Monday, February 3, 2014

Cave Cravings Review: Part 1

I was contacted by Cave Cravings and asked if I'd blog about my experiences with their products; naturally I said yes!

I received my box on Friday, January 31, and felt much like a Paleo-kid at an olive bar when I saw it! My youngest son had fallen asleep in the car, so I decided to continue driving (instead of going home) to take advantage of the car nap; I pulled up to my mailbox as I passed our driveway, plopped the box on my front seat, and worked to open it before pulling away! So exciting!

I'm sure many of you Paleo-goers find snacks-on-the-run to be one of the trickiest aspects of a Paleo lifestyle. I almost always have items such as Larabars, nuts, dried fruits, veggie sticks, and homemade Paleo banana bread on hand for easy snacks and snacks that travel well, but sometimes planning goes awry for one reason or another, and it's in those moments when I I really wish it was easier to come by pre-packaged snacks that are within reasonable limits of the Paleo diet. Enter Cave Cravings!


So what is Cave Cravings? Here's the mission statement from Cave Craving's website:
We believe in delivering a healthier you to your doorstep every month.  Our mission is to cultivate a variety of healthy snack options to fuel your busy life.  We know that however well intentioned people are it is simply hard work finding tasty, organic, unprocessed foods to get us through the day.  We also know that there are many amazing creators of deliciously healthy, all natural, snacks trying to gain recognition.  Our goal is bring these two groups together for a tasty (and healthy!) party.

We work hard to find organic items that are 100% natural, satisfy your cravings and taste amazing. Everything inside your monthly box will be good for you so that you can feel great about what you're eating. Each month we are delivering a healthier you!
Now on to some of the products from the little white box of goodness!

My family and I have eaten three packages of snacks thus far. I managed to consume all nine of the mini Coco-Roons (Lemon Pie flavor. I LOVE lemon. I've loved lemon since I was a fetus; you can ask my mom if you don't believe me) by Wonderfully Raw. They're USDA organic and contain seven ingredients: raw coconut, raw coconut flour, unfiltered maple syrup, raw cold-pressed coconut oil, lemon zest, vanilla extract, and Himalayan crystal salt. A straight-laced, Paleo puritan might not go for these, but I certainly would as an occasional snack. Did I mention that I love lemon?

My  three-year-old son (who is immensely picky, particularly about textures) was delighted to enjoy a Caveman Cookies Original, even though it contained raisins! He ate it without curling into a wailing pile on the floor, so I knew he liked it, and asked whether it was yummy or delicious. He answered, "Delicious." The cookie (one of four in the box I received) contains honey, almond meal, walnuts, raisins, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon. I love that each cookie is individually-wrapped, making it super easy to keep them in a diaper bag, backpack, or purse.

My husband ate one of the two Bearded Brothers' Radical Raspberry Lemon Energy Bars, and enjoyed it thoroughly. He exclaimed that both the texture and flavor were great. I'm looking forward to trying the other one!

While I could have easily eaten just about everything from the little white box already, I exercised restraint, leaving the other snacks for another day (and blog). Stay tuned for Part II!

Note/disclosure: I received this complimentary Cave Cravings snack box in exchange for agreeing to blog about my opinion of the products and the program. I share no other affiliation with the company. I am neither compensated in any way (aside from receiving the products), nor am I required/expected to provide positive reviews. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Savory, pumpkin-apple chicken chili

Fall is my favorite season of the year. Cool air. Vibrant trees. Leaves dancing in the streets. And best of all, pumpkins and apples!

When asked to demo another recipe at the Springfield Farmer's Winter Market, I wanted to incorporate tastes of the season. Inspired by a cherry-peach chili recipe that my husband sampled while in Traverse City back in October, I decided to make a pumpkin (un-spicy) chili. It tasted fine, but my husband decided it needed something "more," so he went outside and picked a few tart apples from a tree in our yard. I cut them up and added them in, and they absolutely made the dish (thanks, husband)! That's how the pumpkin-apple chili was born.

Ingredients
2 pounds ground chicken (or turkey)
1 large red onion, peeled and chopped
1-2 heads garlic, peeled and minced
coconut oil (or other cooking oil)

3 C chicken or vegetable broth
3-4 C pumpkin puree
4 C black beans (cooked or canned)
1 tsp sea salt

2-4 tart apples, peeled and chopped (don't peel until needed)
4-6 pie pumpkins, rounded gourds or squashes (option)


Instructions
  1. Add a few tablespoons of oil to a frying pan over medium-high heat. Sauté onion, garlic, and ground meat (about five minutes to brown on all sides). Reduce heat to medium, and cook for another fifteen minutes (stirring occasionally).
  2. While meat is cooking, add chicken broth, beans, pumpkin puree and salt to a stock pot. Cook on medium heat, stirring frequently.
  3. When the meat is done cooking, strain the fat off, and scoop the contents into the stock pot. Mix thoroughly. Cook fifteen minutes.
  4. If you'd like to serve the chili in pumpkins or gourds, remove the tops, scoop out the seeds, and have them ready to go! (OPTIONAL)
  5. Peel and cube the tart apples (Northern Spy are my fav), and add to the stock pot for the last five minutes of cooking. Stir well.
  6. Serve in the pumpkins/gourds, or normal bowls :)

*Vegan potential -- use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth, and either omit the chicken/turkey, or sauté tofu as a substitute (allow an extra ten-twenty minutes to cook the tot firmly, if desired).

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bruschetta

8 Roma (or 4 Beefsteak) tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded, and diced
1/4 - 1/2 head of garlic, minced
1/4 red onion, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2-4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped (or 2 tsp dried)
1 tsp organo (or 1 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped)
sea salt & black pepper to taste

1. Combine ingredients in covered container, stir or shake well
2. Refrigerate 4-12 hours prior to serving for best results (taste improves as it marinates)

Easy, and SO delicious!

This bruschetta makes a great salsa, or can be used to top spaghetti squash instead of using a sauce!

If you're not adhering to a gluten-free or Paleo diet, feel free to warm a baguette in the oven and serve the bruschetta over top, old school!!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Coconut oil pan-fried breakfast plantains


Ingredients
2 plantains (sort of ripe but still firm)
1 sweet onion
Sea salt
Coconut oil

Instructions
1. Peel the plantains. Cut into small cubes.

2. Peel onion and slice/cut to preferred shape (I like large chunks).

3. Heat 2-6 tablespoons of coconut oil in frying pan on medium heat.

4. Add plantains, push around and coat well with oil. 

5. Add the onions. Cook 5-10 minutes, moving contents around to prevent burning. Cooking too long will provide a nicer crunch, but the plantains will dry out a bit inside. I find best results by calling it quits once the plantains and onions show first signs of looking translucent.

ENJOY!!!!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Flakey apple tarts

They're so flaky and delicious -- when I took these out of the oven, I felt like I was staring at something from a fancy pastry shop in Paris! Okay, they'd be much prettier if made by an ACTUAL pastry chef, but, their flakiness is nothing short of divine!
The weather wasn't particularly beautiful today in Davisburg, but the farmer's market went on nonetheless! I demonstrated this recipe for apple tarts; their flaky crust left mouths happy.

I have to credit my friend, Annette, for sharing her pie crust recipe and teaching me how to make such a lovely and delicious pastry! I adapted the apple filling recipe from that for apple pie out of a Betty Crocker cookbook.

The recipe is simple in terms of its ingredients, but technique is key. Having the right tools on hand will facilitate success (flaky crust). It's good to have a vision of the whole process before starting, to foster efficiency. Give yourself two hours to make four dozen tarts (if you finish a bit early, brew up that coffee to enjoy along with your freshly-baked, flaky tarts).

If you are experienced with pastry-making, then feel free to skip straight down to the recipe. For those of you who want some tips for perfecting your crusts, or are beginning, the following tips and explanations should set you up for success. (Remember, practice makes perfect ;)

Tips and technique
For best results, be sure that your lard (and/or butter) are refrigerated for a few hours prior to making the pastry; leave it/them in the fridge until ready for use. COLD is key!!

Before you dive in to baking, round up your tools:
  • Pastry cutter
  • Marble slab or cutting board, or marble/granite/travertine counter top
  • Marble rolling pin
  • Apple corer/slicer (or knife)
  • Peeler
  • Mini-muffin pans/tart pans (enough for four dozen)
  • A two or four cup volume is sufficient. Ultimately, you'll use 1/3 - 1/2 C water (estimate -- I've never paid attention to the precise quantity)
  • A pyrex measuring cup (or other decanter) filled with ice + water (heavy on the ice)
  • Wooden spoon
  • Soup spoon
  • Butter knife
  • Small, glass container
  • Food scale (or 1 C measures for dry and wet)
Now, here's a high-level overview of the process for making these delectable tarts:
1. Prepare pastry
2. Let set for 10 minutes -- pull out tools and ingredients for filling
3. Place pastry in the fridge for thirty minutes -- prepare filling, preheat oven
4. Remove pastry from fridge
5. Create tarts in muffins pans
6. Bake -- start cleaning up that mess!
7. Cool and serve

On to prepping and baking!!

Pastry/crust
Ingredients
1 pound (3 + 3/4 C) all-purpose flour (keep the bag of flour handy for later)
1/4 pound (1/2 C) lard
1/4 pound (1/2 C) butter
Pyrex measuring cup (or other decanter) filled with ice + water (heavy on the ice)

Feel free to use 1/2 pound lard, or 1/2 pound butter, if you prefer. I think the half-and-half combo of each (per the ingredient list) makes the best crust.

Instructions
  1. Place 1 pound of flour in a large mixing bowl
  2. Remove the lard and/or butter from the fridge -- measure it and place it in the bowl with the flour
  3. Use a pastry cutter to cut the pastry into the flour. Go slowly, and do not overwork the mixture. Use a knife or fork to scrape the mixture that gathers on the pastry cutter. Continue cutting until the lard/butter chunks are pea-sized. Err on the side of too big rather than too small
  4. Pour a small amount of water (2-3 tbsp) over the mixture. Using a fork, start pulling from the edge of the bowl into the center, slowly, and turn the bowl, repeating the whole way around. Once the water has been absorbed, add another few tablespoons. (I use a fork while pouring to prevent the ice from falling into the pastry.) When a ball starts to form in the center of the bowl (or rather, when the mixture starts to adhere to itself), stop. Err on the side of too dry rather than too wet
  5. Gently gather mixture together by pressing it together with your hands -- just two or three gentle squeezes will do
  6. It's best to flour your surface prior to turning out the pastry onto it
  7. Turn the mixture out onto a marble slab. If it falls apart, assess whether it seems too dry in the middle. You can drizzle another few tablespoons of water if needed. 
  8. Choose a cool part of your kitchen to work (i.e. avoid working directly next to the oven)
  9. Gently press the mixture together, if needed. Cover with the bowl, and leave the pastry set, on the counter, for ten minutes                                    
  10. After ten minutes have passed, place the "ball" of pastry back into the bowl, cover the bowl (with a towel, plastic, or lid), and place in fridge for thirty minutes
  11. Make the filling while waiting for the pastry to chill 
Apple filling
Ingredients
6 C apples, peeled, cored, diced into small chunks (pea-sized)
1/2 - 2/3 C sugar (or honey)
1 tsp cinnamon (or more, to taste)
2 tbsp butter, melted
pinch of salt
Add other spices, such as allspice or nutmeg, to taste, if preferred (I prefer not)

Instructions
  1. Assuming that your pastry is resting, covered, in the fridge, go ahead and preheat the oven to 425F
  2. Mix all apple filling ingredients together in a medium-size bowl; combine thoroughly
  3. Let the mixture set out on the counter while working with the pastry to fill the tart pans
Create the tarts
  1. Sprinkle a generous layer of flour over the marble slab
  2. Remove the pastry from the fridge. Gently remove and place about one-fourth of the pastry onto the marble slab. Cover the remaining pastry and return to fridge
  3. Gently but firmly press down on the pastry to form it and spread it out slightly, in preparation for rolling
  4. Sprinkle the top of pastry with flour
  5. Start in the center, and use the rolling pin to work the pastry out in one direction (somewhat gently). Return to the center and roll the other side out
  6. Gently lift the pastry and flip it over -- if it seems to be stuck, use a butter knife to release the pastry from the slab. Sprinkle more flour
  7. Sprinkle a but more flour on top, and roll it out a bit more. The thinner the better, but not so thin that it's difficult to handle. If it's your first time making pastry, err on the side of thick -- it just may turn out more chewy than crispy
  8. Caution: avoid balling up the pastry and "starting again" -- the more it's worked, the less flaky (and more chewy) the crust will be after baking
  9. Don't worry too much about clean edges -- it won't matter much once you fill the tart and fold the pastry and pinch it together)
  10. Cut the pastry into 2.5-3 inch squares
  11. These are a bit thicker than optimal
  12. Place squares into the muffin pan (I find it easier to start filling the inside spaces of the pan and working outward), leaving the pastry draped outward (you'll want to fold it over top of the filling). Continue until you are out of pastry
  13. Spoon apple filling into the pastry -- it should be at least level with the top of the pan
  14. I haven't perfected the aesthetic yet, but they taste fantastic!
  15. Fold the edges of the pastry in to the center, and pinch together gently. 
  16. Repeat steps 1-12 until all of the pastry has been used or you run out of muffin pans!
  17. Place pans into the pre-heated oven, and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown. If you decide to use regular cupcake-size pans instead of mini's, they may need 45 minutes or more to cook fully
  18. Remove from oven and let cool for twenty minutes
  19. Remove from muffin pans -- they should pop right out, unless some of the filling oozed out at the seams, in which case I like to use a butter knife to release the tart from the pans
  20. Enjoy!
Vegan potential: use margarine or palm shortening (instead of butter and/or lard).

Storage: they should freeze/defrost well -- store in Ziplok bags, and allow to defrost on the counter.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Spaghetti squash in garlic-cream sauce (dairy-free) topped with pumpkin-kissed meatballs

I've been doing cooking demos at my local farmer's market, and made this recipe today. It was a crowd-pleaser to say the least, despite the chilly, rainy fall day that was upon us.

Spaghetti squash in garlic-cream sauce (dairy-free)
Ingredients:
1 can full fat canned coconut milk
1 spaghetti squash, halved, seeds removed
1-2 heads garlic
A few sprigs of fresh basil (2-4 tbsp, chopped)
2 tsp dried oregano
sea salt to taste

Instructions:
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F
  2. Place spaghetti squash halves, face down, on baking sheet
  3. Bake for 20-25 minutes (until a fork pokes through easily -- don't over cook or it will become too mushy)
  4. Remove squash and separate strands of squash away from the skin with a fork (the strands are long and thin, similar to spaghetti, but thinner and more fragile)
  5. Empty the can of coconut milk into a large skillet. Add herbs, spices and minced garlic. Cook on medium high until boiling, stirring frequently Reduce heat to keep the mixture simmering, and stir continuously for 10-15 minutes, until it thickens
  6. Reduce heat to low, add squash strands, and stir well, until the squash is warm
Pumpkin-kissed meatballs
Ingredients:
1 pound ground beef 
1 egg
1 head garlic, peeled, minced
1/2 C pumpkin puree (fresh or canned)
1/4 C chopped kale
salt & pepper to taste
coconut oil (or olive oil)
plate or tray
baking sheet lined with paper towel or cotton cloth

Instructions:
  1. Mix all ingredients* (except oil) in a medium mixing bowl. Use wooden utensil to mix together, or use a mixer if you're fancy!
  2. Shape/roll into meatballs, about 1-1.5 inches in diameter, and place on tray or plate. Continue until you've used up the entire mixture
  3. Add a few tablespoons of oil to a skillet on medium-high heat
  4. Place meatballs in the oil (carefully -- the splashing oil BURNS -- I often use tongs to transfer the meatballs to prevent the splash)
  5. Flip the meatballs every 2-3 minutes, until browned on all sides. It usually takes 10-12 minutes to cook them through -- I always cut one open to ensure it's medium-well
  6. Transfer meatballs to the tray lined with cotton cloth or paper towels.

SERVING:
Place a helping of the squash with sauce on a plate, and top it off with a load of meatballs! ENJOY!!!!

*If you want to use fresh pumpkin puree, handle the pumpkin similar to the spaghetti squash. Cut a pie pumpkin in half, remove the seeds, place open face down on a baking sheet, and bake) -- pumpkin usually takes longer than the spaghetti squash -- check it at 30-40 minutes. Cook longer if needed. After it cools, you can easily pull the flesh away from the skin, and then place the flesh in a blender or food processor, and puree! Freeze leftovers for future cooking endeavors.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Pumpkin-kissed chicken nuggets

I should be cleaning my house. Seriously. Both kids are asleep, the husband is out of town, and I didn't quite get through the normal "drill" this evening. (And there is those five loads of laundry I did this weekend which I have yet to fold.) But who wants to clean when one can be blogging about food? Not this lady. (Besides, I've accepted that my house will be partially disastrous for the next 20 years.)

On to said food...

A friend bought a book for me called "The Best Homemade Baby Food on the Planet...," from which I I modified (significantly) a recipe for "chicken nuggets." Perhaps what I should say is that I referred to that recipe simply to discern the temperature at which the nuggets were baked.

Instead of using chunks of chicken breast, I used a combination of ground turkey and chicken breast meat, simply because the ground meat is super moist, and I intended to skip the traditional four-part breading process (milk, flour, egg, breadcrumbs), and use shredded coconut only. This was inspired by an experience making paleo fish sticks (that required a three-step process: coconut flour, then egg, then shredded coconut). As it turned out, the egg wasn't working (maybe because coconut flour is SUPER absorbant), so I quit and just dipped the fish in water before rolling in shredded coconut. They turned out marvelously. The lazy chicken-nugget-breading process was born!

Without further adieu, here is the recipe.

Ingredients
1 pound ground meat (turkey, chicken, beef...)
1/2 C pumpkin puree
1/4 C blanched almond flour or almond meal
garlic and sea salt to taste
1 C shredded coconut (you may need a bit more, so keep the bag out until you complete the breading process)
1-2 C coconut oil (this can vary a lot -- if you observe the medium-heat frying requirement, and your pan isn't too large, then 1 C should be sufficient)

*you could omit the garlic and use cinnamon for a sweet version

Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Place 1 or 2 baking sheets out.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, add all ingredients except shredded coconut and coconut oil. Mix thoroughly. A mixer will do the job more quickly than your wrist/spoon.
  4. Place shredded coconut in a bowl or on a plate.
  5. Scoop about 1-2 tablespoons of the mixture and flatten it a bit.
  6. Roll the flattened "ball" into the shredded coconut, and smush it down (to encourage the coconut to stick to the mixture). Repeat this until all of the mixture has been used. (I like to lay them out on a plate to carry over to the stove for frying -- stacking them works fine.)
  7. Place 1 cup of coconut oil into a frying pan, and heat on medium for a few minutes. Then add the "nuggets" (as many as will fit, still leaving enough space to get a utensil in for flipping -- I use a small turner).
  8. Fry for 2-3 minutes per side (careful not to burn them), then remove them to the baking sheets you set out previously. (As the coconut falls off in the oil, it may burn over time -- you can scoop it out if you wish -- I keep a bowl near my frying pan for collecting the stray coconut.) You may wish to place them onto a paper-towel-lined plate before putting them on the baking sheet:
  9. I tend to use parchment paper because I'm REALLY lazy when it comes to cleaning baking sheets.
















    I think this is about 2 pounds worth.

















  10. After all nuggets have been fried and placed on the baking sheets, pop them into the oven for 15-30 minutes (until golden brown and/or until internal temperature is at least 160F). 
These nuggets freeze well. If you freeze them, don't defrost them prior to re-heating. Simply place the frozen nuggets on a plate, and microwave on high power for about 4 minutes (time may vary depending on size of the nuggets -- too long and they will get hard, not long enough and they will be too cold).

If you are reading this blog and have advice for the perfect combination of fry-time and cook-time to acquire excellent crispiness, please advise!  I found a variation in crispiness nugget-to-nugget.

Oh, and this recipe is easy to double (or quadruple) the recipe, as I did here:
    Yes, that's quite a stack! Four pounds of ground turkey and chicken breast.