A Paleo Feast: Almond Crusted Pork Chops, Homemade Applesauce, and Fig and Arugula Salad

I wanted to make an extra-special dinner for Nick last night. I’ve had a bit of a chip on my shoulder during my Whole30, feeling that I need to prove to everyone that Paleo food can be delicious and, in fact, better than the food everyone else is eating. Nick hasn’t given me any reason to think I need to prove this to him, but it’s important to me nonetheless. To prove my point, I put together a Paleo feast for two! Anytime there are more dishes on the table than diners, I figure it can be considered a feast. 🙂

Our meal consisted of three dishes: Fig and Arugula Salad, Almond Crusted Pork Chops, and Homemade Applesauce. It’s fairly easy to put together, requires minimal ingredients for a meal of its caliber, and can be ready in about 30 minutes!

The applesauce has the longest cook time, so that’s where I started. I chopped four medium apples (Royal Gala is a great choice for this) into chunks, about 8-10 pieces per apple. I put the apple chunks in a saucepan with about 3/4 cup of water and a generous amount of cinnamon. You can customize your applesauce to be a cinnamon-y as you want! I brought it to a boil, reduced the heat to medium, and covered the pot.

While that cooked, I started to heat some coconut oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. I scrambled an egg in a small bowl and poured a large heap of almond meal seasoned with a little garlic powder on a plate. I salted and peppered my pork chops, dipped them in the egg, coated them in almond meal, and put them in the skillet!

20130719-110638.jpg The key to this dish is buying high quality pork. It doesn’t need to be expensive, but it should have the dewy pink color and plumpness that makes pork look super fresh. If your pork chop manages to look appetizing while it’s still raw, you’re probably in good shape.

I let the pork cook for about six minutes on the first side before I flipped it.

20130719-111351.jpg While the pork was cooking, I put together the salad. I skillet-toasted some pine nuts in coconut oil and combined them with quartered figs and an arugula blend. Olive oil and balsamic work great as a dressing, but for those not on a Whole30 you can add a little extra pizazz with a honey balsamic vinaigrette.

20130719-111746.jpgOnce the pork has cooked for about six minutes on both sides, everything is done! Just use a fork to mash up the apples and you’re good to go.

20130719-111837.jpgThe pork was the juiciest I’ve ever had. It was so good that even an iPhone picture was able to capture it’s perfection!

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Fig and Arugula Salad

4 cups arugula or arugula blend
4 fresh figs, quartered
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 tbsp coconut oil
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil and balsamic vinegar to taste

Heat coconut oil in skillet and toast pine nuts in oil. In serving bowl, combine arugula, figs, and toasted pine nuts. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with olive oil and vinegar.

Almond Crusted Pork Chops

2 pork chops, about 1/3 lb. each and 1 and 1/4 inches thick
1 egg
3/4 cup almond meal
1 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper
1 Tbsp coconut oil

Heat coconut oil in large skillet. Crack egg into small bowl and scramble, and mix almond meal and garlic on a small plate. Salt and pepper the lamb chops and dip them in the raw egg. Coat them in almond mixture. Cook in the skillet for about six minutes on each side.

Homemade Whole30 Applesauce

4 sweet apples (Royal Gala is a great choice)
3/4 cup water, plus 1/4 cup
cinnamon to taste

Core apples and cut into large chunks, approximately 10 pieces per apple. Combine with 3/4 cup water and cinnamon and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer. When water is fully absorbed, add additional 1/4 cup. After a total of 20-25 minutes, remove apples from stove and mash using a potato masher or fork.

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Tuna and Grape Salad

I want to create Paleo mayonnaise, but the blender I have is unfortunately not up to the task. I need to get a proper food processor before I can begin that challenge.

In the meantime, I have been creating mayo-free tuna salads. One of my favorites involves chickpeas, but since I’m in the middle of a Whole30, that recipe is off limits! I had a bit of a sweet tooth this morning, so I whipped up this version for lunch. The grapes give a nice, light juiciness, the celery adds crunch, and the dates give it the touch of sweetness I was craving. Dried cranberries would work well in this recipe too, possibly better than the dates, but I can’t eat them these days. Give them a try and let me know how it is!

20130715-200512.jpgTuna and Grape Salad

5-6 romaine leaves, or other lettuce leaves for wrapping

6 oz can of tuna, drained

approximately 12 grapes, halved

1 stalk celery, chopped into small pieces

2 Medjool dates, pitted and minced OR small handful dried cranberries

juice of 1/2 a lemon

1 and 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/4 tsp dried dill

salt and pepper to taste

Separate and wash romaine leaves and set aside. Combine remaining ingredients and mix well. Scoop onto lettuce leaves, fold, and enjoy!

Roasted Butternut Squash with Red Pepper Ragu

Comfort food is not the first thing that comes to mind for most people when they think of alternative diets, but this Whole30 compliant meal is the ultimate in comfort. It might just be that I haven’t eaten pasta in five months, but the creamy texture of the butternut squash was more satisfying than I remember pasta to be – and I felt healthy and energetic after eating it. None of that post-pasta sluggishness here!

20130710-175123.jpgTo make the sauce, I combined my favorite tried-and-true roasted red pepper sauce recipe with sautéed ground beef. When I make the red pepper sauce, I like to make a huge batch and save it in divided portions in the freezer. When I know I’ll need it, I move a portion to the fridge to defrost while I’m at work.

This is a great grain-free meal for anyone, whether you normally eat grains or not. And if you are grain-free, Paleo, or in the middle of a Whole30, this is the perfect meal for entertaining non-Paleo friends or getting your kids to enjoy a seriously healthy dish.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Red Pepper Ragu

Serves 4

1 large butternut squash halved and seeded
3 cups roasted red pepper sauce or Paleo spaghetti sauce of choice
1 lb. ground beef

If using homemade sauce, make your sauce before preparing the rest of the meal.

Place butternut squash halves face up on baking sheet and roast in the oven at 400F for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool slightly.

While squash cools, brown ground beef in a skillet, adding the red pepper sauce when the meat is just cooked through. Stir until hot and bubbly and take saucepan off heat.

Remove skin from the squash and cut into small cubes, or use a small melon-baller to scoop out bite-sized pieces of squash. Serve covered with red pepper ragu.

Whole30 Beef Stew

Once a week, I get to leave work in the early afternoon. I usually head into the city for yoga, but every now and then I come home and have a lazy afternoon reading, watching TV or movies, and relaxing. On those days, I love making beef stew. Hanging out at home while the aroma of slowly cooking meat and veggies fills the room is such a blissful escape from the usual routine.

I started my first Whole30 this week, so I’ve been spending a lot of time planning meals that will be hearty and filling even though they don’t contain any grains,legumes, or dairy. I tend to get a lot of my calories from those sources, and since weight loss is not one of my Whole30 goals, I have to make sure to plan substantial meals! Beef stew seemed like a great place to start.

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Typically, I make my beef stew with carrots and celery as the main vegetables and have a piece of gluten free bread or some rice on the side. Since that’s off limits during my Whole30, I decided to add pumpkin to fill out the stew a little more.

If you are making this stew while doing a Whole30 and decide to use store-bought broth, make sure it doesn’t contain added sugar!

Whole30 Beef Stew

Serves 2

.75 lb stew beef (I recommend chuck roast)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 small onion, roughly chopped
2 whole cloves garlic, peeled
1 bay leaf
1 cup water, divided
1 cup beef broth, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 large carrot, chopped
1 large celery rib, chopped
1 cup cubed pumpkin

Brown beef in hot olive oil in medium-large saucepan. Once beef is browned on all sides, add 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup beef broth, onion, garlic, bay leaf, salt, pepper, and paprika and bring to a boil. Cover and lower to a simmer for 1 and 1/2 hours.

Add additional 1/2 cup water,1/2 cup broth, carrots, and celery. Return to a simmer and cover for 20 minutes.

Add pumpkin, cover, and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.

The Dreaded A-Word

I had to do something today that I really didn’t want to do: start a two week course of antibiotics. The good news is there’s a small chance the medicine will help with some of the chronic health issues I’ve been dealing with for the past year. If there’s even a small chance, I figure it’s worth a try, so I’m going for it.

The bad news is this is happening after I’ve worked with a naturopath for five months to undo some of the damage that antibiotics have caused me in the past. I’ve had a ton of success with a sugar-free diet and a new supplement regimen and I don’t want the next two weeks to throw me totally off track!

In order to go into this process as informed as possible, I’ve done a little bit of research on how I can stay healthy while taking antibiotics. This article over at Whole9 gives a great run-down on probiotics and how and why to take them. I’ll definitely be keeping up with my probiotic regimen over the next two weeks and beyond.

Whole9 also happens to be the site behind the Whole30 program, in which you follow a very strict version of the Paleo diet for a month. I am considering doing my first Whole30 to help combat the negative effects of the antibiotics. Apparently the medicine has pretty severe gastrointestinal side effects, so I am starting off on the Whole30 plan today, but may end up postponing it if I find it difficult to stomach the type of food I need to eat while on the medicine.

Even more important than keeping my body in balance though, is keeping my mind in balance. The chances of this new strategy working are slim, and I don’t want to feel too disappointed if it doesn’t work, especially after I’ve done such a great job getting used to my new lifestyle. And if it does work – well – I’ll certainly go back to eating oranges, tomato sauce, chocolate and tons of other foods that I currently have to steer clear of, but I hope I’d have the willpower to stay away from all of the processed food I’ve learned to avoid over the past several months.

As I go through the next two weeks, I’ll continue to post as usual and share my life with you, but in the back of my head I’ll probably spend a lot of time wondering whether the treatment is working. Good vibes, prayers, wishes – whatever you have to offer is much appreciated. Regardless of how this turns out, it will be just another step along the path of a fulfilling life.