Paleo Lamb Bobotie

Bobotie is considered to be a difinitive dish of South Africa, although it most likely originated in Batavia (now Known as Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia). It is one of the finest of the ground meat casserole dishes (at least in my opinion), with it's savory custard-like topping, and is really a must-try.

The version below is paleo-friendly, omitting certain traditionally used ingredients like raisins and chutney (too much sugar) and bread, and adding liver. I did miss the slightly sweet contrast of raisins, and might consider adding a few next time - perhaps minced so that a little will go a long way.

If you don't like liver, I recommend mincing it or even putting it in a food processor before adding it to the dish. It blends in pretty well.

Warning: the measurements in this recipe (aside from the meat portions) are approximate. I seldom measure anything when I cook. Instead I taste and smell and add ingredients til I'm satisfied.

Ingredients:

2 lbs ground grassfed lamb

1 lb ground grassfed beef

1 lb chopped grassfed beef liver

1 large red onion, chopped

4 or 5 tbsp Green Pasture Coconut Ghee

1tbsp each whole coriander seed, mustard seed and cumin seed

3 fat cloves of garlic, pressed or finely minced

5 or 6 tbsp favorite curry powder

1/2 cup raw almonds, soaked in hot water for an hour, skinned and coarsely chopped

1 pear, peeled and chopped

8 fresh pastured eggs

1-2 cups fresh raw cream and/or raw milk

1/2 to 1 tsp garam masala spice blend

3 bay leaves

 Salt and pepper, to taste

Start by melting about about half of the coconut ghee in a frying pan. Add the coriander seeds, mustard seeds and cumin seeds, and saute til the mustard seeds start popping. Add the onion and saute on medium-low til they start to get tender, then add the garlic. Saute for another minute or two, then, before the onions start to brown too much, set aside in your baking dish. (I think the one I use is 9x13)

Add the rest of your coconut ghee and 1/2 of the curry powder. Mix well in the pan and add 1/2 of the meat and salt to taste. Cook til most of the pink is gone and add it to the baking dish, reserving the fat to cook the next batch. Proceed to do the same process with the rest of the curry powder and meat.

Mix the meat together with the onion mixture, the chopped pear, the chopped peeled almonds, and 2 of the raw eggs. Press it down pretty firmly in the baking dish, and then bake it at 350 for about 25 minutes. 

Beat the rest of the eggs with the fresh cream/milk and the garam masala. Remove the meat from the oven, lay down the bay leaves (I broke them in half first) and cover with the beaten eggs and cream. Return to the oven for about 15-20 more minutes - basically as long as it takes for the custard to set.

By now you will be drooling over the amazing aromas of lamb and curry that are filling your kitchen. I recommend sipping on a glass of red wine to pass the time.

When the custard is set, remove the Bobotie from the oven and let it sit for about 10 more minutes, if you can stand it. Then dig in.

 


Wee Drinkies

Last year I came across a very nice drinks blog called 12bottlebar.com while in search of a cocktail recipe and wound up spending several facinated hours there, the result of which was a plan to go through the recipes one at a time to broaden my tastes. I ended up getting stuck on one specific drink, the Brandy Milk Punch, (paleo version using whole raw milk and - because it was what I had on hand, and I love it - Metaxa) that I loved so much I just couldn't move on. If you try this drink, don't forget the freshly grated nutmeg.

Time, of course, passed and I did move on, and then took a hiatus from drinking in general due to gastric distress ( the result of WAY too much spicy, acidic food and too many acidic, citrusy drinks). Rice pap and water, bleh!

It's only been a couple of months now that I've returned to adult beverages, particularly rediscovering my love for the many varieties and flavors of wine, including the subtle shift in profile as the wine oxidizes in the glass, and how this will usually improve, but sometimes (rarely) ruin it. 

A few nights ago I was in the mood for a drink, but discovered we were out of wine. We had plenty of gin in the freezer, though, and *ding* out of the depths of my subconscious popped the memory of that fab website. It took another while before I could reconstruct what it could have possibly been called, but thanks to some desperate memory tracing I finally found what I was looking for! 

And the recipe I decided on trying was The Obituary Cocktail

Two ounces of gin coupled with a quarter ounce each dry vermouth and absinthe - it sounded like a nice departure from a typical martini.  And I liked it well enough initially, but decided that the absinthe flavor became somewhat overwhelming, cloying, even, as it warmed up. And with my slight constitution and low tolerance, this drink was definitely a slow sipper. I ended up not finishing it, but not willing to give up on the concept...there were enough intriguing flavors in the concoction that I decided to toy with it.

The next evening, I decided to reduce both the absinthe and the vermouth to mere dashes - drizzles, if you will - and to add a citrus note, which I thought would go very nicely with both the gin and the absinthe. I had two slightly shriveled Seville oranges left over from my holiday visit to my mother's house in Sunny Florida, and decided they were perfect for my experiment. The result was one of the finest cocktails I've ever enjoyed, featuring that distinctive orangey-bitter note that only a Seville can contribute, tempered by the botanical...hmmm...anise-ness of the absinthe, which itself was contained and became an enhancement to the drink, instead of a main feature.

A Bit of a Side Note About Seville Oranges

If you are not familiar, Seville, or bitter oranges are known for their amazingly fragrant, thick skins and very sour juice. They are the oranges traditionally used for marmalade.

When I was a teen growing up at my mom's, we all eschewed those bitter little oranges, convinced there was something terribly wrong, possibly even diseased, with the poor, puny orange tree growing in our back yard. They were mostly a nuisance, aside from the lovely fragrance of their blossoms and their use as an occasional garbage disposal freshener. 

And then we met some ladies who changed our minds and opened our eyes to the treasure, the great value that we had so sneeringly derided. 

I'm not even sure how the conversation started...we were at a restaurant, my mother and I, down in St. Augustine, dining with some old school pals of mine (I have always included my mom in my social interactions - she's cool like that) and these lovely ladies - also friends of my friends and who hovered somewhere between mom and I in age - somehow in the course of our dinner conversations discovered that we had an orange tree in our back yard. They started plying us with questions, a very excited, hopeful look on their faces. Once they had established, with great relish on their parts, that we most likely were in possession of a Seville orange tree, they practically begged us for some seeds, some left over peels, anything really.

My mom did them one better and told them they could come and harvest as many oranges as they liked and we'd be grateful for the favor. And they did harvest them. They also told us a bit of the history, uses, and merits of the Seville orange, and how they had searched for years for a source of seeds, so they could grow their very own trees.

After that, of course I had a new-found respect for our little tree, yet, still I was never really fond of its fruits, since their sourness rivals that of a lemon or lime. Never liked them until, that is, until I went Paleo and stopped eating anything with processed or added sugar.

Last spring my husband and I took a couple of our friends with us down to visit my mom and we made pitchers of homemade margaritas with the oranges...Outstanding! A good reposado, the luciously tart and fragrant juice of the seville, and just a bit of fresh lime. There was no need for cointreau. Triple sec? Pah! We pretty much overdosed on Seville margaritas, and I (dis)credit those oranges with my subsequent relish for sour, acidic beverages that ultimately led to my gastric downfall!

A Return to the Topic at Hand

Apologies...I tend to get a bit off track. I blame my fine art schooling in college, which taught me to work an entire canvas instead of focusing on one element at a time. In art, sure, it can mean that the entire piece is integrated, because it is treated as a whole product and flows accordingly. In writing, (and the rest of life, unfortunately) it means that I tend to digress and get sidetracked very easily, meandering and pontificating, and only through a very concerted effort of will do I ever manage to stick to something long enough to satisfactorally conclude it.

Anyway, we left off with the Seville orange addition to the Obituary Cocktail, and how lovely it was. Well, the next evening arrived and I was out of Sevilles. But I had lemons!  

Ok, so lemons don't have the range or depth of that floral, orangey flavor that worked so charmingly with the absinthe, but certainly it must have some charm of its own! So, I gave it a try, but made the error of squeezing the juice of an entire lemon into my drink. Too tart, of course, so I had to temper it with the juice of some brandied bing cherries that a friend of mine made and was so kind as to include in my Christmas bag of goodies. The flavor was just what was needed to temper the lemon, but sadly, the added alcohol from the brandy  - and the added sugar - left me wide awake in the wee hours of the morning with a pounding heart and the sweats. (Paleo peeps, be warned if you don't already know - sugar and alcohol will affect you much more strongly! And for Deity's sake, stay the F*&^ away from agave! Your poor liver is already adjusting to so much, don't thrust upon it the added burden of fructose processing when you are already pushing it through it's paces with alcohol!)

Tonight marked the most recent iteration of this drink, and I started by discovering a surprise bottle of even better absinthe in my Drinkies cabinet. (We entertain a lot, and people bring a LOT of alcohol to our house. The leftover bottles inordinately end up in our Drinkies cabinet, a dark little space filled with strange dusty bottles of things we generally don't imbibe. (The good stuff either goes in the freezer or lives on the counter where it's consumed in very little time.)

I was looking for rum, to try the Trafalgar, a fitting drink since I LOVE anything that is remotely related to Patrick O'brian and his 20-book Aubrey-Maturin historical fiction series. Sadly, there was no Pusser's in the cabinet, which is what 12bottlebar recommends, so that recipe has been shelved for now, but 'lo if there wasn't a partial bottle of Golden Absente, a 138 proof, slightly greenish tinged upgrade to the regular 110 proof Absente that I've been drinking!

I started with a modest margarita glass (the normal kind you buy at the department store, not the fish-bowl versions you find at most Mexi-themed chain restaurants) filled it with ice, then poured in one standard shot of Bombay Gin (my preference is Hendricks, and the 12bottle website recommends Leopold's, but one does what one can with what one has, doesn't one?). Then I added the juice of only 1/2 a lemon, the usual conservative drizzle each of absinthe and dry vermouth, and 3 careful dashes of Angostura Bitters.

WOW!

This drink is phenomenal! The upgrade in absinthe was very noticeable, even with all the other elements. It was smoother and more subtle. My next pursuit will be to get a bottle of Kubler Absinthe, which is the recommendation of 12bottlebar. Just to see if I can taste the difference.

I also found that the bitters, far from interfering with the flavor of the absinthe, actually deepened it, working with it in a very pleasing way. I'm not sure I even have the words to express the subtle difference, but I recommend trying the drink before  and after adding the bitters to really get a TASTE of the difference.

And that, my friends, concludes this little daliance into the realm of adult bevarages. I had intended it to be a short piece celebrating 12bottlebar, but it ended up turning into something a bit more. Hopefully this piece will be of interest to more that just me, but even if it doesn't I've had a blast writing it, and enjoyed a titillation of my taste-buds to boot. (Isn't that a fab word? Titillation. It rolls off the tongue and makes one feel...well, titillated.)


Recommitting to Paleo (the Butter Post)

I've been drifting in my paleo diet over the past 4 or 5 months. O, let me count the ways:

  • eating rice or corn a few times a month to several times a week
  • eating potatoes several times a week
  • consuming processed foods such as chutney (my favorite way to eat eggs is fried in butter and covered in cheese, chutney and chili sauce - which is mostly paleo, except that commercial chutneys have sugar)
  • eating out at Waffle House about once a week (meats and eggs are fine, but I won't lie - I go there for the hashbrowns which are fried in very bad oil) 
  • eating about twice a month at a local Korean place, where I am certain there is gluten and HFCS in all the sauces, the ricecake wraps are most likely made with wheat flour, and I drink the "happy wine" - a fairly sweet rice and corn wine.
  • and there have been more than a few "lost" weekends recently due to overconsumption of alcohol that makes my liver twinge just remembering.

I am starting to notice little things creeping back into my daily life that I do not want: more allergies, carb cravings, bloating after many meals - particularly meals eaten out, more gas, etc. I've also noticed that drinking raw milk, which never used to bother me, has recently started making me bloat.

There are a lot of good things that I am doing with my diet, like cooking with lard, butter or coconut oil, and eating a lot of grass fed meat and pastured eggs. Some of my veggies are even home grown. I haven't used sugar in ages. I read labels pretty religiously, choose things with the purest, simplest ingredients, and mostly make things from scratch. I cut out diet sodas about a month ago and haven't looked back. But all these good things don't counteract the damage I am doing to myself, and I've decided to get back on the plan.

I'm not quitting everything cold turkey due to financial reasons. Right now any money we spend needs to be put to good use and I am not throwing away all the groceries I just bought. That being said, when the potatoes are gone, I'll start buying sweet potatoes. When the cheese runs out, I won't be replacing it. I've already stopped drinking alcohol - that last hangover left me with plenty of resolve.

For me the hardest thing to give up is going to be dairy. I LOOOOVE my glass of milk per day (sometimes two) and I put cheese on everything. In an attempt to eat more fish, I started putting herring on rice-crackers with cream cheese, and now I still eat the cream cheese, but not so much the herring. I drink my morning coffee with about a 1/2 cup of half and half (I'd prefer heavy cream, but can't usually find any without fillers and emulsifiers, so I started drinking the half and half, which is only cream and milk). And then there is the yogurt, the goat cheese, the occasional cave-aged gruyere...Basically, a large proportion of each grocery haul is dairy.

So what am going to do? I am cutting out all soft cheeses immediately. Also gone is my milk and half and half. This morning I used coconut milk in my coffee, and it was...tolerable. Not fab, but I didn't really notice after the first few sips. As I said, when all that lovely cheddar, asiago and parmesan is gone, I won't replace it, and I suspect that we will slow down on what we still have.

I know some folks who are doing the Whole30 paleo diet, which is basically a very strict paleolithic diet for 30 days. No Neolithic foods at all. No dairy (no butter, even), no alcohol, no grains, no white potatoes, no sugars or sweeteners, no legumes. Just meats, eggs, veggies, some fruits and nuts, and healthy fats (animal and vegetable), excluding butter. I'm pretty much on board with this entire plan, including ditching the dairy, especially after reading this post on the Whole9 website. But there is one thing I'm balking at - that no butter thing.

See, I'm not convinced that the dairy factor is that simple. Here and here are a couple of articles written by doctor and paleo blogger Kurt G. Harris about dairy that make me question one particular assumption in the Whole9 post. I'm not doubting the science they cite, but they make the assumption that dairy is going to have this huge negative effect for most folks, and should just be avoided. 

I believe that if dairy is going to affect a person, it's usually exacerbated by other bad things like gluten, which causes leaky gut. I suspect that my recent bloating problem with milk is due to the crap that I am eating, and the possible gluten I've been getting at restaurants, because this is the first time since I started drinking raw milk and eating paleo that I've had a problem. I agree that I probably need to reset my baseline and so I will stop consuming dairy for at least 30 days. When the 30 days is up, I will try some milk and see what happens.

But my big question at the moment is: Does butter contain enough of these milk proteins to be a problem? That is what I have to decide.

I mostly cook with lard anyways, but I always use butter for certain things like eggs, baked things like potatoes, sweet potatoes and apples...At this point, I'm not going to stress about it. I think that butter and dairy are the least of my problems, and I'm sure that I will improve immensely by ditching all the things on my bulleted list. In addition, I'll go dairy free and quit drinking for 30 days, and maybe I'll even leave out the butter.

I have no idea what is going to happen to Stoney's Pub nights, though. Sheesh, we'll all be a bunch of tee-totalers. Maybe we should take up knitting and checkers. Hmm...geeky board games, anyone?


Chinese Five Spice and Roasted Duck

Duck has become one of my favorite meats. The rich flavor, gobs of delicious fat, and the fact that it's all dark meat make it the preferred poultry at our house. In fact, since introducing duck to my husband, he has stated that he could happily never eat chicken again, and I often find him in the kitchen after a duck dinner, contentedly devouring any left over bits of meat and skin, dipping them in the fat in the pan. Most of the time, Michael devours the entire duck that night, and there are no leftovers. Whenever I have mourned that fact, he's told me, "If you want leftovers, then you need to cook two ducks!"

Normally I use a meat thermometer when roasting any cut of meat, but I find that it doesn't work so well with duck. Maybe I haven't found the "sweet" spot, but it seems that no matter where I place the thermometer, the rest of the duck just isn't cooked right. So I went back to the tried and true method I learned from my grandma...when the leg wiggles freely, the duck is done.

Most of the time, I keep the preparation simple...a little bit of salt and pepper, and maybe a few garlic cloves tucked under the skin (sooooo delicious!), then roast slow and low, and turn it up at the end to crisp the skin. There is a risk of drying out and overcooking if you don't roast it low enough, and it seems that the lower it roasts, the less need I have for turning it up at the end. For example, roasting at 300 degrees tends to be too high. The meat cooks too fast, and the skin doesn't crisp and brown as well. Turn it down to 250 or 275, and it takes a lot longer to cook, but it comes out beautifully.

I used to be afraid to cook so low, but the more I do it, the more I am sold on it. It may take 3 to 5 hours to cook a roast, but the meat comes out amazingly juicy and tender. I have only cooked pork shoulders and birds this way, so I can't speak for a cut of meat that doesn't have a skin to lock the moisture in, but I suspect it will still apply to those cuts of meat as well.

Chinese Five Spice Powder

I wanted to do something a little new and different with my latest duck. I just recently discovered what spices comprise Chinese Five Spice powder, and decided to try it out. I didn't have any in the cupboard, but the whole spices, freshly ground, provide a better, bolder flavor anyway, so I mixed it up myself. The most common spices in this blend are star anise, fennel, sichuan (also spelled szechuan) peppercorn, cinnamon and cloves.

The only component spice that I don't have is sichuan peppercorn, which, incidentally, is not related to either peppercorns or chili peppers. I've never eaten anything with this spice, but it sounds compelling and kind of exciting; it causes a mild tingle or numbness in the mouth, has a hint of citrus flavor, and is used in Sichuan cuisine, particularly with large doses of hot chili peppers. One of my life goals is to enjoy a real sichuan hot pot. (Just about every Asian culture has a version of hot pot...basically fondue with broth and lots of meats and vegetables. I'd like to try all of those versions too!)

I decided to substitute regular peppercorns for the sichuan pepper, because I wasn't interested in spicy heat for this particular dish. After looking at a lot of recipes online, I decided to mix my five spice powder in the following proportions:

1 tsp star anise - about 1 whole star anise and a few broken pieces
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp peppercorns
1/2 tsp cinnamon - about a half-inch of cinnamon stick, broken up
3 cloves

Most recipes call for a 1:1 ratio of clove and cinnamon, but I find that cloves can be too overpowering for other flavors, so I went conservative on it. Also, most recipes call for roasting the spices before grinding, but I decided to simply grind them, as they would be roasting for several hours on the duck.

Once my spices were ground, I was treated to an intoxicating, heady, exotic scent...the cinnamon was the key note, but the star anise and fennel were close behind, all melded together to create a fabulous aroma. I could almost see this as a cologne, along the lines of a nice Bay Rum, but with more duskiness. (Bay Rum for day wear, Five Spice for the evening?)

Chinese Five Spice Roasted Duck

I poked a few holes in the skin of the duck with a sharp knife, mixed my new five spice powder with salt and rubbed it all over the skin, making sure to get some inside the cavity, as well. I left all the organs inside the cavity, figuring their juices would add to the overall flavor. 

Then I sliced 3 potatoes in half and placed them under the duck to absorb some of that decadent fat. 

Once it was prepped I put it into the (preheated) oven at 275 degrees for about 3.5 hours. I checked it every 20 minutes after the 2.5 hour mark, and wiggled the leg to see if it would easily come loose. The house smelled incredible as the bird was cooking, and Michael was hovering toward the end. There may have been drool.

I am remiss in not getting a photo of this beauty when it came out of the oven. The skin was nice and dark and crispy, but still had lots of fat under it. I may be a bit of a renegade in this arena, because I like the skin to be a bit fatty, and not all drained and dried out, as most recipes call for. Especially the breast portion - I love the three tiers of crispy skin, juicy fat, and dark, rich meat. And the Chinese Five Spice really perfected it!

Luckily, that evening I had also cooked fish (my next recipe post) so I actually had enough leftover duck to make what is probably my favorite of all leftover dishes. 

Leftover Five Spice Duck Fry-Up

Pick all the meat off of the duck carcass. In our house this is usually everything but the breasts and the drumsticks. There is a lot of meat on the back of the bird, so don't waste it!

Chop up some onion and the left over potatoes into bite sized pieces. 

Cut up some green onions, and also set aside a hand-full of dried cherries. (Raisins might work, too, but only in an emergency. I keep dried cherries as a staple.)

Course-chop some mushrooms. I used dried mushrooms that I re-hydrated with boiling water. They come out a bit chewy, and have a richer flavor than the fresh white mushrooms from the grocery store. When I opened the bag of dried mushrooms, I swear they smelled like chocolate and tea with a slight mushroomy undertone.

In a hot cast iron skillet, or a good electric skillet set on high, add some duck fat, then the onions and potatoes. They should immediately start frying. As soon as they start to brown a bit, add all the chopped up duck meat, and make sure you put the skin in as well - it will get all crispy again. Let this fry and brown, stirring every few minutes, to get all the sides. When it's almost to your liking, add the cherries, green onions and mushrooms, and fry for a few minutes more. The only seasoning you may want to add is salt.

Serve and Nom! 

The sweet-tartness of the cherries go incredibly well with the duck and the 5 spice seasoning. I love this kind of fusion, with sweet notes from the cinnamon and fruit, savory bits from the mushrooms, meat and onions, and the contrasting textures of crispy and chewy.