effortless slow cooker ghee

One of the things we use a lot of around the house is butter, and while the whole 30 doesn't out and out forbid it (dairy! bad!), they do recommend using ghee, instead -- a clarified butter that you'll often find used in Indian dishes. If you've ever browned butter, then you'll find it very similar, except without any of the nutty, crunchy burned milk solids that make it the perfect way to serve pasta with fried sage, or dress poporn (oh yes. YOU know you want to try it now) or make rice krispie squares. 

Now I'd like to make some brown butter, too. 

But back to ghee. This recipe couldn't really get much easier, and once it's done you can use it in everything from baked goods to slathered on fresh bread, or in a curry. Since it doesn't smoke easily, it's perfect for anything you're putting into a frying pan. I love it with scrambled eggs.  

To make ghee, take some butter (as much as you want. 1-2 lbs is great depending on how big or small your slow cooker is), put it in your slow cooker, and set your slow cooker to high (or 4 hours). Prop open the lid with a utensil, like a chopstick, or in my case, a spurtle to let the steam out. No need to stir. At the end of the four hours, strain the (WARNING: HOT!!!) ghee through two or three layers of cheese cloth into clean glass jars. Let cool, toss in the fridge, and voila, you've got ghee! 

Use it for everything. 

Homemade Ghee

Ingredients

  • Butter, the higher the fat, the better (I like to use 84% Sterling Creamery butter. You'll often find it in your grocery store as "Amish Butter" too). At least 1lb. 2.5 lbs makes ~ 1L of ghee

Put the butter into your slow cooker, and turn it up to high, or to four hours, if your slow cooker measures in time. Come back in four hours. 

Strain the beautiful golden ghee (it will be clear on top with an opaque layer of golden milk solids on the bottom. There may also be a thick white foam on top as well. All good! 

Over one or more mason jars, secure three layers of cheesecloth with a little bit of give (the weight of the milk solids will bring them down a bit. Ladle the hot ghee over the cheesecloth into the mason jars one scoop at a time, or just go for it and pour the contents of your slow cooker over the cheesecloth all at once. Ghee is SUPER hot, so wear oven mitts (we use Ove Gloves and they're hand-savers) or something to protect yourself from getting burned. 

Remove the cheesecloth, being careful not to spill anything into your new, beautiful jar of clear ghee. Let the hot liquid come to room temperature and then close the lid and place in the fridge for safekeeping. Ghee should keep in your fridge for up to two weeks, if you can manage not to use it all up before then. Good luck! 

whole 30-ing again

When Brett and I did the Whole 30 diet back in March, after returning from four weeks of gluttony (namely wine, cheese, dutch pancakes and croissants) in Europe (see also, Belgian beer), I really wasn't sure if I would be able to make it work. The first few days were agony, as my body detox'ed from sugar, booze, and of course, bread. 

What it did do, after a while, was change the way that I thought about what I ate. Bread no longer became a staple in our house, my stash of english muffins replaced by the very occasional loaf of focaccia from Bread by Us, or a loaf of Art Is In's garlic and rosemary sourdough. It became a treat. As did most other grains. Quinoa? Rarely. Chickpeas? Never. Dairy products? Except for cheese, which also became a decadent treat, it was out. I buy cream for other people's coffee, and that's pretty much it. Before the diet, these were staples of my everyday mostly-vegetarian diet, and all of a sudden, I just didn't need them any more. 

The truth was, I didn't need a lot of things. And those things mostly included sugar, grains, alcohol, legumes, and dairy. And since we finished the diet in April, having each lost a respectable amount of weight, we couldn't just go back to the way things were. Especially because we both felt amazing. 

2014-08-30 14.56.29.jpg

But, summer, it has a way with twisting your arm. Gelato here and there, afternoon beers on the porch, carb-loading for long bike rides, family visits. Add them all up and we're ready for a bit of a break again. The last time we did this diet, the number one question I was asked was "BUT WHAT DO YOU EAT?!" I thought I'd start by keeping track of what fills ours meals and snacks for a change. We started our second whole 30 yesterday, so here goes nothing. 

Breakfast

Usually some combination of the following + coffee:

  • 1 cup of papaya chunks, 1 banana, 1 medjool date
  • apple slices with pecan butter (recipe courtesy of Cookie & Kate)
  • scrambled or fried eggs with an avocado. sometimes sausage or bacon. 
  • sliced pineapple with whipped coconut cream
  • hardboiled egg + a cup of soup
  • homemade applesauce
  • fresh berries
  • KIND fruit + nut bar (in a desperate "gotta run to this meeting!" kind of pinch)

Lunch

Sometimes leftovers, sometimes one of these or a combination of a couple:

Dinner

While it can sometimes get a bit challenging, so far we've eaten great dinners. These are just a few. 

  • roasted potato, (no sugar) bacon, and scallion frittata (2 wedges)
  • spicy green beans with garlic, ginger, green onions and sriracha (based loosely on this recipe but Whole30 compliant)
  • thai red curry with vegetables (broccoli, snap peas, carrots and red peppers)
  • homemade aloo gobi
  • pulled slow-roasted pork "tacos" with romaine lettuce shells, red cabbage slaw, quick pickled red onions and homemade guacamole (avocado + lime)
  • roasted chicken + salad
  • oven-roasted vegetables
  • curried butternut squash soup with crispy brussels sprout chips
  • kale salad with apples, radishes and walnuts

Snacks

I feel no guilt at all about snacking on this diet! 

  • a handful of carrot sticks
  • a clementine orange
  • medjool dates + dried calmyra figs
  • a handful of toasted pecans
  • homemade applesauce
  • spoonful of pecan butter
  • sliced cucmbers + cherry tomatoes
  • half an avocado
  • a chunk of fresh coconut with pureed mango sauce
  • roasted cashews, mixed nuts, or almonds
  • grapes
  • pomegranate seeds
  • and so on

Update: We're two weeks in, and other than a couple of hiccups (we caved an ordered pizza and drank a bottle of wine on Friday night), the diet is great. The one thing I love about it is how clear my head feels - I feel smarter, more productive, and clear-headed, with or without my daily coffee. 

Post-Europe Detox: Eliminating all the Things

After a solid three weeks of non-stop Schnitzel, Belgian beer, Dutch pancakes, French pastries, and SO MUCH WINE, we knew when we got home from Europe (more about that later) that it was time for a serious detox. We took advantage of our empty fridge and pantry and filled them with only things that are Whole30 friendly. This means we excluded all grains, sugar, dairy (mostly - I've kept full-fat greek yogurt for protein), legumes, alcohol, and anything that we would otherwise consider to be processed junk. I made a MASSIVE grocery list (I think 90% of it was eggs and avocados).

If you're not familiar with the Whole30, it's essentially a more restricted version of Paleo eating for a set amount of time (30 days), designed to give your body a chance to reset and eliminate things that may not be so great for you.

Those who know me already know that I'm not much of a diet person. I eat what I'd like, though we tend to lean towards pretty healthy foods anyway. Most of our diet is vegetarian, with the occasional piece of meat or fish at a restaurant, and of course, every almost-vegetarian's weakness: an occasional slice or three of bacon. 

List in hand, we headed off to Farmboy to collect a ton of fruits, vegetables, eggs, and nuts. In addition, we added cans of coconut milk, piles of herbs, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and some frozen berries for good measure / emergency smoothie supplies. 

The Prep

In all of the reading that I did about this diet, one of the things that people stressed the most was prep-work and how important it was to have things ready for snacking/eating vs. "hey, I'm hungry -- in an hour or so I can have some roasted squash". Since you're making all of your meals from scratch, prep-work is essential in order to avoid living in your kitchen and makes deciding what to eat so much easier. The night before we started this adventure, I caramelized some onions, roasted beets, segmented oranges and grapefruits, and put a few cans of coconut milk into the fridge to chill. The next day, I made salad dressings, sliced up carrot and cucumbers into coins, and toasted nuts for easy snacks and salad toppings. I also hard boiled a dozen eggs. Our knives have definitely gotten a workout this week, and some extra sharpening.

The Meals

There are a few staple meals that were already part of our diet before embarking on this adventure that fit the Whole30 bill -- no sugar, grains, legumes, additives, or dairy. Our freezer has been well-stocked with Curried Butternut Squash and Coconut-Pea soup all winter long, and they were the first things to disappear.

Some other things that have been regulars at our dining room table for the last two weeks:

Over the course of the last two weeks, we've gone through four dozen eggs (I KNOW), five butternut squash, two pineapples, five bags of spinach and other salad greens, three bags of carrots, 1L of almond milk, a bag of frozen raspberries, twelve oranges, eight heads of broccoli and so much more.

The experience so far

For the first few days, I really struggled with what to eat, despite having done a lot of prep work. I defaulted to scrambled eggs with caramelized onions, hot sauce and an avocado for breakfast, salad for lunch -- usually roasted golden beets with spinach, toasted walnuts, orange segments and radish slices -- and soup with a salad for dinner. I was hungry ALL. THE. TIME. Without sugar or grains, my body was not really sure what I was up to, and it rebelled by putting me in a constant bad mood with a serious snack craving. I had at least a few dreams about warm-from-the-oven bread with homemade butter. But then: DAY 5. 

On day 5, I stopped feeling hungry. And cranky. And wanting to snack all the time. I felt full, and fantastic all of a sudden. I slept wonderfully, straight through the night and waking without an alarm. My clothes were loose and my mind was crisp. I was extremely productive.

On day 8, I met a friend for breakfast at a local diner. Thank goodness breakfast is always full of egg options. 

On day 9, I played hooky and went to Le Nordik for the day (self-employment has its perks!). While my friend sipped wine, I sipped fizzy water with lemon, and snacked on a green salad. It was an exceptionally boring meal, I have to admit. My seat-neighbours cheese plate was killing me. Le Nordik? Not Whole30-friendly, unless you really like green olives and green salad as your only options. 

On day 10, I started having crazy headaches, but they quickly went away when I figured out that my blood sugar was out of whack. A little more fruit every day did the trick.

On day 14 (today!), I got on the scale and discovered I had lost ten pounds in two weeks. TEN! Take that, week of eating macarons and drinking mulled wine in Paris. My jeans no longer fit (in a good way). 

With two-ish more weeks to go, we're starting to get more adventurous with our meals, and I'm finding it way easier to improvise and end up with something delicious without having to try very hard. We've got lots of prepared, pre-cut, roasted items in the fridge that let me assemble a great salad or a stir-fry in 15 minutes or less. And I've been obsessing over my indian cookbooks -- determined to make a curry or two that follows the rules before our time is up.

The Lessons

When we first started talking about this diet, I hadn't really thought much about what it's impact would be on my eating habits. I thought I would follow the diet for the 30 days, and then go back to eating things like toast, and having glasses of wine with dinner like nothing ever happened. 

Except it doesn't work like that. Now I think a lot about what I put into my body. I think quite a lot about how great I feel without grains, sugar, and cheese (I still really like you, cheese) and I don't think I can just "go back" to how things were last month. Now I'm less hungry, and I'm full of good food. I feel stronger, and more alert, and don't have 3pm sugar crashes, since there's no sugar to let me down. It doesn't help that I watched Lunch Hour yesterday. Just thinking about the impact that a constant dose of pizza has on small kids makes me want to minimize carbs and eat leafy greens for ever. 

Will it be easier when our 30 days are over? Sure. I won't have to obsessively review restaurant menus to figure out what I can eat when I'm heading out to meet a friend or a client, or walk into a Loblaws store and feel lost among the twenty aisles of processed food that mostly contain added sugar (truth be told I avoid Loblaws whenever possible anyway). I can open one of those bottles of wine we brought back from France, and I can stop meeting all of my girlfriends for tea instead of proper drinks and mid-week catch-ups. But I don't know if I'll ever go back to eating the way I once did. And that's a good thing.