Friday, December 16, 2016

Fire-roasted Tomato Basil Soup with Grilled Eggplant and Havarti Sandwiches

There is something very soothing about tomato soup. It's simple and straight-forward.  Satisfying, yet at the same time, light.

A few weeks ago it finally turned nippy where I live, and "comfort food" sounded, well, comforting. I had a hankering for tomato soup, and grilled cheese sandwiches with roasted eggplant sounded like it needed to go with it.

But I wanted a tomato soup with a little more assertive flavor so I decided to use fire-roasted tomatoes instead of regular ones. I was not disappointed!

Here’s what you’ll need for

Fire-roasted Tomato Basil Soup

2 Tbsp. butter or ghee
1 onion, diced
2 pint-sized cans of diced organic fire-roasted tomatoes (I like the ones from Muir Glen)
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth (preferably home-made)
salt, to taste
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. honey
1/4 cup fresh chopped basil (about 15-20 leaves)
2 cups heavy cream
sour cream (optional)

Melt butter in a 2-3 qt saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until they turn translucent. Add tomatoes and broth, cover, raise heat, and bring to a boil

When boiling, reduce heat to medium, uncover, add salt, balsamic and honey. Stir. Simmer 15-20 minutes.

Just before serving, remove from heat and add basil and cream. Blend soup with an immersion blender (or by transferring to a blender, being sure to allow soup to cool before blending!).

Serve with a dollop of sour cream and enjoy!

So the soup is good, but wait until you try these babies!

Grilled Cheese on Sourdough
Baked Eggplant


+






= Grilled Eggplant and Havarti Sandwiches

Now, before you read below and think this is too much trouble, let me tell you that yes, making these sandwiches is a little more work than your usual grilled cheese, but let me also tell you that it’s totally worth it. If you don’t like eggplant, you can omit it and just go with the red peppers. If you have the wherewithal to make your own, do so by roasting them over a grill or in the oven so that they impart that natural smoky flavor that sends these sandwiches over the edge! But you can just buy fire-roasted red peppers in a jar if you are short on time.

Here’s what you’ll need for your sandwiches:

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp minced garlic
salt and pepper as needed
1/2 inch sliced eggplant
bread for your sandwiches (I use sourdough)
sliced Havarti cheese
1/4 inch thick slices of red onion, optional
1/2 cup roasted red pepper strips, optional

Heat the broiler.

In a medium bowl, mix the oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and black pepper together. Brush onto the eggplant slices, reserving the extra. Place eggplant on broiling rack and broil 6-7 minutes per side or until lightly golden.  While those are broiling, sauté your onion in a little olive oil until it reaches your desired doneness. I don’t like my onions raw anymore but if you like them raw, leave them "au natural”.

While your onions are cooking, spoon the remaining oil/vinegar mixture on one side of your bread and toast under the broiler until lightly golden, about 45 seconds.

Top one slice of bread with a slice of eggplant, a piece of roasted red pepper, a little salt and pepper if you like, 1-2 slices cheese and an onion slice and then the other slice of toast, and grill as you normally would a grilled cheese sandwich, heating until the cheese is melted through.

(If you don’t want to go through all this, omit the peppers and onions and just brush your eggplant slices with some EVOO, salt and pepper and a little balsamic vinegar and bake them in the oven, turning once. Add your cheese and grill as usual).

This is a wonderful combination of soup and sandwich, perfect for lunch or a light supper with a small green salad on the side. Enjoy them together and be toasty warm tonight!





Monday, December 5, 2016

Roasted Cauliflower with Chermoula

Tomatillo Salsa
I have to admit I love any sauce that’s green. I don’t know what it is, but I'll take green tomatillo salsa over regular salsa, pesto sauce over marinara, and any herb sauce over a cream sauce, any day of the week. I have a thing for green, I guess!

One green sauce I make on occasion is called Chermoula, an intensely herbal, slightly spicy sauce used in Algerian, Libyan, Moroccan and Tunisian cooking. While regional differences will dictate the sauce's ingredients, it's usually garlic and coriander that are on the top of the list. Other versions can include chili peppers or black pepper. Chermoula is usually served with fish or seafood but can also be added to other meats or vegetables. Indeed, Chermoula makes the perfect foil for the subtle cauliflower. 

Pesto!
For this recipe, we’re going to blanch the cauliflower first and then roast it.

Here's what you need:

Salt
1 large cauliflower, broken into florets
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
Chermoula (see below)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add salt and the cauliflower. Blanch 2 minutes and transfer to a colander to drain. Blot dry. Heat the oven to 400. Toss the cauliflower with the EVOO and salt it to your liking. Bake 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender and lightly browned. Serve hot, with the chermoula.

Now for the Chermoula:

1-1/3 cups fresh cilantro
2/3 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley
3-4 cloves garlic
salt
5 Tbsp EVOO
2 tsp cumin, ground
1 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp cayenne
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

This is easily made in a food processor. Add the herbs first, pulse, and then add the garlic, salt and oil. Pulse again. Then add all the spices and lemon juice, run the processor for about 30-45 seconds and  if it looks like it needs a little more, pulse again until everything's nice and smooth. You're done!

Chermoula
I usually serve the roasted cauliflower with a white fish because Chermoula really is good on both. I've tried it over shrimp before and it was delicious. You could also serve it with chicken or tofu or do an assortment of veggies and dribble the sauce over all of the them. 

You could put the sauce on any number of things and I'm certain it would all be good. That's what's great about allowing yourself to be creative - you never know what you'll discover that strikes your fancy.

Go Green!


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Cream of Mushroom Soup

Dried Porcini Mushrooms
It's soup weather in Southern California. I don’t know what took so long, but it’s finally here. Even before the weather finally turned fall-like, I could wait no longer....I was craving mushrooms. It was my husband who suggested I make Cream of Mushroom Soup.

While using just regular white mushrooms will certainly work, it’s the exotic ‘shrooms like portobellos, crimini, porcinis and shiitakes that add loads of flavor and give this soup some depth. Wild mushrooms are easily found in just about any market. Dried porcinis are sometimes a little more difficult to find, but search online or go to a specialty food store. A small bag of those will be all you need.

I like an assortment of mushrooms to round out the earthy flavor of mushroom soup, so I’ll usually grab a little of this and a little of that.

Dried wild mushrooms will usually consist of a combination of morels, shiitakes, and chanterelles. I would then also buy a fresh portobello, and 1/2 pound of fresh crimini (Italian brown mushrooms) and 1/2 pound of the common white mushrooms. Now you’ve got yourself a good assortment and enough to make a killer soup!

Here are the ingredients you’ll need:

1 oz. dried mushrooms
1 Tbsp each butter or olive oil
1 leek, split down the middle and rinsed well to remove any lingering sand
2 stalks celery
1-1/2 lbs. fresh mushrooms, white and brown
32 oz. Broth, either vegetable, mushroom, chicken or beef
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. or more fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup red wine
1/4 - 1/2 cup (or more) heavy cream
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Morel Mushrooms
Soak the dried mushrooms in some warm water for 30 minutes while you prepare everything else. Wash the fresh mushrooms, trim off or remove the caps, and slice. Heat the butter and olive oil in a soup pot. When warmed, add the leek, which you will have sliced. As that’s cooking, dice the celery and add to the pot. Saute this for about 8-10 minutes.

Chanterelles
Drain the soaked mushrooms and rinse them off under cool running water to remove any lingering sand or dirt. Add all the various mushrooms to your soup pot and cook for another 8-10 minutes. Add the broth, minced garlic, and thyme, and simmer 15 minutes. Add the wine and stir. Add the cream, salt and pepper at the very end, adding as much of each as you like. (Start conservatively and taste the soup, adding more if needed.) Simmer soup for a couple of minutes until heated through.

Using an immersion blender, puree your soup in the pot. Alternatively, allow the soup to cool a bit, and before adding the cream, salt and pepper, put in to a blender and whirl until smooth. Return to the soup pot to reheat. Then add the cream and seasonings.

Sprinkle a little chopped fresh parsley on top, or a slice of mushroom.

KITCHEN NOTES:
If you don’t care for cream, leave it out. The soup will still be good. But do puree it anyway.

If you like the soup a little thicker, add flour before adding the broth, stirring a couple of minutes to distribute it. Instead of flour, you could use corn starch. Just make sure to add the starch to a little liquid before adding to the soup, or you’ll get clumps.

This is a delicious, hearty and nourishing soup, either eaten as a light lunch with maybe a sandwich, or as a first course to dinner. Serve alongside the red wine you added to it.

Bon appétit!







Monday, November 21, 2016

What to drink on Thanksgiving

Image result for thanksgiving dinner tableThe big day is rapidly approaching. Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday! A day to gather to give thanks for all the special people in our lives and for all that we have. I like having a day where we celebrate all that. And the food isn’t bad either!

The food is of course the star, but what you serve to drink is equally important.  We take the time to carefully select how we’ll prepare the bird, what side dishes we’ll make, what hors d’oeuvres we’ll put out and what kinds of pies we’ll bake, so should we take care what we serve to drink.

Now, I’m going to make a number of assumptions. First, I’m going to assume we’re talking about wine, not mixed drinks or non-alcoholic beverages. Next, I’m going to assume you’re serving a traditional Thanksgiving meal, which usually means turkey.  Now you may serve ham, or goose, or cornish game hens, or Turducken or whatever that wacky thing is, or God-forbid some vegetarian fake “turkey” tofu roll thing (which, by the way, I’ve tried and is the most disgusting thing ever!) so I realize that turkey isnt the only thing people eat at Thanksgiving, but it’s what most people eat, so that’s what we’re going with here.

A special meal deserves a special wine, but that doesn’t mean expensive, necessarily. It just means good. While expensive usually does mean good, it doesn't always. Taste is subjective, after all. Naturally you can do whatever you like, and heed the advice of any of the “experts” online or in wine shops, but since this is my blog, I’m going to tell you what I like, and why.

Image result for pinot noir grapesIn my opinion the best wine to serve alongside a roasted turkey is Pinot Noir. Not just because it’s my favorite varietal, but because it’s so very well suited to roasted bird. Roasting results in a heavier flavor profile than other preparation methods, so an aromatic, fruit-forward white like Riesling or Gewuertztraminer, or a juicy red like Zinfandel would also work. Chardonnay is perhaps the last wine most experts would recommend because dry wines can die in the presence of all the fruit, sugar, and salt that is part of the typical Thanksgiving meal. A touch of sweetness, ergo the Riesling and Gewuertztraminer, makes a much better choice than Chard. If you absolutely cannot stand the thought of a red or a slightly sweet white, were you to prepare your bird a bit differently, let’s say with a citrusy note, an acidic, slightly nutty Italian white or Chenin Blanc could be a good choice. If your gravy is deep and dark in color or contains red wine, then I would recommend a Zinfandel. However, if you’re simply preparing the bird without much hoo-ha and doing a lighter gravy, even with the addition of white wine, Pinot Noir is the ticket.

With flavors ranging from cranberries to black cherries, this grape is ideal for Thanksgiving because of its fruit-forward nature. The lush fruit component pairs well with many of the typical side dishes of the holiday.

The Pinot Noir grape is delicate, and requires a careful hand to coax out its potential. It requires a winemaker who really understands the complexity of the grape. To better understand what I mean, here’s a scene from one of my favorite movies, Sideways, where Maya asks Miles why he’s “so into Pinot Noir."


And then, of course, there’s Maya’s reason for why she loves wine!


Clearly this is the moment Miles falls in love with Maya!

Given the tradition of the day, it seems fitting that we pick an American wine, since it would seem sacrilegious to do otherwise. I am particularly fond of La Crema Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast) or just about anything from the Russian River Valley in California.  The best Pinots come from regions with chalky soil and cooler night time temperatures. Some of the most notable regions for Pinot Noir are the Sonoma coast, Russian River Valley, Central Coast, Monterey County, Santa Cruz Mountains and the Carneros District of Napa and Sonoma. That’s just California! In Oregon, the Willamette Valley produces some excellent pinots. Naturally there are many outstanding pinot noirs from Italy, Germany, France, of course, and New Zealand, but this holiday we are sticking to US wines.

If you’re looking for a wine that will work well this holiday, you can’t go wrong with Pinot Noir. Just another thing I am thankful for this Thanksgiving: Pinot!

A votre sante, to your health! And Happy Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Reading List: "Move Your DNA"

For several years now I’ve been wondering: why are we so focused on exercising when for most of the day we are largely sedentary - sitting in our cars to and from work, sitting at our desks working, sitting in front of our TV/iPads/iPhones (list favorite device here), sitting eating lunch, sitting eating dinner.....you get the idea. How could 1 hour of exercise each day (assuming you’re even exercising 60 minutes each day!) possibly counter the other 23 hours of inactivity?

But I battled this thought because exercising is what people do and we’re told we’re supposed to. But all the while I had a problem with this.

You know as well as I do that we live in a sedentary society. I think it would be safe to say that today humankind (in the western world at least) is perhaps the laziest it’s ever been. It is un-cool to do any physical labor. We look down on it. You walk somewhere and people want to give you a lift. What’s wrong with walking? There are gadgets and appliances for everything. We needn’t move a muscle. It’s catastrophic, really, how little we move.

But for a while now, there’s been a new message. “Sitting is the new smoking”, the headlines read. Thank God! It’s about time! But hasn’t this been obvious all along: we need to move more, we HAVE to move, or our muscles will atrophy. Sitting for hours on end, really any kind of inactivity (even standing all day), is not healthy, because this is not the way in which we were biomechanically designed. We are meant to move, and fairly constantly. It’s part of our DNA.

Katy Bowman
Biomechanic Scientist & Author
I think of myself as moderately active, but I’m the type who thinks there’s always room for improvement. So when I heard about a biomechanic scientist named Katy Bowman, I was interested in learning more about what that was. She has a degree in the mechanics of the body and has devoted herself to sharing what she knows about how the body is designed to move. She’s written several books about movement, fixing our painful feet, and strengthening our pelvic floor. I’m currently reading “Move Your DNA” and "Whole Body Barefoot” (all about ditching our heeled shoes and going to minimal footwear, and why that’s important not only for our feet, but for our hips, backs and overall health). She does a great job explaining the “why” of the importance of moving regularly, but also the “how”, along with diagrams and photos. She’s super smart and clearly knows her stuff. Her website is www.nutritiousmovement.com. Staying true to her message about moving, she’s got quite a collection of podcasts you can listen to (on iTunes and Soundcloud as well as a few other platforms) so that you can move AND listen at the same time!

The message is this: get off your butt! Spend as little time on it as possible. Walk instead of drive. Lift heavy things to put load on your muscles and bones to keep them strong and healthy.  Lug your kids around instead of pushing them in a stroller. Stretch and move ALL parts of yourself, not just general body parts. Make an effort to engage EVERYTHING. Don’t take the easy way out: don’t “outsource” your activity to devices and gadgets. Try to do more for yourself to keep your body in motion.

Allow me to quickly digress at this point because I want to share something else with you that underscores this concept about moving more.

Years ago, I heard about a man named Erwan Le Corre, originally from France, but now living in Arizona, who developed a program called MovNat to help reteach people how to move naturally. Seemed kind of silly at first. Shouldn’t we know how to do this already? His argument is that we do not. We have unlearned how to do this because of our sedentary lifestyle. His focus is on moving the body, rather than “exercising” as we know it, although most of the movements you’d recognize as common “exercises”: pushing, pulling, squatting, along with climbing, jumping and running, but so much more gracefully and naturally than how we’re doing it now. Rather than slugging it out in a gym, he proposes we get out into Nature and move as we were meant to move. It’s hard to explain, so I think the best way to understand this is to watch this incredible YouTube video. (Click on the Play button on the video below). Once you see this you will understand his philosophy.


Now this looks like so much more fun that sweating in some stinky gym, doesn’t it? I’d bet this is exactly what Man would have done before “civilization”. Crouching under branches, gathering logs and materials to build things, climbing rocks to get higher to look for enemies or herds of animals to hunt, swimming to cross rivers and lakes, maybe even for fun, jumping and running to outrun wild beasts in hot pursuit. This could very well have all been done in the course of a normal day. It seems obvious that we would have been a lot more interactive with the environment in which we lived.

We’ve lost that. But we don’t have to. Followers of MovNat and what’s called the “functional movement” community claim it’s not hard to recreate this kind of movement in our daily lives. We can visit a nature trail to hike, run, jump over boulders and maybe even climb. At our local park we can use the jungle gym, right there alongside our kids. We can create agility courses for not only our dogs, but ourselves as well. If we are creative, we can find ways to incorporate more movement into our lives and get a more natural workout. Most importantly, using our bodies in ways that they were meant to be used. “Functional movement" says that the exercise routines we are doing overtax the body parts we are focused on improving, while other parts remain underutilized and weak. This creates an imbalance that isn’t healthy, which can lead to injury. This makes sense to me.

While we probably can’t all get out and do a MovNat workout like in this video every day, or even every other day, something we can all start to do right away is spend less time sitting. I’ve got a standing workstation that I use about 1/2 the day. Not a fancy thing for $300-400, but something I made from Ikea for less than $20.  I recently went to a health summit where I saw another rather inexpensive workstation from Ergodriven that is even easier to assemble. When I first started thinking about standing at work, I googled images on standing workstations and was amazed at the plethora of ideas that people had to fashion themselves a standing workstation. It doesn’t take a lot of money to do this, just a little imagination!

Get up and move around every 20-30 minutes. Go visit people in their offices rather than calling or emailing them. Walk during your lunch break and include some stretching. Sometimes I stand in the break room and eat my lunch instead of sitting down. Stretch throughout the day and not just at home. Be on your feet from the time you get home until dinner is served. On weekends, why sit at all? Ditch the couch and sit on the floor instead. If you’re asking why or how, you’ll have to read Katy’s book to find out.

I invite you to check out this new way of thinking about exercise and movement. I think there’s something there for all of us.

Friday, September 30, 2016

How eating Low Carb helped me

As you know from previous posts, I suffered a great deal from painful digestion which started about a year ago. It got so bad I was scared of eating and thought I’d be miserable for the rest of my life. I tried so many OTC (over-the-counter) digestive “aids” I could have opened my own pharmacy! When not even my GI doctor could help me, I felt completely hopeless.

After months of research, I came across an eating plan created for people with diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis, chronic diarrhea, etc. and thought, hey, if this works for them - people with “real” painful gut conditions - why couldn’t it work for me? So I started following the advice of a book I came across called "Breaking the Vicious Cycle" by Elaine Gottschall. The eating plan is called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet.  When the book said: if the diet does nothing for you, you can always go back to eating the way you used to, what would it hurt to at least try it?

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), as the name suggests, is specific because of the limited carbs that are permitted. The basic premise is this: in our gut there is an ever-constant battle being waged between good bacteria and bad bacteria, and this is normal. But when bad bacteria take over, the good ones have no chance and this causes an imbalance in the gut flora. I felt strongly that this was my problem.

For those with digestive issues it’s a vicious cycle where the wrong carbohydrates create a hostile environment and the hostile environment creates gasses and bloating and pain. Usually we end up craving that which is causing the problem in the first place: more sugar. I used to have food cravings for bread and sweets like nobody’s business! Eliminating sugar, basically what all carbs turn into, seems to starve bad bacteria of food for them to multiply. So, in essence, it stops the vicious cycle.

When I first read this, I thought “sugar” meant sugar, but I learned it isn’t just about sugar. Sugar comes in a variety of forms and molecular structures that can impact digestion. There are monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides. As you probably already know, mono means 1, di- means 2, and poly- means 2 or more. The culprits to feeding bad bacteria and slowing down the digestive process seem to be the di- and polysaccharides. The book said that monosaccharides on the other hand are much more easily digested, going through the digestive tract virtually unchanged, seeming to therefore cause few people problems. Examples of monosaccharides are honey, dates, and lactose-free yogurt, and tend to be fine for most people (proceed with caution as your results may vary). 

The stuff you REALLY want to stay away from are all the other starchy things that feed bad bacteria, such as rice, corn, spelt, wheat, barley.....really grains of all kinds; cornstarch, thickeners, and emulsifying agents usually found in processed foods (guar gum, xanthan gum, carageenan and things like that); and all the usual starchy foods like potatoes, sweet potatoes and even regular dairy products. While many critics of the SCD site the difficulty in following it (because it does require “fanatical adherence” as it says in the book) I found that if you are motivated enough (pain is a great motivator) and have some cooking ability, it is not at all difficult once you understand the foods that contribute to your digestive distress. How long to stay on the diet probably depends on how bad things were when you started. I’ve been on it since right after Christmas (9 months) and feel I have a good handle now on what I can and can’t get away with, having only started experimenting in the last few months with reintroducing things that had been removed. What makes this process challenging is figuring out what YOUR particular trigger or problem foods are.

To say that this low carb way of eating has been a godsend would be the understatement of the century. Not to be too melodramatic, but it has given me the chance to return to normal and I am so glad I came across Elaine’s book.

It has become evident to me that there is something to this "low carb diet" thing. For many years, I was very skeptical of it, as many people still are. Who wants to give up eating bread, cookies, pasta and rice? I hear ya! But low carb seems to be working for a lot of people with digestive issues, not to mention a whole host of inflammatory conditions. People battling non-alcoholic fatty liver, diabetes and arthritis have managed their diseases with a low carb (LC) diet. And cancer research is discovering that starches feed cancer cells. In the absence of excessive carbohydrates, cancer cells don’t have much chance of reproducing. We hear a lot about inflammation and how we should be reducing it in our bodies. Well, come to find out, inflammation is a well-established driver of early tumorigenesis (the “genesis” or creation of tumors) and accompanies most, if not all, cancers. Wow! 

If that isn't a reason to cut your carbs I don't know what is!!!

Unfortunately, being "low carb" is still considered somewhat fringe and radical, although you hear about it more and more in mainstream media. Everybody thinks of the Atkins Diet right away. It’s really not the same. I certainly think this low carb thing is something worth checking into if you have health issues, or want to avoid any in the future.

P.S. Additionally, something I have found that works great in controlling symptoms when they flare up is a product called Iberogast (check out this link as it explains how it, as well as other natural remedies, can help those with any sort of digestive ailment, from IBS to heartburn). Iberogast is made in Germany and is very popular over there but fortunately you can buy it in the U.S. as well. I bought mine on amazon. Another thing that helps me is enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules and a digestive enzyme called Digest Gold from Enzymedica. This trio of products, along with the occasional activated charcoal for when bad gas pains hit, are my arsenal in fighting digestive distress. I carry them with me everywhere I go and am fortunately using them less and less as the months pass. In fact, I’m at the point where I don’t need them regularly any more. Success!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Coconut Green Curry

I really love Thai food and all the fabulous flavors they use. Coconut, chilis, fresh vegetables, lemongrass, lime....oh man! Flavor bursting all over the place.

One of my favorite dishes is Coconut Green Curry. While it’s nice to eat out, it’s really not difficult to make at home. It’s just a few ingredients and can be whipped up in no time, even on a busy week night. 

Plus, you can customize it a little by changing up the protein, sometimes using chicken, sometimes pork, sometimes tofu or a ton more vegetables, but 2 things remain unchanged: the coconut milk and the green curry paste.

There are a lot of brands of green curry paste out there and I haven’t really tried many of them. The Thai Kitchen brand is the one I usually reach for. But if you shop at an Asian market, I’m sure the selection is much larger and you can experiment with how different ones taste.

When it comes to the coconut milk, though, be forewarned. If you’re at all concerned about the quality of ingredients you use, you’ll want to read the labels. I am often fairly surprised at what all gets put into a can of coconut milk. You’d think it would be as innocuous as just coconut milk (what a concept!) but alas, it is not always so.

I prefer no-nonsense brands without artificial ingredients or thickeners that can upset my stomach, and the best for the price that I’ve found is at Trader Joe’s. Even my health food store coconut milk has stuff in it I like to avoid.

Go for the full-fat version if they have it. They also offer a reduced fat version but I tell you it’s not the same. Go for the real deal. There is no need to fear the fat in coconut milk. It’s one of those “good fats” we are supposed to be eating. The creaminess, by the way, also takes food to another level of wonderfulness.

So grab a can of TJ’s organic coconut milk and make this.

Coconut Green Curry
Snap Peas

1 head of broccoli, divided into florets
1 small handful of snap peas
Coconut oil
1 small onion, or 2 green onions (green parts only if following a low-FODMAP diet)
1 lb. protein of your choice, cut into cubes (the equivalent to 2-3 small chicken breasts)
3 baby bok choy
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can full-fat coconut milk
1 Tbsp. green curry paste

Let’s start with the broccoli. I need to eat this veg pretty well-cooked, so I steam this separately and then add it to my dish later.  Steam the snap peas along with it. 

While this is steaming, chop the onion fine and add to a sauté pan of heated coconut oil. Cook until translucent (if using green onion, add after the protein has been added). Add your protein (I like to use cubed chicken breast) and brown on all sides. When almost cooked through, add chopped bok choy and finely minced garlic and sauté another 3-4 minutes.  Now add the whole can of coconut milk along with the curry paste (whisking to dissolve). Bring to a boil, then simmer a few minutes. Turn off heat, add the broccoli and peas, and stir everything together well.

You could serve this over a bed of steaming rice, or if you’re on a grain-free plan like me, over a bed of “cauliflower rice”.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

South of the Border Bean Salad

I love bean salads. All kinds of beans actually, from fresh green beans to dry ones like pinto, black and canellini beans. And I especially like them in cold salads, which are perfect to eat during the summer.

I had given up all dry beans since developing stomach problems last fall. As most of us know, beans have a rather gassy reputation. Since I've been feeling better this last month and starting to experiment with adding foods back in, I decided to try beans and am glad that I seem to be doing okay with them.

You can use beans either from a can or cook them from dry yourself,  but either way, beans need to be soaked in order to make them easier to digest. Beans, as well as grains, contain phytic acid, an organic acid that blocks mineral absorption in the intestinal tract. This might not be a major problem for those of you with excellent digestion (provided you don't eat beans and grains that often) but for those of us with compromised digestion, we are already having trouble absorbing nutrients as it is, so we don't need any more problems. 

Phytic acid is neutralized in as little as 7 hours of soaking in water with small amounts of an acidic medium  such as lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. Soaking neutralizes enzyme inhibitors and increases the amount of nutrients present, especially the B vitamins.

Soaking your beans overnight will do the trick. Just make sure to rinse them well and toss the water they were soaking in.

Even if you use canned beans, who knows if they were properly prepared before they were cooked. I would soak them for a few additonal hours just to be on the safe side.

If you think beans are boring, they don't have to be. The secret is incorporating ingredients that add flavor. Think of pungent, spicy or really bold flavors. I made a salad and tossed in all kinds of stuff from my fridge and pantry and came up with this:

Mexican Bean Salad

1 can pinto beans
1 can black beans
Frozen roasted corn
Red onion, sliced
Jalapeño
Red bell pepper
Zucchini, chopped
Tomatoes

For garnish:
Avocado
Cilantro

Dressing:
Tomatillo salsa
Avocado oil
Red wine vinegar
Oregano
Salt and pepper

Soak beans for a few hours. Drain.
Add to a large bowl.  Slice onions and saute in a little coconut oil until slightly carmelized. Add jalapeño, bell pepper and zucchini and cook until tender.  Add corn till just warmed up and thawed out.  Add to the bowl along with the chopped tomatoes.

Mix all the dressing ingredients in quantities to your liking. Add to the beans and vegetables. Stir. Add sliced avocado and chopped cilantro for on top.

Along side it I made a cheese-stuffed chili relleno without all that batter you usually get at a restaurant. Simply take an Anaheim chili, cut off the top and scrape out all the seeds with a spoon. Stuff it with Monterey Jack and a little tomatillo salsa, or just simply some Pepper Jack cheese. Bake 30-40 minutes at 350 or until your level of preferred doneness of the chili is achieved.  Soft with just the slightest bit of crunch is best.

Enjoy!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Cauliflower Rice

A grain-free diet can help many of us with health issues. It’s been found to help those with not only digestive trouble, but also conditions like fatty liver, diabetes and autoimmune issues. When you decide to cut out things like wheat, oats, kamut, rye, spelt, rice, corn, and the like, you start becoming creative with substitutions. Something I’ve come to enjoy despite my initial reservations is “cauliflower rice”.

I won’t pretend and tell you it tastes like rice, because it certainly doesn’t. But it does look a little like rice, hence the name. Cauliflower rice makes a nice accompaniment to Asian dishes. I use it under stir-fried vegetables and chicken, for instance, to soak up the sauce.

What’s nice about this side dish is that it doesn’t fill you up with all that useless starch like rice does. I know a lot of people say they couldn’t give up rice, especially Asians. Likely introduced at birth and served with nearly every meal, rice has become comfort food to them - a  link to family, culture and tradition.  I get that.

But to say that rice is nutritious is inaccurate. There is very little nutrition in it and even the Whole Grains Council admits that rice is a processed food and highly refined. This is because the germ and bran have been stripped off it. Ok, brown rice is better, but it’s still pretty starchy. With white rice, all that's left is a shell of its former self, technically a grain but not even considered a whole one at that. It’s got a ton (45g) of carbohydrates per cup and very little to offer in the way of fiber and nutrients.

In contrast, cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage, kale, mustard greens, bok choy and our friend cauliflower offer wonderful benefits to our health. Cauliflower, actually, is nearly a superfood; that’s because it:

1. Fights cancer with it’s sulphuric compound called sulforaphane.
2. Boosts heart health, again because of its sulforaphane.
3. Is anti-inflammatory because of its 13C, indole-3-carbinol, an anti-inflammatory compound
4. Is rich in vitamins and minerals: Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and B, potassium and manganese.
5. Boosts brain health because of its choline.
6. Offers detoxification support
7. Has digestive benefits
8. Contains antioxidants and phytonutrients.

Hopefully I’ve sold you on why rice is out and cauliflower is in. Now, on to the recipe.

Cauliflower “Rice"

1 whole head of cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets
2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. sesame oil
1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup water

Feed the cauliflower florets into the feeding tube of your food processor which has been fitted with a grater disc and process until grated into a rice “grain". Heat oil in a large skillet or wok and add onion and garlic, sautéing for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add the cauliflower and cook 5-7 minutes until the onions are translucent. Add water, then cover and steam for 5 minutes until the veg is cooked and the water has been absorbed.

Alternatively you can make the following substitutions, especially if serving with something like mango salsa over fish (yum!):

Use coconut oil instead of EVOO;
use 1/4 cup coconut milk in lieu of the water;
use green onions instead of yellow;
omit the garlic and add 1 Tbsp. chopped cilantro, 1Tbsp. lime juice, 2 tsp honey and 3/4 tsp sea salt instead.

I hope you enjoy it!




Sunday, July 17, 2016

Honey, not just for bears

Since adopting a sugar-free diet, I’ve become reacquainted with honey. I used to eat a lot of it as a kid. My dad would buy a big 10 pound tub of wildflower honey every so often from the health food store. It would go on toast, in smoothies, and over yogurt. Ten pounds of honey seems like a lot (and it is) but my dad and I did our best to get through it!

While technically still a sugar, with nearly as many calories (21 cal vs 16 cal) and grams of carbs (6g vs. 4.2g) as table sugar, honey is allowed by those of us on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) because of its chemical composition.

Honey is a monosaccharide, comprised of a single sugar molecule. Because of this, honey is easier to digest than sugar. Sugar is a disaccharide and starches are polysaccharides. These require additional splitting in order to be transported from the intestine into the bloodstream and can often create intestinal problems for those of us who are sensitive. Other monosaccharides are fruit, lactose free yogurt, and certain vegetables.

Even if you don’t have digestive concerns (unless you’re diabetic, battling a candida (yeast) problem, or on a low-carb diet to reduce your weight) I recommend eating more honey and less refined sugar for a number of reasons. (For sure we should all be eliminating artificial sweeteners, which are just simply poison.)

Honey is a natural product, offering enzymes and minerals that sugar cannot.  Sugar has gone through a refining process and is no longer natural, Honey is simply a more natural way to satisfy a sweet tooth.

Eating honey local to your area can benefit those with allergies. By eating honey produced by bees near where you live, you are building your immunity from local plants. A resource for finding local honey producers by state: www.honey.com. Other good sites are www.beeculture.com, and www.localharvest.org.

Certain types of honey, such as Manuka, have been shown to be more effective than antibiotics in the treatment of serious, hard-to-heal skin infections. The only types of honey you should ever attempt to use for wound care are Manuka honey or raw (unprocessed) honey. Conventional “Grade A” type honey found in most grocery stores may actually worsen infection and should never be applied to wounds. Clinical trials have found Manuka honey can effectively eradicate more than 250 clinical strains of bacteria.

Purchasing honey is also a great way to support beekeepers, who often struggle financially to make ends meet. While buying honey at your local market, Trader Joe’s or health food store is better than buying their sugar, go to your farmer’s market or neighborhood beekeeper directly and buy honey from them. They will be happy to let you taste the many varieties of honey they offer so you can decide which flavor you like best.

A few months ago I did just that. We were driving the back roads to a little mountain town northeast of San Diego called Julian for the weekend and came across a roadside shack selling local honey. They had some really interesting flavors: avocado, habanero, and cinnamon honey to name a few. I bought 2: desert sage, and cherry; cherry being particularly good over blueberries and whipped cream!

A few weekends ago we were in Ojai and our friends noticed a sign on the main street advertising a honey tasting nearby. Heavenly Honey offered samples of the 6-8 varieties they produce. I again bought the sage (it’s one of my favorites) and also this time a little darker honey variety than I usually get, Buckwheat, which was also really tasty. I tried it on my nutty pancakes I made last weekend and it was perfect.

But there are so many flavors to choose from. Another one I really love is orange blossom.

Embrace your inner bear and eat more honey, especially from beekeepers at your farmers market. You’ll be supporting our endangered bees and hard-working beekeepers by investing in Nature’s purest sweetener.

This recipe is particularly good at this time of year when peaches are in season and we’ve got the grill on half the time anyway.

Grilled Peaches with Cinnamon Honey and Whipped Cream

One ripe peach per person, cut in half, seed removed
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. honey
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream*

Turn on your grill to low.

Wash, dry and cut in half one ripe peach per person.

Melt some butter in a small saucepan, to which you’ll add a little honey and a sprinkling of cinnamon. Using a pastry brush, brush the entire surface of each peach half with a little coating of this mixture. Place the peach halves face down on the grill and cook for about 5 minutes until nice grill marks are achieved. Turn over, brush with a little more honey butter and cook another 5-8 minutes until the peaches are warm.

While the peaches are grilling, prepare some freshly whipped cream, sweetened, of course, with a little honey if you like.

Remove peaches from grill and serve alongside the whipped cream for a delicious, easy, summertime dessert.

* Alternatives to whipped cream or ice cream: ricotta cheese, mascarpone, chèvre, Greek yogurt, regular yogurt, or cream cheese. Any of those would be great with a little cinnamon, ginger,  and / or nutmeg, of course, sweetened with a little honey. 



Friday, July 1, 2016

Lettuce Wraps

The heat of summer is upon us. It’s been pretty warm here in Southern California. Normally we don’t see these kinds of temperatures until July or August, but, here we are, burning up already. Last week we had an unprecedented 110 degrees F! Insane.

When temps reach this high, I crave something cool to eat, or at least something light. Lettuce wraps are perfect for that. Often they can be found on restaurant menus under the appetizer section, but I like eating them as a meal. I just eat more of it! In fact, this recipe is a copycat of those famous wraps everybody loves at P.F. Chang’s Restaurant.

But, of course, it’s been modified. And what makes this recipe so fantastic is that wonderful marriage of sweet and spicy flavors that I like so well. There are probably no less than a million recipes out there for lettuce wraps, but what tends to be a big digestive problem for me with most Asian food is either the corn-starchy, sugary component, or tons of soy sauce in their sauces, which I find sometimes overwhelming anyway. This sauce is completely digestion-friendly, and soy-free, as it’s both Paleo as well as SCD-compliant. I found it on a site called cavegirlcuisine.com and I think it rocks.

I love the crunch of the nuts, the slight sweetness from the little bit of honey, all balanced by the spiciness of the Sriracha. I plan to make this dish a lot this summer. It’s probably the best lettuce wrap I’ve ever had!

Give this recipe a try when you’ve craving something light on a hot summer evening. Makes good leftovers for lunch the next day. Serve with a side of cauliflower rice (recipe to follow soon), or if you eat grains, regular white of brown rice, or maybe a fried rice dish. If you’re especially hungry, add a side of stir-fried vegetables.

Make sure to properly chop everything very fine. You want the mix to be small enough so that you can adequately wrap a lettuce leaf around the filling. Big chunks won’t do!

Also, you can make this dish vegetarian if you like by using a soy crumble, or breaking down tofu with a fork to resemble ground meat. Tofu, however, has no flavor, so you’ll want to season it with some spices to give it a little more oomph.

Ingredients:
1Tbsp. coconut oil
1 lb. ground chicken
5 oz. mushrooms, finely chopped
1/3 cup green onion
1 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
3 Tbsp. coconut aminos
4 cloves of finely minced garlic
1/4 cup almonds, sliced or rough chopped
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. Sriracha hot sauce
1 Tbsp. honey
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. finely chopped cilantro (optional)

Directions:
Heat oil in a wide sauté pan. Add the chicken and brown, making sure to crumble the meat into the smallest possible bits. When almost cooked all the way through, add mushrooms, onion, ginger and garlic and cook until limp. Add remaining ingredients, except for cilantro, and stir together for a couple of minutes, then remove from heat.

Serve with either Boston Bibb (my favorite) or iceberg lettuce leaves that have been washed and thoroughly dried. Sprinkle chopped cilantro on top.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Making Homemade Bone Broth


Lately, everyone’s talking about bone broth. Neighborhood stores like “Brodo” in New York are opening up selling it, and cookbooks are springing up left and right devoted to it. Is this a fad? What is the big deal about broth?

Well, there’s a very compelling reason to make it. Let me tell you why.

For one thing, bone broth is tremendously nutritious. People have been cooking down bones for centuries. There’s a reason why the Jews call it “Jewish Penicillin”. It kicks ass. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, bone broth:

1. Reduces joint pain and inflammation, courtesy of chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine, and other compounds extracted from the boiled down cartilage and collagen;
2. Inhibits infection caused by cold and flu viruses;
3. Promotes strong,  healthy bones because of its collagen;
4. Promotes healthy hair and nail growth, thanks to the gelatin in the broth; but most importantly, for me anyway,
5. Acts like a soothing balm to heal and seal your gut lining.

Why?

The gelatin found in bone broth is a hydrophilic colloid that attracts and holds liquids, including digestive juices, thereby supporting digestion.

But there is one caveat:

PLEASE DO NOT BUY BROTH AT THE SUPERMARKET!

I just had to capitalize that, to get your attention. The broth you buy at the supermarket does not have nearly the amount of nutrients, let alone flavor (and that’s what we’re all about on this site: nutrition and flavor!) that homemade broth contains. And there is absolutely no reason why you can’t make this yourself at home for a fraction of the cost of the store-bought stuff. Store-bought is expensive!

Here’s what you do. We’re going to make Chicken Broth because it’s my favorite. I’ve tried using beef bones (yuk) and pork bones (double yuk) and I’ve decided to just stick with chicken bones. But use whatever you like.  Over time, you’ll begin to discover what flavor combinations you like best.

Let’s say you’re into roasting your own chicken. Preferably you’ve got an organic bird. You’ve had dinner and taken off just about all of the meat. What’s left is a carcass that you would probably just toss. No need to waste it! We’re going to put it to use. This chicken is going to be recycled! (If you didn’t roast your own chicken, no worries. You can do this with a store-bought bird).

Take your bird carcass, add chunks of yellow onion, a couple of roughly chopped carrots and celery stalks, a bay leaf, a little salt and freshly ground pepper, maybe some herbs like rosemary and thyme, a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar (very important, I’ll tell you why in a bit), and throw all this into your slow cooker, adding enough filtered water to cover everything,  Set it on low, do the dishes, watch some TV, and go to bed.

The next morning, ignore it and go to work, leaving the slow cooker on. Yes, I’m serious.

When you come home, your house is going to smell heavenly. Turn off the slow cooker and let it come to room temperature. Strain out all the bones and vegetables, and divide the liquid into jars that you can use right away (refrigerating those), and freeze the rest in some freezer-friendly storage containers if you won’t be making a big pot of soup in the next few days.

What you have before you is a pot of gloriously deep golden broth, something that could never be achieved in the store-bought varieties. In comparison, commercially produced broth virtually chases the chicken through the water and out the other side. This broth that you just made has a complex bouquet of flavors unrivaled by anything on the market. Just look at it! It’s golden color is rich and full of life-giving goodness.

Just make it once. Please. I beg you. You will not be sorry. It will be the most delicious thing you could possibly add to any soup, or sauce, that you make.  It will add tremendous flavor to just about anything. If you eat rice or quinoa, use the stock in lieu of plain old water. You will be adding nutrients as well as flavor. If you have a day when you’re not feeling so good, ladle out some broth, maybe add some well-cooked veggies and just have that for dinner.  So soothing and delicious!

Now, the reason you want to add ACV (apple cider vinegar) is because it pulls nutrients out of the bones and into the broth.

Now, go fire up your slow cooker and make some Brodo.

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