I first met Simone Miller when I learned of her desire to open a gluten-free kitchen space in San Francisco, and subsequently that she was hosting Paleo pop-up dinners in the city.
Though I wasn't living in SF anymore at the time, to my surprise, her dinners were happening on a weekend I had planned to visit.
I was so in!
I quickly shared the link to her pop-up events, and found out not long after that the multiple events went from pretty solid attendance rates to nearly sold out in a matter of days. I was psyched that you all (my amazing readers) responded so positively to this dinner presentation, and also that I could help out this obviously awesome chef – though, at the time, I hadn't tasted a bite of her food.
I was pretty confident Simone's food would be awesome.
I was right.
Not long thereafter, Simone graciously offered to bring some snacks to my book signing event at Omnivore Books in San Francisco when I was on tour with “Practical Paleo” in late 2012 or early 2013 (I forget which). I don't remember exactly what she served, but I remember for sure that it included bacon jam. Which is ridiculous. Make it, it's in the book.
As a caterer, Simone has served up her tasty treats to tons of folks at events including the Paleo book-release parties around the Bay Area for Danielle Walker's Against All Grain, Michelle Tam & henry Fong's Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans, and Chris Kresser's Your Personal Paleo Code.
And, amidst all that work, she wrote a book.
She did it.
Simone's food is simple in presentation – enough so that you can totally make it yourself. It's also elegant and rich in flavor profiles – so much so that you'll feel like you're eating restaurant food in the comfort of your own home.
I don't usually cook from cookbooks.
See, that's the thing about being a cookbook author. You rarely use cookbooks when you are so accustomed to creating recipes. But, I knew Simone's book would lure me in.
Simone's style is very much along the lines of flavor profiles and techniques I would use on my own, so it was pretty easy to pick a recipe to make from her book: Crispy Braised Duck Legs with Melted Shallots and Roasted Plums.
Except, my local Whole Foods didn't have duck legs this week. Or plums. But, they did have chicken legs. And pluots – go figure. So, I did what any home cook should do – I improvised using similar tasting/similar “functioning” ingredients. No big deal.
Knowing how to swap out ingredients you can get for the ones you had on your list, well, this is probably one of the most important rules in cooking, especially from cookbooks!
Your grocery store may not always cooperate with your plan, and you need to know when veering a bit off-plan is going to work out just fine.
In this case, I used a similar cut of another bird and a similar stone fruit. I could also have used a different cut of chicken or even peaches or nectarines I'm sure. All would have tasted great.
I made the recipe after lunch, planning on enjoying it for dinner – and that we did! It was super rich in flavor from the braising liquid that included both chicken stock (I used homemade, as always), and red wine.
One thing I did a bit differently since I had chicken instead of duck was to sear the chicken legs in a couple of tablespoons of duck fat. This not only added that ducky-licious flavor, but it also added the fat I really needed in the dish. I know that searing duck legs would have rendered a lot of fat, but chicken won't do the same thing. This is a great tip to keep in mind when swapping chicken in for duck in recipes.
The ingredient list was pretty short, and I though wasn't able to find fresh thyme at the store either, I used dried. No biggie. It was fantastic.
I highly recommend checking out The Zenbelly Cookbook.
It's filled with richly flavored recipes that use few ingredients but leave you with palate-pleasing dishes your whole family will enjoy.
That’s not all! I’m also excited to announce that I am giving away 3 copies of The Zenbelly Cookbook to 3 lucky winners!
And, since I want to help you guys spread the word about Paleo, each winner will also get a copy of Practical Paleo to gift to a friend – you know, since I know you already have it 😉
Be sure to enter to win 1 of 3 prizes I’m giving away below!