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Paleo Challenge Round-Up: Week 16

By my count, it’s been 11 weeks since my last Paleo Challenge Round-Up. I fell out of the habit of writing these posts, but I didn’t fall out of the habit of eating paleo, with only a couple of exceptions:

  • During a trip to Seattle, I indulged in dim sum and ate a slice of chocolate cake to celebrate my nephew’s birthday.
  • In an extremely poor decision, I had a Taco Bell dinner to celebrate my weight falling below 250 lbs. (and counting)
  • Last weekend, I had lunch at Chili’s with my family, because I was starving.

Now seemed like a good time to start writing again, for two major reasons. First, I’m one of the many people who bought an Instant Pot on Prime Day, which I used for the first time to cook some of this week’s meals. Secondly, while complaining to a friend about being tired of making soup (a natural consequence of trying to eat paleo with braces), the friend suggested smoothies.

Ordinarily, when I browse recipe websites looking for food to make, my eyes skip right past smoothies. I always view them as, at best, a post-workout indulgence. This is more psychological than anything else; smoothies are too easy to make, too quick to drink, and too liquidy to be “real” food. But hell, when I slow cook meat until it’s fork-tender or grind up sausage in a food processor, how much different is that from a smoothie? (Answer: not much.) In fact, my most realistic gripe against smoothies is that they tend to have a fruity base, and I try to eat fruits in pretty strict moderation until I have my weight under better control.

On the other hand, I’m so fucking tired of soup. So… After getting the thumbs-up from my friend Marisa Moon about whether or not to trust grass-fed whey protein powder, I decided to dive right in.


Pumpkin Pie Protein Smoothie

As a banana lover, I can’t quite complain that this recipe tasted nothing like pumpkin pie and everything like a banana lightly dusted with cinnamon… But I will complain about it, ’cause I expected something a bit more akin to a Starbucks pumpkin spice latté. I didn’t find the lack of pumpkinny goodness personally offensive, yet I feel the need to note it as a recipe reviewer. I intend to revisit this with modifications, because I have a shitload of pumpkin purée on hand, and I found some of the comments on the recipe encouraging. For instance, one person omitted the banana (substituting ice, I presume) and loved it.

More importantly, another commenter subbed avocado. I found that appealing because, much as I love bananas, a major goal to rein my post-surgery-no-running-allowed-depression-induced weight gain is to restrict sugar and starch in my diet, even the “natural” sugars and starches found in fruits. Part of the challenge rules I’ve been using successfully restricts me to one handful of berries per day, with the majority of my carbohydrate intake coming from vegetables. In fact, if you’re wondering why I have so much pumpkin purée lying around, it’s because (1) when possible, I buy things I eat a lot in bulk; and (2) I learned that pumpkin is one of the starchier squashes out there, so I’ve just been sitting on this goldmine of pumpkin until I’m back down to the 220-230 range.

As you can see from some of these smoothie recipes, I’ve gone slightly off the rez just to try this out. Bananas, pumpkins, a shitload of berries—who cares? Let’s go wild!

On the other hand, avocados are one of the more nutrient-dense “superfoods” among paleo eaters. Now, I know some of you roll your eyes at the term “superfood”; I read that New Yorker article on açai berries, too. I get it. And the term can get overused, but the fact remains that not all foods are created equal. Avocado, along with my arch-nemesis coconut, stands up as one of the super-duper cornerstones of the paleo diet, a versatile cut above other choices (most of which would qualify as superfoods). I’d love to try jamming one of these bad boys into a smoothie in lieu of bananas, so look forward to my assessment of that decision next week.

Meaningless controversies aside, the reality is that many superfoods have unique tastes and essential nutrients that can enhance a diet. The fact that the majority of these foods—including ground-up, roasted insect carcasses, a unique and mildly terrifying protein source that is finding its way into paleo protein bars—are natural, paleo-friendly foods is just an added bonus. I mean, for me, the most important part of the paleo philosophy is the idea that certain types of food, grown or raised or fed in certain ways, are better than others. If I just wanted a diet where I got to eat a shitload of meat all day, I would do Atkins. For me, health and nutrition is paramount—the meat is just a bonus.

Almond/Protein Powder Variation on Raspberry and Coconut Paleo Smoothie

When I began doing this, I told myself I would attempt the recipes to the best of my ability (sometimes, ingredients simply aren’t available) before experimenting with variations on theme. Those who have read past paleo round-ups must know of my coconut hatred. So, I remembered I had a bag of unused frozen raspberries, and I tried to find a paleo smoothie recipe to accommodate it. This one came closest, but of course I substituted the coconut milk for almond milk, omitted the coconut flakes, used frozen raspberries instead of fresh, and used vanilla protein powder instead of flaxseed.

So… I pretty much didn’t make the linked recipe. I used it more as a guideline, and so my assessment might not match your experience. I will say, I was surprised by how little the raspberries sweetened the smoothie, possibly because I used frozen. I’m genuinely unsure. I love fresh raspberries because of their sweetness; I chose not to use honey, because I didn’t want to overwhelm myself. In the end, the raspberry flavor was very mild, but it complemented the banana well. I will most likely continue making this smoothie until I run out of frozen raspberries—but I think I’ll also try it at least once with fresh raspberries, just to see if it changes the sweetness.

Lunch / Dinner

Paleo Chicken Smoked Sausage Gumbo

Now, I like spicy food well enough, but I have a threshold for pain. Caitlin’s gumbo recipe exceeded that threshold, big-time, but I still enjoyed the flavor quite a bit. I would definitely put this in the “fall/winter” recipe category; hot soup is generally no fun in summer, but it’s especially no fun when it has this level of heat. I’ll definitely make revisit this…in October.

More importantly, though, this was my first-ever Instant Pot recipe, and it came out perfectly. I’m kind of in love with this thing.

Pressure Cooker Mocha-Rubbed Pot Roast

First of all, I have to say the Instant Pot cooked this pot roast perfectly. I’m truly amazed by how tender the meat came out.

I have a bigger question, though. More of an existential puzzler than anything else: was this recipe worth the effort required to make it? It’s basically a pot roast with some unique flavoring decisions. Fine, awesome. But is it a substantial improvement on the super-simple tossing of a mirepoix, some water, and some red wine into a pot with a chuck roast? Mileage always varies, but I’d have to say no. It’s fun to taste the hints of cocoa and coffee, to get a snootful of the balsamic vinegar aroma… But I’m a simple, lazy man, and I just didn’t find this recipe offered enough to improve over My Longevity Kitchen’s pot roast recipe. (I readily admit I’m shilling for my friend, but I’m an honest shill: although I haven’t formally reviewed it, I’ve made this is great recipe more than once.)

Slow Cooker Chicken Cacciatore

This week’s MVP recipe. It came out absolutely great, in spite of me using (as always) a $2.99 bottle of Walgreen’s wine. I only made two changes: ghee instead of butter, and I sautéed the “aromatics” on the stove instead of using the microwave. If the human diet didn’t require variety, I would strongly consider eating this for every meal. And yes, if you’re wondering, I can’t think about chicken cacciatore without thinking of the short-lived cartoon Camp Candy, which as we all know was on the shores of Lake Cacciatore. RIP, John Candy.


Julian Bakery Vanilla Primal Protein Powder

In the Pumpkin Pie Protein Smoothie recipe, Juli recommends Fomulx protein powder. I had trouble finding that on Amazon, so I substituted Julian Bakery’s Primal Protein Powder. Julian is a familiar brand for me, since I bought their almond paleo bread a few years back (shortly after it came out). I found the bread too small and too dry, but most importantly, I found I didn’t miss bread enough to pay a metric assload of money for specialty paleo bread (or, worse, make my own!). That said, I did once buy their paleo pizza crust mix and found it delightful.

Julian Bakery has an admirable commitment to creating paleo products and recipe mixes, so I figured for half the price, why not give it a shot? Technically, this is “primal,” not “paleo,” so it’s grass-fed whey. Not having any frame of reference, all I can say is that this powder is unobtrusive. It adds a hint of vanilla without any grit or otherwise unpleasant effects.

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