November 30, 2014

Spices for healthy holiday cooking

The early winter holidays are traditionally a gathering time. Come together with friends and family, slow down and enjoy the peaceful darkness of long evenings. As you circle around the meal table, remember that the light will return at winter solstice, December 21st.

Honor the peace that comes before the light slowly starts returning. Nourish yourself and your loved ones while staying healthy by incorporating these spices into your holiday cooking. You probably already do!

During the colder months, cinnamon increases warmth and circulation and supports efficient digestion of fats and heavy foods. It counteracts the congestion that is often accompanied by dairy-rich foods. Cinnamon also brings relief from the common cold and flu by dissolving mucus and resolving coughs and bronchial congestion. 

Nutmeg is a highly prized digestive aid, commonly added to cheese sauces and creamy desserts. Enjoy it! It mediates the effects of rich food, sweets, overeating and late-night eating. Watch this short video on how to make a vegan cream sauce that mimics the flavor of dairy.

This potent spice comes from a beautiful beautiful tropical bush, the clove bush. It can develop into a large woody shrub. I have seen it growing in the shade of coffee trees in Indonesia. It is antimicrobial and antiseptic, particularly for the gums and teeth. Heavy holiday desserts are known to clog the sinuses and produce mucus. Cloves clear the sinuses, encourage mental clarity and clear mucus. Hence, they are a perfect addition to sweet treats as well as savory dishes.

Try these recipes to incorporate a taste of health into your meals.

Coconut Carrot Rice Pudding

You will need:

1 can organic, full-fat coconut milk
2 cups water
1 cup uncooked long grain brown rice
2 medium carrots, grated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon each: salt, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger
1/3 cup raisins
2 tablespoons raw honey to finish

In a pot, bring coconut milk, rice and water to a boil.
Meanwhile, grate carrots.
Reduce heat to low; add carrots, vanilla, spices and raisins.
Stir well, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes, until rice is tender. The mixture will still be liquid, like a thick stew. Cook it down more if you like or try it as is.
Remove from heat, stir in honey, and serve in small bowls, perhaps with an extra sprinkle of cinnamon on top.

GET CREATIVE! Two ideas: substitute parsnips for carrots. Instead of raisins, add chopped almonds and dates.

Baked Apples Stuffed With Almonds and Figs

You will need:
1/2 cup dried figs, chopped
1 cup almonds, chopped
¼ cup red wine
6 tart apples
pinch salt
3 tablespoons butter OR coconut oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon each: cinnamon and nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine chopped figs, almonds and wine in a small bowl. Set aside.
Chop apples in half, remove core, and place right-side up in a greased baking dish that has a lid. If you do not have a lid, cover tightly with aluminum foil.
Fill apples with fig almond mixture.
Whisk together remaining ingredients, pour over apples, seal tightly, and bake for 1 hour. 
Serve with ice cream or whipped cream if you like!

Red wine is rich in resveratrol, which enhances protein digestion, balances blood sugar, and maintains a healthy appetite. 

Pectin-rich apples provide an excellent pre-biotic source of inulin, which feeds the beneficial bacteria in our guts, which lend strong immunity and facilitate effective metabolism.

November 28, 2014

Cleanse After Holiday Eating

After Thanksgiving, it's a wonderful practice to simplify your diet for a week. Enjoy vegetables like fennel, celery and leeks. These potent plants cleanse the lymphatic system, support healthy lungs, and lend a bitter-sweet complexity to any dish.

Try adding bitter, liver-cleansing foods like quinoa, chard, beets and spinach. These chenopodium family plants are high in plant nutrients and help restore healthy blood and liver function.

Give these recipes a try!

Leek, Fennel and Butternut Soup

You will need: 
1 medium butternut squash, baked and peeled
2 tablespoons local oil (sunflower or olive)
3 leeks, chopped and rinsed
1 fennel bulb, chopped – save fronds for garnish
1 teaspoon each: thyme, cinnamon, turmeric
1 teaspoon each: salt and fresh black pepper
½ cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
4 cups vegetable stock

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Poke squash with a fork, place on a baking sheet, and bake for about 1 hour (20 minutes per pound).

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large soup pot. 
Add the leeks and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.
Add the chopped fennel, hazelnuts, spices, salt and pepper. Sauté for another 5 minutes.

Remove squash from oven, cut it open and let it cool for 5 minutes. Compost the seeds. Scoop out flesh and add it to the soup pot. Add the vegetable stock and stir.
Bring the pot to a boil and simmer for about 15 minutes.
Remove the soup from the heat. Blend until smooth. 

Quinoa Cornbread

If you have a cast iron skillet, bake this bread inside. It will lend a distinctive and delicious flavor, If not, any square baking dish will do.

You will need:
1 cup flour (spelt = wheat-free; rice = gluten-free)1 cup cornmeal1 teaspoon each: salt, thyme, baking powder
4 tablespoons flaxseed meal dissolved in just as much warm water2 cups cooked quinoa
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce1 cup milk (almond = dairy-free; cow = dairy-licious)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease the skillet or baking dish by placing a spoonful of sunflower oil in it and putting it in the oven to melt.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, powder, thyme, and salt.
Make a well in the center and add the flaxseed meal and water. Whisk with a fork.
Add all other ingredients to the egg and whisk them with each other.
Then, setting the fork aside and using a spatula, incorporate wet and dry ingredients.
Remove skillet / dish from oven, spread oil around to coat the sides, and pour in the batter. Bake for 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean.

If you have leftover quinoa, get creative with it! Enjoy it with dried fruit and nuts as a breakfast porridge - my favorite.

Coconut Milk and Green Lentil Stew

You will need:3 tablespoons coconut oil1 large onion, chopped3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 inch fresh ginger root, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped1 teaspoon each: dry thyme, turmeric powder, coriander powder, fenugreek seeds
1/2 teaspoon each: salt, caraway seeds, cinnamon powder, nutmeg powder3 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups green lentils
1 cup coconut milkfresh parsley or cilantro for garnish

Heat the oil in a soup pot.
Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is translucent.
Add carrots, celery, garlic, ginger and spices. 
Reduce heat to medium low, cover, and do not stir for 5 minutes or so. Add the stock and the lentils, bring to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes.
Add the coconut milk and stir well. Cook for about 15 minutes and serve hot with a garnish of parsley or cilantro. I like this stew alongside rice and sambal.

November 27, 2014

Naturally sweet

Pumpkins and sunflower seeds are traditional foods of those who are indigenous to the northeastern american continent.

They are wonderful sources of plant protein and are naturally sweet.

Try this recipe to enjoy a less heavy, rich version of pumpkin pie.

For the crust:
1/4 cup water
1 cup sunflower seed meal
1 cup cornmeal
A pinch salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup

For the filling:
2 cups pumpkin purée
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
1/4 cup maple syrup
A pinch salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon each: nutmeg, cloves, allspice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Oil a pie plate with sunflower oil.
Grind sunflower seeds in an espresso beam or spice grinder.
Mix with all other crust ingredients and press into pie plate.

Mix all the filling ingredients together, spread them over the crust, and bake for 40 minutes.
Enjoy! This makes a great breakfast, too.

If you have leftover pumpkin, try making this Pumpkin Soup.

November 20, 2014

Delicious Tradition

As the holidays approach, I think of cooking with my father and grandmother. Because I had the great privilege of being raised with food, I now make it my passion every day.

I like to make pasta with friends and family. With a bit of team effort, the process is more smooth and rewarding. Be patient, have fun, and remember that you can always roll out your dough again if the noodles are too sticky or crumbly. 

I have created a lot of different sauces to accompany home-made pasta. This is my current favorite.

Cashew Cream Sauce

You will need:
1 cup roasted, unsalted cashews - ground in a food processor
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon each: salt, black pepper, nutmeg, thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup milk (almond, hemp, rice, or cow)

Whisk all ingredients together in a small pot.
Heat through and serve!

To thicken, cook it down on low heat for 15 minutes.
Get creative! Add crushed garlic, grated carrots, or a bunch of fresh, minced parsley.

Pasta Dough

You will need:
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup rye flour
1 cup spelt flour
cornmeal for dusting
2 eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons water

Prepare the dough by mixing everything but the egg in a large bowl. 
Make a well in the center, crack the eggs into it and whisk them together. Add oil and water and whisk a bit more. 

Then, slowly incorporate the flour into the the egg mixture. 

Once the dough is moist but not sticky (add another tablespoon of water if you need to), knead it a bit, but not too much. You want to develop the gluten but not over-work the dough, which makes it rubbery.

After kneading, shape it into a ball, place it in the bowl, and cover it with a cloth. Allow it to rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

Now, you are ready to roll! Start by pulling off a piece of dough about the size of a golf ball. Flatten it into a rectangle. Either roll it out on a cutting board covered with cornmeal or use a pasta machine to flatten it.

If the dough starts to feel sticky, sprinkle with cornmeal. 

Once the dough is fairly thin (about 1/4 inch), run it through the cutting rollers on your pasta machine or loosely roll the pasta into a tube and dust it with cornmeal. Then, slice the rolls with a sharp knife.

This is a great moment for teamwork! Have people feeding the pasta through the machine, others who are catching it on the other side, still others who are checking on the sauces and water bubbling away on the stove.

Transfer the noodles to a cookie sheet dusted with cornmeal. You can hang them to dry and freeze them or throw them into salted boiling water to cook. Noodles are done when they float to the of the boiling water.

Enjoy with cashew cream sauce, wholesome 'no-mato' sauce.

You can also try your hand at spelt squash gnocchi.

November 17, 2014

Juice for Renewal

As November makes its way to the new moon, you can renew your body, mind, and spirit by enjoying nutrient-dense juices. These blends will awaken your senses each morning and help cleanse your internal organs after savoring the rich foods of holiday feasts.

If you do not already have a juicer, click this link to view Williams-Sonoma's options for purchasing your own juicer.

Whole foods are rich in fiber, which can ease constipation by building bulk in the stool. Fiber also helps starches to metabolize more slowly so that blood sugar remains stable. When juicing, we remove the fiber from food and concentrate its nutrients, which can cause blood sugar spikes. 

In addition, because we do not have to chew juice, saliva's digestive secretions are reduced. Hence, I like to pair juice with a protein-packed popover or a home-made banana almond bar for optimal digestion and balanced energy.

Regardless, drink small glasses (8 ounces or less) of juice and see how your stomach tolerates it. The more green foods you put in your juice, the more your blood and skin will glow. Ginger and carrots in juice will heal the digestive system and increase pancreatic secretions.

Try these recipes and see what you think!

Revive and Digest

Ginger is a digestive aid, which stimulates digestive secretions, increases the amylase concentration in saliva, and facilitates the digestion of starches and fatty foods. It stimulates the immune response and reduces inflammation and anxiety. Use smaller amounts if you have excessive heartburn or an ulcer.

You will need:
2 inches of fresh ginger root, chopped
2 grapefruits, peeled and chopped
2 green apples, chopped
1 packed cup of fresh spinach
pinch salt
3 cups water

Place all ingredients in the order listed in a blender. Blend well until everything is completely liquefied - about 1 minute.
As long as the ginger is organic, please blend it with the peel, which is rich in nutrients.
This juice keeps in the fridge in a sealed glass jar for 3 days. Shake before drinking.

Enjoy it with a glass with a whole grain breakfast such as amaranth flatbread.

Liver Love

Beets cleanse the liver and flood the cells with iron. They provide the most concentrated source of phytonutrients called betalains, which are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Beets' high betaine content lowers the presence of inflammatory markers in the system. These powerful roots are a wonderful winter food.

You will need:

1 packed cup beet greens
1 beet, washed and chopped
3 stalks celery
2 inches fresh ginger root

Put all ingredients through a juicer* and store in the fridge in a sealed glass jar for 3 days. Enjoy a glass either in the morning or before bed. It will help to rejuvenate the internal organs and encourage effective metabolism.

To re-invent the vegetable pulp that's leftover after juicing, try this vegetable bread recipe.

Blood Builder

Carrots are high in omega 3 essential fatty acids to tonify the internal organs and strengthen immunity. They are rich in carotenoids and omega-3s, whose anti-oxidant content offers anti-inflammatory support; high in vitamin C to boost immunity and cleanse the blood. Carrots also offer a healthy dose of B vitamins to reduce stress.

You will need:
1 beet, washed and chopped
2 carrots, washed and chopped
1 green apple, chopped
2 handfuls fresh parsley

Put all ingredients through a juicer*. This juice stores well in the fridge in a sealed glass jar for 3 days. It makes for an uplifting afternoon tonic. Drink a glass at work if you are feeling lethargic during the waning daylight hours. 

*If you would like to make this juice without a juicer, just grate the beet, carrots, and apple to shred them. Then, place them in a blender with the parsley and 2 cups of water. Blend well for 1 minute, or until the mixture is uniformly liquified.

November 7, 2014

Healing Bowl of Delight

To celebrate the arrival of darker evenings, I am cooking with more root vegetables, warming spices, and foods to balance mental health.

Try this recipe to delight your senses and soothe your soul. It's a great way to cleanse after a day of rich, Thanksgiving-style eating.

Bountiful Bowl of Delight

This healing meal is comprised of three parts: pickled cabbage slaw, ginger tahini sauce, and vegetable legume pilaf.

Pickled Cabbage Slaw

You will need:
Half a head of red or green cabbage, thinly sliced
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon raw honey
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon each: cumin, coriander, fenugreek and cinnamon

Garlic Ginger Tahini Sauce

You will need:
¼ cup tahini
¼ cup water
¼ cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon salt or tamari
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon freshly chopped ginger root
½ teaspoon freshly chopped garlic

Vegetable and Legume Pilaf

You will need:
2 medium sweet potatoes, cubed
Olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 bunch (2 packed cups) of kale, chard, collards or spinach, roughly chopped
2 cups cooked brown rice, millet, kasha, or quinoa – cooked with wakame seaweed
2 cups cooked beans (I like adzuki or kidney beans)*
1 teaspoon dry rosemary leaf powder
1/2 avocado, sliced

Make the pickled cabbage a day in advance.
Place the red or green cabbage in a large jar or airtight container. In a large measuring cup, combine the apple cider vinegar, water, honey and salt. Pour the liquid over the red cabbage and press the cabbage down so that it is fully covered. Cover the jar/container and place in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

To prepare the tahini sauce, combine all ingredients in a cup or small bowl and whisk well. Chill until ready to use.

Cook grains in twice as much water. Add seaweed halfway through cooking. Salt grains with about 1 teaspoon of salt per 2 cups of dry grains.

*If you are using dry beans, soak overnight and cook in three times as much water with more seaweed. Skim off any foam that rises to the top and discard it. Once beans are soft, rinse them well. Season them with rosemary, salt, and olive oil. Set them aside.

To cook the sweet potatoes, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a baking sheet with olive oil. Spread the sweet potatoes out on the sheet. Drizzle a little more olive oil on top and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss with a spatula until fully coated. Roast in the oven for 35 minutes, tossing them with a spatula after 15 minutes.

For the greens, fill a large shallow sauce pan or medium pot with about 1 to 2 inches of water. Place a steamer basket in the pot and fill the basket with the chopped greens. Cover the pot and turn the heat up to high. Once the water begins to boil, or after about 4 to 5 minutes, remove the kale from the basket and set aside.

In 2 serving bowls, divide the cooked grains, legumes, and sweet potato. Add a generous serving of greens. Top with slices of avocado and pickled cabbage. Drizzle the sauce over the top and enjoy!

Healing Properties of Ingredients

Ginger is a digestive aid, which stimulates digestive secretions, increases the amylase concentration in saliva, and facilitates the digestion of starches and fatty foods. It stimulates the immune response and reduces inflammation and anxiety. Use smaller amounts if you have excessive heartburn or an ulcer.

Rosemary has a wonderful fragrance, helps improve memory and relieve anxiety. This mint family member improves energy levels and relieve stress. It can help relieve muscle pain when added to a bath or foot soak.

November 5, 2014

Workplace Healthy Eating

Serotonin is our basic feel-good hormone. If serotonin is low, we feel sad or depressed. And hormonal imbalance or weak digestion can lead to low serotonin. Unfortunately, sugars and simple carbohydrates release a short burst of serotonin — we feel good for a moment, but soon return to our low-serotonin state — then crave more sugar and simple carbohydrates. It’s a downward spiral.

Food cravings mean that the body has its signals mixed up. When we are exhausted or blue, we have low blood sugar and/or low serotonin (our ‘feel-good’ hormone). At these times, the body signals the brain that it needs energy. This signal causes a sugar or carbohydrate craving, which only temporarily releases endorphins to raise serotonin levels. Thirty minutes after we indulge the craving, levels plummet again and the vicious cycle starts over.

Work defines our lives, yet we cannot let it take over the way we eat. Try these simple tips to develop healthy workplace eating habits.

To avoid unhealthy foods on a stressful day, keep electric tea kettle and these super foods on hand: almonds and 80% dark chocolate; refrigerated fruit and vegetable smoothies – I like Odwalla; apples and oranges. Enjoy one of these as a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack.

Go for a 5 minute walk around the building or outside after you eat a snack. Breathe deeply. Listen to yourself breathe.

When you return to your desk, heat water for tea and enjoy it as you work. Choose green tea or herbal varieties. Add honey instead of sugar to sweeten it. As you sip, try to keep your tongue resting softly behind your front teeth. This practice loosens tension in the jaw, hence relaxing the whole body.

Ways to reduce sugar cravings and better meet the body’s needs:

Drink water. Often, when we crave sugar, our body is de-hydrated. Stop, notice your craving, and try to drink a glass of water before reaching for sweets.
Reach for fruit. Keep fruit handy for when sugar cravings hit. You'll get fiber and nutrients along with some sweetness. And stock up on foods like nuts, seeds, and dried fruits.
Move your body. When a sugar craving hits, walk away. Take a walk around the block or go somewhere to change the scenery. It may take your mind off your craving.
Eat regularly. Waiting too long between meals may set you up to choose sugary, fatty foods that cut your hunger. Instead, eating every three to five hours can help keep blood sugar stable and help you avoid irrational eating behavior. Choose protein, fiber-rich foods like whole grains and vegetables.
Eat a bit of what you’re craving. Enjoying a little of what you love can help you steer clear of feeling denied.
Combine sweets and protein. If the idea of stopping at a cookie or a baby candy bar seems impossible, you can still fill yourself up and satisfy a sugar craving, too. "I like combining the craving food with a healthful one," Neville says. "I love chocolate, for example, so sometimes I’ll dip a banana in chocolate sauce and that gives me what I’m craving, or I mix some almonds with chocolate chips." As a beneficial bonus, you'll satisfy a craving and get healthy nutrients from those good-for-you foods.

Packing a daily lunch:
Make a weekly dinner plan with your family that everyone will enjoy. For example:

Burrito night: corn tortillas, beans, roasted sweet potatoes, avocado, salsa
Pasta night: grilled chicken, artichoke hearts, olives, spinach, and garlic
Soup night: leftover grilled chicken and roasted sweet potatoes, chicken broth, side salad
Stir fry night: onions, ginger, carrots, bok choy, adzuki beans over brown rice
Breakfast for dinner night: scrambled eggs with mushrooms and peppers, sourdough bread
Casserole night: leftover stir fry baked with cornmeal, eggs, and yogurt

Be sure you make large batches so that you can take leftovers to work. Pack them as you are cleaning up from dinner and have a little cooler and ice packs ready in the morning. This way, you can assemble lunch, snacks, and go!

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