Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pie Crust 101

The holidays are in full swing and if there is one thing people eat a lot of around this time of year, its pies. Pies are delicious. Who doesn’t love pies? Our family makes a Swiss pear pie that is out of this world, and tonight, I am making turkey potpie with leftover turkey and vegetables from Christmas dinner. It was easy and delicious! I just sautéed up some veggies and turkey, threw in a little leftover gravy and chicken broth, made a pie crust and… STOP! Don’t run away so quickly…it’s just a piecrust. Making piecrusts often strikes fear in the hearts of many, when there is really no need to be afraid. They are quite easy to make. Nutritionally speaking, piecrusts are pretty caloric, but we can make a few minor tweaks to the recipe to make them a little healthier as well.

Now there are many different tricks and tips for making the perfect piecrust. My mother in-law uses vodka instead of water and using a food processor is also helpful, however, my rule of thumb for piecrust making is: use butter. Toss that Crisco in the garbage if you haven’t already because the news is out. Partially hydrogenated soybean oil is disgusting. Not only does it taste gross, (did you ever try eating it as a kid because it looked like ice cream?) but also it is a nutritional nightmare. Partially hydrogenated oils are loaded with trans fat. Trans fat increases your LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and decreases HDL (the good kind). It also increases triglycerides in your blood and causes inflammation in the body. The saturated fat that is in butter doesn’t have all these nasty side effects.

Okay I hear you saying, “Crisco makes the flakiest crust”. I’ll buy it. Shortening has a wider melting range so it is able to stay in solid form while you are preparing and rolling out the crust. The pea size granules that are desired in piecrust baking will then melt in the oven, creating layers in the dough and a flakier crust. But the same effect can be achieved with butter if the butter is extra cold and the dough is not over mixed or kneaded. Vegans can also use coconut oil or palm oil instead of butter as long as it is kept cold prior to mixing it with the flour and water.

In the piecrust that I made tonight I substituted ½ of the all purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour to give it a little more fiber, protein, and a nuttier flavor. It was delicious! What kinds of pies do you enjoy making? What are your secrets to make the flakiest pie crust?

(adding the ice cold butter in small cubes to the flour in the food processor)

(pulse the butter in the food processor until pea size granules are not over mix!)

(after adding just enough ice water the dough should clump together when squeezed like this)

(Form the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic. Now pop it in the fridge for about 1 hour.)

(I roll out my dough in between 2 sheets of plastic wrap. My home economics teacher taught me this in high school. There are a few good reasons: 1) no flour used to roll which can make the crust tough and also a WAY easier clean up. 2) the crust is very easy to transfer to the pie pan.)

(Aw...isn't it pretty?)

(Dinner time! Delicious and flaky pie crust!)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Brain Food

Today kind of sucked. It’s finals week and I’m tired and cranky. I have been studying all weekend and all day and I am officially over it. The only thing that keeps me going during times like this is sugar-laden treats and knowing that it will all be over soon. After dinner tonight I might have whipped up some chocolate chip cookies or eaten an entire Theo chocolate bar, but with all this studying and with the holidays around the corner I thought I would do something good for my brain and my body and make a dessert that wasn’t so sinful.

Tada! Date and Walnut Balls. These walnut balls are so delicious, try making them as one of your Christmas cookies this year, people wont even realize that they are good for you. They also make great lunch box treats for kids!

They are a variation on Cynthia Lair’s Date Pecan Bon Bons, I just substituted walnuts for pecans because walnuts are super high in omega 3 fatty acids. You brain loves omega 3s, 60% of it is made from them. I figured I could use all the help I could get tomorrow on my Food Science final! Wish me luck!

Don't they look delicious? They kinda remind me of the SNL skit with Alex Baldwin. If you don't know the one...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

At Least the Chili Was a Winner

As the weather gets colder, football season takes over our little apartment. We are hard up on our luck though. I’m a Buffalo native so I haven’t been excited to watch since the early nineties. Now that we are living in Seattle, I have been giving the Seahawks a try to no avail. We aren’t that impressed on Saturdays either with the Cougs or the Huskies. Oh well, at least we can eat chili and that is what we are going to do today. Everyone has their “secret ingredient” when it comes to chili. Some people use chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, other use chocolate, cinnamon, or Guinness. These are all delicious ingredients, but you heard it here first, I am going to let you in on my secret ingredient. Beef. Okay I know that you are disappointed to hear that, you already knew beef, duh! Well read on…

Grass fed beef is definitely where it is at, and it is the ONLY kind of beef that we eat in our house. See, cows are grazers. They like to roam about in an open field and munch on grass and that is what they are meant to do. America eats a lot of beef, as I am sure you know, mostly in the form of a patty that they pick up at one drive through or another. In order to increase production to meet the needs of Americans, beef producers crammed bunches of cattle into a small spaces scattered throughout the Midwest and fed them corn, and lots of it. Why you ask? Well another thing that Americans eat a lot of is corn, what is another story in itself, but we have a lot of it. Also, it fattens cattle WAY faster than grass so they can go to slaughter in a matter of months, as supposed to years. The sad part to this story is that corn makes cows sick. Their multiple stomachs aren’t made to digest it, as it ferments in their bellies, giving them bloat and ulcers. Next come the antibiotics to keep their ulcers from becoming infected and making them sicker. Are you grossed out yet?

Aside from the moral dilemma that corn fed beef brings up, it is nutritionally, a nightmare. It is extremely high in saturated fat and causes inflammation in the body, one of the largest contributors to diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Grass fed beef, on the other hand is quite the opposite. It is extremely high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help to lessen inflammation, and lower in saturated fats.

In our house, we are lucky enough to have a rancher in the family. Jon’s dad raises grass fed beef so we get our meat from him. Don’t fret if you don’t know a rancher. Grass fed beef is popping up in all the quality grocery stores and if you visit your local farmer’s market, you are sure to find it. You will definitely pay a little extra for it, but the cows and your body will thank you!

To leave you tempted to eat some delicious and healthy grass fed beef, I have some photos of my homemade chili! Now for some football! Go Hawks!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Stuff the bird, not yourself!

Could it get any better? A day filled with family, friends, and delicious homemade food! You know what I am talking about! Thanksgiving! It’s tomorrow! Hooray! I have very fond memories of Thanksgiving Day in my house growing up. The smells, the tastes, the warmth, the laughter, and the games (I will beat you at Parcheesi some day, Mom!) are all part of the holiday for me.

There is of course, one uncomfortable thing about Thanksgiving. I am sure that you can relate. Sitting at the table, getting in one more bite of turkey because it is so delicious and that is what Thanksgiving is about, right? Eating until you keel over. What gives? This can’t be right. We are celebrating our thanks for the delicious bounty of food we are privileged enough to have…doesn’t that mean that we should appreciate it? How can you possibly appreciate your lovely thanksgiving dinner if you make yourself sick on it? Since when did this become a tradition?

Therefore I present to you, the Thanksgiving challenge. It’s about tuning in to your body. What we call in the nutrition world, listening to your hunger and satiety cues. It’s about eating enough, but not too much, and eating when you are hungry and not eating when you aren’t. Thanksgiving is a perfect time to practice listening to your hunger and satiety cues. It is easy to fill your plate to the brim with all the different options and favorite dishes. Try and be mindful of the fact that all that food on your plate is probably more than you need. Eat slowly and appreciate every bite and all the flavors. When your belly tells you it’s had enough, listen. Put down the fork people! You can always pick it up again later, if you are still hungry. Make it a new tradition to feel well nourished after your Thanksgiving dinner, not over nourished!

Enjoy this Thanksgiving by NOT eating too much. Think of it this way, more leftovers for turkey sandwiches the next day!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

They're NOT so Gr-r-reat!

When you walk down the isle of a grocery store, I’m just guessing on this number, but probably two thirds of the packaged food in the store would be categorized as “kid food”. Frozen dinners, rainbow colored cereals, string cheese, and Lunchables are just some of the examples of food marketed specifically at children. Even baby food gets me a little bent out of shape. I get the convenience factor of it, but if people are cooking for their families, they can simply puree some of the simplest ingredient in their meal for their baby. When I used to work at Globus, a lovely Thai restaurant in Ketchum Idaho, people used to come in and ask for the kids menu. Globus didn’t have a kids menu, not to say that it was restaurant that was unfriendly towards children, but I think, rather the opposite. Children are worthy of eating the same foods that adults do and they should.

The shock of the parent ordering the meal usually escalated when I explained that most children really enjoyed the cucumber salad and our Rama dish. “Oh they’ll never eat that!” They would explain. And you know what? The child probably won’t if they keep hearing their parent say that. I could go on about this forever really, but my point is that children should be eating the same food that their parents do, that is how we teach our children to be healthy eaters. A child that will “only” eat chicken nuggets and macaroni is “only” eating that because that is what is offered to them. Every child goes through a phase of rejecting food. Foods must be tried again and again in order to be accepted.

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Marion Nestle speak at the University of Washington. She spoke directly about the marketing toward children that the food industry is doing. The numbers are astonishing, Kellogg’s spent 21 million dollars last year in marketing Frosted Flakes alone! That is more money that Michelle Obama has to work with towards reducing childhood obesity. A professional term used in food marketing is the “pester factor”. A higher factor is good for the food industry because parents will buy that food simply to avoid a temper tantrum in the grocery store. Marketing food towards children is wrong and under minds the parents. Do not buy into the fact that these foods are made for your children. Packaged “kids foods” are high in sugar and fat, making them addicting and are a contributing factor to childhood obesity.

If you are trying to find real food for you child, look no further than whole foods simply prepared, that your whole family can enjoy together. Let’s face it, do you really want a cartoon character telling you what to feed you child?

Parents: for strategies on feeding you child I highly recommend looking at the work of Ellyn Satter. Here is the link to her website:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Just Loafin Around

Want to have a sandwich? A veggie burger? How about a nice crusty loaf with some bean soup? Bread is an essential part of the American diet, and, despite the stigma surrounding it, it can be a part of a healthy diet too.

There are a couple things when it comes to selecting bread in the grocery store. Most of us are pretty savvy to the fact that we want to choose things that are made from whole grains. Whole grains have fiber, vitamins and minerals, and help keep blood sugar balanced. Bear in mind that bread is often made from a mixture of whole and refined flours, the higher the percentage of whole grains the mix, the better. Also realize that wheat flour is not whole-wheat flour, so when you read this on the ingredient list it really means white flour.

Look to the list of ingredients and avoid items with high fructose corn syrup. Also be mindful that loaves with evaporated cane juice listed as the second ingredient might not be the best choice as that they are high in sugar. Sugar is not a necessary ingredient in bread and I have had many tasty store bought loaves that do not include it at all! One brand that I really like is Food for Life. They make sprouted grain bread that is 100% whole grains and has no added sugar. Also sprouting grains makes them easier to digest, and might be a good option for someone who has a hard time with whole-wheat flour.

Another thing that I like to do in the grocery store is buy the local bakery bread. It is expensive, but if you buy a nice artisan loaf, the ingredients are usually very basic such as whole-wheat flour, water, salt, and yeast. If you are in the Seattle area you have got to try Essential Baking Company’s Pain du George. It is made with 100% whole-wheat flour and is light, fluffy and deliciously crusty! (Plus, George is my dad’s name so I like it!)

As I just mentioned, artisan bread has very few ingredients and is relatively easy to make. I also just recently acquired a sourdough starter and have just begun the experimentation process of learning how to bake with it.

Sourdough starter is actually wild yeast. You use it instead of commercial yeast that comes in the little packets. It gives the bread a delicious sour flavor and also adds some lovely probiotics to your loaf. Honestly since I am not an expert on bread baking (yet!) I can’t say much except give it a try. You house will smell amazing and seriously who doesn’t love freshly baked bread. To inspire you I will leave you with some photos of my first sourdough loaf! (Recognize the beautiful Le Creuset you gave us for our wedding, Emily?)

(My starter, thank you to Karen Jurgenson's grandma Wilma! This one is 90 years old!)

(Proofing process)

(Final product!)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Grocery Gal Gets Canny

I never thought I would “can” anything. I mean, isn’t that something grandmothers do? But, after a magnificent trip to Quillisascut farm school, I learned how to preserve. Suddenly canning was cool.

With the local food movement in full swing, preserving is becoming important to sustainability and eating local. Rather than buy peaches from Australia in the winter that taste like how you feel after a cross continental plane ride, why not capture them in the peak of their freshness and flavor and preserve them for the long winter months to come? That way we can enjoy nutritious and delicious foods that came from our local farms year round! It’s economical, healthy, sustainable, and an important part of our food culture…brilliant!

After a wonderful week at farm school, learning about honeybees, milking goats, making cheese, fabricating ducks, baking bread, and harvesting and preserving fruits and vegetables I was truly inspired! On the way home, I visited a neighboring organic orchard and purchased 20 pounds of peaches and nectarines. I arrived home late that night, stumbled into my apartment, exhausted from the long week of hard work and plopped the box of fruit on my kitchen table and went to bed. The next morning I woke up, opened the box and began to cry. “What was I thinking?!”

Trying to keep my cool, I rounded up jars and lids from the Goodwill (great place for inexpensive canning jars!) and my neighbor and recruited her to help me begin the process. We chopped 12 cups of nectarines and made a delicious jam. I couldn’t be happier, 2 hours of chatting with a friend, some sticky hands, and I have delicious jam that is lightly sweetened, naturally with honey.

Due to the significant dent the jam made in my stone fruit surplus and the amount that I have eaten fresh over the past 3 days, I now have just short of 30 peaches remaining. My mother-in-law and I are baking pies tomorrow and I plan on freezing the rest for smoothies.

I highly recommend giving canning and preserving a try, if you don’t already. It’s easy, fun, and an important skill to learn and pass down for future generations. Ball and Kerr jars are good choices and their rings and caps are interchangeable. Make sure that you follow a recipe and correct procedures for food safety!

What do you like to preserve? What are your favorite recipes and resources?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Latte Land

Living in Seattle we are surrounded by coffee shops, and I’ll admit it, I get it. A warm latte is like an oasis in this grey, dismal, and wet city. That is how many Seattlites operate; let’s face it, Starbucks was founded in 1971, and Microsoft followed soon there after in 1975. But as I was driving home from clinic this afternoon I spotted a billboard on the side of an espresso shop that said: “Good nights sleep? We can fix that!” Something about that sign did not sit well with me.

America is sleep deprived. We are working too hard and sleeping too little. Bedtimes get pushed back further and further in to the night as the television flickers in many homes each evening. As stress goes up and sleep goes down, our stress hormones skyrocket, which can help lead to obesity, another huge problem in America these days. To top off everything, the foods that we eat are not supportive of our health and this makes the situation even worse.

Drinking too much caffeine is like using a credit card. If you buy something that you can’t afford at the time, pretty soon, you will have to pay for it, plus interest. Having 3-4 cups of coffee a day to “keep you going” can drain out your supply of stress hormones causing severe exhaustion. Eventually you will have to build back your supply through proper eating and most importantly, sleep.

Everyone misses out on their 8 hours once in a while, but I believe it is important not to skimp on sleep too frequently. An afternoon latte or two wont hurt every so often, but every day it can be a detriment to achieving optimal health, not to mention each one runs you about 200 calories.

Do you depend on coffee for your afternoon boost? What other ways do you find energy to get you through the day?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

You Say Tomato…

It’s official. Summer is finally here! Do you know how I know? I had my first tomato. My very first, you say? Well, I had my very first tomato worth eating of this year. It was a plain old beefsteak from the market and it was delicious. Bright red, bursting with juice and the flavor of pure summer, biting into this pure delight made me wonder why I even bother with the pale, pink, mealy slices that end up on my sandwiches throughout the rest of the year. In truth, the month of August and early September is really the only time that we should be eating tomatoes… that is, if you are trying to find real food! Tomatoes in season are probably the most delicious treats you could imagine. I like mine with just a little sea salt and maybe a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Of course you CAN eat tomatoes at any other time of the year. That is the American way. You can eat tomatoes from Chile in February that have been picked while they are green so they don’t bruise or become damaged on their long journey to your plate, but why bother? They don’t taste halfway decent, they cost a lot more, and too many fossil fuels have been burnt on their travels.

Eating local and seasonal is the best way to find real food. Jon and I ventured out to the farmers market this past weekend and loaded up on local tomatoes and peaches. As peach juice dripped down my elbow on the walk home, I proclaimed, “That peach was in the top 5 best peaches I ever ate”. Last week I thought I was eating enough blueberries to turn into one, Willy Wonka style. And that, my friends, IS how to find real food. Chant these three words with me…local, seasonal, and organic! Now hurry and go and eat a tomato while you can!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

It's really chicken!

For a while there, I wasn’t eating chicken. I grew up eating the stuff practically every night of the week and I got pretty sick of the white, chewy, no flavor protein that sat on my plate all the time. So I said enough is enough and decided that chicken wasn’t for me. Then I came to a realization. I wasn’t eating REAL chicken. See I have a theory. When you buy chicken that comes on a little bed of Styrofoam that has been deboned and skinned and wrapped in plastic it just isn’t the same, free range or range free.

Lately I have eaten some damn good chicken, and guess what? A chicken is actually a bird! It has wings, legs, skin and bones and when you buy a chicken at the grocery store THAT is what it should look like. Besides being WAY tastier, a whole bird is more economical, and in my opinion, more respectful. When you can’t imagine what your food looked like when it was still alive how can you really appreciate the fact that it gave up its life to nourish you?

When you cook a chicken with the bones and skin on it adds flavor to the meat, giving it a richer taste, as supposed to that skinless, boneless, 99% fat free, white rubber.

For free range chicken, you can pay up to 13 dollars for the skinless boneless breasts, while a free range WHOLE chicken costs around the same price! That is a lot more chicken for your dollar, plus you can make a delicious stock out of the carcass for soups, sauces, or to add to grains.

To learn how to carve up a chicken check out this great video on you tube:

Here is also an amazing recipe for grilled chicken that we made on the 4th of July with friends:

Thanks Shawn for the recipe!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Olive Oil and Beyond

Have you ever taken a close look at the oil selection on the supermarket shelves? There are close to three dozen different oils to choose from, so how do we know which one to select? The truth is, there are a number of different types of culinary oil that you should keep on hand in your home kitchen, each having it’s own purpose and health benefits. Knowing how to select and purchase, discovering the beneficial health properties of each type, and correctly using them in your cooking makes all the difference in oil exploration.

Deciding on the correct type of oil in the grocery store is where it all starts. Oils, especially those that are that are liquid at room temperature, are susceptible to oxidation. Once oil is oxidized, if consumed, it creates a cascade of harmful free radicals in your body leading to systemic inflammation. There are three things that cause oxidation of oil: light, heat, and air. Take precaution, and you can easily prevent your oils from spoiling. When purchasing liquid oil, make sure that it is in an opaque glass bottle or metal can so it is protected from light. Store oil at home in a dark cabinet or in the refrigerator, away from the stove, and always keep the lid on the jar securely fastened. Choose oils that are cold pressed, meaning that they haven’t been exposed to high heats in the refinement process. It is also best to purchase oil in smaller containers, that way they are consumed faster, and exposed to less air. If you buy oil in bulk, share it with a friend and store it in smaller jars.

Each oil has it’s own unique health benefits. Olive oil is rich in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat. Consuming a diet rich in oleic acid can improve HDL levels, the heart healthy type of cholesterol. Olive oil is also loaded with polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that scavenge free radicals and reduce inflammation. Olive oil has a low smoke point so it is best used for low heat sautéing, salad dressings, and dips.

Coconut oil has a high percentage of medium chain triglycerides, which are essential for healthy gut function. It is also rich in lauric acid, giving it anti-viral and immune boosting properties. Coconut oil is a saturated fat, meaning that it is solid at room temperature, making it more stable and less susceptible to oxidation. For this reason it is a perfect substitute for butter, margarine, or shortening in baked goods and excellent for medium heat sautéing or frying. Beyond culinary uses, coconut oil can also be used as a lotion on dry and sensitive skin.

Flax seed oil is rich in alpha-linolenic acid, an omega 3 fatty acid. Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for proper brain function and can be used therapeutically to combat inflammation. The American diet is especially low in these wonderful fats, so by adding some flax seed oil to your diet, you will be doing your body a huge favor! Flax seed oil should not be exposed to heat at all. It is great for adding to smoothies and for drizzling over salads.

Sesame oil is definitely one that you will want to have on hand. It is especially resistant to rancidity and adds wonderful flavor to Asian stir-fries and dressings. The toasted version is especially tasty and its unique flavor is an excellent addition to many dishes. The health benefits of this magnificent oil go far beyond use in the kitchen. Ayurvedic practitioners in India use it to cure many different ailments such as athlete’s foot, dandruff, diaper rash, and the common cold.

Using your oil properly in the kitchen will insure that you gain all of the health benefits that it has to offer. When sautéing, make sure that the pan is heated prior to adding the oil, and then add your vegetables or meat immediately. This will lessen the time that the oil is exposed to high heat and air, decreasing the chances of oxidation. It is also important to note that if an occasion arises when your oil begins to smoke in the pan, dump it out and start over. Smoking oil has certainly been oxidized and has changed flavors. It is unhealthy and tastes unappealing.

Now that you have a wonderful selection of healthy oils in your kitchen, the sky is the limit. Enjoy making nutritious stir fries and salad dressings packed with wholesome essential fats. You will feel great knowing that you are cooking healthfully and your taste buds will thank you too!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cupcake Confessions

Chocolate, cupcakes, cheese, and steak. Fried chicken that would make anyone immediately begin drooling. That’s right folks, Grocery gal has officially over done it. I went to a marvelous wedding this past weekend for one of my very best friends. The food and alcohol were in excess and I certainly indulged. This got me thinking about what healthy eating exactly is and when is it okay to throw caution to the wind and chow down?

You have all heard me preaching about whole grains, avoiding sugar and preservatives, and eating with consciousness. I think that it is also important to confess that even the nutritionist in training eats a little junk food every so often. The truth is that I enjoy it as well. Cupcakes piled high with pink frosting are delicious, and even though there is very little in them that can provide our bodies with nutrition, they can still fit into our diet in moderation.

The point that I am trying to make is that food needs to be enjoyable. It shouldn’t be a chore and you shouldn’t feel like you are depriving yourself, otherwise you’ll end up binging anyway. Eating with consciousness and truly enjoying different foods on special occasions is important for our emotional health. If I am at a wedding or another social setting where the food isn’t organic, grass fed, and dairy free, I don’t stress. I eat it because that is what is being offered; I enjoy it and appreciate it because I am with people that I care about. If I can’t nourish my body the way that I am used to, I nourish my soul with the company and good times. Eating food is a social experience that we are meant to enjoy and last weekend, enjoy I did! What is your favorite “forbidden” food? How long has it been since you indulged?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sweet on You

One thing that I really enjoy doing when I have a little extra time is baking. I like to make cookies and quick breads, but my husband complains because often times I give all the food away as soon as it comes out of the oven. My rationale is that I don’t want all these delicious, highly caloric baked goods just sitting around the house. Jon works nights and is practically never home to consume them so guess who ends up eating all the cookies? It's not the dog.

I made banana bread on Sunday and I pulled out all my usual stops to make it as healthy as possible. I subbed whole-wheat pastry flour for white flour. Whole-wheat flour has the bran and germ of the wheat, which contains fiber and B vitamins, while white flour is only the endosperm of the wheat, leaving only carbohydrates. White flour causes a spike in blood sugar because it is digested quickly, so it is not considered as healthy as slower digesting whole grain products.

Another move I always make when it comes to baked goods is to add nuts. Nuts are delicious, but beyond that add heart healthy fats and protein.

Then it comes down to the sugar. What to do? White sugar is a highly refined product that simply has no nutritional value whatsoever. Excess sugar in the diet is easily transformed into stored fat in the body and causes a blood sugar spike higher than Mt. Kilimanjaro. So what are the alternatives?

There are a lot of health gurus shouting from the rooftops about agave nectar. Agave is made from a cactus like plant and has a sugar profile that is similar to high fructose corn syrup. For this reason it doesn’t cause blood sugar spikes and it is often recommended for diabetics. It is VERY sweet and you need to use less of it than you would sugar.

Blackstrap molasses is one sweetener that I can get behind. While it is a processed ingredient, it is actually a by-product of sugar production; it contains all the healthy minerals that are extracted out of crystalline sugar in the refinement process. It is high in iron, calcium, and magnesium, and it has a distinct flavor that I enjoy. Unrefined sugar like sucanat and turbinado sugar are also good options in that they still contain many of the minerals that are boiled out of white sugar.

Then there are my favorites, honey and maple syrup. I chose a combination of the two for my banana bread. Maple syrup is usually produced in Vermont or Canada, so you don’t have to worry about free trade regulations and human rights like you do with the sugar industry. Grade B has a stronger maple flavor and I believe it is best suited for pancakes and waffles. Grade A has a more delicate flavor, which might be nice for baking. Personally I enjoy the rich maple flavor, and it was delicious in my bread!

Honey is also a winner in my book. My in-laws gave me a big jar of raw unrefined local honey a few weeks ago and I have been slowly savoring it. I used some in the banana bread because local honey may be able to reduce some seasonal allergies and it is as unrefined a sweetener as you can get.

The banana bread turned out delicious and I feel good about putting it in my body knowing the ingredients I used were the best I could get. Do you enjoy baking? What sweeteners do you like to use?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Coconut Joe Helps Me Out

Last summer I had the pleasure of attending my cousin’s wedding in Belize. It was a beautiful ceremony on the beach, it was breezy and had cooled down considerably from earlier that day when the August temperatures had reached well over 90 degrees and the humidity was close to 100 percent. At the time my aunt was training to walk the Chicago marathon and, despite the heat, she was determined to get in her power walk that morning. I decided to join her and off we went to walk 10 miles along the beach of Ambergris Caye. We started off early, as to beat the mid day heat, but the sweat was pouring only a few minutes into the walk. By mile 7 I was petering out, but that is when I met “Coconut Joe”. He was cracking green coconuts on the beach and passing them out to people as they strolled by. He called out to us and immediately I was at his side sipping the delicious coconut water. After my coconut pit stop I was ready to take on the rest of the walk, no problem. I felt refreshed, had pep in my step and my thirst had been quenched.

you have never tried it, coconut water is truly miraculous. It is the liquid that comes from inside the young coconut, not to be confused with coconut milk, which comes from pressing the coconut meat. It is a good source of potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, and calcium. Coconut water is a naturally isotonic beverage, which means it has the same electrolyte balance as our blood. This makes it an ideal sports drink! Other sport drinks on the market today feature ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup and artificial colors, which are things that I don’t really care to “refuel” with. It is available in supermarkets and comes in tetra packs and cans so you can find it even if you live somewhere that coconuts don’t grow overhead. So, after your next workout or power walk on the beach swap out your Gatorade and give it a try!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

White Girl Makes Sushi

The other night after school I was starving, as usual, and had little to no patience to make dinner. I know that you have all been there. I ran into Whole Foods Market with sushi on the brain. I grabbed a tuna roll and started to head for the check out when, out of habit, I annoyingly decided to read the ingredients and was SHOCKED to find a long list of them, and we are not talking tuna, nori, and rice. I moaned in frustration and put the sushi back, vowing that when I had more time, I would make my own.

So folks here we are. I went to the Asian market today and picked up a bamboo sushi mat, some nori, cucumber, carrots, and avocado. I figured I would try a veggie roll the first time just to keep it simple. I wanted to a roll with brown rice to keep with my whole “health food nut” thing. Brown rice is unmilled, meaning that it keeps its bran and germ layers, which contain the majority of the B vitamins and antioxidants. I chose short grain rice because it contains more starch than longer grain rice; hence it sticks together more easily and is perfect for sushi making.

Once the rice was cooked I just went with the directions on the package of nori. Nori, by the way, is quite nutritious. Nori is a sea vegetable that is super high in minerals, contains iron, and is one of the only vegetarian sources of B12, so it is ideal for vegans.

Rolling sushi was very therapeutic, and I got better and better as I went on. My first roll was somewhat of a disaster. I put WAY too much rice and fillings in and was a little aggressive with my rolling. The nori ripped and it was a big mess! By my fourth roll I had it down. A nice thin layer of rice, not too many veggies and, viola! Sushi!

The best thing about this sushi is that I know what is in it. It has whole food ingredients and no preservatives or sugar. It was fun to make and it sure was delicious! With all the practicing that it took to achieve sushi perfection, I ended up with enough for dinner tonight, lunch tomorrow and happy neighbors! Have any of you made sushi before? What do you like in your rolls?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Does a Body Good?

Dairy can be hard to digest, especially with all the processing that goes on from the point in time when the milk comes out of the cow until the time that it hits the table. As a matter of fact, 30 to 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant, meaning they are missing the enzyme in their digestive tract that breaks down the sugars in milk products. Sometimes when milk products are cultured or fermented like yogurt, cheese, and kefir, they can be easier to digest. However, with so many people having a hard time with milk and milk products, it’s no wonder that there is a plethora of milk alternative products on the market today. Just like most overly processed foods, many of these products are high in sugar, expeller pressed oils, and other additives. We need to be careful reading labels when we choose alternative dairy products so we can choose the products that have clean ingredients and leave those with all the additives on the shelves.

Milks: I like Pacific Brand organic non-dairy beverages. They have a whole line of different nut and grain milks and each has its own unique taste. I really like the Organic Unsweetened Almond. Its ingredients are simple, and it is quite tasty. It does not taste like milk, but it does have a nice hint of almond flavor and is delicious on cereal or in your latté. Edensoy unsweetened organic soymilk is also a good option if you are okay with soy products. The only ingredients on the label are soybeans and water!

Personally I am not so into the dairy alternatives in the “ice cream” and fake cheese categories. These products are overly processed and most that start with soy as a base are missing all the beneficial properties of the soy and are loaded with sugar and other additives. One ice cream product that I do like is Coconut Bliss. It is made with delicious coconut milk and sweetened with agave nectar. As far as cheese products go, I haven’t found one with clean ingredients. Here is a recipe for a creamy sauce with cheese like consistency and flavor that is made with whole food ingredients! Try this tossed in pasta, over broccoli and potatoes, or on a pizza crust with tomato sauce for a delicious dairy free treat!

Nut Cheese

1 cup water

1 tsp onion powder

½ cup raw cashews

¼ cup nutritional yeast

1 ½ tsp sea salt

2 cloves of garlic

1 Tbsp of lemon juice

1 Tbsp sesame tahini

Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Add a little more water if necessary. Pour mixture into a saucepan and simmer over low heat, stirring until desired thickness. Sun dried tomatoes, olives, pimentos, or fresh herbs are some delicious ingredients that you could add for different flavor variations.