Italian Beef and Green Bean Casserole

I’ve been on a casserole kick lately.

Part of it is that Beloved loves casseroles; part of it is that they’re generally inexpensive and fairly simple.  Part of it is that despite the mild weather we’re all experiencing, it’s still the time of year we crave them, just like we crave salads and goodies from the grill in the summer.  But whatever the reason, coming up with casseroles that don’t depend on grains, potatoes, milk or cheese isn’t necessarily easy.

You learn, though.  One evening last week, I was getting everything out for spaghetti and realized I had some green beans in the fridge that really needed to be used.  And I wasn’t really in the mood for spaghetti squash.  So, I perused the Box O’ Squash in the garage and came back with two small delicatas, pulled the green beans out of the fridge, popped the lids on two pints of homemade tomato sauce and whipped this up.

And it was good.  So good that The Picky Young One one ate every bite of what was a pretty large portion – even the squash, at which he usually turns up his nose.  So, while this might not be the prettiest dish I’ve ever cooked, it’s certainly one of the tastier ones.

It is, after all, Young One Approved.

Note:  If you don’t want to bother with the oven, you could cook this completely on the stove.  Just make sure to stir it occasionally so it doesn’t burn.  You could also make this low carb by substituting the squash with an equal amount of cubed turnips, although I can’t promise that The Young One would eat it.

Italian Beef and Green Bean Casserole

Italian Beef and Green Bean Casserole

serves 6

2 pounds ground beef, preferably grass-fed
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 can (15 oz) tomato sauce
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped or 2 teaspoons dried
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped or 2 teaspoons
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
2 small delicata squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed and cut in half

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Heat a large, heavy, oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat; add the ground beef and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon or spatula, until it’s almost browned and much of the fat and liquid has been released. Season with the salt and pepper and add the onion. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the onion has softened. Add the garlic to the pan, stir and cook for another minute or until the ground beef is completely cooked through.

Stir in the tomato sauce, tomato paste, herbs and red pepper flakes, if using. Add the squash and green beans; cover and place in the oven. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the squash is fork tender and the green beans are tender-crisp. Serve topped with freshly grated parmesan cheese, if desired.

Nutrition (per serving): 504 calories, 33.4g total fat, 113.4mg cholesterol, 1702.7mg sodium, 1360.3mg potassium, 20.8g carbohydrates, 6g fiber, 10.5g sugar, 31.4g protein.

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Posted in participation of Kelly The Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesday

Grain-Free Chicken Pot Pie

I talk a lot here about pastured eggs and their superiority to battery-produced eggs, but what happens to those hens once they become too old to lay eggs any longer?  Well, I can’t vouch for battery hens, but those chickens that spend their time roaming around outside (and I’ve watched the hens that lay my eggs roam around outside) become stewing hens.

Unlike chickens meant to be eaten, called roasters, laying hens are much leaner and smaller; by the time they reach an age when they no longer lay eggs, they are too tough to bake, roast, grill or fry.  However, like tougher cuts of beef, they are extremely flavorful and take well to long, slow cooking in liquid, making them excellent for soups, stews and casseroles.  Another upside is that they’re also inexpensive; we’ve gotten them for as little as $3 per chicken in the past.

At any rate, I threw one in the slow cooker the other morning (something I’d not done before) with half a sliced onion, salt, pepper and rubbed sage, covered it with cool water, and set it to cook for 12 hours on low, with the idea that I’d make some sort of soup out of it that evening for dinner.  I have to tell you I was thrilled with the results – it produced a stock that was a deep, lovely golden color and the most delicious I’ve ever tasted, and the chicken just fell off the bones.

By that time, though, I’d abandoned the idea of a soup (thanks to the lovely Stacy) and decided I’d tackle a pot pie, instead.  And, thanks to the equally lovely Andrea of Simply Living Healthy, I had an idea of how I was going to tackle the crust.   Last month, Andrea posted a recipe for Perfect Paleo Biscuits and once I’d decided to make the pot pie, her recipe immediately sprang to mind – and, with a few tweaks, it became a wonderful topping for what is very likely the most delicious chicken casserole filling I’ve ever made.

And I’ve made a lot of chicken casserole fillings.

A few notes:  This is a fairly time and labor intensive dish – you’re not going to get it on the table in under an hour.  We often dine rather late in our house (I tell Beloved and The Young One that we’re being European), but I know that’s not an option for a lot of people, so you might want to wait and make this on a weekend.  Now, having said that, this dish reheated extremely well the next day, so you could make it ahead and refrigerate or freeze it to serve on a weekday (consider this next week’s Make Ahead Monday, which will be on hiatus due to the holiday).

Also, if you’ve not cooked with coconut flour before, its properties are quite different from those of wheat flour, so don’t make the mistake of trying to substitute it in a 1:1 ratio.  It also has a distinct coconut taste which, while ameliorated by the almond flour and sage, is still fairly noticeable in the dish.  At least at first; by the time I finished dinner, I barely noticed it at all – this was even more true with the leftovers the next day.  I guess if you simply do not like coconut, this dish might not be for you.

I also decided at the last minute to add some of the ten tons of sweet corn we canned this summer and have socked away in the basement – feel free to replace it with something like potato, if you wish, or leave it out all together.  The good news is, if you just include the carrots, celery and onions as the vegetables in this dish, it is not only paleo, but Whole 30 legal, as well (if I’m not mistaken).

Grain-Free Chicken Pot Pie

Grain-Free Chicken Pot Pie

serves 6

6 egg whites from large eggs
3/4 cup almond flour
1/4 cup coconut flour, plus 2 tablespoons if needed
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons fresh sage, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons lard or coconut oil, chilled
3 tablespoons lard or butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped
1 cup fresh corn kernels (optional)
3 1/2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
4 cups cooked, chopped chicken
1/4 cup tapioca flour or arrowroot powder
1/2 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade

Preheat oven to 375 F.

In a large bowl, whisk together the almond flour, 1/4 cup of coconut flour, baking powder, salt, and sage. Using a pastry knife or two forks, cut the lard or coconut oil into the dry mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes.

Melt the lard or butter in a large, heavy, oven-proof skillet – preferably cast iron – over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to soften a bit, about 3 or 4 minutes. Reduce the heat slightly and add the carrots, celery, salt, pepper and sage and continue cooking for another 5 minutes.

Add the chicken, corn (if using) and 3 1/2 cups of chicken stock to the skillet; bring the mixture to a simmer and continue cooking, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes.

While the chicken mixture is simmering, remove the almond/coconut flour mixture from the refrigerator. Beat the egg whites with a fork until very frothy, then whisk the whites into the dry biscuit mixture until well blended. If the mixture is too wet to handle, gradually stir in the extra coconut flour until the mixture resembles a soft, moist dough. (Conversely, if the mixture is too dry after beating in the egg whites, gradually stir in two tablespoons water until the mixture is a soft, moist dough.) Cover with a damp cloth and set aside.

Whisk the tapioca or arrowroot into the remaining half cup of chicken stock and whisk into the chicken mixture in the skillet. Increase the heat slightly and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens enough to coat a spoon. Remove for the heat and set aside.

Gently divide the topping into six equal parts and pat into thin rounds. Carefully place each round on top of the chicken mixture in the skillet. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown and the filling is bubbling.

Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Divide the filling into six serving bowls and top with a biscuit.

Nutrition (per serving): 404 calories, 21.3g total fat, 18.7mg cholesterol, 1269.8mg sodium, 753.6mg potassium, 36.1g carbohydrates, 7.7g fiber, 10.5g sugar, 14.9g protein.

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Posted in participation of Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesday