The Great Bone Broth Experiment

 

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Hello all!  I haven’t blogged in a LONG time! Partially because I have been struggling in my paleo journey and partially because when I have been eating well, I haven’t been very creative in the kitchen.  There have been so many new paleo cookbooks out in the last year that I didn’t have to work very hard on my own to be creative.  However I recently got the bug to experiment a little in the kitchen and thought that I would share it with everybody.

I have been making my own bone broth for about 3 years.  I always have chicken and beef bone broth on hand and usually have lamb too.  There are currently some pork bones and feet in the fridge waiting to go in the pot for the first time as well.  Typically I make mine on the stove top in a large stock pot because I like to make large batches in one fell swoop rather than more frequent small batches.   There has always been a lot of talk of bone broth on the paleo blogs and there is a Facebook page devoted to bone broth (The Bone Broth Pot), but it seems that suddenly the bone broth discussion has exploded.  I’m sure its mostly due to the trendy mainstream popularity of broth, and somewhat also to the meteoric rise in popularity of paleo.  It seems like there are a million people who want to know how to make it, what the best way to cook it is, and for how long.  Everyone has their own favorite way.  So which way is best?  In reality the answer is whichever way you prefer to cook it that tastes best to you.  That is not a very satisfying answer I know.  But it got me thinking that maybe the way I have always done it, isn’t the best way.  I had plenty of bones, cooking implements, and time during a blizzard, so I thought I’d run a little experiment.   I would prepare bone broth by the three most common ways: Stove top, crock pot, and pressure cooker.  Afterward  I would compare the results of each method.

My Tools:  12 Quart Revere Wear Aluminum Stock Pot on an electric stove, Hamilton Beach 8 Quart Oval crock pot (nothing fancy – just has high, low, and warm settings), and a 6 Quart IP-Duo 60 Instant Pot electric pressure cooker.

What Went into the Pots:  To the pressure cooker  (being smaller) I added 1 small onion, 1 carrot, 1 stalk of celery, and about 4 garlic cloves.  The two larger pots got 2 onions, carrots, and stalks of celery and about 5 to 6 garlic cloves.  All of the veggies were unpeeled and only coarsely chopped.  The garlic was smashed with the flat side of the knife but unpeeled.  In addition to the veggies, I added as many bones as I could fit into each pot and still allow enough room to be covered with water.   The bones were a mixture of vertebrae and leg bones.  After the bones and veggies were in the pot, I added enough water to cover the bones by about 1 inch.  In the crock pot some of the bones poked up closer to the surface of the water.  I did not add any other seasonings because I prefer to season when I use the broth.  The amount of water I added to each pot was: Instant Pot – about 2.3 quarts,  Stock Pot – about 4.75 quarts, and crock pot – about 3.2 quarts.  I don’t shoot for any particular amount of water to bones, I just cover the bones with as much water as needed.  Although not intentionally planned, the amount of water for each cooking method ended up being about 35% to 40% of the volume capacity of the cooking pot.  So accidentally, the bone/water ratio or each cooking method was about the same, which is good for the sake of consistency in the experiment.  But PLEASE don’t get neurotic measuring out your water and bones.  It isn’t that exact of a science.  I just pointed it out to show that the ratio of water to bones was similar for each of my pots so that when you see the results below you’ll know that one pot didn’t have a lot less/more water than the others.  Lastly I added apple cider vinegar to each pot.  I don’t normally measure it out.  I just glug a little into the pan.  The bigger the pot, the bigger the glug.  I added roughly 2 Tbsp to the Instant pot, 3 Tbsp to the crock pot, and 4 Tbsp to the stock pot —- or roughly 1 tbsp. per quart of added water.

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Cooking Methods:  A brief summary of how I cooked each pot follows.  I put all of the bones in frozen.  I did not roast them, because I don’t typically roast my bones when making broth.

Instant Pot:  I used the manual cooking setting and cooked on high pressure for 2 hours.  I let the pressure naturally release at the end.  The cooker errored out during the first heat cycle and did not reach pressure in the allotted time.  This is likely due to the frozen bones prohibiting the cooker from getting hot enough to build up pressure fast enough (per the troubleshooting section in the users manual).  When I ran the cycle a second time, it worked fine.

Stock Pot:  On high heat I brought the pot to a boil, then reduced the heat to low (a 2 on my stove setting) and cooked covered for 24 hours.  This temperature is hot enough to get an occasional bubble to the surface but it does not have an active simmer.  At the 24 hour mark I removed about 2 cups of the broth to compare later and then continued cooking for another 24 hours.  I did not add any water after I removed the 24 hour sample, but I did add an additional 4 cups of water on the morning of the second day.    I did not need to add any water to cover bones, but I wanted to keep the water level in the pot about where it started.   I shut the stove off after 48 hours and took another sample.

Crock Pot:  I used the high setting on the crock pot for about an hour just to warm it up faster and then turned it to low where it stayed for the rest of the 48 hours.  I pulled out a sample at 24 hours and another after 48 hours.  I added 1 quart of water before I went to bed on the first day and another quart the next morning.  The crock pot was the only method I saw some definite liquid loss from the cooking process.  I’m sure this is because the crockpot cooked a bit hotter than the stove and also because the lid doesn’t have a tight seal and steam can readily escape.   The low setting on the crock pot is adequate to keep the liquid at a low active simmer.

Results:  Let me preface this by saying that my experiment was by no means full proof.  There are a number of things that could have effected the results other than just cooking method. While I tried to keep as many variables as possible the same, I didn’t attempt to be scientifically perfect.   Please do not let the results sway you from trying any of these methods on your own.  However, if you have received similar results you can compare to these and see if maybe a different method would be worth trying.  I’ve also included some discussion for each method below as well as recommendations for things to try based on my observations and past experience.  This picture shows the 5 samples.

Comparrison of bone broth ssamples.

comparison of bone broth samples.

 

From left to right they are:

1.) Instant pot

2.) Stock Pot 24 hours

3.) Stock Pot 48 hours

4.) Crock Pot 24 Hours

5.) Crock Pot 48 Hours

As you can see the color gets noticeably darker from left to right.

Did they Gel?  How did they taste?   This is interesting.  See below for a discussion of each.

1.) Instant pot – The instant pot sample gelled lightly.  I apologize, but I can think of no better words to describe the consistency than “mucus like”.  Not a very appetizing description, but neither was the flavor.  The color of this broth was about the same as the taste.  Very watery and very little flavor.  I’ll discuss why I think this is later.  I’ve made better broth in the instant pot, I think this was just a bad batch —  mostly due to some bad choices on my part.  The bones were only very lightly pitted and still hard.  There was an odd floating layer below the fat in the jar.  This broth clearly just didn’t cook enough. Blech!

Instant Pot Broth After 2 Hours.  Its tastes as bad as it looks.

Instant Pot Broth After 2 Hours. Its tastes as bad as it looks.

2.) Stock Pot 24 hours  – Also very lightly gelled.  Similar to the instant pot gel, but with a better color.  Still pretty light — more like chicken broth in color.  flavor was also pretty weak.  Glad I cooked it longer.   I didn’t check the condition of the bones at 24 hours.

Stock pot broth after 24 hours had a light gel.

Stock pot broth after 24 hours had a light gel.

3.) Stock Pot 48 hours – This is where it gets interesting.  This sample had absolutely no gel. Gelling is a funny thing.  If it isn’t hot enough, the collagen won’t break down  and it won’t gel, and if it gets too hot for too long it will break down the gelatin and won’t gel.  I suspect prolonged cooking time could also break down the gelatin, so that may be at play here — or it may be due to the added water on the second day, but it simmered for an additional 10 hours after I added the water, so I don’t think that’s it.  The color of this sample was darker than the 12 hour sample but very similar in color to a dark chicken broth.  The flavor was definitely improved but not as strong as I normally get from my stove simmered broth.   However, the bones were pretty heavily pitted and all of the smaller ones could be broken apart.

Stock pot broth after 48 hours.  Call the cops because someone stole all my gel!

Stock pot broth after 48 hours. Call the cops because someone stole all my gel!

4.) Crock Pot 24 Hours – This sample had a very hard gel and was like Jello.  You could tip the jar sideways and it wouldn’t budge.  The color was a nice rich “beefy” brown, as was the flavor.  The broth had a nice mouth feel.  This was about as good of a broth as I have ever made.   I didn’t check the condition of the bones at 24 hours.

Crock pot broth after 24 hours.  If it were any more perfect it would be Chris Hemsworth.

Crock pot broth after 24 hours. If it were any more perfect it would be Chris Hemsworth.

 

See what I mean???

See what I mean???

5.) Crock Pot 48 Hours – While this sample gelled more than samples 1 and 2 above, it actually gelled less than the 24 hour crock pot sample.    The color was a nice rich “beefy” brown (slightly darker than the 24 hour sample).  The flavor was very similar to the 24 hour sample, only perhaps not quite as flavorful.  I suppose both the slight loss of gel and flavor could be due to the added water, but like the stockpot, I simmered for a full 10 hours after I added the last bit of water.  So again, I’m not quite sure.  I think it is more likely here that the longer cooking time broke down the gelatin a bit.   The broth had a nice mouth feel — pretty much the same as the 24 hour sample.  Bones were pretty heavily pitted and all of the smaller ones could be broken apart.

Comparison of 24 hour and 48 hour crock pot broth. Slightly less gel in the latter sample.

Comparison of 24 hour and 48 hour crock pot broth. Slightly less gel in the latter sample.

My Thoughts on the Results:

Instant Pot:  This was a complete failure.  I have previously made lamb broth in the Instant Pot and it came out fine, so I know it can be done.  So what happened here?  I suspect using frozen bones effected the results.  I think thawed bones would have worked much better in the instant pot (The lamb bones I used were thawed).  I also think I cooked the lamb broth for 4 hours instead of just 2.  However, many people out there are using their Instant Pots for 1 to 2 hours and getting great results.  My recommendation: Don’t use frozen bones!  lol  Also, after 2 hours, let your pot pressure release naturally  then open it up and take a peek.  If it still looks pale, you can easily fire it up for another 2 hours (or longer if needed).  Pressure cookers are definitely a good solution for folks that are concerned about leaving an appliance on while they are sleeping or aren’t home.  You may need to do a little personal experimenting to find the perfect time that works best for you — I clearly still need to do some tweaking!

Wait!  I said I need to do some tweaking NOT twerking.

Wait! I said I need to do some tweaking NOT twerking.

I’ve had some feedback that indicated that I may have filled the Instant Pot too much.  I filled it to the maximum fill line marked inside the pot, but perhaps it may be too high for beef bone broth.  If anyone has any other feedback on your results for using the Instant Pot for bone broth, feel free to add a comment.

Stove Top:  I was a little surprised by the results of my stove top batch.  I usually get a better gel from my broth.  Although that being said, I do occasionally have bad gelling batches.  The color and flavor also seemed to be a bit lighter than I normally get on my stove top.  Although unless I cook it for 48 hours, I rarely get the deep beefy brown color that the crock pot samples got in this experiment.  It may in part be due to the cooking temperature of my stove— the low setting on my stove is clearly not as hot as the low setting on the crock pot.  One of the things I was personally looking to get from this test was to see whether I should be cooking my broth for 48 hours as opposed to the 24 hours I normally do.  I think from now on if I am cooking big batches on the stove top, I will shoot for 48 hours — or do 24 hours at a slightly higher temperature to maintain an active simmer.  I see no reason why the stove top and crock pot wouldn’t be pretty much the same if I can adjust the temperature a little.  Don’t let the results of this test as compared to the crock pot results dissuade you from stove top cooking.   Rather, use it as a guide for what you may try of your broth isn’t has dark or rich as you think it should be.  You may need to adjust your heat or time somewhat.  I think this is probably less of a problem for those with gas stoves as those of us with electric.

Crock Pot:  Not much to say.  This was pretty much a success across the board.  I do not see any reason to cook longer than 24 hours in the crock pot from a taste and flavor standpoint.  The 24 hour sample was as perfect of a broth as I have ever made.  I don’t know how many more minerals you are drawing out in the second 24 hours.  I found this post a while back and it seems to indicate that mineral content does not significantly increase with prolonged cooking time.  I don’t have any other scientific justification for this, so feel free to cook as long as you like, but my gut (and taste buds) tells me that 24 hours in my crock pot is long enough.

Was this helpful? Not helpful?  Its definitely not definitive, but I found it to be quite interesting.   And I am not doing to have to make another batch of bone broth for a long while.  🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Go With Your Gut (Flora) – The Great Pickle Experiment (Part I)

My first batch of crock pickles!

Gut bacteria have been on my mind a lot the last few years.  I bet that if you had a nickel for every time someone’s told you that, you’d probably have 5 cents.  Unless you’ve had problems with your digestive track, you probably don’t give much thought to the friendly little guys that call your intestines Home Sweet Home.  People are only just beginning to understand how big a role gut flora plays in, not just digestive health, but in our entire immune system.   Perhaps this is not the most delightful topic for a blog post, but I think its worthwhile to share.

 It seems like I’ve been hearing a lot about beneficial gut bacteria in the news lately — or maybe its just that I am interested in the topic and pick up on it when I hear it.  A few years ago I was diagnosed with a whopper of a case of diverticulosis.  After a few bouts of diverticulitis I noticed that when I am eating things that promote healthy, happy, friendly gut flora, they keep the bad ones at bay and all is well in my digestive world.  Initially my sources of probiotic were Kefir and yogurt.  However, after going paleo I stopped eating most dairy — particularly the processed Kefir I was drinking.  That got me thinking about the other probiotic rich foods there are out there — sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles to name a few.  The catch is, once these foods are pasteurized, the cadre of microscopic gut warriors are wiped out.  The food still tastes good, but you lose the probiotic benefit.  If (and that’s a big if) you can find a source of raw unpasteurized products, you will get an ulcer from the sticker shock (I may have just paid $10 for a small jar of sauerkraut).  No point trading one gastrointestinal problem for another!

So what to do?  Make my own of course!  I’m starting with pickles and sauerkraut.  Depending on the results  that I get, I may try some kimchi (I’m not even sure if I really like it) or some other pickled veggies.  Last weekend I downloaded “Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods.”  Up first — crock pickles.  I decided to start with pickles because:

  1. I totally love pickles.  My aunt always bought 2 jars of pickles for the holidays.  One for everybody else and one jar for me.   She also had to add extra mini hotdogs to the baked beans — but that’s a different post.
  2. Cukes are at the very end of the season here in Ohio and if I didn’t get them now, I wouldn’t be able to find local fresh ones.

So why are fermented pickles different from the jars of Vlassic in the store (other than pasteurization)?  I’m still a newbie to the whole fermenting thing, but I shall explain it as I understand it.  Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.  The bulk of the pickles in stores are not fermented at all, but are preserved in a vinegar/spice solution.  A crock pickle is preserved through fermentation.  And fermentation is where the probiotic benefits come in.  There are two or three different types of bacteria that appear at different stages, but as things reach that fully fermented stage, the primary bacteria is lactobacillus.  You should recognize that from yogurt labels as one of the major (known) friendly bacteria.  So not only do you get the crispy crunch of a fresh dill pickle with your burger, but you get a little something something for your gut health on the side!  Some people even drink the pickle brine as a tonic.  I will probably try it.  I like dill pickle juice. And I’m a little bit of a freak like that.

There isn’t much to report yet.  They just went into the jar today.  I am super excited by the project — and by the adorable vintage pickle jar I picked up from a farm estate auction last weekend!  I’m glad I didn’t go with a crock because I can see whats going on — they just look so darn pretty in there!   They are like little pickle shaped fish in their own underwater world.

The ingredients are just baby cucumbers, dill, garlic, pepper, salt, and filtered water.   I don’t have a recipe to share yet.   I thought I’d wait and see how they come out first.  My mom and aunt will be here this weekend.  I think they will make excellent guinea pigs dinner guests.

Paleo Grilled Lemon Garlic Chicken — My FAVORITE Chicken Marinade

There is this middle-eastern restaurant near me that makes a fabulous chicken shwarma dish with whole grilled chicken breasts.  The chicken is always super juicy and has such a great flavor with a hint of lemon and garlic.  I halfheartedly tried to copy it once or twice, but didn’t have much success.  A few weeks ago I stumbled across a yogurt based lemon and garlic marinade that sounded promising.  I omitted the yogurt to make it paleo friendly, and changed some of the seasonings around to suit my tastes a bit more.  The result was something pretty fabulous (if I do say so myself).  It was actually pretty close to the restaurant chicken, but even better!

I let my chicken sit in the marinade for 24 hours.  You could possibly do less, but the salt in the marinade brines the chicken, making it super moist and helping draw the flavors into the chicken.   If you are going to try for a shorter time, I’d give it at least several hours.  If you have the time, do yourself a favor and let it sit all night.  There is nothing remotely subtle about the resulting flavors here.  The lemon takes center stage and the resulting flavor is bright and bold and the fresh ground black pepper gives it a little kick.  Perfect for summertime!   A teaspoon of salt sounds like a lot, but it doesn’t come out overly salty and the salt brines the chicken to perfection.

Ingredients:

1.5 to 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts (feel free to use bone-in pieces or other parts as you desire)

Marinade:

1 Tbsp Lemon Zest (about 1 medium lemon)

1/2 Lemon, juiced

1 Tbsp Olive Oil

4-6 Cloves Garlic, Crushed

1 tsp Salt

1 tsp Pepper

Sprig of Fresh Rosemary

Few Sprigs of Fresh Thyme

Directions:

Add dry marinade ingredients to a gallon size zip lock bag (or lidded Tupperware container) and then add the wet ones.  Squish them around to mix up a bit and add chicken.  Seal bag and squish bag (or shake container) to thoroughly cover chicken.   Chuck it in the refrigerator and forget about it for 24 hours — Unless you are the overly attentive type, then you can go shake, flip, or squish your chicken a couple of times while waiting.  I just let mine sit and it came out fine.

Pre-heat grill on high for about 10 minutes (or until hot).  Reduce heat to medium.  Using tongs, place chicken on grill (using a fork will poke holes in the meat and let some of the juices out, making drier chicken).  Let sit 5 minutes.  Flip chicken breasts with tongs and cook an additional 5 minutes.  Smaller thinner breasts should be done at this point.  The larger breasts stayed on the grill and cooked for an additional 3 minutes per side.  Check chicken with a meat thermometer or slice into the thickest part of the breast and see if its done.

I served it with steamed broccoli and sweet potato hash browns.  I’ll be posting the sweet potato recipe next.

Paleo Stuffed Eggplant – Lebanese Style (Sort of)

I’m back!  I had a bit of a hard time food-wise this winter and early spring.  After my knee surgery in January, what started out as a simple indulgence in some “medicinal” M&M’s, quickly lead the way back into that vicious sugar/bad carb cycle.   This is particularly bad for me because I have discovered that sugar and/or refined carbs really wreak havoc with my moods and ability to deal with stress.  A depressed/stressed Tricia is a sugar craving beast.  Very bad stuff.  I become the hormonal equivalent of the Incredible Hulk — prone to crankiness and busting out of my clothes.   I quickly gained 20 pounds and was spiralling out of control.  Fortunately I realized how horrible I was feeling and dragged my butt back to Crossfit and dusted off my kitchen gadgetry and got back to cooking good stuff.   I’ve been eating pretty clean for a few weeks again and already feel 1,000% better.  Moods are better.  Sleep cycle is normalizing. Lost 11 pounds.  Let’s hear it for happy hormones!   If any of you are reading this and haven’t tried Paleo, do yourself a favor and try it for 30 days.  Even if you think the diet is whack (what do you mean grains are the devil?!?), give it a whirl, see how you feel after.  A-M-A-Z-I-N-G what a difference it can make.  I’ve been kicking myself in the ass for wasting 3 months.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled recipe…

Paleo Stuffed Eggplant – Lebanese Style

So you guys know my food tastes are all over the place.   I’ve dabbled in Indian a few times on here already, but I haven’t messed with Middle Eastern.  Mostly because there was a fabulous Lebanese deli just down the street, and I liked the food there so much that it wasn’t worth the effort of trying to reproduce it.  However, they recently changed owners and switched cooks.  After a few marginal meals, I sadly have decided it just isn’t quite the same.  On the bright side, now I have no choice but to learn how to do it myself.  For my first attempt, I thought I’d try a stuffed eggplant.

Most Lebanese versions of stuffed eggplant work with the small baby size eggplant.  I know they have a name/type, but I don’t know what it is — baby eggplant works for me.   The grocery store only had the larger size eggplants in the organic section, so I went with the big ones.  (I’m really trying to eat organic veggies where I can).  I couldn’t really find a single recipe online that I liked, so I cobbled together a couple and added a few touches of my own.  The result was pretty good.  I think I may tweak it a bit next time. Maybe add some parsley to the stuffing and possibly add some additional cinnamon and allspice to the meat a few hours before cooking to up the flavor (I really love the taste of cinnamon with ground beef in middle eastern dishes).   I’ll update the recipe with future experiments.  Feel free to post your additions in the comments section and let me know how yours comes out.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Medium-ish Eggplants
  • About 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts (These really add a little something something and I highly recommend not omitting them)
  • 1 pound ground beef or ground lamb (grass-fed preferably).  I used beef.
  • 1 Large onion – finely chopped
  • 4 large garlic cloves – chopped
  • 1 – 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes (I like Muir Glen fire roasted)
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (fresh ground is best if you have a spice mill)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut stem end off of each eggplant and cut in half long-ways.  Scoop out most of the flesh, leaving about 1/3 – 1/2 inch of flesh inside the skin.  This was the first time I’ve actually hollowed an eggplant, so I didn’t have my method perfected, but I found cutting with a paring knife to be the most effective for me.   Coarsely chop the eggplant innards and set aside in a bowl.

Liberally sprinkle salt on the inside of the eggplant shells and place them upside down on a paper towel to drain for about a half hour.  Being pretty much an eggplant virgin, I had to call my friend Erica to find out why.  Apparently the salt draws some of the bitterness out of the eggplant.  She actually soaks her halves in salt water before scooping out the innards.  I was happy with the sprinkle and drain method.

Heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat.  Add pine nuts and toast until lightly brown.  Watch these.  They tend to cook very quickly — you don’t want burned nuts.  When done scoop them out with a slotted spoon (leaving oil behind) and set aside.

Add garlic and onions to the pan and saute until translucent.

Add ground meat and eggplant.  Cook until the meat is done and the eggplant is tender (about 10 minutes).  Add can of tomatoes (juice and all), pine nuts, cinnamon, allspice, salt, and pepper (I also plan to add some parsley next time.  I needed a little something extra).  Stir to mix and continue cooking for a couple of minutes to let the flavors blend.

Divide mixture evenly into eggplant shells and place in a baking dish.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 to 30 minutes until shells are tender. Garnish with parsley, if desired.

Paleo Stuffed Chicken Breast with Dates, Capers, Bacon & a Walnut Crust

Some days you just feel like a culinary genius.  Today was one of those days!   Nothing super fancy — just chicken, but have you ever tried to come up with a chicken recipe that you have never tried before.  Not the easiest thing to do. Chicken is so ubiquitous  that it’s pretty much all been done.  I’m not claiming that I’m the first person in the thousands of years that man has been eating chicken to try this combination of flavors, but I’ve never seen it, and as far as my taste buds are concerned, that’s all that matters.   What is my masterpiece, you ask.  It is a boneless skinless chicken breast stuffed with dates, capers, and bacon.  To top it off I added a chopped walnut crust.   In theory it sounded good, but I was a little nervous about how the flavors would blend in the finished product.  No worries, it was as good as I had hoped!  I like the combination of walnuts and dates, but you could also use pecans or maybe pistachios too.

This dish will be a little sweet, but is balanced by the salty capers and bacon.  I recommend simple sides with this like steamed broccoli or mashed cauliflower.

Before getting to the recipe, a quick word about dates…

One of my Christmas cookie specialties (and the family favorite) is a date and nut pinwheel cookie.  My grandma’s recipe called for finely chopped dates.  If you have never worked with dates I will warn you — dates are sticky.  Chopping them by hand the way grandma did was a nightmare.  I did it exactly once, and then I bought a food processor.   A food processor works much better, but you still have a sticky bowl and blade to scrape and clean.  My world changed when I found pre-chopped dates —- more of a date paste really —- at a middle eastern market.  If you can find these in a store or market near you, DEFINITELY go this route.  At my market, I get a pack for $1.99.  It contains a cup of paste —- enough for 4 to 6 chicken breasts.   I’m not even sure I can buy whole dates that cheaply.  Cheap and easy.  Win win.

For my non-paleo or dairy eating friends — I really like Manchego cheese with dates and think it would be fabulous sliced thin and added to the stuffing in these.  It is a harder cheese and doesn’t melt well, so avoid using big chunks.

Ingredients:

     1.)  4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

     2.)  1 cup +/- date paste or finely chopped dates (amount will vary depending on how big your breasts are.  Actually, the size of your breasts is irrelevant, it’s the chicken’s that count.)

     3.)  4 tsp capers (could probably go a little heavier if you’d like)

     4.)  6 to 8 strips of bacon

     5.)  salt and pepper to taste

      6.) 1 egg –  lightly beaten

     7.)  1-1/3 c walnuts – Coarsely chopped  (the measurement is before chopping the nuts)

Directions:

Pound the chicken breasts to a relatively uniform thickness.  Put each breast, one at a time, between a couple of sheets of waxed paper to keep chicken juices and pieces from flying everywhere.  Then whack the crap out of it using a meat hammer, rolling-pin, or other weapon of choice (I personally have a heavy ice cream scoop I prefer) until the breast thickness is relatively uniform.  Feel free to take this time to work out some stress.  If you reduce the chicken to pulp, you may want to look into Prozac.

Salt and pepper both sides of each breast.

Spread with a thin layer of the date paste or chopped dates.  There is nothing magic about the amount, just avoid big globs.  Spread with the back of a spoon and work with fingers as needed.   Top with a teaspoon or so of capers.  (I used a tsp but may go a bit heavier next time).

 

 Add bacon to pretty much cover the chicken.  I used about a strip and a half for each medium-sized breast.  For larger chicken breast you could probably easily use two strip.

 

I probably should have mentioned this before but, have a supply of toothpicks out on the counter so you don’t have to reach into the box with chicken-y hands.  I’ll just leave this comment here and see how many of you read the recipe through before you start cooking.

Start at one end and roll chicken breast keeping things tucked in.   Secure with toothpicks  to hold its shape.  I like to tuck the sides as well to keep all the good bits inside and cover with chicken.

Brush the outside of your chicken roll with egg and roll in the  nuts to cover (don’t forget the sides!).  If you have any nuts left over at the end, feel free to touch up spots you missed.

Bake uncovered at 325 degrees until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.  I let mine sit for about 15 minutes before serving.  Don’t forget to remove the toothpicks!

Sometimes You Just Gotta Get Yourself Some — Slow-Roasted Herbed Turkey Breast

Sometimes it seems the world is conspiring against you.  That is exactly how I’ve been feeling lately — at least as pertains to leftover turkey.  Thanksgiving went by and no leftovers got sent home with me.  I got a second chance at Christmas, but proceeded to forget my take-home bag in my hosts’ fridge.  Bah!  So, I buy my own freaking turkey breast and stashed it in my dad’s freezer until I came back to town and could make it for us.  He gets hungry and decides to cook it — without me.  Apparently it was good.  Sigh.

Do I give up? Never!  I picked up a fresh turkey breast yesterday and scurried it into the house under cover of night.  Mine.  All mine.  Ha ha ha ha!

I was going to just chuck it in the oven when I realized that I now have the knowledge to do better — or at least give it the old college try.  I dug out my new cookbook “All About Roasting: A New Approach to a Classic Art” by Molly Stevens, and flipped to “Slow-Roasted Herbed Turkey Breast”.  This recipe needs some pre-planning because the breast is rubbed with a herb paste and allowed to sit for 6 to 24 hours to allow it to be properly dry salted.

 Dry salted?  What the heck is that? Before I get into that, let’s talk for a minute about wet salting — a.k.a. brining.  I never really understood what it was.  It seemed to be a thing guys did before grilling.  I hate to admit it, but I assumed it was just a trendy guy thing to do that didn’t really do a lot.  My bad.  It actually is a useful technique.  Brining involves soaking meat in a salt solution, often flavored with herbs as well.  By the principles of osmosis (do not fret, there won’t be a quiz at the end) the solution on the outside of the meat has a higher concentration of sodium than the inside of the meat and so the salted water migrates into the meat, both flavoring it and adding extra water resulting in a flavorful moist hunk o’ meat after cooking.

While brining has its uses, Ms. Stevens usually prefers dry salting meat.  Her opinion is that brining draws water into the meat thus diluting the natural juices of the meat and reducing the intensity of the natural meat flavors.  Dry salting involves rubbing the meat with salt (and often other herbs and spices).  The salt will initially draw moisture out of the meat.  On the surface this seems to be a bad thing (less moisture equals dry meat, right?), however, the salt on the surface begins to dissolve in the liquid drawn from the meat.  The meat is then coated in a salt solution.  Just like brining, the liquid is drawn back into the meat (there’s that darn osmosis thing again), taking the salt and other flavorings with it.  Unlike brining, the moisture is all natural juice from the meat, resulting in a more flavorful undiluted meaty juice.   In addition, during the process, the protein structure unravels a bit making the meat more tender.  The salt also helps keep the juices in the meat making it juicier — If I remember my chemistry right there is an ion-dipole attraction there, forming a weak attraction between the Sodium ions and the water molecules.   Are your eyes glazing over yet?  That’s the last of the science, I promise.  However, being a science geek, I am now totally a fan of brining (either wet or dry).

The turkey in this recipe gets rubbed with a paste composed of garlic, salt, sage, rosemary, thyme, pepper, and celery seed (which I didn’t use because I didn’t have any) and allowed to sit in the refrigerator for 6 to 24 hours to let the salt (and osmosis) do its magic.  The result was a flavorful juicy roast.  It may have been a smidge salty for my taste (I traditionally don’t salt much, so I’m fairly sensitive to the flavor), but not bad and the overall flavor was quite nice. My roast was also smaller, so I could have used a little less salt and still had good results.  Definitely give it a try.  The same rub would work well on chicken too.  Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

2 cloves garlic

1-1/4 tsp kosher salt

3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tsp finely chopped fresh sage (I used 0.75 tsp dry)

2 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme  (I used 0.75 tsp dry)

2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary  (I used 0.75 tsp dry)

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/4 tsp celery seed (I omitted because I don’t have any)

1 boneless turkey breast with skin (about 2.5 lb)  (I used a bone-in half breast that weighed about 2.5 pounds).

Directions:

1.)  Herb Paste – Combine garlic and salt into a mortar and pound with a pestle until you have a smooth (more or less) paste.  Transfer to a small bowl.  Add 2 Tbsp oil, herbs, pepper, and celery seed.  Stir to blend.

2.) Smear paste on turkey breast.  Be sure to get some under the skin.  If using a boneless breast, you may want to tie the roast in two or three places with kitchen string to hold it in a cylindrical roast shape.  Place roast on a tray and refrigerate, preferably uncovered, for 6 to 24 hours.

Herb Rub on Turkey Breast All Tucked in for a 24 Hr Rest

3.) Allow roast to sit for an hour at room temperature before roasting.  (I was cooking this during the week and didn’t have the time, so I omitted this step.  Plus, in December, my kitchen is cool and my roast doesn’t warm that fast.)

4.) Heat oven to 300 degrees.  While oven heats, add 1 Tbsp oil to skillet and heat on Med-high heat.  When oil is hot, sear the turkey breast skin side down, maneuvering and turning it with tongs so that the skin side sears evenly, about 6 minutes.  Turn turkey skin side up and brown lightly on the bottom, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Transfer turkey skin side up to a shallow roasting pan or baking dish not much larger than it is. (I used a rack, but I apparently didn’t need to — I should read the recipe closer.  Although, it turned out fine with the rack.)

Seared Turkey Breast Before Roasting

5.) Roast turkey inside the oven until the internal temperature at the thickest part is 165 degrees, about 1-1/4 to 1-3/4 hours.  (My new leave-in thermometer came in handy!)  Let turkey rest for 20 minutes before carving.

Finished! Crispy Skin. Juicy meat. Yum Yum Yum!

I served this with a simple medley of roasted root veggies (sweet potato, turnips, and beets).  Cut up veggies, toss with olive oil, sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.  Roast uncovered at 400 degrees till lightly browned and centers are tender (about 30 minutes).  Turn once with tongs midway through cooking for even browning. (Beets cook slower than turnips and sweet potatoes.  They are cut smaller so everything gets done at the same time).

Roasted sweet potatoes, beets, and turnips.

Paleo Chocolate Chili Recipe Review

Paleo Chocolate Chili

I’ve never liked beans — of any kind.  Black, pinto, lima, whatever the hell kind of beans are in baked beans  — doesn’t matter I can’t stand them.  I’ve spent the last 3 years trying to teach myself to like the darn things because they are super healthy, right?   Lentils and I finally reached a level of mutual toleration when I was introduced to paleo.  Imagine my joy to discover that the things were actually bad for you  — Ha!  Take that pesky beans!

Of the foods I’ve never been able to enjoy, chili ranked pretty high on the list.  I could have made a beanless chili before, of course, but it seemed wrong.  I don’t have that fear anymore and I’ve been looking forward to trying it.  I found a number of recipes that looked good, but then I stumbled across a chocolate chili on The Clothes Make the Girl’s website.  Perfect!  It contained two of my favorite things: chocolate and anything other than beans.

To call it chocolate chili is a bit of a misnomer.  Although unsweetened cocoa powder is a flavoring ingredient, there is no chocolatey taste.  Rather than copy her recipe over, I’ll just post the link RIGHT HERE.  Check out her site and other recipes while you are there.  It’s quickly becoming one of my favorite paleo sites.  She also has a new cookbook that I love and will be reviewing in a later post.

I pretty much followed her recipe for this as written.  The only thing I did differently was to reduce the amount of chili powder from 2 Tbsp to 1.5 Tbsp.  I cannot even imagine eating it with 2 Tbsp.  I don’t have a super high tolerance for spicy hot foods and at 1.5 Tbsp my mouth was on fire.  If you prefer milder chili, start out with 2 tsp to 1 Tbsp pf chili powder first.  After it has simmered for a while you can add more to taste.  If you like three-alarm chili, go ahead and load it up!

Overall I give the recipe 2 thumbs up.  I’ve eaten it for the last three days and it is even better on the second and third days.  I like to top it with fresh chopped onion.  Today I added a side of oven baked sweet potato fries. Yummy combo!