Michael Symon Tried To Kill Me

Well, okay – he didn’t try to kill me personally; his staff did.  And they didn’t do it intentionally, I’m sure.  But I’m certainly SICK AND F&%$ING TIRED of going to a restaurant and ordering FROM THE F&%$ING GLUTEN FREE MENU and getting gluten-bombed.  And hit with MSG, too – you’d think a place where a meal for two can cost $200 you wouldn’t have to worry about MSG in the food, but apparently you do.

No lectures, Jason – they have a gluten-free menu that isn’t gluten-free.  I shouldn’t have to call in advance for that.

At any rate, I’ve been up all night in the bathroom (on the plus side:  I actually found time to read a book) and am not up to the post I had planned for today about an interesting, 3-week dietary experiment I just went through (voluntarily and no, it did not include gluten.  Or grains.  Or cow’s dairy).  Next week.

All I have to say is this:  the food at Lola is very, very good; impeccably prepared and presented.  That is, if you don’t mind getting something you didn’t order, and in the case of those of us who can’t tolerate the gluten, all it takes is a tiny amount to turn what should have been a very pleasurable evening into several days of pain, discomfort and far too much time being acquainted with the porcelain throne.

To give him credit, when Beloved wrote about this on Chef Symon’s Facebook wall, he did reply, asking what I’d eaten so he could attend the matter.  In the meantime, I’ve decided to abstain from restaurants for awhile.  They’re not good for my health.

Meat for Tacos

Don’t forget about my giveaway for not one but two copies of the paleo cookbook for kids, Eat Like A Dinosaur!  Contest ends Saturday at midnight.


Jolly and The G Man came over for dinner Tuesday night, and I had to come up with something quick and reasonably easy – what Meema wants to spend all of her time cooking when she can be playing with an adorable little boy? – as well as something we’d all enjoy (Jolly, along with The Young One, is one of my “picky eaters”).

So we had tacos.  Jolly and G had theirs on soft flour tortillas, while Beloved and I had ours wrapped in large leaves of romaine lettuce.

I like to make my own taco seasoning, because you never know what will be in the pre-packaged variety – many brands contain added sugars, milk solids, wheat flour or corn starch, and MSG.  Homemade is not at all hard, it’s cheaper and it tastes better to boot.  And if you’re like me, you have everything on hand so whipping up the seasoning mixture is no problem at all (some day I’m going to have to post photos of my spice cabinet).  I like to use ancho or chipotle chili powder in my taco seasoning, but regular old chili powder will work just fine.

This recipe will season two pounds of ground meat.  Does it have to be beef?  Nope – it’ll work well with ground turkey, ground pork, ground goat; I’m not sure about lamb at this point, but will be soon since we’re going to buy a spring lamb this year.  You can halve the mixture for one pound of meat, or you can quadruple it and save it in a plastic container so you won’t have to mix it from scratch the next time you want to use it.

I had about half of the two pounds of meat left over from our taco night – I used a little of it in my scrambled eggs this morning, and topped it with salsa.  Yumm-o!  (Yes, I’ve decided to channel my inner Anne Burrel.)  I still have quite a bit left, so I’m going to have to think of something different to do with it; I’ll let you know what it is.

As for these babies – leave off the cheese and top them with a nice salsa (no sugar added!), chopped tomatoes, sliced ripe olives and a good homemade guacamole, and you’re in Whole30 heaven, Mexican-style.

Note:  Your taco meat will be a little drier with a homemade seasoning, because there is no thickener and no need to add water.  If you like, you can add a teaspoon of arrowroot powder or tapioca starch to the mix and stir in a 1/3 cup of water while cooking.

Meat for Tacos
Meat for Tacos
Serves: 8
  • 2 pounds ground meat
  • 1/2 cup onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons ancho chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
  1. Combine the chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper and cayenne in a small bowl. Set aside.
  2. Brown the ground meat in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high eat with the onion and the garlic. When the onion begins to turn soft, but the meat is not quite cooked through, add the spice mixture, working it into the meat with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the meat is browned and fragrant.
  4. Nutrition (per serving): 303 calories, 23.2g total fat, 80.5mg cholesterol, 463.2mg sodium, 383.8mg potassium, 2.9g carbohydrates, 1.1g fiber, <1g sugar, 20.1g protein


Eat Like a Dinosaur – a Review and a Giveaway

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Matt and Stacy of PaleoParents.com saying they’d send me a copy of their new cookbook for kids, Eat Like A Dinosaur, if I’d be so kind as to review it.

I said, “I’d love to!”  So there – I got a free copy of the book in exchange for a review.  It’s not as if I have to give it a good one, right?

Well, that’s not going to happen, because overall the book is excellent.

Matt and Stacy are parents to three small boys.  They were both overweight and their two older sons suffered from a myriad of health and behavior problems – asthma, eczema, ADHD, self-control issues and both were in the upper range for weight while being in the normal range for height, putting them at danger of suffering from the same weight problems as their parents.  About the time their youngest son was born, they decided to treat these issues with diet, and adopted a paleo lifestyle.

Matt and Stacy lost 200 pounds between the two of them, and the problems their sons were dealing with disappeared – some, like the behavior problems, almost immediately and some, like the eczema, over a period of weeks.  Both boys’ weight also normalized.  Their youngest son, who has never consumed any grains, legumes or dairy, has “by a noticeable degree, been [their] most trouble-free, happy baby.”  Unlike his brothers, he’s rarely sick, experiencing one fever in the first 18 months of his life and no hospitalizations, when his oldest brother had been hospitalized twice as a baby.

Yes, they credit his diet, and I tend to agree with them.

The opening section of the book tells this story in much greater detail, of course, along with the challenges they faced switching their older boys to a diet devoid of Goldfish crackers, peanut butter sandwiches and Kraft mac n’ cheese.  This is followed by a section of kitchen tools you might find useful when cooking their recipes, along with ingredients not generally found in the average kitchen – and that’s the source of my first issue with the book (albeit a mild one).  The recipes often rely quite heavily on often hard-to-find and/or expensive ingredients or equipment, such as a coconut cream concentrate, coconut aminos and raw macadamia nuts (something that falls into both categories).  For those of us that are already on board with this diet or a similar one, most, if not all, of these things are in our kitchens, but for a parent seeking an alternative to the Standard American Diet for their children or those on a strapped budget, the recommendation you own an ice cream maker as well as a stand mixer with a meat grinder attachment could be intimidating.

The next section is a story, complete with colorful illustrations, directed at the kids for whom the book is intended.  Told from the perspective of the oldest son, Cole, it explains in an entertaining and very understandable manner why the family eats the way they do, how the boys reacted to it, and how their new diet has made everyone feel better.  For an older child, the concept of eating like a dinosaur might be stretching it (dinosaurs don’t eat cookies, even if they might eat the ingredients used to make them), but young children will most likely embrace the idea – it was a stroke of brilliance on the part of Matt and Stacy.

The center, and largest, section is the – ahem – meat of the book:  the recipes.  And there are a LOT of them, beginning with Main Dishes (beef, pork, poultry, eggs and seafood), and Side Dishes (mostly vegetables and starches, with one egg, one fruit and a recipe for meat stock). Dips and Sauces are next, which is really smart – if their kids are anything like The G Man, they will eat both meats and vegetables much more readily if they have something to dip them in. Snacks, then Special Treats, are last, which brings me to my only other issue with the book – the Snacks and Special Treats sections are almost as large as the other three sections combined. While the Side Dishes contain only nine vegetable recipes, the Treats section alone contains 28 recipes – the next largest section, Main Dishes, contains only 26.

I understand the reasons behind this, I really do – it’s hard for kids of any age to be denied the yummy treats their friends and peers seem to endlessly indulge in, but it’s especially difficult for small children who generally couldn’t care less about the healthful properties of the food they are eating; all they care about is how something tastes.  And to give Matt and Stacy credit, they incorporate as many healthful ingredients – fresh fruit, avocados, even zucchini – into these recipes as they can, but many still contain plenty of sweeteners in the form of dates, honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar and evaporated cane juice; some recipes use more than one kind.  They also rely very heavily on almond flour, almond butter and almond milk, as well as other nuts, for these treats, so if your child suffers from a tree nut allergy, the snacks and treats recipes you can make become limited.

There are no real surprises as far as the recipes go, but that is a good thing – children generally don’t like surprises when it comes to their food.  The purpose of the cookbook is to introduce kids to a way of eating that is far more healthful than the Standard American Diet, and Eat Like A Dinosaur succeeds spectacularly in this endeavor.  Understanding that children are far more likely to eat a wide range of foods if they are involved in the preparation, each recipe comes with steps that are safe and easy for kids to perform.  Many of the recipes are also given fun names – Roast Pork with Squish Squashy Apples, Fish in a Boat, Rat on a Stick, Mock-A-Mole and Bunny’s Soup are just a few.  Nor are any of the recipes particularly lengthy or complicated, an important consideration for busy parents.

Do the recipes taste good?  The Rat on a Stick (well, our version was just “Rat” because Meema was out of skewers) and Maple Butternut Squash Purée do – The G Man ate both quite enthusiastically.  This surprised me, because the recipe for Rat on a Stick called for two tablespoons of red Thai curry paste, and I worried it would be too spicy for the little guy’s palate, but he wolfed it down – after dipping each bite in the squash purée.  I have no reason to believe that the rest of the dishes aren’t every bit as delicious.  Hey, I’m more than a little impressed that they can get their boys to eat salmon – I can’t get The Young One, who is 17, to touch it.

The last section of the book is full of helpful information – how to pack a paleo lunch for your child, how to shop a farmer’s market and plan the week’s meals around the seasonal ingredients you find, even how to shop at yard sales and thrift stores for those kitchen gadgets that might otherwise be out of your reach financially – and how to do each of these things while herding 3 small boys around (again, I’m nothing but impressed).  There is also a chart outlining which recipes contain ingredients that are common allergens – fish, shellfish, eggs and nuts.  Of course, there are no recipes with grains, dairy, legumes or industrial seed oils.

So, do I recommend Eat Like A Dinosaur?  I do!  I like it so much that I am giving not one, but two, away.  In the interest of transparency, I was not given the additional copies for this giveaway – I’ve purchased them myself.  Yup, I’m that impressed with it.

To win a copy of Eat Like A Dinosaur, simply leave me a comment stating why you’d like it.  One entry per person, so leaving more than one comment won’t give you multiple chances to win.  I’ll close the contest Saturday, March 31 2012 at midnight and announce the winner on Tuesday, April 3 2012.

Happy eating like a dinosaur, y’all!

Sweet Potato Hash with Baked Eggs

Happy Tuesday, y’all!  Just an FYI – I’m having a giveaway tomorrow, so make sure and stop by.  I think you’ll like it.

In the meantime, I have a recipe for you (I know – surprise, surprise).  I wasn’t planning on posting a recipe today, but I made this last night for dinner and I thought Beloved was going to damn near pass out from happiness.  I have to admit, though – it is good.  Much better than I expected it to be, in fact, especially for what is essentially a brunch dish.

It’s another rich dish that seems complicated but really isn’t.  And to be honest, I’m not sure what made it so delicious; it’s just sweet potatoes, onions, sausage and eggs.  Maybe it’s the caramelized onions, or the Japanese sweet potatoes, or the tomato basil breakfast sausage made from our latest pastured hog, or the huge pastured eggs with the deep orange yolks.  Maybe it was the combination of all four – who knows?  All I can tell you is that we not only wolfed down half of it last night, but finished off the leftovers for breakfast.

Note:  Knowing that not everyone will have Japanese sweet potatoes or a custom sausage blend, the recipe calls for regular sweet potatoes and breakfast sausage.  It will still be delicious.  But if you’ve got them, use them – hot Italian sausage would probably work extremely well.  You could also divide the hash between six 2-cup ramekins and break an egg on top of each one for individual servings.

A little shaved or grated Parmesan would also be nice sprinkled on top, but without it the dish is Whole30 compliant.

Sweet Potato Hash with Baked Eggs
Sweet Potato Hash with Baked Eggs
Serves: 6
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon ghee or clarified butter
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound breakfast sausage
  • 2 large sweet potatoes peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons ghee or clarified butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 6 large eggs
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 F.
  2. Melt 1 tablespoon ghee in a large, heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions to the pan and sprinkle with the teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are golden and caramelized, about 20 minutes; add the garlic and continue cooking for another 5 minutes – don’t allow the onions to burn. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the onion to a bowl and set aside.
  3. While the onions are cooking, crumble the breakfast sausage into a small skillet and cook over medium-high heat until no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  4. Also while the onions are cooking, bring 2 quarts of salted water to a roiling boil. Carefully add the potatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Drain the potatoes and rinse with very cold water to cool.
  5. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of ghee over medium-high heat in the skillet used to cook the onions. Cook the potatoes, stirring frequently, until they begin to turn golden brown, about 7 to 10 minutes; season with the salt, pepper and basil. Remove from the heat, and stir in the onions and sausage until well-mixed.
  6. Make 6 wells in the hash; crack an egg in each well; bake for 15 minutes or until the whites are set but the yolks are not. Serve immediately.
  7. Nutrition (per serving): 403 calories, 30.7g total fat, 255.7mg cholesterol, 1361.3mg sodium, 459.4mg potassium, 12.3g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 3.1g sugar, 18.9g protein


Fig and Chevre Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Oh, look – another fig recipe.

Sorry, I can’t help it – we’ve stopped eating them so often as snacks, and I have a ton in my refrigerator; I’ve got to do something with the darn things.  But that’s okay, because I’ve decided I absolutely love cooking with them.

You know that question about what you’d eat for your last meal?  I always have trouble with it, because 1) I really don’t want to think about my last meal, thank you very much and B) I like so many things.  Would I eat pad kee mow and sticky rice with mangoes, along with as many lychee martinis as I could drink?  Would it be chicken and dumplings, apple pie and sweet tea?  Would it be prime rib and a mellow merlot, followed by chocolate souffle and homemade French vanilla ice cream?  Mole enchiladas, southwestern style spoon bread and handmade sopapillas with cinnamon sugar and dulce de leche sauce?  Choices, choices…and keep in mind that since I’m going to die after eating it, I’m not being too terribly picky about my ingredients – load me up with wheat and sugar; I’ll be dead soon, anyway.

All I can say is while I might not be able to make up my mind about this mythical final meal, this dish would make the short list – that is how good it was.  And I wouldn’t even have to worry about going off my diet.  For what it’s worth, Beloved agreed with me; he kept saying over and over, “This may be the best thing I’ve ever eaten!”  (Of course, he tends to say that about a lot of the things I cook, but we’ll just ignore that for the time being.)

Note:  This is not exactly the kind of recipe you can just throw together, but that doesn’t mean it’s difficult.  Don’t be intimidated by the list of ingredients or directions; it will come together much more easily than you might imagine.  Also, the servings aren’t huge, but between the prosciutto, goat cheese and fig stuffing, it is really rich and filling – the servings don’t need to be large.

Fig and Chevre Stuffed Chicken Breasts
Fig and Chevre Stuffed Chicken Breasts
Serves: 4
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 6 to 8 ounces each
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 small shallots, finely chopped
  • 5 to 6 large dried Turkish figs, finely diced
  • 2 ounces roasted, salted pistachios, shelled and chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • few grinds black pepper
  • 1/2 cup tawny port
  • 1 ounce prosciutto, very thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces chevre or other soft goat cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon Herbs de Provence
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup tawny port
  • 1 tablespoon ghee or clarified butter
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a medium-size skillet or sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the figs, pistachios, salt and pepper; continue cooking for another 5 minutes, or until the figs and shallots begin to caramelize slightly. Stir in the port and increase the heat slightly, continuing to stir until the port has reduced and the mixture is very syrupy. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
  3. While the fig stuffing is cooling, butterfly the chicken breasts – lay a chicken breast on a cutting board in front of you, smooth side down. Remove the tenderloin, if necessary; you will probably be able to simply pull it off, although you may need to cut it free at one end. Save the tenderloin for another use.
  4. Turn the breast over with the narrow, pointed tip facing you and the thinner side opposite your cutting hand. Place your hand on top of the breast. Carefully insert the knife into the thickest part of the breast, and draw it almost all the way through the breast. Take care to keep the breast attached on one side.
  5. Open the breast like a book and, if needed, use the broad side of a cook’s knife or the smooth side of a meat mallet to even out the butterflied breast, by lightly pounding the flesh until it’s an even thickness. Repeat with the second breast; season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover the surface of the each chicken breast evenly with the prosciutto.
  6. Combine the goat cheese and herbs de Provence in a small bowl until well-blended. Divide the mixture in half and gently spread each portion thinly over the prosciutto covering the chicken breasts. Divide the fig stuffing and mound on each breast, spreading it down the center. Fold the chicken over the stuffing and tie at intervals with kitchen twine to hold it closed. Sprinkle the surface with salt, pepper and the chopped thyme.
  7. Place each breast on a lightly oiled baking sheet seam side up, and bake for 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked and the stuffing is heated through. Allow the chicken to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
  8. While the chicken is cooking, heat the pan the fig stuffing was prepared in over medium-high heat. Deglaze with the remaining 1/2 cup of port, scraping up the bits from the surface of the pan, until reduced to about 2 tablespoons. Stir in the clarified butter and set aside.
  9. Remove the kitchen twine and cut each chicken breast in half through the center slightly on the bias. Plate each half, drizzle with the port/butter sauce and serve.
  10. Nutrition (per serving): 486 calories, 26g total fat, 98.7mg cholesterol, 541.4mg sodium, 530.1mg potassium, 16.1g carbohydrates, 3.6g fiber, 6.4g sugar, 37.8g protein.