Practical Paleo: Duck with Cherry Sauce

 

One month ago, today, I started eating Paleo. I guess I should really say, Primal, but I’ll get to that later. My reasons to try the Paleo way of eating (I will never say diet!) are many-fold and something I had wanted to try for a while now. But let’s just say that I was recently diagnosed with a thyroid problem which caused me to put on some pounds in a very short period of time. During that time, I received a review copy of Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-Foods Lifestyle from the publisher. A few months ago I had done a review of Eat Like a Dinosaur: Recipe & Guidebook for Gluten-free Kids by The Paleo Parents, and I got on the publisher’s list. That turned out to be very fortunate for me, because in Practical Paleo, Diane Sanfilippo, BS, NC, a nutrition consultant, and blogger at Balanced Bites, gives 30-day meal plans for many health issues, including but not limited to Thyroid, MS, digestive health, blood sugar regulation, heart health and cancer recovery.

It felt like fate that this book basically fell into my lap right when I got my diagnosis. So I decided to try it. I thought it would be a challenge. I remember back when I was doing the 4-Hour Body Slow Carb program, it was a struggle. Often I did not feel satisfied after meals and I was craving sugar a lot. I figured with Paleo, and cutting out beans, it would be worse. But I really wanted to try it and see what the fuss is all about. Paleo is touted as being so healthy and life changing by those who love it, and hated with such fervor by those who don’t. I never let other people’s opinions sway me, instead I figure out the truth for myself. Granted, before I started the plan, I ate many Paleo meals throughout the week. Plus I have been used to eating whole foods, since I follow Weston A. Price Foundation Guidelines.

I found a lot of things that surprised me about eating Paleo. For one, I was satisfied after every single meal. I found the dishes easy to cook and actually taking less time in the kitchen to make than I normally would. Plus the food is delicious and varied (like you don’t eat the same dinner twice for a whole month!). But the most surprising thing about it is that I found myself eating WAY MORE vegetables than I used to, and I am already a big veggie lover. But each day I was surprised to discover how many different varieties of vegetables I had on my plates of food. Shopping for food was focused on produce. Granted, we do have a lot of meat in our freezer, but still, I was pleasantly shocked by the amounts of fruit and veggies I was eating. Paleo is not all about bacon people, in fact we normally have bacon only once a week (on Pancake Sunday). Another surprise was that although I didn’t eat any sugar other than fruit for 3 weeks, I found I didn’t crave it. Until my sauerkraut fermenting away started making the room smell like brownies…but I have found some really delicious Paleo brownie recipes!

After 2 weeks, I went back to the doctor, and I had lost 3 pounds (don’t know what I weigh now, as I have to go back to the doctor to find out. We have no scale in the house). I feel less tired and run down and it feels like I am starting to develop a store of energy reserves. Something I haven’t felt in a long while. I feel more alert. I am never ever bloated after meals. I really didn’t think by limiting all grains and beans, I was going to feel all that different. But I do.

One thing I have not done is cut out dairy products, which is why I mentioned earlier that I should probably say I am Primal as opposed to Paleo. I have tried several times cutting dairy out of my diet and to no effect. It just wasn’t the magic bullet for me. Plus, dairy is absolutely part of my ancestral diet, and isn’t that what Paleo is all about? Although through this Paleo experiment, I don’t eat as much cheese as I used to, and I am only eating sheep and goat milk products on a daily basis. I drink kefir every day, use raw goat milk and often have a little raw goat milk cheese…And on Fridays, as is tradition at our house, we still have gluten-free pizza night, with real local mozzarella (cow), which is a nice treat and hasn’t seemed to bother me at all.

Even Roberto has been enjoying this way of eating, which is a huge shocker! He stopped eating bread and pasta for a little over a week and now he finds he doesn’t crave it anymore. He might have a slice or two of local sourdough bread every other day or so, but he used to eat near half a loaf every day! So this has been really good for all of us.

I have even found on the occasions that we go out to eat; I don’t even really want the grains, I am not tempted by them on the menu. So I always order Paleo dishes, even my sushi rolls (I order without the rice). I have found that this has really cut down on cross-contamination (with gluten) issues. So I never come home with swollen fingers or toes. Another really nice perk.

If you are brand new to Paleo or even cooking and eating a whole foods diet, this book is very helpful. There is a whole section on stocking a Paleo pantry, why everything we have been taught about good nutrition is wrong, a guide to fats and oils, how to eat Paleo at restaurants and parties or on the road, there is also a very detailed FAQ. All sections are super useful and easy to understand for non-scientific minds like mine.

So what about the food? I know that is the most important part. I have already said it is delicious. But here are some of my favorites so far: Spaghetti Squash Bolognese, Sweet Potato Pancakes, Zucchini Pancakes, Lemony Lamb Dolmas, Pumpkin Pancakes ( we have these every Sunday), Chinese 5-Spice Lettuce Cups, Braised Short Ribs with Candied Carrots, and this delicious recipe for Duck with Cherry Sauce. So if you have been thinking about trying the Paleo way of eating, I highly recommend Practical Paleo. Even if you don’t want to go Paleo, but just like good, nourishing easy to prepare, family friendly meals, I highly recommend it! Who knows, maybe you’ll find you love being Paleo, too!

I don’t know how long I will eat this way. I haven’t really gotten to that yet. For now, I am just going to enjoy all the recipes in the book and worry about the other stuff later.

Duck with Cherry Sauce (from Practical Paleo)

INGREDIENTS:

2 duck legs (I have also used duck breast for this recipe, in fact that is what is pictured)
¼ tsp each of dried rosemary and dried sage
½ tsp sea salt
¾ cup frozen or fresh cherries or ½ cup dried cherries that have been reconstituted in warm water for an hour (I used dried cherries, but I think it might be better with frozen or fresh)
1 sprig of fresh rosemary

METHOD: Preheat oven to 320 F. Season the duck generously with the spices. Place duck in an oven safe skillet or roasting pan and put in the oven. Roast for about 60-80 minutes until the skin is brown and crispy and the internal temperature of the duck reaches 165 F.

While the duck cooks simmer the cherries with the rosemary sprig in a small sauce pan over medium heat until the shape of the fruit begins to break down. Once the cherries have a soft consistency with liquid around them, remove the rosemary sprig and mash the fruit with a fork, or blend for a smoother texture. Set sauce aside.

Top the roasted duck with the cherry sauce to serve. A lot of fat from the duck will remain. Strain the fat and save it in the fridge for cooking later. It is ideal for roasting potatoes or other root veggies. Serves 2.

Eggplant Relish

15 lbs of homegrown produce!

Harvest season is here! This has been our best gardening year yet. I owe it all to our bunnies actually. It was their little pellets, collected through the winter which has made our plants produce like crazy. Between that and the warmer, drier temperatures this summer, we are just awash with so many delicious fresh vegetables!

This year we are growing tomatoes (we have about 30 plants!), zucchini, ground cherries, carrots, cabbages, sugar snap peas, potatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, melons lettuces, Swiss chard and arugula and beans (hope I am not forgetting anything). We tried new varieties of tomatoes this year, German Pink, Black from Tula and Ukrainian Purple, all developed in colder climates. We also tried cold climate melons. All are doing great this year!

This year, so far we have preserved 25 lbs of cabbage (red and green), 11 lbs of greens, 15 lbs of stone fruits, 10 lbs of tomatoes, as well as assorted carrots, green beans, sugar snaps, onions, peppers, zucchini and eggplant. So it has been a busy couple of months. We are really going to enjoy this in the winter months. That taste of summer is always so welcomed when the snows are falling down all around us.

I want to share with you a delicious condiment that I made. One that I wanted to dig right into but will have to reserve a bit of will power to leave it on the shelf for the dead of winter when the taste of sun ripened tomatoes, peppers and eggplants will be just the right thing I need to lift my spirits!

Eggplant-Tomato Relish (from The Joy of Pickling – My VERY favorite cookbook for this time of year!)
Makes 2 pints

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb eggplant, peeled and cut into ¾ inch cubes
2 tsp sea salt
6 TBS olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups peeled and coarsely chopped tomatoes
¾ cup raw apple cider vinegar
1 bay leaf
1 tsp whole mustard seeds
1 TBS pine nuts
1 TBS capers
Black pepper to taste

METHOD: In a bowl, toss eggplant with salt, put in a colander and let drain for an hour or so. Rinse eggplant and drain it well. Heat the oil in a large non-reactive pot. Add eggplant and sauté about 5 minutes. Add onion and pepper and sauté another 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Over medium heat bring mixture to a simmer. Simmer uncovered, stirring often for about an hour. Remove bay leaf and ladle mixture into pint or half pint mason jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Close jars with 2-piece caps and process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath. Store jars in a cool, dry, dark place.

Rose-Vanilla Syrup

 

Anyone who has known me for a long time knows how much I rely on herbs and plants to keep myself healthy. My interest in herbs began sometime in high school after reading The Mists of Avalon which is full of herbal lore and of course magic and just went on from there.

I don’t think herbal remedies are magic, per se, I think they are natural ways to keep our bodies in the best shape possible, mentally, physically and emotionally. Herbs are helpers who have evolved right along with us, our allies. As people that love to cook, we use herbs a lot in day to day life spicing up our dishes. But there are also healing properties behind the many culinary herbs we use.

If you have ever enjoyed Middle Eastern desserts you may have encountered rose water. Or if you watched the amazing movie, Like Water for Chocolate you will remember vividly the scene in which the protagonist cooks up a wooing meal using roses.

Roses, both wild and domesticated are edible, the darker the color, the stronger the flavor. I find roses to taste rather sweet (big surprise!) and they are also incredibly soothing. In herbal medicine they are considered to be cooling and dry, but there is a warmth to them to be sure. It is no coincidence that people have been using roses to tell people they love them for a very long time, because it has much to tell us about the properties of roses.

Roses are associated with the heart and are good for both cardiovascular issues and emotional well-being. They are good for keeping our bodies balanced. Rose petals are high in Vitamin C making it a good idea to use in staving off colds or other infections. Rose petals, because of the natural occurring acids they contain is good for keeping your GI tract in good condition. Rose petals have been known to expel toxins in the gut and helps support the good and friendly flora in the gut.

Rose petals can also help with stress and emotions. One of my herbal teachers recently said that she uses Rose to help people create healthy boundaries, to give the person an ability to give and receive love without wearing their heart on their sleeve. Rose petals are physically almost see through when you hold them up to the light, but to the touch they are almost leathery, roses are beautiful but also thorny. Rose teaches us about balance, helps regulate the emotions and helps us navigate intimate relationships.

Roses are in full bloom right now, but if your roses are past their prime, don’t worry, just wait for them to give way to rose hips, their natural fruit!

I made my rose syrup the same day that I was blanching stone fruits for the freezer. I decided not to throw away the water I used for blanching and to use it for my syrup. I also added a star anise, a few cardamom pods and a vanilla bean to the brew in addition to following the recipe from A Girl’s Guide to Guns and Butter. The result is a delicious syrup, perfect for adding to fizzy water for a wonderful summertime drink. I also find it goes well in a cup of herbal tea as the sweetener. Check out the link to the original recipe and you will find more uses there for rose syrup.

Rose-Vanilla Syrup (adapted from A Girl’s Guide to Guns and Butter)

INGREDIENTS:

approximately 3 cups loose, unsprayed rose petals
5 cups cold water
3 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 star anise
A few cardamom pods
A vanilla bean

METHOD: Just pick a few handfuls of unsprayed rose petals, throw them in a pot with sugar and water (and additional spices, if desired), bring everything to a simmer and cook for about five minutes before adding lemon juice (important for both the color and the flavor!). Remove from heat, and allow everything to infuse overnight. All you have to do the next day is strain it and store it in the refrigerator (I also froze some).