The Organic Jerk

The topic of the Spin Cycle this week is “Things I Hate.”

Oh, give me a minute on this one – the choices, the choices…

Seriously though, there aren’t many things I hate; if the truth be told, I can’t think of a single one.  There are, however, many things I find exceedingly irritating, and this article from Time Magazine’s newsfeed is one of them.

Actually, it’s not even the article itself that irritates me (a lot of people are self-satisfied jerks about a lot of things, and people who have “gone organic” are certainly not exempt) but the comments, mostly from the people who agree with it – although, again, the organic advocates are not exempt.

I mostly take exception to those who label everyone who has chosen to eat real food, whether they are paleo or WAPF advocates or vegan or simply trying to make a positive change for their health, as a snob because it’s too expensive or not available to everyone.  Sorry, but I call bullshit on that one.  I’ve known poor, and I’m not exactly what you’d call rich now, and I can tell you it’s ALL about personal choice.

The article on food deserts in Wikipedia states, “Residents of food desert areas have no alternative but to utilize private cars, travel several miles on foot, or use public transit to gain access to healthful food.”  Been there, and done that.  We had no car until Darling Daughter – my second child – was a freshman in high school, because we couldn’t afford one (as it is, right now we have only one car).  We walked or took public transportation everywhere, and that included the grocery store.  I never once used it as an excuse to feed my kids Cheetos and Pepsi for dinner.  Was it a huge pain in the ass to drag one of those carriers on wheels, loaded with groceries, onto a city bus?  You bet it was, but it’s what I, and many of the other lower income families in our neighborhood, did every week.

As for not being able to afford it, well, I find that one a bit more believable – my kids ate a lot of ramen and generic boxed mac ‘n’ cheese growing up.  But even then, I never bought things like instant potatoes or rice, stuffing mixes or boxed scalloped potatoes because I knew from experience that bags of rice and potatoes, as well as the ingredients for homemade stuffing, were not only cheaper than their boxed counterparts, but made more food.  I’ve also found plenty of people, via the internet, who are raising families on a strapped budget but still manage to locate, purchase and cook grass-fed beef, pastured eggs and sustainably grown produce.  They simply make it a priority, and just because it may not be your priority doesn’t automatically make them an unbearable snob.

I think when anyone discovers something that they become passionate about, they want to talk about it – share it – with those around them, often to the point of being tiresome.  I absolutely do not exclude myself from that – if you go back into my archives about 2 years you’ll find weekly, if not daily, posts proselytizing about our new-found way of eating, and I know for a fact that some readers found it wearying, even if they didn’t decide I was an out-and-out jerk.  (For those who did, that’s all right – there are members of my own family who can’t stand me and it has nothing to do with my stance on food or dietary choices.)  These days, not so much; I only occasionally drag out the soapbox – which, to be honest, is something of a relief for me, too.

Because if I’m going to be a jerk, I should at least have a really good reason for it.

General Tso’s Chicken

I’ve long been a proponent of the “If you’re going to eat it, make it yourself” school of thought.  Want cake?  Bake one – from scratch.  Want ice cream?  Make it yourself – again, from scratch.  Want biscuits and gravy?  Ditto.

Want some wonderfully sauced, deep-fried Chinese food?  I can do that.

Despite the fact that I love it, I’ve never been real huge on Chinese take-out.  Oh, we’d get it once in a blue moon, but it wasn’t something we’d get on a weekly, or even monthly, basis.  But when we did, you can be sure General Tso’s Chicken was one of the dishes we’d order.  It’s probably Beloved’s favorite, right behind crab rangoons and barbecue spare ribs.  I won’t turn my nose up at it, either, although The Young One usually did, opting for chicken fried rice.

I can’t remember the last time we ordered it, though – certainly not in the last two years, and it was probably quite some time before that.  But once in awhile, it just sounds good, so I thought I’d look around on the interwebz for a reasonable recipe.  And boy, did I find one.

The original recipe calls for corn starch, sugar, hoisin sauce and vegetable oil, but we all know I’m not going there, so I made suitable substitutions of a little extra wheat-free tamari, some honey, tapioca flour (potato starch would probably also work quite well, if you’re so inclined) and non-hydrogenated vegetable palm oil shortening, simply because it has such a neutral flavor.  The results were better than I hoped for – the chicken was suitably moist, yet crunchy, and the sauce was spicy but not too sweet.  The three of us – yes, even The Young One, who went back for more (something that is almost unheard of) – scarfed it down with great pleasure.

Don’t be intimidated by the list of ingredients; it really came together pretty quickly – frying the chicken was the hardest, most time-consuming part, and even that took maybe 10 minutes, tops.  I also added some sliced carrots, onion and tatsoi we’d picked up at the farmer’s market, stir-frying them briefly before adding the garlic and red pepper flakes to the wok – you could use just about any vegetables you like.  Or none at all, if that’s what you want.  (Michele, I totally see this working with some tofu.)

All in all, this was really very good – I can easily see making this again sometime.  Or maybe turning the recipe into Orange Chicken.  Or Sesame Chicken.  Mmmmm…

General Tso's Chicken
General Tso’s Chicken
General Tso’s Chicken
Serves: 4
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups tapioca flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 – 3 cups palm oil shortening
  • Marinade
  • 1 tablespoon wheat-free tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 egg whites
  • Sauce
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon wheat-free tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon chili paste
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon tapioca flour or arrowroot powder
  1. In a large bowl, combine the marinade ingredients. Add the chicken, and stir to coat; set aside for 10 minutes.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the sauce ingredients until well combined. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, stir together the 1 1/2 cups tapioca flour with the salt and pepper. Toss the marinated chicken in the tapioca mixture to coat; shake off any excess before frying.
  4. In a wok or large, deep skillet, melt the palm oil shortening over high heat to 350 F. Working in batches, fry the chicken cubs until golden brown outside and just cooked through inside, about 4 minutes per batch. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat until all of the chicken has been fried.
  5. Drain the hot oil into a heat-proof container, reserving one tablespoon; discard the rest once it has cooled. Wipe down the inside of the wok with a paper towel, but do not wash.
  6. Reheat the wok or skillet over medium-high heat; add the reserved tablespoon of oil. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and stir-fry until fragrant, about 15 to 20 seconds. Add the sauce mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  7. Add the chicken to the sauce mixture in the wok and stir to coat well. Transfer to a serving dish; garnish with sesame seeds and sliced scalliions, if desired. Serve with the vegetables of your choice.
  8. Nutrition (per serving): 504 calories, 31.4g total fat, 73mg cholesterol, 1052.6mg sodium, 601.1mg potassium, 28.3g carbohydrates, 1g fiber, 10g sugar, 27.9g protein


Chipotle Sweet Potato Latkes

Happy Monday, everyone!  If you’ve found your way here via Mark’s Daily Apple – welcome!  Kick off your shoes and make yourself at home – the dog doesn’t bite, so just shove him off the sofa.  Would you care for some iced tea?

I hope you all had a lovely weekend; as you can see, the Big Kahuna Burger made Mark Sisson’s Weekend Link Love which, I must confess, made my day.  It’s not the first time – he also linked to the Rack of Goat recipe, but I guess burgers (especially burgers eaten by Samuel L. Jackson) are a bit more popular than goat, because traffic to the site just exploded.  I’ve already had to increase the bandwidth twice so far this year, and am probably going to have to do it again before the end of the month.

Oh, darn. </sarcasm>

At any rate, our weekend was busy, as usual.  We smoked a brisket on Saturday and had it for dinner last night with a combination of beet greens and mustard greens I braised with some bacon and onions in a little homemade chicken stock – they were quite tasty.  I also made this dish, and all I can say is, you’ll never look at a latke in quite the same way.

First, we’ll kind of ignore that I took the first of many liberties with this classic Jewish dish by frying them in lard – in my defense, it’s what I had on hand since we were rendering some yesterday.  Some non-hydrogenated palm oil shortening would be a good alternative.  And since I used a Japanese sweet potato, I thought some heat would be a good counterbalance and added some finely chopped chipotle pepper in adobo sauce to the mix, which turned out to be a great addition.  Tapioca flour came to the rescue again as a binder; it really does work well in fried foods (although I’m learning that “less is more” when it comes to baked goods, but more on that later this week).

All in all, it was a really nice addition to our dinner last night – Beloved particularly enjoyed them, so I will be making them again.  They’re not only really tasty, but pretty quick and easy to throw together, too; just mix the ingredients in a large bowl, drop them by the 1/4 cupful into the hot fat and presto – crispy, sweet and spicy potato pancakes.

Sweet Potato Latkes
Sweet Potato Latkes
Chipotle Sweet Potato Latkes
Serves: 6
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and shredded
  • 2 tablespoons chipotle pepper, minced with adobo sauce
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 medium onion, grated
  • 1/2 cup tapioca flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 cup lard or other fat suitable for frying
  1. Heat the lard in a large, heavy skillet over high heat to 350 F.
  2. Combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl, stirring until well-mixed. Drop the sweet potato mixture into the hot lard – each latke should be about 1/4 cup of the mixture. Fry until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes per side; drain briefly on paper towels and serve immediately.
  3. Nutrition (per serving): 201 calories, 14.5g total fat, 74.2mg cholesterol, 272.4mg sodium, 139.9mg potassium, 15g carbohydrates, 1.2g fiber, 1.5g sugar, 2.6g protein


Summertime, And The Livin’ Is Easy


I wrote a little yesterday about taking an afternoon for myself, something I haven’t done in such a long time I can’t even remember the last time I did it.  Then I began to think about how happy I am that it’s Friday, until I remembered what tomorrow – Saturday – is going to be like.  We’ll be up early and head out to visit our friends at Whitefeather Meats, who are having a 12.5% off sale of everything in their retail store tomorrow (BRISKET!!!).  They open at 8 a.m., and we’ll be there when they do.  Afterwards, we will head to see our poultry farmer and pick up our eggs for the week, then we head to the farmer’s market, which opens at 9 a.m..  After that, we’ll run over to our organic grocery store to pick up the few things we can’t purchase directly from a farmer or butcher.  We’ll go home after that and put away the spoils of our modern-day hunting and gathering, do the laundry, mow the lawn, clean the house and whatever else needs to be done before we fall down, exhausted.

With the exception of our visit to Whitefeather Meats (we don’t see our butchers weekly; more like once a month) this is a pattern that will repeat itself weekly until late October, only we’ll add a visit to our CSA farmers between picking up the eggs and going to the farmers market.  Once summer is in full swing, we’ll add canning to our list of weekend activities.  I’m also gearing up to make my own charcuterie, something I’ve been planning to do for some time, especially since I have no less than four pork jowls and a beef tongue in my freezer.  And since the kimchi was such a success, you can add more fermented goodies to the list, as well (we’re doing a fermented apple-raisin chutney this weekend).

Don’t get me wrong – I’m looking forward to all of this, but considering we both work full-time jobs and I’m writing a cookbook, as well as blogging 5 days a week, is it any wonder I’m just about as stressed as I can get?  It certainly doesn’t help that we haven’t had a real vacation in 4 1/2 years.  I can only say I’m extremely fortunate to have a husband who is not only willing to do his fair share of the housework (often more) as well as do what he can to promote me and my blog online.

I guess the point of all of this is to let you know that we’re taking next Thursday and Friday off, giving us a full five days off since Monday is a holiday in the U.S. (Memorial Day, for my non-American readers).  I fully plan to go off the grid for those five days – no blogging, no Facebook, no Twitter.  If I turn on my laptop at all, it will be to work on the cookbook, which is coming along nicely but since I am the author, editor and doing all of the design layout in Adobe InDesign – ah, the joys of self-publishing! – it’s taking more time than I thought; there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.  And if I don’t decompress for a bit, I may end up amusing you all by blogging from a nice, padded room somewhere.

At any rate, I’m going to try to write and schedule posts for Thursday and Friday, but if I don’t, well…you won’t know where to find me.

Not that I don’t love you all to death, but thank goodness.

Have a lovely weekend, y’all; there’s a recipe for a reasonably healthy version of General Tso’s Chicken coming next week.  Get excited – The Young One went back for thirds.

Big Kahuna Burgers

I took the day off yesterday.  I didn’t blog or comment – heck, I didn’t even work the entire day.  After lunch my poor, tired brain said “%#$! this!” and I went and got a hair cut, then treated myself a manicure and a pedicure.  If I’d had the time and funds, I’d have gone clothes shopping, too.

I really, really needed all of that.

We also had Jolly and The G Man over for dinner last night, which I also needed.  There’s nothing like a good dose of grandson to cheer a weary Meema up, I must say.  We’d decided to grill burgers and serve them some sweet potato salad, on the premise that it would be a simple dinner.  Except I’d had an idea rolling around in my head for, well, years really, and decided it was a good time to make the idea a reality.

If you ask me, Beloved, Oldest Son, Darling Daughter and The Young One what our Top 10 Favorite Films are, I can guarantee you that Pulp Fiction would be on each of our lists.  It’s the film that vaulted John Travolta back into big-time fame, made Quentin Tarantino an A-list director and made me absolutely fall in love with Samuel L. Jackson.  Roger Ebert once said the film was all about redemption, and I agree with that.  Jules is my favorite character in the entire movie, and I love the fact that while he’s a Bad Ass Motherfucker, his redemption is also the most profound.

And I’ve wanted a Big Kahuna Burger ever since.

Despite the long list of ingredients, it was a simple dinner – these burgers come together really quickly, especially if you fry the bacon and plantains, and make the spicy sauce ahead of time.  I didn’t put cheese on mine, but the rest of the family did so if you want to, a nice pepper cheese would probably be good.  There’s also no lettuce on them, but that’s mostly because I had no large leaf lettuce in the house, so knock yourself out with some iceberg or butter lettuce if you like.  You can also serve them on a bun, if you must, but even without it, this is still a tasty burger.

Note:  This is not low calorie, low carb, or low fat.  It is in no way, shape, form or fashion “diet” food, but it was made with grass-fed beef, the Better Than Miracle Whip was, of course, made with pastured eggs and all of the fruits and vegetables were as organic and sustainably raised as I could manage.

And sometimes, that’s good enough.

Big Kahuna Burger
Big Kahuna Burger
Big Kahuna Burgers
Serves: 6
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 1/3 cup fresh pineapple juice
  • 1/3 cup wheat-free tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • 6 thick slices pineapple
  • 6 thick slices bacon
  • 1/2 medium red onion, sliced
  • 6 thick slices tomato
  • 1 medium plantain
  • 1 tablespoon ghee or butter
  • 1/2 cup Better Than Miracle Whip
  • 1/4 cup Asian chili sauce (Sriracha)
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
  1. In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly combine the ground beef, ginger, pineapple juice, tamari, red pepper flakes and black pepper. Pat into 6 patties; cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
  2. Cut the bacon slices in half and fry until crisp. Drain on a paper towel; keep warm and set aside.
  3. Melt the ghee or butter in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Slice the plantain on the bias into 12 pieces and fry until golden brown on each side. Remove from the heat, but keep warm, and set aside.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the Better Than Miracle Whip with the Sriracha and cilantro. Cover and set aside.
  5. Grill the burgers on a gas or charcoal grill using indirect heat, until medium – about 7 minutes per side. Grill the pineapple slices alongside the burgers over direct heat until golden with nice grill marks, about 3 to 4 minutes per side.
  6. Serve the burgers with the pineapple, plantain, bacon, onion, tomato and spicy sauce.
  7. Nutrition (per serving): 670 calories, 46.6g total fat, 136.6mg cholesterol, 1670.1mg sodium, 967.3mg potassium, 27.6g carbohydrates, 2.7g fiber, 16.7g sugar, 38.4g protein