paleo

Healthy & Tasty Chicken Burgers

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I LOVE a good crab cake. But I live in Austin, TX. This means that I basically have to be rolling in dough in order to eat decent shell fish (with the exception of Garbo’s, which is both incredibly delicious and mostly affordable).

In a never ending search for healthier food that doesn’t skimp on flavor or texture, I was given a recipe for Chicken burgers from an old buddy of mine. I immediately noticed that the recipe was styled similar to crab cakes, but used ground chicken instead of the luscious, but costly crustacean. You can easily grill this over charcoal or gas, but I do them in a pan on my stove to continue that cake style going. There are a few tricks in this recipe to keep everything from drying out as well. Top them with a little lemony greek yogurt sauce I make to substitute for the usual high-calorie remoulades or tartar sauces normally served with crab cakes, and dinner winds up being a very light, immensely flavorful delight.

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The original recipe for this is comes from All Recipes and is noted as “By Teri“. I halve this recipe, as it still makes four really good sized burgers that can easily stuff two or three very hungry people, and made some alterations, including omitting most of the mushrooms and tomatoes which makes everything too wet and reducing the Old Bay, which made it entirely too salty. My friends generally prefer to have these on a bun, like a burger, but, as noted before, I eat mine like a crab cake with just some lemon and sauce. With my faux-aioli and lack of bun, you can eat 2 of these without feeling any guilt in terms of calories. Another great thing about these is that you can prep the veggies  hours or even a day or two in advance, and throw everything together 30 minutes before you want to eat, making it a quick meal for mid-week.

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Chicken Burgers (makes 4 patties)

Ingredients

3 TBSP olive oil (or cooking spray depending on your preference)

1/2 yellow onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1/2 green bell pepper, diced

1/4 cup buttons mushrooms, chopped

1 lb ground chicken breast

1 egg

1/4 cup + 4 TBSP panko or flavored bread crumbs

2 tsp seasoning salt

1 tsp black pepper

Lightly spray a saute pan with cooking or oil spray over medium heat. Saute the onion, garlic, bell pepper, and carrots getting them slightly soft and a little golden, about 5-7 minutes. Set aside and allow all vegetables to cool completely.

Mix the 1/4 cup panko, egg, seasoning salt, and black pepper in with the ground chicken. Once the veggies are cooled and you’re ready to cook mix them into the chicken. Form into 4 patties. These are going to be pretty big. Grill them over medium high heat for 3 minutes per side or saute them in a pan with non-stick spray or olive oil over medium heat for about 4 minutes a side. I do mine on the stove top and pat each patty in a shallow dish with the remaining 4 TBSP of panko prior to dropping into the pan.

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Serve with a lemony aioli, my greek yogurt parsley & lemon sauce, blue cheese crumbles and Franks Buffalo Sauce, or on a bun with mustard and ketchup. It’s all good!

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Austin Gastro Graze 6: Stiles Switch

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So, I haven’t written a Gastro Graze in a while. We have been trying to cut back on eating out, but the amount of new eateries popping up in Austin hasn’t slowed. Yesterday Chip and I decided to try Stiles Switch, a new local barbecue joint on North Lamar.

Stiles Switch has a nice location with an industrial feel and, best yet, lots of parking. That being said, it was 1:30pm on Saturday…and the place was almost empty. The interior of the restaurant was very clean and well kept, and it has a more established feel than the 10 months it’s been open. The gentlemen behind the counter were very nice, as well. For our lunch, Chip and I decided on BBQ staples: 6 pork ribs, 1/2 pound of brisket, and cole slaw. There wasn’t an option for moist (fatty) or lean on the brisket, and we didn’t notice that they also served sausages until after we’d paid for lunch, so I would go back to try their jalapeño cheddar offering. I generally stay away from chicken at BBQ places, which Stiles does serve, only because of its tendency to be dry. We also got a root beer and an orange soda. The total came to $31, which means they’re a bit pricier than Black’s or Smitty’s out in Lockhart, but that’s the price of not having to drive an hour out of town.

Ribs are a staple when gorging myself on smoked meats. A rub can make or break them; I find Cooper’s to be too black peppery though Chip disagrees. Stiles had a decent rub on their ribs, however, that was a good balance of smokey, sweet, salty, with the flavor of pepper coming through without being over-powering. Our lunch order came with a cup of the Stiles sauce which was…interesting. I’m not a big fan of BBQ sauces, but they seemed to be attempting a new spin. Rather than use a base of ketchup in their sauce, it tasted heavily of canned tomato soup. It was odd to say the least, though not all together bad, but most of it remained when Chip and I finished eating.

Stiles Switch sells two kinds of cole slaw and we got a small serving of each. I’m generally not a fan of mayonnaise based cole slaws, but theirs was tasty and not heavy. Chip felt it seemed to be a very basic slaw, however, and nothing special. The other slaw they served was a lemon vinaigrette variety, which was  flavorful and bright, and a nice change of pace from the usual offering. Stiles also offered potato salad and macaroni & cheese, neither of which Chip or I tried.

Now to the brisket. I am picky about my brisket. It should be moist – but not too moist. Unfortunately, the brisket we had at Stiles was closer to beef jerky than to juicy, tender brisket found at Iron Works or Franklin’s. As you can see on the left side of the picture, this brisket is dry. It was also cut very thick, which only served to make its texture all the more unappetizing. Between the two of us, Chip and I only finished one piece of our 1/2 pound of brisket. The bark was tasty, but was ultimately too tough to enjoy.

Would I return to Stiles Switch? Yes, because I would like to try the sausage, and maybe even give the brisket a second chance, but it won’t be any time soon. Would I recommend it? Probably not. My issue that barbecue is not cheap, and there’s so much competition near and far in this area, that a restaurant really can’t afford to make less than great.

 

Butternut Squash Fries

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These are a delicious alternative to sweet potato fries, saving the carbs from the potato and the fat by skipping the deep fryer. The squash contains a lot of liquid so I changed up the usual way of baking them in an attempt to dry them and crisp them up.

Butternut Squash Fries

1 Butternut Squash, peeled

2 TBSP Olive Oil

1.5 TBSP Corn Starch (optional)

1 TBSP Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)

2-3 tsp salt, divided

1 tsp pepper

1 tsp parsley

Non-Stick cooking spray (I used Pam Olive Oil, calorie & fat free)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Peel the squash and scoop out the seeds. Cut the squash into fries, about 1/4 inch thick. I only used 1/2 of the squash, which was made more than enough fries for my friends and me. The rest I put in a ziploc baggy to save for later in the week.

Pour the Olive Oil into a bowl and toss the squash sticks, coating them evenly, but lightly. You can skip the next step with the corn starch and Parmesan if you want truly raw or paleo fries, but the coating is minimal calorically and it adds a lot of flavor and crunch. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour and the cheese. Toss the squash fries into the Parm mixture. Layout the sticks on a cookie sheet in a even layer and sprinkle 1 tsp of the salt and the pepper onto the fries. Spray with non-stick spray. Place the sheet into the upper most rack of you oven and bake for 20 minutes. Half way through that time, flip and sprinkle with another tsp of salt. The salting helps draw out moisture.

After the 20 minutes are up, flip for fries again, and move the tray to the bottom most rack of the oven. Bake for an additional 15 – 20 minutes or until nicely browned and crisp on the outside. Remove from cookie tray and plate. Sprinkle a little more salt and the parsley on top and serve. They’re great on their own and dipped into ketchup they’re identical to sweet potato fries.

Crispy Pork Tacos (Paleo)

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On Sundays I always look to something special for dinner, which comes from my upbringing. Huge family dinners filled with love and hours of cooking and food – food – So Much Food! Now, my numerous cousins are scattered amongst different states, different countries. I’m not sure what many of them do for their Sunday dinners now, but I know that we do still all love food, sharing, nurturing. Which brings me to what I call The Absentee Dinner. I make something simple, but a little more involved than the other days of the week, something with protein, something that’s going to be delicious and worth savoring. I make something special. I do it in honor of my family, my upbringing, and I invite dear friends over whenever possible, just so we can eat in each others’ company. And maybe watch a little Doctor Who.

With the reminiscence complete, let me say that while I like the depth and complexity of Asian flavors – sweet yet sour, spicy yet cool and crisp, you don’t have to follow this style. A great alternative to this, perfect for Game Day at your house is RECIPE RECOMMENDATION MISSING. Hmmm. I’ll tell you what: if you want that full recipe from me you’re going to have to wait until next week.

Crispy Pork Tacos, Asian Style

1-1.5 pounds Boneless Pork Loin Center Chops

2 TBSP minced garlic, divided

1 TBSP low sodium soy sauce

1/2 TBSP Hoisin sauce

1/2 tsp chile oil

2 tsp Sriracha

1 tsp black pepper (or red pepper flakes if you like it spicy)

Juice of one lemon

1TBSP water

1 TBSP white vinegar

1 TBSP brown sugar

2 tsp freshly grated ginger or 1 tsp ginger powder

1 Napa cabbage, leaves cleaned. Cut about 2 inches off the bottom of each leaf.

1/2 corn starch (if making “extra crispy”, see below)

2 TBSP olive or vegetable oil

Topping

Pre-shredded Broccoli slaw

1 cup bean sprouts

1/4 red wine vinegar

2 tsp salt

1. 5 tsp black pepper

3 tsp sugar

About an hour or two prior to cooking, marinate the pork. Slice the pork in large bite sized pieces, I like strips, and set aside. In a bowl, whisk together half of the garlic, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, chile oil sriracha, pepper, lemon juice, water, vinegar, brown sugar, and ginger. Add the pork to the bowl and tossed making sure each piece is coated. Let marinate for 1-2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes.

While marinating, make the crispy slaw topping. You can swap the slaw for kimchi. Toss the pre-shredded slaw mix, bean sprouts, salt, pepper, and sugar in a bowl, and set aside. This can sit some time and the flavors will just continue to marry while staying bright. Toss periodically in the time prior to serving.

Once the pork is marinated you have the option of sauteing or pan frying. On this night Chip and I made our Crispy Pork Tacos extra crispy, but you certainly simply dump the entire marinade mixture into a sauce pan heated with with the oil over medium high heat, cooking about 7-9 minutes. For extra crispy, however, remove the pork from the marinade and toss in the corn starch until evenly, but lightly coated. Discard the marinade, and heat the oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Pan fry the pork about 3-4 minutes per side or until golden brown. Remove from pan to a paper toweled plate to drain for a minute or two.

Taking one of the napa cabbage leaves, we set to work assembling our “Tacos”. We topped our pork with a sprinkling of slaw, a bit of the remaining minced garlic, a little chopped cilantro, sesame seeds and even some fresh diced mango. Serving with a wedge of lime, this would be perfect with a side of tropical quinoa or rice. Of course, we ate ours with squash, though, because I’m trying to will it to be Autumn here in Austin.

Summer Charred Caesar Salad

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A misconception of Italians is that pasta is very important to us. I’m not going to lie, it was a staple in my youth growing up. But just as important, if not more so, are vegetables. Everyone in my family gardened, my uncle even had fig trees so large that they busted through his green house in Connecticut. Many of my early memories are sitting in the dirt at my grandparents house, gnawing on a cucumber I picked off the vine while they harvested the other fruits of their labors. And salad was always served at the end of the meal. After the heavy stuff was out of the way, it was onto lightly dressed lettuces, sliced pears, and shared granny smith apples. It seemed like my grandparents always had a pen knife tucked in a pocket or folded into the waist band of an apron, just to easily hand out slices of nature’s bounty.
This was a great way to be raised. If my dinner doesn’t contain a lot of vegetables today then it’s not complete, it only half done to me, or I think it’s simply not healthy. I’m always on the look out for new ways to do the same old – same old. Recently I had made some grilled corn and liked it so much I decided to expand on it. I decided my less than exciting romaine for a Caesar salad needed to be smokey, charred, a flavor you just couldn’t add to salad without real flame.
Salad (Serves 4)
2 hearts of Romaine cut in half the long way
…Yep. That’s it. This is a spin on a Caesar Salad, the magic is in the dressing and preparation, not its contents and co-stars. I also tend to look at croutons as sode: empty calories that ruin anything healthy and are the salad equivalent of a soda with a meal. It may be tasty, but you might as well have a candy bar or something. If your salad is about the croutons, you’re doing it wrong.
Summer Caesar Dressing
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp Worcester sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • Pepper
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp anchovy paste (Optional…or, in my house, Non-existent)

Caramelize the shallots. While those are working on their golden brown deliciousness, whisk everything else in a small bowl. Once caramelized, remove the shallots to cool a bit. You want to add them to the dressing when they’re warm so they don’t cook the egg, but do help thicken the dressing; letting them sit about 4-5 minutes should be fine.

Preheat your grill to high, clean the grates, and rub them down with vegetable or olive oil. Place the cut halves of Romaine flat/cut side down and don’t touch for 1-2 minutes. They char quick and you don’t want them completely blackened.

Remove from heat, and plate grilled side up. Drizzle the Caesar-ish dressing over the grilled side, allowing the dressing to drip in between the layers of lettuce. Top with a little more Parm if you’re so inclined. Served with chicken or a grilled steak makes a memorably delicious meal.

 

Spicy Coconut Curry Stir Fry with Tropical Quinoa

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In the ever constant search for something new and exciting in the kitchen, I’ve decided to start making that which I crave from restaurants. The below recipe is very similar in flavor to P.F.Chang’s/Pei Wei’s Thai Coconut Curry sauce. I made this with a teaspoon of red pepper flakes and a teaspoon of chip oil and the heat is barely noticeable, just a hint, which is nice. And my heat tolerance is not very hot at all. Filled with veggies, lean protein, and quinoa instead of rice, this is a flavorful, healthy dinner that comes together relatively quickly and is super tasty! This makes enough for 4 people. You can also use shrimp instead of chicken for extra awesomeness.

Sauce

1 TBSP Sharwood’s Mild Curry Powder (That’s what I used because it was easily found in my local grocery store, but you can use whatever you like or can find.)

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tsp chili oil

2 tsp ginger

juice of one lime

1 cup coconut milk (You can use Lite if you’d prefer)

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp salt

Mix the sauce ingredients in a bowl, whisk together, and let sit for flavors to marry. Set it aside.

Stir Fry

1 20oz. can pineapple chunks, drained (reserve some liquid for the quinoa if making as below). You want to slice up a pineapple fresh? Go nuts.

1 red bell pepper cut into 1 inch pieces

1 small or 1/2 large white onion, diced

1 1/2 cups snow peas

1 8oz. can baby corn, cut or whole

6 oz. boneless skinless chicken breast

2 TBSP coconut milk

3 cloves minced garlic

In a large sauté pan, caramelize or brown the pineapple chunks over medium high heat, about 10-12 minutes. Remove pineapple from pan and set aside in a bowl for later. Add a TBSP vegetable or olive oil in the same pan without cleaning the yummy residue left over from the pineapple. Add the chicken and brown, just cooking through, about 4 minutes per side. Remove chicken from pan and set aside. In the same pan add another TBSP of oil and toss in the onion and red bell pepper. After about 2 minutes, turn the heat down to medium.

Quinoa

1 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa

1 cup chicken broth/stock

1 cup + 2 TBSP coconut milk

2 TBSP pineapple juice (bottled or from the can of pineapple chunks)

Place the quinoa and liquids into a sauce pan. Heat to a boil, cover, and then turn the heat down to a simmer and for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and leave covered for an additional 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and try not to immediately start gorging yourself on this. It’s super tasty, slightly sweet, and a little nutty. The perfect compliment to the Stir Fry.

Pig & Fig 2: Spicy Fig Glazed Grilled Pork Chops

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I’ve started mixing sweet with savory just for the thrill. It’s taught me a lot about food, made me a bit more adventurous, and aids me in cooking. With a recent bounty of figs I knew I had to come up with a few new creations before the figs went to the great fig tree in the sky, i.e. went bad. Working on something sweet, I originally made a fig sauce for dipping chicken into or pouring over fish, but the moment I tasted it I knew: This sauce was born for charring pork. My buddy tasted it and said “It’s good,” and then proceed to dunk a grilled chicken tenderloin into it. “Mmmm!…Yeah, okay,” he said while still chewing. “It would be best with pork.” Yes, padawan. I know.

Fig Sauce/Glaze:

1 1/4 cup roughly chopped figs

1 1/2 cup water

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 TBSP soy sauce

1 TBSP Ponzu

1 tsp red pepper flakes

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup orange juice

Throw everything into a sauce pot and cook down over medium high heat until it’s reduced by at least a third to half. It’s going to be pretty thick. Set it aside to cool.

While the sauce was marrying post simmer, I took two gorgeous, thick-cut bone in pork chops, about 6-8 ounces each, rinsed them, and patted them dry. Once the sauce cooled a bit (you can make this sauce a few days in advance if need be and keep it in the fridge in tupperware for 3-5 days) I blended it with an immersion hand blender, you can also use a potato masher. It’s fine if the sauce is still pretty chunky.

I then slathered the chops with the fully cooled sauce and let them sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes. These were thick and needed to come to room temperature before I through them on the grill.

I operate on one speed: Fast. The also means that I generally cook on one temp: High. I preheated my grill, cleaned the grates, and slathered the pork just a bit more and cracked fresh black pepper over them before putting it on the grill. Now these chops were about 1 1/2 inches thick, so they had to cook a while, and though I wanted a char, I didn’t need dry pork. No one needs that. After 4 minutes on one side my friend gave the chops a quarter turn and left them for another 4 minutes.  We dripped a bit more sauce on the top and topped with black pepper again prior to flipping them and lowered the burners to medium-high. After about 4 minutes, there was a quarter turn and they were done two minutes later. You want your pork to register at 145 degrees – YES, this is safe – and remember that as it rests, it will continue cooking a bit.

This was a lot of pork for 2 people, so I served it with simply an arugula and summer greens salad dressed with olive oil, quartered figs, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, which really intensifies the natural flavor and sweetness of the ripe figs. It was a perfect, protein packed, low fat dinner for a summer evening. This is great for everyone, but it’s also paleo friendly and excellent for South Beach or Atkins

The sauce and char makes ’em!