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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.