Paleo style dinner

Now that the move from the boat is all but complete, there has been a mood shift in the kitchen. For now, there is no more market exploration, unknown produce or foraging ashore for food. Instead, with so much available and numerous social occasions to eat and drink over the past few months, we have found ourselves faced with a choice: keep indulging at the cost of an ever expanding wardrobe and a lousy feeling, or reign in the hungry self! Normally, while cruising, the effect of food indulgence were balanced by a reasonable amount of exercise (trekking, swimming, sail handling…) and passages at sea, guaranteeing (at least for me!), a few alcohol-fat-free days. I used to look forward to these “ocean detox”, knowing that seasickness would help shed these extra kilos…

Nowadays, it takes a conscious effort to keep the unwanted weight at bay, and it appears we’re not the only ones struggling for motivation. A few years ago, faced with the same issue, we introduced a family challenge (competition is too strong a word)  involving not only Terry and I, but also his daughters. Between the 5 of us, we lost 70 kilos over 12 months. It worked a treat and it was a lot of fun, so with a forthcoming wedding (not mine) and fun-run (I’ll walk), we decided to start a new challenge.

Here’s how it works:

  • The challenge is to last 5 months, from May to September (wedding is in October)
  • Each participant contributes $5 a week in a common pot. Winner takes all.
  • HOW people lose weight is their own business, there are no rules: alcohol-free, sugar-free, paleo, exercise or not, fasting or not…it’s up to you!
  • Results are monitored fortnightly, during a “weigh-in” session at our place, using the same scale for everyone. Whoever cannot attend these sessions, must forward picture evidence. Consistent weight loss is what it’s all about, so anyone putting on extra weight is “fined” an extra $5 a week.
  • Rewards dinners follow weigh-in sessions every fortnight. That is the fun part for me, as it is the opportunity to all get together at our house ( while 9 of us are participating, a few others like to join in for the meal!) and we’ve made a habit of selecting a theme for each dinner. In the past, we’ve had a ball playing with ideas like “Classics with a Twist”, “Weird food combos”, “Gourmet dinner under 500 calories” or “Raw diet anyone?”
  • While I am happy to cook a whole feast, we find it more fun to set up these dinners as potluck and have everyone bring a course: easier on the host but also keeping the guests engaged.

Though I am all for healthy eating, this blog is NOT about dieting. So there won’t be any posts about exercise sessions, weekly weight loss reports and the like. I will however bring you into our dining room and share the fun of our reward dinners…

Our first reward dinner was last weekend and I picked the Paleo theme. The main reason was that, though everyone had heard about the “caveman” diet, no one could get their heads around it. My bit of research established that it consists mainly of eating unprocessed and whole food, which rules out any kind of grains, sugar added concoctions, grain-fed animals and dairy. Not a major concern for me, since I’ve never had a taste for junk food or sweet treats. Still, giving up starch/carbs is a huge deal, same for dairy, no matter how little I consumed already. So I looked for inspiration in specialised books like the funny Michelle Tam’s Nom Nom Paleo, the inspiring Mayfield’s Quick and Easy Paleo Comfort Food and of course, the good looking Pete Evans Going Paleo. This way of eating is actually close to my heart, since I’ve always found that my body functions better on a diet of meat and salad, rather than fish and chips or cheese and ham croissant (both of which I absolutely adore!). Saying that, I don’t plan to go Paleo all the way. In the same manner I always argue that life is too short to eat bad food, I also believe life is too short to deprive yourself of your favourite treat (cheese is my weakness, what is yours?) At this stage this is an experiment for me and my friends. And after a sugar loaded previous week, we were looking forward to a more savoury type of dinner.

So, here is what the feast consisted of:

Guacamole with Chicharrones (pork scratchings), vegetables sticks and sweet potato chips

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Baked chicken marylands with Cauliflower Rice and sautéed greens

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Banana ice cream with fruit salad and toasted coconut.

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I am happy to report that dinner was a hit, no one asked for bread or potatoes, or even mentioned the enormous amount of vegetables! Maybe I will stick to this Paleo thing for a couple of weeks and see what happens…

Chicharrones

This is a throwback to our time in Mexico. Chicharrones are delicious pork snacks, very popular in Spain and Latin America. Similar to pork rind, the crackly and crispy chicharrones can be found all over Mexico, including in the supermarkets where they are sold “freshly made”  in a glass display the same way we buy fresh popcorn at the movies. We loved them so much, we used to buy entire bags and munch on them as you would with potato or tortilla chips. This dish is a trip down memory lane, bringing me back to our favourite restaurant in Tulum, La Zebra, where I became seriously addicted to their mean guacamole served with chicharrones for dipping. It takes a while to prepare, but it is so worthy… reckons it is the ultimate beer snack!

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Serves 8 as a snack

Ingredients:

1.2 kg pork skin

Vegetable oil for deep frying

  1. Trim the fat from the underside of the pork skin ( keep the fat to render and make your own lard, if you’re that way inclined, otherwise discard, as I did!). Cut the skin into 5cm pieces. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil over high heat, add pork skin, reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes or until tender. Drain the skin and dry on absorbent paper.
  2. Preheat oven to 100 deg C. Place the pork skin in a single layer on an oven tray lined with parchment paper and bake until dry. This can take a couple of hours, maybe more but do not rush the process by increasing the temperature, as you will start “cooking” the rind and it will start “sweating” its own moisture ( it happened to me and made for a chewy chicharrone rather than a crumbly one!)
  3. When the pork skin is totally dry, heat the vegetable oil in a large deep saucepan (or deep fryer if you have one) to 180 deg C. Deep fry the skin in batches until puffed and crisp (2 minutes top, watch they don’t burn!). Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper until cool (not very long at all!)IMG_2002
  4. For a real taste of Mexico I serve these little beauties with Tajin, a spicy seasoning made with ground chili, salt and dehydrated lime. If unavailable, make your own spicy salt with salt flakes, chili flakes, rind of 1 lime and finely chopped chipotle chili. Chicharrones can be eaten on their own (watch them disappear muy rapido!) or serve alongside guacamole.IMG_2008

Cauliflower rice

Cauliflower is one of my favourite vegetables. Just as well, considering how much it features on a Paleo diet. Its colour, texture and relatively bland flavour make it the perfect substitute for grains and this “faux-rice” dish has become a hit in our house, even with our non-paleo eaters! To obtain a rice consistency, you will need to chop the florets finely. A food processor comes in very handy for this!

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Serves 4 as a main course, 10 as a side

Ingredients:

1 large head of cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets

1 onion minced

2 tbsp olive oil

4 green shallots, trimmed and sliced

2 tbsp coriander, finely chopped

2 tbsp basil, finely chopped,

1 tbsp mint, finely chopped

Salt and pepper

Fried shallots and cherry tomatoes, for garnish

  1. Grate the cauliflower in a food processor, using the pulse function, until you have a rice-like consistency: not too coarse, not too mushy.IMG_2098
  2. In a large sautee pan (or a wok), heat olive oil on high. Add minced onion and fry until golden. Add the cauliflower rice and stir until well coated. Cover and cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally until tender, about 10 minutes.
  3. When done, take off the heat, toss in the shallots and the herbs, mix until combined. Sprinkle fried shallots and some cherry tomatoes halves for garnish.
  4. Serve with sautéed greens and roast chicken Maryland. Enjoy!

Banana ice cream

This has to be the easiest dessert around. One ingredient: bananas, the kind that go ripe on you in the blink of an eye. Instead of throwing them out, I like to peel them, cut in slices and keep in the freezer. They are a perfect standby for smoothies, muffins, to dip in chocolate or as ice cream. My guests could not believe how delicious and simple it is!

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Serves 4 as dessert

Ingredients:

1 overripe banana per person

  1. Peel bananas, cut into round slices, lay on a tray with baking paper in a single layer and place in the freezer, for at least 2 hours or until frozen. If not using immediately, transfer to small ziplock bags and keep in the freezer until needed.
  2. Place frozen bananas in the bowl of a food processor and process until the mixture turns creamy. It will take a few minutes: the bananas will first turn chunky, then break down in soft lumps requiring you to scrape down the bowl a couple of times. Don’t despair, they will end up soft and creamy. At this point keep processing for a minute or so to aerate  the ice cream.
  3. Place the ice cream back in the freezer for about 1 hour, until hard again. It can be eaten straight away, but it will be more like very soft serve ice cream.
  4. Serve scoops with your favourite topping. For us it was fruit salad and toasted coconut, but chocolate ganache would be great too!!!

4 Comments on “Paleo style dinner

  1. How fantastic! As Pete is such a rice addict, I’ll have to try & temp him with this one!

  2. Baked chicken with Cauliflower Rice is an excellent treat among these all. Which is your fav?

    • Thanks Ema for checking in!
      Cauliflower is so versatile, it’s become a go-to recipe for weeknight dinners. The Chicharrones are hard to beat though, as party snacks…

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