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Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Perfect Grass-Fed Steak with Sauce Maison


This “house sauce” sounds fancy in French but it’s just a simple pan sauce that takes only 3 ingredients I usually have on hand: garlic, blue cheese, and cognac.

If you're planning a special dinner for New Year's Eve, this elegant dish would make a delicious main course. Start the meal with a seasonal soup, follow the steak with a big green salad, and finish it with a stunning dessert.

To make the perfect steak, start with good quality grass-fed meat. Season it with sea salt and freshly ground pepper 24 to 48 hours in advance and bring it to room temperature before you cook it. Tender cuts of meat like steak are best cooked quickly over high heat until rare or medium rare. (Avoid cooking meats at high temperatures for longer than necessary. Well done meats have been linked to several kinds of cancer.)

You’ll need a saturated fat for high-temperature cooking. I used rendered duck fat but you could use another rendered fat (leftover from a roast, for example) or ghee. You could also use butter, but take care not to burn the milk solids. Avoid using oils that are liquid at room temperature (like olive oil, canola oil, or vegetable oil) because high temperatures quickly damage fragile unsaturated fatty acids.

1 grass-fed strip loin steak, or other steak, about a pound, pre-seasoned and at room temperature
Sea salt
Ground peppercorn
Duck fat, lard, or butter
¼ cup cognac
¼ cup crumbled blue cheese
1 clove garlic, grated

Add the fat to a stainless steel or cast iron skillet over medium- high heat. Once the fat is melted and the skillet is hot, add the steak. Cook it on one side for 3 to 4 minutes, until browned and aromatic.

Turn it over and cook it until done, 3 to 4 minutes more for medium rare (depending on the thickness). Once it's cooked to perfection, remove the steak from the skillet, cover it loosely, and set it aside in a warm place.

Away from the stove, add the cognac to the skillet, then return it to the stove. Warm it over medium-low heat and use a whisk to incorporate any brown bits on the bottom of the pan into the sauce. Simmer until it has reduced by about half.

Add the blue cheese and grate in the garlic. Stir to combine everything thoroughly and cook for a few minutes more. Taste and make any necessary adjustments.

Slice the steak once it has rested for at least 10 minutes. Pour the sauce over the top or serve it on the side.

Serves 2.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dark Chocolate Clusters with Cranberries


These dark chocolate clusters are a special holiday treat. Full of cranberries and coconut, they add a festive touch to any occasion. You can make them in advance with just four ingredients, so they'll be ready whenever you want to serve them.

I finished them with a sprinkle of merlot sea salt, a gift from my good friend Dr. Patti Kim. You can substitute another salt, like Blood Orange Sea Salt or even plain coarse sea salt. Or add a pinch of salt to the melted chocolate when you mix them up and don't worry about garnishing them later. Or leave them unsalted.

If you're not a fan of coconut or have trouble finding it unsweetened, you can substitute raw walnuts, pecans, or cashews instead.

6 oz dark chocolate, 72 to 85% dark
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 cup dried unsweetened cranberries
Pinch merlot sea salt or other salt

Warm the chocolate in a glass or stainless steel bowl over a gently simmering water bath until just melted. Stir in the coconut and cranberries.

Divide the mixture among 12 mini-cups in a silicone mold.

Garnish them with sea salt and place them in the fridge for an hour.

Once the chocolate clusters have set, serve them or transfer them to an airtight glass container. Store the clusters in the fridge but take them out at least 20 minutes before serving to soften.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Black Bean Chili With Grass-Fed Ground Beef


Home-made chili is a nutritious and inexpensive dish. It's full of antioxidant-rich ingredients like tomatoes, black beans, and peppers, and my version also has cocoa powder and turmeric.

Turmeric isn't a traditional chili ingredient but because has so many healthy benefits, I add it to dishes whenever I can. In this recipe I use unsweetened cocoa powder as a spice, not a sweetener, because it adds a subtle richness and a bittersweet flavor that makes this chili pleasingly complex.

Grass-fed ground beef is a good source of protein and a healthy source of fat. As far as grass-fed meats go, ground versions are less expensive and more widely available than other cuts. Find grass-fed ground beef at your local farmer's market or Trader Joe's.

I season this dish with warm spices like cinnamon and smoked paprika, and I add some heat with fresh chili pepper and dried chipotle pepper. You can use any peppers you wish or omit them if you don't want the heat. (Most of the heat in fresh chili peppers lives in the seeds and membranes, so if you want a less spicy dish, just remove and discard them.) This recipe calls for several spices and if you're missing one or more, don't let that discourage you from making this dish. Use whatever you have.

Home-made chili is slow food. Remember to soak the beans the day before (24 hours in advance is ideal) and plan enough time to cook this stew for a couple of hours and then set it aside for a couple of hours before you serve it.

2 tbsp duck fat, organic butter, or cold-pressed olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
1 fresh chili pepper, minced
1 pound grass-fed ground beef at room temperature
1 dried chipotle pepper
1½ tsp ground cumin
1½ tsp ground turmeric
1½ tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tsp ground oregano
1 tsp ground coriander seed
½ tsp lime sea salt, or regular sea salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
24 ounces tomato purée (I buy it in glass jars)
1 cup dried black beans, pre-soaked for 24 hours
2 heaping tbsp unsweetened, unprocessed cocoa powder
3 cloves garlic
1 bunch fresh cilantro, leaves and stems chopped
Whole milk Greek yogurt to garnish

Soak the beans 24 hours in advance.

Warm the fat in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Once it has melted, add the onions and fresh peppers. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables become soft and start to pick up some brown color.

Crumble in the ground beef and continue cooking, breaking it up into small pieces, until the meat is fully cooked. Add the whole chipotle (you'll fish it out later), cumin, turmeric, paprika, ground pepper, oregano, coriander, sea salt and cinnamon. Stir to coat the meat and vegetables in spices and reduce the heat to low. Continue cooking until the meat starts to brown, about 5 more minutes.

Add a splash of tomato purée and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan and incorporate them into the sauce. Then stir in the rest of the tomatoes, the pre-soaked beans, and enough filtered water to cover everything generously.

Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer very gently for 2 hours or more, until the beans are fully cooked and the meat is very tender. Taste the chili periodically while it cooks and make any necessary adjustments with the spices. If you're afraid it will get too spicy, pull out the chipotle whenever you wish. If you need more liquid during cooking, add boiling water.  If you have too much liquid, simmer it uncovered until it reduces to your desired consistency.

Once the chili is fully cooked, turn off the heat. Stir in the cocoa powder and garlic. Cover the chili and set it aside for at least 2 hours or until you're ready to eat.

To serve the chili, remove the chipotle if you haven't already, then re-heat it over low heat until hot. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Stir in half of the chopped cilantro, then ladle the chili into bowls. Top the chili with a dollop of yogurt if you wish, or serve it on the side, then garnish with the remaining cilantro.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Wild Rice Soup with Chicken and Peppers


Warm and bright, delicious and nutritious, wild rice soup is the perfect dish for cold weather and rainy or snowy days. Pair it with a green salad and clementines or an ounce or two of dark chocolate for dessert. You'll forget about the weather in no time.

My version of creamy wild rice soup contains the usual suspects: onion, celery, carrots, wild rice, chicken broth, and cream. But it also contains red pepper, which adds color, vitamins, and antioxidants, and red pepper flakes, which contribute heat and anti-inflammatory effects. (You can use as much or as little as you like.)

I omited thickeners like flour and other starches, so it's light and creamy instead of thick and sticky, a refreshing change. Because I used bone broth, this soup is full of healthy fat, minerals in their most digestible form, and other nutrients that help our bodies maintain healthy bones, joints, and connective tissues. I used chicken stock and shredded chicken but feel free to substitute turkey broth and leftover turkey.

This recipe calls for dried Herbes de Provence during cooking and fresh parsley to garnish, but you can substitute any herbs you like. Try dried rosemary or sage, or fresh basil or thyme. If you can, soak the rice several hours before you cook it.

For a dairy-free version, add more broth in place of cream.

1 cup wild rice, pre-soaked
Sea salt
2 tbsp rendered duck fat (or substitute organic butter or extra virgin olive oil)
1 large onion, chopped
4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, thinly sliced
1 large red pepper, chopped
Pinch red pepper flakes
Freshly ground pepper
3 tbsp Herbes de Provence or other dried herbs 
8 cups bone broth
3 cloves garlic, grated or minced
1 cup  heavy cream (grass-fed or organic)
Several cups of shredded slow-roasted chicken (recipe follows)

Drain the wild rice and transfer it to a large sauce pan. Cover the rice with plenty of filtered water and add a generous pinch of salt.  Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer it until tender, about 45 minutes or more. The grains are fully cooked when they are tender and partially puffed open. They should not be fully open, mushy, or overcooked. Drain the rice and set it aside.

Melt the duck fat in a heavy-bottomed soup pot (cast iron or stainless steel) over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrot, red pepper, red pepper flakes, ground pepper, and dried herbs. Stir and cook until the vegetables have softened and started to brown. Add the broth and a generous pinch of sea salt. Stir the mixture and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer it until the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes more.

Once the vegetables are tender, add the garlic, cream, and drained, cooked wild rice. Stir and continue cooking just until the mixture is hot. Do not boil the soup once you have added the cream. Taste it for seasoning and make any necessary adjustments.

There are three options for serving:

#1  Ladle the soup into bowls and top it with pulled slow-roasted chicken. Garnish the soup with fresh parsley and serve it immediately.

#2  Place the pulled chicken in the bottom of soup bowls and ladle the soup on top. Garnish the soup with fresh parsley and serve it immediately.

#3  Chop the chicken, stir it into the soup, then ladle it into bowls. Garnish the soup with fresh parsley and serve it immediately.


Slow-Roasted Chicken

This roasted chicken recipe couldn't be easier. You just need salt, pepper, and some sort of fat, plus a good quality pasture-raised chicken. (Unlike "free range chickens" you find in grocery stores, chickens that were raised on pasture contain fat that is good for you. Find them at your local farmers market.)

Like all roasted meats, whole chickens should be cooked low and slow. This prevents them from drying out (as long as you don't cook them too long) and prevents cancer-causing compounds from forming. (Heterocyclic amines or HCAs are formed when amino acids in meat are exposed to temperatures above 300 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Cancer Institute.)

I don't bother to truss my chicken, although you certainly could. Instead I make some slits in the skin and tuck the legs and wings inside to keep them close to the body, which ensures even cooking. This simple recipe doesn't call for stuffing the bird, but you could if you want, with onion, garlic, fresh herbs, and/or organic citrus fruit. 

1 pasture-raised chicken at room temperature
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Rendered duck fat, grass-fed butter, or extra virgin olive oil

Take your chicken out of the fridge up to two hours before you cook it to allow it to come to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 325F. Smear a small amount of fat in the bottom of a baking pan and set it aside.

Dry the chicken, inside and out. Place the chicken on its back (breast-side up).  Locate the flaps of skin on the bottom of the bird and make a small slit in each one where the opposite leg makes contact. Push the end of right leg through the slit on the left, and the end of the left leg through the slit on the right.

Extend one wing and pull it down between the body and the thigh. Make a small slit in the skin there and push the end of the wing through to secure it.

Repeat on the other side.

Season the bird generously with sea salt and freshly ground pepper on the front, back, and sides. Place it in the baking dish, breast-side up.

Transfer the chicken to the oven and reduce the temperature to 300F. Bake it until the skin is golden brown, the joints fall apart easily when prodded, and a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads at least 180F. A 5-pound bird takes about two and a half hours.

Pull the chicken apart. Reserve the pan juices, bones, skin, and cartilage for bone broth.