Where the Magic Happens …

Try Something New!

I read a lot of low-carb/paleo cookbooks and cookbook reviews. I ALWAYS read the comments for these; I feel it helps make me a better recipe writer. One of the most frequent comments I see on just about every book out there is “Nothing new here … move on!” Then, I’ll download the book and see that it IS full of the same kinds of recipes you’ll see everywhere else within the low-carb/sugar-free/paleo/primal/gluten-free space. Yep! I agree! More of the same!

However, I have perhaps a unique vantage point! Please indulge me …

More of the same SELLS! I’ve noticed that when I create a recipe which is … familiar … it soars!

When I make a recipe with chocolate, bacon, cream, anything related to the word “pizza” … it’s shared all over the place! (DING DIGNG DING!!! Chocolate-Bacon Pizza, anyone?!) While these are some wonderful culinary eddies, a big part of me feels that there’s more to the world than just those little safety zones. I also think lamb is wonderful and that cardamom is an interesting spice and that chard is delicious! However, when I share recipes that are a bit … off the beaten path … I hear “crickets”. It’s eerie how quiet it can get when I share some kind of exotic fish dish, or a somewhat outlandish cooking technique.

* chirp … chirp *

* chirp *

I recently asked my Facebook followers what they’d like to see more of and it spurred a bit of a chat involving MY goals and where my heart really lies …

In my mind’s eye, I’m teaching people to cook … or at the very least build confidence in the kitchen. I think I’m less motivated by the desire to feed, than I am to teach. The popular and requested dishes tend to be casseroles and slow cooker recipes, which can definitely be delicious! … but they also feel a bit like a missed opportunity, to me. I do something outside the box, then you learn and become a better cook for it, even if you don’t precisely copy me. I love exploring the flavors of Indonesia, or the chilies of Mexico. I love wrapping pork butts in banana leaves or stuffing and tying roasts. It’s my hope that these little side trips will ultimately help!

I believe we’re all striving to be happier and healthier people. There are many of us, myself included, who have been doing it wrong for a very long time. In fact, I have a long and storied history of doing the things that make me comfortable, but … they all involved the wrong choices, unhealthy ingredients, the wrong techniques, the wrong amounts, and always at the wrong times of day. This, unfortunately, is how I liked it! It’s normal and it’s comfortable and it’s familiar. It’s easy, because it’s habit. It’s my normal!

These are the things that contributed so greatly to my trouble in the first place!

On some level, many of us know we need to change and adopt new habits, adjust to new lifestyles and work in a few new routines, but it’s hard! I totally get it!

In the long run, these uncomfortable little adjustments tend to lead to a more productive life, filled with more smiles, better conversations and several more productive years tacked onto the ol’ lifespan!

Here’s the point: Normal wasn’t working. We need to change. Try something new!

Try finding a delicious sounding Chinese recipe using fresh ginger and make it. You may discover a new flavor or technique you’ll cherish for years! You can leave behind that stale old recipe you usually make on Monday nights …

Try brining some meat! It’ll taste better. I promise! Not just because it actually DOES taste better, have more moisture and flavor enhancing salts penetrating deep into the roast, but … you’ll also have EARNED that tasty flavor!

I recently tried Chia Seeds. I had long thought they were weird and slimy and I stubbornly wouldn’t try them. Finally, I gave in to my cave-hippy dark side and they are easily my new favorite thing. A REALLY quick and easy way to make breakfast before the gym, in the mornings!

Try roasting a duck! Try making something very authentically Italian … using a weird stinky cheese!

This really doesn’t need to be all about the kitchen … as a general rule … TRY SOMETHING NEW!

Find someone to play tennis with, this week. Take a different route to work. Read a rock climbing magazine. Take a yoga class. Write a poem! Switch it up!

I TOTALLY understand the desire to have a safe place. Chocolate is WONDERFUL! You’ll NEVER hear me say a bad thing about bacon. Pizza is my favorite! Slow cookers are like magical little hot tubs for food. What could be wrong with that?!

Nothing!

I just had alligator jerky this afternoon. Have you ever tried ostrich?

… I strayed …

This is really just a longwinded way for me to say you should join my Facebook page, if you haven’t! I share a free book almost every day. I share a new recipe, every day. In fact, I probably share 2 or 3 recipes a day, on average. I also answer questions, tell stories and chat with people!

Here’s a story that was placed on my Facebook page, which plays heavily into my main message! …

Super Random Story

I exercise … regularly.

People have commented to me that I rarely mention this, but the reality is that I do some kind of exercise about 6 days a week. While I’m DEFINITELY not a wealthy guy, I consider my diet and health an investment in my future. So, I’m willing to pay more for, and spend time on these things.

The gym I attend is a sort of “wellness” gym and includes a weekly session with a personal trainer, in addition to all kinds of other amazing perks. Historically, I’ve worked with trainers who seem to want to stack up the weight and have me pound my biceps, or do horrendous muscle isolating hamstring curls. Here, it all seems to be geared around “you vs. you”, using your whole body, almost all at once! I’ve never been as “mentally” challenged as I am by this gym. The exercises are hard and confusing and disorienting and I hate (LOVE!) them. Somehow this gym, without even really having me lift traditional weights, has me running. ME! RUNNING! My shins hurt and I think I broke myself, but I miraculously appear to be making all the little mini-decisions that get me back out there on a regular basis.

This morning, I was running with my trainer and was talking about how I can feel my legs when I’m just walking around a room. “I feel light and my legs feel powerful and I want to jump!” He said, “Ok, let’s do some jumping exercises, today!” Immediately I switched the topic to watching TV and eating pizza, in hopes we could do that instead, but … it didn’t happen. For the next 30 minutes, I found myself hopping around a busy gym, feeling like a sloppy fool.

This reminded me of a time about 10 years ago, where I’d tried to work with a different trainer who wanted me to do the same thing. 10 years ago, I flat out refused, and felt like bicep pounding was the way to go. Also, I had NO desire to flail my fat body around a room in front of everyone. It’s no fun to appear foolish!

That particular trainer kept pushing that style of agenda and … I wound up losing that trainer. I just wasn’t having it.

Somewhere along the line, I’ve crossed over to the point where I’m willing (and even happy to!) hop around a room, sweaty, disoriented and confused, looking totally bizarre, I’m sure …

As usual, this gym somehow pitted me against myself. This time … I won!

I only mention this because, after about my 20th hop, I was struck by the millions of different little decisions I’ve made that have changed me and have gotten me to this point.

Apparently, now, I choose to hop!

Coming Attractions!

Baked Sweet Potato Empanadas

Bacon Stir Fried Baby Broccoli

Chicken Puttanesca

Ground Lamb Stuffed Chard

Cucumber Salad

… and now for today’s recipes!

~ DJ

Pizzachiladas

PizzachiladasI love pizza. I LoooOoOOOOOove PIZZA! A good pie, a slice, some ZA! Whatever you want to call it, I want me some!

I’ve been eating in this manner for about 3 1/2 years and have found peace with it. There are things I simply no longer eat, or I’ve found “updated” replacements for the foods I love, but did so much damage. There is ONE glaring hole in my world, unfortunately. That hole’s name is: Pizza.

Pizza is amongst one of the most eaten foods on the planet, with some 5 billion pizzas being sold every year, 3 billion of those within the United States, where there are over 70,000 pizzerias! This is somewhat mind boggling to me, in that just over 100 years ago, there wasn’t a single pizza restaurant in the US. Americans quickly loved it and adopted it, myself included!

I’ve been on an endless search for a top-quality pizza since I’ve begun this way of life. There’s been some which were fun, or interesting, and often even delicious, but … just not a GREAT pizza! To-date, I have not had a GREAT low-carb pizza, and I’ve tried endless varieties, from cauliflower crusts, to cream cheese crusts, to tortillas, Carbquik and even a specialty flour made specifically for pizza (my favorite so far, but still not “great … wrote home to Mom … GREAT“!), but they’re all far too SWYPO for me. In many ways, I’ve given up hope and simple eat the real deal about once every 6 months, suffer through the cravings and then count the 180 or so days until my next slice! Wash, rinse, repeat!

What I’ve begun to do instead, is harness the spirit of the pizza, and apply it to other things. This way, I’m not really comparing it to an earth shattering deep dish Chicago pizza, or a thin crusted white pie from Brooklyn. Rather, I’m making something new; something which has no comparison!

Enter … PIZZACHILADAS!

These things were fantastic, actually! Every little bit as cheesy and greasy as a good pie should be, but without the overwhelming need to judge the crust. It has no crust! The pepperoni gives it the pizza flavor, while the melted cheese on top drives the whole thing home! A perfect texture, it slices well, it’s flavorful and filling. A home run!

Fillings/Toppings Note: I’ve always been a “Meat Lovers’ Pizza” kind of guy, unless I’m going for something truly different. Feel free to throw your favorite filling into these. I do recommend cooking them, first, though. As an example, raw mushrooms on a pizza will probably evaporate a lot of water in a super hot pizza oven. However, a raw mushroom inside one of these will likely just release a lot of water and make the whole thing soggy. Items like onions, mushrooms, peppers, broccoli, eggplant, mushrooms, zucchini, etc. will all benefit from being cooked, first.

[ VIEW RECIPE ]

Zucchini Bread

Zucchini BreadI started working in restaurants at about 14 years old. At first it was just weekends and summers, but when I turned 18, I worked in a big city restaurant, for none other than Wolfgang Puck! At the time (1992), this was HUGE for a little 18 year old punk from the mountains of California. This recipe started its life during those days.

My first big city restaurant job was … as a baker. Yes, my friends, I was a peddler of flour and sugar … professionally! Oh, how I’ve changed my ways! This recipe was handed to me via the head baker in and amongst a tattered booklet of other hand-written baked goods. It was given to me as a breakfast muffin, of which we baked the big kind, with giant booming caps!

Years and years later, I owned a catering company in Mexico. As a promotional tool, I would attend the local farmer’s market as a vendor, peddling my flours and sugars, including this recipe, which had some of the fat removed for a lighter texture. It was also baked into a loaf, rather than a muffin. I sold out of my zucchini bread first, almost always!

Here we are again … years and years later … this recipe is rearing its head once more! This time, as a low-carb zucchini loaf! I’m going to say something a little strange, but … trust me when I say I believe it …

Historically, this would rise and create a very soft and cakey loaf. This loaf, without the gluten to really carry the weight … somewhat collapsed on itself, but a remarkable thing happened. Perhaps it’s the new flour blend, but the texture has almost improved! The taste is just phenomenal! The end result is almost like a baked pudding, in texture. Soft and tender, with a whisper of cakey-ness, and brown crispy edges! I don’t really have much of a sweet tooth, but with this thing lying around … it got eaten … AND QUICKLY!

[ VIEW RECIPE ]

Blackened Salmon

Blackened SalmonWhile this recipe is ultimately about blackened salmon, make no mistake … this spice blend and method is absolutely fantastic on just about everything. Try tossing some shrimp in a little melted butter and then this spice blend. Sauté over ludicrously high heat, to scorch the outside butter and spiced, then eat! The same would be true with a chicken thigh. Coat it with melted butter, salt, pepper and this spice blend. Best chicken thigh ever! If I recommended popcorn (I don’t), I’d recommend dusting it with melted butter and then THIS spice blend. DELICIOUS!

Blackening is a Cajun method of cooking (which is, itself, a blend of French, native American, Caribbean, Spanish, Italian and African influences). The central idea is that “the item” is coated with whole melted butter and a mixture of spices. This “item” is cooked over very high heat, which heats the fat in the butter, browning the milk solids and frying the spices, until they are essentially “charred”. People don’t like to hear the word “burnt”, but … carbon is being created. There is a bit of burning, but not so much that it’s a burnt flavor. It is, in fact, just a heavy deepening of the flavors, bringing a slightly bitter edge to spicy and aromatic blend of herbs, chilies and spices. Burn it, but … don’t BURN IT.

Most blackening spice blends tend to be made with dry spices. I tend to believe it’s because they’re made in bulk in most restaurants, added to just about everything in the kitchen and have an incredibly long shelf life. This makes a lot of sense, but in a world where I can go to the local farmer’s market or even a standard grocery store and pick up an amazing selection of fresh herbs and spices, I’m going to add a few of this, just to brighten it up!

Give this spice blend a shot. It just takes an extra minute or two to make, but the end flavors are OUT OF THIS WORLD!

Note: I added a small amount of erythritol to this. The miniscule little boost of “sweet” helps round this out, but if you can’t get your hands on some … don’t worry about it. It’s not crucial to the dish … it’s just a personal preference.

Photo Note: Served with Smothered Cabbage.

[ VIEW RECIPE ]

Smothered Cabbage

Smothered CabbageOh what a lovely and simple side dish! This one has it all (and by “all” I mean BACON!)!

Looking around the Internet, “Smothered Cabbage” doesn’t appear to live in any specific geographic or cultural origin. I’m going to label it thusly: Soulful Southern Cajun-eole. I see it labeled many ways, but none seem to officially claim it as their own.

Smothered cabbage is varied and different and originally made from whatever was on hand, at the time. It probably still is! It was usually some kind of inexpensive meat and cabbage thrown into a pot where it was smothered with some broth and other flavors, and then left to simmer until it becomes a big pool of tasty goodness.

I see all kinds of variations, including rabbit, Andouille, bacon, ham, white cabbage, red cabbage, all types of braising greens, some fruits, chilies, tomatoes, different stocks, vinegars, other vegetables, etc. There doesn’t appear to be any one clear place of origin or widely accepted definition. From all of this, I’ve picked and chosen and blended together red cabbage with onions, apples, bacon, apple cider vinegar and some chicken stock. Not so much as to drown the whole delicious concoction, but … JUST enough to smother it!

[ VIEW RECIPE ]

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2 thoughts on “Where the Magic Happens …”

  1. Hey DJ great blog post as usual 🙂 I just wanted to share something though. I agree it’s about getting out of what is comfortable. I have tried things and cooked things I had never heard of prior to low carb. I was one of the people requesting slow cooker recipes. For me it’s not about what is comfortable but about time. I work two jobs, have a teenage son and someone that has developmental disabilities living with me in my home. I have to find time to get them to all their activities and doctor’s appointments. My son has to go at least weekly for shots not including a regular physician appointment. On top of that normal stuff I have to find time to work on me …working out etc. The less time I have to spend in the kitchen the more time it frees me to do those things so Monday-Friday is my slow cooker go to meals of which I would like to add some variety and the weekends (when not full of activities) is my ‘can’t wait to try some new recipes time along with creating some new recipes of my own’. So I do gain from your more in depth out of the box type recipes I just have a need for other things like slow cooker variations. 🙂 Thanks for all you do to make low carb more fun and varied!

  2. Hi Syvella! I completely agree with you and totally understand the issues. I think this is part of why I didn’t love the way I phrased it, even as I do think breaking out of the box and doing new things is necessary for growth. Ironically, getting me to use a slow cooker is ME doing something NEW and it is something I’ll do! I have every intention of doing one-pot meals, casseroles, slow-cooker meals, etc. I do want people to save time, save money, etc. This is true, but I also think it’s important to push the boundaries and create some change along the way. I do apologize if this came out wrong … I kind of felt that it had, but I also felt pretty good that the point was being made … even if it was framed somewhat poorly …

    A big fan of yours, Syvella! You know that! Keep up the good work, keep kicking some tail and … I’ll be in the kitchen with my little hot tub fulla food! 🙂

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