Friday, July 22, 2011

Spicy Ginger Beef

Cheap, delicious, and ready in under an hour.
I think I've adequately established the fact that I love steak, so I won't revisit the theme here. Instead, I'll tell you one of the few unfortunate things about steak - it can get pricey. Ribeyes, T-bones and filets are all delicious, but they can wear a hole in your wallet. So, every good steak lover on a budget needs to have a few go-to recipes for the cheaper cuts of meat. Braises and stews can turn just about any gristly cut of haunch into a delicious feast, but they usually take a while. Being a pathological procrastinator, I often find myself trying to throw together a dinner in about an hour or less, and there are few recipes more disappointing than a rushed potroast. What's a hurried carnivore to do?

This recipe fills the void. It's a simple combination of meat selection, basic grilling technique, and clever slicing. The result is a delicious stack of tender beef slices that are great as a main course for dinner, and are equally awesome over a salad for lunch the next day. As a bonus, as far as I can tell this meal doesn't set off Miriam's "steak again??!!" alarm, so I can serve it pretty much whenever I feel like it.

Kosher salt is important for this recipe. Table salt doesn't work quite the same way.


1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp ground ginger (the dried type, not fresh)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 1/2 to 3 lbs beef bottom round (often sold as "london broil")


Grill or Grill Pan

Combine all of the spices in a container with a lid. Shake them to combine.

I used one of the containers from my magic bullet blender.

Evenly coat all sides of the meat with the spices. Use your hands to rub the spices into the meat just a little.

Just rub the spices in enough to make sure they stick.

If you have time, put the seasoned meat into a large plastic bag and let it sit in the refrigerator for about an hour. This step is optional, but it will improve the flavor if you have time for it. If you put the meat in the refrigerator, let it come back up to room temperature before grilling it.

Doing this is kind of like marinating the meat.

Heat up your grill or grill pan. Let it get very hot, and then start grilling the meat directly over high heat.

This is part one of the grilling process.

Grill the meat for about 4 minutes per side over high heat, and then move the meat to lower heat. If you're using a grill, move the meat to the coolest part of the grill and close the lid. If you're using a grill pan, you can either turn the heat to low and cover everything with some aluminum foil or finish the meat in the oven. Cook the meat for an additional 10 minutes over low heat.

I moved the meat to the warming rack and closed the lid on my grill.

Remove the meat from the heat and let it rest for 5 minutes before slicing it.

Have you ever eaten a steak, and by the time you were done
it looked like someone spilled a beverage on your plate? If so, it's because the meat wasn't
allowed to rest.

Slice the meat at an angle. Make your slices thin, and cut the meat at roughly a 45 degree angle relative to the cutting board.

Slicing the meat on an angle is the single most important thing about this recipe.

  • The way you slice this meat is more important than anything else about this recipe. You can change the spices or cook the meat more or less, but if you don't want to chew your dinner for an hour, you MUST slice this particular cut of meat at an angle. In a nutshell, you need to slice it this way to cut the muscle fibers in the meat. Shorter muscle fibers are easier to chew than longer ones, meaning the slices of meat are more tender when sliced on an angle.
  • The cooking time that I mentioned above will give you medium rare beef. If you would like to cook your meat more than that, I suggest lengthening the amount of time that the meat spends over low heat, rather than the time that it spends over high heat.
  • If you finish the meat in the oven, I would suggest setting it to about 350.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Acorn Squash With Sausage Stuffing

Bowls you can eat are always more fun than bowls you can't
I know what you're thinking. "Isn't acorn squash more of an autumn dish?" Well, let me tell you something - I'm a rebel. I don't let myself be constrained by the seasons. Strawberries in winter? Apples in the spring? Acorn squash in July? You bet. Someone, somewhere, is growing everything all the time. I know that eating local is all the rage these days, and it's a movement that I generally support, but I'm not going to let the fact that my acorn squash was grown in another hemisphere deter me from enjoying it.

Besides, I had some italian sausage that I needed to use, and I haven't done a sausage stuffing in a while. You could certainly use something else to hold the stuffing, but acorn squash has always been my favorite vehicle for this.

Nutritionally, acorn squash is similar to sweet potatoes. It's got carbohydrates, but it's not going to send you spiraling into a sugar coma. Eating the squash along with the sausage stuffing helps, because the protein, fat, and fiber in the stuffing will cause you to absorb the carbohydrates more slowly.

This is one of those times when the ingredients have started hanging off the cutting board.
It always makes me worry that the recipe is too complicated.


2 acorn squash
1 carrot
2 stalks celery
1 small onion
2 cups mushrooms
1 lb italian sausage
1/2 cup pecans
2 cups cauliflower rice
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste


Baking Sheet
Aluminum Foil (recommended)
Large Bowl

Preheat your oven to 350.

Cut each acorn squash in half from stem to tip, and scoop the seeds from the middle.

People tell me you can clean the seeds and roast them for a snack. People tell me a lot of crazy stuff.

Place the halves cut side up on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil. Bake them for 30 minutes while you prepare the stuffing.

Pre-baking them makes sure that they get tender without burning the stuffing.

Chop the carrot, celery, and onion. You should aim to have roughly quarter inch cubes of each.

Fancy French cooking term for this: mirepoix

Cut the mushrooms into small pieces (just a little larger than the carrot, celery, and onion)

I used cremini mushrooms, but white button mushrooms are fine.

Place a pan over medium-high heat and add the sausage to it. If your sausage is in casings, remove it from the casings before adding it to the pan. Break up the sausage as it cooks.

I used mild italian sausage this time, but I think the hot kind is better.

When the sausage is browned, move it to a large bowl. Add the carrot, celery, and onion to the pan. Cook them until the celery and onion become translucent. (About five minutes)

You should be "sweating" the vegetables. That means if you see the onion start to turn brown, you need to lower the heat.

When the vegetables are done, move them to the bowl with the sausage. Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook them for about five minutes, until they are soft and browned slightly. Move them to the bowl. Also add the cauliflower rice and pecans to the bowl.

In my old age, I forgot to take a picture of the mushrooms cooking,
so here's a picture of everything in the bowl instead.

Allow the contents of the bowl to cool for about two minutes. Then, scramble the egg in a small bowl and add it to the large bowl with the other ingredients. Add a little salt and pepper, and mix everything together.

When they have cooked for 30 minutes, remove the acorn squash from the oven and add the stuffing to the middle of each half. Lightly pack the stuffing in as you add it, and mound it above the top of the squash.

Turn your oven up to 425 and bake the stuffed squashes for 15-20 minutes. When they are done, you should be able to insert the tip of a knife into the meat of the squash with very little resistance.

The top of the stuffing will brown a little.

  • If you use the quantities in this recipe, you may be able to stuff three squashes instead of two. It kind of depends on the size of the squash and how high you mound the stuffing.
  • Using aluminum foil on the baking sheet isn't strictly necessary, but it makes cleaning up a lot easier.
  • I'd recommend using hot italian sausage for this recipe if you can. The mild kind is fine, but I think the hot kind would make things a little better.
  • If your halves won't sit with their cut sides upright, you can use a little aluminum foil to prop them up. Just make little aluminum foil donuts and sit the halves in the middle of them.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Basic Cauliflower Rice

A simple, useful substitute for rice.
Cauliflower rice - for when you don't want a bowl full of sugar.
I've already posted a recipe for Fried Cauliflower Rice, but I wanted to lay out the steps for the basic version. I've got two reasons for this. First, cauliflower rice is a nice side item to have in your repertoire. It works well with barbecue (For example, pulled pork in both regular and strawberry flavors) and lots of other southern style dishes. Second, I'm lazy. I have a few recipes in the pipeline that use cauliflower rice as an ingredient, and I'd like to be able to just say "2 cups of cauliflower rice" with a link to this post instead of listing cauliflower as an ingredient and then describing how to make it into cauliflower rice every time.

Nutritionally, cauliflower is awesome. It's a cousin to cabbage and broccoli, and eating more of it will make your momma proud. It's kind of bland, so it's good to add a few spices to it when you make it into rice, especially if you're planning to eat it as-is instead of using it as an ingredient. If you're using it as a substitute for rice in a recipe, you need to remember that rice has starches that thicken liquids, whereas cauliflower rice often contributes some liquid of its own, thinning things out.

This ingredient list almost feels silly.
1 head of cauliflower
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp garlic powder

Food Processor (Recommended)
Microwave-Safe Dish With Lid

First, trim any green leaves away from the bottom of the head of cauliflower. Then, cut the cauliflower into pieces that are small enough to fit into the shoot of your food processor. Use your food processor's grating disk to grate the cauliflower into very small bits.

If you don't have a food processor with a grating disk, see the notes.

Place the cauliflower into a microwave-safe dish with a lid. Add the salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and mix everything to distribute the seasonings. Microwave, loosely covered, on high for about 7 minutes.

"Loosely covered" means lay the lid on top of the dish, but don't seal it.

  • If you don't have a food processor with a grating disk, you can use a handheld cheese grater instead. Trim any leaves from the head, but leave it intact otherwise. Then just start grating it like a head of cheese. I recommend using the smaller holes on the grater for this.
  • Cauliflower varies in size, but on average one head of cauliflower will make between four and six cups of cauliflower rice.
  • Loosely covering the dish as it cooks lets the cauliflower steam a little, but doesn't let it collect water in the bottom of the dish.
  • I know this is a really short, simple post. Don't worry, though, I've got another one coming very soon.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Paleo Eggplant "Lasagna"

If the cheese is your favorite part of lasagna,
this might not be your favorite. If you like the other stuff,
you're in for a treat.
My understanding from listening to people who've actually spent time in Italy is that the food isn't actually all pasta and cheese. You wouldn't know it from looking at what's on the menu at the average Italian restaurant here in America, though. Everything's a carb-fest with a side of melted mozzarella.

That means turning Americans' favorite Italian dishes into something paleo can be a bit of a challenge, and the results are never quite the same as the original. The classic example is spaghetti-squash-spaghetti. Sure, it tastes good, and it can help get you past a pasta craving, but no one would claim that it tastes like regular spaghetti. I guess what I'm saying is that if you bite into today's dish thinking it's going to taste exactly like lasagna, you're going to be disappointed. If you're interested in something that's in the same general family as lasagna but is delicious in its own way, you should keep reading.

From this angle, you can't really see the onion and garlic, but they're there.
I also had to add a second can of tomato paste when I realized that one wasn't going to be enough.


3-4 eggplants
2 green bell peppers
1 medium onion
4 cloves garlic
1 to 1 1/2 lbs italian sausage
2 cups sliced mushrooms
2 6oz cans tomato paste
3 tbsp dried italian herbs (2 tbsp for the meat and vegetables, 1 tbsp for the sauce)
salt and pepper to taste
About 1/4 cup of salt for the eggplant


Draining Rig
9x13 Casserole Dish
Mandolin (recommended)

Start by slicing the eggplants length-wise. You'll need to remove the top of each eggplant, and the slices should be between and eighth and a quarter of an inch thick. I sliced mine with a mandolin, and I recommend using one if you've got it. Lay the slices out on a draining rig and liberally salt one side. Wait one minute, turn the slices over, and liberally salt the second side.

This many slices take up a lot of room. I had to pull out my backup draining rig to hold them all.

Let the eggplant sit for about an hour. This will give the salt an opportunity to pull moisture from the slices. When an hour has passed, rinse the eggplant slices under cold water and set them aside.

The liquid that gets pulled from the eggplant is bitter.
Rinse it and the excess salt off of the slices before using them.

Chop the bell peppers and the onion into medium-sized pieces.

The pieces should be about the size of your thumbnail.

Mince the garlic.

The garlic should be as finely minced as you can make it.

Put a pan over medium heat. Depending on your pan and your sausage, you may want to add a little olive oil to the pan, but usually the sausage will have enough fat in it to keep it from sticking.  For this dish, you want the sausage to crumble like hamburger, so it needs to be removed from the casings. Slice all the way down one side of each sausage with a knife, and peel the casing away. Add the sausage to the pan, and break it up into small pieces as it cooks.

Your sausage should look like this when it goes in the pan, not like sausage links.

When the sausage has browned, move it to the sides of the pan. Add the peppers, onion, garlic, and 2 tbsp of the italian herb seasoning to the center of the pan. Allow the vegetables and seasoning to cook for about 2 minutes before stirring them into the sausage.

Adding the ingredients into the center lets them cook in the juice from the sausage for a few minutes.

After combining the vegetables and sausage, let everything cook for another minute. Set everything aside in a large bowl. Add the sliced mushrooms to the pan you've been using to cook everything else. Cook the mushrooms in the pan for about five minutes, stirring frequently.

Using the same pan for the sausage and the mushrooms will help the mushrooms pick up some flavor.

When the mushrooms are done, mix them in with the sausage, onions, and peppers. Combine the two cans of tomato paste with two cups of water, 1 tbsp of italian herbs, about a teaspoon of salt, and a few pinches of pepper. Stir the mixture to combine it into a tomato sauce.

I actually did mine in two batches, because it's a lot of sauce.

Get out a 9x13 casserole dish, and pour a little of the sauce in the bottom. This should just be a small amount to help keep the eggplant from sticking to the bottom of the dish.

I like a glass dish because it heats everything evenly. Any kind of casserole dish will work, though.

Lay out a layer of eggplant slices in the dish, and spread a little more of the sauce on top of them.

Try to cover as much as possible with each layer of eggplant.

Add about a third of the meat and vegetable mixture on top of the eggplant. Pour a little of the sauce on top of it.

Don't make this layer too thick, or things will fall apart badly when serving.

Repeat the layering steps two more times (eggplant, sauce, meat, sauce, eggplant, sauce, meat, sauce). Then finish with a layer of eggplant. Pour any remaining sauce over the top layer of eggplant.

It should end up looking sort of like lasagna. See?

Bake the dish uncovered at 350 for about 30 minutes. Then, increase the heat to 425 and bake for another 15 minutes. Allow the dish to cool for a few minutes before serving.

The sauce on top will caramelize a little. This is crucial to avoid an eggplant-in-tomato-juice flavor.

  • Three eggplants were the right amount when I made this. If your eggplants are small, or if you slice them too thick, you may need four.
  • You can assemble this dish ahead of time and bake it later. Just store it covered up in the refrigerator. If you do make it ahead of time, put the dish in the oven while it's pre-heating to 350. Then cook it like the original instructions say.
  • Because it doesn't have any cheese to help bind it together, this dish falls apart much easier than traditional lasagna. I was able to serve reasonably intact pieces by letting it cool a little and using a nice big spatula.
  • Your sauce may initially seem a little thick, but remember that the vegetables in this dish will add some water to the mix while they bake.
  • I used a mild italian sausage, but I think that a spicy italian sausage would work even better. If you try it, please let me know with a comment.
  • Miriam suggested that adding some black olives to this dish would be a good idea. If you like olives, go for it.