We’re All Irish On St Patrick’s Day

12 03 2012

First things first, I’m not Irish. I have some Scottish blood mixed with my all-American mutt lineage, which may make me a stone’s throw from it. But when St Paddy’s Day rolls around, we can all be Irish for a day. The idea of a simple, rustic cuisine based on local, peasant ingredients appeals to everyone. For vegetarians, well, we skip the corned beef and go straight to the cabbage.

The story of the potato famine is well-known, a lesson we have been learning over and over since pre-history. A population dependent upon a single crop for its survival was devastated by a blight on that crop, and people were left with nothing to eat.

If you read the history of this terrible time, you’ll understand two things. One is why the Irish have been so angry with the British for so long. The second is that hunger in this big world is always politically based. During the famine, wealthy British landowners continued to grow crops for export, filling warehouses and ships with grain while Irish families starved and died in the streets outside. The British government did little to help, insisting that bailing out the people would create dependency, and preferring to follow a “laissez faire” philosophy. There was plenty of food to be had, if the people in power had been willing to bring it.  Thousands of people died.

Pretty good reason to drink some beer, huh? Well, while you’re Irish for a day, raise a glass to the indomitable spirit and strength of the Irish people. Maybe the next time you get a letter from an organization fighting hunger, consider eating potatoes and cabbage for a week and donating what you save on food to help.

I’ve always thought it was a tiny bit of justice that the foods that were relegated to peasants were often secretly nutritious. The 1% have historically lorded it over everyone by eating lots of meat and fat, while the hard working farmers were left eating plant foods. Of course, it’s cold comfort to know your greens prevent cancer if you are starving, but we have to look for something positive in all this.

Peasant Food for Today

So for St Patricks Day, let’s celebrate the lowly root vegetables and cabbage. Traditional potato dishes, like Boxty, a mash of potatoes with butter and scallions, are the kind of rib-sticking, easy food that fuels physical labor. Today, I thought it would be fun to eat a version of Colcannon, another classic Irish dish. Instead of white potatoes, I’m going to up the nutrition with a big sweet potato, and celebrate the cabbage, the most peasant of all peasant foods. Of course, you can use potatoes, too.

Yes, in a karmic payback, the cabbage that was fed to peasants and livestock is now known to be a superfood. Like all members of the brassica family, cabbage has a slew of anti-cancer chemicals and antioxidants. Cabbage offers up something called glucosinolates, which are allies in preveting colon, prostate and bladder cancers. Common cabbage is also rich in polyphenols, which are both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant chemicals.  Cabbage also lowers cholesterol and helps create a healthy environment in the digestive tract, keeping good bacterial balance.

Cabbage is high in vitamin C, but really stands out for providing 66% of the vitamin K you need in one cup. It’s one of those very low-calorie foods that you can eat lots of to feel full and satisfied without gaining weight.

Especially with potatoes.

Peasant Food

Colorful Colcannon

For my updated colcannon, I roasted off a big sweet potato and then put it in the fridge to get completely cold. That way it will be easy to cut in chunks, as well as save me time in the kitchen. You can do the same thing with three medium yukon golds for a more traditional colcannon. If you are ovo-lacto, an Irish Cheddar would be a good thing to shred over the colcannon.

1 roasted sweet potato, cold (about 1 1/2 pound)

1 tablespoon Earth Balance or olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

4 cups cabbage, chopped

1 teaspoon caraway seed or celery seed

2 cups spinach, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut the cold sweet potato into chunks, reserve. In a large cast iron skillet, heat the fat, then add the onion. Stir for 4-5 minutes over medium-high heat to soften and brown a little. Add the cabbage and caraway or celery seeds and keep stirring, let the cabbage get very soft and browned in spots. When it’s all soft and sweet, stir in the sweet potato and stir until heated through, then add the spinach and stir until wilted. Salt and pepper to taste.

In the cast iron pan, sizzling





Crunchy Sunflower Seeds, The Hippies Were Right

5 03 2012

The Sunny Seeds

When was the last time you thought about sunflower seeds? Were you cracking the shells at a summer picnic or ball game, or filling the birdfeeder with the shiny black seeds? I know that  I forget, sometimes, that sunflower seeds are such a nutrition powerhouse. I don’t think I am the only one who associates them with old-school hippie food, something we used to sprinkle in salads and bake into granola back in the day.

Well, sunflower seeds are much more than a little crunch on a salad, and they are just as exciting as the chia and flax seeds that are so hot right now. Recently, folks with peanut and nut allergies have been embracing sunflower seed butter, and in my neck of the woods, an enterprising farmer is making a lovely cold-press sunflower oil. (Read about it here.)

So, I am reminding myself to eat more of these tasty seeds. Sunflower seeds are a prime source for phytosterols. Phytosterols are the plant based compounds that lower cholesterol, so effectively in fact that they are made into special margarines and pills for that purpose. Phytosterols are so similar to cholesterol that they compete for absorption in the digestive tract, decreasing LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood.The food highest in them is sesame seeds, followed by sunflower, which delivers  280 mg per 100 grams.

They are also a good source of magnesium. Magnesium calms nerves, muscles and blood vessels, and helps with detoxification and cancer prevention, and recently was shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. The seeds also deliver lots of folate, the important B-vitamin that prevents neural tube defects and is good for your brain function.

Just 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds has 61% of the Vitamin E you need for the day. Vitamin E is a powerful fat soluble antioxidant, reduces inflammation and helps with all conditions in which inflammation is a part. It also prevents cholesterol from oxidizing and forming plaque in the arteries. Vitamin E rich foods have been linked to reduced risks of stroke and alzheimers disease.

Are you motivated to get some sunflower seeds into your life? The most common way to eat them is as a snack, and roasted sunflower seeds pack easily to accompany you on your busy life. Think of them whenever you might use nuts, whether in a muffin, cookie, bread or salad. Add them to your granola or hot cereal, or use them as a crunchy coating or casserole topping.

Try these tasty cookies, for a little bit of sunflower goodness.

Sunflower Seed Nutrition Info:

¼ cup/%DV

Vitamin E 61%,B1 34%Manganese 34%, Copper 31% ,Tryptophan 31%, magnesium 28%, selenium 26%, B6 23%, phosphorus 23.1%,  folate 19%, calories 11%

Sunny Cookie

Sunflower-Maple Cookies

Makes 12

Use toasted sunflower seeds for these, and check them for freshness before buying. The great taste of a fresh sunflower seeds is easily ruined by sitting in a bin for too long.

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. In a medium bowl, stir the coconut oil, maple, and vanilla, then stir into the dry ingredients. Scoop 2 tablespoon sized portions of dough and form into 3/4 inch thick cookies. Place on an ungreased baking sheet. They won’t spread much.

Bake for 12 minutes, switching the position of the pan halfway. Cool on racks. Keeps for a week, refrigerated.





A Sexy Salad for The Big Night

13 02 2012

Well, it’s time for the big Valentine’s romantic meal, and lots of people are making reservations for gourmet restaurant feasts. They will dine on oysters and steak, cream doused pastas, and then a big chocolate dessert, all accompanied by plenty of alcohol. Then, if they are lucky, they will head home to pursue romance in the bedroom.

Unfortunately, that big, heavy meal and all that alcohol will probably only hinder their activities. In fact, they may find themselves slipping into a sugar coma before they even get started.

So my advice to you, if you want to get lucky on Valentines, and all year long, is eat a light meal of plant-based aphrodisiac foods.

These foods, unlike their sat-fat laden alternatives, actually nourish the sexual systems. Believe it or not, guys who eat right don’t need Viagra. In fact viagra was inspired by a chemical that you can get from a good diet, nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is made in the body from l-arginine, and it has the unique ability to relax the blood vessels. It’s really good for circulation and heart health in general, but that particular action is helpful for the now famous ED, or erectile dysfunction. L-arginine is high in meats, but also in beans, nuts and seeds.

That’s right, the natural foods version of viagra is right there in a healthy pantry. OK, viagra is an amped up version that works right away, while the one you get from food needs to be a part of your diet daily to make a difference. And why not? The plant foods that contain l-arginine are delicious, and healthy for you in so many ways.You can also buy it in supplement form, if you want to make sure you are taking care of your circulation.

If thinking about sex will get the dudes to eat nutrition all-stars, then so be it, bring on the sexy stuff.

So, for a pre-romance meal, try this sexy salad.

A few handfuls of Arugala provides a peppery, mineral rich base, that has long been considered an aphrodisiac.

Sprinkle on some cooked black beans, rich in l-arginine, which converts to nitric acid, the blood vessel relaxing compound that inspired the invention of Viagra.

Top that with sliced avocado, which replenishes your good fats, potassium and vitamin E that helps produce hormones for keeping things flowing.

A few sliced cherry tomatoes, or “pomme d’amour” as the French used to call it, boost your vitamin c and the lycopene needed for prostate health.

A drizzling of a nut or seed oil amps up the Omega 3 fats for your heart and necessary good circulation, as well as more hormone production.

Top that with a generous sprinkling of sunflower seeds, which pack plenty of zinc that men need for sexual health.

Squeeze a lime over the pile and shower it with minced red chiles, which raise your metabolism and warm your lips in a provocative way.

A sprinkling of coarse salt and some cracked black pepper is all you need.

Save the dessert for after the romance. You’ll have earned a treat.





Fudge-Filled Chocolate Heart Cakes for Valentine’s Day

5 02 2012

Mmm, So Decadent....

This weekend, while everybody else is making Superbowl food, I am looking ahead to the next big food event. Valentine’s Day. It’s been a while since I made a new romantic chocolate treat, and it’s time. I’ve been slacking off, resorting to boxed chocolates or candy for a couple of years.

It has been, and continues to be a good excuse to go out to eat. But this year, I may save room for my own dessert, waiting at home.

Valentine’s is a chocolate holiday. Champagne is good, too, but I’m sure that just about everyone in a relationship will be sharing something chocolate  on the big day. If you haven’t heard, chocolate is the healthy food that tickles the cannabinoid receptors in your brain, supposedly giving you a high in the same way that marijuana does. They also say it creates some chemistry that is similar to falling in love. It’s also full of antioxidants and heart-healthy phytochemicals, so we can feel good about eating some on a special occasion.

For this tasty cake, I wanted to try out my latest fun food, chia seeds. I have been remiss in not trying them in baking sooner, and have been playing with them for a while. Like ground flax, they have a magical ability to replace eggs. Just grind them in a spice or coffee grinder, then mix with water. Then, the rest of the time, add them to smoothies, hot cereal, and puddings. If you don’t have chia, just use flax.

Fudge Filled Chocolate Hearts

I have heart shaped ramekins that hold a little more than a large muffin cup, so you could make 6 cupcakes with this recipe. I made five cakes. Depending on how much time you have, you can either eat them warm, right out of the oven, and they will be like molten chocolate cakes, or you can chill them , trim them, and coat them with ganache or glaze for a showy presentation. If you want to use edible red flowers, like nasturtiums, or raspberries or strawberries, put them on the ganache while still fluid.

FILLING:

1/2 box mori-nu firm silken tofu (6 ounces)

1/2 cup brown rice syrup

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup1 tablespoon arrowroot

vegan chocolate chips, melted

CAKE:

1 tablespoon chia seeds, ground

1/4 cup non-dairy milk

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 cup extra dark cocoa (you can use regular cocoa, too)

1 pinch salt 1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup canola oil

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon cider vinegar

1/4 cup non-dairy milk

oil for ramekins

GANACHE AND GLAZE

1 1/4 cup vegan chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

5 tablespoons non-dairy milk

1/2 cup vegan powdered sugar

milk, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Make the filling. In a food processor, puree the tofu until smooth, scraping down repeatedly. Once it is pureed, add the rice syrup, vanilla and starch and process until well mixed, scraping down a few times. Melt the chocolate, and add it quickly to the puree, then process to incorporate smoothly. Transfer to a piping bag of a large zip-top bag. Reserve.

2.  In a cup, stir the ground chia with the first measure of non-dairy milk, then let stand. It will thicken. In a large bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder and soda. Whisk to mix. In a medium bowl , mix the oil, maple, vanilla, vinegar, and remaining non-dairy milk. Stir the chia mixture into that and then add it all to the dry mixture. Stir until well-mixed but don’t over-stir.

3. Use a heaping 1/4 cup of batter in each ramekin, and use your wet finger to push it out to the edges. Then, cut the corner off of the plastic bag of filling, and stick the tip into the center of the ramekin, pushing it almost to the bottom. Squeeze the bag to pipe the filling into the center of the batter. Do this with each cake, there will be plenty of filling, and you can pipe more in if there is some left over.

Piping in the Fudgy Filling

4. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until the cake and filling puff up, and a toothpick inserted in the cake part comes out dry. Cool on racks. If you want to eat them now, just dust with powdered sugar and dive in.

5. For ganache, melt chocoalte and non-dairy milk together, stirring until smooth. Let cool slightly as you flip the cakes out of their ramekins and trim the cake flush with the filling with a serrated knife. Place upside down on serving plates and coat with ganache. Mix powdered sugar with enough non-dairy milk to make a drizzle, then decorate the cakes on the plates.

Warm Out of the Oven, MMMM

Heart Full of Fudge





The Truth About Weight Gain, and The Nutty Salad

9 01 2012

Start with Lettuce

So, here we are in the January shape-up season, the time of year when a few million people resolve to eat better and possibly lose some weight. Should you go high-protein, low carb, whole grain, fat free, vegan, paleo?

Well, a new study published in the Journal of American Medicine says that what really matters is the calories that you consume. The researchers overfed a group of 45 volunteers in a controlled environment, making sure they all got the same excess of calories.  But, to test a theory, Dr Bray and his researchers tried three diets, low, medium and high protein, with the same excess of calories, and the people all gained weight. The unexpected thing was that  low-protein eaters actually gained less. For some reason, people eating only 5% protein gained less weight. The researchers speculated that there was a metabolic difference for the low protein over-eaters.

Go figure. Of course, the high-protein diets will always be popular, and there will always be a new weight loss book coming down the pike. It’s interesting that we just have to keep learning about calories in, calories out, over and over. All that flesh food that people build their meals around is, at least according to this study, turning to fat just as fast as french fries and white bread-possibly faster.

So, if you want to lose weight, cut calories, and don’t go crazy for protein. One great way is to keep loading on those high-volume, low calorie vegetables. Last week I talked vegetable soup, this week, let’s look at salads. Are you bored with yours? I refuse to eat boring salads, just because they are good for me.

In fact, if you make boring salads, you are just making sure that you will not love, crave, or continue eating them, and that runs counter to everything we should be doing in a healthy kitchen. So I have a little trick to share.

Try adding the nutrition of nuts to your dressing, then sprinkling some on your salad. It adds calories, yes, but they are very nutrient-dense calories, and will make you feel satisfied as you eat your piles of low-cal veggies. Since you are a vegetarian, you can handle a little high fat food in the form of nuts, which you need to get healthy EFA’s, the fats that your brain and heart need to function. This dressing is cut with a little veggie stock, and uses less oil than the conventional vinaigrette, but gets body from the nuts.

I know it runs counter to all the anti-fat diets out there, but nuts are actually associated with weight loss, because they are so satisfying. So pile up the plants, and douse them with this tasty, nutritious dressing, and dig in.

You’ll feel full and enjoy it. I promise.

Super Nutty Dressing for Salads

1/2 cup pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts, pine nuts or pistachios, toasted-save half for the salad
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup fresh basil, parsley, cilantro or other mild leafy herb

1/2 cup vinegar, lemon juice or combination of the two

1/4 cup vegetable stock

pinch of sugar or agave
salt and pepper
1/2 cup nut oil, olive oil or a combination with flax oil added

1. In a processor, grind the nuts, saving half for topping. Add the garlic and parsley or herb and grind to a smooth paste. Scrape the sides of the processor bowl and add vinegar or lemon, stock, sweetener and salt and pepper. Process until well mixed, then with the machine running, whip in the oil.

2. Then, build a big, interesting salad with lettuces, shredded kale and cabbage, tomatoes, slivered onions and zucchini, sprouts, and all the raw veggies you enjoy. Add some cooked veggies too, for wintertime, like blanched green beans, halved and steamed brussels sprouts, steamed broccoli, whatever sounds good. Top with nuts, drizzle with your nutty dressing, and enjoy.

Adding salad to all your meals will help you fill up and feel satisfied. Having a meal that is all salad, well, that is just more of a good thing!





A One-Size Fits All Resolution

2 01 2012

Chop 'em and boil 'em!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 is just beginning, and the new year is a good time to start a new habit. Call it a New Years resolution if you want, as long as that doesn’t mean you will forget about it by February. I propose that just about everyone out there could live better and feel better if they eat more vegetables. Simple, and genuinely easy, just more veggies, every day.

Of course, eating more veg is going to take a plan. Take a look at your routine, and ask yourself-where can I add veggies? Even the vegetarians and vegans can spend a day eating cereal for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch, and if you don’t really pile them up at dinner, your all day total is a few slivers on the sandwich and the cup or so tossed in with the pasta you threw together. I know, I’ve done it myself.

9 servings a day is ideal, which is about 8 ½ cups. You may ask, how will I eat all that? Well, one great benefit of eating more veggies is that you are probably going to lose weight. All that fiber and goodness just fills you up, so you eat so much less of other foods that you can’t help it.

So, here are some ideas for adding significant amounts of veggies to your daily life.

Veggies at breakfast. Instead of the sweet foods we tend to eat, try a savory scramble, loaded up with veggies and tofu. Miso soup is a great Japanese tradition at breakfast-just add more veggies. Or, a smoothie that combines fruit with spinach or other greens will camouflage the veggies in a sweet shake.

Click to go to a Green Smoothie Recipe

Smoothies are Easy

Veggies as snacks. Buy bags of things like baby carrots, or whatever snack veg you like. If you need a little dip or dressing to make them appealing, go ahead. If cooked veggies appeal to you more, blanch a bunch by dropping them in boiling water, then drain and chill to take with all week. I like to eat raw mushrooms, sliced zucchini and other veggies while I cook, with a little salt. Keep some handy. If you are hungry between meals, stay full this way.

Veggies at meals. Plan to have salads and or veggie soups at your meals. Buy the bagged salad, some tomatoes and cukes, or whatever you like on salad, and make a simple dressing for the week. Make the veggie soup recipe below, or your favorite vegetable soup. If you start the meal with salad and soup, you will never make it to dessert.

Juice. If you have a juicer, now is the time to drag it out of wherever you have hidden it, and use that January New Leaf energy to get juicing. I admit, my Champion was in the basement, and I have installed it in the kitchen, cluttered as it feels. I worked up to this by buying wonderful green drinks at my Coop when I shop, and grabbing a fresh juice whenever I could find one. I’m finding that this is also a great way to use up kale stems, celery leaves, and other leafy greens.

Slip Them in. Whenever you are cooking, even putting a sandwich together, always add a vegetable, more than you usually would. Maybe you can keep roasted red peppers in the fridge for sandwiches, or bagged spinach to add to just about anything, from pasta to tofu.

Just do it.

For a super simple veggie soup for the week, bring one of those boxes of veggie stock to a boil in a big pot. Add a couple of chopped carrots, an onion, a couple of ribs of celery. Once the veggies are tender, add a 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes. Bring back to a simmer and add a bunch of chopped kale or other greens, or a couple cups of chopped cabbage. Season to taste with salt and pepper. This soup can be reaheated as is, or you can take some out each day and season it differently. Try it curried, with a can of beans, or try it Italian style with lots of fresh herbs and garlic. Puree it for a sauce, or whisk some miso with water and stir it in.

Eat More Veggies, it’s just that simple.

Happy 2012-it’s already starting off a little greener!





Start Planning Your Sides for Thanksgiving…

7 11 2011

A big Old Gnarly Jewel Yam

The Thanksgiving meal is always a biggie, especially for Vegans and vegetarians. We want to share our love with our families and friends, but not to eat any turkey. You may opt for a turkey free day, or you may be bringing a dish to a shared meal with omnivores. Either way, its all about giving thanks.

This week, I’m getting psyched for making my yams. Sweet potatoes, yams, all the same thing these days, just in case you were wondering. The original yam is a giant, not very sweet tuber that grows in Africa and the tropics, but the sweet potatoes that we grow here have taken on the name. I went to my grocery store and found three common examples, a garnet yam, the darkest red one, a jewel yam, the orange one, and a white sweet potato, the pale one. The garnet is sweetest, the jewel mid-range, and the white one, well, not too sweet at all.

The great thing about the colors is that they do signal the presence of high antioxidants. Of course, sweet potatoes are healthy foods, high in carotenoids and fiber. They are so rich and delicious that they really don’t need much fussing to make them really satisfying.

For a change, I thought I would make roasted yam fries. So, I lopped off a slice from my jewel yam to make it stable to slice, and placed it on the flat cut side. From there, I sliced it and then sliced the slices into French fry shaped strips. Then I preheated the oven to 425 F. I put the yams on sheet pans, being careful not to crowd them, and tossed with olive oil. I wanted all the pieces to have contact with the pan. I roasted them for 20 minutes on the bottom rack, then flipped the slices with a metal spatula. I roasted for 20 more. A sprinkling of coarse salt made them complete.

Slice Carefully into "Fries"

All Those Sugars Brown Up Beautifully

For variety, you can also cut them in spears, just cut the pieces fatter, and then roast them longer.

I ate mine with a dose of Sriracha sauce, but you can go more Thanksgiving-y by tossing them with chopped fresh herbs, like sage and thyme. Get crazy by making a mayo (or vegan mayo) mixed with herbs, smoky chipotle, or garlic for an aioli. Use coconut oil and curry powder for a little Indian flair. Sprinkle with chili powder and lime, and serve with salsa for a Mexican theme. Go for a bit of protein with a Thai or African style peanut dipping sauce.

Break out from your sweet potato casserole rut and give yam-fries a try.

Yam Fries with Thai Peanut Sauce

This may not seem like traditional TG fare, but you will find people devouring it anyway. Our tastebuds fatigue with all that sage and cranberry sauce, we need something spicy to keep us interested. Thai Kitchen curry pastes are fish-free, so look for them to avoid non-vegetarian ingredients. This sauce keeps for a couple of weeks in the fridge, and is great for dipping, stir fries, or even slathering on sandwiches.

1 large sweet potato, cut fry-style

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or other oil

sprinkle of kosher salt

SAUCE

1 teaspoon canola oil

3  shallots, sliced

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons red curry paste (to taste)

1 cup coconut milk (reduced fat is fine)

1/2 cup peanut butter, pure and natural

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons sugar or other sweetener

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 pinch salt

For the fries, toss with olive oil on two sheet pans, then roast at 425F for 20, flip and turn the pans, and then roast for 20 more. Go for some good browning on the bottom. Serve hot with sauce.

For the sauce:

In a small saucepan, heat the oil and saute the shallots until browned. It’s not alot of oil but the sauce will be really oily if you add more. Add the garlic and saute for a minute, then add the curry paste and work it all together, cooking until fragrant. Stir in the coconut milk, then work in the peanut butter. Simmer for a minute, then stir in the soy sauce, sweetener and lime. Simmer over low heat until thick, the oil will start to separate when it is done.








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