Monday, December 27, 2010

Paleo-rrific with a side of the Holidays

For the most part, I've been sticking to the Paleo path of eating throughout the holidays.  Have I been perfect?  No.  Did I plan on being perfect?  No.  Is it ok?  Of course!  Why kill yourself and miss out on celebrating good food and cheer with friends.  I've found in my many years of "dieting" and the quest for nutritional balance in the universe, that absolutes will get you every a bad way.  If I'm absolutely strict and one sided in anything I do, I find that the balance to that is that I will absolutely sabotage myself and undo all the good I've done...Thus moderation is introduced into the lifestyle.  You can enjoy many things in life as long as you do it in moderation.  Now that's a difficult concept to grasp, especially during the Holidays, but this year, I feel that I've accomplished the task with poise, grace, and definite success.

For Thanksgiving, I joined a lovely group of friends to do the annual Thanksgiving Buffet at Ulysses, downtown Manhattan (Stone / Pearl Streets) and found that I could have my cake and eat it too.  Due to my healthy grazing since September, I have found that my body doesn't really want to consume much in one seating, thus I had bits of yummy goodness at the Thanksgiving feast without over indulging...heck I didn't even want more than one bite of my dessert.  And at the after party, I basically stuck with drinking my calories by having my friend Eric's most delicious mulled good, I look forward every year!!!

This Christmas, I was invited to have dinner at a friend of a friend's house and enjoy a wonderful culinary journey.  The menu included the following:
  • Potato, Leek & Broccoli Soup with Parsnip Bacon
  • A Smoky Chorizo Stuffing from the brilliant George Mendes of Aldea
  • Pork Shoulder Cassoulet, served with Braised Balsamic Onions and Whipped Butternut Squash & Sweet Potato Mascarpone
  • Homemade Banana and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Everything was divine from the start, now let me share my experience of our Christmas Dinner.

We started with Potato, Leek & Broccoli Soup with Parsnip Bacon, a surprisingly divine delight.  A wonderfully blended array of vegetables that were topped off with a few crumbles and Parsnip Bacon.  What is Parsnip Bacon you ask?  Well the clever chef/host of the evening created a Christmas miracle by crisping parsnips until they became pieces of bacon-y goodness...I the?...what the?...and fantastic!...what's next water into wine?  All I have to say was the mix of perfectly pureed warm soup with the crispy parsnip bacon made for a most comforting experience both in taste and texture.

The Smoky Chorizo Stuffing was a new way to appetize the guests and the palette with lovely small portions of mixed pumpernickel, raisins, onions, peppers and of course chorizo.  The blend of sweet breads and veggies welcomed the salty spice of the Chorizo sausage folded into the mix and served with starter shots of Irish Whisky & Pickle Brine...absolutely unique to this girl's experience and very happy to have been educated in the ways of the pairing.  This has to be tried.  My description is inadequate, but the match really woke up the senses and pleased both my sweet, savory and salty cravings in one...seems like there's a theme to this journey.

Thankfully we got a break inbetween courses as the Pork Shoulder Cassoulet was finishing its cooking time...and we were able to savor and digest the offerings our host had to share.  During this time we mingled, shared Barolo red wine, a lovely dry sherry, and a deliciously crisp Riesling that I had with the stuffing in the previous course mentioned.  All in all a good start to the meal, and a perfect half-time as we waited for the main course of the evening. 

Finally our host noticed that the next course was ready to go as we prepared ourselves for the Pork Shoulder Cassoulet, served with Braised Balsamic Onions and Whipped Butternut Squash & Sweet Potato Mascarpone.  Apparently a Cassoulet is (from Occitan caçolet [kasuˈlet], French: [kasuˈlɛ]) a rich, slow-cooked bean stew or casserole originating in the south of France, containing meat (typically pork sausages, pork, goose, duck and sometimes mutton), pork skin (couennes) and white haricot beans (thank you wikipedia).  This particular one contained a tender and moist pork shoulder served with a spicy pork sausage and white beans, all seasoned to perfection and happily balanced with the braised, sweet balsamic onions and fluffy, cloud-like puree of whipped butternut squash & sweet potato mascarpone drizzled with a balsamic reduction (I believe).  Again as it seems to be the theme of the meal, balance found its way with everything from taste, texture and that pure comfort-food feeling from something so hardy as a cassoulet. 

After everyone cleaned their plates (and I don't mean we did the dishes) the offerings of dessert appeared, Homemade Banana and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.  Now don't be fooled, there was actually no cream in this particular dessert, but a lovely frozen blend of ripe bananas with ground vanilla bean to make for a sweet, light finish to the meal.  There was also a surprise of butternut squash pie that one of the guests (Vanessa) brought that was most welcomed by all.  My first experience with a butternut squash pie and it was absolutely great!  A deliciously spiced and sweet filling that was both smooth and rich, served in a flaky well-made pie crust...a really nice compliment to the "Ice Cream" (sorbet?) that was being served.

I believe there will be pics and descriptions of our meal at the following website:  once he gets the chance to post it.  A most delightful evening, and many thanks to our host and my friends for including me.  I can't wait for the next adventure!

Now back to my paleo grazing of proteins, veggies, fruits and nuts...and of course I've got a date with the gym today after work...yeah, that gym, he never stands me up (wish I could say the same).

Enjoy the rest of your holiday season and remember, moderation!