Friday, January 9, 2015

Shepherd's Pie

From torrential downpours and flooding to biting cold, Sonoma County's taken its fair share of inclement weather in the last month or so. I'm told we need the water, and I like the rain. Winter chill, however, can settle deep.

Many people in many cultures with many different cuisines have proven the value of a hearty dish on an otherwise un-cozy night. Some say it should "stick to your ribs." Dunno about you, but I don't particularly enjoy the incapacitating fullness that comes with consuming such a quantity of heavy food. I'd prefer to feel fulfilled, not filled full of regret.

Enough cheesy wordplay. More cheesy shepherd's pie.

"Wait, what? Cheesy? Thought dairy wasn't paleo?? Isn't this be...what??"

-the one or two readers of this blog

I'll do my best to explain why I continue to eat grass-fed dairy. Or at least direct you to someone who can at PaleoLeap. This article goes through the debate on dairy, the clear and less clear pros and cons. 

I reintroduced dairy after completing a Whole30 in November. I already knew I liked butter and cheese (5-year gouda, gimme a BREAK that's too damn good to give up,) but needed to find out how well my body deals with it. I've found that I still do like it, but that I cannot tolerate it in the quantities I used to, so I moderate my intake. And choose the best butter and cheeses I can find (and afford.) How many times did I use "I" in this paragraph? Enough times to demonstrate the individual nature of anyone's decision to exclude or include something from his or her diet. The principles at the foundation of a paleo or paleo-ish lifestyle are yours to interpret because your body is unique; such is the nature of biodiversity. Can't put the same food in every body and expect exactly the same results. And that's a damn good thing, otherwise the bacteria would've won by now.

But humanity survives because of its diversity on every level. Without getting partisan, I need to at least mention the all-too-serious situation in France, where fundamentalists have been murdering and terrorizing the civilian population in defense of the pride of a long-deceased figurehead in their religion. Civilians lost their lives simply for having exercised free speech and offending all-too-sensitive zealots. The human lives lost in Paris and all over the world every day for similar reasons deserve to be remembered, and to mean something. 

All I can hope is that anyone familiar with the facts and logic of history would at least understand that the tectonics of the current geopolitical landscape are dictated by forces other than the ones gestured to by talking heads on TV. People who believe their own way is the only way will usually be proven wrong, and will generally learn the hard way. Often with tragic consequences for humanity, regardless of allegiances. So there is an austere background for this blog post, to allow for focus on the important things.

Quite simply, my decision to eat grass-fed dairy should not affect your decision. I'm just here to tell you how tasty it can be if you're into it. If you're not, that's cool; this shepherd's pie will still be scrumptious. This food is an opportunity to bring your family or friends together over something warm and nourishing. the sort of opportunity that should be taken whenever presented.

If you're in: from start to finish, the whole thing will take you 2-3 hours. But it's a fairly simple dish that will feed a small army and/or supply you with abundant leftovers with two main ingredients: ground beef and sweet potatoes. The rest is (quite literally) gravy, and will only enhance the savory and subtle sweetness of this dish. So here's how I make my Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie:

(Proportion for an 9x13 casserole dish) 
The basics:
  • ~4 medium sweet potatoes
  • 2-3 lbs of ground beef, depending on your desired meat:potato ratio
  • 1 large red onion
  • 1/2 cup almond/peanut/other nut butter, depending on your persuasions
  • 1/2 cup shredded grass-fed cheese like Kerrygold
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp grass-fed butter/coconut oil/olive oil

Optional seasonings, mix and match to your taste. I'll highlight the ones that I used most recently:
  • 1.5-2 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp paprika/chili powder
  • 1 tbsp basil
  • 1 tbsp fennel seed/powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp +1 tsp tarragon 
  • 1 tbsp honey/coconut sugar
  • Sea Salt (to taste, don't be shy)
  • Black Pepper (to taste)
  • 2-3 sprigs green onion
  • 3-4 cups broccoli florets, brussels sprouts, or other dense green vegetable
  • BACON?!?!? (Always)
    • For a South-of-the-border sorta flavor, try cumin, oregano, and a little extra chili powder
    • If you've got a flair for the aromatic warmth of Indian or Middle Eastern spices, try bay leaf, sumac, turmeric, or even your favorite curry powders in the meat and potatoes.
    • If you're not feeling beef, try lamb and add some Moroccan or Greek/Mediterranean spices! The possibilities...
How to make the pie:
  1. Poke a few holes in your sweet potatoes, then place them directly on the middle rack of your oven with something beneath to catch their drippings. Bake the suckers at 400ºF for 45 minutes or so, long enough that the skin begins to separate from the flesh. Ew? No. Caramelized potato starches? Yes.
  2. While your potatoes are in the oven, grab a skillet large enough to handle all your beef. If you're using bacon, now's a great opportunity to cook it and use the leftover grease to cook your onions and/or beef. I like to cook my bacon slower, over medium heat, so that more grease ends up in the pan and so I can more easily keep the bacon from getting tooo crisp. Remove bacon to a plate for later.

    Once your pan is greased, throw down your diced/sliced red onion and let it sizzle til browning and slightly translucent. Then add your tbsp of honey/coconut sugar to caramelize the onions for another couple minutes.
  3. Remove the onions from your pan once they're cooked and keep them safe from passing foragers. They should remain under the same careful surveillance as the bacon you recently set aside. When bacon becomes worldwide currency, you'll thank me. If the pan is running low on cooking oil, add a little before cooking your beef.
  4. COOK YOUR BEEF. Well, brown it. In the leftover bacon grease and caramelized onion bits. Sound tasty yet?
  5. Once cooked, transfer the beef to a large mixing bowl. Add the almond butter, one eggs, and whatever spices you're using, and mix it up. By now your potatoes should be ready to mash in your other large mixing bowl, so remove them from the oven and set it to cool a bit to 375ºF.
  6. You guessed it...mash your baked sweet potatoes in the bowl, add your butter or other oil, an egg, and whatever elbow grease necessary to whip them into a creamy, spreadable consistency. If it pleases you, add your cooked and diced bacon, cheese, some diced green onions, or simply some salt and pepper to the sweet potatoes. Whatever floats your boat and makes your tastebuds happy.

    By now, you should have a bowl of meat and a bowl of sweet potato, and some caramelized onions.
  7. Grease your casserole dish, then get layering. Here's the order I chose (arranged bottom to top,) though I'm certain others would work just fine:
    1. Sweet Potato
    2. Beef
    3. Caramelized Onion (and/or green veggies, if you're not serving them separately.)
    4. Sweet Potato
  8. Bake the pie in your 375ºF oven for about 30 minutes. Broil it for another 3-4 minutes to get a nicely browned crust on top, then garnish with tarragon if it's in your arsenal. Let it cool for a bit so everything sets a bit, then slice and serve. A nice helping of steamed veggies accompanied my shepherd's pie, though it can easily stand alone. Trust me =)

Sorry about the low resolution; the photo comes from my aging phone with its blurry, non-focusing lens. Hope you dig the shepherd's pie. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Whole30 Shakshouka

Began writing this while sitting behind the chilled soups and stocks of the booth I work at the Santa Rosa Veterans' Center farmer's market. Surveying the stands displaying meat from naturally-raised animals and farm-fresh vegetables and fruit of Sonoma County, I can't help but imagine all the potential just waiting to be sautéed, roasted, steamed, broiled, poached, or otherwise teased out of this abundance. Especially today, the first of the Whole 30, the cleanest Paleo guideline the Stone Age Kitchen has ever seen. 

I'm the kind of guy who usually goes to sleep looking forward to breakfast. Often I wake feeling ravenous for some kind of nutrition, but only with raw vegetables available for immediate consumption. Thank Buddha and his belly that some of these veggies will be waiting for me in the morning, staving off hunger long enough so I can get to...

The meat. Bought a mess of Whole 30-approved sausages in preparation for what I soon expect to be an only barely satiable metabolism, burning hot as the skillet that sears and caramelizes our favorite proteins.

As I sit here, tummy grumbling, imagining the tastes and aromas that reward a diligent cook, I listen to my body. As in any productive conversation, the listening and understanding is just as important as (if not more so than) my own self-expression. After all, what could I tell my body that it doesn't already know?

That's what these 30 days boil down to, for me. Maybe for you, too, on some level. An opportunity to clean and renovate this so-called temple, to learn from the forces of nature that determine my form and function. If I can attune myself to the frequencies on which my body communicates, I can better nourish it with what it needs to grow stronger and more vibrant with every meal. Our tastes and creativity, imagination and community determine how these needs are met. But listening to what the body has to say, whether it's a sore muscle or an empty stomach, is the first step.

What my body's been telling me for the last 48 hours or so sounds like this: Shakshouka! Supposedly comes from an Arabic, possibly Berber phrase meaning "mixed up." A combination of easy-to-find ingredients to which you can add or subtract with abandon. But the essential ingredients: tomatoes and eggs.

Specifically, the eggs are usually poached in a zesty, even spicy tomato sauce that can only benefit from time left simmering. Of course, tomato season is drawing to a close, so now is the time to take advantage of this year's especially sweet harvest.

That sweetness, elusive during a Whole 30, is a silver lining of California's drought. Much like the wine country's grapes, the scarcity of water during the growth of the tomatoes concentrated their natural sugars. I learned this from the movie, Bottle Shock: the struggle to survive is what makes the fruit (or veggie) taste so sweet. A beautiful irony.

So find some fresh, local tomatoes, whatever kind is your favorite. You could also use canned tomatoes or purée or paste, but where's the fun in that? I've made this dish with canned stuff before and it turned out fine, could be so much better! That's why anyone would be doing the Whole 30, or why any of us engage in any self-improvement or learning experience, I'd think. An opportunity for daily self-cultivation. 

Along with that you'll need eggs, the best you can find. For my shakshouka, I'll also be using Brussels Sprouts, an onion, and the fresh chorizo from Sonoma County Meat Company. All the zest and savory from cooking the sausage will be lapped up by your veggies and tomatoes when they're added to the mix; this is a simple, one-pan dish. Keep in mind: using the extra veggies like Brussels Sprouts and onions will take up some room in the pan and make it less of a liquid poaching medium than if you were to use tomatoes alone. 

I'd advise you cut/slice/dice your vegetables before any cooking begins, so you're not scattered about the kitchen when a pot or pan or oven needs attention. To get even more nutrition and flavor out of your tomatoes, toss them in some olive oil after slicing them. Adding olive oil to tomatoes before the cooking process aids in the delivery of lycopene to your body, and for this your body will thank you (link to the science about tomatoes, including their interaction with olive oil.)

One thing I learned working in the kitchen of a certain chain burrito restaurant whose name is the same as a chili sauce and rhymes with...well, no real words. Rhymes with Flipotle. The most important lesson: Mise-en-place, French for "everything in its place," means having all your necessary cooking tools and food accessible and ready for cooking before you begin. This might be second-nature to some of you, but it sure wasn't for me! I find that every time I practice this, however, my cooking and cleaning process is much smoother. Donc, si vous êtes prêtes, allons-y!

You'll need:
1 onion, sliced
1 sweet potato, diced (or more, if you're feeling frisky and have a BIG pan and appetite)
1 lb chorizo, crumbled
2 pounds tomato, halved or quartered
1 lb Brussels sprouts, quartered
Coconut oil (won't give you a specific amount because it's just how much you need to keep your pan cooking!
Olive oil (enough to toss those tomatoes)
1-2 Eggs per person eating (depending on their mojo/appetite)
Zesty Spices: 
1 tbsp Oregano
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Cumin
1/2 to 1 tsp red chili flakes (optional-you could use any sort of heat here, or none!)
2-3 bay leaves
1 tsp sea salt (or more, to taste) 

Tip: Out of habit, I deglazed the bottom of the pan with ~1 tbsp balsamic vinegar after adding the Brussels Sprouts. This not only stops food sticking to the pan but also adds liquid to for a quick burst of steam and flavor, speeding the cook of your veggies.

1. Coat the bottom of your large, ideally cast iron pan with coconut oil over medium-high heat. Once it's hot, cook the chorizo first, just til browning (It'll cook through in the stewing process,) and remove it to a plate. No paper towel to sop up the juices, you'll want to get those back in the pan later!

2. Throw down the sweet potatoes and onions to the pan, allowing to brown as well before adding the Brussels Sprouts. Splash in your balsamic vinegar (you want to hear it sizzle) with the Brussels Sprouts and cover the pan for 2-3 minutes.

3. Slide in your tomatoes and cover the pan. After a few minutes, they'll begin melting, almost literally, over the top of the rest of the veggies. Stir the shakshouka mix gently to work in the tomatoes as they continue to break down. Cover for another 5 minutes.

4. Spoon the chorizo back into the pan with as much of its juices as possible. Stir the meat back into the shakshouka gently, sprankling in your spices as you go. Allow to simmer over low heat for at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to marry (and consummate that marriage, making delicious flavor babies.)Note: Add water to the pan 1/4 cup at a time if your sauce is getting too thick-remember, we're going to poach eggs in this zesty meat and veggie jacuzzi. When you're about 10 minutes from mealtime, ready your shakshouka for the eggs by digging little nests in which they'll soon cook.

5. Plop your eggs into their nests and cover the pan for 5-7 minutes, or long enough to poach them to your liking. The larger your pan and shallower the dish, the quicker it'll cook. Remove the eggs with a large serving spoon, taking care with your eggs. Serve with as much shakshouka you think you can shake. A rich, silky egg yolk could very well await you...

Finally finishing this up the morning after cooking the Shakshouka. I'll tell you now, the yolks last night, the ones in that photo...they were indeed silky. And the leftovers warmed up beautifully. I hope this turns out as well for you. 

PS: Thank you for bearing with my writing. Don't mean to make the cooking seem complicated, I just want to give you as much information as possible about why you're doing what you're doing. For me, knowing why I perform an action a specific way is as important as following process itself. Just a part of the better understanding of food and body for which I strive.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Dawn of a New Stone Age

So it begins. Here you'll find the mania of my soul manifested in the racing ramblings of my mind and the ridiculous rumblings of my belly. It might be about something I've eaten or cooked or baked, something I watched or read, fiction and non-fiction, humorous or sober. If that does not deter you, press on. Today, and most days, I'm thinking about food.

My name is Gabe Sanders. Never blogged before, but I had never baked before a couple years ago, or had the metabolism afforded by CrossFit to sustain it. Through trial and error (lots of error,) experimentation on human guinea pigs at home and at my gym, the baking has finally begun turning out results. To be clear, I'm not baking people. Baking for people. Baking paleo and primal, therefore grain-free and gluten-free goods. Shared some stuff on the Instagram machine as "jabeorwocky," thought I'd begin collecting the recipes here for people who've been asking. 

Much as I dig the sweet stuff, I'm just as into paleo cooking. If by any chance you're unfamiliar with the term, paleo refers to foods that would have been available in some recognizable form to our paleolithic ancestors, for whom food was a precious commodity and fuel for everyday survival. We've got it so much better; might as well take advantage of the relative abundance. To sum up what you'll find in my foods, in various forms, potentially:

Occasionally: grassfed butter or cheese, grassfed whey protein powder

This dude Robb Wolf gives a pretty darn good summary of why this way of eating makes sense:

If peace of mind still eludes you regarding why this can work...As my buddy Dan recommends when we don't have the final answer on something: consult The Oracle, better known as...Google. Search "paleo" and decide for yourself if it's right for you! 

Once you've gotten to that point, and embraced the new Stone Age of food, remember: Imagination is what makes a paleo lifestyle livable. Compromise as well, because sometimes reality doesn't quite jive with expectations. Sometimes you only have certain foods available, or a budget that rules out some of the more expensive ingredients. I try to buy organic, local produce and local, grassfed meats as much as possible, but I have limitations. We all do, and we can all adapt. Adapt and evolve and grow, together.

I've benefitted tremendously from reading other paleo and paleo-friendly foodies, watching Food Network to learn basic and more advanced cooking knowledge, but my real start in the kitchen, my first knowledge of flavor and the love that surrounds and comes from cooking...that began with my best friends. Dan has been cooking for his family and friends since we were in elementary school, he'd make us breakfast on weekends and ask only that we do the dishes. He taught me the Word of Bacon, its canon and worship. 

And of course there are Chris and Jen. We lived together (literally and figuratively) in college, and they introduced me to the kitchen, to the recipes and techniques their families taught them. I'd help however I could and eventually, with justifiable caution, was given more responsibility than just opening beers and wine. Those nights, sharing meals and laughter, are some of my best memories, and I can't help but smile warmly when I remember them. 

I hope that what I put on this blog will have a similar effect for you. While paleo cooking and baking can be a meditative growth experience for the solo caveperson, the original cavepeople whose nutrition we emulate could only survive with their friends and family. So I recommend you cook and bake with your people, for your people. Whether they're your family, roommates, classmates, gym buddies, significant other...share the love.

So back to the recipes. For the inaugural posting, I've got a double header. 

The first is, of course, a mistake gone horribly right. I wanted to make "Paleo Cinnamon Rolls" from this list of ingredients, in this way:

1C almond flour
1 tbsp hemp seeds
1/4 C coconut sugar
1/2C arrowroot flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/4 C grassfed butter
1/4 C room temp coconut oil
1 egg

Place dough in freezer for 30 minutes


2 tbsp melted grassfed butter
1 tbsp coconut oil
2 tbsp coconut sugar
1 tbsp honey
1/3 C chopped pecans
1/4 C shredded coconut

2 tbsp maple syrup (grade B)
1 tbsp coconut milk
1 tbsp grassfed butter
2 tbsp coconut oil
2 tbsp arrowroot/tapioca flour
1 tsp vanilla

  1. Spread filling on flattened dough and roll, then place in fridge/freezer for 5-10 minutes, or until adequately firm to cut into "rolls" (so naïve heheh)
  2. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes on parchment paper, or well-greased foil. 
  3. Drizzle glaze once the "rolls" have cooled...make it look better than I did, please:

So the running joke in the instructions up there should be obvious now...those are not cinnamon rolls. My dough melted, because...well, maybe someone who knows more about the science of baking could tell me! Though the rolls flattened on the pan, the dough...let's just say the resulting Cinnamon Roll Cookies turned out just fine. Tested and approved by my family and friends at the gym.

Round two, the obligatory response to the newly begun Autumn season: Pumpkin Cake with a Salted Cinnamon Chocolate Ganache:

1 C blanched almond flour
15 oz pumpkin puree (1 can)
1 tbsp coconut flour
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp pumpkin spice
2 tbsp golden flax seeds
2 tbsp hemp seeds
1/4 C coconut sugar
1/4 C maple syrup
1/4 tsp baking soda
5 egg yolks
1/4 C palm shortening
1/4 C coconut oil
1/2 C good chocolate (ideally dark)

1/3 C good chocolate (ideally dark)
1 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 tsp cinnamon
dash of sea salt

Bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes, or when toothpick comes out clean. For ganache, melt coconut oil and chocolate with cinnamon and salt in microwave (1 min) or double boiler. Pour or drizzle onto cake when cake is cool enough for the ganache to harden, usually after about an hour in the fridge or less time in the freezer. Here's what mine looked like, before I finally covered it to stop myself from destroying it entirely:

So I think this is the end of this post. If you have any comments or non-troll thoughts to share, please do. I've thick skin and appreciate constructive criticism, and truly enjoy logical discussion and conversation with all sorts of people. It's how we learn and grow, adapt and evolve. Welcome to our Stone Age Kitchen.

PS: On October 17th, I'll be starting my first Whole30 with my gym, Santa Rosa Strength and Conditioning. Check them out, and the Fall Health Transformation Challenge, here (please be patient with site:)

...We'll discuss the Whole30 food you'll be seeing soon.