Paleo Lunchboxes 2014 Preview!

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Kids: Put away the gadgets ’cause it’s time to head back to school!

As in years past, I’ve teamed up with our friends at LunchBots to show you that portable Paleo lunches can be healthier and more satisfying than a soggy PB&J sandwich. From tomorrow through Labor Day, I’ll be posting a myriad of midday meal ideas that’ll (hopefully!) inspire you to take a few moments out of your day to throw some meat, veggies, and fruit into a container. These aren’t just for kids, either—grown-up eaters will have plenty to feast on, too.

Plus, for those of you who’ve requested heartier fare for bigger eaters, I’ve got you covered! This year, you’ll find even more rib-sticking meals in this lunch series. 

Come back tomorrow for the inaugural post—and in the meantime, check out the previous years’ lunches!

Slim Palate’s Pistachio-Crusted Salmon

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Slim Palate's Pistachio-Crusted Salmon by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

Know what you can get with just six ingredients and twenty minutes? A seriously sophisticated supper.

I wish I could take credit for this elegant and deceptively simple salmon dish, but I actually found it in my pal Joshua Weissman’s The Slim Palate Paleo Cookbook. At the ripe old age of 18 (yep—Josh wrote his cookbook before graduating from high school), he’s figured out that no one needs a bunch of fussy ingredients or fancy techniques to create flavorful, crowd-pleasing dishes.

Slim Palate's Pistachio-Crusted Salmon by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

Having tried Josh’s Pistachio-Crusted Salmon, I’ve decided to add it to the regular dinner rotation at our house because:

  1. I want my family to eat more fish.
  2. My kids love salmon, I know I won’t hear any complaints at the dinner table.
  3. always have the other ingredients for this recipe on hand—except for the salmon.

Thankfully, I can order sustainable seafood from Siren Fish Co. (via Good Eggs)—including some fantastic wild king salmon. I tweaked Josh’s recipe slightly to accommodate my one-pound fillet, which I divided into three portions. But don’t worry: the magical flavors and textures of this dish are all Josh.

Here’s what to gather to feed 3 people (or—in our case—2 adults and 2 pint-sized boys):

  • 1 (1-pound) wild king salmon fillet, skin on and pin bones removed
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly-ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard (I actually used the whole grain variety)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives or scallions
  • ½ cup shelled salted and dry roasted pistachios, crushed

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Nom Nom Paleo Invades Whole Foods Market!

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Hey, eagle-eyed Whole Foods Market shoppers in Northern California and Reno: Have you noticed a familiar face peeping at you from the aisles? Don’t worry, it’s not a creepy stalker lurking behind the olive bar—it’s Cartoon Me!

Nom Nom Paleo Invades Whole Foods Market Northern California! by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com No, you’re not hallucinating: Right now, at all 40 Whole Foods Market stores across Northern California and Reno, my goofy mug is everywhere. Pretty crazy, right?

Nom Nom Paleo Invades Whole Foods Market Northern California! by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

Over the years, plenty of folks have asked me how to stock their pantries, fridges, and freezers with Paleo-friendly supermarket purchases. I’ve pointed ’em in the direction of my blog, my iPad app, and my cookbook, but I know that shoppers would prefer to just see my recommendations right there while they’re shopping in the store

And now, it’s actually happening.

Nom Nom Paleo Invades Whole Foods Market Northern California! by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

Not long ago, the team at Whole Foods Market Northern California reached out to pitch a summertime partnership with Nom Nom Paleo—and how could I say no? Aside from my local farmer’s markets (and Good Eggs), Whole Foods is where I spend much of my hard-earned moolah in an effort to feed my family right. Unlike shopping at other supermarkets, I don’t have to wade through a bunch of hyper-processed Frankenfoods to locate my preferred kitchen essentials. (Also, I have to admit that the prospect of seeing my cartoon logo plastered all over Northern California Whole Foods Market locations was irresistible.)

So I got cookin’.

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Watercress With Seared Prosciutto + Peaches

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Watercress With Seared Prosciutto + Peaches by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

Heads up: A ten-minute meal comin’ your way!

I’m not kidding—this dish takes NO. TIME. AT. ALL.

Prosciutto-wrapped peaches on a bed of bitter greens is a classic Italian starter that I used to order every time I spotted it on a summer menu…’til it finally dawned on me that this dead-simple recipe can be made at home for pennies on the dollar. Yeah, I can be dense sometimes. It took this old dog a decade to learn this peachy new trick, but hey: better late than never, right?

Once ripe peaches made their first appearance of the year at the local farmers’ market, I started making this savory, sweet, and assertive summer salad on a regular basis. Can you blame me?

Watercress With Seared Prosciutto + Peaches by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

Most recipes call for grilling the porky peaches, but I’ve found that searing ’em in a skillet is a much easier and faster method. (In fact, it takes longer to fire up the barbecue than it does to prepare and eat this gorgeous hot-weather salad using a skillet.) 

Plus, I’ve replaced the usual bed of arugula with watercress. Why? ’Cause she’s the new Queen Bee of the vegetable aisle (that’s right: move over, kale), and I’ve been doing my darnedest to incorporate this nutrient-packed powerhouse into my diet. The warm peaches wilt the watercress slightly, making each mouthful  a kaleidoscope of flavors and textures.

What do you say? Ready to try your hand at my favorite summer salad?

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Crazy Clown Eggs

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Crazy Clown Eggs by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

Henry’s the artistic one in our relationship—not me. I’ve been called tricky and sly, but never crafty. (See what I did there?) In fact, when I started popping out kids, one of my worries was that I’d diluted Henry’s creative genes. Luckily, our two boys appear to have turned out more more left-brain-dominant than their right-brained mama, as evidenced by Big-O’s creepy clay sculptures and Lil-O’s colorful comics and Lego creations. Phew.

Even though I can’t keep up with the boys artistically, I do occasionally manage to come up with a fun project that convinces my spawn to put down their colored pens and join me in the kitchen.

Crazy Clown Eggs by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

The other night, as I was leafing through the yellowed and food-stained pages of my well-loved copy of Jacques Pepin’s La Mèthode, I was struck with some old-school culinary inspiration. There, mixed in with the chef’s classic (but eye-poppingly intimidating) recipes for Goose Liver Pate in Aspic and Stuffed Pig’s Feet, I stumbled upon a super-simple, kid-friendly kitchen activity:

“Hard-Boiled Eggs, Clown-Style.”

Crazy Clown Eggs by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

Yeah, you heard me right:

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I don’t know why, but I couldn’t get these insane clown faces out of my mind. So at the break of dawn, I bolted out of the bedroom and announced to my bed-headed boys that we were straight-up making Crazy Clown Eggs. 

Crazy Clown Eggs by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

What follows is Big-O’s interpretation of Chef Pepin’s jaunty clown-faced eggs, with an assist from me (I helped prep the eggs and veggies) and his pop (Henry supervised my nine-year-old’s knife work).

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The Paleo Kitchen’s Honey Mustard Chicken Thighs

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The Paleo Kitchen's Honey Mustard Chicken Wings http://nomnompaleo.com

Unless you’ve been living underground (like a good cave-person should!), you know that Juli Bauer and George Bryant just released one of the most highly anticipated cookbooks of the summer, The Paleo Kitchen. And if you  know about this extraordinary book, then I’m sure you’ve already scooped up a copy—and helped it debut on the New York Times best sellers list!

The Paleo Kitchen's Honey Mustard Chicken Wings http://nomnompaleo.com

It’s difficult for me to be objective about The Paleo Kitchen because I’m pals with George and Juli. In person, they’re exactly how you picture them from their respective blogs: Juli is smart, sassy, and funny, and George is savvy, passionate, and loyal. Together, their Wonder Twin powers activate like nobody’s business, and you can see this in their exceptional cookbook. Its pages are packed with tantalizing recipes, luscious food photography, and a whole mess ’o useful cooking tips. I love their light-hearted, devil-may-care approach to Paleo, showing folks that anyone can be fit and happy without going to extremes. 

The Paleo Kitchen's Honey Mustard Chicken Wings http://nomnompaleo.com

While George and Juli are renowned for their Paleo treats (and yes, those are pancakes on the cover of their book), don’t be fooled into thinking that  The Paleo Kitchen is nothing but desserts and grain-free baked goods. Inside, you’ll discover a healthy balance of savory and sweet dishes for every occasion. In fact, one of my favorite recipes turns out to be one of the easiest main courses in the book: Honey Mustard Chicken Thighs. I love that can throw this dish together on a busy weeknight with items that are already sitting in my kitchen. Besides: who doesn’t love honey mustard chicken, for cryin’ out loud?

When I told George and Juli how much I wanted to share this super-simple recipe with you, they generously gave me the green light. Ready to get cooking?

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Shepherd’s Pie from Russ Crandall’s The Ancestral Table

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I know, I know: potatoes aren’t “Paleo™.” And neither is white rice, heavy cream, or butter.

Shepherd’s Pie from Russ Crandall’s The Ancestral Table http://nomnompaleo.com

Well, at least according to the version of Paleo that many of us eagerly adopted when we first discovered this way of eating. But as I’ve said before

…there isn’t just one definitive, monolithic, one-size-fits-all “Paleo diet.” Some Paleo eaters choose to go super-low-carb, while others of us are happy to munch on a baked potato or a bowl of white rice every now and then. There are Paleo eaters who can’t imagine life without dairy, and more orthodox folks who refuse to touch even a pat of butter with a ten-foot pole. The Paleo tent is big enough to fit a host of different approaches, but the core tenets of ancestral eating remain the same:

  • Prioritize whole, unprocessed, nutrient-rich, nourishing foods. Eat vegetables, grass-fed and pastured meats and eggs, wild-caught seafood, and some fruit, nuts, and seeds.
  • Avoid foods that are likely to be more harmful than healthful. Especially when regularly consumed, certain foods can trigger inflammation, cause digestive problems, or derail our natural metabolic processes, including many grains, improperly cooked legumes, sugar, and highly-processed seed and vegetable oils.
  • Once a baseline of health is established, we can reintroduce some of these foods (like dairy, white potatoes and rice—not processed junk foods) to see where each of us sits on the spectrum of food intolerance.

In the beginning, I was briefly Primal (remember my early cheesy phase?) before going strict Paleo. And then, for a couple of years, I pretty much ate according to Whole30® rules, except for some dark chocolate and an occasional restaurant meal. But these days, I find that a bit of white rice and potatoes, along with heavy raw cream in my coffee, agree with me just fine.

Shepherd’s Pie from Russ Crandall’s The Ancestral Table http://nomnompaleo.com

And I’m not alone. Some think this is absolute heresy, but others of us now see Paleo as a springboard that helps us thoughtfully figure out what works best for our own health—not as a set of inflexible commandments to apply unquestioned.

That’s why I appreciate Russ Crandall so much. On his blog (The Domestic Man) and in his book (The Ancestral Table), Russ shines a light on traditional recipes for a modern Paleo lifestyle—dishes that thoughtfully re-incorporate rice, potatoes, and full-fat dairy. Some purists may scoff that Russ’ delicious and healthy dishes aren’t really “Paleo™,” but I don’t care. After all, mine aren’t, either. Also, my take on Paleo puts the emphasis on the “Nom Nom” part, and dogma leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Shepherd’s Pie from Russ Crandall’s The Ancestral Table http://nomnompaleo.com

Since Russ’s The Ancestral Table was published, it’s been a go-to resource on my overflowing shelves. So the other morning, when Big-O asked me to make shepherd’s pie for dinner, I knew just where to turn.

Shepherd’s Pie from Russ Crandall’s The Ancestral Table http://nomnompaleo.com

I was eager to make an authentic shepherd’s pie with mashed potatoes crowning the top of a meaty stew. (If you’re a tater abstainer, feel free to substitute the topping with Garlic Cauliflower Mashed “Potatoes” or make Julie and Charles’s Farmer’s Pie.)

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Panna Cotta with Strawberry Balsamic Compote

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Panna Cotta with Strawberry Balsamic Compote by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

As a child, my love for sweets was indiscriminate. I had no standards; if it was sugary, I figured it belonged in my mouth. I am, after all, the girl who used to go to bed with a sticky plastic bag of sugary drink mix powder next to my pillow.

But with age comes wisdom—and a better-developed palate. I’m turning 40 this year, and after a lifetime of mindless dessert consumption, I’ve actually become one picky mother. These days, I rarely indulge in sweets—and only when it meets my demanding standards. If I’m going to treat myself to something that’s less than healthy (and let’s face it: dessert ain’t health food), it better knock my socks off.

Homemade panna cotta is one indulgence that fits the bill. Offering up  spoonfuls of silky sweetness at the end of a meal, this Italian gelled cream custard has long been one of my favorites. Panna cotta is incredible all by itself, but a dollop of tangy fruit sauce makes it truly special. And what better topping than the classic combination of fresh strawberries and balsamic vinegar?

Panna Cotta with Strawberry Balsamic Compote by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

This recipe calls for just a handful of ingredients, but the quality and ratio of the components are critical to a good panna cotta. Let me be painfully frank: Too many people are making mediocre panna cotta. Some of the offenses I’ve seen? Overly sweet custards or toppings, poor quality cream/nut milk, and incompatible and overpowering toppings.

But the worst infraction of all? Adding too much gelatin. Yes, gelatin’s important for gut and joint health — but I’d much rather down a mug of steaming bone broth rather than chew on rubbery, over-gelatinized panna cotta. Pro tip: If you can hold a bowl of panna cotta upside down over your head with nary a care about messing up your beautifully coiffed head of hair, you used too much gelatin in your dessert. (Or you’re a total slob. Or both.)

Made properly, a panna cotta should be fragile and quivery in texture. This creamy dessert should collapse in on itself when you pierce the surface with your spoon, allowing the fruity sauce and slippery custard to mix and marry.

Panna Cotta with Strawberry Balsamic Compote by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

Panna Cotta with Strawberry Balsamic Compote by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

Now: who’s ready to make panna cotta? 

Here’s what to gather to make 4 servings: 

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Nom Nom Paleo Dinner Party At Cookhouse

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Last month, as part of a special sweepstakes on this site, twenty of my readers scored an invite to a cozy Paleo dinner party in San Francisco with me and Henry. This exclusive shindig had secretly been in works since January, when Amanda Nudelman of Disqus (the company that powers the comments on my blog!) reached out to me with an idea to create an “IRL” (in-real-life) community event. It sounded like a whole lotta fun, and I couldn’t wait to see how it would turn out.

Nom Nom Paleo Dinner Party At Cookhouse Photo by Irja Elisa Photography http://nomnompaleo.com

The deck was stacked in our favor—gorgeous venue, incredible chef, and cool peeps—but as the date approached, I began to fret. After all, our guests were picked randomly from the pool of readers who entered the giveaway, so no one would know each other. Would our dinner companions get along? Would there be awkward silences? Paleo food fights? Would I have to break out my Fake Call App to bail me out? Or would we be making 20 new friends?

Nom Nom Paleo Dinner Party At Cookhouse Photo by Irja Elisa Photography http://nomnompaleo.com

Nom Nom Paleo Dinner Party At Cookhouse Photo by Irja Elisa Photography http://nomnompaleo.com

My questions were all answered on Saturday night. And as I should’ve known, I’ve got some of the coolest readers on the planet.

Nom Nom Paleo Dinner Party At Cookhouse Photo by Irja Elisa Photography http://nomnompaleo.com

Amanda hired a professional photographer (yay, Irja!) to document the festivities, which meant Henry could actually put down his camera and enjoy himself for once. Of course, my compulsive husband ended up snapping some shots with his phone anyway because HE. CAN’T. STOP.

Nom Nom Paleo Dinner Party At Cookhouse Photo by Irja Elisa Photography http://nomnompaleo.com

Want to see how twenty modern cavepeople (who don’t know each other) party in a San Francisco loft? Then keep reading!

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Forky Friday: 5/2/14

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Forky Friday: 5/2/14 by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

It’s finally the weekend, and I bet you’d like nothing more than to kick up your heels and order takeout. I know how you feel: I, too, want to dial up my favorite Asian joint and dispatch my manservant (a.k.a. Henry) to bring home boxes of food that we mindlessly inhale in front of the boob tube.

But then I remember: the anticipation of Asian takeout is far better than the reality. Almost without fail, the greasy dishes from our local Chinese/Thai/Japanese/Korean restaurants are coated with vegetable or seed oils and feature gloppy sauces made from all sorts of badness: soy, sugar, gluten, preservatives—you name it. And I usually feel icky afterwards.

Forky Friday: 5/2/14 by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

So what’s a hungry cave lady to do when she’s cravin’ some Asian?

Answer: She calls up her pals and throws a Paleo-friendly cooking party! That way, everyone can cook together and have a great time. Don’t even stress about the menu ’cause I’ve compiled a bunch of easy and healthy Asian dishes that will please everyone!

(Please ignore the Coca-Cola can in the circa-1975 photo below. Please also ignore the fact that I’m apparently mesmerized by it.)

Forky Friday: 5/2/14 by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

Ready for some Paleo Asian dishes from me and my pally-pals?

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