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Our Primal Experiment…

We’re deep into our  21-Day Primal Challenge; as of today we’re more than two-thirds of the way to the finish line. Based on Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint, it’s a lifestyle framework that includes a diet comprised of whole, unprocessed foods, along with plenty of exercise, sleep, sunshine, and play. When it came time to shake things up a bit (in the culinary sense at least) for the new year, this challenge seemed like just the thing to purge the holiday excess (from our kitchen) in a way that wouldn’t take the fun out of our meals.

For the most part, I’d say it’s worked well these first 16 days. We’ve steered clear of sweets with the exception of some dark chocolate (which is on the “ok” list), and we’ve been piling our plates high with veggies like cauliflower, kale, sweet potatoes. We’ve had to set aside a little more time for planning and cooking our meals, but it’s been well worth it. Some winners so far have included roast beef with a garlic-thyme jus and cauliflower gratin, chicken thighs braised in tomatoes and red wine with porcini mushrooms, pancetta, shallots, and herbs, and mussels in a tomato and wine broth with crispy chorizo. Here are a few shots from the last couple of weeks:

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One thing that we both remarked on was that neither of us feels especially different. I’m not sure what we were expecting exactly, but we’re both feeling the same as we usually do, which is to say, pretty good. There are still a few more days to go, but I’m not sure that we’ll see any drastic about-face. So unfortunately, I don’t have any insightful pearls of wisdom to impart; I think I’ll keep going on as I’ve always been – truly enjoying whatever is on my plate, whether that’s a chocolate chip walnut cookie from Levain, a pile of roasted Brussels sprouts.

Shakshuka - our first meal of 2014

A new challenge for the new year…beginning with brunch

Happy New Year! Here’s hoping that 2014 brings everyone much joy, lots of laughter, and a few adventures.

After a fantastic holiday season that’s been full of family, friends, food, and drink, my husband and I decided to kick off 2014 by embarking on the 21-Day Primal Challenge, beginning today. For those that aren’t familiar, the Primal Challenge is based on Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint, a lifestyle framework that includes a diet comprised of whole, unprocessed foods – like produce, meat, fish and nuts – the stuff most of us would eat more frequently in a perfect world.  In addition to diet, the challenge addresses several other factors that play important roles in health, such as exercise, sleep, sunshine, and play. In accordance with the challenge, here’s a short list of the things we will and won’t be eating over the next three weeks:
What’s in – vegetables, fruit, nuts, meat, fish, eggs, olive oil, coconut oil, dairy (in moderation)
What’s out – sugar & sweets, grains (including baked goods, pasta, rice, cereal, crackers and the rest), processed vegetable oils (canola, soybean, corn) and legumes
If you’re interested, you’ll find more details on the challenge here.

In all honesty, this isn’t far off the way my husband and I already cook and eat at home, but I have to raise my hand and admit to indulging in far too many chocolates, cookies, and a multitude of other tempting treats over the last few weeks. It was fun (and tasty) while it lasted, but I’m feeling a need to break out of that pattern and hit the “reset” button now that the new year is here, and I think committing to a challenge like this is just what we need to keep us honest. I’m looking forward to the next three weeks, and curious to see what, if any, changes we observe in ourselves – physically or otherwise – as a result. I’ll be posting about our experience, and of course, our meals. It’s also been a good excuse to do some menu-planning and recipe-scouting – among my favorite activities. I’ve already started compiling a roster of “primal” dishes, and I’m feeling inspired about the next few weeks.

We kicked off the challenge this morning (well, actually this afternoon) with shakshuka – our very own breakfast of champions and a perfect choice to spark our recovery from a New Year’s Day hangover. Shakshuka is a North African creation that nestles eggs inside a hearty and slightly sweet mixture of tomatoes, peppers, and onions, with warm earthy flavors coming from cumin seeds, thyme, and bay leaves. And it’s not just for breakfast – we usually turn to this go-to recipe for dinner at our house. While there are many different versions of this dish, I’m devoted to the one found in Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty, and I’ve adjusted the recipe to serve two below.

Serves 2
¼ tsp cumin seeds
1/3 cup light olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
2 bell peppers (red, orange, or yellow), sliced into ¾ inch strips
1 tsp brown sugar (see note)
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs, leaves picked
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped cilantro, plus more to garnish
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
¼ tsp saffron threads
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
up to ½ cup water
4-6 eggs (depending on your appetites)
Note: I’ve cut the sugar down from the original recipe, but I didn’t remove it altogether because it helps the vegetables brown. It only amounts to a ½ tsp (about 2 grams) of sugar per person, but you can always omit it if you prefer.

  1. In a very large pan (make sure to choose one that has a lid – you’ll need it later), toast the cumin seeds on a high heat for about 2 minutes.
  2. Add the oil and onions and sauté for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the peppers, sugar, parsley, cilantro, thyme, and bay leaf, and continue cooking on high heat for 5 to 10 minutes, allowing it to color a bit.
  4. Add the tomatoes, saffron, cayenne, and some salt and pepper, then reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. Keep an eye on the pan, and add water as needed so that the mixture retains the consistency of pasta sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Remove the bay leaf.
  5. Make gaps in the tomato-pepper mixture (one gap per egg), and crack an egg into each gap. Sprinkle with salt, cover the pan with a lid and cook over a very gentle heat for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the eggs are just set. (Note: you can also divide the tomato-pepper mixture into two smaller pans and finish each serving in its own individual pan. Make sure the smaller pans have fitted lids if that’s the case.) Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

Welcome to the dinner for two!

Welcome to the dinner for two!

I created the dinner for two to chronicle the highs and lows of sharing and preparing meals with your other half. It’s a place to share stories, photos and recipes about the meals we eat with our partners, from the everyday to the exceptional.

Thanks for stopping by! I’d love to hear from you, so if you’d got questions, feedback or just want to say hello, you can contact me here.