Giving Thanks

I am thankful for so many things in my life right now – I have a challenging job that I really enjoy, two sweet kids who are becoming wonderful young adults, and I am particularly thankful for my amazing husband and our friends who have been so supportive of our new healthier lifestyle.  This thanksgiving, we had a dinner for 14 and fortunately they were amenable to our adjusted dietary approach on Thanksgiving dinner which turned out absolutely fantastic, if I do say so myself.

We didn’t keep the table strictly Paleo, since we did have some traditional folks in the group, but I think we managed to blend the offerings very well, and even better, our guests brought a number of the dishes to share, so I didn’t have to do the experimenting all myself.

First the appetizers:

  • Bacon-wrapped Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Glaze – I just followed this basic recipe, and then drizzled the finish product with a balsamic glaze I have from Trader Joe’s
  • Primal Bacon Chicken Liver Pate – Holy crap, this stuff is crack.  Traditionally we in the Hunyadi house have had a cream cheese based mushroom crostini thing for Thanksgiving, so I was looking for a paleo alternative.  No more looking – this is perhaps the best pate I’ve ever tasted, and everyone raved about it.  I served it with Paleo crackers.

Then the main event:

  • Smoked Turkey – our friends Steve and Anita provided the turkey, smoked to juicy and flavorful perfection, sugar free.
  • Paleo Cranberry Sauce – the aficionados of the cranberries at the table declared this to be one of the best versions of the dish they ever had.  I think this is the new official recipe for Thanksgivings to come
  •  Green Bean Casserole – friends Kenny and Elaine provided this dish and indicated that the mushroom soup that is made first to use for the casserole is divine all by itself.  In the casserole with the nuttiness from the hazelnuts, I found heaven.  I normally can take or leave green bean casserole, but this dish was scrumptious.  I’m thoroughly enjoying the leftovers this weekend
  • Sweet Potato Casserole – Kenny also made this one, and while I was originally a bit wary about the coconut shreds in the topping, I really like this version.  Marshmallows don’t even seem appetizing anymore, so this was a welcome switch.  Highly recommended.
  • Sausage Stuffing – OK, I honestly didn’t know what to expect when it came to Paleo stuffing, but this one from A Girl Worth Saving was a great base for it.  I modified the recipe slightly by starting with ground sausage, onions, and celery in the pan, then adding the apple, and then crumbling in the “cornbread” and the liquid.  This was a great sausage stuffing, if I do say so myself.  Definitely a keeper.
  • Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms – I’m a sucker for just about any stuffed mushroom.  I miss the traditional creamy center (i.e. cream cheese) but not the stomach ache.
  • Paleo Dinner Rolls – I thought about just giving up and going with the old Pilsbury crescent rolls and letting the primal peeps just abstain, but because my guests were doing so much of the work, I just couldn’t justify it.  These dinner rolls aren’t the buttery awesome of the old standby, but they are still rather good, and received plenty of compliments.

And for dessert:

  • Paleo Pumpkin Pie – Elena’s Pantry to the rescue!  I think this is my new favorite Paleo crust.  I might experiment with getting a more buttery flavor into it somehow, but the texture is spot on.  The pumpkin pie was really good too.
  • Paleo Pecan Pie – Ok, this one gets mixed reviews.  Honestly, I think it’s a pretty good substitute for the real thing, even though it’s not as syrupy or sickly sweet as the original.  I think that’s actually why I liked it, though some of my guests were missing the karo.   I used the same crust as the pumpkin pie, and it worked great.

All of the holiday goodness, and no digestive issues.  I’ll call that a win!

Fall Flavors

This weekend, E.J. and I made our annual visit to the Texas Renaissance Festival with our friends Kenny and Elaine.  Fortunately, Paleo options abound at the fair, and we feasted on sausage, sweet potato tots, and sauerkraut. We wore the same outfits as last year, but we both had to make some major adjustments to our costumes to get them to fit right.  E.J. ended up ordering another shirt and kilt since the old ones were too big to alter, and I tore apart the shirt, vest, and skirt, cutting out 6 inches or so out and putting it all back together.

It’s amazing what a difference a year makes.

On Sunday, it was back to the weekly prep, and while some ribs were doing their thing in the smoker, I worked on a few seasonably autumn dishes.

First, I started the Crock Pot going on this excellent Beef and Mushroom stew.  I cooked it on low for about 7 hours, and since I had some ribeye in the freezer, I used that instead of stew meat… it turned out pretty wow.

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While that was going, I made a fresh batch of my favorite ground lamb Shepherds Pie which is got its amazing flavor from fresh thyme and rosemary.

Then I made this One Pan Autumn Chicken Dinner from Cooking Classy. Its got all of my favorite fall flavors all rolled into one easy dish, and makes plenty when cooked on an extra large baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

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Finally, I made a double batch of our favorite Paleo Sandwich Bread, which we’ve been enjoying with breakfast this week.

It’s still a bit unseasonably warm here in Houston this week, but hopefully the cool fall weather will make its way down here soon.  I’m ready for leggings weather!

Around the World, Paleo Style

This weekend was another busy one – E.J. and I visited my alma mater, and walked around the Texas A&M campus all day yesterday before attending the Aggie game vs. New Mexico State.  It was a great day, and while our food options were definitely limited while on campus, we still managed to stay mostly Paleo and didn’t have any adverse effects from our choices (always a bonus).

So today was back to the Paleo prep routine, and I decided to go international with my selections for the week.

img_2071First, I started with some old favorites.  The Paleo TexMex Casserole from Popular Paleo isn’t exactly Mexican fare, but it’s got some lovely southwestern flavors, thanks to the sugar & corn-free taco seasoning, and is one of our earliest successes in the kitchen.

Then I went for another favorite (E.J. and Brendon both love this one) with some classic Indian flavors in the Instant Pot Chicken Tikka Masala from Today in Dietzville.  I paired this with roasted broccoli for our lunch packs. img_2069

Next, I went off the reservation a little bit and tried a couple of new recipes.  The first is a Cajun Cauliflower Casserole from Food Faith Fitness that turned out pretty well.  It didn’t set to solid pieces (I think I still had too much liquid in the tomato mixture) but it smells really good, so I am looking forward to trying this one for lunch.  I guess that one’s not technically international, but if you’ve ever been to Louisiana, it’s kinda like a whole other country…

img_2067Then I made a double-batch of these Gyro Meatballs from Paleo Cupboard.  The tzatziki sauce is really flavorful, even if it is a little runny, and the meatballs themselves are really good with the lamb and the lemon accents.  I served these with a side of Greek style green beans with Tomatoes from Greek Paleo.

For dinner tonight, we thawed some Italian Meat sauce I had frozen from a few months ago, and served it on top of roasted spaghetti squash with these really cool Garlic Breadsticks from Paleo Grubs.  Yum!

As a bonus dessert recipe, I highly recommend this German-style Paleo Apple Strudel recipe made with cassava flour.  It’s a little hard to work with, but the end result is fantastic.  I made this as a healthy alternative to the regular ones I made for my company potluck last week.

Bon Appetit!

 

Halloween (Mostly) Paleo Party

As I’ve mentioned before, E.J. and I do a lot of entertaining.  We have 3 major parties every year (New Years, Summer Birthdays, and Halloween) and many minor ones scattered in between (St. Patrick’s Day, July 4, Memorial Day, etc.) and then there are the big family holidays like Easter, Christmas, and Thanksgiving.  All in all, we do a lot of big meals and big party spreads on a fairly regular basis, which is particularly challenging when it comes to a major shift in your diet like our transition to Paleo.

More and more of our close friends have made the transition, or are at least trying to eat more like E.J. and I do, so that takes the pressure off a bit, but in the end the goal is to make a tasty spread without a ton of leftovers we can’t eat.

Here is what the menu looked like for the Halloween party we had this past weekend

For the non-paleo folks, I added:

  • Tortilla & potato chips
  • Green onion dip
  • Rice Krispy treats

These last few items were special request from my mom on the understanding that any leftovers would be quickly handled so they wouldn’t tempt me or go to waste.

There were lots of compliments on the food options, and all in all, I think the party was a success.  Special thanks to Elaine and Anita for their help getting ready Friday so I could get all of it done!

 

Falling off the Wagon Gracefully

This weekend, E.J. and I had short vacation in Nacogdoches, TX where we went zip-lining, hiking, and shopping.  We also fell off the wagon a little bit, which is honestly bound to happen occasionally.  As tough as E.J. is on sticking to his plan, travel (especially for vacation) just requires a little leeway.  What’s interesting though is HOW we choose to go off the rails, now that we’ve been Paleo for over a year.

First, it is done with great care and consideration.  Neither of us mindlessly eats junk anymore. We think about each option and opportunity, and consciously choose when we’re going to eat something off-plan.  Here are a few of the things that go through my mind when I’m making that decision:

  • When was the last time I had this food?  Is there a Paleo analogue that I’ve enjoyed recently?  Am I likely to have the opportunity to have it again in the future?  Local delicacies and special occasions or holidays warrant some extra consideration too.  (i.e. when they buy you a cake for your birthday at work, you eat a small piece of cake.  Period.)
  • When was the last time I had something non-Paleo?  Today?  Last Week?  Last month?  When on vacation, I try not to be bad more than once a day, and even every other day if possible.
  • Am I willing to suffer the intestinal consequences of this choice?  At this point, every time I eat something off the plan, I end up with bloating at a minimum, and in many cases, severe abdominal pain, nausea, and/or gas.  Is the food I want to eat really worth it?

Generally, these internal questions guide me away from the common junk (chips & salsa, pasta, rice, bread, etc) and allow me to only step out of bounds when the occasion truly calls for it.  This weekend, we stayed at a bed and breakfast where the breakfast included biscuits and pancakes.  Was it worth it?  Yes, if for no other reason than because it pleased the grandmotherly lady that ran the place (though they really were delicious), but I certainly suffered for it afterward.  I was glad to be back on-plan today.  I just feel so much better when I stay the course.

Paleo Prep Shortcuts

This weekend marks the beginning of the Fall busy season for E.J. and I.  We have some kind of activity or even scheduled every weekend from now through mid-December, which means it’s going to be tough to find time to do full-on meal prep Sundays.  For E.J and I, meal prepping weekends have been crucial to our success, so how do we find the time to squeeze in 3 or 4 dishes of cooking with all of the other weekend work?   Here are some of my meal prep shortcuts:

  • Instant Pot – If you haven’t yet jumped on the Instant Pot craze, you should definitely look into it.  I use mine every weekend, mostly for making quick vegetable sides (sweet potatoes, beets, etc), but I’ve also cooked a whole chicken and done some stews in it. In less than an hour – this one is a huge time saver and doesn’t use the oven or stove, so it’s great for multitasking.
  • Slow Cooker – If you’re going to be out all day (sporting events, fairs, band performances) the Crock Pot is the way to go.  Chili, pot roast, chicken, pulled pork, lasagna, etc. – this one is great for starting it in the morning (or load the insert the night before and put it in the fridge before starting the cook in the morning) and letting it do the work for you all day.
  • Electric Smoker – Like the slow cooker, low and slow 225 degree smoking is really easy and can be left going all day while you’re out and about.  Brisket, Ribs, and Pork shoulder all need more than 7 hours of smoking time, which is good for set and forget cooking.  Of course, it’s better if you can put a little more wood on it throughout the smoking process, but it still works even if it’s unattended.  Just make sure it’s nice an low heat for safety.
  • Frozen Meals – Sometimes there’s just no time to cook at all, and this is when it’s great to have some frozen meals ready to just thaw, heat and eat.  Soup, chili, sausage, fish, and shrimp are great for this approach, and are also a great way to add some variety in the middle of the week if some of your weekend prep meals are starting to bore you.
  • Ultimate Cheat: Buy it Cooked – this weekend we headed out to Luling, TX for an Intro to Hang Gliding class (it was a blast, I highly recommend it) and decided to just stay the night in San Antonio rather than drive back to Houston.  We knew it would likely be 5 or 6pm by the time we got home, and since we stayed the night, there wasn’t an opportunity to start something in a smoker or slow cooker.  So what’s a Paleo food prepper to do?  BBQ for the win!  Most of the BBQ houses that you buy from out in the country make and season their own meats and don’t put in all of the additives that you get in the grocery store.  Many times just a quick ask of their ingredients in sausage and rubs will tell you if they add sugar or not, and if not, you’re golden.  Make sure you have cash in hand for the best deal, but if you can buy 4-8 lbs of meat and then Instant Pot & oven roast some veggies to go with it, you’re good to go for your whole week.

Achievement Unlocked: Paleo Tortillas

Hello Paleo Peeps!  It’s the first day of fall, and it’s still 90 degrees outside… what gives?  We’ve got football, pumpkin spice, apples, and Christmas stuff hitting the stores already…and the weather is just not cooperating.  Hopefully all that rain their forecasting for this weekend will finally bring that first cool front through, because I’ve got some cute new boots that I’m dying to wear.

Anywho, this past weekend, I decided to make yet another try at Paleo tortillas to go with some marinated skirt steak and nopales (cactus) that E.J. was jonesing for.  Every prior attempt at tortillas has been highly disappointing – too crumbly, messy, or pancaky – and I just need a go-to option here.  Finally, I think I have it, and it’s simpler than I thought.  Enter Paleo Tortilla recipe from Paleo Porn.  Ok, first, is that not the greatest website name, or what?  Second, these tortillas were the bomb.  They were chewy and bendy, yet strong enough to wrap around a hunk of meat, veggies and sauce, and still hold for a burrito-like bite.   Obviously with the copious amounts of tapioca flour, they can’t be a regular thing, but for the occasional Mexican food fix, they’re perfect.  I used the cast iron skillet as recommended and was rewarded with perfectly sized and flippable portions.

Some other successes for the week included Salisbury Steak and this amazing Cinnamon Butternut Squash and Plantain with Apples.  My grocery store didn’t have green plantains, so I left them out, but there’s something about cinnamon apples & anything that just gives me the warm-fuzzies of fall… even when someone forgot to tell mother nature what season it is.