Brunch Caesar Salad with Sweet Potato and Smoky Toasted Pecans

Fellow eaters of the internet: brunch makes miracles. Through brunch, we are enabled to drink champagne before 11 and get sweet and savoury on the same plate. Brunch makes the impossible possible. What I’m saying is that we need to believe in breakfast salad.  This one would look right at home as a cozy brunch side, nestled in next to some home fries, or even as a balance to a sweet dish like cornmeal waffles.

It’s a mix of kale and romaine (a borrowed combo from Oh She Glows), crispy strips of sweet potato roasted with smoked paprika, and ghee-toasted pecans flavoured with liquid smoke, topped with a crispy, pan-fried sunny side up egg. The melt-y goodness of the yolk with the crunch of the kale and nuts, and the garlic warmth in the dressing is just. so. good.

If you’re not an herbivore bound or by the unforgiving laws of the Whole30, you could double down by adding crispy bacon and maybe some shavings of old cheddar to play with the smokiness of the pecans and sweet potato.

This is an easily-doubled recipe that would also make an amazing lunch or dinner too!

Brunch Caesar Salad with Sweet Potato and Smoky Toasted Pecans
Serves 2 (double at will!)
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4 c. romaine lettuce, chopped
2 c. green kale, chopped
1/3-1/2 c. Caesar dressing of your choice, (I like Oh She Glows’ super easy recipe)
2 eggs

1 medium sweet potato, cut into thin strips
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 c. unsalted pecans
1/2 tbsp. ghee (or butter)
2-4 tsp. liquid smoke (to taste)

2-4 strips bacon (optional)
Old cheddar cheese (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside. Cut your sweet potato into thin strips or french fry shapes.

2. Toss sweet potato fries with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and smoked paprika, tossing again to coat. Spread out in an even layer on baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes or until crispy. Remove from oven and set aside.

3. While the potatoes are baking, wash and chop the lettuce and kale, putting it in a large bowl.

4. For the pecans, melt the ghee in a medium fry pan over low heat, whisk in the liquid smoke. Add in the pecans and toss to coat. Turn up heat to medium, stirring until fragrant.  Remove from heat, but keep the pan  on the stove for the eggs.

5. Add the crispy sweet potato strips to the greens mixture, top with the dressing and toss thoroughly. Divide salad among bowls or plates, depending on how many people you’re serving. Garnish with pecans.

6. Add more ghee to the frying pan and crack your eggs, one per person, cooking until the edges of the whites are crispy, and the yolks are still runny. (Put a lid on to cook the yolk more thoroughly.)

7. Carefully lift the eggs out of the pan and serve one over each individual salad. Garnish with bacon and cheese, if adding. Enjoy!

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Whole30 Primal Egg Coffee

Egg Coffee. Invented by the Paleo/Primal crowd, (the people who also put butter and coconut oil in their java, surprise!), it’s exactly what it claims to be: eggs in your morning brew. Separately, the two words are innocent, but side-by-side they can sound wrong—like “nipple waxing” or “President Trump.” They summon images of steaming black liquid with curdled scrambled egg drifting on the surface—gross.

I HATED the idea of this recipe—it felt strange, pretentious, and downright unnecessary… That was why I had to try it! I was an old man sitting on a dilapidated front porch scowling—back in my day, the only place the two mixed was in our bellies! However, in the spirit of having an open mind and an innovative breakfast, I broke out my stovetop brewer and got cracking. And…despite my fear, I took a big whisk and went for it.

…It was actually pretty good! Slightly creamy, smooth, with a hint of cinnamon and an impulsive half teaspoon of coconut oil adding to the velvet of it. Not only THAT, but the stuff was basically rocket fuel. In the time I usually drink two coffees at work, I only finished half. I went back for a cup of coffee in the afternoon, and found my energy level was actually TOO high and had to have chamomile tea to settle my anxiety. Those Paleos might just be on to something…

Am I about to start doing this on the regular? Probably not, but I’m definitely trying it least once more to see if the rocket fuel is real…

Whole30 Primal Egg Coffee
(Adapted from Mark’s Daily Apple)
Serves 1
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2 c. brewed dark roast coffee or espresso, hot
2 eggs, free range if you can get them, room temperature*, **
Pinch sea salt
1/2 – 1 tsp. coconut oil (optional)
Cinnamon (optional)

1. Crack two eggs in a small mixing bowl, whisking vigorously until slightly frothy. In the meantime, brew the coffee.

2. When the coffee is finished, slowly pour the finished brew into the eggs, whisking as you go so the eggs don’t cook. Pour and whisk simultaneously (go! go! go!) until the coffee is fully incorporated and the mixture is frothy.

3. Add the pinch of salt, as well as the coconut oil and cinnamon, if including. Whisk again to incorporate.

4. Pour into your favourite mug, have no fear, and take a sip!

*Note: if you decide to go nuts like me and try this, it’s one of the few times I’m going to recommend “free range” or organic anything. It’s a privilege we can’t all afford, but when a recipe only has four or five ingredients, I like to think the way to ensure its success within that simplicity is getting the best ingredients—but only if they’re within your budget!

**To quickly bring eggs to room temperature, place them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes before you crack them!

The Whole30 Pt. 2: Tiger Blood!

According to the Whole30 timeline, from days 16-27, many people sticking to the plan begin to experience something they call “Tiger Blood.”

TIGER’S BLOOD! It sounds like something a colonel with a handlebar moustache would yell in a Rudyard Kipling novel when he sees something astonishing.

It’s actually a state of being in which Whole30-ians experience boundless power, deeper sleep, and a general natural high. Whether this is because you HAVE the blood of the tiger in your veins, or you DRANK said blood (is that technically Whole30 compliant?), you should be a wellspring of vigour.

…So it figures day 16 has felt like the hardest yet.

At the grocery store there was sugar or soy or dairy in E V E R Y T H IN G. I tried to make Paleo Mayo (palayo!) and it backfired and refused to emulsify. I melted a piece of tupperware by accident by leaving it on the stove. Ruh roh.

Despite all of this, I now am over the half way point, with only two weeks left. The hardest part of the program is NOT the restrictions to what you can eat—it’s the restrictions that THOSE restrictions can put on your life.

Last weekend, my friends and I went to the flea market. One of them proposed grabbing a bite after, and then the issue was raised that I’m still on the plan. I insisted that I could have a coffee or find something to feed myself, but we skipped going out for food. I appreciated them not eating something in front of me (likely at the risk of me asking if I can smell it), I also felt pretty self conscious about the fuss, especially when talk of their hunger started. Everyone in the situation chose for themselves, but still, being the instigator created friction with my anxious desire to be selectively invisible.

Another example? I’m going away for a weekend to visit friends out of town. Immediately after making the plans, I began to stew over what I was going to eat, or even how to bring up the subject with my hosts. I didn’t want to offend by bringing my own stuff… But I also did not want anyone to go out of their way just for me. This is the sort of lifestyle change that is big enough that it draws attention to itself. I’m hating that aspect.

I am, however, lucky to have friends who support me. Both of the above stories above have resulted in preparations of special menus, shared Whole30 friendly dinners, and open dialogue about what I’m doing, and why.

That feels pretty big and important and awesome to know you can count on your people, even while you’re counting down the days.

Simple Mexican Shakshuka

Day 15. I’m officially half way through the Whole30 challenge. I’m going strong, and while I’m not missing too many foods, I am missing certain meals… specifically brunch. So rather than mourning the pancakes or waffles I’m not eating right now, I kicked up my breakfast game at home this weekend.

This dish is quick, simple, and it looks fancy if you carry it to the table while it’s all hot and bubbly, like delicious tomato lava. The hardest part of this shakshuka might be all of the chopping prep you have to do, but a few minutes of work will render a fragrant, saucy dish that is comforting and tasty with familiar flavours.

It’s also easy to freestyle and remix. Seriously, this is not a recipe so much as a guideline. Try subbing  crushed tomatoes for diced, substitute half for salsa, top with cheese (let me nosh vicariously), or add more veggies of your choice (corn? black beans? delicious!) into the starting sautee and really make if your own.

Simple Mexican Shakshuka
(Adapted from FoodFaithFitness)
Serves 2-4
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1 tbsp. coconut oil or olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 whole Vidalia onion, chopped
2 bell peppers, chopped
4-6 plum tomatoes, chopped
1/2 to 1 tbsp. taco seasoning (I like this homemade one from Budget Bytes), to taste
3-4 c. crushed tomatoes
1-4 large eggs
Salt and Pepper
Chili flakes
For garnish: green onions, avocados, cilantro, lime, hot sauce, cheese. whatever you want!

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On the stove top, melt coconut oil in a medium ovenproof frying pan. Add garlic and onions, stirring over medium heat until soft and fragrant. Add in bell peppers, stirring until slightly softened, then add the fresh chopped tomatoes.

2. Sprinkle the vegetables with taco seasoning and stir to distribute. Add the crushed tomatoes, stirring, and bring to a gentle simmer. Taste the seasonings and add more salt, pepper, or spices to your taste.

3. Turn off the heat. Making wells in the sauce, crack 1-4 eggs into the tomato mixture making wells to hold them* (see note). 

4. Slide the pan into the oven and bake until mixture is bubbly and eggs are baked, about 10-15 minutes. (You can also cook the eggs stove top by covering the pan with a lid, with a shorter cooking time.)

5. When eggs are baked, remove from oven, spoon into dishes and garnish with your toppings of choice. Enjoy the shakshuka alone, or served with tasty sides like refried beans, rice, or tortillas.

*Note:
 if cooking for one, decide on the number of eggs you want and crack those in. After baking, carefully remove the cooked eggs with half of the tomato mixture into your bowl. Reserve the second half of the mixture for round two! Ta da, delicious leftovers. Just add fresh eggs and bake away—the reheated kind ain’t no fun.

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The Whole30 Pt. 1: The Torte Whifferer

brooke-lark-203842.jpgThe cake at my company’s 10th anniversary looked like any other—a slab, smothered in a quilt of fondant, with crisp vanilla layers of sponge, piped full of orange and blue frosting. It was unremarkable, but that didn’t matter.

I wanted to take a huge whiff of that cake.

Like the world’s foremost pastry perv, I was jonesing. I wanted to sit too close to a foodie friend and have them tell me what it tasted like, what the texture was, if the icing was too sweet, or gritty, or oily. I wanted them to describe if the coloured frosting between the layers had been flavoured with anything innovative.

I know this sounds like I should be banned from the local cupcake shops, with a restraining order filed against me by the Pillsbury Doughboy… But I was six days into the Whole30, and getting creepy and culinary on a slice of corporate cake was my first genuine test.

I totally passed, and it wasn’t even crazy or anything. This is still my choice, after all. This meal plan is just one giant first world problem.

Image result for Lisa simpson cake

A little context for the mania: food is a hobby of mine, and baking is my jam. I listen to podcasts about it, read about it, and write about it (hello)! I almost left university in the middle of my degree to train as a baker.  For me, and many others, eating, sometimes, is not just eating. It’s experiencing the food, like noticing the brush strokes on a master painting, or the word choice in your favourite book.

Sure, that cake was technically nothing special. I wasn’t missing out on French pastries or the last frozen tin of my Babcia’s homemade cookies—it was just CAKE, and CAKE without a soul! Even so, it had me hangering like a junkie for a little relief.

I think this is a perfect demonstration of why cutting things you love out of your life long-term just won’t work, and why elimination plans like the Whole30 are interesting. You can’t have something, you want it more. Sure, eventually you might stop missing cake after years of suffocating the desire to eat it… but isn’t it better to moderate and be happy than to be severe and miserable?

Part of living healthy is just enjoying the life you’re leading.

The Whole30 has messed with my hobby, people, and it turned into a near-crime against cake.  Betty Crocker has me on a watchlist.

Now I’m 11 days in and looking to innovate, and re-prioritizing.

Things that have become significant in the first ten days of my Whole30 experiment:
• Eggs
• Franks Red Hot Sauce
• Fantasies about the first food I will eat when the time comes (right now it’s pancakes)
My teammate, my friends, and my family (seriously I do not recommend doing this without someone else, or at least with people around who understand the “what” in your “WTF”)

The next 19 days are not going to be an exercise in self control so much as exploring new recipes and PATIENCE…

One thing’s for sure: there will be little-to-no huffing of cake (probably).

Creamy Vegan Garlic Pasta Sauce

This week’s motto: wash your blender. 

Sometimes, you take your first crack at homemade almond milk, and after two days of soaking the almonds, and then blending and straining them to perfection,  you detect a slight garlicky undertone at first sip. You realize the last thing you made in that blender was delicious potato hummus and maybe missed a spot in the scrubbing afterwards. So smoothie dreams take a back seat to sauce dreams… I don’t hate it.

Still, wash your blender.

It’s probably narrow-minded to resign this simple, warming, garlic sauce to pasta—especially since re: the rules of this month’s Whole30 challenge, I’m not technically eating pasta at all. You could put it on LOTS of stuff. I served it up with roasted spaghetti squash and broccoli, and homemade, ethically raised, hormone-free pork meatballs… My lunches this week are THE BOMB.

Yes I understand the ridiculousness of vegan pasta sauce with meatballs. IT’S MY LIFE OKAY? The Whole30 made me do it.

Creamy Vegan Garlic Pasta Sauce
(Adapted from The Minimalist Baker)
Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups sauce
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1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
2-3 tbsp arrowroot flour (use something else, but this makes it Whole30 compliant)
1 1/4 cup unsweetened, plain almond milk

1. Add olive oil, onions, and garlic in a medium saucepan, and sautee over medium-low heat until soft and fragrant.

2. Whisk in 2 tbsp. arrowroot flour. It will get clumpy, but don’t worry, just keep whisking!

3. Over low heat, slowly stream in the almond milk, whisking until the flour is no longer clumpy. Turn up the heat to medium, whisking the sauce until it begins to thicken to your desired consistency.

Note: If it doesn’t feel thick enough, whisk in the last tablespoon of arrowroot. If sauce becomes too *thick*, add in a splash of almond milk, veggie stock, or water to loosen the texture.

4. Arrowroot has a tendency to turn things into a bit of a gelatinous mass (yum!) so when you’re happy with the thickness, remove the sauce from heat, scrape into a blender, and let it run until the sauce has reached a velvety smoothness. Add salt and pepper to taste and blend again.

5. Serve over spaghetti squash or your noodle of choice, with roasted vegetables and maybe a little vegan parm on top if you want to get fancy! Recipe easily doubles for company or for when you want extra.

P.S. Don’t forget to wash your blender after this, yes, AGAIN.