Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Freaky Foods

In celebration of Halloween, let me share with you some of the freaky foods hiding in my kitchen!

“Whoa” shrieks the clerk as the checkout belt delivers a frightening surprise before him. “That’s absolutely disgusting. Is that a brain?” I can’t help but start to laugh, which escalates into a full-blown ‘I can’t even look at you anymore without concealing it’ giggle session for one. Since I couldn’t pull it together to explain to this nauseated clerk what exactly was living in the glass jar, let me at least take a stab at convincing you it’s really not that freaky, and in fact might be pretty good for you.

  •            What is that?
First up, the brain-looking SCOBY that is responsible for the creation of kombucha (kom-BOO-cha- pretty fitting for Halloween right?) Kombucha is a fermented tea made of live bacteria, yeast and sugar. The SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) looks like a gelatinous pancake, flattened jelly-fish, mushroom, or as the grocery checker would claim, a brain. This powerful little colony is added to tea and sugar and left to ferment for 7-21 days (depending on environment and taste preferences). The liquid (much more tart and significantly less sweet now) is then bottled and brewers have the option of adding flavors (juice). The mini masterpiece is left to sit at room temperature while it carbonates as the vinegary sharpness mellows out. Next it’s thrown in the fridge and ready to be consumed in the next several months.

  •               Where do I find it?
Not ready to turn your kitchen into a chemistry lab? There are ready-to-drink bottles stealing space in the refrigerated section of mainstream stores such as Safeway and Fred Meyer. You will find more flavor and brand options at Whole Foods, PCC and natural markets (Madison and Metropolitan Markets).

  •      Why in the world would you consume this stuff?
 It tastes good to me (if you aren’t a vinegar fan, you may disagree), and it might be beneficial for your health. Since it’s fermented, it contains probiotics, so may aid in digestion, support your GI tract, and alleviate some common unpleasant GI complaints. It also contains prebiotics (which feed good microorganisms in your GI tract) and polyphenols (found naturally in tea).

  •              WARNING:
If you have a compromised immune system, ask your MD before experimenting with the stuff.
If you want to brew at home, make sure you are working in a sterile space and know what you are doing, otherwise you are risking contamination and sickness.
Don’t drink it because you think it will solve all of your health problems. Scientific evidence backing some of the health claims is limited.

Second victim item across the scanner, kelp noodles. “That’s weird – I thought noodles where only supposed to be made of wheat?” Yeah well this gluten-free girl has a thing for seaweed so thought I would give these fun noodles a chance.

  •        What is that?
Kelp noodles are, well just that – a raw noodle made of kelp (seaweed), salt and water.

  •        Where do I find it?
Check out Whole Foods, PCC and natural markets. There are multiple varieties of kelp noodles, and they may neighbor similar noodles such as Miracle Noodles (made of a root which is essentially soluble fiber). 

  •        Why in the world would you consume this stuff?
They are low in calories (18calories a pack), carbs, fat, and are incredibly allergy-friendly (no gluten, dairy, soy, egg). They are incredibly boring right out of the package, but are incredibly versatile and can be dressed in exciting sauces and spices to create amazing dishes. Check out some of the suggested recipes here.

  •        WARNING: You might want to let wheat know there’s a strong competition in the cart.

Third victim to cross the scanner, “this feels like a brick.” Since I wasn’t paying extra for the personal opinions, I decided to reveal confidently that this “brick” is the best tasting, nutritious brick I’ve ever discovered.

  •         What is that?
No, not mochi ice cream. Mochi is a Japanese rice cake made by pounding glutinous rice (aka sticky or sweet rice) into a paste and then into the desired shape. This particular brand I am a fan of is Grainaissance. Thaw the ‘brick’ and then cut into 1-1 ½” square and place on baking sheet. Place in preheated oven and bake 10-12minutes at 450F. They puff up into little pillows of happiness. You can enjoy them plain, or dress up with your favorite spreads and sauces.

  •         Where do I find it?
I’ve found it at Whole Foods, PCC and natural markets in the frozen aisle. Not sure if it’s gone mainstream yet.
  •          Why in the world would you consume this stuff?
Allergy friendly - Gluten, dairy, wheat free and depending on the flavor can be nut and soy free. All natural with no artificial additives, colors or preservatives. My favorite (and the one that has the most success with picky kids that you are trying to wean off commercial sweets) is Chocolate Brownie topped with peanut butter and fresh raspberry jam. Tastes like incredibly rich brownie squares, yet the ingredient list is nothing to be embarrassed about (Organic sweet brown rice, Filtered Water, Organic Evaporated Cane Crystals, Walnuts, Unsweetened Cocoa, Unsweetened Cocoa Processed with Alkali, Natural Vanilla Flavor, and Sea Salt).
  •        WARNING: I said they taste better than brownies, but the catch is that there is no batter to lick out of the bowl.

Last scrutinized purchase, snack size roasted seaweed. “Weird chips.” These are the best chips I’ve ever had. And they’re not even chips.

  •   What is that?
Roasted seaweed, oftentimes with oil and a pinch of salt or spices.

  •                Where do I find it?
Trader Joes, Whole Foods, PCC, natural markets.

  •              Why in the world would you consume this stuff?
Because you will forget potato chips exist. They are packed full of vitamins and minerals (B, C iron, iodine – the thyroid requires iodine to make hormones,) and fiber. They are low in calories, carbs, sugar, and fat. 

  •              WARNING: They are more expensive than potato chips, but undoubtedly more addicting.

So hopefully you are inspired to give Kombucha a swig, whip up a spicy peanut kelp noodle salad, bake up some sweet-tasting mochi, crunch on some seaweed snacks, or simply ring up my groceries without freaking out.
Happy Halloween!!!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

An Appetite for Autumn

DISCLAIMER: I’m writing this wearing flip flops. My accuweather is set to a place just south of the equator. There’s a beach towel in my car. I’m still (guiltlessly) pinning BBQ recipes on Pinterest. Even so, I am ready to at least talk about Autumn foods (after all, that is my job).

Perhaps a recent flip of the calendar and a gentle drop in the thermometer has reminded you that it’s time to transition from the hassle-free and spontaneous raw meals of summer to the grounding and planned dishes autumn warrants. Despite claiming that we enjoy this season of change and appreciate the opportunity to readopt routines and schedules, most likely we will get lost in our obligations, stretch the limits of our clothing seams, let the darkness of the early setting sun bury our guilt for abandoning the gym, and then collectively and excitedly gear up for fabulous health resolutions when the clock strikes midnight on December 31. Kidding. In all seriousness, I hope you can utilize the following tips and suggestions for transitioning to fall foods while successfully avoiding the seamstress.

Fall Favorites

Yes, this vegetable has more to offer than serving as a medium for displaying your fine carving skills. The flesh is an excellent source of vitamin A, and significant source of vitamin C and potassium. Dr. Oz may have already told you that the seeds encased in this Cinderella superstar are on his “5 Super Foods” List thanks to their magnesium content. I could write a blog on magnesium, but much easier to simply direct those that are interested to this site here

Serving Suggestions:

§          Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
            Remove stem with knife, cut off top (3-4”) of pumpkin and scoop out insides with spoon. Separate seeds from pumpkin flesh and strings by placing in large bowl of water and rubbing seeds between hands and then placing in strainer and running under water until clean. One medium size pumpkin should yield approximately 2 cup of seeds. Drain well and pat dry. Place in large bowl and add seasoning (see suggestion list below) and stir to coat. Spread in single layer on rimmed baking sheet and bake up to an hour in preheated 250F oven, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.
            Spice suggestions (for approximately 2 cups seeds):
o       1 TBS vegetable/olive/peanut oil, 1 tsp salt
o       1-2 TBS Soy sauce/tamari
o       1 TBS vegetable/peanut oil, ¼ tsp each of salt, cumin, cinnamon, ginger and pinch of cayenne         
o       1 TBS vegetable/olive/peanut oil, ½ tsp each garlic salt, cumin, coriander, cardamom
o       1 TBS vegetable/olive/peanut oil , 1 tsp each of cinnamon, ginger, cloves and 1 ½ TBS brown sugar
o       1 TBS vegetable/olive/peanut oil, rosemary, basil to taste         

§          Pumpkin Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies
    I encourage you to try using pureed pumpkin in places beyond the inside of the all too predictable pie crust. Try this festive recipe from Whole Paycheck

As the temperature drops, days become shorter and the to-do list balloons, it’s a bright idea to begin featuring warming, fiber filled, grounding foods on the table. A wonderful transitional vehicle that invites the light, fresh vegetables of summer to marry with the dense root veggies, legumes and warming spices is soup. I automatically think utterly forgiving and unarguably one of the most versatile and limitless possibilities when I excitedly grab for that soup pot. I encourage you to get creative and ditch the recipe and instead fearlessly use your favorite vegetables of summer and fall, or simply utilize what’s already in your fridge.

General Tips for Building A Soup
1)     Marinate aromatic vegetables such as onion, garlic, celery, carrot, and ginger in olive oil or butter
2)     Add salt, pepper and dried spices (Bay leaves, oregano, thyme).
3)     If non-vegetarian, brown meat now. 
4)     Add the liquid base (vegetable/chicken/beef broth, water, wine (oops can I say that?), cream.
5)     Get creative.
Add longest cooking vegetables first (think root vegetables such as potatoes, yams). Lastly add delicate vegetables such as spinach. Always add tomatoes at the very end as the hault the cooking process. Cooked legumes and grains can be added at the end to bring to desired temperature.  Add fresh herbs once the heat is off.

Like to follow directions? Check some of my favorite recipe indexes out!