Pasta-less Lasagna

I’ve never been a big fan of lasagna. I love all the flavors and zest of Italian food, but lasagna always seemed to be wanting. I’d much rather have a calzone, or braciole. I know I am nearly alone in my opinion, but hey, that’s nothing new! Something very strange indeed must’ve possessed me to try my hand at making a mostly paleo-friendly lasagna; something strange, or just sheer laziness, or perhaps it was my hubby’s request – whatever the motivation, the results were fantastic, and I can no longer say, “I don’t care for lasagna.” I just don’t care for lasagna made with pasta, thank you very much. ūüėČ This lasagna, on the other hand, I love so much we eat it every.single.week.

Part lasagna, part eggplant parmesan, and entirely grain-free, this dish is uncomplicated yet hearty enough for this cold time of year.

Pasta-less Lasagna

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium-sized eggplant
  • 2 medium to large zucchini
  • 1 1/2 pounds italian sausage
  • 6 ounces goat cheese (ricotta also works well)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk or cream
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1/2 cup water or broth (read here about how to make easy, homemade broth)
  • 1 head garlic (about 7-8 cloves)
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella or cheese of choice (we’ve used everything from¬†Colby¬†Jack to¬†Oaxaca, because we aren’t purists.)
  • salt, pepper, and Italian herbs like basil, oregano, and marjoram, to taste

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9x13inch baking dish with extra virgin olive oil or butter.
  3. Wash the eggplant and zucchini, then thinly slice into 1/4-1/2-inch slices. Set aside.
  4. Grate the fresh mozzarella or other cheese of choice and set aside.
  5. In a large liquid measuring cup, or medium-sized bowl, combine the tomato paste, red wine, and water. Mix until a smooth sauce forms.
  6. Heat a 10 or 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, and cook the sausage until no pink remains. Reduce the heat to low.

    sausage & sauce

  7. Add the tomato-wine sauce to the cooking sausage. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and italian herbs.
  8. In a separate, medium-sized bowl, or food processor, combine the 6 ounces of goat cheese, eggs, and milk, and mix until smooth.
  9. Assemble the lasagna! First, lay down a layer of sliced eggplant. Season the slices with salt, pepper, and herbs.

    layer of sliced eggplant

  10. Pour the goat cheese custard over the eggplant, and smooth it out so that it is evenly distributed.
  11. Add a layer of sliced zucchini. Season the slices with salt, pepper, and herbs.

    goat cheese custard is added, being topped with sliced zucchini

  12. Pour the sausage & sauce mixture over the zucchini, smoothing it out so that the entire surface is covered.
  13. Top this with any remaining eggplant & zucchini slices. I usually don’t have enough to fully cover the surface, but maybe 75% is covered. Again, season the veggies with salt, pepper, and herbs.

    final layer of veggies

  14. Cover the lasagna with the grated cheese, and season with a little more herbs.

    cheese

  15. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees F for 1 hour, until the cheese is browned and the lasagna is bubbling.
  16. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before serving. (If you can wait that long – we never can!)

    fin

Please let me know if you make this lasagna, and what you think of it! Happy Cooking!

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Baconnaise – a Lesson in Emulsion

Baconnaise is mayonnaise made with rendered bacon fat. 

I can hear the two opposing sides now: groans of nausea from one side, drooling & lip-smacking from the other.

Admittedly, this sauce is not to everyone’s liking. (Sauce? Yes, Virginia, mayonnaise is a sauce.)¬†This particular mayonnaise has a strong flavor that goes¬†exquisitely¬†with grilled steak or shrimp, and personally I love it.

Mayonnaise is the most important of emulsified sauces; most important in that it is widely used and incredibly diverse. It is the base, or mother, of all popular and common salad dressings: Aioli, French, Ranch, Thousand Island, Russian, Bleu Cheese… The list continues.

Essentially mayonnaise is an emulsion of fat and lemon juice or vinegar, with egg yolks added to make sure it all stays together. Olive oil has always been the fat of choice and tradition, which is partly why I find this “new” olive oil mayonnaise on the market so humorous. There really is nothing new under the sun: just a different marketing package.

Emulsions are liquid-liquid colloids: which means they are a mixture of two un-mixable liquids (in this case water & oil). We are able to create the illusion of mixing them together by breaking them down into particles that are so tiny they are literally suspended around one another. (Think of a ball pit, and how the balls rest on one another & how they hold each other, or even a small child, above the ground.) This suspension is achieved by good ole fashioned elbow grease (via a wire whisk), or by use of a blender or food processor, and by pouring the fat into the water-based vinegar or lemon juice very slowly. 

Even with the proper amount of agitation to break down the particles, the two liquids will quickly separate without adding an emulsifier to the mix. Enter the workhorse of emulsification, the egg yolk! (Mustard is another permanent emulsifier, but personally I think it is horrible in mayonnaise, though I love it in vinaigrettes… more on that at a later time.)

For this recipe, I substituted bacon fat for half of the olive oil, which (if you care about such things) increases the saturated fat, the omega-3s, and cuts down on those very controversial polys & omega-6s. Next time around I am going to try coconut oil in place of the olive oil, still using bacon fat as well, just to see what the flavor profile is like.

Rendering the bacon fat: just cook it low & slow, and collect the fat as it accumulates. A cast iron skillet works best, I’ve found.

Baconnaise

Ingredients:

  • 2 egg yolks (the fresher the better)
  • 3 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup rendered bacon fat (for regular mayonnaise, I replace the bacon fat with an equal amount of coconut oil)
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced (optional)

Method:

  1. Make sure everything is at room temperature. Warm egg yolks emulsify exponentially better than cold! 
  2. Place the egg yolks in a bowl, or blender or food processor, add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, the garlic if using, and whisk together until combined. 
  3. Whisking vigorously and consistently (blender or food processor on low), begin slowly adding the fat drop by drop. You are beginning the emulsification process, and adding too much oil at once will overload the egg yolks and cause the sauce to break. So proceed very slowly, and keep the egg yolks moving constantly.
  4. As it emulsifies, the mixture will begin to thicken, and you can begin adding the oil a little more quickly, in a thin stream. (If the sauce is too thick, add a teaspoon of lemon juice or water to thin, always always whisking…)
  5. Once all the oil is incorporated, season to taste with more of the lemon juice, salt and pepper. 
  6. Enjoy, without guilt! Store in the refrigerator to use as needed. (I toss mine after about a week, if there’s any to toss.)

But what if the mayonnaise breaks?¬†And what does that even mean, “the mayonnaise breaks”?

A sauce breaking means that it isn’t emulsified, or fell out of emulsification: you can tell by the pool of oil sitting on top of the egg yolks, and the feeling that even though you are whisking, it just isn’t¬†mixing. (If your sauce has reached this point of breaking, it is beyond repair. Start over*.) What has happened? One of the two un-mixable liquids hasn’t been broken down into small enough particles, and they are lumping back together. Remember the ball pit scenario? Instead of uniformly sized balls sitting on top of one another, the pit is half-comprised of plastic balls and the other half bowling balls. What happens? The bowling balls fall together to the bottom, and the plastic ones clump together on top. The same principle applies to this emulsion.

But not to worry, all is not lost! If you act quickly, you can most likely save your baconnaise. If you notice the fat globules starting to form around the edge of bowl, try one of the following things:

  • stop adding oil and add a little lemon juice or vinegar, and whisk like mad. The sauce should tighten up again, and proceed with adding the oil dribble by dribble once again.
  • add another egg yolk – this increases the amount of naturally¬†occurring¬†lecithin.
  • add a teaspoon of mustard – another, excellent emulsifier, but sadly will change the flavor profile of the mayonnaise.
  • *Starting over doesn’t mean throwing away: in a separate bowl, whisk together another egg yolk or two with a teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar. Whisking constantly, begin adding the broken sauce to this new base about one teaspoon at a time. This works 99% of the time.


The Great Turkey Adventure

It all started with wanting to smoke the turkey.

I had stumbled onto a steal of a deal: a free-range turkey for $1.99 ¬†pound. What a great find! I’ll roast it, we’ll have meat for lunches, bones for stock, hurray for me! Once I got the bird home, the Hubby asked if he could smoke it, as he did with a pork shoulder the weekend before. Sure, why not? Sounds like a great idea, and keeps the cooking mess outside, thought I. I’ll even spatchcock the turkey so it cooks more quickly.¬†

Spatchcocking is just another word for butterflying poultry. Removing the backbone and sternum from the bird allows it to lay flat & spread-eagle, reducing cooking times and ensuring more even cooking when using a grill or smoker. (Read: no more dry breast meat!)

Tom

How do you Spatchcock a Turkey? Go¬†here & here. (Don’t forget to remove the sternum. I did, as you can see in the pictures below. Brilliant. *insert eye roll here)

Research on the Interwebs told us that to successfully smoke a turkey, it’s recommended that you¬†brine¬†it first. Awesome! I have always wanted to brine a turkey: I have heard and read that they are incredibly succulent and that the taste is vastly improved. (And I am all for improving the flavor: I have turned my nose up at roast turkey most, if not all, of my life. Seriously, can a meat be any more boring?)

Brining is just another age-old method of meat preservation that has gone by the wayside of everyday, modern cooking. Although it does require a little time, and a little effort, the gain far outweighs that initial, small investment. I recommend this site for excellent and thorough information on brining, including meat sizes & times, and suggested brine recipes. I also consulted Ye Olde Culinary Garde Manager textbook for brine recipes and guidance.

For the resulting brine I used:

1 gallon cold water

1/2 cup coarse sea salt, 1/4 cup organic raw sugar, 1 bay leaf, a handful of peppercorns, 4 cloves of garlic

I did not use any curing salts, as I didn’t have any on hand, and they are not necessary if you have refrigeration available. If it is unlikely that your brining bird will be kept below 40 degrees F, it would be wise to include a cure: the curing salts prevent the growth of bad bacteria.

All of the above was combined and brought to a boil, then removed from heat and allowed to rest until cool. It is very very important that the brine solution be cool, even cold. We are not poaching or boiling or cooking the turkey in this solution, so heat is not a part of the equation. The brine being cold also prevents the growth of unwelcome bacteria. Feel free to put the brine solution in the fridge or freezer to cool completely.

Finally, it was time for bird to meet brine. (Notice I didn’t remove the sternum? ūüėČ I’m so smart!)

Place the turkey in a large, nonmetal container, breast down if possible. (Please disregard the use of the metal container…) Add the brine.

Cover, and keep in a cool place for 24-48 hours. (notice the bird is now in a nonmetal container ;-))

Our turkey brined for a total of 28 hours. We removed the turkey from the fridge a few hours before we were going to smoke it; allowing it to come to room temperature is a good idea, as it makes the low heat of the smoker more efficient. Drain the turkey well before introducing it to your grill.

A side note: the brine solution, though used, can be saved & reused up to two or three times more, provided 1) the solution is still salty enough to truly brine, 2) it is kept under 40 degrees F, and 3) you only use it to brine the same meat, so no using this week’s turkey brine for next week’s pork shoulder – that is called cross-contamination, and it’s a bad idea.

The Hubby then prepared the charcoal, and soon we were in the home stretch. He used some cherry wood chips, as well as a bit of pecan wood, for flavor and additional smoke, and to keep the temperature in the 250-degree sweet spot. Keeping the temperature up was trickier than we had anticipated, but as the Hubby said, there is a learning curve to these things! (It’s only our second time using the smoker, and we’re totally winging this as we go along)

The leg quarters were done in four hours, maybe a little less; the breast took at least six. Even having spatchcocked the turkey, the cooking time was still lengthy, and we ended up removing the bird before it was fully finished cooking so that we could still get to bed at a decent hour. (Mornings come early for us!)

But it smelled and looked divine! I have never seen a prettier turkey; the skin browned gorgeously, and the flavor was unparalleled. My position of being a life-long turkey hater is now up for grabs – there is nothing tastier, more succulent or tender, than a brined, smoked turkey. Just incredible! Absolutely worth the efforts!

We are looking forward to taking on this endeavor again (there are nine pounds of boneless pork sirloin waiting its turn in our refrigerator), with the understanding that any future smoking adventures will take place during the weekend, with ample free time and mornings without alarm-clocks. 

Lacto-Fermented Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is one of those¬†foods I¬†instinctually¬†hated as a child. It smelled weird. It smelled awful. I don’t believe I ever ate it, much less tasted it, until I was an adult – and what creation crossed my palate was of the mass-produced, unfermented variety that accompanies mustard and onions atop an all-beef hot dog.

True sauerkraut, with depth of flavor and delightful texture, was something I never had until I made it myself. Initially I made it because of the health benefits of lactofermented foods, and the health benefits of cabbage itself; I keep making it, week after week, because I absolutely LOVE it.

 Here is how I make our weekly lactofermented sauerkraut:

Ingredients:

  • 2 heads of green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup whey¬†(I collect mine from active yogurt)
Method:
  1. Combine the sliced cabbage, salt, and whey in a large bowl, and toss and mix with your hands.
  2. Pound the cabbage mixture with a wooden mallet, meat mallet, or even using your bare hands, for approximately ten minutes, kneading it thoroughly to break up the structure of the cabbage, encouraging it to release its natural juices.
  3. Place the cabbage in a half-gallon glass jar, two quart-sized mason jars, or a sauerkraut crock, and press down firmly on the cabbage with your hands or the meat mallet so that the cabbage remains below the liquid. (It is important that the bulk remains below the liquid – this creates a protective barrier that prevents molding.)
  4. Cover the jar tightly and store at room temperature for 3 days before transferring to the refrigerator. (or eating!)

We love our sauerkraut cooked in butter, with locally made pork bratwurst… Nom nom nom!

Brownies!

Per his request, I made these¬†decadent¬†brownies for my hubby’s birthday celebration last night. They are, in his words, “Ri-DONK-ulous!” ūüėČ He likes a little brownie with his nuts – feel free to use a lighter hand, or eliminate them altogether, if your tastes differ. These brownies would be stupendous with dark chocolate chips, or even some chopped dried cherries, instead of the walnuts.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup melted organic grass-fed butter or coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 pastured egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup whole walnuts
  • flavor options: 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, dash of sea salt, dash of cayenne pepper
Method:
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8×8 (or similar size) baking dish with coconut oil or butter. (I prefer to use my 9×9 stoneware baker, as it seems more paleolithic, and is easier to clean.)
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the butter, cocoa powder, vanilla extract and honey until combined.
  3. Add the milk, egg, and almond meal and stir until mixed well.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top with a spatula. Arrange the whole walnuts in a decorative pattern, or chop roughly and scatter over the top.
  5. Bake at 325 for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool to room temperature before serving. (Alternatively, you can serve it hot, but the texture will be more like a souffle or pudding. For very fudgy-textured brownies, place the pan in the refrigerator and cool for about an hour before service.)
  6. Serve with frozen homemade whipped cream (our favorite), custard, or ice cream.
Enjoy!

Coconut Hot Chocolate

There are times when we need comfort food.

My maternal grandmother’s recent passing was for me such a time; I found myself making this hot chocolate for many days as I was grieving.¬†Now that our mornings are growing cold, I’ve been drinking this as my breakfast.¬†It’s rich and filling, the way cocoa should be, without¬†compromising¬†my primal diet. It’s like a hug for my tummy. ūüėČ

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • dash of cinnamon, sea salt and/or cayenne pepper for flavor
  • 1 raw pastured egg
  • optional: 1 teaspoon coconut oil
Method:
  1. Combine all the ingredients except the egg in a saucepan and heat over medium low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk so that the milk does not burn, and heat to desired temperature.
  2. Beat the egg into the mixture just prior to serving. You can warm it a little longer if desired, but whisk constantly or you will have a chocolate-poached egg, instead of an enriched hot beverage. ūüėČ
I like this with a dollop of plain, homemade whipped heavy cream, or sweetened with a bit of maple syrup, coconut sugar, or honey. Enjoy!

Chicken Fajita Salad

Chicken Fajita Salad

Ingredients:

  • boneless skinless chicken breast, 1 per person
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 large green bell peppers
  • 1 medium to large red onion
  • spring greens, or other salad mix (please abstain from iceberg, it really has no nutritional value whatsoever)
Method:
  1. Place chicken in a bowl and season with lime juice, garlic, cumin, chili powder, salt & pepper. Rub the spices into the flesh really well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in the fridge for at least an hour.
  2. Julienne the bell peppers and onion. Set aside for the moment.
  3. Heat your grill on high. Heat a large saute pan or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add a couple tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil to the pan, and allow the oil to warm for a few minutes, until it moves quickly across the surface when the pan is tilted.
  4. Saute the peppers and onions in the oil, until tender and caramelized.
  5. While the peppers and onions are cooking, grill the chicken. (How long? Until it’s done. And that all depends on the size of those chicken boobies. It shouldn’t take longer than 20-25 minutes.)
  6. Once the chicken is done, remove from the grill and allow to rest 5 minutes before slicing.
  7. Arrange the salad greens on the plate. Top with a “handful” of peppers and onions, and then add the chicken. Voila! Fajita de pollo ensalada!
We enjoy our chicken fajita salad with some homemade lactofermented salsa and fresh avocado salsa from Pro’s Ranch Market, and maybe a little Tapatio if the chicken isn’t spicy enough. A spicy chipotle ranch would also go well with this salad; it is quite tasty sans dressing, too. Happy Cooking!

nom nom nom