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Friday, December 2, 2011

Re-Inventing the Casserole: Low Carb, Vegetarian & Gluten Free

For many Americans, casseroles are considered standard fare, especially during the holidays. Perhaps the reason that I am fascinated by them is that I grew up in a house where they were never served. Though we weren't two-sets-of-dishes kosher, we certainly never mixed milk and meat. And the closest we came to the infamous tuna-noodle casserole was Kraft Macaroni & Cheese mixed with canned tuna. We loved it and I continued to make it for myself as a young adult. Like many things that were forbidden or unavailable (real butter, cheeseburgers, and bacon, to name a few), they became exotic by default. And so, I went in search of low carb casserole recipes to see what I could come up with.


Casseroles have a complicated history - some historians believe that casseroles have been around since prehistoric times:
"...when it was discovered that cooking food slowly in a tightly covered clay vessel softened fibrous meats and blended succulent juices....With the addition or subtraction of leftovers or inexpensive cuts of meat, the casserole is flexible and economical in terms of both ingredients and effort. The classic casserole, a French dish, was originally made with a mound of cooked rice...In the twentieth century, casseroles took on a distintive American identity. During the depression of the 1890's, the economic casserole provided a welcome way to stretch meat fish and poultry. Certain items were also scarce during World War I and leftovers were turned into casserole meals. The same was true during the Great Depression of the 1930s." (Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink In America, 2004)

 According to Wikipedia, types of casseroles include ragout, hotpot, cassoulet, moussaka, lasagna, shepherd's pie, gratin , and carbonnade; what distinguishes all of these is the fact that they are essentially one dish meals:

"The idea of casserole cooking as a one dish meal became popular in American in the twentieth century, especially in the 1950s when new forms of lightweight metal and glassware appeared on the market. The virtues of easy to prepare meals were increasingly promoted in the women's magazines of the era, thereby supposedly freeing the housewife from the lengthy drudgery of the kitchen...By the 1970s casserole cookery took on a less than sophisticated image..." (The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink, 1999)
The "less than sophisticated image" may stem from the fact that the characteristic method of preparing the Great American Casserole for the last 40-60 years is to use condensed cream-of-something soup as a base. The most popular and iconic are the tuna noodle casserole, prepared with canned tuna, cooked pasta, and cream of mushroom soup, and the green bean casserole, made with green beans, cream of mushroom soup topped with french fried onions. But as a whole food enthusiast I don't use canned soup; partly because I don't like to use prepared food and largely because most canned cream-of-something soup contain MSG, along with other nasty things that I try to avoid: soy protein isolate, modified food starch, and way too much sodium.

  To my way of thinking, casseroles have a special kind of alchemy. You can throw together seemingly unrelated ingredients and  end up with something resembling poetry (food poetry, but poetry nonetheless.) The sum is greater than it's parts and the results can be delectable.   It's a challenge to find low carb casserole recipes (in addition to cream-of-something soup, the Great American Casserole usually uses items such as breadcrumbs and noodles) and an even greater challenge to find vegetarian low carb casserole recipes, but they do exist. They tend to rely heavily on various dairy products, so I've tried to increase the amount of vegetables so they're not quite so rich. But they are comfort food dishes, which generally means that they're higher in fat and calories. But I think it's important to indulge ourselves, especially when we have the holidays to contend with. I don't care what anyone says, this is not the most wonderful time of the year - it's back-to-back stress, inconvenience, and alternating bouts of rage and boredom. There's nothing like forced merriment, competitive shopping, and the nightmare of navigating grocery shopping and getting prescriptions refilled when stores are either chaotic with frantic consumers or closed for the holidays. We have to do whatever we can to make our lives as sane as possible.

The good news about casseroles is that you can use the oven this time of year without worrying about suffering the effects of heat stroke and you can make and freeze several servings at a time, either cooked or uncooked. And they do taste awesome! Another advantage is that you can use frozen vegetables, if need be. And while casseroles without meat are seen by many as side dishes, these are substantial enough to pass for main courses.







Spinach  Casserole

Ingredients:


2 - 10 oz packages of frozen spinach, thawed and drained
4 oz Neufchatel cheese, softened (you can substitute cream cheese, but it has more fat, carbs and calories.)
1 large egg, beaten
2 oz cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 T dry white wine (you can also use fresh lemon juice)
7 g finely shredded parmesan cheese
butter for greasing casserole dish (or ramekins)

Optional:

1/2 T butter
2 oz leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced

Preparation:

*Preheat oven to 350º.
*Grease a casserole dish (I use a 4 x 4 inch square baking pan) or four 6 oz ramekins with butter.
*If you are using the leeks, saute in butter for a few minutes and add 1/4 cup water, cover and braise over a low heat for 4-6 minutes. Set aside.
*In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients, except the parmesan, until thoroughly blended. Spoon mixture into the dish or the ramekins and sprinkle the top with the parmesan.
*Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until slightly brown and bubbly. Remove from heat and allow to cool before eating.

Without leeks:
Makes 4 servings and each has 227.55 cal, 5.56 net carbs, 15.75 g fat, 1.75 g fiber and 9.56 g protein.

With leeks:
Makes four servings and each has 263.63 cal, 7.06 net carbs, 18.5 g fat, 1.75 g fiber and 9.56 g protein.





Broccoli Casserole


Ingredients:

9 oz / 250 g fresh broccoli, cut into florets
1/4 T butter, softened
4 oz Neufchatel cheese, softened
2 oz cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder/granules
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Optional:

1/2 T butter
2 oz leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced


Preparation:

*Preheat oven to 350º.
*Steam broccoli for about 3 minutes. Drain and in a large mixing bowl, add cheddar, cream cheese, spices and leeks (if you're using them) and mix well. Spoon mixture into a well-greased, oven-safe baking dish and bake for 25 - 30 minutes, until slightly browned and bubbly. Allow to cool slightly before eating.

Without leeks:

Makes 4 servings and each has 166.18 cal, 3.6 net carbs, 13.81 g fat, 1.88 g fiber and 10 g protein.

With leeks:

Makes 4 serving and each has 210.43 cal, 5.06 net carbs, 15.19 g fat, 1.88 g fiber and 10 g protein.





Cauliflower Gratin


Cauliflower is the low carb wonder vegetable - it can be transformed into substitutes for rice, mashed potatoes, hash browns and even pizza dough. It is a member of the family of cruciferous vegetables (so called for the cross-shaped flowers that bloom on the plants) , which also include broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage and bok choy. They are all high in vitamins, minerals and fiber, and they are considered by many to have disease-fighting phytochemicals. Cauliflower is a good source of fiber, folate and vitamin C and has a high nutritional density.


Ingredients:

14 oz / 400 g fresh cauliflower, cut into florets
4 oz Neufchatel cheese, softened
1 T butter
1 large egg
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
nutmeg - optional
2 oz cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
butter for greasing casserole dish

Preparation:

*Preheat oven to 350º.
*Grease casserole dish with butter and set aside.
*Steam cauliflower until fork tender (you can also boil it)
*Using a stick blender, mix together cauliflower, cream, butter, and seasonings until thoroughly blended.
*Add the egg  and blend well. Adjust seasonings to taste.
*Spoon mixture into prepared casserole, sprinkle with cheese, and bake for 30-40 minutes, until top is golden brown.


Makes 4 servings and each has 202.55 cal, 3.06 net carbs, 14.5 g fat, 3 g fiber and 9.56 g protein.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Keeping Your Cool - No Cooking Required

Summer is almost officially over, but it's still pretty hot out there. Even if you're fortunate enough (like me) not to live in a place where the temperatures have been in the high 90's to low 100's, you probably don't feel like using the stove right now. Especially if you're not not fortunate enough (like me) to have air conditioning. The weather in Berkeley can get very strange: one day's high temperature is 63º F and the next day it's 87º F. So, I've been looking for new ways to make raw vegetables more palatable and I've come up with a couple of salads. The flavors of each one are very different, but they have something in common. Each salad uses ingredients I had never really used before: arugula and radishes, which happen to be related to each other.

I had heard of arugula before, but I'd dismissed it as something that you'd only find in upscale restaurants. In fact, I had eaten it without my knowledge: it's commonly found in the "mixed baby greens" bagged lettuces that have become popular in the last several years. But I'd never had it on it's own and had no plans to do so until I watched several of Gordon Ramsey's cooking shows and was intrigued by something he kept referring to as "rocket salad." One Google search later,  I was enlightened by the excellent website WiseGEEK. Arugula (aka rocket, Italian cress, roquette and rucola) is a green leafy herb of the mustard family. It's a good source of vitamins A and C, folate (a water-soluble vitamin B), calcium and magnesium. The flavor is hot and peppery and can be eaten raw or cooked. Paired with the slightly sweet balsamic vinaigrette and the slightly salty parmesan cheese, it's really tasty and has become one of my new favorites.








Arugula Salad (LC/GF)




Ingredients:


1 1/2 oz arugula
1/2 T Balsamic Vinaigrette (Recipe below)
10 g freshly shaved parmesan
7 g lightly toasted pine nuts


Preparation:

*If you can't find roasted pine nuts you can toast them yourself: Put nuts in a non-stick pan (with no oil!) and turn the heat to medium.  Shake the pan every thirty seconds, tossing the pine nuts. When they are slightly browned, remove from heat and allow to cool. You can also roast them quickly in a toaster oven:  pre-heat on 350º F for five minutes and roast for ten minutes.

*Put arugula in a salad bowl. Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette and sprinkle with with parmesan and pine nuts. Eat immediately.






Balsamic Vinaigrette (Low Carb/Gluten Free/Vegan)

Ingredients:


1/4 C extra virgen olive oil
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, forced through press
1/8 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper


Preparation:

*You can do this the old fashioned way, which involves combining the vinegar, mustard, and garlic in a small bowl. Add the oil in a slow steady stream, whisking constantly, until the dressing emulsifies. Then season with salt and pepper.
Or you can do it my way: put all ingredients in a salad dressing bottle, secure lid, and shake like hell. I personally can't tell the difference.




And then, of course, there is dessert, which is made possible by coconut oil. Unlike most other oils, coconut oil is solid at room temperature. It melts easily and can be mixed with a variety of ingredients and then chilled, to create cookies and confections that require very little time and heat. I like adding coconut manna to certain recipes, even though it's a little difficult to work with. It doesn't melt completely, even when you soak the jar in hot water, but it is necessary to try and stir it a bit when you get a new jar (the oil rises to the top). After that, I don't bother trying to soften it up; just scrape it out with a spoon. In my opinion, it's well worth the trouble and adds a rich creamy texture. But if you can't find it or don't want to use it, just substitute it by using a full tablespoon of coconut oil. My only caveat is this: once you take them out of the fridge they must be eaten quickly, or they will fall apart.


Icebox Cookies (L C/GF/Vegan)


Here are two variations, but the possibilities are endless. Experiment with whatever ingredients strike your fancy.




Almond Shortbread


Ingredients:


1/2 T coconut oil
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp xylitol, powdered
1/4 C almond flour/meal (I use Bob's Red Mill)

Preparation:

*Put coconut oil in a small glass or ceramic bowl and melt in the microwave on high for 30 seconds. Whisk until thoroughly blended. Add the vanilla extract, xylitol, and flour, one at a time, until evenly blended. Spoon mixture into mold or drop spoonful of the mixture on a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper and press down to flatten cookies. Chill in the freezer for 10 minutes and store in the refrigerator in an air-tight container.



Makes three cookies and each has 86.7 cal, 1 net carbs, 7.6 g fat,  1 g fiber and 2 g protein.







Cinnamon Coconut Hemp Cookies (LC/GF/Vegan)



Ingredients:

1/2 T coconut oil
1/2 T coconut manna
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp xylitol, powdered
7 g unsweetened dried coconut, finely shredded
1 T hemp seeds
1/2 T chia seeds




Preparation:

*Put coconut oil and manna in a small glass or ceramic bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Whisk until thoroughly blended. Add the vanilla extract, xylitol, and the cinnamon and whisk until completely smooth. In a separate bowl, mix the coconut, hemp and chia seeds.  Mix the dry and the wet ingredient together. Spoon mixture into mold or drop spoonful of the mixture on a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper and press down to flatten cookies. Chill in the freezer for 10 minutes and store in the refrigerator in an air-tight container.



Makes 3 cookies and each has  76.95 cal, 1.03 net carbs, 5.11 g fat, 1.41 g fiber ans 1.7 g protein.







Chocolate Coconut Haystacks (LC/GF/Vegan)


Ingredients:

1/2 T coconut oil
1/2 T coconut manna
1 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 T erythritol, powdered
1 drop liquid stevia
14 g dried coconut, shredded


Preparation:

* Put coconut oil and manna in a small glass or ceramic bowl and microwave on High for 30 seconds. Whisk until thoroughly blended. Add cocoa powder, erythritol, vanilla extract and stevia, one at a time and whisk until smooth.  Mix in shredded coconut. Line a baking pan with unbleached parchment paper and drop mixture on by the spoonful  on the paper. Chill in the freezer fro 10 minutes. Store in the refrigerator in a air-tight container.

Makes 3 haystack and each has 76.5 cal, 1.5 net carbs, 8 g fat, 1.53 g fiber and 1.53 g protein.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Company's Coming - How To Impress Your Guests

I don't often have guests over for dinner, but when I do I almost always serve my signature dish. The secret ingredient is lemon zest. When I first encountered a version of this recipe, I looked at the list of ingredients and I thought, "Lemon zest? Seriously? I'm not going to waste my time making lemon zest. Who do these people think I am, Martha Stewart?" Not that I have anything against Martha - I think she's fabulous and very creative. But I'm no Martha Stewart. However, I am interested in challenging myself to try ingredients that are new to me and so I got a zester and added the lemon zest to the recipe. I now understand why people go to the trouble - it really does make some dishes more flavorful.



Grilled Portobello Mushroom with Ricotta and Bell Peppers


Ingredients:


1 portobello mushroom
1/4 C full fat ricotta cheese
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 T olive oil
1/4 T coarsely chopped basil
1/2 T finely chopped fresh chives
2 oz bell pepper, any color
1/4 T fresh lemon zest
1/2 T pine nuts


Preparation:

Roasting:

*Preheat oven to 425 F.

*Using a teaspoon, gently scrape the gills (the black underside) from the mushroom and remove the stem.  Cut the pepper into strips. Lightly brush vegetables with olive oil and arrange in a shallow baking dish. Add sea salt and pepper to taste. Bake for 20 minutes.

Grilling:

*Brush grill pan and vegetables with olive oil. Arrange vegetables in pan and cook, covered over a medium- high heat for 2-3 minutes on each side.

*Combine ricotta cheese, garlic, lemon zest, and fresh herbs in a small bowl and set aside.

*In a dry non-stick pan, roast the pine nuts until slightly browned, stirring often. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

*Place mushroom stem side up on a plate and fill with the cheese mixture. Add bell pepper strips and sprinkle with pine nuts.


Makes 1 serving and has 296.9 cal, 7.1 net carbs, 16.4 g fat, 1.4 g fiber and 8.73 g protein.




Cheesecake is, quite simply, one of those desserts that tastes decadent, even when it's low carb. It's the kind of dessert that's great for pigging out on your own, yet is good enough for company as welI. I first got the idea for a no-bake cheesecake from watching Gordon Ramsey on BBC America. I know, he's obnoxious and arrogent, and eventually I just could not take him anymore. But he's a talented chef who knows how to take a few ingredients and make them into something special. It was easy enough to convert his recipe to low carb and single serving. Actually this recipe makes two servings, though it's up to you whether you want to be good and save the other portion for another day or devour it all in one sitting. I've been guilty of doing both, and I really must say, that considering the circumstances, I made the right decision every time.




Chocolate No-Bake Cheesecake (Low Carb/Gluten Free)

Ingredients:


2 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 C heavy cream
1 T erythritol, powdered
1 T unsweetened cocoa powder
2 drops liquid stevia
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract 


Preparation:


*Using an electric beater ( I use my hand- held Braun), beat cream cheese until smooth (there must be no lumps).

*In a separate bowl, using the same mixer, beat the cream until stiff peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the cream cheese into the bowl with the cream. Beat until completely blended. Add the erythritol, cocoa powder and stevia and mix until smooth.


*Spoon into individual ramekins  - for 1 serving use a 4 oz, for 2 servings use two 2 oz ramekins. Cover and refrigerate until ready to eat. I can attest to the fact that this can be eaten directly from the bowl, though you may prefer it chilled.

Makes two servings and each has 207.5 cal, 4 net carbs, 21.5 g fat, .5 g fiber and 1.5 g protein.






Sunday, July 10, 2011

My Vegan Romance - A Tale of Heartache, Heartburn, and the Lessons One Learns when Trying New Things

 So , I haven't posted in a while, due to health issues. It happens - when you have a chronic illness, you're not going to be able to function all of the time. But my time away was well-spent (aside from all the downtime resulting from not feeling well). I tried new recipes, attempted a major shift in my diet, and learned a lesson or two about the impact that these changes have wrought.  My adventure began with a quest - stop eating dairy and switch to a plant based diet - otherwise known as "going vegan".

A lot of people hate vegans. A lot of people hate vegans with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. Many people find vegans to be insufferably self-righteous, preachy, and  complete nightmares when invited to a dinner party or  bar-b-que. I recently saw a post online:"I hate vegans; I'd rather hang out with cannibals!" I think that omnivores feel as though vegans are trying to make everyone else feel guilty about the consumption of animal products. And I'm not just talking about food - there are all sorts of vegan products available, including shoes, health and beauty products, and even vegan condoms and personal lube. I'm not kidding! So it's a lifestyle, not just a diet, and I don't think I could ever go full blown vegan; I wear leather, for a start, and I can't see myself making sure that every single thing I eat or use is free from some kind of animal product.


But I have  been obsessed  with the idea of following a plant based diet. Not just because I believe in the ethical treatment of animals, and that the  commercial meat processing industry keeps the animals in terrible conditions. And not just because I believe that we could significantly reduce the amount of oil  we use in the U.S. if we decreased the consumption of meat, thereby decreasing the amount of meat production. If you are not familiar with Barbara Kingsolver ( a damn fine novelist ), you might want to check out the non-fiction phenomenon, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle -A Year of Food Life. It is an account of the year that she, her husband, and two daughters moved to a family farm in  Kentucky and embarked on a journey to consume only produce and meat that had been produced locally. The following quotes will enlighten you as to why anyone would subject themselves to what may seem like madness: "The average food item on a U.S. grocery store has traveled farther than most families go on their annual vacations. True fact. Fossil fuels (are) consumed for the food's transport, refrigeration, and processing, with the obvious environmental consequences," and "If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country's oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week."  What Kingsolver and her family did was amazing, something I could never do (mainly because I don't have access to a family farm and don't have a family that would be willing to go along for the ride ) but also because I wouldn't have the energy for such a lifestyle and, quite frankly, I hate gardening. I've killed every houseplant I've ever owned.

But my main reason for wanting to switch to a plant based diet is that I've read  a number of  accounts where people with Fibromyalgia go vegan and get great results. Some people swear by it and I've been following a variety of food blogs (vegan, whole food, low carb, raw food,gluten free, etc.). I've been inspired by the creativity and generosity of my fellow bloggers. I wanted to push myself (to the extent that such a thing is possible), to challenge myself, and to try new things. And I thought, why not try  eliminating dairy and see how it goes? Or better yet, find out  if I can do it at all. I also have issues with regularity, in spite of getting plenty of fiber (including psyllium husk powder and magnesium). One of the side effects of some of my medications  is constipation. I figured the large amounts of dairy I consume on a daily basis might have also been a factor.

I began my vegan journey with green smoothies. If you have read any of my posts, it should come as no surprise that I love smoothies. My recipes have  evolved over time; instead of relying solely on whey protein isolate, I introduced hemp and raw sprouted grain protein powders for a while. Then I played around with green smoothies; they involve throwing fruit and vegetables into a blender with almond milk and water and blending on high power. Their allure, in my opinion, is that they go down pretty easily and can be a pleasant alternative to chomping your way through two salads a day to fulfill your daily green leafy vegetable quota. Some people put a lot of fruits and veggies in with a cup of liquid. Since I needed to keep a reasonably low carbohydrate count, I stuck to berries (strawberry, blueberry raspberry, and blackberry) and a couple of other low carb fruits, like kiwis and cantaloupe, and green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, chard, and lettuce). I kept the ratio at 2 oz green leafy vegetables to 2 oz fresh berries. I sometimes had to add a drop of liquid stevia, particularly if I was using something spicy like chard or kale. I think it's better than juicing because you don't lose any of the fiber. I don't have anything against cooking vegetables, but summer is upon us and while I love to cook, I hate to do it when it's hot. And I also wanted to reduce the amount of  butter and olive oil that are commonly used when cooking vegetables.


Here's a sample recipe:

Spinach/Berry Green Smoothie


Ingredients:

2 oz fresh spinach
1 oz fresh strawberries
1 oz fresh raspberries
1/2 C unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1/2 C water
1 drop liquid stevia, optional


Serves one and has 57.33 cal, 4.36 net carbs, 1.25 g fat, 2.83 g fiber and 2.16 g protein.


* Pro-tip - I recommend cutting or tearing every thing up into small pieces before tossing it in the blender. It will take less energy to grind it all up.



I drank these twice a day, one in the  morning and one at mid-day (if you have an extra-large blender, just double the recipe and store in the refrigerator). Breakfast consisted of vegan hot cereal with 1 oz of fresh strawberries (see previous post). Lunch was a  strawberry spinach salad with balsamic vinaigrette, sprinkled with hemp seeds. For dinner I had  roasted asparagus with olive oil, decaf chai made with almond milk, chocolate coconut truffles for dessert (also, see previous post) and the piece de resistance - vegan cafe creme. Instead of heavy cream I used 1/4 C of canned coconut milk with the decaf espresso. This menu generates only a little over a thousand calories, so I often added a protein smoothie consisting of 1 C  almond milk, 1 tsp acai powder, 1/4 C hemp protein powder, and 1 drop of liquid stevia. Including this smoothie, the day's count came to approximately 1300 cal, 40 net carbs, 60 + grams of plant based protein, and 30 + grams of dietary fiber. So I thought that I was pretty much set for the day. I was trying to avoid nuts and seeds as well,  especially my favorites - filberts, almonds, and pecans. Unfortunately, all of these produce cravings similar to those that I get from eating refined complex carbohydrates and I end up devouring whatever happens to be in the pantry. It's too bad, because they are a great source of protein, fiber and omega fatty acids. But I was using chia and hemp seeds to make up for the loss. All in all, the daily menu was really quite filling and left me feeling energetic and much lighter - until the moment when I began to experience gastric distress.


 I knew from my research on Fibromyalgia (one of my chronic conditions) that Irritable Bowel Syndrome (aka IBS) often goes hand-in-hand with it. So I wasn't sure if I was experiencing symptoms due to the dietary changes I had made or if the IBS decided to rear it's ugly head in my direction just for fun. Well, it hasn't been fun for me and I am currently undergoing a lengthy food elimination process to find out if the symptoms are simply due to an overload of dietary fiber. I've already eliminated the psyllium husks I was using as a fiber supplement and reduced the amount of raw vegetables I had been consuming. I've gone back to lightly cooking some of my vegetables, since I've read that they are easier to digest and I've reintroduced a limited amount of dairy products. So far, there has been a reduction of the frequency and intensity of cramps and I'm spending less time in the bathroom. Online, you may discover, as I have, that there is a long list of food products that can cause IBS symptoms, so it may take some time to figure it all out. Through research, I've also learned that diet, meditation and exercise appear to have "cured" only those who have experienced very mild symptoms of Fibromyalgia. So, while I have not completely given up hope that I may be able to improve the severity of my symptoms through diet and continued weight loss, I'm not expecting any miracles. But I will do whatever I can to increase the odds in my favor and I won't stop until I can emphatically say that I have tried absolutely everything.

So my vegan romance went awry, as such romances do. Needless to say, I am disappointed that things did not go according to plan, but what ever does? I'll continue the search for my perfect match and, hopefully, my next love affair won't make my heart (or stomach) ache.

Monday, May 16, 2011

My New Whole Food Favorites (Low Carb/Gluten Free/Vegan/Raw

I've been using Navitas Naturals products for a while now, but I only recently discovered 3 of their products, which I am now using on a daily basis. They are whole food/raw food/vegan items that are incredibly versatile. They are acai powder, hulled hemp seeds, and chia seeds. They are marketed as "super foods," and while I'm not sure if that's an accurate description (or if there are such things as "super foods"),  they all have definite health benefits.

The other item I'm promoting is coconut manna made by Nutiva. Unlike the others, it is not a free trade certified product, but it still falls under the category of raw, whole food and vegan.

Hemp Seeds







Hemp seeds are a good source of iron, omega fatty acids, protein, fiber, and essential amino acids.



Chia Seeds






Chia seeds are loaded with omega fatty acids, dietary fiber and protein.


Acai Powder



There's quite a bit of controversy about acai berries - it's been touted by many as being a weight loss miracle, a claim that has been debunked by many others. So, who knows if it helps you lose weight. But let's not dismiss it out of hand - they are rich in anti-oxidants, essential amino acids, and omega fatty acids. It has a very distinct flavor and can be added to all kinds of recipes.


Coconut Manna



Coconut manna is a paste made from dried coconut flesh. When heated, it has a very creamy consistency and can be a delicious addition to many different dishes. Personally, I love this stuff - and I'll be looking for more ways to incorporate it into my recipes. Coconut is a good source of fiber, healthy saturated fat, and is rich in nutrients.


Acai Protein Smoothie






Ingredients:

15 g (2 T) chocolate or vanilla whey protein powder
15 g (2 T) hemp protein powder
1 tsp freeze dried acai powder
1 C unsweetened vanilla almond milk


Preparation:


*Mix all ingredients together until smooth.


Makes 1 serving and has 170.5 cal, 2.5 net carbs, g fat, 5.5 g fiber and 21.5 g protein.


There are two variations that I've enjoyed as well:


Vanilla Whey Acai Smoothie








This one is good when you want something lighter with less protein.

1 tsp freeze dried acai powder
2 T vanilla whey protein powder
1 C unsweetened vanilla almond milk

Makes 1 serving and has 105 cal, 2 net carbs, 3.5 g fat, 1 g fiber and 15 g protein.




Acai Hemp Smoothie














1 tsp freeze dried acai powder
1/4 C hemp protein powder ( you can also substitute a raw food protein powder as well)
1 T erythritol


Serves 1 and has 185 cal, 3 net carbs, 5 g fat, 10 g fiber, and 14 g protein.





I adore smoothies, and I have one every morning no matter what the weather is like. They're quick to make and are perfect for breakfast because that seems to be the time when we're in the biggest hurry and in most need of energy. Mornings are hard for a lot of people - most of us don't wake up everyday thinking, "I feel great! I can't wait to get out of bed!" If you're like me , waking up involves bargaining with yourself for more time in bed (can I sleep another 15 minutes and still take a shower, get dressed, not forget my bag...?). So, time is short and here is one very healthy way to brave the challenges of starting your day. But by mid-morning, I need a little something more. I don't subscribe to the whole "three meals a day" thing - I think it's much healthier to have several smaller meals throughout the day. 





Vegan Hot Cereal



This can be made very quickly and is delicious and filling. Hot cereal is a comfort food of mine (I used to love Quaker Instant Oatmeal - cinnamon, of course.)  I know it's getting warmer and many people associate hot cereal with cold weather, but this cools off quickly (you certainly don't need to worry about burning off the roof of your mouth) and I just love the taste. It incorporates the  remaining three ingredients on the list - chia seeds, hemp seeds and coconut manna.


Ingredients:


1/4 C boiling water
1 T chia seeds
1 1/2 T shelled hemp seeds
1/2 T coconut manna
1/2 T erythritol or 1 packet sweetener of choice
pinch of sea salt

Preparation:

*Mix hemp seeds and chia seeds together in a small bowl. Add water and stir. Add coconut manna, salt,  and sweetener and continue to stir until you get the desired consistency.

Makes 1 serving and has 165 cal, 3 net carbs, 13.75 g fat, 5 g fiber and 8 g protein.

Add 28 g (1 oz) of fresh strawberries: 9 cal, 1 net carb, 0 fat, 1 g fiber and 1 g protein.




Chocolate Coconut Truffles




I love chocolate.  

I'm not sure I could live in a world without chocolate. 

I don't think I could survive. 

The best thing about chocolate is that it's actually good for you. Dark chocolate is rich in anti-oxidants, iron and magnesium.  Plus, it releases endorphins. No wonder it's considered to be the number one food craved by American women - it makes you happy. Until you get on the scale. But it doesn't need to be that way; there are hundreds of wonderful low carb/gluten free (and soy free) recipes that, when eaten in appropriate portions, will not vex you or your scale.


These truffles are wonderfully decadent and rich and at the same time, very healthy, low in carbs, vegan, and gluten free.

Ingredients:

1 T coconut manna
1/2 T coconut oil
1/2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 T erythritol 
3 drops liquid stevia
7 g cacao nibs
(32.5 cal .25 net carbs, 3 g fat, 2.25 g fiber, 1 g protein)

















Preparation:

*In a glass or ceramic bowl, melt coconut manna and coconut oil in a microwave, on high for about 60 seconds. Beat with a whisk until well blended. In a non-stick pan, melt the erythritol on a high heat. Add the vanilla, stevia and cocoa powder to the coconut mixture and blend thoroughly. When the erythritol is completely liquified, add to mixture and whisk vigorously. By this time, the mixture should have a paste-like consistency. If you don't have a candy mold, you can use a teaspoon and press the paste into the measuring spoon to mold it. Place on a baking sheet lined with unbleached parchment paper and put into the freezer for about 30 minutes. Store in the refrigerator, in an airtight container.

Makes 5  - 1 tsp truffles and each has 42.94 cal, .68 net carbs, 4.3 g fat, 1.05 g fiber and 1.2 g protein.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Fair Trade - It's Only Fair

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word "chocolate"? Do you imagine how decadent and rich it tastes, or how it seems to satisfy some part of you in a way that nothing else can duplicate. What you may not think of is child slavery, but chocolate is made from cocoa beans. And cocoa, along with sugar, coffee, tea and bananas, are some of the worst offenders when it comes to fair trade practices. They are also now available from fair trade companies (well maybe not the bananas). So, you can enjoy your chocolate, coffe and tea without supporting the exploitation of workers in poverty sticken countries. Since I'm heavy on the guilt, I appreciate knowing that I can still incorporate certain favorite things into my diet (you guessed it - coffee, tea, and especially, chocolate) while supporting a cause that means a great deal to me. It's a new thing for me; fair trade was, up until recently, something I'd hear about but that didn't have any personal relevance to me. I felt too sick to worry about eating healthfully, let alone eating with morality in mind. The truth is that food is more than just food. It can be about health, but what you eat can also have moral implications as well. And food can also be about race, ethnicity, poverty, sustainability and  making a political statement.

Coffee and tea are also products I use on an almost daily basis, which is probably true of many other people as well. Since I can no longer enjoy my decaf soy mocha (or the faux mocha, for that matter), I have been making do with cafe creme (espresso, heavy cream and natural low carb sweetener). But I also enjoy decaf chai with heavy cream and, in the summer, I love iced green tea. In an effort to incorporate the fair trade version of these beverages into my diet, I found this website:http://www.groundsforchange.com/index.php? and have made orders for medium dark decaf espresso grind and a medium dark French press grind, as well as Dragon Well Green Tea (they didn't have decaf chai, so I'll need to go looking for it elsewhere). I'll let you know how they turn out.

May 14th is Fair Trade Day and I thought I'd write a little about what it means to use fair trade products. I'll be including a list later of fair trade companies. There are some basic principles that all fair trade goods much adhere to. The production of these goods must be free of forced labor or poor working conditions. In order to be certified, the crops must be  raised through sustainable methods and no genetically modified crops can be certified as fair trade.

As for chocolate, there are many companies that now offer fair trade chocolate. The problem lies in finding 100% cacao fair trade products. Dagoba is one company, but they happen to be owned by Hershey's, which sells products that use cocoa that is produced in parts of the world known for child slavery. Newman's Own and Green & Blacks use  fair trade cocoa beans, but they don't have unsweetened chocolate.  So I turn to Navitas Naturals again - they have  unsweetened cacao paste, cocoa nibs, and cocoa powder. They also have cacao butter, which I use when I'm making chocolate candy.











For more information on which brands are fair trade here is the url for: http://fairchocolate.org/companies.html                               .


If you want to educate yourself further, watch "Black Gold: The Story Behind Coffee", a documentary about the exploitation of workers and how multinational corporations dominate an industry worth over $80 billion, making coffe the most valuable trading commodity in the world after oil. Check it out at
http://blackgoldmovie.com/.

I'll be doing a post featuring recipes made with fair trade products, including hemp seeds, chia seeds, acai powder, and coconut  manna (pictured below), as well as all of the products pictured above.









I look forward to sharing these recipes with you, which use ingredients that are whole food, raw food, and vegan, as well as low carb and gluten free. See you soon!







Monday, April 25, 2011

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette (Low Carb/Gluten Free)
















When you think of the word "diet," what comes to mind? Some people think that diet refers to what we eat, while others assume the word diet is all about "dieting." The distinction shows how we feel about  food in general and that most people look at diets as a means to an end: weight loss, better health and in some cases, an attempt to have a beneficial impact on climate change. But when most people refer to their diet, what they actually mean is the specific diet they follow. Unless, of course, they "don't do diets." This usually means that they don't restrict what they eat, in terms of calories, carbs and fat, but it can also refer to the attitude that nothing is off limits (with the unspoken message that people who do follow specific dietary guidelines, for whatever reason, are being ridiculous) for any reason. But everyone who eats has a diet, simply in terms of what they use for fuel on an everyday basis.

One of the words most frequently associated with diets is "salad". I'm not talking about potato and ambrosia salad here; I'm talking about green, leafy vegetables, for the most part. But green salads aren't necessarily healthy - the lightest, freshest ingredients can be overwhelmed by adding too many toppings and/or too much dressing. Even lettuce and other "low carb"vegetables, which are considered to be  standard "diet" food, are only as nourishing as the soil in which they're grown. You can wash away the dirt, but if they've been sprayed with pesticides, chances are that those chemicals are embedded in their DNA. And if you use salad dressing, even in responsible amounts, you are adding more to your meals besides oil, vingar and spices. I'm referring to the bottled salad dressing you find in the grocery store - When was the last time you read the nutritional labels of store-bought dressings? Even products that purport to be "healthy" have ingredients like corn starch, high fructose corn syrup and MSG. While it is true that many companies are now manufacturing products that don't have harmful additives like those just mentioned, I'd still rather make my own. Not only because I can  control what kinds of ingredients (and how much) go into the mix; if I make it myself, I can cut down on the resources and energy that go into manufacturing and transporting pre-packaged food. I can also make a little bit at a time, rather than being forced to throw out the portion of manufactured dressing I didn't get to use before it went rancid.

The best thing about salads, in my opinion, is that you can just throw ingredients together, without any cooking involved, and create a balanced meal in a relatively short amount of time. Strawberry spinach salad is my favorite and I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to whomever first suggested this particular combination - I would never have considered adding strawberries on my own. This recipe also contains my favorite nuts, cheese and salad dressing and I can eat it all spring and summer without getting bored. It tastes wonderful, looks gorgeous, and even if the dressing isn't made beforehand, takes little time to prepare.

Salad Ingredients:


2 oz baby spinach
14 g / 1/2 oz pecans(about 2 T)
14 g /  1/2 oz feta cheese(about 2 T)
42 g / 1 1/2 oz fresh strawberries, sliced


Preparation:

*Combine ingredients in a bowl and toss with balsamic vinaigrette.


Has 186.85 cal, 4.7 net carbs, 15 g fat, 2.58 g fiber and 3.33 g protein.




Vinaigrette Ingredients:

1 T balsamic vinegar
1/2 T crushed garlic
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/8 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 C extra virgen olive oil


Preparation:

*Whisk all ingredients together. Store in a closed container in the refrigerator.



Makes 5 - 1 T servings and each has 100.06 cal, .8 net carbs and 10.8 g fat

Thursday, April 7, 2011

How To Keep Track Of It All -Diet Diaries, Food Portions and Your Bathroom Scale

There are people who will tell you that weighing yourself everyday is obsessive and unhealthy. I used to feel that way myself. In fact, I once threw my scale away; I had decided that I was comfortable being a size 10/12, that I loved my body and was happy with the way I looked. That was before I developed insulin resistance and all of a sudden my clothes were too tight and I looked frightful in photographs. So I started a low carb diet , bought a new scale and went through the long and tedious process of losing the weight.

While I do think that you can be obsessive about weighing yourself, I also think that it is perfectly OK to weigh yourself once a day, in the morning.  It will give you a sense of how you're doing in ongoing weight loss and will signal if you start losing or gaining at an alarming rate, allowing you to make whatever adjustments are needed. I know that a healthy relationship with your bathroom scale can be a challenge, especially if you have an eating disorder or other major food issues. But if you can find a way to keep it all in balance (and that means not freaking out when you gain a pound), the scale can become, if not your friend then your partner.


There are also people who will tell you that it's obsessive to keep a diet diary. Writing down everything you eat, every day? Sounds like madness! But I must say that, especially for someone who has trouble remembering whether or not she's already taken her meds and supplements, writing it all down helps me keep track of everything.  Each page looks something like this:


                     Protein     Fiber     Calories   Net/Effective Carbs   Fat
Smoothie                      27.5                 5.5                180.75                           2.5                                  5


I also write down all the medications, supplements and oz of water per day.  It's great - I don't have to keep track of everything in my head, I know exactly what I've consumed and chances are, if I don't want to write it down, I shouldn't be eating it. And that's the promise you must make to yourself - you must write everything down, no cheating. Once you start keeping track, you begin to realize that you need to make adjustments here and there.

Another thing to keep an eye on is portion control.  The best way I've found is to weigh your food rather than measuring it out in cups and tablespoons. It's far more accurate, and it gives you a much better idea in terms of what a portion of any given thing actually looks like. Our brains try to fool us when it comes to how much, our eyes tell us lies when we look at a portion of food. "Surely, it must be bigger", our eyes tell us. "You really don't need to measure", says our brain.  Now, there are people who will tell you that weighing your food is another act of unhealthy, compulsive behavior. And they may be right, in some circumstances. Be that as it may, you may want to tell all those people who think you're obsessing about your health to mind their own damn business.


Having said all that, I do realize that all of these practices can become obsessive. Anything can. The trick is not to freak out about weight fluctuations  or to spend all day poring over your diary in angst. There are more than enough things in life to make you crazy - try not to add to them.



Tuesday, March 22, 2011

For The Love of Leeks - Red Cabbage & Leek Soup (Low Carb/Gluten Free)




I didn't even know what, precisely, a leek really was until very recently. But since I have a tendency to get into a rut with certain vegetables, I've decided to be bold and to challenge myself to using ingredients that I previously knew nothing about. According to Wikipedia, leeks are a vegetable that belongs in the same family as onions and garlic (the Alliaceae family). When raw, they are extremely pungent - they will make your whole refrigerator reek. But when they are cooked, they become fragrant, with a delicate and flavorful taste that is milder and sweeter than onions. They are a good source of potassium, folic acid, and vitamin C.

My first attempt at cooking with leeks was brilliant. I had just learned about braising and had fallen in love with braised cabbage before stumbling upon a recipe for braised leeks, which tastes amazing, but may be  a little high in carbs if you're doing induction or ongoing weight loss. For those of you unfamiliar with stove top braising, it's basically a cross between sauteing and steaming, a process that allows you to  steam vegetables completely and get the caramelized flavor of a saute. Although there are number of vegetables that can be successfully braised (cabbage, celery, broccoli, turnips and brussels sprouts to name a few), my favorite is leeks,  mainly because they add flavor to previously uninspired dishes like this  red cabbage soup.


I was inspired to create this  recipe because I came across a recipe for red cabbage soup. It was easy to make, incredibly healthy, but really, really, really dull. Even though red cabbage has more flavor than the green, it isn't quite enough when used by itself. I'd used leeks before in soup, so I combined the two for a great success.



Red Cabbage and Leek Soup


Ingredients:

1 T extra virgen olive oil
1 oz trimmed leeks
2 C water
6 oz red cabbage
1/2 tsp sea salt


Let's start with the leeks themselves, to begin with. A whole leek looks like this:




The green leaves are inedible so you cut them off.



Then you trim the end, where the roots were:



Then cut the leak in half, lengthwise, and wash thoroughly.



When they're completely clean, shake off the excess water and cut them into small pieces and set aside.





Now here's the red cabbage. I know they look purple and when you cook them, they really get purple, but they're called red. No one put me in charge of naming the vegetables, so there you go. They are high in vitamin K and C and have a moderate amount of fiber.



Slice in half and remove the core. Then slice thinly and chop up into smaller pieces.



Weigh out 6 oz and set aside.




Using a medium sized soup pan, heat the olive oil over a medium high heat.





Add the leeks and saute for about 2 minutes (until they start to brown.



Then add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add the cabbage, cover, lower the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.




While it's simmering, set up a colander placed over a medium sized bowl:



When soup is done, carefully pour into the colander. You don't want to lose any of the broth because that's where the nutrients are. The cabbage has the fiber but everything else is in the broth.




Set aside the cabbage and divide the liquid evenly between 2 containers.





Weigh the cabbage again and divide it evenly between the 2 containers.





This recipe makes 2 servings and each has 95 cal, 4.4 net carbs, 6.75 g fat, 3 g fiber and 3 g protein.

Obviously, you can double the recipe and make 4 servings - I'm not sure how it freezes, but it does OK in the fridge for a few days.