Friday, November 9, 2012

Cauliflower Risotto


Go ahead. Try to roll that beautiful r off the tip of your tongue. Nobody can hear you.

Rrrrrr, indeed.

Nothing says culture and sophistication like Italian food. Nothing says romance like a perfect plate of pasta on a candlelit table. (Remember The Lady and the Tramp? Yeah. Now you know what I'm talking about.)

You know what's not so romantic? The carbs that are inherent in Italian cooking. I mean, come on. Does pasta really need to taste that good with white sauce drizzled all over it? I suppose it has to. For those of us who can't approach the pasta plate because of gluten sensitivity or diet preference, the other Italian staple, rice, doesn't offer a much better option in the carb count category.

There is nothing bad about white rice if you are only concerned about gluten. In fact, all too often for the Celiac, rice becomes our go-to. That's all great, but it doesn't mean that it's good for you. I love rice every once in a while, but I have to be careful of how often I'm indulging. Rice is what I would classify as empty carbs. It's not going to trigger any allergies (for most people) but it's not giving you a whole lot of nutrition. If you're not trying to lose weight, or you're expending a lot of calories during the course of your day (running, high intensity aerobics, taking care of young children) then those carbs are fine. But if you're eating rice every day to replace gluten and you're wondering why you can't shed pounds, you may have found a culprit.

What I'm setting you up for is simply this: I have a new rice alternative for you.

And we'll introduce this via some risotto. Lovely, lovely risotto.

If you're not a fan of cauliflower, you may have to change that. I liked cauliflower a little before I changed my dietary habits, but I never thought about it very critically. It was something that usually got served in chunks with broccoli florets in order to fill up a portion of my plate that I knew needed to be occupied by vegetables. Oh, little did I know.

Cauliflower's not as glamorous as some other veggies, it's true. It doesn't have that satisfying dark green of spinach or that dazzling red of a bell pepper. You can find variations of color in cauliflower if you look. My local Kroger carries purple and orange cauliflower. I haven't been brave enough to try them. Yet.

Cauliflower does have its own claim to health fame, though. It's in the cruciferous vegetable family and packs a pretty good punch of vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K and Omega-3. Those magic letters mean that cauliflower can help your body reduce inflammation and provide you with antioxidants. It also has just under 4 grams of dietary fiber, which is going to help you feel fuller for longer. Cauliflower also has a chemical called glucoraphin which helps your stomach wall and keeps certain nasty bacterium from forming in your stomach. We've already surpassed the benefits of rice, but I'll add that the cup of cauliflower is only going to have about 25 calories versus the 160 calories you're going to be getting from a cup of white rice.

One word of warning- if you suffer from gout or have a family history of it, limit your cauliflower intake. Eating cauliflower several times a week can lead to increased uric production in some individuals.

Have I bought your confidence with science? Let's go.

Cauliflower "Rice" Risotto 

Meet your new friend. He's more handsome than you remember, no?
Just imagine him with an Italian accent.

1 head cauliflower
2 cups water (or chicken or vegetable broth)
1/4 - 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons whipping cream or full-fat coconut milk
your choice of seasonings (oregano, thyme, salt, pepper, etc)

The trick to making your cauliflower into little rice-lets is going to be in the preparation before it even reaches a pan. Go ahead and carve up the head, discarding the green leaves and the hard core. Some people really like to include the core (more fiber) but I find that my poor little food processor can't handle it.

Cut into pieces small enough for your food processor. I have a teeny food processor.

My food processor is small enough that I have to do this in little batches. Have a bowl at the ready once you've pulsed the cauliflower. I find that it only takes a few seconds of pulsing in my little food-chopper to achieve a rice-like consistency. I've never had good luck with making cauliflower rice in a blender, although some people claim they have. I can't account for other peoples' lies, or for how sad my own blender is.

Ciao, bello!

A full head of cauliflower will make more than what you see in the bowl, but tonight I was only cooking for two.

Appropriate size achieved!

Now, you have two options: you may cook the rice in the microwave, or steam it over the stove, or you can put the broth into a skillet and simmer it all together. You will have more flavorful risotto if you simmer it in a skillet for a few minutes in broth. For this task, I suggest a cast-iron skillet. Make sure that your broth is almost entirely absorbed before you move on to the next step of adding the cream and cheese.

I have no steamer and decided I didn't want to use broth, so I succumbed to the easiness that is my microwave.

If you choose this path then microwave on high for about four minutes...

Drain the excess water away...

And transfer to a skillet. I add in my 3 tablespoons of cream or coconut milk and the parmesan and heat it all together until the cream is absorbed and the parmesan is melted.

If you are lactose-intolerant or Whole30 Paleo, I believe that this meal is worth getting a cheese substitute for, or just use sheep's cheese feta. Your taste will be sharper and more Mediterranean, but the result is still delicious and pairs very well with a sweet salad or an herbed chicken dish.

Once your cream is mixed in and your cheese is melted, the risotto is ready to be plated.

Say, amore.

My spices of choice were salt, pepper, oregano, parsley and sage. I also sprinkled a little more parmesan on the top of the cauliflower. Because I'm a cheese-glut like that. The risotto got paired with a top round steak that my husband rubbed in espresso grounds and cayenne pepper and seared over a salted skillet. It was delicious and completely filling.

I have seen people use this method of pulsing to substitute for rice in any dish- even sushi  (I haven't gone there, yet). It's not as cheap as rice, but the benefits you're going to get from using cauliflower instead are great. If you can't wrap yourself around the cauliflower completely, try substituting it in recipes like this where other flavors are present, like this risotto or a spicy rice dish. 

Your body will love you for it. 

Addio, i miei amici!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Baking Your Bacon

Let's get something clear right away: If you're reading this blog, I care about you. Or at the very least, I care about your eating habits.

And it's because I care that I am bringing you this public service announcement:

Please. Please, stop cooking your bacon in the skillet. 

Meet your bacon's new best friend.

You know how this ends, anyway. You heat up your skillet (or maybe you don't, because you're just in the know like that) and you toss your precious strips of meat-candy onto it, and - disaster. The bacon immediately curls up and hisses at you like a rabid weasel. If you had already gotten dressed for the day, you're risking getting bacon grease spat at you. Even if you do escape the petulant grease missiles, you've got unevenly cooked bacon, a stovetop covered in grease splats (am I the only one who is bothered by this?), an apartment filled with bacon smoke, and a pan that is going to be a pain to clean. 

And- I don't know about you, but I don't have just bacon for breakfast. It's a companion to my Breakfast Blooms, my Paleo Pumpkin Spice Latte or some scrambled eggs or toast. It's also cooked during a time when I'm doing twenty other things. Simply put, I don't have the time or the patience to babysit a skillet that should be capable of taking care of itself.

I submit that there is a better way.

Bake your bacon.

It's even easier than it sounds. 

Baked Bacon

1. Preheat the oven to 400F

2. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil

3. Place the bacon strips on the pan (close to one another, but not touching)

4. Place the pan in the oven

5. Forget about that bacon for at least 15 minutes while you rush around the house with a toothbrush in your mouth and one high heel on.

6. ??????

7. Profit.

Look at your lovely, lovely profits. Wall Street should run on bacon.

The result of baking your bacon in the oven is beautiful, crispy, not-burned, evenly cooked, straight as an arrow bacon strips. Your stove top will not be spattered, your clothes will not be grease speckled, your house will smell like bacon without the accompanying smoke, and (most importantly) the clean up is ridiculously easy. 

I like to put my bacon on a plate covered in paper towel to get the extra grease off. Turn off your oven, set the pan where it can cool, and let your bacon drip off. The beauty of this method is that you are completely hands-off with the bacon, and can cook whatever else you would like in the mean time. I usually set the timer for ten minutes and make a Breakfast Bloom or a fancy cup of coffee in the last five minutes. Depending on how thick your bacon is (or how thin) you may want to adjust your cook time. The shortest amount of time I ever left my bacon on was 12 minutes, but I like my bacon crispy. If you don't like your bacon crispy, I'm judging you, but I'll also let you know that you should start checking on it after about 10 minutes instead of 15.

The clean up can happen right then and there as your bacon drips, although I prefer to wait until the pan has cooled. Once the pan cools, the bacon grease will solidify a bit, allowing you to gather up the aluminum foil, wrap it over itself, and chunk it right in the trashcan. If you prefer to save your bacon grease, simply wait until the foil is cooled, then drain it into a suitable container. Whatever you choose to do with the bacon grease, your pan should be clean and the aluminum foil may be discarded.

Enjoy all that extra time on your hands! ...And, of course, all that bacon.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Breakfast Blooms

Some days, I really have to trick myself into eating my vegetables.

I love the idea of fresh vegetables, you know? Lovely greens on my plate, being colored by splashes of reds and oranges. I imagine myself drizzling balsamic vinegar on spinach leaves and taking casual bites of crunchy cucumbers. Juicy tomatoes and crunchy carrots, naturally sweet and waiting to delight my palate.

And then I remember- I don't really like vegetables that much. Not as much as I like other things. Eating vegetables- it's just an awful lot of work. They have so many vitamins and so much fiber... how am I supposed to fit all those other delicious things that I love if I fill up on vegetables?

I've mentioned before that I often sneak my veggies in by putting them in soups (which I then often puree). But sometimes, I feel like a big girl and I just accept that I need to eat them. Right away. Early in the morning. Before I lose my nerve.

From this dread of dirt-dwellers comes Breakfast Blooms.

Because sometimes, being a big girl involves having everything around you be pretty.

Now, you may have already tried this recipe before. You may have seen beautiful pictures on Pinterest that look like some soccer mom savant just casually tossed it on a plate before her children went to school one morning. I would show you what some of my early attempts looked like, but I don't want to make you lose your appetite. There are some simple tricks to making your egg-in-a-pepper-ring look fantastic, and I'm here to share them.

If you have kids, this is a great way to get your them to eat some veggies, first thing in the morning! I only had a red pepper on hand, but using both a red and a green pepper to make these beauties is even more lovely and gives a lot of cheerful variation to your plate. I don't have kids, but as we already established, I am a kid about eating those greens, so let's dive in. 

Breakfast Blooms

4 eggs
1 bell pepper, any color (red and green go very well with the bright yellow egg center!)
coconut oil, or butter
your choice of seasoning

Cut your bell pepper in half so that you can see the seeds and the pith inside.

You're going to want to get rid of those seeds, but leave a good deal of that light colored membrane intact. The deeper the divisions between the segments, the more "flower-like" your bloom will look. I tried to pick out a pepper at the store with this in mind. You can see that the pepper above has good definition and the segments appear to be even. Now, scoop out those pesky seeds!

You can discard the insides of the pepper. I try to save the cap and the bottom for something else- a salad topping, perhaps, or an addition to a chili. You can see that I've left some of the light colored membrane in the inside of the pepper ring. Make sure that you cut the rings fairly thick so that your egg has plenty of room to nestle. Somewhere between a quarter inch and half an inch should be plenty.

Once you have your rings cut, start heating your butter or coconut oil in a skillet. Since I'm working with eggs, I'm using a nonstick skillet (my favorite yellow one, in fact!). I prefer cast-iron for the flavor, but I try not to mess around with it when I'm working with eggs that I don't want to end up scrambled. Coconut oil is going to work better for you than butter or olive oil because you need your pan to be nice and hot before you put the pepper ring in, and coconut oil will withstand those temperatures better. I'll post a rant about it someday.

Once your pan is good and hot and the oil is melted and starts shimmering, plop your pepper ring in.

Your pan will spit at you. I have no way of fixing this, I'm just warning you.

The point of getting the pan spitting hot is so that when you crack your egg into it, the bottom of the egg will fry up immediately and trap the egg within the boundaries of the pepper ring. You will have some egg white leakage. Don't worry. We'll spruce that up before we plate it.

Sizzle, sizzle. See? I'm not worried about the leaks.

If your yolk's not quite in the middle of your ring, go ahead and move it with a spatula. The bottom of the egg will tear, but if you do it right away then the still-raw egg white will spill in and fill it's place. Just hold the yolk where you want it for a minute and the new bottom will form.

As soon as the bottom of the egg has cooked, turn the heat down the somewhere just above "low" and put a cover on the skillet. This is your secret for a pretty, yellow yoke and a bright egg white.

Allow your egg to cook on low heat, covered like this. It is up to your own discretion how long you let it cook. If you like your yolk runny, it will only take a few minutes. I am not a fan of runny whites, so I let mine cook a little longer. Just keep peeking (although not too often, you'll lose your heat) and turn the heat off once you feel the consistency will suit you. I used a pair of kitchen scissors to snip off the egg white that had leaked out and just ate those crispy little pieces on the spot. 

If you really want to stuff in some more veggies, you can serve your bloom on a bed of spinach or lettuce leaves. Use your imagination with seasonings. Salt and pepper is my basic, but there are some mornings when it's curry powder or cayenne pepper that adds that final pizzazz. This morning, I decided a sprinkle of grated mozzarella and some parsley was what I needed.

In lieu of my spinach leaves, which got sacrificed for a salad last night, I served my bloom on top of a piece of toasted Ezekiel sesame bread.

I haven't even done my makeup and I've already had my first serving of vegetables.

I know this is going to be a good day.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Clean Coffee Concoctions

It was hard to decide what to post this week. Hurricane Sandy (Superstorm Sandy...? Tropical Storm Sandy...? What are we calling it now?) hit the East Coast this week, and while southern Virginia didn't suffer nearly as much as our friends up North, we did get hit with a nasty bout of teeth-chattering cold this week. It rained, it poured, I think I saw sleet at one point. It's not easy for the Alaska girl to admit that she was freezing, but in a place with as much wet-cold as Virginia, it happens fairly often.

Because of the rain and the cold, this past week was spent mainly fantasizing about warm bowls of soup, healthy portions of comfort food, and steaming cups of coffee. While soup is always on the menu for me (what better way to trick myself into eating my veggies?), comfort food is an automatic danger zone for a Celiac, and most forms of coffee other than "black and hot" threaten my Paleo/ML preferences. Just try to order anything clean besides a tea in a Starbucks.

What's a freezing, transplanted Alaskan to do?

Apparently, she starts a blog.

I told my students this past week that if they can't eat breakfast before they come to class then they at least need to get some coffee in them. They all recognize their teacher's steady commitment to caffeine, as they see me with my travel mug every day in class. I'm loyal to my addictions, and I tend to be a bit of a purist. If you have good coffee beans then you don't need all that other crap. Coffee can be a bit like drinking wine. You can knock back a sugary cocktail, full of syrups and other tastes, very easily. But there is a ritual to coffee as there is to wine, and the reward for being able to drink your coffee black is a widening of the palate and a deeper appreciation for the choices that you are making.

Yes, good coffee doesn't need all those other things. But sometimes it wants them.

For this blog, to combat the cold weather, I present to you:

Paleo Pumpkin Spice Latte

Clean Mint Mocha

This is our Bialetti espresso maker. It's wonderful, it's simple to use, and I have started drinking much less coffee since getting it (quantity, not occurrences). The coffee is much stronger and blends better with other drinks than my usual coffee from my coffee pot. We purchased ours at Target after Cameron talked me into it. It was around $30, and makes 6 shots at a time.

I strongly recommend that you grind your own beans. You can get a coffee grinder at Wal Mart for less than $10. Seal the beans in an airtight container and grind only what you need. It adds another thirty seconds to your coffee-making time, and your coffee will immediately taste much better.

For both of these recipes I use full-fat coconut milk. If you do not have coconut milk, you can use whole milk, but I suggest that you add some heavy whipping cream since it will not be creamy enough on its own. Full-fat coconut milk in the can will be in most grocery stores' "Asian" section, near the ramen noodles.

Let's begin with the Clean Mint Mocha

1 cup full-fat coconut milk (or whole milk + whipping cream)
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons agave or maple syrup, or equivalent sweetener

Measure out a cup of your coconut milk and heat in a small pan.

Once the coconut milk begins to simmer on the edges, measure out 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder into a mug or small bowl and add 4-5 tablespoons of the heated coconut milk to the powder. Keep the coconut milk on a low heat while you mix the powder into a smooth, creamy, cocoa paste.

Make sure the paste is free of lumps, then add it all into the heated coconut milk. Measure out your peppermint and vanilla extract and add to the pan, along with as much sweetener as you would like. I don't like my coffee painfully sugary, so I use 2 tablespoons of agave or maple syrup. Don't use artificial maple syrup- the taste will not be good and you'll no longer have a clean coffee treat.

Stir the ingredients together and allow them to all come up to heat. You can simmer them all together to help kill the "extract" taste of the peppermint, but I would not let it really get rolling or it will become a very thick coffee drink. 

Once it has simmered for a few minutes, take that loveliness off the stove. Pour about a quarter cup of strong coffee, or two shots of espresso into a coffee mug and top it off with the chocolate and peppermint milk. So much wintry goodness!

For the Paleo Pumpkin Spice Latte, the instructions are nearly the same.

1 cup full-fat coconut milk
4 tablespoons pumpkin puree
1/2 tablespoon vanilla or almond extract
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cloves
2-3 tablespoons agave or maple syrup
garnish with cinnamon sticks or powdered cinnamon

Heat the coconut milk in a small pan, add the pumpkin puree and bring up to temperature. Once the milk starts to simmer, add the extract. Vanilla will help to bring out the spice of the pumpkin, but almond gives a nice, smooth taste. Use one, or both! Allow to simmer for a few minutes and stir in the agave syrup and the spices. Sprinkle the cinnamon on top, or add a bit while the coffee is coming up to temperature. Pour a quarter cup of strong coffee or two shots of espresso into a mug and top it off with the pumpkin spice milk. Move aside, Starbucks!

There's nothing in your day that these beauties can't help you get through!

If you want some more clean options, try these homemade coffee creamers from Deliciously Organic.  Her stuff is fantastic!