Thursday, February 17, 2011

Almond Meal Muffins (AKA My Most Versatile Recipe)

Muffin Recipe Prime
This muffin recipe has been a miracle.

I stumbled across a recipe for almond meal muffins very early in my attempts to eat a paleo diet, when I was really craving some bread. I'm pretty sure that the original recipe came from, but I'm not sure, and I've changed it a little anyway.

This recipe is remarkable mainly because it lends itself to so many variations. Just about any dried fruit can be added to this recipe with good results, and adding a few spices opens up lots of possibilities. With a few tweaks, it can even be turned into pancakes or "corn"bread. I'll save those last two for another post.

Before we get started, I do have to say something. Remember in my very first post how I said I'd comment if something was more of an indulgence than a staple? Well, this is one of those times. These are awesome, and they're low carb, but they are definitely not low calorie. They're not as dangerous as the (as yet unpublished) paleo cookie recipe that I have, but you could get carried away. If you find that you're averaging more than one of these a day, you need to stop making them for a while.

On a lighter note, when you do make these, I suggest cutting them in half and spreading a little apple butter on them (find one made with just apples). I'm a big supporter of the "eggs and meat for breakfast" camp, but sometimes a muffin makes the morning better.

Without further adieu:
You will need these things
2 cups almond flour (or almond meal)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup coconut oil (The refined type that's solid at room temperature)
1/3 cup water
2 tbsp honey
4 eggs
Optional Additions (see notes)
You will also need these.
Large Bowl
Muffin Tin
Cupcake Papers (optional, but recommended)

Preheat your oven to 350

Place the almond flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl and combine them with a whisk.
Mixing the baking powder and salt with the almond meal first makes things nice and even later.
Put the coconut oil, water, and honey into a microwave-safe dish and microwave on high just until the coconut oil becomes liquid (about a minute, depending on your microwave)
Solid fats are hard to mix into dry ingredients.

So, heat them up until they're liquid. Your stirring arm will thank you.
Add the coconut oil, water, and honey to the bowl and combine them with the dry ingredients.
This step is mainly to keep the possibly hot liquids from scrambling the eggs

Add the eggs to the bowl. If you're adding any optional flavors to the muffins, now is the time to add them. Stir everything until the batter is well combined.
See? Nice and unscrambled.
Mix the heck out of it. Almond meal doesn't form gluten, so your muffins won't be tough no matter how much you mix them. If you don't get out all the lumps, you'll have dry pockets of almond dust in your muffins. Blech.

Distribute your batter evenly into the muffin tin. It's important that each muffin cup have the same amount of batter, so I suggest using a 1/4 cup measuring cup or a 1/4 cup disher to help you keep it even.  If you use the cupcake papers to line the muffin tin, you don't have to worry about greasing anything, but if you don't use them, you need to grease the muffin tin before adding the batter.

I really suggest using the cupcake papers. Especially if your muffin tins have seen as many trips through the oven as mine have.

Bake for 12-15 minutes. You can tell if the muffins are done by pressing lightly on their tops. If they're done, the tops will feel springy. If not, the tops will feel like they're sitting on top of liquid.

Pull these out of the oven and get them out of the pan quickly (The cupcake papers really help with this) Let them cool on a rack.
Let's see that delicious finished product one more time!

  • The basic recipe makes a muffin with a very mild flavor. It's good, and it will help stave off that bread craving, but it's just begging to be improved with some optional ingredients. Here are some ideas:
    • Dried Fruit
    • Nuts
    • Spices
    • Tiny (Cooked) Bacon Pieces
  • If you add fruit to this recipe, use dried fruit. Fresh or frozen fruit has way too much liquid, and will waterlog the muffin during cooking. You may think "Oh, I'll just toss these delicious, fresh blueberries in," but you'll regret it if you do. I've had excellent results with dried blueberries, dried cherries, and dried apples.
  • This recipe can easily be turned into a delicious banana-nut muffin. Bananas are the exception to the fresh fruit rule. You should use one fresh, ripe banana instead of the 2 tbsps of honey. The banana has to be mashed and well incorporated in the batter, and should be added after the eggs along with about 1/4 cup of walnuts, a 1/4 tsp of ground cloves, and a dash of allspice.
  • You don't necessarily have to use coconut oil if you can't find it. Any neutral oil will work. I like to use grapeseed oil for sweet variations, and olive oil for savory variations.

You'll see this recipe again, with some wide variations. I've gotten more mileage out of this recipe than any other that I've found.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bacon Meatballs

Meatballs. Bite-sized chunks of meat. Oh yeah.
Do you like meatballs? No? What's wrong with you? Meatballs are awesome. Oh, you actually said "Yes?" Glad to hear it. Here's a recipe for meatballs that are even better than the meatballs you already love. I originally got it from Trident Crossfit, but I've changed it a little to suit my tastes. I'll make some notes at the end about what I changed and why.


12 oz bacon
3 lbs ground beef
3 eggs
1 small onion (diced and drained of as much liquid as possible)
5 cloves garlic (minced)
1 tbsp dried italian herb seasoning
1 can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
salt and pepper to taste (probably not that much salt because of the bacon)
Your cooking oil of choice (I like olive oil. Trident recommends coconut oil)

Food processor
Large bowl
Cookie sheet or Crockpot (choose one)

Process the bacon in your food processor until it looks kind of like hamburger. You don't want super big chunks, but you also don't want bacon mousse; go for something in between.
Bacon mousse is bad. Moose bacon might have possibilities.

Once you've processed it, put the bacon into a large bowl along with the ground beef. Add the eggs, diced onion, minced garlic, and italian herb seasoning.

Now, you've got a decision to make. How much do you like spicy food? The answer to that question determines how much of the can of chipotle peppers you're going to put in. Not a fan of spice? Use 1 pepper and about a teaspoon of the adobo sauce. Really like the heat? Go for the whole can. Personally, I like about 3 peppers and about a tablespoon of the sauce.

However many of the chipotles you decide to use, put them into the food processor (with however much sauce you're using) and turn them into a paste. Add this to the bowl.
Get ready to get messy.

Add a little salt and pepper to the bowl and start mixing everything together. I recommend just washing your hands well and using them for mixing, but if that grosses you out, I guess you could try a big spoon. Get everything pretty evenly distrubuted, but don't mix it into a paste.
Nice and even. (Again, don't make mousse)

Now, form this mixture into meatballs. It may be helpful to use a tablespoon or a small disher to keep the meatballs the same size, but honestly you could eyeball it and be fine.You may want to form the entire batch into meatballs before you start cooking. At least form enough to fill the pan.
If you only make twelve at a time like I did, then you're in for some multitasking fun while you try to cook meatballs and form more at the same time. Good luck and Godspeed.

Now, add your cooking oil to the pan and heat it over medium-high heat. You want enough oil to fully cover the bottom of the pan, but you're not deep frying these things, so keep it to maybe an eighth of an inch deep. When the pan is hot, add a few meatballs. You don't want to "crowd the pan" (Look at me, using fancy TV chef lingo!). That means there should be about an inch between the meatballs. Unless you have an exceptionally large pan, you're probably not going to be able to do more than 12 at a time.

Leave them a little room to breath.
Let the meatballs cook for about 1 minute before you check the bottom of one. If it looks nice and brown, start turning them over. If not, give them another minute. You should turn the meatballs at least three times, browning a new side each time.

Brown at least three sides. Go for a fourth if you feel like reaching for the stars.
You've got a choice of what to do now. You can either finish the meatballs in the oven or in a crockpot. If you're making these for a party or something, finishing them in the crockpot will keep them warm and ready to go for hours. If you're just making meatballs for dinner, the oven will finish them faster and make the outsides a little crispier. So, play "choose your own adventure" and do one of the following:
  • When the first batch is done, move them onto the cookie sheet. and start cooking the next batch in the pan. When you've filled the cookie sheet with meatballs, bake them in the oven at 350 for about 10 minutes. This will make sure that the centers get done. Depending on the size of your cookie sheets, you may have to bake them in more than one batch.
  • When the first batch is done, move them into a crockpot set on low and start cooking the next batch in the pan. Repeat until all of your meatballs are in the crockpot. Let them cook on low for at least an hour. You can keep them in there for longer, but an hour will make sure the centers are done.
I chose to do them on a cookie sheet. 10 minutes worked just right.

I like to serve these over spaghetti squash, with or without a tomato sauce. They're also excellent on their own.

  • The original recipe called for 2lbs of ground beef and 1lb of ground pork. Feel free to change up the meats that you use. The only caution I'd give is to be careful if you use something super lean like ground turkey breast. Really lean meats tend to dry out. You're probably OK to use most meats because of the fat in the bacon; I used 93% lean ground beef and it was fine.
  • Trident Crossfit recommends adding a little almond meal if your meatball mixture is too wet. I haven't had to do that, probably because I skip the jar of roasted red peppers that their recipe asks for.
  • You really need to drain your onion. You can do it fast with a clean tea towel. Just put the diced onion in the center of the towel and gather the edges around it to make a pouch. Now wring out the pouch and the onion juice will be taken care of.
  • This recipe makes a lot of meatballs. I ended up with about 5 dozen. As Trident Crossfit suggests, you can freeze them.
  • Since you're using the food processor anyway, you might as well use it to dice the onion and garlic. They should be chopped really finely for this recipe, which can be a pain to do with a knife.
  • If you're in Alexandria, VA looking for a Crossfit affiliate, Trident is a great place with nice people. Chriss and Andrea helped run my Crossfit Level 1 Certification course, and they were both awesome.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

BBQ Beef Short Ribs

One of the great things about the paleo diet is that it doesn't shy away from meat. I love steak, so it's one of my go-to foods, but Miriam has threatened me with bodily harm if I make her eat steak two nights in a row (Insanity, I know) So, I have a few dishes that are basically steak, but don't irritate the part of Miriam's brain that says "Steak, Again!?" This is one of those stealth steaks. It's super meaty, so I'm happy, and ribs are usually pretty cheap, so that's an added bonus.

I generally prefer beef ribs to the more commonly seen pork ribs. I don't have a very clear reason why, I just think they taste better. I used bone-in short ribs this time, but I've also done this recipe with the full ribs. Those are usually labeled "beef back ribs," and they're a little less popular in stores. I do not recommend trying this recipe with "chuck ribs" which aren't even ribs as far as I can tell, nor do I suggest using the "flanken cut" beef ribs. Both of those fall apart when you try and handle them for the grilling step.

I bought three packs of ribs that were about a pound and a half each. It was plenty for about 4 servings, and was probably enough for 5. You'll obviously get more or fewer servings depending on what you consider to be a filling amount of meat. (I think I ate three ribs myself).

4 to 4 1/2 lbs beef short ribs (bone in)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 cup beef broth
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp liquid smoke
1/4 cup BBQ sauce of choice (See below for my recipe)

Large Bowl

Ribs are awesome.
Arrange the ribs in your crockpot. If you can get them in one layer on the bottom, that's best, but it's not critical. Season the ribs with the salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and garlic powder.

Broth - Tasty, but not photogenic
 Now add the beef broth,  vinegar, and liquid smoke to the crockpot and set it on high for 6 hours.

When the six hours are up, your ribs will look something like this:

Getting closer to tasty goodness.

Now, you could stop here and have some pretty good short ribs. I wouldn't blame you. They're going to smell awesome, and I can see how a person might want to just get on with the eating, but if you can hold on for just a few more minutes, I promise it will be worth it.

At this point, start heating up your grill. I prefer a real, outdoor grill, but it's really cold here right now, so I used my spiffy cast-iron grill pan. Whatever you use, get it super hot.

While your grill is heating, grab a large bowl and put about half of your BBQ sauce in the bottom, like this:
I like a mustard based BBQ sauce

Now carefully put the ribs (without the liquid from the crockpot) into the bowl on top of the sauce. Be carefull from here on with the ribs, because they may start falling off of their bones. That's good for eating, but difficult for handling. Do your best to keep them intact.

Careful, you want to keep them basically on the bone.

Drizzle the other half of the BBQ sauce on top of the ribs, and toss them gently so that they get coated in sauce.
Covered in sauce

Now, put the ribs on your super hot grill. You should grill them on one side for about 1-2 minutes, and then flip them and repeat. The ribs are already done when they come out of the crockpot, so what you're trying to do in this step is char them a little while caramelizing the BBQ sauce just a bit.
You're basically burning them on purpose, but just a little.
After you've done both sides, they're ready for the plate. I served mine with some collard greens. If you like collard greens, I suggest you do the same. If you don't like collard greens, I suggest you get your head examined because they're awesome. In the meantime, though, I guess you can use the side item(s) of your choice.
Collard greens. Love them.

Important Information About BBQ Sauce

Here's one of those hard truths, people: BBQ sauce has sugar in it. That's just the way it is. You can use fruit juice or maple syrup or honey if it makes you feel better, but don't be fooled - the sugar is still in there. Don't give up hope, though. You'll be OK as long as you remember two things.
  1. BBQ sauce is a condiment, not a beverage. You'll notice that I used 1/4 cup of BBQ sauce for this entire recipe. That's about two servings of sauce for 4-5 servings of ribs (and maybe a third of the sauce ends up staying in the bowl when the ribs are removed). Even a store bought sauce isn't going to kill you in that quantity.
  2. You can do better than the tomato-flavored pancake syrup that passes for store-bought BBQ sauce. I'm going to give you my super secret BBQ sauce recipe. If you like it, great. If not, I encourage you to find one that you do like while minimizing the overall sugar content. Two servings of Kraft original BBQ sauce has 12g carbs per serving (2 tbsp). My BBQ sauce has just under 2g.
The Sauce
1 1/2 cups yellow mustard
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp honey
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp liquid smoke
pinch of salt

Combine everything in a pot and heat it on medium until it starts to slowly bubble, stirring constantly. Once it starts to bubble, cook for about 30 seconds.

I use this mustard-based sauce because I'm originally from South Carolina, and that's what I like. Like I said, there are lots of other recipes out there, and I encourage you to find one that works for you.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Spicy Chicken and Bacon Poppers

The chicken and peppers make it so you're not
just shamefully eating a plate of bacon.
The first recipe I'm going to recommend comes from Mark's Daily Apple. It's his Spicy Chicken and Bacon Poppers

His recipe is good, and clearly laid out. You should be able to follow it without much help from me. Just reposting Mark's recipe seems silly to me, so I'm linking to it and adding a couple of things I wanted to say about it.

First, he uses pickled pepperoncini peppers. Those are fine, and I say give them a try to see if you like them. Personally, though, I prefer to make this recipe with pickled hot cherry peppers (like these ). I just like them a little better than the pepperoncinis.

Second, Mark seems to cut his chicken breast into larger pieces than I do. It might be because I use the cherry peppers, but a chicken breast cut into 8 pieces usually yields pieces that are hard to fit in a pepper. I get more like 10 pieces out of each chicken breast, and those pieces seem to fit the peppers better. I suggest that you look at the size of your peppers, and then basically cut pieces to fit. Go ahead; I trust you to freestyle it a little.

You can season the chicken pretty much however you want, but I don't think it needs much. There's vinegar in the peppers (which are spicy), and bacon is pretty salty in general, so I usually make this without doing anything to the chicken at all. I just let the pepper and the bacon provide the flavor, but if you've got a favorite spice, try it out.

A note on grilling these: I don't recommend the "8-10 minutes per side" that Mark suggests. I think you'll end up much happier if you do quarter turns every 2 minutes and cycle through two complete turns. The bacon is less prone to burning that way.

As far as I'm concerned, you can eat these every day and be not only within the letter of the paleo law, but also within the spirit. Some people quibble about the bacon, but if you get good quality bacon (especially the uncured kind) then I say you're fine.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Just in case you don't actually know how to cook bacon.

I got the idea to do this blog when Miriam and I started eating paleo, and I'm hoping to finally really get around to it. I can eat a steak with vegetables for three meals a day, but Miriam objects to the monotony. So, I started looking around for recipes that made eating paleo a more satisfying experience. They're definitely out there, but they're scattered all over the place and some of them seem to have been written by people with no kitchen experience and permanently deranged taste buds. (Some day I'll describe the cauliflower tots.) I thought it would be nice to collect some that worked for me along with some of my own and put them in one place so that I can point to them when people ask about them. (Nobody asks about them; I just like to think that some day someone might.)

Anyway, here are the rules for what I consider "Technically Paleo"
  1. No grains, dairy, legumes, potatoes, soy, or processed weird ingredients (including artificial sweeteners).
  2. Natural sweetening in limited amounts. Fruit is pretty much OK in my book. My personal rule on honey is that I'm willing to eat an amount that I'd be willing to steal directly from bees. I look on maple syrup and maple sugar a little less favorably than honey and would limit them even more. I'd rather not have cane juice or agave nectar in my food, but I'm not going to completely rule them out. Stevia is gross. Corn syrup sucks.
  3. The lower the net carb count in a prepared food, the more likely I am to give it the OK. For instance, Justin's Almond butter has 7g carbs per serving and is made from just almonds. They also offer a variety that has honey in it and has 8g carbs per serving. I'm OK with that level of sweetening.
  4. A food can still be "Technically Paleo" even if you shouldn't eat it every day. I'll mention when something is an indulgence, not a staple, but I can't see any reason not to have the occasional cookie made with all paleo ingredients.
A final rule about my blog- This will probably only apply in the extremely unlikely case that people I don't know start reading this, but here it is. If you make a comment on a post that includes any variation on the sentiment "you should just eat real food" I will delete your comment. I hate that crap.

Here's how you cook bacon - Get some bacon (I recommend the uncured stuff from Trader Joe's. It's good.), separate it into strips, lay the strips out flat in a pan, and turn the heat to medium. Flip the strips over about every minute. Cook the strips until they look like something you want to eat. Remove them from the pan and place them on a paper towel to drain. Turn off the stove so you don't burn your house down.

Hopefully the first real recipe will be better than that.