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Paleo Freezer Meals

Prior to starting my January Whole30, I spent a day doing some food prep to stock my fridge and freezer with Whole30 meals to help the month go smoothly.

One of the things I did was prepare some crock pot-ready freezer meals.  In about 1 hour, I had prepared 6 bags to freeze that could be taken out of the freezer later and popped into the crock pot to cook.

I made 3 bags of beef stew and 3 bags of African chicken stew.

You can do this with any recipe that you’d normally cook in the crock pot.  Just prepare all the ingredients and add them to a freezer bag instead of the crock!  After you freeze the bag, make sure to pull it out of the freezer the day before you want to cook it to allow it to thaw.  Dump the bag into the crock pot and BOOM…dinner is made.

My beef stew was made with beef, onions, carrots, sweet potatoes, a can of diced tomatoes, and a mix of spices with garlic, parsley, paprika, thyme, salt and pepper.  Sorry, I’m too much of a freestyler when it comes to things like stews to be able to have a specific recipe!

The African chicken stew was adapted from the recipe in Well Fed 2.  Here’s another blogger’s adaptation that you could use to guide you in making this delicious dish if you don’t have Well Fed 2 (I left out the vanilla for the Whole30).  Just add your raw chicken thighs and onion to the bag.  Mix the crushed tomatoes with all the spices and the sunflower butter and add that in too.  For my bags of this stew I also added cubed sweet potatoes, which I highly recommend.

To make the freezer bag prep lightening fast, put all your bags together assembly line style.  Get all the bags out and add the meat to each one.  Keep the open bags lined up and handy on the counter.  Then chop all the onions at once, adding them to the bags as you go.  Do the same for the sweet potatoes or other common ingredients.  If you’ve got a willing helper, they can do the tasks such as adding the meat to the bags, measuring spices or opening cans while you chop!

A quick and simple way to build up a little “freezer pantry” of bags like this would be to just double up the next time you’re prepping something for the crock pot.  You would make your one batch for the crock pot that day as usual, but as you’re prepping everything, you’d also be making one batch in a bag to freeze for later.

Having these pre-made bags really helped the Whole30 go smoothly.  It was nice to have them handy to pull out each week for a nearly effortless meal!  Don’t be afraid to experiment with different recipes for this…the crock pot is amazingly forgiving!

 

bread-free paleo stuffing

Thanksgiving was a month ago here in Canada, but it’s still a few weeks away in the US so I think that still makes this a timely recipe.  Plus, it’s nice and early for those who do turkey for Christmas!

Stuffing is one of my favourite Thanksgiving dishes.  When I set out to re-create and paleoize this dish, I didn’t even consider doing so with some kind of grain-free/gluten-free bread substitute.  Instead I thought about the key flavours of stuffing from herbs and spices and focused in on that element of the dish.  Using the mushrooms added a nice flavour, but also a similar texture as the chewy bread in a traditional dish.

It may seem like a long list of ingredients, but they’re largely spices and herbs and this recipe actually comes together fairly simply with a little bit of chopping and prep effort.  You could use a food processor to make the vegetable prep quicker and easier!

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Covered in turkey gravy this stuffing was a fantastic addition to our Thanksgiving meal this year.  It hit all the flavours and textures of a bready stuffing and no one was longing for the old bready stand-by.  Sorry, bread…you weren’t even missed!  Since then we’ve made it again and just eaten it as a main dish for dinner.

Bread-Free Paleo StuffingMakes 8-10 servings as a side dish or 4 servings as a main dish.

1 lb ground pork

Sausage seasonings:
2 tbsp paprika
2 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp crushed garlic
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano

2 tbsp butter
1 large onion, diced
2 large carrots, diced
6 stalks celery, chopped
2 small leeks, chopped

Stuffing seasonings:
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
2 tbsp chopped fresh savoury
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp poultry seasoning
1 tsp dried sage
Salt and pepper

3 tbsp butter
4 cups sliced mushrooms

1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Mix the raw pork very well with sausage seasonings.  Add to a pre-heated skillet over medium-high heat and cook until pork is browned.  If your pork was quite fatty, drain off excess fat before adding to the crockpot.  Remove from the pan and add to a large crockpot.

In the same skillet, melt 2 tbsp butter.  Add onion, carrots, celery and leeks and sautee for 8-10 minutes, until vegetables just begin to caramelize slightly.  Add the stuffing seasonings and cook with the vegetables for about another minute.  Remove from the pan and add to the crockpot with the pork.

In the same skillet, melt 3 tbsp butter.  Add the sliced mushrooms and sautee until mushrooms are browned.  Remove from the pan and add to the crockpot with the pork and vegetables.

If using, add the nuts to the crockpot and stir to combine all ingredients well.

Cook in a crockpot on low for 3-4 hours.  Alternatively, you could bake at 400F for 45-60 minutes, stirring once or twice during baking.

Pic

Substitutions (untested) for the butter could be: ghee, lard, or coconut oil.  You could also use a pre-seasoned pork sausage instead of seasoning your own ground pork.  Just read those ingredients carefully before buying!

Spinach and Cheese Pasta

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with spinach.  Sometimes I find it so tasty and delicious, but in some recipes I want to pick it out of my food.  Baby spinach, however, is a sure bet for sweet, tasty spinach flavour.  This is one recipe where I definitely love the spinach!

This recipe was inspired by Giada De Laurentiis.  I find her dishes relatively easy to build upon and expand because they’re simple and straight-forward.

Here’s what you need:

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I didn’t notice at the time of taking this that not a single one of the ingredient photos for this recipe were clear and sharp.  You need a bag of baby spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, ricotta cheese, cream cheese, garlic, salt and pepper.

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This is the whole bag of spinach.  Remove about 3/4 of the spinach for the sauce.  We’ll get to this soon.

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Set aside about 1/4 of the spinach to wilt and toss with the pasta.

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Put your favourite pasta on to boil.  I usually choose penne for this dish.

While the pasta cooks, make the sauce.  I use my stick blender and the tall canister that came with it to blend everything.

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Take a couple of tablespoons of the sun-dried tomatoes and rinse the off the oil.  Put the tomatoes and about a tablespoon of minced garlic into the blender container.  Add 1 cup of ricotta cheese,  1/2 cup of cream cheese and 3/4 of that bag of baby spinach.  Grind in some black pepper to taste.  Blend until all the spinach is broken down and the mixture is smooth.

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Your finished sauce will be a vibrant green colour and should be the consistency of a thick pasta sauce.

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When the pasta finishes cooking, drain and add to the remaining spinach.  Those baby spinach leaves will wilt with the heat of the pasta.

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Toss the pasta with the spinach and cheese sauce and some kosher salt to taste.  Look at all that spinachy goodness!

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I like to serve this pasta with grilled or baked chicken.  Here we had a pancetta and sage wrapped chicken breast.

This pasta keeps well for left-overs, so I usually make a bigger batch for lunches.

Spinach and Cheese Pasta Sauce

170 gram / 6 ounce bag of baby spinach
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup cream cheese
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes (oil-packed, drained and rinsed)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Black pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste

Reserve 1/4 of spinach to toss with pasta.  Combine remaining spinach, cheeses, tomatoes, garlic and pepper in blender.  Blend until smooth and creamy.  Toss with cooked pasta, reserved spinach and salt to taste.

monkey bread

I’m on vacation!  I just started a much-needed 2 week vacation from work and have already plowed through a few todo’s on the list.

I knew that I wanted to do a fair bit of cooking and baking during my vacation.  I don’t always have the motivation to do so during the work week.

First up – monkey bread! I remember having this when I was a kid (my mom also made a wicked garlicy version).  I know the basics of the recipe, but I was curious if people are using a dough other than a basic bread dough.

My search lead me to Michael Smith/Chef at Home’s version.  His dough calls for brown sugar and vanilla right in the dough.  Madness, I say!  But I knew I had to give it a try, as Michael Smith has never lead me astray.  I decided to simply follow his recipe this time around.

I didn’t bring my camera into the kitchen until most of the messy work was done.

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All the little doughy morsels have been rolled, dipped in butter, coated in the sugar/cinnamon mixture, packed into the springform pan and risen as directed.

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Am I the only one who likes to watch things bake through the foggy oven window?  The smell of cinnamon filled the house at this point and was making me very hungry!

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After a couple of minutes in the oven (right after I finished trying to take photos through the oven door) I realized that this could make for a messy oven.  I put a baking sheet under my monkey bread.  Good thing – two balls and a some goo made their way out of the pan.

The monkey bread cooled for a few minutes on the counter.  Then spurred by an impatient Curtis, we de-panned and dug in.

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Passable lunch for vacation, no?

This was Curtis’ first monkey bread experience.  His review: “This is the best thing since…EVER!”

Next time – garlic and herb monkey bread!

Spring chicken

This simple chicken recipe is one of our favourites.  It’s dead simple to prepare, uses ingredients I almost always have in the fridge and literally tastes like spring.  It’s usually one of the first meals prepared on the barbeque after the snow is gone, but this spring everything is a little slow, including the first appearance of this dish.

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All you need to make Spring Chicken: 2 or 3 lemons, a few green onions, lemon juice, olive oil, kosher salt, black pepper.  Not pictured: boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  I was focused completely on the lemon, not so much on the chicken.

Start by zesting the lemons.  This is such a satisfying kitchen task.  It’s like a game to get all the zest off the lemon.

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This is the zest from my three medium sized lemons.  At this point my whole house was smelling lemon fresh – a definite side benefit to preparing this meal!

After zesting, juice your naked lemons.

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I should have taken a photo of the zest and juice mixture after I squeezed all I could out of the lemons.  It’s usually not enough juice to dredge the chicken in so I supplement by adding bottled lemon juice (usually 2-3 tablespoons worth).  If you have particularly juicy lemons, you could easily leave this out.

After juicing and zesting, add in your chopped green onions, a tablespoon of olive oil, about 2 teaspoons of kosher salt, and a few grinds of the pepper mill.  At the last minute I remembered adding parsley to the marinade in the past so I went ahead and added that as well.  Just a couple of pinches of the freeze dried stuff.  I’ve used fresh before and it’s extra delicious.

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Add your chicken breasts, cover and marinate for at least 20 minutes.  Because of the highly acidic marinade, you won’t want to marinate much longer than 40 minutes or the meat will start to break down.

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This photo of the breasts on the grill is the closest thing I have to a finished dish shot.  I was so excited to eat this meal that I completely forgot to take a shot of the final plate.

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I served my Spring Chicken with these roasted baby potatoes (“Terrific Trio” from the local Little Potato Company) and a green salad.  Just go ahead and picture that all on a plate together, looking all lovely and springy.

Tonight was the first evening we’ve eaten on the patio.  This was the perfect meal to enjoy outside with a cold beer.

Spring Chicken

1 chicken breast for each diner

2-3 lemons, zested and juiced

2-3 green onions, chopped

2-3 T lemon juice (bottled)

1 T olive oil

2 t kosher salt

A couple pinches of parsley

Black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl.  Marinate chicken breasts for 20-40 minutes.  Grill.  Serve with your favourite spring sides.

Macaroni and cheese

One of my favourite comfort foods is macaroni and cheese.  I do enjoy the boxed, nuclear orange variety, but there’s something much more satisfying about a proper homemade mac and cheese.

I’ve been experimenting with the recipe lately.  I made one quite sucessful version using “tex mex” cheese.  A couple of weeks ago I made a more traditional version.

ingredients

I’ve got an ordinary old cheddar, “vegetable” macaroni, flour, milk, chicken broth, pepper, salt, ground mustard and paprika.  Not shown: butter.

I had to use chicken broth one time by accident.  I started cooking before checking to make sure I had enough milk for my sauce (silly me).  We always have milk!  I needed an emergency substitution to complete my white sauce and grabbed the chicken broth.  It was a tasty, tasty accident!  Now it’s become a regular part of this gang.

sauce

The chicken broth does make the white sauce a little less white, however we’ll be making it all kinds of orange in just a few minutes.  It was at the pre-cheese stage that I added a couple of teaspoons of ground mustard and a few healthy shakes of paprika.  Trust me on the mustard.  I didn’t believe in it either until I actually tried it and tasted the results.

cheese

Mmmm….cheese.  One time I experimented with mozzarella in the cheese mix.  Keep your mozza on your lasagna and out of your mac and cheese.  Trust me.

dish

The final dish.  I must say that this was probably the best iteration of mac and cheese I’ve made.  The sauce had a nice rich flavour and smooth, creamy texture.  It was that smooth, creamy texture that I had been struggling with.  I hope I can replicate all the lessons I learned and tweaks I made during this batch.  Now I want mac and cheese for lunch……