4.14.2014

Mango-coconut sherbet

All of you who are experiencing this Midwestern backslide back into winter alongside me -- this one's for you. It may be cold with a chance of snow outside, but this mango-coconut sherbet is tropical sunshine in a bowl. Cheers!
Coconut has held its place in the spotlight for the past couple of years. Touted to be a miracle cure for a variety of ailments, coconut oil has been flying off the shelves like crazy. The truth is, however, that there has not yet been enough research to support these claims.

The fat found in coconuts is mostly saturated fat, and we've heard for years that saturated fat can raise LDL or "bad" cholesterol levels, increasing risk of heart disease and other vascular problems. The type of saturated fatty acid most prevalent in coconut is lauric acid, a medium-chain triglyceride thought to raise both our "bad" LDL cholesterol and our "good" HDL cholesterol. Newer research suggests that because of this, coconut may have a neutral effect on heart health. In fact, some new research is showing that the link between heart disease and saturated fats in general may not be as black-and-white as we thought. There's a lot of research to be done still, but I look forward to seeing what new conclusions - if any - are reached in the future. For now, keep in mind, that many reputable organizations like American Heart Association and Harvard School of Public Health still stand firm on the recommendation to limit saturated fats.

The bottom line? Enjoy coconut products because you like the taste, not because everyone thinks they're miracle cure-all. Coconut - just like any other food - should be enjoyed in moderation. If you'd like to read more about coconut and the fat debate, I recommend these two articles to get you started.

4.09.2014

Cauliflower gratin with garlic and goat cheese

This post is coming at you from a mobile location today. By mobile, I mean I'm laying in the grass 20 feet from my front door, still within wifi range. It's a blissful 60 degrees, there's a slight breeze in the air, birds are chirping, and I've got one thing on my mind: farmer's markets are starting up soon.

My love affair with farmer's markets began in college when I started to value buying locally-sourced foods whenever possible. Amazingly, things just taste better when they're fresh from your neighbor's garden rather than picked early and shipped in from all over the country (or the world). I looked forward to Saturday mornings at Columbia Farmer's Market with its impressive produce stands, fresh Missouri trout, and incredible local goat cheese. Being surrounded by hundreds of delicious choices always gave me a boost of inspiration, and I'd leave loaded down with goodies but floating on air. To me, the arrival of autumn means an end to farmer's market season until early May, and I'm left scrambling for new meal ideas through a long winter. From November to March, we eat a lot of chili. Like, probably way too much chili. But spring has spring again, which means summer produce is near. One nearby market is starting earlier than ever - this Saturday! - and I'm trying to keep my best to keep my happy dances contained until then.

On another note, I just made eye-contact with a squirrel for a full 15 seconds.
It's time to put an end to some injustice. Cruciferous vegetables have gotten the short end of the culinary stick for far too long. Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage - our cruciferous kings - are often mistreated, abused, and boiled into overcooked mush. And nobody likes overcooked mush.

With a little knowledge and a few techniques, we can redeem cauliflower back to its original deliciousness - and we should get pumped up to do that when we realize just how nutritious it is! One cup of cooked cauliflower contains 27 calories, 10% of your daily fiber, 75% of your daily vitamin C, and 15% of your daily folate. Nutritional stats aside, several studies have linked cauliflower to reduced risk of many cancers including bladder, breast, colon, prostate, and ovarian. Say whaaat? You heard me. One possible reason for this is the glucosinolates it contains: glucosinolates are sulfur-containing compounds that, when broken down by chewing, release powerful isothiocyanates that trigger anti-inflammatory processes in the body. As we know, inflammation is linked to a myriad of common diseases like cancer, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Isothiocyanates may also help protect the walls of our blood vessels (a major defense against heart disease) and the lining of our digestive tract, resulting in better heart health and better digestion.

To celebrate this nutritional powerhouse, here's a recipe the whole family will love. It's creamy, steamy, and allows the flavor of cauliflower to shine like it deserves. No mush allowed. I'm serving this for dinner tonight alongside wine-poached salmon and melted leeks.

4.01.2014

Fantastic Fermentation: Raw gingered sauerkraut

It's hard to say when the world looking at bacteria as the enemy, but if you pay attention as you go about your daily life, you'll probably notice hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial wipes, and signs telling you when, why, and for how long you should wash your hands in just about every building around.

Don't get me wrong - personal hygiene is important - but bacteria is not always a bad thing. Our digestive tracts contain billions of bacteria, some good and some bad. The "good" bacteria in the gut are hugely responsible for maintaining our immune health, warding off illnesses, and may even play a role in weight maintenance and prevention of chronic diseases. How do we make sure we have plenty of healthy bacteria? Start by eating a balanced diet low in processed foods to create a healthy environment in which the good bacteria can grow, then add probiotic-rich, fermented foods such as raw sauerkraut or pickles, yogurt, miso, or kefir for a bacteria boost.
Sauerkraut's characteristic sour flavor develops through a process called lacto-fermentation. We're not talking about dairy here: lacto refers to lactic acid, a byproduct of the fermentation process. All fruits and vegetables have healthy bacteria such as lactobacilli on their surface, and when the bacteria are placed in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment, they break down sugars in the vegetables and produce lactic acid. This process allows the good bacteria to proliferate and thrive while the lactic acid stops any bad bacteria from taking over. The result is a delightfully tangy, crunchy, probiotic salad with millions of good bacteria in every bite. Yum! Feel free to pick up sauerkraut from a grocery store, but always look for one that's raw. Most commercially produced sauerkraut has been pasteurized, and the beneficial bacteria have likely been killed off by high temperatures.

When introducing fermented foods into your diet, it is important to start slow. If your body is not accustomed to taking in good bacteria, it may get overwhelmed, so let's play it safe. I recommend starting with just 1 tablespoon per day and increasing gradually to 1/4 to 1/2 cup daily or as desired.

An important note on safety: when fermenting any food, sterile equipment is very important. Be sure to wash your vegetables thoroughly and sanitize anything that will come in contact with them, including your hands. During the fermentation time, weird things may happen: you might see the mixture bubbling a bit, or white foam may develop on top. These things are signs of a healthy fermentation process. If you see mold, skim it off immediately along with any surrounding cabbage. Your fermenting kraut should smell sour and almost vinegary, but not moldy. Trust your sense of smell and your taste buds. If it smells and tastes like something has gone wrong, throw it out and start again.

3.22.2014

Carrot-zucchini patties with hummus and Greek sprout salad (Recipe Redux)

It's time for a Recipe Redux challenge again, and this month, we're celebrating St. Patty's day with creative patty stacks!

These carrot-zucchini patties are perfect for appetizers or a light lunch, or you can slap them on a bun or put them in a warm pita and serve as a more filling dinner alongside grilled mediterranean vegetables like summer squash and artichokes. They are made from a wet batter, so they come off the hot pan with a deliciously creamy interior that is offset nicely by the crunchy sprout salad on top.

My food processor has been getting a workout lately. I love it.
Alfalfa sprouts are pretty impressive little guys. They are a significant source of phytoestrogens, a compound that may reduce your risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and cancer. They contain saponins, which are thought to improve cholesterol levels by lowering LDL or "bad" cholesterol while raising HDL or "good" cholesterol. They also contain small amounts of a number of vitamins including K, C, B, A, and E, making them a powerful antioxidant food that may reduce internal inflammation and boost the immune system.

Way to go, guys.

Store-bought alfalfa sprouts are notoriously linked to E. coli outbreaks, so when you bring them home, rinse thoroughly under cold water and drain on a towel for a couple of minutes before eating to minimize risk of foodborne illness.

3.18.2014

Whole wheat flax banana bread

Sometimes we need a little comfort food. Maybe a rough day at work has you drained. Maybe relationship problems are troubling you. Maybe some unexpected bad news has got you down. No matter our reasons, it's tempting at times to reach out to Ben & Jerry for support. Food can soothe our emotions and troubled minds, but it's not a good idea to routinely to rely on heavy meals for relief. Exercise, talking with loved ones, and engaging in activities you enjoy are great ways to cut down on stress, and when you do turn to food for comfort, choosing healthier options will heave you happier in the long run.

Today, I need a little R&R. And today, I want fluffy, sweet bread. The healthy kind.

This banana bread is healthier than your average banana bread. Flax for more heart-healthy omega-3s. Greek yogurt instead of oil or butter. Honey instead of refined sugar. But don't let the ingredients fool you - in my opinion, it tastes just as good than the traditional loaf.
Bananas - nature's amazing "prepackaged" fruit - are amazing for your heart and digestive health. Let's count the ways. Bananas pack an impressive 400+ milligrams of potassium, a mineral shown to help bring down high blood pressure. You can protect your heart in another facet by reducing cholesterol with fiber, and one banana contains a whopping 12% of your daily fiber needs. As we all know, fiber is vital for good digestive health as well. Bananas contain soluble fiber, which can provide relief from both constipation and diarrhea. Bananas also protect the stomach lining with natural antacid properties - they have long been used for relief from acid reflux and ulcers. Another amazing nutrient in bananas is fructooligosaccharide, a non-digestible carbohydrate that acts as a prebiotic, nourishing the good bacteria in your gut and improving your body's ability to absorb nutrients and get rid of waste. Possibly the biggest beauty of bananas is that they are harvested year-round, so they are never out of season. Hallelujah!