Friday, December 18, 2009

Favorite Recipes: Spoon Salad and Simple Citrus Dressing

I have been trying out recipes from around the blogsphere lately and found a delicious keeper that will definitely become a staple: Spoon Salad by Simply... Gluten Free (sorry, I ate it before photographing it!).  While the name doesn't really illustrate the deliciousness of this dish, I implore you to check out the recipe.  I was skeptical at first too, but the tasty blend of every veggie known to man really won me over, especially after I added my simple dressing to spark the taste buds.  And the best part (besides being freakin' easy, quick, and no-cooking-required), as Carol discovered: the family will love it!  My husband really dove in and had it more than once, which definitely speaks something for those less inclined to feast upon veggies!  Here's my experience:

Ingredients I used:
4 small to medium golden beets, peeled and cut in half
2 carrots, peeled and cut in half

1/2 head of red cabbage, rinsed, dried, and quartered
6 small zucchini, rinsed, dried, and ends chopped off and cut in half

1 bunch of chard, rinsed and dried
1 bunch of Italian parsley, rinsed and dried
1 container of pre-washed baby arugula

I made the recipe as described, but used golden beets and was pleasantly surprised by their complete lack of stainability, a known problem with their red relatives.  I peeled four small-medium golden beets and cut them in half and added them to peeled carrots (cut in half) in the food processor.  I pulsed until the large bits were broken up and then let 'er whirl until the tiny bits collected on the sides.  I made sure I stopped short of puree, but the fine chop was ideal.  What came out was a sunset hue of veggies that was so gorgeous I almost stopped there.  The burnt orange-yellow sunset veggies looked so vibrant, reflecting off the sheet metallic bowl.  But I had so many veggies to use, I couldn't stop there.

Onward I plunged, scraping out the carrot-beet mixture, adding the half head of red cabbage, quartered, by itself since there was so much (and it took 2 batches to completely chop--so don't overfill or you'll be fishing out chunks from the finely chopped bits--not fun).  The purple hue added a twilight tinge to my sunset veggies.  Then, the zucchini (I could only find tiny ones, so I used twice as many and cut each in half before adding to the food processor), which added puffy white clouds to my sunset.  Finally, the vegetation to be bathed in sunset splendor: one processing batch each of rinsed and well-dried chard and parsley and arugula I substituted for watercress that I couldn't find at the store (I saved my kale for kale chips instead since I think I had quite enough greenery without it).  The arugula added a lovely peppery-ness I adored.  The result was a kaleidoscope of colors, a rainbow sunset with each color just screaming out from the masses with its own uniqueness of flavor and texture.   I was enthralled.

I let the salad sit until dinnertime and then dressed individual servings with Simple Citrus Dressing.  OMG it was divine and such an awesome way to get your raw veggies!!!  To note, on cold days, you can also heat the salad in the microwave and it tastes great!  I served it with seared scallops, broiled fish, chicken, grass-fed beef, you name it.  Delicious!  And the recipe makes a ton--so you can experiment with it and serve it in different ways for a good portion of the week (it lasts a good 4-5 days when covered and refrigerated).  Enjoy your veggies!

Simple Citrus Dressing
Use this vibrant dressing on all sorts of salads and seafood to brighten the flavor and spark your taste buds!
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Serves: 2 as individual salad dressing or one honking salad to be devoured by a group

1 avocado (the larger, the better)

juice of 1-2 citrus--lemon or lime work equally well

optional: garlic powder/granules and chopped chives or green onions

optional: nut oil of your choosing to dilute dressing to your pleasing (NOTE: too much hazelnut oil makes it overpoweringly hazelnutty, you are warned)

optional for the lime dressing: chopped or torn cilantro

optional for the lemon dressing: small bit of olive tapenade or plain olives

play around with spices as you like!

Juice the citrus of your choice and place it in a bowl.  Add half of the avocado and mash the avocado with the juice.  Add any optional ingredients.  Taste and adjust quantities/seasonings.  Add dressing to the salad and mix throughly to coat evenly.  Cube the other half of the avocado.  Add it to the finished salad.  Voila!--you have a simple salad in five minutes or less!

Serving Suggestions:
This is great over the Spoon Salad, but also delicious over mixed greens and spinach.  I make it in a tupperware container and just keep adding more avocado and citrus (sometimes oil) as needed until I feel it has been around for too long (lasts at least a week).  This is also the only way I have kept avocado with success without it turning disgusting brown.  The citrus saves the vibrant green color for salad after salad!

Citrus Dressing on FoodistaCitrus Dressing

Monday, November 30, 2009

Make a Date with Delicious

Dates.  To me, they conjure up images of Arabian royalty dining upon these delicacies in their opulent palaces.  I also hear the Aladdin merchant yelling, "Sugar dates and figs!  Sugar dates and pistachios!"  Yes, I watched that movie way too many times in my youth.  The dates on the table in Raiders of the Lost Ark piqued my interest, although it saddened me when poisoned dates were responsible for the death of the cute little monkey spy...  Anyway, dates have always been foreign to me, not something to which I was exposed as a child outside of television and movies.

Bottom line: I was missing out!

Dried dates are candy, plain and simple.  They are an excellent substitute for sugar and retain its caramelization and candy-sweet properties.  However, we can assume that with that sugary taste comes a nasty blood sugar spike.  Or does it?  The glycemic index value of dates is 103, higher than glucose set at 100.  But that number has puzzled researchers due to dates having a high fiber content, which would lower their GI.  Their glycemic load, which takes into account grams of carbohydrate minus water weight, was very high, too, at over 40, which makes sense given they are dried.  But what does this mean?  Well, to calculate these values, 50g of this carbohydrate were tested, which is actually about the quantity used in my recipe.  Of course if you eat all 12 yourself in one sitting, your blood sugar will be higher than a kite!  Duh!  Another study tested other varieties of dates and found them to be low glycemic, so there is definitely some dispute going on.  There is even some contention about whether or not the glycemic index is more important than dietary fiber quantity in food or if it is relevant to real life eating situations since the values were obtained 2 hours after eating the food and on a fasted stomach.  Bottom line: it seems that dried fruit in moderation is fine and can be reaped for its nutritional benefits.

Medjool Dates used in my recipe are Moroccan in origin and were almost wiped out there due to a disease in the 1920s.  Luckily, a portion of the healthy plants were transferred to the US and have been successfully cultivated here.  Dates are perhaps the first cultivated tree crop dating back more than 5000 years.  They have been a royal delicacy for much of their history.  Dates are also nutritious.  They have a good percentage of dietary fiber and have three times the potassium of bananas!  Potassium is integral for maintaining blood pressure, healthy kidneys, and cellular functions.  It is lost through perspiration and regained through your diet.  They also have a variety of B-complex vitamins and are a good source of magnesium (used for bone development and metabolism).

Pecans, our second major ingredient, are native to the Americas.  Pee cans or puh-cahns?  As Emeril would say, pee cans are for truckers.  They are chocked full of antioxidants--more than any other nut!  One antioxidant in pecans, Vitamin E, is responsible for reducing the oxidation of blood lipids and, thus, helping to prevent coronary heart disease.   Their antioxidants may also protect against cancer and Alzheimer's disease.  More details can be found here and here.  They are also rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, which are heart healthy fat.  They also have loads of vitamins and minerals.

So, here is a delicious, tasty, EASY treat to blast your taste buds.  I was inspired by this recipe from Girl Gone Primal--love her site!  Such brilliance to try something so simple!  I made hers with the apricot and walnuts and wasn't overly impressed with the taste (even with roasted walnuts)--perhaps it was the different varieties of apricots or nuts across the continents or just my own weird taste buds.  I knew the idea had potential and I know that so many people like hers, so I am just weird, but I tinkered with it to find the perfect combination of flavors at least for myself.  I think I found it!

Pecan Fudge Truffles
Fudge, plain and simple and sugar-free (aside from those delicious-as-candy dates).  
Makes: 12 bite-sized balls

Cooking Time: 30 minutes of preparation, tops, even accounting for cooling before assembly PLUS as long as your heart desires for freezing to get an ideal consistency.  I like mine really frozen (a few hours), but they are certainly edible and just as tasty sooner.

Zone Blockage: You can be my guest to figure this one out.  Exactly what size/variety is the "2 dates per block"?  Can you even find pecans on the list?  I would rather just enjoy them as a paleo-style treat!

1/2c pecans
1t vanilla extract
6-8 small Medjool dates or 4 jumbo/large, pitted and torn in half (2-3 ounces)
unsweetened shredded coconut (1/2c at least)
unsweetened cocoa powder (1/4c at least)

This is pretty darn simple.  Toast your shredded coconut in a naked skilled over medium heat.  It'll take a few minutes to get going, but once you start to see browning, stir often and keep an eye on it until you reach desired GB&D level (Golden Brown and Delicious, courtesy Alton Brown's Good Eats).  Meanwhile, set your pecans on a sheet pan in a 350 degree oven (I suggest toasting more than you need for inevitable future batches).  Keep an eye on these as well since they love to burn and are already golden brown in color at the start.  Even mild burning leaves this dessert with that burned nut flavor, so err on the side of caution!  Let your toasted coconut and pecans cool before beginning the assembly process.  Place the cocoa and toasted coconut in separate regular-sized or shallow bowls.

Assembly: (this is almost so easy, it is laughable) get out your food processor.  Dump in the pecans, vanilla, and halved dates.  Pulse to chop up the dates then let 'er whirl until the mixture begins to clump.  This only takes a minute or so.  Make sure your nuts are ground into tiny bits, and then remove the clumpy mixture from the processor onto a parchment paper-lined sheet pan.  Create little teaspoon-sized balls with your hands (roll in your palm) then plop 4 or so into your bowl of cocoa powder.  Here is the magic method: instead of gunking up your sticky hands, swirl the bowl so that the balls roll around and coat themselves!  Brilliant!  Of course I figured this one out after many, many batches of club-hands.  Then, remove the balls into the coconut bowl and repeat the process.  You may want to get your hands involved to press on some coconut if it isn't sticking well.  Remove from the coconut bowl and place on the sheet pan.  Repeat the process with the remaining balls and leave room between them on the sheet pan.  Whack 'em in the freezer until you cannot stand waiting any longer.  Enjoy feasting upon their awesome fudgy deliciousness!

How can such a simple process create such amazing chocolately, coconuty fudge?!?  And the best part: NO SUGAR (besides the dates, of course).  How awesome is that?  Are these worthy of your unenlightened brethren who might think your diet is insane?  I think so!


Date Candy on Foodista

Friday, November 20, 2009

Get Your Kids Off the Crack

A healthy start to your day.

Yes, that is what sugar is to our bodies.  It's addictive as crack and packed with a slew of health detriments worthy of being called a drug.  So today I am going to help any parents out there by providing some useful information and case stories to help you get your kids to eat healthy (and you yourself if you haven't taken the plunge!).  By healthy I mean: meats and veggies, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and NO sugar, NO grains, NO legumes, and NO dairy.  Difficult mission?  Not really as difficult as you may think.  Cue Scrooged voice over: "Your life might just depend on it."

Why bother?

Here are just a few reasons to change your children's diet:

1.  Their health.  Equipping your kids with the most healthy digestive system you can will help them fight off bugs that kids so frequently catch.  You are also setting up their bodies to resist disease and such prevalent problems plaguing our children as obesity and even cancer.  Check out all those healthy veggies I have been describing.  Antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals are necessary NOT optional.  Kids need protein, fat, and carbohydrate at every meal to help balance their hormones and avoid highs and lows in blood sugar.  Changing your child's diet can also help existing conditions such as asthma, MS, autism, and diabetes.  Check out Robb Wolf's site like this post for more on diabetes and read up on Loren Cordain's research on his website for more details and case studies.  If you knew you had a possible remedy for these conditions or could protect against them, wouldn't you give it a try?  

2.  Their body image.  You are setting your kids down the right path when you care about what they eat.  You are showing them how important good food choices are and how they are an important part of a healthy lifestyle.  Eating healthy will inevitably lead to a healthy-looking body.  No, they won't be paper thin models and no, they won't be obese.  Neither is okay or healthy.  You are showing them that food is fuel to help maintain bodily systems, build muscle, and allow for growth.  Along with exercise (like CrossFit!), your kids will develop healthy, toned bodies that are useful for reaching their fitness goals.  The perks of looking good in a bathing suit for your teen are just that: perks.  The real goals should be getting one more pullup, climbing the rope faster, finishing a workout faster with heavier weight and better technique, and achieving that difficult skill for the first time.  A healthy body comes from exercise and nutrition.  You can't have one without the other.

Check out this Dove commercial showing a model's transformation and how our perception of beauty is distorted.  Every young girl (and boy) should watch this.

Here is the take from a reporter on the photoshop extravaganza in our media: Part 1 and Part 2.

3.  Their well-being and mental clarity.  Giving the kids the tools to balance their diet with healthy protein, fat, and carbohydrates is like teaching them math or reading.  With these tools they can soar.  Their mental clarity will be pronounced.  No more highs and lows as their blood sugar roller coasters from the last sugar-laden meal.  Many teachers have reported remarkably better concentration at school from children following these dietary guidelines.  Here is evidence of improved test scores, better discipline, and improved health from a principal who banned sugar.  Balancing the nutrients and fueling the body with what it needs also protects against rapid mood swings and depression.  I am not saying that your teenagers will be angels, but if you can help them gain more control over their mental state, wouldn't it be worth it?  Eating healthy just makes you feel good.  Give it a try!

4.  Their values.  By cleaning up your children's diet, you are showing how much you care about your children and value their health.  By changing your diet to eliminate most processed foods, you are changing their value systems to respect local, organic sources for their food and to care about the process foods undergo to get to the table.  You are making them think about where their food comes from and to better connect with it.  Each trip together to a farmer's market and allowing your child a free-for-all to find fruit and veggies of his/her choice can be like a trip to the toy store or candy store.  Cook and prepare your meals together as a family activity.  Let these new experiences help define for your child what is healthy and fun.  Help your children respect the environment and their foods by making the right choices yourself.  Lead by example.

5.  Their future.   You have the means to send your kids down the right path right now.  The decisions you make now will echo throughout their lives.  If you give a kid childhood obesity, he will battle it throughout his adult life.  The same goes for the other side of the coin.  If you give your kids a healthy childhood, they will grow strong and be buffered against the not-so-wise decisions they may make later in life.  Imagine if you had a healthy diet and CrossFit when you were growing up.  What kind of a beast would you be today?  Check out CrossFit Kids HQ for examples of said beasts growing up with the benefit of CrossFit and healthy nutrition.  They are the role models we want for our kids.

If you could raise your kids so that they have the tools to lead a long, healthy life, wouldn't you make the effort?  Right now, by throwing away that leftover Halloween candy and purging the house of all high fructose corn syrup-laden foods, grains, and sugar you can make a difference.  It isn't that hard when it comes right down to it.  Some discomfort, yes, but time will win this war.  If you can hold up your resolve, soon the kids will stop asking for that candy bar or trip to McDonald's.  Instead, allow them to pick their meals and treats from healthy choices at the store or restaurant.  You will be surprised not by the limitations, but by the opportunities and bounty of real food that is out there.  Let your children's lapses into their old life and diet come from outside your control and soon your kids will realize that the sugar/grain hangover they feel after a sleepover binge isn't really worth it or at least definitely not something they want to do everyday.

Most importantly, you are their parent.  You can do this.  The rewards speak for themselves.

How Can I Get Started?

Here are some amazing resources to help you make this change as easy as possible.

1.  If you are just going to read one source for curiosity's sake, this is it.  This blog post at Organic and Thrifty is about how a mom got her kids to follow a gluten-free diet.  While gluten-free is a step in the right direction, it is best to give up ALL grains and sugars and even dairy since it is just concentrated grains (unless you switch to raw 100% grass-fed milk).  Sometimes it takes a celiac child to force this issue, but imagine what you can do if you make this change voluntarily and don't wait for such a problem to force your hand!  I love her thorough article detailing her personal experience and how to make it happen in your own life.  Please read this!

2.  Another great read is a father's experience and recommendations for how you can do the same at CrossFit California City.  He is straightforward, and the advice he gives is effective.

3.  Here is CrossFit Norcal's answer to how to get kids to eat paleo.  Simple and straightforward.

4.  The CrossFit Journal has a free article called "Getting off the crack" by Nicole Carroll.  This is an adult's perspective of embarking upon the zone diet.

5.  More brevity needed?  Here is CrossFit Kids nutritional advice:
Sane nutrition for kids in 150 words

Our goal with kids isn't to get them on the zone, but to get them to think and make good choices about what they eat. Our goal is to teach them very basic concepts, sugar is bad, protein is good and you need to eat some in every meal. Nuts and seeds are good fats. Eat them, don't avoid them. Pasta, white bread, and white rice are not that good for you, stuff that's red, yellow, green and found in the fruit and vegetable aisle is good for you. Eat a lot of it.

Look at your plate, make a fist, eat that much meat every meal; turn your hand over and fill it with nuts and seeds, eat that much good fat, fill the rest of your plate with stuff you found in the fruit and vegetable aisle. Fill your plate this way at every meal, don't eat more.

6.  Still have some arguments against the big change?  Here are six reasons NOT to eat paleo and why they DON'T hold up.  Let this be your ammunition when others question your "insanity."

7.  Robb Wolf chimes in with Kids, Paleo and Nutrient Density with a scientific approach to show that paleo is good for kids, and NO they will not miss anything vital to their nutrition--in fact, they will be far healthier!  

The First Step: Breakfast

Many people say the most important and effective first step is changing breakfast.  Throw away those high glycemic, sugary breakfast cereals and exchange them for real food.

My go-to breakfast is eggs (farmer's market or omega-enriched) and sausage (Aidell's varieties that are sugar, grain, and soy free) with either some bread or an apple (microwave it for a minute or two for a great warm apple breakfast suitable for this chilly weather!).  I also sometimes change it up and have leftover chicken or turkey sauteed with apple and cinnamon for a quick skillet breakfast.  I also used to go crazy with the omelets and veggies, which is probably preferable to the fruit.  For example, simply toss in some spinach, mushrooms, and summer squash for a hearty meal with your eggs.  Leftovers are also an option (mmmmnn  reheated spaghetti with meat sauce), as are Egg Cupcakes 2.0 courtesy of CrossFit Norcal for a more portable breakfast.  Breakfast is also the easiest meal to eat out in restaurants with omelets abounding any breakfast menu.  Just exchange the toast for a fruit cup.

For more on healthy meal ideas, check out my post Lunch Time for some simple lunch and snack ideas.  I have already posted some tasty dinner ideas and will post more in the future!

Are You Inspired to Make the Change? 

Let me know what else you need to help you get started and I will try to help in any way that I can! If you have already taken the plunge, let us know how you accomplished it!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chips are back on the menu!

Yes, I have been a bit too into putting the old reliables back into my diet in a paleo way.  In one day I made three paleo pumpkin pies and muffins and don't even like pumpkin pie!  I tried to make a pecan fig tart over and over without success and have some good bar cookies and freezer bars (they don't stay together at room temperature) for our munching, but nothing really shines yet as THE recipe to submit to the world.  Still working, tinkering...  Since I have a husband trying to stay on the zone and am trying to preserve my own sanity, my baking is going to be more limited in the future.  Baking within paleo and fruit sugar source restrictions is difficult to say the least.  There have been many delicious failures...

Today, I would like to promote veggies.  Plain and simple.  I have made two awesomely delicious veggie chips that I have to share.

Being a skeptic with any recipe that says it can replicate chips (yes, I have tried baked apple chips and they DID NOT warrant the name of chips; they were more like chewy apple jerky), you can imagine how thrilled I was to find I can make crispy chips out of my own oven!  Using nutritious non-tuber veggies!  Without frying!  And I can make them easily all by myself!  How awesome is that?!  Now you can too!

Kale Creations

I already spouted about how nutritious kale is in Kale Salad.  For example, it is labeled as a superfood for being so nutritious, so check it out.  One caveat: cooking veggies leads to some nutrient loss, so keep that in mind.  On the other hand, heat breaks cell walls making many nutrients more bioavailable to us during digestion.  So the take away message: eat your veggies both raw and cooked!

Kale Chippies (yes, you have to say it in your squeaky, high-pitched GIR voice)
Basically, I tried this recipe I found at Girl Gone Primal and just converted the oven temperature to Fahrenheit and added my go-to spice: garlic powder!  Never underestimate the power of garlic to take something good to the next level of deliciousness!

Cooking Time: Start to finish, less than a half an hour!

1 bunch of kale per diner (I used dinosaur kale because it has such great texture--like dinosaur skin!)
olive oil
black pepper
garlic powder
any other spices your heart desires

Preheat your oven to 355.  Meanwhile, wash the crap out of your kale (unfortunately, farmers market kale is often teaming with life, so wash thoroughly!).  Tear the kale leaves off the thick part of the stalk in big chunks.  There is some shrinkage in the oven, so don't make them too small or they'll shrivel up and burn.  Discard the thick stalks (I have to find a recipe using them, I feel bad throwing them away!).  Dry your kale in a salad spinner or with paper towels.  Dinosaur kale is pretty awesome in that it repels water, so there isn't much water to wick away after washing.  Now, put your kale on a sheet pan or pans (preferably lined with Silpat, parchment, or foil) so that they aren't overly crowded (ideally one layer).  I was living on the edge and neglected to line my sheet pan or use two pans for two bunches of kale--such a rebel!--but since the other recipes mention these preventative measures, I should too even though mine was successful and without excessive cleanup.  Next, drizzle on the olive oil (don't glug, but try to get enough on there to coat once you toss it--remember fat is GOOD) and then sprinkle on the salt, pepper, garlic powder, and any other spices you desire.  Toss the leaves around with your hands to coat everybody equally.  Now, whack 'er in the oven for 10 minutes and check.  Remove to a plate any browned ones or firm ones that are chips.  Yes, they are actually chips!  Leave in any floppy, moist ones for another 5 minutes in the oven.  Repeat until all of your kale has magically transformed into CHIPS!

Crunch away on one of the most awesome and nutritious chips out there!

Eggplant?  Seriously?

Alton Brown from the epicly nerdlicious Food Network show Good Eats helped inspire this eggplant application.  His brilliant pressing strategy lets the eggplant soak in taste rather than become a mushy mess.  Eggplant is delicious and nutritious, so don't shy away from this purple peculiarity.

Eggplant is a nightshade (NOTE: I will discuss at more length in a future post), which means it isn't the best if you are avoiding inflammation and is not quite tasty if you are a cat indulging upon human dinner left out on the counter momentarily unattended (yes, she threw up--but no, it didn't deter her from another counter scavenger hunt later that night, damn cat).  Nutrition wise, eggplant has a good amount of fiber, potassium, manganese, and B vitamins.  It is filled with antioxidants that provide a protective role in our bodies from damaging oxidative reactions.  One such phytonutrient antioxidant in eggplant protects the lipids in our brain cell membranes.  Another one in high quantity is chlorogenic acid which has been found to have anti-cancer, antiviral, anti-microbial, and anti-LDL cholesterol functions.  Bottom line: surprise, surprise, veggies are good for you!

Here is a great method of preparation which serves as a stepping stone to other inventive culinary creations!

Eggplant Chippies
Eggplant takes a little more preparation than kale, but there is a delicious reward for your diligence.  

Time Required: at least 2 hours of pressing, then it is fast and done in 15 minutes.  You can also prepare the eggplant ahead of time and use them for dinner that night--especially if you can give those babies a flip and change their towels half way through the day.  

one regular-sized eggplant per diner
olive oil

Slice the eggplant into half inch thick...slices (I hate repeating myself) and lay one layer on sheet pans lined with pet hair-free tea towels or doubled paper towels.  Sprinkle with salt (don't coat).  Then, top with a tea towel or another doubled paper towel sheet.  Place another sheet pan on top and weigh it down using whatever you have handy that is heavy (i.e. cast iron pans, cans, your cat).  Let them press for 1 hour.  Afterwards, come back and replace the now damp towels, flip the eggplant, sprinkle with salt, and replace the heavies for more pressing.  Repeat as many times as desired/you have the patience for.  Once ready to cook, rinse the eggplant to get off the salt (don't worry, there is still some inside, but not too much, hence the "don't coat" warning above--believe me, I have been there).  Dry with paper towels/pet hair-free tea towels and lay in one layer on the bare sheet pan (use two pans if you can't fit them all).  Don't line the sheet pan this time because we are headed for the broiler and lining can't take the heat, baby.  Drizzle olive oil on your eggplant and you're going to have to be a little liberal since those suckers are sponges.  Turn your broiler on to Low and place the sheet pan on the highest rack.  Prop the door open at its broiler location (why is that again? perhaps for morons like me who like to close the door and forgetaboutit to the point of burnage?).  Check in five minutes for browning, and if you have it, flip.  If not, wait til you do.  Once both sides are browned, you are done!  Salt or spice to taste.

Serving Suggestions:

Neapolitan with Meat Sauce: One incredibly tasty way to serve these is as little Neapolitans with Basic Meat Sauce.  Just assemble your little Leaning Tower and create a tasty moat surrounding with the excess (mine was not suitable for pictures--even the sauce in my pic looks more bloody than tomatoey, unfortunately).   NOTE: this serving style will lose the crispiness of the eggplant, but their roasted sweetness really hits the meat sauce out of the park!

Dunkin' Style: You can avoid the mushiness of the first application if you serve the chips on the side of the meat sauce and use them to dip, as my husband did during our feast.  Yes, my husband is brilliant, but mine was more architecturally pleasing ;)

Neapolitan with Roasted Portobellos, Roasted Red Peppers, Pesto, Fresh Basil, and Fresh Mozzarella (sorry, I am off the cheese for awhile, so no pics of this one): When I used to indulge more on cheese, I replicated a layered deli item from Whole Foods.  After paying over $10 for this tasty dish, I decided to make it myself instead.  Just broil the eggplant using my recipe, broil portobellos the same way (no need to salt and press them first, just follow the broiling method after drizzling in olive oil and sprinkling with salt), then create a tasty stack of layered mushroom slathered in pesto, topped with roasted red pepper (roast yourself or buy in the jar, but check to make sure it is paleo--no citric acid, soy, wheat, or grain products allowed!), topped with fresh basil, topped with eggplant, and finally topped with fresh mozzarella cheese.  Broil or microwave the Neapolitan to melt the cheese before serving/gorging upon.  Um, yum!

Other suggestions:
The sky is the limit.  You have a great base for many flavors and applications.  For instance, try them as Eggplant Parmesan if you eat cheese or want to indulge.  I bet they would be damn tasty sprinkled with parmesan before broiling!  You can also just snack on them as chips.  I know I have, and I didn't feel once ounce of guilt!

Kale Chips on FoodistaKale Chips
Easy and Addictive Eggplant "Chips" on FoodistaEasy and Addictive Eggplant "Chips"

Friday, November 6, 2009

Given Up Bread--Think Again!

No, you have not entered the Twilight Zone.  Bread can be had paleo-style with such simplicity and omg results that perhaps we are in another dimension!  I call this dimension Dangerously Delicious Delectables!

What's the danger?  Well, gluttony for one.  It is hard not to over-indulge with something so hard-wired into our brains as bread (dude--it was an essential part of my every meal growing up in New Jersey suburbia).  When I first made a loaf, I totally sat down and ate half of it.  No kidding.  I was just crazy with glee that bread could be had while not breaking the tenets of no sugar, no grains, and no dairy.

Here is my inspiration: Elana's Pantry's Gluten Free Sandwich Bread.  Her recipe creates a great bread, but to me, I wanted more flavor and rise since mine came out more biscotti-shaped than loaf-like.  I don't have a mini loaf pan or her mail-order almond meal, so perhaps that led to a good, but not great loaf.

I wanted to create a bread the masses could enjoy (paleo and non-paleo alike) with store bought almond flour/meal (I use Trader Joe's since it is the cheapest and that stuff can get quite pricey!) and a flavor profile I have been dying for.  Onion Bread.  Oh yeah, it is just like, nay, BETTER than that onion bagel you probably haven't had in years or that soft onion bread that makes a to-die-for sandwich bread.  And ready in 45 minutes with minimal prep and cleanup--doesn't get much better than this!  Sink your canines into:

(shown toasted and crunchy!)

Paleolicious Onion Bread
Dare you to try this and not close your eyes and revel in its soft, moist onion-breadiness!
Cooking Time: about 45 minutes start to finish!

The Dry
2 c almond flour/meal (I used Trader Joe's)
1 c arrowroot powder (you can find this at New Leaf and perhaps Whole Foods in the bulk bins)
1/2 t salt
1 t baking soda
2 t cream of tartar
1 T dried onion
1/4 t (or 10 fine grinds) of black pepper

The Wet
4 eggs (room temperature or place in lukewarm water while you prepare so they come to room temp)
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c or 4 stalks of scallions/green onions, chopped thinly

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Grab your loaf pan and cut two pieces of parchment paper to line the pan: one should span the narrow sides and extend past the lip and the second should do the same on the wide sides.  Why?  No mess!  No worry about stickage!  You can just pull the tabs to remove the loaf when finished without playing pop out the loaf onto the floor as you shake it or jimmy it out of there.  Definitely a time and effort saver!  I just cut two pieces of parchment to accomplish this, but here is another way that creates a pattern out of the parchment.  I will have to try this next time!

Ready for the action?  It is so easy it is embarrassing.  Add the dry ingredients to a large bowl (Note: to avoid the use of a sifter with the cream of tartar that likes to clump, just break it up between your fingers as you add it).  Mix well.  Add the wet ingredients to a second bowl.  Mix well and get some air into those eggs by whisking with a whisk or fork to create some bubbles.  Hey, since we can't use baking powder (contains corn) and don't want to bother with whipping egg whites, we'll take all the leavening we can get!  Now for the hard part.  Just kidding!  Dump the wet into the dry and mix to incorporate.  Now scoop into your loaf pan being careful to keep your parchment liners in place, and whack it in the oven for 30-40 minutes.  I turned my oven up to 355 upon adding the loaf so that it would kick on.  Check at 30 minutes (or 25 if your oven errs on the hot side).  You are looking for a hard top crust and a skewer that comes out mostly if not completely clean.  There should be NO wiggle to the loaf.  Once done, remove from the loaf pan and set on a wire rack to cool for a good hour or so.  Slice and enjoy once you can wait no longer!  Store in the refrigerator wrapped in paper towels and placed in a plastic bag.  It'll last a week (or more?) if you can ;)

Endless Serving Suggestions:

Yeah, go ahead and have that sandwich you have been dying for.  Now you don't have to feel guilty!

Oh, imagine it dipped in Basic Meat Sauce (perhaps with the addition of some veggies to make the sauce a meal)!

Or, if you are indulging on dairy, slather it in raw, grass fed butter!

How I have been indulging lately:

Yes, those are farmer's market eggs and Aidell's chicken apple sausage (processed yes, but still fits the requirements and is really good) atop toasted slices of Paleolicious Onion Bread.  Oh yeah!

Bon Appétit Magazine Blog Envy Bake-Off

I did it.  I entered one of my paleo-style creations into a contest!  I submitted my Pumpkin Chai Spiced Muffins since they are holiday-themed and freakin' delicious.  Hope this generates more buzz about paleo!  

Please vote for me following the Cast Your Vote link on this page:
Bon Appétit Magazine Blog Envy Bake-Off.

Readers will vote for the tastiest-looking treats in each dessert category—cakes, cookies, pies, and more. The Bon Appétit Test Kitchen will bake the top scoring dessert in each category and select an overall winner. The winner will receive a trip for two to New York City and dinner with Bon Appétit Editor-in-Chief Barbara Fairchild and Restaurant Editor Andrew Knowlton. 
Voting begins Sunday, November 1st. Entries are rolling. The contest will end Sunday, December 13th.  

I apologize in advance that I didn't realize they would make everyone register to vote.  Registration is free, though, and hopefully won't cost you your soul :)  I appreciate your support!

Have you tried my muffins?  If so, please leave some comments.  I am interested in your success at recreating my recipes and if they satisfy the cravings from your former grain-fed life.  And remember, 'with great power comes great responsibility' so now that you have the power to create paleo recreations of your favorite treats, try not to over-indulge on them!  

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