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As this challenge progresses you will quickly learn that I have two styles of cooking – very simple or extremely fussy.  For me there is no middle ground – I either need to be fed quickly (and therefore the meal will take less than 20 minutes) or I have all day to muck around in the kitchen. 

For some odd reason I seem to be picking our mid-week meals to blog about for the early part of this challenge.  This means simple dinners that I come up with by looking at what is in our fridge (as my husband asks … so what’s for dinner – do you have a plan??).  My game plan in these situations is always the same:  meat + vegetables + something interesting  = the meal.

"braising greens"

This meal follows that game plan – meat and vegetables, with oil and nuts (which were the “something interesting” for this meal).  Personally, I was quite excited to find the “braising greens” mixture at New Seasons, which are a blend of locally sourced kale, chard and other unidentified greens.  Like the mustard greens of last week – they were cooked up with a small amount of bacon.  I use locally sourced nitrate free bacon because it is less processed than regular bacon.    I use the “fact” that the bacon is nitrate free to justify having it in my paleo eating plan – but in all honesty I have what is probably an unhealthy obsession with bacon, which brings to mind this video…

Enough already about my addiction favorite food and on to this meal.  We cooked some pork brats (made fresh) with onions from Hermiston, OR and farmhouse ale brewed by my husband.  The greens were cooked with bacon and garlic and topped with locally grown hazelnuts. 

Simmering brats, onions and beer

Recipe for the Brats (greens recipe is basically the same as week one):

Heat olive oil on med-low in a cast iron skillet, add brats and beer (covering the brats).  Top with sliced onions and turn the heat to low.  Cook until beer is evaporated and brats are cooked all the way through (15-20 minutes).

This year I signed up for Urban Hennery’s Dark Days Challenge where you commit to eat at least one meal a week from SOLE (Sustainable Organic Local Ethical) ingredients from December 1 – April 15.  For this challenge I am following the standard rules – using a 150 mile radius for the definition of local and not worrying about SOLE for items like spices and oils. 

The only “twist” I am adding is that I am doing this challenge Paleo.  Paleo isn’t difficult – basically you eat meat and vegetables with a little bit of fruit and nuts/seeds.  To get the full benefit you should focus on high quality foods; grass-fed beef, free range organic chickens and eggs, lots (and I mean lots) of organic vegetables.  Eating paleo also means no gluten and other grains, dairy, legumes and sugar (ok I am making a small exception for the chutney I put up this summer that has small amounts of sugar in it).  I know this may put me at odds with some of the vegetarians out there and while I appreciate the moral arguments for moving to a plant-based diet, a vegetarian diet does not work for my body.   After gall bladder disease caused by gluten intolerance and post knee surgery inflammation issues – I had to find a different way.    If you want more information about paleo eating I suggest checking out Robb Wolf and the folks over at Whole Nine

With my ground rules out-of-the-way …. here’s how I hope to manage this challenge – first resource New Seasons Markets, a Portland treasure, which lets you know where your food is from.  We also have a  freezer full of grass-fed beef from the folks at Bald Hill Farms.   Finally, we have some stuff preserved and in cold storage from the summer – but the summer of 2010 in Portland wasn’t much of a summer so I will be getting creative with locally grown greens and adding cold frames to our vegetable garden as this challenge progresses (just waiting until we get enough daylight to actually grow something).  I can guarantee you will see at least one (if not more than one) recipe involving green tomato chutney because well … my tomatoes never ripened so we have lots of it.

On to week one of the challenge…for dinner we grilled up some flat-iron steaks  and made a saute of mustard greens (locally grown) and shallots (from our garden) with local nitrate free bacon.  The meal was finished off with some Hood River pears.

Flat iron steak - grass fed

Not much to this recipe – season the steak with salt/pepper and grill until your desired doneness is reached.  While steak is resting – heat up some olive oil in the same skillet, add in chopped bacon slices and cook until almost done, add in chopped shallots, wait 30 seconds and then the chopped greens.  Be careful – I had some flames shooting as the water on the greens hit the oil.  Also – this part goes fast – it doesn’t take long until the greens are just wilted – you do not want your greens cooked to the point of being gooey.  Remove from the pan and plate with the steak.  For two of us I used two small steaks, a full bunch of mustard greens, two slices of bacon and one shallot.

Lots of greens with just a touch of bacon to go with the steak