dinner for myself. I tried to pick easy meals for this week that would allow me to cook meat and veg in one pan together, either under the broiler or on the stove top. And here I am, with a sleeping baby, clean dishes, packed bags, and a tasty steak in my belly. I'm now convinced that single moms just need steak to be happy and centered.*

While at Whole Foods to pick up a NY Strip (on sale last week..woot!), I noticed a bunch of different kinds of WF brand marinades and sauces on top of the meat counter. The one that caught my eye was rosemary and mint. I looked at the ingredients and noticed they included sugar, so I figured I would go home and figure out a way to make my own that was sugar free. On my way out of WF, I added a bunch of rosemary, a bunch of mint, and a couple lemons to my cart. The WF sauce was probably meant for lamb and my version would be incredibly tasty on a nice lamb chop for sure, but tonight it went on the strip steak. I'm usually a steak purist - no sauce necessary - but this addition was light and crisp, so that the deliciousness of the steak could still shine through.

This week's menu:
Monday - Steak
Tuesday - Pork stir-fry with CSA pea shoots and lemongrass
Wednesday - Chicken with feta, olives, and spinach w/black salsify and kale gratin
Thursday - CSA beer brat with cabbage slaw
Friday - Whatever allows me to put my feet up after a week alone with my adorable munchkin

Steak with Rosemary and Mint

1 NY strip steak (or any other cut you prefer)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 sprig of rosemary
2 tbsp of mint, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
Olive oil
Coarse salt and pepper

- Turn the broiler on high or warm up the grill
- Spray both sides of the steak with cooking spray (I use a Misto with olive oil)
- Salt and pepper both sides of the steak
- Remove rosemary leaves from sprig and place them in a food processor with the garlic, mint, lemon juice and a splash of olive oil. Pulse until well-chopped, but do not let it get completely smooth.
- Take half of the mixture and spread it across one side of steak, pressing it into the meat. Flip the steak and do the same to the other side.
- Broil or grill for 5 minutes on each side, or longer if the steak is especially thick. Mine was about 1.75 inches thick, so I cooked for almost 8 minutes per side.
- Pull off the heat and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

*I am, of course, joking. Single moms need steak AND wine...and shots.

This post is part of Menu Plan Monday.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Finally, a post!

This weekend's radio silence has been brought to you by "catching up at work" and "baby with the stomach bug that's going around." I started this post on a Sunday night, in a darkened living room, watching an awesome show on the Cooking Channel about a pop-up restaurant with the sound turned down fairly low so that my sick baby will stay asleep on the couch next to me. It will likely be completed before or after a trip to the pediatrician on Monday. This is the veritable definition of parenthood, I'd say.

Getting back to my Monday format of answering a question and giving the menu, even though it's Tuesday -

Do you watch cooking shows? (No. Really. Someone asked me this.)

Why yes, I do. In fact, I've gotten into the habit of watching a lot of Cooking Channel on the weekends while I'm cleaning, working, For new shows, I'm a fan of Bitchin' Kitchen (she's so corny, she's awesome), Chuck's Day Off (easy, simple dishes with gourmet touches that make them special - plus the host is hot), and Food(ography) with Mo Rocca...because he's Mo Freakin' Rocca, people. I also love the vintage offerings on the Cooking Channel. Usually I am drawn to Two Fat Ladies (it's the moped with the side car - you gotta love it!), Good Eats (it appeals to the super nerd within me), and the creme de la creme of fun shows, The Supersizers Go... If you haven't heard of that last one, it's because they only filmed one season a couple years ago, but it is one season that I could watch endlessly. The show stars a British food critic and his actress friend and they essentially immerse themselves in the culture, dress, and most importantly the food, of a particular era. For example, this past weekend I saw an episode on the French Revolution where they lived for a week in a French chateau, dressed like Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, and ate the exact foods that were recorded on royal menus from the time. The research and effort that goes into these cultural experiments just astounds me - and the hosts are ridiculously funny, too. I want to start a movement to bring this show back.

I also like a lot of the reality-style contestant shows but my heart will always belong to Top Chef because they always keep it classy. I do enjoy a little Chopped, Sweet Genius, and Iron Chef on the side. Shows that make me change the channel? There is really only one - Hungry Girl (disgusting combinations of processed foods based solely on calorie count - this is NOT a cooking show, it's an eating disorder tutorial).

And now on to the menu, which is truncated due to my poor time management skills...

Tuesday - A chicken recipe I'm working on
Wednesday - Lemongrass pork chops
Thursday - Coffee-rubbed brisket in the slow-cooker
Friday - Scallops

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Stilton Burger Salad

I didn't do a lot of grocery shopping for this week because I knew we'd be out of town for most of it. My husband had to tend to a family emergency last night, so I was juggling baby all by myself but still wanted to cook something so I could get back on track with eating grain-free. I had some organic ground beef defrosted, a shallot, and a small hunk of Borough Market Stilton. Burgers sounded so perfect, but I didn't feel like grilling so into the broiler they went. They don't come out of the broiler looking as pretty as a grilled burger looks, but they tasted good.

A salad of spinach, pickled radishes, hearts of palm, a few craisins, balsamic vinegar, and sunflower oil provided the bed for my burger. I love the combo of savory, sweet, and sour that happened with the burger, craisins, and radishes.

Stilton Burgers
1 lb of organic ground beef
1 egg
1 small wedge of Borough Market Stilton
1 shallot diced
salt and pepper

- Preheat broiler to high
- In a bowl, combine beef, egg, stilton, and shallot and mix with hands. Season with salt and pepper.
- Spray a broiler pan with non stick cooking spray.
- Form four or five burgers, place them on the tray, and put the tray in the oven on the rack that is 3-4 inches from the heat source.
- Cook for 3 minutes, turn the tray 90 degrees, cook for three more minutes.
- Then flip the burgers and cook for another 6 minutes, turning the tray again half way through.

This post is part of Foodie Friday, Friday Food and Recipe Linky at Mom Trends, Food on Fridays, and Fresh Bites Friday

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

After an exhausting trip back from New Haven with a kiddo who was not enjoying the ride, my nerves are fried, so I'll make this post quick. Today was NOT a good day for eating grain-free. I managed to get through breakfast (can't go wrong with bacon, eggs, and fruit), but the only protein offering at lunch was chicken with some sort of breading. I tried to scrape it off. Really, I did. But it was accompanied by a perfect salad and some delicious grilled grape tomatoes, carrots, and eggplant. Dessert was very tiny petit-fours and I'll be honest - I had one.

Dinner was a disaster that involved a NJ Turnpike rest stop. That's all I'll say about that.

We came home with a hyper, cranky baby. I rushed around to bathe him, get his stuff ready for daycare tomorrow, and unpack. When all was done, I found myself hungry and wanting something comforting. I sliced a banana and topped it with some greek yogurt. Then I remembered that I'd pickled some grapes (using this fabulous recipe) before we left. I know I know - this recipe is so not paleo or primal or whatever. Just a few of these sweet and tart grapes enlivened the dessert and made it feel indulgent.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A grain free dinner without even trying

So here I am at Yale University, attending a yearly conference for people in my profession who work at Ivy League schools. (Yes, I do make a snooty chortle noise every time I type that. We also say "chin chin" and wear ascots for the entire conference.)

Anyway, when I registered for the conference they did ask if I had any dietary restrictions so I put down gluten-free in the hopes that I'd at least get meals that had a good amount of protein and veg even if I had to pick around something that had grain. It ends up I didn't even have to worry about it for the kick-off dinner tonight because most of the passed hors d'oeuvres and the entire dinner menu were grain-free!

The theme of this year's conference is going green, so the added bonus of tonight's dinner was that it was locally sourced. The most amazing part was that it was prepared and served by Yale's internal catering service. I did sidle up to the catering manager and ask her to see if any of the components of the appetizers or dinner dishes contained grains or sugars. There was a minimal amount of sugar added to the vinaigrette on the salad and the demi-glaze in the main course, but otherwise I was totally in the clear.

I savored every bite of the menu below while listening to a very interesting talk by the Yale professor who oversees the Yale Project on Climate Control Communication. He spoke about his work in studying how we can effectively educate the public on global warming and how the message needs to change depending on the person's current thoughts on the subject. I skipped the after-party to the dinner, which was "flower power" themed and had a huge, sugar-laden dessert bar. I'd like to say that I did that so I could come back and write this post for all of you, but really it was so that I could get a full night's sleep for the first time in, like, forever.

This post is part of Slightly Indulgent Tuesday

Monday, March 5, 2012

Pineapple Braised Pork Ribs

It sure is hard to stay grain-free when I'm away from home. Especially when eating meals as a group with people who aren't grain free and notice that I'm passing up the pasta or rice. Yes, people, I do feel better. Why would I keep doing this if I didn't? Yes, I did read up on it. Nope, it's not the same as South Beach. Yes, I've heard of South Beach. Yes, I'm sure I don't want to just do that diet instead. The whole point is that this is not a diet. Yup, I do mean that I plan on this change being pretty much permanent. No, I didn't ask my doctor if it was okay. It's the year 2012. We're allowed to take charge of our own health in many ways, these days. Flour is a grain. Pasta is a grain. Cheerios are a grain. GRAIN IS A GRAIN.

Okay, I feel better now.

During my last trip to Whole Foods, I both got a rack of St. Louis style pork ribs and a whole pineapple on sale. I hadn't bought them with the idea of cooking them together, but as our trip to Connecticut loomed, I needed to use both of them and the idea for pineapple braised ribs came to mind.

The key to this dish is the combination of heat and sweet. I did my best to use what I had on-hand, hence the use of sriracha in the braising. I think I added too much, so I tempered the amount for this recipe. Also important - the rub. I came up with this recipe at the last minute, so I only let the ribs sit in the rub for a couple hours, but I would suggest doing that step the night before so that the meat has plenty of time to absorb all of the flavors. We ate this with cauliflower cheddar "grits" and sauteed zucchini.

Pineapple braised pork ribs

The rub

1 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp kosher salt
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tbsp paprika
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp mustard powder

The dish

1 rack of pork ribs - I used St. Louis style but baby backs would be fine too
2 regular onions, quartered
1 pineapple, rind and core removed, chopped into 1/2 inch chunks - save the juice if you can, too
2 cups beef broth
2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 good squirt of sriracha
1 tbsp olive oil
1/8 cup honey
4 garlic cloves, minced

- Put all of the rub ingredients in a bowl and mix well
- Lay defrosted rib slab on a large piece of foil and liberally apply the rub to both sides.
- Wrap in foil and put in the fridge overnight.
- When ribs are ready, pre-heat oven to 275.
- Remove ribs from fridge and cut each rib between the bones so that the full slab is separated into individual ribs.
- Heat oil over medium-high heat in dutch oven, add ribs in batches and cook until brown on both sides.
- Add onions, pineapple, beef broth, worcestershire sauce, sriracha, honey, and garlic
- Cover and bake for 3 hours, then remove lid and cook for another hour uncovered
- When done, take out of oven, remove and plate ribs. Bring remaining pot contents to a boil and reduce to about a cup worth of liquid. Spoon liquid, onion, and pineapple over ribs and serve.

This post is part of Monday Mania and Delicious Recipes.