Yesterday, for the first time, I tried my hand at canning. Tomato sauce, to be specific. I purchased a large amount of organic heirloom tomatoes from a guy who had somehow decided that he needed to plant 40 tomato plants in his backyard this summer. Tomato overload for him=lucky day for me! He gave me a very good price for a beautiful harvest of tomatoes (more on this in a future post). Suffice to say, I was exhausted last night and definitely not in the mood to cook more. So I had Trevor grill some steaks from Prather Ranch (grass-fed beef purchased from the Campbell Farmer’s Market), and I sliced up & sauteed some Cocozelle Squash, which were purchased, along with the tomatoes, from my newest overzealous gardening friend. The beef was a delicious treat, and exactly what we both needed after a hard morning workout for Trevor and a kitchen “workout” for me. The squash, though, was my favorite. I was unfamiliar with this type of squash and O.M.G. it was so scrumptious! I could eat it everyday. For the rest of my life. I’m not sure Trevor would be quite so enthusiastic about it (he doesn’t usually get as excited about vegetables as I do), but lucky for him they’re surely only ridiculously delicious at the peak of their freshness- in the summertime. This brings me to my locavore thought of the day- If you eat what’s in season, you’ll never get bored with any one fruit or vegetable in particular. You might tire of zucchini at the end of a particularly healthy summer harvest, but after abstaining from it for 8+ long months, you will be more than ready to start zucchini overload all over again. So go enjoy the last few weeks of summer produce! Soon I’ll be writing about winter squash, potatoes, kale, beets, spinach and all my other favorite fall produce.
You might remember my account in a previous post about our friends who follow a paleo diet. The word “diet” doesn’t really do it justice though, since this is no short-term eating plan for our friends, but more of a lifestyle. In short, the paleo philosophy is to eat as our hunter/gatherer ancestors would have- meat, vegetables, nuts, some fruit (in season), occasional honey, but no grains, legumes, sugar (really no processed food of any kind). If you want to read more about it, and our friend Richard’s 60-lb weight loss, check out his blog- http://freetheanimal.com/ .
Whenever we have these friends over for dinner, they are quick to emphasize that “paleo is not a religion” and I don’t have to adhere to it when preparing the meal. I appreciate their flexibility and may someday decide to make a not-completely-paleo meal, but so far it has been fun to menu-plan and think of creative ways to make a paleo meal. Honestly it really isn’t such a far cry from how we already eat, since a big part of the philosophy is essentially elimination of processed foods. The biggest challenge is usually dessert, since sugar and flour are out. Last time, I made a raspberry tart with a crust made from coconut flour, almond meal, butter and dates. This time, the meal consisted of a mushroom souffle*, porc a la moutarde, fingerling potato “coins,” and a blackberry mousse for dessert. I wish I could say the meal was a compete success, but it definitely wasn’t my proudest moment in the kitchen. The mushroom souffle was tasty, but didn’t rise as much as I would have liked and the pork was extremely tough. Luckily, the potatoes were tasty and the mustard sauce almost redeemed the tough pork. Needless to say, I hope to have a “redo” with these friends in the near future. The pictures turned out well, though, so I think I’ll post those anyway! And as for the berry mousse, that recipe is coming soon. Also coming soon is a post about the delicious paella meal my friend Anton and I made together for our “Spanish” evening.
This is a pretty simple recipe, but I thought I’d share it with you anyway since it’s a classic French salad. I’ve been reading Alice Waters and Chez Panisse by Thomas McNamee, which has inspired me to write my recipes in a more stream of consciousness manner.
Start with a very fresh head of red cabbage and cut it in half. Then cut one of the halves in half. Keep one quarter of the cabbage out and put the remaining pieces in the fridge. Using a sharp knife or a mandolin, slice the cabbage very thinly, and then give the entire pile a few chops so that the cabbage slices are not too long to eat easily.
Next make the vinaigrette in the bottom of a salad bowl. Combine a few small spoonfuls of dijon mustard with a splash of red wine vinegar. I don’t ever measure this so I can’t give you specifics. I like to stick my nose in the bowl and smell to see if there’s a nice mustard-vinegar balance. Add some salt and freshly cracked pepper. Next, slowly drizzle oil into the mustard mixture while beating it with a fork or whisk. I like to use a combination of walnut oil and olive oil. I find that if I use only olive oil, my vinaigrette comes out a bit too fruity. As you whisk in the olive oil, the mixture should emulsify. If you notice that the vinegar and oil are separating, slow down or stop the stream of oil and continue to beat the mixture. Once it begins coming together again, add a little bit more oil (again, I never measure…some people prefer a more vinegary vinaigrette- i.e. me- and some prefer more oily, it’s up to you to decide what you like!).
Before I jump into the foodie aspect of this dinner, let me preface with a little bit of background information. I learned about the Paleo Diet earlier this year from a friend and neighbor, Richard, who has experienced impressive weight loss and fitness success by revamping the way he thinks about food and eating. Richard writes a blog about his paleo lifestyle at http://freetheanimal.com/, which includes a nice balance of information from recently published research & position papers and personal experience in the form of recipes, progress photos, and emails from friends and family who’ve also experienced positive results.
For a complete overview of what paleo eating entails you really should check out Richard’s blog (nice overviews here & here), but I will do my best to give you a quick rundown. The basic premise is that, in the grand scheme of evolution, the amount of time that we’ve been agricultural people is about 2 seconds (approximation mine). This means that for the majority of human history, our ancestors have been hunters and gatherers. Things like grains, vegetable oils and processed sugars haven’t been available to us, and therefore we are not as well adapted to eating them. A paleo meal (also called “primitive”) usually consists of meat, vegetables, and some fruit (mostly fruits that would typically be gathered, like berries).
I know this sounds a lot like Atkins, but the focus is on eating real, unprocessed food, without counting carbs (or counting anything, for that matter). I find this all very interesting, especially given Richard’s results, and those of our good friends Kevin & Joseph after going paleo.
Recently, Richard has given me several flattering plugs on Free the Animal. Apparently, I’ve inspired him to focus more on food presentation and photography on his “food porn” posts (and his hard work is paying off, because the food looks great!). We decided to get together for dinner after our trip to France, and I knew that I wanted to cook Richard and his wife Bea a paleo dinner so that I’d be able to feature Free the Animal here.
Deciding on a menu took all week and a bit of research. I changed my mind several times, including the day before our dinner, when the beef I’d planned on making didn’t look as enticing as a beautiful fillet of halibut. But that’s how I decide what’s for dinner- pick what looks good at the farmer’s market/grocery store that day- so I’m used to last minute changes. Here’s what I ended up deciding on:
Broiled Halibut Fillet with Parsley Lemon Butter
served with Pipérade
Paleo Raspberry Tart with Raw Whipped Cream
I was pleased with the results, and guessing from the reaction I received from Richard, Bea & Trevor, so were they. Below I’ll break down each component of the menu and provide recipes for your viewing (and perhaps testing/tasting pleasure).
- For the cultured butter: Pour the cream into a clean, earthenware bowl. Add the creme fraiche and gently mix with a clean whisk. Allow the cream to sit overnight in a warm room (about 75 degrees). The next morning, the cream should have thickened slightly. Pour it into the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with a whisk attachment. Turn the mixer on low and allow the cream to mix until the solids (butter) separate from the liquids (buttermilk). (I didn’t take any pictures of this part, but I’ll make more butter soon and post pictures). Pour the buttermilk into a jar and save it for another use. Add ice water into the bowl with the butter and turn the mixer back on low. Pour out the water (don’t save this time, just dump it out), and continue to “wash the butter” until the water runs clear. Once the water is clear, use the back of a wooden spoon to mix the butter by hand, trying to press out as much water as possible. Pour excess water out of the bowl. If you want to salt the butter, add the cheese salt now and mix it in. Congratulations! You’ve made butter!
- Keep about half of the butter you’ve prepared for a different use. Put the other half in the bowl of a food processor (if you want to skip the whole “make your own butter step,” soften 1 cup of butter and use it as your base for parsley lemon butter).
- Add the parsley and lemon zest to the butter. Turn the food processor on. While it’s running, add lemon juice in 1/2 tbsp increments. I recommend stopping the food processor a few times as you’re adding lemon juice to taste the butter. You may like more or less acid.
- Transfer the parsley lemon butter to small ramekins, cover with wax paper and store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it. About an hour before you serve the butter, take it out of the fridge to soften.
Part 1: Basil Oil
- In a small pot, bring a few cups of water to boil. Toss basil into the boiling water for 15-30 seconds to blanch.
- Remove basil and pat dry with a paper towel. Coarsely chop basil.
- Place basil and olive oil in a food processor.
- Run food processor until basil is chopped and mixed with olive oil (this doesn’t take long, maybe 10-20 seconds).
- Transfer oil to a small pot and heat over low heat for about 5 minutes.
- Remove from stove and allow to cool for about an hour.
- Place a piece of cheesecloth over a strainer. Strain basil leaves from oil and transfer resulting basil-infused oil to a jar or condiment bottle for storage.
- Store oil in refrigerator until ready for needed.
Part 2: Chilled Tomato Soup (recipe from Alice Waters: Vegetables…one of my very favorite cookbooks!)
4 pounds ripe tomatoes
2 tbsp salt
1 small cucumber (peeled, seeded and finely chopped)
2 stalks celery (finely chopped)
3 shallots (finely chopped)
White wine vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)
- Cut the tomatoes into quarters and toss with salt. Allow to sit and soften for about 30 minutes. While the tomatoes are softening, cover the shallots in vinegar and set aside.
- Once soft, mash the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. Pass the tomatoes through a food mill to remove tomato skins (I used the largest setting of my food mill). You should obtain a thick tomato juice.
- Stir diced shallots, cucumber and celery into tomato juice. Add salt and vinegar to taste.
- Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
- Now for my variation: Just before serving, top soup with basil-infused oil and a little sprig of basil.
1 yellow onion (chopped)
2 green bell peppers (seeded, halved and sliced)
1 red bell pepper (seeded, halved and sliced)
1 orange bell pepper (seeded, halved and sliced)
6-8 sliced prosciutto (coarsely chopped)
8 medium tomatoes (peeled, seeded and coarsely diced)
Butter & Olive oil for pan
Salt, pepper and herbes de provence, to taste
- Heat a medium dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add prosciutto and cook for 2-3 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove prosciutto and set aside. Melt butter and/or olive oil. Add onions and slowly cook for 8-10 minutes.
- Add bell peppers and seasoning. Allow to slowly cook for another 10-15 minutes.
- Add tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes.
- Just before serving, put prosciutto back into pipérade.
- Serve alongside halibut. Leftovers are wonderful and are traditionally served with an egg or two, sunny side up.
Part 2: Broiled Fillet of Halibut with Parsley Lemon Butter
1 fillet of halibut
parsley lemon butter
1 shallot (finely chopped)
1/2 cup fresh parsley (coarsely chopped)
Juice from 1 lemon
Salt & pepper to taste
Basil oil (or olive oil) to grease pan
- Place tin foil on a large rimmed cookie sheet. Grease foil with basil oil (or olive oil).
- Carefully rinse and pat dry the halibut fillet. Place the fillet on the greased baking sheet.
- Place pats of parsley lemon butter on top of halibut. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, lemon juice, shallots and parsley.
- Turn your oven’s broiler on the low setting and place the halibut in the top 1/3 of the oven (no need to preheat, the broiler becomes hot fast).
- Broil the halibut for about 15 minutes (more or less depending on the size of the fillet…mine was about 2.5 pounds).
- Remove from oven and serve with parsley lemon butter and pipérade.
For paleo raspberry jam (no sugar!):
12 oz frozen, unsweetened raspberries
1/4 cup honey
7-8 lemon seeds
- For paleo pastry tart: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Add first 4 ingredients to the bowl of a food processor. Turn food processor on and slowly pour in cold water. The dough should come together, although it will be nearly impossible to roll out. Instead press the dough into a buttered tart pan. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes (but I recommend checking after 10 minutes, because the almond meal will have a tendency to burn if it bakes too long). Allow the crust to cool completely before using.
- For paleo jam: Cut a small square of cheesecloth and a small piece of kitchen twine. In the center of the cheesecloth, place your lemon seeds. Then use the kitchen twine to tie the cheesecloth into a small bundle.* In a small pot, add the raspberries, honey and lemon seed bundle. Cook over medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes. You can test whether the jam is starting to come together by spooning a small amount onto a clean plate. The jam should move slowly when the plate is tipped to one side or the other. If you prefer less seeds in your jam, pass the jam through a food mill on the medium setting. Allow the jam to cool completely before using.
- For the topping: Top crust with an even layer of raspberry jam. Then top with raspberries. If desired, whip up some homemade whipped cream in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, to make for a more decadent dessert. I used raw cream to keep the meal the least processed possible.
* Wondering what the lemon seeds are for? Lemons and apples are “high pectin” fruits and can be used when making jam to add a little natural fruit pectin boost. These methods have been used for jam-making for many years, in the days before you could buy nifty little boxes of pectin from the grocery store. For more info check here, or google it!
This summer soup was inspired by a recipe from Bea at La Tartine Gourmande, one of my favorite food bloggers. She originally made a “Coriander-flavored Carrot Mash with Coconut Milk”, which I adapted into this soup.
6-7 large carrots, peeled and largely chopped
2 tsp green curry paste
1/2 cup light coconut milk
4 tsp creme fraiche
Salt to taste
Chives for garnish
- Fill a medium-sized soup pot halfway with water. Add the green curry paste and carrots. Cook the carrots over medium heat, until they are very soft.
- Pour out most of the water from the pot, but keep about 1 cup of the cooking water with the carrots.
- Use an immersion blender to puree the carrots until they reach a smooth consistency.
- In order to reach an even smoother consistency, now pass the carrot puree through a food mill, at the finest setting.
- Mix the coconut milk into the carrot puree. Add salt to taste and chill the soup in the refrigerator until cold.
- Just before serving, garnish each bowl with a dollop of creme fraiche and a few sprigs of chives.
In honor of Bastille Day, I wanted to share a typical French dish with you- Steak au Poivre. If you’ve never tasted Steak au Poivre before, all I can say is that you’re missing out my friend. It’s delicious, simple, comfort food. It’s on the menu at any French brasserie right next to the “Steak Frites” (steak and fries) and you generally can’t go wrong by ordering it. I’d never really considered making it myself because I figured it included some hard-to-get ingredients, but my culinary preconceptions have been proven wrong again! When I was in Paris, I got a small can of green peppercorns, stored in water. These are perfect for the “sauce au poivre ” (pepper sauce) that melds so well with a nice steak. If you don’t have a can of peppercorns though, you can rehydrate dried green peppercorns in warm water for 5-10 minutes to obtain a similar effect. I hope you don’t wait as long as I did to try such a tasty staple of French “brasserie” cooking.
Ingredients for 2 servings:
For the steaks:
- 2 steaks (I used New York steak)
- 2 tbsp butter
- Salt & pepper to taste
For the carmelized shallots:
- 8-10 shallots
- 2 tbsp butter
- Salt to taste
For the pepper sauce:
- 1 can green peppercorns (or 2 Tbsp dried green peppercorns, rehydrated)
- 3-4 tbsp creme fraiche
- 1/4 cup milk
- Salt to taste
- Peel and thinly slice the shallots. Melt 2 tbsp of butter on a non-stick pan over low- medium heat. Add the shallots and a pinch of salt. Slowly cook the shallots for about 10 minutes- until carmelized.
- While the shallots are cooking, heat the creme fraiche, milk, peppercorns and a pinch of salt in a small pan over low heat. Stir occasionally.
- Sprinkle salt and freshly ground pepper over the steaks.
- Once the shallots are ready, remove them from the pan and set them aside. Melt 2 tbsp of butter on the non-stick pan over medium heat. Cook the steaks about 5-6 minutes on each side (depending on the thickness of the steak and your cooking preference).
- When the steaks are cooked, remove them from the pan and allow them to rest for 3 minutes.
- Serve the steaks with pepper sauce on top and carmelized shallots on the side.