Squash Casserole: it’s not Paleo, but it’s Effing Delicious

7 Aug

We have a LOT of squash coming off the garden right now. That’s the deal with summer squashes. I even tried to plan for it and I planted “only” four squash plants of a single variety that I know we like (patty pan). How stupid could I be? That’s still a lot of squash! I’ve made stuffed squash (recipe forthcoming possibly), squash in my eggs (this is good), baked squash (if you overseason it, it’s terrible), and more. Better Half staunchly refuses all of these. Her resolve holds steady.

I was craving macaroni and cheese. How could I make something like that, all creamy and full of terrible, terrible dairy but moderately low in carbs? I went searching for squash casserole recipes, played around with what I had on hand, and I hit paydirt. I share this with deep shame: you are searching for paleo squash recipes and you land here? Oh dear. What if we call this a “low carb substitute for macaroni and cheese” and just call it good? Okay? Okay.

Squash casserole

This is the worst thing and also the best thing.


  • 6 medium sized summer squashes
  • 1 small to medium onion
  • ~1/2 cup Sour cream (or more if you want a creamier, “looser” consistency)
  • ~1.5 cups Shredded cheese (any variety or combination), divided
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Just a pinch of cayenne pepper

I thinly sliced a bunch of squashes (both patty pans and some yellow crooknecks that we had from the market) and an onion and sauteed them together until “tender crisp” (cooked enough that they would be cooked through but not mushy after baking, and I kind of guessed, really). Then I combined these with “what looked like enough” of the sour cream and shredded cheese, seasoned it, and put it in a ceramic baking dish. I sprinkled some more cheese on top and baked it for twenty minutes.

This is, hand to God, the only squash recipe I have ever made where every MOLECULE got devoured. My wife, my squash-hating wife, asked for seconds. We have a winner, folks.


What’s been going on in the Cave Hedonist’s world

7 Aug

Well, the best way to put it is that I fell of the wagon and it ran over me a few times. A combination of stress, an inevitable injury from running (“Ohhhh, so that’s what all the anti-running sentiment is about!”), and discovering the magical world of gluten free junk food has led to me pretty well fattening myself up.

That’s no good! I was making so much progress, too!

So, time to get back on the wellness train. I’ve started walking again. I’ve ditched grains. I’ve found good sources for my favorite suitable treats (mostly Hail Merry’s tarts and macaroons and Equal Exchange dark chocolate with crunchy mint bars).

I’m trying to manage my stress through a liberal dose of delicious fat. As part of my “radical self care” agenda, today I had my favorite salad (baby arugula, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, shredded Parmesan cheese, almond slivers, and salt and pepper) and grass fed steak tartar with butteraise.

The chickens are grown up but not laying. One turned out to be a cockerel, and after much discussion he was “rehomed” (someone else got to eat him, I think is all that really meant) and replaced by a sweet pullet. They’ve eaten our “cover crop” of oats that we planted on the bare dirt around our yard, which has been very cute to watch. In fact, watching the chickens has become my new favorite thing.

The garden is doing marvelously. We are rolling in patty pan squash. We would have heaps of greens, but the chickens ate them. Oh well! My quinoa is nearly ready and we’ve been enjoying fresh (green) fava beans (not really paleo but worth it for me). Artichokes, tomatoes, cucumbers, purple shiso, weird volunteer purple potatoes that just kind of appeared one day, and even a couple of cabbages have all come out of our dirt.

So I’m watching Fat Head again and trying to get back on track.


Crepinettes: Caul-Wrapped Goodness

18 Jun

Caul fat, contrary to what you might expect, is not some kind of witch-magic fat that comes from a baby. It is in fact a membrane that wraps around the stomach and intestines of a pig (and perhaps other animals, although I’ve only ever had it from pigs). It’s an incredibly fun kitchen “toy” — it’s typically wrapped around various meats before roasting, and the thin membrane locks in flavors while the tasty fat melts and infuses the meat; for this reason its often used to wrap lean cuts and game. I’m also partial to caul-wrapped liver (especially chicken livers).

Caul can be difficult to obtain. My most recent samples came from helping slaughter and dress two hogs (you can read about this life-changing adventure on my medieval food blog — it was one of the best experiences of my life). Getting to see caul fat in situ was extremely exciting to me — it’s a beautiful, ethereal net, and it’s quite lovely when it’s still fresh in the pig. I’ve also had fairly good luck ordering it from full-service butchers. If you live in the Portland area, the most reliable sources I’ve found are Laurelhurst Market (they have it at the meat counter) and Ponderosa Meats (where it is a special — and expensive — order). It stores relatively well frozen in vacuum-bags.

When you are ready to use it, and once it’s thawed if necessary, simply soak the piece you wish to use in water; some people recommend adding a little vinegar to “freshen” the odor, but I haven’t found this necessary. If your caul is stinky, it’s gone bad or was mishandled during the gutting process. That may be personal bias, I didn’t find the inside of a pig to be overwhelmingly stinky and I’ve always thought of myself as really squeamish about smells (the outside of a pig is VERY stinky).

I have a lot of caul on hand right now (it’s okay to be jealous of that), and so I’ve been trying out different things to do with it. My current favorite is crepinettes — this is a traditional French fresh sausage, where logs or patties of seasoned pork are wrapped in caul and roasted or pan-seared. There are many ways to season crepinettes, if you are going to make them its really worth making a few batches with different flavors. For my most recent round, I did three one-pound batches, each with a different seasoning, and froze each batch in labeled containers to thaw and eat at my leisure. From one pound of meat, I make eight crepinettes. I found I was able to wrap three pounds of meat using the caul from one pig — depending on processing/trimming and initial size of the pig, your mileage may vary.

Here’s a basic recipe for crepinettes, to be adjusted to your preference:

  • 3 lbs pork shoulder
  • 1 complete piece of caul fat
  • 1 T Kosher salt per pound of meat (I like salty food)
  • Spices to taste (generally 1 tsp – 1 Tbsp per lb of meat, depending on your preferences)
  • Other lovely additions: fresh herbs, dried fruit, and nuts

If you are truly insane, hand-chop the pork shoulder by first cubing it, then whacking away at it with a sharp knife in small batches until it is all finely minced. This yields the best finished texture but it is time consuming, rather exhausting, and will dull your knives (and you need to start with a very good, very sharp knife for it to work). Second best option is to grind the shoulder yourself using a coarse grinding plate in a meat grinder. If both of these are beyond your reach, buy pre-ground pork or ask your butcher to grind the shoulder for you.

Divide the meat into one pound portions to season. As you add the seasonings, knead the meat well as you would for meatballs. Once seasoned, divide each batch into eight equal portions, flatten into patties, and wrap in small pieces of caul, overlapping the edges of the caul to form a seam.

To cook, preheat oven to 400°F, roast seam-side up for 25 minutes, flip, roast for another 15 minutes. The exterior should be uniformly brown and crispy.

I like to eat these on a bed of garden greens (mâche, baby kale, and arugula being my favorite combination so far) dressed with — what else? — butteraise, or walnut oil, salt, and white-wine vinegar (or, if you can get it, verjuice — juice from unripe grapes).

Here are some seasoning suggestions:

  • Quatre epices: pepper, clove, nutmeg, ginger (or cinnamon)
  • Exotic peppers: long pepper, cubeb, and grains of paradise
  • Medieval “powder fort” or “powder douce”
  • Sage, fennel, red pepper flakes
  • I made a particularly excellent batch with a mix of medieval “fine spices” that was gifted to me at a reenactment event, walnuts, fresh sage, and dried cranberries, plus salt. For one pound of meat, I added 1 tsp of the seasoning mix (I do not know what all it contained but I do know it had saffron, which went very well in this), 1/2 cup of finely chopped walnuts, a large bunch of sage (finely chopped), and 1/2 cup of dried whole cranberries. The cranberries were sweetened, which is frustrating if you’re watching carbs or omitting processed sugars, but added a good flavor dimension.

Here’s a picture of my walnut-cranberry-sage crepinettes, complete with ridiculous garnish (and flourish of butteraise — I’ve started storing it in squeeze bottles, which is possibly the best idea I’ve ever had):


Today’s Decadent Breakfast Salad

4 Jun

The garden greens are in full swing, so it’s nothing but salads for the next few weeks if we want to keep up. This morning I’m doing my part by eating a lovely salad of arugula, butteraise, blanched almond slivers, chopped up hard-poached eggs, and shredded nice aged Parmesan cheese. It’s quite nice!

Hard Cider Review: Angry Orchard Iceman

16 May

Depending on your guiding philosophy of paleo feasting, there are many different answers to the question of which sorts of alcohol are paleo. The most strict interpretation is no alcohol at all. The people who to focus more strictly on carbs than other metrics tend to favor hard liquor. Those who advocate more for ensuring that all foods consumed maximize the health benefit will typically stick to red wine. From a historical perspective, mead was certainly our ancestors’ earliest fermented beverage. In terms of minimal processing / additives and natural ingredients, home-brewed mead, cider, or wine are your best bet.

I am less strict about carbs than most paleo devotees (I’m also fat and okay with that), and while I do like a nice scotch, I tend to gravitate toward my home-brewed mead, or sangria (my version: red wine, oranges, honey), or hard cider. I used to really love beer, but when I discovered that the reason most food makes me sick was gluten, beer had to go forever. Now I refer to hard cider as “beer” because that way I can pretend I live in a world where I can have a cold beer after work.

So, I drink a fair amount of cider. I’m going to start posting reviews of some of my favorites.

We’ll kick it off with a new discovery — Iceman from Angry Orchard. This is an ice cider: the pressed apple juice is partially frozen before fermentation, and the frozen water removed to yield a concentrated, sweet juice that is then fermented to perfection. Basically, it’s a very similar process to freeze distillation except done before fermentation and not afterwards.

The finished product is without equal. I think I can safely say I have never tasted a cider this wonderful. The nose is pleasant and fruity. It has a full body with perfectly tiny bubbles, and is sweet but not cloying, smooth, and infinitely drinkable. The flavor profile is very well-balanced. At 10% ABV, it’s suitably fierce; this is a sipping cider, not a chugging cider.

A bottle (750mL) runs around $14-16 retail; it’s somewhat hard to find as it’s a limited run, but worth the hunt.

Container Potatoes: Gardening Anyone Can Do

14 May

I’m pretty sure potatoes are the absolute most controversial food when it comes to paleo / primal eating. I don’t eat them every day, but I do eat them. If you aren’t opposed to potatoes, you may be interested to know that they are dead easy to grow. Potatoes are kind of a miracle plant that turns dirt into food even under poor conditions. If you have any yard space at all, you can plant them in the ground. If you have no yard space, though, or want a method that makes for a simpler harvest, read on:

Potatoes grow well in containers

Potatoes grow well in containers

Potatoes are really easy to grow in containers. The down side is that the soil to grow them in and the container itself are usually more expensive than just buying potatoes. This pot is one I have had for a long time, and the potting soil in it is, I’m sure, long since devoid of any organic value. So if you have a container, especially a large one, that has outlived its usefulness, this is a great way to revitalize it. I amended the soil with some compost since we had plenty. There are lots of ways to repurpose other items to use as pots, too, and you can sometimes make your own “potting soil” a bit cheaper by mixing vermiculite/pumice, compost, coconut coir, etc. (although this isn’t always any cheaper than just buying potting soil).

You can buy special seed potatoes, but I rarely do. I started growing these potatoes when several weeks worth of produce-bin potatoes sprouted and I wanted to cut my losses somewhat. As long as you start from organic potatoes that have already sprouted, you should be fine. You can plant each potato whole or you can cut the individual “eye” sections apart.

Plant the potatoes fairly deep. If you have the wherewithal, plant the potatoes in a container that’s only partially filled. As the vines grow, gently cover them most of the way with more soil; this will cause the plant to produce more tubers and makes better use of a deep container.

After a couple of months, start poking around gently in the soil to see how big the potatoes are getting. I like to harvest them when they are still tiny, like this:

I often feel like small potatoes

I often feel like small potatoes

These were washed then fried whole in tasty fat for my dinner Sunday night.

The easiest way to harvest is to dump the contents of the container onto a tarp and sift through until you find potatoes.

You can also let them grow much longer and get actual decent-sized potatoes this way. I have been told and am currently experimenting with, but can’t yet confirm, that you can harvest a round of new potatoes (like these) then re-plant the vines and grow more. If you want to do this, you have to be very careful about digging up and replanting the plants to keep them intact.


The first garden salad of the year

14 May

The first garden salad of the year

This is from a couple of weeks ago, but I found this picture on my camera and had to share — my first salad with all the things growing in the garden! Greens, herbs, flower petals… it was awesome! Salad should be a happy food, not a self-punishing food.

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