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Samosa Pie

The other night I was in a particularly crave-y mood. I wanted meat and potatoes meets spice. I happened to remember these Wholly Wholesome pie crusts I picked up from Whole Foods and the samosa pie was born.

When I was preparing it it felt totally wrong, like a terrible bastardization of traditional cuisine. It was going to be a dirty little secret. No one needed to know. Then we ate it and it blew me away. Maybe it’s because I was so hungry and crave-y..but maybe not because it tasted just as mind-blowing the next day.

If you think about it it’s not to different from a samosa, the pastry is just arranged a little differently. Maybe I’m rationalizing but you have to try it. Not only is it super tasty but it was so easy to prepare.

Samosa Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 lb grassfed beef (this is just what I used - you can of course use conventional)
  • 1 medium sized potato diced into very small cubes
  • 1/4 cup of frozen peas
  • 1 small red onion diced
  • 1 cm or 1/2 inch knob of ginger finely diced or mashed (optional - I forgot to do this but I think it would have made it better)
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp curry powder (optional - I grabbed the curry powder instead of the turmeric so ended up with both.)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds (optional but recommended - the seeds add so much dimension)
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • cayenne to taste
  • salt to taste

Instructions

  1. Take pie shell out to defrost.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 F / 220 C
  3. Dice the potato and put it to boil in a pan with enough water to just cover it, that way when the potatoes are boiled you can pour the whole contents of the pot into the beef mixture. The starchy potato water will thicken into a gravy.
  4. Sauté the onion with the cumin seeds (if using) on very low heat until softened and aromatic.
  5. Increase heat to medium and add the beef. Break it apart as it cooks so it's smooth and even.
  6. When the beef is evenly broken apart add the potatoes with potato water and the peas.
  7. Cook just until any remaining liquid has reduced into a nice thick gravy.
  8. Pour contents of pan into pie shell. For me the recipe was enough to fit into one pie shell. I also put my pie shell onto a cookie sheet before filling to make it easier to move into the oven.
  9. Bake for 50-60 minutes until edges are slightly golden.
  10. If you can wait (unlike those of us with no impulse control) give it about 10-15 minutes rest before cutting in or the beef filling will ooze out everywhere and you won't be able to cut pie like pieces out of it.

Butter Chicken With Love

I followed the NY Times Butter Chicken recipe by Tom Sifton, which can be found here. I tried not to deviate from the recipe too much. Making it was a pleasure from start to finish. The strong and subtle aromas wafting out of the kitchen were reward in themselves. The taste was what I expected but much more. Homemade butter chicken can have noticeably more complex flavours than take out if you cook with patience and love.

We are so rushed in our daily lives. For many of us, cooking has become a chore that we try to hurry through. When you cook in the moment the process of cooking becomes a pleasure and the final result will show that you’ve taken your time. It isn’t a hyperbole to say that the secret ingredient in this dish is love.

I like the layout of the recipe itself as well. The side by side ingredients and steps make it easier to follow. I also really appreciate that the ingredients are listed in order of appearance, and not in order of grocery category (i.e. dairy, produce, meat etc).

A note on chicken. Probably the most important step in this recipe is cutting the chicken into nice looking, even sized cubes…or something approximating a cube. Doing this may take a little longer than you’re prepared to invest  but it will pay off.

Obviously, start with fresh ingredients. There’s a crucial step between grocery store and cooking that needs attention: your fridge. Keeping a clean and well organized fridge keeps your food fresher for longer. Foods stored in the fridge take on each others smells. If your fridge smells bad, everything in it will smell bad if you really pay attention.

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Which brings me to another crucial point: smell. Smell your garlic. Slow down and really get in there. Smell it with the peel on, smell it with the peel off. Smell everything. Get intimately acquainted with your food. When you treat the ingredients patiently and with high regard, they will shine in the final dish.

I try to always start with whole spices. The smell of freshly ground whole spices is a totally different world from even the freshest pre-ground spices. If you don’t believe me, crush some cumin or coriander and smell. They have so much more dimension and depth.

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I used a marble mortar and pestle. Cumin is particularly hard to crush and I have to admit I lost my patience a little bit with this step. Still, I resisted the temptation to pull out my magic bullet and pulverize these seeds into oblivion because I knew that not only would it change the flavour of the cumin, it would also show disregard for the process.

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It was worth it, if only for these pictures alone. There’s something timeless and universal about crushing spices. The smell, of course, is transcendent but its also the connection with the cooking. The feeling that you’re doing something that human hands across the world have done for probably millennia.

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Take your time cutting the onion, even if it stings your eyes. My method is to cut in half, then cut evenly spaces lines into each half, rotate 90 degrees and repeat.  Be mindful and totally in tune with your knife blade, cutting precise and even lines. Use your senses. Listen to the subtle sounds of knife through onion.

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I think the recipe called for fresh but this was all I had. I crushed two of them by hand and set aside. I didn’t wash my hands and then I touched my face. Be careful.

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Unlike the recipe calls for, I added the cumin seeds to the ghee first as is common in many Indian recipes (I think they call it blooming the spices.) I heated them until they started lightly popping, and then I added the diced onion. The smell was…like nothing else I’ve ever smelled in my kitchen before.

You can serve with plain basmati or add a little bit of subtle flavour, like a tsp of turmeric and the seeds of two cardamom pods. The cardamom seeds should be shiny and very dark, not grey or ashen looking. For the basmati, add 1 cup of rice and 2.5 cups of water to a pan along with a sprinkle of salt and any flavourings you’re adding. Stir lightly. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes on medium-low until the water level has reached the rice. Cover and continue cooking for 5 minutes, then turn the heat off and leave undisturbed until ready to serve. Don’t uncover.

I used ghee and almond oil to cook the chicken. I had frozen homemade chicken stock that I added to deglaze. I cooked the chicken in two batches, adding the finishes first batch to the pot of sauce and then when the second batch was ready I poured the contents of the sauce pot back into the cast iron skillet. I simmered lightly for another 5 or 10 minutes.

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Goan Coconut Curry & Butternut Squash Soup with Langostino Tails

I spent a lot of my formative years in Toronto, where I gained an appreciation for diversity that’s had an enduring impact on me. Toronto is a mecca of multiculturalism. You can find food from all over the world in various parts of the city: Greek town on Danforth, Korean in K-town, Little Italy and Corso Italia on College and St. Clair, Portugal Village at Dundas West, Japanese & Hungarian in the Annex, Polish in Roncesvalles, Latin American in Kensington Market, all kinds of Caribbean all over the place, at least two Little Indias and about six Chinatowns. What a mouthful…but that’s not all. Toronto is also a haven for regional cuisine. Toronto’s ethnic communities are really proud of their regional diversity and the city certainly encourages diversity to flourish. So if you wanted, say, SicilianAssamese, or Hunan cuisine, you could find it.

Beyond an appreciation for the international (which I have in excess at times) Toronto also imparted an appreciation for regional diversity. When I was growing up I met a lot of South Asians but very few of them were Goan. The Goans I did meet were really proud of being Goan and I always felt like they had an aura of uniqueness around them. That brings me to this meal. One of my goals with Cristina’s Kitchen is to learn about different cultures through food and of course, I especially like delving into the nuances of regional cuisine.

You can learn a lot about the different geographical and cultural influences of a culture just by looking at ingredients. For example, Goan cuisine is characterized by a lot of coconut fish curries, due to the fact that it’s in a coastal area, but what’s more interesting is that it also has significant Portuguese influence from 400 years of colonialism. There are Goan/Portuguese samosas (chamuças), chorizo (chouriço), and feijoada.

P1140498The spices used in Goan cuisine are in different proportions from other curries. There’s much more of a focus on coriander and cumin. The spice paste is fairly simple overall, especially in comparison to others I’ve made (like Indonesian Beef Rendang – that was super complex). It’s onion, garlic, ginger, chilies and ground turmeric plus toasted and ground coriander and cumin. Simple no? The toasting and grinding of your own spices may seem tedious and unnecessary but I promise it makes a difference…and the smell of fresh ground coriander is a life experience in and of itself. P1140494For this recipe I adapted the spice blends used in two recipes for Goan Fish Curry and Goan Fish Stew. Granted, the use of butternut squash may not be authentic but the seasoning is close. All I did was sauté the onion, garlic, and ginger along with the butternut squash. Once it was aromatic I added the chili, toasted and ground dry spices and turmeric and then blended with coconut milk in a food processor. I didn’t have dried Kashmiri chilies per the recipes I used for reference so I substituted sweet paprika not cayenne because they’re meant to add flavour rather than heat. I also didn’t have fresh green chilies so I sprinkled in some cayenne at the end to get the spice level to where I wanted.

P1140536I added 350 grams / 12 oz of cooked langostino tails (from Trader Joe’s) for protein because that’s what I had but you can substitute with shrimp or even veggies. You can also up the amount of langostino or shrimp to 450 grams / 1 lb.

Overall it’s really simple and definitely doable on a weeknight. The butternut squash and coconut milk base with langostino tails make for a tasty, nutritious, and hearty meal that also looks really lovely and feels very sophisticated. I like to think of it as a fall inspired take on traditional Goan cuisine.  More than that, making Goan food made me feel like I’d been let in on a secret…on the reason for that aura of uniqueness and pride amongst the Goans I’ve met. Few things compare to the feeling of getting closer to another culture by making their food. That was definitely the best part of this meal.

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Ingredients

1 large butternut squash, cooked and cubed

1-2 TBSP coconut oil or ghee for cooking

1 medium red onion, finely diced

4 cloves of garlic, mashed or minced

2 inch (5cm) piece of ginger, mashed or minced

4 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

4 dried kashmiri chilies or substitute 1 TBSP sweet paprika

1 can natural unsweetened coconut milk

2 cups of water

1 green chilli, finely diced (or substitute ground cayenne to taste)

Salt to taste

350 – 450 grams / 12 – 16 oz cooked langostino tails (or substitute same amount of cooked shrimp)

2 TBSP chopped cilantro + more for garnish

Method

 Bake butternut squash. I baked mine whole at 400 F / 200 C for about 45 minutes. You can peel, seed and before or after baking – it’s up to you. Also, this step can be done the day before or way in advance and frozen if you’re a meal prep aficionado.

Heat oil or ghee in a skillet on medium-high heat.

Add onion, garlic, and ginger. Sauté until aromatic and soft – about 8 minutes. Increase heat, add butternut squash and continue sautéing another 5 minutes or so to develop the flavours.

While sautéing, start another smaller skillet on medium heat and add the dried chilies (if using) and the coriander and cumin seeds. Heat gently for about 5 minutes or until aromatic. Grind in a mill or with a mortar and pestle.

Add the ground seeds, dried chilies (or paprika), turmeric, and coconut milk to the skillet and mix.

Pour all ingredients into food processor or blender and blend until smooth.

Return soup to a pot over medium-high heat. Add two cups of water and mix until incorporated.

Add the green chilies (or cayenne) as well as salt to your taste. I used about 2 tsp each of cayenne and salt.

Add cooked langostino tails (or shrimp) and cilantro. Mix, head tot your preference, then serve garnished with more cilantro.

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Spicy Heirloom Carrot Thai Salad

Back in May we ordered four thai bird chili seedlings on Amazon.  A few weeks later we received a USPS box stuffed with styrofoam squiggles and four tiny plants that could fit in the palm of my hand. They were so small and frail looking we weren’t sure we’d be able to keep them alive.

Not only did they survive, but they got huge! They even made it through our month long trip to Asia totally unattended on our balcony. They’re surprisingly hearty little plants…and so so spicy.

So now we have four giant Thai chili plants that provide more chilis than we know what to do with. I’m always trying to think of ways to incorporate them into our meals.

P1140487This past weekend we picked up some beautiful heirloom tomatoes and carrots from the farmers market. The tomatoes became a Heirloom Tomato Tart with Gruyère & Thyme. I wanted to do something with the carrots that would keep them front and centre while also highlighting their beautiful colours. A soup would have blended all the colours together and roasting seemed sort of boring.

I was picturing beautiful ribbons or spirals of carrot but wasn’t sure what would go with them. To cook or not to cook? I decided to leave them raw in all their natural glory in a spicy Thai peanut dressing made with none other than our abundant chili harvest.

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I used a veggie spiralizer for the carrots. You could also use a vegetable peeler and run it down the carrots to make ribbons. I think that might work better because the spiralizer doesn’t do very well with smaller narrower vegetables so it wasn’t able to get through a lot of the carrot. My vegetable peeler has a serrated blade (for some reason) which would have created a ridged effect on the carrot ribbons that I didn’t really want. I also tried using a mandolin but that made very straight julienne like carrots, rather than curly spirals. So, your best bet is a vegetable peeler or a veggie spiralizer if you don’t mind some carrot by-product. I’m going to roast the remaining carrot later today and make a curry soup.

I probably used 6-8 chilis for about 2 servings. I removed the stems, sliced them thinly and removed the seeds to reduce the spice while keeping the flavour. Between spiralling, slicing, and making the dressing the whole dish took less than 20 minutes. It made a great lunch but would be good for dinner too with some protein on top. Also, simply omit the sugar to make it paleo. Peanuts are apparently not paleo and I don’t think this would be much of a dressing without them so turns out the sugar isn’t the only problem….apologies paleo eaters!

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Ingredients

450 grams / 1 lb spiralized/ribboned/julienned heirloom carrots

6-8 Thai bird chilis, sliced and seeded

2 TBSP peanut butter

1 TBSP palm sugar or brown sugar

Juice of one lime

1 TBSP fish sauce

1 clove garlic (mashed)

1 cm cube of fresh ginger (mashed)

3-4 TBSP hot water

2 TBSP fresh chopped cilantro

Fresh slices lime, chopped cilantro and peanuts for garnish (optional)

 

Method

Spiralize carrots with a veggie spiralizer or ribbon by running a vegetable peeler down them to create long strips. You can also julienne if you don’t have the other tools but it’s not ideal. Put the finished carrots in a bowl.

Slice and seed the chilis (or don’t – it’s up to you how much spice you like). Add to the bowl with the carrots.

In another smaller bowl combine the peanut butter, sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, mashed garlic and ginger, and enough hot water to make them all blend together. For me it was 4 TBSP but do one at a time and see how it looks, you don’t want it to be watery.

Pour the sauce over the carrots, toss until coated. Sprinkle in cilantro and toss again. Garnish to your liking.

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Andouille Carbonara

We were at the farmers market asking around everywhere for chorizo. A few weeks earlier we attended a dinner to celebrate the engagement of two of our friends. They showed us a really neat Portuguese cooking method that involves setting alcohol on fire in a ceramic pig.

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How cool is that? As you can imagine I had to have one. I got the pig but the chorizo was no where to be found.   I asked everywhere but the closest thing I could find was andouille. I wasn’t sure if I would torch it (authenticity and all) but I knew I’d find something interesting to do with it in any case.

Carbonara is one of those things I crave every so often. What’s not to love about it? Creamy, cheesy, smoked cured meat….delicious. It was late on a lazy Saturday night and we had guests. We were all hungry for something comforting and rich. I was also hoping it would be easy and quick.

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I opened the fridge and stood there for a few minutes, thinking through the logistics of the different things I could make. I thought about pasta. I saw the andouille. That was that. The chives add a fresh counterpoint to the smokiness and flavour of the andouille. If you use andouille, look for a natural one without nitrites or preservatives like this andouille by Neto’s. You could use any sausage you have on hand like Spanish chorizo, Polish kabanosy, or even grassfed German Landjaeger. This makes about four average sized servings (or two enormous ones).

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Ingredients

4 servings spaghetti, fettuccine or other pasta of your choice

About 1/2 TBSP olive oil for sautéing

1/2 kg / 1 lb andouille (or other smoked sausage)

3 eggs

150 grams / 5.5 oz grated pecorino romano or parmigiano (you could also use gruyère in a pinch)

Salt to taste

Drizzle of olive oil for pasta

Freshly cracked black pepper and chopped chives for garnish

 

Method

Boil pasta, al dente is preferable. The time depends on the type of pasta so check the package directions. Generously salt the water so it tastes like the ocean.

Heat oil in a skillet on medium heat. While heating, cut the sausage into thin slices.

Pan fry the sausage until browned and crispy (or to your liking).

While sausage is frying, crack the eggs into a large bowl and whisk. Add the cheese and mix until incorporated.

When pasta is finished cooking, drain it reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Return the drained pasta in the skillet with the andouille and add the cooking liquid. Increase heat and agitate pan to keep things moving. You want to get it hot.

Once hot, remove from heat and pour into the egg mixture while whisking quickly and consistently until the eggs thicken. The residual heat from the pasta and sausage will cook the eggs. Pouring the hot ingredients over the eggs and working quickly will prevent scrambling the eggs. It should be salty enough from the pasta water and sausage but taste and adjust to your preferences.

Garnish with fresh cracked black pepper and chives.

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Creamy Portobello & Thyme Pappardelle

Mmmmm this was so SO good. It was Friday evening. We got in late after another rousing round of house hunting. We were really tired and just wanted something comforting and quick. This really delivered. Mushrooms are amazingly versatile and so delicious in so many ways. They impart a really satisfying and robust umami to this pasta that plays so well with the creamy and sharp cheese. Combine that with the herbaceous quality of thyme and spice of pepper and it makes for a really flavourful dish. I happened to have roasted garlic in the fridge from the day before, so it was a no brainer to toss it in. It would be pretty simple to make some:

Roasted Garlic

Turn oven on to 400 F / 200 C. Make a sort of bowl out of aluminum foil by cupping it in your hand. Place about 7 unpeeled cloves of garlic in and drizzle with olive oil. Close up the bowl of foil and put it in the oven (even if it’s still preheating). Leave it in there about 20 minutes. That’s probably how long it’ll take you to prepare the rest of the ingredients and cook the mushrooms. When ready remove from oven, peel and mash cloves and put them in the sauce.

A splash of white wine would also be lovely. Overall, I think it took me about 30 minutes. The mushrooms need to release their liquid and soften which is probably what takes the longest. This isn’t at all a finicky dish so feel free to make it on a weeknight!

Ingredients

4 servings egg pappardelle or pasta of your choice

About 1 TBSP olive oil for sauteeing

1/2 yellow onion

4 large portobello mushroom caps

2 TBSP salted butter

2 cups milk

1 TBSP corn starch

100 grams / 3.5 oz grated parmigiano reggiano plus another 25 grams / about an ounce petals for garnish (I used a mandolin to make the petals but you can also slice thinly or buy them pre-made)

1.5 tsp fresh thyme

7 cloves roasted garlic (see recipe above)

Fresh cracked black pepper and salt to taste

Drizzle of olive oil for pasta

Method

Boil pasta per package directions.

Heat oil in a skillet on medium heat.

Add onions and sauté until translucent.

While onions are sautéing, slice the mushrooms into 1 cm strips.

Add mushrooms to pan and cover (it might seem like a lot of mushrooms but they’ll reduce down significantly)

Uncover when they’ve reduced in size and darkened in colour. Use a spatula to gently turn them in the pan. Recover until they are consistently cooked. The mushrooms are very fragile until they cook through so they can break easily if moved. I wanted my slices to stay intact but it’s up to you how you want them to turn out. You may notice some liquid in the pan as the mushrooms release their water.

Once all of the mushrooms are roughly the same colour, add the milk to the pan and gently mix in. Sprinkle on the cornstarch and use your spatula to mix it in.

Add the thyme, roasted garlic, and grated cheese and mix to combine. Simmer uncovered for another 5-10 minutes until the milk has reduced to a sauce consistency. If it doesn’t reduce enough add a bit more cornstarch and simmer another 5 minutes or until it reaches desired consistency.

Salt to taste.

Garnish with fresh cracked black pepper, thyme, and parmigiana petals. Beautiful. Simple. Enjoy.

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Heirloom Tomato Tart with Gruyère & Thyme

It was such a pleasure making this tart. Bogdan and I met up with some friends at Eastern Market on Saturday and there were beautiful heirloom tomatoes everywhere. I didn’t have any plans for them but I had to have some. Just look how beautiful they are. Slicing them for this tart was almost as good as eating the finished product. The smell of sweet fresh tomatoes filled my kitchen and I couldn’t have been happier.

I’ve seen quite a few tomato tarts on Pinterest lately and they all look so wonderful. I decided that would be the best way to highlight the tomatoes while also making something really eye-catching. You know what’s amazing about food? The sheer variety of preparation methods that can transform virtually the same ingredients from a margherita pizza to a rustic tomato tart. It’s incredible.

So about this tart. It looks really impressive but it’s surprising how simple it is to make. I made my own pie dough (recipe & instructions below) but you can substitute store bought if you prefer – that would make it even simpler. I think I used about 250 grams / 8.8 oz of tomatoes.  I used the small ones because I liked the look of it but you can also use large ones or even both. They have to be sliced thinly then laid out on a paper towel lined surface and sprinkled with salt so they release water and you don’t end up with a runny pie. It’s really easy to over-salt so just remember while you’re salting that what you sprinkle on the tomatoes to release water will also end up in your tart.

Gruyère and thyme has been my favourite combination lately. I bought a little thyme bush from the farmers market a couple weeks ago and I’ve been using it in everything. The combination of gruyère and thyme is a classic. It lets the tomatoes shine while still adding a bit of interest. I garnished with a small sprig of basil just for appearances but you could also fully substitute basil and pecorino for the gruyère and thyme.

You’ll notice that there aren’t a lot of ingredients in this tart. Simple preparations like this are meant to highlight the quality of the few ingredients used. In this case, the tomatoes were really the star of the recipe and their quality and taste was noticeable. Try to take advantage of the harvest heirlooms available at farmers markets this time of year. Also, if at all possible don’t shy away from making your own pie dough. Not only does it taste infinitely better than store bought, but it also isn’t full of preservatives, stabilizers, colours and whatever else  store bought doughs are always full of (have you ever looked at the ingredients? It’s scary). The flour you choose makes a big difference too. My personal favourite (for almost everything I make) is Antimo Caputo Chef’s “00” Flour, however, for pastry it’s best to avoid a high gluten flour and use an AP instead. As always, unbleached is always better.

Unless you have somewhere you can buy all natural pie dough, make it yourself. It’s part of the experience. The secret is just to keep all the ingredients super cold – then it’s (almost) fool-proof. Also, this particular dough is made with a combination of lard and butter, which provides an ideal flour-to-fat ratio. If you don’t have or prefer not to use lard it’s best to substitute vegetable shortening instead of more butter because all butter can make for a mealy pie dough that’s hard to work with.

The recipe here is adapted from the recipe in The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friburg. I cut the recipe in half, reduced the salt and changed the method a little bit.


Pie Dough


Ingredients

350 grams / 12 oz unbleached AP flour

1 tsp salt

225 grams / 8 oz cold salted butter (very cold)

70 grams / 2.5 oz lard or vegetable shortening (very cold)

Approximately 1/3 of a cup ice water

Method

** A well known pie dough making hack is to grate frozen butter or lard. This is a great idea and makes the process much easier. However, know that if you do grate it you should refreeze for 10-15 minutes in case it’s warmed up from your body heat or the friction of the grater.

Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and lard and quickly mix without handling it too much until just incorporated.

Sprinkle on the ice water and mix just until the dough comes together. It should still look chunky.

Flatten with a rolling pin, cover and let rest in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. My preferred method is to roll it out on a large sheet of aluminum foil, then fold over the edges and put it into the freezer as is. When I take it out I can flip it upside down and lay it into my tart shell then peel off the foil with little damage to the dough.

When the dough has chilled enough, press it into a tart shell. I used a very shallow (about 1 inch / 2.5 cm) tart pan that’s 10 inch / 25 cm across. I had a small handful of dough leftover so I think this would be enough to cover a 2 inch deep pan as well (especially if you don’t make the crust as thick as mine was).

Blind bake the tart dough (without anything in it) at 375 F / 190 C for 15 minutes. You can use pie weights or beans if you choose but I generally don’t.  You can move on to the tart recipe at this point.

When finished baking, remove from heat and assemble following instructions below. Leave the oven on.

**Makes about 700 grams / 1.5 lbs of pie dough.


Tart


Ingredients

250 – 300 grams fresh heirloom tomatoes (either cherry or full sized)

1 prebaked pie or tart crust

1 TBSP fresh thyme + a bit more for garnish (fresh really makes a difference but if you have to use dry then substitute 1 tsp dried thyme for 1 TBSP fresh)

100 grams / 3.5 oz grated gruyère + more for garnish (after baking)

Method

Thinly slice the tomatoes (as thin as you have the patience for) and lay them out on a paper towel lined surface. Sprinkle with salt and let them sit for at least 30 minutes so they release water and you don’t end up with a runny pie. It’s really easy to over-salt so just remember while you’re salting that what you sprinkle on the tomatoes to release water will also end up in your tart.

Take your tart or pie shell and sprinkle 1/3 of the thyme, then 1/3 of the cheese and layer on enough tomatoes to cover. Repeat for 2 more layers, using the rest of the ingredients. I had a few tomato slices leftover that I just ate as they were. If you have leftovers or not enough, adjust accordingly The tart should be relatively full so if you use a 2 inch tart pan then you’ll need to double your filling. PS: The top of the tart should be tomatoes and not cheese because the cheese will harden unpleasantly.

Bake at 375 F / 190 C for 15 – 20 minutes or until crust is a nice golden colour and tomatoes have dried.

Remove from heat and allow to cool 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle with more thyme and gruyère.

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Spiced Sweet Potato & Parsnip Medallions

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Ok, I have to be honest: this isn’t really a recipe. I feel sort of bad even posting it because it’s really simple and normally wouldn’t be worth posting but the pictures are so beautiful I had to share it at least for the sake of sharing presentation inspiration.

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I had been planning on making a sweet potato and parsnip purée to go with a lemon and herb roasted chicken. When it came time to make dinner a purée seemed like infinitely more work than just roasting along with the chicken in the oven. I cut two medium sized sweet potatoes and one parsnip into 1 cm thick medallions as shown above.

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I tossed them in olive oil with a touch of cinnamon and savoury and laid them out in one layer on parchment paper on a half sheet pan. I baked at 230 C / 450 F for 10 minutes then took them out, seasoned again this time with kosher salt, garlic powder, and chili flakes – enough to cover each medallion with a light dusting (about 1 tsp garlic and chill flakes, 1/2 tsp salt). I seasoned the tops first, flipped them and seasoned the bottoms and put them back in the oven like that so they would brown on both sides. Bake for another 10 minutes and they’re done.

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They don’t crips up very much but sweet potato is especially hard to crisp so I wasn’t surprised. They do have a bit of texture to them just nothing outstanding. That’s not what makes them special though. The real winning feature is how they look. Aren’t they a lot more striking than cubed roasted root vegetables?

Also, I don’t know how I have lived this long without ever having tried sweet potato and chili flakes. They belong together.

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Curried Carrot & Quinoa Cakes (made with juicer pulp)

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Have you ever noticed the taste of your own cooking becoming too familiar?  It happens to me often. I first noticed it when Bogdan made butter chicken one night in late winter this year. We were in the middle of our first whole30 and experimenting with making different recipes compliant. One of our favourites was butter chicken with coconut milk instead of dairy and riced cauliflower instead of basmati. I made it quite often. It was a quick, warming, stick-to-your-ribs meal perfect for cold February weeknights. I don’t remember why but that particular night Bogdan decided he would make it. Bogdan can cook, he just doesn’t do it very often so I wasn’t expecting the level of flavour development he achieved in his 30 minute stint in the kitchen. When I took the first bite I was blown away by the flavours.The dish was bright, fragrant, and captivating. I ate, quietly mesmerized. I couldn’t figure out how he had made a familiar dish so exciting. It was like a jolt. A reawakening. A reminder of why I do what I do. Why food is at the centre of it all.

That experience made me realize that when one cooks, they leave a signature that makes the food their own. That probably sound obvious but even so it’s definitely taken for granted. It has little to do with following recipes and everything to do with personal style. That’s why nothing will ever taste like mom’s cooking. It’s the same reason my own cooking often starts becoming too familiar. I know my own cooking. I know my own methods and can usually anticipate how something will taste. That’s why I was so floored when I tasted these curried carrot and quinoa cakes. For a recipe I came up with to make use of juicer pulp (after making carrot juice gajar halwa gummies) these were phenomenal.

Knowing every step and ingredient can take some of the magic out of that first bite but that was definitely not the case here. These cakes have a perfect crisp crust enveloping the mouth-watering interplay of herbs and spices in an unexpectedly meaty filling. Writing this is making me want to make them again tonight. As I told Bogdan last night through mouthfuls of carrot and quinoa “I would juice just to make these.” On that note, I did use juicer pulp to make them and I know some people might not have juicers. I haven’t tried it but I think you could replicate this effect if you grated carrot and then squeezed out the liquid with some cheesecloth.

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It’s a lot of work but I would do it for these cakes. They’re that good. Again, I haven’t tried it so this isn’t a recommendation but if you really want to have them then this might be a good way.

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Ingredients

2.5 cups / 600 mL carrot pulp
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups cooked quinoa
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
1/4 cup diced cilantro
3 cloves of garlic (mashed)
1 cm x 1cm cube of ginger (mashed)
1 TBSP curry powder
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp salt
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp coriander
½ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp cardamom
pinch of cinnamon
5 TBSP ghee for frying

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Method

Mix all ingredients in a bowl until well combined.
Form mix into either large (burger sized) or smaller falafel sized patties.
Heat ghee in a non-stick pan on medium heat.
Once heated, place patties in pan without crowding. Fry on medium heat uncovered for 5-7 minutes. The idea is to form a crust on the bottom. If the heat is too high they’ll burn instead of crisping.
Once a crust has formed (you can usually tell if they’re easier to pick up with a spatula) then flip and cook on the next side for another 5-7 minutes.
Best served hot with a spicy raita.

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Also for anyone wondering, the chilies in the pictures aren’t in the actual recipe (though you could add them if you wanted to) they were used in the raita I made to go with the cakes. I’ll try to get that recipe posted soon too.

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Spiced Butternut Squash & Pastured Beef Skillet

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Butternut squash season is here and I couldn’t be happier. This is by far one of my favourite meals. I make different iterations of it quite often, especially for brunch on lazy Sundays (and more than once for dinner on lazy weeknights). I’ve varied my protein selection quite often (corned beef, bacon, ground beef, ground turkey) but I’ve generally stuck to regular white potatoes as my main starch. I didn’t even think about swapping in other starches until we started cleaning up our diet with whole30 that I realized that plain white potatoes are not the most nutritious or exciting option. I think I may have shied away from other options because I wasn’t a big fan of sweet potatoe before. Thankfully those days are gone.

In addition to now loving sweet potato, I’ve also discovered the amazing taste and nutritional benefits of butternut squash.  It has a much milder flavour than sweet potato but still enough sweetness to blend beautifully in heavily spiced preparations. Also, it has half the calories and half the carbs of white potato and sweet potato but about the same amount of fiber, potassium, protein, vitamin A, calcium, and magnesium? As a bonus, it also has almost 10 times the vitamin C. Isn’t that amazing?

You’ll need to cook the squash beforehand but it’s really straightforward. You can peel or dice it either before cooking or after. I prefer after because it’s easier to work with for me, but it depends on your preferences.

If you’re peeling and dicing beforehand: peel the squash with a vegetable peeler, cut lengthwise first and scoop out seeds then dice the squash into 1 cm x 1 cm cubes, toss with olive oil or ghee and bake at 190 C / 375 F for about 30 minutes.

If you’re peeling and dicing afterward: cut the squash lengthwise, scoop out seeds and pulp, brush with ghee or olive oil, and bake at 375 for approximately 45 minutes. You can do this in advance. Cooked dice squash will keep in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer for 6 – 12 months. We used the squash in this skillet for two different meals, sautéed with kale for dinner the night before and in the skillet shown here for brunch the next day.

Like I said above, you can substitute any meat. I think next time I’ll also add more vegetables. One thing I never change is that I always add a pinch of curry powder. It makes all the difference.

Also, this skillet is paleo and whole30 compliant.

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Ingredients

6 oz 80/20 grassfed ground beef
1 cup cooked butternut squash finely cubed
4 large eggs
2 TBSP chives diced
1 tbsp ghee
1/2 yellow onion diced
1 tsp + 1/4 tsp dried parsley flakes
1/4 tsp dried summer savoury
1/2 tsp curry powder
dash of cayenne
S&P to taste

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Method

Preheat oven to 400 F / 200 C
Sautee diced onion in ghee on medium heat until translucent
Add ground beef, increase heat to high and cook until browned but not quite done (approximately 7-8 minutes) while stirring frequently
Add butternut squash and continue stirring frequently. You want to try to get a bit of char on the squash without overcooking it
Add 1 tsp parsley flakes, savoury, curry, cayenne and S&P
Mix well to incorporate spices
Crack the eggs onto the mix, spacing them evenly
Sprinkle tops of eggs with S&P to taste before baking (it might not stick after)
Put skillet into oven and bake for 12-15 minutes or until eggs are no longer runny
Remove from oven and sprinkle liberally with remaining parsley flakes and chives
Serve hot with a side of tomatoes to make a more complete meal

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Frijoles Borrachos Mexican Soup with Crema & Chili Oil

Frijoles borrachos is a Mexican soup recipe also affectionately known as drunken beans. In spite of the dubious name, this is one of my favourite soup recipes. I’m always surprised by the rich aroma and flavour just a few ingredients can produce. I think one of the most important components is the beer.

Once the alcohol cooks away it leaves a very well developed soup. I made the mistake once of using a bitter beer, thinking it would be of no consequences. I don’t know why I thought that because it made so much sense when my soup came out bitter. Word to the wise, use a mild beer (preferably Mexican…for authenticity). I really like Negra Modelo.

For the longest time I didn’t put any garnish on this soup. It’s really a new development. Kind of a shame really. There’s already cilantro in the soup so I reasoned that it wasn’t necessary. Wrong. Also, the crema adds a very nice cool and creamy finish and plays well with the chili oil.

I’m starting to realize that I was doing this soup all wrong because I also didn’t think to eat it with honey & chile de árbol cornbread until recently. What was I thinking. It’s really a perfect pairing. That cornbread is also so well balanced. Just enough moisture, heat, sweet, and butter.

Besides the fact that it just tastes really good, I think what I like about this soup is that it’s such a solid go to recipe. I have most of these items on hand in the pantry or freezer and can toss them in a pot and have a really satisfying and hearty soup in very little time.

I can also usually whip up cornbread in no time at all, which makes it a more complete meal. Definitely going to keep this in my weeknight rotation this fall.

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Ingredients

2 cups of pre-soaked pinto beans (alternatively you could flash boil them or use 2 cans instead)
32 oz / 1 litre chicken stock + 4 cups / 1 litre of water
1 yellow onion, finely diced
6 slices bacon, diced (I keep mine in the freezer to make it easier)
1 bottle of beer (see post above on best kind to use)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 TBSP diced cilantro plus more for garnish (optional)
Salt to taste
Crema, crème fraîche, or chili oil for garnish (optional)

 

Method

Sauté diced bacon in instant pot on the sauté setting or if using a regular pot, then right in the pot on medium-high heat.
When bacon is almost cooked add diced onion and cook until aromatic (3-4 minutes) stirring frequently.
Add the pinto beans, chicken stock, water, beer, cumin and 2 TBSP diced cilantro.
Seal (or cover) and cook under pressure for 30 minutes or on the stovetop until beans are soft.
Adjust salt to your liking.

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Romanian Eggplant Spread With Heirloom Cherry Tomato, Cucumber & Parsley On Toast Medallions

No matter how many times I eat this eggplant spread it still brings back memories of long summers spent in Romania. You know how they’ve found that the very process of recalling your memories also permanently alters them? Well making this spread is like recalling a memory that doesn’t seem to ever change.

In Romanian it’s called salatã de vinete or eggplant salad, a common name for this type of spread throughout the Balkans and Mediterranean. It takes quite a while to make (3 hours at minimum) so we didn’t always have it when I was growing up. It was reserved for balmy summer evenings when, exhausted from the heat of the day, we would sit around the grape trellis covered rectangular table in my grandparents yard eating the foods of summer: fresh made sheep’s milk feta, sweet tomatoes still warm from the sun beating down on them in the garden, crisp cucumbers, crusty bread from the bakery up the hill, and oftentimes this eggplant spread.

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Picking grapes in my grandparents yard circa late summer 2011.

Romanian food doesn’t have the sexy reputation of Greek or Italian but I’ve made this spread for non-Romanian friends before and they couldn’t get enough. The eggplant is cooked thoroughly so it takes on a really luxurious texture. When it’s ready I usually add sweet yellow onion, but this time I used red and it tasted almost the same. The cooking also imparts a smokiness that rounds out the raw onion nicely. A creamy element comes in the form of either  canola oil or mayonnaise (which I prefer).

The eggplant releases a lot of liquid while it’s cooking so if you’re making it in the oven make sure you place a foil lined pan underneath it as shown here.

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You’ll know the eggplant is ready when it’s totally deflated and the skin crumbles when you flip it with tongs. This is what my eggplants looked like when they were ready.

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Depending on the eggplants and your oven it could take longer than an hour. You should also make sure not to skip draining. My mother used to tell me that they needed to be drained to prevent a bitter flavour from developing. Being the rebel that I am I once skipped the draining and went straight to blending and refrigerating. The amount of liquid that pooled in my eggplant spread was unbelievable. A lot of liquid comes out of the eggplant and if you don’t drain it properly you’ll be disappointed. Also, even if you do drain properly some separation might happen. In that case just mix it before eating

Salatā de vinete is best served cold on toasted bread with tomato and cucumber. For the pictures shown here I used a round glass to cut circles out of bread, which I then toasted. I smeared a thin layer of mayonnaise on the toast medallions, and layered a slice of cucumber, a teaspoonful of eggplant spread, diced heirloom tomatoes on top and a sprinkle of diced parsley. If you really wanted to go for the gold, you could even whip up some homemade mayonnaise. That recipe is for olive oil mayonnaise but canola could easily be substituted (and would be more authentic).

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Ingredients

2-3 large eggplants
Half a yellow or red onion
Salt to taste
1-2 TBSP mayonnaise (optional, you can substitute with 1 TBSP canola or olive oil)

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Method

Oven Method
Preheat oven to 400
Set up your oven racks as shown in the picture (one on the bottom and one half way up)
Cover a half sheet pan with aluminum foil and place on lower oven rack
Wash eggplants and place directly on upper rack right above the foil lined pan
Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes to an hour, turning every 15-20 minutes (eggplants are done when they’ve deflated and the skin pulls from the flesh as shown in the picture)
Remove from oven and splay out in colander or bowl to cool and start drain
Once eggplants are cool, remove the skin by peeling it off from the flesh
Discard skin and allow the remaining eggplant to drain for up to an hour (you can also squeeze it to make this go faster)
Place in a food processor and blend with onion until smooth (if you don’t have a food processor you can also use a blender or finely dice the onion and use a potato masher)
Salt to taste and add mayonnaise if you want to
Serve chilled or at room temperature

Barbecue Method
Cook eggplant on a hot barbecue turning frequently until deflated (approximately 15-20 minutes)
Follow the rest of the instructions for oven method

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Saffron Mac & Cheese

One Sunday morning a couple of weeks ago we woke up and had quite a few things to do around the house. We’ve been so busy over the past few months that it was one of the first weekends we had available to just be together at home.

So after shuffling around for a couple hours and sort-of kind-of doing some things, we decided it was time to relax and needed some comfort food to go along with our newfound laziness. The Saturday before our lazy Sunday escapade we took Oliver for a 5k run that turned into 5k running plus 6k walking to and from the dog park.

All 3 of us were beat by the end of it. So on Sunday not only did we want comfort food, we wanted reward comfort food. I was craving something rich and creamy with a hint of sharp umami to balance it all out. My first thought was grits, but sadly we were out. So the next best thing was mac and cheese.

My go to mac and cheese is homemade. Once I learned how easy it was to make bechamel I never thought about making boxed mac and cheese again. We had whole milk in the house for eggnog purposes so I used that instead of my usual 2% and wow was it amazing.

I cooked the roux for a few minutes to bring out the nuttiness and then added the milk and it smelled like sugar cookies. When we were in Milan over the summer we wanted to try the quintessential Milanese dish. That happens to be risotto alla milanese, which in Milan might just be called risotto.

In any case, risotto alla milanese is a risotto cooked with saffron. The combination of starch, cream, cheese, and saffron makes for a beautiful balance and flavour profile. I figured it would also work for mac & cheese and wow did it ever. I don’t think I’m ever making mac & cheese without saffron again.

It’s such an elegant and exotic twist on a classic comfort food. I use this saffron and I’m really happy with it – its rated really well, reasonably priced, and appears to be of very good quality.

 

saffron mac and cheese

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Serving Size: 1 portion

saffron mac and cheese

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups dry pasta of your choice (I used farfalle because I didn't have anything else - macaroni or rotini is probably better)
  • 6 quarts salted water
  • 2 TBSP salted butter
  • 2 TBSP AP flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup mild or sharp cheddar grated
  • 2-3 pinches of saffron
  • ¼ cup grated manchego or other hard cheese (preferably - you can also just use cheddar)
  • ¼ cup breadcrumbs

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees and boil pasta per package directions to al dente consistency
  2. Melt butter in skillet at medium heat
  3. Add flour and stir until incorporated
  4. Cook for up to 5 minutes until the roux slightly darkens and takes on a nutty aroma
  5. Slowly add milk ¼ cup at a time stirring continuously. Your mixture may be a bit clumpy - I used a silicon spatula and pressed out the clumps as I went
  6. Once milk is incorporated, continue cooking for 5-10 minutes until mixture thickens to a sauce-like consistency
  7. Add cheddar cheese and stir until incorporated
  8. Add Saffron and stir until incorporated
  9. Taste it - add salt if necessary. I wouldn't add anything else because I it would interfere with the subtle saffron flavour
  10. Add drained pasta to skillet and mix to coat it evenly with the sauce
  11. Sprinkle even layer of the breadcrumbs and cheese on top
  12. Put under low broiler for 10-15 minutes
  13. Enjoy!

Notes

Oven safe skillet, preferably cast-iron

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Pressure Cooker Ancho Chicken

This is the easiest and most delicious way I’ve made chicken breast EVER! It takes about 30 minutes start to finish and you can use the resulting chicken to make these beautiful tacos or any one of a number of delicious recipes. Each serving of chicken is also under 100 calories with 13 grams of protein!

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….or anything else you can think of like nachos, burritos, taco bowls, served over rice etc etc.

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Here’s the super easy recipe.

pressure cooker ancho chicken

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Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Yield: 8

Serving Size: 4oz/115 grams

Calories per serving: 94

Fat per serving: 3

pressure cooker ancho chicken

Ingredients

  • 1lb/450 grams boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1 large size can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 TBSP olive oil or ghee
  • 1 tsp ancho chili pepper
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • Salt to taste
  • Cilantro for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. Sauté onion in 1 TBSP of oil on the "sauté" setting
  2. Add all other ingredients to the instant pot except cilantro
  3. Seal and cook on manual mode for 10 minutes (may take 5 minutes to seal)
  4. Allow the pressure to come down on its own then remove lid
  5. Chicken is cooked when it shreds easily
  6. Taste and adjust salt if necessary
  7. Serve as you like

Notes

See my review on the instant pot electric pressure cooker [here/http://www.cristinaskitchen.com/the-best-pressure-cooker/]

 

Pancetta & Chive Devilled Eggs with Olive Oil Mayonnaise

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These stuffed eggs are surprisingly quick & easy to make and they taste absolutely amazing. When made with this olive oil mayonnaise, they’re also paleo and whole30 approved.

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paleo devilled eggs

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Yield: 12

Serving Size: 2

Calories per serving: 140

paleo devilled eggs

Ingredients

  • 6 large eggs (boiled medium-well and halved lengthwise)
  • 1/4 cup pancetta, cooked crispy
  • 2 TBSP olive oil mayonnaise
  • 2 TBSP chives diced
  • 1 tsp prepared yellow mustard
  • S&P to taste

Instructions

  1. Bring salted water to boil, add eggs, an boil for approximately 4 minutes
  2. Remove eggs from heat and place in ice bath for a few minutes to cool
  3. Remove pancetta from heat and drain on paper towel save the grease for other uses
  4. Remove eggs from ice bath, peel, and slice in half lengthwise
  5. Use a spoon to scoop out yolks and place them in a bowl
  6. Add the mayo, mustard, pancetta, and half the chives to the yolks and mix until well combined
  7. Season with S&P to taste
  8. Garnish with remaining chives and serve

Notes

None

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bacon, Egg, & Broccoli Muffins

Around week 2 of our Whole30 Bogdan and I started getting really sick of eating plain old eggs every morning. We were also getting even more sick of having to make plain old eggs every morning. So one afternoon I made these egg muffins so I wouldn’t have to worry about breakfast the next morning. I separated my eggs and beat my whites to stiff peaks in order to make a light and fluffy muffin but honestly, on a cost-benefit basis it really doesn’t add much. Just be aware that the yield here is for 26 mini muffins but if you don’t separate your eggs it may be much less. You can multiply the calories per muffin by 26 then divide by however many muffins you make. Just for the math inept.

Enjoy!

paleo bacon, egg, and broccoli muffins

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Yield: 26

Serving Size: 1

Calories per serving: 35

paleo bacon, egg, and broccoli muffins

Ingredients

  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 cup broccoli cut into tiny florets
  • 1/2 cup paleo bacon, diced and cooked until crispy
  • 1 TBSP dill, diced finely
  • S&P to taste
  • 1 TBSP ghee (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400
  2. Cook diced bacon on medium heat until crispy
  3. Combine all ingredients in a bowl
  4. Grease your mini muffin pan with ghee or alternatively use mini muffin pan liners
  5. Spoon mixture into pan
  6. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until set
  7. Allow to cool and pop out of pan
  8. Will keep at least a week in the fridge

Notes

Mini muffin pan Mini muffin liners (optional)

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