Paleo Shepherd’s Pie, Take Three


The third time’s a charm on Shepherd’s Pie. I looked over several Paleo and low-carb shepherd’s pie recipes to come up with this. I originally tried a Shepherd’s pie recipe from The Primal Blueprint Reader Created Cookbook. It was very good, but Jewel doesn’t like green beans or green peas. So then I tried Robb Wolf’s recipe, sort-of, but I had trouble following directions, and while the bones look really cool sticking out of the dish, I found bone marrow slimy and disgusting, and I didn’t like transferring the ingredients to another dish. So I tried to combine the best aspects of these recipes and add my own food knowledge to develop this recipe. A chef’s secret for fabulous mashed potatoes is to use chicken fat, garlic and plenty of butter. Since the topping for traditional Shepherd’s pie calls for potatoes, I wanted my cauliflower topping to be more reminiscent of mashed potatoes. Browning the meat separately gave the dish a fuller flavor. I can’t take credit for that one – it was Mom’s idea.

Paleo Shepherd’s Pie
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
5-6 cloves garlic, peeled
Butter and/or chicken fat, about 2T total
Sea salt to taste
4 slices bacon
2T bacon fat (if using leftover bacon)
1 small onion, minced
1 pound grass-fed ground beef
2 carrots, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
10oz pkg butternut squash
3/4C beef stock (pot roast stock, or other flavorful homemade stock)
1 tsp fresh thyme
1/2 T fresh rosemary
1T fresh oregano
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425. Place chicken fat and/or butter on a roasting and place in the oven while it is preheating. I had a combination of these fats leftover from the drippings from roasting a chicken. When the fat is melted, place the cauliflower florets on the roasting pan and toss to coat in fat.

Roast cauliflower on 425 until done, turning frequently, about 35 min. Set aside. Turn oven down to 350.

If you don’t have leftover bacon from breakfast, fry some up now. Remove bacon from pan to drain but leave bacon grease in pan. Otherwise start with 2T bacon fat, heat dutch oven over medium-low, and add onions to hot fat. Sauté until golden.

Add ground beef. Sauté until meat is cooked through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. The onions will absorb into the meat an pass undetected. I mention that just in case this is an issue in anyone else’s family.

Remove meat with a slotted spoon.

Sauté vegetables in Dutch oven until tender, about 10 minutes.

I like the Stahlbush brand of frozen fruits and vegetables. However if butternut squash is in season you could certainly use fresh.

Add the meat back into the pan.

Pour stock into pan and stir until it is mostly absorbed.

Purée cauliflower and garlic in food processor.

Spread cauliflower evenly over the top of the filling.

Bake for 20 minutes.

I served this with steamed kale. This is the most flavorful way I have found to make a Paleo-friendly Shepherd’s pie. Cooking the meat and the vegetables separately allows the meat to retain more texture and flavor. A hearty stock makes a difference here as well. I preferred the roasted cauliflower hands down to the bitterness of steamed cauliflower. This recipe is a great way to stretch a pound of meat to feed 8 people instead of 4 for those on a budget. You can substitute other vegetables that are in season or that your family likes for the ones that I chose in the filling.

Hamburger Soup

4/8/2012 edit: Happy Easter! Please come visit my recipe on Easy Natural Food’s Sunday Soup Night!

Dotty writes:
This trip home has been a walk down memory lane. I had requests for Hamburger Soup and Raspberry Bavarian Pie [stay tuned for a Paleo version in an upcoming post], two recipes that were a staple of our family. Hamburger soup brings back memories of my childhood. My mother (Jennifer’s grandmother) was known for her hamburger soup. As I recall, we started having it quite often about the time that Dad had back surgery and was on disability. With the big vegetable garden in the back yard and my dad’s love of all vegetables in season, the recipe would vary with the seasons. I sometimes called it stone soup, since it could be stretched to feed our large family and any relatives or friends who showed up. Of course, we had homemade egg noodles or egg dumplings in the soup (not too paleo).

In looking for a recipe as a guideline, since I seldom use recipes, I looked in Iowa church cookbooks and then remembered my Christmas present from my brother and sister in law, Jerry and Pauline Kramer.

And, there I found my guideline for today’s version of Hamburger Soup. We made some variations based on family and diet concerns. Starting with Jen’s beautiful home made beef consommé instead of my usual canned or packaged beef broth, the result was wonderful, flavorful and hearty.

Hamburger Soup

1.5# ground beef
2 small or 1 large white onion
3 celery ribs, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1/2 small head of cabbage (about 2 cups shredded)
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp granulated garlic
1.5 T salt or to taste
1/2 tsp black pepper or more
2.5 C cauliflower florets
1 28oz can tomatoes, undrained
About 2 quarts homemade beef broth
Fresh thyme, parsley and rosemary

Brown the ground beef in a large stock pot. You want to have some chunks of meat, so don’t break it up completely.

Add chopped onion and sauté until soft.

Add celery and carrots and continue to sauté.

Secretly add cabbage when no one is looking. Jen’s paternal grandmother didn’t tell her kids that their favorite soup contained cabbage until they were adults. As a child I loved to help out in the kitchen and be first to grab the heart of the cabbage. What a nice crunchy treat, doubt that I knew it was also healthy for me. I still love the cabbage cores.
Also add the two cloves garlic. Add salt, pepper and granulated garlic.

Add the beef stock.

Bring to a simmer.

Jen writes: Add the tomatoes. I like this brand of tomatoes because the can is BPA-free. Cook for about an hour, then add the cauliflower. I remember calling this “dumpling soup” when I was a kid. I don’t really care for dumplings anymore, but I thought that the cauliflower florets would be a healthy substitution. We didn’t have cauliflower in our soup growing up. Add the fresh herbs and adjust seasoning to taste. We needed extra salt because my homemade stock was unsalted. It helps to have someone else do the tasting. Mom would often have me taste a soup or sauce that she was cooking to make suggestions on the seasoning. Cook for another 30 minutes or so. You could also make this recipe in a crockpot and cook it all day on low.

Optional: cook pasta separately for family members not following a Paleo diet.

We had the girls guess what orecchiette meant. Dora was tickled to learn that it meant “little ear”.

Jen writes: This is my place-setting. The non-Paleo eaters had the option of serving the soup over pasta. The soup was just as delicious as I had remembered it. Dora couldn’t believe we were torturing her like this, but Jewel ate the soup heartily. I knew she really liked it when I had leftovers last night because chewing made my head hurt. She said, “no fair – I want soup too!” So she had hamburger soup alongside her hamburger!

Just a Minor Head Injury

We interrupt this irregularly scheduled Paleo/Primal cooking blog to report the mildly humorous anecdote of my head injury.

Last night I was minding my own business surfing the Internet on my iPad at the kitchen table, eating a bedtime snack. Suddenly I felt faint and called for Tom, who was in the study. This is the one time I’ve ever wished that I had the whiny and controlling sparkly vampire Edward Cullen in my life with his superhuman speed. As it was, I knew that I had knocked over my water glass, but at the time I didn’t realize I knocked it over by banging my head on our glass table. Tom attempted to get me to the couch, but apparently I morph into a slippery wet noodle in my unconscious state, so I slipped through his arms and banged my head again on our hardwood floor. Nice. See, Edward would find me totally hot, because I am WAY klutzier than Bella. Not many people can manage to pass out and hit their head not once but twice! At some point I also banged my left shoulder and my right hand.

I actually agreed that Tom should call 911 and have them send an ambulance. That should tell you right there that I had a pretty bad concussion. Of course this all happened about 10pm and the girls were asleep, so Tom called Mom to come over as well. Mom was impressed that I was able to get so many good looking men in the house at one time. My blood pressure was a fairly crappy 85/54, but that is compatible with life so I figured Tom could just drive me to the ER. I was alert enough to realize that I was wearing a tank top from Ale Asylum Brewery, so I asked Mom to grab me a sweater. By this time both girls had woken up. Dora was sobbing and needed a lot of reassurance that I would be ok. Jewel told Tom to leave her alone and let her sleep. She later told me that she wasn’t worried about me. She said, “if a mountain lion tried to eat you he’d just spit you out, because you’re so tough!” I’m still not sure if that was meant as a compliment.

We went to the Huntsville Hospital emergency room because I think that our ER staff and doctors do a fabulous job, and if I had to be admitted, this is the hospital where I’d want to be an inpatient. I was impressed with the courtesy and friendliness of all the employees we met, from the gentleman who helped me out of the car to a wheelchair to the nurse who put up with my coping mechanisms of sarcasm and inappropriate humor. Apparently normal people only go to the ER late at night if they are actually bleeding from head or having a heart attack. I was trying to play on Pinterest in the ER waiting room, but I just didn’t have that level of concentration. So I decided to people watch and eavesdrop instead.

These are some of the things I saw and overheard:
“When I was in jail I had an infection and they barely got me to the hospital in time. They’re lucky nothing happened to me. They would have had a lawsuit on their hands.” The spooky thing was that he said “when I was in jail,” like I would say, “when I was in college,” or “when I lived in Wisconsin,” you know, as if it were just a normal place someone might live.
There were several very obese men wearing some sort of St. Patrick’s Day t-shirts. I hoped they hadn’t been wearing them since St. Patrick’s Day.
“I’m really afraid of MRSA. See how I’m sitting in this chair? I ain’t touching nothing! Last time this lady sat next to me and said she had the flu and she was touching my shoulder! I use lots of hand sanitizer. I’m not a germaphobe. I’m like a germ FREAK!” She went on and on in this fashion until it became even more tiresome than late-night television. If I had had more wherewithal, I would have planted myself next to her and told her how awful it is being an MRSA carrier just to see what she would do.
Has anyone heard of a brooch piercing? Yeah, me neither. Had to look that one up.
“I’m 21 – I don’t have do what he says, right?” asked a slender, black-haired young lady, who proceeded to run out the ER door into the parking garage.
A young white man with a baseball cap set at an odd angle on his head paced around defiantly in plaid capris and a contrasting plaid shirt. And I was worried about wearing a tank top from a brewery! Tom was the only one in the waiting room who had out-dressed me, since he had changed into long pants.
What really struck me was there seemed to be a group of people who just regularly hung out at the ER! I didn’t catch why any of them were there. Ha ha, get it? Ok, I’m still going with the head injury excuse.

The ladies in triage were happy to joke around with me. One of them even had a DNR bracelet around her stethoscope. Going to the ER has been one of my nightmares. I am allergic to all NSAIDs, have chronic back pain and take Lortab or Percocet at night for pain, so I might as well have “drug seeker” tattooed on my forehead. It didn’t help that Tom blurted out, “she has chronic back pain. She takes Lortab!” In spite of this, the triage nurse treated me with courtesy and respect. It probably helped that I wasn’t writhing and moaning and begging for pain medicine. That strategy didn’t seem to be working for the woman in the waiting room with multiple facial piercings. I received an allergy bracelet and a fall risk bracelet. I really wanted a DNR bracelet, but I was concerned about flunking the psych eval, so I let it slide.

Tom said we had been in the waiting room for 2 hours before I was called back, but for me it was like being at the circus, so it felt more like 30 minutes. What was awesome about getting a room was that I got to lie down! Although I’m a light sleeper, I fall asleep easily, and I can sleep anywhere if I can rest my head. I fall asleep in the dentist chair, in the car (only as a passenger) and in yoga class during savasana. This is a disadvantage for watching movies, but most of the time it’s an asset. So I gladly climbed on the stretcher, accepted a folded sheet as a pillow substitute and made myself comfortable. My nurse, Joseph, was super nice. He did scour around trying to find a pillow for me, but there were none in the house. I explained to Tom that patients take them with them when they are admitted to a regular room, so the ER always runs out. I also showed Tom how the respiration monitor worked until he told me to cut it out and stop hyperventilating. I explained that if you pat your chest quickly with your hand, it looks like v-tach, but I didn’t demonstrate that.

The doctor came in and assessed me, I believe for the difference diagnoses of stroke, heart attack and brain injury. I was careful not to talk too much in order to avoid a psych eval. I passed the physical exam handily.

Joseph came back into the room and rather apologetically asked if I could get a urine specimen. I figured they would want a urine specimen, so I had been holding it for this very request. I have 2 children, so my bladder capacity is approximately 3 gallons. The urine collection device pictured above is missing one key item – the instructions. I guess they were too large to be pictured. I’m not sure how they even fit in the box. They were about the size of a road map and printed in size 5 font. I had great difficulty reading them at first, but then I realized I was on the side printed in Spanish. The English wasn’t much better. It read something like this:
1. Remove all clothing that you want to keep from being soaked with urine and hang it on a hook (not provided).
2. Without touching any of the items, remove them from the box and place them on a sterile field on a table (neither provided).
3. Use one hand to separate the labia. With the other hand pick up the cleansing cloth. With your third hand tear open the package and wipe yourself. Repeat three times. Throw the empty packets on the floor since the waste basket is 4 feet away from the toilet.
4. Start urinating in the toilet. Without stopping your stream, lower the enormous urine collection apparatus into the toilet and collect just enough to fill the cup without overflowing the funnel or urinating all over your hands, your feet and the floor.
5. Since the funnel has no urine in it and is completely dry, gently twist off the funnel. Without touching the cap, screw it onto the urine container.
6. Write your name, medical record number and major credit card number on the label (provided) with a permanent marker (not provided).

I think Joseph was about to call a code when I emerged from the bathroom about 45 minutes later. It turned out that they wanted to run a pregnancy test on me. That was almost as flattering as getting carded when buying $200 worth of groceries! I guess they wanted to make sure I wasn’t pregnant before they x-rayed my shoulder and did a CT scan of my head. I managed to sleep in the hallway waiting for my turn for an x-ray and during my CT. The transporters and everyone in radiology were friendly and polite but also let me sleep. Tom wasn’t fairing as well trying to doze off in a hard chair while listening to the patient across the hall carrying on.

The final results: I fainted (duh) and I had bruises on my head and shoulder (duh) but neither my skull nor my shoulder were fractured. “All that for nothing!” Tom muttered. Lessons learned here? Bring your own pillow. That’s all I got.

Oh, except a double rainbow. Isn’t it awesome? According to Dora, flying unicorns make them with their butts.


Mango Avocado Kale Salad

This is another recipe I found on Pinterest, and I was drawn to it because of its visual appeal. It already feels like summer here in Alabama, and I’m in the mood to eat salads and fruit. Champagne mangoes (also called honey or yellow mangoes) have been a favorite fruit of mine for many years. They are in season now, so grab some while you can get them. Kale is a recent welcome addition to my family’s diet. Neither Tom nor I grew up eating kale, but recently I’ve been including it more often, steamed with some olive oil, as kale chips, or even for breakfast!

Massaged Kale Salad with Mango and Avocado from Healthy Food for Living
Ingredients (4 servings):
1 bunch lacinato (dinosaur) kale, leaves torn from the stalks and thinly sliced (I used regular kale)
1/4 cup Lime Olive Oil, such as Boston Olive Oil Company Whole Fruit Persian Lime (alternately, you can use 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil + 1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice – this is what I did)
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tsp agave nectar or honey
2 ripe champagne mangos, peeled, pitted, and diced
1 ripe but firm avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds
1/4 cup toasted unsweetened flaked coconut

Toast the almonds and coconut in the oven or in a dry skillet on the stove top, taking care not to burn them (more than once). In a large bowl, toss the sliced kale leaves with a small drizzle of the olive oil and a bit of Kosher salt; massage with your hands until the kale softens and wilts, about 2-3 minutes. Since Dora is our resident massage therapist, I recruited her for this job.

In a small bowl or jar combine the remaining olive oil, honey, and salt & pepper to taste. Whisk or shake until well-combined. This takes some doing if your honey is thick like mine was.

Toss the massaged kale with the dressing and add in the diced mango and avocado.

Serve at room temperature topped with the toasted sliced almonds and flaked coconut. I added 1/2 can of salmon to each portion when we had leftovers for lunch. Mom and I really liked this salad and ate it for several meals. It kept very well for 3 days. The combination of sweet and bitter flavors and the combination of textures were delightful. The rest of the family decided they didn’t like raw kale. Their loss!

Big Fat Chicken Nuggets & Parsnip Fries


Mom joined Jewel and me for our Monday night cooking. Mom had made a breaded chicken breast recipe recently that she thought the girls would like. I found this recipe which was similar but called for mayonnaise instead of bread crumbs. Mom was not convinced that this was all that healthy of a substitution but she want along with it. The girls really liked the honey mustard sauce last time I made it, so I made it again to go with the chicken breasts. Mom asked if Dora would eat a chicken breast, and I told her I thought she would if we called them big fat chicken nuggets. After the recent success of the parsley root fries, I decided to try parsnip fries.


Melt in Your Mouth Chicken Breasts
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 C homemade mayonnaise
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons seasoning salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Preheat the oven to 375. Shred the cheese. Jewel found this to be hard work!

Mix together the cheese, seasoning salt, pepper and garlic powder.

Randomness courtesy of Jewel. If you don’t have any homemade mayonnaise go ahead and make that. Stir one cup of mayonnaise into the dry ingredients.

Place chicken breasts on a baking sheet. We lined it with parchment paper for easy clean-up.

Top chicken breasts with sauce.

Bake for 45 minutes. We topped them with fresh parsley to make them look fancy.

Roasted Parsnips
1 1/2 pounds of parsnips (or so) peeled and cut into 2 1/2 inch batons
4 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup of stock – turkey stock, chicken stock or vegetable broth, preferably homemade
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
4 teaspoons drained, bottled horseradish
1/2 Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 Tbsp minced chives (we didn’t have any so we just left them out)
1/2 small garlic clove, minced.

Cut parsnips into exactly 2-1/2″ sticks, ensuring that all sticks are precisely the same width. That’s how I teased Jewel when I saw her perfect handiwork. Actually it is nice if they are all about the same size so they all get done at the same time. This is a good job to delegate to an older child or a spouse who is an engineer-type.

Pour olive oil in a roasting pan, add salt and pepper.

Place the parsnips in the pan and toss with oil. Add the broth and cover pan with aluminum foil, put in hot oven. The recipe says to cook at 400 but we kept the oven at 375 until the chicken was done.

Cooking can be hard work! Take a break and get off your feet for a few minutes.

Check the parsnips at 20 minutes. Stir them and return to the oven. We may have taken the foil off at this point. Check parsnips frequently so that they don’t get mushy.

I think we baked them for about 30 min.

Honey Mustard Sauce
3-4 Tbsp of honey
1.5 tsp mustard powder
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1/2 tsp sea salt
pepper to taste
1/4 C oil (I used a combination of olive, walnut and toasted sesame oil)

Put honey, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper in blender or food processor.

When well combined, keep the blade running and slowly drizzle oil in. Blend for 10 seconds after oil is fully combined. Taste test and adjust flavor as needed.

When Dora got home from Lacrosse practice she asked what we were having for dinner. I told her, “big fat chicken nuggets,” and she responded, “like Sammy?”

Everyone was very pleased with this meal. Oh, we also roasted Brussels sprouts for our green vegetable. The chicken breasts were very moist and flavorful. The leftovers were great additions to salads. I was concerned that the sesame oil flavor might be too strong for my family, but they all raved about the honey mustard sauce. I think that the sesame was a nice balance to the sweetness of the honey. The parsnips were flavorful, but the texture was softer than I would have preferred. Next time I will omit the broth and roast them uncovered. One option if you want to make the chicken breasts on a weeknight is you could prepare the sauce ahead of time. If you have plenty of fridge space you could even top them with the sauce and store in a casserole dish with a lid. Then you could just pop them in the oven when you get home and make some vegetables while the chicken is baking.