Whenever paleo or low carb is mentioned there is usually someone who says that they couldn't do it because it would limit their cooking too much. After all, meat and veg can only be combined in so many ways, right?
Well, I certainly don't agree, and in my hands I hold two very recently published cookbooks packed with paleo recipes aiming to prove that point. About 600 odd recipes between them, ranging from snacks and starters to gorgeous seafood, slow-cooked meats, and desserts.
The aptly named "500 Paleo Recipes" by Dana Carpenter and Arsy Vartanian's "The Paleo Slow Cooker" (which comes with the catchphrase "Health, gluten-free, gourmet cooking made easy" in what I assume is an attempt to emphasize that paleo doesn't have to mean boring) were both sent to me by The Aurum Publishing Group, so in the interest of transparency I want to make clear that I haven't paid anything for them.
Both of the books follow a similar structure, part educating the reader on the health benefits of "eating clean", part dispeling the myth of healthy cooking being monotonous and bland, and of course presenting a variety of really interesting paleo recipes.
So far I have only read the introductory parts of the books, and skimmed through the recipes. While they both seem very thought through and packed with great tips and dishes I must say that The Paleo Slow Cooker is the one that has me most excited. Why? It is hard to get excited by a cookbook without pictures... 500 Paleo Recipes doesn't have a single photo in it while The Paleo Slow Cooker takes the more typical approach with recipes interspersed with full page mouthwatering photos.
That said, having sampled Dana Carpenter's work before, in the shape of "1,001 Low-Carb Recipes" (another cookbook without photos) I know that her recipes are usually clear and easy to follow, and often delicious. We have a few favourite dishes constantly recurring in our kitchen that are courtesy of 1,001 Low-Carb Recipes. So while Dana Carpenter's cookbooks don't seem the most inspirational, they certainly deliver on usefulness, creativity and variation.
In her own words:
"I come to the whole thing, as I did to low carbing, from the perspective of a cook. I want the widest range of flavours and textures I can possibly get while enjoying the benefits of dietary discipline."
Since I apply a philosophy of "Everything in Moderation" to my low carbing, and I too derive a lot of pleasure from trying different types of foods and cooking styles, I certainly agree with that aspiration!
The introduction to 500 Paleo Recipes, talking about what paleo is and why it is good for you, is really good. Without getting preachy, technical or boring (and acknowledging that "paleo" means a lot of different things to different people...) Dana Carpenter manages to not only explain why adopting some of the paleo thinking might be the most important health choice in your life, she also points out that the dangers of sugar isn't because of the substance itself, it's a matter of dosage.
Think about it. The human body and digestive system evolved in a world where refined sugar and processed foods didn't exist. If you wanted a sugar rush you had to consume punnets of ripe berries (or several meters of raw sugar cane...). Belly ache would stop you over consuming. Today you drink one super sized cup of Coca Cola at McDonalds and get more sugar in you than the average hunter gatherer managed to consume over the course of several weeks...
Given the lack of photos in one, and the high production value of the other, I would expect The Paleo Slow Cooker to be much more expensive than 500 Paleo Recipes, but at £12 and £9 respectively on Amazon the price difference is surprisingly small.
What I intend to do is cook a number of recipes from each, familiarising myself a bit more with the books, and then write up a review of each separately. Looks like I'll have to start with 500 Paleo Recipes, while I wait for my soon to be purchased slow cooker to be delivered...
Roasting a whole chicken is a great way to make sure you use as much as possible of this bird that gave its life for your meal, while also saving money. Two excellent benefits now that mountains of food waste keep growing, alongside rising food prices... And hey, if you get your chicken from a reputable source, you know that it's free from horse DNA! Bonus.
As Oliver Thring points out in his Guardian column, living in the city makes it hard to take on a whole lamb or a pig (although me and Rob gave it a good go). Accommodating a chicken is a whole lot easier.
With a decent size bird (say a plump two kilos) you easily get two big meals for two people (more if you bulk up on veg and aren't as greedy as we are...), and can use the remaining carcass to make a nourishing stock for a soup.
My favourite way of roasting a bird requires spatchcocking it (apparently also a term in the pole dancing world, as I found out when looking for the etymology of this lovely word). This involves removing the backbone and the sternum, so it can be flattened out. It ends up looking a bit like a gory butterfly.
Not only does this cut down on the cooking time (since the chicken now is flat and exposed to the heat on both sides, rather than being a cylinder), I also imagine it makes for more, and more evenly crispy, skin (best part of a roast chicken, obviously) since the distance from the top of the bird to the grill element in the oven is the same for almost all parts of the chicken. Besides, it looks cool.
This video shows how it's done. The secret to making the bird stay flat, and not need skewers or anything to keep it in that position, is to remove the backbone and the sternum:
Once that's done, the rest is simple.
Tip: When removing the sternum, you want to use a really sharp knife. Cut using the point all along the cartilage of the sternum, and stay really close to it. First time I did this I made a bit of a mess of it, and after a while realised that I needed to cut more and deeper than I thought.
Save the backbone and sternum, they go in the stockpot later.
1 whole chicken, spatchcocked
1 bunch of thyme
salt and pepper
Set oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
Line a large oven pan with foil (I hate trying to get carbonised residue off of my pans...). Place a layer of thyme twigs, to rest the chicken on.
Slice up the lemon in 4 thick slices, place on the thyme in such a way that one slice ends up under each quarter of the chicken halves.
Rest the spatchcocked chicken on top.
Using your hand like it was a blade, stick your fingers under the skin at the neck end, and pull the skin away from the breast. It should come off easily. Push all the way down towards the legs.
Slide a few thumb sized knobs of butter under the skin, along with a few twigs of the thyme.
Then rub the top of the bird with a tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper it, and place a final few thyme twigs in strategic positions.
Whack in the oven, leave for just over an hour, an hour and 20 minutes (note: this was a big bird, well over 2 kilos), until done (use a thermometer, or do the old "when juices run clear" thing).
The way I then would go about it is to carve off the leg quarter and the wing on each side, and have that for our dinner straight away. Legs and wings are the tastiest parts, so they go first. This particular night we served it with our carrot, cauliflower and cottage cheese low carb rösti. Recipe to follow, they are delicious.
Leaving the breast to cool a bit (don't burn your fingers), I then rip off all the meat and place in a container (make sure it is cool before putting in the fridge). That can then be chopped up and added to a healthy kick-ass paleo style salad, or why not a hearty butternut squash soup?
Place the remaining parts of the carcass and any scrappy bits with the backbone and the sternum (you did save them right?), and use to make chicken stock.
There. All of the bird used productively, while stretching a £10 pound purchase to several meals.
Cake. I miss cake. And I am really sorry, but those gluten free recipes to produce what usually becomes a really dense sponge thing just don't float my sweet tooth boat. They invariably disappoint me.
Here is a recipe (via Captain CaveDan, who in turn got it from Whole New Mom who calls this homemade protein bars...) for what I have found to be a great cake substitute. It satisfies on every level. Rich nutty flavour, lovely texture (hey, if it's going to be dense, go for proper dense with a crunch to boot), bit of sweetness from the honey, and a lovely layer of chocolate on top.
This is a great paleo inspired dessert or treat at "fika" time, on the sweeter side of low-carb, served for example with a vanilla cream and fresh berries. It's also absolutely packed with energy, so on its own it actually does make a pretty good energy bar (I have even had some of this for breakfast this week)...
When I make this next time, because I definitely will, I'll take a trick out of my mum's playbook and mix the melting chocolate with coconut butter before I spread it on top of the cake. In this way the chocolate will stay slightly soft making it easier to cut and serve. Without it the chocolate goes hard and brittle, going all over the plate as you try to cut it.
Another interesting idea would be to mix the chocolate with some peppermint oil, or perhaps stir some chopped dried fruit into the mix... Sprinkling some of the dessicated coconut on top before the topping sets would be a nice touch I think.
400ml of your fav nuts and seeds mix
100ml flaxseed meal
100ml shredded (dessicated) coconut
100ml nut or almond butter
100ml coconut butter
2 tbsp honey
2 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp salt
For the topping:
150ml melted chocolate
50ml coconut oil (optional, helps keep topping soft)
Using a food processor or stick blender (I have one of those incredibly versatile hand blender machines with a container attachment that chops almost anything) mix the nuts and seeds, flaxseed, shredded coconut, nut butter and salt to a coarse meal.
If your coconut butter is solid, melt it in a small pot over a low heat, then add to the nut meal mix in the blender along with the honey and vanilla essence. Mix it all together to a thick paste.
Press the mixture into a square (25-30cm across) or circular low pan. Get it nice and flat, you are going to pour liquid chocolate over this in a minute and you want a nice smooth surface. Easiest way to achieve this is to take a tablespoon and pressing gently with the rounded part, make circular motions from the center outwards towards the edge.
To melt the chocolate, boil a small amount of water in a low pan and place a bowl on top. Place the chocolate in the bowl and stir until it melts. It should look something like this. Don't let the bowl touch the water, and make sure to not get any water in the bowl.
This is where you can try to add some coconut oil to the chocolate and stir it together to stop the chocolate from going all brittle when it cools off.
Pour the chocolate over the mixture in the pan, again using a tablespoon and pressing down very gently while making circular motions out towards the edges, make sure it covers the entire surface.
Serve with whipped cream or, if you really want to treat yourself, with this sinfully good "Madagascan Vanilla Cream" that they sell at Sainsbury's...
You are unlikely to finish the cake in one sitting unless there are several guests, it is absolutely packed with energy. Store in the fridge between "fika".
Cauliflower is so versatile, and the low-carb cooks best friend. Usually we use it to make a cauliflower mash (the cheese makes it really creamy), to go as a side for steaks and lamb, but with a few different additions it can be more like couscous, or like rice.
This recipe for cauliflower "couscous" salad is from the Rocket & Squash blog, but for sakes of speed (and using all of the cauliflower) rather than going with raw cauliflower I violated the recipe and steamed and crushed it instead.
The dressing is delicious, slightly sweet, and went so well with our lamb. Would probably make a perfect match with duck breast.
Next time I'll also add some toasted pine nuts for crunch and energy, and pomegranate seeds which I think will go superbly with the tangerine dressing!
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 large cauliflower
2 red chillis, finely chopped
1/2 cucumber, deseeded and diced
1 large handful parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp water
Juice from 1 tangerine (or 1/2 orange...)
Juice from 1/2-1 lemon
Salt and pepper
Cut up the cauliflower in florets, halved if they are large, and steam for 10 minutes. When done, remove the cauliflower from the steamer and leave it to cool and dry for a bit.
While the cauliflower is cooling, chop the chilli and parsley, deseed the cucumber and cut it first in strips lengthwise and then small cubes. Place it all in a bowl.
Put the steamed cauliflower in a pot and crush with for example a potato masher. When completely crushed, mix with the other salad ingredients in the bowl.
For the dressing, just whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. If you want the dressing more tangy, add some more lemon juice.
Pour the dressing over the salad, mix well. The original recipe calls for then leaving the salad to soak in the dressing for 30 minutes. I'm not sure why, but then taste it and if needed add some more seasoning.
Serve with for example lamb loins, as below, or with fried duck breast. Delicious. The chilli is subtle, but adds a nice kick to the salad.