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Friday, December 4, 2015

Getting into my pants...a reason to go Grain Free

Traveling for work and living in a hotel all summer means a lot of dining out - 7 days and nights a week to be exact. Dining out in Mexico is like, triple the calories and quadruple the temptation. Add in the metric system and my ability to hide behind the conversion rate of kilos to lbs (I am bilingual in denial), meant I showed no restraint, like none, like tacos 5 days a week lack of restraint. I should really have lost my gay card.

Long story short, my work environment has put me in a death match fight with my waist line. Now I admit my habits have not reverted as quickly having returned home and getting kicked off the expense account gravy train, so I guess there is some shared responsibility.

Regardless of where the blame lies, during a particularly emotional moment in my closet (not that moment, I came out a long time ago) doing battle with a pair of size 28 Levi's 511's, it became apparent that I needed to get serious, and clean up my eating act. Disclaimer, I am writing this as I eagerly await a buffalo chicken pizza and meatball nachos OrderUP delivery - yes I said meatball nachos, go ahead and judge me.

Now I normally try to maintain a gluten free diet, but I decided the lbs condition was so dire, I needed to cut out more. My crisis response has been to try to explore as many grain free dishes as possible, while still enjoying my favorite meals. This will not only help with my body image dilemma, but removing starches and grains will make me prioritize produce and protein. And what I really meant by that last line is that I will not have to give up cheese and butter (we all have priorities).

That being said, I am not willing to abandon my penchant for rich dishes and deep flavors, my pursuit of Umami. So I am pushing myself to find grain free ways to achieve the same heights of pleasure that rice, wheat or the like normally support. I'm not convinced grain-free can be totally fulfilling, but I am certainly going to give it a try.

Last week, I had met up with my friend Erin for one of our periodic date nights, which boil down to drinking wine, cooking, more wine, and then usually crying over some moderately touching movie or Elf.

Erin and I love to experiment, and we have a high success rate so I figured for my first foray in this new challenge she would be a worthy co-pilot. One fact to note is that we share a deep and abiding love for all things spicy. This has led to some interesting exploits into Asian and Latin cuisine, and I figured these routes were a good start for our grain free endeavor. Not to mention when it comes to slimming down NOTHING works like spice to ya know, move things along...

It's early fall, so cauliflower is becoming plentiful in the farmer's market. In addition to being a standout source of vitamins (C, K, B12), dietary fiber, having antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it happens to be a great starch substitute (see prior post for use in pizza). I love the taste of cauliflower, but I know not everyone does, so I wanted to make a dish that works for everyone, the flavors would have to be deep and developed enough to both complement (for lovers) and effectively disguise. I also wanted to do something that is typically indulgent.

You see, my fear of the muffin top and general guilt around caloric consumption typically results in boughts of crash dieting. I deprive myself of all nutrients for as long as I can (or until I become dangerously hangry) and then end up binging on pizza, pasta, or a pint of Ben & Jerry's. As you might guess, this isn't super successful and I doubt it does good things for my long term health or metal stability. Soooo as I attempt to return to my former form, the most likely path for success is to FEEL like I am indulging, but not actually do it nutritionally, this avoiding the starve and stuff yo-yo.

Drawing on many a 3am wine fueled binge and equally as many sweatpant sunday take-out experiences, we landed on Fried Rice.

We grabbed some onions, cilantro, shiitake mushrooms, shishito peppers and chicken thighs to complete the dish. Side note, if I haven't already said this, I ONLY use chicken thighs because as I find chicken to be generally flavorless, the higher fat content lends a slightly less than flavorless aspect to the protein vehicle I intend it to be.

Erin started by sweating the onions and garlic in a pan, then adding the mushrooms once the onions lost their color. Meanwhile, I pulsed the cauliflower in the food processor until it looked like rice, careful not to over chop as the moisture in the vegetable when chopped too small or pulverized, can make it gloppy.

We decided to sear the chicken in a combination of Asian prepared ingredients that Erin had handy; sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, plum sauce, and garlic-chili oil. I shaved the carrots right into the nearly cooked chicken and sauce, to allow them to cook briefly. I almost always shave carrots into ribbons now. I generally prefer them slightly crunchy and normally don't have the patience or time to allow larger thicker pieces to cook. The ribbons only need a few minutes of heat to cook and add visual interest to the dish. I added beaten eggs with about a minute left to cook then threw in half the fresh cilantro at the end so while it sat, the flavors would mingle.

To make the rice, I used some of the reserved chicken sauce, added some oil and heated the wok. I stirred in the rice little by little allowing it to sear against the pan surface before turning it over and adding more, this lends the fried rice texture to the vegetable. Meanwhile, Erin heated grill pan, and charred some whole shishito peppers. Prior to serving we stirred in the chicken, chopped and added half the peppers. We used the remaining cilantro and peppers to garnish the bowls and enjoyed a rich, delicious, very spicy, and grain free meal.

Not only was it a pleasure to eat, but the fiber and shishitos made it quite the cleanse...a slightly intentional move I admit. Now, I have never been a gluten-free extremist nor dietary restriction fanatic. I am not an absolutist and have always maintained the belief that things like pasta and ciabatta will always have their place. I know there will not always been a starch alternative to every dish I enjoy and am looking to recreate. But I have to be honest, this cauliflower "rice" was better than rice. Without a doubt, it had more flavor, equivalent consistency, and is undoubtedly more nutritious than any grain that could have been in this comfort food staple. I achieved everything I desired from a taste and texture standpoint, and the ease with which I was able to slip into my skinny Levi's the next day, it made me a grain free believer. Now onto the next...

Cauliflower "Fried Rice" - Seared Chili Chicken Thighs & Blistered Shishito Peppers

The recipe can be adapted based on the ingredients you prefer, just be mindful of always looking to counter the moisture content of the cauliflower by searing it and cooking any high water content vegetables or mushrooms separately to avoid sogginess.


  • 1 pound chicken thighs - chopped into bite size pieces
  • 3 eggs beaten
  • 1 large head of cauliflower - pulsed into "rice" in food processor
  • 1 medium white onion - diced
  • 2 cloves garlic - minced
  • 1 1/2 cup shiitake mushrooms - chopped
  • 3 large carrots - shaved into ribbons with a peeler
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro - chopped and divided in half
  • 1/2 cup sesame oil - divided
  • 2 table spoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons plum or hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons garlic-chili oil


Heat 1/4 cup of sesame oil in a wok. Simultaneously sweat the diced onions and minced garlic until the onions are transparent, then add the shiitakes. Cook until the mushrooms begin to crisp. In the wok, sear the chicken, adding the other liquids after 5 minutes in the sesame oil. Just before chicken is fully cooked, add the carrot ribbons, mushrooms-onion blend, half the cilantro and beaten eggs - stirring quickly as the egg cooks. Remove chicken-veggie mix with slotted spoon and reserve half the cooking liquid in the wok, pouring the rest in with chicken in a separate bowl.  Add the remaining sesame oil and turn up the heat. Once hot, slowly add the "rice" - allowing it to be coated in the sauce and sear slightly on the surface of the wok before turning over and adding more. Once all the rice is "Fried". While rice fries, place whole shishito peppers on a hot grill pan, turning every few minutes to allow them to char and develop grill marks. Chop half the peppers, combine with chicken and all the mixture to the hot rice. Serve in a large bowl, garnish with the remaining cilantro and a shishito pepper.


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