Thursday, January 31, 2013

Wednesday, 30 January: Whole30 Day 4

So, I've heard that the cravings are supposed to start today. Well, they did. Also, the husbands body has started it's battle with the food changes. He's caught a sinus thing and his tummy's a bit upset, too. We were both a little cranky this morning. He's not feeling well because he's sick and I'm a little emotionally sensitive because it's soon to be that time of the month. We both grouched at each other in the morning, ate food, grouched at each other in the afternoon, ate food, and grouched at each other again in the evening.

I'm craving dairy and sugars today. He's craving gluten and cheesy things. Late last night he came into the kitchen, skillet roasted a handful of almonds in coconut oil and we devoured the whole bunch of it with some raisins (which are technically a no-no, but I have no regrets). We felt much better and hashed out why we were both so surly. Today was harder on him than it was on me because he's in classes and he isn't feeling well.

Lesson learned: I need to have some more snacks on hand for when those cravings strike. Nuts and olives and kale chips are going to be my go to, and hopefully I can get some carrot chips made this week.

The food today was awesome, though. My hands are still in great shape, my nails are starting to grow again, and my face is slowly clearing up. I have about three noticeable "stress spots" left. I'm only cleaning my face with baking soda and water during this month, so we'll see if that helps. Knee pain was vaguely present this morning, but disappeared by the end of the day. Nothing to report on the weight front since I'm not stepping on the scale for a while still.

So let's get to what you really want: pics or it didn't happen!

The Menu

The Breakfast
Paleo deviled eggs made with Paleo Mayo.
I made six halves for myself and ate four before I got
the plate to the table.
Cucumber with lime and salt for some greenage.

The Dinner
Moar salmons!
The Finnish beet salad, normally a winner with us, was a flop.
Still searching for a sour cream substitute.
The salad with cranberries was delish, though.

And the Awesome...

Yes, coffee is a given in this house, and yes I like it black. But, Joanna, you say. That looks suspiciously like cream in your espresso!

...It is. Coconut milk cream. 

Refrigerate an unopened can of full fat coconut milk overnight. Open it up, scoop out the solid white part on top. Use a mixer to whip it up. Put some honey in that thing if you're not on Whole30. Eat by the spoonful. Save some for the coffee.

Also, the paleo deviled eggs are to die for. The husband and I were both totally satisfied with them.

So go, now. Go make healthy mayonnnaise and use it in a plain ole deviled egg recipe. Finish it off with spoonfulls of coconut cream. All your questions about the universe will be answered.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tuesday, 29 January: Whole30 Day 3

So, last night was awful. I did not sleep well at all. I tossed and turned and wriggled. I was too hot, trapped between a husband and a kitten who are both very affectionate heat seeking missiles. I felt like I was waking up every half an hour, and in my hazy sleep fog I felt a sense of dread. I knew that morning was coming and my alarm was going to go off and I was going to struggle out of bed. I needed to make breakfast for the husband before I drove him to university, and I knew that I had to work my last shift at the restaurant on Tuesday night. I have had these restless nights before, and the next morning is awful.

My alarm went off at 7AM, and I reached up and hit the snooze. I have gotten into the habit the last few weeks of setting my alarm for fifteen to thirty minutes early so I have time to wake up. I know. Thirty minutes to come out of my morning grog and get my feet on the floor. It's been bad. But, there was my alarm going off in my ear. Snooze hit and my eyes suddenly opened of their own accord. I was sleepy, but the morning grog was suspiciously absent.

I lay still for my fifteen minutes of extra time, allowing my senses to come up to the same level of consciousness that my brain was feeling. I cuddled my kitten and snuggled up closer to the husband and was just quiet. My brain felt peaceful and very alert. After fifteen minutes of this, I easily rolled over and got out of bed. There was no knee pain when my feet hit the floor. Nothing creaked or complained or was stiff.

There was no rush to get out the door this morning because I got up on time. I took my time making breakfast and let the husband sleep in. The coffee finished just as he was done with his shower. We sat down together for breakfast and left the house on time.

Can every morning be like this, forever? Please?

I'm not claiming a miracle, but I feel freaking awesome today. I am bright eyed and bushy tailed, in spite of the horrible night of sleep. I've been up for hours and the knee pain hasn't returned. I feel peppy and spirited. I have errands to run before I get ready for my evening shift tonight and I don't feel discouraged by that knowledge.

I've heard that day 2 on Whole30 is when this invincible feeling usually hits. You feel super alert and unconquerable. It couldn't have come at a better time. I think I'll do a workout today before I get ready for work.

The Menu

The Breakfast

Scotch Freaking Eggs. That's all. It's a boiled egg with sausage wrapped around it.
I bet you're regretting skipping breakfast.
I'm regretting every breakfast I ever skipped. 

The Dinner

Oxtail Stew
Dinner happened in a mason jar tonight because I had to work
my last ever shift as a waitress :)

The Scotch eggs were amazing. Two of them were actually a little much for me and the husband. Neither of us could finish them, and his ended up going along as part of his lunch for the day.

The oxtail stew prompted some strange reactions among my coworkers. One of them asked me, "Are you eating apple butter out of the jar?"

Oh, it was so much better than apple butter. Oxtail stew is fantastic. I had to "Whole30 it up" for this one. Normally you boil the oxtails in wine and stock. I dropped the wine entirely, although I probably unwittingly transgressed because I dumped in some red wine vinegar for flavor, which I am sure converted to sugar quickly in my system. It was pretty minimal and added a great flavor, though. I used more turnips and carrots than usual in lieu of potatoes, and added in some leftover roasted cabbage. The result was pretty phenom. It's definitely one of my favorites, and very filling. I could not finish that jar up there and I stowed the rest in the fridge for later.

As a side note, my energy never decreased on Tuesday. I actually volunteered to close at the restaurant because the hostess had been there all day. I finished a little after midnight and was still bouncy as could be. The husband is fighting some sinus congestion and is a little less sparky, but he drolly appreciates how much better I'm feeling. 

On to day four!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Monday, 28 January: Whole30 Day 2

Today has been so-so for me. My knee pain is still present, and I am not feeling any change in energy. My mood has lifted a little. Depression has been lurking for the past several months, and this past month it's been particularly hard to dodge. Today I am feeling a little more hopeful and a little more confident. But that might be because I have the day off and don't have to worry about going to work later.

The knee pain is still making me a little sulky. I don't want to go out of the house, even to go to the laundromat down the street. I sent the husband out to do that, which gave him time to catch up on reading. Four out of six classes this semester are literature classes. Reading is how we spend our evenings, which quite frankly has been nice. It feels more productive than just browsing page after page on Reddit.

Since I didn't want to leave the house, I spent most of the day doing food prep and cooking. The kitchen felt clean and welcoming today, and I was pretty happy to just stay in that room for the majority of the day. I also got to Skype with my parents back home, which bolstered my mood.

Now, down to the good stuff!

The Menu

I love my chalkboard wall <3

The Breakfast

Breakfast Blooms with paprika, chicken sausage with cilantro, and coffee
(A boiled egg for the husband, who has trouble with eggs)

The Dinner

Grass-fed flank steak, roasted cabbage and chili-lime sweet potato fries.

The marinade I used on the roasted cabbage is certainly worth mentioning. I used equal parts organic butter, Bragg's amino acids, and dijon mustard, along with a little teaspoon of horseradish. The effect was wonderful, and I used a similar quick marinade on the flank steak. Even the sweet potato fries got dipped in the leftover sauce. I can tell it's going to be a staple this month.

Sunday, 27 January: Whole30 Day 1

This is a little late for a "first day" post, since it's actually the morning of the third day. It's been a little tough to decide when to do my posts, since dinner usually happens late at night and I don't find myself over eager to edit photos or write late at night.

The solution is that I'll be posting the previous day's meals the next morning. Although it's Tuesday morning, I'll be posting the meals from Monday, and the title will reflect that. This is mostly a way to catalog my first Whole30 so that I remember what I ate, and also to keep myself accountable.Whenever there's a really fantastic recipe or marinade or trick that is out of the ordinary of usual cooking, I'll make sure to include it, along with pictures of what I'm eating.

Now, here's the confessional side of my beginning of Whole30. I am 25 years old, 5'5" tall, and since this past year I cannot stop gaining weight. I made the mistake of going on a hormonal birth control last April. I thought that I'd be able to deal with the possible weight gain, and I foolishly did not listen to counsel that was given me by family members about their own experiences. Some girls do wonderfully on birth control. I was not one of them. I put on about fifteen pounds in the month before my wedding, which was troubling enough. No girl wants to gain weight before her wedding. In the months since the wedding, I have gained another 15 pounds, putting my weight at 180 pounds. I am on the very line between "overweight" and "obese" on the BMI and I am done with this.

I am fortunate to have recently gotten a new job that enables me to have steady income and steady hours. For the first time since highschool, I have the time and money to invest in my health. More fortunately, I have a loving husband who is willing to do this with me. We spent the last week together purging our kitchen of anything that did not fit on the Whole30 diet, which is basically a no-holds-barred version of Paleo.

I have been loosely following a Primal diet for the past several months, and while it made me feel a little better, it wasn't helping with the weight loss. I was still drinking and eating things that I shouldn't have, and the weight kept coming. This week marks the beginning of 30 days of:

No dairy
No wheat
No legumes
No processed foods
No sugars (at all)
No starches
No alcohol
No tobacco

Anything that has been shown to have inflammatory properties has been cut out of our diet. Some people that I have told about this have voiced alarm. That sounds hard. My response has been the response that is posted on the Whole30 site:

It is not hard. Quitting heroin is hard. Beating cancer is hard. 
Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard.

So, let's do this shit.

The only meal I have to show for Sunday is my dinner. My husband and I do not eat before service on Sunday morning, and lunch was a pretty informal affair since we were running between grocery shopping for the week and catechumen class for church. Dinner was shared with friends, and was fantastic.

My husband did the honors for this meal. Wild Alaskan sockeye salmon, compliments of my parents care package last month, was cooked with a bit of lemon and fresh rosemary. It was served on top of blanched brussels sprouts, broccoli, collard greens and carrots which were drizzled with butter. It took him half an hour to make, including deboning the salmon fillets, and was incredibly filling.

Fingers crossed, and I'll see you on the other side- one step toward cleaner and leaner.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Brawny Broccoli Soup

I will never stop singing the praises of broccoli. When I was a little girl it was one of the vegetables we always kept in our family garden. Alaskan weather can be a little unforgiving at times, but broccoli always thrived and I had the luxury of fresh green broccoli florets every summer without knowing how lucky I was.

Can you tell that I miss having a veggie garden? I rent an apartment with several other tenants and I'm fairly certain if I did plant anything, it would be trampled, mowed down, dug up, urinated on, fed cheap beer, and anything else that seemed convenient to them. Trash cans are safe in my front yard. Anything else doesn't seem to do very well. 

Broccoli seems to do well in transport, though. I love cabbage family vegetables because they seem so eager to please. They'll take abuse, cold weather, long periods of alone time, and still come out tasting fantastic. Broccoli in particular has high levels of vitamin C and fiber. It has anti-carcinogenic compounds, but boiling will take those out of it. Steaming or stir frying won't hurt any of the nutrients, just in case you don't like your broccoli raw. Lutein and carotenoids abound in this little green marvel, as well as chemicals that boost cell repair and have been found to block cancer growth.

Unfortunately, some people don't like the color green on their plate at all. This recipe has become a staple for me, as I find it incredibly filling, very satisfying... and absurdedly cheap.

It's because this recipe has three ingredients- four if you want to be fancy, five if you want to be extravagant.  

Goat's cheese and cream if you like, fancypants.

The magic of this dish is in the texture. I can't take the credit for this. I learned this recipe from a Gordon Ramsay video. He does a fantastic job of explaining it and it's been a staple for us since the day I watched the video.

I hope it becomes a staple for you, too! The result is silky and simple and satisfying. 

Broccoli Soup

1 head of broccoli
Water (enough to cover the broccoli in the pan)
salt to taste (don't be afraid to be generous)
goat cheese (optional)
cream (optional)
walnuts (optional)

Cut the florets from the crown. The thick stalks won't be much use to you in this recipe. 

Ready to be a soup!
Chop the pieces small enough so they will cook quickly. I mentioned above that boiling will take nutrients from the broccoli. The trick to this soup is to not cook the broccoli for very long. If you cook the broccoli only a few minutes, you'll lose less than 10% of the anti carcinogens. So, while you're cutting your broccoli, get your pot of water to a strong boil. 

When your water is in a high boil, go ahead and dump in the broccoli. Salt the water and watch the clock.You do not want to lose those vitamins. Ramsay's video explains well how to tell when the florets are cooked- draw a knife through the broccoli and it should go through with only a little resistance. 

Once your knife slices through the broccoli, remove from the heat immediately. You need to drain the broccoli, but do not discard the water that you boiled it in. This is your broccoli stock, and it will make your soup taste better than adding a vegetable stock.

Placing a bowl under the strainer will do the job nicely.

While your broccoli is still hot, it is time to blend it! If you wait until it cools off, your texture will be off. 

In we go!
Now you put your broccoli broth to use! Add in your broccoli water until it's about halfway up the level of broccoli. 

In the above picture, I actually added too much water. The amount of stock will determine your texture. You can always add more stock if the result is too thick for you. But you can't take it away once you've blended it.

You'll have to blend for a couple minutes on fairly high speed to get a creamy texture. Taste and add more salt if needed. If it tastes bland, add some salt. It will enhance the flavor.

As a friend said, "the color of a shamrock shake"

Don't let your soup get cold! If you like at this point, put some goat cheese in the bottom of the bowl. 

The broccoli soup will melt the goat cheese and add some creaminess to the soup. If you'd rather, just drizzle some heavy cream or some full fat coconut milk over the top. You can add walnuts to the bottom, like in the Ramsay video for added fat. 

Simple soups like this are great for cold winter days, especially during a season when most of us are feeling a little pinched from the costs of the holidays. Enjoy! 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Zucchini Bites and Perfect Almond Flour

Today's weather pretty much matches my mood. It's gray, it's raining, nothing feels very lively or quick. If the sky could experience gluten hangovers, this is probably what it would look like.

Not that I ate gluten yesterday or anything, but my body is very much recovering from all the delicious debauchery that I participated in over the past month's holiday season. It's going to take a little while for me to start feeling clean and sunny again. I've noticed that going back to my old eating habits made my weight increase and my mood plummet. I'm not sure how much of that is mental (as in when I see something I don't like in the mirror, it puts me in a bad mood) and how much is a physical reaction to the processed food ingredients. But I have felt pretty emotionally unstable for the past few weeks and I don't think that it's disconnected from what I've been putting in my body.

So, let's get on with the clean theme.

Last post, I mentioned that a lot of success with keeping the dirty stuff out of your system is to make sure you have snacks that you like on hand, readily accessible. Some of you (some of me) may not be ready to embrace the kale chips and you may be missing your baked goods.

I have great, sun-shiny news.

I kind of wanted to name this recipe "Zu-clean-i Bites", but my husband has told me before that I'm only allowed one terrible pun per day, and I've sadly used that up today.

This recipe is actually a two-fer, as it requires the use of almond flour. I had a very difficult time with almond flour when I came back to Virginia. I go to school in a fairly small, Southern town. There are health food stores here, but almond flour gets very expensive, very quickly. I am a college student, and a newly wed as well. Ten dollars for a pound of almond flour just doesn't really work for me!

I quickly took a page out of my sister's book and learned to make my own almond flour. She has a wonderful nut mill made by L'Equip that is (sadly) no longer produced. I bought an inexpensive model (around $30 on Amazon) made by Krups that has served me very well, so far. You can get a coffee grinder at WalMart for less than $10, but I highly discourage it. Your results will be frustrating and chunky. It's much better to spring for a nicer coffee grinder/nut mill combo. Forgo your Starbucks for a week and try some of my Clean Coffee Concoctions. You should be able to save more than $20.

Do-It Yourself Almond Flour

Since I don't actually do a lot of baking with almond flour (it's high in calories and heavy on the wallet, so I use it as a treat!) I have not had any need to buy my almonds in bulk. I buy about one bag a month from my grocery store and find that it usually produces plenty of flour for my needs. For those of you who do a lot more baking, you may want to look into buying almonds in bulk, either through a store like Costco or Sam's Club, or even online.

The finer you can get your grind, the less grainy your almond flour will be. If you're serious about texture, blanch your almonds by immersing them in boiling water, then running cold water over them after about a minute. The skins will pop right off after this treatment, leaving you with a beautiful white nut. Once the almonds dry, they're perfectly ready to be turned into a very smooth almond flour.

I choose not to blanch my almonds because a lot of the fiber is in the skins. I acknowledge that almond flour texture is just going to be different and it's never bothered me to have that grainy feel. I'd rather have that extra fiber to get me through the day!

Once you have dry almonds, blanched or not, pour a handful into the nut mill. My nut mill is pretty small, so I don't put a ton in.

Put the lid on the mill or grinder and pulse it until the majority of the nuts are ground up. You're not going to get everything ground up. Don't sweat it. Grab a mesh strainer and a bowl and dump the results of your first grind into the strainer. 

Now, burn some of those calories! Shake the strainer back and forth. The fine "flour" particles are going to go right through and your large pieces will stay in the strainer. 

Like magic. Awesome, tasty magic.
Sometimes I will hit the rim of the strainer against my palm, over the bowl, to speed up the separation process. Once you've only got your big pieces left, return them to mill or grinder with another small handful of new almonds and repeat the process. Eventually, what you will be left with is no more large chunks, and a bowl of very fresh almond flour.

Playing with this basic process will yield different results. I know some people who buy packaged almond flour (Bob's Red Mill, for instance) and then go through this same process once they get it home just to get a finer particle. The finer your grind, the more like regular flour your texture will be. I'm obviously not overly concerned about my grind size as I've intentionally left my almond skins intact. I need all the nutrients I can for my rainy days.

Now that you have your almond flour, let's use it for something awesome:

Zu-clean-i - I mean, Zucchini Bites

1 cup zucchini (grated)
1/2 cup almond flour
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups cheese (I prefer feta and cheddar)
3 shallots (diced)
salt and pepper
coconut oil (for pan)

Preheat oven to 400F.

Grate a zucchini (I like the texture of a bigger grate) until you have about a cup, maybe a little more. Wrap the result in paper towel or cheesecloth and squeeze the excess moisture out of it. Your result is going to be watery if you skip this step. 

So don't skip it.
The beauty of this recipe, once again, is the simplicity. If you don't like feta, you can use a combination of cheeses. I usually toss in a bit of sharp cheddar. The feta works particularly well because it's a bit moister. Originally I used to do this recipe with parmesan, but the result was a little too dry for my tastebuds. The feta will add a bit of softness to the bites, while a harder cheese like cheddar will help hold it together and make it not so salty. I usually do more cheddar than feta, since it's a bit cheaper for me.

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Grease a mini muffin tin with coconut oil. If you don't have  a mini muffin tin, you can use a regular size muffin tin, but I can't promise your resulting zucchini bites will be adorable. You'll also have to adjust cook time to a wee bit longer. 

We promise you adorable muffins. No lie.
Fill the muffin tin. The zucchini bites will only rise about another 25%, so if you fill up the spots a little over half, you shouldn't experience bite-blowout. Cook for around 25 minutes. I tend to err on the side of overly-done since there's a bit of egg in these and my husband cannot tolerate egg-y things that aren't well done.

Two bites got sacrificed to the photographer's hunger.

This was one of the earliest recipes I ever tried when my sister first introduced me to Maximized Living, and it's still a staple for me. I make a large batch so I can store them in the fridge and just grab a couple when I'm on the run. They're great additions for breakfast, wonderful appetizers, and fantastic sides for a bowl of soup. Most of all, it means that I have a convenient, clean option to go to instead of my hubby's stash of white bread on top of the fridge.

I think I feel the rain letting up already. 

Happy baking!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Beauty of Kale Chips and Busyness

I was going to start today's post with a rant about how busy I've been lately, how ridiculous my schedule has been, how general ugh-inducing my planner is. I then took a moment and realized we're all in that boat and I don't need to start bailing my bilge water into your stern.

Things are busy. I'm very thankful that I'm no longer in school and juggling a job, classes and a marriage. My classes and internship are officially over, and I've even gotten to enjoy a few blessed days off with my husband. For those of you who don't know, I'm a newly wed and a (very) recent college grad. My husband is finishing up his final year of school and we both have (multiple) part time jobs.

That being said, I've got to be honest. Not eating clean has been like shooting myself in the foot repeatedly and then demanding to know why I can't run my marathon. I work as a waitress, and if my energy's not there and up every night, I'm not going to be able to make any money. Nobody likes a slow waitress. The worse I eat, the worse my energy levels are in the evening. In the interest of self-preservation, I can't do that to myself or my husband. 

Eating clean is a difficult commitment in American culture. I don't have a lot of free time. Why would I spend it in the kitchen when I could be doing something that I want to be doing? Something for me. Why would I spend my money and time on something that has to be invested in and prepared instead of the brightly colored box that has already prepared food in it for me? I am the consumer. I am jealous of my time. I am jealous of my effort. 

I have been sorely lied to.

I have had to get it into my head these past few months that spending time in the kitchen, spending money on better quality food, IS spending time and money on myself, in ways much more productive than a pedicure or a few hours playing a video game. Investing in mine and my husband's health is much more important than other things I'd prefer to do. As products of a very consumerist culture, I've found that we have to redirect our preferences. We have to change our thinking. 

Now, to address the busyness. I know what it's like to be on the run. I know what it's like to be tempted. I know that going into battle without a plan is a guarantee of failure for me. I will end up eating whatever is available if I don't have snacks that are healthy for me. This isn't a matter of cravings, it's a matter of convenience.

So I'd like to help you with that today. In keeping with our "I'm so busy and so broke" theme, I present to you an amazing snack that costs around $1.20 and half an hour total to make. It's convenient, craving conquering, and cost effective. It's-

Kale Chips

Brains... Kale brains...
I'm starting this recipe off with a warning and a disclaimer. Kale is a cousin-buddy of cabbage. If you eat too much cabbage, terrible gaseous things will happen to you. Gassy waitresses don't make money, either. Kale chips need to be enjoyed in moderation. The first time I made them, my husband and myself (and the cat) enjoyed them a little too much. Kitten gas is an awful thing, and she had no shame.  You don't need to eat more than a handful or two at a time. Any more than that and you're asking for an extended period of self-inflicted alone time.

But now, the good news! Kale is also related to broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts among other things. It shares a chemical with broccoli called sulforaphane which is more potent when chopped up (guess what we're going to do?) and has an amazing effect on blocking cancer cells. Kale also contains indol-3 carbinol which helps DNA repair and blocks cancer cell growth. In case you're not convinced, it's also helpful for reducing inflammation and lowering cholesterol. It's high in fiber and super high in Vitamin K. In one cup of kale you're going to end up with 5 grams of fiber and less than 50 calories. 

It's no wonder that kale has been around a long time and is popular on almost every continent. It was popular in ancient Rome and Greece and was the most popular vegetable in Europe up until the Middle Ages when cabbage became the staple. During World War I rationing in the US, families were encouraged to grow kale in home gardens to make up for nutrients that were lacking. It's been around for a long time and is a friendly, approachable plant. Whatever you use it for (salads, soups, chips) make sure you remove the leaves from the more bitter stem. Discard the stems.

All of that background? To make up for how simple this recipe really is. Unless you're making them for a family, I recommend doing half of the kale head at a time. After a couple of days, the chips lose their satisfying crunchiness. 

Kale Chips

1 head of kale
3-4 tablespoons total of olive oil or coconut oil
sprinkling of salt
spices of choice (garlic powder, paprika, etc)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Trim the leaves from the bitter stems and wash well. I usually try to cut the leaves into a manageable munching size, similar to a potato chip. This is preference. If you don't have the time, just leave them in bigger sections.

To toss the leaves, I usually put my trimmed sections into a tall plastic container, drizzle the olive oil over them, put the lid on and shake it like a polaroid picture. 

I didn't take a picture of that process for obvious reasons.

Some people stir the leaves to coat them, some people use a plastic bag, I've found that the plastic container method tends to coat the leaves most evenly. After shaking for a minute, spread the leaves out on a baking sheet. Once the chips are spread out, I sprinkle them with salt and whatever other spices my heart desires, and then pop them into the oven.

After about five to six minutes, I like to take them out and flip them over just to insure crispiness all around. Salt a little more. Pop back into the oven for another eight minutes. I tell myself every time that I'll leave them in for about 10 minutes total, but it usually ends up being more like 15. Check their consistency. If they're still too chewy for you, put them in for another 2-3 minutes. Don't burn them, keep an eye out. Burned kale has nothing of goodness in it.

Hello, snack buddies.

That's it. I love kale chips because of their vitamins and their cost. A head of organic kale at my local Kroger usually costs around $1.69 and the non organic version is $1.08. For a snack that satisfies and transports so well (I often pack these along with me to work so I'm not tempted to indulge in the leftovers the kitchen produces) I just can't resist them. After a few successful heads of kale, I found myself beginning to crave these little guys.

I will mention that if you are interested in obtaining the *most* nutrition out of these guys, the best method of preparation will be to chop them, then cook them by light steaming. It's no wonder that we've been cultivating kale for over 2,000 years and I'm awfully glad that it's making a come-back.

So, remember- you expending effort on your diet is being good to yourself. I can no longer afford to ignore what I'm putting in my body- can you?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Sanitized Swedish Meatballs with Noodles

Happy New Year!

So, congratulations. You made it through the Mayan New Year, you made it through your relatives visiting for the holidays with their not-so-clean dinner donations, and you made it through having to guilt yourself into New Year's Resolutions.

I made it through the month of December, which was a feat in and of itself for me. For those of you who do not know, my husband and I have lately begun our conversion into Eastern Orthodoxy, and the holidays certainly were a new experience for us! The entire first part of December was a fasting season (which meant I ate so well, but had little to post about) and then the twelve days following the 25th of December is nothing but feast days!

So, as great as I was feeling for the first 25 days of December, I certainly haven't been very well behaved for the past week or so. But the Twelve Days are a time of feasting and enjoyment, and I have definitely enjoyed them. But, with the end of my feasting period looming (January 7th) and my tummy and skin sending me reminders that not all of my body is enjoying this period of indulgence, I thought the New Year would be a good time to start cooking clean again. 

My New Year's Resolution? To not go so long without posting again! 

One of the things I couldn't have a lot of during the fasting period was any kind of red meat. Which means for the past week, I've been eating a lot of red meat in the form of lamb and beef steaks. The other day, however, I found myself craving something a little more like comfort food and a little less like haute cuisine. 

I wanted spaghetti and meatballs. Not just any kind of spaghetti and meatballs, but meatballs and gravy like you find in the Ikea food court. My mouth was watering just thinking of them. Luckily, I had got my hands on some lingonberry preserves for my husbands (kind of like sweet cranberries, for my Southern friends) which is a necessary pairing for Swedish meatballs. A little research, a little crafting, and I emerged with a very satisfying:

Sanitized Swedish Meatballs and Sauce 
over Spaghetti Squash Noodles

"The Squash"

Hello, Mr Spaghetti Squash. Almost as handsome as Signore Cauliflower.

I found a spaghetti squash at the store a couple of weeks ago and, fearing that squash might only be a fall harvest kind of thing, snatched it up, took it home, and let it just hang out in the cupboard while I was fasting. What was I thinking?

If you haven't ventured into the realm of spaghetti squash yet then you must be good at avoiding the health food boards on Pinterest. The appeal of this winter squash is namely this:


Don't worry. Your eyes aren't playing tricks on you. I didn't have to use any special peeler or spiralizer. The way that the squash grows produces fibers in long strands that look just like perfect little spaghetti noodles. Missing spaghetti dishes after swearing off gluten? You just met your guiltless rebound partner.

Preparing spaghetti squash is pretty straight forward. Hack it in half (I used a bread knife because I'm a wuss) scoop out what some recipes call the "squash poop" (seeds and innards) and then bake the squash. The seeds can also be salted and roasted, just like pumpkin seeds, for an extra treat!

When I hack, man, I hack. I am the squash hacker. No squashes were harmed in the course of this hacking.

Most places I found recommended cooking the squash for thirty to forty minutes. My squash may have been a little large, but I found it needed almost an hour before it was truly tender enough. You can also microwave your squash, but I prefer using the oven. 

At 375F, cook the squash, rind side up, for between 45-60 minutes until the flesh comes away in tender strings easily when pried at with a fork.

A medium-done squash. Some of the leftover "entrails" will darken while it cooks. 

If your squash is tender, scraping it lengthwise with a fork will result in those fabulous little strands. 

I do not recommend adding your sauce until you serve the meal. I put the sauce over it right before I plopped it in front of everyone. The longer the sauce sits on it, the greater chance you have of getting soggy noodles instead of tender noodles. You can even serve the sauce in a ramekin or small bowl on the side.

Also handsome. Also sexy. Also here to save you from so many empty calories and carbs.
Kind of like a passive, polite superhero with tons of folic acid and beta carotene. 

"The Meatballs"

1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground beef
1-2 eggs (I am not afraid of egg)
1/2 cup almond flour
2-3 cloves garlic
salt and pepper to taste
seasonings of choice (onion powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, parsley)

Mix all ingredients together. The mixture should hold together in a ball shape easily. If it seems too wet, add more almond flour. I try to grind my almond flour a little coarser for this recipe, almost like bread crumbs.

While making these balls, I usually go ahead and start heating coconut oil in my cast iron skillet. If you don't have a cast iron, get one. If you're unconvinced, just know that I love you even though you're wrong, and make sure to use a pan that has thick enough sides to withstand the heat.

Form balls from the meat mixture that are about  11/2" in diameter. Once your oil is hot (shimmery on the top) go ahead and start plopping them in.

Shimmer, plop, sizzle!

I usually need to turn the meatballs over only once. Your goal is to make sure that both sides brown nicely. Make sure that your oil is high enough to submerge almost half the meatball. They'll actually cook fairly quickly- check after only a couple of minutes! Burned meatballs aren't very appetizing.

Handsome meatballs for our handsome spaghetti squash. I love cute couples.

I am the world's worst multi-tasker, so I usually finish with the meatballs before I mess with the sauce. The sauce will take less than ten minutes, so I wait until the squash and the meatballs are done before beginning. If you finish all the meatballs, check a large one to make sure you're not raw on the inside. If you are, no fear! Just put all the balls into a baking dish, put aluminum foil over the top, and allow them to finish up in the oven slowly. They'll be juicier that way.

"The Sauce"

1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup water
1 cup beef stock
1 teaspoon liquid aminos or say sauce
2-3 tablespoons butter
1-2 tablespoons almond flour, cashew flour, tapioca flour, or all-purpose baking flour

After beginning this recipe, I discovered I was missing my heavy cream (I'm blaming my husband's coffee addiction) so I substituted with 1/2 cup of whole milk, no water, and a little extra butter. It still came out creamy, but not quite as good as other times I've made it. The amino acids add a little extra flavor, and the Bob's Red Mill flour was my way of cheating to get the meal out more quickly. I've had friends who swear that grinding cashews instead of almonds produces a much better taste for sauces. I have used tapioca flour with great success. If you're not worried about G-Free, you can use regular flour.

Add the beef stock, butter and cream first:

Melt down, add the amino acids and any extra seasoning (salt and pepper) as well as your thickener (flour). I keep at mine with a whisk for about five minutes at a high temperature and it produces a wonderfully savory, strong smelling light brown gravy that goes very well with these meatballs.

My end result! I garnished with chunks of raw portobello mushroom.

I will also add that you can get great mileage out of the spaghetti squash. The following evening, my husband and I warmed up the remaining meatballs, cooked up a hearty red sauce, and mixed it all together for spaghetti and meatballs. Today, I cooked up some chicken and some G-Free white sauce and tossed it together with fresh mozzarella, olives and broccoli. 

Happy squashing, and good luck on all your New Year's Resolutions!