Sunday, December 30, 2012

Clam Chowder

For Rem’s birthday we started out the day by making some paleo sausage gravy and biscuits from the Paleo Comfort Foods cookbook.  Thanks to my grandpa for getting us that cookbook for Christmas!  I highly recommend it.  The sausage gravy and biscuits were really delicious, filling, and what I thought would be the best meal of the day.  Well, I was wrong!  I asked Rem what he wanted for his birthday dinner and he said clam chowder sounded good.  After looking at several recipes, we decided which ingredients we wanted to use and headed to Giant Eagle, where we found everything we needed (except the bacon, which was already in the fridge at home).  We wanted to make a very rich soup so we were hoping to find grass grazed heavy cream, and we were in luck!  Giant Eagle not only carries Snowville Creamery whole milk, but Snowville Creamery heavy whipping cream as well.  Snowville is a local creamery that produces milk from cows that graze on grass and hay.  

Any meal that starts with cooking bacon (and fills your house with the amazing smell!) is bound to be delicious, so we had high hopes from the start that the chowder was going to be good.  In short, this was probably the best thing we’ve ever made.  It was insanely rich, creamy, and decadent. The bacon was also an absolutely essential ingredient in the chowder, adding a smoky flavor and crispy texture to the velvety soup.   The crispiness of the bacon, soft chunks of vegetables and clams, and creamy base provided a delicious contrast in texture in every bite. The heavy whipping cream really stole the show, making this a creamier soup than we’d ever had before.  In the past we had made chowder with skim milk, and I’m not going to lie, it just doesn’t compare to cream in any way.  We have since learned about the health benefits of grass grazed milk and cream, so while we know this dish is not a “light”, everyday dish by any means, it is very wholesome, using natural, high quality, and nutrient rich ingredients.  If you’re looking for a hearty and rich soup for a cold winter day, this is it.  I’m craving it as I type this.  Luckily there are still leftovers in the fridge.  Try it and tell us what you think! 

Clam Chowder

1 lb. applewood smoked bacon (we used Trader Joe’s applewood smoked bacon ends and pieces)
1 stalk celery, diced
1 onion, diced
4 large carrots, peeled and diced
3 large potatoes, diced (with the peel on)
Salt and pepper
1 heaping T arrowroot powder (or you could probably use cornstarch)
4 cups grass grazed whole milk (we used Snowville Creamery whole milk)
2 cups grass grazed heavy whipping cream (we used Snowville Creamery heavy whipping cream)
1 T dried thyme
1-8 oz. bottle clam juice (we used Bar Harbor all natural clam juice)
2-10 oz. cans whole clams, with juice (we used Bumblebee fancy)
1-5 oz. can chopped clams, with juice

Cook bacon in a large stockpot until crispy but not burnt.  While it’s cooking, dice the celery, onion, and carrot.  Remove bacon, chop into small pieces, set aside, and try not to eat all of it- you’ll need some for the soup!  Leave bacon fat in the pot and add chopped celery and onion.  Cook over medium high for about 5 minutes, then add carrots.  Cook 5-10 minutes more, stirring vegetables occasionally.  While these veggies are cooking, dice your potatoes.  Add potatoes and a generous amount of salt and pepper.  Cook for 10 minutes more, stirring vegetables around as they cook.  Next add the arrowroot powder and stir it into the veggies for about 1 minute.  Next add the milk, cream, clam juice, and thyme.  Bring to a boil and simmer until the potatoes are cooked.  Once the potatoes are cooked through, add the clams (with their juice) and the chopped bacon.  Turn the heat up to return it to a boil, then turn down to low before you serve it.  Makes about 8-10 servings.  

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Our Take on "Jasmine's Favorite"

One place we really like to go when we’re visiting our families is a restaurant called Aladdin’s Eatery, which serves delicious Middle Eastern food (probably our favorite type of cuisine!) like hummus, baba ganouj, kebabs, and mujadara.  They have a delicious chicken, rice, bean, potato and vegetable dish called “Jasmine’s Favorite” that Rem and I have ordered on many occasions.  One night we decided to try our hand at making our own version of the dish.  Since my sister works at Aladdin’s, we called to ask her what vegetables were included and used that as our starting point.  Aladdin’s uses a special, top secret spice mixture and we’re not exactly sure what’s in it, but we approximated the best we could using coriander and cumin, two spices that are common in Middle Eastern cuisine.  Our first attempt turned out pretty good but we thought it could have used some more flavor from the cumin and coriander.  We made it again on Christmas Eve for Rem’s mom, dad, and sister.  It turned out even better than the first time and was enjoyed by all!   It is a very filling dish that is perfect for a cold winter night! 

Our Take on "Jasmine’s Favorite" 

Inspired by the dish at Aladdin’s Eatery

2 c long grain brown rice OR jasmine rice (cook according to time on package directions; in the pot with the rice and water add 1 T grass grazed butter and generous amounts of salt, pepper, cumin, and coriander)
2-3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 lb. chicken breast
1 onion, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 potato, chopped small (with skin on)
1 yam or sweet potato, chopped small (with skin on)
1-32 oz. can petite diced tomatoes, with the juice
1-15 oz. can organic kidney beans, drained but not rinsed
1-15 oz. can organic garbanzo beans, drained but not rinsed
2 handfuls baby carrots, chopped into small rounds
1-2 c frozen peas
Cumin, coriander, more salt and pepper

Combine rice, water, butter, salt, pepper, cumin, and coriander as described above.  Once the rice starts to boil, put the lid on, turn to low and let cook for 50 min (do not take the lid off!).  Pour 2-3 T extra virgin olive oil in large dutch oven and heat to medium-high.  Cut chicken into bite sized pieces, then place in dutch oven.  Season with salt and pepper.  When the chicken is almost cooked through, add the onion and continue to sauté the chicken and onion until very little liquid is left in the pan and the onions are soft.  Meanwhile, cut potatoes and carrots into small pieces.  Microwave the potatoes and carrots in a large bowl for 3-4 minutes, then add them to the dutch oven.  Sauté the potatoes and carrots with the chicken and onions for about 5 minutes.  Next, add the tomatoes (with the juice), beans, and peas.  There should be a fair amount of liquid form the tomato juice to simmer the mixture in.  Sprinkle on a generous amount of coriander, cumin, pepper and a little more salt. Cook with the lid on (taking it off to stir the mixture occasionally) until the potatoes and carrots are cooked through, about 15 minutes.  At this point the rice should also be done.   Stir the rice into the chicken and vegetable mixture and serve the whole meal hot!  Yum!  This also makes great leftovers.  Makes about 8 large servings.

*Note: The pictures are from our first attempt, which did not include a yam, had fresh tomatoes instead of canned, used minute brown rice instead of long grain rice, and had much less spice.  If you make it the way described in the recipe above, it will be thicker and a bit darker in color than the pictures.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Avocado Chicken Salad


This chicken salad recipe is adapted from one by my friend Mike.  It is easy, delicious, and a definite crowd-pleaser!  The avocado is the perfect simple, creamy alternative to mayo or dressing on a traditional chicken salad.

A few tips on buying and using avocados:
You have a few options when buying avocados.  You can buy avocados that are very hard when you squeeze them.  Store on the counter until they give a little when you squeeze them but are not at all mushy.  Then, either refrigerate them (for up to 4-5 days in my experience) OR use them right away.  You could also just buy avocados that give a little when you squeeze them but are not mushy.  Then refrigerate them for up to 4-5 days or use them right away.  I find the easiest way to cut up an avocado is to slice it longways down the middle, rotating the knife around the pit.  Then remove the pit with your fingers.  Hold one half of the avocado in the palm of your hand and (with a butter knife), score the avocado down to the skin in one direction and then again in a perpendicular direction.  Then use the knife to pop the chunks you have created out of the avocado skin.  Avocados are a great way to incorporate healthy fats into your meals.  I love to eat them in this salad, alongside eggs, mixed with salsa as a "dip" for raw vegetables, or in guacamole.

Avocado Chicken Salad

Adapted from Mike Lassak

2 lb chicken breasts or thighs
4 avocados
¼ cup lime juice
8 ribs celery, diced
6 green onions, diced
1 c dried cranberries

Prepare chicken however you would like- bake, sauté, grill, etc.  You could also shred up a rotisserie chicken.  Whichever way you choose, just make sure you have about 2 lb. of meat.  (We like to bake 1 bag of Trader Joe’s chicken breasts or thighs and then cut it up to use in the salad).  Cut up chicken and set aside.  Mash up 4 avocados.  Squeeze about ¼ cup lime juice (fresh or bottled) and a liberal amount of salt and pepper onto the avocados.  Dice 8 ribs of celery and 6 green onions, then add that to the avocados.  Then add 1 cup of dried cranberries.  Next add the chopped up chicken.  Stir everything well and refrigerate before serving.  This keeps well in the fridge for up to 2 days but tastes best when eaten within a day of making it.  

Pumpkin Ice Cream and Maple Candied Walnuts

As promised, here are the desserts we made for our holiday dinner last weekend: Pumpkin Ice Cream and Maple Candied Walnuts!  We own an ice cream maker, but I've only ever tried making ice cream once before.  I attempted making peach ice cream, but renamed it "peach dessert" since it didn't quite have the texture or consistency of ice cream.  It was a tasty dessert, but not quite ice cream per se.  This time around I wanted to make pumpkin ice cream.  I did a lot of research and reading to come up with this recipe.  I knew I wanted to use Snowville Creamery's whole, grass-fed milk, and local honey (that we got from our friend John!).  I also didn't want to have to mess around with adding eggs (which many ice creams require).  Finally I came up with the following recipe, inspired by many different pumpkin ice cream recipes out there.  I also learned that adding a bit of alcohol to ice cream keeps it softer and more "scoopable," so I tried adding some bourbon to my ice cream and it really did the trick!  The ice cream was easy to scoop, even after a few days in the freezer.  I recommend making this as a special holiday treat!

Pumpkin Ice Cream

1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 c whole grass-fed milk
2/3 c honey 
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp good quality bourbon

Mix all ingredients with the whisk attachment on an electric mixer until well combined.   Churn in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions, 15-20 minutes.  I recommend pouring the mixture in to the ice cream maker slowly- that's what I did and it seemed to work well.  (Most ice cream makers require the main compartment to be frozen before churning ice cream, so plan ahead and freeze this piece at least 24 hours before you plan to make the ice cream).  After 15-20 minutes the ice cream should be the consistency of soft serve.  You can eat it just like this OR freeze it in a shallow container.  Mine kept well for 5 days in the freezer.  I haven't experimented enough to know how long it would stay good past 5 days, so let me know if you try it.  This makes about 3 cups of ice cream.  

Maple Candied Walnuts

These are amazing and incredibly addictive on their own.  I've made them twice already this week and have eaten more than I care to admit.  They are also a great topping for the pumpkin ice cream! 

1 cup walnuts
1/4 c grade B maple syrup
1/8 tsp coarse salt

Heat a skillet over medium heat.  Once the pan is hot, add the walnuts, maple syrup and salt.  Stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the maple syrup has caramelized (the walnuts will be completely coated in syrup and there will be little left sticking to the pan), about 5-7 minutes.  Spread walnuts out onto parchment paper and let cool.  Store in an airtight container on the counter (if they last long enough to put in a container- I'm telling you, these are addictive!)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Holiday Meal

Clockwise from upper left corner: cranberry sauce, turkey, sausage quinoa stuffing, white bean cauliflower mash, oven roasted sweet potatoes, oven roasted brussels sprouts, oven roasted green beans, salad.

During the holidays we travel to our parents’ houses and stay with them, which means we’re never the hosts of the traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas meals (although our parents do let us do a lot of cooking when we're up there, which is very fun!)  So we decided to make some of our favorite holiday dishes and eat this yummy meal with our long-time friends and fellow "foodies."  The measurements in most of the dishes are not very exact, so just trust yourself with whatever amounts of seasoning and vegetables you want to add!   Here’s what we made (everything is pictured on the plate above):


Clean and remove all unnecessary parts from a 14 lb. turkey.  Soften 1 stick of grass-fed butter (we used Kerrygold) and mix in salt, pepper, and chopped fresh thyme, sage, and rosemary (about 2 T of each).  Rub this mixture under the skin of the turkey, then sprinkle turkey with coarse salt and pepper.   Bake at 400 degrees on a rack in a roasting pan.   After about an hour, check the turkey and if the skin is browning a lot, make a tent over the turkey with foil and then put it back in the oven.  After 2 hours, begin to check the turkey about every 10 minutes to see if it is done.  When the turkey is done (either you've tested it with a thermometer or the timer in the turkey has "popped"), wrap it tightly with foil for at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour.  Then carve the turkey and serve! 

Oven Roasted Sweet Potatoes

          Wash 4 lb. sweet potatoes (which will fill a 13x9 pan and cut into small cubes (a bit smaller than a die), leaving the skin on.  Microwave the sweet potatoes for about 2 ½ minutes.  We did this in batches because there were so many.  Place in 13x9 pan and toss with olive oil, then sprinkle with cinnamon, cayenne, cumin, salt, and pepper.  We didn’t really measure this, just gave them a good coat with the cumin, a bit less cinnamon, just a dusting of cayenne and a good amount of salt and pepper.  Sorry for the inaccurate measurements.  Just experiment and trust yourself! 

Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Oven Roasted Green Beans

                We used 1 lb. of thin, already cut green beans from Sam’s Club for ease of preparation.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees (375 or 425 would also be fine.  We cooked them at 400 because that’s what the oven was already at from the turkey).  Line baking sheet with foil and place green beans on sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then toss to coat.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until they have some good color.

Sausage and Quinoa Stuffing

                In a large dutch oven, brown 2 lb. sausage.  We used ground pork from the ½ pig that we just bought!  (This is the first dish we made with our pork!)  When the meat is almost fully cooked, add 1 diced onion, some mushrooms (about 2 cups), 1 diced stalk of celery, and about 2 cups of diced baby carrots.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and add about 3 T chopped fresh rosemary.  Cook until all vegetables begin to soften.  Then add 2 cups dry quinoa and 3 cups chicken broth.  Bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer until the quinoa absorbs most of the liquid. 

White Bean Cauliflower Mash

Cranberry Sauce

Salad with spinach, tomatoes, red onion, yellow peppers, cucumber, basil, walnuts, and hard boiled eggs.

This was such a satisfying meal.  Thanks to the many blogs I read for some of the wonderful recipes we used!  Thanks to Rem for making the meal with me, and thanks to our friends for making food and coming over to eat with us!  Stay tuned for my next post: the dessert we had after dinner!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Balsamic Mustard Chicken and Blog Recommendation

One fantastic blog I read often is Everyday Paleo.  The recipes are easy and very tasty.  The author, Sarah Fragoso, also has several books and cookbooks.  Check out her blog and recipes!  I like to make the Balsamic Mustard Chicken recipe on her blog, but I add a diced onion to the pan with the chicken.  So delicious!  The marinade is so flavorful, and the onion diced up in it is amazing because it soaks up all of the marinade flavor and becomes sweet and caramelized.  It is very good served with quinoa, steamed broccoli and green beans (as pictured).  I’ve also marinated the chicken and then baked it on a bed of chopped onions, carrots, and celery.  If you do this, make sure you pour the extra marinade over the veggies so they soak it up as they bake.  Enjoy!