Monday, June 29, 2009

Silurian Smoothies

Okay, cavemen didn't exactly live in the Silurian, and they didn't have frozen food much either (the last ice age notwithstanding). Still, these smoothies provide a nice pick-me-up or a delicious post-work-out refreshment, and they're ready in no time.

  • 1/2 cup frozen berries, mango, or other fruit
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 dropper-full of liquid stevia (or equivalent sweetener) (optional)
  • 1 dash vanilla extract (optional)
  1. Combine in a blender until smooth.
  2. Enjoy.
Speaking of which, I think I will...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Book Review: Good Calories, Bad Calories

There are a number of books out there devoted to various versions of the "paleo lifestyle", each with their own vision of the best way to live "the way things were". However, today I want to bring to your attention a book that doesn't even try to tell you how to eat - at least, not directly. "Good Calories, Bad Calories" was written by Gary Taubes, and published by Anchor Books, initially in 2007 (and softcover in 2008).

Gary Taubes is not a doctor, a nutritionist, a paleo-anthropologist, or anything like that. He's a science journalist. He makes a living writing about the research that other people do, and his articles have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, among other publications. In fact, that's where the inspiration for this book came from - through an article he wrote for the NYTM called "What If It's All Been A Big Fat Lie?", which questioned the value of low-fat diets for weight loss.

Following on from the research for that article, Gary interviewed hundreds of people and read hundreds of scientific papers. The bibliography of my (softcover) edition of the book is 66 pages in length. In other words, this book draws on an awful lot of material, and he tells you where to check if you don't believe him.

There isn't nearly enough room in this blog to tell everything he covers in the book (and that would be plagiarism besides), but the evidence he lays out is pretty damning of the state of "nutritional guidelines" today, and a solid foundation for the paleo lifestyle. Chiefly, there is a lot of evidence he covers that strongly indicates that dietary fats (as long as they're the right kind of fats - as a hint, vegetable oils are not your friends) are not all that bad for us, and refined carbohydrates are, in fact, public enemy number one (dietarily speaking, anyway).

Curiously, (and this is my chief complaint about the book) Gary never actually goes "the last mile" and draws any hard conclusions - he's obviously leaving that up to the reader. However, if you read this book (and everybody should), you will come away with a feeling that the Western diet is "doing it wrong".

This book will tell you what's wrong with diets today. If you want to understand a lot of the science behind the paleo diet, this would be a very good first step.

As a bonus, here is a link to a copy of the Letter On Corpulence, written by William Banting in 1863 - a hundred years before Doctor Atkins and his "New Diet Revolution" (hosted on the Atkins website, no less).

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Greek salad for a summer's day

We just got back from a picnic/bbq - it's an annual thing we do with another family, we were counting back and we think this was the ninth time we've done it, making next year the ten-year mark. We'll have to do something special - maybe a barbecue? Anyway, there were several kinds of meat in the offering, including boar, camel, and bison, burgers, beef steak, chicken breasts, and lamb and pork sausages. Definitely a caveman feast, made even more so by the presence of this salad, based on a traditional Greek recipe:

  • 1 English cucumber
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1/2 to 1 sweet onion (Vidalia or similar)
  • 1 cup (or more) baby tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp capers
  • 200g (approx half a pound) Feta cheese
  • 1 Tbsp oregano
  • 3 Tbsp (or more) olive oil
  1. Coarsely chop all the vegetables ("bite-sized" pieces) and the cheese.
  2. Combine everything in a bowl, and stir well.
This salad is even better if you give it a few hours (or overnight) in the fridge!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Food for thought about food for food

The next time you're in a super-mega-food-mart, try an experiment. Go over to the frozen fish section, and find some salmon fillets. If you have any luck at all, you should be able to find some that are marked "wild" and some that aren't - which generally means they've been farmed.

If you flip both over, and look at the nutritional information, you will hopefully see the amount of calories, protein, fat, and carbohydrates (probably not much of the latter, unless you've accidentally picked up a box of fish sticks, in which case put that down right now).

Usually, these days, the fat section of the nutritional information will include a breakdown of the Omega-3 and Omega-6 (O3 and O6) fatty acid content. Now, I'm going to really simplify this explanation, but basically, both kinds of fatty acid are used by your body. The problem is that our diets currently contain way too much O6 fatty acids (which can cause inflammation of tissue, among other things), and not nearly enough O3 fatty acids. The ideal ratio is at least 1-to-1, but most people get something like 1-to-40 (in favour of O6 fatty acids).

Okay, back to the fish at hand - not too cold, I hope? Anyway, look at the O3 and O6 fatty acid content of both the wild and farmed salmon. The wild salmon may have an O3-to-O6 ratio of 3.5 to 0.5, or 7-to-1 (this is an example, but pretty typical). The farmed salmon, on the other hand, may have an O3 to 06 ratio of something like 2 to 5, which (at 0.4-to-1) is much worse than the wild salmon.

Why is this? Well, to be blunt, it's what they feed the farmed salmon - grains. Wild salmon doesn't run into a whole lot of grain while it's swimming the ocean deep - it chows down on krill and such, and gets a healthy O3-O6 ratio naturally. Farmed salmon, on the other hand, hangs around the pen all day, eating "food pellets" which contain, among other things, grains.

The same is true of beef, to an extent. If you can find grass-fed, grass-finished (i.e. fed on grasses instead of grains right up until its last trip to the slaughterhouse), its O3 content is much better than typical grain-fed beef. Personally, I also find that the meat tastes better - almost sweet.

So, what I'm trying to say to you is don't just be concerned with what you eat - be concerned with what it ate!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pat's Christmas Cake Muffins

This recipe is from Lucy's Specific Carbohydrate Cookbook, written by Lucy Rosset, and available through Lucy's Kitchen Shop. Because the SC diet relies on being free from grains and refined sugars, there's a lot of possibilities for co-opting recipes for the more primal lifestyle, and that's what I've done here. These muffins are very reminiscent of the much-maligned Christmas fruitcakes. Fortunately, I like fruitcake, and also these muffins.

  • 4 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened crushed pineapple
  • 1-1/2 cups almond flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (NOT baking powder)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup dried currants
  • 3/4 cup dates or pitted prunes, chopped
  • 1-1/2 cups sliced blanched almonds
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  1. Preheat your oven to 275 degrees.
  2. Line muffin pans with paper cupcake liners.
  3. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, mixing well.
  4. Fill each cupcake liner almost full with batter.
  5. Bake for 45 minutes.
  6. Allow to cool before removing the paper liners.
Now if only I could figure out a caveman equivalent to marzipan icing...

Perfectly Paleo Pizza

Today's recipe is a pretty good pizza substitute, if I say so myself. It's based on a recipe in the book Grain-Free Gourment by Jodi Bager and Jenny Lass (the book's website is here).

Ingredients (for one pizza "crust")
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp olive oil or other oil
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • large pinch salt
  • (optional) 1/4 tsp garlic powder, if you like that sort of thing (I do)

  1. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.

  2. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix until it forms a thick, sticky batter.

  3. Spoon the dough onto a piece of parchment paper that's been lightly oiled (this will prevent it from sticking to the paper) on a cookie sheet.

  4. Pat the dough into a thin circle, about 20cm/8in in diameter (I use a piece of plastic wrap so my hand doesn't get sticky).

  5. Spoon some tomato paste on top and spread it out to use as the "sauce".

  6. Put whatever you want on your pizza (I like sliced tomatoes and sliced grilled chicken), and cover with grated cheese.

  7. Bake for about 20 minutes, turning the oven up to "broil" for the last couple of minutes to brown the cheese slightly.

You won't really be able to pick it up and eat it with your hands like traditional pizza, but it's good nonetheless!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Simple Ratatouille

Ratatouille is pretty much caveman food anyway, but I happen to not be a fan of eggplant. As such, I was delighted to find this recipe for a ratatouille that doesn't include aubergine in any way, shape, or form. We often serve it (the ratatouille, not the purple stuff) as a side dish with sausage. This recipe can be found in video format over on - that's where I found it, so they get the credit.

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 cups cored and chopped tomatoes with seeds (or use a can of chopped tomatoes)
  • 3 or 4 zucchini, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, cored and diced
  • 2-3 bunches of rosemary - pull the leaves from the woody stems and finely mince said leaves


  1. In a deep pan (dutch oven or large saucepan, for example), sweat the onion in oil over medium-high heat until it's waxy. Add the garlic, and continue cooking for a minute or so. Be careful not to let the garlic burn!
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients, and turn down to medium-low heat.
  3. Simmer for at least half an hour, stirring occasionally. We'll often simmer it for an hour or more.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

As good as this is fresh, it's even better re-warmed the next day.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Cretaceous Chocolate Cake

Okay, this isn't really from the Cretaceous - they didn't have microwaves back then, and that's what will enable you to prepare this cake, from a rumble in your tummy and a wink in your eye to a finished product, in about five minutes. It's another almond flour "baked" good, so expect it to be moist and dense. It's based on recipes you can find all over the net, but our cave-chefs have tweaked and optimized it for the caveman lifestyle.

  • 1/4 cup almond flour
  • 2 Tbsp cocoa (or, if you have to, use carob)
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • sweetener equivalent to 3 Tbsp sugar (3 droppers full of liquid stevia)
  • 2 Tbsp butter, just melted
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • 1 egg
  1. Mix all dry ingredients together in a bowl.
  2. Add the wet ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and cut a slit in the top to let steam escape.
  4. Microwave on full power for one minute.
Sadly, I'm still working on a passable icing for this cake. However, if you want to serve it with strawberries (sliced and dusted with a stevia powder) and freshly-whipped cream, well, I'm not going to stop you.

Sweet Sweet Stevia Rebaudina

I want to talk briefly about stevia, aka stevia rebaudina to the biologists. You may already have heard of it, and if you haven't, you probably will soon.

Stevia is actually one of about 240 plants of the genus stevia, all related to the sunflower. It's a plant of South American ancestry, and it has been used for more than a century for one very important thing. It naturally contains compounds called stevioside and rebaudioside that are many times sweeter than sugar, with pretty much no calories. Yes, you read that correctly - it's an all-natural, low calorie sweetener.

So why isn't this thing all over the place? That's a very good question. There was one study done, back in 1985, which suggested that stevia compounds could be mutagenic (i.e. cancer-causing). However, and I want to emphasize this, no other studies have found such a link. In fact, in 2006, the World Health Organization not only cleared stevia of this sort of thing, but strongly hinted that it could have benefits for hypertension and/or type-2 diabetes. (If you have either of these conditions, check with your doctor before using stevia, please!)

Currently, its status in the USA is a bit odd - despite the fact that it should have "Generally Recognized As Safe" status (because it was in use before 1958), it can't actually be marketed as a sweetener in that country, only as a "dietary supplement". (There are conspiracy theories about why this is, but I won't get into them here.) However, new products are coming out in the near future from various manufacturers which incorporate stevia or stevia-derived compounds, including diet sodas and a "half-the-calories" orange juice. Its status varies in other countries. It's banned as a food additive in some countries, including Europe and Singapore, but used widely in others such as Japan and parts of South America. Here in Canada, we appear to be mimicking the US approach in calling it a "dietary supplement" - even when it's sold in the same stores as artificial sweeteners, it's usually not located anywhere near them, but over with the health supplements and protein powders.

You can buy stevia in two main forms - liquid extract (in a suspension of glycerin or alcohol) or powder. If you buy a stevia powder, read the contents carefully to see what it's "cut" with - if your stevia powder is pure then you only need a teensy bit for your morning coffee, so it's often cut with something like inulin fibre, maltodextrin, or rice starch to make it "spoonable" (one spoonful of stevia mixture is equivalent in sweetness to one spoonful of sugar).

If you decide to use stevia in any form other than the spoonable one, you'll need to know the equivalent sugar sweetness for baking and such. For example, many of the liquid extracts are so sweet that one tablespoon of the liquid is equivalent in sweetness to a cup of sugar. This is good if you're sweetening iced tea (for example), but can cause problems if you're using it for baking, as you may need to add something else to make up for the missing "bulk" of that cup of sugar. And, of course, stevia won't caramelize or "brown" in cooking or baking.

But, if you're looking for a sweetener that wasn't made in a laboratory and won't spike your blood sugar, you could do worse than taking a close look at stevia.

Coco-nutty Paleo Pancakes

Since we just mentioned almond flour, let's start cooking caveman-style(*) with a couple of almond flour recipes. Although these pancakes contain both coconut flour and coconut oil, the coconut taste is very subtle. They are a common weekend treat around my cave, served with either all-fruit jam or agave syrup and a side of bacon (cured without sugar). It's based on a recipe found here.

  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1 Tbsp coconut flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup water (use "fizzy" or soda water for slightly fluffier pancakes)
  • 2 Tbsp oil (we use coconut oil)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar-equivalent of sweetener of your choice (or 1 dropper-full of liquid stevia)

  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. The batter will be very thick and somewhat sticky.
  2. Drop by 1/4 cup onto a lightly-oiled, non-stick frying pan over medium heat. You will likely have to "pat down" the batter into a proper pancake due to its thickness.
  3. Flip when just browned, and brown the other side.
This recipe should make around six pancakes. Since they are protein-based they are pretty filling, so even though they're small they'll serve two people.

(*) Yes, I know cavemen didn't have non-stick frying pans, or fizzy water for that matter. Their loss, really.

All About Almond Flour

The first ingredient I want to discuss is almond flour, sometimes also called almond meal. It's exactly what it sounds like - blanched almonds (i.e. with the outer skins removed) are ground into a fine meal.

Why the heck would we want to do that?

Well, the first rule of paleo ( that you don't talk about paleo! Oops, sorry, wrong movie!) is that you can't have any grains. This includes wheat. This means that starch is, as they say, "right out". But, having grown up on a steady diet of baked goods, I'm not ready or willing to give up muffins, cakes, pies, or pancakes just yet. And this is where almond flour comes in - with it, you can make incredibly dense, sweet, moist baked goods - and I promise you'll see recipes featuring this ingredient in the near future.

The only problem with almond flour is that it can be quite expensive. The ideal (from a price perspective anyway) would be to have your own almond tree, so you could harvest, shell, blanch, peel, and grind your own almonds. (If you can go this route, just be careful not to grind the almonds too much, or you'll end up with almond butter, which is delicious, but doesn't make good muffins in itself.) That's also a lot of work. Fortunately, many "bulk" stores (or the bulk sections of many grocery stores) do typically carry almond flour, but you should understand and expect a bit of "sticker shock". Here in Toronto, Canada, where my kitchen-cave is located, we typically pay $20 (Canadian dollars) for a bag containing around 4 or 5 cups of almond flour - and we go through almost that much a week.

One more thing about almond flour - it's not "real" flour, and because of this it doesn't form rigid structures when heat is applied. You're not going to get a crusty French bread using it. It also can't be used to thicken soups or sauces. On the other hand, it doesn't contain gluten (which causes a lot of problems for some people), and it's high in protein (thus filling you up more quickly) and low in simple starches (which can play havoc with blood sugar, among other things).

First post! Now, what is this place?

Welcome to Caveman Cuisine, the home of caveman-friendly recipes.

What do I mean by that?

Imagine, for a minute, that you are a "pre-civilization" human, living somewhere between 2,000,000 and 10,000 years ago. What's for breakfast? Odds are that it's not a bagel, and it's not a "breakfast sandwich" mass-produced in the back kitchen of a plastic-fronted family dining establishment.

In point of fact, for most of the time humans have been on this planet, our diets have been dramatically different from what we eat today. Some people theorize that we still shouldn't be eating this way - that the refined flours and sugars that comprise so much of our diets are not doing us any favours in the health department, and we should return to a pre-agricultural-revolution way of eating. This idea is called many things by many people, but a lot of people refer to it as the "paleo diet" or the "caveman diet". There are a lot of books available on the subject, and a lot of resources available on the web, if you are interested in the theory and its implications.

What this blog is about is the food. Specifically, I'll be highlighting recipes and ingredients that are, for the most part, "paleo-friendly". Now, I'll be up-front about one thing right now - even among followers of the paleo diet, there are differences of opinion about what the diet should and should not allow. For example, some people say dairy products should be disallowed. Personally, I'm a big fan of cheese, so that's not going to happen. On the other hand, some adherents to the diet say that artifical sweeteners are fine, whereas I prefer to strictly limit the amount of sweeteners that I consume. Similarly, I avoid bananas (they are very starchy), but some people think they have a place in the paleo diet.

I guess that what I'm saying is that, if you're searching for a definitive answer to the question "What is the paleo diet?", I can't help you. But I can give you some delicious recipes to try, and isn't that worth it?