Food

In which I cook a lot of Mediterranean food

I spent the day cooking up a feast of Middle Eastern delights, specifically, recipes from Ottolenghi’s cookbook Jerusalem. I normally do all of the weeks’ cooking ahead of time, and I have been getting bored of hard boiled eggs and roasted chicken thighs.

Every week.

Week after week after week.

Also, our CSA vegetables are starting to pile up in the fridge, which is a bone of contention in my marriage. Fortunately, Jerusalem is full of paleo and primal friendly recipes.  Middle Eastern food is, in general, paleo friendly.  Lots of delicious salads and vegetables.  Amazing grilled meat.  Lots of olive oil.  Lots of deliciousness.  And one of the great things about living in the States for a few months is access to high quality ingredients.

First, I needed to get rid of several weeks’ worth of zucchinis. There’s an excellent recipe for zucchini turkey burgers that turned out perfectly. I doubled the recipe, rightly suspecting that everyone in the family would love the flavorful patties.

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Jasmine loved ‘em. Bertrand loved ‘em. And Grace probably will too when I get around to feeding her one. Whole30 complaint.

Next, I had to use up some cubed butternut squash I’d bought thinking to steam for Grace, but had sat in the fridge for a week. Blech. This roasted butternut squash with tahini recipe is also 100% Whole30 compliant.

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So good. I thought I’d have several servings for lunches next week, but we ate it straight out of the oven. Oops. It was delicious. Just as delicious was the leftover lemon tahini sauce, which will serve as dips for vegetables this week. Seriously. Make extra sauce and then eat it with a spoon. it’s that good.

Also, beets. The beets have been sitting in our fridge for almost two weeks now, and they were starting to make Bertrand cranky. I bought a few extras this morning to make sure I’d have enough, which may have been a mistake. Turns out, the beet puree recipe makes about 3 cups of beet dip.

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I ended up adding a lot more yogurt and a lot more za’atar than the recipe called for; however, the recipe was absolutely delicious. Even my weird-food-adverse husband liked it.  And yes, that is one of my kids’ bowls in the photo.  All of my pretty dishes are sitting with our personal effects in Antwerp.  So it goes.

And finally, I made the date syrup called for by the beet puree.

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Soak half a dozen pitted dates in water for a few hours. Reserve the liquid, then blend the dates with an immersion blender, adding reserved liquid as necessary. Easy peasy.

Tomorrow, I’ll finish up with the more mundane parts of the cook-up.  Boiled eggs.  Chicken stock.  Plenty of rice for Bertrand, Grace, and Jasmine to eat over the course of the week.  Not sure I’m a fan of splitting the work up over a couple of days, but for now, I’m happy to be sitting down and blogging instead of working in the kitchen.

Paleo friendly weekly cook-up

There’s been some chatter on a few of the Whle30 boards I’m on about exactly how to get so much cooking done every week.  How do you go paleo without devoting your entire life to cooking?  There’s no getting around that paleo takes a hell of a lot of time in the kitchen.  I’ve found that front loading the heavy lifting on Sundays makes week day meals a lot easier.  I’ve been doing a cook-up for the last six months, and I’ve more or less got my technique down. Today, I got everything done in three hours.

Today I cooked:

  • Two rashers of bacon
  • 20 hard boiled eggs
  • 6 lbs of drumsticks (about 15)
  • Sweet potato soup
  • 1.5 lbs of seasoned ground beef
  • Slow cooker meatballs in italian sauce
  • Chopped vegetables for a stir-fry
  • A bowl full of meat off two Costco chickens
  • Chicken stock
  • The snack pot (see below for details)
  • Sweet potatoes, broccoli, spinach, and carrots for the baby

Part of being working parents has meant giving up some of the thing we loved most about being young and single and carefree. Like spare time.  Ever.  So, to save some time and money during the week, I do a cook-up every Sunday morning.  I need to make it easy for me to throw dinner together in 15 minutes when we get home from work, and easy for both Bertrand and I to prep lunches for the next day every evening.  Yes, it takes most of my Sunday, but well worth it to save the time during the week.

Step the first:  Boil eggs and put vegetables in the steamer for baby food

I use my big stock pot for everything (including boiling eggs), and I usually make at least two different dishes in it during my cook-ups.  The first thing I do when I get into the kitchen is throw my eggs into the pot, so that it’ll be free later for sauces.

Once the eggs are in a pot, my first batch of vegetables for the baby goes into the steamer.

Step the second:  Prep the Crockpot meal

I cook a meal in the crockpot every Sunday.  Today, I made Melissa Joulwan’s Italian Slow Cooker Meatballs.  She has two fantasic cookbooks, Well Fed and Well Fed 2 that I use just about every week.  Luckily, this meatball recipe is one where I can substitute out just about every single ingredient and still make it work.  So I did, and it did.  I whipped up some quick pasta sauce while boiling my hardboiled eggs, made the fastest meatballs ever, then dumped everything in the crockpot with some leftover chicken stock.

If i’ve got any other meat that’s gonna need defrosting in the microwave (like say, 3 kg of drumsticks), I get that going too.

And finally, I clean any dirty dishes.

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To save space in my tiny kitchen, I move bowls of food out onto the dining room table when I’m not using them.

Step the third:  Vegetable Prep

While sauces and eggs are peculating on the stove, I start chopping.  I prep a stir fry mix for the next week with any leftover vegetables sitting in the fridge.  I chop vegetables for the delicious bowl of snack love (see below) I keep in the fridge.  If I’m roasting vegetables, this is where I chop and season them. And I peel all of the sweet potatoes in the house for both baby food and eating during the week.

I do a lot of this step sitting at the dining room table, entertaining my toddler while I chop.

Cubed sweet potatoes, waiting to be cooked
Notice how I’ve styled this photo here.  I’m sure baby doll heads are going to be the next thing in food photography.

Once my eggs have been at a rolling boil for two minutes, I take them off the heat and throw them into an ice bath to stop the cooking.  I like ‘em just barely hard boiled, and I’ve found that the ice bath is crucial to impeding grey yolks and that awful boiled egg sulfur smell.

And finally, I clean any dirty dishes.

Step the fourth: Baking

Baked items into the stove.  Today, it was drumsticks (toss in oil, salt, and pepper, then bake forever at 400 degrees).  Sometimes it’s roast vegetables, or a whole chicken, or both.  The nice thing about thighs and drumsticks is that they’re forgiving of extra long stints in the stove.  No dryness if I forget about them and take them out after 1h15 instead of 45 minutes.

Note that this week I also started the sweet potatoes boiling at this step.

And finally, I clean any dirty dishes (starting to notice a theme here?).

Step the fifth:  BACON BACON BACON

I stopped by Whole Foods to pick up some Whole30 compliant bacon while I was up in MD for dinner earlier this week.  YUM.  I get two frying pans going, and fry 5 pieces in each frying pan at a time.

Keeping the kitchen clean as I go has made a huge difference in how stressful and frustrating the cook up is.  If you wait until you’re done to clean, not only are you exhausted from cooking for several hours, you’ve STILL got more work to do.

Step the sixth: MOAR PROTEIN

Use one of the bacon frying pans to brown a pound of so of ground beef.  Then, pull the chicken off any leftover Costco chickens sitting around and refrigerate.  Dump the bones, skin, and leftover bits and pieces into my big stock pot for, you guessed it, chicken stock.

Step the seventh:  Clean, then puree the baby food

At this point, I’m done with the stove and I can start cleaning.  Yeah, the kitchen’s usually a disaster at this point, and I can use the downtown while the chicken is baking to straighten things up a bit.

Then it’s time to finish up the baby food.  If I’m making a lot (like today), I’ve been switching vegetables in and out of the steamer all morning, while working on other things.  I puree the baby food with expressed milk or formula (depending on what I’ve got around), then dump it into ice cube trays for freezing.

Step the LAST:  SNACK BOWL LOVE

This last step can be done in your living room in front of the TV if you want.  Sit down and drink a bottle of ice water, then get back to work.

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The snack bowl is exactly what it sounds like.  Plastic baggies full of mixed vegetables, nuts, and dates for Bertrand and I to grab and throw into our lunch boxes every day.  This way, we don’t have to get out the chopping board or put any effort into including healthy vegetables in our lunches.  In the bowl:  5 baggies of mixed veg, 5 baggies of baby carrots, 5 baggies of raw almonds, 5 baggies of roasted cashews, and 5 baggies of dates.

Keep an eye on the stock and the slow cooker, as they’ll need to simmer all day.

Congratulations!  You’ve got your major meal prep for the week done!

On making baby food

After my last post, I got a few questions (and a few snarky emails) about making my own baby food. Here’s the thing. This works for me. I spend all day Sunday cooking *anyway* (thanks, paleo!). So it’s no big deal for me to steam more vegetables, then puree them before making some paleo mayo. It might be a real hassle for someone else, and that’s OK. My making Grace’s baby food isn’t a criticism of those who don’t.

So.

Why do I make my own baby food?

In Freetown, the supply of baby food available to purchase locally was not reliable. Jars were often expired, their provenance was often unclear, and there weren’t any hippy organic brands without sugar and additives.

Here in DC, there are a wealth of baby food options available! Hurray! But after making all of Jasmine’s food in Freetown (often from frozen vegetables), making all of Grace’s here in the States doesn’t seem nearly as scary.

  1. It’s less expensive. Seriously. 5 lbs of sweet potatoes vs. 20 jars of sweet potatoes? A bag of collard greens vs. 10 jars of spinach? I made 2 months worth of vegetables for less than $15.
  2. No sugar. No salt. No additives of any kind. I can get my control freak on and make sure that nothing’s going into Grace’s mouth that I don’t want to. Hahaha. Except when Jasmine tries to feed her Cheerios. *sigh*
  3. Less waste. No jars, no pouches, no nothing that has to be tossed, aside from the occasional ziplock bag that’s too grody to be reused again (yes, I wash and reuse my ziplocks).

It’s a relatively simple process. Buy food, steam or boil food, puree food, freeze into ice cube trays, move into ziplocks when completely frozen.

My baby likes it. My husband likes it. I like it. And that’s really all that matters.

Grace is eating solids!

Grace eating sweet potatoes
Grace loves sweet potatoes! Forgive the blurry photo. I am iPhone only these days!

The bad news is that I spent the weekend eating wheat products in hopes of increasing my milk supply. The good news is that I am now super clear on what types of food utterly destroy me when eaten in any sort of quantity.

My supply did increase, but at the expense of my body. And it STILL wasn’t enough! ARGH! All this misery, and Grace still needed bottles of formula this weekend. We introduced her to solids this week, and I think the answer is MOAR FUD PLEEZ. Sure, I could spend another week eating bread and oatmeal and other grains, and being absolutely miserable, or …

I could get out the immersion blender and get to work:

Several ice cube trays of baby food in the Sondjo freezer
Half of the baby food I made today

Sweet potatoes. Butternut squash. Pears. Collard greens. Carrots. Plantains. Bananas. And one tray of oatmeal, to mix in as her appetite continues to grow. Yeah, she’s gonna eat better than I do. :-P One of the best things about being back in the States is how damn easy it is to find an enormous variety of fruits and vegetables. And also, being able to mix in water from the tap to get the consistency of my purees right. SO MUCH EASIER. I love America!

In any case, if the apocalypse comes tomorrow, I have enough frozen purees to last us awhile. And if it doesn’t, then I still won’t need to do this again for several weeks. Hellsyeah.

Jumping on a bandwagon is awesome. And flatulence free.

The good news is that cutting grains out of my diet has cured my digestive ills. Coworkers, I owe an apology to anyone who got stuck in an elevator with me my first two months in Freetown.

The bad news is that it is really hard to go out to eat in Freetown and avoid grains and potatoes. As I learned when I had to start avoiding dairy and soy for Jasmine, the only way to really avoid eating something you don’t want to is to avoid processed foods all together.

Jasmine appears to be more and more OK with small amounts of dairy. A chocolate here or a piece of cow’s milk cheese there don’t seem to have major effects on her system. That said, a chocolate binge + a wine and cheese party yesterday = a gassy Jasmine last night and a big breakout today. Oops.

At this point, no grains + no dairy + no soy = basically a paleo diet. The only things left to cut out were sugar and beans. 7 lbs later, the experiment has been a resounding success.

All natural, all the time has also forced me to spend a fair amount of time cooking. This week’s lunch prep:

  • 1 roast chicken
  • 1/2c baba ganoush
  • 4 salmon patties
  • 1 dozen hard boiled eggs
  • 6 carrots, sliced
  • 2 green peppers, sliced
  • 4 plum tomatoes, sliced

Bertrand’s all like, WTF? The kitchen was spotless just a few hours ago!

So it goes.

Egg in an avocado

_DSC0353Perhaps you’ve seen the gorgeous egg-in-avocado recipe that’s been floating around Pinterest. My version was also beautiful. Unfortunately, beautiful != delicious.

I always forget how bland avocados are when baked. The texture was luxurious, but combined with the egg, the dish needed more than just a bit of salt, pepper, and olive oil.

I’m sure there’s a good way to do this. Bertrand suggested mashing up the avocado with garlic, scallions, salt, and pepper first, but that would ruin the aesthetic of dumping an egg into the center of the avocado.

Any suggestions?