A Paleo chili recipe?! But ... but ... what about the beans?

If you share my (former) skepticism, let me reassure you: Contrary to popular belief, chili does not actually require beans to 1) taste like chili and 2) be absolutely delicious! And let's be really honest here for a minute. We all know what beans do to the digestive system, so isn't it a bit odd that chili is such popular Superbowl party fare?

If you're looking for a way to mix it up with your chili recipe, or aren't a big bean fan to begin with, or are actually doing the Paleo diet like me, please try this recipe. I made it last night, and I literally cannot wait until dinner so that I can have another bowl.

Recipe for Paleo Chili
Adapted from Paleo Table

Ingredients:
2 8-oz sirloin steaks, cut into bite-sized chunks*
1 lb grass-fed ground beef
1 lb nitrate-free bulk spicy Italian sausage (Whole Foods has a great one!)
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced into bite-sized chunks (Or be lazy like me and buy it already diced from Whole Foods)
2 onions, chopped
1 28-oz can crushed fire roasted tomatoes
2 14.5-oz cans diced fire roasted tomatoes
1 10-oz can diced tomatoes with green chilies (I used Rotel)
3 cups chopped baby spinach
2 tbsp olive oil
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tbsp cumin
1 tsp sea salt

Garnish:
2 avocados, cubed
Sliced black olives
Slivered jalapeno peppers
Fresh cilantro leaves

*Next time I make this recipe, I am going to skip the steak and do 1-1/2 lb ground beef and 1-1/2 lb Italian sausage.

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place diced squash on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 18 minutes or until it just begins to soften. Remove from oven and set aside.

While the squash bakes, warm 1 tbsp olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add steak (if using) and brown on one side. Crumble remaining meat and sausage into the pot and cook until all of the meat is cooked through, stirring occasionally.

At the same time, warm 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook until onion begins to turn translucent, about 10 minutes. Add paprika, cumin and chili powder, and stir until onions are coated and spices are fragrant, about 5 minutes. Stir in the squash and turn off the heat.

Add onion mixture, tomatoes, and remaining spices to the meat mixture. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. Add chopped spinach and stir until wilted. At this point, you can serve the chili or continue to simmer it for another 30 minutes to an hour.

Top with avocado, cilantro, jalapeno and black olives.
 
 
Don't be mad at me. I had to try this (again). And this time, it worked! I made some pretty darn good muffins without using flour or sugar.

Some people are content with eating eggs every morning, or having a few bites of leftover steak and some salad for breakfast. I cannot do this. I can have an omelet on occasion, but to me, it doesn't count as breakfast if it isn't sweet. I won't apologize and I probably will never change. I'm convinced it's hereditary, so if you need to blame someone, blame my father.

I've been doing a Lara bar for breakfast on the go or making myself a smoothie if I have a few extra minutes, but it's been two weeks and this morning, I had time to get creative. I've tried baking with almond flour with little success in the past, but today was my day. They would have turned out even better if I had had the patience to wait a few more days for my bananas to get riper (aka sweeter), but oh well. They taste great as-is, and the texture is perfect!

Recipe for Carrot-Raisin Muffins
Adapted from TGIPaleo
Makes 12+ muffins

Ingredients:
2 cups almond meal
1/4 cup flax meal
4 mashed bananas
4 eggs
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp almond extract
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 cup raisins
1 cup grated carrots (about 2 medium)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine almond meal, flax meal, baking soda, and spices in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, stir together bananas, eggs, almond extract, and carrots. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir just to combine. Fold in the raisins. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

This recipe made 12 large muffins and enough left over to put into a little ramekin for an extra somethin-somethin.
 
 
This recipe officially ties the Mediterranean Meatballs for first place in the Awesome Paleo Recipes category. My entire family gobbled these up--even my fourteen year-old brother. I served them with a berry fruit salad for a complete meal!
Recipe for Stuffed Acorn Squash
Adapted from Dialed-In Nutrition
Makes about 6 servings.

Ingredients:
3 acorn squash (I used 5 small acorn squash from Trader Joe's)
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp olive oil
1 lb ground meat (I used lean beef)
2 links Italian sausage (I used Italian Chicken Sausage from Trader Joe's)
1 onion
1 bundle kale
2 small to medium zucchini
2 carrots
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup fresh parsley
Sprinkling of dried herbs (I used sweet basil, thyme and marjoram)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut each squash in half and remove the seeds. (Do not underestimate how long this will take you. It is time-consuming.) Place squash on a baking sheet covered in foil, and dot each with a bit of coconut oil and a dusting of cinnamon. Bake for 35 minutes or until soft.

While the squash is roasting, prepare the stuffing. In order to save time and get the vegetables very finely chopped, I used a food processor to combine the onion, carrot, zucchini, and kale. If you do this, pour off the excess liquid so that your stuffing doesn't turn out runny.

In a large saute pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Brown the meat. My sausage links came fully cooked, so I waited until the beef was browned and then removed the casings from the sausage and crumbled it in with the beef. Stir in the vegetables and grate a garlic clove into the mix. Cook until vegetables are softened, about 5 to 8 minutes. Season with dried herbs, salt and pepper to taste.

Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Mix in the eggs and stir to combine. Fill softened squash with mixture and return to the oven (still at 400 degrees F) for about 40 minutes or until mixture is brown and cooked through. Serve immediately!
 
 
I like the description of the Paleo Diet as a "Dino-Diet" better than a "Caveman Diet." I'm sure cavemen were cool, but when you're a 24-year old girl, it's a comparison you don't really want to make. Dinosaurs, on the other hand . . . Bad ass. Melissa from The Clothes Make the Girl is constantly referring to her food as "dino chow" and I like it. So that was a long explanation for why I'm calling this post "Dino-Dining Out." Excellent.

If you don't live in St. Louis, first of all congratulations, and I hope you are living somewhere exciting and trendy like San Francisco or Paris or Singapore. Maybe dining out "the paleo way" is easy where you live and your city is full of compassionate, understanding chefs and restaurant staff who would love to make your meal exactly the way you want it. It may surprise you to know, though, that St. Louis is actually very up-and-coming on the food scene, and there are quite a lot of places that offer interesting, sensory meal experiences. And thus far, I have had a good deal of luck with dining out while maintaining a strict Whole30 diet.

If you live in St. Louis, you may want to consider these restaurants as options for when you just can't stomach the thought of cooking up another Paleo meatloaf. And if you don't live in St. Louis, maybe you should come visit?
This is the #16 from Mai Lee. I made it Paleo by asking for no noodles, double vegetables (no baby corn), and shrimp instead of tofu. Mai Lee is one of my all-time favorite restaurants, and I'm thrilled I can still really enjoy myself there this month!
These two photos are from lunch at Bristol Seafood Grill. I had seared scallops with roasted brussel sprouts and cauliflower. The salad is the Lobster Cobb with shoestring sweet potatoes. My mom is doing a less-strict version of Paleo, so she's not too concerned if something's made with canola oil or if the bacon has a small amount of sugar in it. (When I'm eating out, I'm inclined to feel the same way. Shh.)

It's true that in general, it is easier to eat out on the Paleo diet if you choose a more upscale restaurant. Chefs are more willing to work with diners, and most of the ingredients are fresh and haven't already been prepared. I was concerned that it would be really expensive to go out, but it hasn't been bad at all. Since I'm never ordering alcohol or dessert with dinner, costs are cut down considerably. Overall, eating out this month has been much easier than I would have anticipated.

Do you have any restaurants you like to go to that have accommodated your dietary concerns?
 
 
Who's counting? Well I am, for starters. Yes, I feel pretty good. I'm never starving, and my energy levels are certainly more consistent than they were during the Sugar Haze that was the first twenty-four years of my life. But I don't feel as though my stomach has been magically cured of ever feeling sick, or even that this is a completely sustainable way of eating. I'll give it 19 more days of committing 100% to convince me, but damn, this ain't easy . . .

Could my brother's enormous cookie cake staring me in the face have something to do with my particularly bitter opening paragraph? Perhaps. Or the fact that I am missing out on Clayton's Restaurant Week (it starts tomorrow) and the foodie in me is whining like a little baby? Also a possibility. But I've never been one to focus on the negatives, so let's move on, shall we?

A much more interesting topic is, of course, what I am eating. Which is, in short, plenty. Here's a recap of some of the week's mouthwatering meals:
Garlic-Herb Marinated Flank Steak with Cucumber-Avocado Salad, Roasted Tomatoes, and Steamed Broccoli
Lunch the following day: Leftover steak, tomatoes, and broccoli, stir-fried together with spaghetti squash and pine nuts.
Out to eat at Whole Foods: Salad bar with plenty of veggies (spinach, kale, cauliflower, mushrooms), protein (turkey, eggs, and nuts), and dressing (balsamic vinegar and olive oil). Plain black tea rounded out the meal.
Delicious breakfast courtesy of my mom: Sauteed spinach, onions and tomatoes topped with fried eggs and served with a sliced pear.
And we finally used the Soup-Blender my mom got for Christmas (you know, the one where you can actually cook in the blender?!) to make a very flavorful Curried Butternut Squash Soup.

Obviously, I can't complain of a food shortage. But the weekend was full of not-so-fun temptations (Ghiradelli brownies, the aforementioned cookie cake, and the desire to drink away a particularly painful Friday night), which temporarily had me in a dark mood. But I know that when Monday morning rolls around in a mere twelve hours, I will feel proud of myself for sticking with my plan and doing this the right way. I know I have much more to learn from this experience and (dear God) I'm not even at the half-way point!

(Uh-oh. That last realization brought back the dark mood. Time to sign off and go read a book or something. Sigh.)

I may post recipes for some of the dishes I posted above at a later date. I didn't actually cook any of those all by myself (a perk of living at home . . . Thanks, Mom) so I will need to go back and review what we actually did if I'm going to share recipes. If you see something you'd like to try, let me know and I'll try to get on it faster!
 
 
Folks, this is a sad day. I am sorry to report that I had my first epic culinary fail since beginning the Paleo Diet. There was flinging of batter and gnashing of teeth. And ultimately, I ended up with this:
Gross.

And this isn't even one of those situations where I can say, "Yeah, they looked pretty nasty, but man they tasted great!" They didn't. The only way to salvage these babies would have been to douse them in maple syrup. But my fourteen year old brother tried that, and it didn't even help. The sweet potato pancakes were mushy, tasteless, and boy were they ugly.

I made an apple topping to go with them, which turned out to be my breakfast instead of their heartier counterparts. I put some of the pancakes that didn't fall apart on the plate (but they still tasted bad, so they joined their brothers and sisters in the trash. I hate wasting food, but this was beyond repair.).
Maybe you have your own Paleo (or normal) pancake recipe and you'd like to make the topping to go with it. Or maybe you are a pancake wizard (named Leeny?) and can get this recipe to work. I suspect my error was that I used too much sweet potato, because my batter was way too thick. I tried to thin it out with coconut milk, which was starting to work, but they just didn't taste very good. So I gave up, threw the rest of the batter in the fridge, and may come up with some kind of sweet potato-berry-walnut muffin tomorrow.

Anyway, the Cinnamon Apples were delicious and very simple to make. Here's how to do it:

Peel and slice 2 granny smith apples into small chunks. Heat enough ghee (clarified butter) to coat a pan. Place the apples in the pan, sprinkle heartily with cinnamon, and sautee until apples are soft (5-10 minutes).

Have you ever had any mishaps in the kitchen like this?
 
 
Last night, my family came back in town so I cooked dinner for them. It turned out to be my favorite Paleo meal yet! I highly recommend this meal, even if you want nothing to do with the caveman diet. I served the meatballs with spaghetti squash and roasted broccoli. Yum, yum, yum.
I tweaked the original recipe (from The Clothes Make the Girl) quite a bit, and I'm making some changes to what I did last night in the recipe I'm giving to you. Below is how I plan to make this next time. And trust me, there will be a next time.

This looks like a lot of instructions and ingredients, but it's actually fairly straightforward and makes a complete meal!

Mediterranean Meatballs with Spaghetti Squash and Roasted Broccoli
Adapted from this recipe
Makes about 6 servings.

Ingredients:
Spaghetti squash
Ghee (Clarified Butter)
Salt & pepper, to taste

1 lb extra-lean ground beef
1/2 lb ground lamb
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, finely chopped, divided
2 tsp cumin, divided
2-1/2 tsp paprika, divided
2 tsp salt, divided
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic
2 cans fire-roasted tomatoes (Whole Foods carries the brand Muir Glen, which doesn't contain sugar)
3 oz. tomato paste
1 cup water (or less)
Chopped pistachios

3 cups broccoli florets
Olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tsp tandoori seasoning
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

For the squash:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil. Using a skewer, poke holes in the squash all over so that it doesn't explode in the oven. Bake the squash for 1 hour, cut it in half, and wait until it is cool enough to handle. (If you don't have time to wait, you're in for a hot gooey mess--but it can be done.) With a fork, scratch the spaghetti squash flesh into a bowl, toss it with ghee, salt and pepper, and voila. Fake pasta.

While your squash is in the oven, prepare the meatballs:
In a large bowl, combine meats, 1 tbsp of the cilantro, 1-1/2 tsp paprika, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. On a large plate, form mini meatballs (around the size of bouncy balls, for lack of a better comparison). Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven. Sautee onion until translucent, about 5 minutes. Grate a clove of garlic into the onions and stir for another minute. Add roasted tomatoes, tomato paste, water, and remaining 1 tbsp of cilantro, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp salt, and 1 tsp pepper. Bring mixture to a boil. Place meatballs into sauce, reduce heat to a simmer, and cover. Cook until meatballs are cooked through, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes.

While the meatballs are cooking, make the broccoli:
In a bowl, combine florets, enough olive oil to coat, chopped garlic, tandoori seasoning, salt and pepper. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and cook at 375 degrees F for 15-17 minutes. Sprinkle toasted pine nuts in with the broccoli and bake for another 3 minutes.

This meal reaffirmed my enjoyment of the "Paleo process" and reminded me that eating good, whole foods is the best way to help your body feel its best.
 
 
The Paleo Diet is officially haunting my dreams. Last night I dreamt that I was out at a party and someone made these little beautiful, delicious-looking cookies. I knew they weren't Paleo-friendly, but *gasp* I ate half of one! It tasted so sweet in my dream that it made my teeth hurt. And I woke up feeling terribly disappointed in myself. Then I realized it was just a dream, and sighed a big sigh of relief. I haven't broken the rules yet, and I am taking the motto "Cheat is Defeat" seriously. So no exceptions for me. It's going to be a long thirty days.

This weekend was a test of willpower, though, for a couple of reasons. It was the first time I went out for dinner (and I went out both nights). The first night was rough--we went to a Chinese restaurant. The place was surprisingly sensitive to people with special food requests, and even had a section on the menu that was free of basically everything (soy, salt, MSG, etc.). I had steamed vegetables with shrimp, and seasoned it myself with salt and vinegar. Vinegar is the seasoning of choice in China (you'll find it on the tables more commonly than soy sauce) so it wasn't terrible. But let's be honest: watching my friends eat the crab rangoon and orange chicken wasn't exactly fun. I got through it though, and certainly enjoyed the fact that after dinner, I didn't feel like I needed to drink eleven glasses of water and take a nap.

Saturday night went much better. I had dinner with a friend at Harvest, which is an upscale restaurant that promotes the farm-to-table philosophy and is a proponent of Slow Food, a movement that really interests me but that I haven't had the time to get involved in yet. The waitress (and by extension, the chef) was extremely accommodating and never once rolled her eyes at the long list of things I couldn't have. I was in the mood for steak, and since the marinade contained brown sugar, the chef cut me my own. He served it with brussel sprouts, turnips, radishes, and broccolini in a mustard sauce. The meal was delicious, and I really didn't miss the carbs. I did wish I could have had  dessert (Harvest is famous for its bread pudding), but hopefully that craving will subside. It's only been five days, after all.

The other reason the Paleo Diet is "tough" is because it pretty much forces me to eat only when I'm hungry. Sounds simple enough, but I'm sure I'm not alone in having the occasional boredom snack or celebratory piece of cake when I'm already full. On Paleo, though, if I'm not hungry, I really don't eat. Who honestly turns to celery sticks when they're feeling tired and lazy on a Sunday? Or pops a hard-boiled egg when they're feeling blue? Not me. And that is a very good thing.

This afternoon I made some Baba Ganoush to go with the Mediterranean meatballs I'm making tonight. I wanted to call it "Paleo Hummus," because to me, that's what it is (and also because I think "Baba Ganoush" is one of the silliest sounding terms ever). But it's made with tahini, roasted eggplant, and garlic. So Baba Ganoush it is.

Recipe for Baba Ganoush
Adapted from The Clothes Make the Girl, which is quickly becoming my favorite Paleo-friendly blog

Ingredients:
2 lbs eggplant (her recipe calls for Japanese eggplant, but Whole Foods only had graffiti eggplant so that's what I used)
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup tahini*
1 clove garlic, chopped
Lemon juice

*I used Trader Joe's Tahini Sauce, which already has the lemon juice and garlic in it.

Instructions:
Rinse and dry the eggplant. Slice each one lengthwise and place it on a baking sheet cut-side up (if you hate doing dishes like I do, cover the baking sheet in foil and clean-up is much easier). Broil in the oven for about 15 minutes.

When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and place it in a food processor with all of the other ingredients. Pulse until the mixture has the consistency of hummus. Chop up some carrot and celery sticks and enjoy!
 
 
Yesterday I basically ate leftover pork stir-fry at every meal. Sue me.

Today I began my day with a delicious smoothie, made with a banana, some frozen mango chunks, pure orange-carrot juice, and about a tablespoon of almond butter. The almond butter lends a nuttiness to the smoothie (and of course some protein) that tastes odd at first but grows on you. Or at least it grew on me . . .

Post-smoothie, I headed up to the gym for a workout class. It wasn't Crossfit (I'm trying to save a couple bucks here and there until I start my job), but it was a great class and I'm sure I will feel the burn tomorrow. Instead of going out for lunch, like I probably would on a typical Friday, I came home and cooked myself some Egg Foo Yung. To be honest, I've only eaten the dish once in a Chinese restaurant (in Chesterfield, not Beijing), but it sounded like a way to mix it up with eggs and let's be honest, I'm pretty much always down for Asian fare.

Recipe for Paleo Egg Foo Yung
Loosely Adapted from this Paleo blog
Makes 2-3 servings (about 6 cakes).

Ingredients:
3 eggs
2/3 cup Napa cabbage, thinly chopped
1 carrot, shredded
2 green onions, sliced
2 tsp coconut flour
1/4 tsp Chinese five spice
Salt and pepper, to taste
Coconut oil

In a medium saucepan, heat some coconut oil on medium-high heat. Add cabbage, carrots, and onion, and sautee until cabbage has cooked down, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs, spices, and coconut flour until well-combined. Stir in the vegetables. In the same skillet, heat more coconut oil and fry the batter up like pancakes, in 1-2 tbsp mounds. Be sure that your heat is not up too high--you don't want to have scorched edges and runny middles! (I would never make that kind of mistake. Obviously.)

I dried mine on paper towels to remove some excess oil before I ate them. The original recipe includes dicing up some leftover meat of some kind, like chicken or shrimp. That would have been good, but I didn't have anything on hand. And even though this is a Paleo diet, I'm trying not to eat meat at every single meal. It just feels weird.
 
 
Today was the official start of my Paleo Challenge. I kicked the day off with a hot yoga class at the new studio near my house. What a way to start the day! Hot yoga is hands-down one of my favorite workouts and is actually the only form of yoga I enjoy. I practiced at a studio in Nashville, but up until recently, the only hot yoga studios in St. Louis were Bikram. I'm not into disgusting, smelly carpet and fluorescent lighting, so for those reasons among others, Bikram isn't really my favorite. This new studio though, Prana Yoga, is brand new, very relaxing, and definitely not stinky. I'm hooked!

Okay, back to food. For my first Paleo dinner, I made a vegetable stir-fry with pork. My whole family ate it and it was a hit! No one missed the rice, and it was very filling. We had some roasted mushrooms on the side, since there was an excess of button mushrooms in the fridge.
Recipe for Paleo Pork Stir-Fry
Adapted from Primal Palate
Makes 6-8 servings.

Ingredients:
2 small pork tenderloins, trimmed of fat and sliced into thin strips
1/4 cup chopped almonds (I would use cashews next time)
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 cup button mushrooms, sliced
4-5 stalks celery, sliced
2 cups broccoli, chopped into bite-size pieces
1/2 head napa cabbage, shredded
1 small can sliced water chestnuts
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp coconut oil
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
6 tbsp coconut aminos (a Paleo version of soy sauce--I bought it at Whole Foods)
Sesame seeds for garnish

Instructions:
Heat a wok over high heat. Add coconut and sesame oils and swirl to coat. Add pork to pan and cook until meat has browned on all sides, about 4 minutes. Add mushrooms, water chestnuts, celery and broccoli; stir for 1 minute or until vegetables begin to release some of their liquid. Add almonds (or cashews), garlic, ginger, cabbage, and green onions. Toss to combine and then pour in the coconut aminos. Cook for 3 minutes or until cabbage has wilted. Garnish with sesame seeds.