Monday, October 29, 2012

HAPPY BIRTH-O-WEEN! birthday was Friday. I am now as close to 50 as I am to 40. GACK! As a birthday/Halloween combo treat, Cyd and I planned a special weekend road trip. We headed down to Sleepy Hollow on Friday night, had the world's most EXPENSIVE birthday dinner at Ruth's Chris Steak House at the Tarrytown Marriott (YIKES!), and then took in the Horseman's Hollow that we loved so much last year. (Sadly, it was not as good this time--it seemed like there just wasn't as much to it. Boo hiss.) But Saturday night, we were able to attend our friends Jaymie and Audrey's big Halloween bash in New Jersey, which was faaaaaaaaabulous!

The one assignment that I was given for the party was to make a crock pot of Paleo chili. Absolutely, I said! Now...what is Paleo chili, I wondered? So a cursory perusal of the interwebs taught me that the Paleo or primitive diet restricts grains, that is, crops which the paleolithic hunter-gather would not yet have cultivated. Legumes are also verboten because they need to be soaked and cooked in order to be edible--too much prep for the caveman, I guess.

Root crops seem to be somewhat controversial in the Paleo community, but I found a recipe for bison and sweet potato chili on a web site called "Paleo Girl," so I thought it would be acceptable. It was also VERY tasty--basically just chili with diced sweet potatoes swapped out for the typical kidney beans. The bison was good, but given how expensive it is, and how strong the spice levels are in chili, I would not hesitate to swap out ground beef in this recipe. Also, as an FYI, I doubled the recipe below, and it filled a large (six quart?) crock pot. The one big change I made was to nearly TRIPLE the prescribed amount of tomato product, as the texture wasn't soupy enough to suit me, and then I had to up the spice level as well. Still, it turned out great, and I would make it again for both cavepeople and those with more modern, carb-inclined palates.

"Paleo" Bison and Sweet Potato Chili
(Source: adapted from Paleo Girl)

1 pound ground buffalo (or ground meat of choice)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed into 1/2 inch pieces
1 medium red onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
1 4 oz. can diced green chiles
1 28 oz. can tomato sauce
2 14.5 oz. cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup fresh cilantro chopped

1. Brown your ground meat in a stock pot. Once browned remove it with a slotted spoon leaving any drippings in the pot.
2. Add the olive oil and cook the sweet potatoes for about five minutes, stirring often. Add the onion and continue cooking until sweet potatoes are fork tender.
3. Add the garlic, jalapeno, and green chiles and cook for another two minutes.
4. Next add remaining ingredients except for cilantro.
5. Let simmer for about ten minutes so that the flavors can meld together. (I cooked it in the crock pot on low for a couple of hours.)
6. Stir in the cilantro right before serving. (Feel free to go wild and add your favorite "non-Paleo" toppings such as cheese, sour cream, and corn chips.)

Besides the fine chili that I provided (tee hee), Audrey and Jaymie had a ton of delicious food at their party. It seems that they ran all over town getting speciality items from their favorite restaurants, including some from a place called The Prickly Pear. It has never been my pleasure to dine there, but you can be sure I'll be checking them out during my next visit now that I have tasted their excellent catered dishes.

My very favorite thing on the appetizer buffet was their scrumptious salsa verde (I am currently working on wheedling the recipe out of the chef), but my favorite entree was pork tenderloin medallions with a gorgonzola cream sauce served with farro. OH MY! SO GOOD! I somehow managed to miss it on my first trip around the pool table (where the main dishes were set up), but my friend, Larry, brought me a taster plate and said I HAD to try it. And boy, was he right! Such a delicious combination! In fact, my first thought--as usual--was how I might replicate it at home. And I think I did pretty well, if I do say so myself. ;-)

Because it was a weeknight, I cheated a little and used one of those pre-marinated pork tenderloins (garlic and Italian herb flavor) with extra pepper and Italian herbs sprinkled on top before baking (pull at 145 degrees, tent with foil, and let rest for at least ten minutes before slicing). And then here's what I did for the sauce:

Gorgonzola Cream Sauce

1 tablespoon butter
1 large shallot, minced
2 tablespoons white wine
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup (4 oz.) gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon white pepper

Melt the butter in a sauce pan. Saute the shallot a few minutes until tender. Deglaze the pan with the white wine. When the wine has absorbed, add the cream and reduce by half over medium-low heat (do NOT boil!). When the cream has reduced, whisk in the cheeses until melted and smooth. Add the garlic powder and pepper, whisk again, and then serve over pork tenderloin medallions (or roasted meat of your choice).

Finally, the piece de resistance, the farro--which is rapidly becoming my favorite grain! I think The Prickly Pear steamed theirs, which was very good, but I wondered if one might make farro risotto-style? As it turns out, you can, and it's DELISH--so deeply flavorful and and a little chewy (in a good way). This is a side dish that I am going to make again and again...believe that!

Farro Risotto

6 cups (low salt) vegetable or beef stock, more or less
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup pearled farro
1/3 cup white wine
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
salt, to taste

Heat the stock in a saucepan, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and keep it on low until needed.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and melt the butter together. Saute the onion for a few minutes until tender. Add the garlic and farro and cook for another two or three minutes to toast the farro. Deglaze the pan with the white wine. Then start to add the hot stock a half cup at a time, stirring occasionally, and letting the liquid absorb before adding the next half cup of stock. When the farro is completely tender (about a half hour of stirring and tending to it), stir in the rosemary and pepper and check to see if it needs salt before serving.

UPDATE 11/23/12: Yippee! I heard back from the very kind owner of the Prickly Pear, Linda Andes, and she was gracious enough to share their fabulous salsa verde recipe with me. Here it is:

Prickly Pear's Salsa Verde

2 roasted jalapenos
1/2 white onion
1 tablespoon garlic
2 lemons
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil

Roast jalapenos in the oven for 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees. In a blender, add all ingredients except olive oil. Blend well and then slowly add olive oil to emulsify.

Will last 1-2 weeks in fridge.

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