IFBC 2014 Debrief

Gluten-Free Girl & Me | Paleo + Life

Note to my readers: This is a subsidized post, as detailed below. In exchange for a reduced conference fee, I agreed to write three posts about the event: this is the second of those posts. However, all opinions expressed are my own.

Traveling is not my strong suit.

It used to be something I longed for and adored. When I was a girl, my ideas about travel were decidedly romantic. As a kid on a steady diet of soap operas and “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous,” I dreamed of jetting off at a moment’s notice to exotic places like Paris and Rome. There was no need to worry about a language barrier – somehow, my travel would magically make me a sophisticate able to communicate wherever I went.
As a young woman, responsible for fewer things and people than now, I might have swapped Paris for Manhattan and Rome for, say, Phoenix, but spontaneity was possible.

Nowadays, with children in school and a husband who has a regular career, my reality is more structured. We just don’t do spontaneous trips. Yet, when I learned about the International Food Bloggers Conference, just about two weeks before the event, I knew I had to try to make it. So I moved a few things around, booked a kennel for the dog, convinced the husband to take a day off, and the family piled into the minivan to cruise up I-5 to gorgeous, gloriously sunny Seattle, WA.**

I am so very glad we did. While no event could be perfect, the highlights of this one were quite close to perfection for me. They include:

  • The keynote with Karen Page and Andrew Dornenberg: these folks have written a slew of a string of brilliant books about the fine food world. Becoming a Chef*, their first, nearly sent me to culinary school. Culinary Artistry*, with its food and flavor pairings, was sheer genius. I am excited to check out their next book, The Vegetarian Flavor Bible*. I am certain it will be just as amazing as their previous books.
  • Editor Dianne Jacob’s presentation on writing. Ironically, I was actually in another session, but the students in Dianne’s class kept sending tweets that made me laugh out loud. I had no choice — I had to come hear this clever lady for myself. Very glad that I did so. She really emphasized that we experience food with all of our senses, not just taste, and that we should use those senses to give our readers the most complete experience of whatever we talk about and taste.
  • Shauna James Ahern, known as The Gluten Free Girl, gave the final presentation I attended on Sunday. Ostensibly, her talk was about recipe development, but the heart of her session was really about finding and being your own, authentic, warm self.
    Shauna is a phenomenal writer. Her writing always touches me: she makes me laugh, think, cry — if I can be half as good I will be more than satisfied.

Those are my top three sessions from IFBC. If you were there, give a shout in the comments with a link to your blog — I’d love to virtually “meet” you.

 

* = Affiliate link.

** Seriously: this was the most beautiful weather I’ve ever seen in Seattle. We had two perfect, hot, sunny days in the Evergreen State.

Food Lovers’ Fridays: Duxelles (Sauteed Mushrooms)

Mushroom Duxelles | Paleo + Life

Food Lovers’ Fridays: I’m a big fan of bringing classical cooking methods and recipes into the home kitchen. Today’s post is the start of a series meant to highlight those traditional techniques and recipes that can be used or adapted to paleo cooking.

Have y’all ever read Fancy Nancy*? If you know any little girls under the age of eight or so, I’m sure the answer is yes.
If not, I’ll just tell you briefly that it’s a pretty adorable series of books about a girl who enjoys being fancy. I especially love the way the author gives definitions of ‘fancy’ words to her readers: fuschia is fancy for purple; plume is fancy for feather, and so on.

Why is fancy relevant today? Because this dish has a lovely name that sounds fancier than it is. Just think of “duxelles” as fancy for “sauteed mushrooms with shallots, garlic, and herbs.”

Mushroom Duxelles | Paleo + LifeDuxelles really is as simple as fancy cooking gets. The dicing is the hardest part, and that’s only because it takes time to do. When I am making this, I tend to do a less precise cut — more of a rough chop than a proper dice. In a hurry? Chop the mushrooms and alliums (fancy for onions, shallots, garlic, leeks and other related plants) in a good processor. Any way you slice it (ha ha), it is just as delicious.

Note that mushrooms are full of liquid, and will release their moisture as they cook; be sure to let all of this liquid cook off. The end result is concentrated, deep, ‘shroomy goodness that is excellent in omelets or scrambles, as filling in a casserole, stuffing for roasted poultry, or just as a fabulous side dish all on its own.

Variations abound: use a variety of mushrooms, instead of just one; substitute sweet onions for shallots; use thyme or sage instead of parsley — make it as plain or fancy as you please.

Duxelles (Sauteed Mushrooms)

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 pounds white button mushrooms
  • 2 shallots (for this batch, I substituted 1/2 large sweet onion)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons fat (ghee, butter or olive oil)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dried parsley (1-1/2 tablespoons fresh, minced)

Instructions

  1. Wash mushrooms; pat dry. Dice and set aside.
  2. Peel shallots and garlic. Dice these -- mince, if you want to be extra fancy -- and set aside.
  3. In large skillet, warm the fat. When melted, add shallots and garlic to the pot. Saute until shallots are just tender (6-8 minutes; if subbing onions, note that they tend to take a minute or two longer).
  4. Add mushrooms to the skillet. Saute until mushrooms have given up their liquid and it has cooked off (8-10 minutes); the mixture should be dry.
  5. Remove skillet from the heat. To serve, season with salt, pepper and parsley.
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Going Paleo with Kids

no thank youMy youngest girl, who is in elementary school, is the joy and the challenge of my life. This, of course, is because she is so much like me. She has my determination (and stubbornness), my love of knowledge (and habit of sharing in an “oh, doesn’t everyone know that?” sort of way), and my need for structure (and tendency toward dictatorship). For better or worse, while she is physically her dad’s mini-me, her personality is generally mine.

This personality redux leads to some of the biggest frustrations in my paleo journey.
Frankly, the teenagers have been much easier to convert than the little one. I suspect it is because they still have some control over their food, since they can cook for themselves, whereas the grade schooler is pretty much stuck with whatever I choose to make.
After I have spent time working hard on dinner, only to be greeted by “ugh!” when I bring it to the table —  “I don’t care for it” if she remembers her manners — it’s infuriating.
More than once I have had to sternly remind myself that it is not about me, I am not my food, and she is not being a pill just because she can. Furthermore, it’s not as if she will starve: we offer a bowl of plain yogurt as the alternative if she doesn’t want what is being served for dinner.  Sometimes, we go through a lot of yogurt.

My girl also loves mac and cheese the way I loved cinnamon toast at her age. I can’t fault her for that – she has a kid’s palate, and it’s pretty much the perfect combination for a kid’s tastes. I continue trying new things, aiming to keep her diet more paleo/primal than not, and that is good enough for now. *

Still, there have been some dinner successes, and I cherish those. Our top ones are:

I’m sure there are more, but at this moment, my little cave baby is trying to rip a chunk of my flesh away with every single one of his six teeth; a sign to stop if ever there were one.

I will revisit this list as more things come to me.

What about you? If you have any sure-fire recipes for picky kids, what are they?

*If you have a really sensitive, picky kid, check out this great guest post on PaleoParents; it’s all about feeding a child with sensory processing disorder and autism.

Cinnamon Spice Nut Butter

Cinnamon Spice Nut Butter | Paleo + Life

When I was a kid, I loved cinnamon toast. Loved. And when I say loved, I mean that if there had been a choice between cinnamon toast and some of the relatives, well, let’s just say that my family might have been considerably smaller.
It was one of the first dishes I ever learned to make. We’d butter pieces of white bread, sprinkle tons of cinnamon and sugar on top, and stick it under the broiler. Impatiently, we ‘d check on it about every twenty seconds. This was practical as well: our toast would go from pale white to crusted black in the blink of an eye.
When it was finally done, we’d cram every last bite into our mouths, still piping hot, not caring even a little bit that it was just shy of burnt on the top and rare on the bottom. It was hot, sweet, cinnamon-flavored bliss.

As an adult who chooses to eat paleo, toast has not been on the menu. But I still adore the sweet, spicy flavor of toasted cinnamon. This spiced nut butter, with a subtle touch of heat from Aleppo pepper, is a more sophisticated way to get my cinnamon fix. Feel free to skip the pepper if making this for children or those with sensitive palates. Bananas, covered in this, and frozen, are a fabulous treat.

A general hint on nut butter: unless you are having an emergency (no, I don’t know what a nut butter emergency would be, but I’m sure it happens), buy raw nuts that you can soak and dehydrate yourself. Until I tried it, I was skeptical about the difference, but now I am a believer. Soaking and then dehydrating the nuts is like alchemy. Somehow, the flavors blossom in a stronger, more intense way: the difference is night and day.
The brilliant and thorough Beth of Tasty Yummies offers an absolutely excellent tutorial on the process. Follow it, then come back here and make this. I promise, it will be delightful.

Cinnamon Nut Butter

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 pounds soaked and dehydrated nuts
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey, maple syrup or other sweetener (optional; skip if you are doing a whole30)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Instructions

  1. Place soaked, dehydrated nuts in food processor. Process for 10-15 minutes, or until nut mixture becomes smooth and creamy. (The food processor and the nut butter may be quite warm; this is expected.)
  2. Add remaining ingredients and process 2-5 minutes, until thoroughly blended in. Pour the mixture into glass jars and refrigerate.
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From the Caterer’s Kitchen: How to Measure

Utensils | Paleo + Life

 

For those just tuning in, From the Caterer’s Kitchen is an occasional series of kitchen tips, tricks and advice from my mother, a professional caterer for over 30 years. Interested? Start here.

As I’ve mentioned before, my grandmother was a fabulous cook. Holidays weren’t holidays unless we left her place with big smiles, rounded bellies and plates piled high with leftovers.

I rarely recall seeing her measure anything. She always seemed to just know when the food was done. She’d add a pinch of this, a smidgen of that, until it tasted right. My mother cooks in the same bold way,  though her professional training allows her to flex back and forth between confident improvisation and precise recipes. As a novice cook, however, this kind of confidence was a mystery to me. I didn’t understand how you could just “know.”

But as I gathered more experience, and learned to ‘taste’ in my head, I’ve begun to cook by instinct, too. By playing around with different ingredients, and making more than a few spectacular mistakes (crunchy pasta casserole, I’m looking at you), I learned where I can improvise and where I need to follow the rules. Measuring is one of those areas where a few simple rules can make a big difference.

Use the right tools.
Measuring cups for liquids are different from those for solids — do not mix them up. Measuring spoons can be used for either liquid or dry ingredients.

When measuring liquids, hold the cup at eye level.
For the most accurate reading, make sure your eye and the measuring line are on a level. It is easy to end up with too much or too little liquid and a ruined dish if not.

Level your dry measures.
After scooping up your dry ingredients, use the flat side of a butter knife to scrape off the excess and leave a smooth, flat surface. This is a favorite job for little kitchen assistants, by the way.

The sifter is your friend. 
You know how your hair can seem shorter on a humid day, because your curls are tighter? Well, flours do a similar thing. When flour has been sitting around, just hanging out, it tends to clump up, forming little lumps and nuggets. This means the scoop of flour you thought was 1/4 cup may be closer to 1/3 of a cup. In gluten-free/paleo baking, it’s particularly important to get these right. Some flours are more absorbent than others, and all have different characteristics than wheat flour does.
Use the sifter to get rid of these annoying bumps in your flour. Then when you put it into the cup, rather than dipping the measuring cup into the flour, use a spoon to scoop the sifted flour into the measuring cup. Then level it off, as above.

If you need to be precise, measure by weight.

I confess: this is more of a “do as I say, not as I do.” I don’t tend to do much baking, so I rarely ever encounter this concern.  But among professional bakers, weight (pounds, grams, kilos, and the like) is considered much more accurate than volume (cups, tablespoons, etc.). Kitchen scales can be quite inexpensive, but I recommend you spend a wee bit more to get an accurate one. Don’t forget to zero out your scale with your measuring implement on it, so that you are only weighing the amount of ingredients, not the ingredients plus the container.

Well there you have it. Five simple tips to improve your measurement accuracy. Drop a line in the comments if there’s something you think I should add, or anything I’ve forgotten.

Fennel Scented Pulled Pork

Fennel Scented Pork Loin | Paleo + Life

Some days I know are going to be ridiculously hectic before they even start. The baby wakes up on the wrong side of bed and won’t be put down, the youngest girl gets jealous at all the attention we’re paying to the baby and throws a fit, the teenagers thrust paperwork they forgot to have us sign in our faces, and oh by the way, it’s back-to-school night and we two parents need to be at three different schools all at once. These are the days when I need a miracle.

That miracle frequently comes in the form of pulled pork in the slow cooker. When I just can’t even think, I know this will work. Ten minutes of prep time — choose some herbs, slice the onion, and season the meat — yields a delicious main dish. When we finally make it home, it is easy peasy to put together the meal: shred the pork, zap some sweet potatoes in the microwave, quickly add a green salad, and dinner is ready to go.
Quick, fast and in a yesterday hurry, as my mama says.

Fennel Scented Pulled Pork | Paleo + Life

Fennel is a big favorite of mine; its licorice-y flavor goes beautifully with bacon and other fatty meats. While I used the greens from Italian-style bulb fennel, those from bronze fennel are equally tasty, if a bit milder. Of course, if you can’t stand the thought of fennel, try sage or rosemary instead.

Pork loin is a delicious, inexpensive cut of meat that stands up to prolonged cooking and is mild enough that it lets the herbs’ flavor shine. I love its versatility and affordability; with two hungry teens to feed, our food budget can use all the help it can get.
This recipe makes enough for plenty of leftovers. Pulled pork is great on its own the first day, but is even better the next day when the flavors have really settled. Use the meat in salads, lettuce or veggie wraps, and casseroles.

Pulled Pork with Fennel

Ingredients

  • 1 bulb fennel with greens attached
  • 1 medium onion
  • 5 pounds pork loin
  • 5-10 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper, freshly ground

Instructions

  1. Wash the fennel and shake it dry. Chop off the greens from one or two stalks (this is roughly two tablespoons of greens); lay them in the bottom of a slow cooker. Reserve remainder of fennel for another use.
  2. Peel onion; slice into rings. Place them atop the fennel greens.
  3. Rinse the pork loin and pat dry with a paper towel. Insert the garlic cloves into the pork loin (use more or fewer cloves according to your taste). Salt and pepper the meat until it is lightly coated with seasonings.
  4. Set the slow cooker to cook for 8-10 hours on low. The meat is done when it falls apart at a touch.
  5. Using two forks, gently separate the pieces of pork into small chunks. Plate and serve.
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Road Tripping: IFBC 2014

Note to my readers: This is a subsidized post, as detailed below. In exchange for a reduced conference fee, I agreed to write three posts about the event: this is the first of those posts. However, all opinions expressed are my own.

Z's Car

My youngest girl, circa 2010, driving her ‘car’

If you’ve read my first post on Paleo + Life, from waaaay back in the day (aka early summer), you will recall that my goal in returning to the blogosphere was a search for community. I wanted to find ‘my people’ — folks who are crazy about food and/or interested in gluten- and grain-free cooking and/or who talk and think about food all the time and want to make it an integral part of their days/work/life. 

As part of that effort, I will be attending the 2014 International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC) in just a couple of weeks. It’s being held in Seattle, a few hours up the highway from us, and I am giddy with anticipation.

International Food Blogger Conference 2014 Seattle

I can’t say what I am looking forward to most at IFBC: the workshops on food, photography, and writing; the food I’ll get to taste while I am there (every review of this conference I have seen says the food is always fantastic); or just the chance to visit one of my favorite cities and catch up with our family who live up there. The conference is held quite close to Pike Place Market, too, so a pilgrimage to my favorite Seattle destination at some point during the weekend is a must.

I am already brushing up on my conference dos and don’ts (click here for general tips from The Curried Nut and Inspiration Kitchen; wine aficionados, check out One Girl One Glass One World). I’m also ordering business cards to exchange with other bloggers and setting reminders in my phone to stop, be still and enjoy myself. To take a moment to breathe and to know, really know, how very lucky I am to be in this place and have the chance to think deeply about something so dear to my heart.  

If anyone is going to attend, let me know — I would love to meet you! I am sometimes a wee bit shy (stop laughing, husband) but my inner extrovert is raring to go and I respond well to smiles, waves, and “hey, aren’t you…?”
If you are on the fence about going, note that bloggers receive a reduced price for the conference in exchange for writing three posts about it — a screaming good deal, in my opinion: the blogger price is a 76% discount off the regular cost.
I am so excited to make connections, to learn some new skills and get inspiration to make Paleo + Life better and better. Hope to see you there!

Salt-Roasted Beets

Salt Roasted Beets | Paleo + LifeSalt. Roasted. Beets.

Now, I know there are those out there who hate beets. For years, I was one of them. One of my earliest memories, in fact, is eating beets at pre-school. In my opinion, the flavor was musty, nasty, and just slightly better than dirt — if pressed, I was far more likely to eat the dirt. There was no love for the beet in my heart.

(Hee. See what I did there? Ahem. Nevermind.)

But one year, I decided to grown golden beets in our garden. Why would a beet hater do such a thing? I wanted the greens, which are quite delicious. As for the actual beets, I figured I would just pawn them off on a neighbor.

However, my curiosity — and a beet-loving husband — got the better of me. I steamed a few of them, and it was a revelation. These beautiful golden orbs had a deep, earthy, lingering sweetness that was positively addictive. We ate them greedily, and mourned when we had no more.

Salt-Roasted Beets | Paleo + LifeA recent trip to the farmers’ market brought golden beets back into my thoughts, and then quickly into my kitchen. I knew I wanted to do something special with them, but could not think what. Then I fell down some rabbit hole of research — does that happen to other people? Surely I’m not the only one — and re-discovered salt roasting. Immediately, I thought this would be a perfect technique for beets.

This roasting method infuses the beets with salty flavor and tempers their sweetness. My oldest says (and I agree) the flavor resembles sweet corn — a welcome treat for anyone, especially paleo eaters, who can’t eat the real deal. If you like, add herbs like rosemary or thyme to the salt. I prefer to add ghee and herbs after roasting, but either way is delicious.

Salt-Roasted Beets

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Pour a thin layer of salt into the bottom of a medium ovenproof skillet (approximately 1/4" deep). The bottom of the skillet should be completely covered.
  3. Nestle the beets into the salt, making sure they do not touch. Add enough salt to cover the tops of the beets.
  4. Roast for approximately 35 minutes, or until beets are soft and salt has become stiff and crusty. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  5. When cool enough to handle, scrape salt from beets. To serve, split the beets' skins, rub the flesh with ghee or coconut oil, and sprinkle with parsley.
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Book Review: The Paleo Approach

Holy cats, people.

I like to think I’m a cool customer. I know the dangers of hero worship. I know no one is perfect, but dang it all: Dr. Sarah Ballantyne — AKA The Paleo Mom — has written a book so thorough, so thoughtful, so … awesome, that I have officially added her to the list of people I want to be when I grow up. Effusive praise, I know. However, there is no way to be cool about this: The Paleo Approach knocks my socks off.

The book, all about how a more fine-tuned version of the paleo way of eating can help heal autoimmune disease, is broadly divided into two sections: The Cause and The Cure. In both parts, Dr. Ballantyne’s clear, precise prose — along with her clever illustrations — takes you through an astonishing amount of science without ever making you feel as if it is too complex or over your head. Each chapter is jam-packed with information; you can’t learning something from this book. In incredible detail, Dr. Ballantyne makes the case for getting inflammatory, damaging foods out of our diets and getting nutrient dense, gut-healing foods back in.

Once you’ve decided to embark on the autoimmune protocol (AIP), Dr. Ballantyne includes tips on how to get started, a thorough troubleshooting section, and a further chapter on what she calls “the long haul” to get you thinking about how to eat (and live — she strongly emphasizes lifestyle factors as well as food) in the long-term.  An extensive reference section gives plenty of information for those who want to dig into the research. It’s exciting to see such a thorough, thoughtful, encouraging approach to what can easily feel overly restrictive.

Equally exciting, The Paleo Approach Cookbook, the companion to The Paleo Approach, was just released last week. I have not yet got a copy of it, but am definitely looking forward to getting my hands on that book as well. The Paleo Approach is a well-done resource book that belongs in most every paleo eater’s library: I am certain its companion piece will prove equally excellent.

Cinnamon Pepper Plantains (Maduros)

Cinnamon Pepper Plantains | Paleo + Life

Calendar coincidences amuse me. Today, for example, is Labor Day, which is always the first Monday of September. It is also the first day of the September. Somehow, it seems as if that makes today more meaningful and important. Is that weird? Probably. Still, it seems like an extra-auspicious day to make a fresh start.

With fresh starts in mind, today is a great time to start a Whole30, like my friend J. is doing.
My husband and I did one in February, and even though I thought we had a pretty healthy diet before, we discovered that we were eating a surprising amount of junk. Doing the Whole30 was a great way to reacquaint ourselves with the way we really wanted to eat and to feed our family.

So while I am focusing on tasty, kid-friendly dishes this month, I will also be sure to include things that are Whole30 appropriate.  Like these cinnamon pepper plantains.

Cinnamon Pepper Plantains | Paleo + Life

Plantains are a strange and wonderful food, useful in all their stages of ripeness. When green, they are bland and starchy — great for taking the place of grains, as in this excellent (not Whole30) pancake recipe from The Paleo Mom. As plantains ripen, turning from green to yellow to black, their natural starches convert to sugar and they become sweeter and sweeter; the flavor is something like a cross between an apple and a banana. Because of this, it is important to get plantains at the proper stage of ripeness so your dish turns out correctly.

For this recipe, my take on a traditional preparation called maduros, I recommend using plantains that are on the riper side, anywhere from spotty yellow to completely black. Again, the darker the plantain, the sweeter they will be.  Note that plantain skins are much tougher than those of bananas, so you’ll need to cut them off rather than peeling them.
The seasoning is simple — just three ingredients — but the sharpness of freshly ground black pepper and the sweetness of cinnamon heightens and intensifies the taste. As a bonus, true cinnamon*happens to be incredibly good for you.
All in all, it’s a great start to a Whole30, a new month, or just to enjoy something a little different.

Cinnamon Pepper Plantains (Maduros)

Ingredients

  • 4 ripe plantains
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon, preferably Ceylon

Instructions

  1. Cut plantains in half. Gently wedge the knife just below the skins and remove. Slice the flesh in half.
  2. Season plantains with salt, pepper, and cinnamon. Set aside.
  3. Warm a medium skillet over medium heat. When warm, add 2 tablespoons coconut oil.
  4. Add seasoned plantain slices to the oil. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until plantain is caramelized and brown. Add more oil if needed. Flip; cook for another 2 minutes on the second side. Remove from pan and serve immediately.
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