It’s been a while since my last post. Whew! I do apologize for the wait! I’ve been back in the kitchen, furiously whipping up tantalizing recipes for you to peruse, trial and enjoy!
2 weeks ago was my deadline for the Low Carbing Among Friends cookbook series. A lot of time went into those recipes, including getting some really nice photos! I’m so honored to be a part of that team, that I really wanted to put my best foot forward. I literally cannot wait to hold one of those books in my hands, later this year!
I have spent 6 of the past 10 days in the kitchen, cooking new recipes for the future. I’ll also be in the kitchen this Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. My goal is to cook roughly 110 new recipes within these 9 days, with an additional batch of 48 more recipes in August. I’m preparing and planning ahead, so that I can focus on a more consistent blog, with better writing, better research, a clearer and sharper game plan, etc. I’m currently in the midst of a crazy time!
In August, I’ll be well ahead of the game, with approaching 400 recipes on the website and near 200 more “in the can”. I’ve got a really exciting “sweeteners” project cooking, which I believe is going to be INCREDIBLY helpful for people trying to figure out how to keep their sweet! I’m also STRONGLY tinkering with the idea of getting into videos. My current thoughts are to focus on techniques, rather than full recipes, but we’ll see. I need to conduct more experiments. I’m also planning a few book ideas, with one about 2/3rds written.
Today … right now … I am essentially … gathering myself and collecting steam. I am closing out my first year of blogging and am looking towards the future.
The way I’ve been chasing myself around for the past 3 weeks has reminded me of one of the restaurant world’s most notorious phrases … “in the weeds”. It’s not a direct parallel, but the phrase is fun to write about and I love yammering on about restaurant life.
But … before I get into the meaning of that phrase, let’s take a look at some coming attractions!
Shrimp & Avocado Salad
Cheddar Taco Shells!
Chicken Noodles with Asparagus & Artichokes
Crêpe Noodles with Tomatoes & Mozzarella
At the peak of my restaurant career, I could juggle a MASSIVE work load. I’m not generally someone with a huge ego, but put me inside a busy restaurant kitchen … with a grunt and a roar, I can move MOUNTAINS.
My primary area of focus, and the area where I personally have the most skill, is usually referred to as “Sauté”. Every restaurant kitchen is a little different. Some are more traditional and have people whose entire job it is to cook sauces. That’s it. Just … sauces. Other kitchens are more informal and the same individual will work with a grill and a pizza oven, making steaks, pizzas and squid salad! Then, there are places with bizarre equipment like rotisseries and woks. Somehow, for some reason, I always gravitated to pan work. It’s just what I think I was wired to do!
Pan work, or “working a sauté station”, basically means I’m a super stir-fry nerd. I like to sear things. I like sauté pans. I like them hot and smoky and I like A LOT of them, all at the same time!
A Storm is Coming …
Usually at 5:30 pm, after preparing all afternoon … all is quiet … all is peaceful … everything is clean and spotless and organized. It’s the calm before the storm. The first order may come in at about 5:45 and by 6:00 PM, the little ticket printer is just spewing tape full of orders!
In an absolutely perfect world, orders come in quick and consistent, I’ve prepared myself for battle and I ride the night’s wave. I’ll have 8 different pans on the stove, all high heat, each searing a fancy little delight, with 7 other pans roasting something in the oven, each running a different time and temperature, heading to a different table, all in perfect concert with each of the other chefs.
There are near impossible demands made of kitchen staff, under tremendous shouting pressure, backed with anger, actual fire, razor sharp knives and … usually … some fairly salty co-workers! It’s a BLAST!
There are moments within a kitchen, where it is so loud, so hot, so fast and so frenetic, that it feels as if the world could come crumbling down at any moment. It feels IMPOSSIBLY impossible, like you’re floating well beyond anything that any human should be reasonably asked to do. I’ve OFTEN been in a point where I was KEENLY aware of hundreds of moving pieces of food and equipment, while coordinating it with the other crazy kooks in the kitchen. Everything is perfectly harmonious and in sync and in its place. Every rapid fire piece of the puzzle perfectly organized and compartmentalized both in the kitchen and in my mind … and it all just clicks. My mind turns off, muscle memory kicks in and … it’s fast and smooth … like surfing … like sailing … like dancing. Unimaginable bliss.
There are things in my life that I miss. I miss living in Mexico. I miss my old dog, Pepper. I miss being slammed on the line.
And then, when deeply locked into this crystal clear Zen-like euphoria … a daffy waiter breaks a plate sending shards into the food. BOOM! 120 plates worth of prepared ingredients … FILLED with broken glass, in an instant! The ticket machine is still spewing out orders. The customers aren’t going anywhere and they’re not going to change their orders. 5 hours worth of preparation has just been thrown in the trash because of the ditzy server and … everyone else has their own problems! I must now cook every single order from scratch … TOTALLY from the beginning. Literally peeling carrots to order, sticking sticks through chicken breasts, as the tickets come in; over a hundred extravagant meals … in near an instant.
As much as I love riding the splendiferous bedlam through an evening’s worth of controlled pandemonium, I HATE!!! It when things suddenly … screechingly … go wrong.
Welcome to The Weeds!
In the weeds means to be behind, with no clear way out. Oh … it’s just the worst. The suckinest! I loathe being the weeds, but … like most things … it has an end. People do eventually get fed, people do pay their bills, the customers do tip their goofy waitrons and slip out into the night, leaving me dazed and drained from a night in the weeds.
There is no way I can really explain the sheer joy of being ahead of a cantankerous night, nor can I really explain the soul crushing hell that is being in the weeds.
On any busy night, everyone in a restaurant is going to be ahead or behind. There’s no middle ground in the middle of a crazy night.
A Silly Little Ditty
One of the colorful kitchen folk I used to work with, was a guy named Frank. Frank was loud and foul and could grow a full beard in about 15 minutes. In the middle of the storm … in the center of all that whirlwind of shouting and clanging, when things were at their most frantic and it felt like the impossible was occurring … Frank’s tune would always change. He’d start to calmly bellow the “Just Keep Swimming” song from “Finding Nemo“. He’d chant it, while slamming beautiful bowls of Soba Noodles and Pork Belly into the window. “Just Keep Swimming … Just Keep Swimming, Swimming, Swimming … “.
Somehow, we always managed to cruise safely through the storm.
“Just keep swimming … “
That little ditty made all the difference.
Sweet Potato & Parmesan Empanadas
I went through a phase … possibly still GOING through that phase … where I used a lot of Kabocha Squash. It’s such an amazing vegetable to be used within a low-carb lifestyle. It’s difficult to really present it as the amazing vegetable it is. While it can be a bit of a challenge to find, I HIGHLY recommend seeking them out. They can be found in many Asian markets, year round, as well as many Farmers’ Markets, during the winter-time. A chopped cup of Kabocha squash runs only 6 net carbs per full cup, and it tastes a bit like a sweet potato. The rind is also quite tasty, even though I often cut it off (for appearance purposes).
In any event, in the midst of all this tinkering with these squashes, I found myself with a big pile of diced peeled squash (as any rampant low-carber might!) and … wanted to do something different. I thought about something I’ve seen down in Mexico a million times and thought a baked Empanada would make for the right fit! I ran into my computer and googled “Paleo Empanadas“. The first hit looked good enough! So, I ripped off the dough idea, made my own filling and VOILA!
Dough Note: These were TASTY little treats … almost TOO good, in fact. It would be a challenge to just eat one. However, the dough was a serious challenge to work with. I’m going to continue tweaking and modifying these and/or similar dough recipes to find something a little more cohesive. This worked and tasted fantastic, but it wanted to crack and split, merely by looking at it. It’s a VERY fragile dough, but … with time and patience, it can be molded into something yum (and it was!). Just be aware when working with this dough, that … it’s a fussy one!
I’m not going to mislead you, dear friends. I find cucumbers as exciting as I find garden gnomes. They hold virtually nothing over me. I understand that they exist and that some people LOVE them, for a variety of reasons. I recognize the passion that can exist. Alas, I have no passion for cucumbers.
However, I run a recipe based website and I need to fill certain holes and use certain ingredients and appeal to the people that DO have a cucumber passion! This recipe is for those folks!
When I cook for the blog, because of all the lights and props and hoopla that goes into it, I usually cook between 10 and 15 dishes for that day. Amongst one of the best tests of a recipe’s tastiness lies in which of them do I gravitate towards, as they pile up on my coffee table. Which do I reach in and grab to snack on, as I work on the next dish in the queue. It’s usually a fairly mindless thing … I’ll walk by the table, reach in, grab and devour … whatever … usually the most indulgent thing. Without really realizing it, I found myself grabbing for THIS dish. Over and over, I’d reach in and pull out a few fingers full of limp and crispy cucumber slices, slightly sweetened from the fresh onions, slightly tart from the yoghurt and lime, and just chock full of fresh delight! Maybe I was just hot, maybe I was just full, but … for whatever reason, this combination of steps and ingredients caused this particular dish to rise to the top of the heap.
With a crispity crunch … YUM!
Lamb Stuffed Chard Leaves
I don’t remember what inspired me to try this one, to be honest. I DO know that the idea comes from the relatively common “stuffed cabbage”, which is often meat and other starchy things (such as rice). I can only assume I was looking to “change it up!” There was also a time when I went through a bit of a lamb phase, thinking I didn’t offer enough tasty lamb dishes. I also tend to like throwing little dashes of nature’s sweetness throughout some of my dishes. So, I can completely understand where I was coming from, but … I sincerely do not recall that singular “light bulb moment”.
In any event, these tasty little morsels can be made with any kind of ground meat. Perhaps a pork and veal mixture? Straight lamb? Beef? Sure! Why not?! In the end, it’s ground meat with chopped raisins all wrapped in large chard leaves, placed in a casserole dish, topped with a quickie tomato sauce and baked! Ah … the ethnic spice blend is North African in spirit.
On a final note, these are actually quite easy to throw together. The most challenging part is pre-cooking the leaves, but this only takes about 45 seconds. The rest is just throwing some ingredients into raw meat, wrapping leaves around the balls and then topping them with a quick raw tomato sauce. The whole thing cooks and melds together in the oven.
Bring it to your next pot luck! They spoon up nicely and are an interesting little dish!
Chicken Ala Mombie
I have a follower on my Facebook page going by the alias of “Mombie Zoprano”. I do not know her real name. It remains a mystery. I can only assume she’s wanted in connection with all the missing gumball machines in the San Joaquin Valley. In any event, she popped onto my radar when I was added to the cookbook authoring team at Low Carbing Among Friends. She was incredibly complimentary and I have not forgotten her words. Flattery will get you everwhere!
Since then, she occasionally pops onto my Facebook page, or sends me private messages announcing what she’s just made herself that evening. She also shares a variety of recipes and things she’s considering cooking. Her enthusiastic delivery can only be described as “Sqwee-ing”. Always a delight!
One of her ideas was for something along the lines of this here dish. Because the concept originated with a list stemming from Mombie, I’ve named it after her. Ultimately, it’s a Chicken Alfredo with Spaghetti Squash, but … that name undermines the true story behind how this recipe has come to be on my website.
Thanks for the inspiration, Mombie! I hope I’ve done your idea proud!
I LOVE the roasted chickens I find at all the various stores. Even down in Mexico, I could always a good and inexpensive whole roasted chicken. I usually cut the breasts out and eat them “as is”, or I cook them into something, like a soup or some kind of stir-fry. Usually I get a meal from each breast. Then, on the 3rd day, I usually warm up the chicken, pick the legs and the rest of the chicken of its final remaining meat. That’s always used for chicken salad (occasionally, I use this for other things, but it’s ALMOST always chicken salad). Some of the time it’s regular, and some of the time it’s curried, but the basic source is the same. The bones are then made into stock.
I do this … A LOT. I want to say once a week, but it’s probably closer to once a month. It’s a fairly regular occurrence. It’s always quick and rustic, it goes into a Tupperware with a lid and usually sustains me for about 3 more days. It’s never eaten WITH anything, on anything, inside anything, etc. Just a bowl of chicken salad … in a bowl. That’s it.
I suppose this is why, when the time came to add it to my website, my mind kind of … farted.
I couldn’t think of anything! I had no master vision. No clever plan. I couldn’t imagine just having a bowl of chicken salad sitting in a bowl. It would look ridiculous! I needed to do SOMETHING! I scoured my kitchen, looking for an idea. I found a nice piece of iceberg lettuce and a tomato. Ok, I’ll go New Jersey Diner Style!
In retrospect, it looks like I opened a can of cat food and tried to impress my fancy cat. Oh … I’m so embarrassed. I’m going to go hide in my man cave, now. (also, I don’t have a fancy cat)
In short: This simple and delicious chicken salad is HIGH on my list of things to eat, but … I don’t know how to make it purdy. It’s a tasty little mayonnaise salad in a bowl, which … kind of … belongs in a bowl.
For the longest time, I was afraid of carrots. I’d read that while fairly low in carbs, the carbs that DID exist would blast my blood sugars with near the same rate as pure glucose! As a result, I (and many others) avoid carrots within a low-carb lifestyle.
A few months ago, I read an article stating something to the effect of, “The GI Carrot Myth“. The general idea being that the test that resulted in cooked carrots having a Glycemic Index of 90+ was just wrong! Cooked carrots are actually closer to 30 or 40 (lower than a sweet potato), which … while this isn’t NEW information, it’s somehow less spectacular than saying that cooked carrots convert to sugar in the blood in a nano-second. The myth has somehow persisted, even in my own mind, until recently.
Around the same time as my discovery of the lower GI of cooked carrots, I also happened upon the Kabocha Squash, another orange fleshed vegetable, with a taste similar to that of a sweet potato. Diced, a cup of this squash is only 6 net carbs per cup. I love a good hash and feel it can form a nice base for many a meal.
Thus is born a carrot-kabocha squash hash!
Nutrition Note: Kabocha info is based off of 4 cups of kabocha cubes, for 1/2 cup per person. Nutrition info is not in USDA database. It is an educated guess, but one which is close and honorably presented.
Two other great hash recipes (and one mediocre one):
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