Thursday, October 29, 2009

Smashing Pumpkins

Pumpkins and all types of squashes abound right now during the fall harvest and in the spirit of  Halloween.  I have tried to tackle squash as a savory dish on multiple occasions, but I have never been crazy about the outcome.  There is just something so sweet about most squash that they beg for sweet applications.  Even wrapping squash cubes in bacon didn't win me over, which is insane because bacon is supposed to make everything better.  Well, I give in.  I'm not trying to fit a round squash into a square hole anymore.  I am going to use it as its sweetness begs: for dessert!

Scrumptious Squash

Squash is very nutritious for obvious reasons: it's a brightly colored vegetable (well, botanically speaking it's a fruit).  Bright color means beta carotene (think carrots), which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.  As an anti-inflammatory, beta carotene helps reduce the symptoms of asthma and arthritis.  Beta carotene also deters plague formation by keeping cholesterol from oxidizing and building up on the walls of blood vessels; thus, it protects against heart disease.  It also protects us against cancer, especially colon cancer (which is further aided by squash's folate and fiber content).  Furthermore, beta carotene plays a role in blood sugar regulation, thereby protecting against diabetes and insulin resistance.  Squash is also high in fiber, aiding our digestive inner workings.  The Vitamin C, manganese, folate, and potassium content in squash is also quite respectable.  Bottom line, it's nutritious!

Squash is a perfect paleo food for getting sweetness out of your food, not adding it to your food.  According to its single listing on the international table, pumpkin's glycemic index value is 75, which is a little high (higher than 50 is considered high glycemic), but being a watery, fibrous plant, it has a low, low glycemic load of 3 (I have seen various numbers for different winter squash, but all less than 10).  Remember, when we last talked about blood sugar, we defined these terms.  Glycemic index is how fast a food is broken down into glucose, which raises your blood sugar, and since pure glucose is 100, we try to avoid foods higher than 50 on that scale.  However, we can't dismiss glycemic load, which takes into account the percentage of carbohydrate in the food that is responsible for the spike.  In pumpkins, it is low (less than 10 is considered low glycemic load, 20 or more is high).  Squash fall into the same category as watermelons (a relative) that, while sweet, have so much water and/or fiber that their glycemic load is negligible.

This inherent, but not dangerous sweetness is something we can enhance with flavor compliments like apple and banana.  I find it gratifying to add sweeteners that contribute to the flavor, not just add sweetness.  They also add their own host of vitamins and minerals, which trumps honey, agave, and traditional sugars any day.  Period.

Main Reference: The World's Healthiest Foods

Preparation S

First off, you can buy canned pumpkin, but it is really simple to make your own and so much better for you and the environment if you rely less upon processed foods.  When choosing squash, go for the sweetest you can find.  Sweet varieties include the sugar or pie pumpkin (small jack-o-lanturn type), kabocha squash, butternut squash, acorn squash, Hubbard squash, calabaza squash, buttercup squash, or the oddly named sweet potato squash.

Roasting a squash is really easy.  Check out Elana's Pantry's step by step guide for pictures and more details, but here is the gist: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  In the meantime, wash the squash and cut it in half (this is tricky with hard rinds, so be careful and use a big, heavy knife!).  Scoop out the fibrous, seedy innards and try to fish out the seeds to dry and roast, if you are up to the challenge.  Place the cut halves face down in a baking dish with 1/4 inch of water in the bottom.  Roast for 30 minutes and give them a check.  You are looking for fork-tender flesh all the way to the rind.  If you got it, great--allow to cool and then scoop out the roasted squash with a spoon.  Why a spoon?  Because it'll 'urt more.  [sorry, couldn't resist lapsing into my Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves recital :)]

Now you have your roasted squash!  What can you do with it?  Bake muffins!

How about muffins sweetened only by a mere 3 tablespoons of apple juice and 2 bananas?  Is that not awesome?!

Pumpkin Chai Spiced Muffins
Like sipping a steaming, hot mug of chai, these muffins will delight your senses.  
Cooking Time: about 45minutes start to finish
Quantity: more than a dozen, so I have to bake in two batches!

Wet Ingredients:
1 c roasted pumpkin (see above to prepare)
2 over-ripe bananas, break each into 3-4 chunks
1 T vanilla
3 eggs
3 T apple juice

Dry Ingredients:
1.5 c almond flour
1/2 c coconut flour
1 t baking soda
2 t cream of tartar
2 t Ceylon cinnamon
1/2 a nutmeg, grated
3/4 t ground ginger
3/4 t ground cloves
1 t salt

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and prepare your muffin tins/cups.  I have had success with using cut squares of parchment (see pic in my last muffin recipe) in the cups as makeshift (read: cheap) muffin cups, but they are really annoying to keep in place while trying to dish in the batter.  If you are really into baking, you can splurge on silicon muffin cups at $13 for 6, which then need no fussing or even a muffin tin (they can bake on a cookie sheet!).  I just got mine and am so enamored with them!  Or go ahead and trust your nonstick muffin tin one more time.  These things just tend to fail after a few uses, but go ahead and live on the edge if you must.  Just be sure to grease liberally with coconut oil and don't tell me I didn't warn you if they stick.

Okay, now that you have your oven cranking, muffin tins/cups prepped, and ingredients assembled, let's make muffins!  Add the coconut flour and cream of tartar to a sifter (or food processor) and sift into a large bowl (or whirl in your food processor to combine, then add to your bowl).  Sifting the coconut flour and cream of tartar ensures none of those annoying clumps that are so difficult to mix out.  Skip this and you'll be squashing beads of coconut flour and cream of tartar for the next five minutes, seriously.  Next, add the remaining dry ingredients to the bowl and mix throughly.  Then, add all the wet ingredients to a food processor and pulse until you break up the banana and squash.  Scrape down the sides, then, let 'er whirl for a minute to lighten the color a bit and puree everything evenly (you might need another scraping and whirl to accomplish this).  Give your wet ingredients a final whirl to aerate them (you should see bubbles when you lift the lid) and add them to the dry ingredients.  Mix to evenly incorporate.  

Dish your batter into muffin tins/cups and bake for 25 minutes, then check for any wetness on the top, giggliness, or too light a top color--if present, give them 5 more minutes, then retest.  Mine took around 30 minutes and their tops just started to turn a more golden brown with stray spills looking a bit burnt.  After finished, remove and cool on a rack (note: don't try to get muffins out of their cups (parchment or silicone) until after they have cooled).  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator with some paper towels underneath and above them to soak up excess moisture.  They'll last a good few days if you can resist them!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Apple Crumble Crisp

Can't you just smell the baked apples and cinnamon and taste that delicious, crunchy crumble?

UPDATE 1/28/10: Check out Mark's Daily Apple for his Definitive Guide to Dairy.  I briefly mention dairy at the end of this post, but I agree with Mark on individual preference through trial and error and only consume raw 100% grass-fed dairy if you do go down the dairy path.  

Sugar-slave to Sugar-free

I have been on a sugar-free kick for the past month since my self-intervention.  I had grown lax and with my baking trial and error I was eating more sweetened baked goods than I should.  It came to the point of "needing" chocolate every single night and rushing through dinner sometimes just to get to dessert.  I would buy a new bar at the store nearly every trip just in case I ever ran out.  When the day came that I bought two and started to eat them faster--more than just a couple rows a night, I began to notice a problem.  I also realized that I was on a sugar high that left my heart playing "la kookaracha."  I was having trouble sleeping and felt entirely too obsessed with sugar.  Too much of anything is never a good thing.  

So out with the chocolate.  I threw away the remainder of my snacking chocolate and started a new quest.  Trying to steer clear of even "natural" artificial sweeteners like honey and agave, I am experimenting with sweet fruits and veggies instead.  The results have been surprising and have changed my perception of sweetness from one that needs superfluous amounts of sugar to be deemed sweet, to one that can appreciate the inherent sweetness even in romaine leaves, which I now eat as a snack!  I think we would all be better off reclaiming our perceptions of the subtle natural sweetness of fruit and vegetables instead of relying upon sugar-concentrated sweeteners, even those as seemingly benign as honey and agave.  

What does this mean for my recipes?  I am using the sweetest natural products I can devise to substitute for sweeteners, and the results have surprised all of my taste testers (my husband and fellow CrossFitters).  But taste-test yourself and if you feel the pre-cooked product is not sweet enough, feel free to add a sweetener of your choice.  

Method to My Madness

Apple Crisp is a mountain of adversity to the paleo cook.  Traditionally, it consists of apples, butter, sugar, and flour.  When three of the four main ingredients need paleo substituting, this is a challenge.  For me, I first tackled the apples.  Instead of tart Granny Smiths, let's use a sweet variety to cut out some additional sweetener.  Makes sense.  Then, we need a fat substitute for butter to give it richness (why no butter? see the NOTE below the recipe).  I tried coconut oil, but the outcome was very coconut-y.  Instead, why not use a delicious nut oil, say walnut oil?  Sugar can be found in fruit, and since apples are our main ingredient, let's use apple juice, which is hellasweet on its own (I can't even drink undiluted juices anymore, they are just too sweet!).  Lastly, we have flour.  I tried almond flour, but the graininess of the crumble didn't do it for me.  Coconut flour is textured more like regular flour, so it is a great substitute, but it could use a little more texture, so I used pecan flour (made from roasting pecans and food processing them into flour--see recipe).  Pecans are a naturally sweet nut, so they can dual-task as a sweetener.  Finally, we need a crunchiness that brown sugar clusters usually deliver in the traditional recipes.  What are crunchy and hold up to baking?  Nuts!  Walnuts seemed a great choice to compliment the walnut oil (pecans tend to get a little soft anyway).  

So here is my take on apple crisp, finally, and my recommendations for tweaks to fit your taste!  Don't be afraid to experiment and explore cooking and baking.  Yes, baking is a science, but paleo baking is a virtually undiscovered country just waiting for us to explore!  And, usually, even our failures are damn tasty.  Take this recipe: it took me six scrumptious versions and left me with a delicious breakfast accompaniment to eggs and sausage for many mornings, as well as unfortunately two peeler injuries and a burn.  My husband jokes that I should wear a helmet when I am in the kitchen :)

Apple Crumble Crisp
This is quintessential autumn for me and the best result of apple picking!
Cooking Time: 1/2 hour or less to prepare, 45min baking time
Zone Blockage: let's just say this is a carb and fat dessert dish and leave it at that!  It probably isn't outrageous, though, just look at the ingredients!

1/2 c apple juice (make sure it is 100% juice!)
2 c roasted, chopped walnuts
1/2 c coconut flour
1 c pecan flour (roast raw pecans just like walnuts spread out on a baking sheet while you preheat the oven (watch carefully!  check often for golden browning!), then cool and food process into flour, but be careful not to over-process or you get pecan nut butter!)
1/4 t salt
4 t Ceylon cinnamon (use 2 teaspoons on the cut apples and 2 in the crumble)
about 1/2 nutmeg nut, grated fresh with a microplane
1 T vanilla
1/4 c walnut oil

Sweet apples, like Jonagold or Fuji, peeled, cored, and sliced about 1/4 in thick then cut in half, enough to fill a 9.5 x 13.5 pyrex baking dish most of the way up the sides 

Preheat the oven to 350.  Roast your nuts if you don't already have them from other cooking escapades.  Prepare the apples by peeling, coring, and slicing them.  Toss them into your baking dish and sprinkle on 2t of cinnamon.  Toss the apples slices in cinnamon to coat evenly.  At this point, you need to prepare your nuts by chopping the roasted walnuts (if you haven't already) and food processing your roasted pecans into nut flour (if you haven't already).  

Next, start on the crumble.  Add the 2t cinnamon, nutmeg, pecan flour, walnuts, and salt to a large bowl.  Mix well.  Then, add the wet ingredients: apple juice, vanilla, and walnut oil.  Mix well.  Now, we are going to get fancy and sift on the coconut flour.  If you don't have  sifter, try your best to sprinkle it on without allowing coconut flour balls to form.  Coconut flour is really resilient to mixing evenly--which you probably found out if you made my banana walnut muffins!  Mix well as you sift/sprinkle on the coconut flour to incorporate it evenly--despite its intentions.  At this point, you should have a crumbly, sticky "batter."  

Grab your baking dish filled with cinnamon apples and plop crumble batter over the top, getting even coverage.  Cover in tin foil and whack it in the oven until you see liquid at the bottom bubbling and the apples are a bit soft when pierced with a fork--about 30 minutes, but check at 20-25 minutes to be careful.  One of my batches was mush at 40min in, so check carefully and remember they are going to cook uncovered for a bit, so you don't want really soft apples yet.   Once bubbling, uncover and place back in the oven to allow the crumble to brown (read: NOT burn).  I looked for hardening and a more golden brown since it was all brown to begin with from the cinnamon and nuts.  It should take 10-15 minutes.  Check for browning and fork-tender apples.  

Once done, eat it while hot or reheat (microwave for 30 seconds to a minute depending upon glutinous quantity) to enjoy that warm, apple-y goodness!  And go ahead, indulge and brag to all your friends that this apple crisp is sans butter, sugar, and flour and sweetened only with apples and their juice!

NOTE: Why no butter?  Why no dairy?  Butter is a dairy product, which is a concentrated source of what cows eat plus all the other nourishment meant to help their babies grow.  Since most cows are eating grains like corn, dairy products from these cows are just concentrated grains and antibiotics, which are necessary to keep these cows alive since they are fed toxic grains (and we already know why we avoid grain).  If you can actually find 100% grass fed (NOT grain finished!), raw (the problems with pasteurization is a whole 'nother post) dairy products, then by all means enjoy them if you can tolerate them digestively and as long as you want to get big and strong like a cow.  Cow milk is meant for calves and goat milk is meant for kids, but NOT yours--theirs! (Baby goats are called kids).  Dairy products have growth hormones because they are baby food meant to nourish and help those babies grow big and strong.  Unless you want to grow big and strong and desire those concentrated grains to muck up your digestive system, you might want to avoid factory-farmed dairy products in your day to day meals.  Best bet?  Try going without dairy for at least a couple of weeks and then reintroduce it slowly.  Are you suddenly lactose intolerant?  Can you take some forms and not others?  Give it a try!  Your body is the best evidence for your nutritional journey.  

Monday, October 19, 2009

Simply Cauliflower

Cauliflower is great as rice, but those annoying tiny bits get EVERYWHERE.  It seems like just cutting a head of cauliflower in half spells more cleanup than it is worth for a busy night.  So here is another preparation that requires very little prep and just some time in the oven for the cauliflower to caramelize into golden deliciousness.

Don't be a Gaseous Mass

But first, a word about gas.  You heard me: burps, farts, and general flatulence.  Unpleasant?  Yes, it is.  Cauliflower is a vegetable of the cruciferous variety (including brussel sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli) that is highly associated with intestinal gas.  Why?  Each of us has gut bacteria that sit in our intestines and colon and feast upon the foods we eat.  Undigested portions of our food create a great meal for these bacteria, who release hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane gas as their own digestive by-products.  The parts of food that are indigestible to us include some sugars [lactose (dairy sugar), fructose (fruit-sugar), sorbitol (a sugar substitute), and raffinose (the indigestible sugar in cauliflower)] and starches, which are a component of fiber (indigestible starches are usually polysaccharides, which means long chains of sugars like fructose or another common one is cellulose, a component of all plant cells).  Cellulose itself isn't enough to cause excessive gas since the bacteria feast upon it very slowly, but combined with indigestible sugars and starches, it can create unpleasantness.  Besides cruciferous vegetables, foods with these gassy reactions include beans (which we avoid for their lectins); grains and other starches (which we also avoid for a slew of reasons); onions, artichokes, and pears for their fructose;  carbonated beverages (duh); many fruits for their soluble fiber that creates a gel only broken down in the intestines; and dairy [which we also avoid since it is highly concentrated grain (what most cows eat)].

Other bacteria in the intestines actually utilize the gas these bacteria produce, so the system is in balance.  However, when you eat foods that overwhelm this system, bloating and flatulence is the outcome.  How much gas is too much?  People differ in the amount of gas-producing bacteria and how gassy those bacteria are.  We all have our own unique digestive flora, like alien worlds within us.  Some people have less efficient digestive tracts, so more food makes it down into the intestines and colon (for example, those that eat grains and have already put their digestive systems in crisis mode).  Celiacs (those with gluten intolerance) and those who are lactose intolerant (can't eat dairy) fall into this category.  Finally, those little gassy bacteria can overrun the place and get out of hand.  Usually they reside only in the colon, but overpopulation can lead to expansion into the small intestine.  There is more food in the small intestine being broken down and absorbed, so more bacterial feasting can occur.  

What can we do about it?

Well, some sites say to avoid cruciferous vegetables entirely--which knocks out broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cabbage.  To forgo a whole category of vegetable is crazy, especially since they are so tasty and nutritious!  Naysayers, I fart in your general direction.

Others sites suggest less extreme remedies.  Here are some that don't include regular supplementation or drugs:

  1. Exercise more.  Exercise gets your body moving so that gas can pass through your system easier and not get holed up inside, creating bloating.  What exercise do I recommend?  CROSSFIT!!!! (Note: try the main site if you aren't in Santa Cruz).  Find a gym and workout regularly.  The proof is in the results. 
  2. Eat a carminative, an herb or preparation to fight intestinal problems by either reducing gas formation or aiding its expulsion.  Carminatives include: anise seeds, basil, nutmeg, peppermint, ginger, caraway seeds, cardamon seeds, cinnamon, coriander, dill, cumin, fennel, marjoram, onion, oregano, rosemary, saffron, spearmint, and thyme.  Examples include: 
    1. Drinking peppermint tea.  Peppermint is a carminative that relaxes intestinal muscles to help ease the passing of gas.  
    2. Eating ginger soaked in lemon juice after a meal.  Ginger and lemon juice are also carminatives.  You can suck on a piece of ginger soaked in lemon juice or grate it into hot water and add lemon juice. 
    3. Chewing fennel or anise seeds after a meal.  Same deal with these: carminatives.  You can also crush them and make them into tea. 
    4. Drinking water spiked with lemon juice, another carminative, with meals.  
  3. Drink water.  Some recommend lukewarm water with lime juice and honey in the morning on an empty stomach as a remedy. 
  4. Eat foods containing probiotics such as fermented foods.  Probiotics might aid in the elimination of gas.  Probiotics are usually bacteria or yeasts similar to healthy gut bacteria that you need to digest food.  They can aid digestion by contributing reinforcements to your own bacteria.  Check back for more on them in another post, since they are a big can of worms.      
  5. Avoid high fat quantity with gas producing foods since fat slows digestion and can lead to gas build-up in the stomach.  Remember, balanced meals are best, so always eat some fat, just don't go overboard when eating foods that make you gassy.  
  6. Use an over the counter remedy such as Bean-o.  Bean-o contains a plant-derrived enzyme that breaks down raffinose (the indigestible sugar in cauliflower) before it enters the colon.  
  7. Try to buildup your tolerance to gas-producing foods if you have a little every day.  
Main Sources:
Medicine Net

Okay, now that everyone is feeling a little intestinal discomfort, on to our recipe which might give you a chance to try out this new knowledge!

Simple Roasted Cauliflower
What is better than caramelized, GB and D (golden brown and delicious) cauliflower?  Takes awhile, but well worth the wait and simplicity!
Zone Blocks: 4 cups of cauliflower is one block of carbohydrate.  

1 head of cauliflower per diner
garlic powder
olive oil

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Wash the cauliflower head and cut in half (I know a little mess, but not nearly as much as with the rice!).  You might want to trim off the leaves since those aren't as tasty even when roasted.  Place head halves on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper (I totally destroyed a sheet pan when I didn't use it, so you are hereby warned) and sprinkle with olive oil.  Toss to coat all sides and parchment.  Then, dust liberally with garlic powder (the smell of this roasting will fill the house with garlicky goodness!) and sprinkle on some salt.  Whack it in the oven for about 30 minutes and check for browning (could take up to an hour).  If you don't have it yet or feel like chancing the carbon gods and going for a darker shade of brown at the cusp of burning, be my guest.  If you have acceptable brownage, flip and let 'er go another half an hour or so until you see similar browning on this side.  Once you are happy with your caramelized cauliflower, enjoy the feast--and go ahead, eat as much as want!

Serving Suggestions:
This makes an excellent side dish for any meat.  Try to avoid going overly fatty in the other foods you are serving with cauliflower to help prevent our friend flatulence.

Now go away or I shall taunt you a second time!
(a la Monty Python and the Holy Grail in case you mistakenly thought I was being rude :) )

Cauliflower on FoodistaCauliflower

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Apple of My Eye

UPDATE: Whole Foods has Ceylon Cinnamon sold by Frontier Brand in a shaker bottle for about $6.  I checked New Leaf and Staff of Life, but no go at either store.  

It is apple season!  That means fresh apples abounding and ready to pick!  Growing up on the east coast, apple picking was always an autumn tradition.  I have fond memories of piling the whole family complete with grandparents in the car and eating ourselves sick on apples because, of course, you have to try each variety and "oooh this apple looks perfect for eating..." We all went home with tummy-aches and mom baked and baked for weeks to come with the bounty.  There is nothing like a house filled with the sweet aroma of cinnamon and apples baking in the oven.  THAT is autumn.  But eating paleo-style makes these baked apple goodies a thing of the past--or does it?  Check back for a baked goods recipe I am tinkering with that isn't quite ready for publishing yet.  For now, let's talk apples.  

A couple weekends ago, I went apple picking with my husband and our friends at Swanton Pacific Ranch.  We found an organic U-pick apple orchard complete with cash box for your purchase on the honor system.  The rows and rows of trees were ours for the picking, and we alone were partaking despite it being a sunny, warm mid-Sunday afternoon.  The experience of being out there with the trees, bees, and birds made it so much more special than an orchard complete with hay ride and petting zoo.  Nice that families can partake in picking their own fruit and produce, but we were glad to escape the spectacle it has become.  

An Apple a Day...

Apples are a healthy fruit.  They are low glycemic foods (check back for a post on that topic soon!).  They are also one of Barry Sear's 100 Zone Foods for their control over blood sugar and high fiber content, especially the soluble fiber pectin, which lowers insulin secretion, slows the release of sugar into the bloodstream, and lowers cholesterol levels, according to his book The Top 100 Zone Foods.  Sears also mentions their role in preventing/reducing the risk of cancer.  A thorough summary of studies on the health benefits of apples from the Nutrition Journal shows even more benefits.  

Here are some of the conclusions they make: 
Based on these epidemiological studies, it appears that apples may play a large role in reducing the risk of a wide variety of chronic disease and maintaining a healthy lifestyle in general. Of the papers reviewed, apples were most consistently associated with reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, asthma, and type II diabetes when compared to other fruits and vegetables and other sources of flavonoids. Apple consumption was also positively associated with increased lung function and increased weight loss. Partially because of such strong epidemiological evidence supporting the health benefits in apples, there is increasing research using animal and in vitro models that attempts to more clearly explain these health benefits.

Many of the health benefits stem from the fact that apples are high in antioxidants, especially flavonoids, which have strong antioxidant properties.  What does this mean?  

Oxidative reactions are a part of your body's natural biochemistry and vital to many functions, such as the breakdown of glucose for energy.  Despite their importance, they are also implicated in many diseases and cancer due to the production of damaging free radicals (when is anything ever all or none?).  Oxidative chemical reactions take place in your body that pull electrons from one molecule to another and produce free radicals in the process.  Free radicals are molecules, atoms, and ions with a screw loose.  They have unpaired electrons, which makes them unstable, as if they are playing with half a deck.  While some have biological functions, other free radicals wander aimlessly and bump into other substances, which leads to jumpy little electrons being exchanged.  When electron-jumping happens to vital substances like DNA, it creates mutations, which can lead to cancer.  Free radicals are also implicated in the aging process and liver and lung damage in conjunction with alcohol and smoking.  

Antioxidants are the good guys: they hold free radicals so they can't do any damage.  Antioxidants are also martyrs, sacrificing themselves to oxidative reactions so no free radicals are produced.  They are essential to keep those free radicals in check.  Antioxidant-rich foods are vital in your diet to keep you healthy.   So an apple a day really can keep the doctor away, if it is a part of a healthy, balanced paleo-style diet!

Now back to oxidation--that's what is going on when cut apples turn brown.  Exposure to the air oxidizes iron-containing chemicals in apple flesh, turning the color brown.  The enzyme responsible for the reaction is the same that helps create melatonin in our own skin so that we tan when exposed to sunlight.  Go figure!  To prevent browning, you can cut apples underwater (so the enzymes don't get exposed to air).  However, I am not sure if browning is only delayed until they surface and inevitably get exposed to air.  Cooking apples also denatures the enzymes, avoiding browning.  Finally, you can add citrus juice to cut apples, which lowers the pH to slow the enzymes and which contains Vitamin C, an antioxidant.  And so we go full circle--back to antioxidants!  (However, the antioxidants in apples don't stop their apple from browning--anyone know why?)  

What makes cinnamon special...and dangerous?

Historically, cinnamon was a highly valued spice referenced in the Old Testament and sought by Europe when expeditions were sent to find a shortcut to Asia.  Barry Sears, Zone Diet founder, puts cinnamon on his list of The Top 100 Zone Foods, despite it being a spice.  His reasoning?  Cinnamon imparts a sweetness that can substitute for sugar and has a slew of healthy benefits: it stimulates the efficiency of insulin so you need less to get the same effect and it may play a role in lowering blood pressure.  While scientific evidence supporting these claims is a bit spotty, there is promise that future research will uncover more concrete health benefits.  

There are three major types of cinnamon.  True cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum, Cinnamomum zeylanicum, or Ceylon Cinnamon) is the inner bark of small evergreen native to Sri Lanka.  Cinnamon is also the name of spices made from the bark of Cassia trees (Cassia Cinnamon) and Cinnamomum burmannii (Indonesian Cinnamon), both native to areas in Southern Asia, India, and Indonesia.  In many countries only true cinnamon may go by the name cinnamon, but guess where that is NOT the case?  Yes, the good ol' US of A!  Read on.

Cassia Cinnamon may be something to avoid because 1.) it isn't true cinnamon and 2.) it contains a high quantity of a toxic chemical called coumarin, which when taken in high dosages, can lead to liver and kidney damage.  Sounds great, huh?  Luckily, if you exceed the safe dosage infrequently, your body has time to repair the damage.  For example, eating cinnamon buns hasn't killed you yet (although the wheat may certainly be damaging your gut!).  However, in those with an already compromised liver or kidneys or who regularly consume toxic dosages, high dosage of Cassia Cinnamon may be harmful.  What is high dosage?  Just one teaspoon of Cassia Cinnamon contains more of this chemical than deemed safe by tolerable daily intake levels for smaller individuals (say children); thus, moderation in Cassia Cinnamon intake is strongly suggested.  By contrast, Ceylon Cinnamon has very little of this chemical and is deemed safe.  

The bad news: it seems that most of what we call "ground cinnamon" is really Cassia!  The US has NO laws governing this distinction.  The FDA banned using coumarin as a food additive in 1954, so it understands the danger of this chemical, but has NO requirement for cinnamon contents in food.  While Germany has banned Cassia importation because of its coumarin levels, the US continues to use it for its strong cinnamon flavor.  Great!  

What can you do?  Don't freak out (unlike me--finding this out really made me mad!)  If you often use cinnamon often or in high quantity or have kids or anyone with liver/kidney problems in your household, perhaps it is best to switch out your stash now.  Find out what kind of cinnamon is in that ground cinnamon before you buy it.  If you can't tell, don't buy it.  Looks like Whole Foods sells Ceylon Cinnamon in a shaker from Frontier brand (at least on their website).  I will have to check out New Leaf next time I go.  Stick form may be the real thing in some stores, but look for light tan, thin, brittle, inner bark sticks rolled like cigars for true cinnamon, while Cassia uses thicker, harder bark layers and looks like a dark, reddish brown scroll shape (see pictures on wikipedia).  Ground Ceylon Cinnamon looks to be selling at around $20-35 a pound through online spice retailers, who say that lasts up to 2 years in an airtight jar.  Or just buy the sticks or quillings (broken pieces when sticks are cut) and grind them yourself since true cinnamon is brittle enough to be ground in a coffee or spice grinder.    

Okay, enough with the nerdiness and freaking out over cinnamon!  Here is an incredibly simple apple preparation that is a great snack or carb for a balanced meal (i.e. one of my favorite breakfast accompaniments to eggs)!

Ceylon Cinnamon Dusted Apple Slices
Spicy and sweet, these apple slices fragrantly announce autumn.  
Zone Blocks: 1 apple is 2 blocks

one apple
Ceylon Cinnamon (true cinnamon--NOT toxic Cassia!)

Cut the apple into thin slices (I like to leave mine round).  Dust with cinnamon on one side, flip, and dust with cinnamon on the other side--or just toss once you first dust the top to get your desired coating.  


Cinnamon on FoodistaCinnamon
Cinnamon on FoodistaCinnamon

Monday, October 12, 2009

Cauliflower Rice

Rice is nice when you crave a grainy consistency.  Sticky or fluffy, it bulks up your meal and adds a great texture component.  Rice may be touted as healthy, especially if it is brown or wild, but really, who are they kidding?  Unfortunately, just about everyone.

I have heard the argument that kids need grains.  They are "good" for them.  What can you get out of a grain that you can't get tenfold from vegetables, fruit, and meat?  Name me something other than digestive problems.  Don't think you have digestive problems with grain?  Try giving it up for two weeks, cold turkey, then go right back to eating your bread, pasta, and rice.  See how it feels to clean out your system and reintroduce an irritant.  Chances are highly in my favor that you won't be fine.

Why No Rice?

Rice is a grain.  White rice is a highly refined carbohydrate, meaning it is processed to make it more digestible.   Doesn't that say something right there?  If we have to process something to eat it, should we be eating it?  That is one of the reasons behind arguments against tubers (they have to be cooked to be eaten).  There is definitely more to argue here, but trying to consume less processed foods is a step in the right direction.

White rice has lost most of its nutrient value since its outer layers have been stripped away.  But lectins and antinutrients are still prevalent.  According to the "Nutritional Quality of Cereals" chapter of Fermented Cereals: a Global Perspective, grains mess with your enzymes, chemicals needed for chemical reactions vital to your bodily processes.  The enzyme inhibitors found in rice are concentrated in the bran (i.e. what brown rice retains) and interfere with digestion causing problems with the pancreas (where insulin is made) and disrupting amino acid utilization.  The kicker: these enzyme inhibitors are heat stable, meaning they stick around after cooking.

According to Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes, a prominent reference detailing the problems with refined carbohydrates, a British researcher and retired physician of the British Royal Navy, named Thomas Cleave, tried to warn the medical community in the 1960s.  He found a trend that societies who left their traditional foods and adopted a carbohydrate staple such as sugar, white rice, and white flour were set on a disastrous path.  With these refined grains came cavities and periodontal disease then obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.  Refining grains increases their digestibility, which means a blood sugar spike as they are quickly broken down into glucose.  It also means they can easily be over-eaten since they are refined down and more concentrated.  Look at the Zone blocks of rice (brown or white): 1/5 of a cup.  That is just over 3 tablespoons.  Is it worth it?

Rice is also high glycemic.  On a scale where 100 is white sugar or pure glucose, white rice averages 64, long grain white rice at 56, brown rice averages at 55,  and even wild rice receives a 54.  High glycemic foods are 50 and higher, meaning they easily break down into glucose and flood your blood, spiking your blood sugar dangerously.

While glycemic index numbers around 50 might not convince you, glycemic load values should.  Glycemic index values measure how fast a carbohydrate breaks down into glucose, which floods the bloodstream.  Glycemic load takes into account quantity of carbohydrate in a food to give a more complete picture.  For example, while watermelon is sugary and high glycemic at 103, it is also full of water and has less carbohydrate content, so its glycemic load is really low at 4.  Your best bet is to eat foods low on both scales, and more often than not, foods low on the glycemic index also have a low glycemic load, which  means values of 10 or less (20 or more are considered high).

The glycemic load of rice is much more nefarious than its glycemic index.  White rice and long grain white rice share the same number: 23.  Wild rice and brown rice both have glycemic loads of 18.  Most rice glycemic loads were extremely high, though.  How about a glycemic load of 60 for boiled white low-amylose rice from Turkey or 46 for rice cooker prepared jasmine rice?  Look for yourself on this comprehensive international table of glycemic index and glycemic load values.    

Think your kids still need grains to be healthy?  Probably not, but that might not be the problem.  Many people just fall back on grains because they feel they have few alternatives.  Try this: Cauliflower Rice.  Cauliflower works perfectly as a rice substitute.  It can be sticky with the right addition of liquid or fluffy when sauteed just like the Uncle Ben's commercial's advertised.  Frustrated your kids won't eat veggies? Here is one they will devour.

Why Cauliflower?

Cauliflower is a clean palate in the world of veggies.  It has little of its own flavor, but loves to soak in that of its sauces and spices.  It also has a great ability to be tossed in the food processor and come out in rice-like kernels similar to the pasta variety of couscous.

Cauliflower is chock full of nutrients.  It is one of Barry Sear's top 100 Zone foods for being filling, high in fiber, low in calories, and vitamin rich.  It has your recommended dosage of vitamin C in just one cup.  Its heart helping nutrients, folate and vitamin B6, break down homocysteine, an artery damaging chemical.  Its phytonutrients also protect against cancer.  One study found that combining the spice turmeric with cauliflower leads to protection again prostate cancer and slows its growth, perhaps accounting for the low incidence of prostate cancer among men in India.  

Rapid cooking keeps the nutrients intact and avoids mushiness or sulfurous compounds that can make cauliflower bitter and smelly.  Cauliflower is in the same family of vegetables as cabbage and kale, so it has similar health benefits.  So what can I do with it?  Read on!

Kristy's Cauliflower Rice
This will take your love of rice dishes to a new level.  Have fun experimenting!
Zone Blocks: 4 cups of cooked cauliflower (in floret form) is one block.  Eat your fill!

1 medium head of cauliflower per diner

chef's knife
cutting board
spatula or rubber scraper
food processor
salad spinner
large bowl

Cut the cauliflower into florets of medium size (no need to cut down to small ones, but the food processor doesn't like them too large either).  Yes, this is messy and I always get particles of cauliflower all over the counter, floor, my clothing...  It is the price for home-made goodness.

Wash the florets and do a quick scan for little buggies that enjoy hiding in the nooks and crannies.  Spin the florets in a salad spinner or dry some archaic method.  Plop a handful into your food processor (DO NOT load up your food processor--believe me--you'll be scooping out the unbroken florets to repulse in two batches anyway) and pulse til you break up the big chunks (probably less than 10 pulses).  Then, hold down the button and continue to process until the cauliflower rises up the sides of the processor and the blade just spins uselessly, just a minute.  I love how the cauliflower itself determines the right consistency--no need to fuss.  It tells you when it is done by rising up the sides away from the blade.  Scoop out the rice into your bowl, replace the blade that likely fell out too, and repeat.

Continue to work through your cauliflower in batches.  I know this is tedious and you might be tempted to load up the food processor, but don't unless you want that challenge of trying to scoop out large chunks amongst the processed rice to reprocess them.  Not worth it, man.  Not worth it.  

Once done, you are ready to cook.  Basically, the rice just needs heating and time to mesh with some spices.  It can be ready in 10 minutes or less.  If you like your rice sticky and clumpy, try adding liquid to the cooking method you use.  The rice comes out fluffy with sautéing.  Try using your cauliflower rice in any rice dish (just remember to cook it first)!  Below are some cooking options that I have enjoyed:

Cooking Options: 

Cilantro-Lime Curry Rice
Delicious Indian spices with a citrus kick.

Kristy's Cauliflower Rice for 2
1/4 C chopped cilantro
1 lime, cut in half (more if desired)
curry powder
garlic powder
coconut oil
optional: instead of powdered garlic, use chopped garlic and grated fresh ginger and add them with the other spices
also optional: like your rice more sticky? add some chicken broth while cooking to clump it

Prepare the Kristy's Cauliflower Rice above.  Then, heat a skillet over medium heat and add the coconut oil.  Up to you how much, but a tablespoon will probably do.  Once hot, add the spices (start with a tablespoon of curry powder, turmeric, and garlic and a pinch of salt if desired).  Give them a moment to get fragrant, then, add the cauliflower rice and mix well.  I have had success with adding it in batches since there is too much rice to mix at once.  Taste and add more spices if desired.  You want to warm the rice without making it mushy (or add some chicken broth if mushy is your goal), so it should be done in 10min or less.  Once done, squeeze half a lime over the top and stir in chopped cilantro.  Taste and add more lime as needed.  The lime really adds a great flavor kick, awaking the spices and flavors.

Serving suggestions:
Add any cooked meat to the rice or serve beside it.  We have had great success with scallops and shrimp (just saute in coconut oil).  It also pairs great with fish, especially when prepared using a recipe with the same spices.

NOTE: the above picture is of the following rice recipe prior to adding the shrimp, but since it looks pretty much the same as Cilantro-Lime Curry Rice, I used its picture.

Indian Spiced Paella
This recipe came about when trying to make the rice above but finding out with horror that I was out of curry powder, as I was cooking.  So I grabbed other spices that looked good and came out with something quite tasty.  


Kristy's Cauliflower Rice for 2
two servings of uncooked, cleaned shrimp (however much you want to eat; tails on or off)
1/4 C chopped cilantro
1 lime, cut in half (more if desired)
dried onion (or regular onion, chopped)
chili powder
garlic 6 cloves (or more), chopped and split into two equal piles
ginger, about 1-inch segment, grated or chopped finely, to get about the same amount as the garlic, split into two equal piles
coconut oil

Prepare your garlic and ginger first--too often have I overheated a pan during preparation taking longer than expected.  Heat coconut oil in a skillet over medium heat and add one pile of the garlic and ginger and the spices: one tablespoon each of turmeric, coriander, dried onion, chili powder (this one is up to you), plus a pinch of salt if desired.  Give them a moment to get fragrant, then add the rice and mix throughly.  Taste and add more spices if desired.  You want to warm the rice without making it mushy, so it should be done in 10min or less (or, if mushy is your goal, add some chicken broth).  Once done, squeeze half a lime over the top and stir in chopped cilantro.  Taste and add more lime as needed.  Scoop cooked rice into a bowl and clean out your skillet.

Now for the shrimp.  Add more coconut oil and the remaining piles of garlic and ginger to your skillet placed back over medium heat.  Once fragrant, add your shrimp and get your tongs ready.  Shrimp cook fast, so give them a minute and start flipping.  You are looking for white, opaque color and pinkness in the tails (if you left them on).  Treat each shrimp individually, don't wait for the whole batch to turn.  Once you think a shrimp is done, both sides, get it out fast.  Shrimp overcook in a heartbeat, so err on the side of "I think this looks done" rather than "Yup, that is definitely done."  They will continue to cook a little when you toss them in the hot rice, which of course, is the last step!

Enjoy your paleo feast!

Pesto Rice (check back for the recipe coming soon!)

Cauliflower on FoodistaCauliflower

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Troubling Tubers

Tubers are a point of contention in the paleo community.  The paleo diet as prescribed by Loren Cordain says tubers of all sorts are out.  They require processing (cooking) and are too nutrient dense and high on the glycemic index.  If anyone can find me more data on why Cordain rules them out when they were clearly eaten by many hunter-gatherers, please point me to a source.

Complex carbohydrates like tubers are quick energy, breaking down into glucose easily, starting with your saliva.  In saliva is amylase, a digestive enzyme designed to break down complex carbohydrates like starch into simpler ones for digestion and absorption.  The enzymes follow the food through your digestive system, breaking it down.  Amylase is interesting because there is a gene for it that has more copies on the chromosomes of starch-eaters (on average) than those that don't have starch as a large part of their diet, according to researchers.  Some speculate that amylase copying is a critical point in human evolution, the divergence between humans with more copies of the gene for improved starch digestion and other great apes with fewer copies.

Starches would be beneficial for human evolution because they are such a concentrated energy source.  Reliance on nutrient-dense tubers could fuel our brain growth and change our social interactions.  One article discusses the evidence and arguments surrounding this hypothesis.

One caveat discussed: tubers are not readily digestible until cooked, so human ancestors would have needed fire.  Evidence of cooking hearths and consistent use of fire doesn't show up in the archaeological record until later in human evolution.  Of course, just because we haven't found it doesn't rule it out, but more data is needed.  However, there is evidence in the teeth of our oldest ancestors, the Australopithecines, that show a diet of soft-tough food items, which could mean a diet of underground storage organs, namely bulbs and roasted tubers that are rendered soft and digestible.

Another caveat from my physical anthropology background: savanna-dwelling primates dig up roots and tubers, notably baboons and some chimpanzees.  Why haven't they become larger-brained? 

Perhaps it is not just the starch that fueled our evolutionary path.  Perhaps it was the combination of eating high energy sources like tubers, adding meat to our diet, cooking our food, and creating organized food redistribution that led our ancestors on a different path than our closest relatives.  While chimpanzees exhibit hunting and root acquisition, they lack cooking and food redistribution akin to hunter-gatherer groups.  

In my opinion, there is never going to be one thing to pinpoint and say "aha! that is what makes us human!"  My argument is that perhaps our reliance on roots and tubers is something that evolved with us and has been with us for millions of years.

You make up your own decision, but here are some pros and cons for eating tubers, namely the sweet potato:

1.  They are great energy sources for quick refueling after intense activity.
2.  They contain high concentrations of vitamins like B6, and especially vitamins A (beta-carotene) and C.  Carotenoids help stabilize blood sugar levels and play a role in many bodily systems, such as skin growth and repair.
3. They are high in potassium, essential to our bodies, namely cell function.   
4.  They are also high in fiber, so they promote digestive health and satiate your hunger.
5.  They are chock full of antioxidants, which are linked with reduced risk of cancer and disease. 

1.  They are relatively high glycemic foods (compared to other vegetables), which is great for getting energy fast, say after exercise, but not that great at more sedentary times.
2.  They are often fried and/or over-processed (i.e. those that come in bags and boxes).
3.  They require cooking to promote digestibility.
4.  They don't digest well when eaten in conjunction with protein.  Proteins require a more acidic stomach environment to digest them, while starches require a more alkaline environment.  This means that your stomach plays tug of war with its acid-base balance and thereby can't digest either efficiently.  The combining of these foods can lead to bloating, gas, indigestion, and heartburn, among other problems, described more here.   Starches are best with easily digested protein sources, such as whey, eggs, and milk (eggs being the most suitable on a paleo-style diet).

More on Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes can be orange or white and most supermarket "yams" are really just orange sweet potatoes.  Yams have a lower glycemic load and glycemic index (more on those values in another post!), so they are preferable if you can find true yams.

There are a multitude of ways to prepare sweet potatoes, and I will definitely return to them in future posts.  I love them best in savory applications since their inherent sweetness needs no accentuation, at least to me.

The Most Basic Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges
Cooking Time: 1/2 hour start to finish
Zone Blocks: each medium sweet potato is 3 blocks, 1/2 T of olive oil is about 4-5 blocks.  Use less if desired, but beware of stickage.  

1 sweet potato per diner (each is 3 blocks on the zone diet)
1/2 T olive oil per sweet potato

Start heating your broiler on Low and remember to keep the oven door open a crack (I know, this has always weirded me out--if the oven can clean at ungodly temperatures, why am I cracking it and losing all this heat for broiling?).  Make sure one of your oven racks is in a high enough position to get right below the upper heating elements. 

Peel your sweet potatoes and slice lengthwise into thin wedges (say 1/4 inch), no need for a mandolin (unless you have one you really like to use), just a heavy chef's knife will do.  I am awful with anything sharp; I almost always grate part of my hand whenever using the grater, so I am especially careful with knives for my inherent idiot factor.  To make this easy: after peeling, cut your first 1/4 wedge off the sweet potato side furthest from your hand (smart, huh?).  Then, lay the rest of the sweet potato on the cutting board with the cut side down, making it steady and now a little thinner to slice.  Of course, this will leave you with wedges that aren't perfect ovals--they'll have a straight side, but really, do you care?  Slice them more if desired, but the wedges work fine for me. 

Once cut, pile them on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil, and sprinkle garlic, salt, and pepper (your discretion about how much to use--I like mine garlicy and salty).  Then, get your hands dirty by tossing the potatoes to evenly coat every one with oil, salt, garlic, and pepper--both sides.  Then, arrange in rows to allow for the most surface area exposure to the heat.  Whack in the oven (but leave the door open a crack!), and give them 10 minutes--more or less.  Look frequently for browning and remove to flip once you see any evidence of burning.  This is a fun game of how far can you let them go to get crunchy without going over the line to burnage.  Fun!  Flip and repeat on the second side noting that this side always takes less time.  Once done, remove and try not to burn yourself devouring them!  They are yummy!

Serving Suggestion:
I am naughty and still eat starches with beef and poultry, but perhaps eggs would be a better choice now that I have looked into it more.  Let me know what combinations work best!

Sweet Potatoes on FoodistaSweet Potatoes