Category Archives: Paleo/Primal

Grilled Asparagus with Feta, Almonds and Basil

grilled asparagus blog

Sometimes, you need something that really brings the spring feeling to your plate. For me, asparagus is that “something”. Asparagus means winter is over. That the green things are growing again, and that I can expand my fresh vegetable intake beyond root vegetables, winter squash and cabbage. The beginning of spring vegetables, to me, is the greatest time, because it speaks of all the delicious, fresh things to come.

Now, I feel somewhat guilty saying this, but I’m ready for the winter to be over. It’s been cold even down here in Texas (and I certainly know that it doesn’t even compare to what those of you in the north have endured!), and for longer than usual. I’m embracing spring. I’m ready for rain, thunderstorms, and green, growing things. For now, I’ve temporarily forgotten that with springtime comes our barrage of gigantic Texas insects, followed by all-too-warm temperatures. Come August, when it’s 100 degrees for days on end here, I’ll be wishing for the cold once again. But right now, I’m ready for the warmth.

So in order to encourage spring to come along, I grabbed some asparagus and uncovered my grill. It’s finally light enough in the evening that I can grill without needing a flashlight. (Come on, tell me I’m not the only one that’s done that!) Truth be told, I love grilling. It’s quick and easy, and there’s one less dish to wash when you’re done. It also imparts a lovely flavor to just about anything.

In this case, a brief visit to the grill makes this asparagus tender and full of flavor. Toss it with some lemon juice, almonds, feta (omit for dairy-free/vegan), and basil, and suddenly, you’ve taken an already-fresh flavor and completely kicked it up a few notches. It’s bright, fresh, and definitely is that “something” that brings spring to your table.

It really only takes a few minutes to make, and is totally worth every moment. I enjoyed this as a side dish on a mundane weeknight, but it’s certainly dressy enough for company, or even for a holiday dinner – Easter or Passover Seder (served with a vegetarian main or fish dish), perhaps?

Print Recipe

Grilled Asparagus with Feta, Almonds and Basil (gluten-free, vegan-adaptable)

2 t extra virgin olive oil

1 t lemon zest

1 t lemon juice

1 bunch asparagus, woody ends trimmed

Salt and pepper to taste

2 T crumbled feta cheese (omit for dairy-free/vegan)

2 T sliced almonds

1 T chopped fresh basil

Preheat grill to medium heat. In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon zest and lemon juice. Pour over the asparagus, and season with salt and pepper.

When grill is hot, place asparagus in a single layer over direct heat on the grill. Close the lid and grill for a minute or two, and move so that the other side of the asparagus spears touch the grill. Continue to grill just until tender (the time may vary depending on the thickness of your spears and heat of the grill). Remove immediately. Toss asparagus spears with feta, almonds, and fresh basil and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Roasted Balsamic Mushrooms, Plus Videos For Veggie Success!

roasted balsamic mushrooms

You’ve made a decision. You want to eat more vegetables. But after eating salads for a few weeks, you’re sick and tired of the same old thing. You want to try a new vegetable, so you browse the produce aisle, and you grab something different. Some spinach. Cabbage. Maybe Brussels sprouts, or some crimini mushrooms. You’ve told yourself “I’m going to cook this!” and you put it in your basket. It goes home with you, and you stick it in the crisper drawer in the fridge.

And there it sits. And sits.

Aaaaand sits.

See, you had the best of intentions. You really did. But that new vegetable? Frankly, it’s intimidating. Outside of the norm. You just don’t know what to do with it! So it remains in the fridge, alone and forgotten, until it has turned into a mushy, slimy mess in its cellophane bag. After a time, you guiltily throw it away, and resolve to do better next time.

Sound familiar? An alternate version of the story involves you browsing the produce aisle, but feeling so overwhelmed by the intimidation (“I don’t know how to cook any of this stuff!”) that you ultimately come home with a baking potato and a bag of salad for the third week in a row.

I’ve been there. I understand. When we’ve already expended so much energy throughout the day focusing on getting kids ready for school, working, dealing with emergencies, ungrateful bosses, traffic, and less-than-ideal weather, we just can’t deal with the “new vegetable” thing. Even if our heart is in the right place.

It just seems so…hard.

That was the premise for the recent string of YouTube videos I’ve been sharing lately. Because I know that for many of us, cooking from scratch alone is uncharted territory, and even if we know how to make a few things, we are often hesitant or just don’t have the energy to do something that seems daunting. A new vegetable, or any food, really, often seems daunting! I’m hoping that through these videos, that we can together change that thought process. Because honestly, a vegetable shouldn’t be so scary, right?

Each of these videos (feel free to browse around and subscribe to my YouTube channel) showcases a simple way to prepare a fresh vegetable using very few ingredients, and 5 minutes of preparation time, max. The videos aren’t super-fancy; my kitchen isn’t perfect and I’m often in comfortable clothes. It’s not perfectly polished. My dogs make cameo appearances sometimes, as they’re often hoping I’ll drop something tasty on the floor. Moral of the story is: This stuff is totally down-to-earth and doable. Even at the end of a long day. I promise!

This week, I’m sharing one of my favorite ways to make roasted mushrooms. These mushrooms I’ve shared before a few years ago, but I come back to them time and again. After all, they’re easy. You can toss mushrooms with some herbs and garlic, and when you’re ready, throw them in the oven. Then, 20 minutes later, you take them out. The end. Finito. That’s all you have to do.

But in case you don’t believe me, you can watch the video and see for yourself.

See? That’s not so bad, right? Ready to make them for yourself? Here’s the recipe!

Print Recipe

Roasted Balsamic Mushrooms (gluten-free, grain-free, vegan, sugar-free)

1 lb fresh crimini mushrooms

4 garlic cloves, minced

¼ c extra virgin olive oil

2 T balsamic vinegar

1 t fresh thyme leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ c fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or foil. Toss the mushrooms with the garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, thyme, salt and pepper. Roast until the mushrooms are juicy – about 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and toss with the parsley while still warm.

(hint: to streamline your meal, you can prepare this recipe up to the point where you would put it in the oven, and instead refrigerate for a few hours. Then, when it’s time, just pop in the oven as directed.)

Serves 4.

 

 

Sautéed Spinach with Garlic

sauteed spinach

Looking for a quick-and-easy way to get something green on your plate for dinner tonight?

How about spinach?

Gone are those days, when I was growing up, where Mom would open a can of spinach, and we would eat it, pretending we would grow big and strong just like Popeye. I can’t even remember the last time I ate canned spinach, honestly. It’s been a long time. I much prefer fresh when I can get it, frozen when I can’t. It’s a taste preference – canned seems mushy and salty to me nowadays.

Cooking from fresh, however, doesn’t mean it has to be difficult. With just a few ingredients and less than 5 minutes, you can have delicious sautéed spinach with garlic that is a million times tastier than the canned variety. The fresh flavors of the spinach and garlic really shine, and the spinach is tender and bright.

Want to see just how easy it is? Check out my simple instructional video – and while you’re at it, subscribe to my YouTube channel to see even more easy veggie ideas.

So while your main dish is roasting in the oven, pull out a skillet and sauté some spinach! You’ll be happy you did.

Print Recipe

Sautéed Spinach with Garlic (gluten-free, paleo, vegan)

1 T coconut oil (or oil of choice – olive oil or butter works well here)

1 clove garlic, minced

8 oz spinach leaves, rinsed well and drained (let any residual water cling to the leaves), torn into smallish pieces

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat, swirling around to coat. Add garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds. Add spinach leaves and stir to coat. Cover with a lid and allow to steam for a minute or two, or until leaves have turned bright green and have just started to wilt. Remove the lid and stir. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serves 2-4.

Adventures in Curry-Making, or How to Make a Disaster of Your Kitchen

beef curry

So there I was, this past Monday night, with lofty goals of making a beef curry. I’d prepared the curry paste the day before to save time, and I grabbed my pressure cooker. The recipe I was using as a guideline (it’s rare that I actually follow a recipe – I tend to make a lot of changes along the way) suggested I would be braising my beef shanks for 2 1/2 hours. Since this was a weeknight, I figured a 45 minute stay in the pressure cooker would do the trick nicely.

And so it began. I browned the beef, and placed it in the pressure cooker along with a generous helping of coconut milk, fish sauce, palm sugar, lemongrass, and cilantro. Things were smelling good, and I was salivating at the idea of such a flavorful curry that would be gracing our plates in about an hour. I get really excited about curries of all kinds. There is just something so wonderful about an intense mix of spices and flavors that, when simmered for a bit, they really get to know one another and emerge as more than the sum of their parts. It’s comforting and soul-satisfying, and it’s why I have several recipes hanging around this blog, such as this Kerala-style Curry or this Shrimp Cauliflower Curry. A good curry sends me to my happy place.

Well, my (older generation, super-simple) pressure cooker began to heat and spit some steam, so I lowered the temperature a bit. I then set to chopping cauliflower for a side dish in my “prep area” towards the right of the stove. About 10 minutes had passed, and that’s when it happened.

Suddenly, the pressure cooker exploded with a loud “BOOM”, and shot off to my left, across the floor. I squealed. And then just stared, motionless, at the disaster in front of me. My husband (who was in our living room), moments later, asks me. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” I mutter, dumbfounded. So he asks again, worry in his voice. “Baby, are you okay?”

“Yes. I’m fine.” I say, rather flatly, given the situation. I was in a bit of shock. ”It exploded.”

The mess was horrendous. There was coconut milk on every surface to the left of where I’d been standing – on the cabinets, on the counter, on the stove (on the burner, smoking a bit and turning black, thanks to the sugar), on the floor, on the walls, and even on the cabinets and the books on top of the cabinets on the opposite side of the kitchen from the stove. The smell of fish sauce permeated the air. By some miracle, I had none on me at all. Later on, I would realize that I was rather lucky. That pressure cooker could have flown in my direction and bruised or burned me, or worse.

I quickly picked up the pressure cooker and set it back on the stove, with the beef and about half of the sauce still inside. My husband joined me, and we started cleaning. It was about then that I started to realize just how absurd the whole fiasco was. I laughed at it. Laughed at the coconut milk under the cabinets, laughed at how disgusting the floor was, giggled at the cilantro stuck to the wall inside my combination laundry room/pantry at the end of our kitchen (a good 12 feet away, at least), and joked about how we’d be finding this mess for months. Any other night, an event of this magnitude might have brought me to tears, but in that moment, it was pretty darn funny, and laughing was all I could do. It took us about an hour to get the kitchen back to some semblance of order. I mopped twice, and came back home the following day to mop again so I could get rid of the film left by the coconut milk.

Needless to say, we didn’t have curry that night.

However, I did manage to salvage that beef and remaining sauce. I stuck it in my smaller, 4-quart slow cooker and stuck it in the fridge. In spite of all that happened, I still wanted curry. Also, I detest throwing away food. So the following night, I asked my husband to take the slow cooker out of the fridge and turn it on high for a few hours when he got home. (He’s typically home an hour or two before I arrive.) I was going to resume this curry-making, for better or worse.

Thankfully, it was worth the trouble. Well, maybe not worth the trouble of the whole pressure-cooker-explosion thing, but it was worth salvaging the meat for another night. The slow cooker finished the braising job beautifully, and with a relatively quick finish in my skillet, we had a deliciously spicy, silky beef curry. There are a few things I’d do differently, if I was to make this again (and I’ll share those notes in the recipe below), but we were both more than satisfied, with happy, full bellies and that sense of calmness and peace that accompanies a good curry. It was a tad salty (even though I reduced the fish sauce), and of course, due to the explosion factor, the amount of liquids actually used in the cooking process are approximated. So this is definitely not a perfected recipe at this point, but I felt I had to share with you, if for the story alone! But all in all, it was worthy of seconds by my husband, so I declare it a winner.

Now, the next question is: Does anyone have a good (safe) pressure cooker recommendation? One requirement – it must not explode.

Print Recipe

Spicy Beef Curry, adapted from Bon Appetit - this is what I did, but I am giving you notes to adjust for better flavor next time.

Spice Mix:

3 whole cloves

1 1/2 t coriander seeds

1 1/2 inch cinnamon stick

1 whole star anise

1 t cumin seeds

seeds from 2 green cardamom pods

1 t kosher salt (I would probably use 1/2 t next time)

1/4 t ground cayenne (I would reduce this to 1/8 teaspoon or omit, as the resulting curry was plenty spicy!)

Combine first 6 ingredients in medium bowl. Add cold water to cover, then drain. Place spices in large wok or skillet. Dry-roast over medium heat until dry and fragrant, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to spice grinder. Add salt and cayenne; grind to fine powder.

Curry Paste:

10 small chiles de arbol, stemmed

about 25 cilantro stems

1 c chopped yellow onion

6 garlic cloves, peeled

1 piece of ginger (about 1 1/2 inches long), thinly sliced

1 1/2 T grated lemongrass

Place chiles in small saucepan; add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 30 minutes.

Combine cilantro stems, onion, garlic, ginger, and lemongrass in large skillet. Add 3/4 cup water. Cover skillet and cook until ginger is tender, about 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes.

Scrape vegetable mixture into a small food processor. Add drained red chiles. Blend, adding enough reserved chile soaking liquid by tablespoonfuls to form smooth paste. Stir in spice mix. If you are making this the day before, transfer to bowl, cover, and chill.

For the beef:

3 T coconut oil, divided

2 1/2 lbs cross-cut beef shanks (each about 1 1/2-2 inches thick)

2 cans coconut milk (if using a slow cooker, I’d reduce this by half)

2 cups beef or chicken stock (if using a slow cooker, I’d reduce this by half)

About 25 cilantro stems

3/4 c fish sauce (I would use 1/2 cup and increase the stock next time – or if using a slow cooker, I’d use 1/4 cup)

1/3 c coconut palm sugar (if using a slow cooker, I’d reduce this by half)

1 1/2 T grated lemongrass (if using a slow cooker, I’d reduce this by half)

1/4 c fresh orange juice

1/4 c chopped roasted cashews

1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Heat 2 tablespoons coconut oil in a large skillet (if transferring to slow cooker) or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season both sides of the beef with salt and pepper. Brown the beef, searing until brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer beef to plate. Add the coconut milk, cilantro, fish sauce, coconut palm sugar, and lemongrass into the slow cooker or Dutch oven. If using a slow cooker, add the beef and turn on high for about 3-3 1/2 hours or until the beef is tender and pulling away from the bone. If using a Dutch oven, bring the liquids to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and add the beef. Cover and allow to simmer for about 2 1/2 hours or until beef is tender and pulling away from the bone.

Transfer beef to a plate to cool. Strain braising liquid using a fine-meshed strainer into a bowl and set aside.

Heat remaining tablespoon of coconut oil in the Dutch oven or a large skillet over medium heat. Add the curry paste. Stir until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups of the reserved braising liquid and bring to a boil. Add the orange juice and beef. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the sauce is silky and clinging to the beef. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Serve beef curry with steamed long-grain rice, such as Basmati, garnished with chopped cashews and cilantro.

Serves 6.

    Pan-Seared Brussels Sprouts

    pan seared brussels sprouts

    A few weeks back, I shared in the Eating the Food group that I was having pan-seared Brussels Sprouts along with some eggs for breakfast. This started a conversation not only about Brussels Sprouts (and their deliciousness, of course) but also about getting more vegetables into your breakfast. I must confess: I don’t always get veggies in first thing in the morning. I do enjoy them (especially with eggs), but it just doesn’t always happen. Of course, that realization got me thinking and inspired this post about getting more vegetables into your day.

    So I’ve been motivated once more to be sure I’m giving vegetables their due. While I have no issues in the spring and summer, when I go to the farmer’s market and come home with more vegetables than any normal human can possibly consume in a week, (What can I say? They all look SO GOOD and I get starry-eyed and have to bring them all home with me.) winter-time makes vegetable consumption more difficult. This is when I focus on those veggies that are longer storage varieties, such as root vegetables, winter squash, cabbage, and of course, Brussels Sprouts, so they still taste fresh. I also try my hardest to make these veggies easy to make, so I’ll be more likely to consume them even on busy weeknights.

    Pan-searing is one such way to accomplish that “easy-to-make” goal. It only takes a few minutes and really highlights the natural sweetness of the Brussels Sprouts, thanks to the caramelization that happens in the pan. They’re delicious alongside meatloaf and mashed potatoes, pork chops, or even with eggs at breakfast. Even if you’ve previously shunned Brussels Sprouts, I encourage you to revisit them with this method. You might just find them not only tolerable, but they could become your new favorite veggie!

    For step-by-step instruction, check out my “how-to” video on YouTube for these Brussels Sprouts (and feel free to subscribe, so you won’t miss an episode!):

    Print Recipe

    Pan-Seared Brussels Sprouts (gluten-free, paleo, vegan)

    1 1/2 T coconut oil

    1 lb Brussels Sprouts, sliced roughly into 1/4 inch thick slices

    Salt and pepper to taste

    Heat a cast-iron skillet to medium heat. Add coconut oil and allow to melt and coat pan. Spread out sliced Brussels Sprouts into a single layer in the skillet. Allow to sear without moving for about a minute, or until the sprouts start to brown. Stir around to flip the sprouts and brown the other side for another minute or so. Continue to stir every so often, spreading the sprouts back out, until they are browned on edges and just tender throughout. (Total cooking time is about 5 minutes.) Season to taste with salt and pepper.

    Serves 4.

    Roasted Rosemary Carrots

    roasted carrots with rosemary

    I’ve got another super-easy vegetable solution for you this week, complete with a super-easy video showing you just now super-easy it is to make.

    Doesn’t that sound super-GREAT?

    Okay, maybe I’m getting a tad over-excited. After all, we’re talking about carrots here, right? But these carrots, in my opinion, are worth getting excited about. They take only a few minutes to prepare, and after a little time hanging out in the oven, they emerge with caramelized edges and sweet, carrot-y goodness that can please any palate. Who wouldn’t get excited about that?

    Check out the video (and feel free to subscribe, so you can be notified as soon as I post new videos to YouTube). You’ll even get to see my dogs and their affinity for carrots. They tend to always be nearby if I am cutting up carrots – it’s by far their favorite vegetable.

    Print Recipe

    Roasted Rosemary Carrots (gluten-free, vegan)

    5-6 large carrots, peeled if desired

    1 T rosemary needles, chopped

    1/4 – 1/2 t kosher salt, or to taste

    1 1/2 – 2 T coconut oil

    Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the carrots into bite-sized pieces (I cut mine about 3/4 inch thick). Toss carrots with rosemary, salt, and coconut oil until evenly coated. Spread out in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

    Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, turning over about halfway through the baking time, until the carrots are browned and tender. Remove from oven and serve.

    Serves 2-3.

    Dairy-Free Basics: How to Make Almond Milk

    almond milk

    When I was struggling with poor digestion, I had trouble not only with gluten and dairy, but often, I struggled with digesting carrageenan and gums, such as guar and xanthan gum. In order to avoid these ingredients, I rarely ate gluten-free baked goods that contained gums, which sometimes was difficult. But even more difficult was finding a non-dairy milk that I could use that was gum and carrageenan-free.

    So I decided to make it myself.

    If you’re new to dairy-free, struggle with digesting gums, or are just looking for a simple way to enjoy a non-dairy beverage without resorting to store-bought “milks”, making almond milk is an easy alternative, and only takes a few minutes of active time. In my opinion, the flavor is also superior to the store-bought milks, and you can customize the milk to be as thick or thin as you desire.

    With just raw almonds, fresh water, a pinch of salt, and an optional sweetener, you can make this at home! Here’s how:

    Print Recipe

    Almond Milk Recipe (gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free)

    1 c raw almonds

    3 c filtered water

    pinch salt

    optional: 1/2 t maple syrup, agave nectar, or honey

    Add the almonds to a medium bowl and cover with water. Allow to soak for at least 4 hours and up to 8. Drain.

    Place soaked almonds, 3 cups fresh water, salt and optional sweetener into a blender. Blend on medium speed until smooth and frothy (with a high-powered blender, this won’t take but a minute; with a regular blender, you may need to blend for several minutes).

    Using a nut milk bag, a clean flour sack towel, or several layers of fine cheesecloth, strain the milk into a bowl or large container. Be sure to squeeze the bag or towel to get all of the milk out, leaving only the pulp behind. Discard the pulp (I find it works well in my compost pile) and refrigerate the milk. Use within 4-5 days, and be sure to shake before use.

    Makes about 3 cups milk.

    Autumn Kale Salad with Apples and Candied Pecans

    kale salad thanksgiving

    If your Thanksgiving menu is anything like mine, it’s filled with the traditional fare: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, rolls, casseroles, pies, and more. All of these dishes are iconic, and I wouldn’t leave any of them out for anything. But honestly, it’s all so heavy. So when I’m brainstorming for vegetable or additional side dish ideas, I want something a little lighter to balance it all out. Something fresh. Something green.

    Now I know kale has been the latest darling in the “healthy eating” industry. I’ve posted recipes with kale before. I love it, personally, and eat it because it tastes good to me. But lately kale is everyone’s favorite “detox” vegetable. I’m not a believer in detoxing – I have juiced and such in the past, and I enjoy the flavor. I sometimes even feel the green juices give me a boost of energy. I will admit, in the past I did have a touch of obsession with ensuring I got what was in reality a crazy amount of greens into my body on a daily basis, thinking I was healthier for doing so. (I wasn’t healthier…) I’ve since backed off and have listened to my body and just focus on whatever vegetables are fresh and sound good to me at the time. (And sometimes, that’s kale!) But I’ve never believed that squeezing juice out of fruits or vegetables somehow “detox” your body – that’s what your liver does, all on its own. It doesn’t mean that the vegetables, including kale, don’t have great vitamins and such – they do. They’re just not magical.

    Anyway. I digress.

    Thanksgiving. And this salad. It’s fresh. It’s easy. It can be made in advance. unlike lettuce-based salads, and can still hold its crunch. In fact, I find it’s tastier made a bit in advance of eating. It allows the lemon juice to really meld and mingle. With the sweetness of the apples and cranberries, and the candied pecans, it’s a lovely autumn salad. Most of all, it’s a great, refreshing addition to your Thanksgiving menu.

    Print Recipe

    Autumn Kale Salad with Apples and Candied Pecans (gluten-free, vegan, grain-free)

    1 bunch kale, leaves torn into bite-sized pieces

    1 T olive oil

    A couple pinches of kosher salt

    1 carrot, julienned

    2 stalks celery, sliced

    1/4 c dried cranberries

    1 crisp apple (such as Honeycrisp), cut into 1/2 inch dice

    1/4 c flat-leaf parsley, leaves coarsely chopped

    1-2 T lemon juice

    Candied Pecans (recipe follows)

    Drizzle the olive oil over the kale, and sprinkle with salt. Massage the oil evenly over all of the kale leaves. Add the carrot, celery, cranberries, apple, and parsley, and drizzle with a bit of lemon juice. Toss well and taste. Adjust salt and lemon juice as desired. Top with candied pecans and serve.

    Serves 4-6.

    Candied Pecans (gluten-free, vegan)

    1 t coconut oil

    1/2 c raw, shelled pecans

    3 T brown rice syrup

    A couple pinches of kosher salt

    Dash of cinnamon

    In a small skillet, melt the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the pecans, brown rice syrup, salt and cinnamon. Stir to coat completely. Keep stirring over heat until sugar bubbles and clings to pecans, pulling away from the pan and becoming “drier”. Once everything really seems to stick together in a “glob”, remove from heat and turn out to a parchment-lined baking sheet, spreading out the pecans as much as you can with the back of a spoon. Allow to cool completely and break into small pieces.

    Nose to Tail: Head Cheese

    head cheese

    Yes. I realize the way that sounds. Head cheese. I can picture many of your facial expressions now, because I saw similar ones in the few people I told about this project face-to-face. But hear me out.

    I’m a big proponent of nose-to-tail eating. After all, if we must eat a living thing – and everything we eat was once living – then we shouldn’t waste it. This means finding ways to use parts many are used to throwing away. Radish tops. Turkey or chicken bones. Broccoli leaves. And yes, a pig’s head.

    I split a hog with a friend a few months ago. We’ve been thoroughly enjoying the bacon, chops, roasts, and sausage. But I’d also asked the boy (He was raising hogs for college money.) if I could have the head. He gave me two. They occupied space in my freezer for about two months before I finally carved out the time to tackle one.

    When the time came though, it was a breeze. Only slightly more difficult than making stock, and considerably less tough than making a proper terrine. It was surprising how much meat really comes from a hog head. There’s a great deal from the tongue and cheeks. I had enough to fill a 9″ X 5″ loaf pan with ease. I also had an added bonus – about 7 quarts of golden, delicious, porky broth. I’ll certainly enjoy using that for soups and stews throughout the winter.

    The head cheese is deliciously meaty, and somewhat rich, but not overly so. We enjoyed thin slices on crackers, accompanied by cheeses, various pickles, apple slices, grainy mustard, and an egg salad. It makes a lovely cold lunch, and a nice change to a more typical salami or other cold meat. I was glad to have made it.

    But most of all, I’m glad for the experience. There’s something about making a food that most others have long forgotten, and using a part of an animal most throw away. I’m looking forward to the other hog head, although I’m more planning on dedicating that one to tamales.

    head cheese overhead

     Print Recipe

    Head Cheese (gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo)

    1 pig’s head

    2-3 bay leaves

    12 peppercorns

    1 sprig fresh rosemary

    3-4 sprigs fresh thyme

    3 T kosher salt, plus more to taste

    Juice of 1/2 lemon

    Fresh ground black pepper

    Place the pig’s head in a large stockpot (I had to use my huge tamale pot to make it fit). Place the bay leaves, peppercorns, rosemary, thyme, and salt in the pot and fill with enough water to just cover the head.

    Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer on low for about 6-8 hours, or until meat is falling apart and tender.

    Carefully remove the meat and bones from the stock and set on a platter. Once cool enough to touch, pick apart the meat and collagen material and place in a bowl. You can opt to include bits of skin as well if you choose. Skin the tongue and include the tongue meat as well. Chop the meat into 1/2 inch dice. Toss with the lemon juice and more salt, plus fresh pepper, until it is to your taste.

    Simmer the remaining stock until it has sufficient “gelling” capability. You can test this by putting a spoonful in a small bowl and chilling it. If it gels, you’re good. If it doesn’t, reduce the stock more.

    Line a terrine or loaf pan (I used a 9″ X 5″ loaf pan) with plastic wrap. Spoon all of the meat into the prepared pan. Pour in just enough of the pork stock to cover the meat, and press everything down. Wrap securely, pressing down the wrap to ensure the mixture fills the entire mold. Refrigerate overnight. Keeps for about a week.

     

    Cheater’s Ratatouille, or Pesto Zucchini, Tomato and Eggplant Bake

    I love ratatouille. It’s an awesome dish that seems to just sing the highest notes of the end of summer and the start of fall. (Yes, I realize it’s now officially fall. Around here, however, it’s still in the mid-90s, and so it’s still very much feeling like summer.) It’s fresh, but comforting.

    But alas, it takes some time. Especially if you want it to look pretty. (My recipe was more on the tasty side, less on the aesthetics.) Let’s face it – we don’t always have that kind of time.

    That’s where this cheater’s version comes in. It’s not exactly ratatouille. It’s streamlined – just zucchini, tomato, and eggplant. Plus a not-so-secret ingredient:

    Pesto.

    I love to make pesto. It can be easily made dairy-free (like this Basil-Walnut Pesto) or you can go for the traditional basil, Parmesan, and pine nuts version. Or any version you desire, really. But often I make a great deal on the weekend, and then scramble to find ways to eat it up during the week. This “ratatouille” is one such way to make great use of pesto. If the pesto is already made, then it’s a cinch to put together – just layer the vegetables, smear some pesto in between layers, and pop in the oven.

    Then, as soon as it’s not mouth-scalding hot, then devour!

    So while it’s not a traditional ratatouille, it’s a flavor punch for sure. So call it ratatouille, or call it a pesto zucchini, tomato and eggplant bake if you prefer. Whatever you decide, be sure to call me to dinner when you make it.

    Print Recipe

    Cheater’s Ratatouille/Pesto Zucchini, Tomato and Eggplant Bake (gluten-free, dairy-free if using vegan pesto)

    1/2 lb sliced zucchini

    1/2 lb sliced tomato

    1/2 lb sliced eggplant

    Salt and pepper

    1/2 c pesto (for vegan/dairy-free, try this Basil-Walnut Pesto)

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Alternately layer zucchini, tomato slices, and eggplant in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and spread a few spoonfuls of pesto evenly over the vegetables. Repeat with another layer of vegetables, salt, and pesto. Keep repeating until you use all of the vegetables and pesto.

    Bake for 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft and bubbly.