Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cashew Dressing

Sorry for the lack of posts, our Internet has been down, but I finally made my way up to the local coffee shop to post this!

We are pretty spoiled when it comes to salad dressings. I used to dread picking out store-bought dressing because nothing was ever up to my standards (to much sugar and vegetable oil) or my taste buds. I got into making my own salad dressings from one of my favorite bloggers Detoxinista, and I have been hooked ever since. Though I normally just throw something together with the base being olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper; my husband has urged me to start writing down the recipes because they are really good! Today’s dressing tastes a lot like ceaser dressing, if you have anchovy paste or kelp powder then adding some to this will make it even more authentic ceaser tasting. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

 Cashew Dressing

Gluten Free, Vegan
Make about 1.25 cups

1 cup cashews, soaked*
½ cup fresh water
½ lemon, juiced
4 tbls olive oil or flax oil
2 tbls Dijon mustard
1 tbl maple syrup (optional)
1-2 tsp granulated garlic
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp sea salt

  1. *Soak the cashews for at least 1 hour, this makes them easier to digest and softens them up so they will blend more smoothly.
  2. Drain and rinse the cashews (don’t use the water they were soaking in) and then add all of the ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. You may need to scrape down the sides.
  3. Taste and adjust seasonings, keep in mind that the flavor will develop more the longer it sits.
  4. Store in the fridge for 5 days or freeze. This will solidify a bit in the fridge, I recommend pulling it out for at least 10 minutes before you want to use it and giving it a good shake.

Notes and Substitutions

  • You can add other herbs to this, I like thyme and basil.
  • This is a pretty thick and creamy dressing, if you prefer it thinner then just add more water and adjust the seasonings.

What is your favorite type of dressing?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Cashew Pepper Crackers

I love snack food (if that wasn't obvious from my beet chips post), but unfortunately most snack food is synonymous with junk food. When my husband and I started eating a natural diet I missed the chips and crackers of yore. Luckily, adversity (I know it is so sad to call lack of chips and crackers adversity) breeds creativity. As it turns out I'm not the only one missing my cheese crackers, there are lots of versions of this recipe out there. If you enjoy todays recipe then might I suggest purchasing the No Flour Cracker and Flatbread Cookbook from the Purely Twins. It has 12 terrific gluten free and egg free recipes and the e-version is only $5 bucks. If you purchase it through the link to your right then I receive a commission and I greatly appreciate your support! If you want to read more about the book then head over to the Purely Twins post (and pick up there other great cookbooks while your there). Now let's get down to the cracker making. 

Cashew Pepper Crackers

Gluten Free, Vegan
Makes ~70

1 red or orange bell pepper 
1.5- 2 cups ground cashews*
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 tbl lemon juice
1 tsp garlic granules
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp cayenne (optional)

  1. De-seed the bell pepper and place into a food processor with all of the ingredients except the ground chia seeds and ground cashews.
  2. Puree until smooth and then pour into a mixing bowl and add the chia seeds. Mix
  3. Add the ground cashews to the bowl. The amount you need will depend on how large your pepper is, so I like to start with 1.5 cups and then add more as needed. The batter should be very thick and be able to be molded some.
  4. Once the batter is ready spread it onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Place another piece of parchment paper on top and use a jar or small rolling pin to roll the batter to 1/4 inch thickness. 
  5. You may be able to pull back the top parchment paper now and score the batter into small squares with a knife, however sometimes the top paper sticks, if this is the case then just continue with the next step and after an hour or two of baking you should be able to lift it off easily and score it then.
  6. Bake for about 8 hours in 170oF. After about 8 hours, pick up the parchment paper and flip the crackers over, then bake for another 2 hours or until the crackers are completely dry. 
  7. Let them cool and then break apart along the lines you scored.
  8. These store great in the fridge, I wish I could tell you for how long but we always eat them in a few days. 

Put the dough onto a lined baking sheet. Notice how thick it is.
Cover with another piece of parchment and roll it out, then peel back the parchment
Score into 'crackers'
Bake unit crispy

Notes and Substitutions

  • *You can buy 'cashew flour' at Trader Joe's or just make your own by grinding cashews in a food processor until they are very fine, just don't do it to long or you'll have delicious cashew butter!
  • I have made this recipe with just cashews and peppers before and it was still great.
  • You can use other types of nuts or seeds for this recipe, of course it will change the taste. I think brazil nuts or macadamia nuts would be a great replacement. 

What is your favorite type of crackers? 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

5 Tips for Healthier Eating

A peek into our fridge
My husband and I get asked about our diet pretty often. I’m flattered actually that people think I have some awesome super nutritious, gourmet diet. The truth is my diet is moderately healthy and quite mundane on most days. I eat a lot of vegetables, fermented foods, healthy fats, and a little well treated animal protein,; oh and ice cream! The secret to eating healthy is doing what works for you. Living off low fat cottage cheese and despair at every birthday party is not a healthy diet. You have to feed your body and soul right. There is no one perfect diet for everyone. The food you eat should make you happy (no this is not license to spend your days eating bacon wrapped fudgecicicle’s) and it should nourish your body too. I promise it’s not that hard, but it does mean investing in you. Really are there a lot of things more important than that? So without further rambling I want to share my 5 tips for healthier eating. As a reminder, I am not a doctor or naturopath or a dietician or a certified anything, this is just my experience and my opinion. Please don’t believe everything you read on the Internet and if you plan on undergoing a drastic diet change it is always wise to do so under the supervision of a professional.

Cut the sugar!

Some great natural sugar!
I tell people all the time if there are only two things they can do for their health is would be to quit smoking and greatly reduce their sugar intake. One of the first posts I ever wrote was about sugar so you can read more here. In a nutshell, sugar sends your body on a never-ending roller coaster ride and alters your taste buds so that you continuously need something sweeter. Try cutting out all refined sugars and sticking only to fruit and moderate amounts of honey or maple syrup. Definitely remove high fructose corn syrup (HFC) from your diet and check labels because that shit is in everything. (I hate to cuss in public because I am a lady but it really is shit for you). I’m including in this one fake sugars, like sucralose and aspartame, that stuff is terrible for you. Diet soda may be free of calories but the sweetness from the fake sugar still reacts in your body and is believed to be a carcinogen. If you are a heavy soda drinker try switching to kombucha or water kefir, they are sweet and naturally fizzy from being fermented, and if you want to have an occasional soda look for natural ones sweetened with cane sugar or fruit juice.

Don’t fear the fat

Coconut oil
I grew up in world where healthy was synonymous with low fat. I grew up in a world where the rate of obesity in adults doubled and in children tripled. I have to admit even this one took me a long time to wrap my head… er mouth…  around, but getting an education in biology helped me see the light. Certain vitamins (A, D, E, K) are fat soluble, meaning they will store in your fat and also that you need fat to help absorb them. So a leafy green salad (full of these vitamins) isn’t doing you much good with that nonfat dressing. Adipose tissue (fat) is not just some annoying thing that you store around your midsection. It is meant to store energy that can quite easily be metabolized. Every cell in your body has a phospholipid bilayer around it (ringing any high school biology bells?), lipid= fat. Your cells have a fat layer around them that protects them and regulates them. Fat does NOT make you fat. Sugar (a carbohydrate) makes you fat, see point number one, excess of other types of refined carbohydrates make you fat, and lack of exercise makes you fat, but eating the right kinds of fat as part of a balanced diet will not make you fat. Science may have given me the understanding I needed to embark on my butter basting, coconut oil sautéing, whole milk kefir drinking journey but it also unfortunately gave us monster fats that should have stayed in the lab with the HFC’s. Hydrogenated fats, like trans-fats have no place in a humans diet (not even a little bit!). Also excess omega 6 fats, like those found in vegetable oils and most nuts and seeds should be enjoyed in moderation. A diet high in omega 6 and low in omega 3 causes inflammation in the body. Yes I said the O3 word; you know you should be getting in fish oil for the omega 3’s by now (flax and walnuts are also a good source). Saturated fats, especially the medium chain type in coconut oil are great for you and have been shown to lower bad cholesterol. It is also delicious. That brings me to animal fats; butter, lard; tallow, you know all that delicious stuff that you feel guilty about eating. Well don’t! These fats, when eaten from healthy animals, are not bad for you. Remember vitamins store in fat, but so do many toxins, so it is important to eat animal fats from healthy animals. Don’t go crazy or anything with fat eating (although I do eat coconut oil off a spoon sometimes) but fat is good for you and it also helps you feel more satisfied from a meal. If you eat low fat everything you may wind up eating more because you’re not satiated. You should also note that when the body is running optimally it can easily burn fat for energy, and it prefers to do so, especially during exercise. If your not tired of my fat tirade then you should read this article

Go natural and Plan ahead

Prepping salad mix for the week
Cutting out processed foods, even the ‘healthy’ processed foods, and replacing them with whole, natural food is a great switch for your diet. What does that mean exactly? Stop buying pre-made, shelf stable products and start buying vegetables, dry beans, raw meat, and anything else that you will actually have to prepare in your kitchen. I know you are busy! Believe me I am painfully aware of what it feels like to be busy, but you do have time to cook your own food. It is all about planning. Chances are you do have a free evening or weekend or a couple hours here or there (how much TV do you watch? Internet surfing? Social media-ing?) Spend a little time each week preparing meals that you can grab and go. It is faster than fast food. You can make extra servings and freeze them or go ahead and roast a bunch of veggies that will keep for several days in the fridge or cook a big pot of quinoa or rice that you can reheat throughout the week. Make enough dinner that you can reheat some for breakfast or lunch. 
Slow cooker beef stew
I am also a big fan of the slow cooker because you can put your food into it in the morning and it is hot and ready when you get home.  If you are going to buy pre-packaged stuff go for plain frozen vegetables and some canned beans for those nights you didn’t plan ahead for. You get the idea right? This is something I still struggle with sometimes but a good place to start is write down how many meals you are currently eating out for or eating processed for (cereal and milk counts!) and aim to reduce it to half, once you are comfortable with that then reduce it in half again and soon you’ll be down to just the occasional meal out, which is perfectly fine, we all have those days, just make healthy choices when you do indulge.  I know, I know, but its sooooo expensive. It’s not in the long run though. It may seem like your spending more all at once at the grocery store but $5 dollars here and there plus doctors visits or prescription meds really adds up. Try buying at farmers markets for what is local and in season or subscribe to a csa box.

Supplement wisely

A couple supplements we take
    You don’t have to take supplements but chances are you will benefit from them. There are a lot of options out there, and you can take supplements targeted to your certain ailments or needs, but there are really only 3 supplements that, in my opinion, are most beneficial for an everyday routine. Probiotics, Vitamin D, and Fish Oil (or algae oil). Yes you can get all these from your diet and lifestyle; if you eat a lot of fermented foods, get out in the sun everyday, and eat fatty fish twice a week then don’t bother; however, if you don’t, then I recommend investing in these. You don’t have to spend a lot of money but try to find a reputable company, i.e not the drug store brand. Look for ones that are third party verified and tested for quality and purity. Though buying supplements in bulk is cheaper, I recommend starting with a 1-month supply to see how you like it; it took me awhile to find a probiotic formula that felt right for me. You should still aim to get out in the sun, eat fermented foods, and fatty fish (or walnuts and flax seeds) but supplements will give you a boost in the right direction.  

Give yourself time

When I refer to the word “diet” I’m not talking about something I’m just doing right now, or only until a goal is reached; I’m talking about what I eat everyday and what I will be eating for the rest of my life. Changing this is not an overnight thing; you may even feel worse for a few weeks before you start to feel better (especially when cutting down on sugar). Be patient with the process and pay attention to how you feel. There are a lot of specialized diets out there; vegan, gluten free, paleo; these work great for some people but may not be right for you. As you get healthy you can experiment with your diet and see if adding in more protein or not eating wheat makes you feel better. Everyone is different and your needs change throughout your life so don’t get tied down to one diet mantra, that’s boring anyways. It is important to practice self-discipline but also to enjoy yourself. If you eat healthy most of the time then you don’t need to feel bad about enjoying a little ice cream every now and then or having a slice of pizza at a party, the important thing is that you feel good both physically and mentally.

I hope this helps give you a nudge in the right direction. If you are already doing all of these things then give yourself a pat on the back!  What are ways you have incorporated healthy habits into your life?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Easy Garden Meatballs

Since I was a vegetarian for such a long time, preparing meat is still an adventure for me. When I eat meat now I make it a point to eat quality meat (grass fed, pasture raised, wild, whatever applies). I choose to do this because it is healthier for me, the animals, and the environment. All this naturally comes with a higher price tag, so I've come up with ways to stretch our weekly meat eating. I usually buy cheaper cuts of meat and then fill them out with veggies. Grass fed ground beef runs us about $6 dollars a pound from the farmer. Though I love making burgers, they do get boring and are not the most efficient use of meat. 
A few weeks ago my husband asked for meatballs. Of course, how did I forget about meatballs? I haven't made them since I was a kid with my mom but from what I could remember, you just rolled up seasoned balls of meat and baked. I loaded up ours with veggies to make the meat go further and to taste delicious. The carrot and spinach in these makes them sweet and adds nutrition. These are very easy to make and leftovers can be frozen (we never have leftovers but I froze one to test it out). These are also great for baby because they are tender and break apart easily. You'll notice there is a lot of "abouts" in this recipe, it is very forgiving so just tailor it to what you have and your tastes. Enjoy!

Before baking

Garden Meatballs

Gluten Free
Makes ~11 

about 1/2 pound grass-fed ground beef
2 medium carrots (about 1 1/2 cups once blended)
2 large handfuls spinach leaves
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 tsp granulated garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Roughly chop the carrots and add to a food processor; pulse until finely chopped but not quite pureed. Add the spinach and blend until finely chopped. If your food processor is small you may have to take the carrots out first or do it in batches. Place the chopped veggies, herbs and spices, and meat into a bowl and mix well with your hands. Roll into balls and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. I got 11 large golf ball sized balls. Bake on 350oF for 25 minutes. Serve warm and store in the fridge for a few days or longer sealed in the freezer.

Notes and Substitutions

  • I think you could add any type of veggies you like just be aware of the water content. Something with a   lot of water, like zucchini, may make the balls come apart more easily.
  • I suggest serving these over spaghetti squash with sun-dried tomato marinara, over my creamy noodles, or just over sautéed veggies (pictured)

What are ways you like to stretch meat? (Haha, you know what I mean!)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Beet Chips

As far as junk food goes, it is a toss up between ice-cream and chips for me. I can get by with some pureed frozen banana for the ice-cream but there is nothing quite like the salty-oily crunch of a chip. Seriously, in times of stress I can devour a 7 serving bag. Lucky for me, you can make 'chips' out of many vegetables (wait, aren't chips made out of a vegetable?) What I mean to say is, you can make chips out of healthy vegetables and you don't have to fry them! I never used to buy beets. My husband doesn't care for them and I am kind of indifferent, however they must grow really well in Georgia because during the cool season we always get them in our CSA box. 
Now when I say my husband doesn't care for them I mean if I sautéed them in something he would make a little frowny face and ask, knowingly, "does this have beets in it?" He would still eat it, but I hate that frowny face.  I tried just juicing them for awhile but beet juice is fiercely strong so 1 beet per juice will suffice. Finally I cam across the idea of making chips and WOW, they are amazing. It completely changes the taste of the beet, roasting them turns down the sweetness and pungent beet flavor and leaves you with this crisp sweet and savory morsel. My husband loves beet chips and always devours them with a smile. The recipe I have for you today will work with other vegetables, especially root vegetables like carrot, parsnips, and sweet potatoes. Enjoy!

Beet Chips

Gluten Free, Vegan
Serves about 4

5 beet roots
3 tbl coconut oil, melted
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground black pepper

  1. Wash and peel the beets.
  2. Slice the beets in half longways.
  3. Lay the cut (flat) side down on the cutting board and use a vegetable peeler to start peeling thin slices off. Be careful not to cut yourself. You can also use a knife to cut thin pieces. When you get to the end your last slice may be a little thick. It's okay I usually just leave those pieces in a little longer. If you have a mandolin you can use it instead. 
  4. Add all of the slices to a bowl and pour in your oil, salt, and pepper and mix until the slices are coated.
  5. Spread onto a parchment lined baking sheet into 1 layer, it's okay if they overlap a little but they will bake more evenly if they don't. It will likely take two sheets.
  6. Bake on 275oF for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The slices will shrink up a lot, start to turn up on the edges and look a little browned. 
  7. When you pull them out it will take a few minutes of cooling off before they get crispy.
  8. I like to turn the oven off and throw any thicker pieces that aren't quite down back in. Store in the fridge and reheat in the oven. 

Peel and slice lengthwise
Use the vegetable peeler to make thin slices (be careful)
Toss in oil and spices
Spread into a single layer
Bake on 275oF for 45 min -1 hour until crispy

Notes and Substitutions

  • If you are in a hurry you can crank the heat up to 350oF and cook for about 20 minutes, just keep and eye out because they burn easily this way.
  • As I mentioned this works for many types of veggies, the bake time will vary.
  • You can use other spices. I like cumin or curry powder on the beets. Cinnamon is also nice. 

What is your favorite "veggie chips?"

Monday, March 3, 2014

Creamy Spinach Dip

I made this dip for our son’s birthday party and it was a big hit so I thought I’d share. It is really easy to make and you can adjust the seasoning to fit your tastes. This dip is great warm or cold and you can even use it as a pasta sauce! It also contains miso which is fermented so it contains probiotics. You can find miso at asian markets but I have also see in at natural groceries. A quality one will be refrigerated. I also included a guide on how to quickly de-seed a pepper. This recipe is baby approved and perfect for dipping veggies!

How To Quickly De-Seed a Bell Pepper

Rinse the pepper

Cut the bottom off

Cut the top off by cutting 1/4 inch down horizontally from the top AND through the stem
Cut the sides off and you should have an intact center with seeds left

 Kid Approved


Creamy Spinach Dip

Gluten Free*, Vegan
Makes about 3 cups

3 handfuls spinach
1 red bell pepper
1 small avocado
2 tbl miso*
1 ½ tbl lemon juice
½ tsp black pepper

Heat a pan over medium heat. De-seed the pepper and cut into large pieces; lay the pieces onto the hot pan with the outer skin side down. Cook for several minutes without moving until the skin has started to bubble and brown. 
Flip the pepper pieces over, turn off the heat, and add the spinach. Wilt the spinach for a few minutes and then move the pan to a cool eye. You aren’t trying to cook the spinach just soften it up a little. Let the spinach and pepper cool slightly then add to a food processor, pulse until chopped. Remove the pit from the avocado and scoop out the flesh. Add it and the remaining ingredients to the food processor and blend until mostly smooth. Serve warm or cold. It will last about 2 days in the fridge but the color will darken some.

Notes and Substitutions

  • *Not all miso is gluten free. Some miso is made with barley. Check your labels. I use chickpea miso, which is gluten and soy free. I recommend white or yellow miso for this recipe but if you had red it should be tasty too.
  • If your avocado is a bit larger I would start with half and then add the other half. You can make the recipe more or less creamy with the amount of avocado.  We like ours with more spinach and less avocado.
  • You can roast your bell pepper in the oven or char it on a grill. Just get the skin a little cooked because it brings out a unique flavor in the bell pepper.

What is your favorite dip recipe?