OMG. I just made the MOST delicious awesomeness known to man. Cauliflower + cheese + egg = "bread" stick divinity. Seriously, these rock. They fulfilled my craving for pizza and since I come from the New York area where pizza is at the right hand of Jesus, well, that definitely is saying something. Seal of approval? My husband, who fondly remembers crunchy breadsticks from the non-paleo past and who would rather chew on plastic wrappers than eat cauliflower rice or even smell cauliflower rice, has given this recipe two thumbs and two big toes up. He also enjoyed the gaseous aftereffects that come with eating any Brassica veggie, which he so thoughtfully wafted in my general direction :) See remedies in that aforelinked post.
My inspiration: The Lighter Side of Low-Carb and author Cleochatra's Cauliflower Breadsticks recipe. The pictures there are just fantastic--please check out her site! She is awesome!
Now, I would just stop there and tell everyone to visit her site and that be that. However, while researching the recipes, I found a few pitfalls. I had one myself when I spread her pizza "dough" too thin and resurfaced my sheet pan. Fun cleaning! I also tried adding more cheese in the second stage and that was more trouble than it was worth. No need--more will just end up on the pan. Some people had trouble getting the breadsticks to remain solid, and sometimes crunchiness was difficult to achieve. Almost all loved them and their flavor, but more refinement and painstaking explanation might help. So through trial and error, I experimented with her recipe to try to find something that worked well and could be duplicated. While by no means foolproof, I definitely think that the crunchy, cheesiness grail is well worth the quest. Let me know how your journey goes! NOTE: credit for inventing the proportions and basic method of cooking are due to Cleochatra and this recipe in no way replicates hers to steal her steam. I am merely giving my version of hers with tweaks that worked for me and got me excellent results. Try her recipe, try my variation on her theme, I don't care--just enjoy these cheesy treats!
So here is my version, happily named I Can't Believe It's Not Bread Sticks!
First: A Note about Cheese
Yes, the Paleo police found me. I have degenerated to include some Neolithic dairy in my diet. So sue me. (No, don't really, please. Read the side-bar for my medical advice opt out :) ). So I did come back to dairy, but I did so responsibly. First, I eliminated it from the diet entirely for a long time (say over 2 months). Then, I reintroduced it slowly, noticing how different products made me feel and what kinds of dairy I could digest and which ones I couldn't. The aftereffects are pretty obvious if you can't take dairy well.
I found that I love butter, both inside and out. Green light there. Cheese is another story. I can tolerate raw cheese, especially raw goat cheese like the cheddar I used below (goat milk has different proteins than cow's milk, and they are more similar to human proteins, hence easier digestion). I bet the raw cheese I tolerate best is grass-fed at least in part, but without that on the label, I can't be sure. I have heard all aged cheese from outside the US is grass-fed, but that will take more research to validate. I can also tolerate grass-fed cheese pretty well (actually, I think the processing has more of an adverse effect on me than than not confirmed 100% grass-fed). Raw grass-fed is probably golden, but I haven't found it often. Conventional cheese made from grain-fed animals and processed to death with pasteurization and homogenization is crap for me digestively, literally.
Think raw milk is dangerous, think again. That is what "The Man" wants you to think to repress small farmers feeding for their animals real food and producing whole, real foods from them. They threaten the Dairy Industry and our processed grain-based economy. How is raw milk healthy? Read Raw Milk Facts for the benefits with a slew of references. We'll get into it more in that dairy Starter Series in the future. Why raw? The processing of milk lets it decompose more rapidly and opens the door to invading bacteria. Organic Pastures, a producer of raw dairy products, describes what processing does:
6. What happens to bacteria in pasteurized milk after pasteurization?After pasteurization, bacteria found naturally in milk are killed. During the high temperature heating process, cell bodies of these bacteria are ruptured and their contents are spilled, releasing intracellular proteins. This causes many milk drinkers to suffer histamine or allergic reactions. Almost all of these same consumers can drink raw milk and not have allergies. The high levels of bacteria permitted in milk intended for pasteurization are still found in pasteurized milk; they are just dead and not removed by the process.
The rest of that FAQ is well worth the read. Hell, even your salad is contaminated, so am I crazy to prefer dairy with healthy bacteria who are winning the bacterial war and confer so many probiotic advantages? To me, it is well worth whatever "risk" the dairy conglomerate has scared us into believing. I find it fascinating that even lactose intolerant folks can partake in raw, whole fat dairy. Doesn't that say something profound?7. What is homogenization?Homogenization is the process of destroying the natural butter fat cells found in raw natural milk. This process uses extreme pressure to break apart the soft buoyant fat cells, which cause the remaining small fat pieces to blend into milk and no longer float to the top making the cream line. Some European countries have studies that show that this process is dangerous and may strongly contribute to heart disease and arterial plaguing. Our FDA disputes these findings under pressure from the strong dairy lobby. Homogenization is not a required step, but rather a step of convenience to deny the consumer the ability to see how much cream is actually in the milk they buy.
Nourish and not harm. Raw dairy seems on the right path whereas products from sick cows fed grain that's so toxic to their bodies they have to be pumped full of antibiotics to survive and are injected with hormones to speed their maturity just doesn't cut it. No wonder it needs processing--how much worse would it be raw?
Now, even though I enjoy some dairy and wouldn't mind if others partook in raw, grass-fed, high-fat dairy too--I by no means think it is essential for anyone, even growing kids. On a paleo diet, you can get all the calcium you need from fish and green leafy veggies. Without grains mucking up your digestion, you can absorb calcium much more efficiently from your food (as long as you have adequate vitamin D to absorb it--get tested!). The problem arises when kids live on grains and have a high acid load in their diet. Check out what Loren Cordain, The Paleo Diet author, has to say about acid-base balance. And please don't even get me started about soy milk. The answer is NO.
Of course, with anything, keep your goals in mind. Ever hear of the GOMAD rule for powerlifters to drink a Gallon Of Milk A Day to bulk up? If you don't want to get 70's Big, you might want to limit your milk intake and stick to high fat dairy whenever possible, if you do partake. Why high fat? Because saturated fat is GOOD for you. For realz. For those of you still drinking skim milk, I weep for you. You do realize that without the fat you can't absorb the proteins, vitamins, or calcium, right? Okay, just checking. So if fat is so good for us, why does milk lead to weight gain? Hint: it's not the fat! The answer begins with a big C, and it's also the largest macronutrient percentage in milk. Hence, choose full fat, high fat dairy if you DON'T want to to get fat. How crazy is that?!?
Bottom Line: Enjoy the health benefits and deliciousness of full-fat dairy IF your body allows it and only IF you want to!
Now, without further ado, on to the recipe!!!
I Can't Believe It's Not Breadsticks (variation of Cleochatra's Cauliflower Breadsticks)
Can you say crunchy? Can you say cheesy? I have already said enough.
Quantity: Makes about eight 5" sticks per batch and I definitely suggest making more than one!
Cooking Time: Prep is about 15 minutes, Cooking is about 45 minutes, so a hour start to finish--BUT I'll give you some time-saving tips so that you can skip prep the next time you make them!
Ingredients for 1 batch:
- 1 small cauliflower (or more to get the prep work done for next time)--we want 1 cup of riced cauliflower for each batch--note: mashed cauliflower would probably work just fine too, so mashing or ricing is up to you--we just want it fine and mushy
TIME SAVING TIP: rice (or cook and mash) a large batch of cauliflower, measure out what you want to use today, put the rest in a freezer bag, and freeze until you need it again. Thaw in the refrigerator (takes a day--so take it out the day before you want to use it or use quick defrost methods like cool water submersion for more closer to instant gratification).
- 1 cup of shredded raw goat cheddar (like Greenbank Farms from WA) or raw grassfed cheddar if you can find it (more if you want to prep for next time) or try other raw grass-fed cheeses
TIME SAVING TIP: shred a whole brick--mine made 5 cups of finely shredded cheese from a 13oz (0.81lb) brick. That's 5 batches, baby! Store covered in the refrigerator until you feel the urge.
- 1 egg (yes, make it pastured, farm-raised, or omega-enriched if possible)
TIME SAVING TIP: have more eggs on hand. You are NOT going to want just one batch of these! Believe me!
- Spices of your choice. Pizza spice example: dried oregano, dried (or fresh?) basil, and garlic powder (and a dash of kosher salt) impart a nice pizza-y flavor, and red pepper flakes provide a kick. Add them on top of the sticks before baking or add the spices to the batter. Your choice.
food processor or chef's knife or grater to rice the cauliflower
chef's knife and cutting board to cut the cauliflower into food processor-able bits
covered casserole dish to microwave the rice (or cook cauliflower before ricing, your choice)
2 sheet pans (one for drying out the strained, cooked cauliflower rice and the other for baking)
BEST choice: a shallow, small baking dish like my 8x11.5 pyrex is PERFECT for a double batch--alternatively: a larger baking dish (will require longer first baking to set and makes 3 batches at once) or loaf pans (one needed per batch, I used 9x5--the wider the base, the better since you want these thin and crunchy)
parchment paper (might need scissors to cut it)
mixing bowls (one small, one medium)
optional: bench scrapper or pizza-cutter
Method to the Madness: Twice Baking
Okay, two options: 1. Rice your cauliflower (forget how? Check out my Cauliflower Rice post), then microwave it, covered, in the casserole dish for a few minutes (stirring once) until hot and mushy, or 2. Cook your cauliflower (fresh with a little water or frozen without water) in a casserole dish, covered, for a few minutes (stir intermittently) until hot and mushy, then let it cool a little and rice it or mash it (limited to the food processor now). While the second option is great for the ease of using frozen cauliflower without defrosting, I didn't try this route, so proceed at your own risk. I know that the end product you want to achieve is a mushy, finely-grained, close-to-mashed-potato-consistency rice. I went the first route with freshly riced rice and another time tried it with frozen, thawed rice. Both worked perfectly. Microwaving took me 4 minutes with a stir half-way through. It might take more time using fresh cauliflower.
Once you have your cooked rice/mash, drain it in batches in a close-wired strainer (press with a spoon to get the water out). I gave up before mine was bone-dry and just spread it out on a baking sheet to further dry out while I prepped the batches.
Now, prep your baking dish or loaf pan, or multiple if you are smart enough to make more than one batch at a time. Two batches are required if you actually want to share. Or if you would just like more for yourself, that's cool. Don't kid yourself about leftovers, though. There won't be any. I had no problem baking one baking dish (makes two batches at once) or two loaf pans (one batch each) at once set in the middle of the oven preheated to 350 degrees (you can stuff the oven with more batches, but just be aware that the cooking time will increase). Start preheating to 350 degrees now. Now this is why the easiest option is a small baking dish: one piece of parchment for the whole process!!! Cut parchment paper to fit your sheet pan. It just needs to cover the bottom, not travel up the sides. Take that piece and put it in your baking dish. It should overflow the baking dish, which is fine. DON'T CUT IT. It might not stay yet, but once you plop the dough in and spread it out, it'll be fine. We'll use it again for the second stage and it'll be perfect! If you are using loaf pans, you need two pieces of parchment: one narrow piece to lay down first, extending up the narrow sides and another wider piece of parchment to lay across the other direction. Jam the parchment in there to cover all terrain. Good.
Now, decide how many batches you are making at once. I successfully mixed up 3 batches combined without a problem, but if you are using multiple dishes/pans you may have to divide up the mixture. Remember: small baking dishes need 2 batches to fill them properly, loaf pans need one batch each, and a larger baking dish needs 3 batches and will require more time to set. Okay, got your number? Let's go: In a medium bowl, for each batch pour in 1 cup of cauliflower rice/mash (gently measure it by spoonfuls, DON'T press it into the measuring cup) and 1 cup of freshly grated cheese (DON't press to measure) and mix. Crack and stir one egg per batch in a separate bowl (just in case of shellage) and add to the cauliflower and cheese mixture. Mix well to combine. Add any seasonings desired. Mix again. Finally, dump mixture into the parchment-lined dish/pan(s) (remember: small baking dish needs 2 batches to fill it, larger baking dish needs 3, and each loaf pan needs one batch). Press down with a spatula to cover the bottom evenly (avoid a thick center or thick patches or bare patches).
Make sure your oven has come to 350 degrees and whack 'er in for about 20-25 minutes, or until set and the edges were just starting to brown. You want the top to be set, not runny or wet. If your edges aren't slightly golden brown yet, just put it back in until they are. Too light and it'll crack when you remove it from the pan. Remember the larger the pan you used or the more you put in the oven at once, the longer this first baking will take. Don't worry, it should be done soon! Have patience. I had success at 20min (a lighter, but set "dough") and at 25min for a crispier edged "dough"--however, the more brownage in this stage means the more burnage in the next, so don't overdo it, even if burnt cheese is yummy, don't worry, you'll get enough.
If you are using loaf pans, you need another piece of parchment lining the bottom of a sheet pan for the next stage of baking. If you are using a baking dish with the parchment you measured for the sheet pan, you are in luck! You can transfer the parchment from the dish to the sheet. No mess, no more cutting, no worries! Yay for simplicity! I found this streamlining trick amidst multiple batches when I just got lazy--and it worked! However, a cautionary note about the parchment: 450 degrees is the upper limit of parchment (at least mine), so watch your temperature if you have an oven that runs hot. I imagine those "safe for use" temperatures are put there for a reason...
Once your "dough" is set (just browning edges, not wet), remove from oven, and START preheating to 450 degrees. Immediately! It sucks to wait for preheating. Now for removal of the Precious. Start by lifting the parchment slowly seeing if the sides will free themselves without cracking. If you see any stickage to the parchment at the sides of the "dough," stop and use your spatula to slip in-between the dough and the parchment coming up the side of the pan. If you see major cracking, your dough isn't set. Return it to the oven for another 5 minutes and retest after. Sucks, but that is what happens when you push your luck with larger baking dishes and/or crowded oven. I know, I have been there. And no, staring at the clock won't make it go faster. Just walk away. Walk away.
Here is what the set "dough" looks like before sheet pan baking (first time I greased the pan with bacon fat--yum!--but parchment is much easier).
If your "dough" is ready, then, carefully pull the parchment out of the dish/pan. If using a baking dish, simple transfer that parchment to the sheet pan. If using loaf pans, either try your luck at flipping the "dough" out onto the sheet pan parchment (it helps to fold over the parchment under the dough and carefully invert it onto the sheet pan). If chicken, cut the "dough" in half so that you can slide a spatula under the "dough" and place each half on the prepared sheet pan. You can flip it if it is easier or not; I had success both ways but the flipping can be a little hairy. Once the "dough" is safely on your sheet pan, with a metal spatula/bench scraper/pizza cutter, slice the dough into sticks (I went width-wise to get more bang for my buck) and separate from each other carefully. Move them around at your own risk!
Once the oven is preheated to 450, whack 'er in for another 15+ minutes or until you reach desired brownage on the top (more time if you stuff your oven full of sheet pans). Bottoms will be crispy! Don't worry, you can't really "burn" cheese. At least I haven't ever... Once browned to your liking, remove by spatula to a wire rack and cool as long as you can before diving in. OMG! THEY ARE DELICIOUS!
Storage: Ha! Who are we kidding? Okay, okay, one time I baked mine before dinner and had to wait a couple of hours before devouring. I cooled them on the wire rack and stored them out of cat's way in the microwave. Should have cracked the door. They got a little softer when I returned, so I heated the oven back up to 300 and put them back on their baking sheet for another maybe ten? minutes while I prepped the rest of dinner. After I heard some sizzling and they were warmed again, I re-cooled them on a wire rack. The result: crispy, crunchiness re-achieved! Another time I refrigerated them in a sealed container and just reheated them on a sheet pan until crispy (you'll hear sizzling). I even ate them cold like cold pizza. But I would rather have them crispy, crunchy and warm!
So now you have "bread"sticks again. Happy? I know I am!