If You Fail to Prepare, You’re Prepared to Fail…

This time of year it can be really, really easy to fall off the wagon. Well, not so much fall–let’s be honestit’s more of a spectacular swan dive into a jovial week of holiday parties and family gatherings. Caught up in a whirlwind of preparation for Christmas, my ability to focus on cooking and eating healthfully slackened and the consequences started to manifest. After one too many groggy mornings and emotional upsets, I decided to take action.

To nip this little backslide in the bud I made a trip to the grocery store my first priority for Sunday morning. My strategy: buy all of my favorite (paleo) things, whether or not they would make pretty blog posts, represent diverse meal options, or could be formed into any sort of meal I’d serve to another human being. Point being: if I like it, I’ll prepare it. If I prepare it, I’ll eat it. If I eat it, I won’t eat 57 shards of peppermint bark when I am ravenous at 10:30 am since I didn’t cook myself a decent breakfast.

So, two pounds of brussels sprouts later (plus an ungodly amount of other meat and vegetable matter that made biking home a perilous endeavor) I find myself with an arsenal of quick, easy staples that I can look forward to for multiple meals.

When I take the time to plan, good things happen. Here’s what’s on tap for Tuesday:

Breakfast: Sautéed mushrooms and peppers topped with 3 sunny-side up eggs

Cooking eggs on top of vegetables is as versatile and quick as it is delightful.

Simply sauté your veggies over medium heat until they are 80% done (anything quick-cooking and cut up fairly small will do–onions, peppers, mushrooms, shredded cauliflower, spinach, etc.), gently crack the desired number of eggs on top, put a lid on it, and finish getting ready for your day. I take this time to throw on a fresh pair of stretchy pants or wash my face. Nothing too time consuming.

Check back every 2-3 minutes until the the firmness of the eggs suits you. I like the yolks still runny so that they can make happy yolky goodness all over my vegetables. Gross. Great.

Lunch: Leftover steak and brussels sprouts from Monday night’s dinner

Always a fan of brussels sprouts, I don’t buy them too often since they seem awfully pricey in those little mesh baggies that contain eight obese sprouts for $3.49. When they look good (I like them wee) or happen to go on sale, though, you bet your buns I’ll be buying as many as I can get my hands on.

My latest method is a tried and true combination (brussels sprouts and bacon) with extra emphasis on texture (crispy, tender, crunchy, lovely).

Preheat the oven to 400°. Take your little sprouts and cut the bottoms off–the part that holds all the leaves on. In most cases, I also cut the sprout in half at this point unless they are very small. A few leaves will likely become separated in the process. KEEP THESE. THEY ARE VERY IMPORTANT. Ditch the end pieces, but toss the sprout halves and stray leaves into a baking pan. A 9X13 works well for 2 pounds of sprouts.

Drizzle your fat of choice over the whole thing and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Grab a few slices of bacon and chop them into 1/2 inch bits. Dot them around your pile of sprouts and stir the whole thing up. Stick it in the oven for about 45 minutes, stirring every 5-10 to ensure no sprouts are becoming adhered to the bottom of the pan. You want them nice and deep brown at the edges with a few of the little leaves verging on overly brown. The sprouts should be tender and easy to bite through when you try one (or seven).

For Monday night’s dinner, I served these crack-sprouts (I can’t stop eating them) with a small baked sweet potato and a nice bit of steak.

Dinner: A whole chicken and a cauliflower walk into a bar…

I know the set-up, but not the punch line.

The chicken will either be poached or roasted. The cauliflower could be shredded and sautéed! or roasted whole! or puréed into a tasty mash! Who knows!? (I like cauliflower almost as much as I like brussels sprouts–can you tell?)

We’ll see where the day takes me.

What Came First?

In this case, the chicken.

A simple chicken, roasted whole with a bit of homemade ghee rubbed under the skin for good measure. I have yet to settle on a method for roasting chicken that completely satisfies, but rest assured you’ll hear about it once I do. Apparently I’m not the only one who struggles with this paradigm of home cooking, however, as there is little consensus out there on how to do it right.

I generally cook a whole chicken about once a week–sometimes roasted, sometimes boiled, always enough to last for a few meals. A whole chicken is the meaty gift that keeps on giving. Fresh out of the oven, you flip it over and eat those lovely little oysters off of it’s back. Once it’s cooled a bit, you carve off enough for dinner with whatever vegetables you have on hand. The next day, chop a generous handful to toss on top of a salad. Finally, and oh-so-importantly, save the bones and make a simple stock.

Stock was always the end result of roast chicken when I was growing up. Our freezer was fit to burst with various yogurt containers labeled “spicy chx,” “grilled chx,” and so on. When it came time to prepare a soup or stew, the yogurt shaped stock cubes thawed quickly in a saucepan and were infinitely better than the available options in boxes or cans at the supermarket.

For a quick and dirty stock just toss the bones, scraps, and bits into a saucepan and add enough water to cover. If you’re feeling adventurous, throw in some limp celery or floppy carrots. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer and let it bubble gently on the back of the stove until your house smells wonderful and you need to get to bed. Usually about an hour will suffice–give it more if you can.

And then comes the egg.

Having good stock on hand opens up a wonderful world of soups and one of the quickest and most rewarding is a simple egg drop soup. Feel free to take it in the Asian direction if you’d like–scallions and sliced up bok choy are a great combination–but don’t feel limited! Any vegetable medley will work, provided you give them enough time to cook. Be sure to hold off on the eggs until the vegetables are at the desired tenderness. Cooking the eggs too long will yield rubbery strands.

Egg Drop Soup With Spinach

(Serves one person as a lighter meal–add an extra egg or use as a side for something more substantial)

  • 1 quart chicken stock, homemade is best
  • Salt, pepper, and any other appropriate seasonings (I used a bit of parsley–chopped scallions, garlic, etc. would also work well)
  • 2-3 cups fresh spinach, chopped into bite-sized strips if the leaves are large
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten in a separate bowl

Bring the stock to a simmer in a large saucepan.

Season the stock to taste with salt, pepper, and seasonings of choice.

Add the greenery and cook for 3-5 minutes until completely tender. If using something firmer, such as kale or sliced carrots, be sure to add a few minutes to the cook time.

Turn the heat off and pour the beaten eggs into the stock and veggie mixture, stirring gently. You want to stir just enough to create long, tender strands of eggy goodness. Do not stir or whisk aggressively unless you want something resembling scrambled eggs swimming in a pool of broth.

This keeps fairly well, so double the eggs and make a big batch if you want something to reheat the next day. Be sure to reheat gently, though, to avoid the aforementioned scrambled egg situation…

Welcome

Six months ago, there’s a good chance that at this moment I was stuffing Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie wrappers (at least two, likely three) into a ziplock with various other scraps of processed food remnants. I was just over halfway through a hike on the Appalachian Trail with boyfriend and dog as co-pilots and we were all in a bit of a nutrition free-for-all.

The dog ate the finest fare the gas station had to offer–once, something called “Gravy Train” which had disturbing results–and honestly we only did somewhat better. For a glimpse of standard nutrition on the trail, see “The Art of Resupply” in our account of the journey.

Prior to our departure, I had tinkered with doing a 30-day paleo challenge. I was pretty good about eating mostly meat and vegetables, but sated all of my cravings for sweets with dried fruit and became quite skilled at justifying things like wine and family gatherings as valid reasons for deviance. Needless to say, the results were not necessarily bad but certainly nothing to write a blog about.

Upon our return, however, I was a changed girl. I had just hiked the Appalachian mother-****ing Trail, after all, and felt capable of anything. At the same time, my body and mind were staging a full scale revolt against my recent nutrition choices. I went whole-hog and challenged myself to a six week paleo jaunt, Whole9 standards strictly enforced. Believe it or not, all of those magical changes people raved about really did happen–I slept better, woke up bright-eyed, and regained that rosy outlook on life that had faded in recent months. Most importantly, I did it. For all six weeks. No cheats.

It took five months of eating junk food to truly appreciate that food is best purchased ONE ingredient at a time. There’s simply nothing else, no other ingredients to list or manufacturing processes to question, and that is wonderful.

I have always enjoyed cooking and often spent spare hours poring over food photographs and recipes. Once you ditch grains, dairy, and legumes, however, your options become rather bleak in the world of food pornography. Where was I supposed to get all of my inspiration? I don’t want to dream up cooking something that looks like dog food, although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes enjoy a good mashed up bowl of unrecognizable meat and vegetables. There are definitely sites out there, but not quite enough to stimulate such a voracious browser.

So here I am, doing my very best to put some simple, satisfying recipes on here with enough pretty pictures to entice you to visit the site when you need a bit of inspiration or procrastination. Starting in January, I’ll be embarking on another Whole30 challenge and blogging tidbits daily–recipes, musings, strategies, struggles. The usual.

If there’s anything you’d particularly like to see, let me know–I’m open to suggestions and here to help!