Monthly Archives: July 2014

Check In: July 2014

Now that I’ve got a solid month of food blogging behind me, it feels like a good time to review what I’ve been doing and check in on my paleo progress.

While I have generally stuck to eating paleo, I have gone “offroad” far more than I intended.  A big part of that is that many things are in flux these days, which makes my routine harder to keep.

In the paleo/Primal universe, people talk about the 80/20 rule.  The idea is that unless you’re doing an elimination diet, eating paleo 80% of the time should be enough to keep you in a healthy place without making you crazy. I like the flexibility of this rule in theory, but have a hard time drawing that line in real life. This month, I think it’s been more in the 60/40 range. I may do another Whole30 to get myself back in the right frame of mind.

This month’s recipes:
Carrots and Nigella (Technically, this was June, but for purposes of completeness I’m putting it here)
PDX Parsnip Soup
Kohlrabi Coleslaw
Spiced Summer Burgers
Peach, Cherry and Chicken Salad
Quick Blueberry Shiso Jam **
Mama Dear’s Cucumber Salad
Warm Fennel Salad with Bacon

We have been paleo since February, so not quite six months, and while I have not had the amazing weight loss that I’ve seen in other people, I have noticed other improvements. Before we changed our diet, I took acid reflux meds daily; I haven’t needed them since going paleo. Similarly, my allergies are infinitely easier to manage these days.

While I have given up the scale as a measure of my health, last time I was at the doctor, I did notice that I was down a few pounds. Since nursing seems to make me retain weight (boo, hiss!), this felt like an accomplishment. I am pleased to be able to get back into my pre-pregnancy pants.

I have been a part-time graduate student for the last four years; this year I finally earned my JD. Since I took a nice long break between undergrad and law school, getting back into the mindset of being a student again was a challenging transition. Now that I have graduated, I am finding it difficult to stop thinking of myself as a student. Because I’m not following the expected path (taking the bar exam right after graduation), I find myself in an odd limbo.

Summer vacation is its own sort of limbo as well. My kids are all home, and this is the first summer that they have not been in camp. Trying to keep them occupied,  and myself from going crazy, has been an interesting challenge. We have made Pinterest projects, visited the children’s museum, and we practically live at the library. Still, we have our moments where we could all use a bit of space.

My escape has been mystery novels. My dad got me into them when I was a kid and I have never ceased loving them. This summer, I’ve found some new-to-me authors and am having a great time working my way through several different series.

I have a tendency to set outrageously high goals for myself (thus the law school while parenting exercise). I know this is probably not a very healthy approach, so I am trying to temper my intensity with realism and be more balanced in my approach to life. (Stop laughing, husband. I see you!)

This month’s goals are all health-related:

  1. Learn to do a full push up.
    I have never done this in my life and I really want to learn how. It seems like a good stepping stone on the path to physical strength.
  2. Take some long walks during the week.
    I’ve let this slip somewhat with the 90+ degree days we have had. Walking has mostly been my lunchtime habit, but if I go earlier I can probably avoid the worst of the heat.
  3. Try to meditate at least once a week.
    Again, I am trying to balance. Creating a weekly moment for meditation is a micro-goal on the way to a regular practice, and it seems achievable even with our busy schedule.

So that’s my goals for the month. We’ll see how I do around this time in August. What are your goals?

(** Note that per Loren Cordain, some studies suggest chia seeds may be inflammatory, and therefore they do not fit the paleo template. I am comfortable including them in my diet occasionally.) 


Warm Fennel Salad with Bacon

Warm Fennel Salad with Bacon | Paleo + LifeMy friend S. mentioned that she currently has a bumper crop of lettuce, which got me thinking about warm salads. I have often wondered why Americans don’t usually cook salad greens; it is an easy way to increase one’s veggie intake. It’s also a handy way to use up the greens before they go bad — I’m sure we aren’t the only family who buy lettuce with good intentions but sometimes find it shriveled in the fridge several days later.

While I was thinking about salads, I found gigantic bulbs of Florence fennel at our local farmer’s market. I had my littles with me, so was not able to get a picture, but it was an impressive site: with the fronds attached, each fennel bulb was about two feet long. It was so strikingly beautiful, I just had to buy some. I remembered that my friend with all the lettuce also happens to be very fond of fennel, and that as a college student in Santa Barbara, she used to forage for wild fennel.

I brought these two ideas together to create a simple, paleo-friendly dish that is inexpensive enough for a college student budget, and substantial enough for a meal. I used spinach because that was what I had on hand, but another salad green like a red leaf or buttercrunch lettuce would be just as tasty and would take even less time.
The mild, licorice-like taste of fennel gets even milder here, with gentle cooking; the deeper flavors of garlic and bacon dominate. Dress this salad with a dash of oil and vinegar; add tomatoes and slices of avocado if you like, but it is quite tasty as is.

Fennel & Onion Salad with Bacon


  • 1 12 oz. package bacon
  • 4 medium cloves garlic
  • 1 medium bulb fennel
  • 1 purple onion
  • 1 lb. spinach
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Prepare bacon in the oven, following the package directions. Once the bacon is fully cooked, remove from the oven and set it aside, reserving the rendered fat.
  2. Meanwhile, mince garlic. Thinly slice fennel and onion. Wash the spinach; spin the leaves dry in a salad spinner. (If you do not own a salad spinner, just squeeze the moisture from the leaves as best you can and pat them dry with a paper towel.)
  3. Warm a large saute pan over medium heat for approximately two minutes. Pour the rendered bacon grease into the saute pan.
  4. Add minced garlic to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic browns. Add onions and fennel to pan; saute them until they soften (6-8 minutes).
  5. Add spinach to the saute pan. Stirring continuously, cook until spinach is warmed through (4-5 minutes). Add salt and pepper to taste. Crumble in the reserved bacon. Serve immediately.

From the Caterer’s Kitchen: How to Read a Recipe

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.

How to read a recipe seems like a slightly unnecessary topic. If you’ve figured out how to read blogs, or get onto social media, of course you can read something as simple as a recipe, right? (Seriously: Instagram makes me feel ancient and not so bright. And Twitter? Sweet Lord, I have no clue.)
But take a moment to consider the job of the recipe. It has to get the idea of a particular combination of ingredients from the mind of the writer onto the plate of the reader — who may not be anywhere near that writer. It’s worth taking a moment to figure out how to set yourself up for success.

1) Read the recipe ALL THE WAY TO THE END. Several times.

I know what you’re thinking: Duh. Of course I’m reading the recipe. How else do I know I want to make it? Bear with me. Consider: it’s 4:30 in the afternoon, and you’ve got a hankering for jerk chicken. (This isn’t just me, yes? I thought not.)
You find a recipe that sounds good to you, and has a not-too-long list of ingredients. You check the spice drawer and the fridge, and you figure, “hey, I’ve got all of that — it’s go time.” So you put on your favorite cooking music, find an apron and get to work. But next thing you know, you are elbow-deep in a pile of chicken parts, allspice, nutmeg and scallions when you come across the phrase “marinate overnight.”
Screech goes the needle off of that record (oh, man, I am dating myself. Does anyone even know what a record player is anymore?). Next thing you know, you’re either cooking chicken without nearly as much flavor as you wanted or you’re sticking this batch in the fridge with one hand and ordering takeout with the other. Sigh.

So yes: Read the whole thing. Then read it again.

2) Figure out what all of the abbreviations and terms mean.
Because: chiffonade. What the heck *is* that? (I explain here.) Not to mention that there are just about as many ways to abbreviate as there are teenagers at the mall. I have chosen not to use abbreviations on this blog, but obviously, I am not the boss of the rest of the world. So make sure you know the definitions of any abbreviations or cooking terms in the recipe before you start to make it. Most good cookbooks, I find, have either an introductory section where all of terms are defined, or an appendix which gives abbreviations used, definitions and, if an international cookbook, conversions from US measurements to grams, kilos, etc.

3) Learn to taste recipes before you make them.
This probably sounds like some sort of weird Matrix-y mental gymnastic exercise, but it is my favorite tip on this list. Why? Because in order to do it, you need to eat. A lot. You’ve got to do it three times a day anyway, right? So why not learn something along the way?

There are two steps: first, pay attention when you eat. Don’t just gulp down every morsel on the plate and reach for seconds before you have time to digest. Chew your food slowly, which gives you enough time to notice what flavors pop out at you. Do you notice the flavor of individual spices, or do they all meld together in an intricate combination? Which one tastes best to you? What would you do differently if you were to cook it again?

Step two involves experimenting. Test out different flavoring combinations to see what appeals to your palate. Start with some familiar mixtures — cumin, coriander, garlic and oregano are distinctive markers of Mexican-American cuisine, while turmeric, coriander, ginger and cardamom are found in many Indian recipes — but don’t be afraid to branch out and try combinations that just sound good to you. You may end up with a few disasters — tarragon, for example, is so distinctive that it often does not play well with other flavors — but the lessons you will learn are invaluable.
If you want help getting started, On Cooking* has a fabulous chapter on herbs, spices, condiments and more. (The third edition is the one I own; the current edition* would be a worthwhile splurge.)

Well, these are our best tips on recipe reading. Anything we left out? Is there something you would add?

* = Affiliate links.

Mama Dear’s Cucumber Salad

Mama Dear's Cucumber Salad | Paleo + Life

While I grew up in Chicago, my people are from the South. Dad’s parents were from Arkansas, while my mother’s folks hail from Mississippi and Tennessee. Despite moving way north of the Mason-Dixon line, our families never stopped eating Southern soul food. This was especially true on holidays: Thanksgiving would not have been Thanksgiving without Mama Dear’s cornbread dressing. Her collard greens and peach cobbler were so delicious they could make grown men weep. Banana cake (even for big family dinners, my Grandma would make this one just because she knew I adored it). Butter rolls. Oh, and sweet potato pie! That creamy, nutmeg and cinnamon concoction was a revelation. I deeply pitied my poor friends whose unfeeling parents forced them to eat the obviously inferior pumpkin pie.

As an adult, I have developed a different cooking style — and having gone paleo, even more so — but one of the dishes that I love and try to eat all summer long is this simple cucumber salad. Though I’ve varied it here with fancily spiralized onions, miniature cucumbers and heirloom tomatoes, its essential simplicity never fails to comfort me. My grandma made it, my mother still makes it, and when I need a taste of home, I make it too.

Mama Dear’s Cucumber Salad


  • 1 medium onion
  • 8 miniature cucumbers
  • 2 large heirloom tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper


  1. Using a spiral slicer or mandoline, thinly slice the onions and cucumbers.
  2. With a serrated knife, slice the tomatoes into wedges.
  3. Combine the tomatoes, onions and cucumbers in a large salad bowl. Sprinkle in the parsley. Using salad tongs or your hands, toss thoroughly.
  4. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar and olive oil with 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
  5. Drizzle the dressing over the salad. Toss again.
  6. It may be served immediately, though I prefer to refrigerate at least 30 minutes for best flavor.

Top 5 Kitchen Tools

While my cooking style is fairly simple, I also have a love of clever gadgets and kitchen tools. While you won’t catch me using, say, a banana slicer (does anyone seriously buy these?), there are definitely gadgets I would hate to be without.

Here, in no particular order, are my top five kitchen tools. There is a single criterion for making the list: the tool has to be something that makes me like the Bionic Woman in the kitchen. In other words, it has to help me be better, stronger, faster in the kitchen than I am without it.

Vitamix. I lusted after the Vitamix high-speed blender from the first moment I heard of it, but I decried it as too expensive/indulgent. I had a blender. Finally, after years (years!) of wanting one, I realized that when my husband asked what I wanted for my birthday, I needed to speak up, lest I be doomed to a lifetime of tube socks and Mentos.** So I spoke up, and my darling Vera came into my life.
(Yes, my blender has a name. So does our car. Any appliance whose strength can be measured in horsepower deserves a name.)

Not only is she amazing at making smoothies and ice cream, she creates the silkiest soups and sauces a cook could ever want. My PDX Parsnip Soup would not be the same without it. Vitamixes (Vitamixen? Surely there’s a plural) are also excellent for making paleo staples such as nut milk and coconut butter.

The only downside is that the Vitamix is definitely an investment. However, it’s one I am thrilled that we made. These ladies last forever: my friend K. still uses the one her dad purchased in 1976.

Spiral slicer. I try not to sound like a giddy, love-struck teen when I talk about my favorite tools, but the Spiralfix makes that a difficult rule to follow. Y’all, this thing is fun.
It makes pasta-style cuts as well as swirling ribbons. I use it to make vegetable noodles as well as for gorgeous salads that are almost too pretty to eat. In my totally scientific MomAnalysis(TM)***, 100% of eaters will say food tastes better when it is in a fun shape. Why not increase the odds that your picky little ones will actually eat six bites of a vegetable before they realize that the “pasta” is as good for them as the sauce?

[FYI: a lot of bloggers, such as the very talented Ali of Inspiralized, prefer the Paderno Slicer. However, the Spiralfix felt better/sturdier to me. Perhaps it’s because I am left-handed, but I found that I got a firmer grip with the Spiralfix. Perhaps it’s because I am a klutz, and I could easily see myself losing a digit considering how the blades are stored? The compact size of the Spirafix is critical, too. Cabinet and counter space are in short supply around here.]

Coffee grinder for spices. I have already waxed rhapsodic about having a dedicated grinder just for processing whole spices, but it bears repeating because it is so useful.
If yours is a coffee-drinking household, you might think you can use your regular coffee grinder for this purpose. Do not be fooled. To bend a Biblical turn of phrase, no grinder can serve two purposes. The coffee oils in the machine will make your spices taste off, and the spices will ruin your coffee. Grinders are inexpensive enough that you can own two.

Slow cooker. Is it possible to love an appliance so much you want to have its little stoneware babies? Because that’s how much I adore my Crock-Pot. Without these unassuming, sturdy machines — the current one is my third in twenty years — I could not have gotten through law school. Heck, I couldn’t have made it through a single one of Oregon’s sopping wet winters.
No matter how many times I do it, there is something wondrous about plopping a few ingredients into the slow cooker in the morning, and coming home to a hearty bowl of chili or a big batch of bone broth. Of course, the cooker is equally useful in the summer, when it is entirely too hot to cook but you need to prepare a roast or other large piece of meat.

Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer. Last on this list, but possibly first in my heart, is my incredible stand mixer.
Again, I wanted one of these for forever. Somehow, my beloved knew (cough*spent first three years of marriage telling him about them*cough) and he surprised me on my birthday (are we sensing a theme here?).

Pre-paleo, I used the mixer to bake many a loaf of bread and the occasional birthday cake. These days, I’m more likely to use it for whipping cream or making a crustless quiche. I also love that it has a plethora of optional attachments: slicer/shredder; a food grinder; even an ice cream maker.

So there you have it: the five kitchen items I can’t live without. What are your favorite kitchen tools?

** I am totally kidding; Mentos aren’t even paleo!
***I.e., I asked my kids and they said “Sure, whatever, Mom.”

Quick Blueberry Shiso Jam

Blueberry Shiso Jam | Paleo + LifeI was all set to get back into the kitchen tips today, but was waylaid by a food disaster.

(Cue dramatic music: Dun dun DUN!)
Instead, I’m going teach you to make lemons when life hands you lemonade … by which I mean how to make a quick jam when you accidentally buy terrible fruit. Yes, I know that was confusing. My apologies.

The story goes thusly: My local grocery store had blueberries on sale. I was happy to purchase some, since my kids eat them like they’re going out of style. My happiness was short-lived, however, because these were just awful. Instead of the gloriously tangy flavor I expected, this sad fruit was bland and mealy. I literally could not eat them.

Since I’d already bought them, however, I was stuck. Some people might have tossed the blueberries, as a matter of principle, but I felt that wouldn’t work, since we haven’t yet got a money tree growing in the back yard. The world’s largest and most vicious, thorn-laden blackberry? Yup, that’s back there. But no dollars as of yet. Therefore, I knew these bad berries needed rescuing.

(Do y’all enjoy step-by-step photos of recipes? Personally, I just want juicy pictures that make me hungry but lots of people seem to enjoy it. I’ll give that a go today. Mind you, I was holding the camera in one hand and cooking with the other — in addition to the fact that I take photos about as well as a clever two year old. I’m getting better, but I have quite a lot to learn. So the photos mightn’t be the most exciting ones you’ll ever see. I suggest you lower your expectations, and come along with me on this photographic journey.)

1. Wash the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad blueberries. Put them in a saucepan over medium heat.

Adding berries | Paleo + Life

2. Add lemon juice…

Adding lemon juice | Paleo + Life

…and a pinch of salt…

Adding salt | Paleo + Life

…and the sweetener of your choice to the pan. (Mine is maple syrup, because that was what I grabbed first from the cabinet. Honey would be even more fabulous.)

Adding syrup | Paleo + Life

3. Realize that you forgot the herbs. Step out to the garden and pluck a few leaves from this gorgeous thing.

Shiso | Paleo + Life

4. Bring the leaves inside. Wash them, stack them atop one another, roll them into a little bundle, then slice into thin ribbons (this is called a chiffonade, and is a handy technique for all sorts of dishes).

Chiffonade of shiso | Paleo + Life

5. Turn off the heat. Stir in the shiso chiffonade (say that ten times fast!), along with some chia seeds.

Adding chia seeds | Paleo + Life

7. Set aside to cool (approximately 30 minutes). If served immediately, this is more of a compote; as it cools, the jam becomes firmer.

So there you have it. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Except that it’s blueberry jam, not lemons.
The children and I ate the heck out of this with a couple of batches of tasty paleo pancakes. This is also delicious as an addition to a cheese plate.

Quick Blueberry Shiso Jam

Quick Blueberry Shiso Jam


  • 1 lb. fresh blueberries
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons fresh shiso leaves
  • 1 teaspoon chia seeds


  1. Wash the blueberries and drain them. Put them in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add lemon juice, salt and maple syrup. Cook until the berries start to pop, stirring occasionally, about 5-10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, make a chiffonade of the shiso leaves.
  4. Remove the blueberry mixture from the heat, stirring in the shiso leaves and chia seeds.
  5. Set aside to cool (approximately 30 minutes). If served immediately, this is more of a compote; as it cools, the jam becomes firmer.



Peach, Cherry & Chicken Salad

There is no love in my heart for summer’s heat. My ideal temperature hovers between “comfortable in a sleeveless t-shirt” and “hmmm, might want a sweater.” Being hot annoys me. It feels like a personal insult from the universe, and my attitude responds accordingly.


Peach, Cherry & Chicken Salad | Paleo + LifeThe reason I don’t just pack myself off to the Outer Hebrides is the incredible bounty of luscious fruit and plump veggies summer brings our way. Stone fruit, in particular, is a weakness of mine. Peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, cherries … any and all of them take my breath away. The kids and the husband love them, too: dessert at this time of year is often an exquisitely ripe peach or a fistful of dark cherries.

Sometimes, my cooking is inspired by a trip to the farmer’s market, desire to try a new technique, or a great sale on something special. This one? Well, it was my summer kitchen math.

Summer kitchen math goes something like:
93 degrees = too hot too cook = fast + single bowl + no stove.

I was also feeling indulgent and could not stop thinking about having dessert for dinner. So I came up with an excuse to do just that.
My beloved stone fruit takes center stage, along with crisp romaine lettuce, leftover roast chicken, and a touch of lemon thyme. I finished it with a drizzle of maple lemon dressing so delectable it made me want to lick the bowl.

Variations: If you enjoy dairy, crumble in a touch of bleu cheese. A handful of slivered almonds is also an excellent addition.

Peach, Cherry & Chicken Salad


  • One head of romaine lettuce, washed
  • 1/2 medium sweet onion such as Walla Walla
  • Leftover chicken breast from roast chicken
  • Four small peaches
  • 1 cup dark cherries
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon thyme
  • Bleu cheese (optional)
  • Slivered almonds (optional)
  • Maple Lemon Dressing:
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper


  1. With a sharp knife, thinly slice the lettuce into strips. Place in a large salad bowl.
  2. Roughly dice the onion; add to the salad bowl.
  3. Remove the chicken breast from the carcass.Slice in thin strips and add to the bowl.
  4. Cut the peaches in half, removing the pits. Slice each half into eighths (in other words, sixteen slices from each peach).
  5. Slice the cherries in half, removing the pits. Add the fruit to the salad bowl.
  6. Sprinkle the lemon thyme into the salad. Using your hands, gently toss the salad together. Set aside.
  7. Dressing
  8. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, lemon juice, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Whisk vigorously together.
  9. Drizzle over the salad. If using optional blue cheese and/or almonds, add them now. Serve immediately.



What is Paleo Anyway?

I assume that if you’ve found this blog, you already have some idea of what “paleo” is. However, some folks may just visit because they know me (Hi, Ma!), or because they found a recipe that intrigued them. So this post is for those folks in the second group, who haven’t yet drunk the paleo kool-aid, as it were.

Paleo has something of a “BroScience” reputation. Rightly or wrongly, when you say “paleo diet,” people think crazy CrossFit athletes trying to live like cavemen (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). That was certainly the impression I had a year or two ago. But as more people have explored this way of eating — and, coincidentally, more women have become prominent paleo spokespeople — what I think of as Paleo 2.0 has arrived.

My brief, unscientific explanation of Paleo 2.0 is this: people are healthiest when they eat real foods. What’s real food? The things from the perimeter of the grocery store: vegetables, fruits, meat, fish and eggs.
Usually starting with an elimination diet (see It Starts with Food* for a good one), Paleo eaters focus on 1) eating the most nutrient-dense food possible, and 2) eliminating foods that are strongly linked to systemic (whole body) inflammation: wheat, sugar, dairy, corn, legumes, seed oils, and grains. Once you’ve completed your elimination phase, you are encouraged to try re-introducing things like dairy, or rice and find what works for you. Many paleo eaters find that they can be less strict, and include foods like white rice or white potatoes as they discover their personal tolerances for them. Others find that they need a stricter version, and use something like The Wahls Protocol* to help treat autoimmune disorders such as MS or ulcerative colitis.

The ideas behind the paleo diet – and the scientific justifications for them – are covered quite thoroughly by clever folks such as Loren Cordain,* Robb Wolf,*and Sarah Ballantyne* in their books. Me? I am completely unqualified to discuss the science. Nor do I want to do so, since that’s not why I choose to eat this way. Knowing that there was really good evidence for paleo-style eating is what got me comfortable with trying a paleo diet, but the reason I continue to eat this way is because of how I feel when I stick with it. My body and brain feel happier, more energetic and more effective when I eat paleo than when I don’t.

Paleo also focuses on lifestyle components as well. These are healthy lifestyle basics you’ve probably heard before, such as “find an exercise you like, and do that,” “make time to meditate” or “be sure to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night.” While there are certainly nuances to these – -for example, too much exercise can be damaging — the gist of the lifestyle side is that you must make time to care for yourself inside and out. This is the part that is trickiest for me — as a mom of four, time is a precious resource — but I aspire to a more balanced life.

To recap (or TL;DR, as the kiddies say): Eat stuff that has lots of nutrition. Inflammation = bad; don’t eat stuff that inflames your body. Get exercise. Limit stress. Get good sleep.

* = Affiliate links.

Spiced Summer Burgers

Spiced Summer Burgers | Paleo + LifeSuddenly, I realized that the last three recipes I’ve shared here involved carrots in some fashion. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — I adore carrots. I always buy the enormous 10 lb. bags at Costco when we do a shopping run and I am trying to grow a batch of these chubby little Parisian carrots* on my front porch right now. However, there is more to my cooking than root veggies. Like these zippy, paleo-friendly burgers, which I made to accompany the Kohlrabi Coleslaw I recently posted.

To my mind, the perfect burger has a lot of flavor — supplied here by cumin and coriander –and just a touch of heat. In most recipes, black pepper provides that spark, but for these burgers, I wanted a flavor that was a bit more complex. Grains of Paradise* are peppery, but hint at other flavors as well; Aleppo pepper* resembles cayenne, but less hot and more deeply flavored. The combination is subtle, but takes these burgers to a new level.

A couple more notes:
I sometimes enjoy grinding my spices by hand, but these days (i.e., four kids later), I have less time for that sort of thing. Instead, I keep a spare coffee grinder that is only used for milling up spices. This grinder* is the one I use; it has lasted for ages.

When we make these, we usually cook them on the grill, but they also work just fine in the oven or on an electric griddle like the George Foreman grill* (does anyone have one of those anymore? When I was a swinging single, I loved mine).

Spiced Summer Burgers

Spiced Summer Burgers


  • 1 lb. ground lamb
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons grains of paradise
  • 2 teaspoons coriander
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt


  1. In a large bowl, combine the lamb and beef. Using your hands, mix them together thoroughly for at least five minutes. Set aside.
  2. Grind the spice mixture either by hand with a mortar and pestle, or in a dedicated coffee grinder.
  3. Sprinkle approximately half the spice mixture onto the meat; mix in by hand for about 1 minute.
  4. Fold the remaining spice mixture into the meat.
  5. Grill to desired doneness.

* = Affiliate links.

From the Caterer’s Kitchen: Top 10 Cooking Tips


I’d like to introduce y’all to my number one kitchen inspiration: my mom. It is a cliche to say it, but it’s true: most everything I know about cooking I learned from this lady. I am merely the padawan to her Jedi Master. My brother and I used to joke that Mom could go into the kitchen with only a bag of flour and a jug of milk, and come out with a ten-course meal. I still think that’s true.

While working as a nurse, my mom trained as a chef, opened her own catering business and has continued to operate it for nearly 30 years. She’s cooked for all sorts of people, including some celebs, and has forgotten more about food than I will ever know.

As a teenager, I was perhaps a bit too stubborn to accept her advice and preferred to learn the hard way experiment without the benefit of her wisdom. Despite this, I somehow managed to absorb lots of cooking tips and techniques. I was probably the only kid in my dorm who packed recipes for harissa and risotto along with my bedsheets and backpack.
Now that I’m an adult, I have much more appreciation for Mom’s professional experience. I know that I use things I learned from her every day. So I thought it would be interesting to share some tips and tricks here on the blog, for those of us who did not grow up with a chef in the kitchen.

For today’s installment, I asked Mom to give me the top 10 things she wished she’d known when learning to cook. She writes:


Hope this helps. These are the things that I needed to know — would have saved a lot of food.

I’m rather impressed with her list — anyone who masters these things would be very well equipped to handle just about anything in the kitchen. In future posts, we will review each of these points in more detail, but just for today, the list is food for thought.
What about you? Is there anything you would add to this list?

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