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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Giveaway Time: Vitamix S30!

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**THE GIVEAWAY IS OVER! CONGRATS TO DANIELLA H.!**

I’m still recovering from my blink-and-you-missed-it trip to New York City. When I get a second, I’ll write about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of partying at the 18th Annual Webby Awards with George Takei (okay, we were just in the same room). Plus, I got to do what I always do in NYC: eat my way through the city. But to be honest, I’m glad to be home. I’m thrilled to have this holiday weekend to make up for lost sleep and snuggles with my favorite guys.  

While I recharge, how ’bout I host another giveaway?

Giveaway Time: Vitamix S30 by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

Thanks to the fine folks at Vitamix, one lucky reader’s going to win a brand-new Vitamix S30 Blender—a $409 value!

I’ve been a loyal fan of Vitamix for years, and my trusty 5200 is still a workhorse in my kitchen. Still, I’d long eyed a more compact version of my super-powerful blender—one that takes up less storage space and can be used whenever I whip up small-volume recipes.

Giveaway Time: Vitamix S30 by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

Then, out of the blue, Vitamix contacted me a few months ago to test-drive its new personal-size blender, the S30—and as soon as I unboxed it, I knew I was in love. The S30 may be smaller, but it’s still crazy powerful. Plus, it comes with two blending containers: a 20-ounce double-insulated portable carafe and a 40-ounce unit, too.

Giveaway Time: Vitamix S30 by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

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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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Upcoming Book Signing At Hu Kitchen in NYC + A Giveaway!

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In less than two weeks, I’ll be bound for the Big Apple to receive our People’s Voice Webby Award! Thanks to those of you who voted for our iPad app, we managed to best Jamie Oliver(!) in the popular vote. (Don’t worry, Jamie fans—the Naked Chef still managed to pick up three Webby Awards!)

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NYC’s one of my favorite food cities in the world, so you can imagine how excited I am to return. This time, I’m definitely going to make it over to Hu Kitchen, Manhattan’s preeminent Paleo joint. Hu Kitchen serves up tasty, nourishing grub, and offers an incredible selection of grab-and-go options, too.

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I know: I’m late to the game. Henry’s already enjoyed meals at Hu Kitchen, a bunch of my pals have hosted book events there, and the place even has a gigantic sign outside that says “FOOD FOR HUMANS”—the same phrase I used for the subtitle of my cookbook. Honestly, I have no excuses for not visiting sooner…except for the fact that I live 3,000 miles away.

Now, with the Webby Awards ceremony around the corner, I finally have the perfect excuse to haul my butt over there. In fact, I’m excited to announce that my one and only New York City book event will be hosted at Hu Kitchen on Tuesday, May 20th at 7 pm!

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To date, I haven’t done any book signings on the East Coast, so I hope to see you at Hu Kitchen. Bring your books and/or buy them at the event, and I’ll happily scribble all over them. As an added bonus, I’ll be giving away stuff, including Nom Nom Paleo swag and a couple of Hamilton Beach slow cookers. Don’t miss out—the event is absolutely free of charge, but please RSVP by clicking here!

Not close enough to Hu Kitchen to come see me? Turn that frown upside-down, ’cause I have a thank-you giveaway that EVERYONE can enter. What’s up for grabs? Three lucky winners will receive a personalized Nom Nom Paleo prize package that includes a brand-spankin’ new copy of our cookbook, a limited edition Nom Nom Paleo action figure, a Nom Nom Paleo tote bag, and a pair of unisex Nom Nom Paleo knee socks. Anyone in the whole wide world can enter, and I’ll scrawl a personalized note in the book! (I’ll even force my kids to sign it!) Click the picture below to enter:

Giveaway Time! Score An Invite To A Private Nom Nom Paleo Dinner Party! http://nomnompaleo.com

The deadline to enter is 8 pm Pacific time on Wednesday, May 14th, so hop to it! Good luck—and I hope to thank you personally at Hu Kitchen in a couple of weeks!


Looking for recipes? Head on over to my Recipe Index! You’ll also find exclusive recipes on my iPad® app, and in my New York Times bestselling cookbook, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans (Andrews McMeel 2013).

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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Vanilla Almond Milk

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Vanilla Almond Milk by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

A while back, one of our old college pals posed an interesting question: What would the ’90s version of me think of my modern-day cave-person incarnation? Without hesitation, I blurted out, “She would’ve hated the current me.”

It’s the truth. Despite having spent my college years among the tie-dyed masses at Berkeley, ’90s-Me would ridicule my new hobbies: home-brewing kombucha, collecting bones in the freezer for broth, and soaking almonds overnight to make dairy-free milk. To top it off, the eye-rolling, Doc Martens-wearing ’90s-Me would mock any near-40-year old who still sports pigtails. Seriously: when did I become this person?

Thankfully, the 2014 version of me fully embraces my midlife crisis transformation. She would tell ’90s-Me to go barefoot, stop eating gut-irritating foods, turn off the TV, and make some almond milk already.

Vanilla Almond Milk by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

Have you ever made your own almond milk? A frosty glass of this homemade stuff totally hits the spot—particularly for those of us who are dairy-abstainers or lactose-intolerant. It’s so lumpin’ delicious that I don’t care if activating my almonds makes me an easy target. Call me an aging hippie—I don’t care.

Making your own almond milk is super simple, too. As long as you remember to soak your almonds for 12 to 18 hours, you can blitz a batch of homemade almond milk in about 5 minutes. Plus, squeezing nut bags relieves a lot of stress. (Heh, heh.)

Vanilla Almond Milk by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

There are tons of recipes for homemade almond milk on the Interwebs, like this one, this one, this one, and this one. I know I’m not reinventing the wheel with this recipe, but I wanted to share my own method for whipping up a satisfyingly creamy, nutty, vanilla-y bottle of almond milk. I don’t add any sweeteners to it (mostly ’cause this old lady doesn’t need to swig cloyingly sweet drinks like I did in the ’90s). Confession: Once upon a time, I chose to drink Zima at college parties. Don’t hate.

Let’s make some almond milk together!

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Cantonese Egg Custard with Minced Pork

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Cantonese Egg Custard with Minced Pork http://nomnompaleo.com

For as long as I can remember, I’ve harangued my mother to share her recipes for my favorite childhood dishes. She’s rebuffed me every time—in the most passive-aggressive way possible. A typical phone conversation:

“Hi, mom—what’s in your pot sticker filling? I’d like to try to make some.”

“Pot sticker filling? Ahhh…I don’t know…my recipes aren’t written down. They’re all in my head. I just…well, you know, Michelle. I just mix things together until it’s ready. I do it purely by look and feel. And smell. It’s all about experience. I’ve been making pot stickers for many years—since before you were born. Over 40 years!”

“Yes, I know—and I love the filling. If you’re not going to share with me how you make it, can you just tell me the ingredients you use?”

“Well…no. Because it changes. Sometimes, I use shrimp. Sometimes, dried scallops. But I’m telling you—it’s no use; you won’t be able to get the same quality. If you make it, it won’t be the same. How about I just make some for you and the kids instead?”

“But I want the recipe!”

“You know, my mother never gave me her recipes…”

Sigh.

Cantonese Egg Custard with Minced Pork http://nomnompaleo.com

My mother’s culinary secrets remain safely secured in her mental vault, but through trial (and plenty of error), I’ve managed to come up with my own (Paleo!) versions of a few of her insanely delicious, super-comforting home-cooked dishes.

Case in point: this simple recipe for Cantonese-style savory egg custard with minced pork, asparagus, and mushrooms.

Cantonese Egg Custard with Minced Pork http://nomnompaleo.com

The version I grew up eating usually featured not just ground pork, but also salted, preserved duck egg yolks (鹹蛋) and fresh green scallions. It was my mom’s version of emergency protein—a quick and satisfying go-to dish to accompany the four other entrées (plus soup!) that she prepared for supper every night.

You can do the same with my recipe—or just eat it without any accompanying dishes at all. Filled with meat and vegetables, this egg custard can easily stand alone as a complete meal. It’s versatile, too; if you don’t have pork or asparagus or mushrooms on hand, just grab whatever ingredients you have on hand to prepare the filling. Just be sure to use the prescribed egg-to-water ratio to ensure a silky custard.

Ready?

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Carrot + Cardamom Soup

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Hey, look! Michael Ruhlman just posted one of my favorite soup recipes from our cookbook, Nom Nom Paleo: Food For Humans!

Carrot + Cardamom Soup by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

It took many tweaks to get it juuuuust right, but this Carrot + Cardamom Soup is now my go-to recipe to showcase this lowly root vegetable in its best light. 

Carrot + Cardamom Soup by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

Carrot + Cardamom Soup by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

Check our my Carrot + Cardamom Soup recipe here, and while you’re at it, take a gander at my recent Ruhlman guest post about my own take on Paleo, too.

Carrot + Cardamom Soup by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

Carrot + Cardamom Soup by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

While we’re on the topic of Ruhlman: if you’re as crazy about eggs as I am, you must get your hands on Michael’s new book, Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient. It’s a must-have for anyone who aspires to be a serious cook. (Okay, fine: you get a free pass if you’re allergic to eggs.)

Happy cooking!