The Low Down

The human body is a metabolic marvel comprised of dozens of little systems connecting to create one complex system. Food is the fuel, the input, for the systems. Our metabolic machinery evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to function optimally on select fuels. These fuels were the original, Primal foods of the human organism. Over these hundreds of thousands of years our Big Game Hunting, small prey capturing, scavenging, foraging, gathering, opportunistic ancestors accumulated experience and wisdom about nourishing themselves. The learned to preserve and predigest foods to maximize the quality of their metabolic fuel. Eventually they learned to cook foods without destroying the important nourishing properties of the food, and then they learned to heal the human body with food. Only recently in the human evolutionary experience, have we abandoned all these hundreds of thousands of years of accumulated epicurean genius. Now we fuel our marvelous, complex metabolic machinery with crap invented to create profits for agribusiness. We have become dumb eaters. As we regain our eating intelligence it doesn't make sense to move back to the savannah and put out our fires or climb into our cave and pretend there is a glacier next door. It makes sense to fuel our bodies with all the primal human foodstuffs, prepared and preserved with accumulated ancestral wisdom and served up for the undeniable desires of the human taste buds. Primal, paleolithic food choices, handled according to ancient food ways resulting in outrageously good food.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's gravy

Gravy used to disgust me. I liked my turkey and potatoes dry as a kid. I'm not sure if this was a personal issue with stunted development or a commentary on the gravies I was served. Gravy is now the best part of any roasted meat meal, including the Thanksgiving behemoth, the turkey.

It is possible to get very sophisticated about terminology regarding gravy. "Gravy" is a thick, flour-based sauce. Potentially disgusting. A reduction sauce, or deglazed stock is thinner, more flavorful and all around more delicious, not to mention easily Paleo. Although we will serve this at our Thanksgiving table, and we will serve it out of a gravy boat, and we will call it gravy, it is not truly "gravy", it is a deglazed, reduction sauce. And it is better.

The first thing about making gravy is that if you are one of those super-stress freak type cooks who focuses more on the end result than on the process you need to get a hold of yourself. The gravy will be made after the turkey comes out of the oven when all the relatives and guests are peppering you with offers of "help" and/or asking when the food will be served. You will be tempted to rush and give in to this outside pressure. Don't do it. The final moments before a large meal with a roast of meat are sacred. Everyone but your true assistants steps aside. It is nice if the meat carver is a different person than the gravy maker. Do as my grandfather always wanted, and warm your gravy boat or dish on the back of the stove. Nothing takes a gravy downhill faster than pouring it into an ice cold dish.

If you begin the roasting process with that Holy Trinity of herbs (sage, rosemary and thyme) mixed in to softened butter, you will not have any worry regarding the flavor of your sauce. I slather this herb butter under the skin of my turkey as well as all over the top before it goes in the oven. Turkey skin is hardly attached to the meat, so this is easy. I use this melted butter as part of the pan drippings that I baste the turkey with during cooking. Once I remove the turkey form the roaster to the carving board I have a large pan full of delicous drippings. If the turkey was particularly succulent and there is a large amount of fat, I pour some of it off. I keep about 1 cup of fat in the roaster and all the other liquid and drippings. If you let your turkey get too dry during cooking you might need some additional stock or water. You can have additional stock on hand by simmering the "giblets", (the neck etc... that is in a little bag inside your turkey usually) in some water while the turkey is roasting. I like about 1 1/2c of liquid to 1c of fat, but to be honest, I usually just leave EVERYTHING in the roaster and get started. I take 1/2c of drippings out of the pan and put them in a pyrex measuring cup. I add 1/4c of arrowroot powder and I mix like mad until there are no lumps. Arrowroot is not as forgiving as flour about yielding up its lumps later on in the process. My grandmother's edition of The Joy of Cooking asserts that arrowroot will make the most delicate textured sauce! This gem of a book also reminds us that arrowroot has a neutral flavor and, unlike flour, does not need to be cooked to remove its "rawness". Arrowroot also has a calcium-base which makes it nice for the Paleo crew. Now, add your arrowroot mixture back into the roasting pan which you should have on a burner with the heat on medium. Whisk vigorously! At this point, your sauce is finished except for the addition of salt if you want it. I sometimes throw some onions, garlic, carrots, white wine etc... in around my roasting meat. You can use this as part of your sauce by removing all chunks of vegetables and blending them with stock before returning them to your roasting pan.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cranberry Sauce-truly hunted and gathered

Combining new and unusual flavors is one of the most rewarding expressions of culinary artistry. Our global food world has opened up a whole new array of tastes and ingredients to us in the kitchen. This is exciting and makes for some delicious recipes, but it also allows us to engage in some eating habits that are extremely suspect in terms of sustainability. The presence of international flavorings certainly takes us a long ways away from the flavor experiences of our hunter gatherer forebearers. We are approaching the Thanksgiving holiday. There is no shortage of writings on the meaning of Thanksgiving, food and the politics of settling the United States. Personally, I am grateful for a day of family, food, rest and feasting and I believe it is a wonderful day for many of us. However, I also spent many years learning about the history and politics of European settlers and the Native peoples they displaced. This blog is also not the place for an evaluation of that shocking chain of events. This blog is about food and hunter gatherer food traditions. We have robbed the native people's of the United States of many of their food traditions, either by hunting their food supply to extinction, forcing them off the land that sustained them, or by wreaking ecological havoc with water usage practices and invasive species. On this Thanksgiving Day, when we are supposed to be honoring the eastern native peoples, the Abenaki and their neighbors, for saving the helpless, starving pilgrims let's take a moment to be true to the food traditions of those people. Today, we begin with that deep red staple, the cranberry. Cranberry sauce is on many tables only once per year. For some of us it comes jellied in a can and for others we get more adventurous combining cranberries with cinnamon, cloves, oranges and sugar. I'd like you to think about how cranberries would have been used by the Abenaki (or maybe the pitiful pilgrims). Cranberries grow in a swamp where there are nice cold winters. They are primarily a crop of New England. Gathering cranberries is a spectacularly fun activity. There are no thorns like raspberries, you don't have to bend over like strawberries and there aren't zillions of flies and mosquitos like blueberries. In my experience you paddle down a lovely blue river on one of the final brilliantly sunny warm days of the season in your canoe. You paddle up to the bushes alongside the river and you reach out and pick the cranberries and toss them into your basket. If you are brave and adventurous you might climb out of the canoe and cautiously pick your way into the bushes hoping not to misplace a foot and end up waist deep in really cold water!
If we put our minds to the ingredients available to the Abenaki or other early New England settlers (who had used up all their ship stores) we quickly realize that cane sugar would not be available. Citrus fruit was certainly not around, nor were the spices of Asia and Africa. However, gelatin was available in great quantities as well as three wild sweeteners: birch syrup, maple syrup and honey. I made mine with birch syrup.
The Roots of Cranberry Sauce

1 bag organic cranberries, washed
3T powdered gelatin (this obviously is not the form the original Thanksgiving kitchen would have possessed)
1/4-1/2c birch syrup
Clean water

Cook cranberries in 1/4c water on low heat until they soften and burst (about 15min).
You can either press the cooked cranberries through a sieve (wait til they cool) or you can dump them in a blender. I used the blender because I want to eat all the skins and seeds. In my blender I added the birch syrup. Blend until smooth. In the pot you cooked the cranberries in add 1/4c water and heat so that you can dissolve your gelatin in it. Stir up your gelatin until it dissolves and then pour the blended cranberries and sweetener in with the dissolved gelatin. Stir well. Use any type of glass mold or dish that is smooth. If you are worried about removing the sauce from the mold you could line the mold with saran wrap, but let the sauce cool a little before you pour it in. Pour the sauce into the mold and refrigerate for several hours. The flavor of my sauce is deep, rich, and tart, but it is actually less sour than many of the overly sweet canned sauces I've tasted.

Honor the hunter gatherers that gave us this holiday.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Minerals for your bones, from bones

I believe one of the single biggest flaws in the average Paleo person is the absence of bone stock in the diet. It is absolutely true that paleolithic people did not use dairy and that dairy foods are not required for optimal calcium intake. However, non-dairy eating, paleo person had an extremely good, frequent source of not only calcium, but every other mineral that is required to create strong bone in our body. They got these bone building minerals straight from...other bones. One early cooking method used by several indigenous cultures involved placing chunks of meat and bone into a vessel containing water and heating the contents either over fire or by adding hot stones to the mix. Bones were cracked open and the marrow eaten out and they were sometimes ground and eaten powdered. Fish bones from small fish were always eaten whole (which is why sardines with the bones in are such a good source of calcium whereas boned sardines are not). Even our great grandmothers fed their families bone minerals. A few generations ago no self respecting head-of-the-kitchen would have thrown away a chicken carcass or beef knuckle bone. It would have gone into the stock pot. Modern day Paleo folk who sustain themselves on salmon fillet, boneless chicken breasts and ground beef are missing out. Have your kids do the following experiment just to make it fun. Try to bend a chicken thigh bone. Feel that it is hard. Soak the bone in vinegar for 24 hours. Now check it out. It is rubbery. All the hard minerals like calcium have been dissolved by the acid in the vinegar and are now in solution in your water. Here is how to do it as a delicious stock instead of as a science experiment.

1 chicken carcass precooked. My family likes roast chicken so I use the leftover gristly pieces and bones from our roast chicken. I take any leftover meat off before this process.

Fill a large stock pot with non-chlorinated water. Add 1/4c of vinegar (you won't taste it in the soup). Add the carcass (don't add the leftover gravy or gelatin). Add a couple bay leaves, a few celery stalks, a quartered onion and a few hunks of carrot. Leave this pot at room temperature for about 2 hours.

Bring it to a boil on the stove and then turn it way way down, until it is just barely simmering. Leave it simmering for about 1-2 hours.

Let the stock cool just a little. I set up a large colander over a huge pot or bowl and I dump the contents of the pot into the colander. All the beautiful stock drains into the bowl and I get rid of the rest.

Now you have a plain chicken stock that you can use right away or freeze for later. All winter long you should be consuming bone stock daily. Soup for breakfast is my favorite in cold weather.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Make Your Own Superfood…MAYONNAISE!

Mayonnaise is creamy, delicious, rich and…Paleo. For those of you missing your creamy dairy, make some mayonnaise and it should make you feel like you ate something creamy and cow-like. Mayonnaise is not supposed to be sweet and cloying. It should be complex and delicious.
Homemade mayo will include raw eggs, olive oil, mustard, sea salt and an acid like raw apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. The use of raw eggs calls for a conscious search for clean food. There is nothing dangerous about raw eggs if your own immune system is decently functioning, and if your eggs are from a farm that cares for its animals and grounds. Remember that salmonella bacteria is all around us. Kids and old folks or those with autoimmune diseases are the ones who suffer seriously from food poisoning. It doesn’t make sense for us to try to sterilize our food. It makes sense for us to repair our immune systems and to restore the microorganism populations that kill the pathogens in our guts.
Homemade mayo with raw eggs is an extremely enzymatically-rich sauce. Another way to improve your homemade mayo, to turn it into a super food, is to use liquid whey. Liquid whey is a blip in the Paleo approach since it is derived from dairy. Whey is the clear liquid you see on top of yogurt. Using whey enables you to create a lacto-fermentation process such as is used to make traditional saurkraut or Korean kimchi. Anybody who says hunter-gatherers did not eat fermented foods does not understand lacto-fermentation. This is different process from yeast-sugar fermentation which results in alcohol. In lacto-fermentation the process derives from lactic acid producing bacteria. These are many of the bacterial strains people pay money to get in a probiotic nutritional supplement. Lactic acid producing bacteria are the microorganisms that create an inhospitable habitat for pathogenic bacteria like salmonella. You can make your own lacto-fermented foods without whey, but it is an extremely hit-or-miss process which terrifies many people because we have lost the intuitive sense, as well as the food-crafting techniques, to recognize when our fermentation has gone correctly versus when we have cultivated the wrong types of microorganisms. Therefore, please keep in mind that you ABSOLUTELY CAN LACTO-FERMENT WITHOUT DAIRY. Using liquid whey makes the process easier.
Today I added 1 teaspoon of chipotle puree to my homemade mayo so that it made a creamy, spicy dressing for some mahi mahi chunks I had grilled the day before. Here is the recipe:
2 egg yolks + 1 egg at room temperature (or warm the blender jar)
¾ c olive oil (don’t use the extra virgin, green oil, use the cheaper variety or your may will have a decidedly olive oil flavor)
1/2t sea salt
2T raw apple cider vinegar
1/2t Dijon mustard
1T whey

Place all ingredients except olive oil in your blender and blend on low until well mixed, drizzle in the olive oil extremely slowly while the blender is running and then do the same with the whey. Leave at room temperature for 6-8 hrs, then refrigerate. It will last a few weeks. If you don’t use whey, refrigerate your mayo right away and it will only keep a week or so.

To make your own whey you have two choices.
1. If you have access to raw milk, pour raw milk into a quart jar and leave it for 2-3 days at room temperature until it separates. The clear liquid is whey.
2. Purchase a large container of unflavored, plain, whole milk, organic yogurt. Dump the whole thing into a thin, linen dish cloth, tie the dish cloth up and hang it from a hook at room temperature over a large bowl. Over about 24hrs all the whey will drain into the bowl. In the dish towel will be a cultured , cream cheese that if you have anyone in your life who eats dairy , will be a lucky beneficiary.

Monday, November 1, 2010

North African Steamed eggs

This summer I had a chance to eat brunch with my sister at Amanouz Cafe, a Mediterranean- North African restaurant in North Hampton, MA. It was a great paleo brunch without any sense of loss and even with new things to try. The spicy lamb sausage links served with a little onion, tomato salad were unbelievably tasty. The eggs were spectacular. One plate of eggs had a buttery herb sauce over the eggs and the other plate of eggs had a spiced tomato sauce. The most noteworthy thing about the eggs was that although they appeared scrambled (my favorite) they were actually steamed. Most of us only think of poached eggs when we think of steaming eggs. Those of us who enjoy our eggs scrambled up and cooked in a skillet, are unfortunately ruining the eggs in the process. Scrambling the yolk and then subjecting it to the temperature of a hot skillet oxidizes the cholesterol in the eggs and damages the Omega-3 fats in the yolk as well. This is an issue many eaters of eggs are willing to accept, especially those of us who do not like egg whites separately no matter how they are cooked! However, scrambling the eggs and then gently steaming them prevents you from wrecking the delicate, beneficial fats in your egg yolks. You need to have an egg poacher or heat proof cups (ramekins) to put the eggs in and then the cups sit in a shallow water bath that is gently simmering. The pan containing the water bath is covered with a tight fitting lid so the eggs are cooked via indirect steam heat. First, scramble your eggs with some liquid. You can use water. A ratio of 1.5:1 will make silky smooth eggs. If you want them drier and firmer use less liquid. You can use broth too. They are moist and fluffy and delicious. And will essentially be "molded" (think jello mold) when they are done so they look extremely chic on the plate. Just in case you need to bust out that kind of impressive food skill. Caveman style...