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 Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£12 and Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£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 rosti. 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 Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£10 pound purchase to several meals.
I have received my first box from delivery company Flavrbox. They deliver tasting boxes with selections of food products from suppliers you are unlikely to find in your local Tesco Express... Here's what I thought.
Back in 2003, an Internet lifetime or two ago, I first read a post titled "Whatever happened to serendipity?" At the time I was dabbling with "moblogging", an Internet dinosaur word for "taking photos with my phone while out and about", something everyone today do all the time...
That's beside the point though, the important thing here is serendipity. Lovely word:
Key here are "by chance" and "in a happy way". Modern shopping, done online, simply doesn't support that very well. Compare the curated start page and uninspiring search form of iTunes with walking into an old vinyl record store (if you can recall...) to browse through the plastic crates filled with dog eared album sleeves and you know what I mean.
As online shopping is taking over in all kinds of product segments, making us go out shopping less and traders on high streets struggle, it gets harder and harder to find those random new products that bring delight and suprise.
So what has that got to do with food and Flavrbox? Well, they package serendipity. And send it to you, once a month. The team at Flavrbox combine several exciting trends like curation, local, artisanal and subscription to inject some chance of finding new favourites to keep in your cupboards and show off to your friends at dinner parties.
This month, October, I got a free sample box from Flavrbox. Luckily I was working from home the day it arrived as it is way too big to fit through the mailbox... I must admit I felt quite excited about opening it up, here's what it looked like:
There was a fair amount of items in there, along with a leaflet introducing the producers, telling a bit about their respective stories. Nice touch, getting some context and personality along with a product definitely makes me appreciate it more.
According to Flavrbox they include 5 to 6 different suppliers in every box, and since the content of the boxes change all the time I won't go into great detail about the items that were in mine. Suffice to say that I have tried all of it, and very much enjoyed it. Especially the miso paste from Source Foods (delicious as a broth, and tomorrow I will be using it to make miso glazed aubergines) and the breakfast cereal from Bendy Legs. Surprisingly, I can't find either product on the Flavrbox website...
And there's the rub. Once you have received a tasting box or two, if you find something you want to keep buying you can of course order it from the Flavrbox website like you would on any product selling website.
You could say that the tasting boxes make for a clever way to get paid to send marketing and samples to gullible consumers, but I like their idea, and not just because I work in a similar line of business (I work at Jessica's Recipe Bag, delivering recipes and ingredients to your door).
Flavrbox fills a real gap, in my opinion. As a small producer it must be so hard to reach out and find customers enough to carry your business, and getting "discovered" and included on the shelves of a major supermarket or specialist shop takes a long time and probably a lot of money in order to step up production to meet demand... Combining that with consumers desire to find new stuff sounds like bridging a gap to me.
It isn't cheap, a one off box costs Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£20 pounds. You can shave a few quid off that by committing to a subscription, but I am not sure I'd like a monthly box. Once a quarter, more likely. On that time scale, Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£7 a month for a box with goodies (at a value that must be much higher than the Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£20) to your door every now and then isn't a bad deal.
Will I buy another one? I think so. But first I need to finish my lovely granola, and the surprisingly good vegan chocolate from Mr Popple (great example of a product I would NEVER pick up if it was staring me in the face in a shop...). Give it a go. You find Flavrbox on Facebook, Twitter, and can browse their products on their website.
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".
Can you hear that? No? Me neither. There isn't a lot of crunch in the low carb world. When you rule out grains, and especially wheat, the world of baking is kind of a no go.
Usually what we do at home to add that crunch back is cheat. Swedish crisp bread, especially the Finn Crisp Original, feels like an acceptable vehicle for cheese, hoummus and dips.
Finally I have found an alternative: almond crackers, which I guess could be called "paleo crisps"!
Quick and easy to make (unlike aubergine crisps, although those are delicious), really crunchy, nice savoury flavour and packed with goodness. All this while more than enough structural strength to withstand a swift scooping of even the thickest, chunkiest guacamole.
These will become a staple.
Ingredients for a smallish batch
200ml (1 cup) almond flour
1 tbsp almond butter
2 egg whites
Instead of buying almond flour and butter you can do as the original recipe and blitz 200ml of almonds in your stick blender. The main reason I did it the way I did was that we already had almond flour at home, but on its own it seemed a bit dry so I added in a bit of butter as well...
Next time I will try experimenting a bit by adding in some crushed coriander seeds, or chilli powder, for added flavouring.
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. I simply folded it all together with a spatula, no need to bring out the power tools.
Place some baking paper on a baking tray and spread the mix thinly. Try to form a square shape for later cutting / breaking it up in rectangular crackers.
Bake for about 25 minutes, until you can see the edges and tops darken and the mix has crisped up.
Take out the tray and set aside to cool and crisp up further.
Using your hands, or a pizza cutter, break up in pieces. Dip in hoummus, salsa, guacamole... Or why not try the babba ganoush found with the original recipe? Delicious.