‘Cheat Day’ from Paleo with Jason Ryan

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I have always had a fairly unhealthy, and at times, downright toxic relationship with food. I’ve shoveled anything processed, sugar-filled or glorified salt lick into my face with reckless abandon. This has always been a constant in my life, almost from the very beginning as, according to my baby book, some of my favorite foods as a 1 year old included “fried chicken and Coca-Cola.”

Things didn’t get much better from there. Cut to me as a 13-year old nerd, invited over to an equally diminutive and socially awkward friend’s house to watch a “The Simpsons” marathon. I was told to bring snacks for myself so I stopped at 7-11 on my way over to load up: Doritos, Oreos, Mountain Dew, Twizzlers, a hot dog, nachos, those little mini chocolate frosted donuts, etc. Yes, there was more. After some awkward small talk with the other boy’s parents, we made our way to the basement and the homemade VHS Simpsons compilation was fired up, we were ready to go, and that’s when the feedbag came out. My friend looked at me with trepidation and said nervously, “Uh…just so you know I don’t really smoke pot or anything if that’s what you’re thinking.” I was dumbfounded; I’d never done drugs ever in my life. I somewhat sheepishly tucked the epic collection of trans fats and sugar behind the side of the couch and resigned myself to only eating a normal, non-stoner person sized portion of food. Later that night, I went home and snuck the food into my room, eating every single bite of it… alone in the dark.

So that, dear reader, is my background in the culinary arts. I am essentially a walking, talking mess of salt and sugar somehow trying to digest itself. At least I was until September 23rd of this year. You see, that was the day after I turned 33 years old. No longer a young man and now faced with the grim specter of death being in my mid-30s, I decided it was time to make a change. That realization didn’t happen overnight, but after a fairly shitty year with my very first (and hopefully last) kidney stone and the passing of my Uncle, just 47 years old, due to complications from diabetes, it was a year that would inspire anybody to change.

That change took shape in the form of the Paleo Diet, an idea which I previously mocked, just like most fad diets. But I knew I needed to start doing something fairly drastic to get healthy, and after weighing my options, I decided Paleo was the way to go, simply (and foolishly) because I like meat a whole lot. There’s more to it than that, obviously, but that was the biggest selling point. I thought I could genuinely handle eating primarily protein. Cutting out dairy, starch and sugar would be tough, but if I could soothe my sorrows with a nice fatty piece of steak, how hard could it really be? Incredibly, soul crushingly hard as it turns out.

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After day 3, I found myself lovingly smelling a bag of shredded cheese as it if was the scent of a lost lover. After a week, I was an inconsolable grump who would have pushed his own Grandpa down a flight of stairs for a bite of a Snickers bar. It was not a pretty sight to say the least. It might sound insane but, remember, before the switch, I was in pretty bad shape nutritionally speaking. The bottom of the barrel? I got to the point where I was drinking 3 Red Bulls or Monster Energy drinks a day. Every day. Yeah, I’m not sure how I’m still alive either.

Yet somehow, magically, I got through it and was able to ride out the agony to get to the 1-month mark – free and clear of processed foods, sugar, dairy, and grains (AKA most of my favorite foods). The one-month mark was a milestone I had set for myself before I even considered giving myself a cheat day. As day 30 approached, I elaborately began crafting my first cheat day as if I was on death row, and it was my last meal. Would it be a knee-buckling homemade mac n’ cheese, a beautiful artery clogging cheeseburger? Sadly, after a long day at work, it was a rather sad-looking but still immensely satisfying bowl of cheap and quick ramen noodles. The thing I missed most was nature’s glorious candy: carbs.

Now cheat days, which I allow every 2 weeks, have become more sacred events where I relish in making elaborate meals loaded with everything I can’t have the rest of the time. This weekend hosted another glorious, magnificent cheat day, and I wasted no time with Chicken, Green Chile and Potato Enchiladas topped with enough cheese to choke a small horse. Here’s how I made ’em, in quasi-recipe format:

Enchilada Sauce:

-1 tablespoon vegetable oil

-1 medium size white onion, roughly chopped

-1 teaspoon of chili powder

-1 large lime, quartered

-1 small Habanero chili (de-seeded if you don’t like insanely spicy), cut into pieces

-1 small jalapeno chili, cut into large pieces

-3 gloves of garlic

-1 7 oz. can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

-1 32 oz. can of pureed tomatoes (San Marzanos are dope!)

-1 teaspoon of brown sugar

-Salt and pepper to taste

Potatoes:

-1 pound of small Yukon gold potatoes (or your favorite potatoes for mashing)

-Butter, salt, pepper, milk (anything you like in your mashed potatoes)

-1 4 OZ. can of diced green chilies

Chicken:

-1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast

-1 teaspoon of chili powder, 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, 1 teaspoon of onion powder blended together

-salt and pepper to taste

Cheese:

-1 block of queso Oaxaca, queso fresco or any soft, melty Mexican cheese

Plus as much shredded cheddar cheese and you feel like topping the whole thing with

Preparation

Sauce:

Cook the onions in the oil for a minute, add the chili powder to let it bloom, cook another minute then add the lime, chilies, garlic and cook together for a couple minutes, til things soften up a bit. Add the Chipotle peppers and Adobo sauce, reserving the can. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes. Add the pureed tomatoes, brown sugar and salt and pepper but a small amount of water or stock to thin it out if necessary. Turn heat to medium low and let simmer for at least 30 minutes.

Potatoes: Meanwhile, boil some potatoes and mash them, follow your favorite mashed potatoes recipe if you like, and add 1 small can of diced green chilies and combine thoroughly, keep warm.

Chicken: Rub the chicken breast with spice blend and salt and pepper, sauté until cooked through.

Assembly:

-Push enchilada sauce through fine mesh strainer, discarding the solids.

-Make an assembly line of corn tortilla, the mashed potato mixture, the cooked and cooled chicken, shredded, Mexican cheese, sauce and cheddar cheese.

-Ladle a small amount of sauce in the bottom of a casserole dish, dip a corn tortilla in the sauce, coating both sides of it, put the tortilla in the casserole dish, spoon on a heaping spoonful of potatoes, a heaping spoonful of chicken, the queso, roll it up and repeat until your casserole dish is nice and full of enchiladas. Top with leftover sauce and sprinkle the aforementioned horse-choking quantity of shredded cheddar, back in a 375 degree oven for about 20-25 or until the top is nice and bubbly. Serve with any beverage besides 3 Red Bull energy drinks in one day.