Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Parmesan Crisps

Being on a grain-free diet, the one thing I miss is having my “cheese and crackers” in the afternoons when I get home from work. Or I like to have it to munch on with a glass of wine, as I’m making dinner on weekends. I can still have the cheese, but the cracker part is certainly out.

I was pining away at my lack of crackers, feeling sorry for myself,  when I recently read about Parmesan Crisps. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t made them sooner. They are ridiculously easy to make and if you’re a fiend for Parmesan cheese, as I am, you will absolutely LOVE these.

Although crackers are “out”, I find that these little Parmesan Crisps have actually taken the place of the cracker! Brilliant. Problem solved. Eat them as is, or pile something on top of them. More on that later. Let’s make these things.

Parmesan Crisps

Ingredients:
Parmesan cheese, grated

That’s it!

Ok, so you could add some more things to it, if you wanted to. Like dried basil, black pepper, or red chili flakes for those of you who like things a little spicy.

And then here’s what you do:
Take a cookie sheet and line it with parchment paper. No need to grease anything. There’s enough fat in the cheese, after all. Get a teaspoon and pile a small mound of grated Parmesan cheese on the paper, as if they were little mounds of cookie dough. No need to flatten them - they will melt into a nice little round on their own.


Bake in a 350 degree F oven for about 10-12 minutes. At the 8 minute mark, start looking in on them every minute or so. Your oven may run cold or it may run hot so we don’t want them to undercook or burn. In my oven, I find 10-11 minutes works best. Allow them to cool on the tray.

I like to eat them with a slice of roasted red pepper on top, or with a little piece of tomato.

You can also, as they are melting and before they get too stiff (so maybe at minute 8-9), take them out of the oven and drape them over a handle of some kitchen utensil to make a pretty Parmesan Roll. These would look nice in a salad or alongside a wintry soup.

If you make them large enough, you can can drape them over the bottom end of a mug or a Mason jar to shape them into a bowl as they are cooling. They make a delicate little basket in which you can serve a small salad or something.

I have yet to make these fancy shapes. For now, I am content to eat them as “crackers”. I do have a tendency to eat a few too many at one time. They are just so darn good. Hope you enjoy them as well.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Pizza by any other name...

When you first start any kind of elimination diet, the first thing you think about is all the foods you have to give up. You’re disappointed and think you’re going to have to eat the same 5 things over and over again. Fortunately, once you get over that initial bump, you realize that all you need to do is be a little creative. And there’s always the Internet!

When I started SCD, I was excited to learn there was a pizza crust alternative to conventional dough. Cauliflower crusts were all the rage, and all over Pinterest, as many people were embracing a gluten-free diet or were Low Carb. While it is a good option (I just shared a blog post about it!), making a cauliflower crust is pretty labor-intensive. It’s really critical to squeeze as much moisture out of your dough as possible, or it won’t crisp up. Soggy pizza crust is no fun! (Actually, one way around this problem is to reduce the amount of cauliflower a bit and add some coconut flour, which is a great moisture absorber).

However, to make life even easier and more flavorful, I’ve moved past cauliflower and have embraced THE MEATZA. Yes, meat as the base. Think of it as a true Meat Lovers Pizza. It’s so much easier to prepare, provides enough filling protein for the dish, and can just get piled on with vegetables and cheese. Voila. You’re done in less than 30 minutes.

Meatza

1 (1 lb) package ground chicken, turkey or beef
Olive oil
1 tsp each of your favorite Italian seasonings: oregano, basil, rosemary, salt and pepper, garlic and onion powders, for instance
Pizza sauce
Assorted fresh vegetables and typical pizza toppings you like
Cheese of your choice


Directions:

Mix meat and herbs well, with your hands, to incorporate the seasonings. Grab a 9x12 lasagne pan or sheet pan, and grease with a very thin layer of oil. Press the meat down to a thickness of about 1/2”.

Bake in a 350 F. oven for 10-15 minutes. Drain the liquid from the pan and perhaps dab a little with a paper towel to get more liquid off the top. Spread on your pizza sauce and add some cheese. Add whatever vegetables your heart desires and the rest of the cheese and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. For the last few minutes you could place it under the broiler if you like.

I pile on a mountain of fresh spinach, sliced tomatoes, mushrooms and olives and maybe some red bell pepper rings that I sauté a little ahead of time because I don’t like mine raw on the pizza. I actually do the same thing with the mushrooms. I use a sugar-free pizza sauce and Jack cheese.

Delish!

Monday, May 15, 2017

What is “real” Chili, anyway?

There has been much debate over what constitutes real chili for about as long as there’s been chili. Officially, it’s called “Chili con Carne” which refers to the peppers, and “carne” (which is Español for meat) so it’s probably safe to assume that’s how the dish started, as simply chilis and meat.

But chili aficionados continue to debate if it should it be all beef, or if it's okay that it contains beans? What about vegetarian chili - can we really even call that chili? And what about all those other versions out there? While beans have been associated with chili as far back as the early 20th Century, they have been a matter of contention among chili cooks for a long time. While it is generally accepted that the earliest chilis did NOT include beans, proponents of their inclusion contend that chili with beans has a long enough history so as to not be considered “inauthentic”.  Tomatoes are another ingredient on which opinions differ. Some would even argue that no vegetable belongs in chili at all. Frankly I think tomatoes are essential.

So where did this thing called chili come from? There’s this cuisine in the American Southwest called TexMex and many people think “Chili con Carne" has some connection to Mexico, probably because of the Spanish-sounding name. But according to this website, there is nothing Mexican about chili. If there is any doubt about what the Mexicans think about it, the Diccionario de Mejicanismos, published in 1959, defines chili (roughly translated) as: “detestable food passing itself off as Mexican, sold in the United States from Texas to New York.” Wow!

Chili con carne actually hails from Texas and seems to have first appeared in a recipe dating back to the 1850’s. This version was made into a dried brick that could be reconstituted in pots out on the trail. The San Antonio Chili Stand, in operation at the 1893 Expo in Chicago, helped popularize chili by allowing a greater number of people to appreciate its taste. San Antonio (Texas) was a tourist destination and helped Texas-style chili con carne spread throughout the South and West. In fact, chili con carne became the official dish of the State of Texas in 1977.

Before WWII, hundreds of small, family-run chili parlors could be found throughout Texas and other states, with each establishment claiming to some kind of secret recipe. And there are countless recipes for this stew containing a broad range of ingredients: ground turkey or chicken, of course beef stew meat, vegetarian soy crumbles, Italian sausage, kidney beans, onions, garlic, tomatoes, red or green bell peppers, spices like chili powder, and of course then there’s the chilis themselves: hatch, jalapeños, habaneros or serranos, depending on the level of heat you prefer.

Like most people, I’ve had it lots of different ways. But lately, I’ve been interested in eating it more authentically Texan, using beef stew meat, adding some spices to flavor it, and a mild degree of heat so I can still breathe! Beans don’t really agree with me anymore, so I’ve had to adjust my chili.

Here’s a beef chili I’ve made a few times that we really like. It’s adapted from Danielle Walker’s “Against all Grain” cookbook. She adds chocolate to hers (as in unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 oz) but I didn’t find it added much to the stew and have since decided to leave it out. If you want, give it a try, but don’t add it until the very end.

The slow cooker is essential for this one, but to add flavor to the dish, you should brown the meat beforehand. The rest happens while you’re at work. You need the slow cooker for stewing beef, or beef chuck, because the longer cooking time really helps break down the muscle fibers and tenderizes the meat, making it fall-apart tender when you eat it.

Slow-Cooker Beef Chili

2 tsp coconut oil
2-1/2 lbs beef chuck, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 red bell peppers, seeded and diced
1 small yellow onion
1 28-oz box or jar of chopped organic tomatoes
1-1/2 cups beef broth
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
2-1/2 Tbsp. chili powder
3 tsp sea salt
2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
Garnishes: chopped fresh cilantro, red or green onion

Place the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the meat and brown on all sides, about 8-10 minutes. The meat doesn’t have to be cooked all the way through - it will get cooked in the slow cooker. For now, all you want to focus on is getting a little color on the meat, to add flavor.

Drain half the fat off, the pour the remaining fat and meat into the slow cooker.

Add the remaining ingredients, stir well, and cook 6 hours on low. At the end adjust the salt to taste (here’s where you’d add the chocolate, too).

Serve garnished with cilantro and finely chopped red onion, or green onion if you better tolerate that.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Homemade Snack Bars

They are the perfect in-between food. In the mid-afternoon when you need a little something to hold you over until dinner, or when lunch is still a ways off and you’re dying of hunger, or maybe you need a little energy during or after a workout. That’s where snack bars come in handy.


And there are so many to choose from, aren’t there? Heavens, it’s kind of overwhelming. But if you’re the label reader I am, you hesitate to buy most of them because nearly every one of them has something in there that you really shouldn’t be eating. Here are some of them:

Soy Protein Isolate

This is, unfortunately, one of the most prevalent protein sources you’ll find in protein bars, especially those marketed to women. The marketing would have you believe that soy is an excellent protein source for women because of the isoflavones found in it. In reality, studies have indicated that these soy isoflavones can actually be toxic because of how the soy is processed (fermented soy products such as tofu and miso are fine, just fyi).

In addition, it was actually considered a waste product in soy processing until recently, when it was discovered that money could be made by passing it off as a protein source. It’s cheap and definitely NOT a high-quality protein. It should be avoided.

High Fructose Corn Syrup

This is an easy one.....the adverse health effects of HFCS are well-documented (contrary to what the commercials from the Corn Growers Association claim). It’s one of the WORST things you can eat and yet there are still bars that use it as a primary ingredient.

Palm Kernel Oil

Palm Kernel oil is a cheap, unhealthy fat. Unlike plain palm oil, palm kernel oil can’t be obtained organically. Instead, the oil must be extracted from the pit with a gasoline-like hydrocarbon solvent. The fractioned form is the most processed...if you see this in the ingredients, definitely avoid it.

Sugar Alcohols

This includes ingredients like maltitol syrup, xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol and erythritol.  Sugar alcohols are included in bars for sweetness, especially in those that are “carb controlled”. Sugar alcohols don’t impact blood sugar as much as regular sugar because they are not well absorbed in the digestive tract...and when things aren’t well absorbed in the digestive tract, you get gas, abdominal cramping and bloating. In small amounts, they aren’t a big problem, but if you start getting into the double digits of grams of sugar alcohol (and many low-carb bars are in the 20 gram range) then you can start to see unpleasant digestive issues.

Artificial Sweeteners

These include saccharin, sucralose (Splenda), and aspartame (Equal). We pretty much know by now that these are unhealthy and should be avoided.

So, what’s out there that we can safely eat?

Well, there are more and more good ones coming out, thankfully. A relatively new one on the market is from Rx and is marketed as a Paleo bar, and they are “ok” but I don’t love them. My favorite bars for many years now have been those from Larabar. They used to be marketed as being raw, but their website once explained that since the term “raw” means so many different things to different people, they decided to remove the term from their packaging. But in my opinion, they are raw, and thankfully gluten-free and best of all, made with a minimal and simple ingredient list.

But buying a bunch of them can get pricey and if you have a household to feed, it’s cheaper to make them yourself. One of my favorites is their Coconut Cream Larabars.

Coconut Cream Larabars

1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup cashews
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
12-15 Medjool dates, pitted
2 T coconut oil
2 T coconut milk

Mix the nuts together in a food processor until finely ground. Then add the coconut and pulse once or twice. Add the dates, oil and milk and pulse just until a dough forms.


Ground nuts with the coconut
Line an 8x8 pan with parchment paper, leaving enough room for some to come up and over the sides. That way the bars will be easy to remove and cut with a long knife or better yet, a pizza cutter. Press down the dough so that it is packed well and place in the fridge to set for an hour or 2. Slice and eat. Alternately, you could form the dough into balls and roll them in more shredded coconut. This way they can be stored together without sticking together. They should be kept in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. They do taste best at room temperature, though, so get them out a little before you want to eat them.


Press into a pan

Apparently their Key Lime Larabars are really popular, although I have only tried the Lemon. I’m going to make these next:

Key Lime Larabars

1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup cashews
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
12 Medjool dates, pitted
Juice of 1 lime
1-2 T of water if needed

Process the nuts and coconut until finely ground. Then add the dates and lime juice until a dough forms. Follow the rest of the instructions above.




Pecan Pie Larabars

1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup pecans
12 Medjool dates

Same process as above.

For alternative flavors, try experimenting: adding mini chocolate chips, dried cranberries, cherries or other dried fruit, seeds, spices, whatever floats your boat. Add these to the “dough” of crushed nuts and coconut after processing, but before pressing into the pan.

They are super delicious, 100% natural, raw, gluten-free, vegan, and sugar-free. You can eat these with a good conscience!


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Seared Ahi Tuna with a killer Ginger Lime Vinaigrette

Did you know that there are over 60 kinds of tuna fish in the sea, but only about 14 of them are well known to us?

The 4 most common tuna fishes we see, at least here in the Western U.S., are bluefin, yellowtail, albacore, and skipjack. What you want for this dish is “sushi-grade” ahi tuna. Ask your fishmonger if you don’t know which one that is.

I’ve previously blogged about yellowfin and how it’s an excellent replacement for the albacore tuna that we usually use for tuna fish sandwiches.  You know, the stuff we usually get in a can? Yellowfin is a very delicate and delicious fish and is also known as ahi. And ahi makes for some very nice eating. Something that you see a lot of in restaurants is seared ahi, which means that the outside is quickly seared (cooked) while the inside will remain uncooked.

Seared Ahi with Sesame Crust

Until recently, I was never a fan of raw fish and avoided sushi and seared ahi for that reason. Even though seared ahi isn’t completely raw, it mostly is, so it wasn’t something I was going out of my way to make. But the thing about ahi is this: it doesn’t taste as good when fully cooked. It’s tough and chewy, but when it’s only just seared on the outside, the meat is tender and melts like butter on your tongue.

Tyler Florence
Recently I sent my husband out to get some fresh fish for dinner and he came home with ahi. A little disappointed, and not having made it for quite some time, I had to look up a recipe for it. I wasn’t going to overcook it again because I remembered how tough it was last time I did this, so I was going to have to get over this raw fish phobia and pretty quick! I decided to go with a recipe I found on the Food Network from cutie Tyler Florence. I mean, with a face like that, how can you not but trust him? While the fish is certainly the centerpiece, I have to say that the sauce he makes for it is even better! It really is “to die for”.

Start making the sauce as soon as you get home. Let the flavors blend for as long as you can. Then, get the fish out of the refrigerator about 45 minutes to an hour before you want to cook it. Here’s why. Since you aren’t cooking it through all the way, if it’s not brought to room temperature before you prepare it, the fish will be ice cold in the middle and that’s no good.

Because the sauce is super flavorful, what you want to do is season the fish very conservatively. All you need is salt and pepper. Start with some coconut oil on your cooking surface (I used the griddle down the center of my new stove, but you can use any good sauté pan or skillet that you have). You could use your grill, but you’ve got to stay with it because this takes only a matter of a few minutes and if you walk away from it, it’s toast. Frankly, I don’t recommend the grill for this.

Get the cooking surface very hot and then lay the tuna on it, cooking it until you see a layer about 1/16" or 1/8” deep turn white. Flip it over and do the same on the other side. Go a little more if you must, but don’t overdo it! That’s it, take it off. Spoon over some sauce, and the sliced avocado, serve it with some rice if you like, place some steamed bok choy along side it (make sure to spoon some sauce over that as well) and go to town. You’ve got a restaurant-quality dinner right there!

Here is the link to the recipe. The only substitution I made is that I used coconut aminos because I avoid soy sauce.

I have made this ahi a few times now and really enjoy it. Needless to say, I seem to have gotten over my fear of raw fish and have even ventured out into the world of sushi! If you’re still on the fence about raw fish, this is a good dish to start with. Or, you can just make the sauce and serve it over vegetables. I especially love it on the steamed baby bok choy.  Add tofu and turn any veggie dish into an Asian-inspired affair.

Tyler’s killer Seared Ahi Tuna

I hope you try it. It’s such a quick dinner to make on a week night. It literally takes less than 15 minutes to make the sauce and sear the fish. If you do make it, I’d love to know what you think.





Monday, March 20, 2017

Flavor Profile: Coconut Aminos

Soy sauce is so obiquitous. It’s in every Asian restaurant and probably in everyone’s refrigerator. For anyone wanting, or needing, to stay away from soy, there is an alternative!

Soy doesn’t work for everyone. It is considered a common allergen and will appear on labels as such. When doing a detoxifying diet or anything of that sort, you’ll typically be asked to give up the usual suspected allergens: gluten, soy, eggs, dairy, nuts, etc. Some people do find that they are allergic to soy, while for others it causes digestive upset. Of course, I’m in the latter camp.

As I’m sure you know, soy comes in various forms: tofu, edamame, tempeh, miso, natto, soy sauce, and soy lecithin, just to name a few. Soy, and especially soy lecithin, is in nearly everything these days. Why is that? Because it’s cheap. And it’s not as benign as they make it out to be. And unfortunately, over 90% of the soy in the U.S. is genetically modified. Something to rethink, isn’t it?

For as many articles as you read about the wonders of soy and how good it is for you, there are just as many that claim it the work of the devil. What’s clear is that soy is a phytoestrogen, a plant-based estrogen that mimics estrogen in the body. If you have uterine fibroids, for instance, which are the result of an abundance of estrogen, you’ll probably be wise to avoid consuming more. Anything that stimulates more estrogen has been associated with other conditions such as breast cancer and endometriosis as well. There is also some research on soy messing with the thyroid, and that it contains phytates that are enzyme-inhibitors, blocking mineral absorption in the gut, etc. etc.

Soy Beans
Many nutritionists, however, feel that organic soy, especially fermented soy, can actually be an important addition to our diet. Tamari, for that reason, would be a far healthier choice than regular soy sauce, as it’s made from the brine of fermented miso and is chock full of lactobacilli and other good bacteria.

You do the homework and decide for yourself. I’m not here to tell you to avoid it or consume it, but do some reading and make an informed decision. Again, for many of us, it’s not the best choice.

Although I always liked the taste of soy sauce I eventually found it too salty. Eventually I chose the low sodium variety and then thought I was doing myself a favor by switching to a "health food alternative” called Bragg’s Amino Acids. Recently a devoted reader of mine sent me some information on this stuff and I was appalled at how it is manufactured. The fact that it calls itself a health food is really laughable. Shows you how you really need to read up on everything! Don’t make assumptions that what you are eating is healthy. If it’s in any way processed, check it out.


An alternative to soy sauce that I have only in the last year come to try is something called coconut aminos. It tastes really good, is a bit lighter than soy sauce, and is made with only 2 ingredients, coconut sap and organic sea salt. It’s perfect for that soy-y flavor needed for Asian dishes, but also any dish for which that umami flavor really calls out for.

This is the brand I typically get, but there are a few. As usual, read the labels and pick one that has only 2 ingredients. You can find coconut aminos at most health food stores and Sprouts Farmers Markets, if you have one near you.



Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Smӧrgåsbord to ring in the New Year

Spanish Tapas
Sorry this is a little late. I meant to post this right at the new year but got a little side-tracked with a car accident and a fall from a bike. Oops.  So allow me to go back a few weeks.

This year my holidays were marked with food from distant lands. Christmas “dinner” was served Spanish tapas style, with a wonderful assortment of salami, ham and Manchego cheese, olives, skewers of lamb, chicken, and shrimp, bacon-wrapped asparagus, and a veggie dish of marinated artichoke hearts with peas and red peppers.  Positively divine. New Year’s was celebrated early (by one day) and was welcomed with food from Scandinavia.

Planning meals around a theme or ethnic cuisine can be a lot of fun. I like the research involved - combing the Internet for ideas, looking for what’s typically served at an event like the one I’m interested in, reading the history behind the dishes and culture, finding recipes for those dishes, and figuring out what beverages go best with everything. It’s all part of the adventure!

The Julbord
Like the dinner I just planned with my Norwegian friend, Lorine. We put together what we commonly refer to in the U.S. as a Smӧrgåsbord, which is called Koldtbord or Kaldtbord in Norwegian. She referred to it as a Smorbord. It goes by a few variations  throughout Northern Europe.

The word Smӧrgåsbord is of Swedish origin and regardless of the country or word for it, it is a traditional Scandinavian meal served at special occasions, with multiple hot and cold dishes on a table. The word Smӧrgasbord breaks down as Smӧrgås (open-faced sandwiches) and bord (table). At the holidays it’s called the Julbord (yule + bord = Christmas table).

On a traditional Smӧrgåsbord you’ll obviously find the obligatory bread, butter and cheese, but there is also fish, especially herring and salmon, as well as baked ham, meatballs, pork ribs, head cheese, sausages, potato, beetroot salad, boiled cabbage and kale.

Fresh, clean herbal flavors like dill, fennel and caraway, along with mustard and lemon, make up the sauces and accompaniments. Here’s what we did:

Lorine had prepared the open-faced sandwiches which we simply assembled at my house.

They consisted of shrimp and seafood salad garnished with lemon slices and tomato, ham and a salad topping of carrots and peas in a creamy sauce on another, one sandwich of deli meats with crunchy fried onions and tomatoes, and then my absolute favorite: crispy bacon over a delicious sautéed apple and onion medley. Yum-my!

These were each served on a different type of bread: rye or white.

Following these we enjoyed “frikkadeler" or meatballs, sweet and spicy pickles, red cabbage, boiled potatoes with butter and parsley, and a cucumber dill salad. The hubby smoked salmon on the smoker for a few hours beforehand.

Crispy bacon over sautéed apples and onions

Everything was washed down with Aquavit (a traditional Norwegian liqueur), wine or beer, and later some coffee. For dessert, anise biscotti, leftover from Christmas.

It was indeed a feast, and lots of fun. We had a chance to enjoy some cultural foods that we had never had before that have been a part of our friend's holiday experience since she was a girl.

Planning a dinner party around a theme is enlightening and fun, especially when prepared with friends. Put a few of these kinds of events on your list of New Year’s resolutions this year and gather some people around you to share them with.

Happy 2017!


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