Summertime Liver and Onions and Veggies

So, I love liver. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved liver. In fact, as time passes and I try more foods, I’ve come to discover that I am particularly fond of organ meat in general.

This fact has come in handy as I continue to live and eat Paleo on a regular basis: because many people find organ meats off-putting, they tend to be more affordable than your average cut of grass-fed meat. Now, in the interest of honesty, I will admit that I do not eat grass-fed, organic meat all of the time– I am about to start grad school (yaay!) and I’m not independently wealthy, which means I do the best I can. But the fact that I enjoy offal makes it possible for me to eat grass-fed and organic meat way more often than would otherwise be true.

I have become particularly fond of the meat from Happy Hooves Organic Farm. They have a booth at the Brighton Farmers’ Market, one of my favorite markets here in the greater Rochester area. Throughout the course of the summer, I have gotten delicious tongue, heart, and liver from them, and am eager to try more of their wide selection of ethically-raised options. All their animals are raised “in the fresh air and sunshine” with a soy-free and grain-free diet. If you are in the area, I highly recommend checking them out!

If you or any of your friends and loved ones are skeptical about liver, I hope this recipe will change your mind. It is overflowing with fresh summer flavors, and is sure to be a hit with one and all.

And, with no further ado…

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Summertime Liver and Onions

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  • Summertime Liver and Onions3-4 T refined coconut oil
  • 2 onions, thinly sliced
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, cleaned and thickly sliced
  • 2 bell peppers (I used one yellow and one red), julienne cut
  • 3 summer squash (I used 2 yellow and one green), cut into strips approximately 3” long and ½” by ½” thick
  • 1 T chopped fresh dill (if you must use dried, use 1 t)
  • 1 or 2 t chopped fresh oregano (1/2 t dried)
  • 1 T chopped fresh basil (1 t dried)
  • 1 beef liver, cut into strips
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1. Heat the coconut oil in a thick-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes while the onions sweat. Turn the heat down to low and cook until caramelized, about 45 minutes. While the onions are caramelizing, only stir them every 5-10 minutes. They are done when they have reduced significantly in volume and are golden-brown colored and sweet to taste.
  2. Turn the heat up to medium and add the mushrooms. Sauté the mushrooms until all of the moisture that they release has evaporated.
  3. Add the bell peppers and sauté a few more minutes before adding the squash and fresh herbs. Sauté all the veggies together for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the liver, sea salt, and black pepper. Cover the pan and cook for 15 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so.
  5. Remove from heat and adjust seasonings to taste.

Slow-cooker Rabbit and Veggies (and an account of my first slip)

Confession time: I slipped. It happened a week and a half ago, on a Sunday night. And it taught me a thing or two about the importance of vigilance and the profound impact that what I eat has on my energy.

So, my day job involves a lot of baking, and sometimes I get requests to make cakes for various occasions. Last Sunday, I made a cake for a friend’s celebration: as per her request, it was a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and raspberry filling. All went well through the preparation of the cake… I even spat out the nibble of frosting I tasted to make sure the flavor was right.

But then I was there, and everyone was eating the cake, saying how delicious it was, etc. etc. And I was there slicing the cake, smelling the cake. And I thought to myself, “Well, just a sliver won’t hurt…”

It did, though. One sliver became two, which then unfolded into a night of poor sleep and renewed sugar cravings. Ugh. Not to mention a headache that you wouldn’t believe.

I was back to Paleo the next day, and it was a pure delight. And then came… a road trip. With a friend. Who isn’t Paleo. At all.

It was a very important road trip: I went to go see the Hoosiers kick MSU’s ass in a nail-biter of a game of hoops. I had a blast, and I regret nothing.

In fact, I did pretty well on the trip. I brought a bag of healthy, real food treats for the drives to and from Rochester, and avoided the many refined sugars that taunted me. But no, I was not perfectly Paleo. I admit it, I ate a bratwurst at the game, and then a sub sandwich afterwards. However, I was able to find a Paleo-friendly breakfast, and have been back to eating real food ever since my return.

What were the other results of my grain and sugar slips? Well, I slept poorly both of the nights when I had wheat and sugar. I also had the first asthma attack that I’ve had since I quit smoking back in 2011. My energy was low, and my stomach felt yucky.

Lesson learned: Paleo is helping. Grains and sugars aren’t.

I’m taking another trip this weekend to Toronto, and you better believe I’m preparing myself better! I did some research and found a locavore, real-food, Paleo-friendly restaurant, and I already made dinner reservations. I will NOT eat any of the junk food at the game (yes, this is another basketball-related trip, this time to cheer for the Pacers against the Raptors… what can I say, I’m from Indiana, where basketball is the hub around which the rest of life revolves). I will take this as an opportunity to embody my commitment to health. And I will keep you all posted regarding how it went when I return!

One of the meals I made this week turned out wonderfully: I made rabbit for the first time, and felt so confident that I even made up my own recipe for it, despite my neophyte status in the realm of bunny cooking. And it was so delicious, I knew it would be the feature of my next post.

I got a whole rabbit for this process, and proceeded to cut it according to the directions in one of my favorite books, On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals. For anyone who is not familiar with this process and who doesn’t have a copy of On Cooking, the process is well-described on a variety of websites, including this one (http://honest-food.net/2010/05/19/how-to-cut-up-a-rabbit/).

And, with no further ado, the recipe…

IMG_6358'Slow-cooker Rabbit and Veggies

  • 1 bunch kale, stemmed and torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 bunch beet greens, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 bunch Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 4 or 5 oz. grape tomatoes
  • 8 oz. bacon, cut into bite-sized peices
  • 1 onion, sliced thinly
  • 3 large shiitake mushroom caps, thinly sliced
  • 1 head garlic, peeled, cloves left whole
  • 1 whole rabbit, cut into pieces (see link above)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Small handful fresh thyme
  • 1 quart homemade chicken stock
  1. Place the kale, beet greens, parsley, and grape tomatoes in the bottom of your slow cooker.
  2. Fry the bacon in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high until crispy: add to slow cooker.
  3. Sauté the onion in the bacon grease until the onion is translucent. Add the mushrooms and garlic and continue to sauté until the moisture from the mushrooms has fully evaporated. Add to slow cooker.
  4. Brown the pieces of the rabbit in the same pan, just a few minutes per side. Add to slow cooker.
  5. Season the veggies and meat with some salt and pepper, top with the thyme, and pour in the stock.
  6. Cook, covered, on low for 3 ½ to 4 hours. Remove the thyme before serving.
  7. That’s it! Enjoy!

Beef and Bacon Stew with Veggies

As you all may or may not know, I live in the blustery city of Rochester, NY, which is located on the shivery shore of Lake Ontario, just a few hours’ drive from Toronto, ON. Honestly, it is considerably more like southern Canada than it is like NYC (though the city is what many of my friends back in the Hoosier state inevitably think of when they hear I live in New York). Even when the bi-polar effects of global climate change are accounted for, we basically get a good 7 or 8 months of soup-and-stew weather each year.

I don’t know what it is, but sometimes nothing seems quite as warming a nourishing as a big bowl of hearty stew.

And so it was that yesterday, when I was contemplating what I wanted to make a big batch of for the night’s dinner and several of my lunches throughout the week, I decided that stew was definitely the way to go.

At first, I was pretty convinced that I wanted to make venison stew. In fact, I’m still pretty sure that that’s something I want soon. However, on short notice, all the venison that I was able to locate was tenderloin meat. Now, if I’m having a steak, tenderloins just about rock my world. However, they are not optimal for a stew: the best stew meats are cuts which are higher in fat and collagen, which enable the meat to become even more tender when it is cooked for a long time over a low heat, rather than less tender the way a tenderloin would (it would just dry out and basically be a waste of money, effort, and a delicious steak).

And so it was that I went with a lovely, well-marbled grass-fed sirloin steak. Grass-fed meats tend to be gamier in flavor than those from grain-fed animals, so not only is it healthier, it also is closer to the flavor that I was hoping for. Still not venison, but damn, this stew turned out good regardless!!!

Regarding broth: homemade broth is always, always superior, and it is so easy to make. However, I don’t always have some on hand, and I didn’t have time to make any yesterday: I confess, I ended up buying some. So, here’s the thing: I was absolutely appalled by how many of the broth options in the store were made with variations of sugar!! I was eventually able to find one that didn’t have any scary or sugary ingredients, but the whole process simply reaffirmed to me that I have to make up a big batch of stock soon to have readily available in my freezer. Be careful of what you buy, and read the labels!

This stew turned out absolutely perfect. I couldn’t have been any happier with how tender the meat was or how balanced the flavors were. Of course, soups and stews can be infinitely variable, so feel free to substitute the vegetables and herbs that you have on hand for those called for in the recipe: in my opinion, it’s always better to be flexible than to waste food!

Beef and Bacon StewBeef and Bacon Stew with Veggies

  • 2 lbs. grass-fed organic sirloin steak, tenderized by pounding and cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 oz. uncured, nitrate- and nitrite-free bacon
  • 2 tablespoons EV olive oil
  • 2 large yellow onions, coarsely chopped
  • 6 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 to 1 ½ inch-long pieces
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 t coconut flour
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 large sweet potato, washed and cut into ¾” cubes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • ½ bunch Italian parsley
  • 1 bunch green kale, stems removed, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • One 14 ½ can fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • 3 cups beef or vegetable broth
  • 12-16 oz. fresh mushrooms (I used a mix of portobella and shiitake), cut into thin bite-sized slices
  1. Season the sirloin with sea salt and black pepper.
  2. In a large skillet, cook the bacon until it is crisp over medium-high heat. Allow the bacon to drain on a paper-towel lined plate. Crumble it when it is cool, and set aside in the refrigerator.
  3. Add the olive oil to the bacon drippings. Brown the sirloin steak in batches: place browned meat in a large slow cooker.
  4. When you are done browning the meat, sauté the onion in the skillet until it is fully translucent. Add the carrots and garlic and continue sautéing for a few more minutes. Then, sprinkle on the coconut flour and sauté for one more minute before transferring to the slow cooker.
  5. Add the bay leaves, sweet potato, thyme, parsley, kale, tomatoes, and broth to the slow cooker and stir gently to combine.
  6. Cover and cook on low for 4 or 5 hours.
  7. Add the mushrooms and bacon: stir to combine. Continue to cook on low until the steak is tender and fully cooked, about 2 more hours.
  8. Remove the bay leaves before serving. Enjoy!

Chicken Divan (with bonus recipe for Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette)

This was one of those weekends that just didn’t feel like a weekend. I have had one commitment after another, which continued until I got to a point where my bodymind pretty much just shut down. We’ve had leftovers for dinner the last two nights, just out of necessity.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind leftovers, especially when the food that is leftover is delicious and homemade. But you can only have leftovers for so long until– well, until there’s no food that’s leftover. And, of course, Lee returned to Buffalo today for hir next week of law school, and I like to make sure ze has some good food to take along with hir. These factors meant that, tired or not, I had to cook dinner yesterday night.

I decided the best bet was to take it a little easy on myself and make a casserole. Casseroles can be a beautiful, simple and delicious way to get a balanced meal. I made this casserole yesterday, and served it alongside a salad made with baby greens, dried cranberries, home-grown cherry tomatoes and a honey-mustard vinaigrette (recipe also in this post) and some warmed  whole-grain bread with garlic butter.

This recipe is also posted with my good friend and dharma sister Reaunna in mind. You see, Reaunna recently posted a request on Transgustatory’s Facebook page that I put up a recipe for “a casserole that doesn’t involve green beans or cream of mushroom soup.” How can I resist such an amusingly specific request? (Especially since I had more than enough green bean casserole growing up. It was kind of a staple in some family members’ homes. Don’t judge: I lived in the Midwest.)

Now, many recipes for chicken divan that you will find nowadays DO call for canned cream of mushroom soup. A disheartening number of them, in fact: I looked up a good two dozen different recipes for it when Lee requested that I make Chicken Divan for us, and the vast majority called for cream of mushroom soup. What follows is my amalgamation of the best parts of all of them, with a laudatory absence of condensed soup products.

One of the ingredients in this recipe is leeks. Leeks are wonderful. According to my prized cookbook On Cooking by Sarah Labensky, Alan Hause and Priscilla Martel (thanks, Dad, for supporting my love of cooking with this indulgent cookbook that I never could have afforded!), “their flavor is sweeter and stronger than scallions, but milder than common bulb onions.” This makes them optimal for adding some richness and flavor to dishes made with a white sauce.

Their peak season is from fall to early spring, but they can be grown in many regions year-round. One thing to keep in mind when preparing them is to cut them in half lengthwise and rinse out the gritty dirt between the layers. A bite full of grit will ruin an otherwise perfect dish.

Also, you can use some of the green part of the leek, but the tough, dark-green top should be cut off. The dark-green parts can be used to make stocks (as they are in this recipe), but shouldn’t be chopped up and used in the dish itself. They are too tough. Who wants hard-to-chew, grassy onion gum? That’s right: no one.

Another hint in the best interest of the dish: if the broccoli stalks are stringy or tough, go ahead and peel off the tough outer layer.

And, speaking of broccoli, it is VERY, VERY IMPORTANT THAT YOU DO NOT OVER COOK THE BROCCOLI. Was I too subtle? I really hope not. Unless you actually enjoyed eating the brownish, texture-less glop of overcooked, cloyingly-odorous substance that once may have been broccoli that was served in your elementary school cafeteria, you need to trust me on this. The desired point at which to drain the broccoli is when it is bright green and “crisp-tender,” as my Dad calls it: that is, easy to bite through without a crispy-crunchy sound, but still quite firm in the center.

On the same subject: it is actually important to have the broccoli and the chicken in two separate layers. You may be tempted to just mix it all together: what’s the difference, right? Well, the difference is that the flavor of the chicken is enhanced by being on the top and getting slightly browned, while being on the bottom layer helps insulate the broccoli from being cooked too much during the baking process. Plus, it looks cool and yummyyummy with the layer of sharp cheddar cheese between the green of the broccoli layer and the golden brown of the chicken layer. Pretty foods taste better: I don’t know why, but it’s true. It may seem tedious, but it is well worth the extra three minutes it takes in prep time for the end result.

Traditionally, Chicken Divan is made with sherry. Here’s the thing: I don’t like sherry, and I don’t want to spend my money on it: all it would do would be grow dusty in a corner of my cabinet, which for some reason seems wasteful to me. However, I didn’t want to completely lose the flavor and texture benefits of a dry alcohol in the sauce. So, I substituted an extremely dry, rich white wine, and thought the result was delicious. So, use the traditional sherry, or substitute white wine if you’re more likely to finish a bottle of that than of sherry, or omit it all together if you don’t cook with alcohol. Whichever way you decide to go on that, the recipe itself is so solid and flavorful that you won’t go wrong.

Chicken Divan

  • 1 stick butter, divided
  • 1T olive oil
  • 1 large leek or two small leeks, cut in half lengthwise and then sliced into crescent-moons (as pictured above) 
  • The dark-green tops of the leeks, washed, rinsed and left whole
  • 1 1/2 lbs. chicken breasts, cut into quarters
  • 1 large head broccoli or three broccoli crowns: washed, rinsed and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 c slivered almonds
  • 1 c light cream
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/3 lb. shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 c sherry or dry white wine
  • 1 c shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 c bread crumbs
  1. Melt 1 T of the butter in the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saute pan. Add the leeks and saute over medium heat until they are soft and translucent. Set aside.
  2. Bring 8 cups water to a boil. Add the chicken and the green tops of the leek. Boil until the chicken is fully cooked, approximately 10-15 minutes. Remove the chicken and leek tops with a slotted spoon: DO NOT DRAIN. Discard the leek tops; set the chicken aside to cool some.
  3. Add the broccoli to the water in which the chicken was cooked. Cook only until bright green, 3-5 minutes. Drain, but reserve 1 1/2 cups of the broth for the sauce. Mix the leeks and the broccoli.
  4. Melt 4 T of the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the flour, and stir until smooth and fragrant. Slowly and gradually stir in the reserved broth. Stir in the almonds and cook, stirring constantly, until thick and bubbly. Lower the heat to medium-low. Gradually stir in the cream, sour cream and lemon juice: cook for 2 minutes, still stirring constantly. Add salt and pepper to taste, then stir in half the parmesan and the sherry or dry white wine. Remove from heat. 
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 
  6. Shred the chicken into small pieces with your fingers.
  7. Add half the sauce to the chicken, and half to the broccoli. Stir gently but thoroughly. 
  8. Melt the remaining butter, and stir into the breadcrumbs. 
  9. Put the broccoli into a lightly buttered casserole dish. Top with the cheddar cheese, then cover with the chicken mixture. Top the chicken with the remaining parmesan cheese, then distribute the breadcrumbs over the cheese. 
  10. Bake for 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly. Increase heat to 450 and cook approximately 10 more minutes until the top is browned. Allow to sit 15 minutes before serving.

 Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette

  • 2 T apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 c lemon juice
  • 2 T honey
  • 2 T spicy mustard
  • 1 1/2 t tarragon
  • 1/2 c olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1.  Place the first five ingredients in a blender. Blend over first low, then high speed.
  2. Gradually, in a slow, thin stream, pour the oil through the hole in the lid with the blender still going. Doing this slowly and on high speed will help prevent separation of the ingredients.
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste: fell free to adjust the amounts of the lemon juice, honey, mustard, tarragon and oil to suit your taste preferences.

Shiitake and Avocado Bison Burgers

When Lee and I do eat red meat, it is almost always bison.  This is for both nutritional and ecological reasons.

The nutritional comparison between beef and bison is actually quite startling. According to an article onSuite101.com by James Clausen titled “Bison Meat vs. Beef—Burger and Steaks,” the nutritional facts break down like this:

“Bison, ground, grass-fed, cooked 3 oz.
•    Calories 152, Total Fat 7 grams (3 grams saturated fat)
•    Excellent protein with 40 grams, which is 84% of the daily value (DV) in a 2,000-calorie diet.
•    The biggest negative is that bison is high in cholesterol with 82 milligrams or 27% of the daily value.
•    Ground bison is high in vitamin B6 (17% DV), B12 (35% DV) and niacin (25% DV)

Beef, ground, cooked 3 oz. 85% lean, 15% fat
•    Calories 210, Total Fat 12 grams (6 grams saturated fat)
•    Good protein with 21 grams, which is 43% of the daily value (DV) in a 2,000-calorie diet.
•    The two biggest negatives are that beef is high in cholesterol with 75 milligrams or 24% of the daily value. Beef is also high in saturated fats with 6 grams, which is double the amount found in grass fed bison.
•    Ground beef is high in vitamin B6 (15% DV), B12 (36% DV) and niacin (24% DV).”

Even more important than that, though, is that bison is not raised in a factory farm setting. Ever. They are too wild: put them in a barn, no matter how roomy, and they’ll probably just bust down the door. Furthermore, the standards for raising bison are higher than they are for raising chickens or cattle. Every time you purchase bison, you can be sure that you are purchasing a free-range product. As if that isn’t enough, the National Bison Association prohibits the use of growth hormones and animal by-products on bison. Yaaaaay!

(Interesting fact: the largest bison farm in the world belongs to Ted Turner, and is the home of over 50,000 bison. Even this herd, which could be expected to be the most factory-farmy given its size, has approximately 2 million acres on which to roam, and are almost exclusively grass fed.)

So when, earlier tonight, Lee said that she was craving protein, I took a quick trip to the Wegmans to get the ingredients for a comfort-food meal of bison burgers and homemade french fries (recipe to follow in a later post). 

One thing that you will probably learn about me: I tend to believe that there are very few savory dishes that aren’t improved with the addition of either mushrooms and/or avocado. Think about it: it’s pretty much true. I also believe that almost all sandwiches require mayonnaise, homegrown tomatoes, and homegrown lettuce to be as good as they can be. So, yeah, I just piled some of all of that onto these delicious, meaty sammiches.

Now, here’s the thing: so many people mess up their burgers by adding stuff that they mistakenly believe will improve their flavor. When you have good, fresh bison meat, all you’re going to do by adding things to the burgers is detract from their hearty, earthy flavor while risking compromises to their texture. Trust me. All you need is a big hunk of meat. That’s all.

Shiitake and Avocado Bison Burgers

  • 2 T olive oil
  • 6 oz. sliced shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 1 homegrown (or locally grown) tomato, sliced
  • 4 leaves freshly grown lettuce, washed and dried
  • 4 sourdough hard rolls
  • 1 pound ground bison
  • 1 T butter
  • 4 slices muenster cheese
  • salt and freshly-ground pepper
  • mayonnaise
  1. Heat the oil in a medium-sized saute pan over medium heat. Add the sliced mushrooms. Stirring frequently, saute them until their juices release and then fully evaporate. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm over low heat.
  2. Slice the rolls in half if they aren’t already cut. Wrap them individually in pieces of aluminum foil. If you are environmentally-minded, use heavy duty foil, being careful not to rip it: you can rinse it off and save it for the next time you need to warm up rolls. Place the wrapped rolls in a 200 degree F oven and allow them to get warm while you cook the burgers.
  3. Shape the burgers into four evenly-sized patties in the shape of the buns, but a little bit larger: they will shrink some while they cook.
  4. Heat a pan over medium heat; add the butter, stir to coat, and gently place the burgers in the pan. Cook without turning until the juices start to seep out over the top surface of the patties. Flip them over and top then each with a slice of cheese. Cook about 3-5 minutes more, depending on how done you like the burger.
  5. Remove the buns from the oven: spread on the desired amount of mayonnaise, sprinkle the mayo with any additional salt or pepper that you desire, and top with one of the burgers before adding as much of the available toppings as you want.