Sunday, October 14, 2012

Vegetable of the Week: Spaghetti Squash

The taming of the squash

I've long been terrified of the different varieties of autumn/winter squash.  They seemed challenging to cook, and they'd only been served to me in childhood swimming in butter and coated with brown sugar.  If you have to do that much to a vegetable to make it edible, it can't be very good, right?

I honestly can't recall ever having eaten spaghetti squash, so this week's veggie was truly a leap for me.  We decided to serve the squash "noodles" with spaghetti sauce; it somehow seemed appropriate.

How to cook spaghetti squash:

  • Cut the stem end off the squash then cut the squash in half lengthwise with a sharp knife.
  • Microwave each half of the squash, cut side down, on a plate for 10 minutes.
  • Carefully (it's hot!!) remove the seeds and discard.  
  • Use a spoon to scrape out the squash innards into a serving dish.  Marvel at the way it falls into "noodles!"
The raw squash smelled like a pumpkin.  When the squash is cooked, it has a sweet smell.  The flavor was mild and slightly buttery and just a little sweet.  We added a touch of butter to bring out the flavor a bit more.  Elias and I both enjoyed it.  Maddie wasn't all that excited about it (but she's pretty picky anyway).  The hubby ate it but wasn't all that excited either. I think he really wants the pasta back.  

Recipe:  Spaghetti Squash with Turkey & Mushroom Sauce

  • 1 spaghetti squash, prepared as above
  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • Jarred spaghetti or tomato sauce (we used our homemade canned tomato sauce -- sooo good!)
  • Salt, pepper, Italian seasoning to taste
  1. Cook the ground turkey in a deep skillet until no longer pink.
  2. Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook until soft.
  3. Stir in the sauce.  Season with salt, pepper, or Italian seasoning to your preference.
  4. Serve over hot spaghetti squash noodles.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Vegetable of the Week: Green Beans

When we first made the switch to Paleo, we encountered some dissent over whether green beans fell under the banner of vegetable or legume.   Since legumes aren't Paleo, this was a pretty important question to answer!

The answer from a few trusted sources like Mark Sisson, Rob Wolff, and Diane SanFilippo is that while green beans are a legume, they have very little lectin, which is what makes other beans problematic.  I was pretty pleased to hear that since green beans are a favorite in our family!

Often when we have green beans as a side dish, we just steam them or saute them in a little coconut oil and garlic.  This week, we decided to revamp a traditional family dish from my husband's family that is known as "Laci beans" because it was the only way my husband's little sister would eat vegetables when she was little.

The story of the Laci beans is that they were created on a camping trip out of vegetable desperation.  They were essentially canned beans dumped in a pot with a bit of onion and some diced bacon and boiled.  I don't know what movies you grew up with, but when I think of boiled bacon, this is what comes to mind:

"You said you didn't like all the grease from fried bacon...
so I boiled it." 
We decided that we would like to revamp the Laci beans with fresh, tasty ingredients that still have nutritional content.  Here's what we came up with:

Recipe:  Sauteed Green Beans with Bacon and Onion (aka Laci Beans)


  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
  • 1/4 of a sweet onion, chopped 
  • 1 lb fresh green beans, trimmed and snapped
  1. Cook the bacon in a saute pan over medium heat until it is about halfway done.
  2. Add the chopped onion and cook together with the bacon until the onion is caramelized and the bacon is mostly done.
  3. Add your beans and saute them briefly with the bacon and onion just until heated through.  Be careful not to overcook.
Revamped Laci beans.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Vegetable of the Week: Tomatoes!

Okay, so it's probably technically a fruit.  But most people consume it as a veggie, so it belongs here.  We're starting off easy, especially since tomatoes are probably my favorite vegetable and definitely one of the most versatile.

What did we do with tomatoes this week?  We ate them raw, sauteed them in oil, used them in place of bread, and canned our own homemade tomato sauce.  Talk about a treat!  We got really lucky with our tomatoes this week too.  The ones for the sauce came straight off a farm in Eastern Washington, and the rest were picked right out of my mother's garden.   The sauce tomatoes were Romas, and the rest were different varieties of cherries, and some beautiful heirlooms.  If you're eating tomatoes from the grocery store, you are really missing out.  Compared to garden-fresh tomatoes, store-bought tomatoes have basically no flavor at all.

The bounty out of my mother's garden.  Wish you could see the heirlooms!

One of my favorite ways to eat tomatoes is to saute the little cherry and grape tomatoes in a bit of butter or bacon fat.  I especially like this with my breakfast.   I've been slicing up the larger ones and eating them with tuna salad (per my sister's suggestion).  I also like to just roast them with some garlic and eat them on the side of whatever.

Recipe:  Homemade Tomato Sauce

This is how we made the tomato sauce for canning.  It made approximately 16 pint jars.  I'm not going to include the full directions for canning, but once you've made the sauce, you can either freeze it or can it in the standard method.  This blog has the full directions for canning.  Our recipe was a variation on this one, though.  We did not add salt or sugar, which are frequently used in canned tomato sauce recipes.  Sugar is an obvious omission, but we figured we could add our own salt to taste when we cook with it.


  • 30 lbs. fresh Roma tomatoes
  • 4 onions
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • handful of fresh oregano
  • handful of fresh basil, slivered
  1. Prep the tomatoes by washing them well, cutting off the blossom end, and then quartering them.  
  2. Chop the onion and the garlic finely (a food processor is good for this).
  3. Heat the oil in a large stockpot (we split ours between several pots).  Saute the onion and garlic to release the flavors.
  4. Add tomatoes in batches.  As the tomatoes heat up, they will shrink down, and you can add more tomatoes to the pots.  Add the herbs at this time as well.  Let the tomatoes cook until they have released juices and are reduced by about half.  
  5. Process the tomatoes using a food mill.  Most food mills are different, so follow the directions specific to your mill.  This step takes all the juice and pulp out of the tomatoes (and other seasonings) and leaves the skin and seeds behind.
  6. Once you've processed all the tomatoes, return your sauce to the stockpot and simmer until it is reduced by half.  This is when the tomato sauce becomes thick, rich, and incredible.  Make sure to taste it.  The difference between fresh tomato sauce from farm tomatoes versus store-bought canned tomato sauce will absolutely blow your mind!
  7. Can sauce according to approved method.
That's a lot of tomatoes!!
Processing the tomatoes with the food mill. 
The beautiful finished product.

What is your favorite way to eat tomatoes??  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Review: Eat Like a Dinosaur

Eat Like a Dinosaur by Stacy Toth and Matt McCarry (The Paleo Parents) is probably the most helpful book I have in my paleo arsenal.

The book is in three basic parts:  the part for adults, the mini-book for kids, and the cookbook, which features incredible recipes.

The Part for Adults

This part not only introduces the Paleo Parents and their family, it is also full of helpful and extremely practical advice for switching your family over to paleo.  This is something that I had been struggling with, so I absolutely loved this part.  It doesn't dwell on the science behind paleo or attempt to "convert" you in any way.  It assumes that if you bought the book, your mind is already made up.  You just need help getting the family on board.

It also contains some of the most useful, practical information I've seen on purchasing paleo ingredients.  It lists kitchen gadgets that are helpful to have and where to find paleo ingredients like the various nut flours and butters and assorted oils.

The Part for Kids

This was a cute story, as told by Matt and Stacy's son Cole, about what it means to eat paleo from a kid's perspective.  I sat down with Elias and Maddie and we read the story together.  Elias thought it was funny, and Maddie kept roaring.  I don't know how much sunk in, so we may do another reading.  It's a much easier way to explain the reasoning behind what we are trying to do and why we are choosing these foods. I do hope in time that the kids will learn to automatically reach for the healthier foods.

The Cookbook

This is the best part of the book, of course!  We've had a chance to try several recipes out of the book now. Our list includes:

  • 50/50 Bacon Burgers (oh yeah.....)
  • Pork Roast with Squishy Squashy Apples
  • Mini Egg Pizzas
  • Kale, Bacon & Black Olive Pie (we used spinach)
  • Fool's Gold (Chicken Nuggets)
  • Sweet Potato Fries
We haven't really had the opportunity to experiment with the sweet treats and other snacks that are featured in the book, although I do have a bunch of apples that I want to turn into dried apple slices, and we are definitely going to try out their jerky recipes.

These recipes were all fantastic.  The bacon burgers were mind-blowing (and it was satisfying to see that we can grind bacon in our food processor...).  The mini egg pizzas not only make a good meal but can also be refrigerated for on-the-go breakfasts and lunches.  We are planning to try them using different ingredient combinations since packing quick lunches is always a concern of ours.  

One of the things I really like about these recipes is the way that they indicate how the kids can help.  

Maddie dipping the chicken pieces to make Fool's Gold.

Elias peels sweet potatoes for Sweet Potato Fries.
I would strongly recommend this book to anyone with a family who needs a little help getting everyone I'm board. I'm really looking forward to trying out the paleo dessert items and seeing how the kids like them.   It's also fun to see the kids paging through the book when I ask them to pick out a meal they want to try this week. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Switching the Seasons

It's time for the winter veggies to take over...
Photo by Stuart Miles

As I was on my last grocery shopping trip, I couldn't help but notice the shift that was taking place in the produce department.  The zucchini had been moved to a smaller section, the cherries had disappeared, and the nectarines and peaches were no longer front and center.  Instead, I was seeing gourds of all types, apples, pears, and even pomegranates prominently displayed.  It's time to face the music:  Regardless of the weather outside, summer is leaving us, and the fall harvest is starting to come in.

When you're trying to make produce a significant amount of your meal and save money while you're at it, eating local and in season is about the only way to go. Watch the prices on your produce over the next few weeks.  The berries are about to skyrocket in price, but the stores will be practically giving away apples.

These are the fruits and veggies currently in season in the Pacific Northwest:


  • apples
  • pears
  • blackberries
  • cantaloupes
  • huckleberries
  • plums
  • pomegranates
  • artichokes
  • beets
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cabbage
  • carrots
  • celery
  • cucumber
  • eggplant
  • sunchokes
  • kale
  • kohlrabi
  • leeks
  • parsnips
  • pumpkins
  • rutabaga
  • winter squash
What's your favorite fall fruit or veggie?  I'm thrilled that pomegranates are back; that's a big favorite of mine.  I'm looking forward to trying some new veggies this year.  Winter veggies are the ones I usually tend to rebel against the most, so this is actually a great time to go for the veggie challenge.

What new local, in-season veggie are you going to commit to trying this fall?

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Veggie Challenge

Let the games begin!
Photo by Kittikun

My family is in a vegetable rut.  We tend to get the same veggies day after day and week after week.  Green beans, spinach, broccoli, and -- if we're feeling really exotic -- green peppers and zucchini.  That's kind of sad.  There's a wealth of vegetables out there, and we really need to branch out.  There's stuff out there I haven't even tried, so I don't even know if I like it or not!  

Here's what I'm thinking.

Each week I'm going to report back on our "veggie of the week."  I'll let you know what we did with it and talk about some of the different cooking techniques used for it.  Most importantly, I'll let you know whether the family liked it!  I'm guessing it will start out easy and then get more challenging once we've burned through most of the "easy" veggies.  Since the season is changing and the fall veggies are coming out (more on that later), we may start hitting more uncommon veggies earlier than I would have if I had started this challenge in the summer.  

If you have suggestions for vegetables to try, let me hear them!  I'd love for you guys to participate in the challenge too! 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Paleo Brown Bag Lunches

What's in your lunch today?
Photo by ningmilo

This is one of the areas where we have been consistently challenged.  Both my son and my husband have to take lunches with them, and they are having problems thinking outside the sandwich bag.  The common complaint is that they aren't taking enough food and are fading shortly after lunch.  Sorry boys, a hard-boiled egg, nuts, and a piece of fruit aren't going to cut it!

They are both old enough to pack their own lunches (haha), so we've had to do some brainstorming to come up with more ideas.  Here are some of our winners:


  • Leftovers are definitely the big winner.  Before we dig into the main meal, we've been pulling aside an extra portion for each of them to take the next day.  
  • When we made the chorizo meatballs from Practical Paleo, these were a huge hit.  Next shopping trip, I'm going to grab extra pork sausage, and we're going to make a batch to keep in the freezer and fridge for fast lunches.
  • The "egg muffins" from Eat Like a Dinosaur have also been a great option for lunches.  We made them as in the book with diced tomatoes, olives, mushroom, and pepperoni.  This weekend we're going to play with them some more and try using different ingredients.
  • I found a package of turkey sausage in the meat discount bin.  I picked it up and we tossed them in the grill pan and then the fridge.  Not only were these a great option for the guys, but since Maddie and I had a "picnic" to go to that required a lunch, I sliced them up and put them in a baggie and they made the perfect finger food.  
  • Individual serving cups of tuna and salmon are the perfect size for lunch boxes.  Elias thinks that they are quite the treat.
Veggies/ Fruit

  • This one is kind of a no brainer.  Both the kids love fruit, so getting them to eat it is never a problem.  Apples, pears, berries, melons... whatever we have on hand, it all goes into the baggie.
  • Veggies are a little more challenging, but items like carrots, cucumbers, and green peppers are popular.
  • Each kid has the opportunity to pick out a piece of produce they want to try this week, so that has made fruit and veggie packing a little more interesting.
  • I'm planning a trip to an apple orchard soon, and we're going to try out some of those dried apple snacks from ELaD.  I suspect they will be huge hits.

  • Homemade trail mix has been the big winner in this category.  We hit the bulk bins at Fred Meyer and Elias can basically go through and pick out which nuts and unsweetened dried fruit he wants in his mix. This week he had sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews, dates, and coconut flakes.
  • Canned olives are a HUGE favorite.  Just drain 'em and toss 'em in  bag.  I'm sure Elias sticks them on his fingers.  I don't want to know about it.
  • Elias has thought seaweed is incredible since he was little.  When I came home with a package of SeaSnax, his mind was completely blown.
  • Larabars and fruit leather are less common treats but still a possibility.
What are your favorite lunch options?