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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Noodle-Less Lasagna


Giving up refined grains like pasta doesn't have to mean giving up lasagna. This layered dish has all the same flavors, so you won't even miss the noodles. When I served it to my husband recently he didn't even notice it was noodle-less.

My recipe calls for grass-fed ground beef but you could make a vegetarian version by substituting a layer of sautéed mushrooms, thinly sliced zucchini, and/or puréed white beans.

I recommend making enough to have leftovers because this dish will taste even better the next day. It will hold together substantially better too (so much so that you may want to bake it a day in advance, cool and refrigerate it overnight, cut it into portions, then gently re-heat it in a low oven before serving).

This recipe calls for ghee instead of olive oil because I bake it at 400F. The fragile fatty acids in olive oil become damaged by such high temperatures, so it's not a good choice for high-temperature cooking. Instead use a stable, saturated fat like ghee or rendered animal fat.

2 tablespoons ghee, divided
1 large eggplant
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 medium onion
1 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
28 oz puréed tomatoes 
Cayenne to taste
2 tsp dried Herbes de Provence or other dried herbs 
1/2 pound grass-fed ground beef
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp fresh chopped herbs like parsley, oregano, basil, or thyme
8 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced as thin as possible
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Warm 1 tablespoon of ghee in a medium stainless steel or cast iron skillet until just melted. Turn off the heat. Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch thick rounds and arrange them on baking trays. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the top of each round with melted ghee. Turn each one over and brush the other side. Season them with salt and pepper. Transfer them to the oven and roast until they start to soften and brown, about 20 minutes. Turn the eggplant rounds over and put them back in the oven for about 20 more minutes, until the eggplant is very soft and both sides are brown. Set them aside to cool.

While the eggplant roasts, finely chop the onion and divide it between the skillet you used to melt the ghee and a medium saucepan on the stove top. Crumble the beef into the skillet and cook it over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and cooked through. Turn off the heat. Grate the garlic into the skillet, add the chopped herbs, and stir to mix everything thoroughly. Cover the skillet and set it aside.

While the meat browns, add the remaining tablespoon of ghee to the saucepan with the onion. Cook it over medium heat until the onion becomes soft and starts to brown, about 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir  in the vinegar. Continue cooking until most of the moisture has evaporated, about one minute more. Add the puréed tomatoes. Stir in the cayenne and dried herbs. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Simmer it, allowing it to reduce and thicken, until the other components of this dish are ready to assemble.

Once the meat mixture and eggplant rounds are ready, turn off the tomato sauce. If you plan to bake the lasagna right away, preheat the oven to 350F.

Ladle a small amount of tomato sauce into a glass baking dish and shake the pan around to coat the bottom. Arrange half of the eggplant rounds in a single layer on top of the tomato sauce. Sprinkle a third of the Parmesan cheese over the eggplant, then scatter half of the meat mixture on top. Arrange half of the mozarella over the meat mixture.

Repeat the layers by adding the remaining tomato sauce, the remaining eggplant, half of the remaining Parmesan, the remaining meat, and the remaining mozzarella. Sprinkle the rest of the Parmesan cheese over the top and add any shreds of mozzarella that were left over from slicing.

If you're making this ahead, stop here, cool it completely, then cover it and transfer it to the fridge. When you're ready to finish the lasagna, bake it at 350F until hot and bubbly, about a half hour to 45 minutes.

Cool the lasagna for at least ten minutes before cutting it (longer is better). Garnish with fresh herbs if you wish and serve it immediately, with a big green salad.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Buddah's Vinegar


I was lucky enough to come across a Fingered Citron, also known as Buddah's Hand, that fragrant and fingered citrus fruit. Growing on trees and hanging from branches, they really do look like hands.

This fruit doesn't have any pulp or juice but it's incredibly aromatic and the essential oils in the peel are the real prize. Like other citrus fruit, you can zest it into sauces, soups, salad dressings, and garnishes. This time I used it to flavor vinegar. I didn't add anything else because I really want to appreciate the aroma of this special fruit. 

1 Fingered Citron or Buddah's Hand
White wine vinegar
Glass bottles with covers or corks

Cut the citron in half, and then into individual fingers.


Use a vegetable peeler and a sharp knife to remove as much of the peel from the pith as possible. You want all of the yellow part but not a lot of the white part, which can be bitter.

Add the pieces of peel to glass containers and cover them completely with vinegar.

Cover the containers and set them aside for a week or more. (The longer you leave them the more flavorful your vinegar will be.) Once you're ready to use it, strain the vinegar and discard the solids. Or pour off what you want to use and leave the solids inside to continue imparting flavor, as long as they're covered with vinegar. You can add more if necessary.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Flourless Mocha Cake


If you're looking for a special Valentine's Day dessert, this one is a winner. Unlike other flourless dark chocolate cakes, which tend to be dense, this one is light and airy by comparison.

This cake is also unique because it's bittersweet, not super sweet. It's just sweet enough. The entire cake contains just a quarter cup of honey, and because it easily serves 12, that breaks down to just a teaspoon of honey and one ounce of dark chocolate per serving. It's low in sugar and high in antioxidants, thanks to the cocoa powder, dark chocolate, and espresso. It contains absolutely no grains or gluten, so it's a healthy choice as far as desserts go.

This recipe calls for a cup of butter and 6 eggs, but contrary to popular belief, these aren't unhealthy ingredients when they come from animals who ate their natural diet. Compared to grain-fed animal products, those from grass-fed and pasture-raised animals have been found to contain more carotenoids (precursors to vitamin A), vitamin E, antioxidants like glutathione, and healthy fats including conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a polyunsaturated fat found to protect against cancer. Find grass-fed butter and pasture-raised eggs at your local farmer's market. Trader Joe's also sells grass-fed butter.

Because this cake is not too dense and not too sweet, it won't leave you feeling sluggish. And because you'll get a slight kick from the espresso, it's the perfect way to end a special meal if you're planning after-dinner festivities. If you don't have espresso, you can substitute strong coffee or even decaf if you prefer.

I like to serve this cake slightly warm with freshly whipped unsweetened organic cream, but a home-made raspberry sauce would be just as welcome, and fresh berries would be a beautiful garnish.

12 ounces 70% dark chocolate
1 cup grass-fed butter (2 sticks) at room temperature
¼ cup honey
½ cup cocoa powder (non-alkalinized)
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch sea salt
6 eggs at room temperature
½ cup espresso (regular or Swiss water decaf), cooled, or substitute strong coffee

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Add a couple of inches of water to a sauce pan and warm it over medium-low heat until it is gently simmering. Place the dark chocolate in a stainless steel or glass bowl, then place the bowl on top of the sauce pan. Cover it and reduce the heat to low. Watch it carefully and as soon as the chocolate has just melted, remove it from the heat.

Add the butter to the melted chocolate. Use the papers that the butter was wrapped in to coat the inside surface of a springform baking pan. (Note: If your spring form pan tends to leak, place a sheet of parchment paper on the base before you secure the top and butter the inside.)

Add the honey, cocoa powder, sea salt, and cinnamon to the chocolate mixture. Using an electric mixer, beat until well-combined. Add the eggs and beat again until smooth. Add the espresso and beat again until it's fully incorporated and the mixture is shiny, silky, and smooth. As you mix in the ingredients, the batter should increase in volume and the texture should become lighter.

Pour the mixture into the prepared springform pan and smooth the top. Transfer it to the oven and bake for about 35 minutes, until the center is just cooked and a wooden toothpick comes out mostly clean. Start checking after 30 minutes, as often as you have to, but do not over-bake it. Leaving this cake in the oven too long will ruin it for sure. If you're not sure if it's done or not, always err on the side of cooking it too little rather than too much.

Cool the cake until the sides of the pan are cool to the touch (the inside will still be slightly warm), about 45 minutes, or cool it completely to room temperature if you're making it ahead.

You can serve this cake as is but I think it's much better with a dollop of unsweetened freshly whipped organic cream (or a home-made raspberry sauce).

Whipping up fresh cream only takes a minute or two and it's entirely worth the effort. Chill a stainless steel bowl and your whisk or whipping attachment (if you're using an electric mixer) in the freezer ahead of time to speed the process.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Slow-Roasted Chicken With An Easy Pan Sauce


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 the "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.)

I use every part of the chicken: the meat for a main course, leftovers for soup, rendered fat for high-temperature cooking, the liver for an appetizer or  paté (or country paté), and the neck, giblets and carcass for bone broth.

The only fat I use is a small amount on the roasting pan to prevent the chicken from sticking. (I've even omitted that in the past, accidentally, and it didn't make much difference.) I don't slather fat all over the bird because it will release moisture and I don't want to steam the chicken. I also find it unnecessary because a pasture-raised chicken has plenty of good fat to keep it moist while it cooks.

Like all roasted meats, chicken 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. Good options include an organic lemon or orange cut into wedges, a quartered onion, garlic cloves, and/or fresh herbs. Note that if you stuff your bird, it will take a bit longer to cook.

To ensure a flavorful finished dish, make a point of seasoning your chicken generously with salt well in advance, at least 8 hours but ideally 24 to 48 hours before you cook it.

To ensure even cooking, take your chicken out of the fridge up to two hours ahead of time so it can to come to room temperature before you put it in the oven.

1 pasture-raised chicken, pre-salted and at room temperature
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Rendered chicken or duck fat, grass-fed butter, or ghee
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Preheat the oven to 325F.

Smear a small amount of fat in the bottom of a baking pan.

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 can make 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 a baking dish not much bigger than the bird, breast-side up. (If you use a pan too large, the juices may burn before it finishes cooking.)

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 170F. (The temperature will rise as it rests). A 5-pound bird takes about two and a half hours.

Once the chicken is fully cooked, transfer it to a cutting board or serving platter, cover it loosely (aluminum foil works well), and place it in a spot that's slightly warmer than room temperature (near the oven or on top of it).

If you want to reserve some of the rendered fat for high-temperature cooking (which should only be done with stable saturated fats) or if you prefer not to use it all in the sauce (I usually do use it all), skim some off with a spoon and set it aside.

Whisk a spoonful of Dijon mustard into the pan juices until the sauce is smooth and no longer separated. Taste it for seasoning and add more mustard if you prefer a spicier, thicker sauce, or some red wine vinegar or lemon juice if you like your sauce sharper.

After you eat the meat, reserve the bones, skin, and cartilage for bone broth.