Monthly Archives: October 2011

Sous Vide Cooking at Home with the SousVide Supreme Waterbath Oven

Sous Vide cooking has become all the rage in the foodie world for one simple reason: it works! Using the sous-vide method, you can cook your food to a very specific temperature, so you know it will never overcook.

Most people think sous vide means to cook in a waterbath, but the literal translation is “under vacuum.” This is because you can’t simply throw a nice Porterhouse steak into a vat of warm water—you have to seal it first. This is usually done by using one of those vacuum sealers that are meant for sealing food for long term storage (they work by sucking all the air out and then heat sealing the plastic bag). After the food has been sealed this way, you can slide it into the water without worry (I use and recommend the FoodSaver Sealer–their bags are BPA free).

So how does it work? It’s basic science, plus a piece of sophisticated equipment. You need a machine that will heat water to a very specific temperature and then hold it at that temperature without fluctuating. Prior to the release of the SousVide Supreme, there was no home-friendly device that could do this. People resorted to buying huge vats and then attaching giant water bath heaters and circulators (to make sure the water in the entire vat was held at the same temperature, and not only the water near the heater). It could cost well over a thousand dollars for this setup, not to mention it took up a lot of space and was unattractive, so this type of cooking used to be pretty much limited to molecular gastronomy restaurants like El Bulli or Chicago’s Alinea.SousVide Supreme Water Oven

The SousVide Supreme Oven, however, is an attractive appliance that sits on your kitchen countertop. It is designed to hold your water at a very precise temperature, without fluctuating more than one degree Fahrenheit higher or lower. What this means is that, if you know you like your steaks medium rare, and the perfect temperature for a medium rare steak is around 135 internal temperature, you set the bath to that temp, let it heat up, seal your steaks in a vacuum sealer bag, and then slip them into the water. Then, you just have to let them come up to that temperature all the way through. The time required depends on the thickness of the steak, but the beauty of this setup is that after the steak is done, you can let it just keep sitting there—it will never get any hotter! Your Sous Vide Supreme will hold your steak at a perfect degree of doneness for as long as you want it to! The temperature is high enough that it will prevent any bacterial growth, so there’s no need to worry about food safety—your steak has basically been Pasteurized after it’s held at that temperature for several hours (this is the same way they Pasteurize raw eggs for sale at the grocery store). When you get home, you simply need to slice the bag open, take out your steak, dry it off with paper towels, and sear it.

The searing step is an important one. While the steak is technically fully cooked and could be eaten as-is, it will LOOK unappetizing, since we are used to seeing meats that have been browned in an oven or by being seared in a pan or over a grill. So we just need to cook the outside of this steak to match our expectations of what a steak should look like. There are several ways you could do the sear. Many people prefer a butane cooking torch like the ones chefs use to melt sugar on top of crème brulees (or is that crèmes brulee? I never took French)!  My preference, though, is to simply heat up a cast iron skillet, add some clarified butter, and drop the steak in and sear it completely on both sides. This only takes about a minute or less per side—you aren’t trying to cook the steak, remember—it’s already cooked inside. Just sear it long enough to cook the outside and give it some nice browning. This not only makes the steak look the way we want it to, the Maillard reaction (which is basically browning due to caramelization) also adds the flavor of the sear that we expect when we get a delicious steak.
I tried both the torch method and the cast iron skillet method, and I have to say that I prefer the skillet. When I used the torch, I could taste the flavor of the fuel on the steak. Most people say they can’t taste it at all, but I definitely tasted it. Which is fine with me—now I have a great skillet that can be used for other things, and I don’t have to worry about buying refills for the culinary torch.

So, is the SousVide waterbath worth it? In my opinion, definitely yes. It does take some getting used to (and it took my boyfriend even longer to get over his skepticism), but sous vide cooking really is a useful tool to have in your culinary repertoire. It’s not that I cook this way every night—chicken is a staple at my house, and it would be hard to make an appealing chicken dish in the sous vide cooker—at least I haven’t found any recipes that appeal to me (if you have, please let me know below, because I’d be interested to try some). But for beef, the Sous Vide is now my favorite method. Especially since I don’t have an unlimited budget, and we often go for what’s on sale; the sous vide method can work wonders on cheap or tough cuts of meat—one of our favorites is 48 hour spare ribs. You read that right—we cook spare ribs for 48 hours. When meats are held at that temperature, enzymatic action speeds up, and after two days of being held at the perfect temperature, a tough cut of meat is turned into a delicious, tender, shockingly good dish.

Whether you are interested in this appliance for yourself, or whether you’re looking for a great gift for a foodie, this oven just might turn out to be not only a useful tool, but a fun plaything.  Like a Kenner Easy-Bake Oven for adults!

Additonal notes:

Please realize that this method requires a high-quality vacuum sealer that seals by heat; it won’t work with one of those cheaper Ziploc type pump bags–they are almost guaranteed to leak if left in a water bath for several hours.

I Just Pre-Ordered My Nest Thermostat—A Thermostat that Programs Itself and Allows Remote Control via iPhone!

I saw this pop up in the news yesterday, and I new I had to have one. I was happy to find that my old (non-programmable) thermostat could be replaced by this new “iPod” of thermostats.
nest thermostat
Nest is the brainchild of Tony Fadell, who is credited as the original developer of the iPod for Apple. Tony took a year’s sabbatical to live in Paris with his wife and kids, and near the end of the year, after thinking about what he wanted to do next, he announced his new project to his wife: a thermostat. She was baffled.  But she soon became a believer.

The Nest Learning Thermostat

Turns out, the thermostat that most people have in their house is essentially the same thermostat that people have been using for 30 years or more. Some have touchscreens or other innovations, but they are still stand-alone boxes that pretty much do one thing. Even programmable thermostats aren’t an improvement, because studies have shown that most people don’t ever learn the complicated steps to program the thermostat, or they are unhappy with its performance, so they simply place it in permanent “hold” setting—which means they are essentially using it as an analog, non-programmable thermostat.

Realizing that most of a household’s wasted energy is controlled by the thermostat, Tony Fadell thought that he could cut down on energy waste (and its concurrent pollution) by developing a thermostat that trains itself. The Nest is the outgrowth of that project. It is a thermostat that learns from you each time you turn the thermostat up or down. It recalls the time of day and the temperature setting, and it eventually learns your routine and begins to adjust itself automatically. It contains a motion sensor, so if it senses no motion for several hours, it assumes you are away from home and changes its settings to “away” mode, which means it adjusts itself to a more energy-efficient temperature—higher in the summer, lower in the winter.  It also senses when you are approaching at night and lights up for you.

But what if you don’t want your thermostat to adjust itself? What if you have a dog or cat that might prevent your thermostat from going into “away” mode? Well, the beauty of Nest is that it comes with an online account that allows you to set very specific temperature minimums and maximums, as well as setting specific times for any adjustments (these minimums and maximums will also make sure Nest keeps your pets comfortable while you’re away). It also allows you to set your account to permanent “away” mode if you go on vacation. And it does this by interacting with your computer wirelessly. As long as you have wireless internet access, the Nest can be controlled from your computer, or even via your iPhone. If you are coming home early in the middle of winter, you can pull up the app and tell it to start heating the house up before you arrive. If your family has a cabin in upstate Wisconsin and you are heading up for the weekend, you can tell Nest to make the cabin warm before you get there. So, not only is the thing energy efficient, it is also incredibly user friendly. It also trains you…when you make an adjustment that is going to save you energy, a little green leaf pops up as a sort of reward—like getting a gold star!  I can’t wait to get mine installed and try it out. It really does seem like this is something—one of the first real things—from “the house of the future.”

If you want to learn more, you can see their very nicely designed website at

The Most Perplexing Amazon Review Ever

It’s funny how things pop up sometimes.  I just stumbled across one of the most perplexing Amazon reviews I’ve ever seen.  It’s not laugh-out-loud hilarious or amazing, but it gives just enough of a hint of a situation that you’re left with nothing but questions.  It’s not like the Three Wolf Moon tee-shirt, where customers actually compete to write the funniest, most outlandish reviews ever.  It seems to be a real review.  Before I share it, a bit about how I came across it.

I have a hearing problem.  I grew up with some degree of hearing loss and then spent years working in a very loud nightclub, which damaged my hearing even more, particularly in the high frequencies.  I normally get by OK, but today my hearing loss was a pain.  I was doing laundry today.  Shirts, specifically, which require that you take them out of the dryer immediately and lay them out or hang them up, or they become wrinkled, after which you would have to “refresh” them by running the dryer for ten more minutes or so to de-wrinkle them (my dryer actually has a “Refresh” setting).  My problem is that I can’t hear the dryer buzzer, so I normally set a kitchen timer to remind me to take out the shirts.  Today, I kept missing the timer because I didn’t hear it.  I tried moving it with me into the other room, but things worked out so that I happened to be out of ear-shot every time the thing went off.  I “refreshed” my shirts four times before I finally remembered to remove them before they got wrinkled.

I realized that I needed a loud timer.  I went to Amazon and searched for “loud timer” and came across one made by ThermoWorks, the people who make my favorite instant-read thermometer, the Thermapen, which are the same ones they use on America’s Test Kitchen.  Looking at the reviews for this timer (it has a four star average, which is pretty good), there are four one-star reviews: three people who complain that it just wasn’t loud enough…and then there is my reviewer.  It’s another one star review, and her complaint is that it’s not waterproof (to be fair, it is only described as “water resistant”, not waterproof).  Here’s her review.  I’ll let you take a minute to go read it.

OK.  So the timer isn’t waterproof.  Whatever.  That’s not the good part.  Her son “loses track of time” in the shower?  How old is he?  If he’s around 13 to 18, I can tell you–he’s not losing track of time–he’s just not spending all his time in the shower actually “showering”, if you know what I mean.  He’s got something else going on.  And how long are we talking?  Is he spending 30 minutes in the shower?  45?  How much time does she allot for a shower?  5 minutes?  How does she determine exactly how long is too long?  I mean, I was raised in a poor family and I was never griped at for taking too long in the shower (well, maybe once or twice, but only in passing–my mother would certainly never have set a timer on me).  But beyond the timing issue…did her son really need to take a 90 decibel timer with him into the actual shower stall?  90 decibels is equivalent to a motorcycle or a police whistle.  Could he not have heard it if he left it on the bathroom counter or the back of the toilet?  Where did he put it?  Did he have to hold it in his hand while he was showering?  So many questions.

It may just be me, but I find this review fascinatingly odd.  Buying a kitchen timer and then taking it with you into the shower is the mark of somebody who just doesn’t function on all cylinders.  It’s like this one barista who used to work at Walton’s, Sandra Bullock’s cafe/florist/bakery in downtown Austin.  I bought a cup of coffee from him one day.  It was freshly brewed and piping hot.  There was plenty of room for cream, and I only add a little, so there was still 3/4 of an inch of room at the top.  I took it back and asked if he could give me two or three cubes of ice to cool it down (I don’t like to sip coffee–I just drink it).  He looked at it skeptically and said, “I’ll have to dump some of it out”.  I told him there was no reason, that I just wanted to cool it down a little bit–I still wanted it warm, just not hot (I also knew they have small ice cubes).  He gave me a look like he couldn’t believe I was forcing him to do this, said, “Okay,” and then took his ice scoop, scooped up a massive mound of cubes, and began shaking it about 8 inches over my cup.  Of course, 10 cubes dislodged and tumbled off his mountain of ice and landed in the cup, causing the coffee to splash out on all sides and all over everything nearby.  He threw the remaining ice and scoop back into the icebin and then picked up my coffee (spilling more in the process, since it was now full to the brim)  and gingerly tried to hand the wet cup back to me, dripping all the way.  I looked at him and asked him to set it down on the counter–I had no intention of trying to reenact a Keystone Cops routine with him as he tried to transfer the overflowing, dripping cup to my hand without spilling any on me.

I’ve worked in coffee a long time.  You don’t hand a dripping cup to a customer.  You don’t hand a wet cup to a customer.  In fact, in my view, you never hand a cup to a customer at all–the hand-off is when accidents happen, and people end up spilling coffee on each other and getting burned.  Even with a lid, I’ve seen the lid pop off when the barista or customer misjudged and managed to squeeze the cup between their two hands as they tried to transfer it.  It is much better to put the cup down and allow the customer to pick it up–especially if it has no lid!  If you spill something down the side of a cup, you either double cup by sliding a fresh cup over the spill, or you transfer the drink to a fresh cup and dispose of the old one if it’s too soggy.  And, for goodness sake, if you want to add three ice cubes to an almost-full cup, pick up three ice cubes!  Your scoop works just as well to pick up a few cubes as to pick up a whole scoopful.

It’s funny the direction this post took.  Maybe I should have called it “people who don’t have a clue.”

That boy no longer works at Walton’s.

YA/Young Adult Novel “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” by Laini Taylor: a Review

I just started reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor last week, due mainly to the glowing review it received in Entertainment weekly. I have to say, it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. It has enough teen romance (will they or won’t they/does he like me as much as I like him/has he stopped liking me?) to satisfy the legions of Twilight fans, while at the same time being a much better book.

It is the story of Karou, a young art student in Prague who has been raised by some sort of demon-like creatures called Chimaera (chimera: a hybrid of two or more creatures, such as a griffon or sphinx), and her journeys in the real, physical world of Earth and her time spent in the Elseworld where the Chimaera live. Her life is a mystery, even to her, as she doesn’t know where she came from. Her guardian and protector, Brimstone, sends her on errands all around the world to collect teeth, and although she doesn’t understand the reason he needs so many teeth, she knows that he works some sort of magic with them. In fact, she keeps a steady supply of physical “wishes” on her at all time that allow her to do things like wish her hair into a bright blue color, or even—if she could only manage to get hold of a powerful enough wish—to give herself the power of flight.

Things go awry when she happens to run into a beautiful male angel while she is on one of her teeth-gathering expeditions, and she is shocked when the angel attacks her, since she has no idea of the deep history between her friends the Chimaera and the Seraph (angels), who have been at war for centuries. Luckily, Brimstone has had her educated in many forms of offensive and defensive hand-to-hand combat, so she survives the attack, but she finds herself haunted by the questions of who the devastatingly handsome angel was, and why he attacked her on sight…and also why he stopped at the last minute, just when he was poised to kill her.

The mythos of the worlds created by Laini Taylor far surpasses the level of writing that is popular in most young adult books these days, and I would say that this book, while perhaps not thematically the best fit for adult audiences, is at least well enough written and realized that it should appeal to both adults and teens. Personally, I’m loving it. I’m currently about 80% of the way through the book, but it’s one of the rare books that I wish wouldn’t end. I’m already hoping for a sequel!

The Problem with The A-List: Dallas

I tried to watch the first episode of The A-List: Dallas, LOGO TV’s new “Housewives with Balls” series, but my boyfriend fell asleep halfway through. I have to say, I don’t blame him. The first 30 minutes was incredibly boring and repetitive. But the show has a much bigger problem than being boring: they don’t have a star, by which I mean they don’t have a single attractive person in the cast.

Being a “star” has one main requirement in my mind: you have to be nice to look at. Or at least easy to look at. These guys are passable, but none of them is any more attractive than 20 other guys I would see if I went to any gay bar in Austin, even on a slow night. The show apparently lost its most handsome cast member sometime between the show’s announcement and the debut of episode one, so it seems that they scrambled to cast somebody else as the “Reichen” (Lemkuhl) of the group. And that would be Levi Crocker. The guy seems like a genuinely nice guy with bad taste in clothing and a loose grasp of the principles of marketing (check out his Inchwear website for a laugh—it’s nothing but clothes that say “hang left” or “10 inches”—and the website is laughably primitive to boot). Sadly, while Levi Crocker is probably the most handsome of the remaining cast members, he is about ten years away from becoming Jamie Farr.

Levi Crocker MugshotJamie Farr from M*A*S*H

The rest of the cast? Well, I can honestly say that the one that I was determined to hate, the gay Christian Republican (I can’t remember his name), was the most appealing of the bunch. Don’t get me wrong…I still hate him. I just hate him less than the rest of these tw*ts. James, the drunken drama queen with an overgrowth of gum tissue, is a vacuous non-entity. The woman barely registers (and whose friend is she supposed to be anyway?) The black guy seemed harmless enough at the beginning, even going so far as to tell Levi that he wasn’t going to talk behind somebody’s back, only to then turn around and talk about Levi as soon as he stepped out of the room to use the restroom. And did I leave somebody out? Oh, yeah, the hair guy. He is an oddball. He looks like he just crawled out of bed in his wrinkly wife beater shirt, but he’s supposed to be rich or something? This was the one who was added at the last minute, after the attractive guy didn’t work out. And it’s clear that the rest of the cast barely knows who he is.

When I say that a star needs to be attractive, I’m talking about in that “movie star” way. I’m fully aware that a person can be a good (or even great) actor without being attractive. I mean look at John Turturro or Paul Giamatti or John C. Reilly. All of them horribly ugly dudes, but they are usually quite good actors (although John Turturro’s performance in Transformers almost cancelled out every bit of good will he’d built up over the years). These guys are not easy to look at, but they have *something* that sets them apart and makes them interesting. The cast of The A-List: Dallas? They are unattractive on top of being annoying. The A-List: New York is full of attractive people (by which I mean, of course, that they are people you’d want to sleep with). Reichen, Mike Ruiz, Rodiney Santiago, and Austin Armacost are all handsome men. I’ve been to Dallas and I KNOW that Dallas has many attractive men, so I am truly baffled how the producers of this show could go to Dallas and come up with THIS cast. Was it cast by straight men? Were they trying to make Texans look bad by choosing revolting characters?

OK, to be fair, I got it wrong earlier; when I looked it up again, I realized the hair guy was not the last-minute addition. That was the gay Republican. In case you’re interested, here’s the cast:
The Cowboy Hat: Levi Crocker; he thinks he’s not a stereotype.
The Black Guy: Phillip Willis; embraces the stereotype.
The Hair: Chase Hutchinson; he actually seems like the most interesting person, probably because he seems the least “A-List” of all of them.
The Woman: Ashley Kelly; sweet girl who doesn’t understand why she’s here.
The Drunk: James Doyle; will not age well; in fact…is not aging well.
The Republican: Taylor Garrett; seems like fun despite his delusions.
The One that Got Away: Beau Bumpas; announced in the original cast, he apparently realized this train was a wreck and bailed; replaced by Taylor.

Please, share your comments below!

Apple’s iOS 5 Update Has Broken the Stanza Ereader App; Amazon Apparently Intends to Kill It

My favorite and most-used app, the Stanza Ereader, was broken by Apple’s latest update, the iOS 5 operating system. I can’t tell you how much this disappoints me. By reading online message boards, it’s clear that thousands of other people are just as upset as I am.

Amazon bought the Stanza application from its developer several years ago and stopped updating the app. I suppose Amazon might argue that they wanted the code or the technology or a patent or something, but it feels an awful lot like they just purchased a popular competitor (to their proprietary Kindle App) to put it out of business. To understand the significance of this, you need to understand that Amazon’s Kindle only allows you to read books that are in Amazon’s own, proprietary format. Most ebooks come in ePub format, but you can’t read an ePub book on Kindle. Stanza was the most elegant ereading app out there. It allowed for one-touch brightness adjustment while you were reading, by simply swiping your finger up or down the screen. It also offered easy font size adjustment and many other customization options.

The Kindle app is simply not an acceptable replacement for Stanza. I have tested dozens of free ereader apps over the last two days, and the only ones that come close to Stanza’s functionality are the Kobo e-reader and Bluefire Reader. Both of these apps offer landscape locking, night mode (white text on a black background so you can read in bed without producing a lot of ambient light, so you don’t disturb anybody else who is in bed with you), a progress bar, font and margin adjustments, and many other nice features. I slightly prefer the Bluefire Reader, although it has an odd and complicated way of managing bookmarks—I prefer the simple, one-touch tap in the upper right corner, but Bluefire Reader makes you go through several steps to create a bookmark, and even then, it does not provide a visual clue on the page to identify the page as having been bookmarked.

Really, what I hope happens is that enough people get upset with the death of Stanza that Amazon decides to respond, and update the app so that its legions of fans can continue using it. I used it every single day, and, although I am normally a big fan of Amazon, at the moment I’m holding a grudge against them. You can bet they made sure the Kindle App was ready for iOS 5! If you want to tweet to @Amazon and ask them to fix the @stanza_reader, please feel free to do so! In fact, here’s an easy way to do it: copy the following text, then hit the Tweet button at the top of this article, paste it in, and send!

Please @Amazon do the right thing and fix the @stanza_reader ! #Stanza #AmazonKilledStanza #RIP

Inspiration Is Where You Find It…I Find it in Dolly Parton!

I went to see Dolly Parton at the Cedar Park Center last night, and I was totally amazed at how great she sounded. She sounded as good as she did in the 70’s, and that’s amazing for a 65 year old woman. To compare, I saw Liza Minnelli a few months ago, and her voice was definitely a shadow of what it used to be.

I saw Dolly Parton the first time when I was around 7 years old, around 1972 or 73. She has always been one of my favorites. I think she’s warm and funny, but she is also a true artist and a great songwriter. She sang a new song that she wrote for her latest album, Better Day, and although it wasn’t my favorite song of hers, some of the lyrics of this song inspired me.

She introduced the song by saying that she wanted to thank everybody in the audience for supporting her over the years, and allowing her to have such a long and amazing career. When she was just a little girl living in the Smoky Mountains, in a house with no electricity and no running water (‘unless you run down and got some’), she used to put a tin can on a tobacco stick and pretend it was a microphone, and she dreamed of being a famous singer. She went on to say that she had to work at her dreams. “You can’t just dream your dreams, you have to work ‘em, you have to put wings on ‘em and keep working them until they come true.” She then went on to sing this song, called ‘The Sacrifice.’ The song has a message of working and making sacrifices to make your dreams come true, and not giving up if you suffer a setback. Some of the specific lines that inspired me were:

“I was gonna be rich no matter how much it cost, and I was gonna win no matter how much I lost”


“I’ve often laughed and I’ve often cried, I’ve often failed but I’ve always tried”

and my favorite line of the song:

“You don’t drink the water if you don’t dig the well.”

To me, the message is not quitting when something doesn’t work out; keep trying until you do succeed.

Anyway, I was so touched and inspired by her that I wanted to share. She’s obviously an incredibly hard-working woman, and she says that she feels like she’s just getting started. I hope to see her still going strong in another twenty years. She hopes so too, as illustrated by my favorite one-liner of the night: “People ask me, ‘Dolly, what do you want people to say about you one hundred years from now?’ I want them to say, ‘WOW! She really looks good for her age!’”

Jalapeno & Cilantro Primal Pesto with Chicken and Spaghetti Squash (Also Great with Pasta)!

If you are like me and you share meals with somebody who isn’t totally following the Primal method or Paleo diet, this Primal pesto recipe is great, because it is so easy to divide the sauce, and the recipe is also low carb diet friendly, as well as wheat free and gluten free, and it can easily be made dairy free by simply omitting the parmesan—there is so much flavor from the cilantro and jalapeno that you probably won’t even miss it. You can have your portion over spaghetti squash, while the other people in the house can have theirs over pasta, if they wish. It is also a great way to use up any leftover chicken. And there is nothing sacrificed in this dish—it’s pretty much exactly the same recipe I used before I decided to go primal. I came up with this recipe after trying the Jalapeno Pecan Pesto with Cilantro that is sold in the olive bar at my local Whole Foods. It was delicious! With just a few trials, I managed to come up with a recipe that I think is even better! It’s also better than any recipe I’ve found in any cookbook.

Jalapeno Cilantro Primal Pesto

Jalapeno Cilantro Primal Pesto in Food Processor

One of the reasons I actually prefer this dish to “normal” pesto (made with pine nuts and basil) is that it is so much cheaper. Even the Italians don’t always use pine nuts (or pignoli) because they are so expensive. It is common to substitute almonds or walnuts, and both will work wonderfully with this dish. I choose to use walnuts because I can buy a huge bag of high quality walnuts at Costco, and because walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids and ellagic acid (and they taste great). Walnuts are actually the only nuts that contain omega 3s in any substantial amount, although there are trace amounts in nuts like cashews and brazil nuts. You can give your meal an even bigger boost of omega 3s by opting to mix the pesto with walnut oil instead of olive oil. The fact that this oil is consumed raw only adds to its health benefits.

spaghetti squash cooked

Squash should be easily pierced with a fork when done

One note before we begin: the leftovers from this recipe do not keep as well as most. The raw freshness of the cilantro and peppers is changed when the dish is reheated, unless it is heated very slowly and carefully (heating it too hot will cook the pesto, and will make it taste completely different, and not as fresh). This will make enough for 4 people. If you are making the dish for one, it would probably be best to halve the recipe so that you don’t have a lot of leftovers; it is so simple to throw together another batch of the pesto that I’d just wrap the second half of the spaghetti squash in plastic and keep it in the refrigerator, and whip up another batch of jalapeno pesto a few days later. The following directions do not include cooking the pasta, so, if you intend to do so, just be sure you time it so that the pasta will be done by the time your spaghetti squash is done

Primal Recipe for Jalapeno Cilantro Pesto with Spaghetti Squash and Chicken

1 medium spaghetti squash

2 large chicken breasts or 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

2 bunches of cilantro

2 or 3 jalapenos (to taste); other peppers like serranos can be substituted for a change of pace

5 or 6 garlic cloves

1 tablespoon table salt

¼ cup of olive oil or walnut oil

¾ cup of raw walnuts

Lime juice to taste (1/2 to 1 lime)

½ cup ground parmesan cheese (optional, will taste fine without, but may need additional salt)


To begin, cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise (from the stem through to the opposite end). Be very careful when doing this, because this is a very hard type of squash, and it requires a lot of force to cut through. If you aren’t careful, it is very easy to slip and injure yourself. I find it easiest to cut this type of squash by using a large chef’s knife such as the Forschner Fibrox 8 Inch Chef’s Knife (the most useful knife in my kitchen—if you don’t have a large chef’s knife, you owe it to yourself to get one; they’re only about $25 at Amazon). Start by securing the squash by laying it on a folded towel on your countertop or cutting board. Then, pierce the side of the squash by driving the tip of the knife straight down into the flesh until it is embedded. Carefully but firmly force the knife to cut slowly through the squash, turning the squash as necessary to make sure that you are always cutting downward toward the cutting board. Once it is cut in half, scoop out the seeds and membranes and discard.

spaghetti squash being shredded

Use a fork to "shred" the squash, which should come apart easily

Add about ½ cup of water to a microwave-proof pie plate such as a Pyrex plate (if you don’t have one, a bowl will also work). Place one half of the squash cut side down into the plate. The cut edge should be in the water or just above it. Cover the plate and squash with plastic wrap and place in the microwave and cook on HIGH for 12 or 13 minutes.

While the squash is cooking, you can get started on the chicken. If you have leftover chicken, simply cut or tear it into bite-size pieces. If you are starting with fresh chicken, you have a choice to make. You can cook it however you prefer. I used to use a George Foreman grill, and then let it rest for a few minutes and chop it up, but I no longer have that type of grill, so now I cut the raw chicken into bite size pieces and give it a quick sauté. I will leave this step up to you…cook your chicken however you prefer, but make sure that it is thoroughly cooked. Set it aside to rest while you assemble the pesto.

spaghetti squash in bowl

Squash in the serving bowl--no need to oil or moisten, because it's not starchy

To put together the actual pesto, simply put the rest of your ingredients in your food processor with the blade attachment. Add the two bunches of cilantro, stems and all (you may wish to pick off any dead leaves and cut a short length from the bottom of the stems, but the stems are full of flavor, so retain as much as possible). Press the garlic through a garlic press and into the bowl with the cilantro (or simply toss in the cloves if you prefer a chunkier texture). Stem and seed the peppers (discarding the seeds and membranes) and add the peppers. Add all of the remaining ingredients to the bowl. Place the lid on the food processor and turn it on. You can choose to run it for only twenty seconds or so if you prefer a chunkier texture, but I prefer to run it for at least a full minute to make a very smooth pesto. If the cilantro is not mixing properly, you can stop and scrape down the bowl and go again. You can also add a bit more oil if it seems to need more liquid in order to blend properly.

Primal pesto being tossed together

Primal chicken pesto in the serving bowl, ready to be tossed together

When the spaghetti squash is done, (it should be easy to pierce the top side with a fork or knife; the skin is a bit leathery, but the flesh inside should be easy to pierce), slide that side out of the pie plate onto a dinner plate and set aside to cool for a bit. Add more water to the dish and cook the second half of the spaghetti squash as before (wrapped in plastic, microwaved on high for 12 or 13 minutes). After the first half has cooled for about 5 minutes, you can begin assembling the final dish. Turn the squash so the inside is facing up (using a hot pad if necessary) and use a fork to “shred” the squash apart into “noodles”. If you‘ve never done this before, it’s quite simple…just stick the tines of the fork a short depth into the flesh of the squash and pull toward the bottom of the squash. The strands will start to come apart quite easily and you will quickly have a mass of spaghetti strands in the shell of the squash. Dump these strands into a medium bowl that you will use to serve your Primal Pesto. Continue to shred the squash until all of the flesh has been shredded. In the end, you should have a very thin, tough shell, with only a few pieces of squash still stuck to the inside. You can discard the shell at this point.

If you are going to separate the pesto into two batches so that some of it can be used for a non-paleo or non-primal eater, set aside an appropriate portion of the pesto. Add the rest of the pesto to the spaghetti squash in the bowl. Divide the chicken similarly (setting aside some to go with the other portion of the pesto), and add the remaining chicken to the bowl. When the other half of the spaghetti squash has finished, shred it as before and add it to the bowl (you may let it cool for a few minutes if you wish in order to make it easier to handle). Stir, taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve!

Jalapeno Cilantro Primal Pesto on a Plate

Jalapeno Cilantro Primal Pesto on a Plate

Just a few notes about the development of this paleo pesto sauce recipe: I wanted to see if I could boost the omega 3 essential fatty acids even more, so I decided to try substituting flax seed for the walnuts. Let me tell you, it was a mess! Flax seed can be ground into a meal, but if you try to grind them with a food processor, they suddenly release their oil–which is quite thick–and the whole thing turns into a giant ball of gum! I ended up with chunks of gummy pesto instead of a pesto sauce!  One tablespoon of salt may sound like a lot, but you have to keep in mind that this is a sauce, and the salt has to season the chicken and the “spaghetti” as well, so it really isn’t that much.  If you choose to leave out the parmesan, you may want to add even more salt.  During the time while you are waiting for the second half of the squash to cook, you don’t need to do anything special to the spaghetti squash (such as oiling it) to keep it from sticking together, as you would need to do with pasta; pasta is starchy and therefore tends to clump together, while this vegetable is low in starch (low starch=low carbs).

I have plans for more primal chicken and paleo chicken recipes, so stay tuned! I worked on my Primal Jambalaya Recipe last week and this week, and it needs only a few more tweaks before it’s ready.