Home In Disarray

July 30, 2014

Super easy garlic aioli

Super easy garlic aioli

When you aren’t using dairy or some sort of premade salad dressing in your daily life, figuring out what to top things with or dip things in can be a little tough.  Now let me tell you how great aioli is.  First off, let me tell you what aioli is.  It’s essentially mayonnaise, but better.  My version that we’ve been using a lot of lately uses lime juice instead of lemon juice, however they’re both good, and in many cases, lemon is preferable.

Here’s my loose recipe.

1 egg
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
3 cloves garlic, grated on microplane, or run through garlic press
2-3 tablespoons lime or lemon juice
1-1.5 cups neutral oil
salt, to taste

Homemade Garlic Aioli

Now let me get down to business on a few things.

How do I make it?
Well, there are many different ways, and chances are, I’ve tried most of them.  When making something that depends on an emulsion (that is, sticking fat molecules to water molecules to form a thick consistency), you have to be careful about the addition of your oil.  That is, in most cases.  And sometimes you’ll end up with a slight failure – that is, runny aioli.  It’ll still taste great.  But here’s how it goes.  Your egg needs to be room temp.  I pull my egg out of the fridge and put it in a cup with some warm water.  Then I get everything else together, get set up, and by the time everything else is done, the chill has come off the egg and I’m ready to roll.  The egg yolk is the key to developing and subsequently holding a stable emulsion.  You can use just the egg yolk, but I don’t see the point in going to the effort of separating it unless I have a specific need for the white somewhere else.
*By hand, in a bowl – This is by far the most time consuming method that I’ve tried, but it’s a classic, and it works.  It also requires minimal equipment.  You need a bowl and a whisk.  Combine everything but oil, then whisking furiously, slowly drizzle in a fine stream of oil.  This can get tricky if you’re like me and only have 2 hands.  I also tend to get little flecks of half-emulsified aioli all over the counter when I use this method.
*Using a stand mixer or electric handheld mixer – Basically, follow instructions for whisking by hand, but use machinery to your advantage.  I have done this with my Kitchenaid stand mixer a few times and have had success, however please note that if you either add too much oil (and not enough additional liquid), it’s possible to overbeat it and end up with a very stiff and slightly rubbery end product.  This can be fixed by adding more liquid, but definitely be aware that this is a possibility
*Using a blender – frustrating.  The problem is, the ideal consistency for this is just a hair tighter than flowing, which means that it doesn’t mix properly in a blender.  I have used a blender to start it, then followed up by hand with a whisk and bowl, but that means a lot of dishes for what amounts to a tiny condiment that can be just as easily produced with far fewer.  I wouldn’t waste my time.
*With an immersion/stick blender – This is by far my favorite method.  Some people have fancy immersion blenders that have whisk attachments.  I don’t.  Mine is a pretty ghetto hand-me-down that works like a champ.  With this method (at least using the blade attachment, I can’t comment on the effectiveness of a whisk attachment), you do not need to stream in the oil, although I often do at this point because it saves time.  Here’s how it goes – put all the non-oil ingredients in a jar, get your bottle of oil out, get your stick blender running in the jar, then just stream the oil in until it’s all blended, moving the blender up and down to ensure there are no pockets of oil.  Conversely, you can put everything in and just run the blender also, and that’ll work.  I’m not entirely sure why it’s so effective, but it is, and it’s the fastest, and the only things you have to clean is the spoon from your mustard and the immersion blender.  It’s a win-win-win.  I have also never had runny aioli using this method, for what it’s worth.  But not everyone has an immersion blender, even though they should.

Why make your own mayonnaise/aioli?
The stuff at the store contains LOTS of stuff.  Like…. well… lots.  Hellmann’s contains relatively few, but still has “spices” in the ingredients list. “What spices?” you may ask, well that’s a good question.  Not really sure.  Also, the oils they use in pretty much any type of mayonnaise (even olive oil mayo, look it up) are pretty awful.  Canola oil is chemically separated and also GMO, unless specifically noted otherwise.  Same for soybean oil and corn oil.  They’re cheap and relatively flavorless, which is why they’re used to may mayonnaise.  Most people either don’t know better or don’t care.  I do.  So if I for some reason don’t have the time/interest in making my own mayo, I buy Spectrum Organic Mayonnaise for $6+/2 cups.  It doesn’t taste as good as homemade, and the oils they use in it (although organic and from non-gmo sources) are still pretty bad for you.

Yuck!  Raw eggs!?
Yep.  Homemade mayo contains raw eggs.  That’s pretty much how it is.  I have never gotten sick from eating homemade mayonnaise, and I am careful to follow reasonable food handling rules.  I don’t see it as appreciably different from eating something with a meringue or a runny fried egg.  But… if eating raw eggs really freaks you out, you can buy pasteurized eggs from the grocery store.  They are expensive though, and you usually can’t get organic/cage free/pastured.  So I did an experiment.  I read somewhere that with a sous vide setup, one can slowly bring eggs up to 135 degrees, hold them there for 75 minutes, and they will be pasteurized.  This kills all of the pathogens in the eggs and makes them safe for the elderly or otherwise immunocompromised folks to eat. Holding at 135 does not affect the egg’s ability to create or hold emulsions.  So I pasteurized a few eggs, and ya know what?  It worked!  The whites developed a cloudiness, but they were still liquid and worked just as well as raw eggs in aioli.

How long does it keep?
I have successfully kept homemade mayo/aioli in the fridge for more than 2 weeks.  I don’t recommend this, and would suggest that anything past 5-6 days is at your own risk.

What kind of oil should I use?
This is a subject that I have done some extensive research on.  As a rule, unless 100% necessary for the success of a recipe, I do not use oils that have been chemically produced, like canola, corn, or soy oil (also, the pesticide/gmo thing).  That leaves you with a somewhat limited field of acceptable oils that one may consider reasonable or palatable in something as transparent flavorwise as mayo or aioli.  Extra virgin olive oil is downright yucky.  Light olive oil is usually not actually olive oil.  I wouldn’t necessarily bother with that either.  I have used hazelnut oil (fine, but I didn’t love it) as well.  So far, there are 2 contenders for my heart in the neutral oil arena.  Sunflower seed oil, and avocado oil.  Now here’s the problem. One can get expeller pressed sunflower seed oil for $4 from Trader Joes.  It’s great, however the omega content is nearly 100% omega 6, which is not all that good for you, although better than chemically separated oils that are also high O6.  I have used 2 different types of avocado oil.  La Tourganelle is fine, but it’s fairly expensive and has a much stronger flavor than the less expensive and more neutral tasting Chosen Foods avocado oil that I have found at Costco for $10.  This is currently my oil of choice, and I’ve been using it to cook pretty much everything.

When do you eat aioli?
All the time!  Some of my favorite ways are to dip meatballs in it, spread it on top of hamburgers, put a dollop on slices of sweet potato, thin it out with some extra lemon or lime juice and drizzle on top of lettuce wraps, or mix it with hot sauce and dip baked squash fries in it.

Pork Carnitas Lettuce Wraps with Homemade Garlic Aioli


Posted in: Clean Eating, Cooking, Food, Paleo
July 25, 2014

Sausage McMuffins w/ Egg & Avocado

paleo egg mcmuffins

I was a hungry hungry hippo yesterday morning.  Luckily, I had a great many things to eat.  I pulled a roll of pork breakfast sausage out of the freezer a few days ago, and it had defrosted just enough to slice and fry up.  I also had roasted some sweet potato rounds that night before, so I decided to make breakfast sandwiches, patterned after the sausage mcmuffin with egg.  Except, you know, made from actual food.

Paleo Sausage McMuffins w/ Egg & Avocado
6 sweet potato rounds, salted & roasted in avocado oil
3 pork sausage patties
2 eggs, scrambled and turned into 3 “patties”
3 blobs of avocado (mine was mixed with lime juice and kosher salt)


Posted in: Clean Eating, Cooking, Food, Paleo
July 23, 2014

Grass fed hamburger lettuce wraps and “salad”

Grass fed hamburger lettuce wraps and “salad”

I love me some hamburgers.  And while I love having a crispy bun, it is certainly not the end-all, be-all necessity of the burger. The patty is.  So when I am trying to avoid unnecessary carbohydrates, grains, calories, or what-have-you, but still want the hamburger experience, I go for the hamburger lettuce wrap.

grass fed hamburger salad

We had a pretty warm day and I couldn’t bring myself to cook anything inside the house, so I fired up the Weber and cooked up some of these bad boys.  Each patty is a 1/4lb, and I cooked up 2lbs of beef, so got 8 patties.  Without any sides, I ate 2 per meal. They were delicious.

Grass fed hamburger lettuce wraps

As leftovers, I reheated a patty in a skillet while I fried up an egg.  The patty got topped with a little garlic aioli, the fried egg, some lettuce, quartered cherry tomatoes, and avocado slices.  I didn’t miss the bun one bit.  The fries, maybe a little.

grass fed hamburger salad

Posted in: Clean Eating, Cooking, Food, Paleo
July 22, 2014

Sous Vide Pork Carnitas Lettuce Wrap Tacos

Sous Vide Pork Carnitas Lettuce Wrap Tacos
pork carnitas lettuce tacos

Yikes that sounds complicated.  It’s not.  Last November, I used a gift card to my favorite store, Amazon to buy a temperature controller for my crock pot. And it’s incredible.  In fact, I like it so much, I bought an Anova immersion circulator to use for larger projects, but it’s still in production and I won’t have it til October sometime. Regardless, this is officially my favorite way to cook pork carnitas.  I’ve done the Homesick Texan version, and they’re good, but just too dramatic in terms of mess and fuss for me. You will need a temperature controller, or a way to keep a water bath at a steady 155 degrees F for an extended period of time.

pork carnitas

 Here is how it goes.
*Get some pork shoulder
*Chop it up, mix with desired seasonings (a little lime juice, cumin, salt, maybe chili  and/or garlic powder would be nice here)
*Vacuum seal it in quantities small enough to fit in your water bath vessel.  For me, this was 2.5lb packages
*Store, cook, or freeze (I make up and freeze several packs of this when I do a pork shoulder, then all I have to do is pull one out of the freezer and plunk it in a water bath the day before I want to eat.)
*Cook at 155F for 22 hours.  This is easy enough to toss in after dinner and pull out before dinner.
*Remove from hot water and chill in an ice water bath. – At this point you can stick it in the fridge for several days, or open up the package and proceed onto the next step.
*Open package, and pick through the pork.  I pull out all the big solid hunks of fat, gelatinous goo, and other less-desirable bits.  Those go to the dogs.  They appreciate them.
*Toss the hunks of pork in a nonstick or cast iron skillet and cook it over medium-low heat, allowing to crisp (fat will render out to help with the browning process), then turn, allow to crisp more, etc.  Repeat until desired level of crispiness is achieved.   Serve.

pork carnitas lettuce tacos

IMO, these are best wrapped in small flour tortillas, topped with pico de gallo, avocado, and a little crema.  But I am not eating dairy, or flour this month, and my avocados were not ripe yet.  So I made lettuce tacos out of baby romaine, pork carnitas, pico, and a garlic-lime aioli, and topped with a little hot sauce.

pork carnitas lettuce tacos

July 21, 2014

I made a compost bin, and it cost me nothing!

I made a compost bin, and it cost me nothing!

I will be the first to say that there are many things that I hate, but one of the top contenders is people billing things as stuff they’re totally not.  “Totally FREE DIY Compost Bin!!! – All it took was 16 pallets, my contractor husband, several sets of hinges and 14 hours of backbreaking labor!”  This was closer to “I have minimal carpentry skills, and some scrap lumber that I’ve been trying to come up with an occasion to burn, plus some random lengths of wire fencing I had hanging out around the yard from previous compost bin experiments.

So when we got the house, my mother in law had an old compost bin sitting around her work that she gifted to me.  It was the type that’s basically big flexible sleeve with some holes in it, and then a round cap for the top and bottom.  Theoretically that type of compost bin may work OK, but in my experience, you can not adequately stir it, it doesn’t get much aeration, and it’s very difficult to get the actual compost OUT of it.  I’ve made cylinders out of 2×4″ welded wire mesh.  Those worked about as well as the big cylinder, however using more narrow ones resulted in them toppling over on the relatively light slope we have in the area of the yard that I choose to compost.  Forsaking all of the bin methods, I most recently switched over to a “pile” which has bee fine, however it looks very messy, and the dogs start going through it trying to find high-value kitchen scraps, like watermelon rinds and corn cobs.  It’s not a pretty situation.  With the recent education I’ve had on just how messy ducks are, I learned that I would be needing additional capacity to get all of the poo-soaked bedding rotten enough to safely use in my vegetable beds.

compost bin

Knowing that I’d need a 2-stage setup –  one stage for “maturing” compost, and the other to have an active pile that is being added to regularly, I figured I’d just build a sided bin.  So I did some figuring, and looked around at the random pieces of welded wire mesh I’ve had cluttering the back yard, and figured out my dimensions.  The bin would be 3x3x6′, with a divider in the middle.  And I got to planning it.  It’s certainly not the most elegant solution, but for the first time ever, I didn’t have to go to the store for ANYTHING to make this operational.  We have a pile of 2x4s leftover from the duck pen project and from removing the pantry a year and a half ago, so I just used those for my 3′ sections, and used the 6′ pressure treated 2x4s leftover from the first iteration of raised bed trellises.  Besides the wire and lumber, the only other things I needed were screws and staples.  Staples I had leftover from the duck pen, and screws I have hundreds of.  Every time I have a project, I buy a box or three, and now we have hundreds of mismatched wood screws.

After monkeying with the bin a little, I have decided that I probably will want to get some U-channel or something similar to make an easily removable wall for the front to hold up the compost (this will also help keep the dogs from collecting treasures out of the bin). This will require a trip to Lowes, and probably some money also, but the compost bin is currently fully functional as-is.

compost bin

Here’s the materials list
3x – 6ft 2×4
12x – 3x 2×4
3x – 3x3ft wire mesh
1x  – 3×6′ wire mesh
30-40ish hammer-in staples
25-30 outdoor wood screws

*I started by making squares out of the 3ft 2x4s.  I made 3 squares, and then stapled the wire mesh into each of them.
*When they were done, I stapled the wire mesh into each of them and then set one aside.
*I screwed the 6ft lengths to 3 corners of the squares, then measured and stuck the third piece in as a divider, and screwed that in. Then it was just a matter of stapling the last 6ft piece of wire mesh on, moving the bin to its final location, and filling it with what had been in my existing heap.

compost bin
Since each of the sides is 3x3x3 (aka a cubic yard), doing the math on just how much magical soil I have to use will be pretty simple!
Posted in: Ducks, Garden, Projects
July 12, 2014

Basil Pesto

Basil Pesto

Every year it is the same thing for me.  I get the garden planted and then constantly stress out about how nothing is growing.  Eventually I get so discouraged that I give up on the idea that anything will ever produce.  Then a week later, I am totally inundated with crop X and I and wholly unprepared to deal with the amount of food it’s producing.  This year has been no different.  Cool season crops grow so slowly (or so quickly) that you kind of keep tabs on them through spring, but as soon as the heat of summer hits, I always scramble to figure out what to do with them!  The kale is covered in aphids, but the ducks love both kale and aphids, so that’s been a pretty easy crop to “dispose” of.  The peas have done all the growing they’re going to, and in the face of a week of days topping 90 degrees have begun drying out.  The ducks have been greedily gobbling those down.  Anything that gets tossed into their pen is systematically defoliated and all I have to do is collect a bundle of dried out stems weekly.  They’re basically the cutest compost pile you’ve ever seen.  With my move to rid the beds of dying cool season crops, I’ve been doing little more than pinch prune the tomatoes and keep training them on their strings.  This morning, I looked outside and realized that I have 2 huge basil plants that are beginning to bolt (this means they’re blooming, and makes the basil take on a more anise-y flavor).  That means that I need to use them right away!  My favorite use for basil, besides caprese salad (and that’s still a month off as none of the tomatoes have ripened yet) is pesto.

Basil Pesto Ingredients

But let us discuss pesto just a little bit.  Typically, pesto is made with pine nuts.  Pine nuts are delicious, but if you’ve ever heard of Pine Mouth you’ll probably think twice about eating them.  Plus, they’re super expensive.  And for things like pesto where the nuts are there primarily for texture, it’s difficult to tell the difference between them and many other types of nuts.  So I always go with whatever nuts I have lying around the house.  This time, it was sliced almonds that I toasted.

Basil Pesto Ingredients

The trick with basil pesto is that it turns brown by oxidation so quickly.  The only way to effectively prevent this is to not allow the pesto to have any access to oxygen (difficult in a home environment) or to blanch the basil, which is very easy in a home environment.  I went with that.  You basically toss the basil in boiling water, count to 10, ensure that it’s turned a bright green color, then drain.  If you’re not worried about the pesto oxidizing (like you’re going to use it right away or don’t care if it turns brown – the flavor doesn’t degrade with the color), then don’t bother with blanching it.

Basil Pesto IngredientsIngredients:
6ish cups basil leaves, stems and flowers removed, blanched if you so desire.
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2-6 cloves garlic (depends on how much you like garlic)
1/2 cup toasted nuts
1/4-1/2 cup olive oil
Salt to taste

Basil Pesto

*Put your cheese, garlic, and nuts in the bowl of a food processor, and twirl until they’re pretty fine (technical term here – maybe uncooked couscous sized?)
*Add your basil, either blanched or otherwise
*Whirr the pesto ingredients and stream in olive oil until the pesto loosens up enough evenly process.
*Taste, add salt, and enjoy.

Basil Pesto

This pesto freezes beautifully.  You can either freeze it as a solid block, or stick it in an ice cube tray, freeze, then stick the cubes of pesto into a resealable zip top bag and store in the freezer.  Or put it all on everything you see for an entire week and then go into withdrawals because you’re out and the basil hasn’t bounced back enough to make another batch.

Basil Pesto wreckage
July 12, 2014

Tasty Salmon Cakes

Tasty Salmon Cakes

Craig and I had some delicious wild caught Copper River sockeye salmon the other night for dinner.  I cooked some extra, knowing that we would be making some salmon cakes.  This was a great way to use up extra leftover salmon. I wanted to go with a classic northeastern flavor, so we stuck with old bay, lemon, and dijon.  I have seen where people use canned salmon and just pick out the bones and skin (btw – sick.)

salmon cakes

Paleo Salmon Cakes (Makes approx 20)

Mixture (all aproximates)
1lb cooked wild caught salmon, broken up into small pieces
1/2 bell pepper, minced
1 large rib celery, minced
3 tablespoons white or yellow onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, pressed or grated
zest and juice of half a lemon
Old Bay to taste (I probably used a couple teaspoons)
1-2 tablespoons dijon mustard

1-3 eggs
nut or coconut meal/flour (I used hazelnut, because that’s what I had on hand) plus extra for coating

salmon cakes

salmon cakes

*Mix all of your salmon mixture ingredients up, then start adding eggs and nut flour a bit at time until you get a cohesive and somewhat sticky mixture.  I think I ended up with 2 eggs and however much hazelnut meal it took to make them not “wet.”  This whole thing varies greatly with the amount of juice in the lemon, how wet your salmon was, etc. Just like with homemade pasta dough, you just keep adding bits of things til it’s “right.”
*Heat up some high temp oil (I used avocado oil) in a nonstick or relatively nonstick (if you have a good relationship with your cast iron skillet, this may be a good way to put it to the test) pan, just enough to actually coat the bottom of the pan effectively.
*Form your patties.  I basically just made tiny but thick hamburgers, then “breaded” them in the hazelnut flour.  You could easily skip this step, but I feel like it helped protect the salmon a little from getting destroyed by the heat and also got me a crispy crust (which is what I was craving).
*Fry your patties in your skillet.  On my stove, the temp was 3/10, so medium low.  I fried for probably 3-5 minutes on each side.
*Ta-Da!  I ate these over a bed of lettuce that had been dressed with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  They were topped with a combination of homemade avocado oil mayo and some Crystal hot sauce, and then a huge pile of freshly ground black pepper.

salmon cakes

salmon cakes

salmon cakes

I will definitely make extra salmon again and use this preparation for it.  I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d enjoy them, but I did, and the overwhelming versatility that these have is really great!

salmon cakes

Posted in: Clean Eating, Cooking, Food, Paleo